Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Letters, drama, and dramatic letters!

Because someone talked Doug into selling her the dish we were using to collect pennies, Joan has brought in yet another store mascot!

I keep meaning to ask Joan what its name is, and to think seriously about the gastronomy of a dragon that breathes pennies instead of fire.

But on to serious topics ... such as letters! Letters, while charming, have only rarely been something I spent much time on. However, I once sent a friend a postcard that reached the wrong recipient, viz., the woman across the hall from my friend. The lady put pictures of the postcard on her blog, and was thereby discovered by both her neighbor (the recipient -- whom she had never met) and myself! Truly we live in a strange age, with this Internet ... but the point of this story is that, when Ms. Postcard Discoverer first posted those pictures, she speculated that she'd found her very own Griffin and Sabine! Whoever could Griffin and Sabine be?

As I discovered later -- and as you yourself might discover with these Affordable and Interesting books -- Griffin is a young artist who, one day, receives a mysterious postcard from a woman named Sabine. It addresses him in the manner of an old friend, asking for a postcard he recently designed. The problem? He has neither met nor heard of Sabine before! From there, the plot thickens in a more and more fantastical manner. The book's story (and those of its sequels) are told through the correspondence of Griffin and Sabine; the best aspect is certainly the original presentation -- postcards shown front and back, while letters are presented in envelopes stuck to the pages:


I seem to recall that my third grade teacher had us all do a class project in a similar manner, creating our own fictional correspondences between two characters. But these books are not merely for children -- the story they tell is more than charming enough to pull in adults, and the art is remarkable. If you would merely like to investigate the beginning (or middle) of Griffin and Sabine's story, you may acquire either the first or second in this three-book series for $7.50. But if you'd like to gleefully snatch up the three-volume set, then we are also selling that, for $25.00! *

I uncovered Griffin and Sabine lost in our Books on Books section -- now that, gentle readers, was a confused mishmash of a place! But it has any number of wonderful things in it, and as I whip the section into shape, I'm oohing and ahhing a lot. Take this Collector's Item:

I believe I have mentioned the Caxton Club here before; they've published a number of beautiful Limited Editions, many on book-related topics. This particular book, Printers' Marks and Devices (number 272 of only 600 copies printed), gives brief biographies of 78 historical printers, then offers lovely illustrations and deconstructions of their devices. Heinrich Petri of Basel, for instance:

The Petri device was apparently inspired by a Biblical motto: "Is not my word fire, like a hammer that shatters stone?" Those fiery words seem to have fit Petri well -- he was "a zealous promoter of Lutheran books", and at one point he got in trouble with the city's nobility for publishing Luther's Christian Warning to the Nobility. Later in life, he secured his own noble title (and presumably thumbed his nose at past detractors). You could read 78 stories like this -- in an attractive linen binding to boot! -- for $75.00.

Sometimes I think I don't talk enough about old bindings on this here blog. I write too much about odd little paperbacks and bizarre antique cartoons, and not enough about the kind of bindings that make one swoon. What are antiquarian bookstores for?! Well, I aim to change my regrettable tendency with this week's Favorite:

Now, these are just gorgeous. The pictures don't do the gilt patterns, the restrained coloring of the leather, or the lovely rose image justice. Unfortunately, we don't have the complete set of these books -- which all together would comprise a survey of the humble topic, "The Drama: its History, Literature and Influence Upon Civilization" -- but we do have four individual volumes. Fortunately, however, each volume covers an area in full, which makes them very nice as separate books. We're offering Oriental Drama, Drama of Great Britain, Drama of Spain and Portugal, and Russian Drama.

The set was originally published in 1903. Some have silken bookmarks. All are printed on exquisite paper with gilted edges and lovely full-color illustrations. And the bindings ... the bindings! Each book has the beautiful covers you see above; the insides of the covers make me sigh, too:

Best of all, each of these books is only $20.00. So if you decide you'd like to convince some dramatic person that you spent an absolute fortune on an exquisite, collectible gift for them, you can easily do so without actually breaking the bank. Perhaps the lucky recipient will stage some hysterics for you!

I consider sowing the seeds for such philanthropic dishonesty to be my good deed for the day! Gentle readers, I charge you to consider who you know who'd love these theatrical books; I will do the same, and meet you back here next week.

* i.e. We have two copies of the first and second books.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Everything you ever wanted to know about a dysfunctional childhood!

When I was a small Lydia, my cultural education coalesced from a confusing mishmash of sources that included my grandfather's "Pogo" collection. Gentle readers, many of you probably have not heard of Pogo, but your time has come! We will start with this Affordable and Interesting collection:

"Pogo", you see, was a comic that started running in the 1940s, as you can discover from artist Walt Kelley's hilarious quick autobiography (click here). (On August 25, 1913, Walt Kelly, a clear-eyed youth of honest Scotch-Irish-English-French-Austrian blood found himself in Philadelphia, Pa. He was one day old, and although his ancestors had been rooted along the shores of the Delaware for 150 years, he immediately hatched a plan. Two years later, he was in Bridgeport, Connecticut, complete with father, mother, sister and sixteen teeth, all his own.) The comic features a possum (surprisingly named Pogo) and his various adventures, which include running for president and kicking his deadbeat friends out of his house:

It also features amazing political commentary (much of which I didn't understand at age nine) and gentle mockery of humanity at large. Famous "Pogo" slogans include "We have met the enemy, and he is us" (a takeoff on Captain Perry's famous words) and "We are confronted by insurmountable opportunities" (which is merely hilarious). Though it got off to a slow start, the comic ended up running for quite a while, and compilations sold millions of copies. This is, of course, the First Edition of one such compilation; it's in much better condition than my grandfather's were once I got done with them, and it could be yours for $20.00!

Another thing featured in "Pogo" was glee clubs. In my youth I had no idea what those were, but this Collector's Item gave me a chance to find out!

Apparently glee clubs were all the rage in the late 1700s through the 1800s; members frolicked about singing various secular songs, particularly glees (an old-fashioned type of multi-voice unaccompanied song that sounds like it'd be very well-suited to a roaming batch of singers). It seems that in the 1900s, glee clubs were mostly supplanted by more formal (and often religious) choral societies, but there are still some around -- notably, there's one in Chicago's very own suburb of Naperville! And I clearly recall a Pogo compilation that included a glee club formed of various swamp animals.

Glee clubs, of course, often required songbooks such as the above. This Pacific Glee Book was published in Chicago in 1869; presumably it recorded the songs of a local glee club -- making it an interesting piece of local history! And since 1869 was before the Great Chicago Fire, this book is quite hard to find. I hope that someone buys it (for $50.00) in order to restart the Pacific Glee Club, because I'd love to hear such tunes as "Is a Man a Whit the Better?"

This week's Favorite brings us to a similarly light-hearted, but later, episode in Chicago's history:

Apparently, old-style carnivals gave out plaster keepsakes rather than stuffed animals to winners of their games of skill. I currently boast a large stuffed tiger, won for me by a dear friend in the early 2000s; if he and I had instead been at Riverview Amusement Park in 1950, then I might be the proud owner of this dog instead! Riverview apparently took up an area bordered by Western and Belmont Avenues, the Chicago River and Lane Technical School (on Addison). It was open from 1904 to 1967, called itself the World's Largest Amusement Park, and sounds like it was a landmark in many Chicago citizens' lives. (When we first got this dog, I overheard Doug asking one of our regulars whether the gentleman was "pre-Riverview or post-Riverview".) Capone himself had some territorial disputes there, and it was at Riverview that the famous foot-long Chicago-style hot dog was introduced for the very first time! We're not sure what exact point in the park's history this plaster dog hails from, but we know it's one of the Riverview prizes -- and rather than spend your life savings attempting to win it, all you need to do is offer $25.00!

Tonight I don't think I'd be up for carnival activity, but all this Riverview talk makes me want to find a carnival to attend. And not that Six Flags business either -- something more nostalgic! Have you any suggestions, gentle readers?

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

This week's moral: men and women are both bitter and bright!

Since last week's entry mentioned bright girls, I decided to make this week's theme bright men! Bitter men, too, for a variety of reasons. Both women and men have reasons to be bitter, I think -- indeed, last week's bright girl-writer made several bitter notes (remember?: "[unlike men,] girls do not throw away the good they have won upon the hockey field, and the swimming bath, by imbibing whisky and other absurd concoctions, by sucking ceaselessly upon a filthy tobacco pipe, nor by crowding into hot billiard rooms and bar parlours"). But these men have particular reason to be bitter, starting with a Collector's Item about a put-upon brother-in-law:

The conceit of this 1930 Limited Edition (number 56 of 250 printed) is that it's an account of the Flood, as related by Noah's brother-in-law. In mannered verse form, it notes that Noah's brother-in-law doesn't much like Noah, and then goes on to describe their (peculiarly modern) society as it is deluged:

Our government shows its fore-sight. In the sky
with some projector-trick last night it writ:
"Stay in your houses. It will soon be dry."
Indeed it will. And so the people sit
without one trace of panic. By and by
we'll gain control of the storm-clouds bit by bit.
But now it's the present, and I'm rather glad
for the little touches of strange we've had.

Do I perchance detect some social commentary? Indeed, although the illustrations are great ...

... the best part may be the fact that as Noah's brother-in-law goes under, his final thought is about how ugly his carpet is (said carpet was given him by his cursed brother-in-law, of course). Yes, it does seem to me that the poem describes human nature to a T. And this psychological portrait could be yours for $300.00! Also, you could impress every Religion major you know.

Now that we've established that brothers-in-law are bitter, let's move on to this Affordable and Interesting bit on married men:

As the cover notes, this is a novelization of the 1965 movie (click here) -- the tagline for which was, "Bring the little woman -- maybe she'll die laughing!" The plot (such as it is) concerns the young Stanley Ford, who accidentally marries a gorgeous Italian woman. His consternation is well summed up by this scene with his butler, Charles:

There was a suspicion of moisture, of anguish in Mr. Ford's eyes. His eyes had the look of suffering of a TV headache commercial before fast, Fast, FAST relief.
"Charles," Mr. Ford said.
Some men are made of iron, some men have hearts of oak. Charles was made of flesh and blood, after all. His veneer, his icy sophistication, his air of disapproval collapsed.
"Good God! How did it happen, sir?"
Like two shipwrecked men who find each other on a desert island long after each had given up all other crew members for lost, they almost fell into each other's arms.

Obviously, Mr. Ford -- upon finding himself in this untenable situation -- seeks the only possible solution.

I'm tempted to see the movie myself! To me, nothing sounds worse right now than marriage; perhaps someday I could use such a how-to guide. Perhaps I'll be able to relate to Mr. Ford (probably better than his blonde cooking-genius wife). But rather than renting the film I may simply purchase this book for $3.00, so you should snap it up if you want it! (Or if you want to save the life of any potential husband of mine ...)

I think Mr. Ford would have liked this week's Favorite:

The title page states that this hilarious 1903 book was "compiled by an old maid and approved by a young bachelor; illustrated by an ex-bachelor; and published by a young married man". It features a misogynistic saying for every day of the year (May 14: "Women, plain or fair, do not readily forgive. --William Sharp"; I think the best is November 16, "To remain a woman's ideal, a man must die a bachelor. -- Smart Set"). It also has wonderfully expressive illustrations:

And they're very persuasive, I think! If you have any friends who need to be persuaded out of some ridiculous marriage, perhaps you should lay down $20.00 for them. The friend will doubtless thank you later!

I think my work here may be done, now that I've covered both women and men of both bright and bitter persuasions. What more is there to talk about, really? Maybe next week I'll just cover inanimate, soulless objects. See you then, gentle readers!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Mother's Day this weekend, for real!

Ahem. I realize that my last entry implied that last Sunday was Mother's Day. I was corrected by my own mother when I called her, shrieking "Happy Mother's Day!" on the eve of this past Sunday. No harm done, of course. But this time, you definitely have to remember to call your mothers this coming Sunday, the 11th. Because it'll be Mother's Day. Really.

My mother is definitely a bright girl, so I think she'd appreciate this week's Favorite:

I was positive that this circa 1900 volume would mostly contain patronizing notes about needlework, and a woman's proper place, and all that kind of thing. I was even complaining about it before I cracked the cover! Imagine my surprise when I found the Preface to read:

If this book had been written many years ago it would have contained more pages about needlework .... Each year, however, shows how fallacious are those no more than conventional notions concerning the limitations of women, for men are being eclipsed from time to time .... How gracefully and well does a woman ride a bicycle usually; how humpbacked and ungainly do most men appear upon the same machine! Moreover, girls do not throw away the good they have won upon the hockey field, and the swimming bath, by imbibing whisky and other absurd concoctions, by sucking ceaselessly upon a filthy tobacco pipe, nor by crowding into hot billiard rooms and bar parlours. Thus it is easy to see even now as we walk along the streets how girls and women are surpassing boys and men in carriage, health and intellect.

It seems that Jean Stewart (the author) had rather more confidence in the female half of the species than most similar authors of her time. Of course, she's still clearly prejudiced -- I mean, I imbibe absurd concoctions all the time. And I know plenty of men who avoid the filthy tobacco pipe! It's always funny how supposedly "enlightened" works often showcase many more cultural issues than they dissolve. But be that as it may, this happy book remains an excellent source not just for sewing projects and making marzipan, but for throwing up tents and netmaking! And that's not mentioning the disciplines of palmistry and making colored fires (for green fire, make a powder of 18 parts nitrate of barytes, 4 parts shellac, 4 parts calomel and 2 parts chlorate of potash). Also, it appears to be quite a scarce book -- there are no copies to be found for sale on the Internet, though similar books are available; our $40.00 copy is the only one available, anywhere! Perhaps Stewart's mix of prejudice and non made this particular book unpopular ... or parents thought the colored fire too dangerous for their children!

In the Affordable and Interesting corner, we have another bright girl:

Of course everyone's heard of Little Orphan Annie! (When I was a small curly-headed child and wanted to capitalize on being cute, I was known to wander about singing "Tomorrow!" myself.) But not everyone knows that Annie originated as a comic strip. The character was created by Harold Gray for the Chicago "Tribune", and she was (obviously) an incredible success! This book is #6 of the Little Orphan Annie compilations, published in hardcover after the strips had run in the paper; the strips are from 1930 or so, the book from 1931. As one might suspect, this collects the story of Annie being shipwrecked and winning her way free by means of wit, verve and charming smile. $20.00 gets you panels and panels of Annie crying, "Great Caesar's suspenders!" plus a heartwarming scene at the end:

Daddy Warbucks and Annie before the fire. What could be cuter?

Well, African animals are cute. Though the moral of this Collector's Item is a bit more complex than that:

This title page is from our beautiful 1932 copy of René Maran's Batouala, number 694 of 1500 published by the Limited Editions Club (a now-defunct group that printed many gorgeous books in its time). The African animals within are indeed "cute":

. .

... though the word I would prefer to use, I think, would be "glorious". (This book is signed by the illustrator, Miguel Covarrubias.) But again, the real strength of this book is the beautiful story within, which netted its author the prestigious French Prix Goncourt. Maran, who grew up in Africa, was the first Black man to win the Goncourt -- and thanks to the New York "Times"' very comprehensive archives, you can read the original 1922 article about that historic event by clicking here! In that article, the "Times" calls Maran's tale of Batouala -- an African village -- "an unsparing indictment of the white masters of Africa"; around the same time, Ernest Hemingway opined that it's a "great novel". High praise, though some of the turns of phrase from the "Times" do remind me a bit of earlier conversations on prejudice. Still and all, it's clear that this beautiful printing -- which we are offering for $125.00 -- showcases not only a literary landmark but a cultural one.

Now, gentle readers, that we have come to our customary end, I shall again remind you of Mother's Day ... and pretend that last week I didn't say the same thing. Mother's Day! May 11! Don't miss it!