Tuesday, November 30, 2010

On the 23rd day of Christmas, Babbitt's Books gave to me . . .

. . . a two-sided vellum manuscript leaf. 

What exactly is a vellum manuscript leaf, you say?

Before the printing press was invented by Johannes Gutenberg in the mid-1400s, books and manuscripts were produced by hand, mainly in monasteries. Each book had to be painstakingly hand-lettered. The material used was usually not paper, but thin parchment made from the limed skin of calves, sheep or goats. Often the books were decorated with colorful illustrations or ornate borders. Today, such books are called illuminated manuscripts.  

A leaf from an illuminated manuscript.

After the invention of the printing press, book-making skyrocketed. Gradually the practice of lettering manuscripts by hand dropped off, then died altogether. It just didn't make sense, time-wise and money-wise. 

However, there were still manuscripts that had to be hand-lettered by necessity. Musical manuscripts, for instance. Nobody had quite figured out a good way to reproduce staffs, bar-lines, clefs and notes with a printing press, so music was hand-lettered well into the 18th century. 

. . . do you see where this is going now? 

Our particular manuscript leaves--I should point out now that you have your choice of over two dozen--are from 1707, when music was still transcribed by hand. Like leaves from illuminated manuscripts, they are written on parchment and have decorated capital letters.  The leaves were originally part of a book of Gregorian chants, and feature Latin words and square-note neumes. You can read more here if you'd like to brush up on your musical history. They're big, too. 13" by 20" big. At just $50 apiece, these 303-year-old beauties are a real bargain. 

Sure, you can get your music-lover or music major the requisite Bach CD for the holidays. Maybe a Beatles sweatshirt or a lapel pin shaped like a treble clef. But those gifts don't begin to approach the uniqueness and the loveliness of these Gregorian manuscript leaves, which would look wonderful framed in your loved one's studio or study. (No offense to Johann Sebastian or John, Paul, George and Ringo.)

Please bear in mind before you buy that the leaves have endured the wrath of three centuries, and are not in pristine condition. Each one has varying degrees of water damage, which mainly presents as darkening, smudging and wrinkling. The damage is well over two hundred years old, though, so you shouldn't have to worry about mold or other dampness. 

Ask to see these on your next visit to the bookshop; you won't be disappointed!

Title: Vellum Manuscript Leaf
Year: 1707
Features: Hand-Lettered 
Condition: Good
Price: $50

Sunday, November 28, 2010

On the 24th day of Christmas, Babbitt's Books gave to me . . .

. . . a potpourri of books signed by ex-Presidents.

First up is My Life by Bill Clinton, an autobiography published in 2004 by Alfred Knopf. Everything that you could possibly hope to know about this two-term President is contained within the book's 957 pages. 

Clinton spent over two years penning the book, even hand-writing all the drafts. (Say what you will about his time in office, but that's dedication!) Our copy is signed on the title page by Clinton in blue felt-marker.

Next up is Jimmy Carter's Turning Point, which is the tale of how Carter ran for state senate in Georgia during the turbulent year of 1962. Segregation was on its way out the door, protests at lunch counters and on campuses were peaking, and Carter's opponents did not care a bit for civil rights. This particular copy is a signed, limited first edition from the Easton Press, which is known for their collectible fine bindings of classic and popular books. Among its features are 22k gold accents, peach-colored silk endpapers and tooled red leather.

You can't find that at a Borders or Barnes & Noble! Neither can you find a signed copy of Jimmy Carter's Christmas in Plains. Of today's three books, this may be the most affordable and the most engaging, not to mention the most pertinent to the holiday season. It is a slim 155 pages next to Clinton's behemoth of a book. Engaging and unpretentious, Carter relates Christmas anecdotes from his own life, beginning with his childhood in Plains, GA and ending at the present day. He glosses over his four Christmases in office in favor of more meaningful events, like the time a truck accidentally spilled Christmastime grapefruits--an unexpected and delightful bounty--near the Carter home. 

All of these books are hardcovers in very good condition with very good dust jackets, and perfect for the political junkie on your list. 

Title: My Life
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf
Year: 2004
Features: Signed, First Edition
Condition: Very Good
Price: $180

Title: Turning Point
Publisher: Easton Press
Year: 1992
Features: Signed, First Edition, Fine Binding
Condition: Very Good
Price: $180

Title: Christmas in Plains
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Year: 2001
Features: Signed, First Printing
Condition: Very Good
Price: $20

You might also like these other presidential presents:

Title: Christmas in Plains
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Year: 2001
Features: Hardcover, Dust Jacket
Condition: Very Good
Price: $4

Title: Sharing Good Times
Author: Jimmy Carter
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Year: 2004
Features: Signed, First Edition
Condition: Very Good
Price: $25

We also have several trade paperbacks of Barack Obama's two books.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

On the 26th and 25th days of Christmas, Babbitt's Books gave to me . . .

. . . assorted hardback history titles in as-new condition. 

One of the wonderful things about a used bookstore is that all manner of books find a temporary home here, from the falling-apart, underlined $1 copy of Crime and Punishment to the $3,000 first edition of Cat in the Hat. Virginia Woolf once described "secondhand books" as "wild books, homeless books . . . [which] have come together in vast flocks of variegated feather, and have a charm which the domesticated volumes of a library lack." Although we have a vast and variegated flock indeed, I'm sure that some passersby just keep on walking when they see us, thinking that we carry vintage and rare titles only. 

If you are at all familiar with us, though, you know that we have hundreds upon hundreds of books that have come out within the past two or three years. Most are still in excellent condition. Better still, most are inexpensive--70% to 80% off of the cover price, to be exact. When you tally up the original cover price of the six books featured below, the total comes to $163.30. Babbitt's price for the same six books is $31. 

Babette thinks that's a great bargain.

If you want your Christmas dollar to go far, these books--these prices!--cannot be beaten. You can find these books and hundreds of others on our new arrivals shelf and in the history aisle. The ones below are all hardcovers with dust jackets, but we have plenty of three- and four-dollar trade paperbacks to fit your needs, too. 

David McCullough's 1776.
Cover price: $32
Our price: $4

Joshua Kendall's The Man Who Made Lists: Love, Death, Madness, and the Creation of Roget's Thesaurus
Cover price: $25.95
Our price: $5

Howard Blum's American Lightning: Terror, Mystery, The Birth of Hollywood, and the Crime of the Century
Cover price: $24.95
Our price: $6

Caroline Alexander's The Bounty: The True Story of Mutiny on the Bounty
Cover price: $27.95
Our price: $5

Benjamin Wallace's The Billionaire's Vinegar: The Mystery of the World's Most Expensive Bottle of Wine
Cover price: $24.95

Our price: $5

Eric Burns's Infamous Scribblers: The Founding Fathers and the Rowdy Beginnings of American Journalism
Cover price: $27.50
Our price: $6

Thursday, November 25, 2010

On the 27th day of Christmas, Babbitt's Books gave to me . . .

. . . I Just Kept Hoping, signed and authored by the inimitable Gloria Stuart.

When I picked this book off the floor yesterday to put it back into its rightful category, I admit that I didn't quite know who Gloria Stuart was. This actress enjoyed her Hollywood heydays some five decades before I was born, and I'm not as well-versed as I would like to be in classic films. In my defense, James Cameron didn't know who she was, either, when he cast her in a certain 1997 film.

Yup. Titanic.

Then in her mid-eighties, Stuart apparently had to undergo more than two hours in the make-up chair each day in order to look aged enough for her role as the approximately 100-year-old Rose. That's what I call a tough lady!

Stuart's film credentials from the Golden Age of Hollywood include The Invisible Man, Busby Berkeley's over-the-top Gold Diggers of 1935, and Rebecca of Sunnybrook Farm. She acted alongside the likes of Boris Karloff, Lionel Barrymore, Claude Rains, and Shirley Temple. 

A number of fascinating projects absorbed her after her Hollywood career waned. She entertained troops during World War II, operated a small business called DĂ©cor Ltd., wrote seventeen screenplays, dabbled in oil painting, survived breast cancer, and practiced the Japanese art of bonsai. Perhaps most interesting to readers of this blog, she fell in love with a printer named Ward Ritchie a few years after her husband (famed Marx Brothers scriptwriter, Arthur Sheekman) died of Alzheimer's disease in 1978. Ritchie ran the Ward Ritchie Press. Stuart asked him to teach her how to use an antique hand press, then went ahead and bought her own, soon adding printer and book artist to her already impressive list of accomplishments. Her press was called Imprenta Glorias and with it she created fine artists' books, most of which are now in museums or private collections. When the heavy press with its small type became too cumbrous for her to handle anymore, she gave it--and her collection of rare type--to Mills College

From there, she accepted a modest role in what would go on to become the highest-grossing film of all time. Her acting in Titanic earned her an Academy Award nomination. Speaking of milestones, she's still the oldest actress to have been nominated for that award. On July 4th of this year, she celebrated her 100th birthday at a party hosted by James Cameron and his wife. Two months ago to this day, on September 26th, she passed away in her sleep from respiratory failure. It just so happens that she did so at the very age of the Titanic character whom she so lovingly portrayed. 

So is there a Hollywood buff on your list this year? A loved one who loves Titanic? A strong lady who'd like to be inspired by the life of another strong lady? Then this book is for you.

Title: I Just Kept Hoping
Publisher: Little, Brown & Company
Year: 1999
Features: Signed By Author, First Printing, Dust Jacket
Condition: Very Good
Price: $15

You might also like these related books:

Author: Lawrence Clark Powell
Title: Island of Books
Publisher: Ward Ritchie Press
Year: 1951
Condition: Very Good
Price: $20

Title: Wreck and Sinking of the Titanic, The Ocean's Greatest Disaster
Publisher: L.H. Walter
Year: 1912
Features: Memorial Edition
Condition: Good
Price: $35

Author: Maurice Chevalier
Title: I Remember It Well
Publisher: Macmillan
Year: 1970
Features: Signed by Author
Condition: Very Good-
Price: $15

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

On the 28th day of Christmas, Babbitt's Books gave to me . . .

. . . The Annotated Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, edited by eminent Sherlock Holmes scholar, William S. Baring-Gould. 

This two-volume, quarto set was originally published in 1967 by Clarkson N. Potter, Inc.  and contains four novels and fifty-six short stories by Conan Doyle. It is illustrated with "Maps, Diagrams, Coats-of-Arms, Photographs, and Drawings", according to the title page. The hundreds of annotations discuss the history of places, people and clues in the Sherlock Holmes canon. 

There are also a dozen beautiful essays about Conan Doyle and his famous detective up to page 103 of Volume I. The essays are followed by "The Early Holmes: July and September, 1874, and Thursday, October 2, 1879". 

Please be aware, though, that the set is not without its faults. As the sixteenth printing of the second edition from 1976, it's had roughly thirty-five years of wear and tear. There is moderately heavy foxing to the fore edges of both volumes, as well as a few minor nicks and smudges from handling over the years. The dust jackets are a bit rubbed, and there's a 1"-long closed tear to the rear "cover" of Volume I, but for a couple extra dollars we can wrap them in transparent Brodart jackets, which will keep them from suffering further damage. The pages are in sound condition.

So is there someone on your list who adores Guy Ritchie's recent film adaptation of Sherlock Holmes? Or a Sherlock Holmes fan who hasn't read it all or doesn't own it all? At only $15, this set is a great buy. (Not to mention that the green-and-red dust jackets go well with any Christmas decor.)

If you're not sure that your potential Holmes fan is ready for the entire canon yet, we also have a nice set Conan Doyle's works by Book-of-the-Month Club. Each book is priced individually at $4, so you can mix and match to your heart's content. The books and their dust jackets are in very good condition, and look like they came off of the press just yesterday. 

Whatever set strikes your fancy more is, shall we say, elementary to us. We just want to see you walk out with a good gift at a bargain price. 

Title: The Annotated Sherlock Holmes (two-volume set)
Publisher: Clarkson N. Potter, Inc. 
Year: 1976
Features: Annotated
Condition: Very Good-
Price: $15
This set has since found a home, but we have another one (sans dust jackets) for around the same price. 

Title: assorted Sir Arthur Conan Doyle titles
Publisher: Book-of-The-Month-Club, Inc.
Year: 1994
Features: Hardcover with Dust Jackets
Condition: Very Good
Price: $4 apiece

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

On the 29th day of Christmas, Babbitt's Books gave to me . . .

. . . a signed copy of Salman Rushdie's Midnight's Children, the third printing of the 1995 Everyman's Library edition. 

Midnight's Children, which won the Man Booker Prize in 1981, follows the story of Saleem Sinai, who is born on the day that India gains independence from the British Empire--and has telepathic powers as a result. The novel is a compelling mix of post-colonialism, historical fiction and magical realism. 

What makes it a good Christmas present? (Apart from the fact that it's a damn good book signed by Salman Rushdie, of course.)

For one, it's in very good condition, as you can see for yourself.

It looks like it was just plucked from the shelves of Barnes & Noble or Borders yesterday. And at $75, it costs what you would pay for two-and-a-half new hardcover books at Borders. The dust jacket is included, and is in similar very good shape. If you have a Rushdie fan or a collector of modern signed editions on your list, this book is a perfect fit. 

(Excuse the reflection; the dust jacket is wrapped in a clear Brodart jacket for extra protection!)

Title: Midnight's Children
Publisher: Everyman's Library 
Year: 1995
Features: Signed by Author
Condition: Very Good
Price: $75

You might also like this other Rushdie book, which is currently in stock:

Title: Step Across This Line: Collected Nonfiction 1992-2002
Publisher: Random House
Year: 2002
Features: First Edition Hardcover with Dust Jacket
Condition: Very Good
Price: $4

Sunday, November 21, 2010

On the 30th day of Christmas, Babbitt's Books gave to me . . .

. . . Charles Dickens's Christmas Books, published by Chapman and Hall in 1852.

Chapman and Hall published the first edition of several Dickens books, including Great Expectations, Hard Times and everyone's seasonal favorite, A Christmas Carol. In fact, the latter is the first book that appears in this volume.

Christmas had been on the decline in England since Oliver Cromwell's reign, but the Victorians brought it back to life again in the 1830s and 1840s with the revival of old traditions like caroling and wassailing, and the advent of new ones like Christmas cards and Christmas trees. Evidently sensing an opportunity, Charles Dickens penned A Christmas Carol, which was published on the 19th of December in 1843. It was an instant hit. All 6,000 copies of the first printing were sold out by Christmas Eve. The book was already on its eighth edition six short months later, and has not been out of print since its publication. The word Scrooge and  the phrase "Bah, humbug!" have become indelible parts of the English lexicon. And the greeting "Merry Christmas"? Popularized by none other than A Christmas Carol. (Says Scrooge at one point: "Every idiot who goes about with Merry Christmas on his lips should be boiled with his own pudding and buried with a stake of holly through his heart.")

Following A Christmas Carol is The Chimes, which came out in 1844. The Chimes has a plot that resembles Ebeneezer Scrooge's encounter with The Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, in that the main character, a ticket-porter named Trotty, is shown a vision of events to come (which invariably include alcoholism, suicide and death) if he persists in holding his jaded view of humanity. Unfortunately, I cannot say much about The Cricket on the Hearth (1845), except that it, like its two yuletide predecessors, also includes a miser. Dickens's fourth and fifth Christmas books, The Battle of Life (1846) and The Haunted Man (1848), respectively, are even less popular. In their defense, though, have you ever met a Dickens book that you didn't like? My curiosity is piqued in particular by The Haunted Man, the story of a man haunted by a ghostly doppelgänger of himself. 

With this all-in-one volume, you don't have to go to the trouble of hunting down all five individual Christmas books. You also have the benefit of reading text that is virtually unchanged from when Dickens wrote it. So from Babbitt's to you . . . 

Title: Christmas Books
Publisher: Chapman and Hall
Year: 1852
Illustrator: John Leech
Condition: Good+
Price: $200

You might also like these other Dickens books, which are currently in stock:

Title: The Battle of Life: A Love Story
Publisher: Chapman and Hall
Year: mid-1880s
Binding: Vellum
Condition: Very Good-
Price: $80

Title: A Christmas Carol
Publisher: Everyman's Library
Year: 1994
Illustrator: Arthur Rackham
Condition: Very Good
Price: $4

Title: Great Expectations

Publisher: The Easton Press
Year: 1979
Binding: Fine Leather
Condition: Near Fine
Price: $20

Saturday, November 20, 2010

30 Days of Christmas, Babbitt's-style

In T minus a few hours, we will begin our 30 Days of Christmas project. Each day, save for Thanksgiving and a couple of Sundays, we will preview a book that makes a great holiday present. We will be previewing a mixture of rare, popular and interesting titles, so don't be scared off by some of the more expensive featured selections; there will be affordable books, too. There will also be a small list of alternative books at the bottom of the post--so if you can't afford the $3000 first-edition copy of The Cat in the Hat, you'll have the option of a three- or four-dollar Seussian title. 

Please check back regularly, and please spread the word!

A taste of things to come . . .