The work of Jorge Luis Borges has always been a touchstone for me: the concision and entanglement of his fictions and artifices and inquisitions are a source of great pleasure and inspiration. I am pleased to report that James Cummins Bookseller catalogue 145, Jorge Luis Borges, is ready, describing more than 400 items from the private collection of Gary Oleson, proprietor with Franny Ness of Waiting for Godot Books in Hadley, Massachusetts. Waiting for Godot were long- time specialists in twentieth century literature (among many other fields), including Latin American authors, and Oleson began buying Borges material in the late 1980s and early 1990s.

The collection includes books owned by Borges, manuscripts of essays and stories, autograph  notes, photographs, inscribed books, and a comprehensive group of books, periodical appearances, ephemera, and secondary literature. The cover illustrates a book by Capt. Marryat, signed by Borges at age 11, 25, 33, and 42, and with the ownership signature of his English-born great aunt, who taught him English

As with the writings of Borges, patterns and connections reveal themselves across the pages of the catalogue, which is published on the occasion of a Borges centenary, the hundredth anniversary of the publication of his first book of poems, Fervor de Buenos Aires (1923). [HWW]

Catalogue 145, Jorge Luis Borges is in two sections, an illustrated catalogue of 130 items, and a descriptive listing of 275 items. A printed catalogue is available, and many items will be on display at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair 27-30 April at the Park Avenue Armory, in the Cummins booth A1. Your correspondent will be there, come say hello.

The Avram Davidson Centenary

Sunday 23 April 2023 is the centenary of the birth of Avram Davidson.

On this occasion, worthy of celebration wherever the readers of this website may find themselves, it is worth looking back at origins. I count myself fortunate to have discovered the work of Avram Davidson, when in late 1992 I first read a battered but intact copy of The Enquiries of Doctor Eszterhazy paperback. I was surprised, again and again. The rambling sentences and digressions impressed me, but most of all it was the way in which Davidson integrated obscure and bizarre knowledge into these stories: knowledge that in anyone else’s hands would be dusty and uninteresting or an info-dump that strangled or squashed the flow of language. Davidson was genuinely learned, as even a single sentence taken at random will reveal. There is a healthy measure of irreverence to temper this erudition, too, so that a reader is never oppressed by the weight of information imparted. I know that I was re-reading the Enquiries in late April or early May 1993, for when I decided to order the two books then in print and called up George Scithers, publisher of the Owlswick Press (and Weird Tales), in King of Prussia*, Penna., he answered my inquiry with the statement, “Avram Davidson died last week.”

portrait of Avram Davidson (1923-1993), American science fiction author and essayist

Over the next several months and years, the quest for other works by Davidson, at first to read them, but soon I began preparing lists in an attempt to understand the range of his work. I corresponded with or met folks in and out of science fiction, many of whom I still count as friends. The rest is history, some of it chronicled in back issues of The Nutmeg Poubt District Mail newsletter and in the archives of the Avram Davidson website. From small seeds and many friendships, the Avram Davidson Society (largely imaginary but important for all that) has fostered interest in the writings of Avram Davidson.

In recent months, I have been re-reading lots and lots of Avram Davidson with great pleasure, the Eszterhazy stories (a perennial favorite), but also “Lord of Central Park” and El Vilvoy de las Islas (if Naples is the most elegant book I have published with the imprint of the Nutmeg Point District Mail, El Vilvoy is the most important). And then there is The Avram Davidson Treasury (1998), the great triumph of Grania Davis and her efforts in the first wave of posthumous publications. And if the Treasury unaccountably omitted three essential stories, “Lord of Central Park”, “The Dragon Skin Drum”, and El Vilvoy de las Islas, well, all three appeared in collections within the next few years, in The Investigations of Avram Davidson and The Other Nineteenth Century. And Everybody Has Somebody in Heaven gathered together material relating to Avram Davidson as an American Jewish writer; the biographical essay by Eileen Gunn remains the most important survey of Davidson’s life and work. These are solid foundations upon which all else has built.

And now, for the Avram Davidson Centenary year, there will be a century of stories, AD 100. 100 Years of Avram Davidson. 100 Unpublished or Uncollected Stories, a two volume collection assembled by Seth Davis and forthcoming in 2023 from  Or All the Seas with Oysters, the publishing arm of the Estate of Avram Davidson. Your correspondent had an early look at the table of contents and it is a fascinating assembly: early writings, some of which I have never seen, and stories published in a variety of periodicals and anthologies — within and without the genres— many of them ephemeral, fleeting, and extinct. Once upon a time, dear reader, it took fantastical amounts of luck and patience and effort and, above all, TIME to trace these stories, simply for the pleasure of reading them. Now, this pleasure will be yours, as you peruse two thick volumes. I look forward to doing so myself.

The preparation of AD100 is a colossal accomplishment and a landmark in the posthumous career of Avram Davidson as significant as publication of The Avram Davidson Treasury in 1998. Here’s to the next twenty-five years!

On the occasion of the Centenary, I acknowledge, in memoriam, a short list friends and correspondents who were instrumental in promoting the legacy of Avram Davidson: Grania Davis, Guy Davenport, Reno W. Odlin, George Scithers, and David G. Hartwell.

* King of Prussia, named for an eighteenth-century crossroads tavern, is the wonderfully named town near where I spent much of my youth. I suspect Avram Davidson took a certain amount of pleasure in the unusual name of the town where his friend and long-time editorial champion George Scithers (1929-2010) lived for many years.

[This essay appeared in slightly different form as part of The Nutmeg Point District Mail, vol. XXI, no. 1, archived at]

Ambrosia Arabica : Books & Coffee in History

Arbre du Café, from Voyage de l’Arabie heureuse, 1716

For many readers, a cup of coffee is the ideal accompaniment to a carefully chosen volume. The recent vogue of uniting bookstores with coffee shops that is rippling through the book world is but a modern revival of older custom. For of all foods and beverages, coffee has perhaps the closest and most interesting connections with the printed word. Its introduction into seventeenth-century Western Europe from the Middle East came at a time when geographical and scientific knowledge was increasing, and in turn the rise of the coffee house transformed many areas of social, intellectual, and commercial life.

Newspapers, the Lloyd’s insurance and maritime intelligence operations, the New York Stock Exchange, the British postal system, and political and social clubs are some of the diverse institutions that trace their origins to these places where people gathered to drink coffee. Coffee figures in early botanical, medical, and Orientalist books, and in numerous volumes recounting seventeenth-century travels and explorations. In literature and the arts, coffee is at the core of a similar array of books and musical and theatrical compositions.

To be sure, wine has a longer literary heritage, with various threads extending back to Ancient Rome, Persia, and China. In the end, however, the fruit of the grape induces somnolence rather than the alertness and perspicacity that are characteristic of many book people. So with all due apologies to those who favor a glass of port and a comfortable armchair for their reading on a wintry evening, this essay will look at the relationship between coffee and modern culture, with particular attention to the printed book. One of the most venerable myths about coffee — concerning its introduction to Vienna — will be dispelled, and the truth made known.

The origins of coffee in Southern Arabia are well known, but it is interesting to trace how the beverage spread through the Middle East in the middle of the fifteenth century. Many of the dramatic — even revolutionary — social changes that unfolded in London and continental Europe in the late 17th century were almost identical in nature to the changes coffee brought to Islamic society. The coffee tree (Coffea arabica) is a flowering evergreen shrub indigenous to Ethiopia and Yemen in Arabia. (Related species C. liberica and C. robusta were discovered growing wild in other regions of Africa.) The earliest mention of coffee may be a reference to bunchum in the works of the ninth century physician Razi (akin perhaps to bunn, the Arabic word for the coffee berry and tree), but more definite information on the preparation of a beverage from the roasted coffee berries dates from several centuries later. Qahwa is the Arabic word for the beverage. All European words for coffee are derived through the Turkish pronunciation of the word, kahveh.

The most important of the early Muslim writers on coffee was ‘Abd al-Qadir al-Jaziri, who in 1587 compiled a work tracing the history and legal controversies of coffee entitled ‘Umdat al safwa fi hill al-qahwa. He reported that one Sheikh Jamal-al-Din al-Dhabhani, mufti of Aden, was the first to adopt the use of coffee (circa 1454). Its usefulness in driving away sleep caused it to become popular in Sufi circles. Al-Jaziri’s manuscript work is of considerable interest in the history of coffee in Europe, as a copy reached the French royal library, where it was translated in part by Antoine Galland as De l’origine et du progrès du Café. Sur un manuscrit arabe de la Bibliothèque du Roy, published in Caen (Normandy) in 1699. Galland, an important Orientalist and numismatist, was the first European translator of the Arabian Nights, Les Mille et une nuits (1704-1717). There is a strong measure of the exotic in his translation of al-Jaziri, which traces the spread of coffee from Arabia Felix (the present day Yemen) northward to Mecca and Medina, and then to the larger cities of Cairo, Damascus, Baghdad, and Istanbul. The 19th-century orientalist Antoine Isaac Silvestre de Sacy edited the first two chapters of al-Jaziri’s manuscript and included it in the second edition of his Chrestomathie Arabe (Paris, 1826, 3 vols.). Galland’s 1699 work was recently reissued (Paris: Editions La Bibliothèque, 1992).

Religious disapproval followed swiftly when it became clear that the new coffee houses were places where men gathered to sing, dance, and play musical instruments as well as the games of chess and mancalah (rules for which are given by Galland). Coffee was held by some religious leaders to be analogous to wine and thus forbidden to Muslims. Public consumption of coffee was suppressed for a time in Mecca in 1524 and in Cairo there were religious riots against the coffee houses in 1534. The first coffee house in Istanbul was opened in 1554 and as in Cairo outbursts of religious zeal against coffee occurred between approximately 1570 and 1580. It is at this time that the first European reports of coffee began.

Not surprisingly, these 16th-century government prohibitions of coffee houses failed to legislate morality. The coffee house in its many forms remains a central part of the culture of Islamic countries in the Middle East and North Africa to the present day. An excellent treatment of the early history of coffee in the Middle East (with English translations of portions of al-Jaziri’s work) is to be found in Coffee and Coffeehouses: The Origins of a Social Beverage in the Medieval Near East by Ralph S. Hattox (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1988).

From Mocha to Martinique

The German botanist and physician Leonhart Rauwolf of Augsburg traveled to Jerusalem (1573-1576), and upon his return published Aigentliche beschreibung der Raiß … inn die Morgenländer in Lauingen in 1582. Rauwolf’s account of his journeys represents the earliest printed reference to coffee in Europe. Venetian traders in Istanbul were also aware of the beverage, and the Italian physician and botanist Prosper Alpinus took note of coffee on his voyage to Egypt in 1580, and published discussions of coffee in De Medicina Aegyptorum Libri quatuor (1591) and De Plantis Aegypti Liber (1592). The latter volume, on the flora of Egypt, includes the first published illustration of the coffee plant. The first mention in English (as chaoua) appears in an edition of Linschooten’s Travels translated from the Dutch and published in London in 1598. A more recognizable form of the word can be found in Sherley’s Travels (1601), in a passage describing “a certain liquor which they call coffe.” The spelling was still in flux, for in 1603 the English adventurer Captain John Smith (founder of Virginia) refers to “coffa” in his volume of travels.

The Venetians were in fact the first Europeans to import coffee, in 1615. The Dutch first shipped it directly from Mocha in Arabia the following year, although regular importations were still some decades away. Articles for preparing coffee were among the household effects carried by the Pilgrims on the voyage of the Mayflower in 1620, but not until 1670 was coffee sold in Boston. Early mentions of coffee are to be found in the works of Francis Bacon, in Historia Vitae et Mortis (1623) and Sylva Sylvarum (1627), as well as in Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy (1632). The first botanical description of coffee in English was published by Parkinson in Theatrum Botanicum (1640). The use of coffee spread rapidly throughout Europe after mid-century. Venice was the site of the first coffee house, opened in 1645, and one was opened in London in 1652. In Lyons in 1671, Philippe Sylvestre Dufour published De l’Usage du Café, du Thé et du Chocolat. Dialogue entre un médecin, un Indien, et un Bourgeois, the first substantial work on coffee in French. The first coffee house in Paris opened the following year.

One of the most important and widely read works on coffee, although somewhat later, is Jean de la Roque’s Voyage de L’Arabie heureuse … (1716), which recounted the history of French expeditions in the Red Sea from 1708 to 1710 and a second mission to the port of Mocha and the court of the King of Yemen during the years 1711 to 1713. La Roque described the coffee tree (with engraved plates), and provided a critical discussion of the history of the introduction of coffee into France in the latter part of this work, entitled Un Mémoire Concernant l’Arbre & le Fruit du Café. The Paris edition was followed by one published in Amsterdam the same year, with newly engraved plates. Gründliche und sichere Nachricht vom Cafée und Cafée-Baum, a German translation of the portion of the work concerning coffee, was published in Leipzig in 1717. An Italian translation of the entire work appeared in Venice in 1721, and English editions in 1726, 1732, and 1742. A notable Italian work dealing with the origins, cultivation, roasting, and preparation of the coffee, Ambrosia Arabica overa della Salutare Bevanda Cafe, by Angelo Rambaldi, was published in Bologna in 1691.

The Dutch were the first to experiment with growing coffee outside Arabia. Early plantations in Ceylon from the 1650s were followed by efforts to establish coffee in Java in 1699. A coffee seedling from Java was successfully transported to Amsterdam in 1706, and a plant grown from a seed of that tree was presented to Louis XIV of France in 1714. It was in this period, 1715 to 1725, that coffee was first grown in Surinam in South America, on the Caribbean island of Martinique, as well as on the island of Réunion in the Indian Ocean. Coffee was introduced to Brazil from the settlement at Cayenne in French Guiana in 1727.

Intrigue, Insurance and Literature

The history of coffee and coffee houses in London is particularly revealing of how coffee shaped the emergence of modern society. The first coffee house opened in London in 1652. A man named Bowman, servant to a merchant in the Turkey trade, opened it in partnership with Pasqua Rosee in St. Michael’s Alley, Cornhill. An advertising handbill from the shop, The Vertue of the Coffee Drink, is preserved in the British Museum. The first newspaper advertisement for coffee dates from 1657, the year in which chocolate and tea were first sold publicly in London. Political activity was linked with the coffee houses from the beginning. Pepys notes the formation of the Coffee Club of the Rota in 1659, a forum for exchange of republican views which met in the Turk’s Head. The number of such establishments (most near the Royal Exchange) grew markedly following the Restoration, so that by 1663, there were licensing requirements. These early coffee houses offered minimal accommodations, often consisting simply of a large room with several tables. Neither the plague years 1664-1665 nor the Great Fire of London in 1666 diminished the growing role of the coffee house. In fact, the rapid reconstruction of the Royal Exchange (completed by 1669) was accompanied by the opening of many new coffee houses.

Controversy accompanied the introduction of the new drink. Broadsides and pamphlets such as A Coffee Scuffle (1662) or The Character of a Coffee House … by an Eye and Ear Witness (1665) presented opposing views of the social, cultural and even medical questions raised by coffee. In the 1670s, political intrigue was the chief focus of concerns. Coffee houses were characterized as “seminaries of sedition.” King Charles II issued an order for the suppression of coffee houses in late December 1675, but this was rescinded before it ever took effect. Coffee houses were again at the focus of inquiries into the Popish plot of Titus Oates in 1679-1680.

“In a coffee house just now among the rabble, I bluntly asked, which is the treason table?” was how a 1681 comedy described the state of affairs. And yet, as a place where political opinions were exchanged, and where news, newsletters, and mail were distributed, coffee houses played an undeniable role in the growth of English political liberty.

At a time when the streets of London were largely unpaved and only barely passable, and when few merchants had offices, coffee houses served an equally important function for the trading community. The most celebrated example is Edward Lloyd’s coffee house in 1691. Lloyd had special arrangements to receive news of shipping, and the Lloyd’s insurance institution as well as the Register of Shipping originated in these gatherings. Similarly, London stockbrokers first met in Jonathan’s coffee house. Some years later, the Tontine coffee house played an identical role in the formation of the New York Stock Exchange, just as the City Tavern, or Merchants Coffee House in Philadelphia was a gathering place for political leaders such as Washington, Jefferson, and Hamilton. The East India Company, Hudson’s Bay Company, and the African, Russian, and Levant Companies all met in coffee houses in the early years of their operations. Coffee houses even served as the forum for slave trading upon occasion.

The eighteenth century was the heyday of the London coffee house, and scenes from life in these establishments were recorded by authors such as Addison, writing in the Spectator, Steele, in the Tatler, and Mackay, in Journey Through England (1724). The literary gatherings that were held at the Turk’s Head in the Strand from 1763 to 1783 included such figures as Samuel Johnson, his biographer Boswell, Oliver Goldsmith, the actor David Garrick, Edmund Burke, and Sir Joshua Reynolds the painter. Other members of the circle were Thomas Percy, historian Edward Gibbon, and economist Adam Smith.

At the beginning of the eighteenth century, coffee houses were a central part of the life of upper and middle class men. Over the course of the century, more formal associations were formed, so that by the close of the century, the London club came to serve a similar function. The decline of the London coffee house was further cemented by reforms in the governmental postal system and by another fire at the Royal Exchange in 1838. It was not reopened until 1845, and thereafter coffee houses played a much lesser role in British commercial and public life. A classic work on this period is Edward Forbes Robinson’s The Early History of Coffee Houses in England (London: Kegan Paul & Co., 1893). A more recent work, London Coffee Houses: A Reference Book of Coffee Houses of the Seventeenth, Eighteenth, and Nineteenth Centuries by Bryant Lillywhite (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1963) is a vast compendium of information on the complex social, economic, and political history, arranged alphabetically by the name of coffee house.

All About Coffee

The single richest source on the cultural and commercial history of coffee remains the second edition of All About Coffee by William H. Ukers (New York: The Tea and Coffee Trade Journal Company, 1935). Ukers (1873-1954) was for many years the editor of The Tea and Coffee Trade Journal and brought a truly encyclopaedic perspective to this book. The original edition of 1922 was the first serious and comprehensive treatment of coffee in English in several decades (and won a gold medal at the 1923 Brazil Centennial Exhibition). The second edition of All About Coffee is abundantly illustrated with photographs, engravings and line drawings on all stages of the growth and processing of coffee, as well as the history of coffee house. There are also numerous reproductions of title pages and other early printed references to coffee. Ukers divided his work into six books, exploring historical, technical, scientific, commercial, social, and artistic facets of coffee. His chapters on the evolution of coffee apparatus and preparing the beverage provide a particularly diverse range of illustrations, while his selections of poems and references to coffee in literature and in the arts are witty as well as wide-ranging. The work includes a coffee dictionary and a substantial bibliography of books and periodical works, as well as a coffee thesaurus of “Encomiums and Descriptive Phrases Applied to the Plant, the Berry, and the Beverage.” These range from the poetic (“the most exquisite perfume of Araby the blest” and “favored liquid which fills all my soul with delight”) to the banal (slogan such as “the family drink” or “the King of the American breakfast table”). This edition of All About Coffee is much sought after by collectors of works on culinary history. It was reprinted in 1976 by the Gale Research Company of Detroit, Michigan. Ukers was also author of All About Tea (New York: The Tea and Coffee Trade Journal Company, 1935, 2 vols.) and The Romance of Tea: An Outline History of Tea and Tea-Drinking Through Sixteen Hundred Years (New York, Knopf, 1936).

Coffee and the Siege of Vienna

Legend has it that Georg Franz Koltschitzky established a coffee house in Vienna in 1683, using beans left behind in the aftermath of the Turkish siege of city in that eventful year. This story, repeated by Ukers and even in such recent works as Mark Pendergast’s Uncommon Grounds (1999), is entirely apocryphal.

The actual pioneer was Johannes Diodato, an Armenian, who opened the first coffee house in 1685, the same year that Bevanda Asiatica …, by the Italian naturalist, diplomat and bibliophile Count Luigi Marsili was published in Vienna. Another key figure is Isaak de Luca, der bürgerlicher Cavesieder, the “citizen coffee-maker,” whose Imperial Privilege was granted somewhat later. The life and exploits of the Polish-born Koltschitzky and origins of Viennese coffee houses are discussed in the monograph Die Einführung des Kaffees in Wien: Georg Franz Koltschitzky, Johannes Diodato, Isaak de Luca by Karl Teply (Vienna: Verein für Geschichte der Stadt Wien, 1980).

Another essential source for information concerning early works on coffee is the Bibliographie des Kaffee, des Kakao, der Schokolade, des Tee und deren Surrogate bis zum Jahre 1900 by Wolf Mueller (Bad Bocklet: Walter Krieg Verlag, 1960). Mueller described his work as “the fruit of decades of collecting and research activity.” In his foreword, Mueller wrote that he had published separate essays on the bibliography of coffee and cocoa in German journals during the early 1930s. During the Nazi era, Mueller’s professional activities were restricted (for undisclosed reasons), but he continued to have access to the former Prussian State Library, and so devoted himself to bibliographical work. Mueller also noted the importance of a wide range of international correspondents, including Ralph Holt Cheney, author of Coffee: A Monograph of the Economic Species of the Genus Coffea L. (New York: New York University Press, 1925), a work that Cheney dedicated to Mueller. Mueller’s bibliography provides title page transcriptions, date, size, pagination, as well as brief identifying notes (in German only) describing the author or particular significance of the work. Later editions and translations of popular works are also noted.

Oceans of Coffee

This essay has looked at a few of the highlights of the vast literature of coffee. Equally enormous and rich in anecdote is the subject of coffee in literature. Four examples will serve to hint at the variety of coffee lore. Voltaire, for example, was said to have drunk 50 cups of coffee a day, and also composed a pseudonymous comedy, Le Café, ou l’Ecossaise (1760), purportedly translated from the English of “Mr. Hume.” Balzac (1799-1850) also seems to have subsisted on coffee and perhaps it hastened his death — one modern-day Philadelphia coffee roaster named a blend La Mort de Balzac (“Balzac’s Death”). Balzac also composed a Treatise on Modern Stimulants, in which he linked coffee with the movement of ideas “like the battalions of the grand Army on the battlefield … Things remembered arrive at full gallop.”

The nineteenth century Dutch author Multatuli (Edward Douwes Dekker) published a scathing satirical attack on colonial policies in the Netherlands East Indies, Max Havelaar of de Koffiveilingen der Nederlandsche Handelsmaatschappy (1860). His bourgeois character Droogstoppel (Drystubble) is an Amsterdam coffee broker of excruciating respectability. Multatuli’s book was altered (and considerably toned down) by it unscrupulous first publisher, and not until 1875 was the author’s intended text published. In an introduction to the 1927 Knopf edition of Max Havelaar, or, the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company, D.H. Lawrence compared Multatuli’s “passionate, honourable hate” to Mark Twain’s acerbic satires on human nature. Max Havelaar ultimately provoked a dramatic reassessment of Dutch policy in the East Indies, and remains one of the key works of anti-colonial literature.

In The Long Goodbye by Raymond Chandler, the detective Philip Marlowe narrates in considerable detail making coffee in his kitchen before driving his friend Terry to the Tijuana airport. This is but one instance of the oceans of coffee consumed by the hard-drinking Marlowe in the course of Chandler’s novels.

Some three centuries after its introduction to the wider world, coffee still retains a considerable mystique. Ukers writes, “There is something more to coffee than its caffeine stimulus, its action on the taste-buds of the tongue and mouth. The sense of smell and the sense of sight play important rôles. To get all the joy there is in a cup of coffee, it must look good and smell good, before one can pronounce its taste good. It must woo us through the nostrils with the wonderful aroma that constitutes much of the lure of coffee.” This survey of some aspects of the connections between books and coffee will perhaps add an intangible and exotic dimension to the next cup of coffee that finds its way into the reader’s hand.

[Original published in slightly different form in AB Bookman’s Weekly, December 15, 1997. Copyright 1997, 2023, by Henry Wessells. All rights reserved.]

A Wunderkammer in Virginia

cover of A Curator’s Wunderkammer— David R. Whitesell. A Curator’s Wunderkammer. A Decade of Collecting for the University of Virginia. Exhibition Catalog. [Charlottesville: University of Virginia Library], 2022. Illustrated throughout. [iv], 105 pp. Edition of 500 copies [in fact, 310]. $25.00.
David Whitesell’s Wunderkammer exhibition is a retirement party in material form, a late career greatest hits selection of sixty-four books, manuscripts, and ephemera he bought for Special Collections at the University of Virginia Library during a decade at as curator at the Small Special Collections Library at the University of Virginia (previously he was at the American Antiquarian Society for many years). The exhibition runs through July but information seems meager on the UVa website, so I will treat this catalogue as my invitation to the party (complete with a transcript of all the speeches!) and write about it.
A Curator’s Wunderkammer includes is divided into five broad categories: Jefferson, Virginia, & American History (23 items); English Literature (5 items); American Literature (7 items); Printing, Publishing & Book Arts (19 items); and Omnium Gatherum (10 items). Boundaries are usually a lot  fuzzier than people think, and here, too: many of the items in the Omnium Gatherum have an Americana flavor.  This is only a tiny selection from some 15,000 items Whitesell purchased, but they document the curator’s energies and the range of materials that he has seen.  The items include a Jefferson manuscript and the diary of a young lady growing up in Virginia during the Civil War (this is after all, Jefferson’s university);  the first novel by an American-born author; a rare Boston imprint of Meat out of the Eater and Day of Doom; the decorative wrapper for  a ream of paper from a Hartford Mill; a memoir of a Bavarian soldier in the first world war; a private manuscript anthology of the poet Chatterton; and a fragment of Washington Irving letter, just before his career took off with The Sketch Book.
Whitesell pays attention to poetry (he was editor of Roger Stoddard’s  monumental  Bibliographical Description of Books and Pamphlets of American Verse Printed from 1610 through 1820). Notable here are a family copy of an early American utopia in verse, The United Worlds (1834), which conclusively identifies the author, and The Eucleia (ca. 1865), a nonce collection of the works of William Cook, mendicant poet and self-publisher in Salem, Mass., reflecting Whitesell’s interest in “nineteenth-century non-canonical verse”. And then there is the rare and remarkable and potent America and other poems by James Monroe Whitfield (Buffalo, 1853).
America by James Monroe Whitfield, 1853
The last item in the catalogue is the manuscript of an essay, “La biblioteca total”,  written by Jorge Luis Borges for Sur (August 1939), which is identified as a precursor of the story, “La biblioteca de Babel” (The Library of Babel), published two years later in El jardín de senderos que se bifurcan. No wonder he describes this as “the prize, and if I must choose, my favorite UVA acquisition”.
In this catalogue Whitesell names the booksellers from whom he purchased materials (this aspect of the history of the object is usually omitted); and so this catalogue becomes a an account of relationships between the antiquarian trade and a knowledgeable institutional buyer. He writes discursively on his selection process and the constantly changing nature of the book trade. This is a fun catalogue.

[Note: Some copies were issued with an added presentation leaf (inscribed to the individual booksellers identified as sources).  The colophon states 500 copies printed, but due to paper shortages only 310 were in fact printed. If you want one, best to act soon. Details:]

Men at Work

Men at Work

A Preliminary Checklist of First Editions of the Books of Nevil Shute

Compiled by Henry Wessells


“People still read Nevil Shute, but
they do not . . . write much about him”
— Julian Smith

This checklist provides identifying data for first editions published in London and New York, as well as selected additional information on editions printed in Australia with the Heinemann imprint and on American reprint editions. This information is drawn from my notes while cataloguing the J. C. Boonshaft collection; for items not seen, I have relied upon the descriptions of copies at the Lilly Library or in OCLC as noted. Each entry indicates title and pagination; title pages are not transcribed but dates not printed on the title page are enclosed in square brackets, e.g.: [1928]. The color of the binding is noted (wrappers, cloth, or boards), as well as variants seen. I have not attempted to trace all of the volumes in the Heinemann uniform edition; nor the paperbacks. Corrections and additional information gratefully received. — HWW

First published in the Newsletter of the Nevil Shute Norway Foundation, October 2021. With Revisions, December 2021.

1.1 Marazan. 319 pp. London: Cassell, 1926. First edition. Blue cloth, pictorial dust jacket.
1.2 Marazan. [viii], 256 pp. [First leaf is a blank]. London: Heinemann, 1951. First Heinemann edition, with a new preface by the author. Blue cloth. Dust jacket not seen. 

2.1 So Disdained. 312 pp. London: Cassell, [1928]. First edition. Red cloth. Dust jacket not seen.
2.2 The Mysterious Aviator. [viii], 304 pp. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1928. First American edition. Blue cloth, dust jacket.
2.3 So Disdained. [x], 233 pp. London: Heinemann, [1952]. Blue cloth. Dust jacket not seen. Uniform edition. [New edition, 1951 (not seen). Reprinted 1952 (twice)].

3.1 Lonely Road.  xii, 308 pages. London: Cassell, 1932. First edition. Black cloth, lettered in red. Not seen. OCLC: 28557522 (10 locations).
3.2 Lonely Road. [8], 302 pages. New York: William Morrow, 1932. First American edition. Tan cloth, dust jacket. Not seen. (Lilly Library). OCLC: 8002451.
3.3.a Lonely Road. xii, 239 pp. London: Heinemann, [1953]. Blue cloth. Dust jacket not seen. Uniform edition. [New edition, 1951 (not seen). Reprinted twice, 1952 (not seen)]. Reprinted 1953.

4.1 Ruined City. 281, [1] pp. London: Cassell, [1938]. First edition. Black cloth. Dust jacket not seen.
4.2.a Kindling. [4], 279 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1938. First American edition, proof issue. Wrappers from dust jacket.
4.2.b Kindling. [4], 279 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1938. Special Advance Edition. Pink wrappers printed in black, publisher letter on front. One thousand copies printed. The spine announces the release date as late May or early June 1938.
4.2.c Kindling. [4], 279 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1938. First American edition. Oatmeal cloth lettered in red, dust jacket.
4.3.a Ruined City. [iv], 269 pp. London: Heinemann, [1951]. First Heinemann edition, proof copy. Wrappers printed in red (printed on a sheet of printer’s waste, an illustration of a hound from Dog Days by K F Barker).
4.3.b Ruined City. London: Heinemann, [1951]. Blue cloth, dust jacket listing 10 titles. Heinemann uniform edition.

5.1.a What Happened to the Corbetts. 267 pp. London: Heinemann, [1939]. Proof Copy. Drab wrappers, title printed in red.
5.1.b What Happened to the Corbetts. 267 pp. London: Heinemann, [1939]. One of 1000 copies for special distribution. Printed on laid paper. Decorated boards as issued without dust jacket. Publisher’s compliments slip loosely inserted. Smith: “his British publishers distributed a thousand free copies on publication day in April, 1939, to Air Raid Precaution workers and officials.”
5.1.c What Happened to the Corbetts. 267 pp. London: Heinemann, [1939]. First edition. Cloth, dust jacket. Not seen.
5.1.d First edition, second impression. Not seen.
5.1.e What Happened to the Corbetts. 267 pp. London: Heinemann, [1943?]. First edition. Light grey cloth, dust jacket with third impression on front flap. March 1943 gift inscription.
5.2.a Ordeal. [6], 280, [1] pp. New York: William Morrow, 1939. First American edition. Blue cloth. Dust jacket not seen.
5.2.b Ordeal. [6], 280, [1] pp. Toronto: McClelland & Stewart Limited, 1939. First Canadian edition, from American sheets. Navy blue cloth, dust jacket.
5.2.c Ordeal. [6], 280, [1] pp. New York: William Morrow, 1939. Book of the Month Club edition. Blue cloth, unpriced dust jacket.
5.3 What Happened to the Corbetts. London: Heinemann,[1952]. Blue cloth, dust jacket, listing 10 titles. Heinemann uniform edition. [New edition, 1951 (not seen); 1952 (reprinted twice)].

6.1 An Old Captivity. [6], 312 pp. London : William Heinemann, [1940]. First edition. Yellow cloth, map endpapers, dust jacket. Not seen. (Lilly Library).
6.2.a An Old Captivity. [4], 333 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1940. First American edition, proof issue, stamped on fly title, Publication date Feb 21 1940 Price $2.50. Wrappers from dust jacket, with priced flaps.
6.2.b An Old Captivity. [4], 333, [2] pp. New York: William Morrow, 1940. First American edition. Tan cloth stamped in blue, map endpapers. Dust jacket not seen.

7.1 Landfall. A Channel Story. 269 pages. London : William Heinemann, [1940]. First edition. Not seen.
7.2.a Landfall. A Channel Story. [iv], 284 pages. New York: William Morrow & Company, 1940. Blue green cloth lettered in blue, pictorial dust jacket (jacket not seen).

8.1 Pied Piper. [4], 283 pp. London: Heinemann, [1942]. First edition. Light brown cloth. Dust jacket not seen.
8.2.a Pied Piper. [4], 306 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1942. First American edition, proof issue, stamped on flyleaf, Publication date Jan 5 1942 Price $2.50. Wrappers from dust jacket, with priced flaps.
8.2.b Pied Piper. [4], 306 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1942. First American edition. Light blue cloth, dust jacket.
8.3.a Pied Piper. Garden City: The Sun Dial Press, [1942]. 1942 The Sun Dial Press on verso of title. Blue green cloth, spine title panel in dark blue.
8.4.a Pied Piper. New York: The Book League of America, [n.d.]. Blue cloth, spine title in gilt, dust jacket, back panel: Former Selections Still Available to Members at $1.39 Each, with list of six titles.

9.1 Pastoral. 218 pp. London: Heinemann, [1944]. First edition. Green cloth, dust jacket. Not seen. (Lilly Library).
9.2.a Pastoral. [viii], 246 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1944. First American edition. Tan cloth, dust jacket. Copy inscribed by the author to his wife, “Frances with love from Nevil September 1944”.
9.2.b Pastoral. New York: William Morrow, 1944. Book of the Month Club edition. Tan cloth, unpriced dust jacket.
9.3 Pastoral. [iv], 219, [1] pp. London [i.e., Melbourne]: Heinemann, 1945. First Australian edition. Brown cloth, dust jacket. Title page verso: Wholly set up and printed in Australia for the Oxford University Press, Leighton House, Melbourne, by the Adventure Printing Office, Marlborough House, Adelaide.

10.1 Most Secret. [iv], 275 pp. London: Heinemann, [1945]. First edition. Red cloth, map endsheets. Dust jacket not seen.
10.2.a Most Secret. 310 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1945. First American edition. Tan cloth, dust jacket.
10.2.b Second printing, 1945. Tan cloth.
10.2.c Most Secret. New York: Sun Dial Press, [1946]. Blue cloth, dust jacket
10.3 Most Secret. [iv], 275 pp. London: Heinemann, [1946]. First Australian edition. Not seen. OCLC: 223159949 (State Library of New South Wales).

11.1  Vinland the Good. 143 pp. Narrow London: Heinemann, [1946]. First edition. Black cloth, map endsheets, dust jacket.
11.2 Vinland the Good. Title page and section titles printed in purple and black. 126 pp. New York: William Morrow, [1946]. First edition. Cloth backed boards, dust jacket. 

12.1.a The Chequer Board. 317 pp. London: Heinemann, [1946]. Proof Copy. Tan wrappers, title printed in black (on printer’s waste for Come with Me by Margaret Kennedy and Basil Dean).
12.1.b The Chequer Board. [vi], 317 pp. London: Heinemann, [1947]. First edition. Dark red cloth. Dust jacket not seen (Lilly Library). Dust jacket, possible later state with Book Society Choice on front flap, price 9s6d.
12.2.a The Chequer Board. New York: William Morrow, [1946]. First American edition. Red cloth, dust jacket.
12.2.b The Chequer Board. New York: William Morrow, [1946]. Book club edition. Red cloth, unpriced dust jacket.
Note: Anderson reports that The Chequer Board “was a Literary Guild selection and eventually sold over 600,000 copies” (155).

13.1.a No Highway. [vi], 314, [1] pp. London: Heinemann, [1948]. First edition. Red cloth. Dust jacket not seen. Fourth impression dust jacket, back panel with five blurbs on the Novels of Nevil Shute.
13.2 No Highway. 346 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1948. First American edition. Grey cloth, dust jacket. Copy inscribed by the author to his wife, “Frances, with love, from Nevil, July 1948”.

14.1.a  A Town Like Alice. 332, [1] pp. London: Heinemann, [1950]. First edition. Red cloth, dust jacket. Probable priority of jackets: A. Price on inside flap. B. Book Society Choice band added. C. Book Society Choice and price 10s 6d on inside flap.
14.1.b A Town Like Alice. [vii], 332, [1] pp. Melbourne: Heinemann, [1950]. Printed at the Windmill Press, Kingswood, Surrey. First Australian edition. Red cloth. Dust jacket not seen.
14.2 The Legacy. [6], 308 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1950. First American edition. Light green cloth, dust jacket. 

15.1 Round the Bend. 362 pp. Melbourne London Toronto: Heinemann, [1951]. Cloth, map endpapers, dust jacket by Val Biro. Not seen.
15.2.a Round the Bend. [8], 341 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1951. First American edition. Black cloth backed boards, map endsheets, dust jacket. Copy inscribed by the author, “For Mug(?) from Nevil May 1951”.
15.2.b Round the Bend. New York: William Morrow, 1951. Book club edition. Black cloth backed boards, map endsheets. Dot in blind on lower board.

16.1.a The Far Country. 326 pp. Melbourne London Toronto: Heinemann, [1952]. Printed at the Windmill Press, Kingswood, Surrey. First edition. Red cloth, dust jacket by Val Biro.
16.1.b The Far Country. 326 pp. Melbourne London Toronto: Heinemann, [1952]. Printed at the Windmill Press, Kingswood, Surrey. First Australian edition. Red cloth, dust jacket by Val Biro.
16.1.c The Far Country. London: Heinemann,[1953]. New edition. [vi], 239 pp. Burgundy cloth, dust jacket, back panel listing 12 numbered titles of the Uniform Edition.
16.2  The Far Country. [viii], 343 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1952. First American edition. Tan cloth, dust jacket.

17.1.a In the Wet. vi, 304, [1] pp. Melbourne London Toronto: Heinemann, [1953]. Printed at The Windmill Press, Kingswood, Surrey. Red cloth, dust jacket by Val Biro, priced 12s. 6d. net.
17.1.b In the Wet. vi, 350, [1] pp. Melbourne: Heinemann, [1953]. First Australian edition. Green cloth, pictorial dust jacket by Val Biro. Also seen in grey cloth.
17.2 In the Wet. [viii], 339 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1953. First American edition. Blue cloth titled in yellow, pictorial dust jacket.

18.1.a Slide Rule. The Autobiography of an Engineer. Frontispiece and 8 plates from photographs. [vi], 249 pp. London: Heinemann, 1954. First edition. Red cloth, dust jacket priced 18s. Reprinted 1954 (twice), 1955 (three times). Third Impression statement on jacket flap; Fourth Impression statement on jacket flap, back panel stamped Overseas Edition Not for Canada.
18.2 Slide Rule. The Autobiography of an Engineer. With 4 leaves of plates from photographs. [x], 240 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1954. First American edition. Dark grey cloth, dust jacket.

19.1.a Requiem for a Wren. 284 pp. London: Heinemann, [1955]. Proof Copy. Tan wrappers, title printed in black
19.1.b Requiem for a Wren. [8], 284 pp. The first leaf is a blank. London: Heinemann, [1955]. First edition. Red cloth, dust jacket by Val Biro.
19.1.c Requiem for a Wren. 284 pp. Melbourne: Heinemann, [1955]. First Australian edition. Red cloth, dust jacket. Copy inscribed by the author to his wife, “For Frances from Nevil with love April 1955”
19.2.a The Breaking Wave. [vi], 282 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1955. First American edition. Green cloth, dust jacket.
19.2.b The Breaking Wave. New York: William Morrow, 1955. Book Club Edition. Green boards, dust jacket.

20.1.a Beyond the Black Stump. [vi], 297 pp. Melbourne London Toronto [Printed at the Windmill Press, Kingswood, Surrey]: Heinemann, [1956]. Red cloth, spine titled in gilt, dust jacket by Val Biro.
20.2.a Beyond the Black Stump. 316 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1956. First American edition. Green cloth, dust jacket.
20.3.a Beyond the Black Stump. [London:] The Book Club, [1956]. Light blue cloth, dust jacket, front flap stating This Edition Issued by the Book Club.

21.1.a On the Beach. [viii], 312 pp. London: Heinemann, [1957]. First edition. Burgundy cloth, dust jacket by John Rowland.
21.1.b On the Beach. 312 pp. Melbourne: Heinemann, [1957]. First Australian edition. Burgundy cloth, pictorial dust jacket.
21.2.a On the Beach. 320 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1957. First American edition. Grey cloth, pictorial dust jacket.

22.1.a The Rainbow and the Rose. [vi], 306 pp. London: Heinemann, [1958]. First edition. Burgundy cloth, pictorial dust jacket by Stein.
22.1.b The Rainbow and the Rose. [vi], 306 pp. London: Heinemann, [1958]. First edition, Australian issue of dust jacket. Burgundy cloth, pictorial dust jacket by Stein.
22.2.a The Rainbow and the Rose. [viii], 310 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1958. First American edition. Yellow cloth spine, blue boards, dust jacket.

23.1.a Trustee from the Toolroom. [vi], 312 pp. London: Heinemann, [1960]. First edition. Red cloth, dust jacket.
23.1.b Trustee from the Toolroom. The Book Club, [1960]. Book club edition. Grey cloth, dust jacket.
23.2.a Trustee from the Toolroom. 309 pp. New York: William Morrow, [1960]. First American edition. Black cloth backed boards, dust jacket by Charles Geer.
23.2.b Trustee from the Toolroom. Book club edition. Black cloth backed boards, dust jacket. Dot in blind on lower board.

24.1.a Stephen Morris. [xii], 273 pp. London: Heinemann, [1961]. Uncorrected Proof Copy. Pale green wrappers, title printed in black. With publisher’s compliments slip loosely inserted.
24.1.b Stephen Morris. [xii], 273 pp. London: Heinemann, [1961]. First edition. Blue cloth, dust jacket. Back flap lists 14 titles in uniform edition.
24.1.c Stephen Morris. [xii], 273 pp. London: Heinemann, [1961]. First edition, Australian issue dust jacket. Blue cloth, dust jacket.
24.2.a Stephen Morris. [xii], 273 pp. New York: William Morrow, 1961. First American edition, advance reading copy. Blue cloth backed boards, illustrated dust jacket. With publisher’s slip announcing publication date as 11 September 1961. 

25 The Seafarers. Kerhonkson, N.Y.: Paper Tiger, 2002. Written 1946, published “with minor rewrites by the Nevil Shute Foundation” (Anderson, 172). Not seen.

Stray notes on uniform editions

A. Morrow, [after 1945]. Cloth, back panel of dust jacket listing Five Beloved Novels
A.1 An Old Captivity. Beige cloth, spine titled and stamped in blue. Dust jacket in blue.
A.2 Landfall. Beige cloth, spine titled and stamped in brown. Dust jacket in brown.
A.3 Pied Piper. Not seen.
A.4 Pastoral. Not seen.
A.5 Most Secret. Not seen.

B. Heinemann, [1951 onward]. Blue cloth, dust jackets.
Marazan (see 1.2).
So Ordained (see 2.3).
Lonely Road (see 3.3.a).
Ruined City (see 4.3.a, 4.3.b). Dust jacket, listing 10 titles.
What Happened to the Corbetts (see 5.3). Dust jacket, listing 12 numbered titles:
1. Marazan
2. So Disdained
3. Lonely Road
4. Ruined City
5. What Happened to the Corbetts
6. An Old Captivity
7. Landfall
8. Pied Piper
9. Pastoral
10. Most Secret
11. The Chequer Board
12. No Highway
N.B.: Heinemann edition of Stephen Morris (see 24.1.b), dust jacket back flap lists 14 numbered titles, adding:
13. In the Wet
14. The Far Country

C. Complete Works. London: Distributed by Heron Books, [n.d., 1968-1969]. 22 vols., uniformly bound in red rexine, without dust jacket. Not seen. OCLC: 221640306 (State Library of New South Wales).
One volume only seen: Beyond the Black Stump. Heron Books, n.d. [1969], in red rexine.

On Shute:

— Julian Smith. Nevil Shute. 166 pp. Boston: Twayne Publishers, [1976]. Red cloth. Twayne’s English Author Series 190.
— Corbin S. Carnell. “Nevil Shute”, pp. 213-217 in: British Fantasy and Science-Fiction Writers, 1918-1960, edited by Darren Harris-Fain. Dictionary of Literary Biography. Volume 255. Detroit: Gale Group, 2002.
— John Anderson. Parallel Motion A Biography of Nevil Shute. xii, 308, [1] pp. Kerhonkson, N.Y.: Paper Tiger, 2011. Boards.
— John Clute. “Nevil Shute”, in: The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, Third Edition. : “Some of his earlier fiction, by taking advantage of his intense and very up-to-date knowledge of aeronautics (and of boffins or back-room boys), verges very closely on sf.”

— — —


I had read some Nevil Shute: not as much as I thought. My father, an engineer, had copies of Slide Rule and Trustee from the Toolroom, which I read as a teenager, along with On the Beach and one or two others. I read Marazan and Lonely Road while working on the collection, as well as the Smith monograph and Anderson’s engaging biography. [HWW]

— — —