“I can do only two things in this world: love and read.” –book thief Guglielmo Libri to François Guizot, 1845

Special Collections Cataloging at Penn

Recently in the rare book cataloging department at the University of Pennsylvania, a not-very-exciting-looking red two-volume set appeared at the top of my stack of books to catalog in the French Culture Class Collection.  From a cursory look at the volumes, I could see it was a collection of items in various formats–published pamphlets, newspaper clippings, and manuscript letters–bound together and all on one topic.  Both volumes had a manuscript table of contents at the front.  At the start, we didn’t know what the subject of the collection was, who compiled it, or where and when the library acquired the collection.  In rare book cataloging at Penn, we’ve begun to create finding aids to describe some of the more unusual items in our collections that warrant further description than we can fit into a traditional catalog record. This set seemed like a perfect candidate to be described in a finding…

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Maximo and Bartola and the myth of Iximaya

Special Collections Cataloging at Penn

While cataloging a volume of nineteenth century anthropologic and ethnographic pamphlets on the Indians of North America, this pamphlet jumped out with its typographically festive message of cultural imperialism and racialization:FrontwrapperVelasquez, Pedro.   Memoir of an eventful expedition in Central America : resulting in the discovery of the idolatrous city of Iximaya, in an unexplored region, and the possession of two remarkable Aztec children, descendants and specimens of the sacerdotal caste (now nearly extinct) of the ancient Aztec founders of the ruined temples of that country / described by John L. Stevens, Esq., and other travellers ; translated from the Spanish of Pedro Velasquez, of San Salvador.

New York : E.F. Applegate …, 1850. 35, [1] p. : ill. ; 22 cm.

Cataloging this pamphlet turned up an extremely sad history involving the kidnapping of two children from El Salvador, nineteenth century conceptions of race and disability in America and…

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Bright Young Librarians

I used to share this series on the excellent Fine Books Magazine website all the time, mostly because it’s nice to share other people’s appreciation of those you legitimately adore. Clearly this particular addition signals a return to this blog keeping an eye on those who are going to make a difference to what we do. Ladies and gents, Diane Dias DeFazio:


Librarian by day…by night Ringmaster of Brand Brothers and Graumholtz’s Nomadic Cavalcade of Wonders and Illusion…probably.

Weird Tales & Peculiar Crimes Part 5

For those of you that haven’t been following my series of pocket catalogues dealing with weird fiction, crime and all round peculiarity…this is probably not terribly interesting. For the five of you that have…here is the latest instalment:


“The world’s the same, there’s just less in it.”

“We’re all stories, in the end. Just make it a good one, eh?”



Martin Stone; patron saint of lost books and booksellers. (photographer unknown, but it’s a great jacket)

Martin Stone has moved on. The tip-tapping man of many pockets, drainpipe legs and dangling Gauloises has succumbed to a grim and irresistible disease. The flea markets of Paris and the stalls of Portobello should, by rights, be islands of silence.

Not for too long though, Martin wouldn’t like that, just a minute or two of quiet, slightly damp, reflection followed by a shrug and a return to bustling commerce.

His kind of memorial would involve a knowing nod and the production of some specially secreted oddity from under a stall; a sly grin and a “I thought you might come by. Take a look at this.”

Stop all the clocks, shut the bloody dog up, all that stuff. He dealt enough poets to know that understanding words and understanding books are very different things.


Portrait of The Artist as a Young Rockstar

Everything about Martin was a good story.

I was in one of those Parisian flea markets with him quite recently, the bugger made me get up really early and meet him in a cafe somewhere in the dimmer aura of Paris, full of sullen, smoking men in wet woollen coats drinking coffee strong enough to take the silver off a mirror.

“This place is great!” He enthused, giving a credible impression of a mer cat in a tight Paul Smith suit. “Stick close though, some of these bastards can be a bit touchy.”

I wasn’t sure whether he meant the occupants of the cafe or the promised flea market nestled nearby beneath an underpass, he probably meant both.

I walked around with him, or in fact trailed after him, for an hour or two, trying to keep up with the rapid French, the knowing laughter, people shouting his name across makeshift aisles and endless boxes of dodgy Gallimards that he would sift through in the time it took me to figure out there were actually books on a stall that looked at first glance like someone had upended a skip full of 19th century brothel furniture onto a table.

He’d have moved on before I could get five books in. You knew incontrovertibly that once Martin Stone had moved on, there was nothing good left. He smiled at everybody, carried away very little.

On one stand near the roadside he shook hands with a lanky bloke who looked like he should be in a documentary about the Resistance. I bought a piece of schoolboy smut written by George Sands’ nephew, while Martin solemnly unwrapped something wrapped in layered plastic bags produced from an ancient suitcase. It was one of those typically French artist’s books, all pochoir and glassine, and the two of them leaned over it to protect it from the drizzle while Martin leafed delicately through it.

“Give me a minute.” He said to me and hurried off with his phone pressed to his ear.

The hero of the resistance looked me up and down and gestured after Martin.

“Is he well?” He asked.

“No.” I shrugged. He shook his head mournfully, and stamped his feet.

Less than five minutes later Martin returned, they nodded at each other, Martin took possession of the book in its wrappings and we headed off.

“Anything good?” The book had disappeared into yet another bag.

“Oh yes! Lovely thing, really scarce, only ever seen one before.”

“Shouldn’t be hard to shift then.”

“Oh, already sold it. Four and a half.”

That’s pretty much how it went on. Later in his flat in Versailles we ate cake and talked about Michael Moorcock. In retrospect every minute I was lucky enough to spend with Martin over the last 20 years was an education in knowledge, charm and enthusiasm, and there weren’t anywhere near enough of them.

When I was in my 20’s he gave me the keys for his then apartment in the Rue Cels in Montparnasse and said I could flat-sit while he was in the US. I spent a week drinking wine and eating cheese, reading Sebald and wandering through the Jardin de Luxembourg. Bill Wyman phoned his answering machine. I listened to zydeco. He could tell I needed a break, he knew the signs, and he generously provided it.

In return, when stuck on one of his overburdened forays to London, he’d occasionally come and sleep on my couch in Waterloo. We’d smoke too much and drink too much, before he climbed the huge, terrifying mountain of learning not to, and I would wake up the next morning feeling simultaneously close to death, and privileged.

We talked about books. He knew more, stored and treasured and preserved and embodied more about books than anyone I have ever met or heard of. Despite his vast knowledge, amazing memory, and almost magical ability to track and locate gems of bibliophilic rarity, he was always quietly offhand about it.

He taught me the priceless lesson that just because something isn’t worth much, that doesn’t mean it isn’t valuable. I always felt that his mere existence gave me a kind of permission to write four hundred word descriptions of books worth fifty quid; this was not a qualification that necessarily appealed to any of my subsequent employers. There are books in my office right now that bear his small, neat pencil annotations, there are probably similar books in the offices of every major book-dealer in the world.

He got around.

I was supposed to go and see him this week, he died the day before I was going to catch my train. I won’t regret the books I never bought, or the ones I really shouldn’t have; but I will regret that. Without him I might have been a bookseller, but I wouldn’t have been brave enough to try and be a good one. That’s still a work in progress, but if I ever make it, it’ll be down to him.

We weren’t close, but I loved him. I didn’t know him well enough, but I am very grateful to him. The world, such as it is, has lost something important, and is a lesser place because of it.

Book of The Week, or the Fair…whatever.

In keeping with the general manic panic prevalent amongst bookdealers who aren’t Simon Beattie at this time of year, I’ve been screeching my way through whatever stock I have available in an effort to put on a good show at this year’s Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair. It’s never simple or straightforward, and the process is usually accompanied by the highs of thinking “This is a great thing! People will love this thing!” and the lows of “I am a terrible bookseller, these are terrible books, why am I doing this to myself? I should stop this and go live in the woods.” So with that in mind here’s a list of some nice things I am probably showing, in no particular order, please feel free to peruse:

Boston List

And here, Ladies and Gentleman, is my favourite thing, and certainly my book of the week:


Either it goes, or I do…


Gilman, Charlotte Perkins. The Yellow Wallpaper.  Boston: Small, Maynard and Company, 1901. Second Edition. 12mo. 55pp. Publisher’s yellow decorated glazed paper covered boards titled in a rather bilious orangey red. Rubbing to extremities, moderate wear, a very good copy indeed. Internally clean and fresh. Inscribed to front flyleaf by the great lady herself:

“To Mrs. Beatrice Forbes Robertson Swinburne Hale! With Love of Charlotte Perkins Gilman. 1910”

Copies of this book are rare, nice copies of the first edition that preceded it by just over a year are even rarer, and copies signed or inscribed enter a whole new realm of rare which verges on purely theoretical; three inscribed copies of the first two editions, including this one, show up in over 30 years. For a story so polarising and influential, it’s pretty thin on the ground in signed or inscribed form. The story, a keystone piece of early American feminism displayed through the prism of deftly executed and unsettlingly poetic supernatural fiction, is quite simply one of the best cases for ostensibly sensationalist literature changing the world. Part eulogy for female mental health, part captivity narrative and part autobiographical depression journal. One of its many themes (it’s basically all underlying theme, it’s the feminist iceberg of fin de siecle writing) is the androcentric socio-medical belief that women need rest when they should be active, enclosure when they desire freedom and lack of stimulation when they quite definitely desire more. Ms. Gilman was, to put it mildly, rather of the belief that these theories of “care” were wrong and more directed at keeping unruly women (whether for medical or other reasons) out of sight and out of mind…trapped as it were, behind everything else. Critically the story is noted for having provided an in text guide to feminist interpretation, as her protagonist struggles to arrange the “galloping pattern” of the wallpaper into something comprehensible, Gilman is suggesting that this is what women have to do on a daily basis to try and navigate a world that actively denies them the means to do so…that it ends in a descent into madness is neither surprising nor a fault in the interpreter. So, the good news is you have an early copy of the perfect storm of feminist weird tale inscribed by the late 19th century’s High Priestess of Feminism.

The really good news is that it’s inscribed with love to Beatrice Forbes-Robertson on what I believe to be the occasion of her New York marriage to Swinburne Hale, society lawyer.

Beatrice was the transatlantic issue of the mighty London house of Forbes-Robertson, theatrical super family, friends of Oscar Wilde in all possible ways, revolutionisers of the stage, she was mates with royalty, blood brethren of the rich and famous from Bernhardt, to Irving, Ellen Terry, Bram Stoker, Gilbert and Sullivan and the great and powerful on both sides of the pond. Actress, activist, public speaker on Women’s Suffrage, Vice President of The Actress’s Franchise League (yup, a women’s trade union in pre First World War America), President of The British War Relief Organisation, author of “What Women Want” and, along with Charlotte Perkins Gilman herself, a prominent member of Heterodoxy (which is an incredible name on so many delicious levels); the prominent and occasionally notorious and radical feminist debating group based in Greenwich Village in the early 20th century. A hotbed of unorthodox feminist opinion and a haven for New York’s lesbian and bisexual women, other members apart from Gilman and Forbes Robertson included Inez Haynes Irwin, Ida Rauh (another actress and female trade unionist, running mate of Eugene O’Neill), Susan Glaspell (the greatest woman playwright no-one has heard of), Fola La Follete (Quote of the week: “A good husband is not an adequate substitute for the ballot.”) and Zona Gale, first female Pulitzer winner. I can only imagine that their meeting rooms didn’t need gas or electricity, it probably just glowed out of sheer rage and intelligence, they referred to their struggle for recognition as “breaking into the human race.”

One of the greatest and most significant weird tales of the late 19th century, (a story “not intended to drive people crazy, but to save people from being driven crazy…”) inscribed by its ground-breaking feminist author to a friend and fellow fighter for women’s suffrage on the occasion of her marriage. Beat that.

I’ll be at stand 308, sandwiched between the twin glories of Lux Mentis and Brian Cassidy, please feel free to wander along and have a chat.

Cavendish’s Daughters: Speculative Fiction and Women’s History — JHIBlog

by guest contributor Jonathan Kearns in collaboration with Brooke Palmieri

Nor is the empire of the imagination less bounded in its own proper creations, than in those which were bestowed on it by the poor blind eyes of our ancestors. What has become of enchantresses with their palaces of crystal and dungeons of palpable darkness? […]

via Cavendish’s Daughters: Speculative Fiction and Women’s History — JHIBlog

Understanding the Senses: Past & Present — University of Glasgow Library

Guest blog post by Lynn Verschuren, Museum Studies project placement in Special Collections. Earlier this month, the University of Glasgow welcomed internationally renowned scholars in the fields of philosophy, literature, art history, linguistics and disability studies as part of the Understanding the Senses: Past & Present conference held on campus for the second year running. […]

via Understanding the Senses: Past & Present — University of Glasgow Library

Book of The Week: Louder, Faster Female.

Really should get back into the swing of Book of The Week, seeing as I have so much good stuff at the moment and, in between juggling my stock portfolio and refusing to allow Billie Piper to shamelessly objectify me (Stop it Miss Piper! Stop it.), I have a little time to show off.

Every now and then something comes along which…you’ve heard this before, try and imagine it said in the voice of that one man with the voice made of molasses and horseshoe nails who did all the movie trailers in the eighties; “Changes the face of storytelling…”

That’s a little hyperbolic, but the significance of Dorcas Dene, and a couple of her contemporaries, in radically changing popular fictional attitudes to women in the early part of the 20th century shouldn’t overlooked. I mean alright, this one was written by a man, but think of it as sexually progressive, gender swapped, Georgiana Cavendish style utopianism…I really tried to make that a thing. That’s not going to work. Anyway. Dorcas Dene is great and the three rarest issues I have chosen as my book of the week:


The legendarily rare and justifiably famous wraps edition

1. Sims, George R. Dorcas Dene, Detective; Her Adventures. [First and Second Series]. London: F.V. White & Co, 1897. First Edition. Two volumes, 8vo. 119pp + 1pp. ads., [both volumes identically paginated, which is rather odd] Publisher’s blue and green cloth titled in black and gilt to spine and front boards, respectively. I’m never sure if I am using that word correctly so perhaps I should have gone with “The First Series volume is bound in blue cloth, titled in gilt and black to spine and front board…” etc. Minor bumping and edgewear, slight rubbing to the gilt of the First Series volume…that’s it.

If I were the kind of bookseller who catalogued things as near fine on a regular basis, these would be near fine. I’ll go so far as to say that the Second Series volume is near fine, they are both lovely, strong, clean tight copies, internally clean and graced with toe-tinglingly charming adverts for Pear’s Soap and Mellin’s Food…that’s it, it’s just called “food” and it says you can add wine or spirits to it; for me (and for most other booksellers) this does not narrow it down to any particular foodstuff; seriously, it could be breakfast cereal. Or yogurt.

Anyway, they are very lovely copies. I’ve only ever seen one copy of the first series in the flesh and it was in a sadly charmless state. I admit I wasn’t expecting to see another, especially not accompanied by its equally scarce partner volume (the two series were published on each other’s heels, along with the impossibly rare paper wraps issue, they are all rather slight objects), so this is certainly rather lovely. It’s a bit like meeting that person from your past that you always had a crush on and then bumping into them whilst on vacation to recover from a dreadful relationship and discovering that they too had a crush on you and they disclose this to you over dinner in a small, rustic restaurant called “Il Monastero” overlooking a secluded backwater of the Arno in Florence…is this fantasy getting too specific? I feel as if perhaps I’m digressing. Florence though.


Shiny and pretty and blue and green…

Anyway. Painfully rare, and well used if seen.
These stories, however, are not to be lumped in with the giant shoggoth-like mass of so-called “Holmesian Imitators” which the late 19th and early 20th century spawned like tiny, wriggling, know it all tadpoles in a rather stagnant pond of crumbling Imperialist pretension. Nope.
Dorcas Dene (nee Spencer, before hooking up with her archetypally sexist man-muppet of a husband, who is rather tragically a blind ex artist; perhaps in some way symbolising the fact that it’s about time we stop thinking we’re in charge, when we clearly don’t have the chops for it) is an ex-actress and private detective of considerable wit and intellect, who naturally and through sheer application of intelligence and merit enlists the support and complete co-operation of Scotand Yard in her crime fighting exploits:

“It isn’t usual,” the Superintendent said, “for our men to act under the orders of a private detective, even one so talented as Dorcas Dene, but under the circumstances I consent.”
Her “Watson” is a rather pleasant sort of chap, a Mr. Saxon (her theatrical agent originally, whose devotion and admiration know only the bounds of late-Victorian propriety), assisting her on a voluntary basis in her exploits. Unlike the occasional slightly token female detectives from the period, Ms. Dene is crisply procedural and methodical, no guesswork or conjecture, just exact, considered deduction and observation. She’s a master of disguise, stands no nonsense and brings her criminals to justice with no more manly assistance than Holmes might enlist from Watson and his service revolver.

Now it’s much less of a big deal, but in the male dominated world of 1890’s popular literature there usually had to be at least some capitulation to feminine frailty otherwise we chaps just felt all left out. Interestingly Ms. Dene is also considered attractive and charming. Steely determination, raw ability and being intellectually superior to the men around you are not, historically, things that are going to get you described as charming…not even by other women. I’m not even sure about the “historically” bit, to be honest.


You are correct, I will not be taking you to Red Lobster.

In addition, Dorcas is an actress, which for a good chunk of time prior to the second half of the 19th century was almost exactly the same word as “prostitute.” So what you basically have is a complex, smart, attractive woman excelling in a male dominated field by virtue of ability and results whilst doing so without her ability being compromised by the prejudices or assumptions of the society in which she operates. Not only that, she’s solving crimes, goddammit, AND she’s the main breadwinner for her household, AND she does it whilst looking fabulous and having close non-romantic friendships with people of the opposite gender. I love this book, at the very least for what it stands for and for the fact that upon publication it was highly thought of…in a Britain that wouldn’t give the vote to women for another two decades, and only then so that they’d stop burning stuff and making us look like idiots.

The characterisation is very deliberate. Dorcas is meticulous, observant and unruffled in her exploits. There are also a number of occasions throughout the stories where Sims, through the medium of his detective, is able to offer a commentary on the sins and peccadilloes of Victorian male society; The Diamond Lizard, The Mysterious Millionaire and The Council of Four are all somewhat calmly giving the 19th century gender norms a long, hard look.
Finding another set of this title in attractive condition is about as likely as a disabled, female, democrat receiving towtruck assistance in North Carolina


As an added bonus here’s the description of the wraps edition:


2. Sims, George R. Dorcas Dene, Detective. Her Adventures. London: F.V. White, 1897. First Edition, First Printing. 8vo. 119pp. + 1pp. ads. Publisher’s original ilustrated card wraps, very good indeed, clean and sharp with a closed tear to the front lower spine hinge, minor edgewear and chipping, some very slight inoffensive creasing. An incredibly well preserved copy of a legendarily scarce Queens Quorum highlight. Internally clean and fresh. There’s some scruffy page trimming between pages 57 and 59 but it’s otherwise quite the fancy looking object.
I’m giddy. There’s been one copy of this book in auction in 30-plus years, and that was in the 2002 Lackritz auction…Mr L. being the man whose collection most closely approximates the Shangri-La of crime based bibliophilia. That’s it.
Fortune and Glory, kid, Fortune and Glory.

Aside form the usual frictions of 120 years or so this copy should be ever so proud of itself. My views on Dorcas Dene as an important addition to the genre of crime and detective fiction are well know (see the previous description!). Suffice it to say that this is kind of a pinnacle. It’s not every day that one can hold in one’s hand a tile from the mosaic of change, and fit it back into its rightful place.

(The original cataloguing was done specifically for the enjoyment of Rebecca Baumann, and I just decided to keep it for my last list)

New things to collect #1: Mummy paper.

The people of Norwich, CT celebrated the bi-centennial anniversary of their city’s settlement September 7th and 8th in 1859. To mark the occasion, the publishers of the local newspapers printed a hymn on brown paper to be sung during the festivities. The paper, measuring 25cm by 16cm, is unremarkable except for a statement at the bottom […]

via Was this hymn printed on Mummy Paper? —

The Heart Will Break, But Broken Live On.

I suppose you could say that every year is a year of important anniversaries. Every year in April, for example, I have a quiet drink to Francesca Woodman:


for no other reason than that remembering is kind of what we’re here for. We come from memories of one place and progress into memories of another.


Thank you once again, Miss Woodman


This year is obviously and manifestly dominated by William Shakespeare [1564-1616], a man who basically could turn up and introduce himself thus: “Darlings, how do you do? I’m William Shakespeare and I AM literature!”

I mean if anyone were going to it would be him…he’s kind of a big deal.


Because Hiddleston improves everything

I am, however, unfortunately me, so my frothing joy of this year is not that Shakespeare died four centuries ago…but that 200 years ago, in the gloomy depths of The Year Without A Summer, a supremely damaged collection of literary hipster geniuses all gathered together in the same rambling Italian villa and changed the landscape of literature. Admittedly they changed it to the kind of landscape where you think “The bastard GPS has really landed me in it this time…That does NOT look like a Travelodge.” but if you are looking for the perfect storm of death, sex, darkness and indeed dorkiness, not necessarily in that order…then 1816 at the Villa Diodati is the eye of that storm.


“You, my room, 10.30 tonight. You, 10.45… and bring a friend”

A recap is hardly necessary, but in view of the point of this post I’ll keep it brief:


Byron annoys everybody (especially his wife), mostly by having an affair with his half-sister which is tragic and dumb, and by no means the only example of those two states of being in this story. He has to ditch England and head for somewhere such behaviour is less frowned upon (apparently Norfolk wasn’t an option), he does this in fine Byronic “Check me out I’m an extremely complicated narcissistic shitlord.” style in a massive carriage accompanied by a 20 year old physician, hired at the last minute, called John William Polidori. There’s a bunch of other Byronites (Hobhouse etc.) that flit in and out en route as His Lordship progresses across Europe (“progresses” in this context being a word that should suggest a journey made up almost entirely of shagging everything that moved and fetishizing Napoleon), Polidori totters along in his wake with all the confidence of a baby horse on a skateboard and Europe loudly laments Byron’s lusty, sexy darkness whilst simultaneously bending over a lot and fluttering its eyelashes. Byron, Polidori, possibly a couple of STD’s and certainly a hangover, arrive in Italy around April. Byron meets Percy Bysshe Shelley, the man who invented hipster before it was popular, and the two of them fall into an epic poet-bro swoon. Polidori is jealous, no-one cares. Byron rents the Villa Diodati in June, Shelley moves in round the corner with Mary “Jesus, who are these buffoons?” Godwin soon to be Shelley.


No argument from me, ma’am

Claire Clairmont, Mary’s stepsister arrives so that she can be traumatised whilst playing the role of “Byron’s Unfortunate Ex #632”. Polidori is jealous, nobody cares. Everybody gets drunk and falls in a heap…it’s cold and dark and gloomy because volcano, they stay in and amuse themselves by writing ghost stories. History is made, tragedy ensues, The Sisters of Mercy can happen.

Mary Shelley, coincidentally the only person present who is not a demented, flailing freak-show, is also the only one to arrive home wits intact, although the same could not be said for her heart.

The purpose of this comparatively bland recap is to point out to all you who have any interest that the theme of this year’s London Antiquarian Book Fair is this very occasion, what led up to it and what spilled forth from it. There will be lectures and guided tours…one of them by me…and you will be able to see a lot of delicious bits and pieces related to the sprawly gothic and indeed all the other chaotically beautiful things that normally show up at this most transcendent of bibliophilic events. So there. If anyone needs tickets, I have many, if anyone has questions, I have answers. I am very much looking forward to it, and I am eagerly anticipating seeing you all there.

The Battle over Bodies: A History of Criminal Dissection

I should probably just reblog this entire site:

On 29 July 1831, John Amy Bird Bell was found guilty of murdering a young boy for the sake of a few coins. At his trial, Bell expressed no emotion when he was sentenced to death. He did, however, b…

Source: The Battle over Bodies: A History of Criminal Dissection

The Mad Dogs of London: A Tale of Rabies

A splendid read:

There was panic on the streets of London in 1760, and the city’s newspapers weren’t helping the situation. Hundreds of column inches, for week upon week, were full of terrifying reports abou…

Source: The Mad Dogs of London: A Tale of Rabies

In Search of Our Better Selves Part 2

The New York Shadow Fairs take place concurrently with the main Armory Fair every year.

Admittedly it sounds like they should be taking place concurrently with some sort of imminent apocalypse from which we can only saved by borderline perfect teenagers who can see into other dimensions…but that only happened that one time, couple of years back, no big deal.


That year’s ABAA Book Fair committee were oddly different…

They are colloquially known as the Getman and The Flamingo in deference (at least I think it’s deference) to their respective organisers. This year I was at the Getman, at St Ignatius Loyola up at 980 Park Avenue, less than a mile from the Armory and serviced by a regular shuttle bus, no less. The Flamingo fair is across the street from the Armory at the church of St. Vincent Ferrer; so we’ve got Jesuits versus Dominicans in the battle of ecclesiastical architecture and they are both doing very well..

I like both fairs, I have bought well at both in the past and mostly the competition between the two is fairly friendly. I have one minor issue with the promotional material for the Flamingo fair though…just saying…if you look at their flyers and posters there’s a monochrome skyline of New York city, which is all well and good until you look slightly closer and realise that the clipart skyline is actually a forest of gun barrels, which is either deliberate, and wrong on a number of levels, or accidental, and thus not terribly impressive either.


A ticket…to the gun show

There’s a peculiar phenomenon with shadow fairs in general; the PBFA  ILEC fair in London that runs concurrently with Olympia would be a good example of this; they are often where all the surprises are. The main fairs have the weighed and measured, lovingly selected and carefully catalogued crown jewels of the book world sitting there like carefully polished fruit in a Whole Foods. The shadow fairs are a Farmer’s Market, big piles of stuff, some of it a bit grubby and misshapen, some of it thrown on a truck the night before and carried straight from the source. There’s a lot less specialisation, the dealers are as eclectic as their stock and frequently just as eccentric. It’s a welcome contrast to the polished layout of the main fair, carefully spotlit cabinets give way to great, glorious heaps of ephemeral oddity and enormous flip racks of everything from daguerreotypes to carnival tickets, to flyers from a Klan Rally. It’s one of the things that emphasises the enormous diversity of the rare book trade and how much the perceived upper end desperately needs the input and participation of the people it occasionally and rather precipitately considers lower down the pecking order. That “lower end” of the pecking order produces some insanely high quality material.


One of the many pictures containing no hint of me

There was the polished, beautifully bound loveliness of First Folio, always immaculate and adorable. Amir Naghib was present…committing the supremely courageous act of doing TWO fairs at the same time; this is the type of brave impetuosity normally associated with invading Russia in the winter, or being LGBT in North Carolina. Kara Accettola of Little Sages had some fabulously diverse and intriguing stuff from 19th century naval exploration to mimeo’d erotica and all points between. I picked up a hefty wodge of circus related material and a couple of other bits and pieces and roundly swore at the Kahn/Schwenk Axis of Opportunity for laying hands on the deliriously seditionary (not to mention beautifully bound) Chevalier D’Eon before I could. Janine Veazue was there indispensably from the start helping set up the booth I was sharing with none other than Abby Schoolman. It was a strangely workable contrast; my random collection of bits and bobs ranging from an inscribed first of Moonfleet to a magic lantern show of Peter Pan and a rather beautifully coloured engraving of a mandrake root; and her immaculately presented and described fine art bindings, each one unique, intriguing and challenging. Lord knows that people thought, probably that she’d been given her booth in a rather sadistic lottery.


A representative example of Abby’s booth


A representative example of mine


With the multiplying glories and virtues of the book trade come its besetting sins:


“I’m not talking to you! I’m talking to the guy in charge!” Is the overly loud, finger jabbing rejection directed at my female colleague who, a native New Yorker, is very reasonably attempting to help the man in question solve his parking and setup problems.

First off, looming, finger jabby behaviour and shouting at women who are half your height and, conservatively, a quarter of your weight are the marks of a weapons grade twat, stop it. Secondly, if the person you are referring to as “the guy in charge!” is ME, you are going to be helpfully and very politely given directions to park next to the nearest fire hydrant, and gradually over the course of the fair you’re going to spend a lot of time looking for your chair, your rubbish bin, and any other bric a brac, the absence of which is going to irritate you. You’re also a blithering idiot.

As a trade incorporating both highly professional, motivated women and men, and the legion of young enthusiastic apprentices, interns and assistants who accompany them, the rare book trade definitely isn’t the most aggressively sexist and misogynistic one out there; it’s increasingly held up and best represented by female booksellers.

This manifest velocity will only increase, the majority of students coming through YABS, for example, and subsequently making a noise in the trade, are women.

It has its moments however, and although I am reasonably certain that they will become fewer and further between as the blisteringly smart (and considerably more socially aware) new crew establish themselves, it’s really a case where any is too many.


Just saying…

If there’s a woman on a book fair booth she’s there to sell books to you…she’s not decoration, eye-candy or there because there’s a diversity quota. I can guarantee that regardless of how much ink she has, what colour her hair is or how she is dressed, she knows her shit.

Just experiment with joining the 21st Century by asking her a question or two before gesturing at her male colleague and saying “That’s ok, I’ll wait for the book guy.” The first thing you’re going to learn is that she probably has an MA or two from Princeton or Oxford and could beat you up and down the room with whatever you consider your area of speciality, the second is that she’s probably too polite and professional to do so, and the third is that you are the one who needs to up their game, not the other way around.

Also, for any who are wondering, the above example of galactic crassness is the most often repeated comment directed at some of my female colleagues, and I swear one of the few actually repeatable ones. I know this, because I did a survey.



Admittedly I’m kind of on the other end of the spectrum; I was having a conversation about something I’m supposed to be good at with a female colleague recently and half way through I realised, with a humbling mixture of shame and gratitude, that she was deliberately simplifying concepts and details that she was very keenly aware I knew far less about than her.

This is rather obviously not something that reflects well on me, but hey, that material is thin on the ground these days…basically there is no universe in which she should feel she has to do that.

I wonder about her interior dialogue throughout the last two decades or so: “How come I know this and you don’t, despite you being the guy with the big sign saying this is YOUR thing and the status to back it up?” endlessly repeated through a myriad of dispiriting professional encounters.


I’m sure there’s a number of my male colleagues who have refrained from pointing out that I’m a muppet…but I can assure you that number is smaller, and have the bruises to prove it.

That’s what institutionalised sexism basically ends up with; you can’t teach and you can’t learn, because you’ve abandoned your common ground.

That PSA was brought to you by Jonathan’s understanding that he misspent his youth and should have paid attention in school.


Next…The build up to Olympia Antiquarian Book Fair will be a blizzard of goth. In the meantime…Retaliate first.

You Shall Ride Eternal, Shiny and Chrome.

The final part of the Lux mentis rundown on the New York Book Fair:

You shall ride eternal. Shiny, and chrome….New York Antiquarian Book Fair 2016 closing arguments


This could get ugly.

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