AbeBooks' Reading Copy

AbeBooks book blog

Advanced Search Browse Books Rare Books Textbooks
Advanced Search

Arsons, forgeries & poker: how Johnny Jenkins blazed a trail through antiquarian bookselling

In the latest AbeBooks podcast, we interview bookseller and author Michael Vinson about his new book, which describes the life and misadventures of Texas rare book dealer Johnny Jenkins during the 1970s and 1980s.

Surrounded by gambling debts and with the authorities breathing down his neck over two suspicious fires, Jenkins was found dead in a river in 1989 from a gunshot wound to the head. His death shocked the world of antiquarian bookselling.

Vinson’s book is called Bluffing Texas Style: The Arsons, Forgeries, and High-Stakes Poker Capers of Rare Book Dealer Johnny Jenkins.

Jenkins had turned antiquarian bookselling on its head in 1975 when he purchased a huge selection of Americana from Eberstadt & Sons for $2 million. He also became a media hero after working with the FBI to recover stolen materials, which then helped him win membership to the ABAA (Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America). His books were displayed at rare book fairs around the world, and he sold books and ephemera to some of Texas’ richest and most powerful people.

And yet Jenkins sold stolen goods and forgeries, he may also have forged objects himself, he sold complete materials and then delivered incomplete copies to customers, and – at the time of his death – he was about to be accused of arson in relation to suspicious fires at his business locations.

Ever the flamboyant personality, Jenkins also played professional poker in Las Vegas but accumulated huge debts as his gambling spiraled out of control. Although short in height, Jenkins was a larger than life character, who loved to be the center of attention.

Find copies of Bluffing Texas Style: The Arsons, Forgeries, and High-Stakes Poker Capers of Rare Book Dealer Johnny Jenkins.

Author Michael Vinson examines the life and death of rare bookseller Johnny Jenkins

Italy in Bocca – how rare cookbooks with cardboard covers inspired a food film

Roberto Serrini, an editor and filmmaker, and Peter Boggia, a motorcycle mechanic, are two friends from Queens with a shared love of books and food, particularly authentic Italian cuisine.

Inspired by a series of rare cardboard-bound, handwritten cookbooks published in 1976 by a small Italian publisher called Edizone Il Vespro, Roberto and Peter have made a short documentary film called Italy in Bocca.

Roberto Serrini (left) and Peter Boggia (Pic: italyinbocca.com)

The ‘In Bocca’ series of cookbooks explores 20 different regions of Italy (Roma in Bocca, Veneto in Bocca, Umbria in Bocca etc) through authentic recipes, and also poetry, art, and history. Filled with eye-catching illustrations that vary in style, these are scarce books with less than 50 copies available on AbeBooks.

The day before the Covid-19 lockdown began in New York, Roberto and Peter decided to have a “last supper” and cook four recipes from the books. Using minimal video equipment, simple, quality ingredients, and their raw passion for food, the two friends created a lively short nfilm that celebrates the cookbooks and Italian cuisine.

We tracked down Peter and Roberto as the Covid-19 lockdown continued, and asked some questions about the cookbooks, their documentary and the joy of Italian cooking.

AbeBooks: Tell us about the books. Where did you first see them? What are they like?

Peter: “It goes back pretty far. A friend’s father and his grandfather were avid readers and collectors of books and comics. His grandfather went to Italy regularly and had a few of these cookbooks, and we, as teenagers, were paid to clean and organize all these books. We stumbled upon the cookbooks and we both fell in love with them. They jump out at you. They weren’t my books but I never forgot them. Over the years, I built my business and lived in various places, and I sometimes thought ‘where are those books?’ I couldn’t even remember the name of the series. I started hunting around the Internet and found they were called the In Bocca series and I started buying them up. Once I got one or two, I fell in love with them again and I only recently completed the set. It took a long time. Roberto and I did a trip to Italy where we really bonded as friends and afterwards I gave him one of the books as a thank you. The Roma book, which is where his family is from.”

AbeBooks: The art work is eye-catching, not typical 1970s style. They look a little like a graphic novel?

Roberto: “This Roma book blew my mind right off the top. The cover was a full illustration, from hand-painted transfers, and the pages were from recycled rough oatmeal. There were a lot of bright colors from different regional artists and different themes from food to politics, history and poetry. They really do capture your imagination unlike any other cookbook I have seen. They transcend food and go into the culture of Italy. You get a sense of the country and the people, and their love for the land. They just kind of attack you with these wild illustrations and colors.”

Peter: “The outside is cardboard but inside the illustrations are extremely vibrant. The illustrations are quirky and strange, and have a bit of meaning to them. Sometimes they are just having fun with you – Mount Vesuvius blowing up with pasta sauce or the Coliseum overflowing with Carbonara.”

Striking illustrations on cardboard covers

AbeBooks: And the cardboard covers. Are they are fragile?

Roberto: “Yes, that makes them cool. They are made from a material you really don’t want to make a cookbook with. They are delicate and easily bend at the corners. They almost have an organic lifespan, which I think is beautiful when you are talking about food and culture.”

AbeBooks: Which recipes did you decide to cook?

Peter: “That was a hard decision. There were so many weird quirky dishes. We had to reel it in a bit with our decision-making. I made Milanese. We both have a minor obsession about that dish, and have crawled around Milan looking for the best ones.”

Roberto: “We did four dishes – Vitello tonnato, which is thinly sliced veal with a tuna sauce, which if it doesn’t sound good to you, you’re wrong because it’s amazing.  Rigatoni with a chicken liver sauce, which both of us raised an eyebrow to. It sounded funky but turned out to be amazing too. We then did a classic Suppli, that’s rice balls, or Arancini. Peter helmed that dish and slayed it. We’ve made that dish several times since and you can see my body has changed since discovering this recipe. The final one was the Milanese chop. It’s a comfort food and if you do it right and use the right amount of butter, which is the size of small baby actually, it comes out like everything that is good in the world.”

There’s a graphic novel quality to the illustrations (Pic: italyinbocca.com)

AbeBooks: What did you learn by cooking the recipes?

Peter: “Roberto and I are close friends and have traveled a lot together. We share the same passions. We wanted to prove that we could try and make these dishes. I had never really made risotto, and it came out nicely. I just went for it and I had Roberto to keep me in check. It’s all in the ingredients. We’ve talked about it multiple times. We are not cooks, we are home cooks but we have taste. We came to realize the ingredients should be the best ingredients.”

AbeBooks: So the lockdown started and you spent your time editing the film?

Roberto: “I’m an editor and mostly direct commercials. We made this film just because I happened to have a camera with me. We didn’t have a reason or point. As we were putting together the footage, all this horrible news from coming from Italy. It was the beginning of the pandemic and they were getting hit harder than anywhere else. It affected how the film turned out. We wanted people to remember all the great things about Italy and realize that they are suffering and need help.”

Handwritten recipes of regional dishes (Pic: italyinbocca.com)

AbeBooks: What are you going to do with the film?

Roberto: “It has become clear that this could easily become an on-going project. We’ve had chefs calling and it has touched a lot of people. We weren’t expecting that, but we made it with love and it’s a really authentic piece of material. We can see it being a series, there are 20 books and 20 regions. We are now talking to various people to develop it into a bigger project.”

AbeBooks: Should the In Bocca cookbooks be republished?

Roberto: “We hope so. The day after we released the film, the daughter of the man who started Il Vespro, the original publishing company, called us. She was on the phone telling us about how this was her father’s biggest project and something he really cared about. She hadn’t heard about the books for 30 years and then all of sudden these two kids from New York made this video. She said the handwriting in the book was her aunt’s. It blew my mind. So yes, I can see these books being republished, hopefully in the same format because the cardboard covers are so unique. People love cookbooks, they are the closest thing we have to spell books in the real world.”

Learn more about the In Bocca film, the cookbooks, and Peter and Roberto, at their website.

Find copies of the In Bocca cookbooks.


Women in Work: Lisa Unger Baskin’s Collection

Virginia Woolf’s writing desk
Photo: Annie Schlecter

Collector, bookseller and activist Lisa Unger Baskin amassed a vast collection of books, printed material and other objects dedicated to showing women in work over the centuries.

It features more than 11,000 rare books, and thousands of manuscripts, journals, ephemera, and artifacts, including Virginia Woolf’s writing desk.

In 2015, Lisa placed her collection with Duke University’s Sallie Bingham Center for Women’s History and Culture in the Rubenstein Library.

From December 11 until February 8 2020, highlights from Lisa’s collection are being featured in an exhibition at the Grolier Club in Manhattan.  The Grolier is society for bibliophiles founded in 1884.

The Grolier exhibition, Five Hundred Years of Women’s Work: The Lisa Unger Baskin Collection, will provide a glimpse into this collector’s mission to uncover and recognize the contribution of women in work. Visitors will see items from a collection that took 45 years to build.

In our podcast interview, Lisa describes how she put the collection together, why she decided to place the collection with Duke, and how humble objects can shed light on the role of women in work and society.

A cabinet card sold by Sojourner Truth to support her work, 1864
Photo: Duke/Rubenstein Library
First book on obstetrics by a woman, French midwife Louise Bourgeois, 1642 Photo: Duke/Rubenstein Library

25 Out-of-Print Books That Were Used Bestsellers in 2019

Floodland by Marcus Sedgwick

Marcus Sedgwick’s debut novel from 2000 is bizarrely out-of-print. This fantasy story, aimed at young adults, imagines a future where England is covered by water and the city of Norwich is now an island. Zoe has been left behind and struggles to survive amid the chaos. This piece of environmental fiction doesn’t look so fictional today.

Celia, A Slave by Melton A Mclaurin

In 1850, 14-year-old Celia became the property of Robert Newsom, a Missouri farmer. For the next five years, she was abused by her master. Based on court records, correspondences and newspaper articles, this non-fiction account describes the extraordinary events concerning this young woman’s bid for justice and survival.

It’s Always Something by Gilda Radner

Radner’s memoir was last published in 2009. It’s funny and painful. The comedienne died in 1989 from ovarian cancer and this book describes her struggle against the disease. Radner was one of the original cast members of Saturday Night Live and this book takes its title from one of her character’s catchphrases.

Land of the Firebird: The Beauty of Old Russia by Suzanne Massie

An in-depth look at Russian history from 987 to 1917, spanning the ascension of Vlad and the Orthodox Church to the factors that led to the Revolution. Czars, serfs, merchant, and babushkas – nearly a thousand years of critical history that is still impacting the world today.

Mushrooms Demystified by David Arora

This book was published in 1986 and remains the best field guide to mushrooms. Why hasn’t it been republished when foraging is bigger than ever?  David Arora provides a beginner’s checklist of the 70 most distinctive and common mushrooms, plus detailed chapters on terminology, classification, habitats, mushroom cookery, mushroom toxins, and the meanings of scientific mushroom names.

Monet’s Table: The Cooking Journals of Claude Monet by Claire Joyes

Monet lived for half his life in the famous house at Giverny where he entertained countless visitors. The recipes collected in his cooking journals include dishes Monet encountered on his travels or had enjoyed in restaurants in Paris, as well as recipes from friends, such as Cézanne’s bouillabaisse.  Illustrated with reproductions of Monet’s paintings, photographs of Giverny, selected shots of dishes, and facsimile pages from the notebooks themselves.

Typical American: A Novel by Jen Gish

This novel portray the Chinese immigrant experience in America and follows the fortunes of the Chang family as they adjust to their new surroundings. They quickly become caught up in suburban life and the American dream. First published in 1991 and last reprinted in 2008.

Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How it Changed America by John M. Barry

One of America’s greatest natural disasters occurred in 1927 when the Mississippi flooded. The river inundated the homes of nearly one million people, influenced politics, and forced thousands of people to move north. A timely reminder of how nature cannot be controlled.

Island: Diary of a Year on Easdale by Garth & Vicky Waite

An illustrated account of a newly married couple’s first year on the tiny Scottish island of Easdale. The book took six years to complete, and will delight anyone who dreams about quitting the city and heading to a remote island. First published in 1985.

Go Like Hell: Ford, Ferrari, and Their Battle for Speed and Glory at Le Mans by A.J. Baime

This non-fiction book encapsulates the plot of the Ford vs Ferrari movie starring Matt Damon and Christian Bale, released in November 2019.  It describes how Henry Ford II, Lee Iacocca and Carroll Shelby reinvent the Ford motor company by racing at Le Mans in the 1960s.

Gnomes by Wil Huygen

First published in Dutch in 1976 as ‘Leven en werken van de kabouter’, Gnomes was the first in a series of Gnome-related books written by Wil Huygen and illustrated by Rien Poortvliet. The book explains the life and habitat of gnomes. No, really.

Lakota Woman by Mary Crow Dog

Non-fiction. Mary grew up fatherless in a one-room cabin, without running water or electricity, on the Rosebud Indian Reservation in South Dakota. Rebelling against the aimless drinking, cruel missionary school, and violence of reservation life, she joins the new movement of tribal pride sweeping Native American communities in the 1960s and 1970s. Originally published in 1990.

Like Water for Chocolate by Laura Esquivel

This novel describes the bizarre history of the all-female De La Garza family. Tita, the youngest daughter of the house, has been forbidden to marry, condemned by Mexican tradition to look after her mother until she dies. But Tita falls in love with Pedro, and he is seduced by the food she cooks. In desperation, Pedro marries her sister Rosaura so that he can stay close. What could go wrong? Like Water for Chocolate was published in 1989 by Mexican novelist Laura Esquivel, who uses magical realism throughout. Not published in English since the 1990s.

Maniac Magee by Jerry Spinelli

This children’s book won a Newbery Medal but hasn’t been published since 2009. Still hugely popular in schools. Jeffrey Lionel ‘Maniac’ Magee might have lived a normal life if a freak accident hadn’t made him an orphan. After living with his unhappy and uptight aunt and uncle for eight years, he decides to run. His feats change the course of a racially divided small town.

Mapping the Mind by Rita Carter

Last published in 2010. Drawing on the latest imaging technology and the expertise of scientists, Carter explores the geography of the brain. The book’s 150 illustrations present an illustrated guide as Carter shows how our personalities reflect the biological mechanisms underlying thought and emotion, and how behavioral eccentricities may be traced to abnormalities in the brain.

Lincoln’s Melancholy: How Depression Challenged a President and Fueled His Greatness by Joshua Wolf Shenk

Published in 2006, a portrait of Lincoln’s personal struggles and how depression influenced both the president’s character and leadership. Shenk discovers the president’s coping strategies, including his rich sense of humor and a tendency towards quiet reflection.

Isaac’s Storm: A Man, a Time, and the Deadliest Hurricane in History by Erik Larson

A reminder of why hurricanes should never be under-estimated. Not published since 2008, this non-fiction book describes how Galveston in Texas, was destroyed in 1900 by a storm that killed 6,000 people.  It is still the greatest natural disaster in American history and human arrogance played a huge contributing role in the death toll.

Lost on a Mountain in Maine by Donn Fendler

Last published in 2013, this is the true account of a boy’s harrowing journey through the vast wilderness of the Katahdin Mountains. Twelve-year-old Donn Fendler steps away from his scout troop for only a minute, but in the foggy mountains of Maine, he finds himself lost and alone.

Love, Life, and Elephants: An African Love Story by Daphne Sheldrick

Last published in 2013. The first person to successfully raise newborn elephants, Daphne Sheldrick has saved countless African animals from certain death. In this memoir, Daphne describes her remarkable career as a conservationist. She also shares the story of her relationship with the Tsavo National Park warden whose death inspired the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.

Lyddie by Katherine Paterson

This children’s novel was last published in 2004. When 10-year-old Lyddie and her younger brother are hired out as servants to help pay off their family debts, Lyddie is determined to find a way to reunite her family. Hearing about the textile mills in Lowell, Massachusetts, she heads to the city. Paterson is best known for Bridge to Terabithia.

Madhur Jaffrey’s Ultimate Curry Bible

Published once in 2003, this cookbook is still in demand from curry fans. With over 150 recipes, Jeffrey starts with the best curry recipes in India today, moves on to Asian curries, and even includes European curry ideas such as French curry sauces.

Making Movies by Sidney Lumet

Published in 1996. The award-winning director describes the world of film, discussing the art and craft of directing, writers and actors, the camera, art direction, editing, sound tracks, distribution and marketing, and the studio role. Lumet died in 2011. His films include 12 Angry Men, Dog Day Afternoon and Network.

The Lunar Men : A Story of Science, Art, Invention and Passion by Jenny Uglow

Non-fiction published in 2003 by Faber and Faber. In the 1760s, a group of amateur inventors met and became friends in the English Midlands. They formed the Lunar Society of Birmingham and their band included toy-maker Matthew Boulton, steam engine inventor James Watt, potter Josiah Wedgewood, poet Erasmus Darwin and Joseph Priestley, discoverer of oxygen. These people launched the industrial revolution.

In Praise of Slow: How a Worldwide Movement Is Challenging the Cult of Speed by Carl Honor

Non-fiction, published in 2005. These days faster is better. But in the race to keep up, everything suffers – work, diet, health, relationships. Carl Honore uncovers a movement that challenges the cult of speed by proving that slower is often preferable. The slow movement covers food, cities and relationships.

Luncheon of the Boating Party by Susan Vreeland

Vreeland focuses on a single painting, Auguste Renoir’s instantly recognizable masterpiece, Luncheon of the Boating Party, which depicts a gathering of the artist’s friends having fun at a café terrace along the Seine. This novel is narrated by Renoir and seven of his models, and captures the hedonism of the era.


Oak tobacco box carved from Brontës’ church sells for $1,500

This tobacco box was carved from wood salvaged from the Haworth church in Yorkshire

An oak tobacco box carved from the wood of the Brontës’ Haworth Church in Yorkshire has sold for $1,500 via AbeBooks.com.

From 1820 until 1861, the Reverend Patrick Brontë occupied the parsonage at Haworth. His six children, including the novelists Charlotte, Emily, and Anne, grew up in the shadow of the old church. Although the last of the Brontë children died in 1855, Patrick Brontë lived to see Haworth become a destination for literary pilgrims, as readers arrived to pay tribute to the authors of Jane Eyre, Wuthering Heights, and The Tenant of Wildfell Hall.

In 1879, the old Haworth church was torn down and rebuilt. Parts of the interior oak from furniture and rafters were turned into commemorative urns, vases, salt boxes, candlesticks, picture frames, tobacco boxes, and spittoons for literary  souvenir hunters.

This polished brass and oak tobacco box is 6 inches high with a base of 3.75 inches in diameter. A printed paper label reading “Haworth Church” had been stuck to the inside of the lid.

Haworth is a village in West Yorkshire. It attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year thanks to its connection with the Brontës’ and its beautiful location in the Pennines. The parsonage is now a museum maintained by the Brontë Society.

Numerous souvenir objects were created from the church’s rafters and furniture

Collecting books on rockets & spaceflight

NASA engineer Michael Ciancone collects books on rockets and spaceflight

Michael Ciancone’s day job is working as a NASA engineer. He serves as the safety and mission assurance lead on the European Service Module of the Orion Program, which is designed to take astronauts to the Moon and bring them home again.

In his spare time, he collects books about rockets and spaceflight. Michael’s collection spans more than 600 books about rocket development and spaceflight published prior to 1958 – that’s books published before the Russians put their first sputnik satellite into space.

Michael has also written a bibliography that encapsulates his knowledge of this area. It’s called Foreword to Spaceflight: An Illustrated Bibliography of pre-1958 Publications on Rocketry and Space Travel, and a selection of pictures from the book can be seen below.

We talk to Michael in our latest podcast about his collection, the challenges of collecting such a specialist subject, the book that started it all and the importance of Russian writers.

Michael’s bibliography is based upon his extensive collection
The cover artwork for early books on rockets and spaceflight is eye-catching
Michael’s collection includes books from German and Russian authors

Podcast interview: Doris Moskowitz from Moe’s Books

Doris Moskowitz, owner of Moe’s Books in Berkeley, California

Doris Moskowitz is the owner of Moe’s Books in Berkeley, California. With four floors of books, Moe’s has been a bookselling institution since the 1960s when Berkeley was at the heart of America’s free speech movement and the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations.

We discuss her father, Moe, who founded the store, her mom, Barbara, cigars, hippies, the 1960s, being a working mom, being fired by her father (twice), the nearby university, millennial confusion, and why Moe’s has a huge philosophy section.

Moe’s Books has a long legacy and holds a special place within the bookselling community on the West Coast. Enjoy our podcast interview.

The red and white awning is a landmark on Telegraph Avenue in Berkeley
Moe Moskowitz founded the bookshop and his presence can still be felt
The top floor at Moe’s Books features a rare book room
Moe’s Books boasts a vast selection of literature
Doris Moskowitz says young people are stunned when they enter Moe’s for the first time.

Meet the Movable Book Society

Shawn Sheehy is a book artist and a paper engineer

The Movable Book Society was established in 1993 after a librarian from Rutgers University called Ann R. Montanaro published a book called Pop-up and Movable Books: A Bibliography. The positive feedback convinced Anne that there was enough interest from collectors to found a society about Movable Books.

The society is a non-profit organization that provides a forum for artists, booksellers, collectors, curators, and others to share enthusiasm about pop-up and movable books. There are nearly 450 members worldwide.

In the latest AbeBooks podcast, we are joined by Shawn Sheehy from the Movable Book Society. Shawn is a book artist and a paper engineer. Discover how pop-up books are created, their long history, the importance of Lothar Meggendorfer, and why paper engineering fascinates children, collectors and people who love books when the art that literally pops up off the page.

Shawn’s specialty is presenting animals and plants through movable paper structures. He is the creator of two trade pop-up books published by Candlewick – Welcome to the Neighborwood and Beyond the Sixth Extinction: A Post-apocalyptic Pop-up.

Beyond the Sixth Extinction began life as a limited edition artist’s book. The book imagines what species would survive if the Earth suffered major catastrophes – the cockroach, for instance.

Learn more about Shawn at his website.

Rex Roach from Shawn Sheehy’s Beyond the Sixth Extinction
Beyond the Sixth Extinction is both an artist’s book and a trade publication
Brownfield Pigeon from Shawn Sheehy’s Beyond the Sixth Extinction

Signed with a leaf

What’s better? The leaf or the message?

Fame is foolish and fleeting, and so will the human race go down the tube if we can’t find a way to stop nuclear war, toxic chemicals, and other foolish things. I hope your sons learn, though, that there is joy in struggle – and Who knows? We may yet overcome – Pete Seeger.

See the letter


Frank Capra’s copy of Parnassus on Wheels

Frank Capra’s copy of Parnassus on Wheels sold for $4,000 last week via AbeBooks. It was a 1917 first edition in a dust jacket.

The front endpaper has a signed autograph inscription by the author, Christopher Morley, to Capra, who directed movies such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) and It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).

“This is Frank Capra’s copy of this little book and I am grieved when I think how much he paid for it! It cost him 160 times as much as if he had bought it in September 1917 – also, the Author is not worth 160 times what he was then! There is a mistake somewhere! With embarrassment and every good wish – Christopher Morley Jan 28-1935.”

Parnassus on Wheels was Morley’s first novel. It remains one of the most famous novels about books and bookselling. Morley also wrote The Haunted Bookshop in 1919.

Parnassus on Wheels concerns a traveling bookseller
Christopher Morley’s inscription to Frank Capra