Jul 092018
 

“What is Rare Book School? Is that Hogwart’s for librarians?”

Normally confused by ‘library school’, most people don’t realize there is an additional resource for rare book professionals, librarians, and bibliophiles located at the University of Virginia. Yes, there is a school to learn about books, book history, and many other aspects about information management not necessarily available on the job or higher education routes. It is not a given.  I would say there a great privilege being able to attend RBS.  Many library staff, students, and trade / working professionals have limited budgets that does not allow for supplemental professional development, like myself.  There is a real desire for the specific training. I feel very indebted to the individuals who either donate money or are part of the development administration, so that I may attend, which is what I did, on scholarship.

As a continuation of my foundational training, I chose to take Rare Book Cataloging with Deborah J. Leslie, after mostly hearing positive things about the course, but I actually will *use* this material on a daily basis. I also want to mention that even though the course was geared toward DCRM-B (which for the non library catalogers or book trade) is a descriptive standard designed specifically for more in-depth and rigorous transcription and authoritative work for cataloging. Could this apply in the book trade? Of course! I have often found that while the level of cataloging in the book trade is generally subjective, I find it annoying when certain authorities are not supplied, especially for personal names, corporate names, and certain extent descriptions. I suppose as along as you are consistent, however, how impressive would your records look to a library cataloger if they adhered to DCRM-B/RDA?! With library quality transcription of early printed materials!

Same exercise goes for collation. I came back with an enlightened understanding of creating signature statements and the art of collation counting with a Buddhist methodology. It is very Zen counting pages. You hear the crinkle of 18th century chain lined paper, as you gingerly turn the pages. When I returned I wanted to dive right now. So I did! I’m currently working on an unnamed book on witchcraft and demonology from the 17th century. My working signature statement is looking something like this:

A4 B8-R8 chi1 Aa8-Ss8 [+Ss4.2, +Ss6.2] Tt8-Zz8 [-Zz8] Aaaa8 Note: (Ss4-7 blank)(Aaaa4-8 blank)

This is proving both challenging and exciting for the book, finding all sorts of opportunities for deeper notes and observations.  On the same level, I’ve discovered the copy is actually missing pages replaced with blanks, so geeky cataloging stuff, someone down the road would find interesting. In addition to, as a bibliographer and a bookseller these are critical and active nuances of printed materials that are hyper-important for collectors and undoubtedly, inventory illuminations.

The real veggie casserole dish (as opposed to meat and potatoes) for me was in addition to collegial nature of RBS was the opportunity to take some personal time out for independent research. Generally even on “vacation” [because you really never take a vacation as a bookseller], I tend to visit libraries, if just for the building sometimes. However, with purpose and a looming deadline for a presentation, I decided to spend some time in the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library at UVA.  I’m currently doing research for a paper I’m presenting in September on occult book plates, I’m affectionately calling “Hexlibris,” as opposed to “Sexlibris” which is another talk I could do on Satan and phalluses. #hexlibris #sexlibris [don’t steal, muggles] Anyway, I’m on the hunt for bookplates. Witchy, occulty, masonic, magical ones. I do know that UVA has a large collection of Cotton Mather books, rather “pamphlets” originally gathered by industrialist William Gwinn Mather and donated by Tracy W. McGregor. The books stayed in the family.

Cotton Mather’s bookplate is rather simple, a small white letterpress label with a simple decorative border, almost perfect for a Puritan. William G. Mather’s bookplate is illustrated with a drawing of the elder Richard Mather (Cotton Mather’s grandfather) engraved within a book looking rather John Dee-like. Above that image, an illustration of the Gwinn Mather estate.  The majority of the book contained the ex libris of William G. Mather or Tracy McGregor. Nothing especially metaphysical for my research, so I only looked at a few. There was one book, though, that piqued my interest more than the other I was familiar with titled: “Warnings From the Dead. Or Solemn Admonitions Unto All People; But Especially Unto Young Persons to Beware of Such Evils as Would Bring Them to the Dead” by Cotton Mather. ; In two discourses, occasioned by a sentence of death, executed on some unhappy malefactors. ; Together with the last confession, made by a young woman, who dyed on June 8. 1693. One of these malefactors …  I almost did not look at this book. 

The book was trimmed to fit the binding and was missing part of the title page, however there was enough information, including the publisher and subsequently the bookseller, to identify the correct copy.  So, as I started to leaf through the volume, (mind you the binding is glaringly tight, I propped the book gently with another foam the book cradle). I started with the flyleaves, endpapers, etc. I noticed on the front flyleaf an inscription: “Abigaill Faxson Her book” written in what appeared to be contemporary hand. This was noted in the record. When I turned the leaf, an autograph jumped out at me and I could not believe my eyes. Written in the same period handwriting was the name of “Abigaill Williams,” above that an inscription: “James Bradford is Read it out.” [see images] I returned to the print out of the record and did not see a note for the second set of inscriptions and autograph which baffled me.

Why this might not mean much to most people, it sure as heck meant *a lot* to me. Partially as a cataloger, if I was doing DCRMB/RDA, I would certainly include the autographs and the inscription in the record, but more so as a researcher of early American witchcraft, c. 17th-18th century, this is huge.  Depending on your level of cataloging parameters, I think in this case, it might have been worth recording that information.

Basically, what this opens up for me is a research project on provenance. The questions I immediately want to know why the specific provenance and secondly, it is contemporary to the publication?  There is every indication that Cotton Mather given the subject matter of the sermon was adamant about saving the souls of damned youth guilty of crimes of lust and aberration. We know Mather had contact with Elizabeth Emerson, the young woman who murdered her newborn children in 1693 and was found guilty, executed, but we know Mather had an influence on her original non-guilty plea. He proselytized heavily on the salvation of young people’s souls.  Could Mather or “James Bradford” have read this sermon out to Abigaill?

Additionally, the front flyleaf provenance is also puzzling. “Faxson” is shown in a several genealogical records as a surname for the early part of the 18th century, but without further research, I’m not sure how far back. It is certainly not as common in the Boston/New England area as say, Bradford, Williams, Smith, etc. One clue would be to figure out who is this other Abigaill.

Note on spelling of Abigaill: I have seen so far colonial name spelling conventions for Abigaill spelled with two lls, however uncommon.

After 1693, Abigaill Williams was, for the most part, wiped from the obvious record of history. There are unsubstantiated claims she travelled to Boston and became a prostitute and died a few years later at the age of 17. While there is very little to go on about her life, at this point, this autograph in Mather’s sermon perhaps sheds light on a little more. Then again, the notations could prove very little and rather than piecing together something outlandish and speculated, I would let it rest. Yet, theory is what motivates research. Given my background and combined interests, this is an exciting springboard for me to continue searching for an explanation.  As a cataloger, I would hope that one day, notes will be added to the record reflecting a substantiated provenance. As a researcher, I would like to find Abigaill.

Best advice: Don’t be afraid to look on the “wrong” side of history.

-Kim Schwenk, Rare Book School 2018

Nov 082017
 

It is that time of year! The 41st Annual Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair, starts this Friday, November 10-12, 2017. Passes are available for the Friday preview night, please let us know if you would like a pass or two.

We have a show list on our website with most, but not all, of what we will have in Boston. We will be debuting a few very special things that must remain a secret for now. Please let us know if there is anything that catches your eye. Find your pleasure in our Boston show list.

With a few new surprises!

Jul 142017
 

So after a few weeks of decompressing, we are back from RBMS 17 Iowa City! With epic stop overs in Indiana, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, and more! By visiting the dead during the trip, we certainly appreciate our education and places of memories. Much like books, graveyards emulate a sense of memory.  While strolling through the local cemetery in Iowa City, we devised a plan to take the crypt a to it logical bibliophilic conclusion. What if you could shelve yourself much like a book, after walking on this complicated earth, in a familiar setting, housed in a familiar form? Thus, the idea of ‘bibliocrypt’ was born! Picture a crypt that embodies a library shelves…stone bindings on the outside, shelves with book-urns lining the inside. #bibliocrypt

Too morbid? Well, we did engage with the living, many living and breathing archives and libraries, librarians, and archivists doing amazing and engaging things to enrich our conscious world.  RBMS is typically a time of exchange and growth for many in the field. We were there to listen and talk to people in a wildly critical time of scholarship and information exchange.  Unlike most book fairs, this is best time to actually discuss components of library collection development, new modes of material description, and aspects of outreach and engagement.  We did a pretty good job of bringing materials that reflected the over theme of the conference: “The Stories We Tell” from artist’s books, narratives, to strange and odd visual storytelling.  A pared down booth!

In the future weeks, we will be thinking about yes, death, our biblioarcanum and new catalogs and lists coming out.

Our next big show is Boston ABAA, November 10-12, 2017. #biblioarcanum

Jun 012017
 

 

Yes, despite what we complain about, there are things we enjoy about the approaching summer. That includes attending the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section conference in Iowa City! Lux Mentis will be part of the Bookseller showcase this year, along with many other fine booksellers. We are especially excited to feature our selection of book arts and primary source materials in keeping with this year’s theme, “The Stories We Tell.” We are also sponsoring the panel: “MATERIALIA LUMINA: THE CONTEMPORARY BOOK IN ITS HISTORICAL CONTEXT: PHILOSOPHICAL MUSING OF THREE MASTER PRINTERS” featuring Peter Rutledge Koch, Russell Maret, and Gaylord Schanilec.

As a large part of our mission we aim to support especially book arts and book narratives, so we will have a good selection of artist’s books and both pictorial and literary narratives. A few of our latest acquisitions will be featured including works by Ximena Perez GrobetLorena Velázquez, Alexandra Janezic, Maureen Cummins, and Sam Winston. As usual, we will also bring a few challenging and provocative things.

Before the show, we will be attending the Chicago Book & Paper Fair and during the week of RBMS we will also be attending the Solstice Book Fair organized by book artists, Alexandra Janezic and Candida Pagan.

Until then, keep reading, keep collecting! See you in Iowa City!

 

Oct 042016
 

The last day of YABS was something more than I expected. While we dispersed at the end of the day, I hope somethings stuck with people. Not sure how often, other than exclusive or private conversations, booksellers have frank discussions.  I won’t belabor the negatives here, rather that the discussions trigger some action. Before the end summary, we started off the day actually handling materials, one of my favourite things. Sophie facilitated a hands-on session discussing printing techniques and showing examples. It is definitely worth knowing the difference between lithography, engraving, etching, woodcut, photo polymer, etc.

Our after break speaker lead us through a fascinating narrative regarding the extremely real issues around fakes and forgeries. I’ve always known the book world is like detective work, in a sense (not even ironically if you are a mystery specialist). There are people that would spend a lifetime faking antiquarian books, as presented by Adam Douglas of Peter Harrington.  No big surprise in our fraudulent and suspect world. Ian even pointed out, it might be interesting to collect faked books, as a theatre of the absurd aspect in a black library. We ended out the rest of the seminar with personal narratives and expertise in the trade from Nigel Burwood, Ed Maggs, and ended the day with gems of wisdom from Jonathan, once again.

I think for me, the important bit was the discussion afterwards, sparked by Jonathan and continued by several of the participants in the class. Gender and race should always be on the table, especially in a profession where the representation is not there. The book trade, much like the rare book librarianship, is desolate with representations of diverse communities and has had a history of marginalizing women. The difference with the profession is the library field has actively tried to cultivate relationships with marginalized communities through mentoring programs, scholarships, and encouraging women, people of color, people who are differently-abled, and gender diverse communities to seek professions in the library. The book trade, well, not so much. Part of that is there isn’t an incentive or action to do so, partially due to the fact that the trade has little to no accountability. I’ve already experienced some form of harassment, and it is almost up to individuals or a few concerned minds to address the issues, there is no Ombudsman Office in the trade.  Conflicts begrudgingly get worked out over drinks and sometimes produce piss poor attitudes from people. No one is asking everyone to be at the front of the protest or the march, but more recognition of privilege and some forthright decency and respect would be amazing.

As I suggested, in order to challenge or at least instigate change, even if a small part, YABS might consider supporting a diversity scholarship for individuals from underrepresented communities, with an emphasis on ethnic background. Rare Book School has had great success with their scholarship initiatives with demographics, but it will take some active follow-up and target communication to encourage people to apply without tokenizing communities. It takes thought and work. I think the trade is and should be up for it.  However, I don’t think participants ended the seminar feeling threatened or irritated. Rather, prodded consciously to perhaps recognize issues more soundly or even thoughtfully in the future.

So, if you are still reading [blather]… Again, without the support I wouldn’t have been able to attend YABS, ironically what I am talking about here. I could rant on about issues, but would rather end on a note of productivity and inspiration from the collegial nature and accumulated knowledge from YABS. Now, let’s put all this to good use. 🙂

 

 

Sep 292016
 

The ghosts in the Abbey were quiet the night before, so that I could get a good night’s sleep before the continued bibliographic analysis with the knights of the roundtable.  The great thing about doing a seminar with people bringing different facets of knowledge is the possibility to be surprised.  If not surprised, then satisfied. I’m satisfied with the fact there was a tea kettle and packets of tea in my room in the nunnery.

teabarconvent

So the morning was started like avocado on toast, bibliographic brain food and fairness. Fairness, I say, happens when you tell an honest story. Cataloging, as I know it in the library world, needs to be fair because it follows a standard and an institution. Cataloging in the book trade needs to be fair because it reflects the person, your ability as a human to tell a narrative that is honest. That record reflect you.

During the cataloging workshop, I found working collaboratively was the most helpful. Typically a library cataloger works alone and consults standards when necessary. Your ability reflects your decision making and that comes into question frequently. I suppose the same rings true in the trade, but I would like to think that cataloging in the trade is composing a narrative that genuinely reflects how you relate and gravitate to the material in the first place and honestly how you would like others to share in that spectral place. [I’m pretty sure by now, I know the difference between ‘uncut’ ‘untrimmed’ ‘unopened’ and boy, that sounds dirty.]  Do you dwell on the crappy parts of the book? Yeah, the spine is cracked, say so, but move on.

It was especially great to hear from Jenny Allsworth and the challenges and benefits to becoming a specialty dealer. I think more than anything for me, personal narrative is so critical and I love that she shared her personal story to illuminate her experience working in the trade. If we were robots, sure things would get done, but to have a visceral experience while often difficult, makes the nervous ambition and twitch seem worth. Makes it human.

Speaking of more great humans, we finished the afternoon off with Tim Pye, Libraries Curator at the National Trust, speaking frankly, as a librarian and the relationship to booksellers. As Simon points out, it is very dynamic relationship, and speaking from experience, one that requires devotion and efforts. I learned a thing! I didn’t know this existed: Special Collections and Social Media.  Super helpful thing.  Incidentally, Jonathan, also spent a good amount of time talking about the benefits of social media and how cohesive, satisfying?, and arguably, the breadth and depth of a splendid online presence proves. You put yourself out there and yes, you are vulnerable. It also shows a commitment to transparency about your business practices, interests, and accounts for your willing to the fluidity of change with the communication age. Seriously, the brilliance of a hashtag is sometimes astounding. Again, ironically, finishing out the day talking with Anthony about ‘brick and mortar’ shops is well-rounded. I don’t think we can rely on the physical institution of the book store to stay the same, as the notion was echoed here. We don’t have to necessarily like Facebook, or Twitter, etc. but they are tools. Not tool, as in annoying guy in the supermarket on the phone talking about his spiritual awakening, but a device to create a symbiotic identity between a face and a function.

To come…the last bit of Day 3, and the York Antiquarian Brown Book Fair. I mean, the York Antiquarian Book Fair.

[Addendum: I almost forgot the Book Shop tour of York! Walking tours of various generous shops with open doors, we skirted around the cobblestones streets into crannies of low hanging ceilings and sweated a lot. It was unseasonably warm]

 

 

 

 

Sep 272016
 

“It is hard to be so old, and harder still to be so blind. I miss the sun. And books. I miss the books most of all.”- A Storm of Swordsgame-of-thrones-wall

We traveled far beyond the sea, far beyond the wall. As dramatic as it sounds, given the choice between spending a week or two in the United Kingdom or not, well, the story speaks for itself.

The York Antiquarian Book Seminar takes place in September nestled between the languishing summer months, almost every bookseller dreads and the first major book fair of the Fall in Europe, York Antiquarian Book Fair. It took a quick minute to take realize how lucky I was to be able to attend YABS this year, due to the generosity of Between the Covers Rare Books and the fiendishly fabulous Jonathan Kearns. With that support, I spent three solid days immersed in a comprehensive lathering of many years of book trade wisdom.  It was as if a bunch of owls got together, got drunk, and talked about their favourite hunting grounds for three days. The collective knowledge at YABS was cumulatively longer than the Hundred Years’ War [without the bloodshed]* well, maybe a little. (will get to that later).

Micklegate Bar, heads will roll

YABS is situated at the Bar Convent Living Heritage Centre [and nunnery, shhhhhh] smack dab in the front of this amazing Bar. Not bar like booze, but bar like gate [You are awesome, Norse.]  Micklegate Bar, in fact.  So, not only do I wake up in a 17th century nunnery (and I didn’t burst into flames), I look out the window at a 14th century gate. My A Knight’s Tale fantasies are real, kids.  Apparently, a bunch of important white dudes’ heads were severed and left there on display.  Aside my personal anachronistic glee, the location was perfect for the seminar. It was close to the train station (thank you Virgin), pubs, shops, points of interest, and even the racetrack for the book fair. The first night we were there, we happened upon a pub with decent food, drinks, and a server with a 12″ spiked mohawk. Am I dreaming?

THE WALL, where’s Jon Snow?

img_3577

Day One:

I did, I really did review my binder full of preliminary notes. Perhaps it is the librarian in me, but I like to be prepared. In good fashion, the seminar opened with warm welcomes and introductions from Anthony Smithson of Keel Row Books and a chance to out myself as a ‘recovering librarian.’ It’s funny, but true. Looking forward to the keynote from Heather O’Donnell of Honey & Wax Booksellers speaking not just of the epigram: “use books as bees use flowers,” but “The Signal and the Noise.” I listened intently on the ‘meta’ of bookselling about boosting the signal and filtering out noise and picked up a quote that stuck with me, “Can one place a value in being surprised?” Short answer is yes, to me, the intrinsic nature of the trade rests on the value of response. For me, sometimes that noise is a beacon.

After Heather’s illuminating talk, we dived right into to fundamental financials and business structures, firstly with Alice Laverty, also of Keel Row Books and Sophie Schneideman, Rare Books & Prints. Admittedly, not my favourite subject, but absolutely critical to be able to wade through the process. As someone who skates by most of the time, I realize structure is important, and I resonated with Sophie’s astute sensibility towards administrative time vs. everything else fun in the book trade time. The book trade is a rabbit hole at times, we are Alice in Wonderland, however dedicating chunks of daily time to administrative, bookkeeping, and follow-up is sound. It’s ok to be a lion and a lamb. Good practice, also, to get in the habit of “quoting something everyday.”

I was able to chat with some nice chaps, fellow classmates, generally everyone attending was charming and friendly. After the breaks and food, grateful for the veg selections and liquid gold tea, we forged on with Anthony and Justin Croft speaking about buying books, aka getting your grubby paws on something cool, something spectacular, something achingly amazing, that something you might just sleep with under your pillow. Does that make the estimate value go up? Literally, how do you come upon such stuff. Well, I’ve never done a *real* auction, other than when I was a kid in Indiana and I stared at the cows with a “I will free you” face. From their stories, I can imagine it can be tense and often shady. Auctioneers have techniques that are seemingly dodgy. Ultimately, as mentioned, like in the States with the ABAA, if you are a member, you want to try and have a sliver of ethics.  Really, as Jonathan Kearns eloquently mentioned shortly after, ‘best practice’ is your friend. You can operate with a sense of passion, but do so with a spine and a conscience.  The rest can be sorted.

York Antiquarian Book Seminar - Jonathan Kearns speaking in poetic tongues

York Antiquarian Book Seminar – Jonathan Kearns speaking in poetic tongues

We ended the session with charged brains to tackle bibliographical description aka Kim’s ‘only authority I listen to’ bit with Simon Beattie and Justin Croft. Coming from the land of AACR2, RDA, NACO and other fascist acronyms, I quite like bib standards.  Both Simon and Justin are like the NASA astrophysicists of books, not surprisingly could catalog an unpaginated book on Medieval methods of flaying turnips printed on mammoth skin while underwater and make it interesting.  While bookseller descriptions are quite fluid compared to library standards, I appreciate the moth-to-flame mentality to be consistent. Collation exists for a reason. It can be useful, not just as a check and balance formula, but a practice that makes you well aware of the material you are handling. How could you not resist becoming intimate with your books?

Stay tuned for Day 2.

Jun 212016
 

We are pleased to announce the second of two RBMS 2016 exclusive catalogs. We made an extremely small print edition to distribute at RBMS [inquire!!!] There will be a pdf. available on the Lux Mentis website, but are excited to debut it as a flip catalog [N.B. there is a FullScreen button in the navbar and a .pdf download option].

 

Contact us with questions or find us at RBMS at the Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables. #rbms16

Jun 212016
 

We are pleased to announce the first of two RBMS 2016 exclusive catalogs. We made an extremely small print edition to distribute at RBMS [inquire!!!] There will be a pdf. available on the Lux Mentis website, but are excited to debut it as a flip catalog [N.B. there is a FullScreen button in the navbar and a .pdf download option].

Contact us with questions or find us at RBMS at the Biltmore Hotel, Coral Gables. #rbms16

May 262016
 
Coral Gables,FL-Venetian Pool-Linen

Coral Gables,FL-Venetian Pool-Linen

About a month away before Lux Mentis ventures to Coral Gables, FL for Rare Books and Manuscripts Section/ACRL Conference 2016! Lux Mentis is sponsoring a seminar:

“Common Sense, Charm, and a Glass of Wine: Successfully Navigating Donor Relations in Special Collections”

Stay tuned for exciting catalogs furthering our manifesto of vice and debauchery and if you are lucky, a print version (while supplies last!).

Follow the marauders on Instagram: instagram.com/luxmentis/

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