• Naughty Nuns, Flatulent Monks, and Other Surprises of Sacred Medieval Manuscripts Flipping through an illustrated manuscript from the 13th century, you'd be forgiven for thinking that Jesus loved a good fart joke. That's because the margins of these handmade devotional books were filled with imagery depicting everything from scatological humor to mythical beasts to sexually explicit satire. Though we may still get a kick out of poop jokes, we aren't used to seeing them visualiz…
  • Storybook Apocalypse: Beasts, Comets, and Other Signs of the End Times It’s tempting to dismiss the mid-16th-century depictions of Biblical miracles, flaming comets, multi-headed beasts, and apocalyptic chaos that fill the pages of the “Augsburg Book of Miraculous Signs” as the superstitious vestiges of the post-Medieval mind. But according to the co-authors of Taschen’s new, 568-page boxed volume called “Book of Miracles,” the Protestant citizens of Augsburg, German…
  • Being The Beatles: Untold Stories from the Fab Four's Legendary North American Tours Like a lot of people of a certain age, I’ll never forget the night I watched The Beatles on "The Ed Sullivan Show." It was February 9, 1964, I was 7 years old, and John Lennon, Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr had just invaded America. Coming scant months after the assassination of President Kennedy, the whole country (or at least 73 million television viewers) was ready for an eve…
  • Extraordinary Collection of Counterculture Literature Up for Auction The first time I met Rick Synchef, I was anxious to see his legendary stash of political ephemera and protest posters from the 1960s, which eventually formed the basis of an article for CollectorsWeekly. Synchef had been collecting political paper and ephemera since he was a student in Madison, Wisconsin, which was a hotbed of political activism in the late '60s. So when I arrived at his home, I w…
  • Digging Up the Weirdest Old Books and Comics From the Thrift-Store Bargain Bins When we first encountered Alan Scherstuhl's "Studies in Crap" column over at the "SF Weekly," we knew he was one of us. Every week, he goes digging around thrift stores and flea markets looking for that special book that speaks to him. Sometimes its a Kool-Aid Man comic book where the oversize beverage pitcher busts into orbiting spacecrafts, or a comic wherein pseudo-Archies are raptured up to he…
  • When Being a Lesbian Was Profitable, For Men The times they are a-changing: Last weekend, lesbian couple Kitty Lambert and Cheryle Rudd made history, exchanging the first gay-marriage nuptials in New York State. Just a few days before, President Obama certified the repeal of the "don't ask don't tell" policy in the U.S. military. But homosexuality has not always been so understood and accepted in U.S. society. In fact, in mid-century America…
  • Great Works of Literature Gone Chick-Lit If you're a serious collector of literature, you'd probably think it horrifying to alter Hemingway's "For Whom the Bell Tolls" so that the soldiers are fighting with pillows instead of guns (although adding zombies to Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" struck many as a fine idea). So you can imagine how serious female writers must feel when editors tell them, "You need to make this more chick-lit…
  • Hellfire and Damnation in Your Back Pocket I suppose second only to manufacturer-produced cooking pamphlets, one of the least collectible forms of ephemera is the religious tract or book. Since many were free to begin with, they were both printed and tossed with abandon. One evangelist, the now-forgotten A.A. Allen, was printing 55 million pieces of "literature" a year when he passed away of alcohol-induced liver failure. That is one big p…
  • Rare Books: Collecting Forgeries Collectors of autographed baseball cards are alert to the existence of forgeries, so they know to be on their guard. But how many book collectors stop to wonder whether their newest acquisition is forged? One book forger who managed to fool some of history’s most celebrated book collectors was Thomas James Wise. A book collector himself, Wise knew that a forged book would become apparent when i…
  • A Visit To the Prelinger Library When you walk into the Prelinger Library, the first things you notice are the three long aisles that run down the length of the space. Ten banks of shelves, each 10 shelves high, flank each aisle, creating six rows of books. There are 30,000 or so volumes here, plus another 30,000 or so pieces of ephemera, from road maps to cell-phone instruction manuals. What you won’t find are card catalogs o…
  • To Catch A Thief: A Rare Book Expert on His Literary Obsessions I don’t remember a time when I didn’t read books. In grade school, I devoured library books. I also loved comic books, and was wheeling and dealing them as a child—buying them for a nickel, sell them for dime. Bertrand Smith let me into the rare book room, and I bought a Maxwell Parrish "Arabian Nights." I bought an just for the illustrations. At the time I had no idea the artist was a Welsh wo…
  • The Last Word on First Editions Strictly speaking, a book’s edition refers to the setting of the text. So the first time you set the text and print a book with it, and then sell a bound book that you’ve just printed, that’s the first edition, first printing. If you use the same setup of text and print it again, that would be the second printing—a printing is therefore a subclass of an edition. The printing is also called the imp…