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I’ve recently returned from my fourth year of teaching at Rare Book School (RBS) located at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. RBS is the oldest and most prestigious teaching program devoted to rare books in the world. Every year the School runs a full program of intensive weeklong classes on specific topics germane to the rare book world.

Curiously, among the faculty of some fifty-odd international authorities on rare books (and some of them are very odd indeed, myself not least among them), I am the only member who is also a rare bookseller. The vast majority of the faculty members are world-renowned scholars, rare book librarians, technical experts and so forth.

What, you might ask, is RBS doing letting a rare bookseller teach a course at an institution largely devoted to the scholarly study of antiquarian books?

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We are presenting a month-long exhibition of rare Tennessee Williams books, typescripts and assorted memorabilia in honor of the playwright’s 100th birthday at The Bookshop in Old New Castle running March 1-31. Among the notable and rare items is an original script for Cat on a Hot Tin Roof which was used during the Philadelphia tryout of the play. The copy contains a sexually charged scene between Big Daddy and his daughter-in law that was removed before its run on Broadway. Also on display is one of only a handful of known copies of the original script for A Streetcar Named Desire bearing its original title, The Poker Night. This early version includes scandalous dialogue that was cut before production, implicating Stanley Kowalski’s wife, Stella, in the sexual assault of her sister, Blanche Du Bois.
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As the New York Times reported today, some sleuthing by a scholar at Monticello’s Thomas Jefferson’s Libraries discovered that 74 volumes at the Washington University in St. Louis were, unbeknown that institution, from the personal library of Thomas Jefferson during the final stage of his life.

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Good Books in the Woods

Good Books in the Woods

Last week I flew down to Texas for a quick consultation with Jay Rohfritch and his parents, Marta and Dick, the team behind Good Books in the Woods, situated right outside of Houston. Jay had won my consulting services during the charity auction run each year at the annual Antiquarian Book Seminar in Colorado Springs – the proceeds benefit the local libraries that donate reference works for instructive use during the week.

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BTC Catalog 1 - One of many images now archived at ILAB.org

For several months Tom has been gathering photos of the first catalogues issued by rare book dealers, and posting them on FaceBook. Many colleagues in the book trade have contributed to the project, and it has now been given a permanent home on the website of The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers thanks to the site’s editor, Dr. Barbara Werner van Benthem.

The catalogue shown here was actually the second Catalog #1 from Between the Covers – the print quality of the first, with a different cover, was so bad that it was never sent out, and then most copies were destroyed when Tom’s cabinet shop burned down.

To say that we here at Between The Covers have a few boxes of uncataloged items is a bit of an understatement. While there’s a lot of work ahead, it’s fun going through those boxes to see what you find. The other day I turned up a cool item from the collection of Edwin Erbe, former publicity director for New Directions. It’s a copy of Left Bank This Month magazine with the cover story, “Inside the Beat Hotel” by Verta Kali Smart published in the late ’50s. If you’ve never heard of it, don’t be surprise because it seems that no one else has either.
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Many veteran booksellers got a good laugh a few years ago when a young book “sorter” for a large on-line used and rare book vendor was quoted in a newspaper as implying that he, having sorted thousands of books for a few months in his tenure there, had essentially seen all there was to see when it came to rare books. Most of the rare booksellers I know and respect thrive on the working assumption that there is a lot of undiscovered country out there. In fact, not only is that voyage of discovery the fun part of the job, happily it can also be the lucrative part.

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Now that Tom and Matt have both posted multiple times, the pressure has been building for me to set aside whatever else I’m working on (yes, “working” — somebody has to keep this place going – do you think Tom Bloom remembers to send us artwork all on his own?) and write something.

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