"Is anything ever definitive?’ she said - ever so sweetly. Well I guess not. But these two books come pretty close. They will still be standing when we have long been gone and the International League is proud to honour them with its Prize."
The winners of the International Prize for Bibliography were announced before two hundred guests at the ABA Centenary Ball held at the Royal Geographical Society in London. Presenting the judges’ verdict the Prize Secretary said: I must say it sometimes seems there are rather a lot of Prizes. We have no sooner got over the Booker, the Whitbread and the Orange, when it’s time for the Baftas and the Oscars - and hundreds of others. But the League’s Bibliography Prize is different. It wasn’t invented last week by some spin doctor to promote a product. It was founded fifty years ago by the League to repay in a small way the debt the trade owes to the bibliographers - who toil away in libraries, largely unsung, to produce the reference books we need, and which help us to become better booksellers. This is the fourteenth Award. There have been around a hundred entries from all over the world and they cover every aspect of bibliography and the history of the book in its widest sense, as well as cartography and all the book arts. The criteria are originality and significance - and of course bibliographical rigour.
To pick a winner from such a field has not been easy - and of course there can only be one winner. But the judges have excelled themselves and produced two. After much consideration, discussion and debate they decided it was impossible to separate the claims of two outstanding books and determined therefore that there should be two joint winners and the $10,000 Prize be divided between them. So here they are, in no particular order.
‘It’s a big book, with big aims, and it succeeds magisterially’. Those are not my words, but those of the learned reviewer in The Library. It’s a bio-bibliography, consisting of a 1000 page Life of Collier linked and keyed to a 400 page bibliography. And it is a fascinating read from start to finish. Collier of course was an influential, prolific and highly respected scholar and writer - and at the same time the promulgator of a great body of forgeries. The Freemans among much else have sorted out the authentic books and the forgeries and the fabrications. This book does what it says on the title page: Scholarship and Forgery in the 19th Century.
Could it start a cult on the scale of the T.J.Wise cult? Could Freeman become a household name like Carter and Pollard? Could there be Collier Fellowships and Seminars in universities around the world? We shall see, but it would be nice to think so. Published by Yale at £100 the two volume set, no more than the price of your ticket this evening. And the other co-winner is:
published by Spink (as you might expect) in London, though Dr Dekesel is of course a Belgian scholar. It is monumental and meticulous. The judges were impressed by its erudition - and also I suspect by its weight. This is just Vol I of 3 - and I won’t need to explain why the others are not here. But this heavyweight is an intellectual heavyweight.
The author, assisted by Mme Dekesel, has not just examined every book but every copy of every book he has located in over 300 libraries and collections. Each entry has all the data and detail you could possibly want, with a facsimile of the title thrown in. And remember, numismatic writing occurs in history, travel, economics and portrait books, and much else too. This book follows the Dekesel volume on 16th century numismatics and will itself be followed by 18th century volumes, already well advanced. The whole will comprise the Dekesel Bibliotheca Nummaria, covering three centuries, a magnificent achievement.
President, I was once ticked off in the nicest possible way by an eminent historian of the book for applying the word ‘definitive’ to a bibliography. ‘Is anything ever definitive?’ she said - ever so sweetly. Well I guess not. But these two books come pretty close. They will still be standing when we have long been gone and the International League is proud to honour them with its Prize.’
The judges also nominated two books for their Specially Commended Award. First, from Germany, Bernhard Fischer’s ‘Der Verleger Johann Friedrich Cotta. Johann Friedrich was head of the great Cotta publishing house of Stuttgart and Munich in its most brilliant period, 1787-1832. Cotta published Goethe and Schiller and practically every other notable in literature and scholarship of the time. This is a detailed bibliography of the entire Cotta output of those years, with the printing history of every one of its publications - books, journals and graphics. A substantial work, published in three volumes by Saur of Munich.
And also Specially Commended was David Griffiths’ Bibliography of the Book of Common Prayer, the evening’s only single volume work, published by British Library in the U.K and Oak Knoll elsewhere in the world. It offers 450 years of publishing history, from Cranmer’s famous text of 1549 to date, some 5000 different editions (including 1200 different translations), all meticulously differentiated and described, with collations, as you would expect. In the trade we sometimes complain that academic bibliography is all about books we never see. Nobody will say that about the Book of Common Prayer. This excellent work will take its place alongside Darlow & Moule’s great Catalogue of Bibles.
So, one American author, one Belgian, one German and one British. An international result - and four books worth a permanent place on all our reference shelves.
Jury Report 2006