Category Archives: Rare books

“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story”

Apologies for my long blog silence, but it has been a crazy, busy year.

I am still on Twitter daily, and I often tweet links to information and reference sources as well as articles on a wide range of subjects, so follow me @bylisagold if you are interested.

I did write two posts last month for the Bauman Rare Books blog, on Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged and on Rare Books as Gifts. You’ll find links to all of my BRB blog posts in the sidebar to the right.

I do have some exciting news about my husband, Matt Ruff. His new book will be published in February 2016– Lovecraft Country, a historical novel that explores the real-life terrors of Jim Crow racism through the prism of Lovecraftian horror and fantasy. Matt’s website has a description of the novel, blurbs from Christopher Moore, Cory Doctorow, Neal Stephenson, and John Crowley, and advance reviews. He also posted a list of his readings/signings/appearances for the book, with more to come as they are scheduled.

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And finally, as you likely guessed from the title of this post, I have fallen hard for Lin-Manual Miranda’s Hamilton musical. I haven’t seen the show (*sob*), but I’m completely obsessed with the extraordinary Broadway cast album. Excuse me while I go listen to it again…

hamilton

My new Books the Founders Read post on Blackstone

“In America the law is king.”
–Thomas Paine, Common Sense, 1776

My new Books the Founders Read post on the Bauman Rare Books blog is about William Blackstone’s Commentaries on the Laws of England, the most important and widely-read law book in 18th-century America.

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John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, John Dickinson, John Jay, John Marshall, and other Founders read the work and cited it frequently in their writings.

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You can read my Blackstone post here. If you’re interested in reading my other blog posts for Bauman Rare Books, there are links in the sidebar to the right.

“In no country perhaps in the world is the law so general a study… I have been told by an eminent bookseller that in no branch of his business, after tracts of popular devotion, were so many books as those on the law exported to the plantations. The colonists have now fallen into the way of printing them for their own use. I hear that they have sold nearly as many of Blackstone’s Commentaries in America as in England… This study renders men acute, inquisitive, dexterous, prompt in attack, ready in defense, full of resources. In other countries, the people, more simple, and of a less mercurial cast, judge of an ill principle in government only by an actual grievance; here they anticipate the evil, and judge of the pressure of the grievance by the badness of the principle. They augur misgovernment at a distance; and snuff the approach of tyranny in every tainted breeze.”
–Edmund Burke’s 1775 speech on conciliation with the American colonies

Books the Founders Read, my new series for the Bauman Rare Books blog

I’ve started a new series, Books the Founders Read, on the Bauman Rare Books blog. I’ll be highlighting books that the Founding Fathers read, owned, wrote about, and were influenced by. My first post is about Algernon Sidney’s 1698 Discourses Concerning Government, a work that was particularly significant to Thomas Jefferson, who cited it as an important influence on the Declaration of Independence and praised it in his letters.

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Sidney was executed for treason in 1683, accused of involvement in the Rye House Plot against Charles II. Two witnesses were needed to convict someone of treason, but there was only a single witness, so the prosecution used Sidney’s unpublished manuscript of Discourses as the second witness, and the judge famously ruled “scribere est agere”—to write is to act.

You can read the entire post here.

My new posts on the Bauman Rare Books blog

I haven’t been blogging here because I’ve been busy writing holiday season posts for the Bauman Rare Books blog:

Giving and Collecting Rare Books on Economics, featuring books by Adam Smith, Thomas Malthus, David Ricardo, John Maynard Keynes, and Milton Friedman, as well as books on finance and the stock market.

Wealth of Nations

Giving and Collecting Rare Books by 20th-Century Leaders, featuring books and autographs by civil and human rights leaders (Martin Luther King, Jr., Nelson Mandela, and Eleanor Roosevelt), World War II leaders (Winston Churchill, Franklin Roosevelt, Harry Truman, and Dwight Eisenhower), and modern leaders (John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher, Bill and Hillary Rodham Clinton, and Barack Obama).

King Stride

Giving and Collecting Rare Children’s Books–19th Century, featuring books by Lewis Carroll, Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, Carlo Collodi, and Frances Hodgson Burnett.

Huck new

Giving and Collecting Rare Children’s Books–20th Century,
featuring books by L. Frank Baum, Beatrix Potter, Kenneth Grahame, A.A. Milne, E.B. White, C.S. Lewis, Crockett Johnson, Dr. Seuss, Kay Thompson, Michael Bond, Roald Dahl, and Maurice Sendak.

charlotte's web

William Blake was a visionary– literally

My latest post for the Bauman Rare Books blog is on William Blake’s “Visionary Heads” drawing of Wat Tyler, leader of the 1381 Peasants’ Revolt.

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Throughout his life Blake claimed to see visions that inspired his art, as in the case of his “Visionary Heads” series. Blake biographer Alexander Gilchrist described them as portraits “of historical, nay, fabulous and even typical personages, summoned from the vast deep of time, and ‘seen in vision by Mr. Blake.’”

You can read my blog post here: http://www.baumanrarebooks.com/blog/spotlight-blakes-visionary-heads-drawing-wat-tyler-2/

“You can see what I do if you choose. Work up imagination to the state of vision, and the thing is done.” — William Blake

My Banned Books Week post for the Bauman Rare Books blog

We Read Banned Books is my latest post for the Bauman Rare Books blog, featuring the stories of six important books: Joyce’s Ulysses, Galileo’s Dialogo, Twain’s Huckleberry Finn, Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin, and Nabokov’s Lolita.

Read it here: http://www.baumanrarebooks.com/blog/read-banned-books/

Ulysses

 

 

 

 

 

My posts on Thomas Paine on the Bauman Rare Books blog

I’ve started a new series of posts on Thomas Paine on the Bauman Rare Books blog. You can read my earlier Forgotten Founders posts on George Mason (Parts 1 and 2) and John Dickinson (Parts 1, 2, and 3) here.

I’ll add links as each post goes live:

Paine-220x300“We have it in our power to begin the world over again.”
–Thomas Paine, Common Sense

My posts on Forgotten Founders on the Bauman Rare Books blog

I’ve started a new series of Americana posts on the writings of the “Forgotten Founders” for the Bauman Rare Books blog. My first two posts are on George Mason of Virginia, who Jefferson called “the wisest man of his generation.” Mason was the principle author of the 1776 Virginia Declaration of Rights and the Virginia Constitution, which had an extraordinary influence on the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights.

I’ll add links as each post goes live:

My posts on American Ephemera on the Bauman Rare Books blog

I wrote a series of posts on late 18th-century American ephemera– pamphlets, broadsides, and newspapers of the American Revolution– for the new Bauman Rare Books blog.

My first post, American Ephemera: History as it Happened, is now up. Here’s a preview:

The United States of America was the first nation created though revolutionary acts of writing. Many of our most significant and influential founding works—Common Sense, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Federalist Papers—were first printed not in book form, but as ephemera, printed material not meant to be preserved.

There are many types of ephemera, but in this series I’ll be discussing late 18th-century American pamphlets, broadsides, and newspapers. They were usually printed for a particular time-sensitive purpose and then discarded, so relatively little from this period has survived.

Ephemera captured history as it happened and quickly spread it on both sides of the Atlantic—breaking news, public reaction to current events, government declarations and documents, speeches, letters, sermons, essays, and furious debates about the political, economic, and philosophical issues of the day. These invaluable primary sources are like time travel, allowing us to witness key events, gain insight into everyday life, and understand how Americans evolved from loyalty to rebellion to self-government….

The other posts in the series will appear every other week. I’ll add links to the titles below as they are posted on the BRB blog.

If you’re interested in rare books, you should check out the rest of the blog, which includes posts on Rare Books 101, Stories About Books, Modern American Literature, Legends of Photography, The Best Illustrated Books You’ve Never Heard Of, and Sex, Drugs & Books.

The Great Gatsby was published 88 years ago today but won’t enter the public domain until 2021

F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby was published 88 years ago today, on April 10, 1925.

Gatsby

However, this work won’t enter the public domain in the U.S. until January 1, 2021. That’s because the Sonny Bono Copyright Term Extension Act extended the copyright term to 95 years after publication for books published between 1923 and 1962 (if published with a copyright notice and if the copyright was renewed). Copyright law is ridiculously complicated, so right now the only works you can be sure are in the public domain in the U.S. are those published before 1923. So This Side of Paradise and The Beautiful and Damned are in the public domain, but The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night are not. This 2011 Duke University Libraries post summarizes the Fitzgerald copyright situation.

Books published today enter the public domain 70 years after the death of the author. Here are some links for more information about our crazy and complicated copyright system:

Update, January 1, 2019: My new blog post about Public Domain Day 2019— works first published in the U.S. in 1923 are now free of copyright, but we still have to wait another two years for The Great Gatsby to enter the public domain.

The David Foster Wallace archive

Today the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin announced that the literary archive of David Foster Wallace they acquired after his death is now open to researchers. The archive includes Wallace’s papers, manuscripts, correspondence, teaching materials, and the extensively annotated books from his library.

Here’s a photograph of the inside cover of Wallace’s annotated copy of Don DeLillo’s Players:

The Harry Ransom Center blog has a series of interesting posts about the Wallace archive:

Here are links to more information about the archive:

The Harry Ransom Center is a humanities research library and museum with many extraordinary collections, including exceptional literary archives, manuscripts, and rare books, but you do have to go in person to access them. (They also have a Gutenberg Bible and three copies of the Shakespeare First Folio, among other treasures.)

Digital collection news from two of my favorite libraries

Last month the Library of Congress digitally scanned the 25,000th book in its “Digitizing American Imprints” program, which “scans aging ‘brittle’ books often too fragile to serve to researchers.” From their January 14, 2009 press release:

The Library, which has contracted with the Internet Archive for digitization services, is combining its efforts with other libraries as part of the open content movement. The movement, which includes over 100 libraries, universities and cultural institutions, aims to digitize and make freely available public-domain books in a wide variety of subject areas.

Books scanned in this pilot project come primarily from the Library’s local history and genealogy sections of the General Collections. For many of these titles, only a few copies exist anywhere in the world, and a reader would need to travel to Washington to view the Library’s copy. Now, the works can be accessed freely online or downloaded for closer inspection or printing. Readers can search the text for individual words, making the digital copy an even more valuable research tool than the original…

All scanning operations are housed in the Library’s John Adams Building on Capitol Hill. Internet Archive staff work two shifts each day on 10 “Scribe” scanning stations. The operation can digitize up to 1,000 volumes each week. Shortly after scanning is complete, the books are available online at www.archive.org. Books can be read online or downloaded for more intensive study. The Library of Congress is actively working with the Internet Archive on the development of a full-featured, open-source page turner. A beta version, called the Flip Book, is currently available on the Internet Archive site…

The Internet Archive is a non-profit organization founded in 1996 to build an Internet library, with the purpose of offering permanent access for researchers, historians, and scholars to historical collections that exist in digital format. The Internet Archive includes texts, audio, moving images, and software as well as archived web pages…

The Internet Archive is also home to the Wayback Machine, an archive of 85 billion web pages “from 1996 to a few months ago.”  Type in a web address and choose from the archived dates available. It’s kind of like digital time travel.

The Folger Shakespeare Library “is expanding access to its digital collection by offering free online access to over 20,000 images from the library’s holdings.” From their January 15, 2009 press release:

The digital image collection includes books, theater memorabilia, manuscripts, art, and 218 of the Folger’s pre-1640 quarto editions of the works of William Shakespeare. Users can now examine these collection items in detail while accessing the Folger’s rare materials from desktop anywhere in the world.”Digital initiatives are an important and ongoing part of our mission to provide access to the Folger collection,” said Gail Kern Paster, Director of the Folger Shakespeare Library. “Cherishing the past has never been in conflict with embracing the future. The promise of digitization is one more powerful case in point. We now have opportunities to bring the Folger’s extraordinary collection to more users than ever.”

Julie Ainsworth, the Folger’s Head of Photography and Digital Imaging, said, “We began digitizing the collection in 1995. By making the collection available online, we are giving researchers and the public an important tool.”

The Folger’s digital image collection provides resources for users to view multiple images side by side, save their search results, create permanent links to images, and perform other tasks through a free software program, Luna Insight.

Stephen Enniss, Eric Weinmann Librarian at the Folger said that “These features will create more ways for researchers, students, and teachers to experience the collection. They can share images with each other, generate online galleries, and examine items from Queen Elizabeth’s letters to costume sketches. As a library we’re continually seeking ways to expand access to researchers and students across the country and around the world.”

The Folger is also collaborating with the University of Oxford to create the Shakespeare Quartos Archive, which will provide free online access to interactive, high-resolution images of the 75 quarto editions of Shakespeare’s plays. Other participants include the British Library, the University of Edinburgh Library, the Huntington Library, and the National Library of Scotland, and the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities which is designing a special interface for the Hamlet quartos in the archive. The Shakespeare Quartos Archive is funded by a new Transatlantic Digitization Collaboration Grant awarded jointly by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Joint Information Systems Committee. In addition, Picturing Shakespeare will make 10,000 images from the Folger collection – including prints, drawings, and photographs relating to Shakespeare – available to teachers, scholars, and the general public through an initiative from the National Endowment for the Humanities. Both projects join a fast-growing body of podcasts, videos, and other online content produced by the library.

Here’s the link to the Folger’s Digital Image Collection.

As I wrote in my blog post about library resources you can access from home, rare book library websites offer extraordinary and unique digital collections, online exhibitions, virtual galleries and showcases, essays and articles, collection and research guides, and bibliographies. So go explore.

Unforgivable

I read Lee Israel’s book, Can You Ever Forgive Me? Memoirs of a Literary Forger, and no, I can’t forgive her, and neither should you. I hesitated to even buy the book and thus indirectly reward her for her crimes, but my curiosity was piqued by the glowing review in the New York Times Book Review (which called it a “pretty damned fabulous book”), and I knew one of the autograph dealers in the story. I have a wicked case of buyer’s remorse.

From 1990 to 1992, Lee Israel created over 400 forged typed letters “signed” by Dorothy Parker, Lillian Hellman, Noel Coward, Edna Ferber, Louise Brooks and others, she sold them to over thirty different autograph dealers, and she stole authentic letters from libraries and replaced them with her forged copies. Throughout the book, she takes great pride and delight in her crimes and her cleverness, and she gloats over the fact that two of her forgeries were published in 2007 in The Letters of Noel Coward: “For me, this was a big hoot and a terrific compliment.”

She was at one time a successful biographer but explains, “I was imprudent with money and Dionysian to the quick… Over a period of about three years, I plummeted from best-sellerdom to welfare.” Instead of going to work, when she needs money for her sick cat (no, I’m not making this up), she steals from the Library for the Performing Arts at Lincoln Center. “So I stole three Fanny Brice letters, slid them into a small notebook, ducked into the ladies’ room, and planted them gingerly between my socks and my Keds…. I felt no guilt about the letters. They were from the realm of the dead. Doris [her cat] and I were alive and well and living on the West Side.” She sells the letters to the Argosy Book Store, and when she discovers that interesting content will bring more money, she buys an old manual typewriter and begins composing and selling her own Fanny Brice letters. She quickly moves on to forging letters from other writers and celebrities, buys more typewriters, steals old paper and stationery, and throws herself into her new business.

When suspicions are eventually raised about some of her forged letters, she begins stealing real letters and replacing them with her fakes, and she hires a friend to sell the originals for her. Her only qualms surface in her dreams: “I was surrounded by the celebrity subjects of my forgeries, who were not on this occasion such good company: all nattering about how bad my typing was, how inept my punctuation. Dorothy Parker sniffed at my use of serial commas, which she compared to serial killers.”

She is finally caught after an autograph dealer calls the FBI. While waiting for her court date, she visits an autograph shop, asks if they have “something in a Dorothy Parker,” and finds they have two of her forgeries. “This one was priced unframed at $2,500!… Delighted as I was at my letter’s being experienced as Parker pure, I was nettled. I was going on trial as people were still making a great deal of money from the fruits of my labor. The extreme markups, which I’d not been aware of until this time, also annoyed me. Since the autograph business is gossipy and incestuous, I wondered how any dealer could not have known about the spurious pedigree of the letters.”  Instead of telling him directly that she forged the letters, she leaves the shop and writes a letter to the dealer as Dorothy Parker: “Poor wayward Lee Israel received only eighty-five dollars a pop when she sold them originally.”

Getting caught didn’t change her attitude at all. “I did the usual bullshit… voluntary community service, as impressive to the Court as discovering Jesus as personal Lord and Savior… Meanwhile, my lawyer… was doing a marvelous job bringing the numbers down on the federal sentencing guidelines, writing letters to the Court stressing my distinguished past and the badness of the patch that had driven me into a life of crime.” She tells the judge, “I feel and have felt over the past year enormous guilt and anxiety. I feel that I have betrayed really my community of scholars, a citadel of culture.” She never serves a day in jail for her crimes– she is sentenced to five years probation and six months of house arrest.

She ends the book with a token pretense of remorse, as if her editor told her she should at least pretend to be sorry. “I had spent a good deal of my professional life hunting and gathering in annals and archives, and messing with those citadels was unequivocally and big-time wrong…. I suffered and I paid by being barred from the libraries that I had plundered…. My guilt over the original thefts is mitigated somewhat by the gathering in of the epistolary diaspora. I cooperated with the FBI, and the real letters… were so far as I know all recovered and returned safely to their archival homes. I have never experienced strong qualms about [the forged letters… They] were larky and fun and totally cool… Any remorse I experience about this phase of my life in crime has nothing to do with the money various dealers might have lost.”

This very short book (129 pages, many of which are reproductions of her forgeries) has received a disturbing amount of positive media attention, and the writers of the reviews and articles about her, with very few exceptions, seem rather amused by her “adventures.” I was not amused. Her writing didn’t impress me either, as she comes across like a sociopathic Dorothy Parker wannabe, overly impressed by her own wit and quite pleased with herself for getting away with it.

Unfortunately, this is yet another example of the long tradition of glamorizing and minimizing crimes involving rare books and autographs. Book thieves and autograph forgers rarely serve jail time or pay meaningful restitution. But these aren’t petty or victimless crimes– they are not only crimes against literature and culture, they are also crimes against the very people, businesses, and institutions dedicated to discovering, documenting, promoting, protecting, and preserving for all time the valuable and often irreplaceable artifacts of our civilization. The fact that these types of offenses aren’t taken seriously by the media, the law, or the public is the real crime.