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The history of Southern Italian food: Nicole Kilburn interview

Nicole Kilburn and a centuries-old Italian olive tree

This is Nicole Kilburn, who is an anthropologist at Camosun College in Victoria, BC – just a few kilometers from the AbeBooks office. Nicole is the author of a book called The Future has an Ancient Heart: Southern Italian Food Traditions in a Modern World.

We interviewed Nicole for the latest AbeBooks podcast, discussing a variety of topics from the origins of pizza and pasta to the numerous challenges faced by traditional food producers in Southern Italy.

Nicole’s book addresses staples of Italian dining such as olives, lemons, bread, and almonds. She recounts time spent in Italy with farmers and shepherds, learning about their dedication to traditional food production in a modern age. There are recipes too. Enjoy the interview.


Collecting vintage typewriters: Anthony Casillo interview

Anthony Casillo’s book showcases 80 of his own machines

Anthony Casillo – who goes by Tony and is interviewed in the latest AbeBooks podcast – is the author of Typewriters: Iconic Machines from the Golden Age of Mechanical Writing. Tony repairs typewriters, collects typewriters and sells typewriters. His book features 80 of his own typewriters, manufactured between 1874, the very early days of typewriters, and 1969, when offices across the world rang to the rhythmic sound of typewriters.

Tony’s book is a visual homage to the golden age of the typewriter, covering the development of the QWERTY keyboard to mass produced portable machines. His descriptions explain the history and significance of each machine, and the companies behind them. The photography charts the development of the technology into machines we now recognize.

The Oliver from 1896

Bruce Curtis supplied the photography and Tom Hanks (yes, that Tom Hanks, an avid typewriter collector) provided a foreword, featuring 11 reasons to use a typewriter and he does mention the words “chick magnet”.

Our podcast interview covers Ian Fleming’s gold typewriter, the problems of carrying typewriters home on the subway, how antique machines are repaired, and the fascination that young people have with typewriter technology.

Find copies of Typewriters: Iconic Machines from the Golden Age of Mechanical Writing.

Tony’s website offers a wealth of information about his career. He has been in the typewriter industry for more than 40 years and describes how it all began.

My first experience with an antique typewriter, or any antique for that matter, took place in the late 1970s.  While employed as a repairman for a typewriter company in New York City, I discovered an old, dusty Oliver typewriter.  It was sitting on a shelf in a back storage room where neglected and unwanted typewriters were kept.  With a dark green painted body, three rows of keys and its type sitting high above the carriage, it was unlike any typewriter I had ever seen.

The Lambert from 1907 – it resembles a rotary telephone
The Royal Standard from 1906 – a machine that became hugely successful
The Olivetti Graphica from 1957 – only 8,000 were created.
The Princess 300 – collectors estimate less than 20 exist today

Giuliano Bugialli’s cookbooks

Giuliano Bugialli, one of the great champions of Italian cooking, has died at the age of 88. The writer and culinary historian wrote numerous cookbooks on Italian cuisine.

Dedicated to food history, Florence-born Bugialli helped popularize traditional Italian dishes in the United States through his writing, TV appearances and cooking classes.

He published his first book, The Fine Art of Italian Cooking, in 1977 and went on to write 11 more books, and win three James Beard Awards.

He began his working life in Italy as an Italian language teacher for visiting American students.

In 1972, he founded a cooking school in Florence and then moved to New York.

His cookbooks include Classic Techniques of Italian Cooking, Foods of Italy, Bugialli on Pasta, Taste of Italy and Foods of Sicily & Sardinia and the Smaller Islands.


This 17th century book on theology contains a dark secret…

This seemingly unremarkable 17th century German theology book could actually be straight off a Harry Potter movie set.

The book is supposed to contain the works of Sebastião Barradas, a Portuguese theologian, who died in 1615. But there is nothing godly about this object. The book has a hollowed out interior, which contains a secret compartment designed to hold poisons.

The pages have been pasted together and the cavity contains 10 small drawers, and a mirror-lined compartment holding four glass bottles.

Just like something that might be found in Professor Snape’s potions classroom, each drawer is labelled in German with the name of a poisonous plant – Banewort (Tollkirsche), Devil’s Snare (Stechäpfel), Hemlock (Schierling), Opium (Schlafmohn), Wormwood (Wermut), Henbane (Bilsenkraut), Wolfsbane (Eisenhut), Daphne (Seidelbast) and Foxglove (Fingerhut).

Banewort and Devil’s snare are both part of the deadly nightshade family. Hemlock is highly toxic and was used to execute prisoners in Ancient Greece (Socrates took it to kill himself). Wormwood is a bitter herb and found in absinthe. Henbane is a poisonous plant with hallucinogenic properties that was associated with witchcraft in the Middle Ages. Foxgloves, famous for its purple flowers, are toxic but rarely deadly. Wolfsbane was used to tip poisoned arrows in some cultures. Daphne is a toxic shrub with berries that will make you very ill if eaten.

The cabinet also features a pastedown with a grim Latin quote from Hebrews (9:27): “Statutum est hominibus semel mori” which means ‘All men are destined to die once’.

The book was almost certainly a prank and owned by someone with a very dark sense of humor. Or was it?

This book is for sale from a bookseller in Vienna called Antiquariat INLIBRIS, priced at $10,940.


German novel banned by the Nazis appears in English for first time

A novel banned by the Nazis has been published in English for the first time after being translated by rare bookseller Simon Beattie.

The first English translation

At the Edge of the Night (Am Rande der Nacht in German) by Friedo Lampe was published in 1933, but it immediately infuriated the Nazis for its homoerotic content and depiction of an interracial liaison between a black man and a white German woman.

The Nazis removed all copies from sale and placed the book on their list of “damaging and undesirable writings”

Beattie’s English translation has been published by Hesperus Press. He told The Guardian:

“Lampe’s a very interesting author: a disabled, gay writer during the Third Reich … who somehow survived only to be shot by a Red Army patrol days before the end of the war. Although he gets an entry in The Oxford Companion to German Literature, nothing by him has ever appeared in English before.”

Simon Beattie

Beattie’s introduction to the novel reveals Lampe’s grave is marked with a wooden cross, carved with the words “Du bist nicht einsam”, or “you are not alone”.

The novel is set in Bremen and is an early example of magical realism.

Beattie has run his own bookselling business since 2010. Before that, he spent 10 years working for Bernard Quaritch’s antiquarian bookselling firm.


Found in a storage locker, the X files of America’s top UFO investigator go on sale

Wendelle C Stevens’ membership card for the International UFO Bureau

The archives of America’s leading ufologist, Wendelle C. Stevens, have gone on sale for $35,000 on AbeBooks.com. More than 5,000 photos of UFO sightings, and more than 300 letters, drawings, manuscripts and VHS tapes are included in the vast collection, which also features rare UFO periodicals from the golden age of flying saucer investigation.

A former colonel in the US Air Force, Stevens (1945-2010) studied and investigated UFOs for more than 50 years, and is believed to have created the world’s largest private UFO photo archive. This collection was recovered from a storage locker eight years after Stevens died. Back of Beyond Books, in Moab, Utah, is now offering the archives for sale after going through 24 boxes of materials.

More than 5,000 UFO photos are included in Wendelle C Stevens’ archive

Stevens’ interest in unidentified flying objects began when he was a pilot in the Arctic, where he encountered mysterious radio transmissions while working as part of a classified project to photograph and map the area.

Stevens formally began his UFO investigations after retiring from the US Air Force. In 1979, he published a 4-volume book called UFO… Contact from the Pleiades, which detailed the extraterrestrial experiences of Eduard “Billy” Meier, who claimed to have numerous encounters with alien lifeforms.

For decades, Stevens collected evidence of sightings, and researched and wrote articles on encounters while also speaking at UFO conferences around the world. He was the Director of Investigations for the Aerial Phenomena Research Organization (APRO) and a founder of the International UFO Congress.

The UFO periodicals in the archives include Saucers Space & Science, Flying Saucers (Mysteries of the Space Age), Flying Saucer Review, Flying Saucers the Magazine of Space Conquest, Japan Flying Saucer Investigation, Flying Saucer News, and Spacecraft News.

These scarce UFO periodicals illustrate the worldwide interest in UFOs

See the archives.

A painting of what appears to be an abduction is included in the archives
The UFO photos usually feature dates and locations written on the back
The numerous documents include descriptions of encounters and artwork of UFOs

Super Sets for your Bookshelves

Although a full bookshelf is always easy on the eye, a shelf filled with a complete set or collection can be stunning. Below are some of the most eye-catching examples of sets available on AbeBooks. There’s fiction, politics, art. children’s books, Penguins and spies.

A complete set of James Bond first editions: Published by Jonathan Cape between 1953 and 1966, Ian Fleming produced 14 Bond books. The publisher didn’t expect the first book, Casino Royale, to sell and printed less than 5,000 copies. Demand for 007 first editions is high and this set costs a whopping $100,000. They’d look stunning on anyone’s shelf – an instant talking point.

A complete set of Pan James Bond paperbacks: Don’t despair if you can’t afford the true 007 first editions, these Pan first editions are $99,000 cheaper. Completely different artwork, Bond is blonde on the front of Casino Royale.

A complete set of Swallows and Amazons books: For sheer coordinated beauty on a shelf, Arthur Ransome’s children’s books cannot be beaten. These are a mixture of editions and cost $570. Set in the Lake District, these classic stories involve a lot of messing about in boats. The first two books feature illustrations by Clifford Webb.

The Alexandria Quartet by Lawrence Durrell: Four novels (a tetralogy) published by Faber & Faber between 1957 and 1960. The first three books describe three different perspectives on a single set of events and characters in Egypt. Look at the hand-prints on the spines. $2,750 for these first editions.

The Dance to the Music of Time series by Anthony Powell: Imagine having these on your shelves? Twelve novels published between 1951 and 1973. These are first editions and priced at $8,700. Inspired by a painting by Nicolas Poussin, the series, often comic, depicts English culture, manners and society.

Complete set of Strand Magazines featuring Sherlock Holmes: You are looking at literary history. The 56 Holmes stories and the two novels were first published in the Strand Magazine. Fragile and scarce, this set is priced at $85,000.

The lithographs of Marc Chagall: Complete in six volumes. This is the French language edition published between 1960 and 1986. The price is $6,500.


A complete set of Narnia first editions: Look at the spines. So many old friends from Jewel the Unicorn to Mr Tumnus. Published by Geoffrey Bles between 1950 and 1956 with memorable illustrations by Pauline Baynes. Children’s books take a beating usually – these are in near fine condition. $48,500.

A set of Churchill’s wartime speeches: Yes, politics can be colorful, especially when Winston Churchill is involved. A full set of seven British first editions, containing some of the most powerful words ever uttered by the politician, whose books remain highly collectible. $3,000.

A complete set of Andrew Lang’s fairy books: All first editions. Each one was named with a color, starting with blue and ending with lilac. They contain 798 stories of folklore, which Lang collected thanks to a lifelong passion for traditional storytelling. They were immensely popular and the artistic bindings definitely helped. This stunning set is priced at $16,000.

The first 10 Penguins: These are actually facsimiles. A complete set of original editions would a decent sum. This is the 50th anniversary box set from 1985. A bargain at $100.

The works of Picasso in 33 volumes: Known simply as the Zervos after the editor, this is the most trusted reference source for Pablo Picasso’s art. More than 6,000 pages with over 16,000 black-and-white images. $22,500.

Set of 11 English classics: Published in 1982 by Knopf with bindings that coordinate to create a Union Jack on your bookshelf. Set includes 1984, Wuthering Heights, Oliver Twist, The Moonstone, and Vanity Fair. A total bargain at $180.

Mervyn Peake’s Gormenghast trilogy: You only need to glance at the spines to know it’s a book by Peake – the British illustrator and author who has a cult following. These are first editions and priced at $1,765.

Works of Roosevelt: 20 volumes from 1926/1927 published, by Scribner’s, and still in the original shipping crate, addressed to a person in Massachusetts. Never read. $2,200.


Seller profile: DTA Collectibles

DTA Collectibles offer a wide variety of comics, included horror

DTA Collectibles offer comics, pulps, and numerous paper collectibles such as movie posters, sports publications, original illustrations and vintage photographs. They even have some action figures.

David T. Alexander

David T. Alexander started the business, then called The American Comic Book Company, in Los Angeles. In 1989, he moved to Florida where he founded DTA Collectibles as a mail-order collectibles business. In turn, it evolved into an online business.

The DTA Collectibles website includes a tour of its warehouse, which is worth seeing. They currently have more than 125,000 items listed for sale on AbeBooks and browsing their inventory is an education in popular culture.

David took a few moments out of his busy day to answer our questions.

AbeBooks: How did you become a professional comic and magazine dealer?

David T. Alexander: I started buying, selling and trading comic books in the late 1960’s.  It started as a part-time hobby and slowing morphed into a business placing ads in Marvel comic at the time and eventually opening several retail stores in southern California. Upon moving to Florida in 1989, we went 100% mail order and now sell exclusively online or in person at conventions.

AbeBooks: What do you love most about selling comics and magazines?

David T. Alexander: The treasure hunt for undiscovered collections and rare and obscure issues is one of the most fun aspects of dealing in collectible comics and magazines.

AbeBooks: What is the most prized item in your inventory? Why?

David T. Alexander: This changes constantly but right now it is our Amazing Fantasy #15 the first appearance of Spider-Man!

AbeBooks: What’s the one collectible you covet most? Why?

David T. Alexander: It has to be Action Comics #1 the first appearance of Superman.  We have been lucky to have several copies pass through our hands over the years. It is the comic book that started it all! It introduced the concept of the super-hero to a wide audience and started a revolution in American popular culture.

AbeBooks: What’s your most memorable moment as a comic/magazine dealer?

David T. Alexander: There are many!  One that stands out was uncovering a warehouse of stored inventory from a newsstand that had been operational since the 1930s.  Seeing paper grocery bags filled up with multiple copies of unsold comic books from the 1940s to the 1960s was a sight I will never forget.

AbeBooks: And of course, who is your favorite author or illustrator

David T. Alexander: Jack Kirby hands down! They don’t call him “King” for nothing.  (Editor’s note – Kirby worked for Marvel and DC, and created
the Fantastic Four, the X-Men, and the Hulk.)


Sizing up miniature objects

In Miniature by Simon Garfield, a book about size, perspective and detail

Simon Garfield is the author of In Miniature: How Small Things Illuminate The World – a study of miniature things and the people who create them. In the latest AbeBooks podcast, Simon discusses model trains (and Rod Stewart), miniature villages, flea circuses, matchstick models of ships, tiny books, little portraits and so much more.


The first great photography craze

Before Instagram, selfie sticks, disposable cameras, Polaroids, and box brownies, there were carte de visites – small photographic albumen prints, mounted on card, which were wildly popular during the Victorian era.

Also known as CdV, carte de visites followed the early pioneering photographic techniques such as daguerreotype and ambrotype, which were expensive and difficult to reproduce. Cartes de visites were born from calling cards, which bore the owner’s name and usually an emblem, and were presented to the host during a social visit. Homes often had a tray near the door for collecting calling cards.

In 1854, Paris photographer Andre Adolphe Disderi patented the 2 1/2″ x 4″ carte de visite format. They  were created by using a sliding plate holder and a camera with four lenses. The technique spread to the photographic studios in the great cities of the world. Carte de visites were extensively used in the American Civil War era as families sought mementos before loved ones left for war. Queen Victoria had numerous albums filled with images of her extensive family.

Small and inexpensive to produce, cartes de visites became the international standard. They were collected, exchanged and placed in family albums. Most carte de visites were taken in studios but some adventurous photographers took them outdoors in early examples of photojournalism.

For many people, posing for a carte de visite was the first time they had been photographed. Smiles are almost completely absent. Some people look ill at ease. Most photographers posed their subjects as if they were being painted for a grand oil painting. Look past the stern expressions and you will see Victorian fashion, various accessories and props, uniforms, and hair styles and epic facial hair.

From 1860 until the end of the century, carte de visites were immensely popular. But people didn’t just want pictures of themselves or loved ones, carte de visites of celebrities were also in demand. Images of politicians, authors, explorers, sports stars and other people of note were widely circulated. Eventually the larger cabinet cards replaced CdVs as the technology behind photography continued to advance.

A Selection of Carte de Visites

Bottle Corker

This undated photo was taken in Birmingham in the Midlands. We assume a bottle corker was someone who put corks into bottles rather than removed them.

Soccer Player

An unidentified Scottish footballer/soccer player. The photo was taken by John Spence of Bridge Street, Musselburgh. Circa 1880.

Australian Soldier

Taken in Sydney in 1863, the uniform appears to be that of the New South Wales Volunteer Artillery.

Mother and Baby

This was taken in the English seaside town of Torquay circa 1880. Interesting to see that the design of the baby carriage (aka the stroller) has come full circle

Kit Carson

This 1862 carte de visite shows Kit Carson (seated) and Edwin Perrin. Carson was a frontiersman and a Wild West legend in his own lifetime. Here he is pictured in his Union army coat. Perrin led the 1st New Mexico Volunteer Infantry in the American Civil War.

General Custer

George Custer in his Union uniform in 1865. The photo is printed from a negative taken by Matthew Brady, who was best known for his Civil War photography. Custer, a Civil War hero, was killed at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876.

Man with Top Hat

This gentleman from Palermo in Italy, circa 1870, looks like a true man about town in his immaculate clothing, dapper cane and stupendous top hat laid to one side.

Alexandre Dumas Pere & Adah Isaacs Menken

Adah Isaacs Menken was the highest paid actress in the middle of the 18th century. While performing in France in 1866, she had an affair with author Alexandre Dumas, which caused a scandal as he was more than twice her age. Her only book, Infelicia, a collection of 31 poems, was published several days after her death.

Hans Christian Andersen

The Danish author of The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen poses for a carte de visite. A keen traveler, Andersen died in 1875.

Victor Hugo

An 1874 carte de visite of Hugo. He published his last novel in 1874, Quatre-vingt-treize, about the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.

Boy and his Toy Horse

Circa 1880s and taken in Liverpool, the smartly dressed boy is also holding a riding crop.

Little Artists

Booted and suited, two smartly dressed boys from Naples. Circa 1860.

Lady Reading

This Italian lady is completely focused on her book. Circa 1860.

Soldier and Wife

Circa 1890, this carte de visite was taken in Bury St Edmonds. The two stripes show that he was a corporal. He’s smoking while she holds a book and looks decidedly uncomfortable.

Italian Solider

This military man from Bologna looks completely at ease.  Circa 1890s.

David Livingstone

“Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” This is the explorer David Livingstone, who was famously found by fellow explorer Henry Morton Stanley in 1871 near Lake Tanganyika in Africa.

Three Priests

A trio of Catholic priests in Rome circa 1870. Two are following instructions and posing for the shot but the third isn’t cooperating. Looks like a scene from Father Ted.

Sultan of Turkey

Abdul Aziz Khan was the 32nd Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and reigned between 1861 and 1876. A formidable looking man.

William Makepeace Thackeray

Taken in London, undated.  William Makepeace Thackeray was a novelist famous for writing Vanity Fair.

Edward VII

Taken in September 1863 when he was the Prince of Wales, Edward is wearing full Highland dress. Abergeldie Castle is close to the Queen’s Scottish home of Balmoral.

Randolph Churchill

Winston’s dad. Randolph was both Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons during his Tory political career.

Swiss Costume

Circa 1870, a lady in traditional Swiss dress.

Water Carrier

A Venetian water carrier around 1870.

Facial Hair

This gentleman from Torino has outstanding muttonchops. Circa 1870.

Dad and Kids

It must have been a cold day when this father posed with his warmly wrapped up children.