Monday, February 28, 2011

The Dark Side of Currier & Ives

by Stephen J. Gertz


When we think of Currier and Ives we think of scenes like the above, The Road - Winter by Otto Knirsch, published by C&I in 1853, and now ubiquitously found on Christmas and greeting cards, postage stamps, and calendars. It is one of many enduring images published by Nathaniel Currier and James Merrit Ives that have become deeply embedded in the American psyche, each a slice of warm toast that make all Americans feel good, sentimental, and nostalgic for bygone days. They are all easily digestible.


Outside of collectors and curators, however, few are aware that between 1879 - 1890 Currier & Ives issued a series of color lithographs embracing all the worst stereotypes about Black Americans. Its Darktown series was, in fact, one of Currier & Ives' best-sellers, one print alone selling an astounding 73,000 copies.


 The prints in the Darktown Series feature the full array of negative stereotypes about American Blacks in the post-Civil War period and underscore the American tradition of reducing Blacks to buffoonish cartoon characters. As such, this rare compilation bears painful, vivid testimony of the racial attitudes of white, middle class Americans during this time. That the series was one of Currier & Ives'  - "Printmakers to the People" - most popular speaks reams.


While most of the seventy-five prints in the series - Black Americans at the racetrack, playing football, baseball, as firemen, etc., are unsigned, enough are (and stylistically similar to unsigned) to reasonably conclude that Thomas Worth and John Cameron were the artists responsible for the designs to all plates here collected.


"Thomas Worth (1834-1917), a New York artist, took his first drawing at the age of twenty to Nathaniel Currier and was compensated five dollars...This was the beginning of a long line of work which T. Worth did for the firm... He is mostly credited for his Darktown Series which was one of the firm's most prolific and profitable series. It is known that one print of the Darktown Series sold 73,000 copies" (Kipp, p. 27).


"John Cameron (1829-1862), although he died at the early age of 33, contributed many great prints to the Currier & Ives firm. Scottish by birth, he emigrated to this country and while still a young adult he was quickly recognized for his artistic talents" (Ibid, p. 32).


Currier and Ives did not publish their lithographs in albums. The prints were sold singly, through wholesalers and retailers, including pushcart vendors and door-to-door salesmen, that covered the entire nation down to each home; James Merrit Ives was a management and marketing genius. I recently had this collection pass through my hands; not a collection, really, but a salesman's sample book comprised of forty-one color lithographs from the Darktown series as well as other, similarly racist, Currier & Ives prints.


"Currier and Ives provided for the American public a pictorial history of their country's growth from an agricultural society to an industrialized on. Included in this chronicle of growth were pictures of the nation's black population. Many lithographs by Currier & Ives cast a romantic shadow over thier subjects, from kittens to mischievous children to firemen. That same rosy hue appears in some of thier prints illustrating African Americans, where antebellum plantation life is presented with warm nostalgia, carefully absolved of any unpleasantness. Other, more unusual prints, used the popular medium of lithography to confront issues like abolition. Whether implicit or explicit, lithographs from Currier & Ives now-famous firm offer strong statements on the role of race in nineteenth century American society...


"Creating a segregated community of black Americans, Darktown prints showcased a full array of negative stereotypes of former slaves who moved north after the Civil War. Portrayed as mentally slow, physically grotesque, and morally inept, African Americans became comical figures to the primarily white consumers of Currier and Ives prints. True to the period's nativist overtones, the Darktown series was accompanied by similar prints lampooning Irish and Italian immigrants, as well as Roman Catholics. Popular prints were made to satisfy popular demand; as such, this series bears a painfully vivid testament to the racial attitudes of white, middle-class Americans of the late nineteenth century" (Images of Blacks by Currier and Ives).


Between 1852, when James Merrit Ives joined Nathanial Currier's print business, and 1907, when the firm finally shut its doors, Currier and Ives published over 7,000 separate images yet while the Darktown series and associated racist prints made up only a small percentage of the total, at the time, as best-sellers, they represented a key source of profits. White Americans couldn't get enough of 'em.


Yep, them happy darkies really knew how to have a good time puttin' on airs an' foolishly tryin' to emulate white folk's ways; it's pure comedy, a laugh-a-minute minstrel show presented in color on paper. How could anyone guess that beneath the gloss of high-steppin' uninhibited, de-light, inchoate rage, hopelessness, and grief stirred an abyss of centuries-old degradation?
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CURRIER and IVES. [DarkTown Series Salesman's Sample Book]. Forty-One Color Lithographs Depicting Black Americans in the Late 19th Century ]. New York: Currier & Ives, 1879-1890.

First issue prints with full margins, at least 1 1/2 inches. Oblong folio (13 1/4 x 17 1/4 in; 336 x 437 mm). Forty-one original color lithographed prints, some highlighted with hand-coloring and heightened with gum arabic, on heavy paper.

References: Conningham, Currier and Ives Prints: An Illustrated Checklist.  Kipp, Robert. Currier's Price Guide to Currier & Ives Prints.

The Plates (w/Conningham #, date, and artist where signed):

1.  A Kiss in the Dark. (3347).  1881.
2.  Wrecked by a Cow Catcher. (6792).  1885.
3.  As Kind as a Kitten.  (281) . 1879. Thomas Worth.
4.  Jay Eye Sore - De Great World Beater. (3187).  1885.
5.  A Trot, with Modern Improvements. (6162).  1881. Thomas Worth.
6.  A Crack Trotter - "Coming Around." (1283)  1880. Thomas Worth.
7.  Well - I'm Blowed! (6613).  1883.. Thomas Worth.
8.  An Ice Cream Racket - Freezing In. (3023).  1889.
9.  An Ice Cream Racket - Thawing Out. (3014).  1889.
10.  Lawn Tennis at Darktown. A Scientific Player. (3463)  1885.
11.  Lawn Tennis at Darktown. A Scientific Stroke. (3464).  1885.
12.  A Darktown Tournament, - The First Tilt. (1431).  1890. John Cameron.
13.  A Darktown Tournament, - Close Quarters. (1430). 1890. John Cameron.
14.  Grand Football Match - Darktown against Blackville. A Kick off. (2483).  1888.
15.  Grand Football Match - Darktown against Blackville. A Scrimmage. (2484).  1888.
16.  A Foul Tip. (2090).  1882. Thomas Worth.
17.  A Base Hit. (374). 1882. Thomas Worth.
18.  De Tug Ob War! (6246).  1883. Thomas Worth.
19.  Won By A Foot. (6758).  1883. "Kemble - del."
20.  Great Oyster Eating Match between the Dark Town Cormorant and the Blackville Buster.
       The Start - "Now den dont you's be too fresh   wait for de word. (2635).  1886.
21.  Great Oyster Eating Match between the Dark Town Cormorant and the Blackville Buster.
       The Finish - "Yous is a tie - De one dat gags fust. am a gone Coon." (2636).  1886.
22.  A Darktown Law Suit. (1407).  1886. John Cameron.
23.  A Darktown Law Suit - Part Second. (1408).  1887.
24.  A Literary Debate in the Darktown Club.  Settling the Question. (3659).  1884. Thomas Worth.
25.  A Literary Debate in the Darktown Club.  The Question Settled. (3558).  1885. Thomas Worth.
26.  A Darktown Trial - the Judge's Charge. (1432).  1887.
27.  A Darktown Trial - the Verdict. (1433).  1887.
28.  A Surprise Party. (5901).  1883. Thomas Worth.
29.  A Change of Base. (997).  1883. Thomas Worth.
30.  A Penitent Mule, - The Parson on Deck. (4793)  1890.
31.  The Darktown Tally Ho, - Tangled Up.  (1427).  1889. Thomas Worth.
32.  The Darktown Tally Ho, - Straightened Out. (1426).  1889. Thomas Worth.
33.  The Darktown Fire Brigade - All On Their Mettle. (1387).  1889.
34.  The Darktown Fire Brigade - Hook And Ladder Gymnastics. (1388).  1887
35.  The Darktown Fire Brigade - Under Full Steam. (1397).  1887.
36.  "Bustin The Pool." (756).  1889. Thomas Worth.
37.  "A Clean Sweep." (1129).  1889. Thomas Worth.
38.  Two To Go! (6272).  1882. Thomas Worth.
39.  Got 'Em Both! (2453).  1882. Thomas Worth.
40.  Hug Me Closer George! (2983).  1886
41.  When! Shall We Three Meet Again? (6634). No date (c. 1877-1894). 

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Lithograph images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

Image of Currier and Ives window sign courtesy of The Philadelphia Print Shop.
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Friday, February 25, 2011

Jewel of Welsh Manuscripts Goes Digital

By Nancy Mattoon


Image of The King From
The Laws Of Hywel Dda Manuscript.

(Images Courtesy of National Library of Wales.)

A manuscript which has been called "one of the jewels of Welsh civilization" has been digitized for the first time by the National Library of Wales. The 14th century volume, known as The Laws of Hywel Dda, is one of the earliest records of a system of native Welsh law named after King Hywel Dda (Hywel the Good) whose reign began in approximately 920 A.D. Although the code was written prior to 950 A.D., there is no surviving manuscript dating earlier than the late 13th century.

Detail Depicting The Crime of Assault,
In This Case Hair Pulling.

The copy digitized in February 2010 is particularly rare, as unlike virtually all other Welsh manuscripts of this period, it is heavily illustrated. According to manuscripts librarian Dr. Maredudd ap Huw, "The monk who transcribed the text combined secular and devotional elements to 'decorate' his work, which makes it today one of our most interesting medieval manuscripts." This copy of the The Laws of Hywel Dda is also much larger than most other law books of the period, and was probably created for a library, rather than meant to be carried in the pocket of a lawyer. It was clearly made for a scholarly client, as it is written in Latin rather than in Welsh.

Detail Of A Hunting Dog,
A Valuable Commodity.

The Welsh library has speculated that this highly unusual volume may have been commissioned as a presentation copy of the Welsh laws for a foreign dignitary. The fact that it is written in Latin hints at an ecclesiastic end-user, rather than a lawyer, and very likely a non-Welshman. Textual evidence suggests that it was probably written in an ecclesiastical center located in south-west Wales. It is known that, by the beginning of the fourteenth century, the manuscript was at Saint Augustine's Abbey, Canterbury. The evidence for this comes from one of two pastedowns preserved at the end of the volume. It is also thought that this was the copy of the Welsh laws consulted by John Peckham, Archbishop of Canterbury, 1279-92, when he sent his letter to Prince Llywelyn ap Gruffudd in 1282, denouncing the prince's morals and those of the Welsh people, and in which he makes two references to the Laws of Hywel Dda. Peckham had been sent to Wales as a mediator by English King Edward I, but instead his conservative nature caused him to offend the Welsh ruler, and his people, by declaring them "unchaste, idle, lazy, drunkards."

Another Highly Valued Animal, The Stallion.

The illustrations contained in the volume fall into two categories: those which portray the king, officials of his household, and other human figures; and those which depict birds, animals, and property of legal value. The representation of the king seems to be based upon a higher-quality archetype than the rest of the drawings, which lack sophistication. They are probably the work of the scribe, as they appear to have been drawn in the same kind of ink as the text. Apart from the black ink, he uses two main colors, green and red. The scribe's use of green rather than the more common blue used in the mid-thirteenth century, especially for the capital letters, is probably due to the limited number of inks available in Wales at the time.

Detail Of A Decorated Letter "C".

Cyfraith Hywel, the law of Hywel, was the name by which their native law was known to the Welsh in medieval times. The law of Hywel lost its primacy after the conquest of Wales by Edward I and the passing of the Statute of Wales in 1284, but it remained an important ingredient of the law administered in Wales until the Act of Union in 1536. The extent of its use is reflected by the survival of as many as forty law books dating from between 1284 and 1536. Hywel the Good died in 949 or 950. In the latter part of his peaceful reign he ruled over a greater part of Wales than any king before him, and almost any Welsh ruler after him.

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L. Frank Baum Tells How To Read the Wizard of Oz

by Stephen J. Gertz


On July 18, 1915, L. Frnak Baum, author of The Wizard of Oz and its sequels, responded to a letter he received from Rev. Edgar T. Read of Westminster, MD. 

Within, Baum relates his aims and hopes for the Oz books.

"Such a appreciation as yours is my greatest reward in writing stories for children," he writes. "I want to amuse the little ones and at the same time strengthen their imaginations, as I believe the future development of civilization depends on the imagination of coming generations more than anything else. I also try to insert a covert moral, which the child may not discover but will nevertheless sense, and to keep the little stories as pure and sweet as they are adventurous.."

He continues with advice on how to read the Oz series --

"The Oz books need not be read consecutively, but still if you read them in the order in which they were written you will understand the characters better. The Wizard of Oz; The Land of Oz; Ozma of Oz; Dorothy and the Wizard in Oz; The Road to Oz; The Emerald City of Oz; Tik-Tok of Oz; the Scarecrow of Oz"

-- and expresses what appears to be a degree of frustration that his other books for children have not received the same attention, despite his belief that they are as good if not better than the Oz books.

"Also I wish you would read The Sea Fairies and Sky Island, which, while not Oz books, are among my best. I also like John Dough and the Cherub, the story of the Gingerbread Man."

Accompanying envelope.

Of particular note is that this letter is written on letterhead of The Oz Film Manufacturing Company, "Special Features in Fairy Extravaganzas with Original Music," a venture,  with Baum as President, whose intent was to provide wholesome, enjoyable, and non-violent movies for children that, alas, survived only two years, 1914-1915. Westerns, at the time the most popular and lucrative movie genre, were considered to be too violent for kids. But not by kids. Though a critical success, the production company was a commercial failure. The Patchwork Girl of Oz, one of three Oz books adapted by the studio (with "Original Music"), didn't pack a six-shooter.

L. Frank Baum, visionary, battling Hollywood's indifference to appropriate film fare for children: He had courage. He had heart. If he only had a brain.
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Images courtesy of Jo Ann Reisler, Ltd, with our thanks. They are offering this spectacular and revealing piece of Oziana for $7,500.
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Thursday, February 24, 2011

Original R. Crumb Art Keeps On Truckin' at Heritage Auctions

by Stephen J. Gertz

Big Ass Comix #1
Dale Steinberger the Jewish Cowgirl
Original art, 1969. Est. $7.5K, 1969.

Today and tomorrow, February 24-25, 2011, Heritage Auction Galleries is holding their Dallas Signature Vintage Comics and Comic Art sale. Included is a kick-ass selection of original art by R. Crumb that will keep you keepin' on to keep on truckin'.

We've chosen a small sampling from the twenty-six pieces offered, representing the most desirable  original art  by Robert Crumb to hit the market in quite some time.

Big Ass Comics #1 "Dale Steinberger the Jewish Cowgirl" Splash Page 1 Original Art (Rip Off Press, 1969). Robert Crumb indulges his love of big, strong Jewish women with this crazy yarn about a real krassavitseh, a doll of a cowgirl. This opening page features a fantastic, full-figure portrait of Crumb's Dale Steinberger, the Jewish Cowgirl, in all her two-gun glory, Debra Winger, ala Urban Cowboy, on steroids.

Zap #1. Original art, 1968. Est. $11K.

Zap Comics #1 Complete 2-page Story "Kitchen Kut-Outs" Original Art (Apex Novelties, 1968). Robert Crumb's original, first issue of Zap Comics (the "Comix" tag would come later), drawn in 1967, was a real game-changer. First, it pretty much single-handedly started the entire Underground Comix movement. Even though there were others who went before (like Jaxon's classic God Nose, published in 1964), it was Zap that really got things going. And even more important was the fact that this was the first real Independent comic, printed and distributed outside the established comic houses like Marvel and DC. From that historic first issue comes this two-page center-spread, "Kitchen Kut-Outs." The humanized edibles and utensils have been used several times, including a cook book by Crumb's first wife, Dana, and as a mobile hanging display.

XYZ Comix. Original art, 1972. Est. $9K.
 
XYZ Comics Cover Original Art (Kitchen Sink, 1972). It's the Last Word in Comics! R. Crumb's obsession with 1940s-style comic book art reaches its zenith in this cover to his 1972 solo comic, XYZ. By this time in his career, Crumb was reaching the "burn-out" stage in creating comic book stories filled with dope-smoking hippies, and instead turned to his vintage record collection for inspiration. The interior pages of XYZ were filled with wild layouts loaded with unconnected panels, each one drawn while listening to one of his old 78 rpm records. The result was unlike anything Crumb had done before, stream of consciousness musings with no linear storyline to trip him up. It all begins with this magnificent cover illustration, showing a variety of oddball characters dreamed up out of the blue, as that crazy Jazz and Blues music emanates from the record player. Krazy Kool, man!

Hup #4
Mr. Natural and Flakey Foont in A Bitchin' Bod!
Original art, 1992. Est. $4K.

Hup #4 "Mr. Natural & Flakey Foont in A Bitchin' Bod!" Page 1 Original Art (Last Gasp, 1992). The unforgettable Cheryl Borck, aka "Devil Girl," dominates this wild story featuring Mr. Natural and Flakey Foont. This 1991 story is one of R. Crumb's best later efforts and fan favorites, and this first page kicks things off with an incredible portrait of Cheryl, undoubtedly Crumb's strongest female character yet.

Meet the Beats - Kerouac. Original art. 1985. Est. $19K

Meet the Beats Jack Kerouac Illustration Original Art (Water Row Press, 1985). The On the Road and Dharma Bums author is immortalized in this expressive pen and ink portrait by Zap Comix artist Robert Crumb. The art made up part of a set of limited edition prints, and was also used as a T-shirt design. Crumb spent time with several of the major Beat writers while producing that first issue of Zap -- in fact, printer Charlie Plymell was rooming with fellow Beats Allen Ginsberg and Neal Cassidy while he was running off Zap #1 in another room. Oh, to have been present at that convocation!
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Images courtesy of Heritage Auction Galleries, with our thanks. With a tip o' the hat to their cataloger, who seems to have had a lot of fun.
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The Wild-Ride Journal of a Hollywood Bookseller 6

by Arnold M. Herr

The Melrose Cannonball  


"Here, attach this spring to your forehead."  Morty  held up a coil spring from a long-dead Studebaker whose carcass littered the back of his book shop.  We were constantly stumbling over parts of this car which were lying underfoot and heaped higgledy-piggledy all over the place.  According to Morty, junk like this always came in handy when you least expected it.  That's why it was never thrown away.

"What the hell are ya talkin' about?" I respectfully queried.

"Use this duct tape to hold it place."  He handed me the roll and the spring.  "You're going for a ride."

I taped the spring to my forehead; it looked like a gigantic round tefillen.

Me:  Will I need to take some clean clothes.

Morty:  It's not that kind of a trip.  Jack unearthed my old Zacchini circus cannon from the inner sanctum upstairs in the bargain basement.

Me:  You mean the inner scrotum, don't you?

Morty:  It gave me a great idea.

Me:  Saints preserve us.

Morty:  You know how it takes forever to get stuff to and from the warehouse across the street?  With all the traffic out there on Melrose and having to go down to the corner to cross the road, it's just a big waste of time.

Me:  And finding the cannon gave you an idea.

Morty:  We shoot the boxes of books out of the cannon and across the street.  Simplicity itself.

Me:  How do I fit into this picture?

Morty:  You're making the maiden voyage.

Me:  Why not Bob?  Why not Claude?

Morty:  Claude's too chunky.  Bob has bad feet.

Me:  What do his feet matter?  He'll probably die anyway.

Morty:  You'll fit easily into the barrel of the cannon; you're slim-hipped.

Me:  And small-brained, for an even better fit.  Why the spring?

Morty:  For the return trip.  You'll hit the facade of the building about five feet above the door.  The
G-forces will be up around 12 somewhere, but don't worry, it'll be duck soup.  Just before you hit the stucco, you drop the box of books.  Bob'll be underneath and catch it.  The spring hits the building - 'BOING!' - you fly back and you're home free.

A long pause -- a really long pause.

Morty:  Whaddya worried about?  It'll work fine.  Claude's done the math.

Me:  Claude doesn't know how to make change.  Show me in my job profile where it says I have to be a human cannonball.

And then we were outside on the sidewalk.  Claude was munching a candy bar; Jack was sipping a Mexican Edsel (V8 veggie juice and tequila).  Bob was standing across the street at the warehouse door.  I glanced at the Zacchini which seemed to be aimed higher than the building across the street. 

Me:  Shouldn't that be pointed a little lower?  The way it is now, I'll end up in Catalina.

Morty: Everything'll be hunky-dory.  You'll see.  Where's your sense of adventure? 

Me:  Where's yours?  You're slimmer-hipped than I am.

Morty:  I'm allergic to muzzle velocity.  Besides, you're fully insured.

Me:  Insured?

Morty:  By Lloyds of Long Beach.

Me:  I am not reassured.  Who's the guy with the cigarette leaning against the black van?

Morty:  The county coroner.

And then after the charge and wadding were packed into the cannon, I was stuffed into the barrel.  A box of books was placed in my outstretched hands.

"Drop the box just before you hit the wall" Morty yelled.

"Bon voyage" said Claude.

"Clench your sphincter" advised Jack.

"Blow it out your barracks-bag" thought I.


Then someone lit the fuse and the concussion from the explosion behind me caused my eardrums to touch.  I was aware of flame and smoke and noise.  My butt was on fire.  I thought:  where's a snow cone when you need one?


 As I arced south across Melrose, a flock of pigeons was winging west.  So many pigeons.  It's hard for me to detail exactly what happened when we collided, but I was very aware of feathers and beaks and guano and blood.  I was conscious too of the whistling of air as I sailed through it.  I looked down and saw cars and trucks below me; I saw a beautiful, braless brunette in a Mercedes convertible who was oblivious to my flight and plight.  Probably just as well she didn't look up and see me.  I would have been hard pressed to look cool.  I spat feathers and glanced ahead and saw I was approaching the building right quick.


 I could see Bob waiting to catch the box; I dropped it.  Almost immediately, I was knocked nearly senseless.  The spring and I hit the front of the building.  The spring compressed.  So did I.  For a fraction of a second, I think the spring and I had a combined thickness of four inches and a circumference of eighteen feet. 


And then I began the return trip.  I was traveling backwards and couldn't see where I was going.  Not that it mattered; not that I cared.  Someone once remarked that Morty had the ability to cloud men's minds; not so, he had the ability to scramble men's minds.  He had scrambled mine into an omelet.   After all, what allegedly sensible person would allow himself to be fired out of a cannon?  I had wanted to be a bookseller, not a projectile.

And as I flew backwards, time unwound....
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Next: Episode Seven, in which "Mrs. Przyslmnskwycz," a dead dentist, and Mae West make an appearance.
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Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Monsters Among Us (1665)

 by Stephen J. Gertz


Well, the first thing is that I love monsters, I identify with monsters.
Guillermo del Toro

A thinking woman sleeps with monsters.
Adrienne Rich 

I strongly suspect Guillermo del Toro will love this book. Ms. Rich might want to rethink her sleeping arrangements.

In the ancient world, both the sophisticated and the credulous, and the knowing and the ignorant, believed in monsters. Monsters were considered a part of the natural world, representing punishment for sin or the diversity and fecundity of life. In a world whose religions and mythology accepted belief in demons, spirits, the afterlife of ancestors into the present, and legendary beasts, monsters fit right into the scheme of things.


During the Renaissance in the West, with its revival of ancient learning and lore, and curiosity and quest to discover all that could be known about the world, the emerging flood of  information about new lands and animals created a sense that anything was possible. Within that context, human and animal monstrosities were considered probable, the consequence of human vice, curses, human and animal sexual congress, or magic.


Curious natural objects such as strangely shaped horns, fossils, skins, and minerals, human artifacts such as gravel stones from the bladder, and Siamese twins (not then known as Siamese twins) were all subjects for allegory and commentary. Folklore, cultural history, medicine, morality stories, and scientific curiosity mingled together, as reflected in the thinking of the seventeenth century Jesuit polymath, Athanasius Kircher, and the works of his assistant, Gaspar Schott.


The fervor over fantastic creatures began with Fortunato Liceti’s 1616 volume, De Monstris, not the first but certainly the most influential and respected survey of such, reissued in 1634 in a second edition edited by Flemish anatomist Gerard Blasius (1626-1692). This edition, the first to include illustrations, was certainly seen by Kircher. Schott's classic, Physica Curiosa (1st ed. 1662), based upon Kircher's notes and observations, deals with the marvels and curiosities of natural history and myth, including monsters.


Indeed, Physica Curiosa contains engravings (by a different hand) of some of the same "monsters" found here, i.e., the elephant man at p. 582 of Physica Curiosa (1662) is seen here at page 185;  others, such as those seen in the plate at page 593 in Schott, are here in the engravings on pages fifty-eight and sixty; and more.

Figure Explanation
A shamed woman's genitals.
B A membrane of the flesh, feeling shame, a church
attached to a woman  firmly on all sides, after childbirth
becoming too much like a purse, flaccid...

Treatises by other learned writers appeared in the wake of Liceti’s De Monstris, and soon museums and collections of curiosities in which monstrosities took a central, edifying role became popular throughout Europe, often enjoying courtly patronage; Kircher's museum at the Collegio Romano in Rome drew visitors from around Europe. Pygmies, mermaids, crocodiles, mandrakes, deformed fetuses, and other natural marvels were displayed and discussed in many similar places throughout the seventeenth century. They were the menageries, side-shows, the circus freak-shows of their era, evoking fear, wonder, fascination, and repulsion, proto-Barnum museums without the crassness and ballyhoo that Phineas  T. brought to the subject in the nineteenth century.


Liceti (1577-1657), however, took a different, more nuanced, positive view of the origins of monstrosities.

"The Paduan physician Liceti contested the 'vulgar' opinion that identified monsters with errors or failures in the course of nature. Liceti likened nature to an artist who, faced with some imperfection in the materials to be shaped, ingeniously creates another form still more admirable.


"On this view, monsters revealed nature not as frustrated in her aims but as rising to the challenge of recalcitrant matter, a constricted womb, or even a mixture of animal and human seed. 'It is said that I see the convergence of both Nature and art,' wrote Liceti, 'because one or the other not being able to make what they want, they at least make what they can,'" (Daston & Park, Wonders and the Order of Nature).

Lazarus Colloredo and his parasitic twin, Johannes.

"One of the earliest classifications of deformities Liceti's work was still under review in works on malformation in the 19th century. Includes both real and imaginary cases [as Physica Curiosa] and accurate descriptions of cases observed in the years following the first edition" (Garrison & Morton).

The Satyr Indica, aka an Orangutan.

This, the second illustrated edition (1665), is the most desirable, the first edition to  contain Gerard Blasius' fifty-three page Appendix of new and rare monstrosities including an additional fifteen engravings absent in the first illustrated edition of 1634, not the least of which are the famous plates of Lazarus and his parasitic twin, and the Satyr Indica, an orangutan mistaken for a deformed human, and the earliest, it appears, depiction of that now endangered primate.

Alas, this copy, as with most of this book and so many other antiquarian volumes with famous, wondrous and stunning illustrations ripe for excision, lacks a key plate. We have, however, with the covert assistance of a secret agent librarian at a major institution, gained possession of  a reproduction of the missing plate, an ominous portent of monsters too frightening to contemplate living amongst us as jus’ folks, the family of man corrupted by a family of monsters in our midst:

Televisionicum Familia Munstris, w/strange blond humanoid at right.
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LICETI, Fortunio. De Monstris. Ex recensione Gerardi Blasii, M.D. & P.P. Qui Monstra quaedam nova & rariora ex recentiorum scriptis addidit. Editio Novissima. Iconibus illustrata. Amsterdam: Sumptibus Andrae Frisii, 1665. Second illustrated edition (third, overall; first edition 1616; second and first illustrated, 1634), complete. Quarto. [16], 316, [28] pp [*4(f 1 as frontispiece), **4, ***1, A-z4, Aa-Pp4, Qq8, Rr-Tt4]. Seventy-three woodcut engravings.

Garrison & Morton 534.52. Osler 3235. Wellcome III, 514. Thorndike VII, pp. 52-53. Waller 5779. Rosenthal, Bibl. Magica 4375.
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Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.
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New Annotated Dictionary of Fore-Edge Paintings is a Must-Have

by Stephen J. Gertz


An exciting new book on fore-edge paintings has just been published. Authored by Los Angeles rare bookseller, Jeff Weber, this volume is immediately the most important contribution to the history of fore-edge paintings since the books of Carl J. Weber, the author’s grandfather, were issued in 1949 and 1966. It is an instant must-own reference for collectors, dealers, institutional librarians/curators, or anyone with an interest in this edgy art form.

The book, An Annotated Dictionary of Fore-edge Painting Artists & Binders (Mostly English & American). Part II: The Fore-edge Paintings of Miss C. B. Currie; with a Catalogue Raisonné, has been issued in a limited edition of 980 trade copies, with 20 deluxe copies specially bound and embellished with a hand-painted fore-edge scene on the fanned edge of the book.

Holy Bible, Cambridge, 1659, 1660, Royal Heads Binder.

The culmination of more than twenty-five years of work by Weber, much information comes directly from the artists who actually make fore-edge paintings. In 2006 Weber published a comprehensive study on John T. Beer, the first person to regularly sign his fore-edges. With this new monograph Weber offers the same treatment to Miss Currie, but he also adds a great deal of information directed to numerous artists and bookbinders who contributed to this art form from the sixteenth century forward.

The challenges of uncovering the history of fore-edge painting are known. These paintings are mostly painted anonymously, mostly unsigned, and the presentation is often misleading, or people misinterpret information easily (such as imprint dates, bookplates, falsely attributing a printing to the wrong date/or era). Weber’s aim is to create a basis for what can be known about certain fore-edge paintings, identifying them, giving their history, alerting the readers about numerous factors that can help to understand what they are looking at.

The book includes the most comprehensive assessment of seventeenth century English fore-edge specimens up to the present.


Divided into three sections, the first is a series of brief essays offering the author’s perspectives on studying this field, including gathering information from the books themselves as archeological specimens, the language of fore-edge painting, and evidence in the 1860s of the first fore-edge paintings in America.

The second section - and the dominant feature of the book - is an annotated dictionary, heavily illustrated, citing numerous specimens, arranged alphabetically by artist or binder. There are even treatments of binders who are identified as not being sources of fore-edge paintings. This is the first book to ever single out the names and history of each of these contributors. The result is that each entry tells when and where an artist worked, how to identify a painting, noting characteristics unique to their work, where the artist studied art and other details. Specific examples are noted throughout. Locations are supplied and the author notes by a rating system which entries are certain fore-edge contributors, and those who are not at all; finally a mark in numerous entries indicates if the author has seen that work in person.


The third section offers a full history and catalogue raisonné of the fore-edge painting work of the mysterious Ms C. B.  Currie, one of the most important fore-edge artists from England in the twentieth century and the only artist to have numbered her editions. This project was challenging since no record of her entire fore-edge work exists and her own identity has been unknown until recently. Currie worked for Sotheran’s in London during the first half of the twentieth century. Currie’s history is presented in much more detail than available anywhere else, focusing on her fore-edge art and relationships to the English book trade.

The book is handsomely designed by Patrick Reagh, and printed and bound in China.
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WEBER, Jeff. An Annotated Dictionary of Fore-edge Painting Artists & Binders (Mostly English & American). Part II: The Fore-edge Paintings of Miss C. B. Currie; with a Catalogue Raisonné. Los Angeles: Weber Rare Books 2010. Limited Edition of 1,000 copies in three issues, printed and designed by Patrick Reagh, Printers, and signed by the author. 10 x 7 inches. approx. 432 pages. Illustrated throughout, indexes. 

The Issues:

A Limited Trade Edition of 980 copies in cloth with dust jacket:  $400

Deluxe Leather-Bound Edition of 5 copies, gilt-edges and slip-case (numbered 16-20):  $ 1,000

Ultra-Deluxe Edition of 15 special copies that will be hand-painted on the fore-edge by selected artists. Each piece will be unique and signed. Hand-bound in full morocco, extra-gilt, all-edge-gilt. Custom slip-case. (numbered 1-15):  $ 1,800.  

To order, phone (323) 344-9332 or email here.
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All images courtesy of Jeff Weber Rare Books, with our thanks.

Read Weber's A Collector's Primer to the Wonders of Fore-Edge Painting.
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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

The Most Celebrated and Influential Book on the Occult

by Stephen J. Gertz

First (and only) English translation.

"In the last half of 1509 and the first months of 1510, Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa, known in his day as the Magician, gathered together all the Mystic lore he had obtained by the energy and ardour of youth and compiled it into [an early draft of] the elaborate system of Magic, in three books, known as Occult Philosophy…The only English translation appeared in London in 1651" (Willis F. Whitehead, Preface to 1971 reprint).

“Recent historical investigation…assigns Agrippa a central place in the history of ideas of the Middle Ages. He is seen as characterizing the main line of intellectual development from Nicholas of Cusa to Sebastian Franck. Modern opinion evaluates him on the basis of his Platonic, Neoplatonic, and Hermetic influences – primarily in the De occulta philosophia” (DSB).

De occulta philosophia  is a defense of magic, by means of which men may come to knowledge of nature and God, and contains Agrippa’s idea of the universe with its three worlds or spheres [Elementary, Celestial, and Intellectual]’ (Britannica).
 
Heinrich Cornelius Agrippa (1486-1535).
 
Agrippa’s influence “added impetus to Renaissance study of magic and injected his name into early Faust legends. In [De occulta philosophia] he explained the world in terms of cabalistic analyses of Hebrew letters and Pythagorean numerology and acclaimed magic as the best means to know God and nature” (New Britannica).

First appearing in Latin in 1533, the book was translated into English by John French in 1651.
 
"John French (c.1616–1657), physician, was born at Broughton, near Banbury, Oxfordshire... In an era in which conventional approaches to the study and practice of medicine were under considerable attack, French seems to have aligned himself firmly with the cause of reform. In particular, he was a keen advocate of the chemical methods pioneered by Paracelsus and Van Helmont, whose ideas, and those of their followers, he attempted to popularize in the 1650s through original works and translations. [He] was well respected by many, including Robert Boyle, for his expertise in the practical side of chemistry and mineralogy" (Oxford DNB).
 
French's translation of Agrippa was, and remains since its original publication,  a strong influence on the study of magic in the English-speaking world.
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AGRIPPA, Henry Cornelius. Three Books of Occult Philosophy, written by Henry Cornelius Agrippa, of Nettesheim, Counseller to Charles the Fifth, emperor of Germany: and Judge of the Prerogative Court. Translated out of the Latin into the English Tongue by J. F. London: Printed by R.W. for Gregory Moule…, 1651.

First edition in English of Agrippa’s masterwork on the occult, originally published in Latin in 1533. Octavo. [2, blank], [1, blank], [1, frontispiece], [1, encomium], [1, blank], [24], 583, [1, blank], [12, Index] pp. Engraved frontispiece portrait, seven text woodcut illustrations, numerous occult symbols, and a folding table of alchemical symbology. Woodcut initials and headpieces.

Wing A789. Osler 1747. Lowndes 21. Graesse I, 45.
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Title page image courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.
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Wild Ride Journal of a Hollywood Bookseller 5

by Arnold M. Herr

September 30, 2003

Fred is a sometime-author and a full-time book scout who sleeps in a stolen Pontiac. 

"I think the guy who owned it was happy to get rid of it," says Fred, "no one's bugged me since I set up light housekeeping in it six months ago."

Fred has been coming into my bookshop since I first kicked open the door nearly eight years ago.  His unique take on things Hollywood has made him a welcome raconteur and has kept him fed when advances on his own books were slow in coming. 

"I would love to have one of my books made into a film.  I don't care how much license they take with the text - as long as the check doesn't bounce.

"I've been around Hollywood for years, getting in the way of one production company after another.  About thirty years ago my presence really bugged Roman Polanski.  He directed 'Chinatown' - remember that?  Anyway, I was over on Lemon Grove living in a Studebaker back then.  Roman had all these old cars on the street - the story took place during the 1930s - and my car was too new for them so they made me move it.  It wouldn't start so we had to push it around the corner.  Even Jack Nicholson helped.  That's what's so wonderful about Hollywood:  sleaze and glamor working side by side.  I used that theme in my first book,  'A Hill of Beans.'  I wish somebody woulda picked up an option on that one.  I sure coulda used the dough."

Fred has published six books - all of them only modestly successful.

"You're too kind" comments Fred peering over my shoulder as I write this.  "But I don't think 'success' enters into the equation at all."

I suggested he upgrade his living situation.

"You mean move into a Lexus or a Lincoln Navigator?"

I meant an apartment.

"People know to look for me in the green car.  When they come to hand me the Nobel Prize for Literature, they're gonna know to tap on the window of my car.  That's why it's prob'ly good it doesn't run.  It's been landlocked on Sierra Bonita for two years.   I had a terrible childhood, you know."

Me:  How terrible was it?

Fred:  When the other kids & I played hospital, I was always the bedpan.

He stood there talking and blocking the counter.  He wouldn't move.  Finally I said "you're standing directly under the boiling oil.  Would you care to move now?"

He then excused himself:
 
"I have a rendezvous with porcelain."

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Next: Episode Five, in which our hero becomes the Melrose Cannonball.
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Monday, February 21, 2011

A Surprise for the Bagpipe Player (and Everyone Else): The Visual Poetry of Kenneth Patchen

by Stephen J. Gertz

Cover to A Surprise for the Bagpipe Player.

Dadaist, Surrealist, Jazz poet, Beat poet, visual poet - Kenneth Patchen (1911-1972) - hellraiser and "naturalist of the public nightmare" - was all of those things, and none of them. He was, resolutely, Kenneth Patchen, that's all; that was that, and that was plenty: forty books of poetry, prose and drama  published during a career that began in Greenwich Village and ended in Palo Alto, California.

"The poet should resist all efforts to categorize him as a painted monkey on a stick, not for personal reasons alone, but because it does damage to poetry itself" (Patchen, letter to a friend).

An early example of Patchen's experiments with visual poetry - his charming and eloquent painted and silkscreened poems - A Surprise for the Bagpipe Player (1955) is a distinctive, joyful melange of text, drawings and decorations that furthered the explorations of Apollonaire with his  calligrams, and the Dadaists and Lettrists from earlier in the twentieth century.


The great fly fleet
From A Surprise for the Bagpipe Player.

Silkscreened from Patchen's original painted manuscript on handmade Japanese paper by fine printer Frank Bacher, many hand-colored by Patchen, A Surprise for the Bagpipe Player is rarely found complete with all eighteen broadsides. Copies, have, alas (but with grudging understanding) been broken up to sell the broadsides individually, each a stunning work of art.

Eureka! A complete copy has now come to market. ABPC records only three copies at auction in the last thirty-five years, one of which was, unsurprisingly, incomplete. This is likely the only complete copy we'll be seeing for quite some time.

Patchen influenced  Beat poets Allen Ginsberg, Lawrence Ferlinghetti, and Dick McBride. In 1942 he collaborated with modernist composer John Cage on a radio play, The City Wears a Slouch Hat. During the 1950s Patchen collaborated with Jazz bassist and composer, Charles Mingus, reading his poetry to the Mingus group's accompaniment.

"...I worked with a poet named Patchen. He was wearing his scarlet jacket and sitting on a stool on a little stage in a theatre you walk upstairs to down on fourteenth street.

"We improvised behind him while he read his poems, which I read ahead of time. 'It's dark out, Jack' - this was one of his poems - 'It's dark out, Jack, the stations out there don't identify themselves, we're in it raw-blind like burned rats, it's running out all around us, the footprints of the beast, one nobody has any notion of. The white and vacant eyes of something above there, something that doesn't know we exist. I smell heartbreak up there, Jack, a heartbreak at the center of things, and in which we don't figure at all.' Patchen's a real artist, you'd dig him, doctor. 'I believe in truth' he said, 'I believe that every good thought I have, all men shall have. I believe that the perfect shape of everything has been prepared'" (Mingus, Charles. Beneath the Underdog, p. 330).

Tiger contemplating a cake
From A Surprise for the Bagpipe Player.

Let us have madness openly.
0 men Of my generation.
Let us follow
The footsteps of this slaughtered age:
See it trail across Time's dim land
Into the closed house of eternity
With the noise that dying has,
With the face that dead things wear –
nor ever say
We wanted more; we looked to find
An open door, an utter deed of love,
Transforming day's evil darkness;
but We found extended hell & fog Upon the earth,
& within the head
A rotting bog of lean huge graves.
      – Kenneth Patchen, "Let Us Have Madness"

That was written in 1936, nineteen years before Ginsberg's Howl (1955).

Binding the quiet into chalky sheaves
From A Surprise for the Bagpipe Player.
 
"His voice is the voice of a conscience which is forgotten. He speaks from the moral viewpoint of the new century, the century of assured hope, before the dawn of the world-in-concentration-camp. But he speaks of the world as it is.

"Imagine if suddenly the men of 1900 — H.G. Wells, Bernard Shaw, Peter Kropotkin, Romain Rolland, Martin Nexo, Maxim Gorky, Jack London — had been caught up, unprepared & uncompromised, fifty years into the terrible future.

"Patchen speaks as they would have spoken, in terms of unqualified horror & rejection. He speaks as Émile Zola spoke once — “A moment in the conscience of mankind.” (Kenneth Rexroth, Kenneth Patchen, Naturalist of the Public Nightmare. From Bird in the Bush (New Directions, 1959).

In Back Of
From A Surprise for the Bagpipe Player.

 I am the world crier, 
& this is my dangerous career.
I am the one to call your bluff,
& this is my climate.
- Kenneth Patchen

I am the joy of the desiring
flesh
The days of my living
are summer days
The nights of my glory
outshine the blazing
wavecaps of the heavens
at their floodtide
Mine is the confident hand shaping this
world.

- Kenneth Patchen

What Indeed!
From A Surprise for the Bagpipe Player.

PATCHEN, Kenneth. A Surprise for the Bagpipe Player. [Palo Alto]: [Printed for the Author by Frank Bacher], 1955. First edition, limited to 200 copies. Folio. Eighteen poems as eighteen silkscreened broadsides, 39 x 30 cm each, printed on handmade Japanese paper, loose, as issued, in screen-printed card portfolio. The copy of acclaimed painter and graphic artist, Ben Shahn, with his bookplate.
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Images from A Surprise for the Bagpipe Player courtesy of Lorne Bair Rare Books, which is jointly offering this splendid copy with Between the Covers, with our thanks. Please contact for details.
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