Over the course of my Saturday Book Musings, I have referred to John Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors a number of times. Sometimes with some accolades. I thought that it would be a good time to elaborate on the impact this great bookman has had on the world of book collectors and on books, in general. I will start off by reproducing what Wikipedia has to say about Carter, followed by photos and comments about the Carter books in our library.
After attending Eton College, he studied classics at King's College, Cambridge, where he gained a double first. His 1934 exposé, An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets, co-written with Graham Pollard, exposed the forgeries of books and pamphlets by Harry Buxton Forman, an editor of Keats and Shelley, and Thomas J. Wise, one of the world's most prominent book collectors. Forman and Wise's crimes are generally regarded as one of the most notorious literary scandals of the twentieth century. Carter also wrote seminal books on aspects of book-collecting, and served on the board of directors of the influential journal The Book Collector, published by Queen Anne Press, a company managed by James Bond creator Ian Fleming. Carter also edited the prose of the poet A. E. Housman. He was the husband of the writer and curator Ernestine Carter and the brother of the printer Will Carter (1912–2001) of the Rampant Lions Press, at which some of his smaller-scale works were published. He was also a humorist and writer of clerihews, some of which were printed by Will Carter in 1938.
An Enquiry into The Nature of Certain Nineteenth Century Pamphlets; by John Carter & Graham Pollard; with 4 plates; Constable & Co Ltd, London and Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1934.
I read this book in 1978 and was blown away by the work of these two “detectives”. The perpetrators of the forgery were eminent book dealers and collectors, who kept up coming up with the most incredible rarities, not books but pamphlets that are always more obscure and more inclined to be few in number and hence much more valuable. Carter and Pollard, another great bookman, smelt a rat and went about proving it. And they were right. Interestingly, these forgeries are very collectible today! Go figure.
Our copy of the book has a nice provenance. It was a presentation copy to Paul and Madeline Herzog, referring “in grateful remembrance to a Boxing Day get together". Paul was a prominent bureaucrat and Madeline was the granddaughter of Oscar S. Straus, a former Secretary of Commerce and Labor under President Theodore Roosevelt and the first Jewish cabinet secretary) in 1929.
The Carter-Pollard Disclosures; by Gabriel Wells; Doubleday, Doran & Company, Inc., Garder City, New York, 1934.
Gabriel Wells (1861 – 1946) was a noted bookseller, historian and author. He was one of the most important antiquarian booksellers in America and Britain in the first half of the twentieth century. He was president of the Antiquarian Booksellers' Association in 1930.
Here is the opening sentences of his “pamphlet” – I am fully cognizant of the delicate nature of the task I am undertaking, and the attendant risks I am incurring, in dealing with the book written by Messrs. John Carter and Graham Pollard under the title “An Enquiry into the Nature of Certain XIXth Century Pamphlets.” This book is ably done and amply substantiated. I have no argument against the allegations advanced, and the facts presented. The thing had to be done, and it has been done with competence. If only the authors had kept steadily before them the purpose implied in the title, and had not slipped from an Inquiry into an Indictment, the more veiled the more deadly, all would have been right and proper.
Hmmm.. I wonder who were key stakeholders of this bookdealer and who were pulling his strings?
The firm of Charles Ottley, Landon & Co. – Footnote to an Enquiry; by John Carter and Graham Pollard, Rupert Hart-Davis, London and Charles Scribner’s Sons, New York, 1948.
The detectives were not done, yet. The enquiries continued!
Taste & Technique in Book-Collecting – A Study of Recent Developments in Great Britain and the United States; by John Carter, Sandars Reader in Bibliography and Sometime Scholar or King’s College; At the University Press, Cambridge, second impression, corrected 1949.
This is another superb book on the subject. But what is interesting, again, is the provenance.
Douglas Gordon is known for his book collection that ultimately was donated to the University of Virginia. Here is the Wikipedia coverage.
“The Gordon Collection (also known as the Douglas H. Gordon Collection) at the University of Virginia's Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library comprises some 1200 volumes of French books dating from the sixteenth through the 19th century. Over 600 were printed before 1600, and many retain their original bindings. The collection, which came to the University of Virginia in 1986, was the bequest of the late Douglas Huntly Gordon of Baltimore, a prominent Maryland attorney, former president of St. John's College in Annapolis, and recipient of the French Légion d'Honneur and Palmes Académiques. A Francophile since his undergraduate days at Harvard, Mr. Gordon was a notable American bibliophile.
The approximately 600 Gordon books dating from the 16th century include literary works and titles pertaining to religion, philosophy, medicine, astronomy, travel and architecture. Together, they provide a remarkable window on the French Renaissance. The rarity of so many of the books, combined with the size and range of the collection, make it a treasure for Renaissance scholars from around the world, as well as those studying the early history of printing and the book arts. In fact, many of the volumes are counted among only a few surviving copies, and, in some cases, the Gordon book is the only known copy in the world. Among the rarest sixteenth- century titles in the collection, for example, are an illustrated edition of Marot's Blasons Anatomiques du Corps Feminin …, published by Charles Langelier in Paris in 1543, and a little- known volume of Alciati's emblems, Les Emblemes de M. Andre Alciat, traduits en ryme Francoise par Iean le Feure, published in Lyon by Jean de Tournes in 1549, with woodcuts attributed to Bernard Salomon.
The collection includes one piece of music, a tenor part from Il primo libro de le canzoni franzese, published in Venice by Ottaviano Scotto in 1535, and for a long time thought lost, until rediscovered circa 2014.”
You can see the humble Carter request for a get together, referring to their mutual friend, Philip Hofer. Mr. Hofer, who was secretary of the Fogg Museum at Harvard for 12 years, was a recognized book collector focusing on 18th-century German, Iberian, and Italian publications.
Mr. Hofer put together an Italian book collection considered the finest outside Italy. When Mr. Hofer founded Harvard's department of printing and graphic arts in 1938, it was the first such department at any university in the country. Previously, in 1930, he served as curator of the Spencer Collection of the New York Public Library and in 1934 he was first assistant director of the Morgan Library in New York.
It is obvious that the letter of introduction was successful, based upon Carter’s presentation to Gordon on the first free endpaper.
The letter, in its original envelop, is loosely inserted in the book.
ABC for Book Collectors, by John Carter; Hart-Davis, MacGibbon, London, 1974, fifth edition revised and reprinted.
To me, this is John Carter’s legacy to book collectors. This was the first book I purchased on the topic, and while I have acquired and read hundreds more, this is still my go-to book.
It has been revised, reprinted, updated to reflect the internet world, etc.
If you want one book to introduce yourself to the world of book collecting – this is it.