Manso Casino Royale

During a recent visit to Provincetown MA, I had the opportunity to spend some time at the Julie Heller Gallery.  Provincetown’s rich heritage as an art colony was quite unexplored by me, up until I took this walk through the gallery’s walls filled end to end with striking treasures of artists who helped develop the town’s art history. I was surprised to find out that artists such as Franz Kline, Jackson Pollock, Lee Krasner, Robert Motherwell, Helen Frankenthaler, Leo Manso, Fritz Bultman, and Hans Hofmann, among others, took part in shaping the town’s cultural past.

One remarkable event was Forum 49, a 1949 summer-long series of sophisticated programs, that included forums from the basic “What Is an Artist?” to the controversial “French Art vs American Art today,” with participants such as Hans Hofmann, Jackson Pollock and Leo Manso. Record crowds attended the exhibits of paintings with a focus on the avant-garde, held at a gallery at 200 Commercial Street, less than a mile down the street from Julie Heller’s Gallery.

The work of Leo Manso (known for his fluid composition and rich use of color), is on display at the Julie Heller’s Gallery, with some of his seductively beautiful work done in collages. Vintage pulp collectors may be more familiar with the artist’s cover work on paperbacks and pulp magazines produced after the Second World War. Through his work with Simon & Schuster, he became involved with Pocket Books, for whom he produced a large number of covers during the years 1943-45.

The paperbacks of those days have so much personality. By examining them, you become quite aware that they had been the creation of human hands, rather than marketing. Artists of that generation viewed their works as an expression of themselves as artists, serving an audience of fans who shared a similar view of their work. Leo Manso’s symbolic design for the Maltese Falcon, for example, was later dustjacketed with a Stanley Meltzoff illustration of a half-naked woman, in an attempt by Pocket Books’ marketing to sell more books.


Leo Manso Pocket Book art

Leo Manso paperback art










After 1947, during the sex era of the paperback, publishers produced more blatant sex covers on which beautiful women could be admired in varying stages of undress, regardless of the contents of the book. During this period, realistic illustrator Robert Stanley, was using the images he drew of his wife, model Rhonda, often having her blouse unbuttoned or her panties showing.

Leo Manso, with a group of cover designers that included calligrapher and designer George Salter, recognized the new threat presented in their field, and saw the need to establish the Book Jacket Designers Guild. The Guild, took a stand against burlap backgrounds, airbrush doilies, illustrations mutilated to fit a jacket, and cover art that was unrelated to the title, among other things. They began holding annual events to advocate the production of quality covers. After a brief period of operation, however, the number of stimulating book covers being produced had gone up and the Guild realizing defeat ceased to exist1.

Perhaps the most desirable paperback cover art promoted by the Book Jacket Designers Guild, appeared between 1942 and 1945, on cover illustrations of Pocket Books, that had the image placed within a rectangle with rounded-off corners. This design suggested that the book was a window through which the reader could look to another world. The art of Leo Manso was often surrealistic and carried symbolic objects – daggers, open books, photographed hands, and matched the Guild’s protocol perfectly. Collectors of this period in graphic development are often attracted by the exuberant and colorful covers of the artist.


Leo Manso Pocket Book art

Leo Manso paperback art






Developing a pricing methodology for vintage paperbacks is quite tricky. Appraisers do not know how much these types of books are worth, nor do they really want to deal with the hassle of managing them. Mass market forces are at play, which renders the usual gauges of supply and demand, somehow useless. There is a lack of data, such as impression quantities, trading records, (such as collections generated during auction events), or high profile sales. The paperback market offering is lacking behind the smaller quantity production of hardcovers, not only in information but also in stability.  Market availability is very unpredictable since there is a great deal of volume traded in small transactions, and new additions continually enter the market with newly made available copies.

Collectors of the gigantic paperback offering do well when they narrow their target selection down significantly. Specialization pays off at such a bigger scale. Lack of information requires a specialist collector who conducts thorough research investigations and has the dedication to learn and follow the targeted category closely. In addition, because of the fragile nature of paperbacks, fine quality is difficult to come by. Furthermore, the well-defined criteria common to the dust-jacketed hardcover collectibles, are non-existent in paperbacks, i.e. no missing, torn, price-clipped, chipped dust-jackets, etc. Condition evaluation is reduced to the pages being clean and intact, and a very, very close examination of the covers. It is a rare phenomenon by itself, to come across a cover that has not suffered some minimal wear on the edges caused by rubbing or creasing! Quite honestly, what is the difference between heavy creasing and creasing that appear in descriptions for the condition? The standard definition that declares 2 creases or more, with at least one tenth of a millimeter in width, as “heavy”, is yet to be drafted.


1 Schreuders, Piet (1981).  “Paperbacks, USA. A Graphic History, 1939-1959”. San Diego, CA : Blue Dolphin Enterprises Inc.



Rare Book Sale Monitor

Rare book sales in the first quarter of every year are usually kept in balance by a slow auction season start on one hand, with two major book fairs on the other. The California International Antiquarian Book Fair, which takes place in February, is the world’s largest, both in terms of attendance and dealer participation.  The Big Apple is the host in March, with the New York Antiquarian Book Fair and a smaller NYC Book and Ephemera Fair.

Our Rare Book Sale Monitor, which specializes in recording, analyzing and identifying trends in book sale pricing for the genre and authors exhibited below, has signaled something different this first quarter, a first, since its induction.  Among the usual high end sales of some collectible art and rare first editions, it recorded an unusual volume of activity in incunabula (early printed books printed before 1501), as well as those printed during the first half of the 16th century.

On-line marketplaces such as Abebooks, were predominantly active in the sale of works published during this time frame. Works such as Saxo Grammaticus’ “Gesta Danorum”, the history of Denmark, with the first printed account of the Hamlet legend, published in 1514; “Quadragesimale aureum” by Leonardo de Utino published in 1471; “Aritmetica”  (Arimethrica) by Calandri Filippo, one of the first arithmetic books published in 1518 Florence;  and“Speculum Historiale” by Vincent of Beauvais, published 1473, were among the top sales during the quarter. The uniqueness of these items makes it impossible to track lacking relevant comparables.

The surge in interest for these types of books coincided with London’s Heathrow airport theft of January 30. The incident involved the books, belonging to three different rare book dealers stored in a warehouse at the airport on their way to the 50th Annual California International Antiquarian Book Fair. It is estimated that the 160 incunabula and early 15th century books stolen, are worth £2 million, including a 1566 copy of Copernicus’s “De Revolutionibus Orbium Coelestium” worth an estimated £215,000. Obviously, these books may never re-enter the marketplace. Thus an already exhausted supply is reduced even further, boosting opportunist demand by detecting a market imbalance ahead of higher prices.

Today, April 23rd, we celebrate World Book Day and World Book Night, in many parts of the world. The existence of books in our lives paves the way to intellectual, emotional, social, spiritual and imaginative growth. Books take us to places we have never been before and introduce us to ideas that we could have never encountered without reading. Our communities become better places when we empower our lives with knowledge acquired through reading.

On such an occasion, I would like to take the opportunity to emphasize that although book collecting is often viewed as a personal activity carried out strictly for the collector’s own pleasure; collecting also offers a significant source of public benefits. Private collections have provided the cornerstones of many of the world’s great libraries, including the University of Oxford’s famous library, which bears the name of its benefactor, Sir Thomas Bodley.

In an era of disembodied socialization created by social media, I would also like to add that my book collecting has led me to friendships all over the world and there are many books on my shelves that I treasure precisely because of a social connection.


RBSM 2017-Q1 Genre Breakdown

RBSM 2017-Q1 Genre Breakdown


RBSM 2017-Q1 Author Breakdown

RBSM 2017-Q1 Author Breakdown




Interview with Laurent Ferri

March 21, 2017
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We recently had the opportunity to speak with Laurent Ferri, Curator of the pre-1800 Collections Division of Rare and Manuscript Collections, at Cornell University. RBD: Within the scope of your definition of a book [“a closed/bound container of ideas and symbols which reflects and supports the intentions and worldview of its “author(s)”], what are some […]

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The First Dystopian Novel

February 27, 2017
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Before Ernest Cline’s “Ready Player One”, George Orwell’s “Ninteen Eighty-Four” and Aldous Huxley’s “Brave New World”, there was Yevgeni Zamyatin’s “We”, the first dystopian novel ever written. The book is a satire on life in a collectivist futuristic state, “One State”, located in the middle of a wild jungle.  It is surrounded by a wall […]

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Rare Book Sale Monitor update – 4th Quarter, 2016

January 27, 2017
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  Last quarter’s coverage of the big rare book auctions, focused almost entirely on the new price record set by a first edition of Sir Isaac Newton’s Principia Mathematica, which has become the most expensive printed scientific book ever sold at auction after a winning bid of $3.7m (£3m), nearly two and a half times […]

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Pleased to Meet you, Hope you Guess my Name

January 10, 2017
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I was born in Mainz, Germany. I lived for the first month of my life in a printing plant before being brought to a merchant. I can remember very little about that time, for as soon as I left the plant I was securely stored away in a bookcase outside of town.  I was very […]

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The Ingredients of the Rarest Christmas Book

December 15, 2016
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At a local book trade show not more than three months ago, I had the opportunity to meet up with a few old friends and exchange some provocative conversations relating to my favorite topic – books.  The antiquarian book dealer in this particular conversation was delighted to bring up some quite interesting points on the […]

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Tarantula by Bob Dylan

November 25, 2016
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What do T. S. Eliot, Gabriel García Márquez, Toni Morrison, Samuel Beckett, Saul Bellow, Pearl Buck, Elias Canetti, Gunter Grass, John Steinbeck, Harold Pinter, Ernest Hemingway and Bob Dylan have in common? They have all been honored with the Nobel Prize in Literature, the world’s most prestigious and coveted award. The 2016 winner, Bob Dylan, […]

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Rare Book Sale Monitor update – 3rd Quarter, 2016

October 22, 2016
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In terms of total dollars, global auction sales of rare books in the 2nd and 3rd quarters of 2016 were slightly down from the same period in 2015; this year’s $87 million figure, for the period, represents a 6% decrease compared to last year. But a closer look at the top three markets – the […]

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The Rarest Milestone in the Science Fiction Genre

October 2, 2016
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Do Jules Verne’s works categorize as science fiction? The French author who has been called the “Father of Science Fiction”, along with authors such as H. G. Wells, Hugo Gernsback, Lucian of Samosata and Mary Shelley, often argued against classifying his novels as scientific. In fact, he has often been labeled a writer of genre […]

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