Thursday, August 8, 2013

Beware Of Hart Crane's Sombrero

by Stephen J. Gertz

Hart Crane sans sombrero.

Literary sombrero alert!

Hart Crane's sombrero rests in the University of Vermont Library's Special Collections. But is it really Hart Crane's sombrero? As it turns out, Hart Crane's Mexican hat dances under a cloud and is likely full of beans.

Last Tuesday, Booktryst's Alastair Johnston reported on finding a copy of W.H. Davies' Collected Poems (1916) with poet Hart Crane's bookplate and inscription to another. It was bogus; though the bookplate was real the signature was not.

"If you search the Internet, you can probably find several 'association copies' with Hart Crane's bookplate. A word of caution: After his death in 1932 Hart Crane's mother gave (or sold) some of his personal papers including a pile of Crane's bookplates to a bookseller in New York City. The dealer then pasted the bookplates in books chosen at random from his stock and misrepresented them as being from Crane's library. Not only was the dealer a crook, he was not too swift, as some of the bookplates were pasted in books published after Crane's death. 

"The dealer was Samuel Loveman, a forgotten poet, better known as a forger, who claimed to have been Hart Crane's lover. While a bookseller in New York, he sold books from Crane's library with a forged bookplate, as well as forging pencil signatures of Hawthorne, Melville and Twain" (Lew Jaffe, Bookplate Junkie).

"Samuel Loveman was born in 1887 in Cleveland, Ohio. An aspiring poet, Loveman left the Midwest in order to pursue his career as a writer and to live an openly gay lifestyle. He moved to New York City in the early 1920s where he made the acquaintance of several prominent authors including Ambrose Bierce, Hart Crane, and H.P. Lovecraft. Loveman owned a bookstore named the Bodley Bookshop in Manhattan with his partner David Mann. He wrote two books, The Hermaphrodite was a poem published in July 1926 and subsequently republished with additional poems in 1936 and Twenty-One Letters, a collection of letters sent to him by Ambrose Bierce. He also published The Sphinx in 1944. Loveman died in relative obscurity at the Jewish Home and Hospital in 1976" (Columbia University Libraries Archives).

Loveman, executor of Crane's estate, was his correspondent, very much so during the last four years of Crane's life, and after the poet's death he published Brom Weber's biography (1948) of the poet, who, on April 27, 1932, committed suicide by jumping off the rear deck of the ship that was returning him to the United States from Vera Cruz.

Crane had been living in Mexico 1931-1932 on a Guggenheim Fellowship so it's quite possible that he owned a sombrero. However...

Booktryst received the following Letter to the Editor from a bookseller who  had read Alastair's post.

"After reading about the Hart Crane bookplate, I thought you might enjoy the fact that I was, not long ago, given the task of appraising Hart Crane's sombrero. So how do we know that it actually belonged to Crane? There was a letter of authentication from Samuel Loveman, apparently signed as Crane's literary executor.

"The letter, dated July 23, 1962, was on the letterhead of the Bodley Book Shop, 550 Fifth Avenue, New York 36, NY.

"From the letter: '...sombrero...was originally in the possession of Hart Crane, and was worn by him during his stay in Mexico. It was among his effects when they were shipped after his death to the United States.'

"I, of course, took it at face value and assumed that everything and everyone were on the truthful side of things. After reading about Loveman and the bookplates, I'm beginning to wonder" (Name withheld).

You'd think that authentication by the executor of Crane's estate would be solid and unassailable but given the shenanigans of Loveman it can now be safely presumed that anything signed by Crane with his bookplate or relics purportedly owned by Crane are highly suspect and probably fraudulent until proven innocent.

Literary artifacts rest in dark waters and live and die on three principles: provenance, provenance, and provenance. Though it wasn't a literary relic,  I once spent a full week chasing down the emmis on Lola Montez's banjo. The banjo was right - of the period and top of the line by a famed 19th century banjo maker and preserved in a beautiful hand-made parqueted wood case one would expect to belong to a celebrated performer. A respected auction house and major bookseller had declared that the banjo had belonged to Lola Montez but provided no information to back the story up, which, it turned out, I could not substantiate at all; there was not even the slightest hint of her ownership to be found and I was in full sherlock. 

One day I expect someone, somewhere to offer a pair of Charles Bukowski's jockey shorts for sale. Unless they are autographed by Bukowski with an authenticated signature I'd stay away from them, no matter how stained and redolent they are of beer, booze, cheap wine and corner bars.

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