Aug 1, 2018

17 August 2018

A year or two ago we moved from Hills Road, Homerton College to the other side of the railway line, to the small industrial estate named Restwell House, where our books found a space next to Belfast Bed Superstore, St Barnabas Press, Jack's Gelato, Deliveroo kitchens and the home of Steak and Honour burger vans (just past the Cambridge Computer Museum) We did bring some of the green spirit from our previous location, but it will take a few years until we complete the transformation of this industrial site into a park.

Three or four years since our move here, it is high time indeed to have a party. Tables and chairs will come out into the parking lot, and Plurabelle Books requests the pleasure of your company on 17 August 2018 after 6 pm.

Almost five years at our new location, the bookseller is waiting for his guests. The Victorian china will be unwrapped, and with the help of our local suppliers we shall put on a little spread. Come and have a look how we do book recycling and precision shelving, because Plurabelle is the better better better better world books for all you librarians with surplus stock. And for those who like to adopt a book or two, our book adoption center is open and always looking for new book parents.

If you arrive with a bicycle, the recommended path is taking the bike and pedestrian bridge from the Beehive Centre over the railway line: Then double back on yourself through two traffic lights and past Edmundsons Electricals, Topps Tiles and Reza's Tiles, down Coldhams Road.

If you plan to arrive with a car, be aware that our tables are occupying some of the parking lot and space to park may be limited. We are in the process of arranging additional car parking at the Cambridge Snooker Center further down the road.

Yes, there will be food. And there will be people, strangers mostly, but we also have plenty bookish corners where you can just commune with old books, quietly. A presto!

RSVP Rain cancels. Analphabets, unicyclists and children are welcome. Stock disposal authorities especially welcome. Donald Brexit closure celebration included (as applicable)

May 2, 2017

Sigmund Freud, Otto Pfister, Rudolph Brandt

"John Nomland Booksellers" - the plural of the sales personnel is plain exquisite. And fake. It shuts you up nicely right away. Booksellers who?  The hidden beauty of "booksellers" is "booksseller" - sells many books. Many books indeed. As previously reported, "John Nomland Booksellers" placed his poetry safely with Hugh Miller in 1977. His Spanish material is awaiting dispersal now. A further book "density" from his warehouse, a book knot perhaps, goes back to Otto Pfister, an early Swiss psychoanalyst. Or Rudolph Brandt, a student who is known as the author of The Origins of Psychoanalysis, A Propaedeutics, a MA dissertation from Ottawa dated 1955.

The beauty of such book knots is the history embedded in their compilation. Rarely do you have the 13 linear feet of archival material to tell the story how the collection has come together. Once the dispersal starts, all the evidence that occurs when books are together disappears.

Lets see what we got:

The Otto Pfister Row

This is the Otto Pfister Row. Uniform bindings, library strength binding. Let's get a bit closer:

Reprints. The volume contains a collection of offprints, "Separata". Some authorial corrections and notes are present. But the word on the spine is not a word that is found on these titles. They may be called Separata, but the spine lettering "Reprints" indicates the work of a English speaking binding workshop, or an intended audience of that tongue. 

The binder did splendid work. He has the umlaut for Schönheit, he spells Psychanalyse, just as it must be in the early days of Freud, and he places the quotations marks properly in the German way. But the missing Umlaut in Religiosität again indicates a bookbinder working outside of Pfister's Switzerland.

On the other hand, the books do clearly have an authorial provenance. 

Another copy is inscribed "Leihexemplar.  O. Pfister, Pfr" [Pfarrer], designating it  for the use of friends or visitors who may want to borrow the author's work.

Other traces found among these books are biographical: Pfister's academic diploma from 1897 and the original certificate for his membership in the Verein für Psychatrie und Neurologie in Wien, issued in 1921, was also inserted among the books. 

Pfister is mostly known for the correspondence with Freud which has been published in 1963. The copy in our collection is inscribed "Rudy Brandt" and contains a few annotations in ink, including some dates in ink between printed letters that may indicate letters that have not been not published.

Included in the lot were also multiple photocopies of the original of the first letter by Freud to Pfister, dated 1901. At the bottom of the letter a note in ink has been added in an aged and somewhat insecure hand: "Geht mit wärmsten Grüssen als Andenken an Herrn Prof Dr Rudolf Brandt in Ottawa, Canada - Zürich den 16 Nov 1955, Dr Oskar Pfister, Pfarrer" - "With heartfelt greetings a memento for Professor Dr Rudolf Brandt."

Pfister passes on Freud, scan from photocopy

The original letter by Freud was passed on to Brandt. Pfister valued the collection of letters greatly, in the correspondence with Freud he mentions that for a long period the box which contained all these letters was presumed lost or stolen, and his great joy when it was found again (31/7/1930). The introduction to the volume of letters, edited by Heinrich Meng, mentions the "sehr anregende Freundschaft mit dem heute in Los Angeles lebenden Professor R J Brandt, der die Publikation der Briefe, - auch für Amerika, sehr begrüsst."

The "sehr anregende Freundschaft" involved the present of a Freud letter, the collection of Pfister books which were then uniformly bound by Brandt in North America, and the academic certificates. Pfister died in 1956, 83 years old. The friendship continued with his widow Martha, and we have a letter from her dated 1963, addressed to Brandt in Los Angeles, at the Linde Medical Center.

Brandt is also listed as a member of the Society for Projective Techniques and Research in 1951 and 1954.

Books, what to do with them? I guess Brandt had the idea donate Pfister's books to a library, and proceeded to have them bound to library standards. Apparently he never got around to complete this intention. So they fell into the hands of booksellers, Nomland etc, who make it their mission to find a home for them. Perhaps this time around a safe place will be found for this collection.

May 1, 2017

John Nomland sold his modern poetry collection to Hugh Miller in 1977. The lot was said to comprise of 30.000 titles. It was packed in 652 boxes and was duly delivered to the premises in New Haven Ct. Sixty boxes were found dented upon arrival, but no damage to report. John Nomland was a librarian and bookseller, also the son and brother of Kemper Nomland, modernist architect father and son team. In his correspondence, safely housed at special collections at UCLA, he presents himself as a weekend bookseller and a weekday librarian for the Los Angeles City College, today known as Los Angeles Community College.

Librarianship may have been in crisis there. There were disputes if the Encyclopedia Britannica would be appropriate for the library, or if their students would better be served by the less demanding World Encyclopedia. Somehow this inner city college library gave its librarian enough time to venture into bookselling. Big time.

The bookseller's archive at UCLA  is substantial: 26 boxes (13 linear ft.) of archival material. About his work for the library we know very little. Just imagine the conflicts of interest that are bound to occur when librarian and bookseller is the same person. Imagine you deal with a publisher in your official capacity, and then you add a PS in your private capacity. That earns you a great discount right from the start. Imagine you want to sell to another library and you can do so with colleague and librarianship credentials. No end of temptations, it seems. Well, it's nice if you can get it.

Nomland did have some issues. He disliked the smell of deceit. Some UK publishers would issue lists with prices in £ and $. Currency rates being what they are, he was keen to buy in £, even if he resided in Los Angeles, and that led to some cancellations and returns, if UK publishers would not play ball. The correspondence include disputes about discounts, anger about rogue booksellers taking advantage of him, and the memorable "I guess I just had my second unfortunate experience with you," addressed to a colleague, George Milkey - "but I do not intend to be victimized." Rogues all over!

 "I guess I just had my second unfortunate experience with you..."

Our Nomland also wrote a book on the Teatro Mexicano Contemporáneo: 1900 - 1950 (1967). It was based on his 1957 UCLA dissertation, which was written in English. He was travelling often across the California border for his book expeditions. Here is one of his Mexican additions.

Buying Books in Mexico City

His business letterhead and the library letterhead alternate in the archive, but the matter is always the commerce of printed matter:

In 1977 Hugh Miller took on the entire collection of his poetry and small press books. Adding up the books must have been quite a challenge, as we can see from the calculations here.

29,901 books counted

Shortly afterwards, Hugh Miller announced his haul in the American Bookman

But what happened to the rest of his collection? A colleague and friend reports that his estate was well ordered, after his death in 1988. The widow apparently had detailed instructions about what each book was worth. My friend was unable to buy from the front rooms with shelves of high expectations. So he asked to see the garden shed. There he found a collection of Spanish language material, mostly poetry, but also political and local history. He got that lot and sold some of it in Los Angeles. I think he was a little intimidated by the material, so he put it into the side room, closed the door, and showed it only to the occasional visitor. Occasionally.

Then came Rexford Elegant Appartments LLC. His bookstore faced closure because the shop premises are being developed. I helped him with this Wunderkammer, and the Spanish language material is now available at this link.

Apr 21, 2016

Language Reform: ffep sl mrkd VG+ ex lib

Mail order bookselling, just to remind us, used to be a paper-based business. Every month or two you would crank out a list of books, copy it, mimeograph it on the Gestetner and send it out to your band of trusted clients which made up your mailing list.

That kind of paper business has its own economy: There was the question of postage: How many pages can you squeeze into this envelope and still get away with the lower postage rate. Did you weigh the staple, and did you allow for the weight of the stamp itself? Most importantly: How many books can you get onto one page without insulting the eyes of your buyers?

The solution, over many years, was abbreviations. Some catalogues would explain them, most would presume you knew what they were talking about. There was VG for “very good”, 4to for a larger format, and pb for a paperback. Ex lib would denote a book which has served time in a library, and “good”, oh dear, “good” would designate a book that was mostly for reading only.

A whole culture of abbreviations grew around the book trade. This secret language gave us some professional status, and it also gave the collector a certain sense of being on the inside. The author of Driff's Guide to all the Secondhand & Antiquarian Bookshops in Britain caught the importance (and the absurdity) of abbreviating when he coined lots of new abbreviations for his guide to bookshops: BSN = Bibliographically subnormal, ETGOW = Easy to get on with, FARTS = Follows you around recommending the stock, GOB =Grand old bore, KEENON = Keen on stocking if they could get it, etc.

Then the price for bandwidth went down and the price for postage went up, and bookselling migrated to the net. Lo and behold, the economy of paper, which once made abbreviations necessary, fell away. But the book trade took a long time to notice this. Today, Google carries the descriptions of our books into the farthest corners of the web. We can no longer count on the insider knowledge of the band of collectors who know the lingo. We need to be understood even by the person who has never before bought a book. Language Reform!

Updating the language of our book descriptions is now almost completed.  tp, sl, sm, pb, hb, VG, ex lib, 4to, dj, ed, engr, eps, fep, ffep and such are on their way out. We put the cards on the table and call our books no longer “ex lib”, but advertise them as “from a Cambridge college library”. It was surely an interesting experience to go through more than 50.000 records and recognize the various dialects our helpers have used in the past. Luckily, there was some consistency in the akwardnesses of wording and abbreviating. Once you understood the linguistic patterns, search and replace would run its magic.

Hopefully, this has produced more transparent descriptions for our books. It does not call for serious prose when you try to make the buyer aware of the benefits and shortcomings of a certain book, but there are some moments of hilarity and insight, as when the shortcomings of a book are defined as “not detracting from the enjoyment of the book” or when our cataloguer would describe the precise location of an ink stamp in the book. Plurabelle marches forward into the bright light of unabbreviated bookselling.

Jun 2, 2015

Shelf Conversations: Error. Crises.

It's the appropriate place for an error, one would think. They give you something to erase the pencil marks. Much easier. The lessons continue later and later. They don't give you anything though. The classes are ever more difficult to comprehend.
The Coup says nothing, observing the passing day.
The enthusiasm of his neighbour is grating ever so slightly.
"Would you like to borrow an eraser?" asks the Errors in School.
After an awkward silence comes the rather abrupt reply.
"Should I make a mistake I will be sure to let you know."


Shelf Conversations: Addiction and a Certain British Upper Lip

"The powder was dissolved in alcohol." the Eater explained. "All relatively dismal in hindsight."
"Quite" came the sharp reply from the left. "Would you excuse me I'm trying to rest my eyes. That time of day you see."
The Eater continued "Yes, that time of day indeed. Everybody has a vice, Old Chap."
A quick response again "Rest is not a vice. You cannot dissolve it in anything."

Shelf Conversations: Economics and Eden

"Not much space here I'm afraid." whispered Eden "What is it that you do exactly?"
"I balance" the Economics bellowed. "And yourself?"
Eden paused and had to think.
"Something nice, maybe, I'm on my way somewhere" Eden beamed.
"You seem to be relatively still, do you know where you're going?" Economics asked furrowing and feigning.
"Somewhere." replied Eden. "Somewhere."