Monday, January 25, 2010

Skirts In Dust Jackets: Indie Women, Wayward Wives, Soiled Damsels, Sassy Lassies, and Hard-Boiled Dames

Meherin, Elenore. "Sandy." Gosset & Dunlap, 1926.
"She defied life's Conventions in her search for THRILLS!"
Photoplay edition.

Women on the move, on the make, on the day shift, on the night shift, on their feet, on their backs, on the go, on their way, onward and upward.
Sometimes a rare book catalog is organized like a library exhibition, the dealer/cataloger as curator to a wide variety of books that when grouped together tell a compelling story.

West, Mae. The Constant Sinner (Babe Gordon). Macaulay, 1931.
4th printing, first with ths title and dust jacket.
The story of a dope-dealing prostitute who has an
affair with a black pimp/bootlegger. A novel reportedly
with many autobiographical elements.

Walton, Francis. Women in the Wind. A Novel of the Women's National
Air Derby
.Farrar & Rinehart, 1935. Novelization of the actual 1929
race from Santa Monica, CA to Cleveland, OH, a watershed event
in women's aviation. Amelia Earhart and Pancho Barnes were
among the twenty competitors; Earhart placed third.
Reality punched-up with "dogfights in the air
and catfights on the ground," plus a love story.

The themed rare book catalog is nothing new but it is exciting when a dealer, pursuing his own, sometimes quirky, book interests puts one together based upon volumes that have been long forgotten or dismissed as unworthy of attention.

Sharpe, May Churchill. Chicago May: Her Story. Macaulay, 1928.
Such is the case with Catalog Number 2 from ReadInk Books, Skirts, In Jackets: a couple of hundred books By - About - For (and sometimes Against) WOMEN!

Fabian, Warner (pseud. of Samuel Hopkins Adams). Unforbidden Fruit.
Boni and Liveright, 1928. "A Story of Life in Women's Colleges."
In 1933, Adams' short story, Night Bus, was adapted for the
screen and won 1934's Best-Picture Oscar®
under the title, It Happened One Night.

Devanny, Jean. The Butcher Shop. Macaulay, 1926.
"The sacrifice of Womanhood in the marriage marts."

Clayton, Joan. One Girl's Morals: The Romance of a Dime-a-Dance Girl.
Grosset & Dunlap, 1932.

Keller, H.A. Yesterday's Sin. Macaulay, 1934.
"What would be the fate of a young and beautiful woman,
brought up among Nudists all her life, in a world
of conventional dress and exclusive society?"

ReadInk’s proprietor, Howard Prouty, modestly asserts that he had no grand scheme in mind when putting the catalog together, declaring within that “there’s no message here that’s any more profound than ‘hey...look at this! Cool, huh?’”

Columbus, Bradford. Terrania; or, The Feminization of the World.
Christopher Publishing, 1930. A dissenting view on the emergence
of women and their power into a man's world.

Devanny, Jean. Out of Such Fires. Macaulay, 1934.
"The vilest woman character that any author has yet conceived
- a walking exhibition of neurotic bestiality."

What you begin to realize after scanning its pages is that Prouty is either being faux-naive or very canny. He, like so many current rare book dealers trying to make a full-time go of it, has a day job. He is an archivist at an institutional library.

Sherman, Jaon. Harlot's Return. Godwin, 1937.

Trent, Sarah. Women Over Forty. Macaulay, 1934.
Discusses "the appalling number of women over forty.
Some are simply at a loss what to do with themselves
when children need them no longer. Others are
distraught, panicky, morbid and desperate."
Sample chapter title: "Modern Nerves."

And so, we are presented with Flappermania!; Notorious Ladies; Glamour Girls; Girls at School; Women at Work; Bad Girls and Wild Women; Grand Dames of Mystery; WWII - Women on the Home Front; ...and in Uniform; Ladies of the Big Apple; Marriage: the Solution or the Problem; How to Be an Even Better Woman; What Mad Pursuits, Indeed? Adventuresses; Women Gettin’ It Done!; Fascinating and Formidable Females; etc.

McGill, Mary E. Into a Man's World: Talks with Business Girls. Our Sunday
Visitor, 1938. Advice to a young lady in the workplace on how to
be "mindful of her dignity, of her good name, of her self-respect,
of her obligations to God, to her own soul and to her fellows."
The authoress scorns married women who work: "These
become defrauders of husbands' and children's right and
thieves of the jobs of single women who have no
one to give them economic support."

Stark, Mabel, with Gertrude Orr. Hold That Tiger. Caxton Printers, 1938.
One of the world's most famous Big Cat trainers (along with May Kovar),
Stark began her circus career in 1912. Quite attractive, she was mauled
many times during her lifetime by animals, sometimes by her cats.

Jordan, Gail (pseud. of Peggy Gaddis). Part Time Passion. Phoenix Press,
1940. "Karen Montgomery believed in equal rights
for women - and that meant not only competing
with men on an equal footing but also taking her
loves as they came and throwing them off as lightly.

The overwhelming number of the volumes described and offered were published c. 1911-1950. What is revealed through these 212 books is the emergence onto the American stage - sometimes with sharp elbows to reach the footlights - of the modern woman, her hopes, frustrations, dreams, fantasies, and aims toward self-realization and independence, written, for the most part, by women for women.

As a collection, these books trace the evolution of American feminism in the first half of the 20th century through popular literature, a period that sometimes gets lost between the women’s suffrage movement of the late 19th century and the Women’s Lib movement of the late 1960s. The story of women struggling toward equality during this period is rich and colorful, culminating with the entry of women into the armed services and workforce during World War II. Then, after the war, it ground to a halt, the movement going into hibernation as women returned to traditional roles, often reluctantly, in the post-war years of the 1950s. It then screamed to reawakening in the Sixties.

ReadInk Books, now celebrating its twelfth year in business, has carved out a cozy niche in the rare book universe, one that I believe has upside potential going into an uncertain rare book future. Billing itself on its website as Books for the Obsessive or Merely Curious - a compelling tease - in this catalog Prouty keeps it simple: Forgotten Books, Remembered.

ReadInk is - and this is no small thing - developing itself into a brand with an engaging, individualistic personality. This is otherwise known as Marketing 101. With an interesting website to back it up (including an Oddities and Obsessions page reflecting Prouty’s personal book-related interests), ReadInk Books with this, its second print catalog, nicely produced, is an up-and-comer long in the making worth keeping an eye on.

Dunton, James G. A Maid and a Million Men. Grosset & Dunlap, c. 1940.
Originally published c. 1928, the story of a girl who substitutes herself
for her WWI Yank brother so he can go AWOL to tryst
with his fiancee. But "unexpected sailing orders were received
and away she went with his regiment to France."
It is unclear
whether she's taking her uniform off or putting it on.

A million men want to know.

Crawford, Phyllis. Second Shift. Henry Holt. 1943.
No swingin' on this wartime shift, "anyone who has wondered
what it means to do 'unskilled repetitive labor,'
to give up movies, dances, and everything once
considered the joy of life, will find a true
and moving answer in this book."

Jacobs, Helen Hull. By Your Leave, Sir. The Story of a Wave.
Dodd, Mead, 1943.
Jacobs was a major tennis star, winning
many U.S. championships. She was ranked #1 in the world in 1936.

Gerken, Mable R. Ladies in Pants. Exposistion Press, 1949.
The title refers to working women, not the sapphic set.
One thing that distinguishes and sets ReadInk apart from the crowd and into the hands of budding collectors is that it has decided, by choice or accident, that first editions are not necessarily the best editions to collect. This, too, is nothing new - knowledgeable dealers have been trying to drill this reality into collectors ever since books have been collected; first edition, first issue freakdom has, to a large degree, run amok. ReadInk chooses editions that have the better dust jacket design, and/or editions that are often rarer than the first edition and/or possess a worthwhile quirk. With compelling and informative descriptions that include gently entertaining commentary, these dead “who cares?” books are reanimated, providing a “we should” answer to the question.

Harrison, Marguerite. There's Always Tomorrow: The Story of a Checkered Life.
Farrar & Rinehart, 1935. Fascinating womanhood! Harrison, a widow
and single mother at age 36, was compelled to embark on a career
as a journalist. Beginning with society news, she soon rose to cover
hard news, was a spy for U.S. Military intelligence during WWI, and
subsequently spied for the U.S. in Russia and Japan.

Savage, Kim. Hellion. Vixen Press, 1951.

More to the point, the books are not expensive to collect. Most are priced below $250, many under $100. Books priced under $500 is the area that I believe holds the greatest potential for the rare book trade as elite collectors of “big books” continue to dwindle to a few while average, working-stiff, budding collectors look for an entryway into a hobby too often perceived as too rich for their blood. I have a very strong belief that populism will be ascendant, in collectors, the volumes they collect, and cost; there is a large number of people with a latent or active desire to collect but have been shy due to the expense.

Good, fascinating rare books at an affordable price. What a concept.

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