Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Long Island Book Collectors (LIBC)

[Posted by Jackie Marks]

Ron Woods, collector par excellence of miniatures was our first guest of the new season in December.  He generously passed around numerous books (dating back to the Eighteenth Century) from his 9,000-volume collection, all acquired in just 30 years. Members were able to hold in their hands beautifully crafted and illustrated books of an inch to several inches high; many of which incorporated gold leaf on the bindings. One book came in its own miniature case with a magnifying glass.

In January our group was honored by the visit of artist, educator, and computer consultant Peter Falotico. He holds a B.F.A. in painting; an M.S. in Media Studies and a Ph.D. in Educational Administration. Mr. Falotico has been active in the arts for over forty years. As owner of Stony Book Print, he purchases and sells original art and rare books with limited first edtions. (Browse a copy of the catalog).  LIBC was privy to a viewing of his extensive collection of books illustrated, designed or authored by American Impressionist painter, William Edward Bloomfield Starkweather (1879-1969).  Books included titles by Allen, Barrie, Doyle, Emerson, Kipling and Harriet Beecher Stowe containing cover designs, title pages or illustrations by the artist.   The entire collection of 80 books and 11 magazines may be seen on the website of the Hickory Museum in North Carolina where it was exhibited from March through June 2013.

Mr. Falotico has declared himself a “book detective” devoted to researching and collecting both the paintings and the printed materials created by William Starkweather during his lifetime. His goal is to bring recognition to this largely forgotten American artist. It is well worth a visit to the William Starkweather website.  FABS members, please note that Mr. Falotico is actively building his Starkweather collection. Should you have in your possession any Starkweather works, please contact Mr. Falotico directly through the Starkweather website.

February’s meeting was skillfully presented by the debonair David Allaway, director of the heritage program for the Saint John’s Bible project and former fashion industry VP sales & marketing for power players Tommy Hillfiger, Sean John, Donna Karan and Calvin Klein. Perhaps his change of career, promoting the first Benedictine-commissioned, manuscript illuminated Bible in 400 years, in cooperation with the Benedictine monks and the University of Saint John’s abbey in Minnesota, was his way of answering to a higher power. From the beginning, the Benedictine monks envisioned a heavily illustrated Bible that would be in the vernacular in order to engage all faiths.

In 1998, calligrapher Donald Jackson (Chief Scribe to the Queen of England), was commissioned to spearhead this enormous undertaking. Fifteen years later seven oversized volumes containing 11,050 hand- written, heavily illustrated pages with 160 illuminations is nearing completion. A team of eleven scribes and artists worked together finishing 2 columns or one page of vellum per day. The team adhered to the ancient traditions of producing ink by mixing candle smoke with egg whites, and using egg yolk to bind and heighten color. Gold, platinum, and silver were used throughout for illumination. All writing was done using either a turkey or a goose feather quill.  Both the seven-volume set and individual plates are available for sale. The Bible is being printed in a limited edition of 299 copies to be purchased by communities the world over, in keeping with the Heritage Project.  Details are available on the The Saint John’s Bible site.

Dara Zargar returned as guest collector of rare Islamic texts, among them reference books painstakingly embellished in decorated cloth and lacquer covers; some dating from the Thirteenth Century.  Flower motifs and gilded pages were evident in abundance.  Often the texts were dated by the calligrapher.  Mr. Zargar mentioned both the Ruben Museum and the Metropolitan Museum as formidable resources for viewing Islamic art.  He also highlighted Sotheby’s as a reliable source for Jewish manuscripts.  He has observed that cultural tastes among collectors may differ in the Islamic rare books field.  In Europe--France in particular--prospective buyers will pay a premium for a perfectly repaired volume, while in the United States an untouched, original text tends to command a higher price.

Ever candid and articulate, Mr. Zargar’s second visit ignited an impassioned conversation delving into the intricacies of inheritance.  Passing on one’s collection on in order to insure that one’s children will have an informed comprehension of any notable and particularly valuable works in the collection was discussed. Ideas and concerns flew around our table: how to leave one’s collection to heirs; how to sell one’s collection so that it will remain intact and properly taken care of; varying attitudes in the contemplation of letting go of what is in many cases the result of a lifelong endeavor; and wording a will and engaging in frank conversation with heirs about the nature and risks of collecting. The group has agreed to pursue the subject next year with an eye toward obtaining expert legal and accounting advice from a professional speaker.

Honorary Member Joe Rainone also returned to lecture at LIBC.  Mr. Rainone is the foremost collector and scholar of American popular fiction dating back to the founding of our country.  Ever effusive, Mr. Rainone led us on a whirlwind tour of an impressive sampling of magazines, penny novels, dime novels, and the first paperbacks; works published during the years before and after the Civil War including Minstrel songsters featuring Minstrel Singers, nickel weeklies, story papers, pulp magazines, dollar magazines, highwayman stories--most on rag paper produced in the north. In the first American magazines the publishers controlled content, even writing some of it themselves.  Among early popular novels that were passed around: pirated copies of titles by Alexander Dumas and Victor Hugo—quickly translated from the French upon being smuggled into New England ports; pirated works from our English “cousins,” including Sir Walter Scott’s Ivanhoe and Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre.

Listening to Mr. Rainone talk about distribution via the general store, one visualizes a time of great change for the reading public and one-upmanship by all in the book and magazine trade.  By the late 1800s the spirit of experimentation had taken hold.  Mystery titles such as “Gasparone: the Italian Detective” and “Hide and Seek in New York” were for sale.  During the Civil War, copies of a rapidly written “Booth the Assassin” came out in July 1865, recording a conspiracy theory that soon made the rounds among everyday citizenry. Listening to Mr. Rainone’s rapid-fire narrative a snapshot of the reading habits of a new nation and the evolution of Publishing in America comes in to view.  What was once common has become rare.  We look forward to hosting Mr. Rainone again and to learning more about our own history.

A highlight of 2013 will be our joint end-of-the-year party with the Long Island Antiquarian Book Dealers Association in July at the home of Joe Perlman in East Northport, marking our summer hiatus. Our fall plans include launching the LIBC website.  We wish you a summer of sunshine and successful book hunting and collecting.

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