Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Shelfie Wednesday: Binding by Bayntun

1812 Froissart in 2 volumes
When I printed up my business cards, I listed "Medieval Books" as one of my areas of expertise. Of course, there was bit of intentional ambiguity and imprecision there: I buy and sell medieval textual material (mostly binding fragments and charters or other documents) as well as books about the middle ages.

I'd love to deal more often in actual medieval books, but so far at least, there's a kind of price barrier in place: I'm not really selling enough to spend the money it takes to buy a complete medieval manuscript. Much less an inventory full of them.

But, as I hope to show today, there's plenty of other books to fall in love with.

So I was at an antique auction this past weekend, where they were selling a lot of stoneware crocks, and Staffordshire china, and furniture, and primitive American iron-work, and many other interesting things. At the end of the auction were a hundred or so lots of books, and they came to the block around 11:00 at night. I think there were two bidders remaining in the auction house, though there were phone bidders and internet bidders enough to make our presence unnecessary.

I bought five lots. One was the set of books I am writing about today, the 1812 reprint of Pynson's early sixteenth-century printing of an English version of Froissart's Chronicles.
Title page of volume 1.

Froissart's work, off course, is well known to medieval historians, and the Pynson edition would probably count (for me at least) as one of those medieval books I'd love to deal in, though English language books from the 1520s are very, very scarce on the market! I bought this set, thinking not only that they would be fine books to take to Kalamazoo, but also because, from just a brief glance, I saw they were very handsomely bound.

I was doubly pleased, then, when I got the books home and looked more closely at the bindings, which turned out to be signed by Bayntun of Bath. This, of course, was one of the most notable fine binders of the first half of the twentieth century, known for handsome bindings of this very sort, as well as more opulent ones.

It is a foolish proverb, indeed, that tells us not to judge a book by its cover, and there are collectors, of course, who focus primarily upon fine bindings themselves, rather than upon their contents. Surely, though, it is the literary or historical (or, indeed, monetary) value of the contents that first prompts an owner to invest in a fine binding: the visible sign of how the contents are valued.

These books are an ornament to my shelves, and I will be delighted to bring them to Kalamazoo in the spring, to show them off, and to hopefully find a new home, where they can ornament someone else's shelves for a time. Or not, in which case they will still be treasured here.

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Mini-Catalogue Tuesday???

I have just finished putting together a little catalogue of ten items, mostly new acquisitions, and all new offerings, ranging from a 1685 English translation of Montaigne's Essays to a signed copy of Sinclair Lewis's Babbitt. I would say there is something for everyone here, but there's only ten things, after all.
Wharton's Book of the Homeless

The gem of the lot, given recent events, is the 1916 The Book of the Homeless, edited by Edith Wharton. Organized as a kind of fund raising efforts to help families and children--displaced homeless refugees--of the Great War, this book reminds me powerfully that the story of the refugee might be just as much the story of the twentieth (and no twenty-first) century, as W E B DuBois's color line.

Filled with contributions from authors like Thomas Hardy, Joseph Conrad, Henry James, W B Yeats and Wharton herself, as well as artwork from Rodin, Sargent, Monet and others, the book was published in a trade edition and in two limited large-paper editions. My copy is one of 175 total of those two limited editions.

It is a bit depressing to find a 99-year-old book with such topical timeliness, but that's history, I guess.

Interested browsers should be able to download the catalogue from this link. Or you can always email me.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Collectanea Miscellanea: Two Volumes from William Stubbs's Library

2 volumes from the library
of William Stubbs
I am pleased to be able to say that even after my fiftieth year, I continue to have a real joy of learning. To my further delight, this week I realized that I have much the same feeling when I find a book that is a true rarity or other gem. In both cases, I want to run out and share my new discovery with all my friends and acquaintances.

I suppose that's one of the functions of this blog, as it turns out.

So this week, the postal system brought me two volumes labeled on their spines "Collectanea Miscella." and numbered "II." and "III." Presumably, at some point, there was at least a volume 1, and very possibly further volumes as well, but these two volumes were the only ones on offer. I bought them via eBay, where they were listed in separate auctions, so I've done some good for these books already, keeping them together, where they otherwise might have been separated.

It was no trouble at all to discover that these collections had been put together by William Stubbs, the bishop of Chester for a time in the late nineteenth century, and the seller I bought these from had identified them as such. But I recognized Stubbs more for his reputation as an important historian of the English middle ages, and some of the offprints included here address medieval topics, so I was very interested. One of the strangest things about working in medieval studies is the fact that medieval studies is a field that itself has a centuries-spanning history: Stubbs's books, in some ways, now have a historical interest in their own right, part of the history of our discipline.

The offprints included in these volumes generally date from the 1870s and 1880s, and some of them are pretty unusual, or scarce, or otherwise interesting: there are several offprints from John Evans, describing hoards of Anglo-Saxon coins, including some with illustrations; A Sketch of the History of Scots Law; Samuel Andrews's "The Seven Holy Crosses of Oldham" (an 8-page pamphlet; WorldCat records copies only in the British Library and the University of Oxford). Some items are accompanied by hand-written letters from their authors, which Stubbs had bound in.

First Page of the Krebs edition
of the Old English Dialogues
The item I personally found most interesting however, was titled "An Anglo-Saxon Version of Gregory's Dialogues." This piece, 96 pages in length, is the beginning of the text portion of a printed edition. Each gathering has a hand-written comment, either "Worked Sheet" or "Proof: Not corrected by Author." No author's name is given, though, and when I looked in the standard reference work, A Bibliography of Publications on Old English Literature to the End of 1972 (Greenfield and Robinson, 1980), I discovered that there was no printed version of the Dialogues before 1900. Fascinatingly, Greenfield and Robinson do record an edition by Heinrich Krebs (their item 5525), a unique item "Deposited in the Taylorian Institute, Oxford, as ms 8oE.15": 52 pages of a manuscript Introduction followed by "96 corrected page proofs dated 28 September 1878."

There seems little doubt, then, that Krebs was working on an edition of this item that never saw final publication, though a substantial portion of the edition reached the proof stage. One copy of these proofs, somehow, made its way into Stubbs's hands. It would have been, of course, the first printed edition of the Old English version of the Dialogues: it still is, in some sense. But one presumes that very few of these proof copies were ever made, and probably fewer survive. This item must be a true rarity in Anglo-Saxon studies, and as such it neatly combines my academic interest in the middle ages and my delight in rare books.

One doubts, of course, that there will be many folks scrabbling to add this embryonic edition to their collections: rarity does not always translate into either interest or monetary value. And yet, even beyond the scarcity of any of the items they contain, each of these volumes is truly unique: nowhere else were these various items ever gathered together, and the books that hold them together now have all of the uniqueness within the world of a medieval (or other) manuscript. I find that uniqueness compelling, regardless of the dollar-value involved: it captures my attention, in a way no digital representation ever could.

The Stubbs/Congregational
Library Bookplate
somewhat unfocused.
But there is more to say: for a time, I was not even sure that I would be able to own these books legitimately: Stubbs's library, as an easy internet search revealed, was sold after his death, by Quaritch, to the Congregational Library in Boston. This internet search, too, was stunningly easy, since a Bishop Stubbs/Congregational Library bookplate remains in both volumes. I emailed the reference desk at the Congregational Library, asking if they could give me any information on whether these books were legitimately deaccessioned (some of the Stubbs books were apparently sold to Yale, for example), or whether they might have been illegitimately deaccessioned.

In a brief response yesterday, they told me that they certainly had sold the books at some point, and so I don't think there's any reason to think the books were stolen. Like many books over time, though, they have been been assessed at varying levels of value or usefulness at different points in their history. As have we all, I suppose.

I'm delighted to own them, at least for the moment, but I will probably also hope to find them a more permanent home at some point. But for now, I still have more work to do, to learn about what other treasures might be hidden in their pages.
A fold-out facsimile of a late-medieval will.