Aug 232010

As I’m beginning to pull together things for the Baltimore Show, I was reminded yet again how much I love what I do. These five items are currently on my coffee table-370 years of printed matter. What a great way to spend one’s time.

Jun 212010

Aidan and I drove into DC to meet with Mark Dimunation (Chief of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division, Library of Congress). Spending time with Mark is always great fun. Spending time with Mark *at* the LC and having him show you about, tell you interesting things about the building *and* show you around in the vault is quite extraordinary. Aidan was really amazed. As we stood in the middle of the reading room, he leaned over and whispered, “This is awesome.”…and this was *before* Mark put Charles Dickens’ cane and Lincoln’s life mask in his hands. It was awesome. It amazes me that Mark can get anything done on a day to day basis with such amazing things to explore and play with.

We then drove up to Philadelphia to settle in for the rest of the week at RBMS. We joined Philadelphia Rare Books and Manuscriptsat their lovely shop for an open house and dinner. Having chatted with Mark earlier in the morning about the nature of perogies, it was strangely pleasing to find them offered up for dinner. The house is wonderful (late 19th century officer’s quarters at The Arsenal)…do not miss the spectacular floors. We were greeted upon arrival by Frank Wood, sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch. We Mainers get about.

I’ve included many images below-tried to give good descriptions where I could. Each will get big and pretty if you click upon. Enjoy.

May 122010

Bookride recently posted a list of the “Top 20 Sites for Book Collectors”. The post *did* make me think about the Top 20 sites for book collectors…then again, I really didn’t think much of the list. It is certainly a list of 20 sites that book collectors should be aware of…but I just can’t begin to think of it as the “Top 20″. I thought I would offer an alternative. Additions, alternative, derisive comments are welcome. Loosely grouped, but in no particular order:

  1. The Private Library: All others in this list are little more than footnotes to this first-and every other site listed is included in TPL’s link lists. Truly, if you are a bibliophile, this is one of the sites you *must* bookmark. Personally, I find his blog interesting and engaging, but even if it is not for you the archive of research sites, biblio-blogs, online resources, etc is *far and away* the greatest compilation of such material available. Expect to lose several hours poking about on your first foray in and around the site.
  2. ABAA: The home of the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association of America. Interesting and useful articles and resources. ABAA has partnered with to make members holding searchable though the site…such listing have the best signal to noise ratio. Also included information regarding major fairs in the US.
  3. ILAB: The home of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers. Like the ABAA site, only international. Great content and frequently updated. You can search members books here too (this includes US ABAA members and ILAB member worldwide)…again, extremely good signal to noise ratio. Also includes major fair information world-wide.
  4. IOBA: The home of the Independent Online Booksellers Association. A trade group for non-publically traded online booksellers. There is some useful information at the site and the ability to search members’ books. While membership does note carry the weight that ABAA/ILAB membership does, they do have a code of ethics and standards…a first step that is certainly  not found in all venues (looking at you, ebay).
  5. Library of Congress: I can not overstate how important the LC and its site can be. It is a *tremendous* research resource that is greatly underutilized by most. Name your book, topic, genre, and/or area of interest and it is there.
  6. Bodleian Library: Like the LC, simply a tremendous research and exploration sight.
  7. LibraryThing: A social networking site for bibliophiles. You can list your collection(s) and find those who share interests easily… Great forums, passionate book lovers.
  8. Hyraxia: Though not the easiest name to roll off one’s tongue, a great site for the collector and/or book lover. Strong posts and resources. An interesting and evolving bibliophilic site.
  9. Facebook: FB has emerged recently as an interesting place for the bookishly inclined. Searching “Pages” for the author, genre, book, character, etc. will generally find you more similarly afflicted/interested people than you could possibly want. In recent months a remarkable number of good to great book sellers have also emerged at FB and can be great fun to chat with and/or watch from afar.
  10. Twitter: Like FB, Twitter is a bit of a surprise to be included. However, there are a *lot* of interesting bookish people active on Twitter (librarians, archivists, collectors, readers, authors, publishers, booksellers, etc.). Use one or more of the filtering services to get an idea (e.g. go to and search for booksellers, books, librarians, or whatever else might resonate.) Alternatively, find a twitterer you like and see if they have a “biblio” list…a nice shortcut to find interesting people.
  11. This is my first stop when I am looking for a book. Privately held and run by a great and passionate groups, the quality of the sellers/books seems to be better than some of the larger aggregators. UI is clean and efficient. Bonus in that they partnered with the ABAA in creating the ABAA vendor site. They do good works, too (opening libraries in S. America). Forums can be interesting and useful to the emerging book collector…pick and choose carefully.
  12. The biggest of the large aggregators, if doesn’t serve me what I need, this is my second stop. There is no question they have a deeper pool of dealers with the noted caveat that the term “dealer” is somewhat looser. Expect a low signal to noise ratio on common-uncommon material…
  13. A smaller aggregator that is a “bookseller co-op”. They have a knowledgeable pool of sellers and a fair bit of interesting and useful reference materials.
  14. I went back and forth including Amazon, as I really do not think of them much in terms of a great site “for book collectors”…that said, they are a great site for people who want to buy books. Period. There is no doubt that they have a stunning selection of new material and an increasingly deep offering of “used and rare”. They have made noise of late that they are creating a venue for “rare and collectible” material (N.B. they own and that may well evolve into something interesting. However, their passion to commoditize everything runs *directly* in conflict with good/serious/honest fine book standards and practices. It is increasingly difficult to properly describe “unique” copies, you can not provide scholarly links in descriptions, and they have made it difficult to communicate directly with the book sellers. They are the 800 pound gorilla in the room, but they move a lot of books…
  15. An aggregator of aggregators. You can search on BF to search all the major selling venues at once. N.B. A number of other sites do this as well, though this has always seemed to have the cleanest/least offensive UI.
  16. Private Libraries Association: An association comprised of collectors, based in the UK, but with chapters worldwide. Recommended.
  17. The Grolier Club: The largest bibliophilic club in the US. Great exhibits and resources. Do *not* miss an opportunity to stop by the house when you are next in NYC. [N.B. Most states/large cities have bibliophilic clubs (e.g. Maine's Baxter Society). Find one near you and is great fun to get together with the similarly afflicted.]
  18. Rare Book School: RBS has some good material online but, most importantly, GO THERE. I can not tell you how important/useful/interesting classes at RBS can be. Scholarships are available. You learn good things and get to spend time with collectors, dealers, and librarians.
  19. Americana Exchange: A very strong collection of resources and a finger on the pulse of the book auction scene.
  20. Fine Books and Collections Magazine: Far and away the best journal for the book scene currently in print. They do quarterly paper editions, but the site is frequently updated and is data rich for any lover of books. Subscribe to the print edition, frequent the site, read the email newsletter, follow the blog. The other *must bookmark*.

So there you are. 20 of the best websites for book collectors. Obviously, there are many other good sites. There are many great library sites (British Library, Folger’s, Lilly, etc). There are also other retail/aggregator sites (addall, alibris, choosebooks,, etc)…even (sorry, just can’t link). [N.B. the signal to noise level at some of these can be extremely low...tons of crap/POD copies cluttering search strings to outright fraud/forgery. ebay is the extreme can finds some great things if you've the time and patience...and you can find a tremendous amount of fraudulent/stolen material. The key when buying "well" is dealing with a bookdealer you can trust...if you do not know them personally, trade group membership is a good starting bar. Buyer, as always, beware.]

I did not include biblio-blogs, of which there are myriad. These tend to be personal choices/interests…most keep interesting blogrolls so you can explore as you see fit. Some of my favorites include: FoggyGatesSarah’s Books, Biblioblography, BookPatrol, BookTryst, Fine Books Blog, and Philobiblos…and of course, Lux Mentis, Lux Orbis. Feel free to add other’s below. Teach me something I do not know…that is a deep well…

Apr 212010

This is an interesting video from Encyclopedia Britannica on the making of a book. It examines the working of a large letterpress print house. The film starts with creating text on a linotype machine, looks at creating copper plates from lead slugs, folding the gatherings, stitching and binding. A very nice bit of industrial video. Pity most books are now glued…guaranteed to fail. Not much of a fan of forced obsolescence.  [Thanks to Ernie at E-Verse Radio for the heads-up]

Apr 012010

The Isle of San Serriffe

The Guardian, in a moment of brilliance, created a special section exploring the wonders of San Serriffe. As illustrated, its two main islands were named Upper Caisse and Lower Caisse. Its capital was Bodoni, and its leader was General Pica. It is number five on the list of 100 great hoaxes, but clearly it should be number one.

Created in 1977, it started as a single page idea that grew into a full seven page “Special Section” that included a number of articles, sidebars, and advertiser joining in on the lark.

Articles included:

“Three point key to prosperity” by Geoffrey Taylor, which described how San Serriffe’s economy had boomed thanks to the phosphate industry, tourism, and oil.

“The block vote which resulted in industrial peace” by John Torode, which discussed San Serriffe’s unique solution to union/management cooperation—all collective agreements on the island expire on the same day each year and are personally renegotiated by Antonio “Che” Pica, second cousin of the President.

“The leader’s rise to power” by Mark Arnold-Forster, which discussed how Maria-Jesu Pica, San Serriffe’s young President-for-life, came to power following an almost bloodless coup on May 11, 1971.

“Bold expansion in tourism” by Adrienne Keith Cohen, which discussed the many tourist attractions of San Serriffe, including a diverse mix of cultures, modern highways, air-conditioned hotels, and beaches “from which terrorism has been virtually eliminated.”

“Transposed by the tides” by Anthony Tucker, which discussed San Serriffe’s unique geological characteristic—the constant eastward movement of the islands caused by tidal erosion.

“Casting off into unknown wealth” by Victor Keegan, which discussed San Serriffe’s transformation from a small agricultural economy into an industrial steel-exporting force to be reckoned with.

“Spiking the cultural roots” by Tim Radford, which discussed the cultural heritage of San Serriffe’s indigenous people, the Flongs, focusing on their unique celebration, the Festival of the Well Made Play. During this festival “local committees of Flongs and islanders of European extraction combine enthusiastically to mount the complete cycle of plays by William Douglas-Home in English, Caslon, and Ki-flong.”

Sidebars in the supplement included “Guide to the Republic” and “Landmarks in History.” These offered brief details about San Serriffe’s demographics, geography, and history.

Bonus: San Serriffe haikus:

Typesetters may dream
Of the idyllic landscape’d
Isles of San Serriffe

Off in “San Seriffe”
the islands keep on moving
through imagined seas.

Mar 242010

I offer, for additional consideration on Ada Lovelace Day, Mary Katherine Goddard. She was the first postmistress in the US, but far more importantly, she was a printer. While the first copy of the Declaration of Independence was famously printed by John Dunlap, the second copy (and the first printed names of the signers) was printed by M.K. Goddard. She also printed one of the first accounts of the Battle of Bunker Hill. Technologist, printer of the founding fathers, and all around remarkable woman:

After the death of her father in 1762, she and her mother joined her brother in Providence, R.I. where he had established a printing shop, and where both mother and daughter began their careers as printers. Mary Katherine actively worked in publishing the weekly Providence Gazette until the end of 1768 when she joined her brother’s printing office in Philadelphia, where he published the Pennsylvania Chronicle. Though the publication remained under the brother’s name, William Goddard, Mary Katherine managed the shop, one of the largest in the colonies. In May 1773, William started a new printing business in Baltimore and began Baltimore’s first newspaper, the Maryland Journal. In February 1774, the Philadelphia shop closed and Mary Katherine moved to Baltimore to take over the new plant and newspaper.

The May 10, 1775 issue of the Maryland Journal made official what had been in practice for over a year when the colophon was changed to read, “Published by M. K. Goddard.” Mary Katherine proved to be a steady, impersonal newspaper editor and during the Revolution she was usually Baltimore’s only printer. From her press, in January 1777, came the first printed copy of the Declaration of Independence to include the names of the signers. Mary Katherine Goddard was also responsible for issuing several Almanacs, while in Baltimore, which now hold a place in the Maryland Historical Society. [MD Women's Hall of Fame]

Mar 232010

Editor’s Note: The post today comes from my blog-quiet but ever-present wife, Suzanne. An engineer and business strategist by training, she has an uncanny ability to not only envision societal changes enabled by new technologies, and figure out the implications for her business clients (including yours truly), but to never forget the little details that keep our lives functional on a daily basis. I therefore dedicate today’s blog to Suzanne, Ada Lovelace, and all the other sung and unsung achievements of women in technology and science.

I know there have been any number of magnificent women who have managed to change the course of history through their achievements in technology and science. I also, sadly, know I am woefully ignorant of far too many of them. Raised with little to no awareness that there might actually be people who believed women were not as smart or capable as men, studying pioneering women in my chosen fields was not something I actively felt the need to do. I just assumed that as the doors of opportunity started to open to women, the math would take care of itself, and the ranks of all professions would become gender-balanced. I have since become older, wiser, and perhaps a bit more cynical as I recognize some of the remaining structural and institutional barriers. But this column is not about me, nor about how far we still have to go, but about those women who came before who enabled me to grow up thinking all things were possible.

Grace Murray Hopper, like so many women of her generation, threw themselves into work to help win World War II. But she was no typical Rosie the Riveter. Born in 1906 in New York City, she graduated Phi Beta Kappa from Vassar with a bachelor’s in math and physics in 1928, and from Yale with a Master’s in 1930 and a PhD in 1934. By 1941 she was an associate professor in math at Vassar, but in 1943 took a leave of absence to volunteer in the US Navy Reserve as part of the WAVES. Assigned to the Bureau of Ships Computation Project at Harvard, she was one of the first programmers of the Mark I computer. This work led to her involvement with the development of the UNIVAC, her conceptualization of the idea of machine-independent programming languages, her development of the first compiler, and the infamous coining of the term computer “bug” when she discovered the reason the computer (then a large room full of vacuum tubes) was not functioning was a dead moth (see wikipedia for a photo). While turned down for transfer to the regular Navy (at 38, she was considered too old), she spent most of her working life in the Reserves, despite several short-lived attempts to retire in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Her list of accomplishments and awards is long; her accolades many.

I was lucky enough to hear her speak in the mid 1980’s at the national conference of the Society of Women Engineers. As one of a handful of computer science majors at the time, I should have been aware of her work. I wasn’t. I knew the names of Brian Kernighan and Dennis Ritchie as if they were family members, we all admired the work of Tom Watson and giggled about his alleged quotation about the size of the worldwide market for computers (5), the Steves (Wozniak & Jobs) and Bill Joy were considered gods, and Bill Gates was highly respected for the company he was building. But until I saw her name on the keynote address, I hadn’t known about the accomplishments of Rear Admiral Grace Murray Hopper. While I can’t remember, all these years later, exactly what she told this room full of women, to this day I remember being in complete awe of what she did during a time when women were told their patriotic duty was to resign their jobs, go back to the kitchen, and let the returning men have the good jobs. And to this day, I can’t help but notice the respect in the voices of the men who speak of her accomplishments. So thank you, Amazing Grace, for all you did. And thank you to Suw Charman-Anderson, the founder of Ada Lovelace Day, for getting us to stop and remember those who came before.

BTW, for those of you wondering about a biblio connection, there are several. Grace Hopper, needless to say, published important scholarly works in her own right. Ada Lovelace wrote the world’s first computer algorithm/program for Charles Babbage’s Analytical Engine and translated Luigi Menabrea’s memoir on the engine. Sadly, she died at the tender age of 36. And finally, another famous bibliophile, Lord Byron, had the privilege of being Ada’s largely absent father (apparently, he was bitterly disappointed she was not a boy – little could he know what she would become).