ILAB Library - All You Need To Know About Rare Books and the Antiquarian Book Trade

  • [+] More Why Are Some Dustjackets Clipped but Not Price-Clipped? 


    Why Are Some Dustjackets Clipped but Not Price-Clipped?
    Published since 22 Feb 2012

    While browsing through Ralph Sipper‘s booth at this past weekend’s Los Angeles Antiquarian Book Fair, I came upon an interesting copy of book that at first seemed a little out of place at the fair: John Sanford’s Every Island Fled Away. It’s a 1964 novel that, these days, is typically a $30 – $40 book in collectible condition, and not that much more when signed or inscribed. Usually the booths at the three fairs sponsored by the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (there’s also a New York show in April and a Boston show in November) are full of the best antiquarian books for sale in the country and the world (read highest quality, and consequently highest priced). Dealers usually trot out their top material, and Ralph’s booth was full of many stunning copies of notable literary first editions. Some of them, like his beautiful copy of William Faulkner’s first novel, Soldiers’ Pay, are genuinely rare in such condition. By comparison, the John Sanford book seemed to be a grade schooler lost at the senior prom.

  • [+] More Look What I Found at BTC: The Sign of the Cross 


    Look What I Found at BTC: The Sign of the Cross
    Published since 12 Dec 2011

    I like film souvenir books well enough, but with a few exceptions it’s a little hard to get truly excited about them. De Mille’s 1932 film, based on the play by Wilson Barrett, has a backstory about Charles Laughton as the Emperor Nero. Nero blames the Christians for burning Rome, and decides to put them all to death, as one is occasionally wont to do. There’s also a love story between Frederic March as Rome’s highest-ranking military officer, Marcus Superbus (really? Superbus? Why not “Marcus Gas Guzzling SUV”?) and Elissa Landi as Mercia, a cute Christian chick. You can see where complications might ensue.

  • [+] More Collecting Rare Books and First Editions: Poe and Rafinesque in Philadelphia 


    Collecting Rare Books and First Editions: Poe and Rafinesque in Philadelphia
    Published since 24 Aug 2011
    It is not often that one discovers the work of an overlooked or forgotten genius, or a previously-unknown work of an established master. This is, of course, the hope which moves us to carefully examine all sorts of periodical publications and ephemera. So when Tom Congalton asked me to catalog two large folio volumes of the Philadelphia-based Saturday Evening Post, from 1827 and 1828, I was pleased to find the puzzle poem “Enigma” attributed to Edgar Allan Poe, and “Psalm 139th” by his brother Henry Poe. Perhaps the most interesting contributions to these volumes are not the Poeiana, but rather a whole series of botanical sketches and other contributions by an eccentric genius with the evocative name Rafinesque.
  • [+] More Collecting Rare Books and First Editions: The Letters of B. Traven 


    Collecting Rare Books and First Editions: The Letters of B. Traven
    Published since 21 Jul 2011

    One of the great things about working for a bookseller is you get to see some very cool items. One of the best in recent days is a collection of letters from the writer B. Traven - best known for his novel The Treasure of Sierra Madre - sent to the model and actress Ruth Ford. If you’re only familiar with the classic movie starring Humphrey Bogart, you’ve been missing out because B. Traven was a man of mystery worthy a movie all his own.

  • [+] More Collecting Women Writers: Julia Peterkin, Ellen Glasgow, Margaret Ayer Barnes, Alice Walker 


    Collecting Women Writers: Julia Peterkin, Ellen Glasgow, Margaret Ayer Barnes, Alice Walker
    Published since 07 Jul 2011

    "Everyone knows Alice Walker's 1982 novel The Color Purple, but not everyone knows that the first issue jacket has only one address for the publisher on the rear flap – later issues have two." - "Peterkin's Pulitzer-winning novel Scarlet Sister Mary (1928) turns up occasionally, but there we have seen two variants of the jacket and haven't yet been able to determine whether one precedes or not." - "Spoken pompously, and with an air of experience: "Yes, my dear fellow, its the only copy we've ever seen (sotte voce: this week)." What is worth collecting or not among the works of Julia Peterkin, Alice Walker, Margaret Ayer Barnes and Ellen Glasgow.

  • [+] More Collecting Rare Books and First Editions: Norman Mailer 


    Collecting Rare Books and First Editions: Norman Mailer
    Published since 18 May 2011

    Mailer has enjoyed great public esteem, exceeded perhaps only his own opinion of himself, ever since his first book The Naked and The Dead was published in (1948). The book is notorious for the cheapness of the materials employed in its construction, and don't be surprised when you have to pay a chilling premium for a truly fine copy. However, just because a dealer says its a truly fine copy, don't accept it at face value. Among its usual flaws are extensive rubbing to the bottoms of the boards (which seems to have a thinner skin than George W. Bush at a Mensa meeting), and tanning to the white lettering on the spine.

  • [+] More Collecting Rare Books and First Editions: Saul Bellow 


    Collecting Rare Books and First Editions: Saul Bellow
    Published since 18 May 2011

    Bellow's three National Book Award-winning books, Mr. Sammler's Planet (1971), Herzog (1965),  and The Adventures of Augie March (1954); and his Pulitzer Prize-winning novel, Humboldt's Gift (1976), are not difficult to find, but they do command a premium price if they are either in especially fine condition or signed (although for such a legendarily grumpy author, Bellow seems to have been generous with his signature). His first two books, Dangling Man (1944), and The Victim (1947), are usually harder to find, with Dangling Man, because of its fragile wartime construction (using cheaper paper and other materials) being the most difficult and expensive. Other early books of his that have become scarce in fine copies are his play The Last Analysis (1965), and Henderson the Rain King (1959). It seems to us that Bellow will continue to be collected for the relatively long term, and fine copies will become steadily scarcer.

  • [+] More Collecting Rare Books and First Editions: John Kennedy Toole 


    Collecting Rare Books and First Editions: John Kennedy Toole
    Published since 18 May 2011

    Toole's story is well-known, but if you don't already know it, he killed himself in despair when he couldn't get A Confederacy of Dunces (1980) published. His mother haunted publishers until, with the help of Walker Percy, she managed to get LSU to publish the book, the first work of fiction from that publisher. To everyone's surprise, the book won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 1981. The boards of the book seem to warp or splay pretty easily, but copies with just a little splaying probably shouldn't be rejected out of hand, unless you really want to be a stickler. The jacket is uncoated, and primarily black, so its hard to find copies that don't have at least some rubbing.

  • [+] More Collecting Rare Books and First Editions: Thomas Pynchon 


    Collecting Rare Books and First Editions: Thomas Pynchon
    Published since 18 May 2011

    Pynchon's first three books are by far his most collectible. His first, V. (1963) shows up with some frequency, but is usually either spine-faded, or price-clipped (the price is placed well into the front flap, so clipping it leaves an even more than usually unsightly loss), or both. There also exists an Advance Reading Copy in wrappers that seems to wear easily - we look for copies that are relatively square, as it seems to cock or slant very easily.

  • [+] More Collecting Rare Books and First Editions: Cormac McCarthy 


    Collecting Rare Books and First Editions: Cormac McCarthy
    Published since 18 May 2011

    The front flap of McCarthy's 1965 first book proved to be very prophetic: "Confident of the acclaim The Orchard Keeper will ultimately receive, but hopeful that such recognition could come now rather than twenty years hence, the publishers sent a number of advance copies to well-known writers and editors, asking for comment and criticism..." Sure enough, McCarthy gained a fervent but very limited following among literary-minded readers, critics, and fellow authors. Outside this circle he was not very well known, even after the 1985 publication of his fifth novel, the violent tour-de-force Blood Meridian, which is now commonly ranked among the best novels of the past quarter century.

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