Monday, July 23, 2012

American Rare Book Trade Ads From 1902

By Stephen J. Gertz

The Literary Collector: An Illustrated Monthly Magazine for Those Whose Delight is in Books and Other Beautiful Things was established in New York City, October 1900, by renowned New York bookseller George D. Smith. From 1902, when its subtitle dropped to earth, focused, and became A Monthly Magazine of Book-Lore and Bibliography, until its demise,  in September 1905, it was published by Smith at the Literary Collector Press in Greenwich, Connecticut by The Literary Collector Company and edited by Frederick C. Bursch.

The following trade advertisements appeared 110 years ago in The Literary Collector, Volume 4, April - September, 1902.

George D. Smith was "the czar of the American  rare book trade" (Stern) until A.S.W. Rosenbach  and death toppled Smith as top banana. Note the last volume in his ad above. The first edition in English of Adolphe Thiers' five-volume History of the French Revolution (London: Richard Bentley, 1838) is offered for $18. It's not a particularly rare book and copies are now, in 2012, being offered from $250 - $1500.

Smith (1879-1920) "was a large, dynamic man with what has been called a 'picturesque' figure and an irrepressible nature. He lived books eighteen hours a day every day for almost four decades. Like many monomaniacs, he was sometimes distrusted, often disliked, but never keen as he was majestic" (Stern).

Where to begin with Charles Carrington (b. 1867 - d. 1921 of syphilis), who deserves an entire book devoted to his colorful character and career? Of Portuguese descent, Carrington,  born Paul Harry Fernandino, was, arguably, the most notorious publisher of his generation. He began in London. Circa 1893-96 he skipped to Paris; deported from France in 1907, he fled to Brussels. In 1912, he returned to Paris, at times Amsterdam. In short, he operated one step ahead of the law. "Historical, Artistic, Medical, and Anthropological Works," is certainly one way to characterize the books he published. Erotica, pornography, curiosa, and sexology are other appropriate descriptions. Often, the stated publication locale, publisher, and date on his books were false. Many if not most of his books were "for private subscribers only." He was active as a publisher for twenty-six years and published approximately 300 books.

Just what, pray tell, is the above advertised Carrington publication, Untrodden Fields of Anthropology  (Paris: 1896) all about? Perhaps the author's name, "Dr. Jacobus X," will provide a hint. No?

Dr. Jacobus X was the pseudonym of Louis Jacolliot (1837-1890), a French  army surgeon who, stationed in many exotic locales within the French empire for thirty years, had way too much free time on his hands and so decided to make it his business to trod those untrodden fields and "record his experiences, experiments and discoveries in the Sex Relations and the Racial Practices of the Arts of Love in the Sex Life of the Strange Peoples of Four Continents" (from the sub-title). This included taking measurements, for scientific purposes only, of course, of the genitals of both sexes in whatever colony he found himself in. Somebody had to do it, I suppose, and we can assign credit to Dr. Jacobus X as being the father of comparative genitalology, a flaccid discipline of dubious value.

(The first Carrington Paris and first edition in English of this, Jacolliot's  L'amour aux colonies: singularités physiologiques et passionnelles observées durant trente années de séjour dans les colonies françaises ... [Paris: Isidore Liseux, 1893]), was limited to 500 copies. It is extremely rare. The first American edition, according to Carrington, was oversubscribed at $60; it, too has become quite rare. Later American reprints from  Esar Levine's American Anthropological Society (1930) and Benjamin Rebhuhn's Falstaff Press  (1937), which  were sold by private subscription  and "Intended for Circulation Among Mature Educated Persons Only," are readily available and relatively inexpensive. Suffice it to say, both Levine and Rebhuhn - who received Levine's copyrights - were indicted for obscenity through mail violations).

Carrington published the first edition in English of Pierre Louys' Aphrodite (1906). A few of his more earthy publications included Amorous Adventures of a Japanese Gentleman (Yokohama: Printed for the Diamio of Satsuma, 1897, i.e. Paris, 1897)); Les Belles Flagellantes de New York (1906); The Autobiography of a Flea, Told in a Hop, Skip and a Jump (The Phlebotomical Society: Cythera, 1789 [c.1890]); The Adventures of Miss Lais Lovecock (1906); and A Town-Bull Or the Elysian Fields. How Priapus blessed a poor man, made a living for him, and how, finally, a paradise for free-lovers was established where fathers and daughters, mothers and grandsons, brothers and sisters, white, brown and black cohabitated indiscriminately (Carnopolis [Paris]: Société des Bibliophiles, c.1899).

The most complete bibliographical checklist to date of the books published by Charles Carrington can be found at the The Erotica Bibliophile. A diligent and tenacious amateur scholar, Ms. Sheryl Straight has included much more about Carrington on this excellent site, which includes info about publishers, writers, and illustrators of clandestine erotic literature found nowhere else.

Bradstreet's and Matthews were the founding firms of American fine binding. Bradstreet's rated a highly honorable mention in Henri Pène du Bois' Historical Essay on the Art of Bookbinding (1883):

Bookbinding "was not an art an art to be restricted to one nation or to one family, as tradition would have it in France, and forthwith did Bradstreet's of New York, undertake to make it American also; and now, if the rallied book collectors of the Old World point with pride to Trautz-Bauzonnet, Lortic, Marius Michel, Hardy, Amand, Bedford, Smeers, Riviere and Zaehnsdorf, the New World may retort with Matthews and Bradstreet's. And deservedly, because there is a solidity, strength and squareness of workmanship about the books of the Bradstreet bindery which seem to convince that they may be 'tossed from the summit of Snowdon to that of Cader Idris,' without detriment or serious injury. Certainly, none can put a varied colored morocco coat on a book, and gild it with greater perfection in choice of ornament and splendor of gold, and with greater care, taste and success, than Bradstreet's" (p. 35).  The essay giving the great Matthews the short end I suspect that Du Bois was influenced by the essay's publisher,  The Bradstreet Company.

Many advertisements for American binderies are found in The Literary Collector. In 1902, however, beyond Bradstreet's, few binders in the United States possessed the craftsmanship and artistry of their British and French contemporaries. Henry Stikeman  of Stikeman & Co. was amongst the exceptional few. Stikeman trained with American art bookbinding founding father William Matthews, eventually taking over Matthews' firm. Stikeman’s career arc followed the grouth and establishment of art bookbinding in America as the 19th century ended and the new century began. Stikeman bindings from the 1880s through the second decade of the twentieth century represent the best work of the firm, and Stikeman bindings have become quite collectible. Stikeman's descendant, Jeff Stikeman, is an architectural designer and illustrator in Boston with an excellent website devoted to Stikeman & Co. bindings and history.

Allan J. Crawford established his secondhand book firm, A.J. Crawford & Co., in St. Louis in the 1880s, evolving his stock into antiquarian volumes as the city's population and prosperity grew with the coming of the new century "The lifetime Crawford devoted to the antiquarian trade wound fittingly to its close. The dealer was found dead on the floor of the shop where he had fallen" (Stern, p. 116).

Rare bookseller Oscar Wegelin (1876-1970) was a bibliophile-scholar responsible for Early American Plays 1714-1830 (1905); Early American Poetry: A Compilation of the Titles of Volumes of Verse and Broadsides, Written by Writers Born or Residing in North America, and Issued During the 17th and 18th Centuries (1903); A Bibliography of the Separate Writings of John Esten Cooke (1925); Wisconsin Verse (1914); Early American Fiction 1774-1830 (1929); and etc. An archive of Oscar Wegelin's papers rests at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island.

Above, a favorite for its wry candor.

Poor S.F. McLean. Publishing Holmes Whittier Merton's Descriptive Mentality From the Head, Face and Hand (1897), apparently, did not make his fortune, nor did Samuel Wylie Crawford's The History of the Fall of Fort Sumpter... (1898). He didn't seem to be doing too well selling books, either. "Something wrong." Perhaps his books really were No Good. Will he survive?

More one him in Part II.

Reference to booksellers:

STERN, Madeleine B. Stern. Antiquarian Bookselling in the United States: A History from the Origins to the 1940s (1985).

More vintage American rare book trade advertisements to come in Part II and Part III.

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