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2015 Bookseller Resource Guide
FB&C 34

Recycle or Reuse?

I would like to respond to Barbara Young’s impassioned letter (FB&C #34) regarding the “destruction” of books by altered-book artists. First of all, it is refreshing to hear from a bookseller who still maintains a reverence for books! As a book dealer who also has a passion for fine and important books and ephemera, I empathize with Ms. Young’s feelings. It is easy to become jaded after many years in the trade, handling (or trying not to handle) tens of thousands of books that no one will ever purchase or?read.

It is these unwanted, unloved books that are most commonly used by altered-book artists. And I will admit that I am participating, on an amateur basis, in this fairly new art form. But I have found that most groups—be they online interest groups, International Society of Altered Book Artists (ISABA) members, local round-robin groups, or classes—emphasize the use of books that have lost their value, both economically and culturally. All of these groups beg artists to avoid using unique or exceptional books.

I’m sure that most booksellers recognize that there is a vast trove of orphan books. In the article on penny sellers that appears later in the same issue, Eugene Okamoto of Harvest Books states, “I pulp about 10,000 books a month.” We all realize that hundreds of thousands of books are pulped or consigned to landfills each year. Altered-book artists feel that they are rescuing and recycling such books by giving them new life as objects of art. And in fact, altered books are appearing in exhibitions, art galleries, and even some bookshops that cater to artists’ books and other fine?artwork.

I have seen far more—and more horrifying—depredations of exceptional books at the hands of the book and print dealers who strip antiquarian gems of their plates and maps. Everything from Gutenberg Bibles, Audubon folios, and medieval manuscripts to books containing fine chromolithographs, photographs, and historic maps are routinely dismantled because some dealers say to themselves, “I can get more for the individual plates or maps than for the book.” In this process, the context is destroyed, not to mention the integrity of the book.

Of course, there are many books that have value only as breakers, due to their condition or other issues, but some dealers seem to feel that any book that is worth more money in its parts than in its sum is fair game. Many more fine books are destroyed for mercenary reasons than by altered-book artists.

Lee Kirk
The Prints & The Paper
Eugene, Oregon

Point of Orders

The Turkey Press double-page spread (“Fine Presses,” FB&C #34) looks wonderful. We extend our thanks to Richard Goodman for the effort he took to convey the essential spirit of our work in a very limited amount of space. My assistant said, “Yes, he really gets it when he says it’s a marriage of aesthetics.” Richard’s very kind words about our book Kinnikinnick Brand Kickapoo Joy-Juice have elicited four orders. Never before in the history of all the articles written about us have we received more orders than manuscript submissions.

The most surprising order came from a special-collections librarian who was unfamiliar with our work. Thanks to the article, he ordered a copy of Kinnikinnick. After we corresponded further, he ordered seven more titles! This is a wonderful story, and I have to lay the body at your doorstep. We have signed on as subscribers to Fine Books and await Richard’s next interview.

I have one small correction to the story, however. While I have learned many things from my husband and partner, Harry Reese, and it is unlikely that I would be doing this kind of work had we never met, I was never a student of his in the conventional sense, as the story implies.

Sandra Liddell Reese
Turkey Press
Isla Vista, California

Book Burning

Many of your readers protest the altering of common books to create pieces of art, or lament the dismantling of scarce books to be sold page-by-page and plate-by-plate.

I do not doubt that they would deplore the following: Recently, a customer told me that a man insistently offered him $50 for one of his books, which was made completely of hemp. So my customer sold it and asked the buyer why he was so desirous of this book, whereupon the buyer gleefully replied that he planned to roll his cigarettes with the hemp pages!

Susan McElheran
The Old Sage Bookshop
Prescott, Arizona

What’s in a Name?

Permit me to offer an additional, important point to the fine article about bookplates by Joel Silver (“Beyond the Basics,” FB&C #34). Very few booksellers or collectors know how to distinguish the heraldic devices of two members of the same family with the same name. I once purchased a book, not for the provenance but for the content, with a bookplate advertised to be that of the playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Many years later, an English acquaintance pointed out that the heraldic device on the bookplate was that of the playwright’s grandson of the same name. Very recently I bought a reading copy of a modern book with a bookplate that included a first name, two middle initials, a last name, and an illustration. In looking up this name in a biographical dictionary,

I discovered that the name and initials could be of two people, a father and his son with the same four names.

Ronald K. Smeltzer
Princeton, New Jersey

Mountainous Correction

I would like to provide a slight correction to last issue’s “Auction Report.” Under the title of “Top of the World,” your reporter stated that Jim Whittaker was the “first disabled person to reach the summit” of Mt.?Everest. This is incorrect. Jim Whittaker was the first American to reach the summit of Everest, in 1963. The first disabled person credited with summiting Everest was the American Tom Whittaker (no relation to Jim), in 1998.

Gregg Orr
Saint Louis, Missouri