Renaissance Codes and Ciphers Exhibition at the Folger

  Detail. Giambattista della Porta. De furtivis literarum notis. 1591. Folger Shakespeare Library.

Detail. Giambattista della Porta. De furtivis literarum notis. 1591. Folger Shakespeare Library.

What does Shakespeare have to do with twentieth century codebreakers? The folks at the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington D.C. have a pretty good idea, and on Tuesday unveiled its latest exhibit entitled Decoding the Renaissance: 500 Years of Codes and Ciphers. On display are texts illustrating how the science of creating and breaking codes traces its roots to the age of Shakespeare.

Bill Sherman, head of research at the Victoria and Albert Museum and curator of the exhibition, explained that most of the materials in the show came from the Folger’s own collection and the Library of Congress. “I found that the incredible concentration of books in codes in ciphers was astonishing. Between the Folger and the LOC across the street, they had a first edition — at least one of each — for every key text in that field for the first couple hundred years.” This is also the first time these texts have been brought together to introduce the field of secret communication to the general public.
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The Catcher in the Rye, or Not?

The Catcher in the Rye, or not?
The Catcher in the Rye, or not?

Seen here at left is the iconic book jacket for J.D. Salinger’s 1951 novel, The Catcher in the Rye, featuring E. Michael Mitchell’s angry red horse illustration — or is it? Upon closer inspection, you will note that this Catcher‘s author is Richard Prince. And the publisher’s name on the spine is no longer that of Little Brown, but instead something called American Place.

In 2011, Richard Prince, an artist whose paintings have sold at auction for millions of dollars, created this reproduction of the first edition of Catcher in a limited edition of 500 copies.

It was an act of “provocative appropriation,” according to Swann Galleries, which will auction one of the now scarce artist’s books on November 18, for an estimated $800-1,200. Prince sold unsigned copies at the 2011 New York Art Book Fair for several hundred dollars and–unbelievably–hawked them one day on a sidewalk outside New York City’s Central Park for $40. You can read more about this stunt at the Poetry Foundation’s blog.

Image Courtesy of Swann Galleries.

Browse related collectible books:

First Editions of Catcher in the Rye

Richard Prince’s “Catcher in the Rye”

Reprinted with permission from Fine Books & Collections, author

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Sylvia Plath’s Unabridged Journals & Enduring Influence

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Twenty-three original manuscripts published in 2000

A fit of despair over her troubled marriage to fellow poet Ted Hughes led Sylvia Plath to commit suicide in 1963. In the years that followed, Plath’s work would achieve acclaim and accolades, assuring her a place in the pantheon of American poets. Plath’s sharp, spare verses are the result of many drafts and revisions. Her journals, on the other hand, were an opportunity for Plath to write freely and unencumbered by critical eyes.

In the summer of 1950, just before matriculating at Smith College, Plath began recording the events of her life in almost obsessive detail, and would ultimately cover topics from her never ending quest for poetic perfection to Hughes’ spousal infidelity.  Since she died without a will, Plath’s literary estate was left in the hands of her estranged husband. Hughes published her journals in 1982, however acknowledged that he had excised unsavory and unflattering entries from the last two notebooks spanning 1959 through 1962.   (more…)


Thoreau Institute Obtains Major Collection of Rare Books & Manuscripts

draft manuscript leaf of Thoreau's Walden
A draft manuscript leaf of Thoreau’s Walden, in which he writes, “Oh Baker Farm!” Courtesy of the Walden Woods Project.

The Thoreau Institute at Walden Woods, a research facility that holds the most comprehensive collection of Henry David Thoreau-related material in one place, has acquired what its curator of collections Jeffrey S. Cramer calls “a dream collection, the last truly great Thoreau collection in private hands.” The collection was amassed over 45 years by bookseller Kevin Mac Donnell of Mac Donnell Rare Books in Austin, Texas.

The highlights are thrilling: A Walden first edition–“the cleanest copy in existence,” says Cramer–plus Thoreau’s Aunt Maria’s annotated copy of A Week on the Concord and Merrimack, two manuscript leaves from his “Walking” essay, unbound sheets of “Civil Disobedience,” two books from Thoreau’s personal library, Thoreau family pencils, and unrecorded variant editions. Topping all of those is an extremely rare manuscript leaf from Walden that references Baker Farm (seen below). “That sold it for us,” says Cramer. Baker Farm is where the Thoreau Institute is located, so it feels very much “like it’s coming back home,” he adds. (more…)


A Treasure of a Pirate Book

History of Pyrates
A General History of the Pyrates

You might think that our whole popular image of pirates—peg legs, buried treasure, the “Jolly Roger” flag—comes from Disney movies and amusement rides. In fact, much of that image comes from one book: A General History of the Robberies and Murders of the most Notorious Pyrates. (reprint editions here). It was published in 1724, and was a bestseller—it turns out that pirates’ entertainment value is nothing new, either. The book’s author was given as Captain Charles Johnson. However, this is usually considered a pseudonym, and debate continues about who the real author was. In addition to forming our modern conception of pirates, the book also remains our primary source for the biographies of famous pirates like Blackbeard and Calico Jack, and Anne Bonny and Mary Read—the two most famous women pirates. (more…)


Dylan Thomas at 100

Welsh poet Dylan Thomas (1914-1953) is being fêted in his homeland and abroad on the eve of what would be his 100th birthday. Thomas’ works include ‘Do not go gentle into that good night’ and ‘The hunchback in the park.’  The subject of much literary criticism and commentary over the years, he has also been compared to giants like T.S. Eliot and W.H. Auden.

Most events will take place at Swansea’s Dylan Thomas National Literature Centre. The Centre is housed in the Guildhall, a Victorian-era building extensively refurbished and opened to the public in 1995 by former president Jimmy Carter. The building itself is worth a visit to Swansea and as the city’s cultural and literary epicenter, it epitomizes the Welsh phrase Tŷ Llên, “A House of Literature.” (more…)


The Tomahawk: Poe & Criticism, Then and Now

Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allen Poe Illustrated by Harry Clarke
Tales of Mystery and Imagination by Edgar Allen Poe Illustrated by Harry Clarke

Poe fans have much to celebrate – there was a statue dedication in Boston, Susan Jaffe Tane‘s Poe collection is on exhibit at the Grolier Club, and a movie based on his short story “The System of Doctor Tarr and Professor Fether” will appear in theaters just in time for Halloween. While Poe’s popularity endures as the father of the modern detective genre, in his lifetime, he was better known as a critic. (more…)


Gregory Maguire’s Misunderstood Witches

GregoryMaguire
Author Gregory Maguire

Today’s theatergoers and readers like their witches misunderstood and maligned, with an underlying desire to do good. Look no further than the latest offerings from Hollywood – from Angelina Jolie as the wronged Maleficent in the eponymous film, to Disney’s reincarnation of the Ice Queen in the animated blockbuster Frozen. Two of Gregory Maguire’s books, the bestselling Wicked, and his latest publication, Egg & Spoon (Candlewick Press, $17.99) also deal with powerful women on the fringes of society, whose magical gifts may actually be their community’s salvation.

Maguire was a misunderstood witch once as well, without heels and wig. During a conversation this summer, he recalled a Halloween during his childhood when he was casting about the family home for a costume. “There were seven of us, and so we had to cobble together costumes with what we had. One of my brothers was an altar boy, and I found his black cassock. It is the only time in my life I indulged in cross dressing.” That amusing memory helped Maguire to recall why he wanted to be a witch in the first place. “I could tell from my childhood reading that the identity of a witch was porous and permissible. Everybody could partake of that character’s possible sense of shape-shifting and of performing mysterious acts. And so could I, even as a young boy.” Those commutative properties informed the author’s version of Baba Yaga, the fearsome witch of Russian lore who figures prominently in this latest book. (more…)


New Kerouac Letters Discovered

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A young Kerouac

After leaving Lowell, Massachusetts, on a football scholarship to Horace Mann, a prep school in New York City, Jack Kerouac maintained a friendly and candid correspondence with his childhood friend George Apostolos. Seventeen of those letters, along with two postcards, and seven writing fragments were discovered by Apostolos’s daughter after his death and will be auctioned this fall in Boston by Skinner.
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Sendak Collection Recalled to Connecticut

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Image from First Folio listing for “Mother Goose Collection” on Biblio.com

In a stunning announcement this weekend, Derick Dreher, director of the Rosenbach of the Free Library in Philadelphia, stated that the institution’s Maurice Sendak collection, which had been “on loan” for decades, will be transferred to Connecticut, where Sendak estate trustees are planning to build a museum dedicated to the artist.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, Sendak never formally gifted the thousands of original drawings and manuscripts he deposited at the Rosenbach beginning in the 1960s. The artist died in 2012, and his will indicates that the collection belongs to his eponymous foundation, the trustees of which are tasked with founding a Sendak museum near his former home in Ridgefield, Connecticut. The collection formerly on deposit at the Rosenbach will populate the new museum’s vault. (more…)