Sunday, May 17, 2009

Incredible article about our store in the Chicago Maroon!

The Chicago Maroon -- the University of Chicago's student newspaper -- recently ran a wonderful article on our humble store. It's got a lot of background for O'Gara and Wilson, some lovely quotations from owner Doug, and is simply all-around charming.

Read the article by clicking here!


O’Gara & Wilson owner carries on century-old bookselling tradition

Antique typewriters, Victorian postcards, and Soviet-era lapel pins overflow in O’Gara & Wilson window

Though he may be the sole owner of O’Gara & Wilson Booksellers on East 57th Street and South Harper Avenue, Doug Wilson doesn’t delude himself into thinking the store is his alone. As the fourth person to take the helm of what is now Chicago’s oldest continuously operating bookstore, Wilson can trace the store’s lineage from the 1890s, and sees himself as merely the latest bearer of “the torch of the ins and outs of bookselling.”

“Book stores aren’t so much a set piece of real estate as they are a line of knowledge, a passing of a profession from one person to another,” he said.

In 1972, Wilson was a 22-year-old college graduate “on a fast track to a job I would hate” at a Chicago department store. He had wandered into Joseph O’Gara’s store a few times as a “book scout,” trying to sell used books he’d found at local Salvation Army stores at a markup. But O’Gara gave him more than he bargained for.

Keep reading ....

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Villainry, villainry, wherefore art thou villainry?

I have a confession to make, gentle readers: I love villains. I love villainry! If I could be a villainess then I would do so. Swiftly and decisively. Since actual outsize villainry does not exist, I settle for trying to be a very moral and responsible girl. But seriously, I'd rather be a villainess.

This Affordable and Interesting book might give me some pointers:

From the dust jacket:

"Rosalind Valdar," he hissed, "my bed shall be your bed! My will shall be your master! My lust shall feed upon your charms, and your body shall be minister to my passions! I'll use thee -- use thee as I list -- and when I tire of thee I'll cast thee out into the streets for dogs to bark at; for men to sneer at; and for all honest women to shun! So will I do if you become not my wife!"

Now that's a healthy relationship for you. But actually, that's an excerpt from an excerpt quoted in this book, and not a passage from the book itself -- because Villains Galore is a book about the low-priced weeklies that were filled with villains, rather than a book of villainry itself. $12.50, and you can think about villainous literary theory all you want! What's not to like?

If you have more resources to throw behind your villainous studies, then you might be interested in this Collector's Item:

Louis Wain was a Victorian gentleman who liked to draw cats ... a lot. He drew them all the time. Eventually, he became famous for it! Everyone loved his cats! But then at some point I guess some folks decided that Wain was unbalanced, not to be trusted, etc. He spent the last fifteen years of his life in various mental institutions, and indeed, while Googling Wain I came upon this online Neuroscience Art Gallery feature on him: Cats Painted in the Progression of Psychosis of a Schizophrenic Artist. I enjoy the apparent progression rather a lot.

Now personally I don't feel 100% comfortable judging Wain's mental status, and in fact it looks to me as though his later cat portraits were far more enlightened than his earlier ones. I'd much rather see a glowing electric cat than a tamer cat dressed in Victorian clothing! Unless, of course, that cat is Bluebeard:

... Wain's version of the tale starts like this:

Bluebeard the Pasha, a wealthy cat,
Married and mourned three fair wives;
They were dutiful tabbies, be sure of that,
And yet in the end he took their lives.

So if you're interested in fairy-tale doggerel by a pre-schizophrenic cat enthusiast, then there is just no way you can pass up this book. It seems that there are lots of people interested in that, because this item is a bargain at $950.00! Before it sells, I plan to study and see if I can dye my own hair blue. I'd like to murder some fine husbands before I die.

Just kidding! Just kidding, really. Here, I'll distract you from my macabre little joke by bringing up this week's Favorite:

... arguably another macabre little joke. We actually do have a (perhaps surprising) number of gun-related books here at O'Gara and Wilson, and this was recently added to the group, but I think that perhaps it would be better in our Mystery section or even True Crime. Or maybe I should just make a section for "incredibly weird books that Lydia likes because she has been driven mad by spending long hours indoors with books when what she really needs is healthy fresh air; she'll be drawing cats next".

So anyway, apparently certain guns are famously good only for committing suicide, and this is a primer for the discerning collector! The Introduction assures me that this book is needed (or was in 1958) because "the field is wide open" and "the scope of variation in these arms is incomprehensible". Only $60.00, my dear dear readers, and you'd better come buy it so that when I snap and go Bluebeard I won't be able to make my boyfriend's death look like a suicide.

I think this place is twisting me, gentle readers. Till next time, au revoir, and I'll try not to go homicidally mad on the interim.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Transportation! I like how it looks.

Greetings, O Gentlest of Readers! I am posting the blog entry early this week, because I (Lydia) will be away on Wednesday; I considered dragging Alan in to write another of his incredible blog entries on the right date, but I figured it was just as easy to write it myself two days early, and I wanted the excuse to indulge my latest idea for a theme.

You see, sometimes I do shiny themed blog entries here at O'Gara and Wilson. The themes are frequently somewhat loose and ill-observed, and always ridiculous. This entry's theme? Transportation!

Observe, for instance, this Collector's Item:

The book containing this plate, Advertisements of Lower Mississippi River Steamboats 1812-1920, starts its Foreword with a historical analysis of steamboat advertisements and notes that

Now that Leonard V. Huber has unearthed this interesting sample of art -- for art it is -- of attracting patronage to a particular steamboat through stylistic advertising, the wonder is that nobody thought of doing it before. Individual boats were noticed as "new and splendid", "new and elegant", "new and light draught" (always new, even though overdue at the boneyard); but this business of republishing their ads has real newness. They have the tang of fresh-brewed coffee, and should be sipped gingerly to be appreciated. The reader will discover herein a treat which bears repetition from day to day, from week to week. These ads are ageless.

Convinced? I am. And better yet, the book doesn't just contain steamboat ads! $60.00 gets you the ads, plus some old articles about steamboats, plus other little bitty bits such as:

This scan comes from a page headed "Steamboat Money". There is no other description or explanation; I tried Googling "Steamboat Money" but came up with nothing of use, though I did find a page talking about tokens that were used to represent money for travelers on on some steamboats, so that those travelers wouldn't have to carry actual money. Maybe that's what's going on here.

So yeah, I wish I could use steamboats for transportation. I also wish I could use a car -- but not just any car: a vintage 1920s car that utilizes this week's Favorite.

Being as I really know nothing at all about transportation beyond what I write in random bookstore blog entries, I can't say much about this $30.00 package of 1920s auto bulbs. I am excited by the packaging, because I like deco stuff! Plus I have a thing for mythology, so representations of Vulcan are fine by me! Also, I love Googling for pictures of 1920s cars! But I guess that once I get past how pretty it all is, I'll have to move on.

And hence we find ourselves at this Affordable and Interesting book ....

I've mentioned before that I love it when customers point out really fascinating items that I have somehow missed. I love it even more when those customers decide in the end against buying those items. That way, I can fall upon said items with cries of glee and fascination, and examine them myself.

I am so excited about this book that I stretched the blog entry's theme to include it -- viz., this book is relevant to transportation because the cover features a gentleman riding on an elephant. But it's actually about race and culture! You see, the title is The Exotic White Man: An Alien in Asian and African Art. Note the looks of the gentleman atop the elephant:

And then there's this couple, a Japanese woodcut featured on the back:

I hear people talk about representations of other cultures in imperialist Western art all the time, but never ever have I seen a book like this. I am fascinated! It is from 1968 and has a slightly racist tone, which makes me sad, but it seems like the authors were doing their best at the time. And I'm amused by their note in the beginning that the Caucasian "pinkish color [is] somewhat revolting". You can buy this book for $12.50, but only if I don't weaken and take it home myself. I'm still thinking about it.

Thinking ....

I'd better end this blog entry before I think too hard. See you two weeks from Wednesday, gentle readers!

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Local, independent used bookstores are better than Amazon!

You may have heard of the ruckus that erupted around Amazon this weekend when a glitch caused the site to make many books on gay, lesbian, and sexuality themes largely unavailable for search by its customers. This was apparently a mistake on the site's part and not an outright act of attempted concealment -- but I am here to tell you, gentle readers, that such a mistake would never happen here! For one thing, we have an entire section on Sex/Gender/Sexuality that is just as available to the public as the rest of our books; indeed, you may recall that -- just two months ago -- I wrote a blog post that included "Kama Sutra Marketing Through the Ages". More to the point: if we make an inventory-tracking mistake around the store, then we lose just one book, not entire categorizations. We're better than Amazon. Convinced yet?

No? Well, these Affordable and Interesting items demonstrate another reason we're better than Amazon:



A lovely antique fairy-tale book, illustrated by Frank Adams, was recently badly damaged -- it lost many pages and the binding came apart. We could have simply thrown it out, but instead we elected to save as many pages as we could and then sell them each for $3.00. Amazon would never show such tender loving care. As you can see from the above, the pictures are lovely, bright and sickeningly cute: ideal for people who ... enjoy cute things! There must be people like that out there.

This week's Favorite is another excellent example of our betterness.

Here's the thing about bookstores that you could never, ever find on Amazon: random chance and serendipity. Personally, I love knowing that I could come upon an 1899 book called Fables in Slang at any time. It's not that I wouldn't live a happy life without it, but I just think my life is better now that I've read "The Fable of the Visitor Who Got A Lot for Three Dollars", the main character of which is referred to as the Learned Phrenologist. (Did you know that there are still phrenologists out there? Learn all about the history of phrenology at this very pro-phrenology page: click here!)

Check out how the 1899 slang book characterizes phrenology:

The Learned Phrenologist sat in his Office surrounded by his Whiskers.

Now and then he put a Forefinger to his Brow and glanced at the Mirror to make sure that he still resembled William Cullen Bryant.

Near him, on a Table, was a Pallid Head made of Plaster-of-Paris and stickily ornamented with small Labels. On the wall was a Chart showing that the Orangoutang does not have Daniel Webster's facial angle.

"Is the Graft played out?" asked the Learned Phrenologist, as he waited. "Is Science up against it or What?"

I love this book. $30.00, and you get tons of Fables in the above style. Did I mention that all of them are illustrated?


People who buy all their books on Amazon don't come across slangy 1899 fable books with awesome illustrations of stern phrenologists. Nuff said.

Or wait, not quite enough said. I still need to cover this Collector's Item!

Not only is this pamphlet unavailable at Amazon, but when I tried to search for it, I was confronted by a horrible banner of grinning and cavorting Disney characters. We will never assault you with obscenely vivid moving advertisements, gentle readers -- that's a promise that makes O'Gara and Wilson much classier than Amazon. But to return to my point: this incredible item -- all the way from 1922 -- is too rare to be found on Amazon. I assert that the cover alone makes it worth the $40.00 we are charging, but the pamphlet's historical perspective is icing on the cake.

The moral of the story, gentle readers, is that we are better than Amazon. Love us!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

I wish I lived in the 30s-60s just for the headlines ....

Here I am again, gentle readers -- Lydia, writing this week’s blog entry! Though I don’t know why I do it, with Alan writing such incredible entries when I'm away. Please, if you missed the last two blog entries here at O’Gara and Wilson, I entreat you to read Alan's work: Here’s the one on Ireland and crotchety bookstore ghosts, and here’s the one in futuristic science-fiction style. Read them, for your own sake. They are amazing.

Now before I get into silly unimportant stuff like what we're actually selling at the bookstore these days, I want to let you all know that my hometown literature club is running a poetry contest. My hometown is in New York, but you can certainly enter the contest from afar, and all you have to do is write a literature-related clerihew! "Clerihew?" you may ask in bemusement. "What's that?" Well, here is an example:

Edgar Allan Poe
Was passionately fond of roe.
He always liked to chew some,
While writing anything gruesome.

Go write one and enter the contest (click here for details). It'll be great. Trust me.

OK, now let's get down to business. This blog entry's theme is Lots of Pictures of Antique Periodicals, folks, and we're starting with these astounding Affordable and Interesting old science magazines!


We've got stacks and stacks of various science magazines from the 30s, 40s, 50s ... for $15.00 you get that glorious "Popular Mechanics" with the picture of smilingly excited guys leaping out of a sky machine; or you could pay $7.50 for the "Science and Mechanics" featuring a glove-ridden contraption that does ... wait, what does it do?

But I think the best example -- available for a mere $15.00 -- is this one from 1933:


Moving right along ... let's talk about Collectible Scottish material. If you like Scottish material, then we here at O'Gara and Wilson have exactly the magazine for you!


"Tocher: Tales, Songs, Tradition -- Selected from the archives of the School of Scottish Studies" ran from 1971 to 1995, and we have a complete set of all issues! I have elected not to show you, dear readers, the approximately 30% of "Tocher" covers that feature bagpipes in some fashion. Really, I felt that the above two cover images were most representative of Scottish life in general.

But this periodical has so much more to it than Scotch gentlemen hitting each other with golf clubs; there is a truly bewildering array of stories about people whose names start with "Mac", and some of them are in Gaelic! Some are even translated! You could also learn productive skills from "Topher", such as how to dye cloth black by using the roots of the water lily. All this for $400.00. It's a steal, gentle readers, let me tell you, an absolute steal. Especially since you get this winsome Scottish maid to boot:

Last but certainly not least is my Favorite thing. Ever.

We're selling these 1950s-60s scandal papers for $15.00-$25.00 apiece, and if I had to choose a word to describe them, it would be "hilariousincredibleamazingbrilliant". But unfortunately our scanner cannot encompass the entire front page of all the papers I want to show you. Case in point: My scan of the above 1968 "National Mirror" regrettably cut off the top two headlines: "Surgeon Uses Virgins in Sex Transplants" and "Insane Nurse Sets Mental Hospital on Fire". At least you can read for yourself the "Raid Flesh Club In Funeral Home" and "Barmaids in Bloody Brawl Over Lesbian". $25.00 for this issue, which -- need I remind you? -- includes not just the headlines but the interior articles. And the articles are even better!

Or you could buy one of these others ....

"The National Enquirer", 1964. "Deadly Flies Make Everyone Blind ... Whole Town Doomed". $25.00.

"The National Informer", 1968. "Should A Girl Proposition A Guy?" plus "Women Are More Excited By Pornography Than Men" and "A Report of the Disappointments of Wife-Swapping". $25.00.

"The National Enquirer", 1963. "Rita Hayworth Says: I'm Back From the Dead. For Two Years I Was a Zombie". $25.00.

Another 1963 "National Enquirer". "Mamie Van Doren: I Still Love the Crumb Who Jilted Me!" $20.00. I'm thinking of buying this one and mailing it to my ex-boyfriend ... what do you think, gentle readers? I'm a classy girl, aren't I.

I'm almost tempted not to advertise these scandal papers, because they really do make the best lunchtime reading ever. Don't buy them too quickly, folks, and I'll see you in two weeks!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Homage to the Kindle. Not.

It was March 18, 2109, and I was bored. Quendy and I were lying next to each other on Quagnar beach, drinking Zoofle Blasters and watching sky pirates shooting each other down over the ocean.

“I’m sick of Zoofle Blasters,” I said, throwing away my fluorescent blue cup. It disappeared as soon as it hit the sand. “And I’m sick of sky pirates. They always do the same thing every time.”

“Me, too,” said Quendy. “Maybe we should go visit the Xenon 5 beach. They have a whole new sky pirate show.”

“Okay,” I said. We both felt 25 zilodollars drain from our accounts, and the beach around us changed. Now it was green sand, instead of black. The sky pirates were black, instead of red, and they shot each other down even more frequently. There were four suns in the sky.

“What kind of drinks are there here?” I asked.

“I don’t know,” said Quendy. Immediately a pull down menu appeared in our heads.

“I’ve had all of these,” I said.

“Me too,” said Quendy.

“Well,” I said, “maybe we should call it a day. I can’t think of a single thing to do.” We lay there in the green sand, not wanting to go somewhere else because we’d already spent 25 zilodollars getting to Xenon 5. Suddenly Quendy spoke up.

“I have an idea,” she said excitedly. “I know something we could do. Let’s go to a bookstore.”

“A bookstore?” I asked. “Why?” I’d already downloaded all the books I needed for school. I had them on background filter, and they were slowly transferring directly into my brain. Some people like to do it all in one go, but that makes my head hurt.

“No,” said Quendy. “This is different. I saw it when we went to visit Grandma and Grandma in Happy-Old Land.”

“Oh,” I said. “So it’s out there?”

“Yeah,” said Quendy.

“Weird,” I said. “Why would there be a bookstore out there?”

“You’ll see,” said Quendy. We turned off our Virtua-Screens, and got up from my sofa. Then we got in the hyper-car, and Quendy set it for 5212324 Happy-Old Land Drive.

“I know it’s near there,” said Quendy. When we appeared, things looked pretty familiar. I’d only been to 3423435 Happy-Old Land Drive, to visit my grandparents, but this place wasn’t so different.

“I think it’s next door,” said Quendy. “But we have to walk.” We got out of the car, and walked about twenty feet to the next building, which felt strange. The building said “O’Gara and Wilson” on an green cloth thing hanging out in front.

“This is it,” said Quendy. “I’ve been here with my grandmother once.”

Inside the store were all sorts of things that I’d learned about in history class, called realbooks. There were big realbooks, and little realbooks, and they were filled with words, just like the ones in the advertisements and pull-down menus.

“This is so weird,” I said. “What do you do with these?”

“Read them,” said a voice behind me. “Although no one really does, anymore.” I turned and saw an ancient man, with bushy eyebrows and a goatee.

“Why would you read them,” I asked, “if you can just download them instantly and transfer them into your brain in the background?”

“Well,” said the old man, “some realbooks aren’t actually available for download. Take this one, for example.”

He opened a case made out of something called glass, and took out one of the strange old things. The front (he called it a cover) looked like this.

“Careful,” he said, as I flipped through it.

“Cool,” said Quendy.

“Not just cool, young lady,” said the old man. “It’s the coolest Collectible realbook in the store. Written in 1901 by H.G. Wells, a first edition, back when people had never visited the moon before.”

I’d been to the moon with Quendy lots of times. Super boring, unless you’re a little kid. “Can’t download a first edition,” added the old man, though I didn’t know what he meant. “That’s why it’s so expensive.” 400 zilodollars, said the price tag. That was like 16 beach trips.

“What are these?” asked Quendy, who had found something somewhere else in the store.

“That’s a magazine,” said the old man. I recognized the little white cylinders in the picture – they were cigarettes. Long ago, said the history textbook I’d uploaded last year, people used to kill themselves by smoking them.

“Is a magazine a realbook?” I asked.

“Not exactly,” said the old man. “But it would take too long for me to explain the difference. Not too expensive, though,” he said. “Only 6 zilodollars, so you could probably get one yourself. We’ve got Time magazines, like that one, and also Life magazines. Affordable and Interesting, magazines.”

“Of course,” he said, “you probably don’t know how to read.”

“Nope,” I said. Only old people knew how to read, like this guy or grandparents. “It would take so long. And these realbooks are big and clunky. I think downloading is much easier.”

“I don’t know,” said Quendy. “Maybe it would be fun to learn how to read.” The old man didn’t say anything. He just went over and pulled another realbook off the shelf and started reading from the back.

This is what he read:

“We read to find the end, for the story’s sake. We read not to reach it, for the sake of the reading itself. We read searchingly, like trackers, oblivious of our surroundings. We read distractedly, skipping pages….We read in gusts of sudden pleasure, without knowing what brought the pleasure along.”

Quendy and I browsed for a while, and I ended up buying the realbook the old man had read from, for only 9.5 zilodollars. It was called A History of Reading, by an elder-one named Alberto Manguel. Even though it didn’t look that special, it was my Favorite thing in the store, and no matter how much I searched the Virtua-Center, I couldn’t find a copy available for download, at least not at that price.

(Thank you to M.T. Anderson and his wonderful realbook, "Feed".)

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

"All for me Grog-Blog"

(Apologies to multimedia fans out there -- no pictures this time, technical difficulties).


Close readers of this blog may have noticed that the name of our store is O’Gara and Wilson. Wilson, needless to say, is the surname of our current visionary owner, Douglas Wilson. But what of “O’Gara”? Who’s behind those beautiful Irish syllables?

Don’t worry, I’ll give it to you quick and easy. Joseph O’Gara, a bookman of the highest order, that’s who. He inherited the store in 1937, and ran it for a long, long time. Smoked a pipe, had a cat, and argued with anyone and everyone who walked through the door. He left us for the Heavenly four-leafed clover meadows some years back, but his spirit still lingers in the bookshelves and the treasures they hold.

In fact, his spirit was in here this morning. “Alan,” it said wispily, but with a pronounced Irish brogue. “Why haven’t you gotten started on the grog?”

“Who’s there?” I asked. “What ghost haunts this bookshop? And what kind of grog does it fancy?” I added, just in case.

“Not grog,” said the spirit, materializing slowly. It was bald with a moustache and wire-rimmed glasses, and a pipe in its mouth. “Blog. Young Dougie has hired a real winner here, I see.” That’s when I knew it must be him, the legendary Joseph O’Gara.

Now, those who knew Mr. O’Gara might object at this point, if they haven’t already. “He didn’t speak with an Irish accent,” they might say, or “He never referred to Mr. Wilson as Dougie.” Fair enough. If you want the scoop on our founder, come in and chat with Mr. Wilson himself. He’ll tell you how Mr. O’Gara faked being Scottish, regaled customers with crazy tales, and made the bookshop a wonderful place to be.

But for the sake of this blog entry, please let’s power through the falsehoods until the imminent segue.

“I haven’t gotten started because I’ve got writer’s block,” I told Mr. O’Gara’s spirit. “I’m completely stumped.”
“Well, lad, write on Ireland, my homeland.”
“But why Ireland?”
“What’s wrong with you?” he said. “Are your brains addled from not enough reading? It’s Irish-American Heritage month!”
“Good Guinness!” I shouted. “That’s brilliant! But there’s a problem…”
“What’s that?” asked the spirit, and ultra-wispy smoke wafted from the semi-wispy pipe he held clamped in his teeth.
“Well—“ I hesitated.
“Out with it, lad!”
“I don’t know anything about Ireland. Not a single thing.”

Mr. O’Gara flitted over to the Ireland section.

“Start with this,” he said, and handed me the ironically titled Oxford Companion to Irish History.

“Leaping leprechauns!” I exclaimed, after flipping through it briefly. “It’s so informative and thick, just like all the other companions from Oxford that we've come to know and love. And cheap too, only $9.50! I’ll make it our Affordable and Interesting item.”

“Enough with the shop-talk,” said Mr. O’Gara. “You’ve not much time before I disappear and your deadline comes.”

“But I’m helpless without you,” I said. “All I know about is Chinese philosophy and fairy tales.”

The spirit’s moustache twitched with impatience. “And didn’t Oscar Wilde write about both?”

“Sure,” I said, “but that doesn’t help.” Suddenly it hit me like a blood pudding in the face. “He was IRISH,” I exclaimed, and rushed to the glass case and picked out one of most wonderful Collectible books in the store.

Were the blasted camera working, you'd be treated to numerous pictures from the second edition of Wilde’s famous fairy tales, illustrated by Walter Crane and Jacob Hood. You would be able to see the beautiful condition, and establish for yourself that the price of $650 is easily worth it. This book, you would think to yourself, is something one finds at the end of a rainbow on a lucky day. Instead you'll have to imagine all that, or come in to our store and see it in person.

In fact, the book is so wonderful that I began paging through it myself, before the blog deadline interrupted my reveries.

“Aiee!” I said, looking through Mr. O’Gara at the clock. “It’s nearly time, I’ve got to post this thing.” With a disdainful nod, the spirit floated back over to the Ireland section.

“This is probably beyond you, lad, but put it in there. Only true Irish-people will know what it is. But it’s one of my Favorites, from when I was a wee boy.”

He handed me (how did he do it with those wispy fingers) a book that appeared to be in a foreign language.

"But I need something in English," I said. Mr. O'Gara didn't even deign to answer. I asked the computer and found out that Fiche Blian Ag Fas translates as Twenty Years A’Growin, and it’s one of the most famous pieces of modern literature written wholly in Irish. An excellent present for the Irish lover in your life, difficult to find in a nice vintage edition like ours, and impossible for a mere $15.

As soon as I finished writing that last paragraph, Mr. O’Gara tapped out his pipe and spoke his final words to me.

“The craic was good,” said the spirit, and disappeared.

That’s right – it’s pronounced crack. But don’t go getting any ideas until you read up on the original meaning, hopefully in a book you purchase from O’Gara and Wilson. And "All for me Grog" really is a real song (just ask the Google-mind if you're an unbeliever).

Happy Irish-American heritage month!

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

How to manage your miffed Valentine: a lesson, with O'Gara and Wilson

Since we only update the blog once every two weeks now, I totally missed Valentine's Day. Did you also miss Valentine's Day? If so, then this is the blog entry for you! You will learn all about some gifts you can give your lover to make up for your unbearable faux pas. What expresses love better than crass materialism? I ask you.

Let's start with this week's Collector's Item: great for the man in your life, assuming the year is 1926 and your man really likes Benjamin Franklin.

Let us begin with a Valentine-relevant quotation from a "Beau Magazine" watch advertisement:

Choosing your woman (to employ the phrase of our national arch-beau, Benjamin Franklin) is only the beginning of your adventure: to hold her (if hold her you must) you must have become skilled in that most delicate of all the social arts -- the art of selecting the proper gift for the proper occasion.

Now the "Beau" is an inveterate believer in this pleasant form of bribery. Gift giving is the oil of the social machinery, the only form of flattery which women have not yet learned to suspect, and therefore to be pursued with a certain amount of assured success.

Well, I've certainly learned to suspect it now. So maybe you shouldn't buy this book for your lover ... maybe, instead, you should buy it and hide it from them such that they never learn its secrets.

You will also be concealing many other delights: for instance, a reprinted letter (purportedly from 1745) from Benjamin Franklin to a friend on "Choosing Your Woman". Franklin urges his friend to select an older woman for a mistress for eight reasons, one of which starts with "Because when they cease to be handsome, they study to be good." Do we really? These and other pieces of advice come to $75.00 -- discuss 1926 romantic mores with your lover (or alternatively, hide these insights from your lover) to your heart's content.

Perhaps you and your partner pen a lot of love letters? In that case, you can use this week's Favorite to write a historically accurate one, World War 2-style:

V-mail (short for "Victory mail") was a form used entirely by soldiers on the front during World War 2. They would write in special ink ...

(here we have two facets of the ink box ...)

... on special forms ...

... and their letters would be applied from paper form, to microfilm. The original forms would then be destroyed and big bags of microfilm sent overseas, to be reconstituted into letters for mopey loved ones. As noted by the National Postal Museum: "The 37 mail bags required to carry 150,000 one-page letters could be replaced by a single mail sack. The weight of that same amount of mail was reduced dramatically from 2,575 pounds to a mere 45."

I am sure that a military history buff would find a love letter written V-mail style to be the most romantic thing ever. Indulge them: a box of forms and a box of special V-mail ink -- Quink! -- is only $25.00 and provides dozens of letters!

(And before we move on to the next items, a quick message from Doug: "Before there was e-mail, there was v-mail!" Hilarious.)

Last but not least, gentle readers: an Affordable and Interesting way to relate to your loved one.

You may have heard of the Kama Sutra, an ancient Indian text on physical love. Well, I am here to tell you that there are many, many editions of the Kama Sutra out there, and we've got a bunch of them here at O'Gara and Wilson. The one presented above takes what I think of as the "academic and cultural approach" -- tasteful cover featuring a pretty Indian painting, restrained script, all promoting the scholarly value of this tome, and all for $15.00!

Then there's this approach!

This I consider the "scandal" approach. Published in 1963, it emphasizes the mind-blowing debauchery therein. The photo of Greek statuary totally fails to respect the original Kama Sutra's cultural context. Yours for $7.50.

And here's the third and last in my "Kama Sutra marketing through the ages" series:

Not cultural, not academic, but not scandalous either: this one's all about long walks on the beach, soft-lit candles and romantic dinners. $12.50.

That should pacify your partner, gentle readers! Don't say I never do you any favors ... and oh yeah, happy belated Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Black History Month 2009 is upon us! Also, Soviets.

February, my gentle gentle readers, is upon us in all its snow-laden glory. On the bright side, February is Black History Month! Most of this blog entry shall regale you with many amazing items of African-American historical value ... but not all of it. Why, you ask? Well, because this week's Affordable and Interesting item was supposed to be picked up by Doug when he went home to Indiana for the evening ... but then, a stunning amount of Indiana snowfall kept him in Chicago for the night.

So, before we continue on to Black history, dear readers, allow me to show you these Affordable and Interesting pins:

. .



. .

The above pins were produced in the former Soviet Union between the late 1960s and the early 1990s -- they were badges for all manner of occupations, clubs, and organizations. Our regular Jon characterizes them as "bright, sprightly, and lots of fun" and reports that he gave one to his friend Olga, who translated its slogan as "Society to Fight for Sobriety". When she picked herself up from rolling around of the floor laughing, she added, "I need some more for my friends."

These pins are a bargain at $3.00 apiece; I'd consider buying the Stalin one myself, but I want to be able to take airplane flights.

Now let's move on, away from my hasty insertion of those pins and towards this week's Favorite:

Fisk University was one of the first African-American Universities -- established in 1867. It is now open to all races, but has historically served Black history very well -- one notable instance being the Fisk Jubilee Singers. The Singers started touring in 1871, and they did a lot to preserve African-American musical traditions and further the acceptance of those traditions in popular culture.

We have a number of 1910s-1920s Fisk University magazines here at the shop, showcasing various interesting historical angles:



The Fisk magazines vary in price from $20.00 to $25.00 -- or act now and you might be able to snag the 1916 Fisk Alumni Quarterly for only $10.00!

Last, but certainly not least, we arrive at this Collector's Item, which includes an amazing and touching story:

This, ladies and gentlemen, is a real live tintype of Mr. and Mrs. Watham, who were once enslaved in the southern United States. In the second half of the 1800s, the Wathams were freed, and they struck off to make their fortunes by participating enthusiastically in the Oklahoma Land Rush. These two Black pioneers established an Oklahoma homestead that served their families well until their descendants sold it off in the 1950s, at which point one trunk full of the Watham's heritage was saved.

That trunkful of history is now here, at O'Gara and Wilson! Its contents include -- but are not limited to -- two cotton bonnets, a blue polka-dotted parasol, a spyglass, two leather baby booties, a corncob pipe, a thimble, and two six-sided dice. We're selling this collection for $750.00, and we encourage all and sundry to come by and examine it before someone takes it home. All these objects come together to create a lovely picure of the lives of two pioneers of the American West. They're really fun to look through!

Black History Month seems like a particularly inspiring time right now, with our first Black president assuming power. (I know I've been mentioning that a lot lately, but cut me some slack, gentle readers -- I live in Obama's very neighborhood!) Let that inspiration warm you against the frigid February weather.