Rare Book Monthly

Articles - September - 2019 Issue

Wright Howes and Howes’ Usiana Revisited

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The Lives and Work of Wright and Zoe Howes and the Story of U.S.iana

 

For collectors of a certain age Wright Howes, the Chicago book dealer and author of Howes’ U.S.iana, is a mythic figure.  Born in 1882, and devoted to the sale of old and rare Americana for most of his adult life, he lived in what he felt was the decline of the golden age of collectible bookselling, a conclusion drawn from an article in 1953 in the Library Quarterly in which he wrote:

 

“survival of the antiquarian branch is principally due to … the shift which most of its members have made, within the last 25 years, from high-rent street shops to office, home or other inexpensive quarters.”  Working themselves from home beginning in 1939, he and Zoe would keep a hand in the game for the next 31 years, living and working from an apartment on Chicago Avenue until 1951, and then at Irving Apartments until 1970.    Their story is one to savor. 

 

He comes back to life under the encouraging hand of John Blew, himself a Chicago man and collector who pieced together Howes’ story from his family and company records, many of which are in the safe keeping of the Newberry Library.  In this well-told story his partner and wife Zoe adds substance to his public life and reminds us that a close and enduring marriage is often vital to professional success.  They would both pass away in 1978, she at 90 and he a few months later at 95.

 

Toward the end of his career in 1954 he published U.S.iana and eight years later, an enlarged edition.  It could not have been completed sooner for these efforts reflected his entire career as a bookseller and until he was well along such an effort was premature for he was still encountering material for the first time.  After the publication of the second, and enlarged, edition, he and Zoe would live on for another 16 years.  They would never have children but would seed the book collecting field with hundreds, if not thousands, of serious collectors whose vocations and avocations would be shaped by this fastidious bibliographer who combined his academic approach and  business experience to provide a priced grading system that every collector with a beating heart relied upon, in that era, to buy or bid.  It was an act of genius in a field of eccentrics.

 

For the next 25 years his easy to carry volume was required reading for all those visiting dealers, antique shops, auctions and garage sales.  He empowered collecting and collectors who identified millions of dollars of material using his metrics.

 

The pre-internet world now dims in the bright lights of immense databases that summon the researcher’s inner genius simply to search effectively.  In his time he had to figure out what to choose and how to concisely present information on more than 10,000 books and other printed items in a format that would be easy to carry. And he succeeded by basing U.S.iana on decades of his business records. Books that appeared often were sent into the kindergarten of collecting – the category “a”.  Books of somewhat greater importance that appeared less often were “aa”.  Books in the “b” category were decidedly uncommon and important and such material rarely fell into your lap.  In the 1950’s a “c” would pay the down payment on a house, and a “dd”, pay for the house.  In this way he connected the randomness of reappearance to his personally derived statistics to create an understandable approach to collecting the printed word.

 

If he was a giant he was also human and Mr. Blew through words and photography restores the human Howes to life.  His story and accomplishments encourage the reader to consider his background and so it’s useful to fill in the details, he the unreconstructed southerner, born In Macon, Georgia, who moved away at 18 to live most of his life in northern cities before returning to Augusta, near Macon in his final years.  It gives the impression of a highly compartmentalized life, a logical way to buy and sell where there was what he could pay and how much.  It was this formula that, once transcribed from his business notes, became US.iana.  It is beautiful intellectual symmetry and all the more unusual in that it’s his original creation.

 

Mr. Blew’s account is far more detailed than this brief review suggests.  Wright Howes was never one to use three words if two would suffice.  For they who know nothing about him, adding anything further is unnecessary.  But to they who used US.iana in its heyday and realize they know next to nothing about him there is a wonderful discovery at hand because he has been part of your life mostly unnoticed for decades and his story is probably also somewhat yours.

 

So, if your collecting perspective is American and more particularly Americana then you’ll obtain a copy of this book because Wright Howes is your intellectual forbearer.  And, if you’ll go a little further, as they do in China, create a small alter and burn incense and paper money at least once a year to remember him – knowing that the path you follow today is the path he illuminated more than 70 years ago.

 

The full text of the 1962 edition and Sabin’s Bibliotheca Americana, were the first two sources added to what has become over the past 16 years, the RBH Transaction Database; today a database 800 times the number of records in Howes’ first release.

 

This edition consists of 150 copies, of which 125 are for sale at $50.00 net (the actual cost $92.00). They can be purchased from George S. MacManus Co. 12 Water Street, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010. Shipping is extra.

 

Contact Information

 

The George MacManus Co.

610.520.7273

books@macmanus-rarebooks.com

 

Run, don’t walk.

 

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers<br>The Collectors’ Sale<br>July 7 – 15, 2020</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> O'Fihely, Maurice Abp. <i>Questiones subtilissme Scoti in metaphysicam Aristotelis</i>, Venice (Octavianus Scoti) 20th November 1497. 8,000 to 12,000 €
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Pococke (Richard). <i>A Description of the East and some other Countries,</i> 3 vols. in 2, L. (W. Bowyer) 1743. 2,250 to 3,500 €
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Keogh (John). <i>Botanalogia Universalis Hibernica, or A General Irish Herbal Calculated for this Kingdom, giving an account of the Herbs, Scrubs…</i>, Corke (George Harrison) 1735. 1,000 to 1,500 €
    <center><b>Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers<br>The Collectors’ Sale<br>July 7 – 15, 2020</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Perry (Charles). <i>A View of the Levant particularly of Constantinople, Syria, Egypt and Greece,</i> L. (T. Woodward) 1743. 800 to 1,200 €
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Shaw (Thomas). <i>Travels, or Observations Relating to Several Parts of Barbary and the Levant,</i>, Oxford (The Theatre) 1738. 600 to 700 €
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> [French (Nicholas) Bishop of Ferns] Attributed, <i>Recit Exact et Fidele de la Vente et Partage du Roiaume d'Irlande Fait Sous Charles II…,</i> Milan (Chez Charles Joseph Quinto) 1724. 500 to 700 €
    <center><b>Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers<br>The Collectors’ Sale<br>July 7 – 15, 2020</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> [French (V. Rev.Dr. Nicholas, Bp of Ferns.)] <i>The Unkinde Desertor of Loyall Men and True Frinds,</i> 12mo, n.p. 1676. 500 to 700 €
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Yeats (W.B.) <i>Plays and Controversies,</i>, N.Y. (The MacMillan Company) 1924, Signed Limited Edn. 500 to 700 €
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Barrie (J.M.) & Thomson (Hugh) illus. <i>Quality Street, a Comedy in Four Acts,</i> L. (Hodder and Stoughton) 1901, Limited Edition, signed by the artist. 500 to 700 €
    <center><b>Fonsie Mealy Auctioneers<br>The Collectors’ Sale<br>July 7 – 15, 2020</b>
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Molyneaux (William). <i>The Case of Ireland's being bound by Acts of Parliament in England Stated,</i> [London 1719]. 200 to 300 €
    <b>Fonsie Mealy, Jul. 7 – 15:</b> Johnston's (W. & A.) Map of South Africa, to illustrate the Military Operations 1900. 100 to 150 €
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Adam Smith, <i>Wealth of Nations,</i> first edition, descended from William Alexander, London, 1776. $70,000 to $90,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> George Gershwin, photograph signed & inscribed with autograph musical quotation, <i>An American in Paris,</i> 1928. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Friedrich Engels, <i>The Condition of the Working Class in England,</i> first edition, NY, 1887. $5,000 to $7,500.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> <i>Bury St. Edmunds Witch Trials,</i> first edition, London, 1682. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Robert Rey, <i>Estampes,</i> complete portfolio of 12 wood engravings, Paris, 1950. $12,000 to $18,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Archive of 47 letters by Enrico Caruso to a lady friend, 1906-20. $7,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Books of Hours in Flemish, Netherlands, 15th century. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Jack Kerouac, <i>Doctor Sax,</i> deluxe limited edition, signed, NY, 1959. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, July 30:</b> Walt Disney, signature on title-page of Ward Greene’s <i>Lady and the Tramp,</i> first edition, first printing. $3,000 to $4,000.
  • <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>July 16, 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Ptolomaeus (Claudius). <i>Cosmographia,</i> first edition, Vicenza, Hermann Liechtenstein, 13 September 1475. £150,000 to £200,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Schoener (Johann). <i>Opera mathematica,</i> 3 parts in 1, first edition,The Honeyman copy in contemporary binding, Nuremberg, J. Montanus and U. Neuber, 1551. £30,000 to £40,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Lucian of Samosata. <i>Dialogoi, editio princeps,</i> with fine illuminated title-page, Florence, Lorenzo de Alopa, 1496. £20,000 to £30,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>July 16, 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Pian (Jean Baptiste de). [Architectural Alphabet], 26 chromolithographs by Leopold Muller after Pian, Vienna, 1842-44. £15,000 to £20,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Rogers (Bruce).- Holy Bible (The)..., one of 200 copies on handmade paper, designed by Bruce Rogers, bound in modern crimson morocco, gilt, Oxford, 1935. £10,000 to £15,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Jenner (Edward). <i>An Inquiry into the Causes and Effects of the Variolae Vaccinae…,</i> first edition, Printed for the Author, by Sampson Low, 1798. £8,000 to £12,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>July 16, 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Voyages.- Cook (Capt. James).- Parkinson (Sydney). <i>A Journal of a Voyage to the South Seas, in his Majesty's Ship the Endeavour,</i> second edition, Charles Dilly...& James Phillips, 1784. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> [Clemens (Samuel Langhorne)] "Mark Twain". <i>Adventures of Huckleberry Finn,</i> first edition, first state, New York, Charles L. Webster and Company, 1885. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> [Voight (Hans Henning)], "Alastair". Herod, for 'Salome: Drame en un Acte', original drawing in red & black ink over pencil, [c.1922]. £4,000 to £6,000.
    <center><b>Forum Auctions<br>Fine Books, Manuscripts<br>and Works on Paper<br>July 16, 2020</b>
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> James (M.R.) <i>Ghost Stories of an Antiquary,</i> first edition, signed presentation inscription from the author to A.C. Benson, 1904. £3,000 to £4,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Remarque (Erich Maria). <i>All Quiet on the Western Front,</i> first English edition, signed presentation inscription from the author, 1929. £3,000 to £4,000.
    <b>Forum Auctions, July 16:</b> Ashendene Press.- More (Sir Thomas). <i>A Fruteful and Pleasaunt Worke...Utopia,</i> one of 100 copies, bound in black goatskin by J.Franklin Mowery, Ashendene Press, 1906. £3,000 to £4,000.
  • <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 1. Albertus Magnus, De Natura Locorum, 2nd edn, 1515. £3000 to £4000.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 22. George Cooke, Scenery of the East India Islands, 1811-13. £4500 to £5500.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 23. J.M. Crozet, Nouveau vouage a la Mer du Sud, 1st edn, 1783. £4000 to £6000.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 27. J.P.J.Du Bois, Vies des Gouverneurs Generaux, 1st edn, 1763. £1200 to £1800.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 28. Wm Ellis, Authentic Narrative...Captain Cook, 1st edn, 1782. £2500 to £3500.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 31. Thomas Forrest, Voyage to New Guinea, 1st edn, 1779. £1500 to £2000.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 32. Forster & Forster, Voyage round the World, 1st edn, 1777-78. £4500 to £5500.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 38. Gianetti, Elogy of Captain James Cook, 1st edn, 1785. £2500 to £3500.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 46. Otto von Kotzebue, Entdeckungs Reise, 1st edn, 1821. £3500 to £4500.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 52. Alejandro Malaspina, Viaje politico-scientifico, 1st edn, 1885. £2000 to £3000.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 60. Sydney Parkinson, Journal of Voyage to the South Seas, large paper, 1773. £4500 to £5500.
    <b>Mayfair Book Auctions, July 16:</b><br>Lot 64. Nathaniel Portlock, A Voyage round the World, 1st edn, 1789. £4000 to £6000.
  • <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>Including Property from<br>The Eric C. Caren Collection<br>Bidding Closes July 21st</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s:</b> Albert Einstein. Typed letter signed “A. Einstein” to Ensign Guy H. Raner Jr. $70,000 to $100,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s:</b> Alfred Swaine Taylor. Early "photogenic drawing" photograph of a fern. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s:</b> The Chicago Seven. Cook County Jail identification cards. $5,000 to $7,000.
    <center><b>Sotheby’s<br>Fine Books and Manuscripts<br>Including Property from<br>The Eric C. Caren Collection<br>Bidding Closes July 21st</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s:</b> Harper Lee. A fine group of letters to Claudia Durst Johnson and other manuscript material. $60,000 to $80,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s:</b> A. R. Gurrey Jr.. The Surf Riders of Hawaii. Honolulu, Territory of Hawaii. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s:</b> George Herman “Babe” Ruth. The Babe Ruth Story by Babe Ruth as told to Bob Considine. $10,000 to $15,000.

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