Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2013 Issue

In The News: They Are Still Making New Manuscripts, But Not Old Books

Typow

The latest in word processing technology.

Perhaps the saddest thing about computers, email and the like, is what it means for the old documents generations have preserved, studied, and collected. We aren't making them any more. No one writes letters now, except maybe a few old or very well-mannered younger people. We send an email. It's fast and cheap. And, if that's not fast enough, we send a text message or an instant message. Or, we can post a message on Facebook if we need to reach a lot of friends. Facebook has replaced those cumbersome photocopied letters people used to send out at Christmas. Letters now can be transmitted instantaneously around the world for free, allowing for quick response. It's almost like talking on the telephone (something people do not use telephones for any longer – just ask your children).

Some of these forms, notably emails, and Facebook postings (often to our chagrin) can be preserved in their electronic format for a long time. However, even these are unlikely to be permanent. Someday you will delete the old ones, or your hard drive will crash and erase them. Facebook postings will eventually be deleted after we are gone. And even if they aren't deleted, these messages are not collectible. You can't hold them in your hands, put them on the shelf, admire them. They are at best like electronic books – useful from the standpoint of practicality, useless in terms of collectibility.

So, why would anyone ever return to the old method of putting messages on paper when all aspects of convenience favor electronic letters? Maybe there is a reason after all. We may have to thank Edward Snowden for this, even if he is a man with few friends these days. His revelation of the amount of electronic eavesdropping and digging into people's personal records has begun to make people nervous about their electronic records. Big Brother may be watching after all. It just took about 30 years longer than George Orwell imagined.

The news out of Russia is interesting, even if not quite a trend. It was reported that Russia's Federal Guard Service (FSO), charged with protecting the secrecy of Kremlin documents, has placed an order with a German company for 20 typewriters. Typewriters! Who knew they even made them anymore? An FSO source reportedly told Russian newspaper Izvestia that after all the reports of leaks of electronic documents, including Snowden's and the earlier Wikileaks, they have come to see the value in paper documents. Naturally, they cannot be intercepted by some hacker thousands of miles away. If one does escape somehow, it can be traced, because unlike digital copies, all of which are identical, typewriters leave their individual finger, or ink, prints. The guilty party more readily can be traced.

This is not to predict a massive return to paper documents. The world moves forward, not back. However, it will be good for future generations if at least some of our important documents are put to paper. Then, one hundred years from now, collectors will be able to find something with which to remember our generation too, not just earlier ones.

A couple of other stories in the news remind us of an old adage about old books (or was that real estate?) - they aren't making them any more. Newer books may become old, but today's old books are finite in number, and that number can (and will) only get smaller.

In Calgary, Alberta, Canada, major flooding of the Bow and Elbow Rivers earlier this summer inundated much of the downtown area. Thousands of people were forced to evacuate their homes. According to the Calgary Sun, one of the victims was Tom Williams Books, being located in a basement shop on 17th Avenue S.E. Most of some 200,000 volumes were reportedly destroyed. While most would likely fall into the category of used books, some were antiquarian, collectible titles. For each, that is one fewer copy remaining in existence.

From Gloucester in England, another 6,000 books were extensively damaged or destroyed in a fire in a storage room that police have attributed to arson. Again, fortunately, not too many were highly valuable books, with the owner, a bookseller, estimating the best had a value around $1,000. As in Calgary, the business will have to be closed, or at a minimum continued in a much reduced state. A suspect has been arrested. Slowly, though intractably, the supply declines.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jacques-Émile Ruhlmann, wallpaper sample book, circa 1919. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Archive from a late office of the Breuer & Smith architectural team, New York, 1960-70s. $3,500 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> William Morris, <i>The Story of the Glittering Plain or the Land of Living Men,</i> illustrated by Walter Crane, Kelmscott Press, Hammersmith, 1894. $2,500 to $3,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustave Doré, <i>La Sainte Bible selon la Vulgate,</i> Tours, 1866. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Gustav Klimt & Max Eisler, <i>Eine Nachlese,</i> complete set, Vienna, 1931. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>Eric Allatini & Gerda Wegener, <i>Sur Talons Rouges,</i> with original watercolor by Wegener, Paris, 1929. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>C.P. Cavafy, <i>Fourteen Poems,</i> illustrated & signed by David Hockney, London, 1966. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b> Jean Midolle, <i>Spécimen des Écritures Modernes...</i>, Strasbourg, 1834-35. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Apr 26:</b><br>E.A. Seguy, <i>Floréal: Dessins & Coloris Nouveaux,</i> Paris, 1925. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> BEETHOVEN, LUDWIG VAN. Autograph Manuscript sketch-leaf part of the score of the Scottish Songs, "Sunset" Op. 108 no 2. [Vienna, February 1818]. Inscribed by Alexander Wheelock Thayer. SOLD for $131,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> Violin belonging to Albert Einstein, presented to him by Oscar H. Steger, 1933. SOLD for $516,500
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> EINSTEIN, ALBERT. Autograph Letter Signed ("Papa") to his son Hans Albert, discussing his involvement with the atomic bomb, September 2, 1945. SOLD for $106,250
    <b>Bonhams: Results from Fine Books and Manuscripts on March 9, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> HAMILTON, ALEXANDER. Autograph Letter Signed, to Baron von Steuben, with extensive notes of Von Steuben's aide Benjamin Walker, June 12, 1780. SOLD for $16,250
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> NEWTON, ISAAC. Autograph Manuscript in Latin, being detailed instructions on making the philosopher's stone. 8 pp. 1790s. SOLD for $275,000
    <b>Bonhams, Mar. 9:</b> 1869 Inauguration Bible of President Ulysses S. Grant. SOLD for $118,750
  • <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> E.H. SHEPARD, Original drawing for A.A. Milne’s The House at Pooh Corner.<br>$40,000-60,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> BERNARD RATZER, Plan of the City of New York in North America, surveyed in the years 1766 & 1767. $80,000-100,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> THOMAS JEFFERSON, Autograph letter signed comparing Logan, Tecumseh, and Little Turtle to the Spartans. Monticello: 15 February 1821. $14,000-18,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN C. FREMONT, Narrative of the Exploring Expedition to the Rocky Mountains, in the Year 1842.. Abridged edition, the only one containing the folding map From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $3,000-5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ZANE GREY, Album containing 94 large format photographs of Grey and party at Catalina Island, Arizona, and fishing in the Pacific. From the Sporting Library of Arnold “Jake” Johnson. $5,000-$8,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> WILLIAM COMBE, A History of Madeira ... illustrative of the Costumes, Manners, and Occupations of the Inhabitants. produced by Ackermann in 1821; From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> ERIC TAVERNER, Salmon Fishing... One of 275 copies signed by Taverner, published in 1931,From the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN WHITEHEAD, Exploration of Mount Kina Balu, North Borneo. Whitehead reached the high point of Kinabalu in 1888. Part of a major group of travel books from the Sporting Library of Jake Johnson. $2,000-$3,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> JOHN LONG, Voyages and Travels of an Indian Interpreter and Trader, describing the Manners and Customs of the North American Indians... The first edition of 1791. $3,000-$5,000
    <b>Doyle, April 25:</b> SAMUEL BECKETT, Stirrings Still. This, Beckett’s last work of fiction with original lithographs by Le Brocquy, limited to 200 copies signed by the author and the artist. From the Estate of Howard Kaminsky.. $1,500-$2,500
  • <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Charles Darwin on sexuality and the transmission of hereditary characteristics: Autograph Letter Signed to Lawson Tait. Down, 17 January [1877].
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> MILTON, JOHN. <i>Paradise Lost. A Poem written in ten books.</i> London: 1667. A very rare example with the contemporary binding untouched and with a 1667 title page.
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> Hamilton secures the ratification of the Constitution: <i>The Debates and Proceedings of the Convention of the State of New-York, assembled at Poughkeespsie, on the 17th June, 1788.</i>
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> The social contract “Man is born free, and everywhere he is in chains”: ROUSSEAU, JEAN-JACQUES. <i>Principes du Droit Politique [Du Contract Social]</i>. Amsterdam: Michel Rey, 1762
    <b>19th Century Shop:</b> “The first English textbook on geometrical land-measurement and surveying”: BENESE, RICHARD. <i>This Boke Sheweth the Maner of Measurynge All Maner of Lande…</i>

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