Monday, December 28, 2009

The Great Unknown - Maps and 2010

Cataloguing this map of the North American continent makes me ponder the fine points of life and journeys as we move into a new year.  While often the appeal of maps is in enabling us to chart our physical journeys and to provide a sense of secure boundaries as we head out in life or the world, for me this map, from a little over 200 years ago, encapsulates the exact opposite: the fascination of the unknown.  The map shows the North American continent at the end of the 18th century, with a wide empty expanse stretching from the Mississippi River to the Pacific Coast.  That "empty space" allows the imagination free rein and a sense of wonder of what the passing years have brought.  I wish you a safe and stimulating journey into that yet unwritten New Year of 2010...
A General Map of North America. From the best Authorities.
No date. Ca. late 1790s.
Engraved map with outline handcolor, 7 1/2 x 9 inches on sheet size 8 1/2 x 10 1/4 inches, centerfold as issued. Very good clean condition.
This map is a striking depiction of the North American continent on the eve of the great Western explorations by the United States. The United States occupies the eastern seaboard, with a wide mostly empty expanse to the west. New Mexico and Louisiana are marked as areas to the west of the Mississippi in the south. The western coast of the North American continent is well delineated following the Third Voyage of Captain Cook in the late 1770s and subsequent British and American expeditions. The Columbia River to "Pt. Vancouver" is marked, following Robert Gray's navigation of the river in 1792. Teguayo is marked in what is now the Salt Lake region, but otherwise the west is depicted as a blank canvas. Looking at this map which dates to the end of the 1700s, one can certainly feel the imperative to western expansion that drove Thomas Jefferson to send Meriwether Lewis and his expedition to explore this vast area after the Louisiana Purchase of 1803. The map is possibly from William Guthrie's "A New Geographical, Historical and Commercial Grammar" (cirac 1795). $ 165.00

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair

I'm back in Portland recovering from the 2009 Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair where Old Imprints exhibited last weekend.  Under the management of Louis Collins and David Gregor this is always a stimulating and enjoyable event - thank you, Louis and David, for all your hard work!  In fact, after several years of my not participating, it was a bit of a shock to be reminded of how much work is involved on everyone's part (which goes a way to explaining my silence)!  Oddly, it seemed more difficult than preparing for the Hong Kong Antiquarian Book Fair (coming up at the beginning of December) or the Miami International Map Fair (at the end of January 2009), but I think that there are probably several reasons for that, including that I didn't start early enough on the planning and that I took a lot more books (for the other fairs I basically fill a suitcase or two of somewhat lighter-weight ephemera or maps, or send items ahead:  this show involved a Suburban-full of hefty boxes which my husband and I hauled down and then up the ramp into the building).  That said, it was worth the effort and a pleasure to be one of a most impressive slate of exhibitors.  Fortunately, with 100 dealers (of whom over half were members of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America / International League of Antiquarian Booksellers)  there was an interesting diversity of stock, with price points from less than 10 to the 100s of 1000s of dollars.  During quiet moments, I enjoyed the stunning stock and charming company of my neighbors, the Ahearns of Quill and Brush of Maryland in the next door booth and Dennis and Dennis of First Folio, Alabama across the aisle.  We are so fortunate in the Pacific Northwest to have a fair that attracts such talent from across the country, and I certainly hope that these dealers find good reasons to return! 

A good attendance on the first day of the fair was most encouraging, with many buyers carrying multiple purchases, although I felt that in general people were weighing their purchases, and choosing perhaps one item out of several that interested them.  The general opinion from those who have done the fair for several years seemed to be that sales were good after the battering taken last year at what was a very impropitious time as the economic sky fell in.   The majority of my sales were to dealers, a fact that probably reflects the continued reticence on the part of the general public to indulge in "luxury" purchases (after all we dealers are able to enjoy the pleasures of shopping under the classification of "business decision" rather than "personal indulgence"), and also the fact of occupying a lower position on the food chain of dealers present!

Slower traffic on Sunday (might as well look on the bright side here!) allowed us to enjoy the collegiality of dealers present, including Jeff Weber of Jeff Weber Rare Books who graciously shared information on the example of  fore-edge painting we had on display.  We'll share his comments on this in our next entry - and look forward to his forthcoming book on this fascinating area of book collecting (yes, I am incorrigibly interested in the graphics!)   Other snippets of information also surfaced over the weekend, for example, a customer admiring a beautiful leather bound set of the essays and plays of Maeterlinck that we have for sale, was overheard remarking that interest in Maeterlinck is at a low point... Unfortunately I was otherwise occupied and unable to ask him why - is this just the ebb and flow of interest, or perhaps related to the plagiarist origins of Maeterlinck's work on termites???

For me, with my interest in all things map-related, a high point of the weekend was The Book Club of Washington dinner, held at the elegant and art-filled Rainier Club.  The speaker was Derek Hayes, author of many excellent books on historical maps, which are distinguished by their inviting presentation and wide ranging coverage.  He talked about some of the 600 maps featured in his new book Historical Atlas of the American West.  Since my interest in mapping tends to the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, areas which have received little attention until recently, I expressed my appreciation to the author for including maps of this period in his books.  Interestingly, he pointed out the difficulty of identifying and obtaining copyright permission for these as a reason that they are not more widely published.  I have been dipping into this thick, copiously illustrated volume since coming back from the show, and highly recommend it to anyone interested in maps or history.

The 2010 Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair is slated for October 9 and 10, 2010: mark the date in your diaries now!

Friday, September 4, 2009

Arctic Beauty

Snow and ice have a particular beauty, especially when viewed at a safe distance through the pages of a book. 

The atmospheric aquatint at left which so beautifully conveys this cold and dangerous beauty, is from an unusual account: "A Voyage to Hudson's Bay, during the summer of 1812. Containing a Particular Account of the Icebergs and Other Phenomena which Present Themselves in Those Regions; also, a Description of the Esquimeaux and North American Indians; Their Manners, Customs, Dress, Language, &c. &c. &c." by Thomas McKeevor, M.D. which we have just catalogued and added to our website. 

This voyage carried the second party of the Selkirk colonists on their way to the Red River Colony.  The "very liberal offer of the Earl of Selkirk, induced [the writer] to become the medical attendant on his Lordship's colony." By the time of writing this account (1819), McKeevor was safely back in Ireland, the Assistant to the Dublin Lying-in Hospital; however his specialty in obstetrics provides interesting observations on the Native American Indians of the Red River area.  For an informed commentary on this see the article by D.A. Stewart, M.D. in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, June 1928: An Obstetrician-Adventurer to the Hudson's Bay in 1812 - Dr. Thomas McKeevor .  The only illustration of North American Indian interest is that of "Esquimeaux Spectacles"; paramount in the illustrations is the fascination with ice, quite understandable when one of the titles is

"The Field of Ice against which the Ship was Striking"

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Poster mania... the allure of the product

Various factors contributed to the starting of this blog, one of which was the recent Swann Galleries auction of vintage posters in New York and the sheer pleasure of viewing those amazing images. Vintage posters are one of my personal passions (confession: not too many posters of Australia make it to my website)!

Since the reason for their existence is promotion, poster graphics HAVE to be eye-catching, so great pattern and strong color are the norm. Posters are by nature an ephemeral medium, here today and gone tomorrow; while for a brief time at the time of the heyday of the French poster in the late nineteenth century posters were desirable as collector items (and they would be spirited off the walls), it was only in the last decades of the twentieth century that a strong market for vintage posters emerged; by the looks of the prices realised at the August 2009 Swann auction, it is surviving the recession. The good news is that you don't have to spend the several thousand dollars that some of these posters bring at auction to own a beautiful poster.

There were two factors to the appearance of the vintage poster as we know it: the perfection of the technique of color lithography and the late nineteenth century rise of the middle class and with it a powerful consumer market. I think it’s a safe bet that the poster on the right would attract more popular interest in the product than the poster at left:

(image at right from the Library of Congress collections)

 Probably my favorite posters are travel and transportation posters: where were the favorite places for vacationing? how did one get there, by train, prop plane or jet? But posters reflect most every aspect of life in the last 100 plus years, putting the best face on the twentieth century consumer society: food, entertainment (theatre, movies), wars and the military, propaganda, merchandise....

In the collecting world, posters from the 1930s and earlier are the most desirable, but there are many later posters, still affordable, which are stunning examples. To mention just one

David Klein (1918-2005) created many stunning designs for TWA: this one is on our website for $250

As with all collectibles, condition is a significant factor in the value of a poster.  That said, there isn't the same expectation of pristine condition for a poster as for many other prints. Poster dealers have a grading system (at Swann from A to C). My own background in prints means that I have found it hard to fall in with that system, as I am used to listing the specific faults of an item (rather than giving a "grade") so that the potential purchaser can know as precisely as possible what they will be getting. So you will find this kind of description on my website:

Original vintage poster, full color, 40 x 25 inches. Single pinhole to upper left and right corners, minimal wear to edges, 7 x 3 inch stain to lower right corner (barely visible in main image), overall bright clean condition. Brilliantly colored image by David Klein of the Eiffel Tower surrounded by bursting decorative fireworks.

Either way, there is a remedy for the faults - even major- that afflict posters: linen backing. This (and backing with Japanese paper) is a traditional method for giving support to the fragile paper that posters have historically been printed on.  During this process, skilled professionals are able to mend tears and fill areas of paper loss, "in paint" and work other magic to turn something that looks a little the worst for wear into like-new. As long as the purchaser is aware of the original faults and the work is done with conservation standards in mind (such as being fully reversible and using non-acidic materials), this is a wonderful solution to the ephemeral nature of the poster. I often have problematic condition posters linen-backed, but, true to my nature as a print dealer first and foremost, I personally prefer to leave posters that are in good condition unmounted, so that I can still enjoy that tactile delight of the paper!

(For another post: the restoration / conservation question.)

There are a great number of books on posters. A good general introduction:

Janet Gleeson.  Miller’s Collecting Prints & Posters. Reed International Books Limited, 1997.

Two examples of books that deal with a single area:

Roger Butler.  Poster Art in Australia.   National Gallery of Australia, 1993.

Stefan Landsberger.  Chinese Propaganda Posters from Revolution to Modernization.  Pepin Press. 2001.

Take a look at the following sections of our website:

Posters: Miscellaneous


 Posters:  Transportation (Airlines, Cruise Lines etc)

Posters:  Travel (Countries)

Sunday, August 16, 2009

the journey begins...

A brief introduction so that you may understand why this blog and my business website cover a considerable diversity of vintage paper: I love images and am fascinated by all aspects of history, but most particularly social history. So I am lucky that for the past 30 years I have had a career that allows me to immerse myself in both on a day to day basis. (Visit the Burdon Family Booksellers facebook page to learn of how I got into that career - and of my extended family of booksellers.)

The only problem is that I love ALL kinds of pictures and have had a hard time limiting myself to a particular medium in which they appear. So from a modest beginning selling antique prints and maps, my business has expanded to include illustrated books, vintage magazines and paper ephemera (of which more later).

From the fifteenth to the twentieth century, from the East and the West, my stock focuses on printed materials, not paintings or drawings. The manual (as opposed to process print) is a very intimate expression which reveals most when examined close-up. It is a tactile medium, with different types of paper (wonderful to handle) affecting the look of the image and revealing such important facts as when the print was actually made. Most significantly it is a very democratic medium, and has been used to record the lives, interests and aspirations of all levels of society.
One truly can journey in time and place through the world of vintage graphics. I hope that you will join me as I share stories of some of the treasures I come across and tips on collecting and caring for them.