Life in the pit


This little book may not look much, but it turned out to be a fascinating read.  Entitled Sketches of the life of orchestral musicians, it’s the first edition of an early work by Ivan Lipaev (1865–1942), for many years a trombonist with the Bolshoi Orchestra in Moscow, and professor of music at the conservatoire in Saratov, 1917–21.  He also worked as a music journalist, and published popular biographies of Rachmaninov and Scriabin, and a memoir of Tchaikovsky.


I. V. Lipaev

Here he offers a behind-the-scenes glimpse into the working life of orchestral musicians in pre-Revolutionary Russia: their background, education, hours, pay, occupational hazards, etc.  Due to poor working conditions, and the cold of a Russian winter, illness is not uncommon.  The performers resort to wearing fur coats, and trying to warm their hands over a brazier, or even the footlights, before playing, but still often suffer from head colds, rheumatism, fever, sore throats, bronchitis, as well as haemorrhoids through sitting for long periods.  Brass players can be affected by verdigris on their instruments; emphysema, or even consumption, can be prevalent among them.  String players suffer from paralysis of the fingers, cellists are prone to rickets, and double bass players to oedema and swelling of the legs from standing for whole operas and ballets.  ‘The general period of mortality for musicians is between 24–38–40 years, rarely reaching 55–60’ (p. 28).


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Russian literature for the Western market


This book of verse is the first appearance in German (or any other foreign language, for that matter) of Gavriil Derzhavin (1743–1816), one of Russia’s great eighteenth-century poets.  It’s a very early translation.  French readers had to wait until 1811 (Dieu, tr. Golenistcheff-Koutouzoff, printed in Moscow), English readers until 1821 (John Bowring’s Specimen of the Russian Poets, the first appearance of Russian poetry in English), before anything by Derzhavin was translated.

The translator here is none other than August von Kotzebue (1761–1819, best known to English readers, if at all, as the author of Lovers’ Vows, the play in Mansfield Park), who spent much of his career in Russia.  You can read about his connections to the English-speaking world in a blogpost on the British Library website.


August von Kotzebue

Kotzebue includes eleven pieces here, all rendered in German verse, among them the powerful ‘Ode on the Death of Prince Meshchersky’, ‘Verses on the Birth in the North of a Porphyrogennete Child’, dedicated to the future Alexander I (‘one of the first odes by Derzhavin in which he disregarded the prescriptive classical requirements of the genre to the extent of mixing “high” and “low” styles, standard mythological references and Russian country scenes, to suit his own imagination’, Terras), his ‘Felitsa’ poems, which ‘broke all the rules by addressing the Russian autocrat [i.e. Catherine the Great] in a personal, wittily conversational tone …’ (ibid.), ‘The Vision of Murza’, the first urban landscape description in Russian poetry, and the famous ‘Ode to God’.


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Binding variants

This is something I have been thinking about for a while.  Antiquarian booksellers are always concerned with rarity, and look books up to see who else has a copy, either currently for sale, in a library somewhere, or perhaps offered once at an auction.  Obviously, just because you find another copy, doesn’t make it the same as yours; there is always the question of condition (is the book in its original binding, or has it been rebound?), or association (did it belong to someone interesting, or was it inscribed by the author?).  But I suspect that most people, when they look a book up in an online database such as COPAC or WorldCat, and find there are five copies located in libraries, just leave it at that: ‘those libraries have the same book as me’.

But here I’d like to present four examples of books which tell a different story.  All come from the nineteenth century, and all are books relating to Exeter Cathedral (a personal interest of mine).

Example 1.  George Oliver, The History of Exeter (Exeter: Printed by R. Cullum, 1821).

Oliver 1  Oliver 2

Two copies, both in the original publisher’s boards: one uncut (and thus taller), the paper on the spine the same as the rest of the binding; the other, trimmed, with a cloth spine.  Both have printed spine labels, both priced 10s., but the labels are different.

Oliver 3


Example 2.  Philip Freeman, The Architectural History of Exeter Cathedral (Exeter: Henry S. Eland …  London: Bell and Sons, [1873]).

Freeman 1


Freeman 2

Two copies of the first edition of Freeman’s book, in brown and red cloth.


Example 3.  Thomas B. Worth.  Exeter Cathedral and its Restoration (Printed for the Author by William Pollard … Exeter.  1878).

Worth 1


Worth 2

Again, two copies of the same book, privately printed this time, in brown and green cloth.


Example 4.  Frances Mary Peard, Prentice Hugh (London: National Society’s Depository …  New York: Thomas Whittaker … [1887]).

Peard 1


Peard 2

A children’s book, a fictional retelling of the building of the Cathedral in the thirteenth century.  The title-pages here are different, as well as the bindings: the lettering of ‘National Society’ on the spine, and the gilt-lettering on the cover of one (with patterned NSD endpapers), but not the other (and which has plain black endpapers).

Peard 3



Peard 5

These four examples were discovered quite by chance, but are sufficient to highlight the fact that, even in one, highly specific possible collecting area, how many variants may be found.

Postscript.  It is interesting to note that the internet, oft bemoaned as a poor method of buying books, actually can help a lot in identifying such variants.  Many booksellers, if issuing a catalogue with any of the above books in it, might well not illustrate the books, and may not mention the colour of cloth.  But the internet bookseller often posts a photo of the book concerned, which can quickly draw the collector’s eye.


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Money in crisis

Notgeld 1

By 1919, all low-value coins in Germany had vanished, due to a shortage of metal, a shortage which gave rise to a printed phenomenon known as Notgeld, or ‘emergency money’.  Neil MacGregor explains: ‘as there was no longer an effective national currency for the lower denominations, every town and city had to make its own.  High-value notes from the Reichsbank continued to circulate.  Notgeld is the small change of daily life: that is what makes it so interesting.  As the central state faltered, regional memories and loyalties revived, and the diversity that had marked coinage of the eighteenth-century Empire found an exuberant twentieth-century parallel in colourful explorations of local identity and civic pride …

Notgeld 2

‘Looking through these notes is like flicking through a travelogue of Germany, each town presenting its distinctive aspect most likely to appeal to the curiosity of the visitors and the pride of the local inhabitants.  But the interest of these notes is not just topographical.  They present a remarkable survey of the public mood in the years 1919–23, as the Weimar Republic struggled into life; of the issues that alarmed, fascinated and preoccupied the population …  These notes are a compendium of German memories, hopes and fears in the early 1920s’ (Germany: Memories of a Nation, 2014, pp. 419–22, 425).

As many of the notes were beautiful pieces of design in their own right, people started collecting them, and you can sometimes come across whole albums of Notgeld, such as the one here.  This collection had about 800 different notes in it.

To listen to the BBC podcast of Neil MacGregor, Director of the British Museum, discussing Notgeld, click here.


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An ‘American’ bindery in the Crimea

Sometimes a book ends up posing questions which you, as a bookseller, simply cannot answer.  I enjoy the research aspects of what I do, but I recognise that I cannot know everything, and also that the books I offer for sale must provide further possibilities for research for the customer, whether private collector or special collections library.  Here is an example:


This binder’s stamp is at the back of a standard nineteenth-century Russian binding on a standard nineteenth-century edition of Koltsov’s poems, and reads: ‘American binding workshop.  James Steinsberg [“Dzhems Shteinsberg”], Simferopol, Politseiskaya St.’  I can find nothing on him, or his bindery.  Was a Russian binder simply calling his bindery ‘American’, and using an American-sounding name?  Whatever the answer, it’s a fascinating piece of cross-cultural evidence, and certainly worthy of further research.


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Organising a library

Olenin 1

This is the first edition of the first comprehensive library classification system to be published in Russia, and the first Russian guide to bibliographic description and catalogue production, an important text from the early years of the Imperial Public Library (now the National Library of Russia) in St Petersburg.

‘The pre-eminence among the world’s libraries of the Imperial Public Library in St Petersburg, achieved shortly after its founding early in the nineteenth century, was due largely to the remarkable skills and vision of the library’s first director, Aleksei Nikolaevich Olenin (1763–1843) …  Founded in 1795 by Catherine the Great, already by 1820 it was second in size among European libraries to the Bibliothèque nationale; even though at that time it was a much younger institution than either the British Museum (founded 1753) or the Preussische Staatsbibliothek (founded 1661), it had already surpassed them in number of volumes held.

‘Compared to most other state institutions in Russia in the nineteenth century, the Imperial Public Library enjoyed a relatively high degree of autonomy …  Particularly in the formative years, the library’s identity was shaped almost singlehandedly by its directors, and over the course of each director’s tenure its development was a function of that individual’s energy, initiative, and vision.  At no time was this phenomenon more evident than during the administration of the library’s first director, Aleksei Nikolaevich Olenin …  Essentially starting from scratch in every aspect of the library’s organization, Olenin’s accomplishments in the library were remarkable …


Aleksei Nikolaevich Olenin (1763–1843)

‘Olenin’s first undertaking as the director of the library was to assess the condition of the collection.  He ordered an inventory of the holdings, which was complete in 1809.  The results [appended at the end of his published Essai, p. 99–100] … showed a total of 238,632 volumes (including 45,000 duplicates …), 12,000 manuscripts, and 24,574 prints.  There were only eight books in Russian or Old Church Slavic at this time.

‘In his first report as director of the library … Olenin described the two main problems he faced in the first year of his administration.  First, there were major deficiencies in the physical facilities [double-, triple-, even quadruple-shelving, poor lighting, high humidity].  Second, the library did not have a uniform system for the organization of the collection.  Olenin felt that these problems had to be corrected before the library could be opened to the public, and he immediately set about designing solutions …

Olenin 2

‘To remedy the second problem Olenin designed his own classification system for the library.  This “New Bibliographical System” was implemented in October 1808, scarcely six months after his appointment, and was published the following year under the title An Attempt at a New Bibliographical System for the St Petersburg Imperial Library.  Although two classification schemes had been published in Russia prior to Olenin’s, both were created to organize a relatively small and fixed number of entries in a published work …  These earlier attempts should not obscure the fact the Olenin’s Attempt was the first comprehensive library classification system published in Russia.  It was also the first Russian guide to bibliographic description and catalog production …

‘In the introduction to the Attempt Olenin reviewed the major classification systems in use in European libraries and briefly characterized the shortcomings of each system …  In Olenin’s view, the natural separation between the sciences and the arts was fundamental to the classification of knowledge.  Moreover, a coherent classification system would show the logical transitions from one branch of knowledge to another.  These two criteria constitute the theoretical foundation of Olenin’s system and also its chief contribution to classification theory …

‘In addition to the classification system, Olenin’s Attempt contains instructions for the compilation of three catalogs for the library …  Olenin also formulates rules for the bibliographic description of books and manuscripts in the catalogs.  Each record was to contain the full title of the work, the full name of the author and publisher or printer, the place and date of publication, the number of volumes, and the size’ (Mary Stuart, Aristocrat–Librarian in Service to the Tsar: Aleksei Aleksei Nikolaevich Olenin and the Imperial Public Library, Columbia University Press, 1986, pp. 1, 5, 62–5).

The book is printed in French and Russian on facing pages.  The two title-pages, produced by the engraver Kolpakov, depict the library buildings in Warsaw (the Załuski collection, from which over 200,000 volumes were transferred to Russia in 1795) and St Petersburg.


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On m’accuse?

If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you will know that I am interested in the reception of Anglophone literature abroad, and of foreign literature in the English-speaking world.  One figure in this area who cannot be ignored is Henry Vizetelly (1820–1894), publisher, journalist, and editor, whose defiance of censorship and policy of issuing cheap reprints exerted a considerable influence on British publishing, not least the demise of the three-decker.


Vizetelly published Dostoevsky, Flaubert, Gogol, the Goncourt brothers, Tolstoy and, famously, Zola.  ‘During the period from 1884 to 1889 Vizetelly published translations of seventeen Zola novels and one volume of short stories in various editions, most of them selling for six shillings or less, with a total distribution of more than a million copies.

‘Despite the fact that these works were “softened and chastened” for the English reader, in 1888 they came under attack by the National Vigilance Association.  Vizetelly was charged with publishing obscene libels, particularly Nana, The Soil (La Terre), and Piping Hot! (Pou-Bouille).  When Vizetelly was brought to trial in September, 1888, the Director of Public Prosecution took over the case against him.  After a postponement until October 31, Vizetelly was found guilty, fined, and enjoined from publishing Zola translations.  Nevertheless, claiming to understand that only the specified works were forbidden, Vizetelly continued to publish Zola, and in May 1889, he was tried, convicted, fined, and imprisoned for three months.


‘Perhaps the most interesting and curious result of the affair is a small volume issued by Henry Vizetelly in 1888 …  Extracts principally from the English Classics …  This eighty-seven-page work begins with an Introduction which quoted Macaulay defending Restoration comic writers; Andrew Lang, Henry James, and Edmondo de Amicis on the seriousness of Zola’s work; and Zola himself on the scope and purpose of the Rougon-Macquart series.  Then follows a selection of passages from Shakespeare [via Beaumont & Fletcher, Jonson, Dryden, Congreve, Defoe, Swift, Fielding, Smollett, Sterne, Byron, Rossetti, etc.] to Swinburne in which reference is made to fornication, whores, and related topics.  Added to the book is a four-page letter, dated September 18, 1888, addressed to Sir A. K. Stephenson, Solicitor to the Treasury, in which Vizetelly protests the intervention of the government in the case against him and asks if the works of the authors from whom he draws his selections are also to be suppressed.  Although an impressive collection of bawdry, the Extracts proved ineffective in Vizetelly’s defense’ (William E. Colburn, ‘The Vizetelly Extracts’, Princeton University Library Chronicle, Vol. XXIII, No. 2 (Winter 1962), p. 54–5).


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Among Americans

Later this week, I shall be travelling to Utah and Nevada, en route to the RBMS Preconference in Oakland, which I am again sponsoring this year.  I enjoy the chance to catch up with some of my American customers, and find out about current issues in the rare book library world.  A month or so ago I came across a ‘Visited States Map’, where you can track the number of states you have been to (I don’t fare too badly), and it put me in mind of the following book which came in recently:


It’s the first edition of a book called A Russian among Americans.  My personal impressions as a lathe operator, unskilled labourer, carpenter, and traveller, by Mikhail Vladimirov, published in St Petersburg in 1877.  Vladimirov had grown up in Saratov on the Volga, and became interested in America from reading about it in novels and journal descriptions.  ‘Somewhat sobered by maturing experiences in the Caucasus and St Petersburg, he made the voyage across the Atlantic, arriving at Hoboken in August 1872.  Working his way around the country, Vladimirov would probably see more of the United States than any other Russian visitor of this period.


The map in the book, on which a previous owner has marked Vladimirov’s route in coloured pencil.

‘After the mandatory few weeks with the Russian community in New York [see my earlier post, on Nikolai Slavinsky, writing at a similar date], Vladimirov journeyed south through Savannah to Jacksonville, Florida, where he began his toils in a flour mill, then at a sawmill.  He moved on to Tallahassee early in 1873 to work at a convent and on a farm.  He then jumped from job to job, with the longest stint as a stevedore in Appalachicola and Pensacola, before finally making his way to New Orleans in the summer of 1873.  Affected by the depression that year, he went north to St Louis, shoveled dirt for a tunnel project, and took odd jobs as a carpenter and bricklayer.


The Grand Hotel, San Francisco

‘Taking to the road again, the itinerant Russian tried his luck in Chicago …  By April [1874] he was once more on the move—to San Francisco, through Kansas City and Omaha …  He hopped freight trains through Wyoming, ran completely out of money, and was forced to join a railroad work crew in Utah in order to eat.  By June he had reached California, where he found pleasanter and more lucrative employment as a tutor for children of a Russian-Alaskan family.  Now able to sightsee at leisure, Vladimirov toured the state during the eighteen months he spent there, visiting the Bay Area, Yosemite, the redwood forests, and Fort Ross.

Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite

Bridalveil Fall, Yosemite

‘Vladimirov saved enough money for a train ticket all the way to Boston, via Detroit and Niagara Falls, and for an extended tour of the East Coast—New Haven, New York, Washington, Baltimore, and Philadelphia [where] he found work as a carpenter on Centennial buildings and stayed on to examine the exposition before departing for home.


‘Vladimirov’s book about his far-flung adventures did not glorify America since his focus was on the underside, the impoverished and depression-afflicted part of society.  Yet he balanced the desperation of unemployment with the variety of jobs available, poor pay with the cheapness of housing, exploitation with the generally good relations between bosses and workers.  Everywhere he found educational opportunities and personal successes as well as dejection and failure.  In conclusion, he did not regret the experience but would not recommend it to others; there was no place like home’ (Norman E. Saul, Concord and Conflict: the United States and Russia, 1867–1914, pp. 223–5).



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Touring London’s bookshops, in 1807



‘No one buys more books than booksellers.’  This was the advice given to those setting out in the trade at the inaugural York Antiquarian Book Seminar last year by the American bookseller, Lorne Bair.  Lorne was talking about old books, but I suspect that the same may well hold true for reference books, too.  I enjoy the discoveries I make when cataloguing stock, but I also like to find new secondary literature, to help improve my knowledge in a particular area of book history.  So when I heard about this, I knew I had to get a copy:


‘German Printers and Booksellers in London: The Form and Impact of the German Role in the English Book Trade, 1680–1811’.  I have long been interested in foreign-language publishing in Britain (I recommend the British Library’s 2002 publication Foreign-Language Printing in London 1500–1900, if you’d like to find out more for yourself), and Graham’s new book is worth reading (though you’ll need to know German; there’s no English-language version).  It was also the book to which I immediately turned when the following came in:


This is a very rare account of early nineteenth-century London by an anonymous German ‘honest observer’, who (according to the preface, at least) had been sent with despatches to the Court of St James following the Prussian defeat at Auerstedt (14 October 1806).  His remarks touch on contemporary English life and manners, often contrasting with France and/or Germany, with a particular focus on books and literature.  He notes that French, Italian, and even German, are read much more widely than twenty years before, and there are a larger number of foreign-language booksellers to cater for this: the ‘little Swiss’ Joseph Deboffe, a specialist for French books and now ‘a very rich man’; Dulau & Co. (‘a very large premises … in Soho Square’); De Conchy (‘an enormous number of French books, plus Italian and Spanish’); as well as English booksellers with links to Paris presses: Earle, Payne & Mackinlay, Boosey, Escher, Bohn, and Clerk, ‘and all the booksellers we call Antiquarios in north Germany.  All of them had a large number of Didot stereotypes on three kinds of paper, and at very reasonable prices’.

Jefcoate makes no mention of Weise, and I can find no book published by him in either COPAC, or the British Book Trade Index, perhaps suggesting that ‘London’ is here a fictitious imprint.


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A Great Flood for the millionaires?


This graphic illustration comes from the cover of a book called Der Untergang des Titanic am 14. April 1912.  Eine Darstellung aller beim Untergang des Titanic historisch wertvollen Momente, a very early book on the Titanic disaster, and certainly one of the earliest German, which was published in Lorch, a small town just west of Schwäbisch Gmünd, in 1912.

The author, Bernhard Waag, draws together information from a variety of sources to create his book, which shows how early some of the superstitions and myths surrounding the tragedy were in circulation.  He cites Morgan Robertson’s strangely prophetic novella Futility, or the Wreck of the Titan (1898), the rumour of the cursed Hope Diamond, and sailors’ superstitions, before detailing facts and figures about the ship, and much information about icebergs, then the collision itself, and the aftermath (reports from London, Southampton, New York).  The whole is presented in short, journalistic bursts, with headlines in larger type.

On the copy I have here, a previous owner has written the following in pencil at the head of the front cover: ‘Eine neue Strafe Gottes(?)  Die Sintflut der Millionäre’ (‘A new punishment from God(?)  A Great Flood for the millionaires’).

As one might expect, the book is rare.  It was not picked up by Eugene Rasor for his The Titanic … annotated bibliography (2001), and is not listed as being held by any library outside Germany.


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