Bibliographical Society

Annual Letter 2021

August 2021

Dear Members,

The restrictions of the coronavirus pandemic required the cancellation of the 73rd and 74th annual meetings of the Society in 2020 and 2021. In these unusual times, however, the Society has managed to continue its operations, and I would like to give you an update on our activities as well as to ask your assistance in conducting a couple of items of business by email.

The first item of business is the re-election of Terry Belanger to another term on the council of the Society. Mr. Belanger, the founder of Rare Book School and a University Professor, has made profound contributions to the world of bibliography and to the Bibliographical Society of the University of Virginia in particular. His advice on financial matters and his deep knowledge of the book world have been invaluable in the growth of the Society. I nominate Mr. Belanger to the Council for a term ending in 2028 and David Vander Meulen has seconded the nomination.

G. Thomas Tanselle, former President of the Society, has announced his retirement from the Council. In gratitude for his unstinting efforts for the Society as President since 1993, I am asking the Council to name him an Honorary Councilor. To take his place on the Council, I nominate Karen Parshall to a term ending in 2028.  Prof. Parshall is Commonwealth Professor of Mathematics & History at UVa and has published widely on the history of mathematics. She has recently served as Chair of UVA’s Corcoran Department of History and in 2020 was named a Fellow of the American Academy for the Advancement of Science. The nomination of Prof. Parshall is seconded by Mr. Tanselle.

I ask Members of the Society to send your votes on these two nominations by email to Anne Ribble at I am asking Ms. Ribble to report the results of this vote at the close of polling at 5:00 p.m. on August 31, 2021.

The Society is proud to announce the five winners of the ninth round of Battestin Fellowships, awards named in honor of Martin Battestin, former professor of English at UVA, and his wife, Ruthe, a literary scholar and long-time member of the Society’s Council (and now an Honorary Councilor), who has made extraordinary contributions of many kinds to the Society. The aim of the $3,500 fellowships is to provide summer support for research by UVa graduate students who are working on bibliographical or textual projects in UVa libraries. To accommodate the difficulty of access during the pandemic, the Fellowship guidelines have been altered this year to allow research to be conducted in any library. The Fellowship selection committee consisted of Michael Suarez, G. Thomas Tanselle, and David Whitesell. The winners and the topics they will study are:

  • Austin J. Benson, “Digital and Manuscript-Based Approaches to Understanding the South English Legendary”
  • Rebecca Elise Foote, “Mapping the Poetic Imaginary: Julia de Burgos in the Archive”
  • Kelsey Eren Jaye, “Mapping Deliverance: Spatial Representation of Slavery and Liberation in the 1858–1872 Writings of John Washington”
  • Meaghan M. Walsh, “‘The Humor of Life’: Caricature and Satire in Turn-of-the-Twentieth-Century Illustration”
  • Chloe Downe Wells, “Tracing Steichen’s Mark in Stieglitz’s Camera Work”

Among the Society’s more important recurring actions is the granting of funds to the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library for the purchase of significant works in the history of bibliography. David Whitesell, Curator of Special Collections, has used this year’s grant of $10,000 from the Society to purchase four copies of the earliest known book issued in America in a printed dust jacket. For the sixth year in a row, the Society has given $15,000 to Rare Book School to support scholarships. In addition, the Society donated $10,000 to help preserve the UVa Library’s card catalog, a unique source of provenance information, which was being removed in the course of the renovation of Alderman Library.

The Society’s publishing program has proceeded undeterred over the last year. In May, the Society issued a landmark work, G. Thomas Tanselle’s Descriptive Bibliography, a collection of his essays providing a comprehensive guide to the activity of describing books as physical objects. In a review in The Washington Post [July 9, 2020], Michael Dirda calls it “a masterwork of Tacitus-like force, clarity and precision” and pronounces it “a true summa of bibliographical insight, information and guidance.” Members should have received a complimentary copy of the accompanying pamphlet, A Sample Bibliographical Description with Commentary, which reprints an appendix and other material from the book. It serves as a convenient guide for students of descriptive bibliography as well as for those who write and read descriptive bibliographies.

Meanwhile our 2019 publication of John Bidwell’s Paper and Type continues to receive accolades. Peter Bower writes in the journal of the British Association of Paper Historians that “The publication of these collected essays by one of the foremost authorities in the field, brings together a variety of aspects of our complex subjects and shows the breadth, depth and rigour of Bidwell’s scholarship as well as his insight. Anyone beginning their adventures into the study of both print and paper history is advised to read this book.”  Robert Laurie concludes his review in the Journal of the Edinburgh Bibliographical Society with praise of the Society:“As might be expected from this publisher the production standards are of the very highest order.”

Several other publications are in the works. We expect to publish vol. 61 of Studies in Bibliography later this year. Among the articles will be essays on extra-illustrated books, the Declaration of Independence, and the prominent English author and bibliophile John Carter.  Other monographs in the pipeline include a memoir about living with books by G. Thomas Tanselle and several volumes of essays by Paul Needham. Of particular excitement at the moment is progress on the first installment of Gordon B. Neavill’s landmark bibliography of the Modern Library, covering the years 1925–59.  This electronic project will be published jointly by the Society and the University of Virginia Library, probably during 2021.

Each new volume of Studies is distributed by the University of Virginia Press. All of the Society’s other available publications in printed form can be ordered, at a 10% discount, from Oak Knoll Books (

I want to give special thanks to our Vice President and editor, David Vander Meulen, and his assistant, Elizabeth Lynch, for their extraordinary work in editing and producing the Society’s publications, splendidly maintaining the Society’s great tradition of publishing Studies and important monographs. I also want to express gratitude to Anne Ribble, our Secretary-Treasurer, for her efficient handling of the Society’s day-to-day business. The Society’s staff have continued their work, like most of us, while adjusting to working from home. And it gives me great pleasure to thank all the members of the Council as a group for their loyal service to the Society: Terry Belanger, David Seaman, G. Thomas Tanselle, John Unsworth, David Vander Meulen, and David Whitesell.

On behalf of the Council, I thank all members of the Society for your support and send you best wishes.


John T. Casteen, President