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My favorite Collections – from literature on eccentrics to bus books & propaganda

My favorite Collections – from literature on eccentrics to bus books & propaganda

I am drawn to books and ephemera that are either beautiful, intriguing from a historical perspective or downright quirky, perhaps even weird. My ideal book would combine all of these characteristics. My reading tastes range from travel, food and sporting memoirs to biographies and history. Right now I am reading Shoe Dog by Phil Knight of Nike fame. I’m very comfortable reading a used book that’s been out-of-print for decades. I rarely read fiction. I’d like to know more about art and photography, but I’m a beginner when it comes to artists and art movements. I also love a book with a story behind its story – does that sense?

Richard Davies

Richard Davies, AbeBooks Editor

This week we launched Collections, which features thousands of themed lists curated by our sellers. Here are my favorite Collections on AbeBooks.com.

1. Eccentrics, Cranks & Eccentrics, Cranks & Difficult People curated by Lorne Bair Rare Books

Let’s begin with something quirky. This Collection features books from the fringes of society, people with abstract opinions that are usually written off as being crazy.  A fine example is God in a Rolls Royce: The Rise of Father Divine – Madman, Menace or Messiah by John Hoshor. Father Major Jealous Divine (born George Baker) was a charismatic Harlem religious leader who claimed to be the living incarnation of God. Need I go on? Lorne Bair has more books just like this one.

Browse the Collection.

My grandmother may have rode this very route

2. Buses & Trolleybuses curated by Dereks Transport Books

There’s a Collection on buses? Most certainly, tickets please! Dereks Transport Books offers books on all sorts of transportation from sailing to motorcycling. This particular Collection has a very British feel with numerous books on regional buses (and as usual if you wait 20 minutes two will come along). The iconic Routemaster comes up several times. The fact that there’s a book called ‘Midland Red Bus Garages’ leaves me aghast – there really is a book on every subject.

Browse the Collection.

3. Propaganda curated by Földvári Books

Földvári Books is a seller based in Budapest, Hungary, who specializes in the avant-garde, modern art, literature, manuscripts, and philosophy. This Collection of propaganda covers books and ephemera from across the Eastern Bloc during Communist rule. Look at all the imagery of the working man – powerful, productive, and heroic. You won’t find these items in your average big box bookstore.

Browse the Collection.

4. Art Deco curated by Ira Joel Haber – Cinemage Books

I have had a strong interest in Art Deco since visiting Napier in New Zealand – a city destroyed by an earthquake in 1931 and then completely rebuilt in the Art Deco style. Ira Joel Haber specializes in cinema and entertainment industry books and ephemera, and this Collection is eye-catching. These magazine and book covers from the 1920s and 1930s feature so many stylized figures and angled lines. Just a simple passenger list for a cruise ship can be presented in a beautiful fashion, while this book of Josephine Baker lithographs offers a wonderful insight into the 1920s Jazz scene.

Browse the Collection.

The Engraved Work of Eric Gill

5. Eric Gill curated by Cheshire Book Centre

Gill (1882-1940) was an English sculptor, typeface designer, stonecutter and printmaker.  He may also have been a little crazy too. He created several fonts, including Gill Sans. You can find his sculptures all over England. Gill also wrote books about art and religion. A huge figure in the Arts & Craft movement, Gill had followers and critics. In the design world, he is a legend. This little Collection covers some of his writing.

Browse the Collection.

6. New Naturalist curated by Loe Books

The New Naturalist Series is a collection of books published by Collins in the UK that focuses on natural history. What makes these books stand out from the crowd is the gorgeous cover design. These books, full of essential information on the natural world, make the reader want to venture out into fields, valleys and mountain ranges before a page has been turned. My personal favorite is New Naturalist #114, simply called Badger.

Browse the Collection.

7. Etiquette curated by Between the Covers.

If there is one thing I cannot stand, it is bad manners. Politeness still matters in my world, so I’m fascinated by the books found in this Etiquette Collection put together by Between the Covers in New Jersey. When a book is called ‘Better than Beauty: A Guide to Charm’ I have to pick it up because we all need charm. These books cover manners, homemaking, dancing, values, morals and court etiquette.  Just don’t forget to say ‘thank you’ after you’ve placed an order.

Browse the Collection.

Russian Revolutionary Posters by David King

8. Art Posters curated by Strand Book Store

There are many publishers who have gathered posters around a single theme and published them in single book. These books of posters are on the whole highly affordable and cover numerous genres from art movements to movies and politics. The Strand has an excellent Collection of these books of art posters. Some of the highlights include Russian Revolutionary Posters, Posters for the People: Art of the WPA and The Theater Posters of James McMullan.

Browse the Collection.

9. Penguin Books curated by Island Books

Used books and Penguins have gone hand in hand for many years. Today, vintage Penguins are easy to find and cheap to buy. Building a vintage Penguin collection is a piece of cake. I love these old Penguins because they are a little piece of publishing history and cover such a wide range of subject matter. This Collection of Penguins shows the breadth of cover designs used by the publisher and goes beyond the classic orange design so familiar to many of us. There are some Penguin Classics in there too and this beauty, Ackermann’s Cambridge from 1951.

Browse the Collection.

10. Vintage Life Magazines curated by Azio Media

Life Magazine was published from 1883 until 1972. Its cover, with that red and white masthead, is instantly recognizable. So many famous figures have adorned that front page. This Collection shows numerous famous faces – including Clark Gable, Lana Turner, and Carl Sandburg – and also many ordinary people who enjoyed being in the spotlight for a week. I find the advertising almost as interesting as the articles in these old magazines. Ads for cigarettes, cars and appliances abound.

Browse the Collection


Introducing Collections: A new way of shopping for collectibles

AbeBooks' CollectionsWe’re excited to announce that AbeBooks.com has launched a new method of shopping for collectibles – including art, ephemera and books – that combines the expertise of sellers around the world with the ability to discover hundreds of diverse, eclectic and often surprising items in a matter of seconds.

Collections is a new highly visual section of the AbeBooks marketplace that contains thousands of themed lists curated by our independent professional sellers. A large number of first edition and signed books are displayed alongside collectible art and photography, historic maps and atlases, and multiple types of ephemera.

The art and photography category offers drawings and sketches, original art, paintings, photographs and prints. The ephemera section displays broadsides, vintage magazines, pamphlets, postcards from numerous nations, and posters covering cinema, politics, travel, and other topics.

Customers can easily hop from one collection to the next, going deeper into niche subjects. It’s easy to become sidetracked by the things found inside Collections. Virginia-based seller Lorne Bair offers a curated collection of obscure books about Eccentrics, Cranks & Difficult People. Hungarian seller Földvári Books offers intriguing Eastern Bloc propaganda ephemera. New York-based seller Donald A. Heald offers historic American pocket maps. Dutch seller Librarium of The Hague offers beautiful military prints from the 19th century. San Diego’s Charles Lewis Best offers detailed black and white engravings of invertebrates.

Customers can browse lists curated by individual sellers or view ‘Master Collections’ that combine similar Collections into a single curated list that can extend into thousands of items.

Related lists are continually recommended, and look out for Collections that catch the eye of our editorial team in the editor’s picks section.

Among the expert sellers offering Collections are New York’s Strand Book Store, Wittenborn Art Books and Argosy Book Store, Powell’s Books in Portland, Royal Books from Baltimore, San Francisco’s Brick Row Book Shop, Hennessey + Ingalls from Los Angeles, and Powell’s Bookstores of Chicago.

Visit Collections


Why would a book on urban planning sell for $3,000?

Sold for $3,000, a signed first edition of The Death and Life of Great American Cities by Jane Jacobs

Jane Jacobs published The Death and Life of Great American Cities in 1961. A signed first edition just sold for $3,000 on AbeBooks. The book is as relevant today as it was at the start of the 1960s. It is a damning assessment of America’s urban planning of the 1950s. Jacobs blamed planners for the social decline suffered in many inner city neighborhoods. She said the “modern” way was not necessarily the right way. Jacobs argued that humans relish a layered complexity in how they live. Businesses and people could and should exist side by side, according to her. There should not be one area for commerce and another one, a distant suburb, for living in as communities would never develop.

Jacobs advocated for mixed use neighborhoods where streets were used in different ways at different times of the day. She argued for short city blocks that could be walked. She argued that old buildings and population density were fine.

Today, The Death and Life of Great American Cities is essential reading for anyone wish to become an urban planner. Jacobs, who died in 2006, wasn’t just an author.  She was a vocal activist who campaigned against slum clearance and was arrested in 1968 for inciting a crowd in New York. Because she was a woman and not formally educated in urban planning, she stirred up a hornets’ nest in this male-dominated profession.

Find copies of The Death and Life of Great American Cities.

Browse our curated collections of books on urban planning.


George Washington and the “She Ass” letter

George Washington wrote more than 30,000 letters

George Washington may have been the first president of the United States, a founding father and the military commander who led his country to freedom from British rule, but he also had to run a large estate on the banks of the Potomac River.

Mount Vernon was a plantation house that had been owned by the Washington family since 1674 when it was acquired by George’s great-grandfather. The estate covered some 500 acres and included a storehouse, smokehouse, wash house, laundry yard, and coach house along with paddocks and stables. Back in 1786, horses and donkeys were essential elements of any country house, and Mount Vernon was no exception.

Bookseller William Reese, a specialist in Americana, recently listed an autograph letter from George Washington (pictured below) on the AbeBooks marketplace and it illustrates a brief snapshot of everyday life at Mount Vernon along with a touch of racy agricultural humor from the founding father.

The letter, written during Washington during short period of retirement at Mount Vernon before being elected president, was written to Richard Sprigg, a Maryland politician and lawyer, and concerns the arrival of Sprigg’s “she ass” at Mount Vernon.

“Dear Sir, When your favor of the first inst., accompanying the she ass, came to this place, I was from home – both however arrived safe; but Doct. Bowie informs me that the bitch puppy was not brought to his house. Nor have I heard any thing more of the asses at Marlbro’, nor of the grass seeds committed to the care of Mr. Digges. I feel myself obliged by your polite offer of the first fruit of your jenny. Though in appearance quite unequal to the match, yet, like a true female, she was not to be terrified at the disproportional size of her paramour; and having renewed the conflict twice or thrice it is to be hoped the issue will be favourable. My best respects attend [Mrs. Sprigg] & the rest of your family. With great esteem & regard, I am Dr. Sir Yr. most ob. serv. Go. Washington.”

A jenny is, of course, a female donkey.

Animal husbandry is an essential element of life in rural areas. Neighbors lend each other rams, bulls, stallions and all sorts of other male animals to ensure a constant stream of newborn lambs, calves, and foals. Think of it as highly orchestrated one-off date where the male animal always gets lucky.

This autograph letter is priced at $35,000.

This letter was penned by a key American historical figure, but does the content of a letter influence the price?

“Yes, the subject matter of a letter matters a great deal,” said bookseller Bill Reese. “According to the Washington papers project, he wrote more than 30,000 letters in his life, and those on the market have sold from the thousands of dollars up to nearly $1,000,000 – the difference being the content.”

Aside from Washington’s cheeky remarks about his donkey’s disproportional size, look at how tidy Washington’s handwriting is and his use of abbreviation – “I am Dr. Sir Yr. most ob. serv.”  LOL.

Isn’t history a wonderful thing?

See the autograph letter

Browse our curated collection of George Washington books

George Washington’s letter concerning the visit of a ‘She Ass’ to Mount Vernon


The Queen of Crime Writing – Agatha Christie Turns 126

Today is Agatha Christie’s 126th birthday! In honor of this special day, we’re highlight 10 of our favorite Agatha Christie book covers.

Christie’s works include 80 detective novels, in addition to many short stories, romances, and stage plays. Christie’s works have been translated into many different languages and spawned hugely successful movies, including Murder on the Orient Express. She ultimately became one of the first authors to be published in paperback by Penguin Books.

It has been suggested that close to two billion copies of Christie’s books have been sold worldwide. It should come as no surprise then that AbeBooks has an incredible selection of Agatha’s work.

Here are some of our favorite Christie covers:

third-girl

Third Girl by Agatha Christie

appointment-with-death

Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie

after-the-funeral

After the Funeral by Agatha Christie

cards-on-table

Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie

cat-among-pigeons

Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie

dead-mans-folly

Dead Man’s Folly by Agatha Christie

man-brown-suit

The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie

murder-links

Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie

pale-horse

The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie

sparkling-cyanide

Sparkling Cyanide by Agatha Christie

You can see many more books by Agatha Christie, curated by AbeBooks sellers.


Jean Batten: The Greta Garbo of the Skies

Today’s Google doodle features Jean Batten. Well, who was she? Jean Batten  (1909-1982) was a pioneering female New Zealand aviator and one of the most famous Kiwis of the 20th century. She made the first-ever solo flight from England to New Zealand in 1936 and was glamorous enough to be the subject of a musical called Garbo of the Skies.

Jean Batten

Her major achievements include:

1934 – England to Australia (women’s record) 16,900 kilometres in 14 days 22 hours 30 minutes, breaking Amy Johnson’s record by four days.

1935 – Australia to England in 17 days 15 hours. First woman to make a return flight

1935 – England to Brazil: 8,000 km in 61 hours 15 minutes, setting world record for any type of plane.

1936 – England to New Zealand. World record for any type. 22,891 km in 11 days 45 minutes total elapsed time, including 2 12 days in Sydney.

Batten had striking beauty and dressed with some style. During World War II, she gave lectures in England to raise money for weapons and planes.

She wrote three books – Solo Flight (1934), My Life (1938) and Alone in the Sky (1979).

Ian Mackersey’s biography, Jean Batten: The Garbo of the Skies comes highly recommended and it covers her rather sad death.

Batten became a recluse and lived in Spain.  In 1982, she was bitten by a dog on the island of Majorca. The wound became infected and she died alone in a hotel from complications. She was buried on 22 January 1983 under her middle name, Gardner, in a pauper’s grave in Majorca. No one in the town knew who she was and her relatives and the rest of the world did not realize she had died until 1987. A sad end to a remarkable life.

Alone in the Sky by Jean Batten


10 Phizz-Whizzing Facts About Roald Dahl

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In honor of the 100th anniversary of Roald Dahl‘s birth, here are 10 facts about everyone’s favorite children’s author:

1. James and the Giant Peach was originally going to be called James and the Giant Cherry.

2. Dahl’s nose was cut off in an accident when he was a young boy – it was successfully sewn back on.

3. Roald Dahl has a flower names after him, the “Roald Dahl Rose” – it’s peach in color.

4. Dahl wrote all his books with a pencil on paper – he never learned to type. He was also buried with some HB pencils.

5. Rumors say that Dahl has a strong dislike of facial hair, prompting his book The Twits. The opening line of the book says, “What a lot of hairy-faced men there are around nowadays!”.

6. When Dahl passed away in 1990, his family placed a notice in The Times (of London) describing him as a “scrumiddly-umptious husband and a wondercrump father”.

7. Dahl wrote two slightly pornographic fairy-tales: “Princess Mammalia” and “The Princess and the Poacher”. These can be found in the limited run publication Two Fables.

8. Roald Dahl hosted a British TV show called Tales of the Unexpected.

9. Dahl had a strick work schedule. He would work from 10 until 12 every day and then again from 3 until 5 every day.

10. Dahl worked in a hut in his garden. He sat in a chair with a homemade desktop and wrapped himself in sleeping bag to keep warm.

Did you know that Dahl also wrote books for adults?


Early edition of Alice in Wonderland sells for $36,000

The copy of Alice in Wonderland that sold for $36,000 via AbeBooks

A rare early copy of Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland has sold for $36,000/£27,500 on the AbeBooks marketplace. Only 22 copies of the true first edition are in existence after Lewis Carroll withdrew the entire print run of 2,000 copies. One such copy came up for auction earlier this summer and was expected to sell for between $2 million and $3 million, but it failed to meet its reserve and didn’t sell.

The copy that sold via AbeBooks was one of the first thousand copies printed for the American market. Bound in its original red cloth, this book was housed in a red morocco case created by famed bookbinders Sangorski & Sutcliffe. The publisher is Appleton of New York and the publication date is 1866.

The sale is the most expensive to take place on AbeBooks in 2016, easily beating the $25,679 sale of Selectarum Stirpium Americanorum Historia (published in 1763, one of the first detailed accounts of American botany) by Nicolaus Joseph Jacquin. The sale is also the most expensive Alice in Wonderland to ever sell through AbeBooks.

Find copies of the first US edition of Alice in Wonderland.

Browse our Alice in Wonderland Collection.


Classic children’s fiction: 5 reasons to read Elizabeth George Speare’s Sign of the Beaver

The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare

Last week’s bestselling book on AbeBooks was The Sign of the Beaver by Elizabeth George Speare. It’s good to see a revival in interest for this wonderful children’s historical novel. It was published in 1983 and remains one of the author’s best known books.

The novel describes the adventures of 12-year-old American settler Matt James Halloway and his father, who are building a new life in 18th century Maine. When Matt’s father returns to Massachusetts to pick up the rest of the family, Matt is left alone at their log cabin and his challenges begin. The Beavers in the title are a Native American tribe. The novel was adapted into a TV film called Keeping the Promise starring Brendan Fletcher and Keith Carradine.

1) Elizabeth George Speare (1908-1994) was an expert in writing historical novels for children.  She won two Newbery medals (that puts her level with the likes of Lois Lowry and Katherine Paterson) and in 1989 she received the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal for contributions to American children’s literature.

2) The author knew the woods of New England. Speare was born in Melrose, Massachusetts, and enjoyed a childhood spent mainly outdoors. She lived most of her life in New England.

3) The Sign of the Beaver explores the relationship between the white man and the natives, detailing the problems of when two such differing cultures collide.

4) Elizabeth George Speare was inspired to write the book after hearing a true story where a young boy was left alone in the New England wilderness.

5) Wilderness survival skills – from building a fire to finding shelter and hunting for food – are as relevant today as they were in 18th century Maine.

Find copies of The Sign of the Beaver


A little piece of Texas history sells for $6,180

A letter from Sam Houston, written when he was president of the Republic of Texas, has sold for $6,180 on AbeBooks.com. The letter, dated April 15, 1844, was one of the most expensive sales on our marketplace last month,

Texas was an independent republic from 1836 to 1846 before joining the United States, and Houston twice served as president. The letter, written and signed by Houston, is a humble affair. It orders a payment of $40 to be made to J.F. Brown, who ran a stagecoach service carrying passengers and the mail between Houston and Washington.

Houston is a key figure for buyers of Texas-related ephemera. His military career helped secure the independence of Texas from Mexico and his political work helped guide Texas into the United States. The city of Houston is named after him as well as a university, an army base, several naval vessels, a park and a museum.

Letters from significant historical figures continue to fascinate collectors. We may all communicate via email these days but historical letters can be valuable… if even the subject is the mail. Another longer letter from Houston is listed for sale on AbeBooks at $95,000. Earlier this summer, a letter from Winston Churchill to a society beauty who had turned down his marriage proposal sold for $12,500. Last year, a letter written by Princess Diana to her driver sold for $3,412. A few years ago, I remember a typed letter signed by Mohandas Gandhi selling for $9,500.

AbeBooks’ top 10 most expensive sales in August 2016

1) To a Kill a Mockingbird by Harper Lee – $16,000

A signed first edition from 1960. Interest in this book never wanes and rightly so. AbeBooks’ record for this book is $25,000.

2) Great Books of the Western World (a set in 96 vols) – $9,775

Published by the Franklin Library in leather in 1970, from Homer to Tolstoy, this is an instant library of classic literature.

3) Wuthering Heights by Emily Brontë/Ellis Bell and Agnes Grey by Anne Brontë/Action Bell – $9,029

Two works in one volume, published in 1851 and a second edition.

4) Sports et Divertissements (Sports and Pastimes) by Erik Satie – $8,826

This is a rare collector’s album with beautiful Art Deco illustrations by Charles Martin of Satie’s cycle of 21 short piano pieces composed in 1914.

Sports et Divertissements sold for $8,826

5) Lord Randolph Churchill by Winston S Churchill – $8,750

Two volumes, Winston’s biography of his father.  The first volume is inscribed “To David Thomson, and best wishes from Winston S. Churchill. 17 Nov, 1906.” The second volume is signed “Winston S. Churchill, 17 Nov, 1906.” Thomson, a New York attorney, was the husband of Eva Purdy Thomson, an American cousin of Churchill.

6) The Notorious Sophie Lang by Frederick Irving Anderson- $6,938

Published in 1925, a first edition of a novel about a beautiful jewel thief, which became a film in 1934. A scarce novel, only one other copy for sale on AbeBooks.

7) An autograph letter from Sam Houston – $6,180

A letter from 1844 ordering payment for mail delivery services between the cities of Houston and Washington.

8) Fahrenheit 451 by Ray Bradbury – $6,000

A 1953 signed first edition of this thought-provoking novel.

Fahrenheit-451 sold for $6,000

9) Original Leaves from Famous Books – $5,548

A rare limited edition book containing pages from other books, including six manuscript leaves (1122 -1470), five incunabula (1472-1493), 15 leaves from the 16th century (1502-1598); and 14 leaves from books published between 1602 and 1923.

10) Poems on Golf by Robert Clark – $5,500

Privately printed in 1867 for subscribers, this 78-page book contains poems collected by members of the Royal Burgess Golfing Society from Edinburgh, which is believed to be the world’s oldest golfing society. Among the writers are Robert Chambers, one of the founders of the Chambers publishing company; his son Robert Jr, winner of the first open Amateur Tournament held in 1858, and Patric Proctor Alexander, a member of the Royal and Ancient Golf Club. An extremely scarce book.