Wednesday, October 17, 2007

I'm already excited about Halloween!

The best holiday of the year is coming up: Halloween, for which I just created a window display! I'm very excited about it, though I'm sad that I didn't end up with space to put our new antique Indonesian shadow puppet in the window. I thought its monstrous and elaborate features appropriate for this holiday. Maybe I'll feature it here next week.

One of the Affordable and Interesting things I just put in the window was a (highly Halloween-appropriate) Medieval manual for witch-hunters:

Though first published in the late 1800s, the Malleus Maleficarum is well-known even today, because it influenced witch-hunting for hundreds of years. Written by two inquisitors, it first argues heatedly for the existence of witches, then describes their unholy rituals and discusses what methods may be used to bring witches to justice. (Torture, naturally, is presented as a reasonable -- often necessary -- tool.) One wonders if the inquisitors believed the things they were writing; they sound like scoundrels -- I read on this site (click here), for instance, that they were suspected of embezzling money from the Church and forging notarized documents.

Of course, these activities could be put down to a kind of ends-justify-the-means zeal, a zeal fully demonstrated in many a page of their treatise. But the fact that the two also, for example, take pains to explain that a man of God cannot be harmed by a witch makes me suspect that they were reaching for quick excuses. (Picture this exchange: "If you hunt witches, and witches can really turn men into beasts or worse, then why are you still around?" "Well ... er ... witches cannot affect inquisitors! Yeah, that's it!") I suppose both factors could be somewhat true -- self-rationalization is a powerful backup for zeal -- but naturally, we'll never know quite what they were thinking. We can only guess after their psyches by reading their words (for which we're charging $9.50).

On a religious note, my Favourite thing this week is of a gentler faithful bent:

A facsimile of the beautiful Italian Visconti book of hours, this book suffered an unfortunate accident in the store and lost the cloth on the spine. (A book of hours is a kind of Medieval primer for worship -- a collection of prayers, psalms, and so on that one might use to guide his Catholic devotions. They're so named because all of them contained, among other things, the Hours of the Virgin -- a regimen of prayers and such designed to help Catholics relate to Mary's travails.) The damage is a shame, but then, if the book had never been damaged I would never have looked at it and seen its spectacular pages. All the gold leaf from the original manuscript has been replicated pretty well by a kind of metallic golden ink; the detail of these pictures is amazing, the colors divine.

It was suggested that this book be thrown out because of the damage, but I couldn't bear the idea of that, so I asked Doug to let me slash the price (all the way from $60.00 to $25.00) and try to sell it "merely" for the text. Even though the spine cover's lost, the book is still tightly bound and holds together fine; and the pages are perfect -- they're printed on excellent archival paper and will doubtless record the Visconti Hours for years and years, just as vividly as they do now.

If the theme of this week's entry was Medieval religion, then I will thoroughly break it with this Collector's Item:

I had no idea we had this 1937 telephone directory until today, when I discovered it lurking quietly on one of our rare book shelves. I doubt the phone numbers are any good; I wouldn't even know how to start dialing Glenwd-1849-W or Brdway-1430! -- although the P.G. Wodehouse I've read suggests that it would involve talking directly to an operator rather than actually dialing the number. But some of the advertisements are amazing. It amuses me no end to think about taxis that look like this:

... or a time when extensions to land line telephones were sold individually, considering that today half America's houses have seven extensions and three cell phones. I love the comical expressions of these people, who have apparently come to harm because they didn't have extensions in the kitchen / bedroom:


All these advertisements are available in one handy package for $95.00 -- and if you can figure out how to dial the phone numbers, you get those too! But for myself, off I go to continue using my snub-nosed car and comprehensible ten-digit phone numbers. Rest well, gentle readers!

P.S. Jill sends along this note:
Old-timey phone numbers are easy-peasy. The word at the beginning was part of what you dialed -- that's why we have letters as well as numbers on the buttons. Well, they're buttons now, but back in the day they were holes on the dial! Each geographical area had its own "exchange," with its own prefix. Just like now -- here in Chesterton, all the older phone numbers begin with 926. Presumably that stood for something way back when. Now that there are tons more people here, each with his or her own bevy of cell phones etc, we've had to add new numbers beginning with 921, 929, 531, and various others. Those probably don't have anything to do with some primordial township or neighborhood name, but just randomly generated numbers. Click here for a tiny bit of info on the history of phone numbers.