On Wednesday, May 1st, an audience gathered in the Center for American War Letters Archives to hear the second annual John and Margaret Class Lecture. Kenneth Karmiole, Santa Monica-based rare bookseller, had come to talk about a unique book he’d picked up at a book fair a few years back. What started out as an innocent enough talk on the rare book trade quickly became an exciting adventure of literary sleuthing!
Kenneth Karmiole is an antiquarian bookseller with an office in Santa Monica, in business since 1976. He has a BA in History (American Studies) from UC Santa Barbara and an MLS degree from UCLA. He has always been a generalist in the trade, but emphasizes early printed books, before 1700, although he’ll look at anything that may be interesting and saleable!
Karmiole first described how he encountered the book, which on first glance seemed to be simply a 17th century edition of Juvenal’s Works, translated by Barten Holyday. Karmiole, who specializes in early printed works, was intrigued by the idea of re-binding and re-selling the book, purchased it, then began the process of determining its provenance, or the history of its ownership. A preliminary search into the names listed in the front of the book – Sir William Skipwith, Major Edward Dale, and Edward Carter – revealed that the book, printed in 1673, had lived in the libraries of three men who lived in the Virginia colony. Karmiole, who had originally assumed that the book was of 17th century English provenance, was already excited to learn that it was instead of 17th century American provenance, making it especially unusual. But it was when he turned to the list of books owned by Major Edward Dale, compiled by Edward Carter and written out on the back of an engraving partway through the book, that things got especially interesting. There, listed among 33 other entries, was one that caught Karmiole’s eye: “Shakespeares Workes – 1632 – Folio.” Realizing that this must be a reference to an edition of the Second Folio of Shakespeare’s plays, published in 1632, Karmiole reached out to a colleague with more expertise in the area. Was it widely known that early colonists in Virginia brought Shakespeare with them to the American continent? No, his colleague told him. In fact, as far as he knew, this was the earliest written evidence of a copy of Shakespeare’s works existing in North America. Delighted by this news, Karmiole contacted the Folger Shakespeare Library in Washington, D.C., to offer them the first chance to purchase the book from him. The Folger happily agreed, and immediately took him up on the offer. Since purchasing the book from Karmiole, the Folger has written about its importance to American Shakespearean history, and included it in their America’s Shakespeare exhibit, which toured from D.C. to California in late 2016 and early 2017.
Many thanks again to Ken for coming to the Leatherby Libraries to share with us this fascinating bit of bookselling, literature, American history, and good old-fashioned mystery solving!