Friday, February 26, 2010

Biblioburro Hoofs Books to Rural Nooks

When hundreds of children in the "abandoned regions" of the Colombian state of Magdalena need reading material, a small fleet of bookmobiles makes an arduous trek to provide it. The bookmobiles in question are Alfa and Beto, two donkeys who stubbornly insist that illiteracy is a national enemy and that kids need books no matter how poor or remotely located their village.

Luis Soriano, 38, is a primary school teacher living in La Gloria, Columbia. His personal glory is as mule-team driver, leading Alfa and Beto to their destinations in rural Columbia as they tote up to 120 books to children hungry for education.

"In [rural] regions, a child must walk or ride a donkey for up to 40 minutes to reach the closest schools," Soriano said. "The children have very few opportunities to go to secondary school. ...There are [few] teachers that would like to teach in the countryside.

"I saw two unemployed donkeys at home and had the idea [to use] them in my biblioburro project because they can carry a heavy load," Soriano said. "I put the books on their backs in saddles and they became my work tools."

Twice a week, Mr. Soriano saddles up his jenny and jack to travel to select villages -- up to four hours each way. They service 15 villages on a rotating basis.

"It's not easy to travel through the valleys," Soriano said. "You sit on a donkey for five or eight hours, you get very tired. It's a satisfaction to arrive to your destination."

"You can just see that the kids are excited when they see the biblioburro coming this way. It makes them happy that he continues to come," said a village resident whose two children take part in the program. "For us, his program complements what the children learn in school. The books they do not have access to ... they get from the biblioburro."

"For us teachers, it's an educational triumph," Mr. Soriano declared, "and for the parents [it's] a great satisfaction when a child learns how to read. That's how a community changes and the child becomes a good citizen and a useful person. Literature is how we connect them with the world."

And there, within Mr. Soriano's last sentence, is a veritable motto for the ages: Literature Connects Us to the World.


Full story at CNN.

Joyce Carol Oates: A Love Letter To Libraries In Longhand

Author Joyce Carol Oates.
"I try to write in the morning very intensely,
from 8:30 to 1 p.m...I hand write and then I type.

I don't have a word processor. I write slowly."
(By Landon Nordeman for Smithsonian Magazine.)

Contrary to Thomas Wolfe's dictum You Can't Go Home Again, in an article in the current issue of Smithsonian Magazine, "Joyce Carol Oates Goes Home Again," the eponymous author begs to differ. Joyce Carol Oates regales readers with a reverie on things changed and unchanged in the town of her birth, and reacquaints herself with the landmarks and buildings of a place that has continued to haunt her psyche and inform her prose.

Oates has a prolific pen, primarily publishing novels, but also short stories, poetry, plays, and articles. She has published well over 50 books. In the past few months alone, she has brought out two novels [A Fair Maiden (2010) and Little Bird Of Heaven (2009)]. Not bad for a 71-year-old, who published her first book way back in 1963. Compared to her, Charles Dickens was a punk, with only a measly 14 completed novels to his credit, though to be fair, his final curtain came at age 58.

Oates, like Dickens, has a strong sense of locale: "Writers, particularly novelists, are linked to place. It’s impossible to think of Charles Dickens and not to think of Dickens’ London; impossible to think of James Joyce and not to think of Joyce’s Dublin; and so with Thomas Hardy, D. H. Lawrence, Willa Cather, William Faulkner, Eudora Welty, Flannery O’Connor-each is inextricably linked to a region....We are all regionalists in our origins, however 'universal' our themes and characters, and without our cherished hometowns and childhood landscapes to nourish us, we would be like plants set in shallow soil. Our souls must take root-almost literally."

Oates, born in 1938, has, in the Smithsonian article, created a mesmerizing account of her early life in Lockport, a small town, in upstate New York. Among the places she discusses is the Lockport Public Library, which she fondly remembers visiting when she was seven or eight years old. For the young Joyce Carol Oates, the local public library was "A Garden of Earthly Delights."

Lockport Public Library, ca 1946.

Lockport Public Library, 2010.
(By Landon Nordeman For Smithsonian Magazine.)

She was first taken to the public library by her grandmother in the mid-1940's. This library pilgrimage was for her a "vivid and hallucinatory dream," not unlike her experiences at in the local movie house, aptly named The Palace Theatre. "In the shadowy opulence of the Palace, as in an unpredictably unfolding dream, I fell under the spell of movies, as I’d fallen under the spell of books a few years earlier."

Spellbound In Darkness: The Palace Theater.
(Landon Nordeman For Smithsonian Magazine.)

She remembers the library as "a beautiful building like no other I've seen close up." The library itself was a Great Depression-era WPA project that "transformed" the city. In precise detail, drawing on the memories of a child, now filtered through some 60 years of life, she rhapsodizes that the structure of the library "has something of the look of a Greek temple; not only is its architecture distinctive, with elegantly ascending steps, a portico and four columns, a facade with six large, rounded, latticed windows and, on top, a kind of spire, but the building is set back from the street behind a wrought-iron fence with a gate, amid a very green jewel-like lawn."

As opposed to the somewhat off-putting upstairs portion of the library for the "grown-ups," she reverently describes the more accessible downstairs "library for children" as a sensuous olfactory experience: a " cheery, brightly lit space... [with] an inexpressible smell of floor polish, library paste, books-that particular library smell that conflates, in my memory, with the classroom smell of floor polish, chalk dust, books so deeply imprinted in my memory. For even as a young child I was a lover of books and of the spaces in which, as indeed in a sacred temple, books might safely reside."

Proud Card-Carrying Library Patron:
Budding Author, Around Age 10.
(Courtesy Joyce Carol Oates.

She describes her library as a sacrosanct temple devoted to the higher religion of the printed word. She recalls the children's area as a visual feast: "what is most striking... are the shelves and shelves of books-bookcases lining the walls-books with brightly colored spines-astonishing to a little girl whose family lives in a farmhouse in the country where books are almost wholly unknown. That these books are available for children-for a child like me-all these books!-leaves me dazed, dazzled." She recalls the experience tactilely: there was "no greater happiness than to make my way along the seemingly infinite shelves of books,... drawing my forefinger across the spines." On this first visit, she has a divine revelation, "a special surprise," when she is told that she can "'withdraw' books from this library," all with the simple passport of a library card, through "some magical provision" by her grandmother, Mrs. Blanche Woodside, who met the simple qualification of Lockport residency.

This first transcendent experience is why the local library has become "an illumination in my life." She goes on in delirious, deliberately dreamlike terms: "In that dimension of the soul in which time is collapsed and the past is contemporaneous with the present" the library setting remains for her an epiphany, especially as she grew up in a hardscrabble, rural community that was "lacking a common cultural or aesthetic tradition." And, coming on the heels of the Great Depression, which instilled in her a strong work ethic, "I was mesmerized by books and by what might be called 'the life of the mind': the life that was not manual labor, or housework, but seemed in its specialness to transcend these activities." As a self-described "farm girl," she naturally had her "farm chores," but she diligently included reading in her "alone" activities, when she wasn't exploring "the fields, woods and creek side," or otherwise sowing her wild oats.

"Locks, Looking East, Lockport, N.Y." (ca late 1940's).
[Courtesy Frank E. Sadowski Jr., The Erie Canal (Website).]

For Oates and other residents who eventually moved elsewhere, the Erie Canal location of Lockport became a seminal memory "so deep-set in what appears to be solid rock ... that [it] resurfaces in dreams. Where you find yourself in your most haunting dreams. These may be dreams of luminous beauty, or they may be nightmares-but they are the dreams most embedded in memory, thus encoded deep in the brain: the first memories to be retained and the last memories to be surrendered."

"Wonderland," By Dallas Piotrowski.
Giclée Print, 2004.

Celestial Timepiece:
A Joyce Carol Oates Home Page.)

But her childhood is not a simplistic series of rosy recollections for Oates: "Lockport, well into the present, suggests a more innocent time imagined by Thornton Wilder or Edward Hopper, appropriated now by movie director David Lynch: the slightly sinister, surreal yet disarmingly 'normal'-seeming atmosphere of a quintessential American town trapped in a sort of spell or enchantment." The area not far from Lockport nurtured "the area’s most 'known' resident...Timothy McVeigh, our homegrown terrorist/mass-murderer."

Oates profiled McVeigh for a piece in the New Yorker in 1995: "Like me, McVeigh grew up in the countryside beyond Lockport....Like me, he would have been identified as 'from the country' and very likely, like me, he was made to feel, and may have exalted in feeling, marginal, invisible. He may have felt powerless, as a boy. He may have been watchful, a fantasist. He may have told himself, Wait! Your turn will come." Not surprisingly, her just-published novel, Little Bird of Heaven, is "set in a ficticious [sic] upstate New York town that bears a strong resemblance to the Lockport of her childhood."

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Two Experts Talk Literature In Film

Our colleague, Kevin Johnson, of Royal Books in Baltimore, recently participated in a video about literature in film produced by Walter Reuben, the highly respected Los Angeles-based movie poster dealer-scholar. It deserves to be seen by anyone even remotely interested in the intersection of the written word and celluloid.

Kevin has been, and continues to be, one of the most respected rare book dealers in the world specializing in cinema-related volumes and books into film. He is also the author of the acclaimed The Dark Page: Books That Inspired American Film Noir, in two volumes covering 1940-1949 and 1950-1965, respectively. Beautifully produced, it has become an essential reference.

Walter Reuben, with whom Kevin shares the spotlight in the video, has been involved in the trade in movies posters since Edwin S. Porter's The Great Train Robbery was released in 1903, or so it seems. He appears to have been doing it longer and better than anyone else in the world. His name invariably comes up when movie posters are discussed. He's The Man.

I recently moderated a panel discussion on this subject at the 43d California Antiquarian Book Fair. Kevin was one of the panelists, along with another noted cinema book specialist, the highly knowledgeable and esteemed James Pepper, and Los Angeles Times and NPR Morning Edition film reviewer, Kenneth Turan. An excellent seminar, its themes are picked up and expanded upon in this video.

This is a very fluent and fluid discussion, highlighted by to-die-for vintage movie posters and other cinema rarities, between two masters who stand at the top of their fields.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

When Jackie Met Andre: Jacqueline Kennedy's Gift Book to Andre Malraux

André Malraux (foreground, left) with Jacqueline Kennedy
and JFK, state dinner at the White House, May 11, 1962.

The personal gift of Jacqueline and President Kennedy to French Minister of Culture André Malraux, in celebration of his visit to Washington, D.C. in May of 1962, has surfaced.

It is a book. Not just any book but a perfect copy of the great British caricaturist George Cruikshank's Remembrancer of a Tour on the Continent, a series of eight hand-colored aquatint engravings gently satirizing European travel.

London: Published by H. Humphrey, June 30, 1821.

"[Jacqueline Kennedy] had a degree in French literature and was captivated by the fiction of André Malraux, author of La Condition Humaine (Man's Fate), which won the Prix Goncourt literary prize in in 1933 and elevated Malraux to global attention. He was one of the striking figures and truly original minds of the era, and Jackie was powerfully drawn to his ideas about culture, humanity, and social justice.

"When plans for an official presidential trip to Paris in 1961 were under way, Jackie expressed her hope to meet the flamboyant writer and social critic, who was now France's Minister of Culture...

La Diligence (plate four).

"On May 31, 1961, the Kennedys arrived in the French capital to find cheerful mobs of well-wishers...The following day, Malraux was Jackie's guide for a tour of Paris's cultural highlights...It was no secret that Jackie was captivated by him. Her social secretary...observed that Mrs. Kennedy held Malraux in such high esteem that she developed a palpable 'intellectual crush' on the charming French minister" (Davis, Margaret Leslie. Mona Lisa in Camelot. Da Capo Press, 2008).

"Comparing Notes; or Venus Dei Medici Amongst Others !!!"
(Plate 8).

Malraux was enchanted by Jackie. After she and JFK and returned to the United States, official invitations to visit Washington were extended to Malraux but it was only after Jackie personally interceded that he accepted. The official state dinner with André was held on May 11, 1962.

It is on the very next day, May 12, 1962, that Jacqueline Kennedy presented this suite of hand-colored engravings to Malraux. The title, delightfully appropriate, refers to the Kennedys' visit the prior year. The satiric views within, five of which occur in France, could not have produced anything less than a smile from Malraux; Cruikshank's take on the human condition, a grotesque, tragi-comic and empathic vision of humanity must surely have struck a chord. Laughter is a manifestation of the spirit in revolt against fate, and, though transient, an escape from the bondage of suffering and the pain of existence. This is Malraux territory. Mrs. Kennedy thought about this gift carefully, her choice pitch-perfect; it has her touch, if not her fingerprint. And. quite deliberately, she chose a rare book. Well- and deeply-thought out rare books have long been, and continue to be, treasured gifts.

The President and First Lady's signatures have been unofficially confirmed as genuine by the Kennedy Library's research archivist, Steven Plotkin. By his signature - well nigh illegible - it appears that JFK was having a very bad day. "No, a usual one," Mr. Plotkin reported during a phone interview. It may come as a shock to learn that JFK's signature was, as Mr. Plotkin reported, "protean;" it constantly changed, and the archivist related that, once, JFK was asked by a small group of school children for his signature. The autograph was different for each of the six kids - all written on the same day.

The President and First Lady's autographs,
dated May 12, 1962, to inside cover of portfolio.
Note below, in French, from a former owner.

While there is no official record in the JFK Library of this gift, the Library's research staff suspects this was a private presentation from the First Lady and President and, hence, would not have been recorded by her secretary, Letitia Baldrige. Mrs. Kennedy's personal papers, on deposit at the Library but not yet cataloged, likely contain a reference to it.

Only one copy of this color-plate book has come to auction within the last thirty-five years.


CRUIKSHANK, George. Remembrancer of a Tour on the Continent, In Eight Coloured Prints, Designed after Nature by an Amateur, and Engraved by G. Cruikshank. London: Published by H. Humphrey, June 30, 1821.

First issue, the signed and dated (May 12, 1962) gift of President John F. Kennedy and the First Lady Jacqueline Kennedy to French Minister of Culture, André Malraux. Oblong folio (11 x 15 1/2 in; 284 x 393 mm). Eight hand-colored aquatints with captions.

Original brown wrappers with printed title on pink label. Housed within a green cloth portfolio with gilt title.

The Plates:

1. La Douane. The Searcher's Office.
2. Le Traiteur Chez Véry. Madame Véry's Coffee House, Paris.
3. Quartière con Mobili; or Hints on Taking Lodgings.
4. La Diligence.
5. Mer de Glace. Sea of Ice (dated as others; Cohn's copy has undated plate).
6. Visit to Vesuvius. Cineri Doloso.
7. Forum Boarium; or Mr. Bull in the Beast Market at Rome.
8. Comparing Notes; or Venus Dei Medici Amongst Others!!!

Cohn 1230 (as Inconveniences of a Tour of the Continent).

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Rare Book Dealer Saves Collector, Is Rewarded With Magic Tea (A Cautionary Tale)

Always pleased to hear from ***.

Last week, he sent a message asking for help with book he was considering acquiring for his collection, a volume from 1877 he’d discovered on the Internet and had never heard of before. I did some research; No auction records, no copies in institutional libraries worldwide. It was a humdinger, unrecorded anywhere in this area of book collecting, a real find and exciting.

While looking into this book I discovered another volume by the same author, a short, twenty-five page treatise from 1867 significant, as I learned, as being one of the first, if not the first, reports on this subject. I told *** about it. Elated, he responded with a joyful jig choreographed in email. We made plans to get together this prior Saturday.

***’s office at home is four walls of books, floor to ceiling. To house the cream of his collection he converted the office closet into a secure vault with alarm system. Entering, it’s as if you’ve reached an inner sanctum, a holy of holies where only the priesthood is allowed to trod the sacred floor. I’m one of the few who’ve been invited inside. Per usual ceremony, I tonsured my pate, donned robes, and intoned a Gregorian chant as I stepped forth into the transcendent space.

At this juncture, I should point out that *** does not have a formal catalog of his collection, which now tops 1,000 volumes on his subject of passion. He’s been getting along by writing out, on legal pads, the name of each book, author, date of acquisition, where bought, and how much he paid. He keeps these legal pads, which now number more than he can recall, entombed within a safe in his office-office across town.

*** is bouncing off the walls with excitement. The book I told him about, he’s never heard of. He’s looked into buying a copy - only one currently on the market - and is on the cusp of writing a check for the $750 asking price. He can hardly wait to order the book and have it arrive.

So, *** is going though treasures in the vault acquired since my last visit. He shows me this, he shows me that and I maintain cool equanimity as each rarity is revealed.

The author feasting eyes on treasure in ***'s book vault.

Soon, he pulls out a handful of pamphlets from the shelves to show me the latest. It is then that he discovers that the book I found for him, the one he is over the moon about and on the verge of buying, he already owns, a prefect copy in the original glassine dust wrapper.

He looks at me, I look at him. Abashed, he ruefully shakes his head in the universal sign language symbol for What a dunce!

And then, he breaks out into a broad smile. He is now re-experiencing the joy of a new acquisition - even though it’s old. He’d forgotten about it. But now, it’s a brand new day with a brand new (old) book! He'd had some depressing personal issues of late but now they were swept away by sunny disposition secondary to the thrill of rediscovery.

*** felt indebted to me for saving him $750 simply by compelling him to go through his books so he invited me to join him in a cup of tea. I insisted on my own; I didn't think we'd both fit and, besides, the thought of sharing a caffeinated hot bath with *** was too much to bear no matter how big the cup or how much I liked him.

Tea's proper use is to amuse the idle, and relax the studious, and dilute the full meals of those who cannot use exercise, and will not use abstinence. - Samuel Johnson

You can never get a cup of tea large enough or a book long enough to suit me. - C.S. Lewis.

There is no trouble so great or grave that cannot be much diminished by a nice cup of tea. - Bernard-Paul Heroux.

Particularly if the tea is herbal, made from sprigs of coca.

Enaco is a Peruvian state-owned enterprise.

It may disappointing to learn that mate de coca did not turn me into Colonel Lipton on crack or a chattering Earl Grey with grinding teeth. Green tea is more stimulating. When I got home, I took a nap. An antihistamine would have excited the nerves more than this weak nasal decongestant in a tea bag.

By the way, even though there is not enough active alkaloid in the tea to dilate pupils much less cause intoxication and daffodil tea will make you daffier, these tea bags are illegal in the United States.

"The pause that refreshes" (Coca-Cola slogan, 1929).

To sum up today’s rare book adventure:

Book collector observed outside of Acme Rare Books.

1. Develop a close relationship with a trusted dealer. They have resources unavailable to the average collector. They can find things you didn’t know existed and provide valuable reference help.

2. Keep an accurate, detailed, easily referenced, and up-to-date catalog of your collection. It is impossible to keep track of every book you own without one, and costly mistakes can be avoided.

3. Enjoy teatime in separate cups.

4. Attn. rare book dealers: Never accept gifts from sixty-five year old book collectors that the DEA has issues with - the gifts, not the collectors. Though, if the DEA has issues with the collector it might be wise avoid afternoon high tea - or any other - time with the individual.

From the fields of Bolivia to your tea cup to San Quentin.

"That's All Folks!"


Monday, February 22, 2010

Who the Heck is Herwart von Hohenburg?

The Mensa Isiaca. Engraved plate number one
Thesaurus Hieroglyphicorum.

No copies have come to auction within the last thirty-five years. OCLC/KVK note only seven copies in institutional collections worldwide, only one of which is complete, in the Bibliothéque National - France. But another complete copy recently appeared out of nowhere and into the marketlace, unheralded, without fanfare.

The book is Thesaurus Hieroglyphicorum, published in 1610 by Johann (aka Hans) Georg Herwart von Hohenburg (1554-1622). It is one of the earliest works on Egyptology.

It is a book that profoundly influenced Athanasius Kircher, one of the most fascinating individuals of the seventeenth - or any other - century.

Come with me now to those halcyon days of yesteryear, a few thousand yesteryears ago, when the land of the pharaohs would, a few thousand yesteryears later, in 1955, inspire one of film director Howard Hawks’ few stinkers, Land of the Pharaohs, a rotten ibis notable only for Joan Collins fulfilling the wardrobe and promise she amply demonstrated in her screen debut, Lady Godiva Rides Again (1951), and as William Faulkner’s last screenplay credit, aka A Nobel Prize Don’t Pay the Rent.

Having time-caromed from 2010 all the way back to Khufu, then zipped forward to the Cold War’s worst screen crime, we now whiplash backward again, to the seventeenth century where scholars are wondering what’s up with ancient Egyptian writing, and what does it mean? What’s with the guy with a falcon where his head is supposed to be?

These questions burned in Athanasius Kircher’s mind. The most prominent scientist of his era, Kircher (1601-1680), a Jesuit priest, had to know all there was to know and made it his business to learn it. He was indeed, as Paula Findlen titled her biography of the polymath, The Last Man Who Knew Everything at a time when was possible for an individual to do so, before general science grew into the distinct branches with specialties within each that we know today and the exponential growth of knowledge precluded deposit into one brain without subsequent explosion.

"...In 1628, after [Athanasius Kircher's] ordination as a Jesuit priest in Speyer, Germany...he developed a keen interest in hieroglyphics, having seen a copy of Thesaurus hieroglyphicorum (1610) by the famed German scholar from Bavaria, Johann Georg Herwart von Hohenburg" (Alastair Hamilton. The Copts and the West, 1439-1822: The European Discovery of the Egyptian Church (New York: 2006, p. 203).

The Mensa Isiaca. Engraved plate number three
from Thesaurus hieroglyphicorum

"Another influence on the young German was Johann Georg Herwart von Hohenburg's work Thesaurus Hieroglyphicorum (which contains an illustration of the Mensa Isiaca, thought to be a major source of Egyptian images, but now known to be a Roman or Alexandrian work of the early Imperial period in the Egyptianizing style). The result was Kircher's Prodromus Coptus sive Aegyptiacus (1636), the first Coptic grammar and the foundation for all subsequent Coptic studies: in it, he argued (correctly) that Coptic was related to the language of the Ancient Egyptians" (James Curl, review of Anthanasius Kircher's Theater of the World by Joscelyn Godwin, in Times Higher Education, 7 January 2010).

The Mensa Isiaca. Engraved plate number six
Thesaurus hieroglyphicorum

The first eleven plates in the Thesaurus Hieroglyphicorum are of the Mensa Isiaca aka the Bembine table of Isis. This remarkable table was produced sometime in the first century AD, probably in Rome at the height of the Egyptomania then consuming it. The hieroglyphs are nonsense and the cult scenes are Egyptianesque, but do not depict true Egyptian rites. Some of the scenes are so bizarre that it is unclear whether the figures are gods or kings and queens; it's a hieroglyphic hash. Egyptian motifs appear helter-skelter throughout. Nevertheless, the central figure in a chapel scene is clearly recognizable as the Egyptian mother goddess Isis, suggesting that the table originated somewhere the Isis cult was celebrated. It is a testament to Kircher's keen intellect that he was able to gain valuable insights from this Egypto-gobbldy-gook.

The Mensa Isiaca. Engraved plate number four
Thesaurus hieroglyphicorum

The Thesaurus Hieroglyphicorum was "one of the richest sources for Athanasius Kircher... Kircher drew heavily on the Mensa Isiaca for his sources" (Curl, James. The Egyptian Revival, pp. 59 and 112).

"These engravings were appropriated by Athanasius Kircher” (Oudheidkundige mededeelingen, Volumes 65-66, p. 24).

Stolzenberg discusses the Thesaurus Hieroglyphicorum in his Kircher study, The Great Art of Knowing: The Baroque Encylopedia of Athanasius Kircher (2001).

Johann Georg Herwart von Hohenburg (1553-1622) was a prominent Bavarian statesman and scholar of distinction. He was acknowledged for his accomplishments in astronomy, chronology, mathematics and philology. His work in chronology earned him the admiration of intellectuals such as Kepler's teacher, Michael Mästlin, who commended his "extraordinary industry," and his efforts in mathematics proved fundamental to the early formulation of logarithms by clockmaker Jöst Bürgi and John Napier. As a person of political prestige and intellectual prominence, Herwart stood at the center of a scholastic correspondence network that included the leading scientists of the day, amongst whom were Tycho Brahe, Johannes Praetorius, Helisaeus Röslin, and Johannes Kepler. In this last respect, he would provide a model for Kircher, who, a generation later, would fulfill the same role with 760 members of Europe's scientific and medical community, as well as the international Jesuit network; his hunger for knowledge of all kinds was insatiable.

Engraved plate number fifteen
from Thesaurus hieroglyphicorum

For most of his professional life, Athansius Kircher was one of the scientific stars of the world. His early life is highlighted by being shipwrecked and marooned. He dried off rapidly, made it back home, and soon was "the first scholar with a global reputation," writes Findlen. He combined his original experimentation and research with information learned from his correspondence - the Encyclopædia Britannica calls him a "one-man intellectual clearing house" - to publish thirty-five principal works that range from astronomy, optics, phonology, music, mathematics, natural history, geology, medicine, to Egyptology, and more; if it was interesting, he was on it. His books, illustrated with commissioned engravings, were influential and sold well; he was the first scientist to earn a living from his books. He, along with his acolyte, assistant, and fellow Jesuit, Gaspar Schott, popularized science.

Kircher's scientific career occurred during an important transition period in science, when reason, rigor, measurement, and experimentation began to overthrow superstition, harebrained hypothesis, wacko explanation, and unprovable theory. Kircher stood with a foot in each world, making recognized advances in optics while at the same time, for instance, clinging to a belief in the powers oif certain stones.

Much of Kircher's work would be forgotten in the generations that followed Isaac Newton, of the immediate generation succeeding Kircher, his contributions built upon or confirmed (or rejected) by others using a refined and wholly rational scientific method. He was wrong about so much yet right about enough that he was rediscovered by science historians in the later twentieth century and given his just due.

Herwart von Hohenburg who? He influenced Kircher and more than a few.

Vintage publicity still from Land of the Pharaohs.
Joan Collins (2d from left) as Princess Nellifer
sacrificing to Isis, a scene that would prepare her
to later portray many castrating bitches. Jack Hawkins
(far right) as Khufu: "Don't get near me with that thing.
Audience, I'm outta here. You?"

(The Mensa Isiaca. Engraved plate number eight
from Thesaurus hieroglyphicorum)

HERWART von HOHENBURG, Johannes Georgius. Thesaurus Hieroglyphicorum è Museo Joannis Georgii Herwart ab Hohenburg, utriusque juris doctoris, & ex assessore summi Tribunalia Imperatorii, atque ex Calncellario supremo serenissimi utriusque Bavariae Principis... Munich (Ausberg?): n.p., 1610.

First (only) edition, complete. Oblong folio (13 3/4 x 20 7/8 in; 350 x 530 mm). Printed title page with four small mounted engravings, and twenty-six large engravings (one folding) mounted on twenty-five leaves. Engravings cut to plate lines.

Eighteenth century quarter calf over boards. Manuscript notes in ink (17th century) and pencil (19th -20th century?) to front free endpaper.

Graesse III, p. 262. Bibliotheca Augustana p. 150.


Books about Athanasius Kircher here.
If in Los Angeles, see the permanent display devoted to Kircher at the Museum of Jurassic Technology.

How to Make a Book (1947)

In 1947, Encyclopedia Britannica produced an educational film on mass market book making.

Odds are, you've never seen this documentary, which begins with an author and his book and takes the viewer through each step of the manuscript's journey from typewriter to printer to binder, a Metropolis of production line machinery, repetitive motion, and human cogs in a process that belies the human thought and act that brought the original text into the world.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Has This Library Solved The Mystery Of The Mummy Paper?

Under Wraps: Egyptian Mummy from the Vatican Museums.

Reality or urban legend: were the wrappings of ancient Egyptian corpses recycled and pulped to create so-called "mummy paper?" Archaeologists and other scholars have long debated the veracity of claims that mummies were imported into the U.S. in the mid-nineteenth century, stripped of their burial shrouds, and their bindings (largely composed of linen and other fibers such as papyrus and something akin to canvas) repurposed into printing paper. But, did this really happen? Are we being fleeced? Is this a fabricated tale? Can this yarn be unwound to get to the meat of the matter?

The answer to this puzzler, perhaps the holy grail of American Egyptology research (pardon the mixed metaphor), may have at long last been found at Brown University's John Hay Library. According to independent scholar and self-taught Egyptologist S.J. Wolfe, a document found in university's rare book collection is "the smoking gun" that proves mummies were mulched for newsprint.

S.J. Wolfe, Egyptologist, Stands Beside "my dear friend Padihershef." (Courtesy Ms. Wolfe.)

It wouldn't be the first time human remains have graced the Hay Library's stacks: included in its holdings are three examples of anthropodermic bibliopegy, that is, books bound in human skin. (Andreas Vesalius's anatomy text, "De Humani Corpis Fabrica," and two editions of the folktale "Dance of Death," the skinny epidermises a result of 19th Century rebindings by private collectors.)

Under My Skin: Books Bound With Human Flesh . (Courtesy Lindsay Harrison.)

Richard Noble, a rare book cataloger at the Hay, answered an online inquiry from Wolfe seeking to find a fiber of truth to the story that mummies were indeed transplanted to the US in the mid-1800's, specifically, to use their high-quality wrappings as pulp material for manufacturing rag paper. (The actual corpora delicti, along with their sarcophagi and other personal effects, becoming just so much collateral impedimenta.)

Wolfe and Noble point to the so-called "Norwich Broadside," in the Hay Library as their supporting evidence that ancient mummified corpse wrappings were indeed the raw material used by New England paper mills beginning in the 1850's, when the supply of European-imported rags began to dwindle. (At the time, America was producing more newspapers than any other county, and using a staggering 405,000,000 pounds of rags per year to manufacture paper.) This broadside is titled “Hymn: for the bi-centennial anniversary of the settlement of Norwich, Conn.” [1859] and was printed on paper supplied by the Chelsea Manufacturing Company of Norwich, Connecticut. A notice, printed on the program, states that it was composed of material imported from Egypt, and taken directly from the ancient tombs where it had been used in embalming mummies. This document, says Wolfe, "was the key [until] we found supporting evidence." It is the first printed piece that actually documents using mummy wrappings for paper that she has come across in her research. There are only two copies of this broadside currently known to exist: the one at Brown University and another at the Connecticut Historical Society.

Chelsea Manufacturing Company: Home Of The World's Most Unusual Wrapping Paper. January 27, 1866. (Courtesy The Connecticut Historical Society and Connecticut History Online.)

Wolfe has since uncovered the existence of 1850's New England paper mills that manufactured paper from mummy wrappings. The mummies were unspooled and their linen rags were washed before being processed, she says. “This whole 19th-century attitude is incomprehensible to us — we’re so into preservation now." Some mummies were even “hacked at with axes and knives,” by these Yankee corpse-grinders in order to separate the linen wrappings from the mortal remains.

In the mid-nineteenth century, Egyptomania was still rampant, so putting together paper manufacturing and top of the line linen harvested from ancient cadavers would sew up a good portion of the market, and, it was hoped, on the cheap. An early example, perhaps, of respecting the environment: trees no longer need to lose their lives for almighty paper. What were once skin wraps became fodder for the rag trade.

In civilian life, Wolfe is a senior cataloger and serials specialist at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, Mass. But she really loves her mummies. Wolfe is currently compiling a comprehensive database of all Egyptian mummies and mummy disarticulations that remain in the U.S. Thus far, Wolfe says she has some 1,250 entries, representing about 550 individuals.

Each entry in the database is cataloged according to 25 categories, including the sex of the mummy, when he/she was first imported into the U.S., and the repository where the remains are housed. Wolfe says she hopes to post the completed database on the the Internet. This labor of love has been especially difficult: “Because I’m not affiliated with a university or a doctoral program, it has been hard to get information.” Prior to her own investigation, scant research had been done in documenting the transmigration of cadavers from ancient Egypt to the new world.

Summing up much of her decade-long mummy research, Wolfe is the author of “Mummies in Nineteenth Century America: Ancient Egyptians as Artifacts,” published in 2009. She hopes it's just the beginning of a much longer paper trail: “What I would dearly love to do is produce a field book of mummies in American museums.”

Wednesday, February 17, 2010

A "Great Wave" Hits Montreal Archives

400 Books Combine to Form The Great Wave Or Saltwater Memories. (Mixed Media Installation By Marc Lincourt, 2008. All Photos by Barbara Laborde.)

400 names, 400 journeys, 400 stories, 400 books: all are connected to form the foundation of a great city. That is the theme of The Great Wave or Saltwater Memories, a monumental art piece created from 400 hardcover volumes to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the city of Quebec. Conceived and constructed by artist Marc Lincourt, the piece has been washing ashore throughout Canada since 2008 and is on display at the Centre d'archives de Montréal from February 2- April 18, 2010.

Artist Marc Lincourt And The Raw Materials Of The Great Wave.

In size alone the piece lives up to its billing: this surging tide of books is two meters wide (6.56 Feet), 10 meters long (32.81 Feet), and reaches a height of 1.2 meters (3.94 feet). 400 separate pieces, each consisting of a single hardbound volume sealed in a shell and impaled on a fiberglass rod, are the component parts. A wave shape is created by varying the length of the rods, and placing the books in a checkerboard pattern. A fan beneath the installation creates a breeze, and the wave gently undulates.

Artist Marc Lincourt Creating A "Book-Shell."

Each of the 400 books represents a historic family involved in the founding of the city of Quebec. A roster of names was compiled from the manifests of ships setting sail in the 17th and 18th centuries from many regions of France to the New World. The family names are embossed in layered lettering on the book's covers, and the sealed volumes contain an imaginary secret history, a hidden narrative. The 400 distinct stories flowed together to form a single wave of settlers powerful enough to tame the wilds of New France.

Each Shell Bears The Surname Of A Settler In New France.

The placement of the books within the piece forms what artist Lincourt sees as a bird's eye view of the original settlements of New France. Colors of the volume's "shells" represent bodies of water, salt flats, and dashes of land along the coastal harbor. Even the materials used to make the shells are a tie to the importance of the bounty of the land: both fleur de sel and coarse sea salt form a part of each outer cover, a reference to the "white gold" that helped New France to prosper in its earliest days.

The Wave From A Fish Eye View.

The Great Wave or Saltwater Memories initially swept four venues in France, and Montreal is the swell exhibit's third stop in Canada. The decidedly French U.S. city of Lac Champlain will feel its billowing breakers in late 2010.

Writers Helping Writers. Or Not. Cheever, Bradbury, Salinger and Vonnegut

In 2004, Nicola Nikolov, an émigré to the U.S. in 1976 from communist Bulgaria, walked into William Dailey Rare Books in Los Angeles with a small archive of letters.

Briefly recounting a dark biography past and reduced, if freer, circumstances present, he told of his life as a published Bulgarian author and his difficulty establishing a writing career for himself in the United States. It was extremely important to him that his writing be accepted.

In August of 1978, he wrote, heart in hand, two-page long, well-written, typed letters to a small number of American novelists, with full, dire biographical details, limning his struggles to get read by the New York publishing establishment, and sincerely requesting that the novelists read and evaluate a few stories that he had enclosed. He saved their responses.

John Cheever replied with a firm, self-effacing dodge. Returning a manuscript unread seemed “like abominable hypocrisy… [but] as an Academician, my reading schedule is crowded until next Spring and that…I consider my judgment on anything but my own work to be worthless.”

Ray Bradbury bemoaned his lack of time but said he’d try to get around to reading them. “If, a month from now, I return them unread, you will understand, won’t you? I am a complete loner, do everything myself, no secretary ever, do all my typing, letter-writing, revisions, which means my days are full, too full.” Later, after offering pointed, practical advice on developing “friendships CLOSE AT HAND, to encourage you,” he suggested that Nikola submit his work to an agent of Bradbury’s acquaintance, with Bradbury’s blessing. ”I hope I will not fail you, but, if I do, it will not be because I am a [publishing] bureaucrat but an overworked and semi-mad author.”

J.D. Salinger did not deign to write a separate reply. At the top-right of Nikolov’s letter Salinger typed an ink-initialed rebuff stating his long-held conviction that “a writer makes a grave and often grievously consequential error in judgment if he so much as glances at another writer’s unpublished manuscript, let alone agrees to read and pass some sort of esthetic judgment on it...,” etc. He did not respond to Nikola's report that Catcher in the Rye was popular in Bulgaria and the U.S.S.R.

The 1978 writers' best friend/humanitarian prize is awarded to Kurt Vonnegut.

In an extraordinary, lengthy typed letter Vonnegut discussed the plight of the immigrant to the U.S. (“I would never urge anyone to come here, unless he were a world figure or multi-millionaire like Sozhenitzen”) and the fiction writer in contemporary America: “the best books earn nothing, usually. There are supposedly, at any given time, no more than 300 people in this whole country who make their livings as self-employed writers. America has more admirals on active duty than that.” Then, miraculously, Vonnegut agreed to read the proffered short stories. Further, in an act of profound kindness, Vonnegut enclosed an unsolicited check for the poverty-stricken Bulgarian with the “hope that you and your wife will spend it on a good supper and a bottle of wine. The America you find yourselves in is the America I have tried to describe in my books. It makes no sense. Nobody knows what it is. Anything can happen. Cheers, Kurt Vonnegut.”

Nikola Nikolov never did get published in the U.S.

So it goes...


The Salinger letter remains available from William Dailey Rare Books via the ABAA website.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Olympic Fever Iced By Canadian Library

Two Time Olympic Gold Medalist In Women's Hockey, Canada's Cassie Campbell.
(Silver Gelatin Print by Bryan Adams, 1999. All Images Courtesy of Library and Archives Canada.)

Canada's caught Olympic fever, and the country's libraries are not immune. Library and Archives Canada has mounted two outdoor exhibits, one in Vancouver and one in Ottawa, featuring portraits of Olympians past. Twenty-three of the finest athletes the land of the maple leaf has produced are the stars of Portraits In The Street and Portraits On Ice. Photographs, drawings, and paintings all combine to showcase medalists and other history-making participants in the Winter games.

The Great Gretzky Meets The Great Warhol.
(Serigraph On Paper by Andy Warhol, 1983.)

While the man called by many "the greatest hockey player ever" was never a member of Canada's Olympic team, Wayne Gretzky was the Executive Director of the nation's gold-medal-winning 2002 squad. And the Canadian star lit not just one but two Olympic flames--indoors and outdoors--for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Games. Gretzky's almost spooky ability to anticipate the location of the puck, and to set up and execute the perfect shot, led him to become only the second individual hockey player ever to be named Sports Illustrated's Sportsman of the Year. (1980's "Miracle On Ice" U.S. Men's Olympic Hockey Team was awarded the honor as a group, but that's another story.)

Gold Medal (Originally Silver Medal) Winning Pairs Skater Jamie Salé.
(Platinum Print by Bryan Adams, 2004.)

Calgary's Jamie Salé and her pairs-skating partner, David Pelletier, are the only Winter Olympic athletes ever to win a silver medal AND a gold medal in a single event for the same performance. At the 2002 Salt Lake City games, Salé and Pelletier skated a flawless long program to music from the motion picture Love Story. (A prophetic choice of music as the skaters became husband and wife in 2005.) Since their Russian rivals, Berezhnaya and Sikharulidze, had made a minor error on a jump, onlookers were certain the Canadian pair would take home the gold. But when the judges scores were announced, it was the Russian pair who came out on top. To a chorus of boos and jeers, Salé and Pelletier graciously accepted the silver medal, but the controversy remained. The next day an admission, by a French judge that she had given the gold to the Russian pair in exchange for a first-place vote for a pair of French ice dancers, led to a second gold medal being awarded to Salé and Pelletier. A complete overhaul of the scoring system in figure skating was a direct result of this headline-making judging scandal.

Speed Skater Charles Gorman, Canadian Olympian in 1924 and 1928.
(Ink On Paper With Photomechanical Print by Gordon Johnston, 1980.)

New Brunswick's Charles Gorman never won an Olympic medal, but he's a prime example of overcoming adversity to make the team. Already a local speed skating champion, he enlisted in the Canadian Army in 1914 at the outbreak of World War I. While serving as a machine gunner at the Battle of Vimy Ridge, Gorman's leg was so severely damaged by shrapnel he was told while hospitalized he would never skate again. Refusing to give up, Gorman proved the doctors wrong, and went on to set seven world speed skating records and participate in two Winter Olympics. He was later enshrined in the Canadian Sports Hall of Fame as "the most colorful skater in history."

Canada's Skating Sweetheart, Karen Magnussen, Immortalized by Yousuf Karsh.
(Color Photograph, 1973.)

Figure skater Karen Magnussen was a five-time Canadian National Champion, three-time World Champion, and a Silver Medalist at the 1972 Sapporo Winter Olympic Games. Now a highly successful skating coach in her hometown of North Vancouver, she was at the center of a recent media uproar when it was reported that she, like many other past Canadian Olympians, had not been given tickets to the 2010 Vancouver Games. The oversight was quickly rectified, and Magnussen will no doubt be front and center when this year's competitors in Women's Figure Skating take to the ice. The striking portrait of Karen Magnussen in the Library and Archives Canada exhibit is by one of the country's most celebrated photographers, Armenian transplant Yousuf Karsh. Karsh published fifteen books during his more than half-century long career as a portrait photographer. His celebrity portraits became so iconic that British journalist George Parry once wrote in The Sunday Times, "When the famous start thinking of immortality, they call for Karsh of Ottawa."

The Library and Archives Canada exhibit will remain on display in Vancouver and Ottawa through March 22, 2010. The exhibit is also available online for those unable to visit those cities, but looking for a bit of Olympic history to enrich their enjoyment of the 2010 Winter Games. More than one new Canadian champion is certain to be added to this roster of Olympic royalty before the end of the Vancouver competitions.

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