Friday, December 21, 2007

Habent sua fata libelli

I am intrigued at times by the coincidences of discoveries I make and the interesting paths they sometimes take me down. The Latin phrase, Habent sua fata libelli, is the latest example and unites a theme in two books I'm currently reading: A Rare Book Saga: The Autobiography of H.P. Kraus, by H.P. Kraus; G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1978. and On Borrowed Words: A Memoir of Language, by Ilan Stavans, Viking, 2001. Kraus' book I'm about done with and had just started Stavans' book a few nights ago when I found a bond that needed exploring.

Anyone with a passion for books, particularly rare antiquarian books, would enjoy Kraus' tale of a rising bookman in pre-War Vienna, Nazi concentration camp survivor, immigrant to America, and the most prolific bookseller of the latter half of the twentieth century. His autobiography is a Who's Who of bibliophiles over the last century, as well as a valuable reference for the provenance of certain incunabula and illuminated manuscripts (his specialty).

In one of the later chapters, A Constitution Bought, a Declaration Lost, Kraus muses on the recent prices paid by he and others for choice Americana documents, which were outside his specialty. Specifically, the U.S. Constitution and the Declaration of Independence. The inconsistent nature of what fetches how much at which auctions and what can be recouped through private collectors gave Krause pause to invoke the Latin Habent sua fata libelli. I liked the sound of that, and although Kraus parenthetically inserted a definition (Every book has its own price), I still wanted to research the idiom for further clarification.

That led me to Lorcan Dempsey's Weblog: On libraries, services and networks, and an entry dealing with the aura of a book and its copies in the age of digitization and mechanical reproduction. The Latin quote pops up here and is attributed to Walter Benjamin in his essay, Unpacking My Library, from Illuminations. Of course, I had to go research Benjamin, whom I'll likely write about later, but a quick Wikipedia moment produced this:
A German-Jewish Marxist literary critic, essayist, translator, and philosopher, who died either by suicide or murder while fleeing the Nazis in an attempt to emigrate to the United States. 
And now a copy of his Illuminations is going to meet its fate with me.

But a few variants of Kraus' Latin interpretation are presented here on Lorcan Dempsey's weblog: Every book has its fate and, with a collector's twist, books and their copies have their fates. Is it Benjamin's style or reputation (unfamiliar to me) behind the quote or the actual quote itself that render the collective words so malleable as to cause these variations in definition? Perhaps the phrase itself, with a strategic word substitution, would have its own fate (relative to its user, of course).

Now to Ilan Stavans memoir, a book I bought while out scouting the other day. The title caught my eye and the jacket write-up made the sale. This one will go into my personal collection, at least for awhile (Habent sua fata libelli). Briefly, the author's family were Eastern European Jews who emigrated to the Jewish ghetto of Mexico City. That in itself produced a double-take from me. Mexico City has/had a Jewish ghetto? Stavans later moved to the United States (NY) and Israel. He has claimed Yiddish, Spanish, Hebrew, and English as his primary language at one time or another. Hence, the title of his memoir. This book will warrant a separate blog entry at some point, but suffice it to say that the opening paragraph created for me something to think about with respect to my collection of books and how it has evolved.

In Chapter One, Mexico Lindo, Stavans packs his library, preparing to move from his New York City apartment to somewhere outside the city. He contemplates his collection and how it has evolved from the few books he brought with him from Mexico ten years earlier. This informal analysis summons comparisons with how his life has evolved during that same period of time--everything from the books he acquired to the nuances of how those books shared his living space. Then he invokes the biblio-essayist Benjamin:

Walter Benjamin was right when he claimed that a real library is always impenetrable and at the same time unique. My success in America would come when I would once again have a plentiful library, personal in the complete sense of the word, i.e., built on caprice.

With this reference to Benjamin, I recognized a bridge back to Kraus. Scanning the last few chapters of A Rare Book Saga, I found the quote again and smiled at Kraus' interpretation that "every book has its price." Of course a bookseller would put that spin on it!

So several themes threaded their way into my reading and opened a few more windows of discovery into bibliophily and philosphy. From Jewish immigrants to bookish immigrants to migrating libraries and collections of books, anything and everyone, it appears, all have their fates.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Save the books!

Support your local independent bookstore. The little guys keep going down the toilet in alarming numbers. Don't let THIS be on your conscience!

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

The Cowboy Christmas Ball

This time of year found me revisiting a favorite old antiquarian volume on the shelf: Ranch Verses, by "Larry" Chittenden, "Poet-Ranchman;" 1893, G.P. Putnam's Sons, NY. My volume is a Fourth Edition from 1897, Revised and Enlarged. It's also illustrated with drawings and photographs. Perhaps the First Edition was as well--I'm not sure about that. I'm sure I read through it when I bought it circa mid-1980s, but it would be another ten years before I would discover the seasonal gem in its collection: The Cowboy Christmas Ball.

Michael Martin Murphey popularized this poem in song on his concept album, Cowboy Christmas: Cowboy Songs II, released in May of 1991. He was not the first to put the poem to music; that had been done in Chittenden's day and collected by John Lomax in 1922 in Cowboy Songs and Other Frontier Ballads. Murphey may have been the first singer to record the song.

Chittenden's poem commemorates the first Cowboy Christmas Ball, held in Anson, Texas in 1885. Chittended, a reporter for the New York Times, was staying at the hotel while visiting his uncle who owned a ranch nearby. The dance that evening for all the area cowboys inspired his lighthearted verse an it eventually found its way to publication in 1890 in the local paper. Chittenden later inherited his uncle's ranch, moved to Texas, and in 1893 published his first book, Ranch Verse, which included The Cowboy Christmas Ball.

Incidentally, the soiree that Chittenden witnessed that night was not the first dance of that kind in Anson. The ball had been organized each Christmas for several years before that. And it continued somewhat irregularly afterward, with little regard for Chittenden's poem until Leona Barrett, an Anson teacher and folklorist, revived it under the title of The Cowboy Christmas Ball. She sought to preserve the old dance customs in such a way that her group was invited to the National Folk Fetivals, including the 1938 event held in Washington, D.C. There, her Anson, Texas Cowboy Christmas Ball dancers danced on the White House lawn.

By the 1940s, the interest and attendance had increased to the point that the event was copyrighted and a Board of Directors was created. There was even a new venue, Pioneer Hall, built as a permanent home for the three-day event. 1946 appears to have been the first year that Chittenden's ballad was put to music and sang at the ball. What John Lomax collected several decades earlier may or may not have resembled the 1946 composition by Gordon Graham, a cowboy folklorist from Colorado. Graham's rendition started a tradition of having a soloist sing the ballad before the ball. The music from that early 1885 ball consisted of a bass viol, a tambourine, and two fiddles. As the music and vocals evolved over the years, they were always held to a certain standard, which itself has been clarified over the years.

Currently, Michael Martin Murphey carries the torch for this American "old west" classic event that started with a bunch of cowboys in search of a good time, a New York reporter's creative writing, and an emerging interest in a fading way of life to preserve the old ways in song and dance. You can see Murphey's rendition via music video for however long it lasts on Which reminds me...

Having listened to the Murphy recording hundreds of times before picking the book Ranch Verses back up one day and learning that the song was in the book as a poem, and then learning the history, I had thought the characters in the song were fictitiously penned by Murphey or another songwriter. Characters like Windy Bill and Z Bar Dick and Cross P Charley seemed like old cowboy folk characters. But here in Chittenden's book is a photograph of one of the dancers in the song: the leader from Swensen's Ranch, Windy Bill from little Deadman's Branch. This is an old west character if ever there was one. Merry Christmas from the ghosts of Windy Bill, Z Bar Dick, Cross P Charley, old Chittenden himself and the other cowpokes and their ladies!

Friday, November 30, 2007

Breakfast served any time all day... but no trout

I think I like Donald Hall's essays more than his poetry, especially essays on poetry. Until I find a poem of his that blows me away. But right now I'm getting caught up on a collection of essays: Breakfast Served Any Time All Day: Essays on Poetry New and Selected, by Donald Hall; The University of Michigan Press, Ann Arbor, Michigan, 2003. Mr. Hall, a recent poet laureate of the U.S., offered the following quote at the beginning of his book:
Whatever we think we write, with good fortune we write something else: The Muse is the Angel of Accident.

By William Trout, from Early Notebooks
Interesting! But who is William Trout. Sorry to say I don’t have a clue. A writer, of course. Essayist? Poet? Diarist? If Donald Hall quoted him, he must be a writer of some merit. I'm curious enough about the quotation to do some research. But I get no results from book search engines (,, etc.). I try with just the author name and with just the title of the piece quoted by Donald Hall. Nothing. I google various combinations of spellings and key words. Nothing again. No Trout. The elusive trout. I shall continue fishing, though.

Woodcut from Dame Juliana Berners’
A Treatyse of Fysshynge wyth an Angle

from the Milne Angling Collections
University of New Hampshire Library

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

A road less traveled... led to Robert Frost's home

"Because it was grassy and wanted wear..."

The walking path to the Frost Place from the parking lot down the hill.

I had the extreme pleasure a few weeks ago, October 5th, of driving around the White Mountains of New Hampshire and visiting Robert Frost's home in Franconia. What a beautiful setting, which has been credited with providing the inspiration for some of his most beloved poems, including Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening. And before stopping by the Frost Place, we lunched in the nearby village of Franconia and I wondered if it were the village of the owner of the woods in the poem. And later, while viewing the woods around Frost's home... were they the woods Frost viewed from his front porch? I sat in an old chair on Frost's porch and viewed the White Mountains and the woods, the same view he likely had a hundred years ago. On a quiet autumn afternoon, and I imagine it's always quiet there, you could almost hear a horse in the distance giving his harness bells a shake... Had a few snowflakes begun to fall, I think I would have even seen the horse and buggy!

This visit provided an enjoyable connection to a writer I have long admired and identified with because of our respective connections to the Granite State. My family history runs deep in smaller mountains about 60 miles southeast of Franconia.

In 1923, my great-grandmother bought a copy of Frost's new book of poems titled New Hampshire, published by Henry Holt & Company, New York, in 1923. It has passed down to me and is one of my most prized possessions--a first edition Robert Frost, a Pulitzer Prize winning book no less. And speaking of first editions, the Frost Place museum had a collection of signed, or inscribed, first editions of many of Frost's works. Seeing such a venerable collection, inscribed in Frost's hand, was quite a thrill for me, as both a bookseller and collector.

And in the middle of them was a familiar cover--the book I admired many years in my grandmother's library (her mother's copy) and for many years now in my home. The museum copy bore a nice inscription from Frost.

My copy is not inscribed by Frost (and of course I wish it were!), but it does bear my great-grandmother's bookplate, which is a nice reminder of my family connection across the generations to New Hampshire--both the state and the words of Robert Frost. Seeing the museum copy of that book I own, I was reminded of the title poem, New Hampshire, and how it ended:
Well, if I have to choose one or the other,
I choose to be a plain New Hampshire farmer
With an income in cash of say a thousand
(From say a publisher in New York City).
It's restful to arrive at a decision,
And restful just to think about New Hampshire.
At present I am living in Vermont.

Friday, September 14, 2007

A Civil War veteran's letter to a bookseller

I recently purchased a musty old book at an antique store in a small Texas town: Civics: Texas and Federal, by Triplett and Hauslein; Rein & Sons, Houston (1912). I bought it for an old document left between the pages long ago. It had more value to me than the neglected book that had archived it all these years. I had just about tossed it into the donation pile when I decided to thumb through its pages quickly for any interesting old photographs. I was rewarded for my efforts. Many historical images from around the state of Texas began to appear, but one in particular caught my eye--the Home for Confederate Veterans in Austin.

Earlier this year, I had acquired a letter written in 1922 by an old Civil War soldier--a veteran of the Confederacy living in Austin, Texas at the Home for Confederate Veterans. The envelope bore the Confederate insignia flag and address of the home. The letter was addressed to a Mr. Wolfe of Houston, a bookseller I presume, whom the old vet thought might be able to help him escape his "prison" (he states he is an "inmate of the Home") via the pages of a book about his homeland--Davidson County, Tennessee.

It's a poignant letter from an old man at the end of his life, longing to see his boyhood home. His life long ago shaped by the events of the War Between the States, he still seems to retain an important sense of place for his younger years in Tennessee. By the time he finds himself in the Confederate Home in Austin, Texas, and writing this letter at age 84, his financial situation is pretty dire, but a creative spark hatches a scheme whereby he can travel home again through the pages of a book.

John L. Young is the Confederate veteran. His brief bio is found here at the Texas State Cemetery site. From it, we learn Mr. Young's age, that he was from Nashville, and that he was listed as a deserter during the war. Apparently, he signed up for 12 months and was taken prisoner, but was released after he'd been in service for 12 months, so he just went home. Assuming his obligation was over, and presumably having no more use for the war, he tried to get on with his life. But it would never be the same, and you can hear echoes of longing for his pre-war youth in the lines of his simple request:
I wish to know if I can rent your book for one month. I propose to pay expressage both ways and promise and pledge to keep it absolutely clean and free from abuse. This will be a great favor to me. I will promise that no hands shall touch it but mine.

Every time I read this letter, I wonder how Mr. Wolfe in Houston responded to the old man. Or did he bother to respond at all? Did Mr. Young get to read about his old homeland and see images that would enhance time travel back home through his aging memories? What would a bookseller today do with such a request from, say, a World War II vet? Unless it was a collectible book of great value, I'm pretty sure I would send the old man the book with my compliments and tell him to enjoy it.

1936: The first paid air passenger around the world
Marlin, Texas man crosses Atlantic on new Zeppelin Von Hindenburg

The estimable age of the book above, coupled with the title, hinted strongly that there was an interesting adventure waiting inside. And so I took the book off the shelf of a local resale shop, opened it, and stepped into the world of an early 20th century adventurer by air.

Dr. Bolivar Lang Falconer of Marlin, Texas, a Fellow of the American and the Royal Geographic Societies, embarked on a round-the-world journey in 1936 that would make him the first person to do so as a paying passenger by air. And by the way, what a great name for an aviation adventurer--Falconer!

It was his intent to fly around the world by available paid transport--commercial Zeppelin and airplane lines. This plan included a safe journey on the Zeppelin Von Hindenburg. Yes, that Hindenburg--the same one that burned and crashed killing many on board a year later at Lakehurst, New Jersey. The same tragedy that Hollywood made one of its ubiquitous 1970s disaster movies about.

Retired in 1931 as a Senior Examiner for the United States Civil Service Commission, Falconer had traveled extensively around the world in the ensuing five years, circling the globe five times while setting foot on every continent. On page 17 of his book, he claims: Many think travel on the Zeppelins is very dangerous. This idea, however, is a mistake. The Graf Zeppelin at the end of 1935 had made 437 trips, including104 ocean crossings and a voyage around the world, a total mileage of over 650,000, and had carried safely and promptly a total of 27,900 persons. He then refers to the Hindenburg, which he is about to fly on:
The new airship, the Von Hindenburg, provides accommodations for 50 passengers in two berth staterooms, with running hot and cold water. There are in addition a Reading and Writing Room, a Lounge, and a cozy Smoking Room and Bar, besides a Gallery or Promenade deck on each side. The articles of furniture (beds, tables, chairs, piano, and so forth) are made of aluminum and are very light and the walls of the cabin are very thin. Shower baths are also among the comforts found on the Von Hindenberg. The cabins, lounges, and decks are all enclosed in the shell of the ship. Three meals are served daily and in addition morning and afternoon snacks. The passenger accommodations on the airship are comfortably heated in cold weather. The baggage allowance is only 45 pounds and there is a charge of $1.40 for each pound of excess baggage. The cost of transportation from Lakehurst to Frankfurt (Germany) is $400. This includes meals and tips.
I guess I was more than a little ignorant of just how massive these airships were. I never saw the disaster movie about the Hindenberg tragedy and I never read much detail about the airship itself until I came across Dr. Falconer's little travel book from nearly three-quarters of a century ago. I was struck by the enormous size of the dirigible and found the picture below for comparison at The 747 is dwarfed by the airship above it.

Falconer is clearly quite impressed with airship travel and his tone seems to echo other forecasts that the airship would be a viable competitor with the airplane in emerging airline travel for ocean crossings and other long-distance trips.

He describes the take-off from Lakehurst, cruising over Manhattan at 1300 feet and the sights below, followed by a bird's eye view of the many luxurious estates along Long Island Sound, and a trip to the bar by many of the passengers once the excitement below evaporated into the expansive view of the Atlantic Ocean. Certainly sounds like a better time than an airplane hop across the pond in Falconer's other mode of air travel on this journey:

And I'm not sure that you could just "hop across the pond" in 1936 by commercial air. The answer to that appears to be contained in an interview with Dr. Hugo Eckener about Zeppelins, included in this book. Dr. Eckener, who headed operations at the Zeppelin factory in Germany, and had piloted a number of record setting flights, stated this in the interview: "I am very optimistic about the future of the Zeppelins, even if airplane lines are established. For ten years or more they have been saying that airplane service was about to be established, but now they are saying it will be three or four years more." He cites safety and comfort as advantages over airplanes and travel time as an advantage over ships. The interview is not dated (the editors at Stratford should have clarified this oversight), but it's reasonable to conclude that it was conducted inflight during Falconer's trip because Eckener talks about the Hindenberg's next trip being back to New York.

A little research and deeper digging into this book reveals that the Hindenberg's maiden voyage was May 8, 1936 from Frankfurt, Germany to Lakehurst, New Jersey. Falconer boarded on May 11th, in what turns out to be the Hindenberg's inaugural voyage from America to Germany, or the return portion of its first round trip.

Falconer writes of his original itinerary that he would fly to Miami, connect with Pan-American Airways to Rio de Janeiro, and there board the Graf Zeppelin airship to Germany. While planning this trip, it was announced that a new German Zeppelin, the Von Hindenberg, would begin trans-Atlantic service in May. Falconer modified his plan accordingly and embarked on the first leg of his journey (10-hour flight from Dallas to Newark) on May 8th, the same day the Hindenberg was embarking on its maiden voyage. Falconer was waiting for the airship when it arrived a few days later and recorded its landing in his travel journal. Beyond the Hindenberg, Falconer traveled through Europe to the Middle East, including stops in Gaza, Palestine and Baghdad, "Irak." Other stops included India, Burma, Vietnam, Singapore, Hong Kong, the Philippines, and Pacific islands of Guam, Wake, Midway, and Hawaii, before flying to San Francisco and back to Dallas. Oddly (sadly for his readers), the travelogue stops in Manila, or about half-way through his trip. No explanation is given, but a few photos help document the remainder of the trip. As Falconer's friend, J.G. Harbord, writes in the Foreword:
This is unquestionably the shortest description written of 26,130 miles of travel, begun and ended at Dallas, Texas, every night spent in a hotel except three nights spent crossing the Atlantic in the Zeppelin. When you read it, you wish the author would expand the story.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Populuxe & Googie Architecture

Surfing in and out of local history sites for my hometown the other day, I came across some info on buildings, restaurants, and other establishments I remembered as a kid. This led to photos of their old "jet age" signs (1950s-60s) and a reference to a site on Googie architecture. And THAT reminded me of a book I bought many years ago for nostalgic browsing: Populuxe, by Thomas Hines; Alfred A. Knopf, NY (1986).

I love this stuff! It’s from the era I was born in and grew up in. Very nostalgic. Takes me back to my childhood. And now I know that style has a name. While Googie Architecture refers specifically to the design of buildings, Populuxe is all encompassing in its examination of early modern culture in the two decades immediately following World War II. From furniture to buildings to automobiles and television sets and appliances, Populuxe captures the essence of a style that came to define that era and is looked upon so favorably by aging baby boomers.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Mark Twain saved American pornography

In free association, if you heard "Mark Twain," you would probably respond with Huckleberry Finn, a 19th century American literary masterpiece. You would not associate this giant of American letters with a masterpiece of erotica. But in An Unhurried View of Erotica, by Ralph Ginzburg; The Helmsman Press, NY (1958), the author offers his opinion that Mark Twain stepped up to the challenge of producing a fine piece of erotic literature that could stand up against the European benchmarks of the day. That book was titled 1601... Conversation as It Was by the Social Fireside in the Time of the Tudors.

In the Introduction to An Unhurried View of Erotica, Theodore Reik, a prominent psychoanalyst who trained as one of Freud's first students in Vienna, writes:
This little book deals with the universal interest the Anglo-Saxons had and have in all aspects of sex in a surprising manner. It shows the powerful undercurrent of pornography that runs faithfully with the great stream of literature. It follows the erotic trend that moves under the surface of literature from its beginning of the Anglo-Saxon Exeter Book until the pornographic works of our time.
Reik writes further, from his psychoanalytic background, that this book shows which components of sexuality and which disavowed impulses strive for satisfaction and which appeal to the appetite of the average man (and woman). Woman seems a parenthetical afterthought. Although it was written in the 1950s, it's still a curious notion coming from a famed psychoanalyst. Or was it the editors that objected to assigning equal drives to women? Who was at the helm of the Helmsman Press at that time? A valuable contribution to the exploration of unconscious emotions makes this book an interesting read to the psychiatrist, psychologist, sociologist, and historian of civilization.

In one of Reik's concluding paragraphs, he notes:
The author justifiably includes the scatalogical interest in the area of erotica. The discoveries of psychoanalysis and analytic child-psychology leave no doubt that the functions of evacuation are not only biologically but also psychologically intimately connected with sexuality.

This is a good point to jump off the psychoanalytic ship and back onto Twain's riverboat humor, with references in a 1601 scene to flatulence, as well as fornication, during a fictitious meeting of Queen Elizabeth's inner circle in the year 1601 (hence the title of the book). The terms erotica and pornography get tossed around in An Unhurried View of Erotica with a pretty wide net to catch references such as these and assign them pornographic status. Today, where the nearly hardcore has become nearly mainstream, we would laugh at what passed for pornography back in the (Twain) day.

But Twain had written 1601 in between Tom Sawyer and Huckleberry Finn, at a time when America's output of erotically-tinged material was sorely lacking in comparison to Europe's erotic masterpieces in morocco bindings, elegant papers, and fine illustrations. Written for the amusement of Twain's closest friend, Reverend Joseph Twichell (wonder what his sermons were like?), 1601 was later first published by another friend, John Hay, who later became Secretary of State. Hay had 4 copies printed in pamphlet form in 1880. If any of these still exist, I'd have to think they are among the rarest of Twain collectibles, if not the rarest.

The first hardcover printings did not come out for another two years. Yet another friend was involved, this one a Lieutenant C.E.S. Wood, who was in charge of the Academy's printing press. Lt. Wood published an elegant edition of 50 copies on handmade linen paper and distributed to dignitaries around the world. Even the Pope got a copy!

Subsequent U.S. editions to date of 1601's publication brought the total editions to 44. Around the world, many more editions flourished in places like Japan where it is still more popular there than in America. Twain's new found status as America's premier creator of fine erotica landed him some unusual invitations, which he gladly accepted during his celebrated trip abroad.

One was a chance to visit the secret treasure vaults of the Berlin Royal Library and browse the Kaiser's pornographic holdings. And another invitation was to address the Stomach Club in Paris, where his topic was "Some Remarks on the Science of Onanism." One wonders at the self-gratification Mr. Twain experienced having been invited to address that auspicious group... Regardless, American erotica would never be viewed the same by our friends overseas. All thanks to the witty whims of a former Mississippi River steamboat pilot.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Books become an artist's canvas

This has nothing to do about the interesting things we find among the leaves of used books, rather it has to do with the covers. In the photo above, Los Angeles artist, Mike Stilkey, has used the spines of stacks of used books to create portraits of the human condition befitting the worn canvas upon which they reside.

The Rice Gallery at Rice University in Houston recently exhibited Stilkey's work titled, When the Animals Rebel, through the summer. Stilkey is described as
a passionate collector of old records, cameras, and especially books, to which he is attracted, " … sometimes by the title, or more the look of it, the antiqueness of it, or the wear and tear of it. Sometimes there’s a weird illustration. I’ve got these books and I’ll never read them, but I want them for some reason and I’ve never known why.
Ah... Kindred spirit! But Stilkey's art paints a new image of the old phrase about judging a book by its cover.

Sunday, July 01, 2007

Spinach Days

I recognized the title of this book when I saw it recently on the shelves of a second-hand bookshop: Spinach Days, by Robert Phillips, Johns Hopkins University Press, Baltimore (2000). A few of the poems in this volume have made their way to Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac, and I remembered liking them. So I pulled it from the shelf and had a look. A nice surprise--it was signed by Phillips. For six bucks, and it being a first printing, I decided to buy it. There is some fine writing here with memorable lines (including such intriguing titles as John Dillinger's Dick and The Man Who Fell in Love with his Cat), but the following lines from Houston Haiku provided me with the sharpest (pardon the pun) imagery in the entire volume:

Trying to love her
is just like licking honey
from the razor's edge.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Willkommen... to Frenchman Bay, Maine
Germany's 1899 Plan for Invading the United States

How do you say "More lobster, please" in German? If German plans more than a century ago had actually been implemented, that phrase may have become part of the new Maine vernacular.

Politics of Frustration: The United States in German Naval Planning, 1889-1941, by Holger H. Herwig; Little, Brown and Company, Boston (1976).

This book caught my eye for historical reasons (intriguing history!) as well for the lone illustration in the book which shows plans for a German invasion of the United States in 1899. Two routes were mapped out with the first depicting the would-be conquerors landing in Frenchman Bay, Maine.

This book details the history of the German-American Naval rivalry dating back to an encounter in 1889 and culminating World War II. Incidents in that initial encounter of the two navies in Samoa generated such antagonism that the Kaiser developed plans for an invasion of the United States in 1899. An Invasion Plan (map above) is presented as an illustration on this book.

Mehr Hummer, bitte!

Saturday, June 23, 2007

A plate of Belgian lace

I have a chromolithograph plate, for which I am trying to find the book it illustrates. I found the folio-size plate (12 X 17 inches), matted and framed (since removed), hanging in a resale shop, and walked out with it for $7. Bargain? I don't know for sure, but I think so. I only know that it reminded me of a trip to Belgium in 1994 and walking through the old city of Bruges along the aged cobblestone streets, window shopping for chocolate and lace with my wife. I thought she might like the old plate I found the other day. She did. It may have a new home in our home, but first I want to find out something about where it came from. Depending on value, it may have a new home elsewhere via ebay.

The title of the plate is Brussels Lace, by V. Washer of Brussels. In small print above the title, and just below the chromolithograph, are some good bibliographic clues that help identify the book from which the plate may have originated:

London. Chromolithographed and published by Day & Son,
Lithographers to the Queen
J.B. Waring, direx.t

Using this information in a keyword search, I was able to locate a few copies of a book, or set of books, that seem to fit the bill for my plate:
Masterpieces of Industrial Art & Sculpture at the International Exposition, 1862 (3-volume set), edited by J.B. Waring. There are more than 300 chromolithograph plates in the set. Other books I found were ruled out if the number of plates in the book was less than than 109, the number assigned to my plate. The International Exhibit was like a World's Fair type of event, and was held in London in 1851 and 1861. Images, like the one below, of the 1862 Exhibit can be found at the Science and Society Picture Library site.

I may have even found the lithographer who actually did the chromolithographs for the book and, thus, the plate now in my possession. Researching the International Exhibition of 1862 led me to a related book, Victorian Decorated Trade Bindings 1830-1880, by Edmund M.B. King, Oak Knoll Press (2003). An excerpt of the book referenced William Robert Tymms, artist and engraver, who created the chromolithographs for J. B. Waring’s Masterpieces of the Industrial Art & Sculpture at the International Exhibition, 1862.

All I need now is the final piece of proof that my detective work is on target. Stay tuned...

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Happy Birthday, Lou Gehrig!

The Iron Horse is 105 today. He died a little over 66 years ago on June 2, 1941. Twenty-three years later, in 1964, I made my first trip to the school library (2nd grade) and selected Lou Gehrig: Boy of the Sandlots, by Guernsey Van Riper; Bobbs-Merril, 1959. This selection coincided with my beginning Little League Baseball. I was eight years old and in love with the sport. Lou Gehrig became my hero after I read this Childhood of Famous Americans classic.

Several decades later, before I got into bookselling and more serious collecting, I learned there was an edition that preceded the edition I grew up with. The first edition was published in 1949, same publisher (Bobbs-Merrill). It was illustrated with silhouettes instead of pictures. I could not relate to this or any other of the silhouette books in the series. I grew up with the reprints, and, as a collector now, I still look for and prefer the reprints, whose jackets of soft colors and basic geometric shapes never fail to provide me with a burst of pleasant nostalgia. I do collect the first editions, but they don't create that connection with my childhood like the later printings do.

Here are a few other Gehrig biographies from my collection. These are a bit harder to find than other books written about him.

Lou Gehrig: A Quiet Hero, by Frank Graham; G.P. Putnam's Sons, NY, 1942

Lou Gehrig: Pride of the Yankees, by Paul Gallico; Grosset & Dunlap, NY, 1942 (Jacket features Gehrig and Gary Cooper, who played Gehrig in the 1942 film, Pride of the Yankees)

Lou Gehrig: The Iron Horse of Baseball, by Richard Hubler; Houghton Mifflin, Boston, 1941

My Luke and I: Mrs. Gehrig's Joyous and Tragic Love for the Iron man of Baseball, by Eleanor Gehrig and Joseph Durso; Thomas Y. Crowell Company, NY, 1976

Friday, May 25, 2007

Bookbinder artistry

I've always been drawn to the decorative bindings of certain antiquarian books and have purchased books just for the binding, regardless of the authors or titles or content of the book. Sometimes it's the object that counts. Now, the University of Alabama has created an online digital display cabinet of these kinds of books so artistically bound. Click here to view.

Below are a few samples from my collection (1875 to 1906). Historic Philadelphia Mansions and A Boy's Vacation Abroad were actually purchased because I found references in them to some of my family history. Sometimes you get lucky and get the whole package!

Here's a related entry from October 2006.