Friday, September 21, 2012

E-Catalogue 28: The Allure of Provenance

Among the attributes that make books appealing as collected artifacts is the fact that some of them can boast a significant previous owner. Many of these owners quite literally left their mark on the books they once owned: some affixed bookplates or tasteful leather booklabels; others simply wrote their names; and still others were close enough to the author to receive a copy of the book inscribed to them.

For this e-catalogue, we have gathered over thirty books whose provenance has been established, either through a bookplate or label, or an ownership or authorial inscription. We were quite pleased with the diverse group of previous owners we found among our shelves. FDR, for instance, was an avid collector of miniature books, many of which were given to him by Eleanor; and while these seldom appear on the market, we have his copy of The CompleatAngler, which bears both of their initials, as well as his bookplate.

Moving from presidents to popes, an inscription can be a subtle nod to biography, as can be seen in the Italian edition of the handsome Officina Bodoni Four Gospels inscribed by Pope Paul VI to the former mayor of Milan -- a connection that becomes clear when one learns that before ascending to the Papacy, Paul VI served as the Archbishop of Milan.

Above all, these ownership markings deepen the stories of the objects, enhancing their appeal. We hope you will find some of these stories compelling.

Thursday, September 13, 2012


This set of watercolor paintings comprises what appears to be the artwork for a children's book that was never published, and is by an artist with whom we are unfamiliar.

The paintings are brilliantly colored and accomplished, showing a clever eye for detail, from the birds flying upside down around the balloon children, to the balloon children sliding down cloud "hills" in the backgrounds. Two of the panels are signed "Alberta," and that is all we have been able to discern about the artist.

The story follows a group of balloon children as they are sold by a balloon vendor at a county fair, then drift up into “Upsidedowntown.” There, they frolic with a dog and go to a candy store. One of them is punctured by some bad nails and then patched up by a kindly doctor balloon. This all takes place with the county fair upside down in each panel. The story ends with a green balloon child in bed, with a child’s bedroom upside down above. One can envision a text that would go along with this story, though the visuals are so strong that words might only be an embellishment.