Literature and More from James Cummins Bookseller

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Literature and More from James Cummins Bookseller


By Michael Stillman

James Cummins Bookseller
offers a varied selection of items in his latest catalogue, number 93. Among the specific topics covered are literature, bibliography, and thirteen items which are printed on velum. Then there is "miscellaneous," which is to say you may find anything not covered by those headings in here as well. In other words, the catalogue is worth a look by any type of collector. Here are a few items you will find within its covers.

Samuel Clemens, aka Mark Twain, was an extraordinarily popular and famous writer in his day, and as a celebrity, he undoubtedly was hit up by many aspiring writers for help. Here is an example of Clemens' attempt to deal with one such petitioner. What Clemens does is to gently push the would-be author off on his publisher, so he will not have to deal with his appeal. Writes Clemens to his publisher, American Publishing, "Here's a letter & enclosures intended for the AP Co. Will you take the writer off my hands & assume the rest of the correspondence with him?" Clemens pleads. However, the great writer evidently did take the time to peruse the submission, as he adds, "The article headed "Stupendous Sale" is not badly done; but the rest of his matter grows monotonous..." Unfortunately, we do not know who the new author was, nor whether he ever succeeded in having his material published. A search does not turn up any works entitled "Stupendous Sale," but perhaps he went on to write something else successful, or published "Stupendous Sale" under another title, for example, "Ulysses." Item 7. Priced at $1,500.

For those who collect fakes, how about a counterfeit edition of a catalogue for a phony sale? This is the "sale" catalogue for the Fortsas collection, what Cummins describes as "possibly the greatest bibliohoax of all time..." In 1840, Renier Chalon sent out catalogues for the auction of the collection of one "Jean Pichauld," the "Count of Fortsas." The late Count was said to be an obscure collector who lived in a small town in Belgium. He had put together a small, but very unique collection. The emphasis here is on the word "unique." There were only 52 books in Fortsas' collection, but the Count collected only books that no one else owned, and no bibliographers had ever recorded. Each title offered was a book so rare that no one else had ever heard of it. Chalon sent out a limited number of catalogues to the most notable collectors of the day. The demand for the catalogue was so great that this counterfeit edition was quickly published, but Cummins notes that it is now as rare as the original. On the date of the sale, collectors from all over Europe came to the Belgian town, but there was no such sale. Indeed, there had been no library, no Count of Fortsas, and, naturally, no one had heard of the 52 books before because they did not exist. It was all a joke. Item 91. $3,500.

Item 15 is the catalogue for an auction that actually did take place. It was for the estate of one of the greatest writers of any era, Charles Dickens. Dickens' will had called for the sale of all of his property not specifically bequeathed. This sale, held by the predecessor of today's Sotheby's, was held on July 9, 1870. The catalogue is headed, Catalogue of the Beautiful Collection of Modern Pictures, Water-Colour Drawings, and Objects of Art, of Charles Dickens, Deceased... $1,350.