Monday, October 15, 2012

Hello again, gentle readers! I, Lydia, vanished into the ether at a bookstore on the island of Santorini in Greece. But now I am back! I have a lot to do, but my favorite bookstore owner said that I should drop in, so here I am, briefly, to tell you about the cool stuff around here.

I'm not doing categories this time, because everything is just so cool. Firstly, medicinal alcohol from the days of Prohibition!

Okay, so there's no actual bourbon in it, but for the low price of $20.00 you may own a genuine bottle (and box) for "medicinal alcohol" from the American Medicinal Spirits Company. When alcohol was illegal, some doctors secured the ability to prescribe it as a medicine. True story! You can have the bottle to prove it!

Moving later in the 20th century, check out the 1964 election!

The Democratic lineup included Bobby Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson, while on the Republican side, a certain George Romney was discussed as a Republican candidate. (George Romney was Mitt's dad.) I also like the other issues on the cover of this antique magazine, which you may have for a mere $7.50. "Today's teen-age sex problems!" "Your future in American industry!" Sometimes I think that people never change.

But although people don't change, comics do!

Donald Duck! We have more old Duck comics than you could shake a stick at, and they're only $5.00 apiece. The above cracks me up. And in honor of the upcoming Halloween (my favorite holiday) we've even got this:

You see why I came back from Santorini? This stuff is just too amazing. Enjoy it, gentle readers!

Friday, April 13, 2012

I am going to Atlantis! For real!

I have trouble keeping still, gentle readers, especially when books are involved. The latest manifestation of this tendency is my upcoming trip to Santorini, in Greece, where I will be living and working at the bookstore Atlantis Books. It is aptly named, for the legend of Atlantis is thought to originate in Greece. The bookshop is rumored to be charming, and I hope it is, for I have never been there. But I can live in Santorini in exchange for volunteering there, and it sounds glorious, so I'm taking a chance. I, Lydia, shall return to beautiful Chicago in July!

In the meantime, here are the products that delighted me during my last visit to my very favorite bookstore, O'Gara and Wilson. This week's Favorite warns me of the dangers of travel:

For $65.00, you may purchase this reproduction of a Philadelphia poster that was created when the railroads were new. Specifically, the poster was created by anti-railroad people to rally the populace such that they Wouldn't Stand For Railroads In Their Town. Here's a close-up of the top:

"When you leave your family in health, must you be hurried home to mourn a Dreadful Casualty! Philadelphians, your Rights are being violated!" I love how the picture shows a mother holding an infant and running desperately, barely evading an onrushing train. Was this picture total hyperbole, or were trains actually that unsafe -- lacking any fencing or warning signals whatsoever -- back in the bad old days? Either way, this poster is unimaginable today, and therefore hilarious.

Also unimaginable today: life without any of the writers in this week's Affordable and Interesting item.

First Fiction: An Anthology of the First Published Stories by Famous Writers is quite a collection. It features first stories of luminaries ranging from William Faulkner to Ursula K. Le Guin. Not all of the stories are brilliant, but some are ... and even when the stories are un-brilliant, it's interesting to see how some authors began developing themes and styles that would be repeated in their later work. It's a good and varied read, for only $6.00!

And finally, for this week's Collector's Item, we have an item that is not even a little bit varied, although it's probably good:

It's hard to use our little digital camera to capture detail on this antique 1566 book. The cover is made of wood, overlaid with vellum, and beautifully carved. There are little clasps that look like this:

And lots of gorgeous lettering and calligraphic detail:

The book is in Latin, and I admit that it's many years since I studied the language, so my primary fascination with it is its age. 1566? As our local philosopher-clerk Rory says, "You know what Shakespeare was doing in 1566? Learning to walk." Still, I'll show you a bit of the title page, just in case you read Latin:

It's such a beautiful and well-maintained tome ... of course, it's been kept in a library, and that's what libraries are for. The book came to us from a gorgeous collection that we just purchased from the Meadville-Lombard seminary, which used to be located here in Hyde Park but has since moved to the Loop. We are charging $950.00 for it, and we have plenty of other antique theological books where that came from!

Well now. I guess that's all from me ... for now, gentle readers. For now. I'll try to post a nice blog entry from Atlantis!

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Got any fires to put out? We hope not.

Oh yes, gentle readers, we devoutly hope that you don't have any fires to extinguish ... notwithstanding this week's Collector's Item:

They are, indeed, antique fire extinguishers! How awesome is that?! Just look at them! They're so cool! I am seriously losing my mind about how elegant these are. You never see elegant fire extinguishers nowadays! These are $60.00 apiece, and they probably won't actually work for putting out fires, but look at this great close-up on one of them:

A different kind of fire is ignited in this week's Affordable and Interesting item:

Neil Gaiman is a talented science fiction and fantasy writer; he's not my personal favorite, though he's achieved a lot of commercial success. Still, some of his books are just beautiful, and Stardust is one of them. It's a fairy tale and a love story about a star-maiden who falls to earth, and it was even made into a movie. As always, though, the book is better, and you can buy our copy for $6.50.

Finally, this week's Favorites are ... kind of all over the map. Is there a metaphor for fire here? Probably. See, I found this really great, incredibly diverse stack of 1920s-1930s magazines:





1920s home and garden! 1920s fashion! Somewhat racist and Orientalist 1920s magazines about Asia! (Articles about "Peking Playhouses" and "Forbidden Afghanistan" are par for the course here, as are ridiculous assertions about how hot climates make people barbaric.) And then, just to round it all off, in the same pile I found ... memoirs of a solar observatory. Why not? These items are each either $10 or $20, and they're in pretty decent condition. Anytime you want to read about the latest in Art Deco, you know where to find us.

Can you believe the weather, gentle readers? I sure can't. Now I shall go frolic in my t-shirt, in March, and talk to you again soon ....

Friday, March 16, 2012

Another episode of Save Mr. Bill

You may recall previous hijinx with Mr. Bill, whereby the poor little action figure clung precariously to the side of an antique ice grinder ... trying desperately to avoid the gnashing teeth below. Well, we sold the ice grinder, so Mr. Bill thought he was safe. He thought.

He didn't reckon with this week's Collector's Item:

An excellent antique dartboard, complete with darts! For $250.00 you may purchase this charming old game. Here at the store, there has been much ado over Rory's recent accomplishment of hitting the bull's-eye. Mr. Bill has so far escaped harm, but he might not for long:

That pathetic O-shaped mouth! Surely you wish to rescue Mr. Bill. Buy the dartboard, and show him mercy. He'll thank you, and we'll give him a break before his next predicament.

For an even more horrifying experience, try this week's Favorite:

I confess that I've never actually read House of Leaves, although I started it once and became quite unsettled. It's often described as a classically alarming book; for example, it made this list of literature's trippiest books that was published on Lewis Carroll's birthday. The list discusses House of Leaves thusly:

Sometimes described as a “satire of academic criticism,” Danielewski’s unconventional, claustrophobic novel forces the reader to work hard to unravel the plot, dealing with multiple narrators, strange text in unusual places, bizarre typography, and copious footnotes. The act of deciphering the novel is itself a disorienting experience, the text an ominous labyrinth that threatens to trap you inside forever.

An ominous labyrinth! You can't easily get that for $12.50 ... except at O'Gara & Wilson.

Personally, when I think of ominous labyrinths, I think of politics. I would never want to be a politician, and it amazes me how many people do. Witness this week's Affordable and Interesting items:

For a mere $1.00 apiece, you can purchase all kinds of reproductions of antique political buttons. I love the one for solar energy -- still so relevant today! -- but of course the majority of these buttons are for actual political figures. You can see that we've got "I Like Ike" buttons! That was Eisenhower's slogan, and it's probably the catchiest presidential slogan of all time. We've also got Roosevelt, Taft, Calvin Coolidge, ... and did you know that William Jennings Bryan ran for president
three times?

Bryan is now best-known for opposing Chicago's own Clarence Darrow in the famous Scopes trial, where he fought against teaching evolution in public schools. However, Bryan had a long and illustrious career as a politician before the trial, and although his stance during the trial was broadly unpopular, many people mourned his passing.

I'm always intrigued by political history, gentle readers. An interesting lens for modern times indeed. We'll all be keeping an eye on our modern Presidential race ... and in the meantime, if you want to make a really daring statement, wear one of our pins!

Friday, March 2, 2012

Beautiful things from India

I've always had a soft spot for Southeast Asian art. I'm also a folklore buff in general, raised by parents who thought that the best bedtime stories ever were folklore from across the world: Greek myths, Gypsy folktales, Indian legends. My favorite childhood tale was an abridged English version of the Ramayana, an incredible epic that's been told and retold across Southeast Asia for millennia. One fascinating thing about the Ramayana is that there are many many versions of it, because it is largely an oral tradition and it's very very old. In fact, there's an amazing book called Many Ramayanas that is entirely free to read online if you click here -- it outlines and analyzes a bunch of the different incarnations of that beautiful story. Within India alone there are dozens of different tellings of the tale.

I mention this partly because the Ramayana is awesome, and partly because this week's Favorite showcases the diversity of other Indian folklore traditions:

From the Introduction:

This collection of Indian folktales is quite unusual. ... The ninety-nine tales presented here were collected by eighteen regional folklorists from fourteen different languages. They have been edited by four folklorists, two of whom are North American anthropologists and two of whom are Indian experts from two regions in India separated by 1,000 miles.

The Indian subcontinent is vast and various, containing many Indias represented by over 100 living languages, each with its social and territorial dialects, its cultural niches, attendant traditions (oral and otherwise), ten writing systems and over a dozen literary languages.

The stories, of course, are the best part. But I won't spoil them for you when this extraordinary book could be yours for a mere $7.50.

The incredible diversity of India is also showcased in this week's Affordable and Interesting items:

This is a stack of many different antique papers, each bearing the mark of a different seal. The above is a nice one, and others include:


At least two non-Roman alphabets are represented here, and very elegantly at that. There is a note along with the stack of papers that calls them "A fine and neat accumulation of Indian States various court seal documents, all different types. Period: 1845-1940." I am nowhere near an expert, and so my admiration is mostly aesthetic, yet the low price of these seal documents -- only $4.00 apiece! -- tempts me nonetheless. Presumably there are also experts out there who collect historical pieces that show history of the Indian states, and those folks would love these even more. One thing I've learned working at a bookstore is that there are experts about everything.

This week's Collector's Item is both relevant to Indian history, and strangely relevant to modern American history:

Yes indeed, it is an 1866 Indian mortgage contract.

As a calligrapher I am again hypnotized by the aesthetics here, but I think there are probably many more scholarly analyses to be done, if not a sense of pleasure (or sadness) that our forebears dealt with exactly the same issues we deal with nowadays. We are selling this many-paged 1866 Indian mortgage contract for $95.00, and I would be very interested in the perspective of whoever buys it. I'm sure I'll learn a lot from that person if I talk to them.

Au revoir, gentle readers. If you don't purchase any of this India-relevant stuff, then you might at least consider reading the aforementioned Many Ramayanas book (click here!), or perhaps watching the modern cross-cultural video adaptation "Sita Sings the Blues" -- which is free to view online as well. We here at O'Gara and Wilson strive to assist with your cultural education!

Friday, February 17, 2012

One of my favorite months: Black History Month!

February! It's a miserable cold month here in Chicago, but it's one of my favorite times to write this here blog, because it's ... Black History Month! We love talking about this here at O'Gara and Wilson. After all, our neighborhood of Hyde Park is in fact the cradle of Barack Obama's career, and Barack Obama did indeed make history with his election, although opinions are divided in the store about who supports his candidacy. On a more neutral political note, we are within walking distance of the DuSable Museum of African-American History. And besides, given that we sell antiquarian books, we are more qualified to discuss history than current affars.

History such as, for example, this week's Favorite:

We have a number of issues of the "Negro History Bulletin" from 1940-1941; they have all been bound into a simple black volume, which has preserved the magazines in excellent shape. This periodical later became the "Black History Bulletin", whose website describes it as:

... dedicated to enhancing teaching and learning in the areas of history. Its aim is to publish, generate, and disseminate peer-reviewed information about African Americans in U.S. history, the African Diaspora generally, and the peoples of Africa. Its purpose is to inform the knowledge base for the professional praxis of secondary educators through articles that are grounded in theory, yet supported by practice.

Indeed, the "Black History Bulletin" is currently distributed by the Association for the Study of African American Life and History, which started Black History Month. So we have come full circle! But anyway, these old issues of the "Negro History Bulletin" are very interesting. We are charging $40.00 for nine of them bound together, and they give very interesting insights on goals of teaching Black History to children in the 1940s. Including, for example, these drawings intended for children to color in:


Worth analyzing, to be sure.

This week's Affordable and Interesting item is from rather before 1940:

Like many older books, the title as written on the spine is different from the title on the cover:

We're selling this 1917 book for $12.50, and although it is mainly about general history of World War I, within the book it tells us that it is in particular "a thrilling account of the important part taken by the Negro in the tragic defeat of Germany." Recall that in our last blog entry, we also featured a book celebrating the history of Black soldiers. I have mixed feelings about wars -- well, actually, I just plain don't like wars. But it's important for us to acknowledge everyone's contributions to history!

Which is also what this week's Collector's Item, an even older book, aims to do!

We are asking $400.00 for this book because it is an original copy from 1929, in beautiful condition, and it's also the author's personal copy. He put his ownership signature in front:

Lorenzo D. Turner was an honored African-American linguist and literary scholar. He died in 1972, but first he did a lot to establish the field of African-American studies (somewhat like St. Clair Drake, who I just wrote about a few weeks ago). He also helped train a lot of Peace Corps Volunteers who were heading to Africa, which endears him to me because he doubtless influenced my own trip to Africa a few years ago. This was his first published book, and apparently it is still referenced by people who study the endlessly interesting field of pre-slavery abolitionist efforts today! Did you know that 1830s abolitionists sometimes used "woman-to-woman" appeals from slave women to free white women? As a feminist, I find this quite awesome.

So go forth and study for Black History Month, gentle readers. Perhaps drop by the DuSable Museum, and then come visit us! We assure you, we'll always keep the store warm in the face of the elements outside.

Friday, February 3, 2012

Bartenders, battles and buildings

Did you ever wonder how much alcoholic knowledge was driven underground during Prohibition? I hadn't, until today. Prohibition famously lasted 13 years and ended in 1933, and during that time, no alcohol was legally drunk in America. Of course, plenty of alcohol was illegally drunk. But the finer details of the bartender's profession was lost, and that's why this week's Affordable and Interesting item is so awesome:

This bartender's manual was first published in 1934, and it's amazing. For one thing, it's a 1949 edition with classic graphics and a nice shiny cover so you can freely spill your drink on it and clean up afterwards. For another, this is how the introduction begins:

It has seemed to us that since the return of legal liquor, there has been a very genuine and widely felt need for a standard book on drinks, a book that could be relied on in any bibulous contingency both by the ambitious amateur and by the seasoned professional bartender. It is not only that once again good liquor is available, but also various ingredients that have been merely myth and legend to the younger generation of celebrants, such as Chartreuse or Amer Picon, have returned to the enjoyment of that respect and appreciation which was formerly accorded to them by an unshackled public.

Do you know what Chartreuse and Amer Picon are? I certainly didn't, and while you may not know this about me, gentle readers, I was once professionally trained as a bartender. It turns out that Amer Picon is an aperitif so rare that the first Google hit is a group of people talking about how they can't find it and discussing how to find substitutes. As for Chartreuse, it's more awesome than I ever imagined:

Chartreuse is an herbal liqueur produced by Carthusian monks in the French Alps. With almost 400 years of history, Chartreuse is one of the oldest and most mysterious spirits still available. Only three monks from the order know the secret recipe, each hold one third of that recipe and all have taken a vow of silence, so the secret recipe is kept safely. The liqueur was originally created as an "Elixir of Long Life" in 1605 by Peres Chartreux. The formula was perfected over the years and by 1737 the liqueur was released to the world in a form that is close to what we drink today.

Secret recipe held in three parts by specially trained monks with vows of silence?! I love it when I discover that things like that exist in real life. And this is only what I learned after reading the first paragraph of this book. It's also full of recipes that I've never remotely heard of before -- including plenty of "virgin" or non-alcoholic recipes, with names like "Temperance Punch". I can't even deal with how amazing this book is, and it's $6.50. Get it before the local hipsters do, folks. Unless you are a local hipster, in which case, you're looking to outrace your brethren.

The local hipsters of Hyde Park, Chicago, are presumably really into the architect Frank Lloyd Wright as well. Or at least I hope they are. Everyone should be at least a little bit into the ingenious Wright -- especially right now, because we have just received a bunch of Wright books, including this week's Favorite:

This is a nice, collectible, large book of Frank Lloyd Wright photos for $75.00. We have more where that come from -- some more affordable and some more beautiful. Hyde Parkers know that Wright designed a number of local buildings, including the lovely Robie House:

The Robie House on the University of Chicago campus is considered one of the most important buildings in American architecture. It was created by Frank Lloyd Wright for his client Frederick C. Robie, a forward-thinking businessman. Designed in Wright's Oak Park studio in 1908 and completed in 1910, the building is both a masterpiece of the Prairie style and renowned as a forerunner of modernism in architecture. Tours of the site offer both a first-hand experience of its amazingly contemporary spaces and the current restoration work that is returning the house to its original appearance.

I've taken the tour. It's great. Go do it and then come look at our Wright books!

This week's Collector's Item is also of local interest, in a wholly different and rather older way:

Published in 1899, this is a History of the 8th Illinois U.S. Volunteer Regiment, which was of particular historical import because:

... as you can see, it was part of our African-American history. In case the image is too small to read, the above page says:

To His Excellency, John R. Tanner, the able and fearless executive of the great State of Illinois, who believes and who has the courage of his convictions, that it is the heart, the brain, the soul, not the skin, that go to determine manhood; who, acting upon this belief and upon the fundamental principle of this government that "taxation without representation is tyranny", had the manhood to appoint colored officers to command a Colored Regiment, this book is affectionately dedicated by the authors.

The book is a group of profiles of the various people in the 8th Illinois U.S. Volunteer Regiment, with photos and text like this:

It's very rare to have a book like this in such good condition and available to the general public, which is why we are asking $395.00 for it. Help us remember the history of more than one epic battle -- the physical one, and the one for civil rights.

February is Black History Month, gentle readers, so I'm sure that we will have more where that came from! You can look forward to it in our next blog entry.