Omar Khayyám’s Rubáiyát is a translation that once compared with the Bible for its popularity and familiarity. It was the most popular poem in the English language. Edward FitzGerald’s first edition translation of the Rubáiyát by Omar Khayyám was published anonymously in 1859. Although published the same year as Charles Darwin’s On the Origin of Species, the small print run of the Persian poem did not sell for two years. Dante Gabriel Rossetti, William Morris, other Pre-Raphaelites and, eventually, John Ruskin, all read Edward FitzGerald’s translation of Omar Khayyám’s Rubáiyát and it fit their artistic aesthetic philosophy perfectly. A cult-like following for Omar Khayyám’s Rubáiyát blossomed and lasted through World War I and beyond. Fueled by reader demand several hundred editions and reprints of this Persian poem were produced. There were collectible fine press editions, beautifully illustrated editions and many lesser editions—some mass-produced and some for soldiers to take with them into World War I battle. Omar Khayyám clubs and societies sprang up and consumer products were named for the poet and his work. There were Omar brand cigarettes, cigars, a tooth powder and perfumes that marketed the romantic themes of Khayyám’s Rubáiyát—it was so familiar and deeply rooted in the Western culture that “Omar” and a line from his poem could sell the product.
For a less-than-serious take on this serious and famous poem, you might have fun with the punny Rocky & Bullwinkle “Ruby Yacht.”
Anthony Sisti (1901-1983)
Tony Sisti was a boxer turned painter, art collector and teacher who spent most of his life in Buffalo. Born in Greenwich Village in 1901, Sisti relocated to Buffalo in 1911 where he attended art classes at the Albright Art School. He began boxing at the local gym at 17, and after winning a New York State bantamweight title, became a professional boxer with 76 victories in 101 fights. He traveled to Italy and studied painting under Felice Carena, receiving his Doctor of Arts degree in 1929. He continued both his boxing career and his art studies, later teaching at the Art Institute of Buffalo before opening his own gallery at 469 Franklin. Active from the 1920’s until his death in 1983, Sisti was best known for his oil paintings and murals but also painted formal portraits of notables such as President Franklin D. Roosevelt and New York Governor Alfred E. Smith, among others. His works have been exhibited in major museums around the country, including the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Burchfield-Penney Art Center in Buffalo, which has many of his paintings in its permanent collection.
Sisti in the classroom
Donated in 2012 by art curator and writer David F. Martin of Seattle (originally from Niagara Falls, NY), this particular collection of Sisti papers consists primarily of personal and professional photographs, news clippings, correspondence and programs from numerous artist shows at the Sisti Gallery in Buffalo.
Saturday, January 27th, marked the 186th anniversary of the birth of Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, better known by his pen name, Lewis Carroll (born January 27, 1832). In celebration of the man and the phenomenon that is Alice in Wonderland, the Buffalo & Erie County Public Library would like to highlight some of our many editions of the book, as well as other materials, held in our Rare Book Room, including a first American edition from 1866.
Following the great commercial success of the first Alice book, illustrated by John Tenniel, numerous editions and juvenile versions of the book appeared and continue to inspire artists in various genres. The Rare Book Room collection includes a facsimile of the manuscript that Dodgson presented to the inspiration for Alice, Alice Liddell, in November 1864.
Other materials in our collection include prints from the 1920’s and ’30’s, children’s board and pop-up books, a “painting” book with some of the images colored by a previous owner, and artistic versions by illustrators such as Barry Moser.
Among the supplemental materials that enhance the Rare Book Room’s Mark Twain-Huckleberry Finn collection are posters, lobby cards and press kits from some of the film and stage versions of this famous American novel. Now on display in the Mark Twain Room are items of motion picture memorabilia from the films of 1931, 1960, 1974 and 1993, including copies of screenplays, pressbooks and lobby cards. Also on display is the print edition of the Tony award-winning musical production, Big River, from 1985, with soundtrack recordings and the musical score.
Actors such as Tony Randall, Jackie Koogan, Elijah Wood, Courtney B. Vance and John Goodman have all played various parts in the Huck Finn adaptations. A personal favorite, Harvey Korman and David Wayne as the King and the Duke in the 1974 Reader’s Digest/Arthur P. Jacobs production.
One of the items to be featured in our upcoming architectural exhibit, Building Buffalo, is a uniquely bound guest book believed to have been owned by the Darwin Martin family. The beautiful designs on the cover closely reflect the window designs of the Martin house, and the book includes the signatures of numerous Martin relatives.
The book, which was probably bound at the turn of the 20th century, was created by internationally renowned bookbinder John F. Grabau (1878-1948), a local teacher, lecturer and master of the hand-tooled art. Examples of his work were owned by four American presidents, European royalty and many literary celebrities, and Grabau’s works were exhibited at numerous significant exhibitions.
Among the visitors of the Martin family who signed their names as guests between 1907 and 1930 include American poet Carl Sandburg, who was presented to the Buffalo social organization the 20th Century Club in November of 1920, and organic architect Frank Lloyd Wright.
William H. Loos (February 26, 1937 – January 24, 2017)
Sad news for current and former Rare Book staff to learn of the passing of William H. Loos, the highly respected Rare Book Curator who held the position for 30 years, retiring in 2002. A native Western New Yorker, Bill Loos graduated from the University of Buffalo and Syracuse University, specializing in Rare Book Librarianship. During his distinguished career with the library system, Bill was instrumental during the recovery of the missing Huckleberry Finn manuscript part, as well as the acquisition of the Milestones of Science collection. He also “rediscovered” among our collections the Negro Exhibit pamphlet from the Pan-American Exposition in 1901. His work with local and national literary celebrities garnered him much acclaim in numerous local publications during the 1980’s and 1990’s, and he appeared as an articulate lecturer throughout the northeast, regaling his listeners on the pleasures and perils of being a rare book custodian. He will be sadly missed.
A recent donation of five travel scrapbooks that once belonged to a former Grosvenor Library staff member have been added to the many unique collections in the Grosvenor Rare Book Room.
Jane Van Arnam, later Wiseman, was the daughter of Seymour and Harriet Van Arnam who resided at 76 Highland Ave. in Buffalo. Seymour was an executive at the Pitts Company, a leading manufacturer of machinery prior to World War II, and Harriet was active in church, clubs, and charity work. Jane graduated from the Buffalo Seminary in 1920 and soon after joined her sister Anna as an assistant in the Catalog Department of the Grosvenor Reference Library, later moving to the Periodical Department and working as a librarian until 1954. Her meticulous skills as a reference librarian are evident from the 5-volume travel scrapbooks she maintained from 1925 until the late 1940’s.
Within the carefully organized volumes are photographs, post cards, letters, menus, passenger lists and pamphlets from the many trips she took throughout Europe, Canada, the U. S., South America and other exotic places. The scrapbooks as a whole provide a glimpse into the life of a working Buffalo blueblood, as well as the world of popular travel in the early-to-mid-20th century. Jane died in 1989 at the age of 86.