Thursday, December 20, 2012

A Lurid Story of Book Dope And Lives Twisted By Mad Desire! A Booktryst Golden Oldie

by Stephen J. Gertz

Hard-boiled dames caught in the grip of a habit beyond their control; corrupt dolls seeking cheap thrills between the sheets of a book; innocents ensnared into the rare book racket, underage girls seduced by slick blurbs, and grown men brought to their knees by bibliographical points that slay dreams in a depraved world.

It's rare book noir, the dark underbelly of collecting. Human wreckage litters the streets of Booktown, the vice-ridden gotham that kicks its victims into the gutter margin, slaves to their twisted desire and lost in a sick world where condition is everything, obsession is the norm, and compulsion the law.

That first book seen in a window display, an Internet image, held in the hands - soon, you're furtively ducking into dens of iniquity with bookshelves and rarities behind a bamboo curtain; you've got the shakes and you need something, bad, right now. The rent is due, the kids need food, mama needs a new pair of shoes but let 'em all go to hell, you're a quarto low, you need your shot of heaven, a mainline hit straight to the pleasure centers to bathe in a flood of dopamine unleashed by a new acquisition and sink into careless ecstasy.

It's a brutal, hard-hitting story that rips the tawdry curtain away from this covert world to expose the reckless passion that drives its denizens to the depths of impecunious human existence and insanity.

It's a tale told through posters designed and exclusively distributed by Heldfond Gallery Ltd in San Francisco, based upon vintage pulp fiction book covers. Proprietor Eric Heldfond has been  peddling them for a few years now, leaning against a lamppost on a dark street corner to tempt unwary passersby. I've succumbed to his evil pitch, bought a few, have given them as gifts, and suspect you may wish to do same for friends of dubious character, i.e. book lovin' broads, momzers, and biblio-debauchees - in short, fellow travelers in the shadowland of the sordid habit we call reading. Make yourself at home in the flophouse of the hopelessly hooked: Your local rare book shop.

Never before has the finger of light shone so glaringly on the wasteland of the book collector to pitilessly strip bare this seamy hotbed of unbridled text! 

 "Read any good books lately?" she purred. 
The dame had me right where she wanted me. 
I felt her scan my lines and before I knew it she tore 
off my jacket, and began to paraphrase my favorite part.
She bookmarked me, and how. I didn't complain.
I was a book junkie and there was no escape from this sinister paradise.

The posters are 8.5 X 11 inches, printed on 68lb. (252 g/mf) / 10.4 mil. heavyweight Premium High Gloss photo media.92 ISO, and priced at $25 each. Custom sizes up to 13 x 19 inches are available. Visit Heldfond's Bibliopulp gallery here.
Originally appeared on Jume 14, 2010.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Eliot Ness and The Female Untouchables: A Booktryst Golden Oldie

by Stephen J. Gertz

In a recent post, I discussed ephemera in general and a certain piece that elicited memories of my family's involvement in the liquor business during Prohibition in Chicago.

My all-time favorite piece of ephemera also concerns the liquor business in Chicago during Prohibition - sort of. As with all ephemera, it, too, tells quite a tale.

What About Girls? was published in 1943 by the YMCA's Armed Services Department warning of the dangers of venereal disease. It was written by Eliot Ness. Yes, that Eliot Ness.

Eliot Ness, special agent of the Justice Department's Prohibition Bureau. Nemesis of Al Capone. All-American hero. Eliot Ness, legendary gangbuster.

Eliot Ness, Germbuster?

How Ness, the famed Federal agent went from gangbuster to germbuster is a sad story indeed.

Ness's dream job, to join the F.B.I. after Repeal, was thwarted by J. Edgar Hoover, who disdained Ness' shameless publicity seeking and gross exaggerations of his at best marginal contribution to bringing down Al Capone. There was room for only one prima donna publicity-hound in the F.B.I. and Hoover filled the position; there could only be one public face of the F.B.I. and it would not be Ness's matinee-idol mug.

Reality check: Eliot Ness joined the Justice Department in 1928 in the waning years of Prohibition; he caught the tail end of the Noble Experiment, he was never in the thick of it. His job, in essence: play whack-a-mole with Capone's organization. Take down a small brewery, bottling plant tonight, it's open again tomorrow. But he made certain the local reporters wrote about him and inventively played up his exploits. Yet "nothing he did contributed to the government's case against Al Capone" (Bergreen, p. 344). He was merely an annoying flea to Chicago's top dog.

After his rejection by Hoover, Ness began a slow, pathetic slide downward fueled (ironically) by alcoholism and womanizing.

He took a job as Cleveland Public Safety Director, his mandate: clean up the town; the Mayfield Road gang, led by Moe Dalitz, was running amok. It continued to do so under his watch. His success in Cleveland was mixed, like scotch and soda. By 1938, Ness, once Cleveland's golden boy, was now understood to be strictly fool's gold. He divorced his wife; that didn't go over well with the Catholic citizenry. He began to haunt posh booze troughs. Made time with the babes. By 1941, his reputation was in tatters. His involvement in a hit and run accident (he hit, he ran) while drunk shredded it, and he was forced to resign in disgrace in 1942.

At age 39, his movie star looks fading, his rep sunk, he moved to Washington D.C. and, hat in hand, he begged and got a job as Director, Social Protection Division, Office of Community War Services, Federal Security Agency where he helped coordinate the government's struggle to cope with what he called, "Military Saboteur Number 1."

Thus, What About Girls? with Ness's immortal call to arms: "The idea is to keep diseased women away from you. Is it too much to ask that you keep away from them?"

Uh, yes Sir, it is: unless "diseased women" wear a sign around their necks, we can't tell the pure specimens from the impure ones. How 'bout a War Department memo to all ladies: Please present full blood work results to your local Selective Service board.

The "diseased women" were, of course, pay-to-play gals but the word prostitute is not to be found within the pamphlet's pages.

Ness had a personal bug about syphilis. Bergreen, who gives much attention to Ness in his definitive biography of Capone, states that Ness' crusade against syphilis was precipitated by his former nemesis' battle with the malady. Ness, who spent his last days a forgotten figure and broken man, insolvent, deeply in debt, and regaling indulgent barflies with grandiose tales of former glory, died of a heart attack in 1957 at age 54, the consequence of his alcoholism, on the eve of the publication of his self-aggrandizing memoir, The Untouchables, which led to the famous television series.

This pamphlet, an important view of the government's actions against V.D. during the war years, presents a marked contrast to the government's actions forty years later when a new, deadly venereal disease emerged to threaten America, and is a sad reminder of a man who was ultimately Fitzgeraldian in his initial (sham) success, unfulfilled promise, and alcoholic disintegration. It is a fascinating slice of 20th-century Americana.


NESS, Eliot. WHAT ABOUT GIRLS? New York: Public Affairs Committee (YMCA), 1947 [1948]. Reprint of the 1943 first issue. 16mo, 31pp. Red printed wrappers. 
BERGREEN, Laurence. Capone: The Man and the Era (NY, 1994). Cf. Bullough et al., Bibiography of Prostitution 3377. 
Originally appeared on July 17, 2009.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

On The Road With Minnesota Fats - A Booktryst Golden Oldie

by Stephen J. Gertz

“I’ve been shooting pool since I was four years old. No con. By the time I was six I was playing for stakes. My first sucker was a neighborhood kid in Washington Heights. I spotted him coming out of a candy store with an enormous bag of gumdrops. He was about five years older than me but I shot him straight pool and I won every last one of his gumdrops. He went home crying. When I was ten I started playing for cash” (Minnesota Fats, The Bank Shot and Other Robberies).

My introduction to Minnesota Fats, legendary pool hustler:

It’s 1986. After arriving late into Nashville, I check into the Hermitage, the hotel where Fats, 73, lives rent-free in exchange for hanging out on the hotel’s mezzanine and shooting pool for and with the guests for a few hours each day. He’s in the lobby, lounging on a sofa with two very attractive women draped over him like shawls.

“You’re late, Kid,” he caroms in a gruffly quiet yet very emphatic New York accent. I’m thirty-five. “I got the double-double on these tomatoes. It’s harvest time. I’ll catch you on the break.”

He stands up, the chicks attach themselves to his arms, and the three vamoose to his room.

I catch him on the break – at breakfast the next morning.

“Let’s belt out some calories,” he commands, “and we’ll talk the proposition.”

Said proposition: I’m in town to supervise a brief promotional tour for Fats’ first (and only) video, How To Play Pool Starring Minnesota Fats (Karl-Lorimar Video, 1986). It is also the exact time that Martin Scorsese’s The Color of Money is being released, the latter-day sequel to The Hustler (1961), the movie that introduced Minnesota Fats to the world. Disney gave me the double-door when I proposed a promotional alliance, and now, just for spite, I’m determined to piggy-back onto The Color of Money because the color of money is the same hue for both projects and we need to sell 15,000 copies for the video to break even.

I’ve set up a release party in Nashville with the help of a local music industry publicist who’s promised to deliver the city’s Country-Western stars; Waylon Jennings is in the video as Fatty’s guest, everybody in town loves Fats, and, I'm assured, it’s a Hungarian cinch that the party will be star-studded. The publicist is also a very attractive woman, a fact that will go a long way toward ensuring Fatty’s ongoing cooperation because he put the cranky in cantankerous and cannot be moved by anything other than money on the table or a gorgeous babe. As there is no money on the table (or anywhere else) for him to be paid for his promo toil, this is not an effort he is enthusiastic about enduring, and the big maha from the home office, me, does not impress him at all. For all I know, Fats considers me strictly a filage.

Breakfast conversation quickly turns from the proposition to all the people Fats has known “since time began.” Fats has a generous sense of temporal existence. He, in fact, has a generous sense of just about everything and has turned hyperbole into high art. A woman is not merely beautiful, she is beautiful “beyond compare,” she “makes Raquel Welch look like an onion.” He is, also, “the greatest storyteller since Aesop,” and after listening to him for a while I know he’s on the square; I could listen to him for hours. He speaks in a colorful patois, the language of poolrooms, gamblers and hustlers, and I want to hang a jewelry box around his neck like a feed bag to catch the pearls that routinely fall out of his mouth. He is an enchanting, if sometimes difficult, personality.
David Kastle, Fatty’s manager, has joined us. David is a few years younger than I am, a sharp guy who fell in love with Fats and decided to take him on and reinvigorate his career, which had faded with his advancing age leaving not much more than the legend. But a legend is not legal tender; bills have to be paid with cash. The legend needed to be leveraged. The video deal is a first step and David will be accompanying us for the duration. He, too, wants everything to run smoothly. David can handle Fats – up to a point. When reason fails, bring in the girls.

I spend the afternoon frantically going over arrangements with the publicist who lulls me into a sense of nervous prostration. Everything will be fine – unless it isn’t.

Dolly Parton, George Jones, and the rest of the stellar cast of promised Country-Western artists have, evidently, made other plans for the evening - they are not standing by their man - and the press has, apparently, other pressing engagements. I’m dying, David Kastle is fuming. The publicist blames a misalignment of the planets.

Fatty, on the other hand, couldn’t care less. Salesmen and the V.P. of Ingram Distribution’s video division are in attendance and eager to shoot a little pool with the legend, who has no qualms about separating them from their simoleans and it doesn’t matter whether it’s two-bits, a single, a fin, a ten-spot or a deuce that’s on the table, money means action and he’s as predatory as if a carbuncle had been laid on the felt. No matter how shallow or deep the green, Fatty sees red, smells blood, goes in for the kill, and whacks out all of ‘em. But never have losers felt so much like winners: the salesmen now have a story, How Minnesota Fats Wiped the Table With My Ass, that they’ll be telling for the rest of their lives.

Were it not for its motivating effect upon the sales force – a fact far more important than having stars show up – the release party would have been a complete scratch. It is an ill-wind omen of things to come, as is the brick itching to evacuate my bowels.
Afterward, Fats, David, the publicist, the Ingram V.P., and I grab a late dinner and, once again, Fatty regales with stories about Willie Mosconi – his pool-universe arch-enemy; Princess Fatima, who appreciated his moves with a stick; Zsa-Zsa Gabor; the day Dillinger dropped; Russian pinochle on the high seas; craps on the Hudson; a south-of-the-border standoff (“El Gordo,” the Fat One, wins); the sultans, viziers, rajas, ranis, maharajas, the crowned heads of Europe, the potentates of all stripes that he's met, and other fables from a fabled life.

With all his talk about knowing everyone since God created the heavens and earth, I can’t help but try to throw him a curve to see if I can force a strike.

“Did you know Louis Levinson?” This was a cousin of mine, actually one of my paternal grandfather’s first cousins, an ultimately deceased by unnatural cause citizen of Detroit  who might just as well have been a denizen of Damon Runyon’s Broadway, an underworld character of color with a legend of his own.
He swings.
Home run.
But before I can confirm that yes, I am referring to “Sleep-Out Louie" Levinson, second-story man in youth, a gambler of renown and owner of Club Flamingo, a rug-joint (an illegal casino with carpeting to attract the straight, monied class, as opposed to the standard clandestine, no-frills sawdust-joint) in Newport, Kentucky, Fatty proceeds to weave the tale of how “Sleep-Out “ earned his moniker, a story I was weaned on: He lived at home but his professional activities were nocturnal and he’d often return at all hours of the early morning, if he got home at all. More often than not, he’d just lie down on a table in the local pool hall and cop z’s, hence “Sleep-Out.”

When he didn’t show up at home, his mother, my grandfather's Aunt Mary, a big bear of a Russian Jewess who, had she remained in the Motherland, could have crushed Hitler’s invading army simply by falling on it, would go out looking for him, her first stop the pool hall where she’d find him sawing logs comfy on the green felt, grab him by the ear and march him out of the pool room, down the street, and home like he was a five-year-old juvenile delinquent. This scene would invariably inspire hysterics in bystanders innocent and otherwise.
"Sleep-Out" earned a couple of footnotes in the Federal annals during his career. At the 1951 O'Conor Senate Committee Investigating Organized Crime in Interstate Commerce hearings, the following burlesque routine occurred during the October 16th session:
Witness: John Maddock, bookie.

Mr. Rice. Have you ever transacted any business with Howard Sports in Baltimore?

Mr. Maddock. Who is Howard Sports?

Mr. Rice. Howard Sports, the news service.

Mr. Maddock. I refuse to answer that on the grounds I might incriminate myself.

Mr. Rice. In 1944, did you transact any business with Howard Sports ?

Mr. Maddock. I refuse to answer that on the grounds I might incriminate myself.

Mr. Rice. Do you know a man by the name of Sleep-out Louis ?

Mr. Maddock. I refuse to answer that on the grounds I might incriminate myself.
Later that same day:
Witness: Meyer Rosen “sporting figure” in Baltimore, the night-shift bartender at Phil's Bar, a job that covered his bookmaking activities:

Mr. Rice. I have a series of checks here, I wonder if you can help us out on these. They are drawn on that account [Phil's Bar]. Here is one drawn December 13, 1945, on that Maryland Trust Co. account to Louis Levinson in the amount of $7,227, deposited in Newport, Ky.

Mr. Rosen. I don't know anything about it.

Mr. Rice. Did you ever hear anything about Louis Levinson?

Mr. Rosen. Never heard of him.

Mr. Rice. Wouldn't know any reason why "Sleep Out Louie" would be receiving $7,000 from Phil's Bar account?
Mr. Rosen: I refuse to answer on the grounds that it may incriminate me.
"Sleep-Out," apparently, was held in such high esteem by his colleagues that to even admit to his existence was considered a profoundly rude discourtesy, anti-social behavior that might land you in the slammer - or worse. His brother, my "Uncle" Eddie Levinson, was one of Meyer Lansky's top lieutenants ("Eddie Levine" gets a slice of the Cuba cake in Godfather II), running Meyer's casinos in Miami, Havana, and Las Vegas.
Suffice it to say, when news of my connection to Sleep-Out hits Fatty's ears my stock with him rises into the stratosphere. I'm practically family. It won't last long.
Our first and last stop on the grand tour is Atlanta. Ingram has set up a few in-store appearances for Fatty, the Atlanta premiere for The Color of Money will occur while we’re in town, and I’ve heard a rumor that Paul Newman and Tom Cruise will be racing at the Atlanta Speedway that weekend. This is our opp to glom on to The Color of Money like green on a pea.
Make it happen, I tell the publicist, who, as insurance for Fatty's continuing cooperation, I insist must accompany us to Atlanta.
Just how we got to Atlanta from Nashville is lost to me, contrary to Montaigne's dictum that "nothing fixes a thing so intensely as the desire to forget it." Chalk it up to Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.
We arrive at our hotel, dump our stuff, eat lunch, and head for the first video store on the schedule. Ingram, apparently, sub-contracted the in-store promotion and publicity to the CIA because all evidence points to Fatty's appearance being a state secret. David Kastle is royally pissed, the publicist is tsk-tsk-ing, I'm beside myself (always one too many) with aggravation, and "El Gordo" is irritated "beyond compare." We go through the motions with a few people who accidentally walk into the store, and wrap up this disaster before FEMA shows up.
The store didn't even have any copies of the record on hand.

I couldn't bear any of the promotional tchotchkes that vendors had been offering - how many variations on an 8-ball can there be? Plenty, it turned out: 8-ball keychains, 8-ball paperweights, 8-ball slip-on pencil erasers, pens with a hula girl with 8-ball breasts, 8-ball balls, etc. (including a cue stick pen). So when David Kastle told me that he'd recently thrown Fats into a recording studio with a bunch of young, adoring guys and dolls, had Fats tell his stories, and taped the whole thing, I ran some numbers and realized we could press and package a record for only three cents more per unit than the cost of the lame promo gifts I was offered. Hence, The Sultan of Stroke: The Legendary Minnesota Fats in His Own Words. Mea culpa: my title.
Because when he spun his amusing folk tales of pool hustling life he employed his own, incomparable, often indecipherable argot, I reprinted the glossary that appears within The Bank Shot and Other Robberies, Fats' autobiography and the best book that Fats had anything to do with, on the back of the album cover as A Brief Dictionary of the English Language by Minnesota Fats. Any one with an interest in weird words and phrases needs to get a copy of this book; there are things within the glossary that I've never seen in any slang dictionary, or heard elsewhere. Space precludes a full reprint; here are a few gems, in Minnesota Fats' own words:
A Filage: An out-and-out fraud. An impostor claiming he's a chef when he can't even fry an egg. (The word, of French origin, is slang for cheating, as in palming a card, or faking, as in bluffing. I use it as a noun and a verb).
Who Shot John?: Ridiculous conversation, ridiculous beyond compare.
Hungarian Cinch: A proposition where there's no way to lose. A sure thing, a mortal lock.
A Carbuncle: A Gargantuan bankroll, like maybe the size of an eggplant.
A Tomato: A doll whose natural endowments are exquisite beyond belief.
A Multi: A person who not only has millions but lives like he has millions.
A Big Maha: A very important person who moves like a very important person. (Short for Maharajah).
The Double-Double: extra-strong sweet-talk, usually accompanied by a smile.
The Double Door: To get rid of somebody real quick, like walking in the front door of a joint and out a side door.
The Horns: When there's no way to win a bet on account of somebody has put a curse on you.
Tush Hog: A very tough guy who is always looking to use muscle on somebody.
Triple Smart: An extremely intelligent person who is not only three or even more times more intelligent than a very intelligent person, but whose intellectual capabilities border on the phenomenal. A triple smart person is such a rare and extraordinary individual that only one comes along in a whole lifetime. (In my long and illustrious career, I've also been known as both Double Smart Fats and Triple Smart Fats).
Tapioca: The never-never land of busted gamblers. A very, very lonely and hideous place indeed.

• • •

The other video store on the calendar? A sensory deprivation tank with cash register and drop-in box.
By this time, I'm feeling in the thick of the pudding, Tapioca's favorite son.
We eat dinner at a coffee shop near the theater where The Color of Money will shortly make its Atlanta debut. Sitting at the counter, we have two women flanking us who, upon overhearing our conversation and learning who the old guy with us is, lean in so close that Fats now has human epaulets on his shoulders. Please believe me when I tell you that they soon opened their purses, took out the keys to their hotel rooms across the street, and presented them to Fats. I have never seen anything like it. Young, old, and all women in between fell all over Minnesota Fats when he opened his mouth. His name and legend were a free pass to Mount Venus.
We can see a crowd forming in front of the theater with a line snaking up the street and around the corner.
"I'm not standing in no line," Fats states as inarguable fact.
Not a problem. I walk our group up toward the entrance and whisper to the theater crowd control kid the identity of the old man in our party, a whisper modulated so that only people within a half-mile radius can overhear. 

Magically, the crowd parts like the Red Sea. Oohs, ahs, and hushed bruits accompany our promenade through the mob, into the theater, and into our seats because every one alive has heard of Minnesota Fats but few have ever seen him; the legend precedes him like Jane Mansfield's rack and, like same, everyone wants to bump into it, if for no other reason than a reality check.
"Minnesota Fats" was born Rudolf Wanderone in 1913 in Manhattan's Washington Heights neighborhood. When he was ten years old, his father took him to Europe to study with the great German billiards player Erich Hagenlocher. He won his first major tournament when he was thirteen. He left school in the eighth grade and began his life as a traveling pool hustler. Over the years he became known by many variations of the handle "Fats:" Triple Smart Fats, Broadway Fats, Chicago Fats, etc. He was New York Fats when The Hustler came out in 1961. When Willie Mosconi, who had been the technical adviser on the film, let it slip that the fictional character "Minnesota Fats" in the movie was based upon New York Fats, Rudolf "New York Fats" Wanderone, approximately a nanosecond afterward, exploited the situation, appropriated the character's name, and Minnesota Fats - a real, living person and instant legend - was born. He became a popular guest on television talk shows, noted as much for his entertaining manner as his pool skills. And he loved the limelight.
The limelight had dimmed to near dark, and the pathetic direction of this little tour had become a humiliating embarrassment for Fatty, who, incidentally, hated The Color of Money. My affection for Fats had grown deep, my well of guilt was overflowing its large capacity, and I definitely felt like a cheap filage.
He was not happy about schlepping out to the Atlanta Speedway on the off-chance that we might catch Newman and Cruise and capture publicity. The publicist, who was now assuaging Fats' mounting irritation with full-time cooing that was losing its ability to calm, was dubious about us getting in. I insisted that we try.
We arrive at the Speedway and pull into the parking lot. A young attendant stops us. The publicist, who is driving with Fats in the passenger seat next to her, rolls down the window. I'm in the back seat with David Kastle, and the gist of what I hear is that we cannot enter without special tickets to get us to the pit area where Newman and Cruise are hanging out. The publicist is trying to BS our way in. 

Rudolf Wanderone, aka Triple Smart Fats, Broadway Fats, and Chicago Fats, who had been unusually quiet during the  drive,  was  growing  visibly agitated.

"I have often thought that the best way to define a man's character would be to seek out the particular mental or moral attitude in which, when it came upon him, he felt himself deeply and intensively active and alive. At such moments there is a voice inside which speaks and says, 'This is the real me'" (William James).
Fed-up with how events had thus far transpired and with patience exhausted for everything, he leaned in toward the publicist so that the parking attendant could see and hear him through the window and, age seventy-three now electrically and instantly rolled back decades, impaled the young man with an existential flag on sharpened flagpole meant for the whole world:
"I'm Minnesota Fats" - he then emphatically grabbed his crotch - "an' here's my fuckin' ticket!"
We breezed in.
In over twenty years I have never seen a copy of The Bank Shot and Other Great Robberies (New York: World, 1966) in fine condition in a fine dust jacket. There just don't seem to be any out there. I am aware of only one signed copy but I am somewhat dubious about its authenticity: Minnesota Fats rarely signed anything in holograph; he carried a self-inking rubber stamp of his signature which he used whenever asked for an autograph. When I inquired about how long he had been doing so, he simply - and predictably - declared, "since time began."

He died in 1993.

Originally appeared on September 21, 2009. 

Monday, December 17, 2012

Time Out For Booktryst

by Stephen J. Gertz

Booktryst takes five this week and will return with new posts next Wednesday, December 26.

In the meantime, relax over the next few days and enjoy a few oldies but goodies  from the Booktryst archive until we reappear.


Thursday, December 13, 2012

Nice Ass, Great Binding

by Stephen J. Gertz

In 1904, publisher George Bell and Sons issued a beautifully designed and printed edition of the ancient classic The Golden Ass, aka Metamorphosis, by Apuleius in its 1566 English translation by William Adlington. Published in an edition of 200 numbered copies for sale, it was printed by the Chiswick Press.

In 1960, a copy of the Chiswick Golden Ass received fine binding treatment.  It was bound by Bernard Kiernan.

Now, in 2012, that copy is the subject of a Booktryst post with teasing headline of dubious taste. Aim high, swing low.


Kiernan bound the copy in full light brown morocco with fifteen onlaid deep purple morocco medallions with a radiating sun motif in gilt to the upper and lower boards, each medallion encircled by a black morocco border. Six compartments with onlaid gray morocco hexagons and black morocco label lettered in gilt grace the spine. Inside, burnt orange morocco doublures with gilt rays emanating from a plain central oval stagger the eyes when the book is opened. All edges are gilt.

Few are aware of master bookbinder Bernard Kiernan (1922-1967). Bernard Henry Kierman  took up bookbinding as a hobby in 1954 at age thirty-two. He was largely self-taught and became a member of the Guild of Contemporary Binders in 1958 and exhibited at Foyles in the same year. He was elected a Fellow of the Guild but, alas, died in 1967 at age forty-five. Bibliographer J.R. Abbey had a number of books bound by him, one of which is illustrated in The Anthony Dowd Collection of Modern Bindings (John Rylands University Library, 2002, pp. 106-7). He also bound a copy of Craig's Irish Bookbindings 1600-1800 which was in William Foyle's collection. A copy of Charles Holme's The Art of  the Book bound by Kiernan is found in the British Library. Many volumes in the Gutteridge collection of books on cricket were bound by Kiernan. He was held in high regard for his original designs and tooling skills, as splendidly displayed here. His career was short, his work distinguished.

Cover detail.

Few, if any, care about publisher George Bell and Sons. But The Chiswick Press is another matter entirely. Peel back the skin of the Private Press movement and the enormous influence of the Chiswick Press lies exposed.

Woodcut historiated initial.

"Chiswick Press was established in the printing shop of Charles Whittingham (1767-1840) in 1787. Although the press moved on a few occasions, it operated for the most part in London, England. Chiswick Press became influential in English printing and typography and, most notably, published some of the early designs of William Morris. The press continued to operate until 1962" (Special Collections, University of Missouri Libraries).

Front doublure.

In 1811, Whittingham began printing inexpensive editions of the classics. In 1838, his nephew and apprentice of the same name, Charles Whittingham (1795-1876), assumed control of Chiswick, and under his stewardship the press revived old typefaces and made a concerted effort to improve the quality of typographical design and printing in England, which had fallen low.

Historiated initial.

The high quality that Chiswick Press brought to English printing became the craft's gold standard in the U.K. Chiswick Press was a trade printer - Great Britain's finest -  servicing publishers (it became the most in-demand print shop of nineteenth century England), but its influence extended beyond job work. It played an important role in the development of the Private Press movement, which strove to meet and exceed the mastery of the Chiswick Press. They printed many of William Morris's early books, and the great printer and designer, Emery Walker, a founding father of the Arts & Crafts movement who established the Doves Press with T.J. Cobden-Sanderson in 1900, used the Chiswick Press to print  an edition of  Burns' The Pied Piper  of Hamelin in 1889. The Chiswick Press printed books for the Riccardi Press, the Folio Society, Boar's Head Press, etc.

Stamped signature to rear doublure.

I don't pretend to know all there is to know about rare books; I only became aware of the Chiswick Press a few months ago yet I consider it an embarrassing lacuna in my knowledge. Now, as if seeing a previously unknown consumer product or car for the first time, I  find references to it all over the place. And this copy of The Golden Ass bound by Kiernan holds a place of honor.


[KIERNAN, Bernard, binder]. APULEIUS. The Golden Ass. Translated by William Adlington. London: Chiswick Press for George Bell and Sons, 1904.

One of two hundred numbered copies, this being copy no. 195, out of a total edition of 220. Quarto (13 1/8 x 8 in; 335 x 203 mm). [17, blank], [1, limitation], [1, half-title], [1, blank], [6], 226, [1, colophon], [11 blank] pp. Frontispiece and title page by W.L. Bruckman; title page in red and black. Rubricated headlines and running heads, text in black. Historiated woodcut initials in black. Shoulder notes in red and black.

Bound in 1960 by Bernard Kiernan.

Many thanks to Edward Bayntun-Coward for information about Bernard Kiernan.

Images courtesy David Brass Rare Books, with our thanks.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Literary Matchboxes Light Up Christmas Stockings (Close Cover Before Striking)

by Stephen J. Gertz

Those seeking the perfect match when Christmas (or any other kind of) shopping for friends with a literary bent (and all book lovers are proudly a little bent) should look no further than The Matchbox Museum of Fine Arts, the brainchild of Los Angeles-based designer Hillary Kaye. Not simply its curator she's its creator, taking Diamond matchboxes and reproducing celebrated book dust jacket designs upon them.

Point-of-sale display case.

I was turned onto them by a friend who recently presented four sets of the Museum's Petit Fours to me, packages containing a quartet of similarly themed matchboxes.

Delighted and intrigued, I contacted Hillary Kaye to find out what's what and where to get these 1 1/3 x 2 inch tiny gems.

Petit Fours, above and below.

“Tiny gems” is a perfect description of the matchboxes," she responded, "exactly how I see them, each one a miniature world. They’re based on the Diamond penny matchbox which I’ve always found visually pleasing. Only recently when I started working with them did I discover they are the exact dimension of the 'golden rectangle,' a shape used in classical antiquity and the Renaissance because of its aesthetic proportions.

(Upper edges accidentally cropped).

"I created The Matchbox Museum of Fine Arts to help make people aware of the heritage of visual imagery from the golden age of illustration. It can be a memento of favorite books for readers and collectors and an introduction to classics they might have missed.

"I’m guessing your friend must have bought the Petit Fours at Vicente Foods market as they are the only place local [to me, in West Los Angeles] that has them. I sell to indie bookstores not the big chains. They're available in twenty-three States across the country including Tattered Cover, Books and Books, Square Books, etc. In L.A.  they’re also available at Skylight Books, Book Soup and a number of other stores.

Actual size: 1 1/3 x 2 inches each.

"Other than a minimal exposure at which is basically for paypal ordering; so far I don’t have a website for the matchboxes. Since 9/11 matchboxes can not be sent through the ordinary mail, just UPS. The shipping price for small orders would be high.

From the classic crime series. Scores available in other genres.

"Sets of the matchboxes in a display box have been available at some of the bookstores and I have considered making them available online for collectors. I do special orders on request."

This year set Christmas afire with literary classics from The Matchbook Museum of Fine Arts. If your local indie bookstore or rare book shop doesn't have any,  insist, pester, and persist until they stock them. I have little doubt that they will be great, point-of-purchase impulse items and steady sellers as all-year round gifts.

Dealer inquiries can be directed here.

Of Related Interest:

Time For Vintage Book Clocks This Christmas.

The Ultimate Gift For Book Lovers.

Rare Book Trading Cards On Santa's Top Shelf.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Breaking News from the Sixteenth Century: Typography Takes Off

by Alastair Johnston

Stan Knight, Historical Types (From Gutenberg to Ashendene), Oak Knoll Press, 2012, 104 pp., hardback in dust-jacket, $39.95

Historical Types is based on a smart concept: an annotated picture book of enlargements of typefaces to show how they really look. After all, type is that tiny code we look at without really seeing it: it gives meaning to thoughts, but we rarely give it a thought.

Obviously this approach -- enlarged images of letterforms with commentary -- has been a key part of modern typographic education. A lantern slide show by Emery Walker in 1888, given to the Arts & Crafts Exhibition Society in London, where he projected blown-up images of Jenson, Ratdolt and Rubeus pages, inspired William Morris to start his own press. Walker, a commercial photo-engraver, went into partnership with T J Cobden-Sanderson to start the celebrated Doves Press after Morris' death. Bruce Rogers, who also knew Walker, had photo-enlargements of the Jenson pages made to draw his Centaur type.

As a teacher I rely on large projected letterform details to explain their subtleties. I often use images from a wonderful article, "Photographic enlargements of type forms" by Philip Gaskell, that was published in the Journal of the Printing Historical Society, no 7, 1972 (and is missing from Knight's bibliography). Gaskell's photos, which were printed 5 times actual size, have proven enormously useful in discussing type design and its evolution and are a significant precursor to what Knight has done.

Two gros romain romans attributed to Claude Garamont, from Gaskell's article in Journal of the PHS, 1971. The top type, from 1530, has since been identified by Dr Vervliet as the work of Maître Constantin (from Virgil, Opera, Paris: Robert Estienne, 1532 [R115]); the lower type, from 1549 (as seen in Dionysius Halicarnassus, Scripta Omnia, Frankfurt: Andrea Wechel's heirs, 1586) is by Garamont [R118]

However didactic his aim, Knight has not achieved the same compression and intensity that Gaskell did (in 11 pages!), perhaps because his book is aimed halfway between scholars or students and a general audience. But Knight has provided accurate information on these typefaces. This may sound odd, given that so much has been written over the last five centuries about the legacy of Gutenberg, Fust & Schoeffer, Jenson, and so on.

Faustus and Chauffeur (dubious attribution)

But we have discovered a lot of it is speculative or inaccurate and we can no longer rely on Stanley Morison, Beatrice Warde and D B Updike for facts about the design of type. In discussing Ratdolt's work, Knight cites studies from 2009 and 2011 (showing how type scholarship is constantly evolving). Fortunately we have James Mosley, who teaches at Reading, Charlottesville (Virginia) & London Universities, formerly the Librarian of Saint Bride's in London, as a guiding light in the search for typographic truth. Mosley has been blogging about such matters since 2006. His "typefoundry" blog has been a great resource for Knight, particularly in the untangling of Jannon versus Garamond, the actual spelling of Garamont's name, and other details.

Many documents have appeared to further the historical discussion, from the series of Type Specimen Facsimiles (under the editorship of John Dreyfus from 1963 onward), to the exemplary Enschedé (1993) & Plantin-Moretus (2004) facsimiles edited by John Lane. Some of the older facsimile works could be revisited with the new approach heralded by Knight, for example the 1592 Egenolff-Berner specimen sheet which was reproduced in 1920 by Gustav Mori in collotype. That sheet was the first specimen broadside to clearly identify Garamond and Granjon as cutters of their types and, as it was printed from newly cast type, was the best possible source for modern interpretations: Adobe Garamond by Robert Slimbach (among others) was drawn from it.

But for most of the twentieth century Garamond revivals (and there have been roughly a zillion of them) were based on the wrong type: a poor imitation cut by Jean Jannon in the French province of Sedan in the 1620s. This typographic Lady Gaga, a tragi-comic homage to classic typefaces, should have been left in the dustbin of history but accidentally gained an important place in the story of type development, so Knight has included it. Also included is a text debunking many of the myths about Jannon and Garamond (thanks to Mosley's research). One of the most fanciful stories has Cardinal Richelieu's troops looting Jannon's types to bring them back to the Imprimerie nationale in Paris. This yarn was first spun by Beatrice Warde in 1926 and picked up by Warren Chappell in his Short History of the Printed Word. As late as 1999 Canadian poet Robert Boringhurst was embroidering the fable in his edition of Chappell's book (p. 148), saying that after Richelieu’s armies seized Jannon’s type they felt bad about it so they reimbursed him for them!

As technology improves it greatly assists us in seeing what we are looking at (though collotype mentioned above is hard to beat). Up to now many books on type have used small illustrations of large pages shrunk down, printed from line blocks. In the end you cannot see any details. So the next step is to do more books of this kind that show, as closely as possible, the impression and the texture of the paper, and more specialized books. Knight's previous book was Historical Scripts (also from Oak Knoll) with a similar hyper-visual approach to the history of calligraphy.

Hendrik Vervliet's recent three volumes on the Paleotypography of the French Renaissance have illustrations from Xerox copies and photostats. [Aside: I published Vervliet's monograph on Robert Granjon: Cyrillic & Oriental Typography in Rome at the End of the Sixteenth Century in 1979. We relied on Velox photostats from the Vatican for illustrations, which were so poor, some were even out of focus, but how do you tell the Vatican their reproductive services are lacking?] Vervliet's images (many composites to show full character sets) were painstakingly assembled over decades and often Xerox was the only service available. It would be a useful task for someone to give the blow-up treatment (shot in high resolution with raking light to show the impression, as well as the paper surface) to his studies (now that we have the key data assembled), and then move into the following centuries. 

Garamont's gros romain roman [R118] from the 1599 Le Bé-Moretus specimen shown in Vervliet, French Renaissance Printing Types, 2010, p. 193

Nevertheless Vervliet's work is the major contribution to the field in the last half century. So it's great to see late-breaking news from the sixteenth century when Knight reproduces a page of revolutionary new type from Henri Estienne (previously attributed to Garamond [see top illustration]) and, thanks to Vervliet, we now have to acknowledge the shadowy Maître Constantin for this massive step-forward in the Aldine style which revolutionized roman letterforms across Europe.

Claude Garamont's gros romain roman as seen in Les Vies des hommes illustres, Paris: Vascosan, 1559, shown in Knight (p. 41)

I myself have done a little work in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries but that indicated to me how much more needs to be done. Knight himself admits this is just a start: "Some worthy type designers like Pierre Haultin, Hendrik van den Keere, and Antoine Augereau are missing. But as well as the more famous names of Gutenberg, Granjon, and Bodoni, I have been able to include some lesser-known designers like Erhard Ratdolt, Simon de Colines, Johann Fleischman, and Alexander Phemister."

While to me there seem to be some close calls on who got omitted versus who got in, I think the general reader will enjoy the familiar mixed with the more exotic. The reader may balk at the name Miklós Tótfalusi Kis and be unaware that they have been lôôking at his type and versions of it all their lives.

I am sorry there is such a sadly inevitable bias towards the private press movement at the end of this study. There is certainly enough about William Morris, Cobden-Sanderson and St John Hornby out there in bibliomundo. A page on their cutter Edward Prince could have covered all of them (and freed up two pages). The Ashendene Subiaco type is a joke, or at best a footnote to the Sweynheym & Pannartz page; Eric Gill's Golden Cockerel type would have made a nicer terminus to the work. Otherwise, moving from Fournier to Bodoni is a big leap without including both Bodoni's early types that were imitation Fournier and the truly revolutionary types of Firmin Didot (which were cut by Pierre Wafflard). There is no easily accessible text in English which covers these most important steps forward in type design. William Martin (1757–1830) and Vincent Figgins (1766–1844) would have been solid inclusions and, despite most modern typographers' disdain for the excesses of the Victorian period, it cannot be ignored, but Phemister is the sole representative. (However, he and 26 other nineteenth-century type-cutters are covered in William Loy's book Nineteenth-century American Designers & Engravers of Type [Oak Knoll Press, 2009].)

In compressing info Knight has mixed up the legacy of Caslon: Mrs Elizabeth Caslon did not start the H W Caslon Foundry, that was 30 years later, and I really don't agree with using italic parentheses! For the most part the photos are excellent and give us true insight into the intricacies of these typefaces.

For all of its superficial appearance as a "coffee-table" book on printing types with pretty pictures, Knight's work is a solid piece of scholarship and corrects a lot of misconceptions found in "standard" texts that give a resumé of the development of printing types.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Historic Van Gogh-Gauguin Letter Estimated $470,000 - $670,000 At Christie's

by Stephen J. Gertz

An astounding autograph letter co-written and signed by Vincent Van Gogh and Paul Gauguin to a third party discussing each other, their work together, paintings in progress, thoughts on a painter's association, and, amusingly, their exploration of the brothels of Arles, is being offered by Christie's-Paris in their Pierre Berès A Livre Ouvert sale on December 12, 2012.

It is estimated to sell for $470,000 - $670,000.

Van Gogh was a prolific letter writer; this is no. 716, found in the definitive, six-volume Vincent Van Gogh - The Letters: The Complete Illustrated and Annotated Edition, a massive project begun in 1994 under the aegis of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and published in 2009.

Though undated and without location, internal evidence points to it being written on Thursday the 1st or Friday the 2d of November 1888 and posted from Arles.

Van Gogh fled Paris in early 1888 and sought refuge in Arles. After repeated requests, Gauguin joined him on October 23d; they shared the four rooms that Van Gogh had rented at 2, Place Lamartine, the Yellow House. The letter was written a week after Gauguin's arrival.

Written to French painter and writer Emile  Bernard (1868-1941), in English translation it reads in full:

My dear old Bernard,

We’ve done a great deal of work these past few days, and in the meantime I’ve read Zola’s Le rêve,1 so I’ve hardly had time to write.

Gauguin interests me greatly as a man — greatly. For a long time it has seemed to me that in our filthy job as painters we have the greatest need of people with the hands and stomach of a labourer. More natural tastes — more amorous and benevolent temperaments — than the decadent and exhausted Parisian man-about-town.

Now here, without the slightest doubt, we’re in the presence of an unspoiled creature with the instincts of a wild beast. With Gauguin, blood and sex have the edge over ambition. But enough of that, you’ve seen him close at hand longer than I have, just wanted to tell you first impressions in a few words.

Next, I don’t think it will astonish you greatly if I tell you that our discussions are tending to deal with the terrific subject of an association of certain painters. Ought or may this association have a commercial character, yes or no? We haven’t reached any result yet, and haven’t so much as set foot on a new continent yet. Now I, who have a presentiment of a new world, who certainly believe in the possibility of a great renaissance of art. Who believe that this new art will have the tropics for its homeland.

It seems to me that we ourselves are serving only as intermediaries. And that it will only be a subsequent generation that will succeed in living in peace. Anyway, all that, our duties and our possibilities for action could become clearer to us only through actual experience.

I was a little surprised not yet to have received the studies that you promised in exchange for mine. Now something that will interest you — we’ve made some excursions in the brothels, and it’s likely that we’ll eventually go there often to work. At the moment Gauguin has a canvas in progress of the same  night café that I also painted, but with figures seen in the brothels. It promises to become a beautiful thing.

I’ve made two studies of falling leaves in an avenue of poplars, and a third study of the whole of this avenue, entirely yellow.

I declare I don’t understand why I don’t do figure studies,6 while theoretically it’s sometimes so difficult for me to imagine the painting of the future as anything other than a new series of powerful portraitists, simple and comprehensible to the whole of the general public. Anyway, perhaps I’ll soon get down to doing brothels.

I’ll leave a page for Gauguin, who will probably also write to you, and I shake your hand firmly in thought.

Ever yours,

Milliet the 2nd lieut. Zouaves has left for Africa, and would be very glad if you were to write to him one of these days.

[Continued by Gauguin]

You will indeed do well to write him what your intentions are, so that he could take steps beforehand to  prepare the way for you.

Mr Milliet, second lieutenant of Zouaves, Guelma, Africa.

Don’t listen to Vincent; as you know, he’s prone to admire and ditto to be indulgent. His idea about the future of a new generation in the tropics seems absolutely right to me as a painter, and I still intend going back there when I find the funds. A little bit of luck, who knows?

Vincent has done two studies of falling leaves in an avenue, which are in my room and which you would like very much. On very coarse, but very good sacking.

Send news of yourself and of all the pals.


Paul Gauguin

The late Pierre Berès (1913-2008) was more than a collector. He was "The King of  French booksellers," as the New York Times' obituary noted, towering over the rare and antiquarian book trade in Europe for seventy-five years until his death at age ninety-five. He was also a legendary figure in the world of art. He began as an autograph collector but soon shifted his attention  to books. His meteoric rise in the world of rare bookselling was fueled by acquiring collections of financially unstable French aristocrats and American millionaires during the Depression.

He was "a man renowned for his taste and connoisseurship, his vast financial resources and his ruthlessness in the pursuit of the rare and the beautiful" (NY Times obit). “I do not seek, I find,” he once cryptically declared about his preternatural ability to ferret-out scarce and desirable rare books from their hiding places.

"Rivals found him unscrupulous. In one celebrated instance he advertised in his own catalog some choice specimens that happened to belong to a competitor. When a client expressed interest, Mr. Berès told him to wait while he fetched the required volumes from his warehouse. Instead he raced to his competitor’s shop, bought the books and resold them" (Op cit, NY Times). If he was, at times, a scoundrel, he was the most elegant, charming, polished and sophisticated rascal to ever grace the rare book trade, in which scamps and scalawags can still be found but none with such savoir faire and cultivation. He was a consummate gentleman who seduced everyone he came into contact with and knew how to entertain them, routinely inviting buyers and sellers to his apartment on the Avenue de Foch for lunches and dinners after leaving them goggle-eyed at the literary and art treasures he displayed in glass cases and on the walls of his living room.

"Pierre Berès was a living legend on an international scale [and] also a character from a detective story: firstly because of his detective's flair and daring, secondly because of the mystery in which he liked to shroud his own persona, and lastly because of the subtlety of his business strategies that led him to store some of his finds and his cellars to mature - sometimes as long as a half-century - like one would store fine wine" (Françoise Choay).

This letter was one of his prize possessions, marrying his two great loves, art and manuscripts. It is, arguably, Van Gogh's most significant letter, written at a key point in his career and about his most significant - certainly his most famous - relationship beyond that with his brother, Theo.

In an article, Les isolés: Vincent van Gogh, which appeared in the January 1890 issue of the Mercure de France and incorporated a passage from this letter, French writer and art critic, Gabriel-Albert Aurier (1865-1892), wrote of Van Gogh, "[he is] a dreamer, an exalted believer, a devourer of beautiful Utopias, who lives on ideas and illusions. For a long time he has taken delight in imagining a renovation of art made possible through a displacement of civilization: an art of tropical regions."

The two living side-by-side with incompatible temperaments, the atmosphere at chez Van Gogh soon turned tropical and Van Gogh and Gauguin's relationship began to wilt, Gauguin's domineering arrogance pushing Van Gogh over the edge. On December 23 1888 - less than two months after this letter was written -  a frustrated Van Gogh confronted Gauguin with a razor but in panic fled to a local brothel. While there, he cut off his left ear, wrapped it in newspaper and presented it to Rachel, one of the brothel's prostitutes, asking her to "keep this object carefully." He staggered home, where Gauguin later found him lying unconscious with his head covered in blood.

On January 2, 1889, a week after the incident, Van Gogh wrote to Theo from the Civil Hospital in Arles, letter no. 728:

My dear Theo,

In order to reassure you completely on my account I’m writing you these few words in the office of Mr Rey, the house physician, whom you saw yourself. I’ll stay here at the hospital for another few days — then I dare plan to return home very calmly.1 Now I ask just one thing of you, not to worry, for that would cause me one worry too many.

Now let’s talk about our friend Gauguin, did I terrify him? In short, why doesn’t he give me a sign of life? He must have left with you.

Besides, he needed to see Paris again, and perhaps he’ll feel more at home in Paris than here. Tell Gauguin to write to me, and that I’m still thinking of him.

Good handshake, I’ve read and re-read your letter about the meeting with the Bongers. It’s perfect. As for me, I’m content to remain as I am. Once again, good handshake to you and Gauguin.

Ever yours,


Bygones be bygones...

The Van Gogh-Gauguin letter, in the original French and English translation with footnotes, can be found here.

Images courtesy of Christie's, with our thanks.
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