Thursday, January 29, 2009

Mickey Mantle for bibliophiles

Last weekend, TRISTAR Productions in Houston hosted a sports memorabilia show downtown. Monday's Houston Chronicle reported that the current recession seemed to be on hiatus for attendees at the show. Sales were very good with purchases trending away from trading cards and more toward autographs and other memorabilia. Many athletes (retired and current) were there with pen in hand ready to sign. For a fee, of course.

I wondered how Mickey Mantle fared in this memorabilia bubble. I have in my collection the very first Mickey Mantle book: The Mickey Mantle Story, by Mickey Mantle (with a whole lot of help, I'm sure, from Ben Epstein), Henry Holt & Company, [1953]1955, second printing. It's a great book for baseball fans, especially Mantle fans, of whom there are untold thousands.

This book is rare enough in its early printings and with the dust jacket, but what sets my copy apart from the rest is the fact that Mickey Mantle held it in his hands and signed his name to it for some lucky fan long ago. The look of the ink indicates this was an early signature. That's value added for this copy because Mantle went crazy with the autographs late in his life when the sports memorabilia industry seemed at its peak. Earlier signatures are not as easily found.

I can find only two other signed copies, which are valiantly trying to keep the sports memorabilia bubble propped up with extraordinarily high prices. Here's a signed copy for $3,500 and here's one even higher for $6,900.

Autographs on baseballs, photos and other objects don't approach these numbers. So, is the fact that this signature is in a collectible book behind the high expectations for the signature's value? Perhaps the symbiotic relationship between book and sports memorabilia is more attractive to the bibliophile than to the baseball collector.

I paid x amount for my signed book (second printing) without a jacket, and then a bit less for an unsigned first edition with a jacket. The price difference between the two was surprisingly little. I married the first state jacket to the second printing signed book. The result would be the earliest signed printing, with jacket, on the market--if my copy were for sale, that is. And if I were to list it for sale, could I reason that my copy, in comparable condition to the two above and in an earlier printing, be worth more than $6,900?

Only the market could answer that question, but I would doubt it. I don't know that $2,000 or even $1,500 would find a buyer. Of course, I would aim a lot higher. But even with the optimistic numbers at the show in Houston last weekend, in spite of the current economy, I don't think the Mick could knock one out of the park for my book.

To an Old Book,
by Edgar Greenleaf Bradford

This poem, from Howard S. Ruddy's compilation, Book Lovers Verse (Bowen-Merrill, Indianapolis, 1899), speaks to all bibliophiles in describing that instant bonding experienced with the serendipitous discovery of an interesting old book.
Old Book forlorn, compiled of ancient thought,
Now bought and sold, and once more sold and bought,
At last left stranded, where in time I spied,
Borne thither by an impecunious tide;
Well thumbed, stain-marked, but new and dear to me,
My purse and thy condition well agree.
I saw thee, yearned, then took thee to my arms,
For fellowship in misery has charms.
How long, I know not, thou hadst lain unscanned,
Thy mellow leaves untouched by loving hand--
For there thou was beneath a dusty heap,
Unknown. I raised thee, therefore let me reap
A harvest from thy treasures. Thee I found--
Yea, thee I'll cherish; though new friends abound,
I'll still preserve thee as the years go round.
So who was Edgar Greenleaf Bradford?

A forgotten poet of the late nineteenth century, it appears, though he shares an unusual middle name with a fellow poet of the same century, who "made it," the better-known John Greenleaf Whittier. Was the 19th century not big enough for two Greenleafs?

I can only find a few fragments about Edgar Greenleaf Bradford, one of which was a review of his book, Search Lights and Guide Lines, circa 1890s. The reviewer's comments on Bradford's writing style are not flattering:
"The author has rather a cumbersome vocabulary, and in his endeavors to be concise is sometimes obscure."
So in this modern age of the google search, that's all that can be found about a published poet's work? Sad. But his stuffy Victorian language still gave a good account of what it feels like to find an old book to your liking.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Accidental bookmarks among the leaves

I recently found a couple of trivial things between the leaves of old books that were obviously used as bookmarks. Well, one was obvious, one debatable. At any rate, they appear to have been spur-of-the-moment markers when a conventional bookmark was not readily available. And I thought about a brief post on Bibliophemera, but they're not really ephemera.

First up, the obvious. Say you're reading Hubert Wales' riveting [yawn] The Yoke in 1908 and you just can't put the book down. But you have to. You haven't got a bookmark handy, so you have to improvise. You search your immediate surroundings for something, anything... what to use... what to use... Your eyes fixate on the dust jacket of a nearby book. Aha! Just take that useless thing off the book and tear off a piece to mark your place.

Apparently that's what happened with this book's long-ago reader. A stiff piece of paper, say in the neighborhood of 80-100# stock (look and feel of a paper jacket), torn in such a way as to leave a message for a reader (me) 100 years later to ponder: The book title on the back of the jacket. The more I look at the shape and design, I'm not sure it was a dust jacket. It could have been. It certainly appears to be a cover of some kind because of the thick stock. No matter, it's the printed message found on it that counts.

Could there be a more appropriate emergency bookmark than a piece of paper with IN AN EMERGENCY printed on it? This was either the donor book's title or an ad of some kind for another book. Either way, this emergency bookmark came with its utility printed on it.

Bookmark number two: A leaf among the leaves of Essays: English and American. This item is not so obvious as a bookmark. It could have just been put in the book to press and was forgotten. This leaf marks the beginning of the essay, Mackery End, in Hertfordshire, by Charles Lamb. I can't place any significance on the relationship between it and the essay. Again, it may not have been a marker at all. In a kind of role reversal, the book may have been preserving the leaf. One-hundred years later, it still looks as though it were picked up off the ground on a cold fall day in New England.

Now to research the bookplate in The Yoke (the reason I bought the book), which will find its way into Bibliophemera.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Countee Cullen and "A Birch" to Katherine:
A gift of two poets on Inauguration Day

Arriving back home late Sunday from a weekend trip, I was greeted with a copy of this book in my mailbox: Color, by Countee Cullen (Harper & Brothers, NY, 1925).

Cullen was a central figure in the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, an explosion of black literary and artistic creativity comprising a cultural and social movement within the African-American community.

When I purchased the book more than a week ago, the significance of its probable delivery date was lost on me. I was busy preparing for a book show and was interested in the book for two reasons, and resale was not one of them.

One, I remember stumbling onto Cullen's writing in one of my college literature anthology texts. I had no recollection of having studied Cullen's work in the classroom or on my own. Those bloated Norton anthologies are packed with so much literature, that a professor can only hope to skim off a representative sampling of the intended theme of the collection (American literature of the twentieth century, British literature to 1800, etc.).

I recall thumbing through a twentieth century anthology many years later, mid-90s maybe, and really liking what I found in the several poems that made up the Countee Cullen section. I do remember wondering why I had never heard of him before. So when I saw this book for sale online, I decided to buy it and get reacquainted with his work. I knew he was a fine wordsmith and I would enjoy new discoveries in his art.

The second reason for the purchase was the mention of some items lurking inside the covers waiting to be discovered and explored. The book's description included a bookplate and a poem handwritten on the front endpaper to "Katherine" from another poet, H. Campbell Scarlett (a literary name if ever there was one!). Mr. Scarlett's obituary was also included. All that sounded like a story, maybe even a mystery, waiting to be unraveled. Certainly, I knew I would explore it here in this format.

I have not been disappointed with either the content or the artifacts of the original owner. This book arrived a few days in advance of Inauguration Day, and today America has its first African-American president. In honor of this historic event and in deference to President Obama's theme of unity, here's an offering of Countee Cullen's writing from Color:
For Donald Duff

Locked arm in arm they cross the way,
The black boy and the white,
The golden splendor of the day,
The sable pride of night.

From lowered blinds the dark folk stare,
And here the fair folk talk,
Indignant that these two should dare
In unison to walk.

Oblivious to look and word
They pass and see no wonder
That lightning brilliant as a sword
Should blaze the path of thunder.
I expected such writing, but the real prize in this book is what was preserved in it by the book's owner, Katherine. Her... what... lover, admirer, friend... H. Campbell Scarlett wrote the poem and is described in the obits as a writer and a teacher. That he aspired to write poetry is evident. That he ever ascended to a higher stage than book inscriptions is not. Doesn't mean he didn't--I just can't find any hint of evidence to support it. But he summoned his poetic muse to express his feelings to Katherine and Katherine apparently was moved enough by his feelings, his friendship, or his love to keep it for what I would suspect was the rest of her life. Here is Scarlett's heartfelt attempt to compare Katherine's beauty to that of a birch tree against a deep blue sky:
A Birch
To Katherine

The trunk, cream white picked out in black
The leaves part green, part touched with golden brown
A birch, etched 'gainst the sky's deep azure blue
By this, dear one, shall I remember you.

A birch, all gold and white and black and green,
A birch, caressed and teased by every passing wind
A birch, as lovely as these words would be
By this, dear one, do thou remember me.
On the facing page are two clippings of the poet's obituary. I am intrigued by the bread crumbs of a life or lives left behind in books. Just a trace of something--a poem, an obit, an inscription, a photo--can create an event, a story, or an entire life around that something.

Certainly, more questions than answers exist. Questions that come immediately to mind are: Why this book for a gift? Why the birch tree for a metaphor? And what exactly is the metaphor? And if the two were lovers, why was that love unrequited, as evidenced by the fact that Scarlett died unmarried and without children? There is no way to know the answers to these questions, but that's okay--I have my own.

This was a teenage romance. Scarlett's obits list his age at death as 55. The date of the obits is May 17, 1965, which means Scarlett was born about 1910. This book by Countee Cullen, Color, was published in 1925. This particular copy is an early reprint, likely within a few years. That makes Scarlett somewhere around 16 or 17 when he wrote to Katherine, who was part black, part white... and there's the the birch tree metaphor--the black and white skin of the tree. That's also a scandal within the Scarlett family. Campbell was survived by by his father, who is listed in the obits as a judge, which, in the 1920s, most assuredly makes him and son Campbell white. The judge's re-election could not withstand an interracial dating scandal in his family and so young Campbell was forbidden to see the light-skinned black girl he was so smitten with. He had the heart of a poet, but the firm hand of the judge overruled his emotions. And Katherine never forgot her young poet and the gift of his feelings inscribed in a book by an exciting young African-American poet. Katherine kept the gift of two poets close to her and when Campbell died some 30 years later, she felt moved to leave another scrap of Campbell's life, symbolic closure perhaps, and, in effect, her own feelings toward a young man whose love could not overcome the social conventions and restrictions of the day. A sad ending.

Of course, I could be way off base here and probably am. But however else the story might have unfolded, I'm sure it's not near as interesting as my version.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

A Flying Tiger in the kitchen

Joe Rosbert is a charter member in the Greatest Generation. During World War II, Rosbert trained as a Naval aviator before America's involvement in the war. Later, he left the Navy to serve with the Flying Tigers of the original AVG (American Volunteer Group) in China, 1941-42.

After the war he traveled around the globe, combining business with pleasure as a businessman, airline exec, and chef. He documented his life in an interesting and unusual format: An adventure story cookbook.

Rosbert published his life story in 1985: Flying Tiger Joe’s Adventure Story Cookbook, Giant Poplar Press, Franklin, NC. He chronicles the interesting and the dangerously adventurous into six parts, further divided into chapters, and concludes each part with recipes pertinent (sometimes) to the regions represented by these stories.

Naval aviator training in Philadelphia segues into hoagies, scrapple and crab cakes. Part II concludes with a chapter on the Flying Tigers in combat. Appropriately, Rosbert invites his surviving fellow pilots to contribute recipes for this part of the book. "Tex" Hill contributes Oriental Barbecued Pork Ribs and that's about the only recipe with flying and fighting in China. But these guys are guest contributors and anything from them is welcome. Rosbert kindly provides a brief bio of each.

The chapters that comprise Part IV give way to the "real" Chinese dishes such as Duck Tongues Moon Chen, Kung Pao Ching Ting, and Szechuan Duck. Following a lengthy list of Chinese recipes... what's this? Pasha. A traditional Russian Easter dessert. Skip over the next recipe and you crash into Squirrel Stew a la Chennault (contributed by General Claire Chennault). Still ahead in the same section, the Flying Tiger Joe ventures into Southern Style Biscuits and Clam Chowder and Whiskey Sours.

Don't try to make sense of the placement or sequence of these and other recipes in certain chapters--just enjoy the ride! You're flying through this book with a fighter pilot after all.

Rosbert had a passion for living--from flying to fine cuisine--that is undeniable the deeper you get into his book. He engaged Japanese pilots in dogfights over China, survived a harrowing crash in the Himalayas and the months-long journey back to civilization, helped start a cargo transport airline, opened and operated a hotel and later a restaurant that shared a name with the title of this book.

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Flapper doodles and water chairs

This English text book belonged to a teenaged girl in 1925, who seemed more interested in art than in her English lessons.

Then again, check out the subtitle of the book (Projects in Expression) and maybe she was doing just as the subtitle suggested. The young artist here is assumed to be Anna Grace Caughron from Manhattan, Kansas. That's the name written at the front and back of the book.

I call these drawings flapper doodles because the women portrayed look like the young girls of that era who were called flappers. The drawings are pretty elegant for doodles, but I'll stick with doodles because obviously the young lady in a long-ago English class was doodling in her book while she should have been paying attention to her lesson. Or maybe she was multitasking.

Her doodles are quite good, actually, and capture pretty accurately the style of the flapper girl of the Roaring Twenties. In case you're wondering what a flapper is, or was, check out the girls in this video. Their parents must have been horrified!

Now for the water chairs...

Turning the pages to see what might be of interest in this old book, I came upon a section that sought to instruct the student on persuasive writing. Example No. 5 is titled Persuasion Through Comparison. This exercise shows a written advertisement with the heading, Years ago they killed by dripping water. Below that is a picture of a water chair with the caption, The Water Chair - a form of torture of the Middle Ages.

This is actually the inauspicious lead-in for a persuasive ad for Sullivan's Heels. As in shoe heels. This misguided example strives to show how walking around in shoes with hard heels results in virtually the same physical torture, over time, as does the constant drip of water upon the hapless victim of the torturous Water Chair. I'll bet one hundred percent of all victims that suffered in the Water Chair would have jumped at the opportunity to walk around in "torturous" shoes with hard heels. Talk about a cake walk!

But what a wretched comparison and writing lesson to impart on a young mind! No wonder young Anna Grace took solace in her flapper doodles. As she could have been only 16 or so in 1925, I doubt she ever got the chance to live the flapper lifestyle, which was out of vogue several years later, and may never have been in vogue in Manhattan, Kansas. I always associated that style with that other Manhattan on the east coast.

But that was the style of the day for young women and it must have fired the imagination of a Midwestern teenage girl struggling through her English and writing lessons. And she wouldn't be the last to create her own projects of expression to exchange classroom drudgery for artistic fantasy.

That long forgotten artwork of hers now lives on within the confines of cyberspace. And I'd like to think that young Anna Grace would have been one flattered flapper-wannabe.