Friday, March 30, 2012

"One Of The Most Beautiful Books Ever Created" Reaps $415,937 At Sotheby's

by Stephen J. Gertz

La Prose du Transsibérian et de la Petite Jehanne de France.
Paris: Editions des Hommes Nouveaux, 1913.

Box (above) by Paul Bonet after Sonia Delaunay.

Est. at 40,000 - 60,000 EUR ($53,173 - $79, 972).
Sold for 312,750 EUR ($415,937, incl. premium).
Four twentieth century illustrated books, in astonishing bindings, out of a total of 190 lots, sold for over $100,000 each at Sotheby's - Paris in their Livres Illustrés de la Biblioitheque R. & B.L. sale, March 28, 2012.

A fine, first edition copy of Blaise Cendrars' collaboration with artist Sonia Delaunay, La Prose du Transsibérian et de la Petite Jehanne de France, in a chemise and box by Paul Bonet, brought the highest price.

It was estimated to sell for $53,173 - $79, 972 (40,000 - 60,000 EUR).

It fell under the hammer at $415,937 (312,750 EUR, incl. premium).

 Called "one of the most beautiful  books ever created" when Yale University Press reissued it in 2008, and a milestone in the evolution of artists' books by Joanna Drucker in The Century of Artists' Books (p. 50), it is "a sad poem printed on sunlight," according to Cendrars, who published it under his New Man Editions imprint.  Comprised of four sheets glued together to form an accordion (fold-out) binding 199 centimeters tall when opened, only sixty copies out of a planned 150 were issued, and of those sixty only thirty are believed to have survived.

BONNARD, Pierre. VERLAINE, Paul. Parallélement.
Paris: Ambroise Vollard, 1900.

Binding by E.-A. Séguy.

EST. 30,000 - 40,000 EUR ($39,901 - $53,173).

Sold: 78,750 EUR (($104,673, incl. buyer's premium).

A copy of Paul Verlaine's Parallélement, illustrated by Pierre Bonnard, and in an stunning binding by E.-A. Séguy, was estimated at $39,875 - $53,173.

It fell under the hammer at $104,673 (incl. buyer's premium).

It was issued in an edition of 200 copies featuring 190 lithographs by Bonnard. Of the twelve copies, in original wrappers or rebound, that have come to auction since 2000, the highest hammer price was  $44,500 at Sotheby's June 11, 2002 for a copy bound by J. Anthoine Legrain. The scarce binding by the great Séguy accounts for the $60,000 difference.

Decorator and designer, Eugène-Alain Séguy (1890 - 1985), produced only a few bindings during his career. He is best known for his work in the graphic arts and textile design, including folios of Art Nouveau and Art Deco-inspired design models in lush pochoir that he published 1910 - 1930.

TEMPLE, Guillaume. ERNST, Max. Maximiliana.
ou L'Exercise Illégal de L'Astronomie.
Paris: Le Degré Quarante-et-un, 1964.

Binding by P.-L. Martin

Est. 50,000 - 70,000 EUR ($66,501 - $93,104).
Sold 84,750 EUR ($112,733).

One of seventy copies on Japon Ancien paper, each signed by the artist and editor, Maximiliana, Max Ernst's collaboration with Guillaume Temple, is graced with thirty-four watercolors by the Dada pioneer. This copy, in a binding by P.-L. Martin,  contained an extra, unpublished watercolor by Ernst. 

Estimated at $66,501 - $93,104  it fell under the hammer at $112,733 (incl. premium).

DALI, Salvadore. LAUTREAMONT, Comte de.
Les Chants de Maldoror.
Paris: Skira, 1934.

Binding by George Leroux (1993).

Est. 40,000 - 60,000 EUR ($53,173 - $79, 972).
Sold 78,750 EUR ($104,673, incl. buyer's premium).

Salvadore Dali's illustrations to Le Comte de Lautréamont's Les Chants de Maldoror are considered to be his best book work. Issued in a total edition of 200 copies on vélin Arches, this copy, in a masterful, 1993 binding by Georges Leroux, is one of forty signed by Dali and containing an extra-suite of illustrations.

Estimated to sell for $53,173 - $79,972, it realized $104,673 (incl. premium).

BRAQUE, Georges. APOLLONAIRE, Guillaume.
Si Je Mourais La-Bas?
Paris: Louis Broder, 1962.

Binding by George Leroux after Braque.

Est. 40,000 - 60,000 EUR ($53,173 - $79, 972).

Sold 60,750 EUR ($80,812, incl. premium).

Many of the remaining lots realized five figure prices, not the least of which was a copy of the Georges Braque-illustrated edition of Apollonaire's Si Je Mourais La-Bas?, its eighteen colored woodcuts considered to be Braque's most important book illustrations. Issued in a total edition of 180 copies, the copy above, bound by Georges Leroux after Braque motifs, is one of forty with an extra suite of color woodcuts, each signed by Braque.

Estimated at $53,173 - $79,972, it sold for $80,812 (incl. premium).

[BRAQUE, Georges]. TUDAL, Antoine. Souspente.
Avec Une Lithographie en huit Couleurs de Georges Braque.
Paris: Robert Godet, 1945.

Binding by Thérèse Moncey.

Est. 2,500 - 3000 EUR ($3,325 - $3,990).
Sold 5,000 EUR ($6.650, incl. premium)

Even the stragglers - those modern illustrated books that sold below $10,000 - were impressive.

Braque's contribution to Antoine Tudal's Souspente is a lithograph in eight colors that is considered Braque's best such. This copy is one of an edition of 125.

Not much is known about the binder, Thérèse Moncey, beyond that she worked in Paris 1945-1965, and won a grand prize of French binding in 1950.

Estimated to sell for $3,325 - $3,990, it sold for $6.650 (incl. premium).

Images courtesy of Sotheby's, with our thanks.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Vintage Book Clocks Spoof School Spirit, Sex, Guns, Space, Drugs - And Meat

By Stephen J. Gertz

Vintage Book Clocks, the Venice, California designer and purveyor of literary timepieces, has added to its catalog a few chronometers with slightly cracked attitude. Not every book clock they sell is a tad unhinged or otherwise meant to be humorous, and, for all I know, no laughs were intended with this recent crop. But they are certainly amusing to this citizen of Absurdistan.

The company is having a sale, through April 2, 2012, on

If The Runner With The Open Fly doesn't speed up your stopwatch, perhaps The Story of Crisco, a vintage product cookbook that likely omits the product's primary off-label use as an intimate lubricant, will grease your interest.

For more information contact Vintage Clock Books.

Images courtesy of Vintage Book Clocks, with our thanks.

Of related interest:

Time For Vintage Book Clocks This Christmas.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Medieval Scribes Gripe About Writing

by Stephen J. Gertz

Given contemporary physical conditions and tools, if you were a medieval monk or nun and knew how to swing quill and sling ink your take on writing was very likely much as Dorothy Parker's: "I enjoy having written." The process has always been somewhat grueling, the pleasure retrospective.

You didn't complain; the boss was God. You kept your mouth shut. But  has there ever been a writer who could be stifled without, at some point, rebelling, even if only surreptitiously, in the margins of leaves or on the colophon?

The latest issue of Lapham's Quarterly contains a short, delightful piece about the marginalia of medieval scribes, and Booktryst presents a sampler with verbal illuminations when clarification is necessary.

"New parchment, bad ink; I say nothing more."

Windows 8.

"I am very cold."

"While I wrote I froze, and what I could not write by the beams of the sun, I finished by candlelight."

Medieval monasteries were not known for their central heating systems and insulation. You wrote in a room that was, basically, the great outdoors with walls and a roof pretending to keep out drafts and cold.

"The parchment is hairy."

Well, no, the parchment wasn't hirsute. "The parchment is hairy" is a medieval proverb that means, on one of its multiple levels,"wasting time in fruitless labor," i.e. the scribe made a mistake and has to start all over again, or the scribe felt that the text wasn't worth time and effort. Or, good grief, related to nuns having abortions rather than being found out. There's more than meets the quill with this  ripe medieval phrase, as you'll learn here. It is deeply embedded in, and revealing of, medieval ecclesiastical culture.

"The ink is thin."

"Oh, my hand."

"Now I've written the whole thing: for Christ's sake give me a drink."

Until recently, that declaration and plea could have been written by many if not most novelists. In fact, it is likely that if certain writers couldn't have a drink until after they finished their novels, the books would have been written in half the time in an ardent sprint to the finish for ardent spirits.

"St. Patrick of Armagh, deliver me from writing."

One of the biggest hit songs of the 12th century was written by a scribe who knew the score. Had you turned on the radio you'd have likely heard, in Top 40 rotation, Colm Cille's Is Scíth Mo Chrob ón Scríbainn, a plaintive Celtic rap otherwise known as My Hand Is Cramped With Penwork

My hand is cramped with penwork.
My quill has a tapered point.
Its birdmouth issues a blue-dark
Beetle-sparkle of ink.
Wisdom keeps welling in streams
From my fine drawn, sallow hand:
Riverrun on the vellum
Of ink from green-skinned holly.
My small runny pen keeps going
Through books, through thick and thin
To enrich the scholars’ holdings:
Penwork that cramps my hand.

It apocryphally ends with the refrain:

My hand is cramped with penwork.
My quill has a tapered point.
Now I've written the whole thing.
For Christ's sake roll me a joint.

Illumination images courtesy of It's About Time, with our thanks.

Image of this lovely new recording of medieval Celtic lyrics, Songs of the Scribes, courtesy of Pádraigín Ní Uallachán, with our thanks. Listen to a sample of My Hand Is Cramped With Penwork, sung by Pádraigín Ní Uallachán, here.

Translation of Is Scíth Mo Chrob ón Scríbainn by Seamus Heaney.

Suggested reading:

HAMEL, Christopher de. Scribes and Illuminators. London: British Museum Press, 1992.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The 2000 Year Old Man Talks Rare Books

by Stephen J. Gertz

At the recent 45th California  International Antiquarian Book Fair, the 2000 Year Old Man, the oldest rare book dealer in the history of the world, exhibited for the first time.

Booktryst had an opportunity to talk to him in the exhibitor hospitality suite.

SJG: Excuse me, Sir, is it true that you're the oldest living rare book dealer in the world?

2000 Year Old Man: Yes, I've been selling rare books since twelve.

SJG: Twelve years old?

2000 YOM: No. 12. The year.

SJG: You started early.

2000 YOM: Six months.

SJG: The year?

2000 YOM: No, age. There was no such thing as childhood when I was a kid. You were born, you were weaned, you went to work. I was an apprentice 2000 years before I went out on my own, in 12. There's a lot to learn.

SJG: So, you're actually 4000 years old?

2000 YOM: Yes, but it creeps-out the chicks so I lie. 2000 years old, they can live with.

SJG: What rare book shop did you serve your apprenticeship in?

2000 YOM: The rare book shop where I served my apprenticeship was Between the Scrolls. It was that or The Scroll Shop LLC, Lux Scrollis, Scroll Hunter's Holiday, or Scrolls R Us. I went with Between the Scrolls.

SJG: Why?

2000 YOM: Lots of action. There was always something going on.

SJG: Tell us about a typical day at Between the Scrolls..

2000 YOM: Oy, you wouldn't believe. Caesar and Cleopatra. Anthony and Cleopatra. Always between the scrolls, making out. No shame. No shame at all.

SJG: Who was the worst?

2000 YOM: Lipschitz and Cleopatra.

SJG: Lipschitz?

2000 YOM: Maximus Gaius Cornelius Murray Lipschitz. The general who became a slave! The slave who became a gladiator! The gladiator who became a dentist with a lucrative, high-end practice catering to the  patrician class! A great book collector, by the way.

SJG: What did he collect?

2000 YOM: Hammurabi first editions. Very heavy reading.

SJG: Deep intellectual content?

2000 YOM: No, two tons. They wrote on rocks in those days. You could get a hernia just turning a page. I once read Tolst-Oy bin Riten's 1782 B.C. classic, War and War, in it's first edition, on polished granite in a fine cuneiform hand, in a contemporary full coral and cobalt Travertine marble binding. A work of art. But heavy. Oy! I tore my rotator cuffs to shreds trying to flip to the index.

SJG: How were they shelved?

2000 YOM: Shelved? There were no shelves. You bought a book, it was delivered by cart, and slaves shlepped it into a pile in a corner of  your living room, next to the Barcolounger.

SJG: Who were your favorite authors in those days?

2000 YOM: Well, you know, there wasn't much to read way back then.

SJG: No?

2000 YOM: Nah. You had grainary reports, accounting ledgers,  royal victory propaganda...Nothing to read at the beach. Feh!

SJG: So, what did you read?

2000 YOM: Trash. I loved reading trash.

SJG: Why did you love reading trash?

2000 YOM: There was no shortage of it. Coffee cups, MacDonald's wrappers, bills, coupons, collection notices, empty cereal boxes, you name it. Where's there's people, there's trash.

2000 YOM: I draw the line at garbage, though. I won't read garbage. Yeccchhh!

SJG: What about later? Who did you read later?

2000 YOM: Oh, there was Pliny -

SJG: - The Younger or Elder?

2000 YOM: Younger, Elder, in between. Plenty o' Pliny. Good and Pliny. Couldn't get enough Pliny.

SJG: Did  you read Agricola?

2000 YOM: Read Agricola? I drank Agricola! It's the perfect beverage. The essence of the cola nut combined with notes of Spring crops. Very refreshing.

SJG: Carbonated?

2000 YOM: Of course, naturally. They threw a little activated carbon in there to purify it. You could die from the water back then.

SJG: Let's get back to your book shop.

2000 YOM: You have a time machine?

SJG: What was the oldest, rarest book you ever bought?

2000 YOM: The oldest, rarest book I ever bought was The Book of Moses.

SJG: First edition?

2000 YOM: Better. Original manuscript with corrections in his own hand.

SJG: I thought there were five books of Moses.

2000 YOM: There were but Moe only wrote the first one.

SJG: Really?

2000 YOM: Sure. He started the second, got a bad case of writer's cramp and that was that. You try writing with a stick. If he had a nice Bic pen, another story altogether but there you go.

SJG: Who wrote the others?

2000 YOM: Well, aside from Moe there was Larry, Curly, Shemp, and Joe.

SJG: The Stooges?

2000 YOM: Stooges of the Lord, to you. Don't be a wisenheimer.

SJG: What did it sell for?

2000 YOM: I haven't offered it until now. I've kept it in a vault since I bought it.

SJG: When did you buy it?

2000 YOM: I bought it in 452. A rich collector needed a little quick cash to get out of Rome before Attila the Hun showed up.

SJG: How much are you asking?

2000 YOM: 100 million dollars.

SJG: That's a lot of money.

2000 YOM: But free shipping and passes to Disneyland included!

SJG: What, if you don't mind my asking, did you pay for it back then?

2000 YOM: Back then I paid 500,000 shekels.

SJG: What's that in today's dollars?

2000 YOM: $17.50.

SJG: My goodness, that's not very much money for the original manuscript to the first book of the greatest work ever written, one that's influenced millions and millions and millions of people since it first came out.

2000 YOM: I could of done better. If I'd known it was going to be such a great big huge success I could have gotten it direct from Moe for practically nothing.  It was originally rejected by  all the publishers;  too many begats, not enough sex and violence. He never thought it would catch on. I could have gotten his desk, too. A robe. Who knew? I could kick myself.

By the way, who do you have to shtup to get a piece o' rugelach around here? They got pretzels up the keister, nuts, candy, some kind of mystery canapé but not a single prune rugelach.

SJG: Did you have any celebrity clients?

2000 YOM: Oh, yes, yes, yes, indeed, of course, I had many, many celebrity clients.

SJG: Who was your most interesting celebrity client?

2000 YOM: My most interesting celebrity client was King Solomon.

SJG: The King Solomon?

2000 YOM: There was another one? First time he came in, he was with a real geszunta moid, a very healthy maiden, if you know what I mean. Zaftig. Such a punim. He says, "I'm King Solomon." I couldn't believe it.

My wife says, "Right, and I'm the Queen of Sheba."

And the gezunta moid says to her, "No, I am. Really."

SJG: Wow, that must have really been  something.

2000 YOM: Oh, boy! You don't know the half of it. They both wanted the same book.

SJG: What book was that?

2000 YOM: When Bad Hittites Happen To Good Hebrews. A cautionary tale with a message.

SJG: What happened?

2000 YOM: They were fighting over it. Finally, I took an axe, chopped the book in two, and gave them each half.

"You should be so wise," Sheba said to Sol.

SJG: Speaking of wisdom, why, after all these years, are you only now exhibiting at an antiquarian book fair"

2000 YOM: I saw the sign outside, Antiquarian Book Fair. I figured,  I  sell books; who's more antiquarian than me? I'm the most antiquarian bookseller you'll ever meet.

SJG: You certainly are, Sir. 4000 years old.

2000 YOM: Shhhh! Keep it down. I got my eye on that chick over there. She reminds me of one of my ex-girlfriends.

SJG: Who was that?

2000 YOM: The Empress Messalina. I love it when women wear glasses.

SJG: Why is that?

2000 YOM: When they take them off, it sends me.

SJG: Let's not go there.

2000 YOM: Why not? I'm still vital. I'm a very vital guy.

SJG: You're certainly an inspiration, Sir. Do you have any advice for book collectors?

2000 YOM: Yes! My advice to book collectors is to not buy rare books on rocks.

SJG: Do you have something against geology?

2000 YOM: I love geology! Geology's wonderful. It's my favorite of all the ologies. But rare rock books? You could give yourself a rupture. Who needs it? Feh!

Apologies, respect and admiration to Carl Reiner and Mel Brooks, who began as writers and whose early 1960s improv routine for friends at parties developed into a textbook on comedy. Individually and as a team they are American Treasures.

Here's a classic bit:


Friday, March 23, 2012

Beautifully Illustrated Erotic Manuscript Brings 10 x Estimate At Christie's

By Stephen J. Gertz

Das Buch der Venus vulgivaga, (The Book of Venus Vulvigaga) an illustrated erotic manuscript from c. 1910, was the headliner at Christie's Fine Books Sale on March 21, 2012.

Estimated to sell for £800 - £1,200 ($1,269 - $1,903), it fell under the hammer for £15,000 ($23,805, incl. premium), a startling result.

Attributed to Fridericus Styrus and extensively and richly illustrated with 165 gallant and erotic drawings in pen, ink, and watercolor, the quarto manuscript, with tentative place of origin Graz, Austria, is written in black ink in a neat cursive hand on 199 pages, and bound in contemporary quarter red morocco.

The text, with a deft, delicate touch, considers various and diverse erotic themes. Women's shoes and feet are fetishized; the female netherland is discussed with variations illustrated; and a cavalcade of copulation postures populate some of the leaves.

How does an auction item wind up exceeding its estimate by over a factor of ten?

"The estimate was always ‘come and get me’ but still: the market for quality filth seems strong," Sven Becker, Associate Director and Book Specialist at Christie's, told Booktryst.

And fresh, highly attractive, artful material, new to the marketplace, will always find a comfortable home.

The Newberry Library holds a similar, shorter manuscript in its Special Collections, 4th floor, call number VAULT Wing MS 138.

Christie's was kind to provide Booktryst with multiple images from Das Buch der Venus vulgivaga but, while quite artfully executed and quite charming, a few are so charming that I've  left them out of this report. My 85 yr old mother reads Booktryst and I'd like her to make to 86 without dying from charm.

The "Omnipotent Rose," above, with its sturdy stalk, is, amongst the explicit, original illustrations within the manuscript, probably the least objectionable to those of sensitive nature; perhaps a little worse for the "where in the world, Stephen," my mother will likely make it through without incident.

Images courtesy of Christie's, with our thanks.

Of related interest:

The Floating World of Japanese Erotica At Christie's.

The Celebrated Stable of Erotica Writers, Part I.

The Celebrated Stable of Erotica Writers, Part II: The Perp Walk.
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