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>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>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Jean de Mandeville, <i>Reysen und Wanderschafften durch das Gelobte Land,</i> Strassburg, 1488. Sold for $106,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> José González Cabrera Bueno, <i>Navegación Especulativa, y Práctica,</i> Manila, 1734. Sold for $55,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Francis W. Winton, manuscript on pow-wows with indigenous Canadians, 1881. Sold for $65,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Louise Bourgeois, <i>He Disappeared Into Complete Silence,</i> portfolio with complete text & 9 engravings, 1947. Sold for $413,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Erich Maria Remarque, <i>All Quiet on the Western Front,</i> first American edition, Boston, 1929. Sold for $9,375.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Sir William Russell Flint, gouache & watercolor illustration for Homer's <i>Odyssey,</i> 1924. Sold for $22,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Kurt Vonnegut, archive of 12 letters, signed to his family, 6 illustrated, 1930s-40s. Sold for $12,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Oscar Wilde, <i>Lady Windermere's Fan,</i> first edition, presentation copy, signed & inscribed, London, 1893. Sold for $27,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Emil Cardinaux, <i>St. Moritz,</i> 1918. Sold for $17,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> R.J. Waters, 3 panoramas of the San Francisco earthquake & fire, 1906. Sold for $21,250.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Album with 200 cartes-de-visite, including images by Felice Beato, John Thompson & F.W. Sutton, Japan & China, 1863-69. Sold for $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries:</b> Thomas Paine, <i>The American Crisis,</i> Fishkill, NY, December 1776. Sold for $40,000.
  • <center><b>Sotheby’s New York<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts Online<br>Ending December 17</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s Online, Now - Dec 17:</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>Mr. William Shakespeares Comedies, Histories, and Tragedies…</i> The Second Impression. 1632. $100,000 to $150,000
    <b>Sotheby’s Online, Now - Dec 17:</b> GEORGE CURZON, 1ST MARQUESS CURZON OF KEDLESTON. “Curzon Tiger Hunt.” [India: circa 1901]. 120 albumen photographs. $3,000 to $5,000
    <b>Sotheby’s Online, Now - Dec 17:</b> (CASSADY, NEAL). Kerouac, Jack. <i>On the Road.</i> New York: Viking Press, 1957. Inscribed. $10,000 to $15,000
    <b>Sotheby’s Online, Now - Dec 17:</b> VEGA, JOSEPH PENSO DE LA. <i>Confusion de Confusiones. Dialogos curiosos entre un Philosopho agudo, un Mercader discrete...</i> Amsterdam, 1688. $200,000 to $300,000
    <b>Sotheby’s Online, Now - Dec 17:</b> RACKHAM, ARTHUR — [WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE]. "The Moon Like to a Silver Bow New-Bent in Heaven," original illustration for <i>A Midsummer Night's Dream.</i> $12,000 to $18,000
  • <b>Bonhams New York: Fine Books and Manuscripts Including the World of Hilary Knight. December 5, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> KNIGHT, HILARY. The Original Portrait of Eloise that Hung at the Plaza Hotel. $100,000 to 150,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> WARHOL, ANDY. "Iced Lemon Delight," an Original Watercolor Presented to Hilary Knight's cat, Phoebe $8,000 to 12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> SENDAK, MAURICE. <i>Where the Wild Things Are.</i> PRESENTATION COPY, INSCRIBED with drawing to Hilary Knight in the month following publication. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams New York: Fine Books and Manuscripts Including the World of Hilary Knight. December 5, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> NOLAND, KENNETH. Original circle painting, untitled, acrylic and ink on cloth, for cover of monograph $8,000 to 12,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> TOULOUSE-LAUTREC. <i>Histoires Naturelles,</i> 1899. With 22 original lithographs. $10,000 to 15,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> SHAKESPEARE, WILLIAM. <i>A Collection of Poems,</i> [1711]. The first authoritative and complete collected Sonnets.$15,000 to 20,000
    <b>Bonhams New York: Fine Books and Manuscripts Including the World of Hilary Knight. December 5, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> LONDON, JACK. <i>The Call of the Wild.</i> 1903. First edition, first state jacket. $2,000 to 3,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> FROST, ROBERT. Autograph Manuscript of "Build Soil," 12 pp, 1932-1936. $15,000 to 20,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> GOULD, GLENN. Glenn Gould's extensively annotated copy of Bach's Goldberg Variations $100,000 to 150,000
    <b>Bonhams New York: Fine Books and Manuscripts Including the World of Hilary Knight. December 5, 2018</b>
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> PLATH, SYLVIA. EARLY Autograph Letter Signed, about her beginnings as a writer, Northampton, MA, 1951. $7,000 to 10,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> HOUDINI, HARRY. A collection of 11 cast iron shackle and lock items from Houdini's personal collection. $20,000 to 30,000
    <b>Bonhams, Dec 5:</b> M4 ENGIMA MACHINE, with very rare RARE HYDRA KEY ENVELOPE. $400,000 to 600,000
  • <center><b>Doyle: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake” Johnson<br>Online Only Auction ending Dec. 18</b>
    <b>Doyle, Arnold “Jake” Johnson Online-Only Auction, ending Dec 18:</b> WETZEL, CHARLES M. American Fishing Books. $400 to $600
    <b>Doyle, Arnold “Jake” Johnson Online-Only Auction, ending Dec 18:</b> BISSELL, ALFRED E., <i>In Pursuit of Salar.</i> $400 to $600
    <b>Doyle, Arnold “Jake” Johnson Online-Only Auction, ending Dec 18:</b> <i>The Settler and Sportsman in Anticosti.</i> $400 to $600
    <center><b>Doyle: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake” Johnson<br>Online Only Auction ending Dec. 18</b>
    <b>Doyle, Arnold “Jake” Johnson Online-Only Auction, ending Dec 18:</b> CARLETON, HENRY GUY, <i>Advice to Young Anglers.</i> $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, Arnold “Jake” Johnson Online-Only Auction, ending Dec 18:</b> ROBINSON, ROLAND EVANS, <i>Forest and Stream Fables. By Awahsoose the Bear.</i> $300 to $500
    <b>Doyle, Arnold “Jake” Johnson Online-Only Auction, ending Dec 18:</b> SAWADA, KEN, <i>The Art of the Classic Salmon Fly.</i> $300 to $500
    <center><b>Doyle: Angling Books from the Collection of Arnold "Jake” Johnson<br>Online Only Auction ending Dec. 18</b>
    <b>Doyle, Arnold “Jake” Johnson Online-Only Auction, ending Dec 18:</b> SOUTHARD, CHARLES ZIBEON, <i>The Evolution of Trout and Trout Fishing in America.</i> $400 to $600
    <b>Doyle, Arnold “Jake” Johnson Online-Only Auction, ending Dec 18:</b> SOUTHARD, CHARLES ZIBEON, <i>Trout Fly-Fishing in America.</i> $400 to $600

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