- The Washington Times - Wednesday, March 7, 2001

Unlike at most Washington benefits, there were no VIP guests or celebrity honorees to ogle at the Folger Shakespeare Librarys Adopt a Book party last Wednesday night. But no matter. The rarefied crowd of collectors, bibliophiles and self-described bibliomaniacs couldnt have cared less about Hollywood luminaries, congressional heavyweights or even the latest Bush administration appointee.

Recently acquired books, manuscripts, documents, prints and letters were the stars of the event, and, indeed, it was hard to resist the enticing array of more than 100 treasures displayed on long tables in the Folgers richly paneled New Reading Room.

An order from the British Parliament of 1649, for example, offers reprieves to certain criminals if they turn in their accomplices.

"This should be of great interest today to anyone following [the current pardon scandal]," librarian Richard Kuhta helpfully pointed out (without immediate reference to the $1,165 price).

Or, from 1682, there was an amusingly bawdy "Dialogue Between the Duchess of Portland and Nell Gwin," a pretended exchange between the two rival mistresses of King Charles II (available at $1,735). "When I appear, your moons eclipsed again," the duchess snaps to the famed actress, whose reply readily acknowledges her humble background: "Let fame that never spoke well of woman/Give out that I was a strolling whore, and common."

Though all of the items were available for "adoption" at prices ranging from $100 to approximately $4,000 each, that didnt mean, of course, that anyone would be taking them home.

The adoption fee was merely a "reimbursement" of the original purchase price, the librarys director, Werner Gundersheimer, told prospective "parents," hastening to mention, "You do get to name the bookplate."

Mary and Eric Weinmann, David and Janet Bruce, John and Christine Taft, Hal and Carmen Petrowitz, Forrest and Deborah Mars, John Peters Irelan, Polly Krakora, Nina Straight and Marie Gilson were among the guests spotted wandering back and forth into the adjacent Old Reading Room, where food and drink was offered along with a fascinating exhibition on book restoration put together by the librarys professional curatorial team.

Many were enthralled by staffer Linda Honeckes expertise as she demonstrated the art of "tacketted joint reattachment," or, in laymans terms, the repair of books that have become separated from their (often beautifully tooled) leather covers.

"It takes about 45 minutes to restore the average book," Ms. Honecke said, taking care to explain that the touching up of intricately colored marbled endpapers often consumes more time than the rebinding process itself.

That wasnt the case, however, at Frank Mowerys end of the table, where guests were invited to view a "paper splitting" process that prevents old books from crumbling to dust.

"Most 19th-century books were printed on 'garbage paper, with highly corrosive ink," the Folgers chief of conservation said, noting that about 350,000 of the librarys 600,000 volumes date from that era.

"There is only one way to reverse the process," he said, demonstrating the technique by which a gelatin adhesive is placed on both sides of a printed page and left to dry before it literally is split down the middle and then reattached on each side to separate support sheets.

"A wonderful trick. Its brilliant," exclaimed event chairwoman Marcia McGhee Carter, who knows a bit about timeworn tomes herself as the proprietor of Booked Up, Georgetowns finest antiquarian book emporium.

Guests admiring a separate display of recent gifts to the Folger couldnt help being struck by the depth and breadth of the collection, which includes more than a few items of contemporary interest.

Surprisingly contemporary, in fact, for there beside rare works by John Milton and Sir Francis Bacon was Flaming Carrot Comic No. 31: Herbie in Alas Poor Carrot, depicting the adventures of Shakespeare (as a backwoods hillbilly named Billy Bob) with 20th-century comedian Buddy Hackett.

"We have to anticipate how todays popular material will be viewed 100 years from now […] to keep Shakespeare alive for the ages," Mr. Kuhta explained without apology, adding that the library is always pleased to acquire old and new comic books devoted to the Bard.


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