Warmly Inscribed: The New England Forger and Other Book Talesby Lawrence Goldstone, Nancy Goldstone
The authors of two previous well-received volumes on book collecting now regale their many fans with fascinating facts and fables about famous libraries and infamous forgers. "The Goldstones, a husband-and-wife book book collecting/writing team, follow two previous memoirs about their occupational adventures with this entertaining offering . . . The Goldstones
The authors of two previous well-received volumes on book collecting now regale their many fans with fascinating facts and fables about famous libraries and infamous forgers. "The Goldstones, a husband-and-wife book book collecting/writing team, follow two previous memoirs about their occupational adventures with this entertaining offering . . . The Goldstones writes with flair and humor . . . an undemanding and fun read for bibliophiles, whether antiquarian collectors or not."-Publishers Weekly on Warmly Inscribed.
- St. Martin's Press
- Publication date:
- Edition description:
- First Edition
- Product dimensions:
- 5.28(w) x 8.56(h) x 0.62(d)
Read an Excerpt
The Library of Congress:
So Little Time
Almost from the moment we became interested in old books, we wanted to take a bibliophile's holiday to Washington, D.C. We had heard that there were lots of outstanding and unusual shops in a relatively small area, and, of course, the nation's capital is the home of the Library of Congress, a place that neither of us had visited and that we knew little about.
We had been to Washington the previous spring but that had been a family trip. We had taken Emily, then seven, and done what all parents dogone to the Lincoln Memorial (twice), waited two hours to ascend to the top of the Washington Monument, fought our way through a solid wall of other families at the Air and Space Museum, and even procured a congressional tour of the Capitol. All of these activities had been punctuated by visits to the cafeteria at the American History Museum (famous the world over for its macaroni and cheese) and two rides on the carousel every time we crisscrossed the mall (which was frequently).
We had gone to some relatively untrammeled places as well. We sat for about fifteen minutes in James McNeill Whistler's Peacock Room at the Freer, stopped at the Greenville lunch counter, site of the first civil rights sit-in, and admired Albert Bierstadt's Last of the Buffalo at the Corcoran Museum of Art. We all had a terrific time and Emily decided that Washington was her favorite city on earth.
But there had been no books and not a single visit to a bookstore, so we had promised ourselves that we would come back soon, just the grown-ups, stay at a hip hotel in Georgetown instead of the Embassy Suites, and concentrate on books. We would even eat in restaurants specializing in neither macaroni and cheese nor spaghetti with butter.
It turned out, however, that coming back to Washington without Emily was not going to be all that easy.
"Mommy and Daddy have to go on business. It's only for a couple of days."
No reply from our daughter. Just a wrinkled forehead and the look of stupendous hurt that she had perfected by watching our six-month-old beagle puppy, Darwin.
"It won't be fun for you," we insisted soothingly. "We're going to be spending a lot of time in bookstores."
"I like bookstores," said Emily.
"We'll be talking to people ... sometimes for hours. You'll have to be quiet for hours. You can't tell us you're tired. You can't tell us you're hungry. We'll be working. You'll just have to sit there and amuse yourself."
"And we're not going to Italian restaurants every night. You'll have to try new food. No spaghetti."
"What if they have spaghetti on the menu?" asked Emily.
"If they have spaghetti on the menu, that'll be okay."
"Most places have spaghetti on the menu," said Emily knowingly.
"Well, if we take you out of school for a couple of days, we're going to ask your teacher to give you an assignment. You'll have to work too."
"Maybe I can do a report."
The deal we finally cut was for an extended Columbus Day weekend. Thursday, Friday, and part of Saturday would be for books (although Emily could go on the carousel if we happened to pass by); the rest of Saturday, all of Sunday, and Monday morning were hers. Our itinerary was: the Library of Congress on Thursday afternoon; the Folger Shakespeare Library Friday morning; Capitol-area book dealers Friday afternoon; and Georgetown bookstores Saturday morning. Emily's choices were the Supreme Court, Ford's Theater, reading the Gettysburg Address and the Second Inaugural at the Lincoln Memorial, the National Zoo, and the dinosaurs and the Hope diamond at the natural history museum. She had, in fact, been assigned to write a report on the trip by her third-grade teacher.
So, on the Thursday morning before Columbus Day, we hopped on the shuttle and, by twelve-thirty, we were all checked into what seemed to be our old room at the Embassy Suites in Old Town Alexandria.
There are issues involved with taking Emily on a trip that go beyond buying a third ticket and making sure there's an extra bed in the hotel room. For example, there is the question of, "Who can I take with me?" Emily has an extensive collection of stuffed animals, each of which (whom?) has a name, a distinct personality, a speaking voice, and a birthday that is entered yearly on our wall calendar. Among the choices were: Mr. Bear, who has been with her since birth; Tyrannosaurus; Whalie (excluded immediatelytoo big); and Dolphina (see Whalie). Then there's Little Bear, Travel Bear, Bearin (with the angel's wings), Big Bear (too Big), Flamingeay and Yonder (the Happy Couplethey're married), Brownie, Gorilla, Floppy Dog, Sandy, Snakeus, Chickerin, Sheepish, Pragen the Penguin, and last, but not least, Bearite, a gift from Mommy under extremely trying circumstances (read: immense sentimental value). After extensive discussions as to number and size, Emily settled on Mr. Bear, Little Bear, Travel Bear, and Bearite. (Bear with us. This has great significance later in the chapter.)
We quickly unpacked, opened Emily's fold-out bed, tucked in all four little bears, and set off to meet the rare-book librarian at the Library of Congress.
The Library of Congress was to be the centerpiece of the trip, at least from our end. It wasn't simply that we hadn't been there beforewe had no idea how big the Library actually was, or how many people worked there, or how they divided the responsibility, or even who the Librarian of Congress was. We had developed this Dickensian vision of a dark, musty, forbidding building populated by a staff of ancient, unsmiling, long-fingernailed Uriah Heeps, one of whom would grudgingly disappear into the stacks for hours before returning with some dingy tome that he or she would extend our way but refuse to let us touch or even see the inside of without five letters of recommendation from Nobel laureates.
Nonetheless, we had hoped to get an appointment with somebody, so about two weeks before the trip, we called the main number and told the operator that we wrote about old books. The operator put us on to the public relations department, and the public relations department put us on to someone named Mark Dimunation.
"Hi. My name is Nancy Goldstone. My husband Larry and I write books about books. Are you the Librarian of Congress?"
"No, the Librarian of Congress is James H. Billington."
"Can I talk to him?" Mark sounded much too young to be anybody important.
"No, he doesn't usually talk to people. He's too busy."
"Can I talk to you?"
"Who are you?"
"I'm the head of the Rare Book and Special Collections Division," said Mark. "The Library is divided into different divisions. There's Prints and Photographs, Music, Manuscripts, Motion Pictures...."
"Well, we're coming to Washington and we want to visit the Library and see some of the rare books."
"What did you want to see?" asked Mark.
We had read up a little bit on the Library before we called. "Can we see the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence or the Gettysburg Address?"
"Those are both manuscripts," Mark pointed out gently. "They're in the Manuscript Division. They usually don't like to trot them out for individual visitors. However, you're in luck. As it turns out, the rough draft of the Declaration of Independence is on exhibition right now."
"Well, what if you choose some books that you like? We'd be very interested in whatever you think is special."
"I suppose I could do that. When do you want to come in?"
"What if we come by at three o'clock Thursday?"
"Well, we close at five," said Mark. "You're only giving me two hours? We have one hundred and fourteen million books."
One hundred and fourteen million were a lot of books, so we got there at two.
There are three buildings that make up the Library of Congressthe Jefferson, the Madison, and the Adams. The Madison and the Adams are two giant granite rectangles, just the kind of buildings where you'd expect to find all those books. The Jefferson, the main building, is the oldest of the three. Completed in 1896, it's across the street from the front of the Capitol. (It's the back of the Capitol that faces the mall.) It's a huge white-stone structure with tall arched windows, columns, a dome, and lots of personality. This is where we were to meet Mark Dimunation.
As we walked up to the front entrance, we came upon a tremendous fountain, replete with thickly muscled, bare-breasted women on charging horses, guys drinking from squirting seashells, and a Charles Atlaslike figure in the center. This, as we later read in the brochure, was the Court of Neptune fountain. The men were Neptune and his son Triton and the naked lady wrestlers were sea nymphs. Some nymphs. On the building itself were busts of Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, and other notables whom we couldn't quite recognize.
Behind the fountain was a wide staircase that led up to a set of enormous doors under the statues. (Washington is a great city, but everything seems built on the scale of a Leni Riefenstahl film.) These doors are no longer used, however, so visitors are directed to the carriage entrance, a set of much smaller doors under the stairs.
Mark met us in the lobby, just outside a Tel Aviv Airportcaliber security gate. He was in his fortiesnot as young as he sounded on the phone, but still pretty young, it seemed to us, for a job like this. He was tall and lean, with short, modishly cut hair, and wore a dark blue suit with a bright blue shirt and patterned tie. When he shook our hands, he was formal and friendly at the same time. Then he looked past us, unsure about Emily, like an actor who had been warned never to work with children or animals. Certainly, there must have been few occasions when he had been called upon to escort an eight-year-old through a collection of priceless rare books.
"The Library of Congress is actually the library of Congress," he said as we walked through the metal detector. The second he began to speak, his enthusiasm for the Library was evident. "There are rooms, in fact, reserved for members of the House and Senate or their staffs to use as they like, usually for research on some pending question such as arms control or health care. We're connected to the congressional office buildings by tunnels underneath. That's why the security is so high here. We are technically an entrance to Congress."
Mark was originally from Minnesota, and as an undergrad attended St. Olaf's College. He was going for his Ph.D. in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century American history at Berkeley when, to make a little money, he got a job in the university library cataloging rare books. He ended up switching his major to library science and working there all through his graduate years.
"Next thing I knew, I had a career," he said.
He spent twenty years at other libraries, including those at Stanford and Cornell, before getting the job here two years ago.
"Back then, most people got into this like I didthey kind of backed into it," he said. "Today it's much more specialized. More people are studying specifically to work with special collections."
Before we went upstairs to the Great Hall, Mark showed us the Gershwin room, where Gershwin's grand piano stood on a raised island in the center surrounded by a waist-high glass partition. Ira's typewriter sat on a desk to the side and the walls were filled with framed photographs, playbills, and other memorabilia. Generally the Library had music playing but the room was currently undergoing some maintenance, so now it was silent. We went across the hall to the Coolidge Auditorium, which sat perhaps five hundred people and had such remarkable acoustics that when a man walked across the stage about one hundred feet away, the click of his shoes on the wood floor was crisp, like the sound of a twig cracking in a deserted forest.
When we were back outside, everything began to echo once more and the contrast was startling. Mark got a sneaky little grin on his face, like a small boy about to let you see his secret worm collection.
"Now we can really start," he said. "Let's go up to the Great Hall."
The Library of Congress was founded in 1800 when Congress appropriated five thousand dollars "for the purchase of such books as may be necessary for the use of Congress ... and for fitting up a suitable apartment [in the Capitol itself] for containing them and for placing them therein."
Book and apartment prices were obviously much lower then, but cheap or not, the whole thing turned out to be moot when, near the end of the War of 1812, the British came by and burned down the Capitol and the Library along with it. Perhaps it was fate, though, because what the nation got the second time around was so much betternot only an extraordinary library, but also a timeless vision of books and learning sprung from one of the greatest minds of the time.
Those books and that vision belonged, of course, to Thomas Jefferson. Believing firmly that liberty and learning were inseparable, Jefferson offered his personal library to Congress in 1815 to replace the books burned by the British and seed a new collection. A voracious reader and collector himself, Jefferson had accumulated a library of nearly sixty-five hundred books in a variety of languages and covering a wide diversity of subjects. At the time, it was the largest personal book collection in the United States.
You'd think that Congress would have snapped up such an offer, but it turned out that there was an intense debate. Jefferson was interested in so many thingsarchitecture, cooking, philosophy, science, farming, astronomyand some congressmen thought that cookbooks, for example, weren't exactly necessary in a congressional library, particularly since some of them weren't even in English. And then, of course, there was the additional fact that Jefferson was not offering his collection for free. Still, Jefferson argued that the Library of Congress should reflect the same universality as his library on the grounds that there is no subject or book that might not be helpful in the formation of the nation's laws. Eventually Congress, grumbling all the way, accepted this approach and paid Jefferson twenty-four thousand dollars for his collection and the Library of Congress was reestablished.
"Universality was Jefferson's philosophy and now it is his legacy," said Mark as we climbed marble stairs. "He structured his library partly based on Bacon's organization of knowledge and partly on Diderot's tree, with subjects branching off a main trunk. He divided the books into three categories: memory, reason, and imagination.
"Today, the collection goes way beyond books and manuscripts. Over five thousand people work for the Library of Congress. We're the conduit for smaller libraries. Our map collection is unsurpassed. We have film, music, musical instruments, prints, photographs. We have collections in every language and distribute our cataloging to the Anglo-American world. We even have a department of lesser-known languages."
He stopped at the landing, and then, with a sweep of his arm, announced, "This is the Great Hall!"
People often gasp when they walk into the Capitol rotunda, but the rotunda is a shack compared to the Great Hall. Rising up two stories, the hall is framed by marble pillars and archways. The walls are decorated with murals and statues and frescoes and quotations appropriate to books and wisdom and learning. The floors, also of marble, are inlaid with intricate patterns. There is gold leaf everywhere. The hall is topped by a dome, done seemingly in silver, which picks up some of the pattern from the floor and is ringed by a circle of painted figures.
Whoever designed this really knew their stuffornate as it all is, it's still tasteful. Just a whisper more and it could easily have looked like a brothel. We all stopped and stared, and Emily, who had been frantically writing in her notebook trying to get down everything Mark said for her report, dropped to her knees, the better to scribble her notes.
"No genuflecting in the Great Hall," he told her.
"Those figures ringing the very top are portraits of Francis Bacon, Aristotle, Goethe, Shakespeare, Molière, Moses, and Herodotus," Mark continued. "People had wondered for years why they would do gold leaf all the way up the sides and then change to the much more pedestrian silver at the very top. It was only after the building was restored that we realized that what was really at the top, was, in 1897, the most valuable metal on earth. Can you guess what it was?"
"Nope. It's aluminum. Aluminum leaf," he said.
"They did the ceiling in Reynolds Wrap?"
"Kind of," said Mark. "At the time, the refining process was so expensive that it made aluminum the most valuable metal on earth, so that's what they used.
"We're standing in one of the last great temples of books. The entire Jefferson Building and especially this hall tell a very large story about the history of communication. It breaks it down into families, oral tradition, the march of civilization, on to printing, and the glory of American civilization up to the end of the nineteenth century. Around the windows, you'll see printers' marks, slogans, muses ... it was done right after the Chicago World's Fair. That's how they got all the artisans together in one place. It was one of the first buildings to be fully electrified. In fact, the whole place is kind of a celebration of the lightbulb. Look. All the lights, even in the fanciest chandeliers, are naked lightbulbs. It seems modern now."
It was true. There were lines of lightbulbs, circles of lightbulbs, and patterns of lightbulbs, all with clear glass and visible filaments. It looked like a giant display at Restoration Hardware.
Mark took us through a doorway closed to the public and showed us the members' rooms, furnished in deep reds, with wood paneling and inlaid gold. These rooms were every bit the match of J. Pierpont Morgan's reading room in New York. For all their complaining about government spending, congressmen certainly don't scrimp on appropriations for themselves. Then we returned to the Great Hall, where Mark stopped at the marble staircase.
"I love this part," he said. "See the putti?" There were marble cherubs carved along the railing. "Our putti don't get to frolic like European cherubs. Our putti have to work, and they all work very hard. See? There's a baby printer, a laborer ... the Jefferson Building is one of the finest examples of overall decoration. The architectural tour here is fascinating."
We walked up the stairs to what was either a smaller hall or a giant alcove. On either side was a large, dark-wood, glass-fronted sealed case.
"This is just a coincidence," he said, "but it's one of those great coincidences. All around us on the walls is the mural of communication, starting with oral communication and ending with Gutenberg and the invention of movable type. But it's the two cases that mark one of the great transitions of civilization." He took us to the case on the right first. There was a huge, beautifully rendered book at least two feet high. "This is the giant Bible of Mainz," he said. "It was done in about 1453. It's a manuscript Bible. You can see how carefully the scribes drew the lines. This is one of the last great manuscript books. It's part of the Lessing J. Rosenwald Collection."
Then we walked back across to the case on the left, in which was displayed another large book in utterly pristine condition. "And this, of course, is the forty-two-line Gutenberg Bible. It's one of three known to have been printed on vellum and it's in perfect condition. So, here you have in the same city, in Mainz, one or two years apart, two magnificent Bibles, one effectively the last of its kind, the other the first."
We had seen a Gutenberg Bible at the Pierpont Morgan Library, which at the time we thought was in remarkable condition for a book 550 years old. But here at the Library of Congress was one that might have been printed yesterday.
"You know the apocryphal story, of course," Mark continued. "They say that when Fust, Gutenberg's partner, brought two of these new printed Bibles to Paris, the cardinal held them up and screamed, `This is the Devil's work! Only Satan would make two books exactly the same!'"
* * *
We went up another small flight of stairs and through a door that led out to a small platform high above the Main Reading Room. There was a Plexiglas partition that separated this small public area from the rest of the room. Even after everything we had seen, the Main Reading Room was perhaps the most magnificent of all. It was circular, at least four stories high and more than thirty yards in diameter. There was a large circulation desk in the center, with rows of desks ringing concentrically outward toward the far wall. The wall, at least at ground level, was entirely devoted to bookshelves.
"The books in this room are all reference," said Mark. "The actual books are either in the other buildings or underground in this one. There are dumbwaiters hidden in the circulation desk and a series of conveyer belts under the street that leads to the stacks. With one hundred and fourteen million books, the system, as you might suspect, is pretty extensive.
"You have to be a registered reader to work in this room but becoming a registered reader is pretty easy. Anyone who has a legitimate academic purpose and two letters of recommendation can become one."
As we left, Mark looked at his watch. It was almost four o'clock. "We have to get moving," he said. "But before we go to the rarebook department, you've got to at least see the public exhibit."
We were already bug-eyed and Emily had written page after page in laborious third-grade print and her hand was about falling off, but Mark was already leading us to another room and an exhibit in glass display cases called American Treasures of the Library of Congress.
Excerpted from Warmly Inscribed by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. Copyright © 2001 by Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Lawrence and Nancy Goldstone live with their daughter in Westport, Connecticut.
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