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10 Trailblazing Environmental Books for Earth Day

Earth Day is April 22. It began in 1970 and is now celebrated in more than 150 countries. The day is intended to raise awareness about the environmental issues facing the world. Writing on the environment and nature has a long legacy. A History of British Birds by Thomas Bewick, published in two volumes in 1797 and 1804, was the first field guide for birds. In 1854, Walden by Henry David Thoreau sparked the back-to-nature movement. On the Origin of Species by Charles Darwin founded evolutionary biology in 1859.

The genre took a dramatic turn in the 20th century with the publication of a series of books that highlighted the dangers faced by various environments and species. The 19th century themes of appreciation and understanding were joined by concern for the environment’s future and demands for conservation and preservation.

Silent Spring resulted in DDT being banned

 Silent Spring by Rachel Carson (1962)

Subject matter: Carson documented how unregulated use of pesticides adversely affected the environment and also humans, and, in doing so, she challenged America’s chemical industry at a time when environmental activism was unheard of.

Impact: The book was met with fierce criticism from major chemical producers. However, it sparked the start of the US ecological movement, and led to major media coverage about the harmful use of pesticides. The use of DDT was eventually banned in the US in 1972 and a worldwide ban followed.  The book is still controversial today with many critics blaming Carson for hampering agricultural production around the world and allowing millions to die from malaria. DDT was originally intended to control malaria among soldiers in World War II. This book is worth reading today in order to discover how far corporations can go when unregulated.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas started campaigning at age 79

The Everglades: River of Grass by Marjory Stoneman Douglas (1947)

Subject matter:  Published in same year as the opening of the Everglades National Park, this book describes how the Everglades were suffering and in need of restoration and preservation.  The book positions the Everglades as a national treasure at time when many people thought it was just a swamp.

Impact: Douglas lived to 108. She campaigned for women’s and civil rights before becoming an environmental activist at the age of 79. Douglas was a relentless campaigner who used her skills as a freelance journalist to get her messages across. Her work was attacked by businesses looking to develop the Everglades. She spent five years researching the fragile and unique ecology of the Everglades for the book, which sold out within a month of being published.

Farley Mowat was accused to exaggeration

Never Cry Wolf by Farley Mowat (1963)

Subject matter: Mowat describes his experiences after being assigned to the Canadian sub-arctic in 1948 by the Dominion Wildlife Service to investigate the declining caribou population and whether wolves were to blame. He discovered wolves existed mostly on small mammals such as mice. He found that when wolves did hunt caribou, they killed the weaker, older and sick animals, which benefited the herd by allowing the fittest animals to breed and increased the speed of the herd’s migration. He blamed human hunters for the decline in caribou.

Impact: This book has been widely published and has been credited with discouraging the practice of culling wolves. As with most environmental books, Never Cry Wolf has its critics, who claim Mowat exaggerated the facts in order to deliver a good story. Several Canadian government bodies saw Mowat as a disruptive influence at the time. Today he’s regarded as an environmental pioneer. This book is highly readable and ideal for young readers brought up on children’s fiction where the wolf is big and bad, and eats Grandma.

John Muir first observed the Sierra Nevada as a shepherd

My First Summer in the Sierra by John Muir (1911)

Subject matter: Muir describes his first trip to California’s Sierra Nevada Mountains in what is now Yosemite National Park in 1869. The young Scottish immigrant joined a crew of shepherds and kept a diary while tending sheep over four months. He details vistas, flora and fauna, and other natural wonders.

Impact: No-one has advocated more for the preservation of wilderness in the United States than Muir. His 12 books and hundreds of articles mark him out as a key naturalist and nature writer. This book has helped to bring numerous visitors to Yosemite with four million people now visiting the area each year. The Sequoia National Park was also created partially thanks to his work. Muir co-founded the Sierra Club which campaigns on conservation issues.

Aldo Leopold advocated for a “land ethic”

A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold (1949)

Subject matter: Leopold describes the land around his home in Sauk County, Wisconsin, in a series of essays. He advocates for a responsible relationship between the land and people. He writes about striking a balance and reveals the negative effects of removing one species, like a predator, from the natural order.

Impact: The author coined the term “land ethic” and asked that humans develop a new ethic in order to preserve ecosystems. The book’s influence has mostly been in the United States.

Gavin Maxwell’s book was turned into a film

Ring of Bright Water by Gavin Maxwell (1960)

Subject matter: Maxwell describes his experiences with otters at his remote house in Scotland. It’s an account of humanity living with wildlife, and coming to understand nature.

Impact: The book was turned into a film starring Bill Travers and Virginia McKenna in 1969. Ring of Bright Water shows that no matter how advanced we feel that we can always learn more about nature and animals.

This diary was never intended for publication

The Country Diary of an Edwardian Lady by Edith Holden (1906/1977)

Subject matter: This is an amateur naturalist’s diary for the year 1906 where the changing seasons are shown by changes in plants and animals in the English countryside. Holden uses text, including poetry, and illustrations of birds, plants and insects.

Impact: The book was first published in 1977 and became an immediate publishing sensation. It was a personal diary and never intended for publication. But this book shows almost anyone can have an appreciation for nature if they just take the time to look carefully.

Edward Abbey was against national parks where visitors could drive everywhere

Desert Solitaire by Edward Abbey (1968)

Subject matter: Desert Solitaire is a collection of essays about life in the wilderness based on Abbey’s activities as a park ranger at the Arches National Monument in Utah in the late 1950s. He writes about damage caused by over development and tourism. The book is also philosophical as Abbey dwells on the power and ruthlessness of the desert such as when a search and rescue team are required to recover a dead body.

Impact: Abbey’s book put the Arches National Monument on the map. He heavily criticized the US Parks Service for developing parks filled with highways where visitors could drive-in and drive-out without truly experiencing the surroundings. He revealed how a desert area can be as fascinating as a forest or coastline. He showed how modern American culture was not in the least aligned with nature.

This book was inspired by John Cheever’s fictional short story, The Swimmer

Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey through Britain by Roger Deakin (1999)

Subject matter: Waterlog describes Deakin’s experiences of wild swimming in British waterways. It was inspired by John Cheever’s short story, The Swimmer, which was eventually adapted into a film starring Burt Lancaster.  Deakin’s mission was to swim across Britain from Cornwall to the east coast, and he swims through bays, rivers, canals, lakes, ponds and one swimming pool.

Impact: Deakin advocates for open access to the countryside and waterways. Waterlog was the only book that Deakin published in his lifetime, but it was a bestseller in the UK and helped create the wild swimming movement. The book goes beyond swimming and looks at English history, woodland, rights of way and ancient hedgerows.

Dian Fossey was murdered… almost certainly for her work against poachers

Gorillas in the Mist by Dian Fossey (1983)

Subject matter: Fossey’s book describes her efforts to study and preserve mountain gorillas in Africa from the mid-1960s to her death in 1985. She strongly opposed both tourism and poaching.

Impact: Fossey was murdered, almost certainly because of her efforts to protect gorillas. Slain in her bedroom, no valuables were taken from the room leading to the conclusion that poachers killed her. She highlighted that poaching was a major problem and started the movement for African parks to do more to protect their animals. She wasn’t just a campaigner but also raised money for her own anti-poaching patrols in Rwanda. Fossey made numerous scientific discoveries about gorillas and their complex social hierarchies. No-one did more to highlight the problem of poaching. Her critics accused her of loving gorillas more than humans.


AbeBooks’ most expensive sales in January, February & March 2018

A Keith Haring exhibition catalog that sold for $9,500

From Friedrich Nietzsche to Keith Haring, here is a list of  AbeBooks’ most expensive sales in January, February & March. See the top 15 sales.


Anne of Avonlea first edition sells for $17,500

Anne of Avonlea first edition sold for $17.500

It seems Anne of Green Gables is alive and well in today’s era of empowered women after a first edition copy of Anne of Avonlea sold for $17,500 (USD) via AbeBooks.  This is L.M. Montgomery‘s second novel about the red-headed girl from Prince Edward Island in Canada. It was published in 1909 by L. C. Page & Company in Boston, a year after the pioneering book that introduced Anne Shirley to the world.

Anne of Avonlea details the heroine’s experiences from the age of 16 to 18 when she teaches at Avonlea school. Many of the characters from Anne of Green Gables appear in Anne of Avonlea where Anne discovers that teaching requires different skills to studying.

The copy that sold came with its all-important dust jacket. The book (pictured above) is bound in cloth and is housed in a custom gilt lettered slipcase. It is the most expensive Anne of Green Gables book to ever sell via the AbeBooks marketplace. Dust jackets from this era are scarce because people still considered them to be protective rather than decorative and threw them away after purchasing the book.

The first edition of Anne of Green Gables is one of the most collectible children’s books ever published as only a small number were printed and it’s a highly influential piece of literature. First edition copies on AbeBooks vary in pricing from $10,000 to $36,000 depending on condition – none of them have a dust jacket. A first edition with a dust jacket would be worth three figures.

In 2009, a first edition copy of Anne of Green Gables, without a dust jacket, sold at auction for $37,500.

Anne of Green Gables remains as popular as ever with the most recent TV adaptation airing in 2017. Green Gables, located in Cavendish on Prince Edward Island, attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.


The Evolution of Peter Rabbit

Peter Rabbit is still sneaking into Mr McGregor’s garden to steal vegetables. Our video traces Peter’s history from being privately printed in 1901 to this year’s movie adaptation.


The Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize returns

The 2018 Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize is now open

The second annual Honey & Wax Book Collecting Prize is now looking for submissions. Created by Honey & Wax Booksellers in Brooklyn, New York, the prize is open to women book collectors in the United States aged 30 or younger.

Founded in 2011, Honey & Wax Booksellers is an antiquarian book firm run by Heather O’Donnell and Rebecca Romney, who are both committed to developing the role of women in collecting and bookselling.

“There are a lot of creative young women in the United States building original collections. We want more of them to own it, and openly identify as book collectors. That’s what this prize is designed to achieve,” said Heather O’Donnell, founder of Honey & Wax.

An entrant’s collection may include books, manuscripts, and ephemera, and can be organized by theme, author, illustrator, printing technique, binding style, or another clearly articulated principle. Collections will not be judged on size or market value, but on originality and how they illuminate the chosen subject.

Last year’s winner was Jessica Kahan, a public librarian in Ohio, who collects American romance novels from the Jazz Age and Depression Eras. Her winning essay is well worth reading.

“In 2017, we were told to expect perhaps a dozen submissions to our new prize,”added Heather. “Instead, we received 48 applications, from women hailing from 21 states and the District of Columbia, and ranging in age from 15 to 30. They were librarians and scientists, stage directors and graphic designers, high school students and college professors. We were stunned by what these women had built, and how their collections became a tangible reflection of their lives”

To enter, you need to submit an essay about your collection as well as a bibliography and a wish-list. The winner receives $1,000. The deadline for submissions is June 1 and the winner will be announced in September 2018.

AbeBooks is proud to be a sponsor of the collecting prize and we’d love to see far more than 48 applications in 2018. Good luck.

Find more details at the Honey & Wax contest page.


Introducing the Gormenghast Automata

This is the ‘Gormenghast Automata’ – the ultimate one of a kind accessory for fans of Mervyn Peake, the British novelist who created the Gormenghast trilogy of gothic fantasy novels. Custom built by an anonymous Gormenghast-loving English craftsman from wood and metal, this brand new automated mechanical device depicts Peake’s ominous castle and some of its unusual inhabitants.

Learn more


Could the children’s books in your attic fetch a price at New York’s Antiquarian Book Fair?

The New York Antiquarian Book Fair

Sarah Smith from the Amazon Books team visited the New York Antiquarian Book Fair last week. Here’s her report, which first appeared on the Amazon Book Blog.

“The New York Antiquarian book fair is pretty much the premiere book fair in the world. It’s the planet around which the satellite of my business revolves,” said Brian Cassidy, a bookseller based in Silver Spring, Maryland. It was opening night, and he was standing by his booth in the huge hall of the New York Armory on Park Avenue and 66th Street. All around him, booksellers from Japan, Germany and everywhere in between were sipping Champagne, chatting to colleagues and collectors, and showing off the very special selection of books, maps, artwork, and prints they had brought to this year’s fair.

The fair’s catalog contains a 20-page, alphabetized list of the different categories of items on display, starting with “Africa” and ending with “Whaling,” so visitors can search out which of the 200 booths offer, say, “Slavica,” and head directly there. This year, I decided to focus on books for children. After all, many readers cherish and keep their children’s books long after childhood is past. Could the kids’ books on your shelves — or mine — warrant a place at the fair?

If there’s one thing antiquarian booksellers have in common, it’s this: they’re all born raconteurs, with a genius for describing what makes their books special and worth their often (but not always) high asking prices. As I walked the aisles, I stopped in at booths featuring children’s books, to get a sense of this year’s range.

What if you have an old copy of that high school classic, The Catcher in the Rye, and wonder how much it is worth? At least two examples were on view at the fair, though priced differently, for different reasons. Ken Lopez, from Hadley, Massachusetts, had a first edition, first printing, with an interesting provenance: the book’s publisher, Alfred A. Knopf, had given it to a young writer who came over to dinner at his house. That writer, Susan Sheehan, eventually went on to win a Pulitzer Prize for her book, Is there No Place on Earth for Me? Her husband, Neil Sheehan, won a Pulitzer too, for A Bright Shining Lie. So this particular edition has some added literary luster from its former owners. Lopez pointed out a photo of author J.D. Salinger’s face on the back cover. That photo added to the book’s rarity, Lopez explained: “As you know, Salinger was a very private man, and he took great exception to having his photo being used on the jacket, so only the first three printings of the book have the photo on the back.” The asking price? $12,000.

James and the Giant Peach offered by Raptis Rare Books

Raptis Rare Books, out of Palm Beach, Florida, also had a lovely edition of The Catcher in the Rye at its booth. Matthew Raptis explained that this was a very pristine copy of this first printing of the first edition – it had probably never been read. Raptis bought it for a good price from a man in Vermont who paid “about ten cents for it in 1970.” The asking price now? $24,000. Among the other treasures of children’s literature offered by Raptis Rare Books: a beautiful first edition of Roald Dahl’s James and the Giant Peach, signed by Dahl and by the renowned illustrator Nancy Eckholm Burkert.  The dust jacket noted this was the first book Dahl wrote for children, and the first book Burkert illustrated for them. Lots of firsts make this a very sought-after volume, which could be yours for $20,000.

The catalog for Raptis Rare Books contained a listing for a signed set of Ursula LeGuin’s Wizard of Earthsea trilogy. Would LeGuin’s recent death make these books more appealing to buyers? At John W. Knott’s booth, I asked Warren Bernard about how such events effect sales. He’s the editor of Cartoons for Victory, a book of World War II-related material designed to encourage support for the war on the home front, and his collection includes propaganda cartoons and books aimed at children.

When asked whether the anniversary of the Russian Revolution, for instance, might create a surge of interest in war-related books from that time, Bernard said, “I’ve never seen an anniversary or a new movie trend toward an uptick in sales.” However, he added, that there were exceptions. He saw sales in Tolkien editions rise with when the Ring Trilogy movies came out, and Black Panther, currently in cinemas, seems to be boosting prices for Fantastic Four and Black Panther comic books.

It’s not just first editions of famous children’s books that are on display at the fair. Brian Cassidy, the bookseller based in Silver Spring, has several books at his booth that were handmade by children simply for their own enjoyment. “I call these vernacular or folk books,” he said. One, a large-format, hand-drawn-and-illustrated manuscript called Down Home with the Bailem County Kids dates from the early 1970s and recounts the adventures of a group of ethnically diverse friends. He thinks the book originated in Texas. The asking price: $4,500.

Another one-off, created by 11-year-old twin brothers in the 1960s, is a book-length murder mystery they wrote and illustrated with black-and-white photos of the two boys acting out scenes from the story. Cassidy said that he hadn’t advertised the book on his website because he wanted to present it for the first time at the fair.  “I like to have marquee pieces that are inherently unique,” he said, and he likes his booth to have an entirely new set of books on display each year.

As I walked through the last aisle of the fair, I was feeling a little sad to be leaving empty handed. But then I caught a glimpse of a beautiful edition of a children’s book illustrated by Jessie Willcox Smith, an American artist from the “golden age” whose pictures I loved as a child. This was a first edition of a particular format of Willcox’s Mother Goose, dating from the 1920s. What made it unusual was that it had all its color plates intact and was in excellent condition.

Terry Johanson, of Johanson Rare Books, told me she had bought this Mother Goose from the private collection of a family who lived near her shop in Baltimore. The original price ($2.50) was penciled on the inside cover. I desperately wanted it, but I feared the new price, almost a century later, would be out of my range. Huge relief — this big, gorgeous book could be mine for $100.

So though in the end I didn’t think that any of the books in my own collection could really find a home at the fair, there was the chance that I could take something from the fair back home. Whether I would keep my purchase as pristine as its previous owners had was another question. Precious as untouched books may be, their real value — to me at least — is in reading them.


Women in antiquarian bookselling: interview with Heather O’Donnell and Rebecca Romney of Honey & Wax Booksellers

Heather O’Donnell (left) and Rebecca Romney from Honey & Wax

To celebrate International Women’s Day on 8 March and that March is Women’s History Month, we asked Heather O’Donnell and Rebecca Romney of Honey & Wax Booksellers in Brooklyn, New York, about the current situation for women in antiquarian bookselling. Heather and Rebecca are experienced booksellers, who have both worked for Bauman Rare Books in the past.  Heather founded Honey & Wax in 2011 and Rebecca joined the business in 2016. In 2017, they launched a book collecting contest specifically for women book collectors in the United States aged 30 or younger. Visitors to the 2018 New York Antiquarian Book Fair can meet Heather and Rebecca in person at booth E9.

AbeBooks: What are the challenges facing women wishing to get into antiquarian bookselling?

Honey & Wax: Antiquarian bookselling is a tough trade to break into, no matter who you are. Women who deal in rare books face some particular challenges: the assumption (by both men and women) that you’re a shop girl, not in charge; the continual need to prove your expertise while male colleagues are taken at face value as authorities; customers who want to flirt instead of collect. But we believe a positive cultural shift is happening within the trade today, and we are encouraged by the changes we’ve seen over the past few years.

AbeBooks: How are things changing?

Honey & Wax: The Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America (ABAA) has been leading on this issue. In 2016, during the presidency of Mary Gilliam, the membership approved a Code of Conduct clarifying and strengthening the organization’s policy against discrimination and harassment of all kinds. Later that year, the ABAA launched its Women’s Initiative, founded “to promote greater involvement and participation of women in the book trade.” Claudia Strauss-Schulson of Schulson Autographs is the chair of that committee, which continues its work under current ABAA president Vic Zoschak and executive director Susan Benne.

The ABAA Women’s Initiative has organized a series of networking events for women interested in the trade, drawing librarians and collectors as well as booksellers. The committee hosts the Facebook group “Women in Rare Books and Manuscripts,” which includes over 600 members; celebrates the achievements of influential women in the trade (honoring the great California bookseller Carol Sandberg last month); and will be sponsoring a panel discussion on “Collections and Women” at the 2018 New York Antiquarian Book Fair.

Bookseller Liz Young at the 2017 London Antiquarian Book Fair

We’re also seeing more women holding leadership positions within the trade. More women are serving on the ABAA Board of Governors than in years past, and Australian book dealer Sally Burdon of Asia Bookroom just became president of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (ILAB). The annual Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar, which provides an intensive introduction to the trade for new booksellers, has increasingly foregrounded questions of diversity and representation, in large part because the students insist on raising them.

Perhaps the biggest change, over the past few years, has been a greater awareness from male booksellers of some of the challenges facing their female colleagues. That recognition has created allies who make a point of crediting the contributions of the women who work with them, and who speak up when they witness something obnoxious.

AbeBooks: Which female sellers from earlier generations inspired you?

A 1927 photo of Sylvia Beach

Honey & Wax: There are so many! Where do we start? When do we stop? We think of the legends: Sylvia Beach, the American expatriate in Paris most famous for publishing Joyce’s Ulysses when others were too afraid to take the risk, and her partner Adrienne Monnier, one of the first women in France to own her own independent bookshop. We think of Madeleine Stern and Leona Rostenberg, “an institution in the world of antiquarian bookselling,” whose bestselling books introduced the trade to countless bibliophiles. Or Kit Currie, who quietly made herself indispensable within some of the great firms of the 20th century, like Bertram Rota and H.P. Kraus. And we think of Frances Steloff, whose Gotham Book Mart did so much for readers of literature on both sides of the Atlantic.

AbeBooks: And who inspires you today among the latest generation of sellers?

Heather O’Donnell: The London dealer Sophie Schneideman was a role model for me before I even knew her, as someone who had left one of the most venerable English firms, Maggs, to strike out successfully on her own as a specialty dealer in fine press and artists’ books. I’m continually inspired by Sophie’s business acumen, her encyclopedic knowledge of the material she sells, and the thoughtfulness she brings to every interaction with her colleagues and customers.

Rebecca Romney: Just over a week ago, one of the titans of our trade passed, Helen Younger, of Aleph-Bet Books. I’ve felt this loss keenly, even though Helen and I were only acquaintances. But it’s because I deeply admired her. The expertise she wielded in her chosen field, children’s books, brought a truly exceptional degree of breadth, depth, and taste to Aleph-Bet. Moreover, she is one of the great examples of the “work hard and don’t complain” school; she always strove to excel, despite significant health issues. When I think of my inspirations in the trade, Helen’s example pulls at me like gravity, gently but insistently.

AbeBooks: Does Honey & Wax attract female customers because it has two high profile female booksellers?

Honey & Wax: Not that we are aware. We do, anecdotally, seem to have more regular women customers than many of our colleagues in the antiquarian book trade, but that’s likely due to our focus on literature, the arts, and education: fields in which women have long played an active role, both as creators and collectors.

AbeBooks: If you could change one thing about the antiquarian bookselling business what would it be?

Honey & Wax: As we’re being interviewed for International Women’s Day, we’d like to see more men take an active interest in addressing the gender imbalance at the top of our trade, which is no one’s fault, but everyone’s responsibility. The progress women are making in the book trade is part of a larger, overdue cultural shift, and men are as fundamental to that shift as women: in some sense, even more so, because men control so many of the most powerful firms, and can do the most immediate good in terms of hiring, training, and promoting young women booksellers. The antiquarian book trade is slow to change, and in truth, we don’t expect to see gender parity in the ABAA for many years, but we’d like to live to see it.

AbeBooks: Who is a female author you believe is underrated?

Heather O’Donnell: I’ve really enjoyed discovering the German writer Irmgard Keun, who published a series of sharp, swift satires during the 1930s. In novels like The Artificial Silk Girl (1932), blacklisted for its “anti-German tendency,” and After Midnight (1937), written after Keun had fled the country, the ugliness of the Nazis is revealed in flashes and glimpses, felt by the distracted characters rather than truly understood, as it must have been experienced at the time.

I’m also a fan of Kennedy Fraser’s writing for The New Yorker in the 1970s, collected in The Fashionable Mind (1981). In essays like “Fitness,” “Recession Dressing,” and “The Executive Woman,” Fraser pays steady, respectful attention to American fashion, and it pays her (and her readers) back. I also love the Australian writer Helen Garner’s recent collection, Everywhere I Look (2016), which includes the only essay I have shared with both my mother and my daughter: “The Insults of Age.”

Rebecca Romney: After we acquired a couple books by Ann Petry, I decided to read her masterpiece The Street (1946). After having read it, I am flummoxed as to why this book isn’t commonly read in high school literature classes right along with Invisible Man and To Kill a Mockingbird. It is a powerful narrative of a well-educated, hardworking single mother’s struggle with poverty that offers both rational and emotional arguments against class and racial prejudice.

I’d also like to mention Octavia Butler, not as The Great Black Woman Science Fiction Writer (although the exploration of race and gender in her work is second to none), but as one of the greatest science fiction writers of the past 50 years, period. Yes, her star has certainly been rising steadily since her death – but I believe it has a much higher elevation yet to reach in order to reflect the true importance of her work.


Romance Novels of the Jazz Age and Depression Eras

Jessica Kahan

In 2017, Honey and Wax Booksellers launched an innovative book collecting prize open to women collectors in the United States, aged 30 or younger.

“We take a particular interest in the evolving role of women in the rare book trade, on both the buying and selling sides. The great American book collector Mary Hyde Eccles, the first woman elected to the Grolier Club, noted that a collector must have three things: resources, education, and freedom. Historically, she observed, ‘only a few women have had all three, but times are changing!’ We embrace that change,” wrote Honey and Wax, a business based in Brooklyn, New York, run by Heather O’Donnell and Rebecca Romney. Entrants had to supply an essay about their collection, a bibliography and a three-book wishlist.

The contest returns in 2018 and AbeBooks.com is supporting the initiative. To whet your appetite, here is the essay from the 2017 winner, Jessica Kahan, a public librarian in Ohio, who took home the $1,000 prize. Jessica has collected around 300 popular American romance novels from the 1920s and 1930s, all in their original dust jackets. She pays particular attention to the rise of the modern career woman as an archetype, and to how historical events (such as Prohibition and the Olympics) are reflected in the genre. Highlights of Jessica’s collection can be seen on her blog, thegoodbadbook.

This essay is reproduced courtesy of Jessica Kahan, and Honey and Wax Booksellers.

Romance Novels of the Jazz Age and Depression Eras

“He was the sort who, after knowing a girl for years, would ask permission to hold her hand.”  What a description of a soon-to-be rejected suitor!  More than 85 years after Vida Hurst wrote that line for Blind Date (1931), I couldn’t help but laugh and marvel at the freshness of a different generation’s barb.  The path I traveled to own and read such a “Sparkling Romance of the Modern Girl” started about eight years ago.

Back in the spring of 2009, I was a junior at Cornell University, fortunate enough to take a history of the book class taught by a rare book curator.  One assignment that semester was to write a mid-size paper on a genre of fiction and, as a Feminist, Gender, and Sexuality Studies major, one genre in particular had caught my eye:  20th century romance novels.  In researching that assignment at the Kroch Rare Book and Manuscript Library, I asked to see 1920s or 1930s romance novels.  I didn’t know any titles or authors to request, which was no problem for the reference librarian.  About 15 minutes later, I was in the reading room, completely awed by the rare books in my hands.  One of the books that fascinated me the most was Georgette MacMillan’s Stepping Out:  A Love Story.

The Good Bad Girl by Winifred Van Duzer

About 10 months later, in February of 2010, I was browsing at The Bookery in downtown Ithaca when a book caught my attention.  That book was The Good Bad Girl by Winifred Van Duzer, about Mimsi Marsh and her quest to be an artist in New York City.  When I found The Good Bad Girl in dust jacket, I first realized that I could collect the books I had loved so much within the library setting.  Until that moment of discovery, I had thought pre-1945 romance novels in dust jacket were more or less unobtainable or were prohibitively expensive.

Throughout 2010, my collection slowly began to accumulate as I started graduate school at the University of Michigan.  At first some of the books I purchased aside from The Good Bad Girl weren’t the sharpest, but at least they all had their original dust jackets and I was learning.  I visited multiple antiquarian book fairs, bookstores, and began searching the Internet for anything and everything I could find about dust jacketed romance novels.  Frustrated with the lack of readily available information online about 1920-1930s romance novels, I decided to start a blog, thegoodbadbook, to write about the vintage books I’ve read.  The blog was named in honor of The Good Bad Girl, which was also my inaugural book review.  Those early collecting years focused mostly on Grosset and Dunlap published first editions, a seeming oxymoron from what was usually a reprint house.

From its earliest days, my collection strives to capture women’s experiences through the lens of romance novels in the decades between women’s suffrage and World War Two.  My collection falls in-between the first and second wave feminism in what I consider an understudied era for women.  These romances were mostly cranked out for serial publications, which were then published in book form.  They feature formulaic or melodramatic plotlines, occasional descriptions of current fashion, and thin characters yet dance around issues of social status, working women, money, marriage, infidelity, and much more.  Plot lines in which I am especially interested involve women choosing between two suitors, one representing “love” and the other “money,” as well as plots concerning women moving to a big city to pursue various careers.  I look for whether a “love or money” plot mentions the Depression, unemployment, or any other allusion to current events.  In the novels which mention more parties with alcohol, I read in the context of prohibition.  I also search for mentions of evolving technologies (e.g. aviation), mention of current events (e.g. 1932 Olympics), and slang (e.g. and how!).

It’s safe to say that 1920s and 1930s romances helped carry me through the tumultuous year following graduate school.  I placed in the 2012 National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest, and marveled that my romance novels took me to the Library of Congress.  Martha O’Hara Conway sponsored my entry through the University of Michigan Special Collections Library, where I worked at that time.  The “celebration book” I bought was Make-Up by Alma Sioux Scarberry, unique to my collection in that it has the original Grosset and Dunlap advertising wrap-around band on top of its dust jacket.

Saleslady by Harold Morrow

Due to the obscurity of my collecting scope, I search nationwide for the books I love.  I used to prefer buying books in person but had to put that idea on hold when I moved to Charleston, South Carolina.  My favorite bookstores were very far away but I communicated regularly with my favorite book dealers.  The rare book highlight of my time in South Carolina was when I traveled to the New York Antiquarian Book Fair and “The Shadow Show” during Rare Book Week 2014.  At the ABAA Book Fair, I found the department store romance Saleslady by Harold Morrow, at Yesterday’s Gallery and Babylon Revisited Rare Books’ booth.   At that time, I had been searching for Saleslady for nearly two years.

When I moved to Ohio in 2015, I started buying books in two very different roles: my professional responsibility as a Children’s and Teen Collection Development Librarian and my personal rare book collection. As a seasoned collector of romance novels, I only purchase titles within a narrow scope, avoiding books that take up filler space, and know when to act quickly on special finds.

Collection highlights are books that take my breath away upon first sight.  I know them when I see them.  I consider items in the collection “strong” for various reasons.  Blond Trouble by Rob Eden has a humorously outlandish plot premise, and is in fantastic condition with a Pomeroy’s Department Store sticker.  Recently, in the spring of 2017, From Nine to Five reminded me that books I’m searching for are still out there.  I had listed From Nine to Five by Mary Badger Wilson in the original Penn Publishing edition in my 2012 NCBCC wish list and five years later, I found it, complete with the publisher’s bookmark still attached to the dust jacket.  And of course, The Good Bad Girl by Winifred Van Duzer always holds a special place in my collection and heart.

My collection may not be the pinnacle of fine literature but like flaws in the story, I regard flaws in the physical book as not always a negative.  In fact, I prefer the books with traces of previous ownership, such as an owner inscription or bookplate.  One collection highlight, Stolen Love by Hazel Livingston, contains several pasted in contemporary Hollywood magazine clippings of actors the reader imagined “cast” for the book, notably different than the actors actually cast for the movie adaptation.  I also appreciate original bookseller’s stickers or stamps, especially in conjunction with a previous owner’s name.  With the help of census records, I’ve been able to track down some of my books’ original owners, and have been able to trace the probable journey of some of these books, as noted in my bibliography.  Some of my romance novels really didn’t travel far before joining my collection, and a good portion of the women I found took interest in these books around the same age I first did.

No Such Girl by Vida Hurst

After completing my 50-item collections highlight bibliography, I realized how much my collection has taken off in the past five years.  I compared it to my 2012 bibliography and looked back upon several years of successful collecting.  The toughest part about completing the bibliography was narrowing down 50 highlights that best captured the essence of my romance novel collection.  Each author is only represented once.  I have approximately 300 books.  For the bibliography, I cut my “Career and Collegiate” sub-collection, including my favorite librarian career novels.  Even Blind Date, quoted at the beginning of this essay, was cut in favor of No Such Girl by Vida Hurst, one of the few romance novels I have set in my home state of Michigan.

Staying true to time period and audience, there are many exciting directions in which my collection can still grow.  Professional commitments such as serving on a regional Mock Caldecott and Newbery Committee have slowed down the blog, but it’s certainly not forgotten.  I’d like to continue adding to my annotated bibliography and piecing together how my books traveled around the country.  Future projects could include further study of 1920s romance ownership, more formal or extended writing on the books’ content, or even producing a bibliography in an admittedly much more narrow scope than either Bleiler on science fiction or Hubin on mysteries.

For now, I continue to live my life and build my collection one book at a time.  I consider book collecting to be my favorite hobby and take great pride in my collection.

Jessica Kahan


A souper valuable pop art dress from Campbell’s Soup

The Souper Dress could be obtained for $1 and 2 can labels

It’s a piece of clothing. It’s advertising. It’s pop art. It’s ephemera. It’s the Souper Dress. Created by Campbell’s Soup, this is a dress specifically designed to help sell cans of soup by riding on the coattails of Andy Warhol’s iconic image from 1962.

It’s a disposable, screen-printed dress made of 20% cotton and 80% cellulose. The label says it’s fire resistant (remember everyone smoked in the 1960s) unless washed or cleaned.

Andy Warhol

Advertised via print ads (“a pretty groovy deal just for enjoying Campbell’s Vegetable Soup”), soup eaters had to mail off two labels from Campbell’s soup tins and $1 in order to receive a dress.

Today, surviving Souper Dresses are worth thousands of dollars. There are three of them listed for sale on AbeBooks.com at $4,000, $4,965 and $5,175 respectively.

This is an example of industry following art. Today, famous pieces of art are often referenced in advertising but it is rare that the consumer can become involved by wearing the promotional object. It’s a shame that Campbell’s didn’t develop a Souper Suit.

Warhol’s initial soup can image – featuring 32 separate canvases, each featuring a different variety of soup – introduced pop art to many people. The image was met with bemusement when it was first displayed. Why would an artist focus on something so mundane? It turned out to be a ground-breaking moment in modern art as more and more images from mass culture began to be incorporated into fine art. Warhol went on to make numerous variations on the soup can image. The original can be seen in New York’s Museum of Modern Art.

“No cleaning – No washing….”

This Souper Dress costs $4,000 from food specialist lizzyoung bookseller