Grolier Club Reopens Renovated Exhibition Hall with French Book Arts Exhibit

Today, the country’s oldest and largest bibliophilic society, the New York-based Grolier Club, will unveil the fruits of a three-and-a-half-year, $5-million renovation of the organization’s entire first floor and exhibition hall with, appropriately, a show highlighting the club’s Francophile roots. French Book Arts: Manuscripts, Books, Bindings, Prints, and Documents, 12th-21st Century includes nearly one hundred items pulled from the Grolier’s rich trove of French books and illuminated manuscripts. Also in the show are six items that once hailed from the collection of the “Prince of Bibliophiles” and club namesake, Jean Grolier (1489-1565).

Today, the country’s oldest and largest bibliophilic society, the New York-based Grolier Club, will unveil the fruits of a three-and-a-half-year, $5-million renovation of the organization’s entire first floor and exhibition hall with, appropriately, a show highlighting the club’s Francophile roots. French Book Arts: Manuscripts, Books, Bindings, Prints, and Documents, 12th-21st Century includes nearly one hundred items pulled from the Grolier’s rich trove of French books and illuminated manuscripts. Also in the show are six items that once hailed from the collection of the “Prince of Bibliophiles” and club namesake, Jean Grolier (1489-1565).

 

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The exhibition and accompanying book were curated and written by Grolier Club member George Fletcher. A member since 1973, Fletcher’s lifelong love of books led him to the Morgan Library as the Astor Curator of printed books and bindings, followed by a position as director of special collections at the NYPL. In 2013, Fletcher was bestowed with the title of Chevalier dans l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres by the French government. “As the inaugural exhibition in our new gallery, this is the first that presents a survey of so many areas of French bibliophilia, going back to illuminated manuscripts to contemporary livres d’artistes,” Fletcher explained during a press tour. Expect to see sumptuous illuminated Books of Hours, miniatures by Boyvin, a letter by a distraught Thomas Jefferson to a French bookseller concerning a shipment of waterlogged books, and decorative bindings hailing from the 14th to the 21st centuries.
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As to the renovation: it’s a complete overhaul. Previously, the first floor exhibition hall was awash in mauve-toned walls, light wood flooring, and track lighting (see below). Standard-issue glass cases lined the walls while the back of the hall was dominated by a faux-Palladian window, also mauve. The upper balcony, where many of the Grolier Club’s treasures are stored, was flanked by white solid-wood railings. With a client portfolio that includes renovations at places like the New England Conservatory of Music and Boston Symphony Hall, Ann Beha Associates of Boston took up the challenge to update the aesthetics of the space while also addressing conservation issues, lighting, ventilation, and sound systems.

 

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“The Grolier Club put together a nine-member design team task force, and together we examined various issues while also keeping in mind the club’s history and stewardship of collections,” explained Ann Beha at the press preview. “Part of the preparation included hopping in a van and visiting other institutions throughout New York that had also recently undergone renovations, such as the Brooklyn Museum and the Cooper-Hewitt.” Staying true to the Grolier Club’s roots was essential. “The Club prides itself on welcoming the public to free exhibitions and various programs, and this renovation took that into consideration. This design incorporates heritage and technology, welcomes new visitors and promotes scholarship and engagement,” Beha said.

 

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Now, the exhibition hall features custom-built Goppion glass cases lit by LED bulbs, a properly balanced ventilation system, and mahogany-stained floors and wall panels. Gone is the mauve Palladian faux paneling in favor of a multi-paneled video wall, and the wood paneling on the upper balcony has been replaced with glass, allowing visitors on the ground level to fully appreciate the impressive surroundings. Plus, the Grolier’s 60th Street townhouse is handicapped accessible. The hall feels more open and inviting, yet still suffused with the tradition and history of the space. In short: Beha seems to have hit a home run. (Professional photos are being shot Monday, so check back here for images shortly.)

 

The club invited members earlier this week to tour the hall before it opens to the public as well as to listen to a lecture given on Wednesday night by Carla Hayden, the current Librarian of Congress.
Just as Jean Grolier was known to share his library and its treasures with friends, the public is welcome to revel in the richness of human ingenuity and talent and the newly redesigned hall, too. As an added incentive, Mr. Fletcher will be offering free lunchtime tours of the exhibition today, December 19, and February 1, all from 1-2 p.m. No reservations needed.

 

Images, from top: Florent Rousseau Binding On:Printing for Kingdom, Empire, and Republic: Treasures from the Archives of the Imprimerie Nationale. Ed. H. G. Fletcher New York, The Grolier Club & Paris: Imprimerie Nationale, 2011; Matisse in a Brugalla Binding Henry de Montherlant. Pasiphaé : Chant de Minos (les Crétois) Gravures originales by Henri Matisse Paris : Martin Fabiani, 1944; Homer. Opera (Greek). Two volumes Venice: Aldus Manutius, after 31 October 1504. Both Collection of The Grolier Club and reproduced with permssion; Grolier Club Exhibition Hall pre-renovation reproduced with permission of Grolier Club; Renovation rendering reproduced with permission of Ann Beha and Grolier Club. 

Alleged Ponzi Scheme Treasures Head to Auction in Paris

Another tale from the underbelly of the book world sees the light of day. On Monday, November 19, at 4pm, French auction house Artcurial will be hosting a sale of science material being dispersed from Aristophil, a fund ostensibly founded in 1990 by French insurance salesman-turned-manuscript dealer Gérard Lhéritier to invest in rare books and manuscripts. Aristophil closed shop in 2014 after authorities discovered evidence that Lhéritier was running a Ponzi scheme that fleeced 18,000 investors of roughly one billion dollars. (Esquire ran this fascinating in-depth piece on the man, his career, and how the plan unraveled.) Lhéritier was indicted for fraud and money laundering, among other charges, and awaits a court date. Now the treasures of Aristophil are being auctioned off. 

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Next week’s sale is the thirteenth of the Aristophil archives (apparantly, worries that these items are co-owned by investors in a hedge fund are no longer so burdensome), and the first to tackle the fund’s scientific materials. Items on the block are nothing short of breathtaking: a 1610 copy of Galileo’s Sidereus nuncius (est. $18,000 to $30,000), a first edition of Darwin’s Origin of the Species (est. $15,000 to $28,000), and even mathematician Charles de Bovelles’ 1510 Géométrie en francoys, of which only three other copies of this edition are known to exist, with pre-sale estimates ranging upwards of $55,000.


Marie Curie, Albert Einstein, Emilie du Châtelet, René Descartes, the A-listers of the scientific community are all well represented here and will no doubt make for an interesting auction. 


See the whole science catalogue here.

Image: Sidereus nuncius, by Galileo Galelei, 1610. Reproduced with permission of Artcurial. 

Something Wicked This Way Comes: “Macbeth” Hits Stages from Coast to Coast

Could Macbeth be to Halloween what A Christmas Carol is to Noël? Based on the number performances starring the Thane of Cawdor this month, all signs seem to point to yes. Among the various renditions, Shakespeare’s tragedy exploring the darkest and bloodiest elements of human nature appears in wildly different venues on either ends of the country this month.

 

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Starting October 20 and running through November 3, the Shakespeare Center of Los Angeles opens its “immersive” production of Macbeth. Directed by former Royal Shakespeare Company member Kenn Sabberton, The Tragedie of Macbeth is set in a haunted house where audience members walk through the play as it is happening. The show starts in the Shakespeare Center’s parking garage, which stands in for the mysterious witches’ heath, then winds its way through the castle. Pared down to seventy minutes with nine actors playing everyone from Macbeth to Banquo, the intimate nature of the show limits fifty spectators per performance.
In Cambridge, Massachusetts, catch a glimpse of Macbeth through the fog art installation currently set up at Harvard University’s Arnold Arboretum. Fog x Macbeth takes place on Sunday, October 21 at 5 pm, and like the Shakespeare Center’s adaptation, it is an abridged portrayal. This show is part of a larger exhibition by Japanese fog artist Fujito Nakaya, whose five fog sculptures situated in and around Boston are helping celebrate the twenty-year anniversary of the Emerald Lake Conservancy, a group dedicated to conserving the area’s century-old park system created by Frederick Law Olmstead.

 

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The Actor’s Shakespeare Project  (ASP), a Boston-based theater company whose mission is to share Shakespeare’s immortal words with contemporary audiences, uses an adaptation by playwright Migdalia Cruz, whose full play is on stage now through November 11 at Brookline’s United Parish.

 

Meanwhile, with jets of gray mist pulsing at various intervals as the backdrop, Sunday’s free presentation will take place on the lawn next to the arboretum’s Hunnewell building. Audience members are welcome to bring lawn chairs or blankets and are encouraged to dress for the elements.

 

And finally, Macbeth was recently staged at a place where both actors and audience members deeply related to the characters they portrayed: Twin Rivers Correctional Institution in Umatilla, Oregon. One of the actors portraying Macbeth is currently serving life in prison for murder. (Reporter Noelle Crombie at the Oregonian goes into great detail about the performance and the organizations that bring acting programs to inmates.)

 

“I have done the deed” takes on new meaning, doesn’t it?

 

Photo credit: Nile Scott Shots

Roald Dahl’s “Matilda” Turns 30

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“So Matilda’s strong young mind continued to grow, nurtured by the voices of all those authors who had sent their books out into the world like ships on the sea.” That quote and many others extolling the virtues of reading great books comes from Roald Dahl’s Matilda. Originally published on October 1, 1988, Dahl’s now-classic tale of a gifted girl cursed with horrible parents and a tyrannical headmistresses was an immediate success. Receiving the Children’s Book Award in 1989, becoming a major motion picture in 1996, and inspiring the 2010 musical adaptation, Matilda is perhaps Dahl’s best-selling book, with over 17 million copies in print.
Collectors should head to British rare bookseller Peter Harrington who is offering six first editions of Matilda. “In recent years, Matilda has become our top-selling book,” explained Peter Harrington’s son and current owner, Pom. “Matilda is a fabulous spirited girl and the book is loved by adults and children alike.”
Among the six copies offered for sale are two inscribed first editions, one being a presentation copy with, “To all the Briggs, with love, Roald. 9/4/88” at the front. Michael Briggs had operated on Dahl’s spine in 1978, after which the men became good friends. This copy is available for £4,000 ($5,300). The second inscribed copy, available for for £3,500 ($4,630) reads: “Camilla, love Roald Dahl.”

 

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Additionally, Penguin Random House will be releasing special editions of the book on October 4 with new cover images by the book’s original illustrator, Quentin Blake. Each of the three covers features a grown-up Matilda as an astrophysicist, a world traveler, and Chief Executive of the British Library. These 30th anniversary editions are available for pre-order starting at $17.99.

 

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Images: (Top and Middle) Courtesy of Peter Harrington; (Bottom) Courtesy of the British Library Shop.

 “For the first time he learned to think before he spoke.” Johnny Tremain: A Classic Revisited

Esther Forbes’s 1944 Newbery Medal-winning story set on the eve of the Revolutionary War turns seventy-five this year. To commemorate the milestone, publisher Houghton Mifflin Harcourt recently released an updated edition with new jacket art and includes an illustrated forward by author-illustrator Nathan Hale (not the American spy executed by the British in 1776).

As riveting as ever, Johnny Tremain should be required reading for everyone, adults included. The book has never been out of print and Walt Disney turned it into a movie in 1957. Let’s not forget that Forbes also won a Pulitzer in 1942 for Paul Revere and the World He Lived In, a vivid biography of the patriot’s life based largely on his correspondence.

Forbes, for her part, was a dyed-in-the-wool New Englander and a trailblazer in her own time: born the fifth of six children to William and Harriette Forbes in Westboro, Massachusetts in 1891, she moved with her family to the county seat of Worcester, where her father practiced law. Forbes and her sisters were among the first girls to attend the private Bancroft School where, dyslexic and nearsighted, the young Forbes was once accused of plagiarism after sharing a story she had written to amuse her siblings. Undeterred, she continued to write, and at her death in 1967 was working on a book about witchcraft. The first woman to become a member of the American Antiquarian Society, Forbes left the Worcester institution the rights to her books as well as material for her unfinished final volume.

Johnny Tremain 75th Anniversary Edition, by Esther Hoskins Forbes, illustrated by Nathan Hale; Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, $14.99, 320 pages. ages 9-12. 

Bank on Booksellers Auction Funds Disaster Relief

It’s no secret that being a bookseller is hard work, but thankfully they have the book industry charitable foundation known as Binc to lean on when times are tough.  Billed as “the saftey net for booksellers,” Binc has provided more than $6 million in financial assistance and scholarships to bookseller employees since its inception in 1996. The foundation has helped with everything from paying for serious medical expenses, utilities, and even funeral costs.

As the only nonprofit dedicated to providing aid to bookstore employees, Binc is fully funded by generous supporters and is currently hosting an online auction called Bank on Booksellers.  One hundred authors, illustrators, and celebrities like Judy Blume, Katherine Applegate, Kate DiCamillo, Jeff Kinney, and Marc Brown decorated piggy banks to be auctioned off to the highest bidder. (Check out the selection here.) Ten thousand dollars have been raised so far, but the auction ends Saturday. Help Binc bring home the bacon by placing a bid at the foundation’s secure website.

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To all the booksellers and everyone else in the path of Hurricane Florence, please be safe. We are all thinking of you.

Major Used Book Sale Happening in Newtown, CT, This Weekend

Buyers_2_-_1.jpgA major used book sale is happening this weekend in Newtown, CT, at the 43rd annual C.H Booth Book Sale taking place at the Reed Intermediate School on 3 Trades Lane from July 7-11.
Organized and hosted by the Friends of the C.H. Booth Library, all proceeds from the sale go towards enhancing the library’s current collections, support library services, and fund various adult and children’s literacy programs.
Collectors of Beat Generation writers would do well to to set their alarms for opening day: This year’s sale includes a selection of first editions by authors like William Burroughs, Allen Ginsberg, and Jack Kerouac, many of which hail from the estate of a local book collector. A very good copy of Kerouac’s 1965 semi-autobiographical Desolation Angels can be had for $75, while a good signed first edition, first printing of Burroughs’ The Ticket that Exploded is available for $500.
Francophiles might be tempted by a 13-volume set of J.J. Rousseau’s Works, translated in English and published in 1767. The entire lot is priced at $1,000.
The sale also includes an assortment of 19th-century calendar books, signed children’s books by the likes of Tasha Tudor and Steven Kellogg, puzzles, and other board games. Students might even find a couple of textbooks for the fall.
In short, the C.H. Booth Friends Sale has something for nearly everyone and at prices that can’t be beat.

 

Numbered admission tickets become available on July 7 at 7am. There is a $5 admission fee on Saturday only. Get there early–we hear the line forms quickly.
Further questions, including driving directions and parking, can be answered at the Friends FAQ page. Happy Hunting!

 

Image via C.H. Booth Book Sale

This story originally appeared on the Fine Books Blog on July 6, 2018