By Rebecca Rego Barry As literary artifacts go, this one evokes childlike delight: an ivory cup-and-ball toy that once belonged to Jane Austen is headed to auction at Sotheby’s London on December 13, where bids are expected in the £20,000-30,000 ($25,000-37,000) range. The game, also known as bilbocatch, was a popular pastime for the Austen family. As Jane herself wrote to her sister in October of 1808: “We do not want for amusement: bilbocatch, at which George is indefatigable; … Continued
By Barbara Basbanes Richter The mantra for major exhibitions of 2016 seems to be, “go big or go home:” there’s Boston’s Beyond Words multi-venue extravaganza, the Getty’s impressive Alchemy of Color installation, and in 2017, look to the Phillips Collection in Washington D.C., which will showcase nearly one-hundred drawings, posters, paintings, and prints spanning the career of French artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec (1864-1901). Toulouse-Lautrec Illustrates the Belle Époque is the first solo staging in the United States of Lautrec’s art … Continued
by Rebecca Rego Barry
Five months before John Wilkes Booth assassinated President Abraham Lincoln, he penned a letter to J. D. Burch, the son of a Maryland innkeeper, regarding something he left behind with a stagecoach driver. Booth is cryptic about what exactly the item is, writing, “You know what I had to take from my carpet-bag. It’s not worth more than $15, but I will give him $20 rather than lose it, as it has saved my life two or three times.” (more…)
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It’s time for All Hallow’s Read again, that magical time of year when we give the gift of fright!
If you haven’t yet heard about it, All Hallow’s Read is a month-long celebration of the horror genre (for the adults) and spooky stories (for the kids). The idea is, whether it’s a beautifully-wrapped Stephen King novel to your spouse, a dog-eared copy of Frankenstein you abandon on a park bench with the inscription “Take Me!” on a Post-It Note, or anything in-between, that we all take the time to give each other scary books. (more…)
By Rebecca Rego Barry
An archive of approximately ninety letters written by Civil War solider John W. Grosh and by members of his family, has surfaced at a San Francisco auction house.
Grosh, a Pennsylvanian, enlisted in the Union Army in 1861 and died two years later while a prisoner of war in Virginia. As described by PBA Galleries, which will auction the lot of letters on October 20, the archive covers Grosh’s camp life in Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and Tennessee “with much detail on barracks life, the drudgery and disease, the food, vermin, and other afflictions, the money used by the troops, excursions into towns, with occasional action, and a few false alarms.”
Here is Grosh writing to his mother in 1862: “I suppose you have heard all about the great battle of ‘Chaplin Heights,’ and I need not therefore attempt a description. Well, I was in it and came out safe again, but 24 of our company were not so fortunate. One was killed on the spot and the rest wounded… We fought about 3 hours, the bullets whizzing past our ears faster than we could count them. We suffered much for want of water there was not a drop to be had, the rebels had it all in their possession. Our artillery had not as much as to swab the cannon and one of our gunners had both his hands blown off while loading…” (more…)
In case you missed it, the big news in the rare book world that surfaced in early October was the discovery of Thomas Becket’s personal book of psalms in the Cambridge Library. The Guardian provided initial coverage of the discovery, which was announced by Cambridge historian Dr. Christopher de Hamel. (more…)
I, unlike many self-proclaimed nerdy kids my age, didn’t properly get to meet and make friends with Bilbo, Frodo, and the gang until I was in college. Sure, sure, I’d gone to midnight premiers for the Lord of the Rings movies with gaggles of friends, but I didn’t dress up like Gandalf and I sure as heck didn’t know a single phrase in the Elven tongue. I thought Silmarillion was the type of metal from which Bilbo’s chain-mail shirt was made.
That changed in college, though. I went to a small women’s liberal arts school, where the month-long winter term was usually a way to get some of our required credits out of the way in the most ridiculous manner possible. Loads of my friends were off traveling to Mexico, Tunisia, or London. I would have been bummed about not going abroad, but the week we were to sign up for our January Term courses, a friend told me about two classes that totally out-shadowed all those exotic adventures: a music history course centered on The Beatles and a political science course lovingly named The Politics of Middle-Earth. (more…)
By Rebecca Rego Barry
When offered Sylvia Plath’s first collection of poems, The Colossus, New Directions founder James Laughlin turned it down. The year was 1960, and London publisher William Heinemann was looking for an American publishing partner. They sent a typed proposal letter and a proof of The Colossus to four American publishers, among them New Directions, where editor Bob MacGregor subtly praised the book in a note to his boss, calling it “skillful,” particularly Plath’s poem for Leonard Baskin, “Sculptor.” But Laughlin decided to pass, scribbling on a slip of paper, “Nor for us, I’d say.”
Later this month, this mini archive including three pieces of publishers’ correspondence (one typed letter signed; one half typed, half manuscript note; and one brief manuscript note) accompanied by an uncorrected proof of The Colossus will go to auction at Freeman’s in Philadelphia on September 30. It is conservatively estimated at $1,000-1,500.