Saturday, June 26, 2010

A New Use for Penguins...

... the books that is, of course... Actually, that's just an excuse to post this brilliant Youtube video. It's basically a music video for the song 'Head of Steam' by Polly and the Billets Doux, a local(ish) group based in Winchester. I was told to look this up by the brother of the woman in the video who is a bookbinder of my accquaintance. The video was basically made in her bedroom with things that came to hand...

Friday, June 25, 2010

The Gay Rub

Isn't this a great idea? Stephen Reigns, an LA based poet and performer is collecting rubbings of gay-related monuments, markers and signs... to be used in an artwork. I suppose it could just be the element of 'collecting' in this project which appeals to me but I am now trying really hard to think if there's anything that might qualify anywhere near me here. So far I've drawn a blank but I haven't given up yet.
If you are betterr placed than I am, near some gravestone or monument that would suit, please think about helping him out!

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Vintage photos: Acrobatics

The above are a rather nice group of mounted photos on two leaves of an album of a acrobatic or gymnastic troupe/club showing off and posing as a group. I rather liked the care with which someone has obviously spent time trimming and pasting the photos into a proper display with thought and application behind it. I have no information to offer about them, they are simply 'as found' but I like them. They are currently on sale on Ebay.

Much of last week was taken up with listing for Ebay. I have recently had the opportunity to buy some excess bookshop stock and there is simply too much for me to keep for a prolonged period - and that's what Ebay is good at, shifting stock quickly and efficiently. There have been some lasting effects from Ebay's misguided decision earlier in the year to make sellers of books on Ebay offer free postage (a measure so ridiculous that it has now been reversed). In the first instance, many sellers and buyers haven't yet caught up with the policy reversal: hence there is still a good deal of carping going on. More seriously though, the number of books being sold in old fashioned Ebay auction-style listings has evaporated in favour of the Buy-it-Now listings (this is exactly what Ebay wanted). In fact, as an experiment, Add Imageright now, typing the name of my favourite SF author, Samuel Delany, into an Ebay search within the "Books, Comics, and Magazines" categories results in 93 hits: of those, the number that are auction listings is just 6. More and more Ebay is simply a retail site, and is losing its 'point of difference' from all the other providers of similar services. Perhaps most seriously though, I'm fairly sure, anecdotal though this may be, that one of the reasons sellers are massively preferring the Buy-it-Now format (along with the fact they had to cover their postage) is that even the prospect of bargains doesn't seem to be tempting buyers to bid well on book auction listings. It has been flat for a year or so now and doesn't feel like it's about to pick up soon.

Nonetheless, if you know the market and have the right stock, it's still possible to make some reasonable money selling auction-style on Ebay. For me this is becoming an issue of space more than anything else, along with excess bookshop stock I am also going to be at auction again on Friday for some books lots I've found at a general sale: five cartons of books, seven cartons of books... and so on...

Three Book Covers

A group of three books that came into my stock recently, all with something about their covers which interested me or stood out. The most obviously stand-out cover, but very much the least valuable of the three, is that of The Universe. The Infinitely Great and The Infinitely Small by F. A. Pouchet (Blackie & Son, London, n.d. [c.1895]. Twelfth Edition). The design, stamped in gilt, blind and in dark red is so obviously superior. Even the use of dark red stamped design on the red cloth I think is close to genius. There is a monogram in the bottom right hand corner and I'd be delighted to hear from anyone who knows who"M.T." might be.

The second book also stands out in terms of its design, Later Poems by W. B. Yeats (Macmillan, London, 1931. 5th Impression.) is not all that easy to find in its jacket and I like the fact that the design is repeated in blindstamping on the green cloth of the upper board. Macmillan issued a good deal of Yeats in this design and I'm reliably informed (although I can find no signature) that it is by Charles Ricketts.

The third book is another which it is hard to find in its jacket. Chase the Wild Goose. The Story of Lady Butler & Miss Sarah Ponsonby, Known as The Ladies of Llangollen by Mary Gordon (Leonard and Virginia Woolf at The Hogarth Press, London, 1937. Second Edition). Clearly its a shame that this isn't a first edition, nonetheless, the fact that the jacket is by fellow Bloomsbury-ite Vanessa Bell, makes this a rather interesting Hogarth Press production. The ladies themselves are interesting in their own right as an early lesbian couple and this book, whilst not fiction, is a imaginative narrative.

Sunday, June 20, 2010

The London Magazine 1950

This is really only an excuse to post what I thought were unexpectedly good photos that I took for Ebay. I am preparing a listing for tomorrow, of a short broken run of 18 copies of The London Magazine from the 1950s - so colourful!
The whole of this group were under the editorship of John Lehmann, whose virtues I have extolled before, but if you don't know this publication at that time and happen to see a copy, pick it up. Almost every edition was stuffed full of quality. The contributor list, just picking a handful, included: Thom Gunn, Betjeman, Louis Macneice, Stephen Spender, Roy Fuller, Robert Graves, Christopher Isherwood, Ted Hughes, Alex Comfort, Osbert Sitwell, Vernon Watkins, Aldous Huxley and so on, and so on.... and often you can find little, otherwise unknown, vignette illustrations and decorations by an amazing range of artists including: Edward Ardizzone, Phillipe Jullian, Keith Vaughan, John Minton...
It says something about both the editor and the power of the magazine itself that so many of its contributors are still known today. It would be like picking up a magazine now, of such quality that almost everyone who contributed to it will still be known in 2070 and onwards.

Friday, June 18, 2010

Male Nudes: 1906-7

I have been reading quite a bit about the use of the male nude in photography in the late 19th and early 20th century because it's a subject with which Frederick Rolfe was concerned and I'm editing some letters of his in which it is a regular topic of discussion. I recently published Rolfe's album of photos from Christchurch. In fact, photography was an adjunct to the lives of a number of my Victorian Queers: J A Symonds, John Gambril Nicholson, Gleeson White, Kains Jackson, etc. etc. they all had an active interest in the 'new' medium and particularly in its ability to let them oggle a good-looking young man!

So when I pulled two issues of Photograms of the Year from a box of books just bought, I was keen to discover any new photographers of the era for whom the male nude was a subject and the issues for 1907 and 1907 provided a number of good new leads [above] as well as a von Gloeden photograph that I've never seen before [below].

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Early London Underground Card

Too often when people talk about collectible 'ephemera' they are talking about scrap paper, rubbish, little bits of nonsense... and if that kind of stuff floats your boat then you go gal! But this is a real piece of ephemera. I shall take my tongue out of my cheek now and tell you that this is a wonderful little folding card with the times and fares for the London Underground Railway on the inside which are only revealed when you pull the train out of the station in the illustration. I'm fairly confident of dating this to 1907 for a few reasons.
1. It came to me in the same bundle of bits as a 'Map of Tubes and Tram Routes' which is dated 1907.
2. The company livery on the train is G. N. P. & B, a company who were bought out in 1910.
3. Once you open the card and reveal the posters on the wall of the illustrated station there is one which states "Hampstead Station Now Open". Hampstead, which I believe is still the deepest station on the system, opened in 1907.
All in all this is not only a delightful piece of ephemera but certainly a very valuable one too and, along with the early folded card map, I'm sure they are going to bring a fairly substantial amount.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Vintage Photo: Archie

People who love old photos very often love them because they like to imagine the life that they represent. Like that scene in The Dead Poets Society when Robin Williams has the boys take a good long look at the old black and white school photos in the hallway - just like you, he says, different haircuts but just like you. But they also inspire the desire to, in some way resurrect the subject, to breathe a little life into them again.

This is an old photographic postcard I picked up today and, with the wonders of technology - in particular digital scanning and the Internet - it is possible to breathe some life into this lad who is, of course, now long gone but whose grandchildren may still be alive with grandchildren of their own. So follow me, if you will, into the young life of Archibald Ward...

I can tell you his name because, a decent scanner allows for the image to be scanned at many times its original size and clearly, the guy is posed in his swimming gear and so we guess that swimming was an important part of his life and even with the naked eye it is possible to make out that framed certificate by his feet it illustrated with swimming scenes. Scanning it at 300% its actual size it was just possible to make out that this is a certificate for swimming 120 yards, presented to Archibald Ward of St Paul's School by the WHCSA. A little eye strain and it's possible to make out that the certificate is dated 1907. And then we turn to the Internet and we discover, through a rather obscure Google result, that this is presumably the West Ham Children's Swimming Association and that we are talking about an area in East London.

The cup at the top of the pile of goodies is a little more problematic and had to be scanned at 500% its actual size to get much off it, even then, the curve and reflective qualities of the highly polished trophy made for difficult reading. In the end it was possible to get that this is a "Challenge Cup" presented to "...College of St Paul's School, Stratford." by "Edward Cook & Co. Limited ... soap specialists". A little more Googling confirms that there was indeed a company of that name in the East End and it's founder, Edward Rider Cook, even has a short Wiki entry.

So far, so straightforward, a guy in his swimming gear displaying his trophy and certificate. But what are we to make of the books and the clock? At first I assumed they might be related somehow to the swimming but it turns out not. The larger book of the left was a little easier to read and is an atlas, Philips Atlas for Beginners, in fact. a search on Abebooks with 1907 as the latest date revealed a copy listed with a photo to confirm it's the right one. The other book was much more difficult to read. Even with heavy enlargement I could only get as far as "How.. Won His ..." which really isn't much to go on. However, we have a date at least to help us. Searching the British Library Catalogue for just those words in the title of a book published sometime between 1900 and 1907 comes back with just one result, once you know what the title might be, the title in the photo suddenly becomes clear: "How Jack Mackenzie Won His Epaulets". So, given that these aren't books on swimming, I wondered if they might be prize books and was the clock too, perhaps, part of his prize. But this seems a very rich prize even to go alongside a trophy. Another possibility is that these bits and pieces are a photographer's attempt, albeit a slight clumsy one, to create a 'portrait', to surround this young man with items which meant something to him and portrayed different aspects of his character and life. Is the clock showing 3.30pm significant?

For the time being I've done as much resurrecting from this photo as I can. There are three Archibald Wards of a sensible age to be our swimmer, on the 1901 census but that is six years before this photo and it would be impossible, sadly, to pin our Archie down to one of them

Saturday, June 12, 2010

Russian Books

Foreign language books can always be a bit of a challenge to the bookseller and with absolutely no knowledge of the Russian language, absolutely no knowledge of the Cyrillic alphabet and with precious little knowledge of Russian literature and history, why would I plump for this little number. Well, partly for the fun of finding out. With a little care and the use of some rather cool web based translators that have javascripted virtual Cyrillic keyboards to enable one to type everything, it is possible, word by word, to work out what one has bought.

There were a couple of things that already appealed to me about this book and which made me buy it. First off, of course, it is very well illustrated with reproductions of photos of the Russian Imperial family, the Romanovs, also with facsimiles of documents in a section at the back. Also, it had a little age to it, the only thing on the title page in Arabic characters was the date, 1921. Also, it had the air of something printed in the USSR and this, in itself makes it a little interesting to me as I have a customer for that kind of material. So, a a little time typing words into an online translator and surfing for other clues finally reveals that this is, in fact, not published from the USSR, rather it was published in Belgrade. Which makes sense when we realise that the author was in fact, Tatiana Botkina-Melnick (1898-1986), daughter of the Romanov court physician, and immediately we are taken back to those incredible events of 1918 because Tatiana's father was killed along with the Tsar and his family. And, when finally I managed to get a decent translation of the title these, it turns out, are Tatiana's Memoir of the Imperial Family. The book has been translated and republished many times, including as an in-print paperback I believe but this is its first appearance. Not being a specialist in Russian books I may be unaware of, and unable to use, any suitable Russian-language book portals on the web but I can only find one copy of this edition for sale for a somewhat ambitious 177 GBP. That does seem a little punchy but I'm happy with the notion that this is a scarce thing and a desirable one and that, to the right person, I would certainly want to be asking half that.

And so, on to my second find, a paper covered book who caught my attention for a number of reasons. The patterned paper inside the front cover was not least among them I have to say, but also the illustrations are thoroughly enjoyable. This one I could tell immediately was published in Moscow - the Cyrillic characters are close enough to what we are used to, and in 1943, an interesting time. More tapping away at online translators and we discover that the title means something like Poems for Children 1935-1943 but the author was a little more problematic as the fonts in which it is printed and the difficult business of anglicising names took some working out but eventually I had it, Sergei Michalkov (1913-2009), another fascinating character. He wrote the lyrics for the Russian national anthem at Stalin's request in 1942 and then rewrote it twice more before his death to suit the changing political winds. He was best known, however, as a children's poet, as this book evinces. His life was a full and fascinating one and, because he died so recently, we have rather well written obituaries in The Telegraph and The Guardian, to fill us in on the details. The book has the feel of a thing full of history. It's fascinating to speculate how this rather fragile and poorly produced Russian publication has survived and how it came to be lying in a box in a bookshop on the south coast of England from where I hooked it out but that will have to remain speculation.

Financially, these books are not worth a fortune, but there is great satisfaction to be had deciphering them and learning just a little about two rather interesting authors who, in most respects couldn't be more different.

Friday, June 11, 2010

The Peace Movement: Jouer Aux Soldats

This has to be a rare little survival. And by little, in this case, I mean 12cm x 7.5cm and just 8 printed pages, sewn into fragile pink paper covers. My French is not perfect but it appears to be a 'tract' from the Societe de le Paix, part of the early and international peace movement. It claims to be a true story from London and would seem to me to be a moral story about a group of children who decide to play 'soldiers' and the way in which they come to decide that peace is the best option. Dated 1871 I think it's a wonder it has survived this long and I can't imagine where you might find another copy.

Home Again

There were in fact days six and seven of our roadtrip but both were so exhausting as to preclude much blogging. Day six involved a long drive around the coast of Cornwall from St Austell to St Just and St Ives and then back to find a secluded beach with beautiful, tree covered cliffs at Pentewan for a paddle in the sea as the sun went down.

Day seven was the long drive home. Although, actually, the driving part of it only took four and a half hours which was less than we had expected and we stopped for almost as long as that again having found a real rummage-y antiques centre in Honiton on the way back which took us nearly three hours to get around that and we came out with bags heaving. The last of our roadtrip purchases and by the this time the boot and back seat of the car were straining to hold it all.

The picture above was from the tiny little town of St Just, from its parish church, perched atop the high Cornish coast, an early fifteenth century wall painting of St George: as always when I see these medieval wall paintings I'm struck by just how gaudy our old churches must have looked with all that bright colourful paint all over: just the kind of look that the medievalists and heritage buffs would detest.

Thursday, June 03, 2010

Roadtrip Day Five - Torquay to St Austell

A long day today but under unremitting sunshine and blue skies. We were up early to go to a flea market we had been recommended at Torquay Town Hall. It was disappointing frankly and the entrance hall had the unmistakable aroma of piss about it which didn't help my early morning mood much. Still, after that I was able to pop almost next door to the library for some of the research about Edwin Emmanuel Bradford that I've already mentioned. The plan was then to head on to Ashburton which we had read of on the Internet as having more than a handful of antique shops. In fact, this too was disappointing, a significant proportion of the shops were closed or of that type of antique shop where every piece of furniture has been whitewashed and every other item wrapped in gingham - yeuch! We did, however, find The Dartmoor Bookshop, which was an unexpected surprise. Again, a large topographical section and, as you might expect, a large portion of that was about the West Country. Again, [by which I mean, like other bookshops on this roadtrip], the literature section was a little thin but I'm not complaining... Upstairs I did find three hard back science fiction books which will fit very nicely on my shelves at very reasonable prices and in excellent condition.

However, we felt that Ashburton, which was supposed to be the largest part of our day today was a bit disappointing and we left in something of a funk, wanting to scratch the antiques itch. We knew we had to be in St Austell this evening so we headed in that direction. We had vague reports of an antiques centre in Loswithiel so we headed that way. Our ears pricked when we passed a sign declaring Loswithiel to be the antiques centre of Cornwall... we found the nearest car park and started out. There were a couple of lovely places including Deja-Vu Antiques which, but for the fact that it had mention of 'old books' on its outside sign, we probably would have passed. I went in to browse what turned out to be a good selection of books and found a nice first edition Fortune Press book at a very reasonable price. What appeared to be another of those whitewash and gingham shops turned out on closer inspection to be nothing of the sort and had a really nicely selected collection of studio pottery for sale alongside some great artwork and other really desirable things. In another shop in Loswithiel R found a little cup and saucer with a transfer print of the Clifton Suspension Bridge, made by the pottery that he collects - so that was him happy for the day.

Next stop: Fowey. This little Cornish fishing village is the epitome of Cownwall really, looking out over the widening river estuary it was, today especially in the glorious sunshine, quite beautiful. Again there was a bookshop and again the overwhelming content of the stock was local topography although, in this instance, because Fowey has such strong literary connections there was a heavy specialism in local authors, of whom the most famous would have to be Daphne DuMaurier, although Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch or 'Q' was another rather more unexpected local heavily represented. Again, the general stock was a little thin on the ground and the place so small that it was difficult at times even just to turn around between shelving units but overall a sweet little bookshop.

We had promised ourselves a cream tea and we chose perhaps the most amazing little coffee shop, Pink Murphy's Cafe, a trip to their website to look at the pictures will give you a better idea of what the place is like than I can properly articulate but certainly I'd recommend a visit if you are in the area. The decor is quirky, the crockery is an ad hoc collection of vintage teapots, plates and cups, the tables are named after singers rather than numbered... these things were all added to by signs around the place declaring that at Murphy's they didn't know the meaning of Grumpy... the whole effect was also set off very nicely by the fact we were served by one of the most quirky-looking and yet most beautiful young man I've seen in a long time [sigh...!]

From Fowey it was a short hop to St Austell which is where I am now and where I have photographed these books, all bought today...

Roadtrip Days Four and Five - Torquay and Edwin Emmanuel Bradford

One of the reasons that Torquay was a stop on our roadtrip was because the town saw the birth and childhood of one of my queer Victorians, the Rev'd Edwin Emmanuel Bradford. I've been doing a lot of research into the life of this priest and poet and so it seemed too good an opportunity to miss to do a little digging around in his birthplace. I already knew that there was a tragic story associated with Bradford's early years in Torquay which, for the time being I'm going to be quiet about until I've had a chance to write it up properly.

The church above is St Luke's Torquay where Bradford was baptised along with some of his sisters. The family owned a jeweller's shop on The Strand in Toquay and although the buildings are long gone I have spent some time trying to work out where they might have been and a little time in the local history section of the library in Torquay trying to find contemporary pictures of the shop/house where I know the Bradfords lived and where tragedy struck. It's always a struggle to find photos of just the right spot from over 100 years ago but I think I have come close but I have no scanner at the moment to share them. The really good news is that I was able to scan the local papers at the period and find a particularly detailed report of the horrible incident I keep referring too. The Internet is a wonderful thing but sometimes there really is no substitute for being in situ.

Wednesday, June 02, 2010

Roadtrip Day Four - Exeter to Torquay via Topsham

This is not a long journey, in fact, probably the shortest hop of our roadtrip. And in fact, we spent most of the day in Topsham which is the most delightful village just a stone's throw from Exeter and which, throughout the 14th to early 19th century was the port for Exeter (clever medieval landowners had blocked the river access to Exeter by a weir meaning that only the smallest of ships could get up the river to Exeter so all the trading ships had to use the quay at Topsham and this situation continued until 1827). We loved this place. R insists that when, on arrival, we were greeted with the sight of this roofer's sensationally sculpted body working just above where we parked the car [below], that this was a good omen. We were drawn in the first instance to the Quay Antiques Centre which had three floors of rambling stalls containing all manner of antiques and collectibles and R was very happily ensconced for a number of hours buying, in the end about five decent pieces including at least two thing which he believes he will make a very decent profit on. The panoramic photo above is of the view from just out side the centre.

The village also contained, we discovered by accident, a decent secondhand bookshop, of that rare variety who have not listed their stock on the Internet. Joel Segal Books is not, however, without Internet savvy as there is a decent website and very active blog and highlights of the shop's stock can be found on the website. The shop is extremely well stocked in UK topography and travel and exploration but I found the literature section not exactly thin, but not exactly bountiful. The shop also has one of the largest and best organised paperback only sections I think I have ever come across.

Our good luck omen certainly seemed to hold true when we slipped inside one of the many charity shops in Topsham and stumbled on two large-ish Lehnert and Landrock photogravures in frames. Again, apologies for the rather rough and ready images taken in our hotel room but you get the idea.

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