S.R.

Filippo Bentivegna

It’s rare that I post anything that is not related to books, but after visiting sculptor Filippo Bentivegna’s museum in Sciacca, Sicily, and realizing there is not much online, in English, about him and his work, I decided to publish this short piece and some pictures I took. Like many Italians (including me) did, Bentivegna, born in 1888, emigrated to the United States in 1913, hoping to find a way to make a better living. He lived in New York and settled in Boston. He fell in love with a girl, who apparently had another young man already interested in her. In 1919, during a fight between the two love rivals, Filippo was hit on the head badly enough that the American authorities, considering him unable to work, sent him back to Italy. Back in Sciacca, he went to live in an olive orchard, where he began sculpting heads in stone. He made hundreds of them, creating what he called his kingdom. In town they called him “Filippo the Idiot.” After his death in 1967, his work was left unprotected, and began to be damaged and vandalized. Fortunately, the local authorities finally decided to safeguard such an impressive trove, and the site is now an open-air museum. Here are a few pictures I took during my visit.

Maurice’s Book Collection

I imagine most people interested in children’s books know what happened a few years ago with the legal dispute between the Maurice Sendak estate and the Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philadelphia. Here is a recap of the whole thing, in case: Libraries, Authors, and Literary Estates: The Complex Case of Rosenbach v. Sendak (2016)

Personally, I think those books that Sendak lovingly collected and was inspired by, should have remained in Ridgefield, CT, in the house where he lived and worked. But a judge decided otherwise and so they ended up at the Rosenbach. At the time of the decision I thought: that’s sad, but at least these books will stay together and will be accessible to anyone who studies or simply loves Sendak and his work. I realize now how naive I was. All those books were just put up for auction by the Rosenbach. I don’t get it. It’s a real shame that such a unique collection will be dismantled, unless someone buys it all and keeps it whole, which is unlikely. It shows closed-mindedness and no respect for Maurice’s life.

I don’t know if this link will still work after the auction is over, but here it is: “Selections from Maurice Sendak’s Personal Collection Sold to Benefit The Rosenbach.”

And here are some of the material, with the descriptions taken from the auction house’s website.

Songs for the Nursery. London: William Darnton, 1822. 

The 1822 printing of this rare collection of nursery songs. Includes “Jack and Jill,” Hushabye, Baby,” “Rain, rain go away,” “Pat a Cake,” “Hiccory, Diccory, Dock,” “Little Miss Muffett,” “Old Mother Hubbard,” and many others that have fallen into obscurity. Songs for the Nursery first appeared in 1805 (without illustrations) and printed “Little Miss Muffet” for the first time. 

12mo (120 x 95mm). 24 plates dated 15 June 1818, 1 p. ad at rear (one plate with repaired tear through printer’s imprint). (A little minor toning and fingersoiling throughout, ink spot to title page at “S” in “songs”.) Blue paper wrappers (spine toned, a little chipping at ends). 

Songs for the Nursery. London: William Darton, 1825.

Rare, with original hand-coloring. Includes many ditties still popular today such as “Jack and Jill,” Hushabye, Baby,” “Rain, rain go away,” “Pat a Cake,” “Hiccory, Diccory, Dock,” “Sing a Song of Sixpence,” and others that have fallen by the cultural wayside. 

12mo (132 x 102mm). 24 hand-colored plates dated 15 June 1818. 5 pp. ad at rear. Original muslin, paper printed label (old cloth rebacking, some rubbing, corners bumped). 

GRIMM, Wilhelm (1786-1859). Autograph manuscript of a tale, “Liebe Mili” (‘Dear Mili‘), n.p., n.d. [1816]. 

In German. 134 lines, densely written on 3½ pages, 243 x 206mm, bifolium, a clean copy with a few minor autograph emendations, early annotation at upper margin of p.1 “Wilhelm Grimm 1816” (separating a little along center crease, with two tiny areas of loss measuring no more than 2mm, not affecting any words; a few minor spots of soiling). Custom folder and box. Provenance: reportedly by descent from the recipient; sold at J.A. Stargardt, Marburg, 12 June 1974, lot 638a (DM 12,000) – bought by Bernard H. Breslauer – acquired by the publishers Farrar, Straus & Giroux from Justin Schiller, 1983, and subsequently presented to Maurice Sendak. 

A complete tale by Wilhelm Grimm, apparently lost until its rediscovery at auction in 1974. Grimm’s tale begins with a 23-line introductory paragraph in the form of a letter to “Dear Mili,” imagining her throwing a flower into a brook: the flower becomes an analogy of the meeting of minds, and Grimm goes on “Thus does my heart go out to you, and though my eyes have not seen you yet, it loves you and thinks it is sitting beside you. And you say: ‘Tell me a story.’ And it replies: ‘Yes, dear Mili, just listen.'” The tale itself then opens in the traditional style, “Once upon a time there was a widow who lived at the very end of a village…” and relates the story (as summarised by Edwin McDowell, “A Fairy Tale by Grimm Comes to Light,” New York Times, 28 September 1983) of “a mother who sends her daughter into the woods to save her from impending war. The unnamed child … is led by her guardian angel to the hut of an old man who gives her shelter, and whose kindness she repays by serving him faithfully for what she thinks are three days but which are actually thirty years.” She is then returned in safety to her now aged mother, and tale concludes “They sat together the whole evening in great joy, then went to bed serenely and calmly, but the next morning the neighbors found them both dead.” 

The manuscript dates from only four years after the first edition of the Grimms’ Kinder- und Hausmärchen, and is characteristic of the unsettling tone and apparent moral vacuum of many of the Grimms’s tales. There are no records of an autograph Grimm tale selling at international auction since the present manuscript sold in 1974: according to the catalogue of the Bodmer library, which has an early composite manuscript of 45 tales, “the Brothers Grimm systematically destroyed all the preliminary work for their edition of the fairy tales, probably in order to prevent the comparison between the handwritten versions and later printed edition.” Dear Mili was first published by Farrar, Straus & Giroux in 1988, translated by Ralph Manheim, with illustrations by Maurice Sendak.

CRUIKSHANK, George (1792-1878). [Fairy Library, comprising:] Hop-O’My-Thumb. London: David Bogue [1853]. [With:] Jack and the Beanstalk. London: David Bogue [1854]. [With:] Cinderella and the Glass Slipper. London: David Bogue [1854]. [With:] Puss in Boots. London: Routledge, Warne and Routledge [1864].

First editions of Cruikshank’s Fairy Library. The first two volumes Hop-O’My-Thumb and Jack and the Beanstalk are first issues, with all of Cohn’s points. Cinderella has two of the three first issue points and Puss has two of the four first issue points. Cohn 196, 197, 198, 199. 

Four volumes, octavo (175 x 133mm; Puss: 183 x 135mm). Six plates in each volume as called for, for a total of 24 (a little foxing). Green pictorial wrappers (some soiling, covers starting to detach a little along spines in a couple volumes and small corner of loss to one volume, some general wear). Custom box. Provenance: Henry Bache Smith (bookplate) – Algernon Frederick Hussey (ownership inscription). 

GRIMM, Jacob (1785-1863) and GRIMM, Wilhelm (1786-1859). Kinder- und Haus-Märchen. Berlin: G. Reimer, 1819-1822.

Second, expanded edition of Grimm’s fairy tales. The first two volumes include 161 tales plus nine “legends” for a total of 170. The first edition of 1812-1815, by contrast, comprised 156 tales. The contents of the third volume, containing commentary and sources, are new to this edition. It is often lacking from sets both because it was published two years later than the story volumes and because it was of lesser interest to most original owners. This is also the first edition with any illustrations. They are after drawings by the third Grimm brother, Ludwig Emil. 

Three volumes, 12mo (128 x 116mm). Illustrated with four copper-engravings, being two additional titles and two frontispieces in the first two volumes, after Ludwig Emil Grimm (a few very minor foxmarks/stains at ends). Contemporary calf (rebacked with old spine laid down, vol. 2 title repaired at inner margin, bound slightly tight). Custom clamshell box.

HOFFMANN, E.T.A. (1776-1822), E. W. CONTESSA (1777-1825) and Baron Friedrich DE LA MOTTE FOUQUÉ (1777-1843). Kinder-Mährchen. Berlin: Reimer, 1839.

Second edition, a famous collection of Romantic-era fairy tales, with illustrations by E.T.A. Hoffmann. Hoffmann’s influential unheimlich tales were very important to Sendak. Sendak did the set designs for a 1983 production of the ballet Nutcracker and in 1984 produced a book version of his illustrations of Hoffmann’s story, restoring its darkness and weirdness.

12mo (136 x 103mm). Illustrated with 6 hand-colored plates and 6 woodcut vignettes, after E.T.A. Hoffmann. Contemporary red leather-backed marbled boards (small repairs to spine, some rubbing, hinges showing, repaired chip to f.f.e., two gift inscriptions). 

POTTER, Beatrix (1866-1943). The Tale of Peter Rabbit. London: Privately printed, 1901. 

Privately printed first edition of Beatrix Potter’s first book, one of only 250 copies of the first issue. “[Potter] sent the manuscript to at least six publishers without success. Finally, in 1901, she decided to have the book privately printed, at her own expense … The books were ready on 16 December and Miss Potter began giving them away to selected friends and relatives and selling them to others at one shilling, two pence each. By this time, however, Beatrix Potter’s career had already been given its first impetus, for the publisher Frederick Warne & Co. had agreed to accept the book for publication in a regular trade edition. But in February 1902, before the trade edition was ready, Miss Potter ordered another 200 copies to be printed of her private edition; this second issue had a rather better binding, with rounded back and darker printed boards” (Gottlieb). The present copy is from the first issue, with a flat spine. Gottlieb/Morgan Library, Early Children’s Books and Their Illustration 220; Grolier Children’s 55; Linder, p. 420; Quinby 1. 

12mo. Color frontispiece, monochrome illustrations throughout. Original light grey pictorial boards with a flat spine (some minor foxing to paper edges occasionally visible on pages). Custom chemise and morocco-backed box. 

POTTER, Beatrix (1866-1943). Tom Kitten’s Painting Book. London: Frederick Warne [1917].

Very rare and early Beatrix Potter coloring book. The advertisements on the back cover run through The Tale of Timmy Tiptoes (1911); however Quinby gives a date of 1917 because the earliest seen advertisements for this work were on the dust jacket of Appley Dapply. Quinby 24 (not seen, known only from advertisements).

Quarto. Illustrated with eight color plates from eight stories, each with facing “outline” illustration intended for coloring-in. Original color pictorial stiff wrappers (light chipping to spine ends, few marks to lower cover); original printed glassine dust jacket (frayed at edges, lower cover panel with a large chip and some stains). 

JOHNSON, Crockett (1906-1975). Harold and the Purple Crayon. New York: Harper & Bros., [1955].

Presentation copy of the first edition, inscribed for Maurice Sendak on the front free endpaper: “To Maury, with fond regards, Crockett Johnson.” The dust jacket shows the price of $1.50 and correct codes, indicating the first edition. Johnson (pen name of David Johnson Leisk) was married to the children’s book author Ruth Krauss. Eight of Krauss’s books were illustrated by Maurice Sendak, beginning with A Hole is to Dig in 1952. This work was published just three years before Harold and the Purple Crayon and is the book which launched Sendak’s career. 

12mo (147 x 119mm). Illustrated throughout. Publishers’ cloth-backed pictorial boards, spine lettered in white (light rubbing at edges); pictorial dust jacket (mild wear at extremities). Provenance: Harry Bacon Collamore.

Not Straight Enough

Last September I was on my way to Nebraska for a series of school visits, part of the Plum Creek Literacy Festival at Concordia University (a Christian institution). While at the Minneapolis airport waiting for my connecting flight, I received a call from a friend I had dinner with the night before in NY. He had just tested positive to Covid. So, instead of taking my plane to Nebraska, I self isolated for four days and then got tested. Fortunately I was negative, but I really felt bad not meeting those hundreds of children who were waiting for me. The festival got cancelled anyway, due to the withdrawal of many of the presenters in response to the university’s blatantly but not surprisingly disgusting anti-gay policies. I understand and sympathize with the people who chose to withdraw, but I had decided to still go because I believe it is extremely important for children to be exposed to different ideas and points of view, especially in communities where part of the adult world is so close-minded and malevolent. (To be clear, the festival itself does not follow those discriminatory rules, and if you want to know more about this issue, you can easily find a lot of information online.)

My school presentations are, of course, about my picture books and how I make them, but they are also about my personal story: where I come from, how I was as a child, what I like and dislike, etc. Without directly addressing issues that I would not be able to explain to five- or six-year-olds, especially in a crowd, I still get to talk about being different, choosing ways that are not conventional, having a natural preference for things that others might find weird, off, or not straight enough. Below you can see some of the slides that I would have included in my presentations at Plum Creek and that I hope I will be able to show to those same children in another occasion.

Thank you for reading.

“La gesetta di lusert” (the little church of the lizards). This was my favorite place in the neighborhood where I grew up, in Milan. It is the only building that is not straight in an overwhelmingly orthogonal area. But the church has been there for at least 900 years, probably more, and the apparently straight city was built around it only through the 20th century.
This is me in the class picture in first grade. The collar was supposed to be straight (and the mouth shut).
One of my favorite characters, and only comics superhero I liked: Superciuk (Superdrunk). He got his super powers from cheap red wine.
Chick’s house, which, like Chick, is not the straightest thing you’ll ever know. (From my book Fox+Chick: The Quiet Boat Ride and Other Stories.)

The Fakenham Ghost

The Fakenham Ghost: A True Tale

Taken from [Robert] Bloomfield’s admired Rural Poems

Published by W. Darton, 58 Holborn Hill, [London], [1813]

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On one of the blank pages between the text I found the name and date of birth of a presumed previous owner:

fakenhammaryalcock

 

And some of her scribbles:

fakenhamscribbles

 

Jane and Eliza

Many years ago, visiting the Rare Books Collection at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., I came upon this chapbook for children. I immediately fell in love with it and its crude, fascinating woodcuts. I knew I wanted to own my copy, but how can you find another copy of a flimsy little children’s book from 1840? Well, a bunch of years later, by chance, I did. And the book is as good as I remembered.

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Jane and Eliza

Newark

Printed for the Publisher

1840

 

Don’t Judge a Book by Its Cover

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The History of Giles Gingerbread: A Little Boy who lived upon learning.

By Tom Trip.

Decorated with Cuts.

York: Printed by J. Kendrew, Colliergate.