AbeBooks' Reading Copy

AbeBooks book blog

Advanced Search Browse Books Rare Books Textbooks
Advanced Search

Featured Collection – film ephemera (& that Ava Gardner mugshot) from Royal Books

Page one of Ava Gardner’s employment questionnaire for MGM

The thing about cinema-related ephemera is that it is very broad. An immense variety of objects come under this umbrella, including posters, lobby cards, publicity photos, candid on-set photography, contracts, screenplays, letters, and concept art.

Royal Books, run by Kevin Johnson, is located in Baltimore, Maryland, and specializes in 20th century literature with a strong focus on cinema. It’s hard to not feel a little star struck while browsing their Film Ephemera Collection.

Ava Gardner’s mugshot for MGM

Ava Gardner’s employment questionnaire for MGM stopped me in my tracks as I scrolled through. Gardner (1922-1990) was one of Hollywood’s greatest female stars in the second half of the 20th century. She starred in The Hucksters, Show Boat, The Snows of Kilimanjaro, The Barefoot Contessa, On the Beach, 55 Days at Peking, The Night of the Iguana, The Life and Times of Judge Roy Bean, Earthquake and The Cassandra Crossing.

Gardner’s third and last marriage was to Frank Sinatra from 1951 to 1957. It was a tumultuous affair although she always admitted by Sinatra was the love of her life. She lived the full life a major Hollywood star along with drama and scandal, and celebrity and numerous memorable films.

The employment questionnaire, completed for Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer in 1942, indicates the 19-year-old starlet was already married (she had married Mickey Rooney on January 10, 1942), her social security number and that she came from North Carolina. MGM was the first studio to offer Gardner a contract

“Gardner came from a large family of poor cotton and tobacco farmers, and while she required a speech coach to rid her of an incomprehensible southern drawl, her presence on film was magnetic from the very beginning,” said Kevin Johnson from Royal Books.

The questionnaire asks many questions about nationality and citizenship.

“There was a flood of actors, actresses, directors, and cinematographers fleeing Germany and going straight to Hollywood at the time,” explains Kevin. “And a lot of them were getting hired, because training in the German film industry was the best in the world at the time. It may be that skills and training were covered in another document. This strikes me as a very standard application for work at MGM, and of course country of origin was a huge concern at the time, as boatloads of immigrants were moving to California.”

Elsewhere in Kevin’s collection of cinema ephemera you will find a lobby card for A Clockwork Orange, a poster for Sisters (a Brian De Palma thriller about Siamese twins from 1973) and a program for the first New York film festival. Browse away.

Browse Royal Books’ collection of cinema ephemera.

Visit Collections.

Featured Collection: engravings of marine invertebrates from Charles Lewis Best Booksellers

An engraving from Charles Lewis Best’s collection

It’s a long way from the English lanes and woods of Surrey to the sandy beaches of San Diego. But these are the sort of distances that collectible objects from the past tend to travel.

Bookseller Charles Lewis Best offers a wonderful Collection of engravings of marine invertebrates which combines beautiful artwork with scientific study. The engravings are plates acquired from an artist who retired to San Diego. It is believed they had originally been part of the Calvert Collection, which was most probably located in Woodcote Park near Epsom in Surrey.

Engraving of two jellyfish

Woodcote Park is quite the estate. The Calvert family founded Maryland and Baltimore takes its name from Baron Baltimore, which was the family title. Like most English stately homes, Woodcote Park had a library of substance.

“The natural assumption is that these plates are from an unbound manuscript, awaiting the customized binding of the owner,” explains Charles.  “One can but assume that the library was purchased by an agent of an American such as J. P. Morgan or William Randolph Hearst and sent to New York, whence it somehow found its way to San Diego. “

Browsing Charles’ collection reveals numerous intricate engravings of marine life, including starfish, jellyfish, corrals, and sea urchins. Henri Marie Ducrotay de Blainville (1777-1850) was a prominent French zoologist and these drawings were published in his books. He succeeded Jean Baptiste Lamark as the Chair of Natural History at the Academie des Sciences in Paris, and was a leading authority on numerous species and apparently coined the term “paleontology.”

Browse Charles’ collection of marine engravings.

Visit Collections.

An engraving of sea anenomes

Featured Collection: Eccentrics, Cranks & Difficult People from Lorne Bair Rare Books

A police sheet on Gessler Rosseau who wanted to rid the United States of “foreign things”

A specialist collection of books written by, or about, eccentrics, cranks and difficult people firmly places us on the fringe of the literary world. Lorne Bair Rare Books has just such a gathering of unusual literature.

“Each one of these books could be placed into another wider genre but they make for an interesting experience when they are grouped together,” said Amir Naghib of Lorne Bair Rare Books. “We usually discover that the author or the main subject is a difficult person when we are doing the biographical research.

“We sell books covering ‘touchy’ subjects so we see radicalism from the left and from the right, and covering many subjects from sexuality to politics and medicine. For instance, a medical book from the 19th century could be written by a quack or a member of the medical profession. We find anyone and everyone purchases books such as these. It’s common to see institutional buyers picking up these books but sometimes people buy them for genealogical research. Sometimes these books are self-published via vanity presses if the author had the financial resources.”

God in a Rolls Royce by John Hoshor

An excellent example is Herb Blackschleger who wrote a book called Hide! in 1959. According to Lorne Bair, “The author, a right-wing Christian conspiracist, attacks communism, socialism, and capitalism in equal measure along with evolutionary theory, modern psychology, vaccination, and practical jokes.”

Another example is a police sheet about Gessler Rosseau (pictured above), a domestic terrorist who “made it his mission to ‘rid the country of foreign things”‘ such as a statue of Frederick the Great.

In the 1945 book, Medical Mussolini: A Comprehensive Text Book on Humanity’s Scourge – Medical Politics by Morris A Bealle, the author attacks the mainstream medical industry. Lorne Bair describes Bealle as “from a prominent Maryland family, an ardent anti-Communist and anti-New Dealer who appears never to have seen a conspiracy theory he didn’t like. His later works included exposes of the Rockefeller family and the Kennedy assassination plot.”

In the 1936 book, God in a Rolls Royce: The Rise of Father Divine – Madman, Menace or Messiah by Josh Hoshor, the author looks at the career of Father Major Jealous Divine (born George Baker), the charismatic Harlem religious leader who claimed to be the living incarnation of God.

There are more just like these items. Lorne Bair’s collection of books about and by eccentrics, cranks and difficult people show us that books have traditionally described views and opinions from every angle, including the most challenging ones to understand.

Browse Lorne Bair’s collection of books on eccentrics, cranks and difficult people.

Visit Collections.

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 by Agatha Christie


Appointment with Death by Agatha Christie


After the Funeral by Agatha Christie


Cards on the Table by Agatha Christie


Cat Among the Pigeons by Agatha Christie


Dead Man’s Folly by Agatha Christie


The Man in the Brown Suit by Agatha Christie


Murder on the Links by Agatha Christie


The Pale Horse by Agatha Christie


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


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?