Saturday 13 July 2019

Collecting 18C Books: A Workshop

On Sunday, I will be running a workshop—a BSANZ contribution to Rare Book Week—under the title “Hand-press period books from the 18th century: A workshop for collectors” (details here).

My intention is to speak mostly about opportunities for collectors, and on evaluating books, rather than [1] why you might be interested in collecting books in the first place and [2] what particular aspect of eighteenth century life and culture might be of interest to you.

Looking at the list of topics I had intended to cover, it is clear I was being wildly optimistic when I made this proposal. And so, I have decided to post here some of the links and information that I will only be able to skim over in the Workshop—concerning the basics of collecting, bibliographies, and provenance—hopefully, it will be of use for both the participants and those who were interested in the subject, but are unable attend.

If there is anything obvious I have missed, or which might be useful to participants, I will either add that information here after the workshop, or post about it separately and add a link to that post below.

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Some useful links:

Vialibri (search engine for antiquarian books).
18C books on eBay (UK) here.
18C books on eBay (US) here.

Google Books.

Some of my posts on collecting 17C and 18C texts: Collecting Eighteenth Century Literature, Catterall and Cowley in Sydney, 1835, Bibliomania, The Evidence Accumulates, Limitless opportunities for collecting Haywood?, Little Victories and Frankenbook; Or, What Goes Around, Comes Around.

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Basics of Collecting: as John Carter states (here) “Probably few collectors are so methodical as to put themselves through any formal education for what is, after all, a fairly sophisticated pursuit.” Instead, most collectors rely on self-education, trial and error.

Anyone prepared to self-educate will find resources online to help: you can start with Wikipedia (entry on "Book Collecting," here), or just Google three words: book, collecting, guide. If you do either of these things, you are likely to find a lot that will be of only marginal use, since relatively few book collectors focus on eighteenth century books.

Most sites and videos work on the assumption you will want to collect modern first editions—like this one or this one, at “oldscrolls” no less, which launch straight into the subject of dust jacket condition and identifying first editions based on the line of numbers that appear on the back of a title-page.

The most useful site is probably ABE Basic Guide to Book Collecting, which covers a wider range of collecting, even if its pages on Illuminated Manuscripts and Incunabula (books printed before 1500) are just as far from the mark as those on collecting Lewis Carroll and Ian Fleming. It does, however, have sections on paper types, binding styles, book formats, reference books, books on book collecting, and the care of books etc.

(Among the most useful items in ABE's list of reference books is Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors, which ABE want you to buy, but which is available free, online, here—a direct link to the DPF is here.)

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Becoming expert in your area: most collectors specialise to a greater or lesser extent, simply because few of us have the time or financial resources not to specialise. Even if I had the money needed to collect comprehensively within a well-mapped genre (say, the gothic novel), the time needed to do so with any care and deliberation, would be greater than I have.

Even if you won the lottery, and were to simply delegate the responsibility to someone else to assemble the most complete and perfect collection of the items listed in Montagu Summers’ A Gothic Bibliography (1948; online here), I am not sure what pleasure you would gain in assembling the collection, or even whether—properly speaking—you really would be the “collector” in such a situation.

Discovering where our passion lies, in collecting, is a large part of the fun of collecting, and it is also part of the self-education I mentioned. And although, as I said at the start, I am not about to direct or dictate to someone else what they may or may not want to collect, I can offer some advice about how to proceed once it becomes clear where your interests are.

Whether a collector focuses on an individual author, or a subject, they will likely want to know what works that authors wrote, or what works were printed on that subject in the period. If you do not already know if anyone has already compiled a list of these books (a bibliography), you will find almost two thousand of these lists here. This is the American Libraries Association list of “standard bibliographies” for “Rare Materials Cataloging”—a bibliography of bibliographies, with references to a bewildering range of topics, many on eighteenth-century subjects.

Although the list is very far from complete (the entry for Australia--Bibliography lists Jonathan Wantrup's Australian rare books, 1788-1900 and Monash's supplement to Ferguson's Bibliography of Australia, but not Ferguson's Bibliography itself), it is a good place to start.

One of the most common forms of collecting is author-focused, and partly as a result, bibliographies have been compiled for a great many writers of the period. A good place to start looking for author bibliographies, is T. H. Howard-Hill’s Bibliography of British Literary Bibliographies, 2nd ed. (1988). The author bibliographies in Howard-Hill’s Bibliography of British Literary Bibliographies are a mix of enumerative and descriptive bibliographies.

(A descriptive bibliography—unlike an enumerative bibliography—describes each item in detail, rather than simply enumerate them. An example of an enumerative bibliography is the one by Summers mentioned above; an example on a descriptive bibliography, is Teerink's A bibliography of the writings of Jonathan Swift, which is online here. For a brief overview of Bibliography, see the Wikipedia page here; for an explanation of what a descriptive bibliographies usually describe, and how, see here and here.)

For a recent guide on how to find out more about both authors and subjects—a reminder that collecting is “a fairly sophisticated pursuit” that requires the collector to become an expert in their chosen topic—see Peggy Keeran and Jennifer Bowers, Literary Research and the British Eighteenth Century (2013), a Preview of which is available here.

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Condition, Provenance and The history of your books: as Wikipedia notes, "the value of a book ultimately depends on its physical condition." Since the condition deteriorates with use, collectors have long favored books which most closely approximate "as new" condition, with the fewest physical manifestations of use.

In a modern book, this will usually mean a copy of a book with no manifestation of its history: a book, as issued in its original binding (no matter how fragile or ephemeral); with no bookplate, ownership inscriptions or annotations; a dust wrapper that has not been "clipped," without price stickers or bookseller's labels. In short, a tabula rasa: a blank slate.

Few books survive in such an un-used state, and as every year passes, fewer still will remain in that condition, so it is not surprising that—if demand is undiminished—the shrinking supply of pristine copies will continue to rise in value. Since such time-capsule books have long been the most sought after, book sellers and collectors have spent much of the last two centuries attempting to remove any trace of use from the books they have collected—and thereby removed any evidence of provenance of these books.

Two factors are changing this dynamic for eighteenth-century books: firstly, the widespread availability of a vast number of books from the eighteenth century has diminished the need for (use-value of) these books. Library administrators are reluctant to spend a lot of money to build or support large collections of eighteenth century books, when identical copies of the same books are widely available online.

Of course, in the hand-press period, most copies are not—strictly speaking—identical, but that is an argument that only likely to sway bibliographers. But the consequence of the ready availability of good reproductions eighteenth-century books online, there has been an increasing focus among librarians on what is unique about a specific copy of an eighteenth-century book, rather than what is the same about it: i.e., its imperfections, not its perfections.

The second factor changing the singular focus on pristine copies is that there has been an increasing interest among scholars—book historians—concerning the historical ownership and use of books: for these scholars, evidence of ownership and use are highly valuable: annotations, comment, modifications, styles of rebinding, all reveal the ways in which books have been used, kept, valued. As a result, a scholar may now be just as likely to value a book for its imperfection as its perfections.

What this suggests is that a modern collector of eighteenth-century books should take into account what may be uniquely valuable about even a well-used book before either buying or dismissing it. It also suggests that they ought to preserve as much of that history as possible—and this extends to any information whatsoever, concerning the history of a book.

So, for example, a Gothic novel with a bookplate indicating that it once belonged to Montague Summers, should not have that bookplate removed; but—likewise—a Gothic novel that is bought from the sale of Montague's books, which does not have a bookplate, should have this information recorded and preserved too.

Anyone interested in how to investigate provenance, should consult David Pearson's Provenance research in book history: a handbook, "Major New Edition" (2019)—details here.

Thursday 11 July 2019

Harrap, The Myths Series, 1907–17

Between 1907 and 1917, George G. Harrap published a series of a dozen books, later titled "The Myths Series"—a series imitated by Gresham, who published at least ten volumes under the title "Myth and Legend in Literature and Art" between 1912 and 1924. (For my post on the Gresham series, see here.)

Just as with the Gresham series, I have, and have had, a number of the Harrap volumes over the years, often wondered how many titles there were in the full series and, when I went looking for an answer to this question, found very little on the subject; and so I have decided to collect here some of the information I found.

A 1919 reprint of no.2 in the series (see below) explains, in an advertisement, that "Each volume" is in "Demy 8vo, about 400 pages, with from 32 to 64 Plates and Full Index"; the price for "Cloth extra, 12s. 6d. net"; readers are also informed that a “Special Prospectus of this Important Series will be sent to any address.” Sadly, I have not found a copy of this Prospectus, but I found other printings of this advertisement online (here, for example).

The twelve volumes in the series are:

1. Hélène A. Guerber, The Myths of Greece and Rome (1907). [1909]
2. Hélène A. Guerber, Myths of the Norsemen from the Eddas and Sagas (1908). [1909; 1919]
3. Hélène A. Guerber, Myths and Legends of the Middle Ages (September 1909). [1909; 1911]
4. Maud Isabel Ebbutt, Hero-Myths and Legends of the British Race (1910). [1918]
5. T. W. Rolleston, Myths and Legends of the Celtic Race (1912, 2nd ed. rev.) [1929]
6. F. Hadland Davis, The Myths and Legends of Japan (1912). [1928]
7. Lewis Spence, The Myths of Mexico and Peru (1913). [1913]
8. Lewis Spence, The Myths of the North American Indians (1914). [1914]
9. Lewis Spence, Myths and Legends of Ancient Egypt (1915). [1925]
10. Sister Nivedita and A. Coomaraswamy, Myths of the Hindus and Buddhists (1913). [1913]
11. Lewis Spence, The Myths and Legends of Babylonia and Assyria (1916). [1920]
12. Woislav M. Petrovitch, Hero Tales and Legends of the Serbians (1917). [1921]

Harrap issued a number of similar works under related series titles. By 1909, there were nineteen volumes appeared in the "Told Through the Ages" series (advertised in no.2); in 1919 there were eleven volumes in the "Folk-Lore and Fairy Tales" series (advertised here). Four volumes more clearly related to the "Myths series" are:

13. Thomas Bulfinch, The Golden Age of Myth and Legend (1915).
14. Hélène A. Guerber, The Book of the Epic (1916).
15. Lewis Spence, Legends and Romances of Spain (1920).
16. E. T. C. Werner, Myths and Legends of China (1920).

Although they are uniformly gaudy, the Harrap volumes were not issued in a consistent series-style bindings. And not only do the bindings differ quite a bit from each other in style, each volume was offered in a variety of bindings. This is probably because they were marketed as Christmas gift books. An advertisement in The Publishers' Circular (5 October 1907): 381, explains "Our bindings are even more attractive than last year," being "The most handsome and attractive Gift-books of the 1907 Season." We get more details in The Bookman (December 1912), Christmas Supplement, p.141, which advertises no.6 as available in the following bindings: “Gilt-top, 7s. 6d. net; or Velvet Persian Yapp, 10s. 6d. net; also in choice bindings, Boxed, Full Morocco, 21s. net; Half Vellum, 15s. net; Half Morocco, 15s. net.”

In price order, these various bindings are

(a) cloth, gilt-top ("cloth extra") [in a dustwrapper]: 7s 6d
(b) full soft cowhide ("Velvet Persian Yapp"): 10s 6d
(c) "Half Morocco": 15s
(d) "Half Vellum": 15s
(e) "Full Morocco": 21s

Although I cannot find an advertisement for it, it appears likely that (narrow) quarter Morocco was also available, since my copy of no.14 is bound thus. So, we can probably add:

(f) quarter leather: [price?]

Not long after the initial release of the volumes in this series, they were re-issued in a uniform, relatively plain, binding: at first a boring blue cloth (1911–12), then an even-more boring green cloth (1916–27). [UPDATE: these reprints were also issued in more attractive leather bindings. See final image below.] I have found pictures online of most of the initial binding styles, a few in cloth with dustwrappers; plus I also have a few pictures of multiple volumes in the more boring series bindings. The selection of images below is intended to cover a range of titles and bindings.

[UPDATE: 13 August 2021. A reader of this blog sent me, and has kindly allowed me to reproduce as the final image above, a photo of the full 12 volume series in Half Morocco (a bit unevenly rubbed). These are reprint volumes, dating from 1913 to 1922 (i.e., bound ca. 1922), are a decade later than the plain blue cloth, which date from 1911–12 (i.e., ca. 1912), but earlier than than the plain green cloth set, which date from 1916–27 (i.e., ca. 1927).]

Wednesday 10 July 2019

Gresham, Myth and Legend series, 1912–24

Between 1912 and 1924 (or, possibly, 1930), Gresham published a beautiful series of books under the title "Myth and Legend in Literature and Art."

I have, and have had, a number of these Gresham volumes over the years, and have often idly wondered how many titles there were in the full series. When I recently went looking for an answer to this question, I found it harder than I expected to locate anything on the extent of the series; and so I have decided to collect some of the information I found here.

The Gresham series (and I specify the Gresham series to distinguish it from “The Myths Series” published by Harrap from 1907 to 1917) appears to have grown by fits and starts, but this appearance is deceptive. There was a regular progression in the publication of volumes in the series (as detailed below), but it was issued in two distinctive bindings: the first six volumes were issued in matching art nouveau bindings (1912–13); the series was later extended to eight volumes, which were issued (and re-issued) in a matching art deco bindings (1915–17); later still, the series was extended to ten volumes, in the same style of deco bindings (1923–24).

In 1930, another two volumes appeared; these volumes were not issued in series-matching cloth, although they are somewhat close in style, and they only appear in some of the publisher's (seemingly later) lists of volumes in the series. So, for instance, Myths from Myths from Melanesia and Indonesia (no.12) contained a list of "Myth and Legend in Literature and Art" volumes, but it stops with no.10; however, a later edition of Myths of China and Japan (no.9) includes nos. 11 and 12.

Although almost all volumes I have seen are undated, the sequence of volumes—as published and as listed in advertisements—is:

1. Charles Squire, Celtic Myth and Legend: Poetry and Romance ([1912]) [here].
2. A. R. Hope Moncrieff, Classic Myth and Legend ([1912]).
3. Donald A. Mackenzie, Teutonic Myth and Legend (1912) [here].
4. A. R. Hope Moncrieff, Romance and Legend of Chivalry ([1913]) [here].
5. Donald A. Mackenzie, Egyptian Myth and Legend ([1913]) [here].
6. Donald A. Mackenzie, Indian Myth and Legend (1913) [here].
7. Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Babylonia and Assyria ([1915]) [here].
8. Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Crete and pre-Hellenic Europe ([1917]) [here].
9. Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of China and Japan ([1923]) [here].
10. Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths of Pre-Columbian America ([1924]) [here].
11. Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths and Traditions of the South Sea Islands ([1930]) [here].
12. Donald A. Mackenzie, Myths from Myths from Melanesia and Indonesia ([1930]) [here].

Below are some photos of these volumes in the earlier art nouveau bindings, and the later art deco bindings. Note, the volumes in these pictures are in no particular order and, in the case if the deco bindings, are not of all volumes; however, they should be sufficient to help readers differentiate the bindings and get an idea of the style of each.