>Nerd Tourism: Westward Edition

>I’ve always had a tendency to seek out nerdly delights wherever I travel, but over the past year or so it’s definitely hit a fever pitch. As my interest and knowledge of rare books grows, I get more familiar with the places where they’re kept and know where to look when I travel. I’ve been referring to this trajectory as Nerd Tourism, though I’m sure I’m not the first one to think of it. Anyway here’s my latest installment of nerd tourism, California and Las Vegas edition.

I hadn’t heard of Henry Huntington until I started my docent training at the Rosenbach Museum & Library. Dr. Rosenbach is known for building most of the best rare books libraries in the United States on behalf of his wealthy clients, and Mr. Huntington was his best client, and the only one not living in the northeast. His former residence is now the The Huntington Museum, Library, and Botanical Gardens, and the grounds are absolutely massive. No modern day millionaire would ever be able to afford or maintain this kind of California real estate. Just my luck, it was pouring down rain in the Sunshine state the day of my visit, but my interests lay where there was practically no light to be found.

What's on your desk, Henry?

Because of my MLIS and my connection with the Rosenbach, I managed to get a behind-the-scenes tour of the library building at the Huntington. Unfortunately (and such is the trouble with nerd tourism in general) most museums are not very photo-friendly, especially in the places others never get to go. The photos I have here from the Huntington are from the historic house where photos are allowed. Anyway the Huntington is an absolutely amazing facility, especially if you are one of their lucky “readers” who get access to the collections. Every corner we turned, I thought I couldn’t be more astounded, and then there’d be something else. The original stacks Huntington had built that aren’t connected to the floor or walls (hard to explain unless you’re looking at them) so they would sway in case of earthquake…reading rooms that rival the New York Public Library’s just tucked away into corners…a jaw-dropping state-of-the-art photography studio…and a conservation center with medieval printing tools to repair their treasures.


It was pretty amazing to have the Rosenbach context on the collections, because so many of the things that Dr. R bought for Huntington he ended up collecting himself as well. One notable exception is a medieval elephant folio (read: effing huge) Canterbury Tales that the executors of Chaucer’s estate had made in his memory. One delightful surprise that I highly, highly recommend checking out is their History of Science collection. I seriously lost my shit in that hall over all the amazing old science books and association copies. The layout of the exhibit was amazing, and they had interactive pieces (you could look through a replica of Galileo’s telescope to see how he would have seen the moon) and they also had digital screens where one could flip through the books on display and zoom in and out using your fingernail. It was glorious, I can’t wait to go back on a sunnier day.

A day, a desert drive, and a stop at the Pee Wee’s Big Adventure dinosaurs later, I was in Las Vegas for a work trip. The night before I left I managed to get to Bauman’s Rare Books at the Shoppes at the Palazzo. I first heard of Bauman’s through my boyfriend’s father, there was a store in Philadelphia which are now administrative offices. One of the very few things I liked about Vegas: even the rare book shop, which on a whole are always known for being only open for 2 hours on a Tuesday, was open until 11pm. And it was an oasis in the noisy, smoky den of iniquity that is Las Vegas.

Bauman Rare Books - haven in a land of chaos

Can you hear the angels heralding? I spent a long, long time browsing the shelves, and taking photos, and talking to the shopkeeps. They even let me paw this little $36 thousand number…

Cover of $36k Ulysses
I like the I love Lucy font - title page

This copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses is special in that it is illustrated by Henri Matisse, and signed by them both. And as is often the case with Joyce, there is drama surrounding this partnership. The apocryphal story is that the two artists were sitting at a table signing these special edition copies of the book, and about 12 signatures in Joyce realized that Matisse didn’t illustrate the action in his story at all, but just did illustrations for Homer’s Odyssey instead. And of course, anyone who knows Ulysses and who looks at the drawings Matisse did would jump to similar conclusions. Apparently Joyce stormed off in a huff. Can’t say I blame him. But the resulting, rare artifact is an interesting, unusual piece with a great story behind it.

Matisse drawing inserts

It was definitely my favorite moment in Sin City. Unfortunately at that price, it’ll stay in Vegas.

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