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Vinegar valentine cards – vintage insults for 14 February

More than 150 years ago, Victorian ‘greeting card trolls’ were using the fledgling postal system to insult people with so-called ‘Vinegar Valentine’ cards. These anonymous cards, illustrated with caricatures and snarky poetry, were a major phenomenon as the ability to communicate regardless of distance became more accessible.

It appears vinegar valentines originated in the United States around 1840 and were used for around 100 years. They were also widely used in Britain. The artwork and verse mocked some characteristic of the recipient. Gluttons, drinkers, braggarts, windbags, ugly people, vain people, and stupid people – they were all fair game. The tone of verse ranged from gentle to downright vicious and abusive.

Learn more about vinegar valentines.


Bookseller Q&A: Meet Lucius Books

James Hallgate of Lucius Books

In the run-up to the 2017 London International Antiquarian Book Fair, which is proudly supported by AbeBooks.co.uk, we are celebrating the rare bookselling community. We begin by profiling Lucius Books from York, a seller with AbeBooks since 2000.

Lucius Books began trading in 1993, when James Hallgate started to buy and sell crime fiction first editions in Northeast  England. Embracing the Internet early on as both a buying and selling tool, the business grew quickly to serve customers far and wide. Whilst based in the historic city of York, Lucius Books have always travelled… to find customers, and rare and unusual books, exhibiting at fairs in the UK, Europe, New York, California, Hong Kong and Australia along the way.

In 2003, Lucius Books opened its first bricks and mortar shop, and Georgina Hallgate joined the company in 2005 (having previously worked for Nigel Williams Rare Books in London). Monica Polisca joined in 2011 as the business continued to grow. They occupied three different shops on Fossgate in York over 12 years until the devastating floods of Christmas 2015 forced the business into offices. The business plans to re-open in a new central York location later this year. Lucius Books are proud members of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association and abide by their strict code of conduct.

Lucius’ inventory is broad and, at times, unusual. There’s the original artwork for Roald Dahl’s Danny The Champion of the World, a drawing by John Lennon, a graffiti jacket (and we’re not talking dust jackets) by various artists, and that’s before we get to the books, which are all accompanied with high quality photographs.

You will see Lucius Books at the 2017 London International Antiquarian Book Fair in Olympia between June 1-3 – the premier rare book event in the UK.

James, Georgina and Monica took a few moments to answer our questions.

AbeBooks: What do you love most about selling books and collectibles?

James Hallgate: “The entire process, really. The thrill of the chase, the travelling, not knowing what you will find from one day to the next – it certainly keeps things interesting. The discovery and research, then cataloguing and photography to present each item in its best light and concluding with finding a happy home.  The opportunity to help build and develop customers’ collections with them is a privilege and something we relish.”

AbeBooks: What is the most interesting collectible item you’ve come across?

George Orwell’s inscription to Osbert Sitwell

James Hallgate: “We are lucky to have had the opportunity to handle many landmark books, manuscripts and objects over the last couple of decades and to unravel the background, association or provenance of any of them – to be part of that snapshot in time and history – is fascinating and awe-inspiring. Stand-out pieces for me would be John Lennon’s handwritten manuscript lyrics for ‘Imagine’ and the first edition of Nineteen Eighty-Four George Orwell inscribed and presented to Osbert Sitwell just weeks before Orwell died.”

AbeBooks: What’s the oddest thing you’ve found in a book?

Georgina Hallgate: “A couple of years ago, I decided to buy a book I remembered reading as a child, planning to read it to our own kids. There were several copies available on AbeBooks, and I went for one in the edition I remembered (a paperback) in nice condition. When the book arrived a few days later, I opened it up to find it had a handwritten dedication. It took a minute to take it in. The writing was as familiar as my own. The name of the dedicatee was familiar too. My mother’s writing, my brother’s name – I’d bought back the very copy I’d read as a child. My mum must have given it away or donated it once we had outgrown it, yet somehow here it was. It’s back on our shelves now as if it has never been anywhere else, despite having been who knows where for 30 years.”

AbeBooks: What’s your most memorable moment as a bookseller?

James Hallgate: “Most memorable and proudest moment is being admitted into the Antiquarian Booksellers Association as (at the time) their youngest member (by some 15 years or so I was told.). Things have moved on a bit since then and happily there are now lots of younger members coming through.”

AbeBooks: What is the most unusual paper collectible you currently have in stock?

James Hallgate: “That would have to be the London Fundergrounder paper spectacles (although I’m so fond of them I’m not sure we’ve got round to cataloguing them yet). Theoretically they are for sale though.

I’m a Fundergrounder Spectacles

AbeBooks: And of course, what’s your favourite book?

The Tyger Tray, available from Lucius Books

James Hallgate: The answer to that could probably change two or three times in any one year but the one I always go back to would be The Tyger Tray by “B.B.” (Denys Watkins-Pitchford), loved it since the first time I read it as a 10 year old.”

Georgina Hallgate: “As a child, my favourite books were about horses. Walter Farley’s Black Stallion series and the Jill books by Ruby Ferguson. I’ve bought them all again but don’t dare read them in case they don’t match up to my memories. In my 20s, I loved Le Grand Meaulnes by Alain-Fournier. I still love that one, but I don’t hanker for the picturesque melancholy in the same way any more. I discovered Anagrams by Lorrie Moore when I was doing a creative writing masters in Manchester. My tutor, Suzannah Dunn, who can write note-perfect dialogue and interior monologue herself, put this book on our reading list. I have re-read it often- it’s like a puzzle held up to the light and examined repeatedly from different angles.

“Lately I have loved The Goldfinch by Donna Tartt, and am in awe of its clarity and purpose. Wolf Hall by Hilary Mantel is another. And I couldn’t not include Emma by Jane Austen. And Georgette Heyer, thought I don’t know which I’d choose – like marmalade truffles, one is never enough.”

Monica Polisca: “Dostoyevsky’s Crime and Punishment, I’ve read it four times, in both Italian and English, one day perhaps I’ll be able to in Russian.”

Learn more about the London International Antiquarian Book Fair


PBFA’s Kensington Christmas Book Fair returns, 3 December

Get set for the PBFA’s 2016 Kensington Christmas Book Fair

The PBFA’s Kensington Christmas Book Fair returns on 3 December. Now a fixture on the British rare book calendar, the Christmas Book Fair has a new venue this year – the Hilton London Olympia Hotel at 380 Kensington High Street.

The fair opens at 11am and closes at 5pm. Entrance is £2 on the door or via a free ticket downloaded from the PBFA website. Thousands of rare books, prints, art and ephemera is available for sale from than 50 excellent booksellers.

The sellers in attendance include AshtonRareBooks, Worlds End Bookshop, Jonkers Rare Books, John Atkinson Fine & Rare Books, Peter Harrington, Holybourne Rare Books, Peter Foster Books, and Sophie Schneideman Rare Books. There is an intriguing mix of major sellers from London and smaller dealers from the rest of the country.

The hotel is a five-minute walk from Kensington Olympia Overground Station and 10 minutes walking from Earls Court (District and Piccadilly lines) or High Street Kensington (District and Circle lines) stations. Bus stops for the 9, 10, 27, 28, 49 and C1 routes are located just outside the hotel.

AbeBooks.co.uk is thrilled to once again be a sponsor of this event.


Video: 10 Things You Didn’t Know About Your Favourite Fairy Tales

For more grisly truths about ancient tales, read our latest feature, The Gruesome Origins of Classic Fairy Tales.


Introducing INK LDN: London’s latest book fair

Two Temple Place, venue for INK LDN

There’s a new book fair in town… or least in London. INK LDN is a brand new international antiquarian book and art fair that takes place on October 21 and 22 at 2 Temple Place on the Embankment.

The brainchild of London-based antiquarian booksellers Ines Bellin and Leo Cadogan, and sponsored by AbeBooks.co.uk, INK LDN brings together dealers offering rare books, art, photography and manuscripts.

The Fair will focus on exhibitors offering exclusive items. “We don’t want dealers with 12 first editions of Ulysses,” said Ines Bellin. “We are emphasizing quality over quantity. INK LDN will be a sophisticated, elegant book fair.”

The venue is a magnificent building built by newspaper and property magnate William Waldorf Astor that still boasts beautiful artwork, and opulent décor. It’s where Downton Abbey filmed the marriage of Lady Rose and Atticus Aldrige.

You will find 2 Temple Place at London, WC2R 3BD. Admission is £10. The opening hours are Friday 21st October, 11am-7pm, and Saturday 22nd October, 11am-3pm. The nearest Tube station is Temple on the District and Circle lines.

Numerous sellers who use the AbeBooks marketplace will be present at INK LDN, including Peter Harrington, Bernard Quaritch, Maggs Bros, Shapero Rare Books, Sophia Rare Books from Denmark, and Libreria Alberto Govi di Fabrizio Govi from Italy.

INK LDN is staging a charity dinner is in aid of the London Library on 19 October at 7pm, at The Crypt at St Etheldreda’s, 14 Ely Place, London EC1N 8SJ.  There is also a champagne reception and preview on 20 October starting at 5pm at 2 Temple Place.

Visit the INK LDN website for more information and tickets.

One of the booksellers who will be attending INK LDN is Abby Schoolman from New York, who specializes in art bookbindings and artist’s books. Abby was kind enough to answer some questions about her line of work.

Bookseller Abby Schoolman

AbeBooks: Tell us about your business?

Abby Schoolman: “There are five incredibly talented artists with whom I work with exclusively. Whatever they make, I sell. I also include in my inventory a number of specially selected books by other talented bookbinders and book artists.”

AbeBooks: How did you get started in the bookselling business?

Abby Schoolman: “I was trained as an archivist and rare book librarian. In early 2000, while working for a historical society in New York, I was recruited by Bauman Rare Books to work in its then brand new Madison Avenue gallery. I jumped at the chance. For over 14 years, I worked with five centuries of the most interesting and beautiful books in almost every field of human thought. It was heaven.

“A few days before I started working for Bauman, I stumbled across an exhibit of contemporary bindings of books on angling at the American Museum of Natural History. For the first time in my life, I bought an exhibition catalog. Little did I know that, many years later, buying exhibition catalogs of contemporary bookbinding exhibits from the mid-20th century to the present would become my obsession.

“One thing I had often discussed was the lack of information available on the great contemporary binders of the Americas. Who were they and where? My French is terrible and I don’t speak Spanish or Portuguese. The Internet is pretty useless where art bookbinding is concerned. I started haunting The Strand‘s ‘on Books’ aisle and the Oak Knoll website for books and catalogs about modern binding. With those first few gems I picked up at The Strand, I started a blog, American Bound. It was just for fun. I had no idea where it would lead. I studied the work of and met so many wonderful bookbinders and book artists while writing my blog. A year later, I decided to go out on my own, do consulting work in the trade, and try to figure out how to create my dream job: selling art bookbindings and artist’s books made by living artists.

“Almost immediately, the strangest thing happened. A binding I had posted as part of one of my (then) weekly blog entries was purchased by a dealer. He is someone I know well. He sent me an email asking for the contact information for the binder. I didn’t know her personally, but her contact information was in the exhibition catalog in which I had seen the binding. I passed it along. The binder, Malina Belcheva of Chicago, sold the book (which is now in the book arts collection of the Boston Athenaeum) and asked me to be her agent. I quickly asked three of my favorite art binders if they would work with me. They all said yes. I was amazed that Christine Giard (France), Sonya Sheats (USA), and Mark Cockram (UK) would want to work with someone just starting out in their field. I started my business with all the bindings these four artists could send me.

“Less than a year later I took on a few books from Timothy C. Ely. He had worked with many great book arts booksellers such as Ursus Books, Granary Books, and the late Toni Zwicker, and many art galleries. Ely, in my opinion, is one of the greatest living book artists. For just over a year, I have had the great honor of being Ely’s sole bookseller. I recently published a book on eight of his most recently completed works. It’s called Timothy C. Ely: 8 Books. I call it a book, but really it is a bookseller’s catalog that got way, way out of hand: 58 pages on just eight books.”

One of Abby’s Timothy C. Ely books, called Gamma Cruxis

AbeBooks: You work closely with artists – what is that process like?

Abby Schoolman: “Mostly, I stay out of their way. I want them to make whatever they want, in whatever format or medium they choose, regardless of what they have made or sold in the past. The freedom to choose, and the freedom from the constraints of set book competitions, juried exhibitions, and traditional expectations allows the artists breathing space. The result is better art.

“My role as agent and bookseller for my five principal artists varies greatly based on individual needs or projects. Sometimes I am a sounding board for ideas, sometimes a safe space for venting frustration, sometimes I am a student learning about structure or technique or obscure bookbinder lore, sometimes I gently give deadlines by providing a list of dates of upcoming book and art fairs. For some I write or edit documents. I also try to hustle on the behalf of those artists who wish to line up lectures, workshops, or other gigs. Often I listen to their ideas for bookselling; some of my artists have been in the book business for far longer than I, though from a different angle.”

AbeBooks: What is the most prized item in your inventory?

Abby Schoolman: “Timothy Ely’s unique manuscript and binding Bones of the Book: An Oblong Identity is a masterpiece. There is simply no other way to look at it. It’s huge (44.5cm x 30cm x 3.5cm), very personal and, even for Ely, incredibly complex in scope. It is special in many ways, not least because it took him 25 years to complete. The title page says 1990 and it was exhibited. He didn’t sell it. Sometimes he showed it, but the truth is that it just didn’t feel finished to him. In 2015, he removed the original binding (now in the Ely archives), worked more on the original pages, added pages, and rebound the book. It is now truly complete, spectacular, and will be at INK LDN.

Bones of a Book by Timothy C. Ely

“Bones of the Book is the second in a three-book series that differs significantly from Ely’s other art. These books are both biographical and autobiographical. Each honors the important influence of family members in Ely’s life, and combines it with an aspect of bookbinding—the format Ely has chosen to house his artwork throughout his career. In each case, there is also a third narrative that plays a significant role in Ely’s identity as an individual and as an artist.

“The series began with Binding the Book: The Flight Into Egypt in 1985. Egypt is about Ely’s grandfather, the journal he left behind about his mysterious trip to Egypt between the wars, bookbinding, and the geography of Egypt. For much more information, see The Flight into Egypt: Binding the Book. It’s out-of-print, but there are often copies available on AbeBooks.”

AbeBooks: Why do you support and participate in bookfairs?

Abby Schoolman: “I love book fairs. When I worked for Bauman Rare Books, I loved to select the books, travel to the fair venue, set up the showcases, and walk around gaping at all the books. It’s glorious to see the best, the most interesting, their weirdest, the most beautiful books and ephemera from all over the world just lined up for you to look at and hold. There’s a buzz and enthusiasm among the dealers who have carefully selected the sexiest items in their inventory. It’s not at all the same as visiting a bookshop.”

AbeBooks: What’s your favourite book?

Abby Schoolman: “I can answer that a number of different ways, but I’ll stick with the book arts: I have an unreasonable obsession with Paul Nash’s Genesis.”


John le Carré: “The best book I have ever read on men and war”

Michael Herr co-wrote the screenplay for Full Metal Jacket

John le Carré described it as “the best book I have ever read on men and war in our time,”  while The Guardian placed the title on its list of the top 100 non-fiction books. The publisher was so proud of this quote from le Carré  that they emblazoned it on the cover of later editions.

Published in 1977, Dispatches by Michael Herr describes the author’s experiences in Vietnam as a war correspondent for Esquire magazine. It was an early example of writing revealing the awful truth about the Vietnam War.

A 1977 first edition of Dispatches by Michael Herr

Dispatches used the New Journalism style of writing where authors immerse themselves in a subject in order to go beyond the facts. An earlier example is In Cold Blood by Truman Capote.

Characters from Herr’s book inspired characters in Apocalypse Now and Full Metal Jacket. Herr co-wrote the screenplay for Full Metal Jacket along with director Stanley Kubrick and Gustav Hasford. The screenplay was nominated for an Academy Award. Herr later wrote a biography about Kubrick, whom he knew well.

His other books include Walter Winchell, a biographical novel about the American journalist and broadcaster, and The Big Room: Forty-Eight Portraits from the Golden Age, a book about Hollywood stars such as Judy Garland, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis Presley, and Frank Sinatra.


Introducing Collections: A new way of shopping for collectables

AbeBooks' Collections

We’re excited to announce that AbeBooks.co.uk has launched a new method of shopping for collectables – including art, ephemera and books – that combines the expertise of sellers around the world with the ability to discover hundreds of diverse, eclectic and often surprising items in a matter of seconds.

Collections is a new highly visual section of the AbeBooks marketplace that contains thousands of themed lists curated by our independent professional sellers. A large number of first edition and signed books are displayed alongside collectable art and photography, historic maps and atlases, and multiple types of ephemera.

The art and photography category offers drawings and sketches, original art, paintings, photographs and prints. The ephemera section displays broadsides, vintage magazines, pamphlets, postcards from numerous nations, and posters covering cinema, politics, travel, and other topics.

Customers can easily hop from one collection to the next, going deeper into niche subjects. It’s easy to become sidetracked by the things found inside Collections. Virginia-based seller Lorne Bair offers a curated collection of obscure books about Eccentrics, Cranks & Difficult People. Hungarian seller Földvári Books offers intriguing Eastern Bloc propaganda ephemera. New York-based seller Donald A. Heald offers historic American pocket maps. Dutch seller Librarium of The Hague offers beautiful military prints from the 19th century. San Diego’s Charles Lewis Best offers detailed black and white engravings of invertebrates.

Customers can browse lists curated by individual sellers or view ‘Master Collections’ that combine similar Collections into a single curated list that can extend into thousands of items.

Related lists are continually recommended, and look out for Collections that catch the eye of our editorial team in the editor’s picks section.

Visit Collections


Murder mystery mail! Enjoy the Agatha Christie stamps

The Royal Mail announced it would be releasing a series of Agatha Christie stamps with “hidden secrets” to mark the 126th anniversary of her birth. The six stamps are devoted to her mysteries, and include her debut The Mysterious Affair at Styles and the classic Murder on the Orient Express.

The Guardian says:

Each design includes microtext, UV ink and thermochromic ink. These concealed clues can be revealed using either a magnifying glass, UV light or body heat and and provide pointers to the mysteries’ solutions.

Browse our Agatha Christie Collection.


Original Pauline Baynes drawing for Prince Caspian sells for £5,000

Sold for 5,000, this original drawing from Prince Caspian

I’ve lost count of the number of times I have read Prince Caspian by C.S. Lewis, and this image of the Pevensie children and Trumpkin crawling through the woods under a rain of arrows is ingrained into my memory. I am not the only person with fond memories for this Chronicles of Narnia book – somebody just paid £5,000 ($6,662) for the original drawing by illustrator Pauline Baynes via AbeBooks. Look at the notes surrounding the illustration.

Baynes (1922-2008) illustrated more than 100 books, notably for Lewis and his fellow Inkling JRR Tolkien. A number of other original drawings from Prince Caspian are also available for purchase.

Find copies of Prince Caspian

Find more original drawings from Prince Caspian

Browse our C.S. Lewis curated Collection


The best of Instagram life becomes a book

Image by @_juliafox_

So there’s now a book about the best photographs on Instagram. Life on Instagram features images selected by Jim Stoddart, art director at Penguin. The photo-sharing network was launched in 2010 and now has more than 500 million users. For many users, Instagram is their essential app on their smartphones. Almost 100 million pictures and videos are posted each day so I wonder how Jim whittled down his selection. This image of a lady in a bath robe armed with a rifle caught my eye. Even if it’s staged, this a great shot. There are many more beautiful and thought-provoking images.

Find copies of Life on Instagram