Recent Acquisitions: New Ladies in My Library

New books

One of the difficulties of looking for women book collectors is that they are not always identified as such. One can search for variations on “women book collectors,” “lady bibliophiles,” and so on, but this approach is hardly comprehensive. Skimming book titles and indexes of books about books looking for female names is another approach, but quickly becomes overwhelming. Unless you already know the name you’re looking for, it’s hard to narrow down the results.

Just when I thought I’d exhausted my current search strategies, I stumbled across a simple new idea.While browsing the Oak Knoll website, I came across an auction catalogue of a woman’s library, one whose name I had never seen before. I needed to figure out what combination of search terms would produce more items like that. It finally occurred to me that all similar catalogues from that time period would preface the woman’s name with “Mrs.” or “Miss.” A title search for the keywords “Mrs.” and “library” or “collection” brought up a few familiar titles and a number of new ones, which I promptly ordered.

Names new to me:

  • Mrs. Charles W. Engelhard
  • Mrs. Laetitia Hollier
  • Mrs. Christian R. Holmes
  • Mrs. E.F. Hutton
  • Rose Standish Nichols
  • Mrs. Whitelaw Reid
  • Louise Elkins Sinkler
  • Mrs. William A. Taylor
  • Mrs. Henry Walters

I will be trying this search in other library catalogs and book search engines to see what else may be out there. Meanwhile, I need to do some more research on these new names and add them to my bibliography.

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Margaret Bingham Stillwell, Curator and Scholar

margaret stillwell1

Margaret Stillwell, from Librarians are Human.

Margaret Bingham Stillwell, curator of the Annmary Brown Memorial Library, overcame personal tragedy and professional barriers to become the first woman professor at Brown University and a respected authority on early printed books.

While Stillwell was still an undergraduate at Brown University, George Parker Winship hired her to be an assistant at the John Carter Brown Library, where she worked for seven years. From 1914 to 1917, she worked at the New York Public Library to catalog the early Americana collection under the supervision of Wilberforce Eames. There she met Chester Cate, a librarian of the Huntington Library, and they soon fell in love. He died in a hunting accident several years later, and after that she never married.

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Are Women the Enemies of Books?

Bookmaking on the Distaff Side

Anne Lyon Haight, “Are Women the Natural Enemies of Books?” Bookmaking on the Distaff Side (1937).

“There is a significant and instinctive enmity between women and books.”  Holbrook Jackson, The Fear of Books (1932). 

In 1937, Anne Lyon Haight asked “Are Women the Natural Enemies of Books?” Haight went on to refute this idea with a history of several notable women bibliophiles. Unfortunately, the works on women book collectors are vastly outnumbered by the many writers who have called women the enemies of books.

In 1880, William Blades wrote a book titled The Enemies of Books, in which he enumerated all the dangers which might befall rare books. The complete list from his revised and enlarged edition of 1888 includes ten enemies: fire, water, gas & heat, dust & neglect, ignorance & bigotry, the bookworm, other vermin, bookbinders, collectors, and servants & children. Many book collectors of that time would have added Women to the list, a danger regarded as equally threatening to the survival of their collections. Continue reading

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Catalogues of Imaginary Libraries

Thomas Wharton, The Logogryph: A Bibliography of Imaginary Books (2004).

Thomas Wharton, The Logogryph: A Bibliography of Imaginary Books (2004).

“To write vast books is a laborious nonsense, much better is to offer a summary as if those books actually existed.”  — Jorge Luis Borges

Catalogues of imaginary libraries are an obscure but fruitful area of collecting. The tradition of imaginary books, which exist only within other books, goes back at least to Rabelais, who invented a list of book titles for the Abbey of Saint-Victor in Gargantua and Pantagruel (c. 1532).

Famous imaginary books include the Necronomicon in H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos series, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy in Douglas Adams’ series of the same name, and The Red Book of Westmarch in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings. Some works of fiction take it a step further with the addition of footnotes to imaginary books, such as the fictitious history texts cited in Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell.  Continue reading

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Dollhouse Library

Dollhouse library roombox.

Dollhouse library roombox.

One of the dangers of collecting is the prospect of the collections taking over the entire house. One way to avoid this is to collect in miniature, thereby containing everything to a more manageable scale.

In my case, this collection has gradually evolved into a miniature dollhouse library. The roombox, with a sliding plexiglass front to keep out dust and curious cats, has been finished on the inside with wallpaper, a hardwood floor, and crown molding.
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Children’s Books about Libraries

The Children's Book on How to Use Books and Libraries

Carolyn Mott and Leo B. Baisden, The Children’s Book on How to Use Books and Libraries

I stumbled across the book that inspired this collection in a vintage shop. The cover of the book, which had been reused to make a blank journal, instantly caught my eye. Both the title — The Children’s Book on How to Use Books and Libraries — and the charmingly simple stick figure illustrations captured my imagination. I tracked down a complete copy and soon began collecting other illustrated children’s books about libraries.

At first I collected only books published before 1970, but then expanded to selected modern children’s books as well. I have to be selective, because my Google Books bookshelf of children’s books about libraries currently includes 348 titles, and more are being published every year.
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The Library of Babel

The Library of Babel

The Library of Babel, illustrated by Eric Desmazières.

The Universe (which others call the Library) is composed of an indefinite, perhaps infinite number of hexagonal galleries.

Jorge Luis Borges’s vision of the infinite library has captivated imagination since its first publication in 1941. It has been frequently reprinted, referenced, and reimagined in subsequent publications. My small collection of the Library of Babel consists of English-language translations, usually with illustrations. The collection started with the edition printed in 2000, translated by Andrew Hurley and with etchings by Eric Desmazières. Continue reading

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