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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

There are maps for everything, including Cholera epidemics

An epidemiological map depicting the spread of the 1892 Cholera Epidemic across Russia

There are maps of many things besides countries, cities and transit networks. This is a 1893 Russian map depicting the spread of Cholera – the faint red arrows show the spread of the disease northwards from Persia. This epidemic claimed more than 250,000 lives. It entered Russia, travelled across the Caspian Sea, through the Caucuses and then up north-westwards across the Steppes to infect Kiev, Moscow, St. Petersburg and Warsaw. Even then it didn’t stop and still managed to reach Siberia. Poverty and poor hygiene made it easy for this infectious disease to move across such a vast country. Typically, Cholera is contracted via infected water supplies. Learn more.

The Forgotten Cookbooks of Sophia Loren

Sophia Loren loves hearty Italian dishes

Decades before we had endure the endless stream of celebrity cookbooks from major and minor stars, Italian film actress Sophia Loren was in the business of writing recipe books.

Loren’s food books definitely count as celebrity cookbooks – after all, she was one of the world’s most famous people in the 1950s and 1960s – but the actress has a different relationship with food to most of us. One doesn’t truly appreciate food until you have gone without it and we can be assured that Loren’s passion for hearty Italian cooking is genuine.

Born in 1934, Loren’s family moved to Naples where they endured the German occupation of the city and an appalling lack of food. Even after the Allied Forces arrived in October 1943, the Neapolitans continued on the verge of starvation, scavenging for food in fields and along the shoreline, looking for anything that could be turned into a soup or broth. Read Norman Lewis’ Naples ’44 to learn more. Naples is famed for many dishes, especially sea food, and is credited with originating Margherita Pizza in the 16th century.

Sophia Loren’s pizza dough goes airborn

After the war, Loren and her family returned to her hometown of Pozzuoli where they ran a bar from their home. Sophia was the waitress and dishwasher until making her first acting appearance at the age of 15. She was a star in Italy at 20 and famous worldwide five years later.  In 1961, she won an Oscar for best actress for her role in Two Women, even though it was a non-English language film.

During the 1970s, Loren took less film roles and concentrated on bringing up her family. That time at home also resulted in her cookbook, In Cucina con Amore, published in Italian in 1971 by Rizzoli. A year later, the cookbook was published in America as In the Kitchen With Love – copies are now difficult to find and prices can be as high as $400– and also the UK as Eat with Me.

The photography is eye-catching. Sophia wears early 1970s high fashion (flares, head scarves, big, flowing dresses) while introducing Aubergine Mayonnaise Crostini and her favorite variation of meatballs. Wooden panels abound in the dining rooms and kitchens. The image of Loren with a gigantic wooden fork and spoon on either side of her face is memorable.

In 1998, Sophia Loren’s Recipes & Memories was published. It’s a large format book that includes photos of her life as well as recipes such as Neapolitan lamb stew, a sweet-savory rice dish made with turkey, chestnuts, and dried fruit, and numerous classic Italian dishes. Used copies of this book are easy to find and cheap too.

In her 2014 autobiography called Yesterday, Today, Tomorrow: My Life, Loren opens the book with a sentence about struffoli, traditional Neopolitan Christmas pastry. She goes on to write of the years in war-torn Naples: “Hunger was the major theme of my childhood… As time passed there was no more buying food, no money, no supplies. On some days, we wouldn’t even have a crumb to eat.” Her mother begged on the streets for food. When the Americans marched into Naples, a soldier tossed some chocolate to Loren and she didn’t know what it was. Food and particular dishes made by her relations are mentioned time and again in passing, particularly when she returns to Italy after starring in another Hollywood blockbuster with the likes of Cary Grant, Richard Burton, Charlton Heston, Gregory Peck or Paul Newman.

“The recipe that gives me the greatest satisfaction is la Genovese, those 10 pounds of onion sautéed until they are soft, to which I add rolls of stuffed meat, and let everything simmer for four hours.”

Let’s remember this is the woman who is supposed to have said: “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti.”

In 2013, Rizzoli republished Cucina con Amore featuring some additional content but Loren’s English language cookbooks remain out of print. Considering Vincent Price’s Treasury of Great Recipes and Salvador Dali’s Les Diners de Gala have both been republished in recent years, it’s time an English language publisher revised Loren’s In the Kitchen With Love for a helping of classic Italian cuisine.

Sophia tends to her chickens

Sophia Loren pictured in her 1971 cookbook In Cucina con Amore.

Sophia Loren with a dish of risotto with eggplant

Sophia, with her cook Livia, looks startled in this shot.

Sophia Loren in Houseboat with Cary Grant

Sophia Loren celebrates her 25th birthday in 1959

Sophia Loren’s 2014 autobiography

No sausage! Scarce 1878 cookbook with first recipe for jambalaya goes on sale

A scarce first edition of an 1878 cookbook containing the first recorded recipe for jambalaya has been listed for sale on AbeBooks. The Gulf City Cook Book was compiled by the “ladies of the St. Francis Street Methodist Episcopal Church South” from Mobile, Alabama. This historic church still exists although the current building was built in 1896.

The book, published by the United Brethren Publishing House, Dayton, Ohio, is bound in blue cloth with gilt lettering.  As well as a host of Cajun and Creole recipes, the book includes remedies for illnesses and guides to making drinks. The recipe calls the dish “Jam Bolaya” and describes what needs to be done in two sentences. It does not include sausage, which is a key ingredient for most modern jambalaya recipes.

The origins of jambalaya are from Louisiana’s Spanish and French roots. The first appearance of anything relating to jambalaya, the word “jambalaia”, was in a 1837 French book written in the Provencal dialect. In 18th century Louisiana, Spanish colonists lacked saffron in order to make paella so they improvised and jambalaya was the result. Andouille, a French sausage, is often used in modern recipes.

The first edition of the Gulf City Cook Book is listed for sale at $7,500 by a bookseller called Yesterday’s Gallery in East Woodstock, Connecticut. It is the only copy on AbeBooks.  The University of Alabama published a reprint in 1990. This is the first time that a first edition of the Gulf City Cook Book has been offered on AbeBooks since our launch in 1996.

Churches have a long history of producing cookbooks, as a way of sharing recipes and raising funds.  Scarce examples published in the 19th century are priced anywhere from $300 to $1,500 depending on condition and their historical significance.

Collectors of cookbooks often look for early editions where particular dishes are documented for the first time. Early English and French cookbooks are particularly treasured as they helped shape the cuisine and kitchens we know today. The most expensive cookbook to sell via AbeBooks was Mastering the Art of French Cooking (signed first editions of volumes 1 and 2) by Julia Child for $7,500.

In case you are looking for something to cook this weekend, the 1878 “Jam Bolaya” recipe, lacking sausage, is….

“Have the lard hot, put in flour, cook to a light brown, with a medium-sized onion. Take the giblets, neck, small part of the wings and feet of your chicken, and put in the lard; add half a cup of prepared tomatoes, two dozen oysters, with their liquor, pepper and salt to taste; put in nearly a pint of rice, one table-spoonful of butter, stir frequently when nearly done, set back on the stove and let steam.”

See the book

Scarce ‘Photographs of Mexico’ book sells for $15,000

An image from Paul Strand’s Photographs of Mexico

A scarce photography book by Paul Strand, whose modernist images helped turn photography into an art form, has sold for $15,000 on AbeBooks.com.

Photographs of Mexico was published in 1940 and features stark black and white hand-pulled photogravure images. Strictly speaking, it’s a portfolio of 20 loose leaf images. Strand, an American born in New York, took the images on several trips to Mexico between 1933 and 1934.

Only 250 copies were printed

The images feature landscapes, buildings and people, and can be classified as important examples of social realism – an art movement where ordinary people and their humble surroundings are displayed. Walker Evans, Dorothea Lange, and Margaret Bourke-White are other examples of social realist photographers.

Photographs of Mexico was published by Strand’s second wife, Virginia Stevens. Just 250 copies were printed. Only one other copy is listed for sale on AbeBooks.com, at $13,506.

Photogravure is a printing method where a copper plate is coated with a light-sensitive gelatin tissue which had been exposed to a film positive, and then etched, resulting in a print that can reproduce the detail of a photograph.

In the introduction to Photographs of Mexico, Strand thanks the technicians at the Photogravure and Color Company, and writes “I believe that these hand gravures mark a step forward in the art of reproduction processes.”

Stand’s other subjects have included Outer Hebrides, Egypt, and Ghana. His images of New York’s Wall Street are famous for showing faceless workers trudging between enormous buildings dedicated to capitalism and wealth.