Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2009 Issue

Some Ideas for Making Rare Books Relevant from Buffalo, New York

Countexeccollins

Erie County Executive Chris Collins shares a book with some young readers (from the Executive website).


By Michael Stillman

For generations, rare book libraries have been obtaining and squirreling away enormous quantities of historic old books and ephemera. They have made them available to bona fide researchers but few others. However, researchers are themselves few in number, and as more material is made available through digital copies, need to access originals is diminishing. Few people ever view these great works, and out of sight is out of mind. So library hours get cut, budgets slashed, and no one knows whether these public collections can survive the new century. One community is determined to breathe new life into these old works, bring them back into the light of day where they once again can be appreciated by all. If they can pull this off, it could be a blueprint for communities all across the land as they try to answer the vexing question of what to do with these wonderful, but invisible artifacts of their history. It will not be easy.

Erie County (Buffalo), New York, is determined to make its antiquarian books and manuscripts a cultural draw, a tourist attraction if you will. Last month, County Executive Chris Collins announced the formation of a Rare Books Commission. It will draw its members from various local institutions. The commission will be headed by Victor Rice, a local philanthropist, and includes County Executive Collins, University at Buffalo President John Simpson, Erie Community College President Jack Quinn, Library Board Trustees Anne Leary and Wayne Wisbaum, Erie County Library Director Bridget Quinn-Carey, and Michele Lee, wife of Congressman Chris Lee. With a group of heavy hitters like this, one can only assume that Erie County is deadly serious about finding a way to convert their musty old books into living assets.

County Executive Collins describes their mission by explaining, "We have a wealth of incredibly rare treasures right here in Western New York that we should be sharing with the world. I think these historic materials will attract visitors from far and wide. It's time to market this collection to enhance our tourism industry in Erie County."

So what sort of treasures are there in this Great Lakes community, which despite the "New York" last name is closer to Cleveland, Detroit, Wheeling West Virginia, and Toronto than it is to the metropolis that goes by the name of "New York?" It turns out there are some surprises. Buffalo/Erie County houses the handwritten manuscript of Mark Twain's Huckleberry Finn. Twain lived here from 1869-71, owned his first home in Buffalo, and donated the manuscript for what many consider to be America's greatest novel to the local library. Thomas Jefferson's annotated copy of The Federalist, and a Shakespeare First Folio, the first printing of his plays, are also part of the Buffalo and Erie County Library Collection.

The Buffalo area is steeped in history. It was the starting point for the Erie Canal, which early in the 19th century single-handedly opened up what was then the American West for trade with the rest of the nation. Later, it was a major railroad hub. It was also a major terminus of a different type of railway, the Underground Railroad, where runaway slaves crossed the Niagara River for freedom in Canada. Presidents Grover Cleveland and Millard Fillmore came from Buffalo. President William McKinley died here, victim of an assassin's bullet while attending the 1901 Pan-American Exposition. The tragedy altered the course of American history by elevating an eccentric downstater, Theodore Roosevelt, to the presidency. Buffalo was the first city in the country with electric streetlights, earning it the nickname "City of Light." The area was also a major industrial powerhouse, once hosting the largest steel plant in the nation. And, of course, it is the gateway to Niagara Falls, and everyone must see the falls sometime in their life, meaning everyone should pass through Buffalo at least once.

S. Cooper Hawley, Director of Constituent Services in the County Executive's Office, informs us that while the committee is still in its infancy, it is beginning to explore various options, and the Administration is very hopeful they will be able to draw tourists to the county. "The Committee is currently working on generating higher visibility of the collection by bringing together institutions and collectors, whose holdings have not before been open to the public, into a cooperative framework. Our Administration hopes to establish a central location to showcase various parts of the collection. Several private foundations have been approached about possible funding for the project already."

This is really something of a counterintuitive idea for rare book libraries. So steeped in the desire to protect and preserve, they have made rare books virtually inaccessible, and thereby of no practical benefit to the public which pays for their preservation. The day may come when that public says no more. What the folks in Buffalo are trying to do is convert those resources into a practical asset, one that can pay for their own preservation and more, rather than be a draw on tight budgets. If they succeed, they may do as much to preserve the books and manuscripts of our history as all of the squirreling away in dark, climate-controlled vaults has accomplished. Ultimately, the public, which foots the bill, will demand a financial justification for all of this preservation. In Erie County, they seem to have recognized this point a little sooner than most. County Executive Collins and the other public-spirited citizens of Erie County who have taken on this challenge are to be congratulated for recognizing the hidden value in their libraries and collections. Buffalo may prove to be not only the "City of Light," but also the "City of Enlightenment."

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 16:</b> Jean de Mandeville, <i>Reysen und Wanderschafften durch das Gelobte Land,</i> Strassburg, 1488. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 16:</b> Titus Livius, <i>Las Quatorze Decadas,</i> Zaragoza, 1520. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 16:</b> Printed <i>Book of Hours</i> with 20 full-page illustrations, Paris, 1509. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 16:</b> Jean La Fontaine, <i>Fables Choisies, mises en Vers,</i> first editions, Paris, 1668. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 16:</b> Giovanni Boccaccio, <i>De las mujeres illustres en romance,</i> Zaragoza, 1494. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 16:</b> Giovanni Boccaccio, third edition of the first published work of female biography, Louvain, 1487. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 16:</b> José González Cabrera Bueno, <i>Navegación Especulativa, y Práctica,</i> Manila, 1734. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 16:</b> Andreas Vesalius, <i>Icones Anatomicae,</i> Munich, Bremer Press, 1934. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Oct 16:</b> Joseph Boneta y Laplana, <i>Gritos del Purgatorio, y Medios para acallarlos,</i> Manila, 1711. $4,000 to $6,000.
  • <center><b> The Library of Pierre Bergé<br>Auction Pierre Bergé & Associés<br>in association with Sotheby’s<br>Paris-Hôtel Drout<br>December 14, 2018<br><br>New York Exhibition<br>Oct. 16 to Oct. 20</b>
    <b>The Library of Pierre Bergé, NY exhibition 10/16 to 10/20:</b> BARTHOLOMEUS ANGLICUS. <i>Le Proprietaire des choses.</i> Lyon, [circa 1484]. 150 000 / 200 000 €
    <b>The Library of Pierre Bergé, NY exhibition 10/16 to 10/20:</b> MONTAIGNE, Michel de. <i>Essais.</i> Bordeaux, 1580. 400 000 / 500 000 €
    <b>The Library of Pierre Bergé, NY exhibition 10/16 to 10/20:</b> PROUST, Marcel. <i>Du côté de chez Swann.</i> Paris, 1914 [1913]. 600 000 / 800 000 €
    <b>The Library of Pierre Bergé, NY exhibition 10/16 to 10/20:</b> MONSTRELET, Enguerrand de. <i>Le Premier [-Tiers] Volume des Cronicques.</i> Paris, circa 1503.<br>300 000 / 400 000 €
  • <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>
  • <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>Aurora Australis.</i> Printed at the sign of 'The Penguins'; East Antarctica, 1908. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Shackleton, Ernest. <i>South Polar Times.</i> 1st edition, limited issue. from the library of Michael Barne. $20,000 to $30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> General Washington's <i>Proceedings of a General Court Martial... of Major General Lee.</i> Philiadelphia, 1778. 100 copies printed for Congress. BOUND WITH: ...Court Martial... of St Clair and ...Schuyler. $25,000 to $35,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>The Voice of the People.</i> Boston, 1754. Rare pamphlet on the Excise Tax. Nathaniel Sparhawk's copy. $4,000 to $6,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Autograph Letter Signed ("S.L. Clemens"), offering extensive hard-earned advice on writing, 5 pp, 1881. $30,000 to $50,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> After Fra Egnazio Danti. <i>L'Ultime Parti not:e nel Indie Occid:ntli" [The last known parts of the Western Indies].</i> Painted Map of California, Western Mexico, and Japan. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Ptolemaeus, Claudius. <i>Geographie opus nouissima...</i> 1513. The most important edition of Ptolemy, containing the Admiral's Map. $250,000 to $350,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> De Arellano, Don Alonso. Manuscript, his <i>"Relación mui singular y circunstanciada... Capitán del Patax San Lucas,"</i> manuscript copy from the Sir Thomas Phillips collection. $50,000 to $80,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Purchas, Samuel. <i>Purchas his Pilgrimes.</i> First edition. With John Simth's engraved map of Virginia. $70,000 to $100,000
    <b>Bonhams: Exploration and Travel, Featuring Americana, Part I. September 25, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> Lewis, Meriwether. Contemporary manuscript true copy of his final power of attorney, 1809. $8,000 to $12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>A New Method of Macarony Making, as Practiced at Boston in North America.</i> Mezzotint. London, 1774. $5,000 to $7,000
    <b>Bonhams, Sep. 25:</b> <i>Scientific Base Ball Pitching: A Treatise on the Pitcher, Pitching, Origin and Philosophy of the Curve.</i> Chicago, 1897. $2,000 to $3,000
  • <center><b>William Bunch Auctions<br>October Fine Art and Prints<br>October 29, 2018</b>
    <b>William Bunch Auctions, Oct. 29:</b> Aegidius Sadeler (Flemish, 1570-1629), engraving on laid paper "Madonna and Child in a Landscape", after a drawing by Albrecht Durer. $800 to $1,200
    <b>William Bunch Auctions, Oct. 29:</b> Anders Zorn (Swedish, 1860-1920), drypoint etching on paper "On Hemso Island", 1917, pencil signed. $400 to $600
    <b>William Bunch Auctions, Oct. 29:</b> Joseph Pennell (American, 1860-1926), etching on paper "Setting Up Columns", pencil signed. $200 to $300
    <center><b>William Bunch Auctions<br>October Fine Art and Prints<br>October 29, 2018</b>
    <b>William Bunch Auctions, Oct. 29:</b> William Lee Hankey (British, 1869-1952), drypoint etching on paper "Affection", pencil signed. $200 to $300
    <b>William Bunch Auctions, Oct. 29:</b> William Walcot (English, 1874-1943), drypoint etching on paper "Lower Broadway, New York", 1924, pencil signed. $200 to $300
    <b>William Bunch Auctions, Oct. 29:</b> Auguste Brouet (French, 1872-1941), color etching "La Pirouette", pencil signed, ed 111/250. $400 to $600
    <center><b>William Bunch Auctions<br>October Fine Art and Prints<br>October 29, 2018</b>
    <b>William Bunch Auctions, Oct. 29:</b> Thomas Hart Benton (American, 1889-1975), lithograph on paper "The Boy", pencil signed. $2,000 to $3,000
    <b>William Bunch Auctions, Oct. 29:</b> John Stockton de Martelly (American, 1903-1979), lithograph on paper "Looking at the Sunshine", pencil signed, original AAA certificate. $400 to $600
    <b>William Bunch Auctions, Oct. 29:</b> Jacques Hnizdovsky (Ukrainian-American, 1915-1985), woodcut on paper "Moppet", pencil signed and dated 1965, ed 118/250. $400 to $600

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