Monday, December 29, 2008

The dark side of bibliophiles

One might think of bibliophiles as a friendly lot. Biblio-friends, so to speak. So what did artist Oliver Herford have in mind when he offered up this dark interpretation of, not biblio-friends, but biblio-fiends for A.S.W. Rosenbach's "Unpublishable Memoirs?"

This drawing is from Rosenbach's
Books and Bidders in the previous post.
Click on the image for an enlarged view.

Decorate your mind with books

I'm rereading Books and Bidders, by A.S.W. Rosenbach; Little, Brown, and Company, Boston, 1927. Rosenbach was one of the giants of the bibliophile/bookselling world and any bibliophile would enjoy reading about his book exploits.

I came across a gem of a quote that I wanted to share here. Rosenbach wrote this in the Roaring Twenties, a necessary frame of reference for the quote below. He writes a sentence about increasing wealth in the country and, with it, an increasing appreciation for material things such as old books, old prints, paintings, and antique furniture. Then he offers this:
Books are the final appeal; when the collector is through with the things that decorate his house, he turns to the things that decorate his mind--and these last forever.
I like that. A nice collector metaphor applicable to anyone, collector or not, who opens a book and feeds (decorates) his mind.

Thursday, December 25, 2008

A Christmas Day Visit to Christmas Cove, Maine

What do Maud H. Chapin and Theodore Roosevelt have in common? They were both authors, autographed one of their books, and donated their signed copies to a little library in Christmas Cove, Maine.

On Christmas Day today, it seems doubly appropriate to revisit The Cowboy Christmas Ball and follow the journey of its author, Larry Chittenden, all the way from Anson, Texas to Christmas Cove, Maine, where he started a very unique library.

The Poet Ranchman of Texas, as Chittenden was known, had a second home far from the panhandle plains of Texas. This unlikely place was Christmas Cove, Maine. Yep, the old rancher, seemingly out of place Downeast, was right at home with his library concept. He got authors to autograph their books and donate them to his little library. The town folk could then check these books out, read them, and return them. Sometimes they might keep them all winter while the library was closed and return them in the spring.

Word got around about this “autograph library” and its donated signed books. It attracted the attention of more and more authors, some some vacationing nearby, who liked the idea and thought it worthy of a donation. One of these authors was Theodore Roosevelt. He may have been the most famous. Can you imagine going to your local library and checking out a book out that was signed by a President?

After Chittenden’s death, the books in the library eventually scattered hither and yon. Roosevelt’s book recently wound up at an auction house in Dallas and sold for $1,434. I found these pictures on Heritage Auction Galleries’ site.

I was able to find and purchase one of the library’s books earlier this year, but it did not have the library label pasted inside the front cover, which would have become one of my bibliophemera collection’s more interesting pieces. Nor was its signature that of a well-known author. My book is Rush Light: Stories, by Maud H. Chapin.

Different from the Roosevelt book are the stamps used to identify the Chittenden library. The front endpaper stamp identifies the library's location as The Autograph Library in the Sea Bird's Nest, Christmas Cove, Maine.

And the rear endpaper sports a different stamp from the front endpaper, inviting readers (in addition to authors, it would seem) to donate signed copies of their books:

Finding one of these books with the Chittenden library markings and author signature makes a nice souvenir of a very benevolent concept that epitomized the spirit of giving in a place with a name that is synonymous with giving.

Merry Christmas and a Happy Reading New Year!

Monday, December 15, 2008

A letter from the Great Depression

Sometimes what you find tucked inside an old book is more interesting than the old book. And when the two work in concert to reveal clues about a life or lives touched by both, an imaginative mind has at its disposal the necessary tools to flesh out the characters and situations that spring to life from old ink and paper. That was the case with this book: How to Criticize Books, by Llewellyn Jones, W.W. Norton & Co., 1928.

I like to do a little time travel when I find something like this. I find it interesting to create an historical context for analyzing the artifact I’ve found and see if there is a story there worth exploring. Here, I think there is, with relevance to the tough economic times many find themselves in today.

Inside the front cover of this book was a letter written about 70 years ago from Horace to Bess in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. I don't know where Horace was, but he was very unhappy. I'm guessing Bess is Horace's sister back home and he is thrilled to get a letter from her. I thought she might be a romantic interest until he signed off with "love to you and Floyd."

Two possible assumptions about the letter and the book:
Assumption #1: The book belonged to Bess and she saved her brother’s letter in this book. If so, she was interested in reading writing and possibly had a desire on some level to write book reviews.

Assumption #2: The book belonged to Horace. He was an aspiring book reviewer. He wrote this letter, but never sent it. Maybe because it was too depressing. He stashed it inside one of his books (he evidently read a lot) and forgot about it.
Both assumptions have some common ground, but each veers off into dramatically different stories. I’d love to write a story for each, but for now I’ll just give a general overview of what I found and why it’s interesting to me.

This brief one-page letter reveals many pages about a man struggling psychologically as well as financially. This is a life not being lived well. From Horace's lines, we learn that Bess seemed concerned about his mental state and urged him to focus on the things he has that he can enjoy and don't require money. Evidently, Horace is feeling quite a financial pinch and generally hating his life at the moment.

I also learn in the first paragraph that the things he enjoys are books and music and studying because he states that his present job is so demanding that it keeps him from indulging in them. Except for reading metaphysics. This subject must be important enough to him that whatever free time he can muster will be devoted to reading and studying that subject. From that piece of information, I think I can safely assume that Horace has a nice little stack of books and old 78s for his intellectual stimulation and pleasurable diversions.

The date of the book and the tough times Horace seems to be going through indicate that the Great Depression has a grip on the country and on Horace. The book predates the stock market crash by a year, but the letter could easily have been tucked into an older, used book.

Further down in the letter, Horace critiques a book Bess gave him for Christmas:
It was so sparkling and refreshing that it was sipping a long cold drink. That Margaret Halsey has a flow of language and the most marvelous gift of pertinent synonym.
He goes on to say that although he hasn't had time to read, that doesn't include metaphysics, which he still indulges in, if in an unorthodox way.

So is he the wannabe book reviewer or is it Bess? Sounds here more like Assumption #2 is the likely scenario. This mention of Margaret Halsey is the clue I need to pin down the approximate year this letter was written. Halsey’s first book, With Malice Toward Some, was published in 1938. The Great Depression was in the process of bottoming out after nearly a decade of ravaging the economy and lives of millions.

He pines away for an opportunity to return home to Louisiana or Mississippi (they must have lived in both places growing up) and just have a normal life where he could work for enough to be comfortable and have time to enjoy leisurely pursuits. One of the most poignant lines in the letter reveal his resignation and frustration:
I realize we are always in our rightful places, but it is difficult sometimes to understand it.
His present employer is having trouble, much like his previous employer, whom he names as Saenger Co., which appears to started business as a chain of theaters for both vaudeville and movies in the early twentieth century.

This sad letter finishes with advice for Bess to make a change in her life by leaving Hattiesburg. He believes the change would be good for her. This opinion injects a new idea about just how well Bess is doing. Likely, she is not too happy with where she finds herself at this point in time, else why would Horace suggest a leaving Hattiesburg? I wonder if that change of address would include Floyd?

Also in the closing paragraphs, Horace laments a busted relationship between Bess and her girlfriends, and then Horace lapses into memories of a happier time when he and Bess would visit and play among friends, travel to the Gulf coast, etc. Horace seems to be retreating into the past to escape the present. A sad commentary on circumstances of the day, soothed somewhat by fragmented escapes into the pleasure of a book and memories of a happier time.

I'll never know whether Horace or Bess saved the letter. Whether it was sent or not. Times may have gotten worse before they got better. Did Horace's prospects ever get better? Did he eventually prosper and build a respectable library of books (emphasis on metaphysics, of course!) and music? Did Bess stay in Hattiesburg? Did either sibling ever find happiness?

Parallels to our present economy and its southward sprint of late makes me wonder what current-day ephemera of an unsatisfied or unhappy life will offer a future reader a time-capsule glimpse into that life and today's times. Maybe 70 years from now, sometime around 2075 to 2080, something laid in an "old" book from 2008 will give that reader pause to stop and consider it. And, hopefully, the chain of relevance will be broken, with respect to the economy.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

Quiz: Name the authors

For the one or two readers I have on this thing... This husband and wife teamed up to write a book together in the 1980s. Who are they?

DING DING DING... We have a winner! Anonymous correctly stated that the authors are Lynne and Dick Cheney, "America's Sweethearts!" (Anon's comment, not mine). Dick was still a young guy with only five heart attacks and three hunting accidents under his belt.

Here is the 1982 book they co-authored (their photo was on the back of the jacket):

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Message of the Bells

I set this book aside last month in advance of the holiday season. As Christmas is "in the air" now, I thought I'd share it here. The Message of the Bells, or What Happened to us on Christmas Eve, was written and illustrated by Hendrick Willem Van Loon, with music by Grace Castagnetta, in 1942. As it's a small, 16-page book, I thought I'd put the whole thing here for anyone to enjoy. An inscription indicates the book was a Christmas gift. The giver may have had the book's subtitle in mind with instructions to read the book on Christmas Eve, 1942. The story and the publication date occurred during World War II. One wonders what special significance Van Loon's tale had for the original owners of this book during a war-time Christmas celebration... or might have for present-day readers with family members fighting in a war overseas?

Click on the images for an enlarged view in a new window.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Mormons in the Major Leagues

Major League baseball concluded the 2008 season more than a month ago, but now the Hot Stove League is in full swing. After a lengthy layoff from this blog, why not come back with a baseball entry as winter sets in? Here's one of the more unusual titles you'll find in baseball literature: Mormons in the Major Leagues: Career Histories of 44 LDS Players, by Jim Ison; Action Sports, Cincinnati, 1991.

I was actually surprised to learn about which players were Mormon. Many, I grew up watching or following and never once heard anything about them being Mormon. Quite simply, it was not relevant to hitting, itching, fielding or anything else baseball. So why this book?

You'd have to ask the author, but he acknowledges in the book that this project (writing the book) began out of boredom with all the sports card shows he was attending with his kids. He began collecting cards of Mormon ballplayers as a diversion and the interest grew and dveloped into the idea for a lengthy treatment of the subject. I would assume the author is Mormon also. Either that or he came across a Mormon ballplayer and wondered how many others were of that faith.

Not all Mormons who played at the big league level wanted to be included in this book for various reasons, and the author has honored their requests. I found it interesting that one of my Houston Astros players, Alan Ashby (a fan favorite in Houston for years), was Mormon. Had no idea. And there is another Houston Astro connection: Ron Brand, the first Astro to get a base hit in the Astrodome, is also Mormon. Others around both leagues could almost fill an All-Star roster: Harmon Killebrew, Wally Joyner, Dennis Eckersley, Dale Murphy (him, I knew about), and Jack Morris. Pictures of some of these players follow.

Harmon Killebrew

Dale Murphy

Dennis Eckersley

Alan Ashby

Ron Brand

UPDATE: Thanks to Ron at (see comments below), I remembered something I meant to include in this entry. Spencer Adams was the first Mormon to play in the Major Leagues. He played in back-to-back World Series; 1925 for the Washington Senators and 1926 for the New York Yankees. He got to room with Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri. There are a couple of interesting anecdotes in the book I should share.

Quoting the author verbatim: When Babe Ruth was on a trip to Utah, he was asked whether he knew Spencer Adams. Babe said, "Sure I do, he was the best poker player in the American League." This unexpected praise had its origin in a train car carrying the Yankees to a game. The Babe was engaged in a favorite pastime, playing poker. When he needed to leave game temporarily, he said to Spencer, "Hey Rookie, sit in for me." When Babe returned, he was $300 richer!

A second anecdote involved the great Ty Cobb, as mean a player as there ever was. He regularly sharpened the steel spikes on his shoes and intentionally tried to spike any fielder trying to tag him out on the base paths. One game, he came in hard against Spencer Adams at second, spikes flying. Adams held his ground, got the out, and paid for it with scars across his chest that lasted the rest of his life. As Cobb started to leave the field after the play, an angry Adams threw the ball at Cobb, missing his head by inches. This cleared both benches and triggered a screaming response from Cobb: "The base path is mine. If you're in the way, I'll kill you!" And despite Cobb's violent actions, Adams always regretted losing his temper with him that day. Sounds like a class act, but Cobb deserved to get conked on the noggin.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

The Codex Sinaiticus

Four international partners have collaborated to present to the world the Codex Sinaiticus, which contains the earliest known version of the New Testament. The Codex Sinaiticus is a handwritten Greek manuscript from more than 1600 years ago that contains the Christian Bible (including the New Testament). Read all about this fascinating project here.

Sunday, June 22, 2008


I was looking for a book in my library today and stumbled upon a volume of poetry I don't believe I'd ever looked through. Not sure when or why I even bought it, but something about it must have appealed to me (aside from sharing a surname with the author and the possibility of being related).

The book is simply titled Poems, by Emma Mayhew Whiting, privately printed at San Francisco in 1948.

I thumbed through the pages and landed on a poem titled Pinkletinks. What the heck is a pinkletink? Too interesting a word to put the book back on the shelf. I had to go pinkletink googling.

From the Dictionary of American Regional English, edited by Joan Houston Hall, a pinkletink is defined as a small tree frog found on Martha's Vineyard. Also called a spring-peeper, it makes a sound that inspired the moniker pinkletink. I have found other theories that challenge that etymology. Maybe nobody knows for sure how such a strange name evolved, but it did.

Scouring the Internet, I think I found a photo of a pinkletink:

Interesting onomatopoeia (or not) aside, what was it about a pinkletink that would inspire a poem by Ms. Whiting? Well, the word pinkletink is only used on Martha's Vineyard. Ms. Whiting was from Martha's Vineyard and there seems to be quite a tradition through the generations on that island of listening each spring for the pinkletink chorus. These sounds signal an end to winter and the beginnings of spring. After a long winter, I guess it doesn't take much to get excited. Tickled pink for pinkletinks they are. And if I had a nickel for everytime pinkletink got transposed into tickled pink for a cheap laugh...

The pinkletink makes another appearance in Whiting's book--a poem titled Granny's, which is about the authors memories of visiting her grandmother's house "near a pond where pinkletinks trill."

But here's the one that bears the title that caught my eye:

Click on the image to enlarge it

Friday, June 20, 2008

Engraving of Johannes Palm, Bookseller, on trial

I was pleased to find recently what appears to be a late 19th century steel engraving of Bavarian bookseller, Johannes Palm, on trial before Napoleon's troops, the subject of my first entry on this blog. The engraving is from Cassell's Illustrated History of England. I have only the page from the book containing the illustration, but my research indicates it came from either Volume 5 or 6 of that set.

Palm stands before the uniformed French troops in a vain attempt to defend himself against seditious charges. The look on his face says it all. He knows he's dead.

And it's interesting to note in this illustration that Palm has a full head of hair. The illustration form my first blog entry (see link above) depicts him as bald or balding. I suppose each illustrator used artistic license in his rendering, but it would be interesting to know if either had any information on what Palm actually looked like.

Friday, April 25, 2008

From Beowulf to Virginia Woolf

At first glance, Robert Manson Myers', From Beowulf to Virginia Woolf (Bobbs-Merrill, 1952), would appear to be a light survey of English literature for the period indicated in the title--a slim volume for such a lengthy range of years and a cartoonish illustration on the cover. But a second glance picks up on the subtitle (astounding and wholly unauthorized), which seems odd right away. Then you read the caption under the cover illustration, William the Conqueror. Light survey gives way to light-hearted and later to downright humorous survey. But just thumb through the pages to find out what kind of humor you are in for. Pretty wacked out and wickedly funny. And that back cover of the jacket... Take a look at the author and his write-up.

The author photo looks like some Dutch Masters painting, the photo credit goes to the unlikely name of Fabius Blackrock. A google search confirms unlikely. The author's bestselling The Case of the Missing Umlaut is referenced as having swept the nation as both a book and a movie. Googling that produces nothing. Further, his distinguished lineage includes a great-uncle Professor Dewberry Oldberry of the Newberry Library. There's more, but the write-up ends with the author's current occupation-- teaching Creative Listening at Pamunkey State College for Women. By now, I'm smiling at the humor revealed from peeling back pretentious, dry layers of my own making because of a title. And at how I was a bit duped. Time to thumb though the book and investigate the extent of the intended humor.

Facing the title page is a Literary Map of England, which includes Scotland and Ireland as well. Here you'll find Northanger Abbey as well as Rin-Tin-Tin's Abbey. You'll find Pepys' Dairy (not Diary), Drake's Bowling Alley, Sussex, Middlesx and Nossex, Wed Loch, Yale Loch and Rape Loch. And more nonsense like that.

The copyright page (does anyone ever read these?) indicates First Edition and has a long paragraph, titled Note that explains how the book was previously published in a literary journal and thanks are expressed for permission to reprint. More thanks are given to Viking for using material from their series of Boners books (very recently augmented by Bigger and Better Boners). What?!?! Back to google... Yes, Viking did publish a couple of books called Boners and More Boners in 1931. Guess who illustrated them? Theodor Geisel (his first illustrated books), better known years later as Dr. Seuss. And in 1952 there really was a Viking Press volume of Bigger and Better Boners, apparently lacking in the sexual connotation of today and the ubiquitous male enhancement ads. But Myers has me questioning everything now as he has deftly spliced the factual with fictional humor.

The first chapter sets the tone for the rest of the book, assuming the jacket write-up and frontispiece map didn't already do it for you. Here's the first paragraph from that chapter:
At the door of English literature stands Beowulf, the great Dane, who once upon a time inhabited the forest primeval with Ethelwulf, his wife, and is therefore known as The Noble Savage. It would, of course, be absurd to dwell on Beowulf's particulars in a brief survey such as this, especially since those details are recorded in Beowulf's autobiographical beast epic, first published in 1066 as The Doomsday Book. This famous first edition was printed on a cotton manuscript, destroyed by fire in 1731 and later purchased from descendants of the Beowulf family by Andrew Carnegie. The original duodecimo is totally ineligible. With the persistent efforts of scholars, however, it has emerged that Beowulf sailed forth boldly into the filth and froth of the Firth of Forth in the spring of 596. Following his slaughter of Grendel (a task as odious as Oedipus' cleansing of the Aegean stables), the epic hero retraced his footsteps across the sea. His spritely narrative abounds with sketches of such Cro-Magnon dignitaries as Half-Dane, High Shellac, and Wroth Child.
The illustrations are just as ludicrous with their meaningless captions. To wit:

First, this is just a strange looking scene to illustrate. What the heck is going on here? I know it has nothing to do with Myers' description of a Sunday in the country with Sir Roger de Coverlet, an old Anguische tradition (whatever that is), and chocolate being served afterward! It's so crazy, it's funny. I wanted to find out more about the illustration and put some kind of meaning to such a weird-looking scene. It is attributed to a print hanging in the Will Coffin House. There is no such place that I can find. I don't doubt there is such a print because Myers expresses gratitude, back on the copyright page, to Houghton Mifflin for their permission to reproduce illustrations from The History of the Novel in England, by Robert Morss Lovett and Helen Sard Hughes. And I can verify that this book is for real, published in 1932. But that's about all in this book anyone could vouch for.

But in researching Robert Manson Myers, I found a former student of his who wrote about him in one of her blog entries. From the sounds of it, he was no joke in the classroom. What a wonderful teacher he must have been.

Thursday, April 17, 2008

Samuel Chamberlain's journal and illustrations of the Mexican War

Digging around in a book this morning about a young soldier's adventures in the American Southwest and Mexico during the Mexican War of the 1840s, I discovered some fascinating fragments of history, long-forgotten, which ultimately led to a place practically in my backyard.

From humble beginnings in Center Harbor, New Hampshire to battles in Mexico, Samuel Chamberlain left a legacy of his dramatic experiences in the form of an illustrated journal. Written accounts of the United States' War with Mexico are numerous, but first-hand artistic renderings are rare. Private Chamberlain of the First Regiment of the United States Dragoons carried a sketchbook with him throughout the war and made drawings of the people, places, events, and battles he witnessed. In later years, settled down in Boston, he recounted his experiences in a manuscript and enhanced his sketchbook drawings with watercolors to illustrate his journal.

The finished manuscript remained in the family for decades, brought occasionally for showing friends and family, but mostly kept hidden. After Chamberlain's death in 1908, his widow saw that it stayed in the family. But in the 1940s, nearly 100 years after Chamberlain's adventure, his manuscript had fallen out of family hands and was discovered in a Connecticut antique shop. A Baltimore collector purchased it and, recognizing the significance of his find, contacted Life Magazine about it. The manuscript was subsequently sold to Life Magazine, which published a condensed version of the story in three parts during 1955. Included were some of Chamberlain's paintings of his remembrance or the war.

The book I've been reading and researching, My Confession: The Recollections of a Rogue, Written and Illustrated by Samuel E. Chamberlain, Harper & Brothers, (1956), includes five times the text from the original manuscript and 55 of Chamberlain's paintings.

Laid in at the front of the book was a small brochure from the San Jacinto Museum of History, near Houston.This led to another interesting fact about Chamberlain's art work: One hundred forty-four of his paintings were purchased by the San Jacinto Museum in 1957, the first significant purchase of history by the museum. This brochure appears to be for the first exhibition of Chamberlain's watercolors anywhere. The brochure, limited to a print run of 5,000 copies, offers eight pages of information about Chamberlain, his exploits and his art, along with information about the museum and exhibit.

Now, more than 50 years later, as the San Jacinto museum and park prepare for their annual observance of the Battle of San Jacinto (April 21st, 1836), in which the fledgling Republic of Texas won its independence from Mexico, I'll have to wander over there and see if I can find any of the original watercolors I've been so engaged with this morning.

I am particularly drawn to Chamberlain's painting of an event he witnessed--the mass execution by hanging of U.S. Army deserters, mostly Irish who sympathized with the plight of their fellow Catholics in Mexico. They came mostly from deplorable conditions in the Northeast after immigrating from equally deplorable conditions in Ireland (Potato Famine). Seeking new opportunity in a new land, these immigrants did not find it in the Notheastern U.S. and likely joined the Army as a means of escape. In Texas, they came to know the Mexican culture and the similarities of the Catholic people in their struggles. Further, the Mexican government enticed sympathizers with free land in exchange for allegiance to Mexico in their war with the U.S. For some Irishmen, this proved too much temptation, as Army life had not been any better than civilian life. They came to be known in Mexico as the San Patricios (St. Patrick's Battalion), fought valiantly against their former comrades, and have been revered in Mexico as heroes to this day.

Ultimately, they were defeated and most executed for treason. Sam Chamberlain witnessed one of the mass executions and illustrated and wrote about what he witnessed.

As my research jumped over to the San Patricios in Mexico, I discovered a film made about them and their leader, John Riley, of County Galway. Tom Berenger stars in One Man's Hero (1999) and, by a few accounts I've read, this film is a cult classic in the making. It didn't get the theatrical release or promotion it needed to show how good it was. Nor has it gotten any promotion in the DVD market.

It's now next up in my Netflix queue and I can't wait to see a dramatic representation of what I've been reading about. And then I'll definitely have to go searching for that painting at the site of the 1836 battle, without which, Sam Chamberlain likely would not have ventured into Texas, nor would the San Patricios.