Rare Book Monthly

Articles - August - 2021 Issue

Book Censorship is Raising Its Head Again, and This is a Bad Sign


Hungarian Prime Minister Victor Orban whose government is clamping down on LGBTQ books.

Some disturbing news has come out of Hungary recently of concern to those who support freedom of ideas in books. Hungary might not seem an important place on the world stage, but as those cognizant of history know, some terrible things have emanated from Europe, such as a pair of world wars and mass murders. In too many places, freedom today finds itself on the run. If this course isn't changed, the outcome can only be bad.


A recently enacted law in Hungary prohibits the dissemination of material allegedly depicting or promoting non-normal behavior to children, specifically, homosexuality or gender transitions. It quickly led to the imposition of a fine on one of Hungary's largest bookstore chains, Lira Konyv. The fine was for $830 for selling a book depicting a family headed by a same-sex couple. The prosecutor claimed the book contains content which “deviates from the norm.” In an attempt to ward off further such charges, Lira Konyv has begun posting signs that read, “This store sells books with non-traditional content.” We will see if this stops the harassment, but I wouldn't count on it.


The supposed reason for this law is to protect children from pedophiles, a red herring if ever there was one. There aren't heterosexual pedophiles too? This is nothing new for Hungary's authoritarian leader and ultra-nationalist Victor Orban. Other minorities have also been attacked by his government. It is a tactic that has been used by all sorts of leaders more interested in their own power than the well-being of their citizens. Europe has its history. Today, many European countries have sizable populations who favor such leaders and policies. Poland is already much in Orban's camp. This law mimics laws already in place in Russia.


The European Union reacted strongly against this new law. They called on Hungary to reverse it. Orban refused. Dutch Prime Minster Mark Rutte called on Hungary's leaders to withdraw the law, otherwise, “European values are not your values,” and they need to reconsider whether the nation belongs in the European Union.


The trend has not been good in recent years, authoritarians on the move, democrats in retreat. Elections in Europe these days are causes for increasing nervousness. Brazil has turned to a strongman. The Arab spring is over. Russia, so promising in the 1990s, is back under the thumb of a brutal dictator no different from those who openly called themselves “communists.” Little more need be said about the last bastion of freedom on the Chinese mainland, Hong Kong. A few days ago, five people were arrested for publishing a children's book about sheep trying to hold back wolves from their village. The charge is sedition. It is free no more.


America speaks for itself.


These are difficult times. Life has been upended through most of the world. We have spent over a year under the domination of Covid, poverty is widespread and income differentials between rich and poor seem to be widening, not narrowing. Climate catastrophes are commonplace and refugees cross borders in search of refuge in countries hostile to their presence. These are the types of conditions that have led to terrible outcomes in the past. A common early warning sign is the scapegoating of minorities. Book burning, literal or figurative, is never far behind. We need to see such behavior for what it is before it is too late.


Hungary was once an inspiration to mankind. Brave Hungarians stood up to their Soviet masters during the 1956 Hungarian Revolution. They put their lives on the line for freedom and many paid the price. Now look at what it has become. Freedom is never free. The price of liberty is still eternal vigilance.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Christie’s London, 13 July:</b> Bartolomeo Caporali, attributed to (fl.1442–1503). <i>The Flagellation,</i> historiated initial ‘D’ cut from an illuminated Missal on vellum [Perugia, c.1485–90].
    <b>Christie’s London, 13 July:</b> Frate Nebridio (1460s – 1490s). <i>The Last Supper,</i> historiated initial from an antiphonal, illuminated manuscript on vellum. Lombardy, probably Cremona, c.1470s. £15,000 to £25,000
    <b>Christie’s London, 13 July:</b> Lewis David de Schweinitz (1780–1834). Fungorum Niskiensium Iconum, an album of mycological watercolours. Niesky, Germany, c.1805. £4,000 to £6,000
    <b>Christie’s London, 13 July:</b> Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727). <i>Philosophiae naturalis principia mathematica,</i> edited by Edmond Halley (1656–1743). London, 1687. £350,000 to £400,000
    <b>Christie’s London, 13 July:</b> Miguel de Cervantes Saavedra (1547–1616). <i>El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha.</i> Madrid, 1605. £300,000 to £400,000
  • <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> Scott Joplin, <i>Treemonisha: Opera in Three Acts,</i> New York, 1911. Sold March 24 — $40,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Louisa May Alcott, autograph letter signed, 1868. Sold June 2 — $23,750.
    <b>Swann:</b> Anne Bradstreet, <i>Several Poems Compiled with Great Variety of Wit and Learning, full of Delight,</i> Boston, 1758. Sold June 2 — $21,250.
    <b>Swann:</b> William Shakespeare, <i>Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies. Published according to the true Originall Copies. The Second Impression,</i> London, 1632. Sold May 5 — $161,000.
    <center><b>Swann Auction Galleries<br>View Our Record Breaking Results</b>
    <b>Swann:</b> John Bachmann, <i>Panorama of the Seat of War,</i> New York, 1861-62. Sold June 23 — $35,000.
    <b>Swann:</b> Charlotte Bronte, <i>Jane Eyre,</i> first edition, London, 1847. Sold June 16 — $23,750.
    <b>Swann:</b> Elihu Vedder, <i>Simple Simon, His Book,</i> 1913. Sold June 9 — $12,350.
    <b>Swann:</b> Frederick Catherwood, <i>Views of Ancient Monuments in Central America, Chiapas and Yucatan,</i> London, 1844. Sold April 7 — $37,500.
  • <center><b>Case Antiques<br>Two-Day Summer Auction<br>July 9 & 10, 2022</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> 1805 TN Supreme Court Book, John Overton and Hugh White Opinions. $800 to $900.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> TN Lunsford Bramlett Archive, incl. Polk White House Invitation, 8 Items. $400 to $500.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> Civil War Archive, incl. Gen. Bate on Death of Polk, Capture of Nashville. $2,000 to $2,400.
    <center><b>Case Antiques<br>Two-Day Summer Auction<br>July 9 & 10, 2022</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> 5 Dickens 1st Ed. Books, incl. Edited by Author. $800 to $1,000.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> Charles Dickens, 5 Christmas Books, 1st Eds. $800 to $1,000.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> 2 Slave Documents, Nashville TN & North Carolina. $700 to $900.
    <center><b>Case Antiques<br>Two-Day Summer Auction<br>July 9 & 10, 2022</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> 3 Maurice Sendak Signed Items, incl. Nutcracker, Pierre. $500 to $600.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> 7 Phillip Roth Hardcover Books, incl. Author Signed, 1st Eds. $500 to $550.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> 6 Kurt Vonnegut Hardcover Books, incl. Author Signed, 1st Eds. $400 to $500.
    <center><b>Case Antiques<br>Two-Day Summer Auction<br>July 9 & 10, 2022</b>
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> 3 Edward Gorey Items, incl. Print + 2 Books. $400 to $500.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> Josef Albers, INTERACTION OF COLOR, 1963. $800 to $900.
    <b>Case Antiques, Jul. 9-10:</b> Henri Matisse Jazz Portfolio for MOMA, 1st Ed., 1983. $600 to $800.

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