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Happy Spring!

Welcome to our latest Fresh Sheet, a monthly notice of new arrivals and other interesting books that we've recently catalogued. For this April issue we're pleased to offer some unique Roderick Haig-Brown titles, many of them inscribed to a close friend. You'll also see a sampling of some polar books we've just acquired, as well as the usual variety in other fields such as poetry, illustrated books, and broadsides (including the new Dead Feminist print from the ladies in Tacoma.) Be sure to click on links below many of these listings that will take you directly to 'new arrivals' in specific categories. We continue to catalogue material from collections of poetry, nineteenth century literature, and books about books-- so please don't forget that you can sign up for individual 'fresh sheets' in more than a dozen specific categories here By doing so, you'll receive an email directly when we list new arrivals in your specific area of choice, almost always with an image or two.


All orders will be shipped within 24 hours, and can be shipped any way you require (FedEx, UPS, USPS, etc). As always, items will be extremely well-packed, and regular media mail shipping & insurance is free.

Thank you for looking, and best wishes,

Wessel & Lieberman Booksellers



View our latest Fresh Sheet
January 23rd, 2014

The Broadside


Soon after the invention of printing with moveable type, broadsides helped spread literacy to the lower classes, the topical ballads that formed their earliest content serving as the news stories of their day.  At first a ballad or two occupied a full folio sheet, featured a crude woodcut, and was hawked in the streets for a penny.  Later the pages were cut lengthwise and the songs appeared on narrow strips. Often they were posted in pubs, where literate customers would teach the illiterate the words by singing them to a familiar melody.

By Shakespeare's time the writing, printing, and selling of broadsides was so widespread that the Bard could satirize the custom in the character of Autolycus, the roguish ballad monger and petty thief in A Winter's Tale.  Benedick, the "confirmed bachelor" in Much Ado About Nothing, swearing that he will never fall in love, authorizes his male friends to "pick out mine eyes with a ballad-maker's pen and hang me up at the door of a brothel-house," that is, to make him into a broadside, if he breaks his vow. After the abolition of the Star Chamber in 1641, when registering printed matter ceased to be closely scrutinized, broadsides spread like wildfire throughout England. By the beginning of the nineteenth century a virtual industry had sprung up around their creation and distribution.

The Seven Dials district of London, romanticized by John Gay in The Beggar's Opera, became home to the free-lance poets, job printers, and ballad-sellers engaged in the trade. Printers John Pitts and James Catnach competed for the surprisingly lucrative market for topical songs. After a particularly gruesome murder, the street poets would set the gory details to verse, the printers would rush the verse into print without much consideration for accuracy or layout, and the resulting broadsides would be issued by the thousands--and sometimes tens or even hundreds of thousands. According to the scholar Leslie Shepard, "A street hawker could live for four to six weeks off an important murder." Catnach once printed five hundred thousand copies of a ballad in eight days! Four or five million broadsides were sold annually in England's capital in the early 1800s.

Of course, the size and content of broadsides diverged widely from the original music lyrics and long strips. The Declaration of Independence is a broadside, as is the Mormon declaration of independence of the 1850s and the similar Irish declaration that started the Easter Rising in 1916. Their size ranges from postcard to poster. Following tradition, however, the content of modern broadsides still tends towards poetry and politics. The medium is well-suited to quick reading in a public place.

The revival of interest in fine press printing in the early twentieth century led to a broadside renaissance, reinforced by the political activism of the 1960s and beyond. Now galleries sponsor exhibitions of contemporary broadsides, prizes are offered in contests, and book artists have lent their expertise to further enhance the genre. It is now common to find recently printed broadsides with very sophisticated illustrations, innovative typography, handmade paper, mixed media, and literary texts. A single sheet that once sold for a penny now sometimes commands over a hundred dollars.

After five hundred years in existence, the broadside has gone upscale.  
                                              ~Jim Jones


To browse our large selection of broadsides please click here



January 8th, 2014

The Press of the Kemscott Press


Overshadowed by the November sale of a copy of the Bay Psalm Book, another auction in New York ten days later illustrated much more recent--if not equally important--printing history. Christie's handled the sale of Improved Albion Press #6551, the very machine on which William Morris printed The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer in Hammersmith between 1894 and 1896.

    One of the most beautiful books ever printed, the so-called Kelmscott Chaucer, designed by Morris and illustrated by the Pre-Raphaelite painter Edward Burne-Jones, runs to 556 pages 11 x 17 inches in size. The typeface and luxuriant page borders render the Middle English text virtually unreadable. Without crossing the boundary into the realm of artist's book, Morris's creation nevertheless achieves the enviable status of book as art.

    How the press came to America is almost as interesting as the works printed on it. Fearing that the seven-foot-tall machine would be taken out of service and placed in a museum, the eminent American type designer Frederic Goudy bought it and had it shipped to New York in 1924. Thereafter, the press played a central role in the renaissance of fine printing in America.

    From Goudy the Albion went to Spencer Kellogg, Jr., founder of the Aries Press. From 1932 to 1941 it was owned by Melbert B. Cary, director of the Continental Type Founders Association and proprietor of the Press of the Woolly Whale. On this press Cary fabricated one of the great hoaxes of the modern book business, The Missing Gutenberg Woodblocks, some of the illustrations of which were designed by Fritz Kredel, whom Cary had helped to escape from Nazi Germany.

    In 1960 the fine press printing couple J. Ben and Elizabeth Lieberman acquired the machine, which they used in the operation of their Herity Press. To Americanize the British press the Liebermans had a small model of the Liberty Bell mounted on top. It was their son, a law professor at New York University, who offered the Albion for the most recent sale after he realized that it was too physically demanding for him to operate.

    The winning bid at the December 6 auction--$233,000--came from the Rochester Institute of Technology's Cary Graphic Arts Collection, endowed by the same Melbert Cary who had bought the press eighty years earlier. And Goudy's hope that the press will remain in use will be fulfilled by the new owner, which offers an extensive program in printing technology and history. The Cary Collection also features many Kelmscott Press volumes, as well as the archives of the Press of the Woolly Whale. (Cary's extensive collection of playing cards went to the Beinecke Library at Yale, thanks to his widow, born Mary Flagler, a Standard Oil heiress.)

    Unlike the Bay Psalm Book, which fell short of pre-auction estimates, Improved Albion #6551 brought far more than the predicted $150,000 to the seller. And also unlike the Bay Psalm Book, which will be displayed in a very expensive vitrine in some lucky library, the Albion will continue to serve the function for which it was intended: the back-breaking work of fine hand printing.
                                                                                                                                          ~Jim Jones
December 7th, 2013

The Beats

   In a recent review in The New York Times, A. O. Scott describes a new film as "a peek at the genesis of a movement that would become a matter of cultural controversy and, eventually, academic study." The film is Kill Your Darlings directed by John Krokidas, and the movement is the Beat Generation. Krokidas's film joins two other Beat-related movies that debuted in 2013, an adaptation of Jack Kerouac's late novel Big Sur, and the long awaited cinematic version of his iconic On the Road, directed by Walter Salles, who also made The Motorcycle Diaries.

When I began my own academic study of Kerouac in the mid-1980s, I did it because I thought he was an interesting writer--perhaps not a novelist of the first rank, but someone worthy of serious scholarly attention. Like many other members of my generation, I had first read Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, LeRoi Jones and Lawrence Ferlinghetti in college in the late 1960s. I had no idea then or when I began my academic study whether interest in these writers would persist. In fact, as the field of "Beat Studies" took shape around the turn of the millennium, I became convinced that they were already passť.

Read More
~Jim Jones

A Poet's Revolution: The Life of Denise Levertov

This first full-length biography of Anglo- American poet and activist Denise Levertov (1923-1997) brings to life one of the major voices of the second half of the twentieth century, when American poetry was a powerful influence worldwide. Drawing on exhaustive archival research and interviews with 75 friends of Levertov, as well as on Levertov's entire opus, Donna Krolik Hollenberg's authoritative biography captures the full complexity of Levertov as both woman and artist, and the dynamic world she inhabited. She charts Levertov's early life in England as the daughter of a Russian Hasidic father and a Welsh mother, her experience as a nurse in London during WWII, her marriage to an American after the war, and her move to New York City where she became a major figure in the American poetry scene. The author chronicles Levertov's role as a passionate social activist in volatile times and her importance as a teacher of writing. Finally, Hollenberg shows how the spiritual dimension of Levertov's poetry deepened toward the end of her life, so that her final volumes link lyric perception with political and religious commitment. ~ from the Publisher.

Hardcover. $44.95 Click here to order.

Introducing Personalized 'Fresh Sheets'

Many of you receive, and hopefully enjoy :-), our periodic 'Fresh Sheets' featuring a selection of our new arrivals. Each 'Fresh Sheet' usually include 15 to 20 books in 4 to 5 subject areas and offers a glimpse into some of our newly acquired material.

Now we are pleased to offer  the ability for you to sign up to receive a "Fresh Sheet" catered to your interest (s). 

Here's how it works:

Visit our sign up page here. Simply put your email address in the box and then choose a category of interest from the drop down menu and hit the "Add Notification" button. You may choose and submit more than one category.  more...

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I just wanted to let you know that I received this book last Friday in perfect condition. Thanks so much for the excellent customer service, very fast shipment, and thorough packing of the book. I wish all book sellers were that competent! Anthony W. October, 2011