Sunday, October 31, 2010

Portraits of the Stars

A while ago I mentioned a collection of artwork I'd bought - the remains of an art student in the 1930s-1940s called Barbara Long. I've been preparing a few more for sale and these scraps fell out of the box. They are probably value-less but they are completely charming. Quick little sketches of her favourite screen idols of the day.

Working Hard

It's been a couple of days of getting my head down to do some work: I've been adding the finishing touches to the proofs of a new monograph on the banners painted by Frederick Rolfe at Holywell, wrapping and posting parcels which had been getting a little long in the tooth, and preparing sale listings for the weekend. So I haven't got anything better to post than this photograph I found from the beach at Southsea, looking across the submarine barrier to the Isle of Wight [if you click to enlarge, it's quite pretty].

For the last few hours I've been listening to Philip Glass playing his own Metamorphoses on solo piano and working on a poem. I've been trying to get back into writing for a long while now and this is the first time in I don't know how long that I've been able to produce some lines that I'm happy with: not quite happy enough to share yet, but almost...

The clocks go back in about an hour...

Friday, October 29, 2010

Vintage Photos of Amsterdam

You get this kind of tourist photo album from all over the world from the 1880s onwards. This one probably dates back as far as the 1890s and, clearly, contains scenes of Amsterdam, 12 of them in fact on albumen print photos which have been mounted onto board, 'concertina' style, within red cloth-covered covers. Amsterdam isn't the most collectible of places - it's not Sri Lanka, Hong Kong or even North Africa, all of which have masses of collectors prepared to pay good money for vintage photos - however, what I like about these photos is that, although they clearly show the 'scenes' that one would expect, they also show the people, ordinary people, going about their ordinary business in an unposed way, and this is unusual.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Two Swimming Photos

These two arrived whilst I was away. I have been trying very hard not to start actually collecting photos of men in vintage swimwear. The posts I put up here every so often tend to be using photos trawled from the Internet. But these two I actually own. I was taken with both of them on Ebay recently for almost exactly opposite reasons.

The man in his swimming costume on his own is a tintype. Tintypes are so easily damaged that, particularly larger ones are getting difficult to find in reasonable condition. But when they are in good nick, I just think the tone and subtlety of detail they can display is just beautiful. This one is only about 8cm x 6cm but it has a very lustrous quality - and the subject matter helps.

The other photo I'm completely in love with, despite the fact that actually much of it is out of focus. I love that it appears to be in a public swimming pool or perhaps Turkish Bath. The very fact that it is so out of focus just gives it real charm and speaks of the difficulty of photography in those days. Clearly the subject matter is great too but this photo more than a lot I've seen really shows how men's bodies are a different shape now. You could, I suppose with some game friends, a decent digital camera and photoshop produce a relatively convincing forgery of a Victorian male nude study or of a group like this, except that it would, I think be almost impossible to find people with body shapes that would match those of a hundred years ago. Size, proportion and muscular development all seem, to my eyes at least, to have changed a lot in the time between when this photo was taken and today.

Home Again

After a week in the leigh of Chesil Beach, I'm back now and back into the hundreds of emails and small bits and pieces that accrue when you leave a small business on its own for a short while...

The picture above is from our penultimate day in Dorset. Using a thirty year old book of walks that we found on a shelf in the cottage we stayed in, we thought the walk which takes you to the forgotten chapel in the woods sounded rather good. And this is the treat with which we were rewarded. A half-hour from any road, and a good way inside a open mixed wood on a large country estate is this glorious ruined chapel, still cared for and with family burials from Victorian times up until just this year, set into the forest floor. And the directions from the book were pretty much still accurate even today - not much changes in the country they say.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Following Hiram Otter

I am currently staying in small fisherman’s cottage in the town of Fortuneswell that sits just where Portland Island in Dorset is joined to the end of Chesil Beach, an 18 mile long and fifty foot high bank of shingle with a tidal lagoon behind and the full force of the Atlantic in front. I’m here with my best friend from school days for a week’s retreat from the world: reading, walking, writing etc…

This end of Chesil Beach is called Chesil Cove and here the Island rises into a four mile long escarpment of Portland Stone with a beach of rocks and boulders below and 200ft cliffs above. In the 1880s a man called Hiram Otter, more or less singlehandedly built a path along the bottom of these cliffs to Hallelujah Bay, so named for the Biblical texts he carved there in the rocks. Although the Bay is mentioned on all the tourist signs around Chesil Cove, it wasn’t clear where it was and even locals, when asked, seemed rather unsure. So today we followed Hiram Otter’s path, which is untended, and broken, often involving something between scrambling and rock-climbing, at points it is overgrown with ivy and bramble and in other places you have to duck down onto the boulders of the beach or scrabble up almost onto the base of the cliffs.

The little text we had found about Hallelujah Bay suggested that the path led there and we reasoned that when the path stopped we should have arrived and hence, we should start looking for the work of Mr. Otter’s chisels. Alas, the path is difficult to make out in places, it wasn’t entirely clear to us whether it ended or was simply subsumed under a yet another landslide. It did, however, become clear that there was no way that any of the Biblical texts were likely to have survived.

The unexpected pleasure, however, was fossils the like of which I have never seen: two foot ammonites protruding from the huge, tumbled rocks of a landslide or whole sections of seabed lying exposed where the layers of the earth have split open as they have slipped down from the cliffs above. Not only was this exciting in a Boys’ Own Paper kind of way but it was a nice link to home where I have left R at home this week reading Sarah Water’s latest novel about two Victorian women in Lyme Regis who made a name for themselves as fossil hunters [corrected by R in the comments!]. So the fossil pic is for you babe…

Friday, October 15, 2010

Victorian Typography

If you are a fan of Victorian typography - and I do realise that there are those who might regard that as an oxymoron - then this is something I hope will fill you with covetousness. This is a huge book, it's something like 30" wide and 20" tall. huge sheets with plans and sections of railway track, which I'm sure someone is going to want... but for me, it is this title page that does it!

Indian Patterns Again

Three more photos from this large collection of Victorian albumen print photos. I believe these amazingly intricate doors, inlaid with carved ivory panels are from the Amber (Amba) Palace in Jaipur.
The ruined gateway covered in patterns which join Indian and Muslim traditions is at Qutb Minar in Dehli.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Things That Fall From Books #5: Family History

One of the saddest and most poignant parts of being a bookdealer is that one is often dealing with someone's 'remains', the things they have gathered together in life and are now being disposed of. This is nowhere more affecting when the person concerned has been the last of their family line and you are handling, for example, family photograph albums or diaries. It's all very well to think about trying to track down members of the family but one has to face the fact that quite often it is precisely because there is no one left who wants these things that they have come into the trade in the first place.

In this case it was a family Bible. For all their impressive size and heft, Nineteenth century Bibles, with all that leather, tooling and brass edging and clasps, are worth basically nothing. There are exceptions of course but it is one of those kinds of book which looks very impressive but which no one really wants. From ephemera which fell from this Bible was mostly from the twentieth century and it was slipped in between the pages throughout the Bible - interesting enough - some bookmarks, wedding services, a will, newspaper clippings, a photo, and so on... but most interesting of all, the certificate of the oath of a Freeman of the City of York, from 1864, on paper, backed with silk, and signed by the new Freeman, a cabinet maker by the name of Alfred Spetch.

Book Lists at Abebooks.

The good people at Abebooks are constantly coming up with lists but this one rather takes my fancy: The A to Z of the Shortest Book Titles. I particularly like it, I think, because when you arrange all the covers on a single page like this is looks pretty much like the work of some up-scale London graphic design agency...

Other Abebooks lists include:

Size Does Matter

When Author's and Artists Unite

The 10 Most Collectible Photography Books of All Time

Postcards, Passports, Love Letters and More

Penguin Poets Patterns

...and while we are on the subject of patterns...

One of my favourite blogs is Bookshelf Porn, nothing tasteless I promise, just lots of photographs of beautiful books and bookshelves. I was digging around in their archive the other day and found a photo of someone's small collection of Penguin Poets with their wonderful spines giving a glimpse of each pattern as they stand on a bookshelf together. I couldn't resist, and had to post a photo of mine too...

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Indian Pattern

These are three of a large collection of albumen-print photos of India from about 1880, that I've recently acquired. Regular readers will know I have something of an obsession with pattern, and at the moment I can't stop gazing at the painted patterns on this Indian architecture, inside and outside: and who thought that hanging wallpaper was complicated enough? Click to enlarge for maximum detail.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Louis Wain: Two Interviews

There is something very pleasing about finding, buried in old Victorian periodical, the odd 'celebrity interview'. Short of reading the person's diary or a published collection of their letters, this is the closest to the person's self-expression that we are likely to get. It is true, certainly, that it's clear from the tone of the "speech" that their words were completely rewritten by the author of the pieces concerned, but I don't think that's so different from how things are today and we are used to 'reading through' the text to the person.

A long time ago now I published a collection of three interviews with the boys' authors, G. A. Henty, Manville Fenn, and Rider Haggard. Now I have found a couple of interviews with the still popular Louis Wain, patron saint of cats and anthropomorphic animals generally. Wain suffered from serious mental health issues and sadly, spent a great deal of his later life in and out of institutions. People have looked long and hard for clues to his mental illness in his artwork and the jury is still out I believe. There is little in these interviews to hint at trouble ahead beyond a rather quiet eccentricity.

If you would like a copy, they can be had from my website:

Saturday, October 09, 2010

Eike von Stuckenbrok

One of the readers of my blog was introduced to Eike through my original post about him about a year ago and became a little besotted, describing him to me once as 'what the human race should be evolving into' (you know who you are). So, for you, when I found this fantastic photo of Eike somewhere in the bottomless depths of tumblr, I thought I should pop it up here too (click for full size glory).

'ello sailor!

Today has been all about the auction. Going to auction can be interesting and even exciting, it can also be a very long, hot and disappointing day: on the whole, today was the latter. I had set my heart on a lot of photo albums and bits and pieces that included photos of such 1890s luminaries as William Johnson (Cory), Gustave Dore, Austin Dobson and Walter Pater. I had hoped it would go unnoticed as it wasn't well catalogued - but it didn't - and while I was the underbidder, it was galling indeed to let it go to someone else.

The consolation prize, although nothing like as great as MY lot of photos, was a huge archive of drawings from the 1930s/40s by an art student called Barbara Long. Most of them are nudes - male and female - they are very varied in quality and there is are many other subjects too including images of WW2 at home. There may be more of the nudes later but for now I thought this hoary old sailor telling tales of the sea to the boy on the quay might be appreciated here!

Thursday, October 07, 2010

The Yellow Book

The Yellow Book first appeared in April 1894 and, given what we know of the following year's Wilde trial and the ignominy-by-close-association which surrounded many of the contributors as a result, it is easy to forget that for a short while, that yellow flame burned very bright indeed. Punch, at the launch of the first volume wondered jokingly if The Yellow Book would become a much Red Book, but only a few months later was talking about a new literary epidemic of Yellow (Book) Fever.

If I am ever asked again, at what moment in history would I like to arrive as a result of my one time travel request being granted, I think, having read this report of the launch party of The Yellow Book it would have to be then.

"At the Yellow Book dinner, held at the Bodley Head, a good many shining lights assembled to drink the good fortune of the new magazine. Mr. George Moore and Mr. Craigie sat side by side, Mr. Max Beerbohm, Mr. Harland, and many others talked most wittily and well.... Mrs. Pat Campbell did not recite after dinner, and was only represented by her "portrait"(!) in the Yellow Book, a thing of wonder that beats Miss Lottie Verne's caricature of Mrs. Tanqueray completely out of the field." Hearth and Home, April 26, 1894.
The same correspondent in another place in the same magazine says rather breathlessly,

"Everybody is talking about the latest quarterly, The Yellow Book, which has just been issued by Elkin Matthews of Shoe Lane. Five thousand copies have already been sold, and a second edition is being printed. In the magazine are things whimsical, things wonderful, and things weird."

I recently came across this article from The Woman's Signal of May 3rd, 1894 (click for a legible size). You have to know a little bit about the decadents and The Yellow Book contributors to get it all but I thought it was a very funny and clever piece and rather presciently picked up on the kind of debate that would surround The Yellow Book until its demise and which would follow its successor The Savoy also.

PS. To my correspondent, Peter, I'm very grateful for the tip-off you provided and have tried to email you to that effect but each email I have sent is bounced back to me... I hope you will see my gratitude here and know that I have contacted the vendor concerned and wait a response.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Book Catalogues #2

I don't want this to become an apologia for my somewhat geeky interest in bookseller's catalogues, but the above selection does, I hope, provide some clue as to why they are such a great resource. For a start, there's a book catalogue for every subject. Just on this post we have Judaica, Iceland and early typography - just about any subject that grabs you will have had a catalogue devoted to it at some stage - although I confess that the Nordic book catalogue looks to me like nothing more than 143 pages of consonants and other letters with lines through them!
Catalogues are also fabulous bibliographical resources. The Jarndyce catalogue above on Dickens, whilst plain on the outside, it well illustrated throughout with b/w photos of Dickens's novels in their original cloth bindings and is full of disussion and information about variants, precendence and other slightly, I admit, nerdy bibliographical points.
Catalogues from the really big players like Maggs Bros can also be useful for biographical as well as bibliographical material, the catalogue above of autographed books, letters, manuscripts and so on is packed with sometimes lengthy quotes from letters which, the average researcher or student may never find but which might shed light on significant points about an author or other personages work or life. Anyway, enough apologetics...
Someone was kind enough to ask if I have an catalogues by Jacqueline Wesley, whose stock reflects a lot of the concerns of this blog. I don't. I wish I did. Gay bibliography is not a huge field but it is growing and I would always be grateful to be offered items of interest in that area - catalogues, bibliographies, reference books - please use the email link at the top right-ish of this page and let me know what you have and how much you think you would like for it!

Gilt Stamping Blocks

These are just a few of a box full of metal blocks I took in today. These are not printing blocks as such but are used for stamping hot metal foil onto fancy bookbindings. To have one of these made, particularly the larger ones could cost several hundred pounds, and yet, once used for their intended project, they are often discarded as useless and valueless. It's a shame of course, it is difficult to see how some of them could be of any use to anyone else, but others such as the many 'borders' and 'ornaments' should surely be of use to someone further down the line. Wonderful objects nonetheless.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

Portrait of Corvo and Being Buried Alive

It's been a while now since someone pointed out to me that my edition of Corvo's story, How I Was Buried Alive is not available from my website. This was an oversight and explains why such a great story hasn't sold as well as it might. I intend to put up an appropriate page in the near future and advertise it through my mailing list the next time an announcement goes out. However, I was put in mind of it again recently because I have been delving into Rolfe's remains in America. It seems that his story of being 'buried alive', originally published in The Wide World Magazine in the UK in 1898 was widely reported as 'news' in papers across the US. One paper I found has such a long account, so clearly plagiarised from the original that is almost deserves a mention in Rolfe's bibliography.

The story was reprinted in The Cardinal Prefect of Propaganda in 1957 and then again by me in 2006 (with the illustrations by Allan Wright restored).

Perhaps the most amusing instance though was that of The Lehi Banner out of Utah, who devoted a number of column inches on their front page to the Baron's story in January 1899 and have an illustration based on the photograph of Rolfe that appeared with the original. I reproduced the original in my edition and I've shown it above, it is also used on my website. Clearly the artist employed to render the photograph didn't spent too much time in a deep study of their subject: Rolfe in the drawing has a moustache of Kipling-esque proportions!

[If anyone would like a copy of my edition of How I Was Buried Alive, they can be had for 9.99GBP plus postage - please use the 'email me' link on the right hand side and I'll happily provide more details of course.]
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