Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Sarah Palin's Censored Books At Center Of Art Installation

Warren Neidich: Book Exchange, an art installation, is the season-opening exhibit at Glenn Horowitz Bookseller in East Hampton, NY.  The installation's process involves books that Sarah Palin, when she was first elected as mayor of Wasilla, Alaska, found objectionable and sought to remove from the town’s public library.

According to Horowitz, Book Exchange allows visitors, through the simple act of trading one book for another, to directly interact with the community and participate in the process by taking a red book to the installation and exchanging it for one of the books on the shelves, which have been signed by Neidich, an American artist who lives in Berlin, as a series of ready-made artworks.

Horowitz notes that “all other criteria are at the sole discretion of the visitor. Each trade will be noted as it happens so that at the end there will be a record of the entire series of incremental changes leading to a complete transformation.”

The show’s centerpiece is a massive steel bookshelf tilted so that it turns freely within a large pedestal structure. The bookshelf functions as a kinetic sculpture defining the surrounding space, as a place to store and display books, and as a framework for organizing and regulating information.

Among the installation’s many themes are how we perceive information, habitual ways of seeing, and order and entropy,

On site.

Red book exchange detail.

The exhibition, which began in May, continues through July 5, 2010.

The exhibit is not without controversy; the list of books that have been claimed to be in Palin's gun-sight has proven to be false. Her only crime, apparently, was that she inquired of the local librarian what her reaction would be if she, Palin, requested that certain books be removed from the library's shelves. Not a Class-A felony. But definitely a Class-A misdemeanor that would have led to a felony if Palin had received the least bit of encouragement to her veiled can-I-get-away-with-it? "rhetorical question" from librarian Mary Ellen Baker. Odds are, she would  have followed through.

Sarah Palin should have never messed with Miss Mary. "She [Palin] asked me if I would object to censorship, and I replied ’Yup’," Baker (née Emmons) told a reporter at the time. "And I told her it would not be just me. This was a constitutional question, and the American Civil Liberties Union would get involved, too."

All that has been firmly established is that one book has been consistently lost/removed/stolen/vanished/banished from the Wasilla Library's shelves, Pastor, I Am Gay by Baptist minister Howard Bess, a volume that argues for churches to be tolerant of gays and lesbians.

Whatever the reality, Ms. Palin, through her rhetoric if not her actions, has become a lightning rod for issues of book censorship. Warren Neidich's Book Exchange merely taps into a role she self-assumed with a not-so-innocent question to a not-so-easily buffalo'd librarian. Pardon me: Not so easily moose'd librarian. The Let's Keep Big Government Out of Our Lives poster-girl hinted that government actually had a role to play in what we can or cannot read. Big Grizzly-Mama met Big Brother, shook hands, and declared "you betcha!"

One question about the installation remains: Why must the exchanged books be red? A call to Horowitz's East Hampton shop for comment was answered by an answering machine that refused to answer. Go figure.

Does red symbolize that the books were actually read and not censored? Or is this, as some might suggest, just another Commie plot to undermine the "real" America and sap "real "Americans of their "precious bodily fluids"?


A tip o' the hat to the East Hampton Star.

Shelf Check 279 by PoesyGalore courtesy of Toondoo.

Booktryst salutes Sterling Hayden, aka Gen. Jack Ripper in Dr. Strangelove (1964).

Bowdoin Library Proves Small Is Beautiful

Medici Book of Hours (ms. Marie de Medicis).
Illuminated Italian ms. on vellum, ca. 1530.
Devotional book belonging to Marie de Medicis,
in miniscule script.
With eighteen large and ten small miniatures,
many with elaborate borders in
Arabesque and naturalistic motifs.
(All Images Courtesy Of Bowdoin College.)

What do Alfred Kinsey, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Hawkeye Pierce, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Admiral Robert Peary all have in common? Along with thirty-six U.S. Congressmen, fifteen U.S. Senators, two U.S. Supreme Court Justices, and one U.S. President, (Franklin Pierce--no relation to Hawkeye), all are graduates of small but mighty Bowdoin College in Maine. Despite never having an enrollment of more than 1,800 students, Bowdoin has consistently produced leaders in Science, Art, Politics, Literature, Social Science, Law and Medicine, for over 200 years.

Bowdoin's Hawthorne-Longfellow Library holds an impressive one million volumes, but for a recent online exhibit the Rare Book Department held to the College's tradition of offering the world nothing but the creme de la creme. The 50 Books exhibit features a prime selection of rare books from classical texts printed during the Renaissance to 21st-century artists' books. These works are masterpieces of publishing, scholarship, and literature, as well as elegant examples of fine printing, bookbinding, and illustration. An even smaller sampling appears below, just enough to whet the appetite for the rare book feast Bowdoin's appropriately first-class librarians have cooked up.

BASKIN, Leonard. A Book of Demons: etchings.
Northampton, Mass.: Gehenna Press, 2001.
Special Edition limited to twenty-six copies.
Mostly copperplate etchings printed in color.
(by Michael Kuch).

Leonard Baskin launched the Gehenna Press while he was a student at Yale in 1942. The press was known for its fine printing, blending of unheralded texts with artful conception and illustration, and specializing in collaborations between Baskin and contemporary writers, like Ted Hughes. Gehenna Press publications evolved from examples of superlative press work and exquisite design, to works of art in book form. A Book of Demons was published posthumously in the year following Baskin's death.

GOODALE, Rebecca. Extinct. Extirpated. Endangered.
3 pieces. Portland, Me.: R. Goodale, 2003.
Artist's book; edition limited to ten copies;three flexagons,
hand colored silkscreen prints with collage.

This work is part of a project (ongoing since 2000) in which the artist creates books that represent flora and fauna designated by the state of Maine as threatened, endangered or extinct. When these rings are twisted, one surface is concealed and another is revealed. When shaken, each ring produces a sound relative in intensity to the level of threat that the group of species faces. Extinct shows the Passenger Pigeon, Great Auk, Sea Mink, and Labrador Duck. Before their extinction, these animals could be found in Maine. Extirpated reveals the Walrus, Grey Wolf, Wolverine, and Caribou. These various species, while still surviving in other parts of the world, were once known to live in Maine. Endangered includes one plant, the Tall White Violet, three Terns (Roseate, Least, and Black), the Ringed Boghaunter, and the Black Racer.

HAWTHORNE, Nathaniel.
Fanshawe: a tale
Boston: Marsh & Capen, 1828.

This, Hawthorne's (Class of 1825) first novel and the earliest "college novel" in America, was published anonymously and quickly disavowed by its author. He sought to suppress copies (his friend Horatio Bridge burned his copy), and his wife Sophia was unaware of its existence until after Hawthorne's death. Surviving copies, consequently, are extremely scarce. Arguments have been made for the setting being modeled after Williams and Dartmouth colleges, but the strongest case remains that the fictional "Harley College" is based on Hawthorne's experiences at Bowdoin. Bowdoin's copy of Fanshawe was donated to the College as the Library's 500,000th volume.

FRANKLIN, Benjamin.
Experiments and Observations on Electricity,
Made at Philadelphia in America ...To which are added,
letters and papers on philosophical subjects.
The whole corrected, methodized, improved,
and now first collected into one volume,
and illustrated with copper plates.

London: For David Henry,

and sold by Francis Newbery, 1769.

The 4th edition, but also the most desirable, being the first complete edition of what many consider to be the most important scientific book of eighteenth-century America. Previous editions contained fewer reports and many errors, and Franklin edited this new one-volume edition himself, significantly revising the text and adding numerous copies of his own letters and notes. The volume includes accounts of his famous kite-key experiment, his design for an efficient fireplace, and a number of scientific findings by his contemporaries. Franklin and Massachusetts governor James Bowdoin, in whose memory Bowdoin College is named, were both founding members of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and they communicated regularly about scientific matters of mutual interest. This copy belonged to Gov. Bowdoin.

Narrative of the Expedition of an American Squadron
to the China Seas and Japan ...
New York: D. Appleton, 1857.

Perry's expedition, which contributed considerably to the "opening" of Japan to the West, was formally documented as a United States government publication (1856) in three volumes, copiously illustrated with chromolithographs portraying various aspects of Japanese and Chinese life, as well as with scientific findings. Volume 1 of that report was reissued by Appleton in the following year, identical in text and illustrations (as was another edition reduced in size and with cheaper illustrations) to accommodate a wider public interest. Volumes 2 and 3, focusing more narrowly on scientific observations, were excluded from these 'popular' editions. The bath scene shown here is found in only a very few copies of the 1856 and 1857 editions--it was deemed too offensive to the public and was excised from most copies.

RIMBAUD, Arthur. Les Illuminations.
Lausanne: Grosclaude, Éditions de Gaules, 1949.
Original lithographs by Fernand Léger
(most are colored by hand or stencil);
preface by Henry Miller;
edition limited to 395 copies.

After completing Illuminations, a collection of prose poems composed in England, the tempestuous Rimbaud stopped writing verse at the age of 21. Paul Verlaine first published the manuscript a dozen years later, in 1886, reestablishing Rimbaud's reputation as a major poet. Numerous editions of Illuminations have followed, and various artists have contributed illustrations to complement the text. The copy shown here was hand bound (1985) by Kerstin Tini Miura in full brown morocco with colored leather onlays, red leather doublures, a half-leather chemise with marbled paper, and a matching marbled slipcase. Miura's cover design echoes Léger's lithograph illustrations that appear in the work. This copy represents the Library's millionth volume, acquired in the spring of 2006.

Fifty rare books, fifty fascinating stories, fifty chances to (virtually) dip into Bowdoin's amazing treasure trove of books. A million reasons why, when it comes to library collections, bigger is most definitely not always better.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

A Bucolic Paradise For The Working Class, 1825

One of the rarest British color-plate architectural pattern books of the first half of the nineteenth century, Novel Designs for Cottages, Small Farms & Schools presents architecture as social engineering and provides the genesis for the company town.

It was produced by architect John Hall, Secretary to the Society for Improving the Condition of the Labouring Classes, and author of 1824's A Plan for the Abolition of the Present Poor Rates: and for Effecting a Grand Moral Improvement in the Lower Classes of Society, with a View to the Ultimate Annihilation of Pauperism (Goldsmith 24266). Novel Designs... won  Hall  a grant of Royal Letters Patent for the designs and plans therein.

"To The Nobility and Gentry Land Owners of Great Britain and Ireland, These Designs are very respectfully dedicated by their most Obedient Humble Servant JOHN HALL. July 1, 1825."

 "Showing how easily the situation of the Labourers may be improved and the Education of their Children be rendered independent of Public Contributions and Subscriptions."

The book opens with five designs by Hall to produce economical housing of unusual, rather extraordinary quality for land owners to rent to their workers:

 Pair of Labourer's Cottages.

"The object is an increase of comfort and happiness to the labouring classes: - an encouragement towards the attainment of a true independence, which, while it makes them superior to idleness, intemperance, and parochial relief, will tend to lessen their vices, and create a pleasurable observance of all the duties of society. In short, an inducement to preserve health by the exercise of cleanliness, delicacy, and industrious morality: the true Mens sana, in corpore sano!"

Hall provides details of the costs to the landlords and subsequent costs to the worker (including food bought from the Landowner) with a wife and four children for a house comprised of well-proportioned, high-ceilinged Living Room, Kitchen, and three Sleeping Rooms "to enable the parents, boys and girls to sleep separate" - most unusual at the time - each house to sit upon an acre and a quarter of land:

 Labourer's Cottage.

"A garden and a little land must be added, on which the spare time of the family may be beneficially employed, and inclining them to raise their thoughts in thankfulness to their Creator for the bounties they enjoy."

By Hall's calculations, the landlord will earn eleven shillings per annum in profit after recovering costs.

Of no less interest are his designs and plans for farm housing...

 Pair of Small Farm Houses.

"Wherever the plans for labourer's cottages are adopted, the establishment of small farms will speedily follow; for as the best conducted labourers will be selected as proper tenants for the cottages, so, in a short time, will the superior cottager be chosen for the tenant of a small farm."

 Pair of Small Farm Houses.

…And self-supporting country schools:

 School and Master's Residence. 

"Suppose an establishment, upon the plan given, for boys, girls, and infants…the whole upon ten acres of land, to cost £5000. Accommodation would then be afforded for three hundred infants, and six hundred older children…To make the elder children more efficient members of society than the children of labourers can become by mere intellectual instruction, only half their time must be given to reading, writing, and arithmetic, and the other half must be employed on the land attached to the establishment, in the workshops, and in the houses of the teachers…and [in] all those useful employments which will enable them, when they leave school, to become valuable servants, and to procure an honest livelihood by their own exertions…By this arrangement it is not too much to calculate, that, besides producing from the garden a sufficiency for the support of the teachers, one halfpenny per day each, may be averaged by the earning of the children!"


Hall's project, in its use of inexpensive, natural building materials (timber and Pisé, i.e. rammed earth, pisé de terre, an excellent, low environmental impact construction material popularized in the U.S. by S.W. Johnson in his 1806 book, Rural Economy, and now enjoying a renaissance) to construct small one story structures that would be affordable for the working classes and provide a spiritual uplift, was a forecast to Frank Lloyd Wright's series of Usonian homes developed one hundred and ten years later in the mid-1930s during the depth of the Great Depression in the United States to provide simple, affordable housing for the "common people" while at the same time offering an enlightened living experience.

Lodge Cottage.

But it was much more than that.

The whole was a dramatic, utopian plan to raise the social, moral and cultural level of the landowner's tenant labor force and farmers and their families while at the same time offsetting the associated costs and producing a profit. In this, it was a rural foreshadowing of the urban company community-towns of Victorian England, such as the Akroydon model housing scheme in the model village at Boothtown, built in 1859 for the workers at the mills of Edward Akroyd.

 A Pair of Labourer's Cottages.

Other model villages were built by philanthropist industrialists such as Titus Salt (Saltaire) and George Cadbury to house their workers as well as provide social amenities.

The Cadbury brothers were concerned with the quality of life of their employees and provided housing at low cost for the employees and their families. Their village, opened in 1879, became known as Bournville. There, families rented houses with yards, gardens, and fresh air. The brothers cared for their employees; they both believed in the social rights of the workers.

 Pilot's or Fisherman's Cottage.

These social labor efforts in Britain in turn influenced the company towns developed in Industrial Age America, providing possible answers to the United States’ own social labor questions that would culminate in the promised utopia of George Pullman’s Pullman, IL.

Developed 1880-1884, “to improve relations between management and labor by creating a clean and beautiful community for his workers… [Pullman] expected them to respond with hard work, loyalty and improved moral character.

“…The only thing residents lacked was a sense of control. By 1893, the population had reached 12,000. There was no local government. A town agent managed the community. The company decided which stores could locate in the town, which books would be stocked in the library, and which performances could be staged at the local playhouse.

“Worker discontent was expressed in an often-quoted saying: ‘We are born in a Pullman house, fed from the Pullman shops, taught in the Pullman school, catechized in the Pullman Church, and when we die we shall go to the Pullman Hell.’” (San Diego Union-Tribune. May 15, 2005).

Here, then, in Hall’s designs and plans (but for one school, never realized) we see the genesis of social mercy for the working class in rural England that led to the labor force’s migration to cities and the progressive social answers to that misery, then crossing the Atlantic, where those answers to labor-management, social justice, and harmony in the industrialized world would be adopted in the United States and lead to Pullman’s Eden with chains, the result of well-meaning noblesse oblige paternalism taken to its logical extreme to bare the authoritarian actual within the idealistic idyll.

HALL, John. Novel Designs for Cottages, Small Farms & Schools, with Observations theron by John Hall, Secretary to the Society for improving the condition of the Labouring Classes.[ London: Published for the Author], 1825.

First edition. Folio. 11, [1, blank], including Engraved Title and Dedication pp., and fifteen hand colored lithographs with uncolored floor plans below. Text printed by C. Baynes. Lithographs signed: Printed by C. Hullmandel, except where stated.

Abbey, Life 23. Archer, British Domestic Architecture 140.1. Bobins 653.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Super Copy of Sherlock Holmes' Debut Estimated At $375,000-$600,000

The only known inscribed copy, apart from the author's own, of the first printing of A Study in Scarlet, the first appearance of Sherlock Holmes, will be auctioned at Sotheby's - London on July 15, 2010. Published in Beeton's Christmas Annual, November 1887, it is estimated to sell for £250,000 - £400,000 ($375,000 - $600,000).

Arthur Conan Doyle, at the time a respected though not particularly successful doctor in his mid-twenties, sold the story and copyright to the publisher, Ward, Lock and Co., for £25 ($37).

There are only three signed or inscribed copies recorded of this monument in  the detective genre of literature, one of the rarest and most highly sought books of modern times, (only twenty copies in U.S. and British libraries and merely eleven in private hands) a volume keenly desired by Doyle and/or detective fiction collectors all over the world: the author's copy, currently in the possession of the Estate of Dame Jean Conan Doyle (the author's youngest daughter, who died in 1997); that under notice; and a copy at Yale's Beineke Library. The copy at the Beineke Library, tragically however, was mutilated, its inscribed page excised at some point prior to March 2003, when the crime was discovered. This, then, is one of only two signed or inscribed copies known to exist.

Inscribed on the front endpaper, January 9, 1914.
"This is the very first independent book of mine which ever was published"

This copy was bound by Zaehnsdorf, c. 1914, in three-quarter morocco with the original color-printed wrappers preserved.

For many Boomers and below, their first exposure to Sherlock Holmes was through movies, the series starring Basil Rathbone providing the introduction with the many subsequent television and film incarnations of the master of deduction firmly and indelibly imprinting the character upon modern Western culture. The four Holmes novels and fifty-six short stories continue to attract and fascinate readers 123 years after this, Sherlock's first case.

 Classic Sherlock: Deerstalker hat, calabash pipe, and magnifying glass.

Boomers may have also met Sherlock and A Study in Scarlet through Classics Illustrated comic books, as did this writer.

#33, January 1947. 
Containing A Study in Scarlet and The Hound of the Baskervilles.

  #110, August 1953. First Separate Comics Edition.

The first published and first comics edition of A Study in Scarlet share a similar literary and publishing culture. Both are pulp editions. After unsuccessfully trying to place the story with  traditional publishing houses Doyle finally broke down and sold it to Ward, Lock and Co. which had a reputation for making, in Doyle's words, "a specialty of cheap and sensational literature," the very definition of pulp lit. And, significantly, publishers of pulp literature routinely bought all rights, outright, from writers; the pulps were where many struggling authors paid their dues in lieu of earning royalties. Note, too, the sensationalistic, blood-red-bold-lettered wrapper design right out of the pulp playbook, created to attract the eye and invade and stir the imagination. This is one of the great works of pulp fiction.

The copy under notice possesses sterling provenance; it was once owned by famed Holmes collector and Baker Street Irregular, William S. Hall. As astounding as its estimated market value is, it would be dwarfed, I believe, by the Doyle copy currently in the possession of the Jean Doyle Estate; it's the holy grail of Holmesiana. Should that copy ever come to auction, I think it not unreasonable to estimate its market value at $700,000 - $900,000.

I'd like to acknowledge Sotheby's English Literature Specialists, Peter Selley, Dr. Philip Errington, and Dr. Gabriel Heaton, one of whom or in concert have written one of the best auction catalogue descriptions for a rare book I've read in quite a while. The full e-catalogue can be found here.

DOYLE, Sir Arthur Conan. A Study In Scarlet [in] Beeton's Christmas Annual, Twenty-eight Season. London: Ward, Lock and Co., [November 1887]. Illustrations by D.H. Friston.


Continuing  our ongoing exploration of bibliographies of dubious worth as yet unwritten, i.e. Bobliography: A Bibliography of Books Written By Guys Named Bob, we add A Study in Scarlet to The Crimson Tidal Wave: A Check-List of Swell Literature With "Scarlet" in the Title.

1.  The Scarlet Letter by Nathaniel Hawthorne (1850).
2.  A Study in Scarlet by Arthur Conan Doyle (1887).
3.  In Scarlet and Grey by Thomas Hardy (1896).
4.  The Scarlet Pimpernel by Baroness Orczy (1905).
5.  The Scarlet Bat by Fergis Hume (1905).
6.  The Scarlet Plague by Jack London (1915).
7.   Scarlet Sister Mary by Julia Peterkin (1928).
8.   A Scarlet Pansy by Robert Scully (1933).
9.   Scarlet Fever by George F. Dick (1937).
10. The Scarlet Ruse by John D. McDonald (1980).

Metalsmith Slips Bindings, Finds Freedom In Jewelry

YOUNG, Edward. The Complaint, or,
Night-Thoughts on Life, Death and Immortality
London: Printed for A. Millar and R. and J. Dodsley, 1756.
Vellum boards with wax resist dyed leather straps,
secured with copper staples. Collection of the artist.

(All Images Courtesy Of Yale Center For British Arts/Photos by David Wood.)

"It's very difficult to work as a bookbinder. The minute I started to make jewelry – everybody wants to buy jewelry. The first show I had, I sold everything, and I had commissions for 18 months."

Those words are like the painful whine of the dentist's drill to lovers of fine bindings and artists' books. And, sadly, they come from one of today's premier practitioners of the art of bookbinding, Romilly Saumarez Smith. A new exhibit at the Yale Center for British Art spotlights the twenty-five year career of Saumarez Smith as a book artist, and her gradual progression away from that art form to her new status as a creator of one-of-a-kind fine jewelry.

The show, Structured Elegance: Bookbindings and Jewelry by Romilly Saumarez Smith is the first to show her distinctive work in both mediums and to explore the relationship between them. It features nearly fifty objects loaned by the artist and by private collectors in the United Kingdom and United States. Collectively, these works of art display a kind of alchemy, a gathering of the finest materials transformed by an artist's talent and passion into something much more than the sum of their parts. Not exactly turning dross into gold, but perhaps turning cool, clear water into vintage champagne.

CAVAFY, Constantine P. A Selection of Poems.
London: The Camberwell Press, 1985.
From an edition of 70 copies with a unique binding
by Romilly Saumarez Smith.
Goatskin with onlays of dyed goatskin and glacé leather.
Collection of Eileen Hogan.

Romilly Saumarez Smith studied binding and paper conservation at Camberwell College of Arts in London and went on to become the first female union member and forwarder at London’s famed Zaehnsdorf Bindery (now a part of Shepards, Sangorsky and Sutcliffe). She was elected a Fellow of Designer Bookbinders in 1984 and taught at the London College of Printing and the Guildford College of Art and Technology. Her public commissions include bindings for the Victoria and Albert Museum and for the annual exhibitions of the Booker Prize winners for contemporary fiction. Saumarez Smith is represented in the collections of the Contemporary Art Society, the Crafts Council, the British Library, the Harry Ransom Center, and the New York Public Library, and she has exhibited in Britain, the United States, France, and Germany.

PERRAULT, Charles. Histoires ou Contes Du Temps Passé.
Paris: Alberto Tallone, 1982.
Leather spine with inlaid false bands,
cloth boards with graphite strip and brass nails,
in box covered in paste paper and cloth.
Collection of Lily Le Brun.

Structured Elegance has been co-curated by Elisabeth Fairman, Senior Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts at the Yale Center for British Art, and by artist and Professor in Research at Wimbledon College of Art, Eileen Hogan. Hogan herself was a practitioner of lettering and book arts, first at the Royal College's Lion and Unicorn Press and then with her own imprint, Burnt Wood Press. In 1984, she founded the Camberwell Press, only the third collegiate press to be established in a British art school. Here, between 1984 and 1996, she published a wide range of new and existing texts, designed and illustrated by herself and many other artists. And here she became enamored with the work of Romilly Saumarez Smith.

SHAKESPEARE, William. Antony & Cleopatra.
Guildford, England: Circle Press, 1979.
From an edition of 300 copies,
bound by Romilly Saumarez Smith.
Calf boards decorated with wax resist technique,
green lizard skin straps with copper fastenings.
Collection of Linda L. Brownrigg.

Smith was uninterested in creating traditional "fine bindings." What she found fascinating was the physical structure of the book--particularly areas often neglected by book artists, such as the connections between the spine and the cover. She also chose to use unconventional materials and techniques. For example, drenching cotton mattress ticking in leather dyes and finishing it with hand-rubbed beeswax to create an intricate chiaroscuro effect. Though her work was bold and innovative, she never lost sight of the fact that the binding must underline and enhance the text of the book. As her craftsmanship evolved, Smith found herself using more and more metal to both reinforce and decorate her bindings--especially large staples, inlaid copper wire, and adornments made from precious alloys. This penchant for metallurgy lead to her initial creation of a piece of jewelry.

Pendant, 2005.
Oxidized silver and eighteen carat gold.
Collection of the artist.

Saumarez Smith likens becoming adept at an artistic discipline to falling in love. But for that passion to flourish, the right ingredients are essential. She found this becoming impossible in the realm of bookbinding. "It became more and more difficult to get good vellum," said Saumarez Smith. "That's what drove me away from bookbinding: I couldn't get decent materials." While comparing the process of leaving bookbinding behind to undergoing "a terrible divorce," she began to concentrate on jewelry design. She says: "With any craft, you need a terribly clear idea what you’re doing and, after all the books, I think I finally have that. When something is right for me, I get a certain rush of excitement. … I think the same thing happens to every creative person and that, when it does, it can be very powerful…. When you realize that, you feel 'I am in a tradition.' To me, that’s a consolation, it’s a tremendous comfort."

For collectors and admirers of fine bindings this change in medium from books to jewelry is distressing rather than comforting. Though Romilly Saumarez Smith's nests of twisted wires enhanced by exquisite precious gems are undeniably beautiful, book lovers can only hope she once again hears the music of Calliope, the muse of poetry, or gets a message from St. Francis de Sales, patron saint of writers, and returns to creating masterpieces of book art. Structured Elegance will continue at the Yale Center for British Arts through September 19, 2010.

Previously On Booktryst:
Family Feuds, Curses, and Treasures.

2009 Designer Bookbinders Competition Winner Announced.

Friday, June 25, 2010

Are You The Newspaper You Read?

A reader of The Star.

Be careful, you are what you read - specifically, your newspaper of choice. Who are you if you read the New York Times, the New York Post, the Daily News, or any of the other metropolitan newspapers across the United States (or anywhere) that still survive? How about the National Enquirer, or the World Weekly News ("The World's Only Reliable News!" if you follow the latest on Nessie, Big Foot, or the three-legged pygmy accountant by day werewolf by night)?

A reader of The Daily News.

Acclaimed illustrator Kyd, pseudonym of Joseph Clayton Clarke, dipped his brush in droll wit and skewered the average reader of London's most popular newspapers of the late 19th - early 20th century in a singular suite of original watercolors, Some Typical Newspaper Readers, executed c. 1900.

'Tis a sad fact indeed that while there were once many newspapers competing for readers of all classes and tastes - Clarke lampooned twelve published in London alone - many cities now have only one. How can you judge yourself against a single paper?

 A reader of The Era.

Joseph Clayton Clark (1856-1937) worked as a freelance artist with a particular affection for Dickens, his Dickens illustrations first appearing in 1887 in Fleet Street Magazine, with two collections soon to follow: The Characters of Charles Dickens (1889) and Some Well Known Characters from the Works of Charles Dickens (1892).

 A reader of The Sporting Times.

In the first decade of the twentieth century, five sets of postcards based on his Dickens drawings were published, and seven sets of non-Dickensian comic cards by him were issued. Beginning in the 1920s, he earned his living from watercolor sketches, mainly of Dickens' characters, which he sold to and through the London book trade. Frederic G. Kitton gives him early notice in his classic text, Dickens and His Illustrators (1890); Kyd's watercolors were at that date already being avidly bought by major Dickens collectors (Kitton, p. 233), the Cosens sale in 1890 successfully selling a collection of 241 of Kyd's Dickens watercolors, and Mr. Tom Wilson, at the time the foremost collector of Dickens, possessing 331 of Kyd's drawings.

 A reader of The Times.

"As a character 'Kyd' emulated those of Dickens and his own illustrations - slightly larger than life. In his style and dress he was mildly flamboyant for the period…He seldom varied his attire from a grey suit, spats, homburg hat, gloves and was never without a carnation or substitute flower in his button hole" (Sawyer, Richard. "Kyd" (Joseph Clayton Clark): A Preliminary Study of his Life and Work Together with an Essay on Fore-Edge Paintings, 1980. p. 7).

A reader of The Referee.

"The vast majority of 'Kyd's' works which are offered for sale today are single-character studies…Far more rare are character studies with backgrounds" (Sawyer), as here. Rarer still are non-Dickens or playing card themed work. Thus, this is an exceedingly scarce suite of watercolors not noted by Sawyer, and quite likely unique. It's closest relatives appear to have been two of Kyd's post card series: The Book and Its Reader, a set of six cards humorously depicting the artist's idea of types of readers of contemporary popular novels (oh, to see that!), and London Types.

 A reader of The Daily Mail.

With so much news content now delivered through the Internet we may never know the personal character  of Web-based newspaper readers. With annoying banner, sidebar, pop-up, open-collapse, etc. ads, it may be that those of us who've come to depend upon Web-based news services are or may soon become like Kyd's impression of  the Daily Mail's average reader. But, take heart, there is no shame in being crazy for print.

KYD (pseudonym of Joseph Clayton Clarke). Some Typical Newspaper Readers. A Series of 12 original Humourous Sketches drawn in colours by "Kyd" (Clayton Clark). [London, c. 1900]. Ten (of twelve) original watercolors each titled and signed by the artist, and with full backgrounds. Loose in original portfolio illustrated and titled in black ink by the artist on the front cover.

Booktryst invites readers to suggest current newspapers that might best be read in a padded cell, as Kyd has caricatured the above reader of The Daily Mail.

Images courtesy of David Brass.

Virginia Library Serves Up Bookplate Special

Bookplate Designed By Mrs. Kennedy,
And Printed By Tiffany & Co., in 1961.

(All Images Courtesy Of University Of Virginia.)

By 1500, printing presses in Western Europe had already produced more than twenty million volumes. It 's impossible to know how many of these were lent by their rightful owners to friends who somehow "forgot" to return them. Even though it was the double-dealing Polonius who advised his son, "Neither a borrower, nor a lender be; For loan oft loses both itself and friend," anybody who's ever had an awkward conversation with a pal over an unreturned book knows the old hypocrite was on to something.

This Authentic George Washington
Bookplate Is Worth Roughly $3,000.

It's no surprise that readers as early as 1450 figured out that if they wanted to get the books from their private libraries back from errant borrowers, they needed an easy way to indicate their ownership of each volume. But who wants to spoil the binding or pages of a beautiful book with stamps or ink? Enter the bookplate.

Nelson Rockefeller's Bookplate,
Designed By Pablo Picasso.

Bookplates are an art form in their own right. A small rectangle, usually about 4x3 inches, gently fastened to the inside front cover of the book, and bearing the owner's name. Early plates often featured the coat of arms or crest of the book's owner (armorials), along with the Latin phrase, ex-libris. But, over the centuries, bookplate design became more and more personalized. Bookplates featured art commissioned from many of the finest designers of their day, such as Albrecht Dürer, Thomas Bewick, Paul Revere, Kate Greenaway, Aubrey Beardsley, Marc Chagall, M.C. Escher, Rockwell Kent, Leonard Baskin, Barry Moser. Book owners used the plates to convey their interests, hobbies, personal histories, careers, or even a pun based on their name. (This last is known as "canting " bookplate.)

The Images On Gloria Swanson's Bookplate
Illustrate Her Surname.

Soon these miniature works of art became collectible. Fine designs, on the best quality paper, and rendered by woodcut, engraving on metal, silk-screen, etching or pen and ink made them a desirable and impressive acquisition. Bookplates from distinguished owners are sought after, and plates from the libraries of George Washington, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Charles DeGaulle, Greta Garbo, Douglas Fairbanks, Sigmund Freud, Jack Dempsey, Jack London, and Charles Dickens to name just a few, have all made it into the hands of eager collectors.

Hemingway's Bookplate Reflects His
Love Of Nature And Bullfighting.

The Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library and the Rare Book School in Alderman Library of the University of Virginia are hosting an exhibition of some of the finest bookplates from a distinguished collector. Through July 29, 2010 the show Three Centuries of American Bookplates, will display the results of a lifelong passion for collecting by James Goode, a former curator of the original Smithsonian Institution building in Washington, D.C. "James Goode’s collection of bookplates is perhaps one of the finest in the country, and we are privileged to have a portion of it on exhibit," says Michael Suarez, director of the Rare Book School.

The University Of Virginia Produced A Short Video Of James Goode Discussing His Collection.

Mr. Suarez further notes that the humble bookplate "can teach us all a great deal about collecting, graphic arts, provenance and fine printing." What's not to love? Those little plates can even make it a little more likely that those volumes you lend will actually end up safely back on your shelves, where they belong. If not, there's always that old saw from Polonius to justify refusing to lend them in the first place.


Thursday, June 24, 2010

Hemingway Drinks Snake Wine, Gets Punched Out, And Other News From “Ernesto”

An unpublished letter by Ernest Hemingway recently came to my attention. It's a feast, moveable or otherwise, a highly personal letter that reveals more, I think, than Hemingway intended.

Dated June 9, 1943 and postmarked from Cuba, it is addressed to his boxing trainer and coach and close friend, George Brown, "a very sinister Irishman who owned a gym on 55th Street" (Patrick Hemingway) in Manhattan.

"Dear George:

How's everything?"

But before George Brown has a chance to write back with an answer, Hemingway takes off on a colorful tour of recent events in the Hemingway household and environs.

"Marty [his wife, journalist Martha Gellhorn] has two articles written and only four to go now. She's flown up to Lashio in Burma and back and we had a swell time on the flight across the Pacific. Going up now with the Chinese army for about a month and then out over the Burma Road. Am learning plenty and doing plenty of studying."

Papa discusses a recent cocktail that's strictly chef Anthony Bourdain territory, and seems to get a macho charge from the experience:

"You would go nuts in this place just walking around and seeing things. The other day I had a drink of wine that had real snakes in it. About eight of them coiled up in the jar. By God, would like to have seen the Colonel [Hemingway's buddy and hunting guide, Taylor Williams] face that one. They were snakes too. They had another wine that had dead roosters and cuckoos and all sorts of birds in it but after the snake wine I thought to hell with a chickenshit wine like that..."

I dunno, if drinking snake wine tickles Hemingway's testicles but dead rooster and cuckoo  wine isn't ballsy enough, I feel fairly confident that Bourdain would eat Hemingway under the table in gustatory test of courage. mano a mano, boca a boca. Hemingway believed he could stand toe to toe with any man; he was fiercely competitive. And yes, he could stand toe to toe with any man. Unfortunately,  with anyone other than a writer, not for very long.  I suspect Hemingway would take one look at one of Bourdain's plates of nasty bits - fricasseed scorpion, stir-fried Venus Fly Trap, the usual cornucopia of gag-inducing gourmet treats - and chicken-out but instead of gracefully conceding would instead make a scene.

Moving along, we learn that Cuba, apparently, was a magnet for a particular population of interest to Ernest.

"There are about 100,000 more or less beautiful Chinese whoors [sic] and not even Zoomo [?] could save the Colonel here."

Diet has become a major issue for Hemingway, now forty-five and thickening around the middle.

"Have been going out on the road [jogging] but get fat just the same. The food is so good and am hungry all the time. Drink milk for breakfast and have been drinking those vodkas and tomato juices the rest of the time. We will have to work like hell to get the fat off when we get home. Have about two and a half inches of fat across the bottom of my lower belly. Hard fat. You'll have to beat it off with a hammer. Weigh 223 stripped. Otherwise in o.k. shape."

Forget the hammer. All he had to do was lay off the Bloody Marys as standard, post-breakfast liquid refreshment during the day; the weight would have fallen right off.

Hemingway warms to a subject close to his heart yet so far from his abilities, boxing. As I have written previously, he was an awful boxer with a grossly over-inflated sense of his skill level, at best a rank amateur. He considered himself of semi-pro ability. Remember, he's forty-five years old at the time he wrote this letter.

"Have only boxed twice. Guy didn't know much but was 190 and only 26. Cut my lips with a good left jab when I came crowding in my new imitation of your old pal Harry but when I got in I kept on punching and it worked out just like you said. In the 2d round I kept left handing him and then when I quit and let him come to me I worked my left way out wide and set and hooked him with it and he sat down. Then we got friendly after that and I didn't do nothing wrong except backhand him a couple of times (My mistake. How could it have happened. I wouldn't know). But the second time we boxed the twirp cut my mouth again with the first punch and I went around for about a week with crusts on my kisser. But I punched him silly. I didn't make him sit down anymore because of us being such friends by then but I could have. He brought the gloves and they were little ones and hard as bricks. That was what made my mouth cut. The second time we were boxing outdoors on a cement floor in the garden behind the hotel. I was afraid to try to dump him because of the cement. To hear me tell it I must have been terrific."

I strongly suspect that if anybody else told it,  he wouldn't have been so terrific. Let's parse that 'graph:

He immediately gets cut by what must have been a very stiff jab. Hemingway doesn't like getting cut; when he and novelist Morley Callaghan sparred in Paris during the 20s, Hemingway spat blood in Callaghan's face after Callaghan bloodied his mouth but good. Hemingway's sense of his masculinity was pretty fragile; Callaghan had humiliated him in front of F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Hemingway easily looses control; he gets mad and typically begins to try to bull-charge his way in. That's how the mouths of blind, unschooled and undisciplined amateurs get bloodied. "I worked my left way out wide and set and hooked him with it." Amateur Hour. Work your left "way out wide" and say hello to a straight, inside right that greets your chin first. Only a tyro, an idiot or no-nothing would extend such an invitation.

 When things get tough, he fights dirty. "I didn't do nothing wrong except backhand him a couple of times (My mistake. How could it have happened. I wouldn't know)." Yeah, right. But he gets lucky and puts the kid on his fanny. Forty-five year old man exults over his apparent "win" over a twenty-six year old.

When I was young, dumb, and made of rubber, I toiled in the amateurs for a few years during my early twenties. Once, I sparred with a forty-three year old guy. I figured, gramps better have medical insurance.

Gramps made me look silly. He knew what I was going to do before I did it, I'd throw a punch and he'd be in another state by the time it would have landed. He'd take a half-step one way and tie me in knots the other way.

But though he was a former pro and could have easily hospitalized me, he didn't. I recall that I actually landed a single, solid shot. What did gramps do? He nodded in appreciation. Later on, he shook me up real good. What did he then do? Nothing. He backed off; he had nothing to prove by taking advantage of my relative inexperience.

Hemingway had to prove to the kid and himself that he was boss.

Next time they spar, the kid, now derided as a "twirp," once again tattoos Hem's phiz and spills his blood. This time, Hemingway can't sit the kid down despite "punching him silly." Excuse? They were now friends. Baloney. Friendship never stopped Ernest Hemingway from screwing with his friends. Reality: Hemingway wore the same "hard as bricks" gloves that the kid wore and bloodied him with (it couldn't possibly have been the power behind them. It was the magic gloves!). If Hemingway had indeed "punched him silly" with the "cement gloves" (they were probably regulation 8 oz. gloves used by pros with little actual padding), the kid would have been thoroughly beaten up.

Note that in his entire narrative only one person's blood is being spilled yet Hemingway gives himself the decision.

Does it sound to you like Ernie "the Oak Park Pretender" Hemingway is writing in Brooklynese? Hemingway is jumping through hoops to bond with and impress his trainer. But George Brown was no fool; he surely knew the reality:

"When [ George Brown] boxed with my father he would always warn him once that he was crowding too close and if the warning was not heeded, then knock him on his ass with the deftness of a striking cobra" (Patrick Hemingway, op cit).

The reality was that anyone who had even the slightest idea of what they were doing in the ring could take Hemingway, who was notorious for foolishly trying to actually fight trained boxers. It was the reason why Jack Dempsey avoided him in Paris - he knew Hemingway would try to get cute and Dempsey would have to seriously hurt him to keep him away. Hemingway was a danger to himself in the ring and no one else.

Having told all, Hemingway closes the letter with:

"I'll tell you about everything when we get back.


Poor George Brown probably never did get a chance to tell Hemingway, "How's everything?" Ernesto was too preoccupied with his own wonderfulness.

George Brown remained with Ernest Hemingway for the rest of the novelist's life as trainer, coach,  friend, and factotum. Brown reinforced and flattered Hemingway's sense of himself. But if Hemingway got cute and crowded him, he'd knock him on his ass. George kept it real without being a threat. Hemingway so wanted some of George to rub off on him, boxer by association.

Letter courtesy of James Cummins.
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