Wednesday, August 30, 2006

You've come a long way, baby

In the 1960s, advertisers seeking to capitalize on the changing times, targeted a growing women's movement by lauding their social progress and rewarding them with their own cigarette brand, along with a more equal chance with men for contracting all the smoking-related illnesses. The ad slogan was, "You've come a long way, baby." The absurdity of these ads, especially in hindsight, fell short of using burning bras to light up.

But just how far had women come? A long way when you consider the content found in A Manual of Elementary Law, by Walter Denton Smith (Instructor, Law Department University of Michigan), West Publishing Co., St, Paul, Minn., 1894.

From a legal perspective, women in 1894 may have felt somewhat justified in adopting their future granddaughters’ slogan, You've come a long way, baby. Chapter XIII in this book is titled The Law of Domestic Relations, and provides some insight to just how far perceived women's rights had come.

Addressing historical, outdated philosophical and social views of marriage in America, there is the following:

In general, it may be said that the husband assumed control over the wife and her property in such a way as to leave her in a position little better than that of a slave of the higher order.

The next paragraph contrasts the archaic with the then modern or current enlightenment:

At the present time, most of the disabilities imposed upon the wife by virtue of her relation to her husband have been removed.

Most being the key word here. So how far had women come by 1894? Read on:

By virtue of his position as the head of the family, the husband still controls, to a limited extent, the actions of his wife. The latter is bound to accompany him whenever he changes his domicile, and she owes to him the duty of reasonable obedience. He has, however, no right to chastise her. He is entitled to his wife’s services at common law and in most of the States of this country. In return for the performance of these duties on the part of the wife, the husband is bound to support and protect the wife. If he fails to provide her with the necessaries of life, she may purchase them in his name, and he will be compelled to pay for them.

There are too many flashpoints for groans and grimaces—at least one in every sentence—to even start commenting on them. Suffice it to say that by the 1960s women had indeed come a long way from the social mores bound in the legal presentation of that 1894 law book. Feminine cigarettes notwithstanding.

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Among the nudists

Last week, I came across a report from the Boston Globe about a bunch of bored, restless young folks in Brattleboro, Vermont, who had resorted to taking their clothes off in public. One of the photos in the link above features a bookseller who seems a bit put out by all the shenanigans outside his bookstore.

I wondered if that bookshop had in stock a copy of Frances and Mason Merrill's, Among the Nudists, Garden City Publishing, NY, 1931. I have a tattered copy I found in a large batch of books I bought earlier this year. I put it in the keep pile because of the novelty of it--an early treatise on nudists. And because I thought it might have some resale value based on age and content (in spite of condition). It may have some, but even fine copies will not fetch much more than $50, so my poor copy went into a box of misfits and poor intuition to be dealt with later. Bigger fish to fry in the meantime. But maybe one day some nudist collector will want it cheap on ebay. Nudiana? You never know. Perhaps I should print the Globe article and place it between the leaves and recirculate it into the resales for another book hound to find and ponder.

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Fifth grade reading... in 1897

Came across a beat-up, dirty copy of an old elementary school reader from 1897: School Reading by Grades: Fifth Year, by James Baldwin, American Book Company, NY. I usually set these down as fast as I pick them up, once I see the title. Most of these old things have no resale value. But I am drawn to the antiquarian-looking book, and will give it at least a cursory look. For this title, I think I was curious to see what the curriculum for a 10- or 11-year-old boy or girl was like more than a hundred years ago. I was surprised, but really shouldn’t have been.

The titles and authors listed on the Contents page read like a Who’s Who of literary lions—authors and their works I studied much later in high school and college. Names like Longfellow, Hawthorne, Homer, Tennyson, and Dickens. And the illustrations gave clues to the subject matter of some of the selected writings, such as one of Gutenberg in thoughtful repose over his invention of the printing press. Another historical figure and invention I didn’t learn about until later.

I have little recollection of what I read at that age in the mid-1960s, other than sports and adventure biographies and nature/animal stories. Homer and Tennyson took a back seat to Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig, Lewis & Clark and Daniel Boone—just about anything from Bobbs & Merrill’s Childhood of Famous Americans series. Also high on my list were Emil E. Liers’ tales of otters, beavers, and black bears. That was my extracurricular reading. I have no recollection whatsoever about the contents of our literature textbooks back then. Maybe Steinbeck’s Red Pony made the cut, but something of that ilk would be about as literary as we got, I’d bet. Or maybe I’m just too damn old to remember that kind of detail 40 years later.

So what are fifth grade students reading in 2006, as the fall semester commences?

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

Bob Dylan, America's newest folksong sensation!

Or so said the 1963 advertisement I found over the weekend in a copy of Eugene O'Neill's, A Long Day's Journey into Night (Yale, 1956, sixth printing). The ad appeared in a playbill for O'Neill's play being performed at Princeton's McCarter Theatre that year. The playbill, which was laid in the O'Neill book, had a blurb on the rear cover about Dylan appearing later that fall, so I flipped through the dozen pages or so and found a larger ad announing America's newest folksong sensation making his only college appearance that fall. And shouldn't that be "America's newest folksinging or folksinger sensation?"

Grammatical correctness aside, as I flipped through the pages, I also found the star of the play, whose photo on the front cover I hadn't recognized: Olympia Dukakis. Aha! I thought she looked familiar. What else might be in this playbill? More plays that Ms. Dukakis was starring in, plus an ad for a famous Russian puppeteer, Sergei Obratsov. Quite a lot of celebrity packed into that little college playbill--a well-established "star" of puppet theater, plus two up-and-comers in their respective fields: Dukakis and Dylan.

Trying to find some cosmic coincidence of fate for these two items being paired in the 1960s, one has to look no further than the play's 1912 character, Mary Tyrone (Dukakis) and her drug addiction (morphine). And it was drug addiction, or the drug culture and drug usage, that permeated and partially characterized the artistic, political, and philosophical counter-cultural movements of the 1960s.

The Freewheelin' Bob Dylan, a reluctant icon for his generation, had just recorded his second album. The seeds of his enormous success and cultural influence and the wave of counter-culture revolution were, at that time, just blowin' in the wind.

Friday, August 18, 2006

The art of coffee history… or the coffee of art history

Working in my study the other morning, with a mug of hot coffee, I could hear the morning news show chatter from the tv in the den. One of the morning shows’ medical experts was talking about some new study linking heart attacks and coffee drinking.

Coincidentally, on top of the book pile next to me, which I had been cataloging the night before was the following volume: The Saga of Coffee: The Biography of an Economic Product, by Heinrich Eduard Jacob, First English publication 1935 (translation by Eden & Cedar Paul) by George Allen & Unwin Ltd., London. Some coincidences are a bit uncanny, so I took the cue and started digging into the coffee beans.

The German original of this title is Sage und Siegeszug des Kaffees, die Biographie eines weltwirtschaftlichen Stoffes, published by Rowohlt of Berlin in 1934. The American edition was published under the title, Coffee: The Epic of a Commodity.

I found a fascinating history with numerous reproduced antique engravings and sketches that depict coffee culture around the world from the 1700s forward—coffee drinkers, coffee houses, coffee plantations… just about anything coffee. Connoisseurs, aficionados, and fanciers, from drinkers to proprietors, could find something interesting in these pages. How about this: One legend has it that coffee beans were first discovered in goat excrement by herders in Yemen. I don’t believe I’ve ever seen any coffee concoctions or flavors alluding to this fabled origin. No Yemeni Goat Mocha Bean at Starbucks, or any neighborhood coffee house, I don’t think.

From Yemen in medieval times to Brazil in the 20th century, there are some interesting chapters with titles like Islam’s Wine, Napoleon’s Alliance with Chicory, Pleasures of the Ladies of Berlin (not a misprint!), and Reason Becomes Nonsense—Bonfires of Coffee.

But it was the artwork that captured my attention. It gave me an historical overview of coffee’s role in cultures from the Middle East to Europe to South America and places in between. And that is what I wanted to share in this blog entry.

As for the doctor’s report on coffee and heart attacks, I watched a little until I noticed I needed a refill in my mug. I shut off the tv, got another hot round of java, and settled in with the coffee book. Watching too many reports on health studies can give you indigestion.

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Dangerous times for a bookseller

In 1806, two-hundred years ago this month, a Bavarian bookseller named Johann Palm became a martyr for the German struggle for liberty against French occupation under Napoleon. Before the century would end, Palm’s life and death would exert influence on another powerful military dictator, one of the most reviled in history—Hitler.

While poring over a recently acquired lot of books, I came across a copy of History of the German Struggle for Liberty, Vol. I 1806-1812, by Poultney Bigelow; Harper & Brothers, New York, 1903, illustrated with drawings by R. Caton Woodville.

Looking through the first several pages for publication information, I was captivated by Mr. Woodville’s frontispiece illustration of Johannes Palm, a German bookseller about to be executed by a French firing squad. I wondered what role, if any, books or bookselling played in creating such a terrifying conclusion to this man’s life.

I searched the Internet for whatever scraps of information I could find on this obscure bookseller. What I was able to piece together revealed a bookselling crime worthy of an influential footnote not only in the world of books and Bavarian history, but also in the ambitions of two historically significant military figures, spanning the Napoleonic Era to World War II.

Johann Palm’s crime? Depending on which source you consult, he either published or distributed (or both) copies of a pamphlet titled, Deutschland in seiner tiefen Erniedrigung (Germany in Her Deep Humiliation), deemed seditious by Napoleon because of anti-French content. Some accounts have even speculated that Palm authored the tract, but presumably the writer was Philipp Christian Yelin of Ansbach. At any rate, once discovered, the pamphlets, which denounced Napoleon and the French occupation, were traced back to Palm and he was arrested.

Johann Palm had apprenticed with his uncle, the publisher Johann Jakob Palm. Afterward, he met and married the daughter of a Nuremberg bookseller by the name of Stein. Palm eventually took over the business after his father-in-law died. It was from Stein that a package with the offending material was delivered to another bookselling firm (Stage) in the town of Augsburg.

One account states that Palm was so sure of his innocence that he refused to flee and avoid arrest. Another account has him hiding in Austria and in receipt of a damning letter that implicates his guilt. An associate wrote to him, as the authorities were searching for him, and indicated they could always use the excuse that they didn’t know what was in the packages—that they were merely the courier in a transaction between two parties.

Hitler adopted another version of the story, which cast Palm in a more patriotic, rebellious posture, which he wrote about in Mein Kampf: “At the time of our Fatherland’s deepest humiliation, a bookseller, Johannes Palm, uncompromising nationalist and enemy of the French, was put to death here because he had the misfortune to have loved Germany well. He obstinately refused to disclose the names of his associates, or rather the principals who were chiefly responsible for the affair.”

Whether innocent or guilty, or guilty by association; whether he fled and returned, or never fled, he was eventually arrested as the evidence piled up against him. Under Napoleon’s orders, Palm was garrisoned in Braunau-on-the-Inn, Austria, and brought to trial on August 22, where he was tried and convicted of treason with four other booksellers. Those other four were extended mercy and set free at the request of King Maximilian I, but Palm was not so lucky.

The citizens of Braunau reacted with surprise and even pleaded for Palm’s release. Palm may have even assumed he was about to be set free also as the guards came to get him on August 26th, 1806, but he was taken to a field outside of town, bound, and fired upon by the French execution squad. Reportedly, he survived the first round of shots. Though knocked down, he struggled to stand again and was fired upon a second time. Unbelievably, this second round did not kill him either, though he was gravely wounded. This time, soldiers stepped forward to finish him off with a shot to the head.

The townsfolk who had pleaded mercy for Palm saw fit to erect a monument to the bookseller from Nuremberg on or near the site of his execution. This is the monument that made such a deep and lasting impression on a young Adolph Hitler, who grew up in the town where Palm had been executed.

A flood of cartoons and pamphlets deriding Napoleon and the French troops appeared in the wake of Palm’s death. A strong wave of patriotic fervor developed, enabling the Prussian King to leverage Palm’s execution for going to war against Napoleon. Though more significant reasons already existed, it was Palm’s execution that created a moral outcry and fueled rising public opinion against Napoleon and French occupation.

One hundred years later, the event was still etched deeply enough into the country’s consciousness that patriotic meetings throughout Bavaria observed the centennial of Palm’s death. And two-hundred years later, this month, the event will be observed again in Braunau as Johann Palm is the focus of an annual history symposium called Braunau Contemporary History Days.

All this fascinating history and its significant influence on world events for more than a century made itself known to me as I casually thumbed through an obscure volume of a history I had no interest in other than gleaning publication data to use in cataloging and pricing for my online store inventory.

So you never know what you might dig up between the covers, either in the content of the pages or laid in loose between the pages. I have documented other interesting finds in an electronic journal, and I suppose they will eventually find their way here, but it was my discovery of the long-dead and all-but-forgotten bookseller from Nuremberg that inspired the idea for Archaeolibris and using this forum for sharing interesting finds such as this. You might say that Palm’s influence, albeit grossly diluted from the examples in the opening paragraph, lives on in some form.