Who pays for fornication and witch doctors?

I’d like to imagine people go to old collectibles auctions because they have a passion for the art and the topic.  However, when the sale item is a nearly three-hundred-year-old apology letter for fornication (yours for the generous price of around £400-£600) I’ll be a bit less weirded out if I can believe the buyer is in it purely for the re-sale value.

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Fornication at Invaluable.com

I added a post a while ago about the auction market for commonplace books and ‘ephemera’.  It’s a shame that these letters, journals, diaries, etc are so ubiquitous and easily stored/shipped, that they become perfect items to trade, since the contents are then out of the ‘public’ eye.

This example from Invaluable.com is a good one – “Description: Fornication etc.- [Examples of legal and religious agreements, orders etc.]”.  Probably an interesting bit of social history there.

Or, a treasure from the annals of quackery – a Homeopathic Physicians Commonplace Scrapbook and Ledger by Dr James Grant Gilchrist – on www.read-em-again.com (online Americana and ephemera site) for $1,250.00.  I’m sure there is some juicy history in there but the discovery will depend on both the expertise and inclination of whoever wants to fork out the $$.

That’s why I love when I find online scans that show more than a few teasing images (pun intended).  If you are interested in commonplace books, even for the artistic value (like me) if not for historical or academic research, check out the list of links to online scanned texts via my Read commonplaces online page.  These links are gold for the average hobbyist, and most of the sites are well-curated with gorgeous HD scans (please send me a message if you know of any more!).

The one down-side of these links is that – naturally – most of the content is heavily copyright protected, even if it’s freely available to search.  I have a list of commonplace books I’d like to review and delve into and – although I am sure my posts would come fairly squarely under ‘fair use’ – I want to respect the institutions who make their stuff so freely available by playing fair and asking permission as much as possible.  How they react is yet to be seen.

Is there a fair middle-ground?  If there’s no $ market for this ‘ephemera’ we probably wouldn’t have the quality and quantity we have now, but having a $1,000 text is the same as a book being hidden away (and un-scanned) in a dusty corner of a locked university archive.  The supply side seems to be well covered, but how do you increase the (fair and open-source) demand?

 

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HIstorical treasure-box, on sale at www.read-em-again.com

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Taking the Steinbeck, hold the Starbucks

So in less than a month I am taking my first ever trip to the US.  Part work and part holiday, my wife and I are making the most of the time by “road tripping” to see the real America behind the typical tourist routes.

This trip is only a little longer than two weeks, but it is something I have wanted to do for years.  You see, even before restoration, storage container auction and renovation shows became popular, my wife and I have talked about antiquing and just shopping around for Americana (or Europana(sp!)) and taking it back to little old New Zealand.

I love New Zealand, but one can never get over the feeling you are right at the edge of the world.  For all the culture you can siphon from an internet connection, sitting and looking at famous art, historical locations and youtube videos of famous writers only adds to the feeling of disconnect from history.  Nothing compares with the visceral experience of being in a world-class city, where even if you’re a cab driver or a waiter, at least you’re a cab driver or waiter in a place where the world, where history is “happening”.  You either get it or you don’t.

But the older I get the more I realise it’s either move overseas, or bring what I want from that world to me.  For the latter, there’s nothing better, I think, than the written word.  Compact, portable, I have a vision of sifting through car boot sales and collectors fairs in the Deep South, filling box-loads of books into a container, one that grows with out-of-print texts, musty tomes rescued from the bottom of a second-hand store shelf.  Some even have yellowing scraps of local newspapers between the leaves, to serve as bookmarks.  Neatly hand-written dedications on the inside cover, or, most prized of all, marginalia in tight script, a running commentary on the book itself, straight from the mind of someone from that period.

Interspersed in the container is other Americana.  Dented and worn nineteenth century furniture, tarnished metal fittings, mountains of old relics crying out for some repairs and a coat of lacquer.  And on top, boxes with the latest artists from whichever pocket of Manhatten or San Francisco is the most teeth-achingly “cool” at this moment.  One off prints, new t-shirt designs, hand-crafted and 3D printed jewellery, sculptures, carefully hand-made notebooks and stacks of original stencil and multimedia art.

Not this trip, but someday.

Exporting US culture to the world has become a cliche since the 90s, but I think there’s still a huge opportunity.  And who says US cultural exports need to be synonymous with Starbucks, Coke or Michael Bay films?  That’s not the real America, is it?  I’ve never been there so I wouldn’t know, but I’m going there to begin to scratch below that glossy surface.

I can’t wait.

Historical recipe books – huge online trove

The Wellcome Library has a huge collection of historical recipe books dating back to the 16th Century. The digital interface is fast, easy to navigate and the zoom function is smooth and user friendly.
Hours worth of goodies ready to look through, all free to download…

http://wellcomelibrary.org/collections/digital-collections/recipe-books/

Private libraries and kleptobibliophilia

“Bibliothecae” – library or collection of books.  Kleptobibliophile – sadly not a real word but one that appears in the Wikipedia entry on Private Libraries, and a great way to describe some of the collection habits in the past.

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