Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - March - 2011 Issue

The Library of Ben and Bernarda Shahn from Lorne Bair and Between the Covers

Bairshahn

From the library of Ben and Bernarda Shahn.

Lorne Bair Rare Books, together with Between the Covers, has issued a catalogue of 101 Books from the Library of Ben and Bernarda Bryson Shahn. Ben Shahn was one of America's most notable artists of the 20th century. His reputation as a painter was born of the Great Depression. After dabbling in modern art at a younger age, he developed a style of social realism. His paintings were meant to portray the struggles of ordinary people, workers, and others on the lower rungs of the societal ladder. His politics, not surprisingly to the left, directed his art.

 

During the height of the Depression, Shahn worked for the Farm Security Administration. The FSA was created to help poor farmers through these very difficult times, but as part of its work, perhaps from a publicity standpoint, it hired on a group of photographers to capture the plight of those in rural America. Shahn taught himself photography, thereby becoming both an accomplished painter and photographer.

 

One of his coworkers at FSA was Bernarda Bryson. She was also a painter, and later became his second wife. Though never gaining the reputation of her husband, she was quite accomplished in her own right. Ben Shahn died in 1969, but Bernarda lived all the way until 2004, when she died at the age of 101. She continued to paint and exhibit well into her nineties.

 

All of the books in this catalogue come from the Shahns' library. Most were received during their years together, though there are many from the years of Bernarda's widowhood, that being such a long time. A special bookplate has been designed by their son, which is included with each of these books. Here are a few of them.

 

One of the greatest of Depression-era photographers, and the Shahns' colleague at FSA, was Walker Evans. His photographs of Alabama sharecroppers in the 1930s is perhaps the classic photographic depiction of rural, Depression poverty. Ben Shahn had met Evans a few years earlier when both were developing their interest in connecting art to social concerns. They remained close friends and collaborators for the rest of Shahn's life. Item 27 is Evans' American Photographs, published by the New York Museum of Modern Art in 1961. In contains an inscription from Walker to the Shahns. Priced at $12,500.

 

Item 28 offers a longer inscription from Evans to Shahn, though it is written in a copy of American Horse-Drawn Vehicles, by Jack D. Rittenhouse. Written on Nov. 22, 1968, Evans begins "Dear Old Dr. Ben," making light of both of their having honorary degrees, and notes how both were getting old. Evans also speaks of a planned visit, though Bair notes it's unclear whether that ever took place as Shahn, who died the following March, was already quite ill. $1,800.

 

Here is a book documenting the work of the FSA photographers:  Home Town. Photographs by Farm Security Photographers. This 1940 book was edited by Edwin Rosskam, with text by Sherwood Anderson. At least 17 of the photographs within were taken by Shahn. This was his personal copy, and does show signs of use (condition is good only). It was inscribed to Shahn by Rosskam. Item 1. $2,500.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> SMITH, CHRISTOPHER WEBB. 1793-1871. <i>Indian Ornithology.</i> [Patna, India]: 1828. $50,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DUPRÉ, LOUIS. 1789-1837. <i>Voyage à Athènes et à Constantinople, ou Collection de portraits, vues et costumes grecs et ottomans.</i> Paris: Dondey-Dupré, 1825. $60,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> ADAMS, JOHN. Autograph Letter Signed ("J Adams"), [to Dr. Perkins?] while recovering from his small pox inoculation, [late-April, 1764]. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUSTEN, JANE. Autograph Letter Signed ("J. Austen"), to her sister Cassandra, 4 pp, "Thursday – after dinner," [September 16, 1813,] Henrietta St. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> AUDUBON, JOHN JAMES. 1785-1851. <i>The Birds of America, from Drawings Made in the United States and Their Territories.</i> New York & Philadelphia: J.J. Audubon & J.B. Chevalier, 1840-1844. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> DODWELL, EDWARD. 1767-1832. <i>Views in Greece.</i> London: Rodwell and Martin, 1821. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Bonhams, Oct. 23:</b> JAMES, JESSE. Autograph Letter Signed ("Jesse W. James"), to Mr. Flood demanding Flood retract spurious accusations, 3 pp, June 5, 1875. $200,000 to $300,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Textile of the Great White Fleet, with portraits of Theodore Roosevelt, Rear Admiral Robley D. Evans & successor Charles Stillman Sperry, 1908. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> William J. Stone, <i>Declaration of Independence,</i> Force printing, 1833. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Shugart family papers including documentation of the Underground Railroad, 63 items, 1838-81. $30,000 to $40,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Records of the Dickinson & Shrewsbury salt works, over 2000 items, with extensive slave labor correspondence, legal records & receipts, bulk 1820-1865. $80,000 to $120,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Gloria Steinem, typescript for her speech <i>Living the Revolution,</i> with related letters and documents, 1941-77. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> <i>Liberty Triumphant or the Downfall of Oppression,</i> depicting the aftermath of the Boston Tea Party, c. 1774. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Juan Eusebio Nieremberg, <i>Historia naturae, maxime peregrinae, libris XVI distincta,</i> Antwerp, 1635. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Antonio de Mayorga, manuscript map of Mexico City, 1779. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Thomas L. McKenney & James Hall, <i>History of the Indian Tribes of North America,</i> first edition, 3 volumes, Philadelphia, 1842-44. $25,000 to $35,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Samuel Walker, diary of the entire first cruise of the USS Kineo, a gunboat on the Mississippi, 1854-69. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Sep 26:</b> Scrapbook on early Stanford football, with letters from Walter Camp, 1893-95 & 1931. $8,000 to $12,000.
  • <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Roberts, David. Twenty Lithographs of the Holy Land, 19th Century. $2,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Declaration by the Reps. of the United Colonies of N.A. 1775. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Composer Jerome Kern personal Letters, Albums and Other. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Paine, Thomas. <i>Common Sense,</i> London 1776. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Stowe, Harriet Beecher. <i>Uncle Tom’s Cabin,</i> Cleveland 1852. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Hobbes, Thomas. <i>Leviathan,</i> 3rd edition, London 1651. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Anno Regni Georgii III. Intolerable Acts and other Bills, 1774. $15,000 to $20,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Wilberforce, William. An Abstract of the Evidence, 5 Letters, and two books. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Nightingale, Florence. Notes on Nursing and Signed Letters, ca. 1860 $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Tolstov, Leo. <i>War and Peace,</i> 5 volumes, 1886. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Dickinson, John. Letters from a Farmer in Pennsylvania, 1768. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Lark Mason Associates, Aug 8-27:</b> Twain, Mark. <i>Tom Sawyer,</i> 1877 [and] <i>Huckleberry Finn,</i> 1885. $4,000 to $6,000.

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