Books & Manuscripts

Drink Absinthe, Decode Springsteen’s Handwriting, Make a Modern Map & More with Atlas Obscura

By Sotheby's

Sotheby’s and Atlas Obscura have teamed up to provide exclusive access to rare objects from the Fine Books and Manuscripts Including Americana Online (18–28 June, Online). This is a remarkable chance to see these items in the flesh, and you’ll see them in one of New York’s incredible spaces, an apartment near the top of the Woolworth Building, one of America’s most beautiful buildings. Built in 1913 and celebrated as the tallest building in the world at the time of completion in 1913, The Woolworth Building majestically rises 792 feet above City Hall Park at the gateway to Tribeca. Woolworth spared no expense on the construction, evidenced from the detailed exteriors and interiors of the graceful tower. Below, find details about each of the four events, including how to buy tickets. 

21 June: The Secrets of Historic Handwriting
22 June: Bruce Springsteen and “Born to Run”
23 June: Poe, Absinthe, and Gothic Mystery
24 June: The Cartographer's View

The Secrets of Historic Handwriting, 21 June

The night begins with a prosecco reception inside a landmarked apartment on the 40th floor of the historic building, where we'll toast to the incredible stories, preserved architecture, and sweeping views available to you. F.W. Woolworth himself kept his private office on this floor, because he thought it had the best view in Manhattan.

Rare Book School educator and curator of manuscripts Heather Wolfe will share the hidden histories of handwriting that only a trained paleographers sees. Under her guidance, we will reveal how long ago, scribes traditionally handmade their writing ink by making a sample for our own use.

Selby Kiffer, senior vice president in the Books and Manuscripts department in Sotheby's New York, will lead you in a viewing of rare and meaningful handwritten artifacts, including a handwritten note from Abraham Lincoln, a drawing by Hunter S. Thompson, and a letter from Martin Luther King Jr. about being named Time’s Man of the Year.  We'll end the evening with a handwriting session of our own, led by the handwriting educators of Handwritten.


Bruce Springsteen and "Born to Run," 22 June

Gather inside a landmarked private apartment not typically opened to the public to view the working draft of Born to Run, the impassioned anthem written by American icon Bruce Springsteen in 1974 on ruled notepaper, alongside experts and musicians.

Reflecting on the record in later years, Springsteen remarked: “The music was composed very, very meticulously. So were the lyrics. The amount of time spent honing the lyrics was enormous.” Inspired by the heartfelt lyrics, we'll embark on a journey into the world of Bruce Springsteen. 

Executive Editor of Pitchfork Mark Richardson joins Amanda Petrusich, author of Do Not Sell At Any Price: The Wild, Obsessive Hunt for the World's Rarest 78rpm Records, for a conversation about Bruce Springsteen's creative process and to ground us in the time and place of Born to Run.

Following the discussion, there will be a guided viewing of Bruce Springsteen artifacts led by Sotheby's Head of Books & Manuscripts department Richard Austin as well as a reception. Afterwards, we'll be led throughout the apartment to an intimate performance inside the bedroom where F.W. Woolworth's office one stood. 

There, we'll be joined by a special guest musician—one of the many influenced by Bruce Springsteen—for a close up and private performance of Bruce Springsteen songs. Allow yourself to travel back to the first time you might have heard Born To Run, sitting on a bedroom floor with enormous headphones. This is an experience true Bruce fans won't want to miss.



Poe, Absinthe & Gothic Mystery, 23 June

This will be a celebration of Edgar Allan Poe unlike any you might have experienced, in a place unlike any you might have seen. The night is built around a private viewing of a remarkable first-edition print of Edgar Allan Poe's Tales, a volume that will be sold in Sotheby’s upcoming online auction of rare manuscripts

The evening will begin with a tasting of Poe’s favorite liquor, absinthe, inside a landmarked apartment on the 40th floor of the Woolworth Building, one of the most stunning skyscrapers ever built. F.W. Woolworth himself kept his private office on this floor, because he thought it had the best view in Manhattan. The team from Absinthe NYC will discuss history of the mysterious green drink. We will also be serving a selection of craft brews provided by RavenBeer, a Poe-inspired brewery located in Poe’s hometown of Baltimore, Maryland.

Following the tasting, guests will seated for dramatic readings of Poe's tales, performed by members of Radiotheatre NYC. The evening will also feature classic gothic burlesque performances, Victorian chamber music, and a few twists fit for a Poe detective story.


The Cartographer's View, 24 June

A once-in-a-lifetime event to see unusual and historic maps and learn about the mapmaker’s craft while enjoying one of the most remarkable private spaces in New York City.

This month Sotheby’s is holding an online auction of rare maps and manuscripts. We'll take a selection of the most interesting maps to an apartment on the 40th floor of the Woolworth Building. F.W. Woolworth himself kept his private office on this floor, because he thought it had the best view in Manhattan.

We'll be joined by Dr. Kalika Sands, Sotheby's Associate Cataloguer, who will guide you in a viewing that includes earliest obtainable authentic map with the place name “America,” a map of Oklahoma used by Lindbergh in flight, and the first printed map to depict the world from the pole. Connie Brown, artist and mapmaker, will bridge the conversation from the past to the present by discussing the perspective and intentions of a person creating a map.

You'll end your night inside the former site of F. W. Woolworth's office, where B&H Photo Video will have set up brass telescopes to aid your own navigation. Under the careful eye of Stuart Lynn, a map scientist with a Ph.D. in astrophysics, you'll explore the skyline and the skies far, far away.


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