Wednesday, February 29, 2012

American Rare Book Trade Annals: Heritage Bookshop - The First Year

by Louis Weinstein

At the time of its closing in 2007 after forty-four years in business, Heritage Bookshop, established by Louis and Ben Weinstein and ultimately located in a former mortuary on Melrose Avenue in West Hollywood, California, that they morphed into an English chapel library with stained glass windows, had grown from nothing to become the most successful and respected rare and antiquarian book shop on Earth. Rosenbach Company was the dominant force in the international trade in first half of the 20th century, Heritage during the second half.

If A.S.W. "Abe" Rosenbach was the greatest rare book salesman the world had ever seen - and he was - then Lou Weinstein was most certainly his successor, raising the bar and setting a new standard.

Humor played an enormous role in his rise to the top. He never saw an opening he didn't step into with a  quip, often irreverent, a quality that endeared him to clients and colleagues.  You have, hopefully, mastered the "spit-take;" reflexive opportunities will arise throughout Lou's tale. As a prelude, I leave you with the following true story, one of many in the Weinstein treasury.

One Christmas, Dustin Hoffman and his wife were in the shop to pick out a few presents. Hoffman gave Lou a Los Angeles address for the invoice. Puzzled, Lou said, "I always assumed you were from New York."

"No," replied Hoffman, "I originally went to New York for acting classes."

"Oh, really?" Lou replied. "Did it help?" [SJG].

I was seventeen and working for Deutsch and Shea Advertising Agency in New York. It was April 5, 1963. The news of my father's death in Gary, Indiana the day before wasn't too painful, for I had hardly known the man. It had been years since I'd seen him; sometimes I would almost forget that I had a father. I knew he had been a good merchant - always making a living, but never more. I believed that by profession he had been a pawnbroker, junk man, TV and radio repairman, appraiser, seller of used clothes and appliances, and trader - all of which he practiced under the name of "Irving's Trading Post."

Ben and I packed for Gary to deal with those things that must be dealt with by next of kin. In truth I'd heard of Indiana but "Gary" was a total mystery. I knew Chicago was not far.

When we arrived, it was explained to us by the attorney reading the will that my father's estate consisted of a $3,000 insurance policy and his business. With luck the $3,000 would cover the funeral and legal fees. The business, yet to be seen, was the asset left to his eight children, of which I was the youngest. Realizing that this was my only inheritance (for my mother had died twelve years before), and I hadn't any relatives asking for a recent address, I figured this was it.

Driving to the store made me nervous, for the streets reeked of poverty. We must have passed a hundred winos, pimps, hookers, and run-of-the-mill hoodlums within a half mile of the shop. The sign was simple, "Irving's Trading Post - We Buy and Sell Everything." It occurred to me that it was ideally located for its clientele. The window was full of used clothes, guns, tools, knives, eyeglasses, and good reproductions of costume jewelry. In the right corner as we entered stood a four-shelf bookcase, which, though unknown to me, would be a large part of my destiny. "Used books individually priced," the sign read.

Brothers, Jerry and Bob, arrived from the West Coast, and the search was on. We spent the first four hours looking through my father's world, trying to decide why people would pay real money for such junk - broken radios, clocks with only one hand (for good guessers?), lots of clothes with lots of holes (not stylish but functional). In the back room an old American flag draped his bed; it lacked a few stars, but who counted? By the front door, proudly mountd under glass, were officer's bars from the U.S. Army - Lieutenant, Captain, Major - neatly captioned, "Irving's own - Not for sale." Pretty impressive for a man who never made sergeant!

Probably a good deterrent for a would-be thief. The officer who found my dad's body (in front of the store) told me my dad was "packin'." Later I understood this to mean he had three loaded weapons in his possession. Nice neighborhood!

The search continued into the night, for we all knew Dad loved to hide his valuables. In the basement behind some loose bricks in the wall, we found a checkbook and a map. The checkbook's balance was too low to pay for the cab ride to the bank. The map was familiar. It seems my dad had mentioned a map he acquired (from a local wino, no doubt) of a cemetery in East Germany with the location of a half million dollars in gemstones buried at the end of the Second World War. The fantasy was intriguing, but who knows if it's still there and what it is. I've often been tempted to put the map in a Heritage catalogue as:

Map. Manuscript, folded. Buried treasure. $1/2 million worth.

Unpublished, of course. $5,000 net. No 'on approval" orders. I wonder how many I could sell.

It was decided we should have a sale, disposing of what we could, maybe even earning enough to cover our flight home. I quickly realized that at the right price almost anything is saleable.  I started to gain respect for the items I had thought of a week before as mere junk. It was definitely a learning experience and my first real exposure to the world of business and barter. I was excited!

I had to get back to New York, to my job of proofreading copy for classified ads. In the 'help wanted" sections were ads for engineers, systems analysts, technicians; it quickly grew boring. I missed the muck of Gary, the negotiating, the trading, the surprises. Ben had less to miss, for he was managing a home-made fudge shop in New Jersey.  Bob went back to his air Force station in Coos Bay, Oregon.

Ben and Jerry decided to move the remaining treasures to California and perhaps carry on a business in the tradition of my father. After all, they had thirty days' experience in the trade, so it wasn't as if they were going into it blind. Off they went with their fake jewelry, clothes with holes, toasters that hadn't touched bread in years, broken guns and miscellaneous objects we never could identify. They also brought the four shelves of unsold books, each neatly stamped on the front flyleaf, "Irving's Trading Post, Gary, Indiana."

Off they went, goodies and all, to Beverly Hills, California to find an appropriate location for the new shop. It was quickly discovered that if the price of every item in the inventory was doubled and everything completely sold out in thirty days, they still wouldn't have enough to meet the first month's rent. A second choice of location, of somewhat lesser prestige, was made - Compton, the Harlem of Los Angeles. The rent for the 2800-square-foot store was $200 per month - a lot of money but not impossible.

By July, I was hot and ready to join them in their new venture, "B&J Merchandisers." Jerry picked me up at L.A. International Airport on July 2nd and freely shared with me the glories of being self-employed, with your own hours and unlimited income. I was intrigued. Within weeks a settlement was reached. I was to exchange my entire net worth for Jerry's half interest in the new business. Now $300 was a lot of money, but heck, I was seventeen and without promise of a profession, so I decided to chance it. It was hardly a week before I realized that suing your own brother was impractical. "Your own hours" turned out to be 7 AM to 7 PM, seven days a week. "Unlimited income" meant there was no limit on how little you could make in an eighty-hour week!

The shop was located on a main street (Compton Blvd.) and catered to a local clientele of mostly Blacks and Mexicans. Due to a frugal lifestyle, we were able to reinvest what monies did come into building an inventory.

Within six months we had a store full of rarities, including appliances, clothes, tools, jewelry, and lots of books. Books, it seems, were acquired rather easily, for the word got around that Ben and I had a high school education. We paid five cents for any hardback and two cents for paperbacks (still do). It appeared that fifty percent of all Comptonians were in the business of cleaning and hauling from other people's garages. Books were previously considered unsaleable in this community until B&J Merchandisers arrived.

One day in November, four thousand volumes later, I pointed out to Ben that we probably accumulated the world's largest collection of Reader's Digest condensed books. Perhaps at five cents for hardbacks we were paying too much, so we lowered it to two cents - a major management decision. Beyond this we realized the only books we could sell in this low income community were "how-to fix it yourself" books - for cars, televisions, air conditioners, dinners, or divorces.

About this time a book scout named Al Taylor walked into our shop. He tried to convince us that some old books were worth ten dollars or more. That gullible we weren't! Fortunately for us, Al spent days in the weeks ahead explaining some realities about the trade. Fiction was virtually worthless, he stated; cookbooks, Americana, picture books, and auto-repair manuals were hot stuff. Our appetites were whetted, but we needed to learn more, so from an old AB [American Bookman] which Al had given us, we ordered the newest reference book, Roskie, The Bookman's Bible. This book  listed books chronologically, then by author's initials, then by titles. Thus Baum's classic, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, published in 1900, would be found as "1900B.L.W.W.O.O. 300 (value)." After I conquered the cryptography the detective work really appealed to me. Within a few weeks Ben and I had this funny little book memorized. At this point we figured we had conquered the profession of antiquarian bookselling.

One Sunday afternoon a visitor came to our door. His name was Peter Howard.

"Do you have any first editions of William Faulkner?" he asked.

"One second," I said, as I turned to call to Ben, who was working in the back, alphabetizing the Reader's Digests. "Hey, Ben, did you ever hear of William Faulkner?"

A long, thoughtful pause was followed by, "Did he write cookbooks or auto-repair manuals?"

Peter's eyes brightened as if we had said, "Yes, we have his entire archives."

"You never heard of William Faulkner?" he reiterated.

"Uh-uh," came my fluid reply.

Peter turned to his companion and said, "This is going to be fun."

Three hours later, an impressive stack of fourteen titles stood on our counter - all fiction.

"Ben," I whispered, "I think we have a live one here."

Perhaps he'd like a complete run of Reader's Digest condensed, I thought to myself. The man's vocabulary was somewhat peculiar. He used such terms as issue, proof, variant, wrapper, state. Perhaps we had found our first collector! The total purchase was $27.00 - a calculated profit of $26.30, I mused. He seemed pleased, so I didn't feel I took advantage, even though he didn't ask for a discount.

"Nothing signed?" he asked on the way out.

This I understood (from my talks with Al Taylor), and I pointed to our signed book shelf in excitement. He perused the thirty titles in four seconds and left.

"Not too knowledgeable a collector," I said to Ben, "passing up the cream of my scouting."

After all, the shelf included two cookbooks, seven fix-it books, four self-help titles, some major Arkansas poets and even a lieutenant governor - all in presentation copies. After he left, Ben realized we had neglected to show this fiction collector our greatest find - a presentation copy of Aimee Semple McPherson's, acquired a week before, at our regular hardback offering of five cents. The book was proudly displayed, open, in our front window. I reached in to reassure myself it was still there.

"Ben," I screamed, "someone robbed it!"

"The book?" he asked.

"No, the signature." It seemed that one week of direct sunlight had completely eradicated the inscription. Thank goodness it wasn't the inscribed Dale Carnegie, I thought.

After seven months I decided it was time to weed the stock, which now amounted to some 7,000 volumes, for space was quickly becoming a problem. Satisfied with my knowledge of what titles were in demand, I made it my morning project to cull out four boxes of books, destined for the trash. During lunch a man drifted in to browse.

"What's in the boxes?" he asked.

"Some new arrivals," I quickly replied, thinking I could sell one. "Help yourself."

After he had browsed through our stock for half an hour I didn't have much hope for him. but who knows? Three minutes later, he pulled eight books from the dregs, paid me and left.

This experience somewhat unnerved me, for he had just purchased my garbage.

I quickly and quietly returned the balance of the four boxes to the shelves. Somehow I was no longer up to the project. Perhaps I should put our entire inventory in boxes on the floor, I thought. It might be a bonanza. That evening, Ben checked for cars on the street. None were coming, so we closed early (9:30 PM) and indulged in a steak at the Sizzler.

By the ninth month, I counted 8,500 volumes in hardback, with most of our money, time and energy going into replenishing the inventory. Our reference library now consisted of forty volumes, mostly price guides and catalogues, some of which were less than twenty years old. We found ourselves quickly losing interest in the junk business - too much competition and a depleting stock.

In truth, the store was a good learning experience and an example of the adage, "There's a customer for everything."   One day a man came in to buy an overcoat and found a suitable one for $10.00. He left his old one behind, asking if we would dispose of it for him. After he had left, Ben dusted the old coat and put it on the clothes rack. By the end of the day, it was gone, with another ten dollars in the till.

Our one-year lease was coming due, and a decision had to be made. I wrote to Gerald, a brother in New York, and told him of my options. I could either open a used book shop or a floating hot dog stand. It seems when I went out to the ocean, I noticed hundreds of boats, but never a food concession in the water. A floating restaurant, serving hot dogs, had to be a wonderful idea.

Gerald wrote me back, and I quote, "Lou, you've always trusted my judgment, you know I am a person of good business sense and reason. No one buys used books but a floating hot dog stand? I love it!"

Somehow God blessed me to ignore his wisdom. Who knows? I might this day, with my chain of floating hot dog stands, be writing this article for The Professional Hot Dog Boatman. Somehow, though, I feel we made the right decision.

Heritage Bookshop - The First Year originally appeared in Issue No. 4, 1982 of The Professional Rare Bookman: The Journal of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America (ABAA), and is reprinted with the kind permission of the author.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

When Ginsberg & Burroughs Met Samuel Beckett

by Stephen J. Gertz

"Vodka with Bill and lisping boyish wrinkled Samuel Beckett
  - he sang Joyce lyrics he heard from Joyce's lips."

On September 26, 1976, Beat poet Allen Ginsberg, in Berlin to perform a reading of his work, wrote a postcard to his close friend/lover poet Peter Orlovsky.

Dear Peter -
Been here a week, went to zoo with Bill [William S. Burroughs], several afternoons in East Berlin learning Brecht style MUSIK from poet Wolf Biermann - Now sitting in Cafe Zillemarkt off big [?] cafe avenue...looks like cobblestone floored Cafe Figaro - shooting mouth off about politics - probably wrong - Vodka with Bill + lisping thin boyish wrinkled Samuel Beckett - he sang Joyce lyrics he heard from Joyce's lips. See you the 15th. Allen."

To hear Ginsberg tell it in that one throwaway line, the meeting with Beckett was rich and enchanting. Imagine Beckett reciting Joyce, recalled from a meeting of the two modern giants of literature.  Oh, to have been a fly on the wall in that room!

Burroughs' recollection of the get-together was somewhat at odds  with Allen Ginsberg's. It's as if Ginsberg and Burroughs were reporting from different planets.

As Burroughs remembered it:

"I recall a personal visit to Beckett. John Calder, my publisher and Beckett's, was the intermediary for a short, not more than a half and hour audience. This was in Berlin. Beckett was there directing one of his new plays. Allen Ginsberg, Susan Sontag and myself were there for a reading. Also present in the visiting party were Fred Jordan [an editor at Grove Press] and Professor Hoellerer, a professor of English Literature at Berlin University.

"Beckett was polite and articulate. It was, however, apparent to me at least tat he had not the slightest interest in any of us, nor the slightest desire ever to see any of us again. We had been warned to take our own liquor as he would proffer none so we had brought along a bottle of whiskey. Beckett accepted a small drink which he sipped throughout the visit. Asking the various participants first what Beckett said, and what the whole conversation was about, seems to elicit quite different responses. Nobody seems to remember at all clearly. It was as if we had entered a hiatus of disinterest. I recall that we did talk of my son's recent liver transplant and the rejection syndrome. I reminded Beckett of our last meeting in Maurice Girodias' restaurant. On this occasion we had argued about the cut-ups, and I had no wish to renew the argument. So it was just, "yes," "Maurice's restaurant." Allen, I believe, asked Beckett if he had ever given a reading of his work. Beckett said "no."

"There was some small talk about the apartment placed at his disposal by the academy: a sparsely furnished duplex overlooking the Tiergarten. I said the zoo was very good, one of the best, with nocturnal creatures in dioramas, like their natural habitat...Beckett nodded, as if willing to take my word for this. I think there was some discussion of Susan Sontag's cancer. I looked at my watch. Someone asked Allen or Fred for the time. We got up to go. Beckett shook hands politely" (Beckett and Proust, in The Adding Machine: Selected Essays [1986], p. 182).

Susan Sontag had her own take on the meeting with Beckett. Interviewed with Burroughs by Victor Bockris for With William Burroughs: A Report From the Bunker (1982) she remembered:

Sontag: It all started like this: we were staying in this picturesque hotel in Berlin and Allen Ginsberg said, "We're going to see Beckett, c'mon,'"and I said, "Oh, William [Burroughs] are you are going, I don't want to butt in," and he said, "No, c'mon, c'mon," and we went. We knocked on the door of this beautiful atelier with great double height ceilings, very white. This beautiful, very thin man who tilts forward when he stands answered the door. He was alone. Everything was very clean and bare and white. I actually had seen him the day before on the grounds of the theater of the Akademie Der Kunst. Beckett comes to Berlin because he knows his privacy will be respected. He received us in a very courtly way and we sat at a very big long table. He waited for us to talk. Allen was, as usual, very forthcoming and did a great deal of talking. He did manage to draw Beckett out asking him about Joyce. That was somehow deeply embarrassing to me. Then we talked about singing, and Beckett and Allen began to sing while I was getting more and more embarrassed.

Victor Bockris: Bill [William Burroughs] says Beckett made you feel as if you would be welcome to leave as soon as you could.

Sontag: He didn't actually throw us out.

William Burroughs: Oh, the hell he didn't! See, I have an entirely different slant on the whole thing. In the first place, John Calder said, "Bring along some liquor," which we did. I know that Beckett considers other people different from him and he doesn't really like to see them. He's got nothing particular against the being there, it's just that there are limits to how long he can stand being with people. So I figured that about twenty minutes would be enough. Someone brought up the fact that my son was due for transplants, and Beckett talked about the problem of rejection, about which he'd read an article. I don't remember this singing episode at all. You see Susan says it seemed long, it seemed to me extremely short. Soon after we got there, and the talk about transplant, everybody looked at their watch, and it was very obviously time to go. We'd only brought along a pint and it had disappeared by that time.

Sontag: Allen said, "What was it like to be with Joyce? I understand Joyce had a beautiful voice, and that he liked to sing." Allen did some kind of "OM" and Beckett said, "Yes, indeed he had a beautiful voice," and I kept thinking what a beautiful voice he had. I had seen Beckett before in a café in Paris, but I had never heard him speak and I was struck by the Irish accent. After more than half a century in France he has a very pure speech which is unmarked by living abroad. I know hardly anybody who's younger than Beckett, who has spent a great deal of time abroad who hasn't in some way adjusted his or her speech to living abroad. There's always a kind of deliberateness or an accommodation to the fact that even when you speak your own language you're speaking to people whose first language it's not and Beckett didn't seem in any way like someone who has lived most of his life in a country that was not the country of his original speech. He has a beautiful Irish musical voice. I don't remember that he made us feel we had to go, but I think we all felt we couldn't stay very long.

Bockris: Did you feel the psychic push? That Beckett had "placed" you outside the room?

Burroughs: Everybody knew that they weren't supposed to stay very long. I think it was ten minutes after six that we got out of there. [...] He gave me one of the greatest compliment that I ever heard. Someone asked him, "What do you think of Burroughs?" and he said - grudgingly - "Well, he's a writer."

Sontag: High praise indeed.

Burroughs: I esteemed it very highly. Someone who really knows about writing, or say about medicine says, "Well, he's a doctor. He gets in the operating room and he knows what he's doing."

Sontag: But at the same time you thought he was hostile to some of your procedures?

Burroughs: Yes, he was, and we talked about that very briefly when we first came in during the Berlin visit. He remembered perfectly the occasion.

Sontag: Do you think he reads much?

Burroughs: I would doubt it. Beckett is someone who needs no input as such. To me it's a very relaxed feeling to be around someone who doesn't need me for anything and wouldn't care if  died right there the next minute. Most people have to get themselves needed or noticed. I don't have that feeling at all. But there's no point in being there, because he had no desire or need to see people.

Bockris: How did you feel when you left that meeting?

Sontag: I was very glad I had seen him. I was more interested just to see what he looks like, if he was as good-looking as he is in photos.

Burroughs: He looked very well and in very good shape. Beckett is about seventy-five. He's very thin and his face looks quite youthful. It's really almost an Irish streetboy face. We got up and left, the visit had been, as I say, very cordial, decorous...

Sontag: More decorous than cordial I would say. It was a weightless experience, because it's true, nothing happened.

Burroughs: Nothing happened at all.

Rarely has nothing been so fascinating and earned its much ado.

This little gem of a postcard is being offered by Brian Cassidy, Bookseller.

Postcard image courtesy of Brian Cassidy, Bookseller, with our thanks.

Monday, February 27, 2012

Scarce Original E.H. Shepard "Winnie-the-Pooh" Drawing At Auction

by Stephen J. Gertz

A scarce, original ink and watercolor drawing by Ernest H. Shepard of  Winnie-the-Pooh and Piglet, the characters he brought to life in A.A. Milne's classic children's books, 1924-1928, has found its way to market. The drawing, signed and dated February 29, 1932, is a extraordinary example of Shepard illustrating Pooh characters outside the context of the Milne books.

It is being offered by Nate D. Sanders Auctions at their auction closing February 28, 2012.

The autograph letter is addressed to his agent, and reads:

"My dear Carter Brown

Many thanks for your letter. I think you have done splendidly. The view is shared by others (as you see) coloured.

Yours very sincerely

Ernest H. Shepard

Feb 29th/32"

As of this writing, the bid is $10,871. [Update: 2/27/2012, 5:08PM PST - bid is now at $23,000]. [Update: 2/28/2012, 8:33AM PST - the bid is now $27,830].

[UPDATE 2/29/2012: Final bid $40,954, incl. premium].

Ernest Howard Shepard (1879-1976) had been a successful illustrator since 1906 when he was introduced to Alan  A. Milne in 1923 by Punch staffer, E.V. Lucas; Shepard had  contributed to Punch during WWI and joined its staff in 1921.

Milne's initial reaction to Shepard's work was that it was not in a style he felt right to illustrate his work but nonetheless used him to illustrate his collection of poems, When We Were Very Young (1924). Pleased with Shepard's efforts, Milne insisted that Shepard illustrate Winnie-the-Pooh. Shepard based his conception of Pooh upon Growler, his son's stuffed bear.

Recognizing Shepard's enormous contribution to Winnie-the-Pooh's success, Milne assigned Shepard a percentage of his royalties. In what has become a legendary inscription, Milne wrote in Shepard's copy of Winnie-the-Pooh:

When I am gone,
Let Shepard decorate my tomb,
And put (if there is room)
Two pictures on the stone:
Piglet from page a hundred and eleven,
And Pooh and Piglet walking (157)…
And Peter, thinking that they are my own,
Will welcome me to Heaven.

The only known oil painting by Shepard of Pooh sold at auction for $285,000 in 2000.

Images courtesy of Nate D. Sanders Auctions, with our thanks.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Scarce Letters of Movie Pioneer Georges Méliès, Hero of Scorsese's "Hugo," Surface

by Stephen J. Gertz

[MÉLIÈs, Georges] BESSY, Maurice and Lo Duca.
Georges Méliès: Mage et "Mes Mémoires" par Méliès.
Paris: Prisma, 1945. First French Edition, never translated into English.
One of 2000 numbered copies, this being No. 956.
With Melies' business card from 1909 laid in.

Between 1928 and 1932, when pioneering film director, Georges Méliès, was running a toy shop in Montparnesse Station in Paris - the period in his life covered by Martin Scorsese's splendid homage to Méliès and movie magic, Hugo - Méliès wrote a series of  letters of enormous interest to film lovers and historians. The content of the letters is quite broad and uniformly fascinating throughout.

This trove has just come into the marketplace, offered by Royal Books in Baltimore. Surviving ephemeral material representing Méliès' work is excessively rare; letters in his hand are virtually non-existent. OCLC indicates that there is no institution with autograph material, and auction records show no appearance of any letters since 1975. Virtually all known surviving material is held by the Cinémathèque Française in Paris.

From: A Trip To The Moon - Earth Rise.

An archive consisting  of six extraordinary signed autograph letters, five in French and one in English, by Méliès, generally considered to be one of the inventors of narrative cinema,  it reveals a great deal about his little-discussed but profoundly important origins in the Robert-Houdin Theatre in Paris, as well as his work as a magician and ultimately a film director. 

Equally interesting in these letters are various revelations regarding his character, great love for artists, magicians, and all performers whose work came under the umbrella of "illusion." His spirit, so finely captured by Scorsese on film, is animated on these pages.

Méliès began his career in theater at the Theatre Robert-Houdin, doing extremely creative work in an area that could be described as an intersection of live theater, pantomime, magic, and vaudeville. After seeing an 1895 demonstration by the Lumiere Brothers, he became very interested in cinema, and betweem 1896 and 1914 made over 500 short films. 

His film work utilized many of the elements from his live performance as a basis for content, and the portion of his work that has survived reveals a storytelling style that revels in Jules Verne-esque fantastical adventure fiction. The films ranged from 1 to 40 minutes in length, and many were completely abstract, with his intense interest in the effect of "illusion" on an audience that ultimately led to him becoming the inventor of "special effects." Importantly, the "effects" he invented on celluloid were not just a component of his cinema, they were the essence of it.

Equally important, Méliès made the first cinematic foray into science fiction and horror, and was a pioneer in the making of fantastical adventure films. Le Manoir du diable (The House of the Devil,"1896) and Le Caverna maudite ("The Cave of the Unholy One," 1898) are generally considered to be the first horror films ever made. A print of the former was acquired upon its release by Thomas Edison, who duplicated and distributed it with great financial success in the United States. Though Edison paid no royalties to Méliès, as a result the director's name became well-known to film-goers all over the Western world.

Six years later, Méliès produced what is today his most famous short feature, Le voyage dans la lune (A Trip to the Moon, 1902), the first known science fiction film, and the first to depict space travel. The film was based very loosely on two popular novels of the time, by Jules Verne in From the Earth to the Moon, and The First Men in the Moon by H.G. Wells.

From: A Trip To The Moon - A Rocket In The Eye.

Méliès was forced into bankruptcy in 1913 by large French and American studios. Because the concept of film preservation was still nearly 20 years away, most of his films were ultimately melted down for boot heels during World War I or recycled to make new film.

The archive is divided into four  groups:

(a) A brief but extraordinary 1932 letter in English about his days as a filmmaker.

(b) A group of three letters from 1928 regarding his earliest days at Robert-Houdin Theatre, details regarding a series of short pieces he is writing about his life (for a magazine or newspaper), and a proposal to gather the pieces for publication in book form.

(c) A letter from 1929 regarding the proofs of caricatures that Méliès has drawn for the purpose of publication as postcards to be sold to fans of his work.

(d) A brief but significant letter from 1931 regarding the annual "magician's gala," mentioning several of the magicians who performed, a gathering of artists that was clearly at the heart of what preserved Méliès spirit during the years after his film company collapsed.

In the first letter, Melies writes candidly of his days as a filmmaker, and the collapse of his career: "You will find me every day, even Sundays, in the hall of Montparnasse station, from 10 o'clock A.M. to 10 P.M. I keep there a shop of toys and sweets, since I have unfortunately, lost 3 millions of francs during the war, which I had gained as a producer of motion pictures and pioneer of cinematography."

The next three letters represent the heart of the this archive, regarding Méliès' earliest days working as a magician in the Robert-Houdin Theatre. These letters deal in some detail with an ongoing memoir being written by Méliès, ending with a letter responding to a proposal for the memoirs to be expanded and published as a book.

From: A Trip To The Moon - Dream Sequence.

In the first letter, Méliès writes: "I think by now you must have received the first two articles... I   believe that information on the subject of the Robert-Houdin Theatre will interest your readers, so I won't hesitate to send more details... Today I constructed the exact floor plans of the stage and back stage from memory and I am enclosing them here. Your are right if you think that nothing that that happened in my little old theater has escaped my memory. With an average of 750 performances per year, that makes 27,000 performances! When I think about it, that is simply staggering."

He goes on to discuss the irony of his current situation: " [This is] written in great haste (and on my knees, above the market)...from my little store atelier where there is no space for me and I am crowded by, or should I say, drowned in merchandise. I, at 67, a merchant! I who was always an artist first and who always detested business? What is there to do!? Life has reversals like this, and the war has made me lose the result of 47 years of work [One must] resign oneself, and that is what I have done. That doesn't mean that I do not miss the good old days and I am never as happy as when I am together with colleagues, comedians, cinematographers, or magicians, when I am in my own element."

In another letter, Méliès refers to plans to produce an edition of his memoirs, which, though never published during his lifetime, is the probable foundation for the 1945 publication of Méliès' memoirs edited by Maurice Bessy. The letter goes on in great detail about all aspects of production, including how the linotype should be set up for the book, the importance of illustrations, etc.

The last letter, from 1932, is an enthusiastic review of Robert Evans' A Master of Modern Magic, a biography of Eugene Robert-Houdin (NY: Macoy 1932). The book is "very well written and as exact as possible concerning the dates," and that it "contains very few mistakes. It is certainly more near the truth than the book written against Robert-Houdin by Houdini, who seems to have been jealous of the posthumous reputation of our old master...[Evans] has evidently written this book in order to break this reputation."

Méliès  then expounds on the nature of his original trade, and the philosophy behind the illusion at the heart of cinema: "The conjurors (don't they?) work for the public, not for the professionals; if they have a success and seem extraordinary men to spectators, what do they require more? Nobody of us is really a 'sorcerer,' it is sufficient to look to be, and principally to know how to put our tricks, clever or not, in the maximum of value."

I had a chance to examine this precious archive at the recent 45th California International Antiquarian Book Fair.  It was no illusion. But it was definitely magic. Méliès was indeed the sorcerer of the Silent film era.

Images courtesy of Royal Books, with our thanks. The Méliès biography, at top, is being offered separately from the archive of letters.

Stills from the colored version of A Trip To The Moon courtesy of Harvey Deneroff, with our thanks.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

The Other Horror Story Set In Transylvania

by Stephen J. Gertz

From: Nachricht von den nach Bontzhida in Siebenbürgen gekommenen Zugheuschrecken.

"Listen to them, the cicadas of the night. What music they make."

On August 23, 1780, a dense cloud of locusts the size of Transylvania (the cloud, not the locusts) descended upon Dracula's homeland to suck the sap out of everything that grew upon the earth and utterly destroy all crops.

The populace went into a panic. Driving a stake through the heart of each and every one of the monstrously hungry insects was impractical - not enough toothpicks in Transylvania; spraying garlic juice as an insecticide was malodorous in the extreme and without marinara sauce, why bother?; and daylight didn't put a dent in their activity.

What to do? 

According to Johann Roskoschnik, who, 1782,  chronicled the very real terror, the most effective method to rid Transylvania of the black-veined, green-blooded, night-flying Gryllus migratorius, apparently, was for farmers to dig broad holes deep enough to prevent the bugs from leaping out. Groups of them (farmers, not locusts), armed with brooms, then encircled the soulless demon pests, drove them into the pits, and set the horde afire and on its way to Hell.

According to Horn & Schenkling's Index Litteraturae Entomologicae, this account was originally published in  Ungarische Magazin  2, (1782), pp. 389-399. I missed that issue. I suspect that you did, too.

ROSKOSCHNIK, Johann. Nachricht von den nach Bontzhida in Siebenbürgen gekommenen Zugheuschrecken, ihrem Aufenthalte daselbst, und ihrer Ausrottung; nebst einigen die Naturgeschichte derselben betreffenden Bemerkungen. Pressburg: Anton Löwe, 1782. First separate edition. Octavo. 14, [2] pp. Folding engraved plate with grasshoppers. Blue paper wrappers.

Hagen II, p. 93; Horn & Schenkling 18487.

Image courtesy of Asher Rare Books, with our thanks.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

The Shocking Story Of The First Woman Executed By Electric Chair

by Stephen J. Gertz

She bristles with courage, she has poise, assurance, no end of intelligence... she loves like fire and she hates like T.N.T. ... More power and good luck to her, guilty or not. It would be a waste and a shame to burn up such a woman ... for dramatic, poetic purposes, alone, I say --- VIVE LA RUTH! (From the Preface by Jack Lait).

She wasn't the true first (who remembers Martha M. Place?) but when Ruth Brown Snyder (1895 - 1928), a Queens, NYC housewife, sat down in Sing-Sing's Ol' Sparky at 11PM, January 12, 1928, she became, in the public imagination, the first femme to fry. She was certainly one of the most celebrated occupants of The Chair during the Roaring 'Twenties.

Ruth Snyder, during her trial.

“'Ruthless Ruth,' as the press inevitably called her, was on the wrong side of 30 and married to a wet blanket on the wrong side of 40 from whom she couldn’t even get away during the day because they worked for the same boating magazine.

"The banal hell of the bourgeoisie.

"Ruth had a banal solution: commence affair with handsome, limp-willed corset salesman (also married) from New Jersey.

"Given a large enough metropolis with a large enough pool of adulterous data points, it must be statistically inexorable that a certain proportion will resolve the love triangle by throttling the cuckold with a wire" (Executed Today).

Snyder's execution led to the creation of one of the most iconic photographs of the 20th Century. Her final seconds were inelegantly caught on film by Tom Howard, reputedly a Chicago Tribune reporter, who clandestinely photographed the moment by use of a miniature camera strapped to his ankle. The next morning, the photograph blazoned across the front pages of the New York Daily News, and to this date it is the only photograph of a person being electrocuted in such Grand Guignol circumstances. Howard's camera now resides in the collections of the Smithsonian's National Museum of American History. 

Ruth Snyder now resides in the collections of Woodlawn Cemetery, Bronx, NY, Arbutus plot, Section 119, Lot 16528.

Mug Shot, Sing-Sing, 1927.

Ruth Snyder's Own True Story is a very rare little book. OCLC notes only two copies in institutional holdings worldwide but, then again, who outside the U.S. would care? Only one copy has recently come to market. It may be already gone by the time you read this.

According to Last Meals Before Execution, on her final day alive Ruth Snyder  told her figure to take a flying one; she wasn't going to need it anymore. To help the medicine go down, Ruth  primed herself with Chicken Parmesan with pasta Alfredo, ice cream, two milkshakes, and a 12-pack of grape soda. 

Followed by a lot of juice, 1220 volts, in three big gulps.

SNYDER, Ruth Brown. BELASCO, David.  LAIT, Jack. MACK, Williard. SHIPMAN, Samuel - Contributors. Ruth Snyder's Own True Story. Published Complete for the First Time Anywhere. Written by Herself in the Death Cell. 25¢. [New York]: King Features Syndicate, (1927). First edition. Quarto (11-1/4" x 8-1/2 in.). Orange pictorial paper wrappers, printed in white with B&W drawing of an incarcerated Snyder to center and facsimile signature to lower third. 47, [1 (blank)] pp. Illustrated with 10 B&W images from photographs, including all the key players in the crime and trial. 

Book image courtesy of Tavistock Books, currently offering this title, with our thanks.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Lenny Bruce, Screenwriter

by Stephen J. Gertz

In 1953, the year that Samuel Beckett's Waiting For Godot made its first public stage debut, another holy scripture found its place in the pantheon of dramaturgy.

Sleaze! Sex! Trashy production values! Timothy Farrell is Umberto Scalli, a gangster operating a seedy dance hall. Up-and-coming screen sensation, Lenny Bruce, is Vincent, his sadistic bodyguard keeping the girls on edge and the customers in line. Curvaceous co-star Honey Harlowe is Rose, whose shapely charms launched a thousand quips. Sally Marr is the weary-wise hostess with the mostess. Bunny Parker and Joie Abrams are dance hall girls with moves not taught by Arthur Murray. And Bernie Jones is Punky the Swedish Sailor, who passed-out in a Bergman film and woke up in this sordid nightmare of cheap thrills, hot flesh, violence, and depraved desires!

Fast and furious action, suspense, drama, and sexploitation...It's  Dance Hall Racket!

It's the tender tale of a young performer on the make, his desperate dream of movie stardom and attempt to make it happen with a screenplay from hunger; a honey of a wife, an ecdysiast built to last; his mother, Sally, a former burlesque comedienne; a director who studied at the Ed Wood Jr. school of cinema; and Punky the Swedish Sailor, who pines for a smorgasbord of Nordic meatballs while drowning his sorrows in a Baltic sea of eau-de-vie.

And you, had it not sold instantly upon offering by Royal Books, could have owned an archive of this grade-Z movie from Screen Classics, the Poverty Row studio that tramped the  boulevard of broken dreams, put the hobo in Hollywood, and found lead in them thar golden hills. It was helmed by Phil Tucker, the director who soon afterward brought Robot Monster to the silver screen, a movie that gives Plan 9 From Outer Space a serious run for the money as the Worst Movie of All Time, and, it is reported, inspired the director's attempted suicide.

Set of 51 3 x 5 in. stills, incl. receipt signed in red ink
by Farrell: "Publicity pictures of me in Dance Hall Racket."
Los Angeles: Screen Classics, 1953

In 1951, Lenny Bruce met his future wife, Honey Harlowe, while she was working as a stripper at a club in Baltimore. Bruce was determined to improve their show business prospects, engaging in schemes legit and not-so to further their dreams. In 1953, the couple moved to Los Angeles from New York.

Set of 12 8 x 10 in. stills.
Los Angeles: Screen Classics, 1953

Upon arrival, they moved up the T&A ladder, finding work at The Cup and Saucer, later Strip City, and The Colony Club

The Colony Club was the classiest, best strip joint in L.A. and it was while working there that Lenny concocted the idea of a movie set in the world of burlesque, quoth the raven, "Dance Hall Racket."

The archive belonged to DHR star, Timothy Farrell (1922 - 1989). Farrell "worked as a bailiff in the Los Angeles Sheriff's Department while also working in the movies. One of his movies, Paris After Midnight,  was actually busted in a vice raid in the mid-50s, which caused him professional embarrassment. He went on to work 20 years as a L.A. Deputy Marshall and eventually was appointed County Marshall in 1971. He was convicted of felony charges after his appointment, however, for 'illegal use of Deputy Marshalls in political activities,' and was given a six month sentence, but received probation due to poor health. He was fired in 1975" (IMDB). 

In the same year he starred in Dance Hall Racket, Farrell appeared in Ed Wood Jr.'s adventures of a tranny, Glenn Or Glenda? But not before appearing in Racket Girls (gangsters n' female wrestlers, 1951), and, later, Ed Wood Jr.'s immortal Jail Bait (1954).

BRUCE, Lenny. How To Talk Dirty and Influence People.
Chicago: Playboy Press, [1965].
Advice from the Dale Carnegie of comedy.

Lenny Bruce's attempt at prose was more successful. How To Talk Dirty  and Influence People, the autobiography written after he'd attained stardom as a "sick" comedian whose satire laid waste to hypocrisy and forever changed the world of stand-up comedy, remains highly readable.

BRUCE, Honey with Dana Benenson. Honey.
The Life and Loves of Lenny's Shady Lady.
Chicago: Playboy Press, 1976.
Lenny's "shiksa-goddess" tells all.

Honey Harlowe, after Lenny's death, wrote "what is possibly the most shockingly intimate and most frankly erotic woman's story of even our liberated time" (jacket blurb). In comparison with today's even looser standards, it could have been written by Louisa May Alcott, Meg Comes Clean.

Of Dance Hall Racket, she wrote, "Lenny never made any real money writing, although he was paid $750 a week for rewriting the movie script The Kid From Outer Space [aka The Rocket Man]. None of the four movies he wrote [Dance Hall Racket, Dream Follies, The Rocket Man, and The Leather Jacket] got past the grade-B level. The most outrageous of his scripts was Dance Hall Racket. It was about a Italian gangster (Lenny) and his girl (me). The script was actually a rewrite and so corny it became funny. The best scene Lenny wrote for me was when I was be be presented to a big-time gangster as a welcome-home-from-prison present. I was dressed in a white bikini, high heels, and a white-fox stole, and upon cue I came crashing through a tremendous cake" (p. 222-223).

He who gets slapped.
"This is the worst screenplay I've ever read!"

From left.: Punky the Swedish Sailor; Honey Harlowe;
Timothy Farrell; Lenny Bruce.

Punky the Swedish Sailor cleans up the pastry, then gets plastered.

View all fifty-three minutes of Dance Hall Racket, above.

Archive images courtesy of Royal Books, with our thanks.

Book images from the author's collection.

Dance Hall Racket is an orphan the public domain.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Unpublished Significant Early Tennessee Williams Poem Surfaces

by Stephen J. Gertz

Between the end of May and the beginning of September 1937, Tennessee Williams, 26 years old and a student at Washington University in St. Louis, wrote a startling prose poem, one never published and completely unknown to Williams scholars.

The piece, titled The Body Awaits, a monologue spoken by a bum in a St. Louis flophouse, appears to be related to Williams' fourth apprentice play, Fugitive Kind, also written in 1937 and occurring in a flophouse. It is unclear whether the piece was working preparation for Fugitive Kind, or, alternatively, grew out of it, Williams sensing something that he wanted to develop independently from the play.

The work is eerily prescient of his sad, later years. It begins:

I am tired. I am tired of speech and action. If you should meet me upon the street and still know me in spite of my present condition I would prefer that you passed me without salutation. Your face is unknown to me now. I do not remember your name. Maybe we drank together once or shared grub in a jungle of flop-house somehwehre [sic] in a different state or different city but that was a long time ago.

And ends, in this draft:

Death is the last convenience. Perhaps it will be a truck skidding close to a corner on which I stand. Accident or on purpose? Who cares! A step or two forwards or backwards and the whole thing's done. The body awaits identification at the city morgue. Will you perform a post-mortem? In the heart of me you will find a tiny handful of dust. Take it and blow it out upon the wind. Let the wind have it and it will find its way home.

In corrected typescripts of two different versions of Williams's working drafts, the earlier is typed on both sides of a single sheet, double and single-spaced in blocks of text on the first side, with several versions of some lines; on the reverse a portion is  double-spaced, with a line by line layout.

These two drafts contain about twenty-five words in Williams's hand in pencil.

The later version is double-spaced on four pages (including two drafts of the second page), and has thirty-four words and other corrections in pencil, by Williams. It's signed in type and dated June, 1937.

Thomas A. Goldwasser, of Goldwasser Rare Books, currently offering the typescript, said,  "It is particularly interesting to see the budding playwright experimenting with voices and phrases and trying to expand his imaginative world."

Williams typescript/manuscript material is extremely difficult to acquire. "Almost all such Williams  material is held by institutions, and rarely appears for sale," Goldwasser notes.

Here we have, pre-Tennessee, Thomas Lanier Williams III, unhappy in childhood, depressed in adolescence, and only two years after a nervous breakdown, contemplating, in his mid-twenties, a void in the heart, exhaustion with life, a turning within and away from the world, and an acceptance if not welcome of death.

It ends with what would become Williams signature language, a soft, stylized tongue never heard in real life, the song of a splendid bird with broken wing who sought compassion for all the injured and sung with a voice desperately seeking lyric poetry in a brutal prose world. In the beginning he saw his end with a yearning to return to the refinement that he never knew as a child yet mourned just the same, the Never-Neverland of a tortured Peter Pan from Mississippi who sought grace in all things but experienced its subversion by gross reality.  Tennessee Williams was Blanche DuBois. In The Body Awaits, Blanche lies with her brothers, the lost, helpless souls wounded beyond salvation.

"In the heart of me you will find a tiny handful of dust. Take it and blow it out upon the wind. Let the wind have it and it will find its way home."

The body awaits delivery to where the mind has already arrived, to that supernal place where nightmares subside, dreams are never disturbed, and the kindness of strangers is no stranger.

Image courtesy of Thomas A. Goldwasser Rare Books, with our thanks.

Friday, February 17, 2012

A Magnificent Padded Onlay Pictorial Binding

by Stephen J. Gertz

Yesterday, we looked at inlaid pictorial bindings by Chris Lewis 1960-1980. Today, we examine a beautiful onlaid pictorial binding by Riviére & Son, c. 1920s, just a few years before Bayntun of Bath acquired and merged the firm into its operations.

GILBERT, W.S. The "Bab" Ballads.
London: John Camden Hotten, 1869.

Bound c. 1920s by Riviere & Son.

The difference between an inlaid and onlaid binding suggests itself. Inlaid bindings involve placing varicolored pieces of cut and shaped leather into a matching, excised section of the main leather covering as a mosaic. The set-in pieces are generally flush with the surface or ever so slightly raised. 

GILBERT, W.S. More "Bab" Ballads.
London: George Routledge, n.d. [1872].

Bound c. 1920s by Riviere & Son.

With onlaid bindings, the cut and shaped pieces are applied atop the main leather cover as a mosaic. In this example, the finisher (alas, unknown) went the extra distance and padded the pictorial onlays to bring them into high-relief, and how. The resulting scene pops off the background as sculptured leather with depth and contour.

Angle shows high-relief.

Robert Riviere (1808–1882), bookbinder, was born in London in 1808. Upon leaving school, in 1824, he apprenticed with Messrs. Allman, the booksellers, In 1829 he established his own book shop. In 1840 he established his own business as a bookbinder.

The excellent craftsmanship and fine taste demonstrated by his bindings gradually  Riviére the attention of connoisseurs, and he was employed by the Duke of Devonshire, Mr. Christie-Miller, Captain Brooke, and other great collectors. He also bound for the queen and the royal family.  He won
 a medal at the Great Exhibition of 1851 for his work.

Riviére's bindings, in the quality of materials, forwarding, finishing, and delicacy of the tooling deserve all the praise a binder can hope hope for. His bindings are wonderful specimens of artistic taste, skill. But though Riviére seldom strayed from traditional binding styles, the work of Riviére & Son remains the standard for quality and master craftsmanship.

Riviere bequeathed his business to this son-in-law in 1880, and the name of the firm was changed to Riviere & Son. Bayntun of Bath acquired Riviere  c. 1930.

Close-up: Note high-relief against background.

Not incidentally, biting, satirical, absurdist ballads were what W.S. Gilbert was up to before he  partnered-up with Arthur Sullivan, H.M.S. Pinafore, etc., to come. "Bab" as in "baby" was his nickname, his verse,  accompanied by his own comic illustrations, became extremely popular in FUN, a weekly mag, when they first appeared c.1865, and, by 1869, here we are, the first collected edition of The Babs Ballads with a first of it's follow-up, bound with a state of the craft padded onlay pictorial scene within a sunken panel bordered in gilt and framed by a broad, extravagant, exuberantly gilt decorated border with peacock-feather tooling because this binding has a lot to be proud of.

[RIVIÉRE & SON, binders]. GILBERT, W.S. The "Bab" Ballads. [together with:] More "Bab" Ballads. Much Sound and Little Sense. London: John Camden Hotten [and] George Routledge and Sons, 1869 [and] (n.d., i.e. 1872).

First editions. Octavo (7 1/8 x 5 1/8 in; 180 x 128 mm). ix, [2], 14-222, [4, adv.]; viii, [1], 224, [4. adv.] pp. Black and white frontispieces with tissue guards, black and white text illustrations throughout.

Bound c. 1920 by Riviere & Son in full emerald crushed morocco with a broad, elaborately gilt decorated frame with floral spirals, peacock feather corner pieces, and peacock feathers at the mid-points, enclosing an ovate, gilt-bordered and decorated sunken central panel within which are figures from the text pictorially depicted with multi-colored, padded morocco onlays. Lower board with double fillets and gilt decorated corner pieces. Gilt-rolled raised bands. Gilt decorated compartments. Wide turn-ins with gilt corner pieces. All edges gilt. Moire silk endpapers. Gilt-rolled edges.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

The Beautiful Inlaid Pictorial Bindings of Chris Lewis

by Stephen J. Gertz

Chris Lewis was one of Bayntun-Riviere's most talented 'finishers" - the craftsperson who, after the book has been bound, executes the design. He designed and finished many unique inlaid bindings during his time at Bayntun-Riviere in the 1960s, established his own bindery in the 1970s, and returned to Bayntun prior to his death in the late eighties.

Here's a selection from a trove I recently had pass through my hands. Of particular note are the bindings he designed and bound in his own bindery, 1970 - early 1980s; it was then that he began to fully implement hand-painted highlights, a technique he began to experiment with while still at Baynton-Riviere (see Mr. Pickwick, below, with painted facial highlights), and which reached its apotheosis with his binding for the Rackham-illustrated edition of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.

[POGANY, Willy (Illustrator). GOETHE, Johann Wolfgang von.
HAYWARD, Abraham (Translator). Faust. Translated by
Abraham Hayward. With Illustrations by Willy Pogany.
London: Hutchinson & Co., 1908.

Bound c. 1960 by Bayntun-Riviere,
designed and finished by Chris Lewis.

Full crimson crushed morocco pictorially inlaid with orange, deep red, pale blue, sea green, deer brown, dark blue, white, dark brown, and beige morocco against a black-incised drawing that partially reproduces the illustration opposite p. 98, "Faust and Margaret in the Summer House,"  within a gilt-tooled border and outer frame of interlacing gilt strap-work. Gilt rolled edges. Raised bands with gilt ornaments, and compartments with gilt-ruled frames highlight the spine. Broad turn-ins decorated with gilt rules and floral corner devices. Pale pink end-leaves. All edges gilt.

REYNOLDS, Frank (Illustrator)]. DICKENS, Charles.
Mr. Pickwick. London: Hodder & Stoughton, n.d. [1910].

Bound c. 1960 by Bayntun-Riviere,
designed and finished by Chris Lewis.


Full crimson crushed morocco with  charming pictorial, green, beige, brown, yellow, and flesh colored onlays  reproducing Frank Reynold's frontispiece of Mr. Pickwick within a central, sunken panel surrounded by four gilt-ruled borders enclosing prominent gilt corner-pieces of Tudor roses, leaves and swirls, gilt roses at each side. The lower cover reiterates the upper's gilt-work without the pictorial central panel. Wide turn-ins with large gilt corner-pieces and ruled borders. Raised bands with gilt ornaments, gilt framed and decorated or lettered compartments. Pales straw moire silk end-leaves. All edges gilt.

ROBINSON, W. Heath. Bill the Minder.
London: Constable, 1912.

Bound c. 1982, by Bayntun-Riviere,
designed and finished by Chris Lewis.

Full red crushed morocco with multi-colored pictorial inlays and black-stamped flowers that reproduce the color plate, "The King of Troy Compelled to Ask His Way," opposite p. 30, within a blind-tooled frame surrounded by gilt double-ruled borders. Raised bands with gilt tools and compartments with gilt ornaments within a gilt double-ruled frame highlight the spine. Gilt rolled edgework. Gilt decorated turn-ins. All edges gilt. Cockerell endleaves.

[RACKHAM, Arthur]. CARROLL, Lewis.
Alice's Adventures in Wonderland.
London: William Heinemann, [1907].

Bound ca. 1980 by Chris Lewis of Bath.

Note painted highlights.

Full emerald morocco with double gilt fillets and a gilt-tooled central panel enclosing a multicolored pictorial inlay with original hand-coloring, reproducing A Mad Tea Party opposite p. 84. Gilt ornamented raised bands, gilt decorated compartments with ruled borders and central panel. Gilt rolled edges. Gilt tooled turn-ins.

RACKHAM, Arthur. The Romance of King Arthur
and His Knights of the Round Table. Abridged from
Malory's Morte D'Arthur by Alfred W. Pollard.
Illustrated by Arthur Rackham.
London: Macmillan and Co., Ltd., 1917.

Bound by Chris Lewis (stamp-signed), c. early 1970s.

Note painted highlights.

Full crimson morocco. Triple gilt-ruled borders. Central pictorial inlay of Sir Launcelot slaying the dragon, with multi-colored morocco inlays and painted highlights. Gilt ornamented and decorated compartments. Gilt rolled edges. Gilt dentelles. Top edge gilt, others rough.

[RACKHAM, Arthur, artist]. SWINBURNE, Algernon Charles.
The Springtide of Life. Poems of Childhood by Algernon
Charles Swinburne. With a Preface by Edmund Gosse.
Illustrated by Arthur Rackham.
London" William Heinemann, (1918).

Bound c. early 1970s by Chris Lewis.

Note painted highlights.

Full emerald morocco. Gilt-ruled border. Gilt frame enclosing a pictorial onlay of multi-colored morocco with painted highlights that reproduces the frontispiece. Gilt decorated compartments. Gilt rolled edges. Gilt rolled turn-ins. Top edge gilt.

Pictorially inlaid bindings were once quite popular. Chris Lewis caught the last wave, or, rather,  swam against the current. They fell out of fashion with the development of modernism and the integration of abstraction into binding designs by the mid-20th century. As a result, the art and craft is getting lost as the demand has ebbed and the skills declined. Chris Lewis was the last binder to specialize in the genre, and with few to carry on the tradition and pass the knowledge to another generation, the art of pictorially inlaid bindings may fade into binding history.

That would be unfortunate. While pictorially inlaid bindings belong to another era and are, for some, a bit too representational with a precious, diabetic quality that may cloy, they possess a traditional charm and craftsmanship that for many overrides modern taste: not too sweet at all, they're "just right."

Ultimately, master craftsmanship never goes out of style.

Images courtesy of David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.
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