Saturday, September 26, 2009

A Shaker Sister's Drawings

Continuing down the botanical pathway I started on yesterday beside the Bonnie Brier Bush, here's a recent find that takes root in the Canterbury Shaker Village in New Hampshire: A Shaker Sister's Drawings: Wild Plants Illustrated by Sister Cora Helena Sarle (Monacelli Press, NY, 1997).

This quietly elegant volume of drawings evokes the simplicity and subtle beauty of the Canterbury Shaker Village in the late nineteenth century. Thanks to two Shaker historians, June Sprigg Tooley and Scott T. Swank, who have provided the Introduction and Afterword for this book, and to David Larkin who designs illustrated documentary books, there is a printed record now to share the creative artistry of Sister Cora Helena Sarle and the Shaker village that inspired her.

Cora Helena Sarle came to live there in 1882 at the age of fifteen and eventually committed her life to the Shakers, signing the Shaker Covenant in 1888. Under the watchful and encouraging eye of Elder Henry Clay Blinn, the village patriarch, Sarle's artistic talent was discovered and nourished. It was also seen as a useful tool for creating a record of botanical life in the village and for teaching the younger people who came to live there about nature.

Sister Helena (she went by her middle name) flourished creatively and within the Shaker community. Her notebooks of drawings were accompanied by Elder Henry's written text. Their work remained in the Canterbury village until a Shaker collector was able to purchase them for a private collection sometime after Sister Helena's death in 1956.

Now, the notebooks have returned to Canterbury where the Shaker village is a National Historic Landmark site and museum, and they inspired the publication of this book, a facsimile edition of Sister Helena's illustrations. Examples of her work follow.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Found in the Bonnie Brier Bush

I found this little volume by Ian MacLaren last night: Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush (Dodd, Mead & Company, 1895).

The tan cloth covers with green decoration and titles was the eye catcher along with the obvious age. Just the kind of book that might yield an interesting bookplate, inscription, or a long-gone bookseller's label. Or who knows what. You want to follow that winding path on the cover into the leaves...

Ian MacLaren was a pseudonym for Scottish author and theologian, John Watson (1850 to 1907). He traveled to America at least a few times, once as the Lyman Beecher lecturer at Yale University, and the last trip would be his last anywhere. He died traveling through Iowa.

As an author, Watson/MacLaren was best known for his tales of rural Scottish life, this book, Beside the Bonnie Brier Bush, being his first.

The front endpapers of this volume share a bit of the book's provenance--an ex libris and a gift inscription with names other than that on the ex libris, which reads: FROM THE PRIVATE LIBRARY OF FREMONT LEIDY.

The gift inscription was dated 1897, only a few years after the book's publication. Looks like Mae Simpson gave the book to Zola Martin that year, and that's about all that can be known of previous ownership.

However, flipping through the pages, I found a few interesting surprises. Pages 24-25 opened up to reveal what looks like a four-leaf clover and a few other unidentifiable botanical specimens. Could this lucky piece of clover have been picked beside the bonnie brier bush?? I haven't a clue what a bonnie brier bush is, but it would make for a nice symbolic gesture to have stored these plants in a book set in their habitat.

I doubt it. This edition was published in America (Dodd, Mead in NY) and the folks whose names appear on the front endpapers were likely Americans who bought the book in local area book shops. So these four leaves of green are likely from the red, white, and blue.

But how lucky to find a four-leaf clover, if that's what it is (it's four leaves of something), whether in a field, a bonnie brier patch, or in a book pressed between leaves of another kind. And not only once, but twice! Toward the end of the book, there's another four-leaf clover pressed between the pages, but this one has a detached leaf. Still present, but detached nonetheless. A broken four-leaf clover? I wonder if that is something akin to a broken mirror bringing bad luck.

At least I have one intact. I thought my wife would like the book with the good luck clover. She likes small, old, decorative books accenting the decor of various rooms in our home. Plus she's half Scotch-Irish (the other half being Italian) and we have fond memories of a visit to Edinburgh, which I discovered after the purchase was where the book's author lived and ministered for a time.

But with all those signs pointing to a purchase, it was the book's dedication that sealed the deal. The author states simply: To my wife. And so to my wife it goes. After all, twenty-seven years ago today we exchanged vows and rings and got this marriage kicked off.

So in lieu of a Hallmark card, why not say Happy Anniversary with a meaningful antiquarian book? But good luck finding one with an old four-leaf clover inside.

Friday, September 11, 2009

Remembering the victims and heroes of 9/11

Remembering the disbelief and horror of eight years ago today, as well as the heroic efforts in the aftermath of the tragedy, I once again have opened this book of photographs to view the grim, necessary reminders of what happened that day:
Above Hallowed Ground: A Photographic Record of September 11, 2001, by photographers of the New York City Police Department
The book is edited by Christopher Sweet and published by Viking Studio/Penguin Group, 2002.

Two years ago, I visited New York City for the first time since 9/11--five years after the attacks. I drove by where the Twin Towers once stood and took a harbor tour to get this view from the water of that empty space. It was an indescribable feeling.

Contrasted with the NYPD photo, below, of the same spot on 9/11.

This NYPD photo shows the Woolworth Building coming into view after the World Trade Center Towers fell. It was the tallest building in the world from 1913 to 1931.

And my photo from the water in 2007.

National September 11 Memorial & Museum at the World Trade Center

Pentagon Memorial

9/11 Flight Crew Memorial

American Airlines Flight 11: A Memorial List of the Victims

American Airlines Flight 77: A Memorial List of the Victims

United Airlines Flight 175: A Memorial List of the Victims

United Airlines Flight 93: A Memorial List of the Victims

Flight 93 National Memorial, Pennsylvania

FDNY Memorial Wall

NYPD Memorial

New York - New Jersey Port Authority Police Department September 11, 2001 Memorial

Thursday, September 10, 2009

For Whom the Bell Tolls Gold

When I opened this recently acquired Hemingway classic, a first edition with no jacket, I found a newspaper clipping and a typed note. I also found a silverfish.

The first two items are called flyaways, or things left behind in books, which get blogged about here on occasion.

The silverfish is an evil insect to book collectors and libraries, a destroyer of books and paper. This one wished it could have flown away, but merely scampered and was itself destroyed rather easily by my thumb.

No signs of damage to the book, so it couldn't have been there too long.

The newspaper clipping is a 1965 column, Gold in Your Attic, by Van Allen Bradley, who wrote a book by the same title all about finding rare and valuable books, or gold, in attics and other unlikely places. The book also lists prices for many collectible books and has become collectible itself among bibliophiles.

This article focuses on Hemingway's rare first book, Three Stories and Ten Poems, published in France in 1923. Bradley recites auction prices of $475 and $525 for unsigned and signed copies. I would think Hemingway's signature would have added more than 50 bucks to the value, but this was 1965.

Bradley did note "a good copy in original paper cover" and the owner of For Whom the Bells Toll made note that in the typed memo to self or any future owners perhaps:
This is a "First Edition", complete with Dust Jacket, so keep this in mind when you decide finally to dispose of it--after having read it, of course.

It should be worth retail around 8 to 10 bucks.
Somebody wasn't paying attention. I got this book without the jacket. It's also too bad that the writer of the note left a piece of acid newspaper in a book to leach out the discoloration you see on the pages in the photos above.

So what would a jacketless first edition of For Whom the Bell Tolls go for in today's market? There's a wide range of prices from $50 to around $300, depending on condition and what the bookseller believes the book is worth. Add a jacket and your prices climb easily into four figures. And if your copy has Hemingway's signature on it, add another zero for a five-figure sum.

And what of Hemingway's first book, mentioned in Van Allen Bradley's 1965 column--the $475 to $525 piece of gold in the attic? Three copies turn up pretty quickly (as of this writing) and show an appreciable appreciation in price since 1965. How about $25,000 to $65,000? And if you happen to find a signed copy in your attic, you truly do have a big chunk of that precious metal. I find one copy and it's priced at $225,000... Now there's some real gold in your attic!