Town Topics — Princeton's Weekly Community Newspaper Since 1946.
Vol. LXIV, No. 4
Wednesday, January 27, 2010
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A Very Different Kind of “Book Club”: Princeton Collectors Share Their Treasure

Ellen Gilbert

“Let’s see how many centuries we include!” wrote Borough resident Ronald K. Smeltzer in the invitation to members of the Princeton Bibliophiles and Collectors for their recent “Collectors’ Showcase Meeting.”

Bearing rolled papyri, autographed volumes, historical medals, photographs, old books, royal seals, and more, participants answered the call. On a recent rainy Sunday afternoon, the Bibliophiles and Collectors, a subset of Princeton University Friends of the Library, gathered to display and discuss their respective treasures.

“We always get a good turnout for this meeting,” observed Mr. Smeltzer as 15 men and women filed into a second-floor conference room adjacent to Firestone’s Graphic Arts Department. Besides reporting on recent or particularly beloved acquisitions, the meeting provided an opportunity to share booksellers’ catalogues and news of upcoming events in the rare book world.

Personal Histories

A choice example of retired physician Harvey Rothberg’s collection of autographed books was the one signed by Creed of a Humanist author Charles G. Osgood, who was a patient of Dr. Rothberg. Writing in Greek, Osgood “gratefully and happily” expressed his thanks to his “healer” of “body and spirit.”

Former Wall Street journalist Richard Levine showed a photograph of himself with John S. McCain, Sr., then the Commander in Chief for U.S. forces in the Pacific, taken at Pearl Harbor on March 19, 1971. Mr. Levine noted that at this point Mr. McCain’s son, John McCain, Jr., had been a prisoner of war in Hanoi for over three years, and that the elder McCain was in the midst of ordering bombing raids against North Vietnam, putting his own son in danger.

Robert Ross’s medals, which will be featured in a 2013 library exhibit, harken back to much earlier wars. An example shared at last week’s meeting was an early 19th-century Spanish medal given to someone who fought against Admiral Nelson at Trafalgar. Mr. Ross, whose collection includes upwards of 1,500 pieces, said that he began collecting as a child who travelled a great deal because his father was a diplomat.

“It’s interesting how you have a personal connection to books,” observed Bill Strong, displaying a Golden Hind Press book and talking about how his friendship with publisher Arthur Wisner Rushmore awakened his love of books.

Mr. Smeltzer described his own 16th century volume on astrology by Johannes Mueller Koenigsburg as “quite remarkable.” Still in what was probably its original vellum binding, the book is foliated rather than paginated, and includes wood cut illustrations. “It’s a fabulous survivor,” observed Mr. Smeltzer, bidding those at the table to “open it just part-way, please,” as the book was passed around.

A 1930s artist’s book edition of Aesop’s Fables, a French volume from the Middle Ages, and a discussion about the provenance of “closet Victorian” Neil Ann Levine’s copy of Gems of Great Authors (1880) rounded out the afternoon. “We’re not just accumulators, we all understand what we have,” observed Mr. Smeltzer.

Future meetings of the Princeton Bibliophiles and Collectors include a presentation on binders’ tickets by Preservation Head Robert Milevski on February 21; a March 21 program on early photography; and an April 18 event with former New York times typesetter Carl Schlesinger, who will discuss the paper’s printing history and screen a documentary about the last day — July 1, 1978 — that pages of the Times were printed from hot type that was cast from molten lead.

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