Gift ideas for book lovers

Christmas is just round the corner. Have you started buying presents yet?

The new COVID trend? Apparently, it’s buying rare books.Literary Hub
“We’ve seen an uptick in participation and enthusiasm,” James Gannon, director of rare books at Heritage Auctions, told Bloomberg. Heritage’s third auction of books from the library of Otto Penzler doubled its estimate; similarly, all online sales at Christie’s during COVID have surpassed their low estimates. This trend actually makes sense: the extremely wealthy have remained wealthy during COVID, and are left at home searching for things that bring them joy, like gazing at a letter written by Ludwig Wittgenstein and knowing you paid the most anyone in the world has ever paid for a letter written by Ludwig Wittgenstein.

if $137,575 for an author’s letter is a little steep, don’t worry, here’s another idea for the book lover in your life.

Portland’s iconic Powell’s Books is selling a book-scented unisex fragranceCNN
With hints of violet, wood and biblichor, the $24.99 perfume aims to replicate the smell of old paper that “creates an atmosphere ripe with mood and possibility, invoking a labyrinth of books; secret libraries; ancient scrolls; and cognac swilled by philosopher-kings,” according to the product description on Powell’s website.

Powell’s Books is releasing a fragrance that smells like a bookstoreKottke
If you can’t get your hands on Powell’s scent, you have other options. Demeter makes a fragrance called Paperback that’s available in a variety of formats (cologne, shower gel, diffuser oil) and Christopher Brosius offers a scent called In The Library in his shop.

I love the smell of books, but I don’t know I’d want to smell like “a warm blend of English Novel, Russian and Moroccan Leather Bindings, Worn Cloth and a hint of Wood Polish.”

Locking words in

After reading recent articles about the state of the web, you could be forgiven for wanting to turn back to a more reliable and trustworthy method of communication, like letter writing. But have you heard of letterlocking?

Before envelopes, people protected messages with letterlocking
Around 2 A.M. on February 8, 1587, Mary Queen of Scots penned a letter to her brother-in-law, King Henri III of France. It would be her last. Six hours later, she was beheaded for treason by order of her cousin, Elizabeth I of England. The letter has since become one of Scotland’s most beloved artifacts, the handwritten pages offering a poignant glimpse of a monarch grappling with her impending execution.

But it’s not the words that fascinate Jana Dambrogio, the Thomas F. Peterson conservator at MIT Libraries. For more than a decade, Dambrogio has been studying “letterlocking,” the various systems of folds, slits, and wax seals that protected written communication before the invention of the mass-produced envelope. To guard her final missive from prying eyes, the queen used a “butterfly lock”—one of hundreds of techniques catalogued by Dambrogio, collaborator Daniel Starza Smith, and their research team in a fast-growing dictionary of letterlocking.

And here’s a demonstration of that locking method.

Letterlocking: Mary Queen of Scots last letter, a butterfly lock, England (1587)
Modelled after images of Mary Queen of Scots’ letter to her brother-in-law Henri III, King of France in the National Library of Scotland.

It looks very fiddly. I wonder if, the night before her execution, her hands would have been steady enough to do this herself. It’s a remarkable document, though.

The last letter of Mary Queen of Scots
Sire, my brother-in-law, having by God’s will, for my sins I think, thrown myself into the power of the Queen my cousin, at whose hands I have suffered much for almost twenty years, I have finally been condemned to death by her and her Estates. I have asked for my papers, which they have taken away, in order that I might make my will, but I have been unable to recover anything of use to me, or even get leave either to make my will freely or to have my body conveyed after my death, as I would wish, to your kingdom where I had the honour to be queen, your sister and old ally.