At September sales, rare old books make news

BOOKS & AUTHORS

September 26, 1993|By James H. Bready

For local rare-book people, September has been the high season. Convention Center show, Washington show, Baltimore Book Co. and Richard Opfer auctions, new catalog from Marilyn Braiterman and 19th Century Shop -- it all defies the economy.

In numbers, a high point occurred during BBC's 616-lot periodic sale. "History of the Indian Tribes of North America," by Thomas McKenney and James Hall (1842), with 118 color plates, from a private Maryland collection and with a $10,000 advance estimate, went for $23,000 (to an out-of-state dealer who, it is feared, will break up the books and sell the illustrations to decorators).

Perhaps fate will be easier on the 1852 Hovey "Fruits of America" (with interleaved subscriber autographs of Emerson, Longfellow, H. B. Stowe, et al.) that Mrs. Braiterman offers -- or to the 1598 first English edition of Aristotle's "Poetics" and the Truman letter comparing Kennedy and Nixon, in Steven Loewentheil's new 19th-century list.

At Opfer's last Monday, an illuminated missal from the Sumner Parkers' Cloisters library brought $2,530.

To its annual show calendar (Los Angeles and San Francisco in February, New York in April, Boston in November), the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America has added Washington in September -- 110 dealers at the Federal Triangle's Mellon Auditorium. The vogue of the hour, says Mrs. Braiterman, a dealer since 1978, is modern firsts; prices there are "going wild."

Concurrently, always the prospect of bargains. At Baltimore Book Co.'s auction, a big-time California Mencken collector nabbed a serious, nonclowning letter (on Evening Sun stationery, in 1938 while Mencken was its editorial page editor); winning bid, $35.

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Former Sun reporter Carleton Jones is the author of "Lost Baltimore: A Portfolio of Vanished Buildings" (Johns Hopkins University Press, $34.95), a reworking of his 1982 book, "Lost Baltimore Landmarks" (Maclay). More than 100 buildings of varying nobility are pictured, described, mourned.

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Maryland Romance Writers was founded in 1983 -- at Judi Zamzow's call, eight writers gathered. On Oct. 20 at 7:30 p.m., at Miller Branch of Howard County Library, a membership of 65 will celebrate the anniversary. Shannon E. Katona is president of MRW, a chapter of Romance Writers of America.

In the ocean-resort, machine gun-manufacturing town of Deadwhales, N.J., with the Vietnam War as background, a young man named Itchy confronts death, Army service and young women. And it all works out, in "The Keeper of the Ferris Wheel" (Ashleigh-Reid, $21.95), a moving first novel by Jack McBride White of Baltimore and Columbia.

Mr. White, an Army veteran and supervisor of technical publications, is now finishing "The Gum Man of Istanbul," an international thriller.

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"The Image of the African American Male in Literature and Film" the theme of the 14th annual conference of the Middle Atlantic Writers Association, Oct. 20-23, at the Pikesville Hilton, Reisterstown Road and Beltway. Registration: (410) 319-3165.

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Was daily life in early North America truly different from life in Europe, or were conditions (leaving aside the status of Indians under attack and Africans under slavery) much the same as in Europe? "Quite exceptional" was the judgment of Alexis de Tocqueville and other early observers. No, not all that different, recent social and archaeological historians have been saying.

Revisionism itself has now been revised, in "The Intellectual Construction of America: Exceptionalism and Identity" (University of North Carolina Press, $29.95), by Jack P. Greene, professor of humanities at Johns Hopkins University.

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Craig Werner of the University of Wisconsin faculty will deliver the 71st annual commemorative lecture of the Edgar Allan Poe Society of Maryland next Sunday at 2 p.m. at Enoch Pratt Central Library. His topic is "Gold Bugs and the Spirit of Blackness: Rereading Poe."

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