Friday, July 31, 2009

Eye-Opening Secrets From the World of Librarians

Sometimes the posts just write themselves. Here, for instance, I’ll let Kathleen Low, authoress of Casanova Was A Librarian (2007), tell the story in her own words, from her website; I can’t top this hot copy.

Please provide your own wisecracks in the appropriate spots within the text; I’ve bitten my tongue so often I might as well just swallow it along with some sauerkraut and a Dr. Brown’s Cel-Rey soda.

“They’ve been killed by angry mobs, knighted, and even canonized. Some have gained fame or infamy as politicians, inventors, revolutionaries, notorious lovers and even saints. In ancient Rome they were literally slaves. They can be found in every community. And we either love them or hate them. There’s no other explanation for them, except to say, they’re librarians!

“Casanova Was a Librarian provides a peek at the lighthearted, humorous, sexy and intriguing side of librarians. In addition to information about famous librarians, you’ll learn about librarians in politics, porn, poetry, song, movies, and the comics. Librarian humor, librarian recreation and health, librarian underwear, outerwear and other merchandise designed just for librarians are just a sample of the information you’ll find in this book.

“In Casanova Was a Librarian you’ll find detailed information on interesting and humorous aspects of librarians. For example:

• Casanova, the Brothers Grimm, Pope Pius IX, and Golda Meir
were librarians.

• For that ‘hard to buy for’ librarian in your life, you can
purchase gifts ranging from ladies’ thongs designed with sexy librarian logos and messages on them, to pet collars bearing the appropriate Dewey Decimal Number on them.

• Rex Libris, a comic book series by James Turner, focuses on the
adventures of a space-traveling librarian as he chases down overdue books while fighting to preserve the knowledge and wisdom of the ages. The series is available from SLG Publishing.

• According to the U.S. Census, the median age of librarians is 47, and only 18% of librarians are male.

• UnShelved is a free daily online comic set in a public library.

• Librarian’s Lung is a rare disease recognized by OSHA. It affects librarians who have inhaled certain mold spores over a prolonged period.

• Action figures can be purchased for six different famous librarians. One even has a bobble-head toy made in her image.

• And don’t miss the chapters on librarian jokes, pick up lines, songs, and other humorous aspects of librarians!

“Send an email to with ‘Librarian fun’ in the subject line and you'll receive interesting librarian related information in your email inbox once a month”

Ms. Low is also the author of Recruiting Library Staff and Legislative Reference Services and Sources. I have to figure that after writing those two gripping volumes it was time to slip into something more comfortable and tickle the reader.

I'm tickled.

I do have one major complaint, though: Having lodged the image of Golda Meir as librarian deep into my cerebral ventricles, Ms. Low has thrust my lusty librarian fantasy into a very cold shower and permanent cold storage.


Thursday, July 30, 2009

Has the British Library Become a Brothel?

”All libraries are, of course, petri dishes of simmering lust, but the BL is extreme: its walls contain more erotic pressure than an oil rig, a North Sea fishing trawler and several series of Mad Men combined.”

“The whole building sighs with hothouse groans, which swell and fade to muffle other sounds.”

“When everyone is sitting around in silence, you can project what you like on to them and everyone remains a sexual possibility.”

This is surely not the Queen’s library! Yet…

“In 2006 a gay website exposed the British Library as a cottaging ground and the regular BL readers who I’ve discussed it with concur.”

The quotes above are found within a recent article in the London Times, Lust Rears Its Noisy Head in the British Library by Sathram Sanghera, who writes “Last week I spent a day ‘working’ in the British Library. And I use inverted commas because no work, in the conventional sense, got done. Couldn’t concentrate at all, to be honest.”

With the British Library in full tumescence who can blame him?

Who knew that a library could ease the pain and heartbreak of satyriasis? That prelim pages can be an excuse for foreplay, and that colophons can become so aroused? That libraries are intrinsically salacious and stacked? That the Reading Room is va-va-voom? That patrons can gleefully wallow in the gutter margin and recase and collate each other with particular attention to head- and tailpieces, and welcome the printer’s slug as a token of sadomasochistic affection?

Don’t ask about Cambridge-style leather binding; too hardcore for me.

What’s the reason for all this between the printed sheets action?

“Explanations,” Sanghera declares, “put forward include: the intrinsic erotic appeal of women in pencil skirts, stockings and Sarah Palin spectacles telling you off; the intrinsic filthiness of all librarians (after all, Casanova was one); the enforced silence and bookish atmosphere, which conspire to make you want to do something loud and physical in response; the safety (the theory goes that people feel free to flirt without feeling obliged to take things farther); the presence of books, which after all, are intrinsically sexy and have been connected to seduction for hundreds of years; the unexpected corners.”

I encourage readers to share their libidinous library experiences.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Them's Fightin' Words!

A bad July for fight fans as boxing greats Alexis Arguello, Arturo Gatti, and Vernon Forrest were murdered, Gatti by his wife, Forrest by thieves, Arguello by his own hand. Life was safer, calmer and more predictable in the ring.

There is much drama to this sport in which the essence of its athletes is revealed as in no other human activity, save war. But, as with war, there is no romance to boxing despite what some writers (Hemingway) would have you believe. Trust me on this.

Great books, though, and a ripe area for collection. The cornerstone volumes are:

MILES, Henry Downes. Pugilistica: Being One Hundred and Forty-Four Years of the History of British Boxing. Containing Lives of the Most Celebrated Pugilists, and Full Reports of their Battles From Contemporary Newspapers and Periodicals, with Authentic Portraits from Original Prints, Paintings, and Busts, Biographical Details, Personal Anecdotes, Sketches of the Principal Patrons of the P.R., Etc. The Only Complete and Chronological History of the Ring, from Fig and Broughton, 1719-40, to the Last Championship Battle of King and Heenen, in December, 1863. London: Weldon & Co., [n.d., 1880]. First complete edition. With one hundred portraits and miscellaneous text illustrations in black and white.

The first volume of this massive history of the “sweet science” in Britain was issued in 1866 and has become exceedingly scarce with only three copies located in KVK/OCLC, and LOC providing only a description from a contemporary catalogue. The whole was not actually completed and published until the edition of 1880, which contained a new preface by the author.

"As may be anticipated in a work consisting of more than 1500 pages, covering a period of 144 years, these volumes give probably the most comprehensive coverage of all the similar works" (Hartley, History & Bibliography of Boxing Books).


EGAN, Pierce. Boxiana or Sketches of Ancient and Modern Pugilism from the Days of the Renowned James Figg and Jack Broughton to the Heroes of the Later Milling Era Jack Scroggins and Tom Hickman (1812).

Early 19th century English sportswriter/journalist Pierce Egan (1772 - 1849) wrote magazine pieces about boxing, which at the time was conducted under the Broughton Rules of 1743 despite being banned in England; fair play amongst outlaws. (The Broughton rules would be superceded by the London Prize Ring rules of 1838 which, in turn, were replaced by the Marquis of Queensberry rules of 1867 upon which the modern sport is based).

It was Egan who bestowed upon the sport its immortal descriptive moniker, “The Sweet Science.” ("The Sweet Science of Bruising!" in its complete form).

His boxing articles were collected into bound volumes and published under the title Boxiana; or Sketches of Ancient and Modern Pugilism. The first volume was published in 1813 (although the title page reads 1812, due to the arrangement, common at the time, where the book was sent to subscribers in installments before being released to the public.) Four more volumes followed, in 1818, 1821, 1824, and 1829. Illustrations were by George Cruikshank and are amongst his earliest work.

Egan and Boxiana were reintroduced to a modern audience by journalist A.J. Liebling, whose series of essays on boxing published in The New Yorker from 1950–1964 frequently referenced Egan. Liebling titled his first collection of these boxing essays The Sweet Science (1956) in Egan's honor. (The other Liebling boxing collection is titled A Neutral Corner, 1990)). Liebling is THE finest writer on the sport, ever. In 2002, Sports Illustrated named The Sweet Science as the number one sports book of all time.

Liebling, a trenchant critic of the press, is primarily known for his eternal verities, “Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one;” and “People everywhere confuse what they read in newspapers with news.” He was also one of the twentieth century’s best writers in English about food.

First editions of Boxiana are scarce. The Folio Society issued a reprint of the first volume in 1976, and in 1998 Nicol Island Publishers of Toronto issued a reprint of the first volume and announced plans to reissue all five volumes.

Boxiana can be accessed and read via Google Book Search.

Here’s a bit of boxing ephemera I picked up in 1976. The guy pictured looks like Larry Talbot on a bad night during a full moon. As I’ve written elsewhere, each piece of ephemera tells an interesting story. The story here is short, sweet, and, given my milquetoast childhood and adolescence, completely unbelievable, so much so that I can hardly believe it myself: You hit me, it’s a misdemeanor. I hit you, it’s a class A felony, the judge throws the book at me, it hits me square up-side the head, and I have plenty of free time, 5-10 years, to read to my heart’s content: Mr. Bemis on Cell Block 9.


Hartley 1365 (Pugilistica). Graesse II 464 (Boxiana).


Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Librarians to Ben & Jerry's: "We Scream for Ice Cream!"

The population of librarians on Facebook has organized as People For a Library-Themed Ben & Jerry’s Flavor and is petitioning Ben & Jerry’s, the Vermont-based ice creamery famous for its multi-flavor mash-ups, for a taste sensation they can call their very own.

Here are some of the current suggestions for a Ben & Jerry’s library-themed flavor:

• Gooey Decimal System: Dark fudge alphabet letters with caramel swirls in hazelnut ice cream.

• Sh-sh-sh-Sherbet!: Key Lime or a Chocolate/Vanilla combination.

• Cookie Bookie: A combination of cookie bits!

• Dusty Stacks: Layered ice cream with speckles of cocoa in every layer.

• Li-Berry Pie: Lime sherbet mixed with raspberry sauce and pie crust crumbles (cinnamon sugar, butter, piecrust).

• Liberry I Scream: Strawberry/blueberry sherbet and vanilla ice cream.

• Overdue Fine as Fudge Chunk: Hunks of rich fudge brownies in creamy milk chocolate drizzled throughout with golden caramel and sprinkled with mini white chocolate coins.

• Rocky Read: Vanilla with choc covered nuts choc chunks and raisins.

• In the Stacks: Butter pecan with fudge swirl.

• Reference Ripple: Anything with PB.

• Marian the Librarian Rasberryan: Rasberry and Chocolate with chunks of fudge.

• Ranganathan's Raspberry Rules!: Raspberry and chocolate chips.

• Free and Open to All: A rainbow of flavors with all kinds of chips-butterscotch, peanut butter, chocolate.

Here's a message from the leader of the charge, Andy W, on the group's Facebook page:

"4,000. It took awhile but we got there. Completely awesome. This past month and a half has been pretty different for me. Stories about the group have appeared in Library Journal (both print and online), a local newspaper, tons of tweet and retweets on Twitter, and shared on Facebook. And for all those efforts, I cannot thank you enough.

So, here's the deal now. Time to step it up and take some action in a couple easy steps.

(1) Submit a flavor to Ben & Jerry's directly.

Appeal to the 5 Flavor Gurus directly! (Arnold, John, Eric, Peter, & Nettie) Here is the link for their Suggest a Flavor page.
(2) Get involved at your state level. Library advocacy has been a hot button issue for the library community this year in light of how state budgets are shaping up. We need to demonstrate why libraries are not a luxury but an essential service in an age of digital literacy.

Here is a list of state library associations as provided by If you're involved already, thank you for your time and effort. If you're not, here's a chance to check it out, find your local legislators and let them know how important the library is.”

This's a pain-free opportunity to support your local library and staff and pack on some extra pounds to carry you through the long winter of our fiscal and budgetary discontent.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

The Miniature Theatures of Martin Englebrecht

In the fourth decade of the eighteenth century a new form of entertainment emerged in a world hungry for novelty, cleverness, and beauty in the privacy of one's home.

Artist Martin Engelbrecht (1684-1756) and his brother Christian were printsellers and engravers in Augsburg, Germany during the eighteenth century. Martin Engelbrecht engraved some plates after Rugendas and other masters; his other works included illustrations for Ovid's Metamorphoses, The War of Spanish Succession, Les Architectes Princiers by P. Decker, 92 views of Venice, and a series of prints of workers and their dress, Assemblage Nouveau Des Manouvries Habilles, published at Augsburg, circa 1730.

Also in about 1730, he created cards for miniature theaters, which when inserted into a display box showed religious scenes and pictures of daily life in a 3D perspective view. He devoted an entire series of these to the Italian theater. This effort resulted in home theater long before the concept was appropriated for use by cable television and the video/DVD industry.


Engelbrecht, "Garden of Eden" c. 1730
Engelbrecht's miniature theaters or dioramas evolved from his large-scale Zograscope images and are regarded as the earliest "paper" theaters in history. They were the forerunners of the peepshow books popularized by Dean & Son of London during the mid-nineteenth century, and have been cited by photographers and cinematographers for their early optical effects and appreciated as an aid to creating dramatic perspective on film.


Engelbrecht, "Oktoberfest" c. 1730
"A celebrated engraver of his time, Engelbrecht dominated the print trade in Augsburg. Best known for his portraits of monarchs as well as his intricate landscapes, Engelbrecht's work is beyond compare. Some of his best work was with optical prints. He used these in his perspective boxes and miniature theatres. Typically 8 cards would be inserted into a peepbox, consecutively, which provided imagery similar to that of a theatre scene, or play. The view had great perspective. (The History of the Discovery of Cinematography).

"In the 18th century dioramas became very popular as a means of entertainment. Around 1730, the Augsburg copperplate engraver and publisher Martin Engelbrecht created miniature theater[s]. [They] consist of 5-8 scenery-like sheets, which create a perspective image if arranged one behind the other. Along with religious themes, these scenes show courtly life, the seasons...These small-size dioramas are regarded as the precursors of the paper theaters that became popular in the 19th century."

Engelbrecht, “Vorstellung eines zerstörten Schlosses mit Geister” c. 1730

"The first true movable books published in any large quantity were those produced by Dean & Son, a publishing firm founded in London before 1800. By the 1860's the company claimed to be the 'originator of childrens' movable books in which characters can be made to move and act in accordance with the incidents described in each story.' From the mid-19th century Dean turned its attention to the production of movable books and between the 1860's and 1900 they produced about fifty titles. To construct movable books, Dean established a special department of skilled craftsmen who prepared the hand-made mechanicals. The designers used the peep-show principle of cut-out scenes aligned one behind the other to give a three-dimensional effect. Each layer was fixed to the next by a piece of ribbon that emerged behind the uppermost portion, and when this was pulled, the whole scene sprang up into perspective." (Montanaro, Ann. A Concise History of Pop-Up and Moveable Books).

From holograph numbering to the rear of each card, we know that Engelbrecht created at least forty-one sets of miniature theater dioramas. Many if not most have yet to be accounted for. All are scarce, many extremely so: these miniature theater engraved cards were roughly handled and often. That any have survived is quite remarkable.


"Octoberfest" and "Garden of Eden" images courtesy of David Brass. "Vorstellung eines zerstörten Schlosses mit Geister" courtesy of InLibris Gilhofer Nfg.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Hello, Reference Desk?

From the Norwood, MA Daily News, this exchange between Beth Goldman, Reference Desk librarian at the Morrill Memorial Library and library IT specialist and a call-in patron:

Librarian: Good morning. Reference. How may I help you?
Caller: Hi. Is this Reference?

Librarian: Yes, sir. You have reached the Reference Desk. How may I help you?
Caller: Gee, I hope you can help me.

Librarian: I will certainly try. Tell me what you are looking for.

Caller: Well, I’m not sure what I’m looking for, but my wife told me to call.
Librarian: Great! What did your wife want?

Caller: She said you’d know what that new book is by that lady mystery writer. You know, the one everybody is reading.

Librarian: Oh, that one. Good. Ah. Would you have any idea the name of the author?

Caller: No. Oh, wait a minute, wait a minute. The lady’s name is…oh, I can’t read her writing. It’s impossible. Um…My wife said the cover of the book is a really neat picture.

Librarian: Good! Good! Good! We are narrowing this down. Why don’t I take your name and phone number and do some searching, and then I’ll call you back with some possibilities?

Another patron approaches the desk and mouths, “Can I borrow a pencil?” I nod my head yes, and mouth, “Please return it when you’re done.” Patron nods and mouths, “But of course.”

Caller: Gee, that would be terrific. But my wife went to the Cape for a girls’ weekend. You know how that is. I don’t know when I’ll be able to catch her.

Librarian: Look, I’ll put together a list of names and titles for you, and you can check with her which author it is.
Caller: You’d do that?

Librarian: I’d do that. What’s your name and phone number?

As the caller is relaying his contact information another patron comes up to the desk and asks, “Is there a bathroom on this floor?”

Librarian says: “Right around the corner.”

Caller yells into the phone: Hey, hey, that’s it! That’s the name of the book! Wow! Wow! Wow! How did you figure it out?

The book in question is, apparently, Right Around the Corner by Steven G. Traylor (2004), a work of inspirational self-help fiction. The"new book by that lady mystery writer," however, remains a mystery.

The above recalls a famous story, probably apocryphal, yet no less illustrative of the daily challenges facing the average reference desk librarian, and a librarian at the end of a long day, at the end of her rope, and in no mood for nonsense:

Caller: I’m trying to find a book, that new one, but I don’t know the title or author.

Librarian: Can you tell me anything about it that might give me a clue?

Caller: The book is red.

Librarian: All books are read.

Readers are encouraged to report their own amusing or otherwise stories from the trenches of the Reference Desk in the Comments section below: open expression may depress suicidal or homicidal ideation. Given recent cuts in library budgets in communities nationwide, anything that might dampen the flames of frustration and resentment is a good start. The thought of librarians over-the-edge and acting-out is too terrifying to contemplate.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Sex! Scandal! Political Intrigue! (What Else is New?)

Those who, like your ace reporter, avidly track the national SPRM (Sex&Politics-Related Meltdown) count will have noticed the recent spike in SPRM motility; the press has been absolutely pregnant with recent news from this fertile field of government.

Nothing new here to report except that this is nothing new - really nothing new. Presenting:

01086_title_2.jpgThe Secret History of the Present Intrigues of the Court of Caramania, a roman à clef from 1727 that tore the royal bedsheets off the reigning monarch's bedstead, exposed his intimate dalliances, and laid bare political hostilities.

I will not torture you with guessing games. "The central character and the unifying theme in SHC is George II (1683-1760, ruled from 1727) and his amours" (Spetting).

The author of this bombshell was something of a bombshell herself.

"This woman was authoress of the most scandalous book call'd The Court of Caramania (1727)..." (Pope, The Dunciad Valorium, Bk. II, line 149).

"A licentious publication by Mrs. Eliza Haywood" (Lowndes).

"This publication...owing to [its] looseness and immorality, involved the authoress in considerable disgrace, and promoted her to a situation in the Dunciad of Pope" (Dr. Drake, on the 2nd edition as cited in Lowndes).

Eliza Haywood (1693-1756) dominated the contemporary British market for amorous fiction and in this political roman á clef assumed a major place in the political sphere of her time with the private indiscretions of public figures elevated to political acts. As such, the novel is oh, so modern, and can be considered on a par (though better written and more explosive when issued) with Joe Klein's anonymously written Primary Colors (1996) which did not depict the Clintons in the most favorable light, and savaged the President for his extra-curricular activities, pre-Lewinsky.

The Secret History of the Present Intrigues of the Court of Caramania was a smash sensation and went into an immediate second edition later in the year of its publication.

01086_title.jpg Haywood (née Elizabeth Fowler) was an English writer, actress and publisher. Since the 1980s, Eliza Haywood's literary works have been gaining in recognition and interest. Described as "prolific even by the standards of a prolific age" (Blouch, Christine. Introduction to Eliza Haywood and the Romance of Obscurity. Studies in English Literature 1500-1900 no. 31 (1991): 535-551.), Haywood wrote and published over seventy works during her lifetime including fiction, drama, translations, poetry, conduct literature and periodicals. Haywood is a significant figure in the 18th century as one of the important founders of the novel in English.

Haywood's writing career began in 1719 with the first two installments of Love in Excess, a novel, and ended in the year she died with the marital conduct books The Wife and The Husband, and the biweekly periodical The Young Lady. She wrote in several genres and many of her works were published anonymously.

Haywood, Delarivier Manley and Aphra Behn were known as the Fair Triumvirate of Wit and are considered the most prominent writers of amatory fiction. Eliza Haywood's prolific fiction developed from titillating romance novels and amatory fiction during the early 1720s to works focused more on "women's rights and position" (Schofield, Mary Anne. Eliza Haywood. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1985, p. 63)

Haywood's first novel, Love in Excess; or The Fatal Enquiry (1719-1720) touches on themes of education and marriage. Termed an amatory bodice-ripper by some, this novel is also notable for its treatment of the fallen woman.

portrait of eliza haywood.jpgShe began her career as an actress in 1715. During the second half of the 1720s, Haywood continued acting, moving over to the Haymarket Theatre to join with Henry Fielding in the opposition plays of the 1730s. In 1729, she wrote Frederick, Duke of Brunswick-Lunenburgh to honor the future George II of the United Kingdom. George II, as Prince of Wales, was the focus of Tory opposition to the ministry of Robert Walpole. As he had made it clear that he did not favor his father's policies or ministry, praise for him was demurral from the present king.

Eliza Haywood was active in politics during her entire career, although she had a party change around the time of the reconciliation of George II with Robert Walpole: She became a staunch Tory and an enemy of Walpole. She wrote a series of parallel histories/roman á clefs, beginning with Memoirs of a Certain Island, Adjacent to Utopia (1724), and the present novel (1727), these her most well known. In 1746 she began to publish a journal, The Parrot, which got her questioned by the government for political statements about Charles Edward Stuart, as she was writing just after the Jacobite Rising. This would happen again with the publication of A Letter from H-- G----g, Esq. in 1750.

Eliza Haywood is now regarded as "a case study in the politics of literary history" (Blouch, pp. 7-8). She has also been reevaluated by feminist scholars and is highly rated. Interest in Haywood's work has been steadily growing as her importance has been recognized, with much scholarship, biographies, and collections and reprints of her novels, which are regarded as stylistically innovative. Her plays and political writing attracted most of the attention in her own time, and she was a full player in the difficult public sphere of the era.

An actress turned writer turned politician...public figures...indiscretions...political consequences: This novel could have been written yesterday.


HAYWOOD, Eliza. The Secret History of the Present Intrigues of the Court of Caramania. London: Printed and Sold by the Booksellers of London and Westminster, 1727. First edition, first issue. Octavo (7 5/8 x 4 5/8 in; 192 x 117 mm). [4], 348 pp. Woodcut head- tailpieces, and initials by Woodfall.

Spetting, A Bibliography of Eliza Haywood, Ab.33.1a. McBirney 213. Lowndes, p. 369 (1st edition), p. 1019 (2d edition). Graesse, vol. C, p. 44 (1st ed.), vol. H, p. 224 (2d edition).

Sources not cited above: Staves, A Literary History of Women's Writing in Britain 1160-1789, p. 187. Paula R. Backscheider on Haywood, Eliza, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004.

Lowndes provides a Key to the true identities of the characters, which we reproduce below:

Ismonda: Mrs. Howard
Adrastus: Mr. Howard
Marmillio: Earl Scarborough
Lutetia: Mrs. Balladin
Irene: L--y Douglas
Arilla: Mrs. Meadows
Arbanes: Lord Nottingham
Euridice: Lady Charlotte Finch
Doraspe: Duke of Somerset
Ernestus: Lord Finch
Clotus: Earl Suffolk
Aridanor: Duke of Argyle
Barsina: Duchess of Argyle
Elaria: Miss Bridgeman
Her cousin: Lady Craven
Orsabia: Sir Orlando Bridgeman
Almira: Miss Warburton
Idomeus: Lady Isley
Cleomenes: Mr. Lumley
Attalinda" Lady Romney
Arsinoe: L--y Rich
Mazares; Lord Essex
Elearchus: Mr. Berkeley
Cariclea: L--y Hern
Her sister: Miss Hern
Olimpia: Mrs. Foley
Luthelina: Miss Titchburn
Her aunt: Mrs. Stanley

Title page and page one images courtesy of David Brass.


Friday, July 17, 2009

Eliot Ness and the Female Untouchables

In a recent post, I discussed ephemera in general and a certain piece that elicited memories of my family's involvement in the liquor business during Prohibition in Chicago.

My all-time favorite piece of ephemera also concerns the liquor business in Chicago during Prohibition - sort of. As with all ephemera, it, too, tells quite a tale.

What About Girls? was published in 1943 by the YMCA's Armed Services Department warning of the dangers of venereal disease. It was written by Eliot Ness. Yes, that Eliot Ness.

Eliot Ness, special agent of the Justice Department's Prohibition Bureau. Nemesis of Al Capone. All-American hero. Eliot Ness, legendary gangbuster.

Eliot Ness, Germbuster?

How Ness, the famed Federal agent went from gangbuster to germbuster is a sad story indeed.

Ness's dream job, to join the F.B.I. after Repeal, was thwarted by J. Edgar Hoover, who disdained Ness' shameless publicity seeking and gross exaggerations of his at best marginal contribution to bringing down Al Capone. There was room for only one prima donna publicity-hound in the F.B.I. and Hoover filled the position; there could only be one public face of the F.B.I. and it would not be Ness's matinee-idol mug.

Reality check: Eliot Ness joined the Justice Department in 1928 in the waning years of Prohibition; he caught the tail end of the Noble Experiment, he was never in the thick of it. His job, in essence: play whack-a-mole with Capone's organization. Take down a small brewery, bottling plant tonight, it's open again tomorrow. But he made certain the local reporters wrote about him and inventively played up his exploits. Yet "nothing he did contributed to the government's case against Al Capone" (Bergreen, p. 344). He was merely an annoying flea to Chicago's top dog.

After his rejection by Hoover, Ness began a slow, pathetic slide downward fueled (ironically) by alcoholism and womanizing.

He took a job as Cleveland Public Safety Director, his mandate: clean up the town; the Mayfield Road gang, led by Moe Dalitz, was running amok. It continued to do so under his watch. His success in Cleveland was mixed, like scotch and soda. By 1938, Ness, once Cleveland's golden boy, was now understood to be strictly fool's gold. He divorced his wife; that didn't go over well with the Catholic citizenry. He began to haunt posh booze troughs. Made time with the babes. By 1941, his reputation was in tatters. His involvement in a hit and run accident (he hit, he ran) while drunk shredded it, and he was forced to resign in disgrace in 1942.

At age 39, his movie star looks fading, his rep sunk, he moved to Washington D.C. and, hat in hand, he begged and got a job as Director, Social Protection Division, Office of Community War Services, Federal Security Agency where he helped coordinate the government's struggle to cope with what he called, "Military Saboteur Number 1."

Thus, What About Girls? with Ness's immortal call to arms: "The idea is to keep diseased women away from you. Is it too much to ask that you keep away from them?"

Uh, yes Sir, it is: unless "diseased women" wear a sign around their necks, we can't tell the pure specimens from the impure ones. How 'bout a War Department memo to all ladies: Please present full blood work results to your local Selective Service board.

The "diseased women" were, of course, pay to play gals but the word prostitute is not to be found within the pamphlet's pages.

Ness had a personal bug about syphilis. Bergreen, who gives much attention to Ness in his definitive biography of Capone, states that Ness' crusade against syphilis was precipitated by his former nemesis' battle with the malady. Ness, who spent his last days a forgotten figure and broken man, insolvent, deeply in debt, and regaling indulgent barflies with grandiose tales of former glory, died of a heart attack in 1957 at age 54, the consequence of his alcoholism, on the eve of the publication of his self-aggrandizing memoir, The Untouchables, which led to the famous television series.

This pamphlet, an important view of the government's actions against V.D. during the war years, presents a marked contrast to the government's actions forty years later when a new, deadly venereal disease emerged to threaten America, and is a sad reminder of a man who was ultimately Fitzgeraldian in his initial (sham) success, unfulfilled promise, and alcoholic disintegration. It is a fascinating slice of 20th-century Americana.


Bergreen, Laurence. Capone: The Man and the Era (NY, 1994). Cf. Bullough et al., Bibiography of Prostitution 3377.

NESS, Eliot. WHAT ABOUT GIRLS? New York: Public Affairs Committee (YMCA), 1947 [1948]. Reprint of the 1943 first issue. 16mo, 31pp. Red printed wrappers.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

"Speak a Jewish Word and Make an Extra Sale"

My girlfriend's father died recently and in amongst his belongings she found a curious pamphlet.

jacobs title031.jpgThe Joseph Jacobs Handbook of Jewish Words and Expressions. For use by anyone calling on the Jewish trade...for making friends with Jewish merchants was issued in 1954 by the Joseph Jacobs Organization, an U.S. advertising agency that specifically targeted the Jewish market. It was created for any business interested in cultivating the Jewish trade, and Calvert Distillers co-opted it for use by its salesmen and distribution to the liquor store owners they called upon so that both could more effectively service their customers with a little schmear of Yiddish to grease the ethnic gears and help all concerned  put a little extra gelt (money) in their pockets and mach a leben (make a living). It's hands across the Old and New Testaments, brotherhood with a dollar sign.

It's rather quaint as a piece of ephemeral American Judaica. But as with all ephemera, close investigation reveals it to be much more than a handy lexicon.

Between the lines of this little pamphlet lies the history of the liquor business in the United States during the first half of the twentieth century. I know this story well and can recite it by heart. My family played a supporting role in the writing of it.

Prior to Prohibition, the whiskey business in the U.S. was a Protestant affair. When the Volstead Act became law, distilleries in the U.S. closed down and their inventories were gathered into U.S. Government bonded warehouses for distribution into the legal trade: Few are aware the there were exemptions under the Volstead Act for the sale of alcoholic beverages during Prohibition: wine for sacramental purposes, liqueurs and rum for industrial baking, and whiskey sold in drug stores for medicinal purposes by a doctor's prescription.(1)

jacobs intro032.jpgThe original owners of these warehoused goods were issued government receipts and a lively trade developed for brokering the receipts which were sold by the original owners to raise cash, and then brokered for resale. Control the receipts, and you controlled the legal flow of booze in the U.S. The brokers and buyers of the receipts were, to a man, Jews.

By 1930, it was becoming clear that the Noble Experiment was an utter failure and distillers, sensing Repeal in the air, began to prepare for it. But they needed capital to gear up for the change and resume production at a level to meet anticipated demand.

During the '20s, the National Brokerage Company of Chicago(2), one of the more successful traders of warehouse receipts, learned that a distillery in Kentucky was looking for a financial angel. The distillery, an old family business, had an established brand and venerable reputation. And so National Brokerage Company made a deal with the family patriarch. In exchange for investing the requisite scratch, they assumed control of the distillery's plants and products and handled all sales and marketing; day to day operations of the distillery and the manufacture of its alcoholic beverages were left in the hands of the family. Thus, Jim Beam bourbon became, for all intents and purposes, Judah Beam, the world's finest bourbon since 1795 (5555, by the Hebrew calendar).(3)

At the same time, the Bronfman family was buying up distilleries in Canada, amongst them, Calvert, and made strong, similar moves into the United States. South of the Canadian border, Lewis S. Rosenstiel bought the Schenley distillery in Pennsylvania and following that purchase went on a distillery buying binge. By the mid-1930s, Jews controlled the distilled spirits industry in the U.S., completely responsible for its finance, sales and marketing.

jacobs 3033.jpgIn the immediate post-WWII years, the liquor business enjoyed the same boom as every other industry in America. Its expansion and growth through publicy-owned corporations required a dramatic increase in personnel and non-Jews entered the trade in supporting roles. Liquor stores, almost entirely owned by Jews because the liquor trade was considered to be low-class by Christians influenced by the temperance movement, began to become owned by gentiles as upwardly mobile Jews rose to other, more acceptable occupations. The industry, though, was still run by Jews and, by 1954, the need for a pamphlet such as this was strong. By the 1960s, however, the corporatization of the industry was complete and the role of the Jews who established the modern liquor business in the United States gave way to a an ethnically neutral (parve) and faceless industry. Like the movie industry pioneered by Jews, the distilled spirits business shed its roots and became pasteurized, homogenized and fully "American." Indeed, Jim Beam was sold by the Blum group to American Tobacco (now American Brands) in 1967.

Recently in these pages, Chris Lowenstein wrote a fine piece about collecting ephemera, a follow-up to a blog post she wrote earlier for Book Hunter's Holiday.(4)

As this throwaway pamphlet demonstrates - all ephemera (or paper collectables) are throwaway by nature, not meant to last much less be collected - these pieces of paper can be as valuable as books for illuminating the world in which they were born. For book collectors wishing to enter the field on a tight budget, ephemera is unsurpassed. The pamphlet under notice is worth $15-$20, tops. Those who enter the hobby with ephemera often find that it is so rich yet inexpensive that they never want to collect beyond it.

This piece falls into Judaica, specifically American Judaica, with cross-over into 20th century American industry in general and the distilled spirits business in particular. And, just as many have found the collection of the literature of illegal drugs to be a fruitful and worthwhile area of interest and inquiry, so, too, are there collectors who specialize in collecting the literature of booze, with sub-specialties in bourbon, scotch, etc. Further, the establishment and growth of the liquor business in the United States runs parallel to the establishment and growth of the Republic; it is a sub-specialty of Americana. The Whiskey Rebellion of 1794 anyone?

Thus, this little booklet can serve as the cornerstone to a collection that can grow in many interesting directions. A far-sighted dealer could build a collection of American liquor business-related ephemera, perhaps with the Jewish slant and form a collection more valuable as a whole than in its parts and sell to a university, a Jewish or a liquor industry trade organization. An individual could do the same and gain much personal nachas (joy), something to really kvell (beam with immense, swollen pride) over having amassed a collection of material that has gotten little attention and, having done so, brought to light a slice of our cultural history and heritage heretofore passed over.

As an adjunct, one could include vintage liquor business advertising, i.e.:

calvert ad1940.jpg     Clear Heads Call For Calvert (1940). Buyers of other brands presumably too drunk to buy wisely.

The Joseph Jacobs Handbook provides a pronunciation guide, so the non-Jews who used it would not make the blunder that one gentile performer in Hollywood made during an appearance on Jan Murray's early 1960s game show, Treasure Hunt: in a mangled expression of solidarity mit der menschen (good Jewish people) and as a self-elected landsman (fellow townsperson) he mispronounced the Jewish holiday Hanukah as CHa-NU-ka, thereby eliciting peals of derisive laughter from the audience and fellow game show participants, and demonstrating that he was a real schmendrick, a beheymeh, a putz.


1. Title II, sections 3, 6, and 7.

2. The principals of National Brokerage Company were Harry Blum who was married to one of my paternal grandmother's sisters; his father, Philip; my grandfather, Edward M. Gertz; Moe Rieger, married to Blum's sister; Joe Levy, who was married to my Great-Aunt Eva Bernstein; and Joe Guzik, brother of Jake "Greasy Thumb" Guzik, Al Capone's loyal business advisor and financial wizard. My Great-Aunt Bernice, my grandfather's sister, kept the books. My grandfather would sell his share of the business to two of his brothers-in-law, my Great-uncles Joe and Leo Bernstein, just prior to National Brokerage Company's reorganization as the Philip Blum group and its purchase of Jim Beam. In 1941, my great-uncle Harry Blum assumed sole ownership of James B. Beam Distilling Co.

3. It is instructive that the Jim Beam website makes absolutely no mention whatsoever of this part of its history. It also has some dates completely wrong.

4. Hats off to Chris for slyly referencing A.S.W. Rosenbach's 1936 classic book of the same name.

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

Market-Busting 90%-95% Sell-Through at Bloomsbury No Reserve Bibiophile Sale

In its first No Reserve Bibliophile Sale Bloomsbury-NY blew the roof off the house with an astonishing 90%-95% lot sell-through rate. The rare book auction market has not seen lot sell-through figures like that in more than twenty years.

As reported here earlier, "declining lot prices and percentage of lots sold [for rare books at auction] have hit a wall and splatted against the recession. Median prices, which had risen from $410 in October of 2006 to $485 n January of 2008 have dropped back and below to $400 'with no evidence to suggest the correction is over. Not so many decades ago auctions regularly sold 90% or more of lots offered. Over the last five years auctions have struggled to complete even 80% as the percentage of lots sold fell from 78% to 70%.'

In an immediate post-sale interview, James Cummins III, head of rare books at Bloomsbury-NY, said:

"I do not [yet] have a concrete figure for the sell through rate although I believe it to be around 90-95%. The sale brought in $94,421 with premium.

"The sale was conducted differently in a few ways. We didn't have any telephone bidding, there was no printed catalogue, lots that were unsold were bundled up and reoffered in groups and we were selling at nearly 200 lots an hour.

"We had quite a lively audience of approximately thirty-forty collectors and dealers in addition to absentee and online bidders. This sale was done as an experiment to see how the market would react to quality material being offered at no reserve. It proved to be very successful with many lots selling at higher prices than they had previously been offered at. We are very happy with the results of the sale and look forward to more no reserve sales in the future."

This sale and its results are a breath of fresh air to a business that has been struggling with change since the advent of the Internet opened up and democratized the rare book marketplace with buyers seizing control from sellers who have not been happy ceding it. The market has been under pressure for some time and the current recession has only increased that pressure for sellers to come to grips with reality and make downward price adjustments.

It is hoped that the other auction houses will follow suit. And, significantly, that individual dealers, to insure the health and continued viability of the business into the future, will follow  and begin to lower their posted prices to welcome back wary book collectors and openly invite interested newcomers who may feel that current prices push the "gentle madness" of the hobby into a full-blown psychosis that few can afford.

Monday, July 6, 2009

Bloomsbury Sets Loose The Dogs of Deflation

The following originally appeared last week in Fine Books & Collections magazine. The Update that follows appears here for the first time, exclusive to Book Patrol.

In a recent column, I discussed deflation coming to the rare book world, with particular emphasis on the auction houses.

In my mailbox this morning comes news that Bloomsbury, the auction house that has been leading the market to realistic reserves, has now made it official with their first No Reserve Bibliophile Sale.

The sale features property from Heritage Book Shop, Colonial Williamsburg and
The Metropolitan Museum of Art, and will occur this Tuesday, June 30, at 2PM in New York.

Here's their blow-out the competition deal: Minimum bid is [drumroll] $25. Twenty-five dollars.

This is major. While Bloomsbury is clearly trying to move the goods, the goods ain't bad.

"The Bibliophile Sale includes historic, modern and contemporary works in addition to an manuscript letter written by F. Scott Fitzgerald and signed to Elizabeth Craig Clarkson written the day after he was accepted at Princeton (15 September 1913) with the original mailing envelope. 'I am in a particularly despondent and dissipated mood. Outside the sun is shining but I am perfectly positive it is only doing it out of spite...So I sign myself your humble Servant Francis Scott Fitzgerald.' It was a humorous and playful letter which was to influence much of his life ($3000-$5000.)

"Also included in the 20th Century grouping is a 22 volume illustrated set of Mark Twain's Works (1923). Bound for Brentano's in contemporary red levant half morocco over red cloth boards, spines tooled and lettered in gilt ($3000-$4000.) A rare large paper copy of Rousseau's complete works in contemporary full tree calf binding is contained in 38 volumes, Paris (1788-1793) Engraved frontispieces, Nouvelle Édition, ($5000-$7000.) Other titles include: The Works, Jonathan Swift 1755. 6 volumes, $1200-$1800, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn Mark Twain (1885.) A first American edition, early issue. $1000-1500. Babbitt Sinclair Lewis (1922) First edition $1000-$1500 and Tractatus de corde(1669) Amsterdam Richard Lower $1500-$2500."

It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Bloomsbury is opening the market to bidders who may not have ever dreamed it possible to get this close to desired material. Eyes will be fixed on the percentage of lots sold and what the sale prices were. The market is finally beginning to correct itself to new realities.

View the full catalogue to the Bloomsbury No Reserve Bibliophile Sale here.

Market-Busting 90%-95% Sell-Through at Bloomsbury No Reserve Bibliophile Sale

In its first No Reserve Bibliophile Sale Bloomsbury-NY blew the roof off the house with an astonishing 90%-95% lot sell-through rate. The rare book auction market has not seen lot sell-through figures like that in more than twenty years.

As reported here earlier, "declining lot prices and percentage of lots sold [for rare books at auction] have hit a wall and splatted against the recession. Median prices, which had risen from $410 in October of 2006 to $485 n January of 2008 have dropped back and below to $400 'with no evidence to suggest the correction is over. Not so many decades ago auctions regularly sold 90% or more of lots offered. Over the last five years auctions have struggled to complete even 80% as the percentage of lots sold fell from 78% to 70%.'

In an immediate post-sale interview, James Cummins III, head of rare books at Bloomsbury-NY, said:

"I do not [yet] have a concrete figure for the sell through rate although I believe it to be around 90-95%. The sale brought in $94,421 with premium.

"The sale was conducted differently in a few ways. We didn't have any telephone bidding, there was no printed catalogue, lots that were unsold were bundled up and reoffered in groups and we were selling at nearly 200 lots an hour.

"We had quite a lively audience of approximately thirty-forty collectors and dealers in addition to absentee and online bidders. This sale was done as an experiment to see how the market would react to quality material being offered at no reserve. It proved to be very successful with many lots selling at higher prices than they had previously been offered at. We are very happy with the results of the sale and look forward to more no reserve sales in the future."

This sale and its results are a breath of fresh air to a business that has been struggling with change since the advent of the Internet opened up and democratized the rare book marketplace with buyers seizing control from sellers who have not been happy ceding it. The market has been under pressure for some time and the current recession has only increased that pressure for sellers to come to grips with reality and make downward price adjustments.

It is hoped that the other auction houses will follow suit. And, significantly, that individual dealers, to insure the health and continued viability of the business into the future, will follow and begin to lower their posted prices to welcome back wary book collectors and openly invite interested newcomers who may feel that current prices push the "gentle madness" of the hobby into a full-blown psychosis that few can afford.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Deflation Comes to the Rare Books Market (Cheers! Boos!)

The following two-part post recently appeared in Fine Books & Collections magazine. Due to its importance to the rare book community, I've reprinted it here. Part Two will appear tomorrow (June 7th) with an update exclusive to Book Patrol.

The title of Americana Exchange's latest analysis of the book auction market succinctly sums up what those in the trade have been feeling for quite some time - A Market Under Pressure. It is the next logical step in the democratization of the rare book business that began with the introduction of the Internet in the 1990s: deflation, here stubbornly held at bay at auction only by the resistance of sellers to lower their expectations and allow reserves to be in harmony with what the market will bear.

According to AE's supplementary Trends in Book Auction Prices, declining lot prices and percentage of lots sold have hit a wall and splatted against the recession. Median prices, which had risen from $410 in October of 2006 to $485 n January of 2008 have dropped back and below to $400 "with no evidence to suggest the correction is over. Not so many decades ago auctions regularly sold 90% or more of lots offered. Over the last five years auctions have struggled to complete even 80% as the percentage of lots sold fell from 78% to 70%."

Consignors are not getting the message from buyers, who, for the first time in the history of the rare book trade, are now firmly in the driver's seat and are not appreciating back-seat driving from dealers and sellers. A business that has traditionally been top-down, determining what is important, what collectors should buy and at what price, has now officially become - as every other trade has had to become to survive - a bottom-up business with collectors calling the shots, the books, and prices they are willing to pay.

What Americana Exchange's data shows is that, while 45% of auctions houses are showing sell-through rates of 80%, 55% continue to encourage high reserves as a strategy to attract consignments. It is a strategy that is out of whack with the realities of the marketplace and until those auction houses (the bigger ones) and consignors allow prices to find themselves through unhindered bidding the market will continue to be distorted, "clearly interfering with the market's ability to reprice material appropriately."

Bloomsbury reports that their two most recent big sales achieved 80% and 89% lot sell-though; they have, apparently, accepted Jesus as their savior, bowed their heads, lowered their reserves, and have had their prayers answered; the kingdom of God is at hand. Other houses are encouraged to look to the skies, observe the shaft of sunlight cleaving dark clouds, and forgo pagan price structures. Right now, the best advice is to have no other gods before thee but the Rare Book Big Kahuna. who demands that sacrifice be made now to ensure fertile fields in the future.

The recession is, in my view, not the cause of this downward pressure but rather the most recent (and dramatic) catalyst for change to a business that has been struggling with change for the last fifteen years since the Internet's transparent, free-market blessing to the collector became a curse for sellers. The low and middle range of the business was thrown upside down and effectively taken out of the control of sellers. Now, the chickens have come home to roost on dealer's shelves and have left droppings that when divined by copromancers reveal that it's time for the mid to high-end material to meet their market-maker, the public. The "trickle-up" recession is now leaving lint in the deep pockets of high-end buyers who will likely never see the bubble heights of the go-go years in their portfolios again within their lifetimes. Prices, once adjusted downward, will not be bouncing back any time soon. As stock market holdings have declined to pre-bubble prices, so, too (and has, to 2003 levels, according to AE), will the equity in rare books.

Dealers have felt the same pressures as auction houses. At the 2009 New York Antiquarian Book Fair, posted prices remained high even as many dealers offered deep discounts. The general mood was gloomy; some dealers who had dramatically discounted their big books still could not sell them. Reports from the recent 2009 Olympia Book Fair in London were similar with high prices sous le manteau discounted (lest they be seen and heard) to just above cost and still no takers. A close colleague with over forty years in the trade and one of the more colorful personalities in a business bursting with them, concisely - if indelicately - described the mental state of most dealers at Olympia as "Shitting."

No dealer is yet willing to be the bad guy and be the first to lower posted prices. But some brave soul will. The trade will yell and scream, hang the dealer in effigy, invoke black magic, and stick pins in a voodoo doll.

That courageous dealer will likely experience cash flow increased to healthy while his/her colleagues' cash flow continues to suffocate. At some point, however, conniption fits will subside and sane minds prevail. The followers will follow, the fed-up will find other work or retire, the market will settle, and who's ever left will reap the benefits as buyers and sellers begin reading from the same page in the same book.

It may be time for the rare book trade to embrace the verity that rules the building of physical strength and endurance:

No pain, no gain. Orally dosed liniment in the form of ardent spirits may be indicated to ease the ache; only the ardent spirits in the trade will make it to the finish line.

Thursday, July 2, 2009

Michael Jackson "Extremely Well-Read," Had 10,000 Books

The King of Pop a dweeby book lovin’ geek?

Apparently so, and hooray. He was an avid reader who had an appropriately majestic library at Neverland that held 10,000 volumes on its shelves, according to two recent Los Angeles newspaper articles.

In the midst of a lengthy interview in the L.A. Weekly, Jackson attorney Bob Sanger revealed the following as his last of three golden attributes that defined the Gloved One.

“Michael was extremely well-read…I knew Michael, but I got to know him a lot better at the trial. The judge was doing jury selection, and it was time for break. Judge Melville said, 'Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to know that jury service is very, Tvery important.' He's trying to convince people not to have stupid excuses to get out of jury service. All judges do this. He says, 'The jury system is a very time-honored system. It's been around for 200 years. We're going to take a break and come back in 15 minutes.’

“We stand up and the judge leaves, and Michael turns to me and says, ‘Bob, the jury system is much older than 200 years, isn't it?’ I said, 'Well, yeah, it goes back to the Greeks.' He says, 'Oh yeah, Socrates had a jury trial, didn't he?' I said, 'Yeah, well, you know how it turned out for him.' Michael says, 'Yeah, he had to drink the hemlock.' That's just one little tidbit. We talked about psychology, Freud and Jung, Hawthorne, sociology, black history and sociology dealing with race issues. But he was very well read in the classics of psychology and history and literature.

“He loved to read. He had over 10,000 books at his house. And I know that because - and I hate to keep referring to the case, because I don't want the case - the case should not define him. But one of the things that we learned - the DA went through his entire library and found, for instance, a German art book from 1930-something. And it turned out that the guy who was the artist behind the book had been prosecuted by the Nazis. Nobody knew that, but then the cops get up there and say, 'We found this book with pictures of nude people in it.' But it was art, with a lot of text. It was art. And they found some other things, a briefcase that didn't belong to him that had some Playboys in it or something. But they went through the guy's entire house, 10,000 books. And it caused us to do the same thing, and look at it.”

“And there were places that he liked to sit, and you could see the books with his bookmarks in it, with notes and everything in it where he liked to sit and read. And I can tell you from talking to him that he had a very - especially for someone who was self-taught, as it were, and had his own reading list - he was very well-read. And I don't want to say that I'm well-read, but I've certainly read a lot, let's put it that way, and I enjoy philosophy and history and everything myself, and it was very nice to talk to him, because he was very intellectual, and he liked to talk about those things. But he didn't flaunt it, and it was very seldom that he would initiate the conversation like that, but if you got into a conversation like that with him, he was there.”

I’ll Be There
As reported in the L.A. Times. Doug Dutton, proprietor of the legendary and now, alas, defunct, Dutton's Books in Brentwood, was at a dinner with people from Book Soup, Skylight and other L.A. bookstores.

"Someone mentioned that Michael Jackson had been in their store," Dutton recalled. “Everybody said he'd shopped in their store too."

Doug first met Jackson in the early 1980s when the icon came in his shop wearing "very large sunglasses" and a suit of bodyguards. MJ was solitary and quiet. "There was no display of 'I'm Michael Jackson,'” he recalled. "I don't remember him actually saying anything." Jackson bought four-five books during visits.

Doug’s brother, Dave, remembers getting a call in the late '80s - early '90s from an MJ minion, who requested that the shop be closed early so Jackson could privately shop. "We did close early," Dave said. Then, "about a quarter to nine he showed up in a big van. Once you got over the initial caution because of those burly guys with him, he was very nice. He loved the poetry section," Dave’s son Dirk asserts that Ralph Waldo Emerson was Jackson's favorite author. "I think you would find a great deal of the transcendental, all-accepting philosophy in his lyrics."

I would have bet the farm that, considering his obsession, Michael Jackson would have been a compulsive collector of all things Peter Pan, the collecting completist’s completist, acquiring every single edition of the book, every scrap of paper associated with it, and everything from the story’s subsequent incarnations.

"He was a longtime and valued customer," a spokesperson for Hennessey + Ingalls, the renowned art and architecture bookstore in Santa Monica, said in the L.A. Times piece.

It turns out that Michael Jackson was a sort of Johnny Appleseed of reading, spreading books to all children. Former Los Angeles resident Cynde Moya remembers that "back when I worked at the Bookstar in Culver City, his people would have us keep the store open after hours, and he'd come in with a vanload of kids, who could buy whatever books they wanted."

As MJ’s life got stranger over time, so did his book buying habits. He would wear a surgical mask during his book shop visits, and in a video of him from New Year's Eve 2008, he’s at Hennessey + Ingalls browsing for books, a black umbrella, held by an assistant, shielding him from the unflattering glare of florescent lighting.

Or, maybe to prevent his love for books from being exposed.

This is a problem that will never threaten the unread, book-hating and proud singing star Kanye West. It is a fact that intellect and pop entertainment values do not mix well in American culture: A pop star could never mysteriously disappear for a few days, drive family, friends, and the nation crazy with anxiety, then resurface with the rambling confession that he was incognito in Buenos Aires visiting the sultry, irresistible National Library of Argentina, full of hot-blooded Latin-American tomes, because he needed a change of scenery.

Completely unbelievable. There must have been something else, something seamy, going on, perhaps with La Biblioteca Nacional de la Republica Argentina’s head of special collections, right? I mean, really, is nothing sacred?

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Reflections on the Present Condition of the Female Sex

TERRA INCOGNITO, Gaia - Whereas, over the course of fifty-eight years I have mastered near complete ignorance of the subject of women, I am, naturally, going where sane men fear to tread, yet to insure my ongoing safety amongst the double-X chromosome set, I unequivocally assert that today's headline is not mine - really! - but, rather, the title to a most interesting book from 1798 written by Priscilla Wakefield, its subtitle, "With Suggestions for its Improvement," being left out because what I know about women you could put on the head of a pin and have room left for a copy of The Feminine Mystique and Our Bodies, Ourselves, and as far as offering suggestions for its improvement, my only feeble - and desperate - suggestion is, "say yes, I beg of you."

female sex030.jpgWakefield's knowledge, however, is another matter; women, apparently, have greater insight into themselves than men. Who'd a' thunk it?

Wakefield (1750-1832)  "wrote seventeen books, principally moral tales... She was well known as an author for the rising generation at a time when the developing field of children's literature offered welcome opportunities to women...

"Wakefield succeeded because she produced improving and didactic works of non-fiction that middle-class parents were choosing to buy. Unlike Romantic writings that celebrated imagination and fantasy Wakefield's books have a deliberate moral tone, are filled with information, and focus on real-life experiences in the present day. Characteristically they have a family setting and promote a new-style progressive pedagogy based in domestic conversations; mothers often teach their own children, and girls receive attention as much as boys...

"Personally and politically Wakefield shied away from radicalism but she advocated reform in many areas of public and private life. Her books contain extended criticisms of the slave trade and cruelty to animals; letters to magazines weigh in on social topics such as the plight of apprentices and equal wages for women and men. Wakefield believed that education was the key to the improvement of individuals and society. In Reflections on the Present Condition of the Female Sex (1798), her one book for an adult audience, she called for more educational and occupational opportunities for women. Advocating economic self-sufficiency she offered practical and vocational suggestions, such as establishing institutions to train teachers and encouraging women to be farmers. Wakefield did not contest the division of society into social classes; she directed her ideas about female improvement to women of the nobility, the middle classes, and the labouring poor. Nor did she contest gendered ideas about the 'female character'. She wrote:

"''There are many branches of science, as well as useful occupations, in which women may employ their time and their talents, beneficially to themselves and to the community, without destroying the peculiar characteristic of their sex, or exceeding the most exact limits of modesty and decorum (Reflections, pp. 8-9).'" (Oxford Online DNB).

Though way ahead of her time as a reformer, she was squarely in and of her time. In Reflections..., Wakefield suggested that the "first and second classes" of women be employed in writing, painting, engraving, sculpture, music and landscape gardening - but not the theater - the moral hazard too great. Women of the "third class" were suitable for teaching, working in shops, the stationary business, apothecary's work, pastry and candy-making, light lathe work and toymaking. Farming was on her list as as a suitable occupation for women.

At approximately the same time, other female writers were making their mark but in fiction; the novel had become increasingly popular since Richardson's Pamela. Minerva Press was the leading publisher of novels during the late 18th century, most of its stable of writers were women, and many of these writers sympathetically focused on the plight of contemporary womanhood.

One such Minerva Press novelist was Mrs. Bennett.

bennett.jpgIn her last novel, Vicissitudes Abroad (1806), the heroine, Julia, unsuspectingly marries a gambler, who soon abandons her in London. Alone and penniless, she finds that she cannot even pay for a hired carriage, and when the driver abuses her and a crowd gathers, presuming her to be a prostitute, she goes mad and is delivered to a charity hospital. As final insult to injury, the hospital's doctor offers to waive her hospital care costs if she will become his mistress.

Of Anna (or, Agnes) Bennett (c.1750-1808), the European Magazine, 1790, said her father and husband were customs officers. But other sources claim that her father was a grocer and her husband a tanner with whom she moved to London. She left her husband and began work as a shopkeeper, workhouse matron, and then mistress ("housekeeper") to Admiral Sir Thomas Pye, whose name she gave to two of her children. He died in 1785, the year her first novel, Anna, or Memoirs of a Welsh Heiress, was published.

In 1763, William Lane decided to cash in on the novel reading craze. He opened a circulating library in Whitechapel. Around 1790, the operation moved to Leadenhall Street in London where he established Minerva Press, a publishing house noted for creating a lucrative market in sentimental and Gothic fiction in the late 18th century and early 19th century.

Over the next fifteen years, Lane dominated the novel publishing industry and made a fortune. In addition to Mrs. Bennett, his stable of writers included many other female authors including Regina Maria Roche; Mrs. Eliza Parsons; and Eleanor Sleath whose Gothic fiction is included in the list of the seven Northanger Horrid Novels, recommended by the character Isabella Thorpe in Jane Austen's novel, Northanger Abbey (1818). Six of the Northanger Seven were published by Minerva. However many titles were anonymous, including such novels as Count Roderic's Castle (1794), The Haunted Castle (1794), The Animated Skeleton (1798) and The New Monk (1798). Authors who wrote for Minerva Press are obscure today, and its market became negligible after the death of its charismatic founder who, according to the poet, Samuel Rogers, was often seen tooling around London in a splendid carriage, attended by footmen with cockades and gold-headed canes.

In 1804, he took on Anthony K. Newman as his partner. And while Minerva's market share fell to about 39% between 1805 and 1819, it continued to crank out copious amounts of the types of novels that became synonymous with its name. Few authors who wrote for Lane and Newman are critically acclaimed today. And after its founder died in 1814, Minerva Press' share of the print market became negligible, giving evidence to the fragmentation and diffusion occurring within the industry at the time.

It is in the non-fiction works of Wakefield and the novels of the Minerva Press that we gain our best insights into contemporary womanhood, and those seeking a place to begin collecting early women writers should consider Wakefield and Minerva Press as an excellent starting point.

As for this writer, I divide women into two classes: Those who will date me - a suitable but low-paying occupation - and those who won't (seeking suitable occupation elsewhere). Both have my sympathies and respect, the former for their good taste, the latter for their good sense.


Garside, et al., English Novel, 1806.18. Blakey, Minerva Press. Bloch, The English Novel 1740-1850. Cardiff University, Center for Editorial and Intertexual Research, British Fiction 1800-1829. NSTC B1579. James Burmester, Catalogue 75, no. 188. Thanks to David Brass for permission to quote from my catalog description for Vicissitudes Abroad.

Images courtesy James Burmester (Reflections...; alas, James does not have a website) and David Brass (Vicissitudes Abroad).
Subscribe to BOOKTRYST by Email