Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Blog Break

Tarquin Tar was on a blog break last weekend. Apologies for the gap in service. We'll be back up with a new post this Sunday, broadcasting from our Salem office, where we'll be enjoying the annual haunted festivities/chaos.

In the meantime, here's radio host George Noory on a haunted book in his collection. Spooooooky!

Have a safe and happy Halloween!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

More on the provenance of the limited edition Wordsworth

Here's an email I've received from a knowledgeable information sciences professional whom I trust on all matters of librarianship. She clears up some of my puzzlement over the catalog number found in the limited edition Wordsworth Sonnets featured in my last post.


Here's a little clarification on the Ref./812/W92/So mystery --

First of all it looks like it was written in the old careful library script. All 4 lines are textbook library cataloging and classification and it seems that the cataloger even made a mistake.

That is a Dewey Decimal classification number, with the book being shelved in the Reference section. The Dewey number 812 actually refers to American drama and Wordsworth should probably be in the 811 section, so I think there was an error made by the cataloger. W92 is the Cutter number for Wordsworth. And finally, SO refers to the first 2 letters of the title of the book.

The number 21101 is the accession number for that particular library. It was the 21,101st book added to the collection. Many libraries don't do that anymore, but it was common for a library to always add the accession number to the same page number in every book they acquired (always on page 13 for instance).

As to why there are no distinguishing marks as to which library owned this book--it may be Holmes' copy and he may have been a closet librarian or another thought is that all of the ownership marks were on the missing slipcase. Philips Academy in Andover MA is the home of the Oliver Wendell Holmes Library, where he once went to school. I don't know if they have a collection of his but it may be a place to start looking, as well as Harvard Law's digital library.

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sleuthing Out a Notable Early Owner for a Wordsworth Limited Edition

A weekend trip back home to Salem regularly includes a visit to the Antiques Gallery at Pickering Wharf. One of the dealers there has a large selection of collectible and antiquarian books, most are decently priced and occasionally there’s some interesting turn-over in the stock as well. This week’s book was a bargain find from this store.

The book is a craft-printed, limited edition publication of seventy-five Sonnets by the English Romantic poet William Wordsworth (1770-1850). It was published in 1910 by Houghton Mifflin and printed by its Riverside Press division in Cambridge, MA in a limited run of 440 copies (Houghton Mifflin came into being in 1880 when the famed publishing firm of Ticknor and Fields merged with The Riverside Press). My copy is number 269. According to the Library of Congress, it was designed by artisan Bruce Rogers (the LC holds copy number 428, which had once belonged to Rogers). It was originally published in a protective slipcase but my copy no longer has the box. The Publisher’s Weekly Vol. 78 (Dec. 10, 1910; p. 2335) indicates that the book originally retailed for $5, or about $120 in modern USD -- quite a hefty sum for one book (PW also, however, erroneously lists the print-run as only 400 copies). Its value today is between $50 and $100, depending on condition.

It is bound in boards covered over with a thin vellum. The spine is a dark striped cloth with a decorative paper label for the title pasted on. The pages are very roughly cut (it was sold with the pages uncut), measuring approximately 16cm x 21cm, and are made of a rich, heavy woven stock bearing the watermark: PM / FABRIANO / ITALY. (Fabriano is a town in Ancona province in central Italy, on the eastern slope of the Apennine ridge; since the 1200s it has thrived as the pioneering paper-making center of Europe and was actually, in 1276, the birthplace of paper watermarking.) I haven’t been able to identify “PM”, but I’ve found descriptions of the mark in a book from 1930 and a print from 1932.

There are no signatures and there is no pagination, though each sonnet appears on its own separately numbered leaf (recto). The collational formula may be expressed as 8o: [A8]-[J8] [K4] [π]. The final blank flyleaf is a different paper, bearing 3.5cm chain-lines and part of a different watermark (not discernible); it is conjugate with the rear pastedown. The contents run as follows: two blanks; title page; two leaves (recto and verso) of “Table of First Lines”; inner title for section “Nature”; poems 1-24; inner title for section “Man”; poems 25-48; inner title for section “The Poet”; poems 49-75. Some of the poems within each section form short sequences of their own and these are often given a heading title on the first poem of the sequence along with Roman numerals for each poem in the sequence.

The copy is in average condition. As noted above, the slipcase is missing; the spine has suffered some chipping cracking. The initial flyleaf is discolored slightly from a reader’s insertion (more below). Whomever cut the pages did an odd job of it: at least one page has its upper outside corner clipped and three pages have been cropped quite severely (never resulting in the loss of text, though). I suspect that whomever it was that cut the pages open (probably the first owner) accidentally tore those pages when he or she was cutting them open and so, to clean up the tear, they trimmed the page off to the depth of the whole rip. A smudged (inky?) fingerprint appears on the title page.

Some early owner has written on the leaf bearing poem 51, using a watery brown ink (fountain pen, most likely) and very blocky handwriting. In the upper outside corner is written “Ref. / 812 / W92 / So.” and in the lower outside corner, “21101”. This seems like a library call number, but it does not belong to any catalog system I’m aware of (and why Wordsworth would be grouped with “Reference” rather than into poetry is unclear to me). There’s no other evidence of library provenance, but I suspect that my copy is indeed ex libris (which would explain the absence of the slipcase as well).

An early reader (or perhaps two) has also extended the collection of poetry to include five more verses. Inserted between the end of the Table of First Lines and the inner title “Nature” there is a leaf torn out of Arthur Quiller-Couch’s 1919 edition of The Oxford Book of English Verse, 1250-1900. The leaf (pages 599/600) is from the Wordsworth section and offers up four more poems by the writer: “Evening on Calais Beach”, “On the Extinction of the Venetian Republic, 1802”, “England, 1802: i”, and “England, 1802: ii” (poems 521-524 in Quiller-Couch’s collection). This is printed on the usual cheap anthology paper and looks as if it has been folded in half at one point.

The fifth added poem is pasted inside the front cover of the book. It is the late nineteenth century poem “The Chambered Nautilus”, by famed Massachusetts jurist, poet, essayist, physician, and mustache Oliver Wendell Holmes (1841-1935), who served on the United States Supreme Court from 1902 to 1932. The poem meditates on the deeper meaning of a simple, everyday object, taking the nautilus as a symbol for the intellectual development of man and the fact that, as we mature, we outgrow our protective shells. The paper on which the poem is printed seems to be a cheap newsprint (a decorative border is just visible around the poem itself, but nothing seems to show through from the other side); the acid leeching from this to the recto of the facing flyleaf is the cause of the discoloration on that page.

Including Holmes’s poem in a collection of Wordsworth’s flights of fancy might seem odd. I can’t say for certain why an early reader would think to associate these two radically different poets, but I do have a (completely speculative) theory. Some of the books being sold by the dealer at the Antiques Gallery at Pickering Wharf bear a telling bookplate inside their front covers: the chambered nautilus icon used by Oliver Wendell Holmes to mark his own books (the Latin phrase, “per ampliora ad altiora” means “through breadth to depth”).

Perhaps this unique collection of Wordsworth’s poems came, also, from Holmes’s library (during his tenure, it should be noted, on the Supreme Court) -- perhaps the awkward cutting job of the pages was his, perhaps also his is the smudgy fingerprint on the title page. And perhaps the decision to paste his own “Nautilus” poem inside the cover, in the place customarily occupied by a bookplate, was his as well.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Beautiful. But Worthless.

A professor of mine who specializes in the history of the book once mentioned an important tip for book collecting: if a book is sold by its publisher as a “collectible”, it usually isn’t. Sure, these volumes may be beautifully executed, gorgeous folios with craft paper, rich cloth bindings, and exquisite accompanying illustrated plates... but they’re not really worth anything as collector’s items.

This week’s book falls into this category. This is an edition of the classic Old English epic Beowulf, translated into verse by University of Wisconsin poet and literary scholar William Ellery Leonard (1876-1944) and illustrated with sixteen lithographic blue and brown ink by Lynd Ward (1905-1985), on whom I’ve written previously. Leonard’s text of the poem had been previously published in a neat little octavo by Century Company of New York in 1923. My copy was published by the Heritage Press in 1939; for the edition, John Fass took charge of designing the text and layout.

While there are some dealers selling Heritage Press books for high prices online, don’t be fooled by their over-zealous estimations (even if the book still has its dust-jacket and slipcase box). As Craig Stark points out in his excellent primer on buying and selling books from the Heritage Press, the series was purposefully designed by its founder, George Macy, to manufacture high quality editions in such high numbers to make them affordable to anyone. The result, of course, is that they are essentially worthless (monetarily speaking) on the market.

My copy does not have the jacket or slipcase, but it is in excellent condition, with no markings inside or out (many boxed books suffer from a faded “back strip” where the exposed part of the spine discolors from light; mine does not have such a strip, suggesting it lost its box early in its life); it is worth probably $10-$15.

The binding is a rough binder’s linen cloth of off-white speckled with brown flecks over heavy boards. A rich blue foil label with a stamped gilded title is on the front board and spine. The pages measure 19cm x 26.5cm and are of a heavy rag stock from the Collins Paper Company; there are no watermarks. The pagination runs [i]-ix from the title to the end of Leonard’s introductory note (a half-title, with an illustration on the verso, precedes the title page) and 1-120 in the text of the poem itself. The type is a 12-point Garamond cut by the Mergenthaler Linotype Company in 1917.

The epic is broken into forty-three sections, each of which begins with Leonard’s commentary notes (which had appeared as “jolly and encouraging” [to use the publisher’s terms] annotations in his 1923 edition) and ends with a black and white illustration by Ward. At the end there is a fragment from the lost ballad “The Fight at Finnsburg”. The verse lines are set with a gap in the middle of each line, typographically marking the caesura in the meter of each line. Ostensibly this was done to make it easier to read aloud (in his introduction, Leonard, who takes the poem’s music as the heart of the epic, suggests that readers chant the work out loud).

In the back of my book, the original owner has inserted a copy of “Sandglass” (Number 5K), the monthly newsletter publication of the Heritage Club. This issue relates to the Beowulf edition and offers a summary of the poem’s highlights, bibliographic notes, biographies of Leonard and Ward, and some intriguing notes on the book’s printing.

For example, on the selection of Mergenthaler Garamond for the font: “[T]he type has a smooth quality of French elegance; and when printed in a mass, the type has a rich black color which is necessary in order that it may properly harmonize with the drawings made by Lynd Ward.”

About Ward’s art, the newsletter states: “We believe that he has admirably caught the fine masculine sweep of the figures of Beowulf and his fellows, he has poured into the backgrounds of the pictures the frighteningly icy weather in which Beowulf and his fellows disported themselves; he has caught some of the antique charm of the poem and all of the rich narrative power.”

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Before Fodor's There Was Reverend Isaac Taylor...

On Friday I overheard some undergraduate students discussing the 2016 Olympics contention. One pointed out that Tokyo should be eliminated from the competition because “Beijing held an Olympics already, so Japan has had its chance.”

In that student’s honor, this week’s book is the second American edition of the Reverend Isaac Taylor’s Scenes in Asia: for the amusement and instruction of little tarry-at-home travellers. As the title implies, the book was meant for young students to read in order to gain an understanding (though a misleading one, on which more below, but see the photograph to the left for an example) of foreign cultures without leaving the comfort of their home.

My copy was published in 1830 by the celebrated Hartford, Connecticut publisher of Americana, history, biography, and law, Silas Andrus; it was printed in stereotype by John Conner of New York City. Taylor’s popular book, which was part of the series Books for Young People, was first published in 1819 by John Harris and Son of London; subsequent editions followed quickly from Harris in 1821, 1822, 1826, 1827, and 1829. Andrus’s first American edition appeared in 1826. Later American editions were published by Erastus Pease of Albany in 1843 and 1850. Despite this extensive print run, extant copies of these early editions are valued quite high on the market; interestingly, I can find no copies of the 1830 Andrus currently for sale.

The book is bound in pressed, bluish boards with a leather spine; gilt lettering and lines once decorated the spine, but my copy is so cracked and split that they are difficult now to discern. The paper is a soft, fairly cheap linen stock with mesh-lines but no watermarks; each page measures more or less 9cm x 14.5cm. Conner’s printing was workmanlike, but there is some evidence of complications during the stereotyping process. The book was printed in octavo; I’ll skip the collational formula, which is generally sound, though in some places short gatherings hint at problems with certain sheets. The pagination runs [i]-vi [1]-124. Within each chapter there are numbered sections about aspects of that nation or region's culture; the numbers refer to illustrations found on some of the facing pages. Because the book was printed by stereotype, the illustrative plates are conveniently integral to the gatherings in which they appear and did not have to be tipped in or inserted after printing. As noted, the condition is rather rough: the boards are scuffed and corners deeply bumped, pages are somewhat loose from the cracked binding and often water-stained, the leather spine is severely chipped, and some leaves are torn (some moderately and some, particularly engravings and the initial map, almost entirely gone).

There are no marginalia or reader’s marks in the copy, but the recto of the flyleaf does have a gift inscription written in watery copper ink and a nineteenth-century hand:

William W Burnham

Presented to his cousin

Hubert North

I’ve been unable to located Burnham with any confidence, though in the 1868 Manual of the corporation of the city of New York there is a “William W. Burnham” listed as clerk to the Collector of City Revenues. Working from the fact that Andrus was located in Hartford (though my copy may have retailed and subsequently traveled anywhere), I tried to find a contemporary Connecticuter with the name of Hubert North. The only man of this name I can find lived in New Britain, Connecticut in the 1870s and was the “Son” in the wire, ring, clasp, and hook-manufacturing firm “Alvin North & Son”, located at the corner of East Main and Stanley Streets since 1812. I have no idea if this is the man who owned my copy, but it is not impossible. For reasons I cannot fathom (accident? page-marker?) an old, bent steel nail has been pressed into the gutter of the final opening, between the last page of content and the rear pastedown.

The book begins with a fold-out map of Asia (unfortunately mostly torn out in my copy), on which a line traces the route the book takes through various countries. A doggerel verse at the start introduces the reader to the book’s objective. The narrator then moves from region to region and country to country, covering a region encompassing the Middle East, Turkey, China, Japan, India, and Indonesia, giving a subjective, often grossly inaccurate account of local customs, peoples, and sites, as well as citing stories from ancient history. All is written in a simple, sometimes amusing style. Interspersed throughout the book are illustrative plates (drawn from imagination, not from life), engraved by Taylor himself and occasionally short summative poems that put the chapters’ main points into memorizable verse.

The book ends with a concluding verse mocking and decrying the “pagan” religions of the people of Asia and thanking God for Britain, Jesus, and the Bible. Taylor was, after all, a reverend as well as a writer and engraver, so it should come as no surprise that the bulk of his book is concerned with (ill-)reporting Asian religions and rituals and making local traditions sound as gruesome, barbaric, and crude as he possibly can. (Google Books has scanned the full text of the 1826 fourth edition; the contents are largely the same as that in my 1830 copy and giving them a quick scan will give you a good idea of what I mean.)

The life of Isaac Taylor has been adequately detailed by his descendant, Robin Taylor Gilbert, in the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography:

Isaac Taylor (1759–1829), engraver and educationist, was born in London on 30 January 1759, the second son of Isaac Taylor (1730–1807), engraver, and his wife, Sarah Hackshaw, née Jefferys (1733–1809). He spent his early years at Shenfield, Essex, and was first educated locally, probably at Sir Anthony Browne's School in Brentwood, before briefly attending a school in the City of London. Like his brother Charles Taylor (1756–1823) he was apprenticed to his father as an engraver and may later have become a pupil of Francesco Bartolozzi.

One of Taylor's first commissions was to oversee the preparation of the plates for Abraham Rees's revised edition of the Cyclopaedia of Ephraim Chambers. This work and Taylor's many discussions with Rees were, by his own account, what first filled him with a thirst for knowledge. In 1777 and in 1780 he exhibited landscapes and drawings at the Incorporated Society of Artists, of which his father was secretary. From an early age Taylor became a committed member of the Fetter Lane Independent congregation in London and was prevented from seeking ordination as a young man only by severe illness. Throughout his life he rose early and spent the first hour of every day, and usually the last also, in prayer.

On 18 April 1781 Taylor married Ann Martin (1757–1830); three sons and three daughters of the marriage survived to adulthood. The couple first set up house in Islington. Taylor's capital was £30, supplemented by Ann's dowry from her grandfather of £100 and his own income of half a guinea a week for three days' work for his brother Charles, together with whatever he could earn for himself in the other three days.

Taylor used Ann's dowry to commission Robert Smirke to produce four circular paintings representing morning, noon, evening, and night, which he then engraved and sold. Between 1783 and 1787 he was engaged with his brothers and with several painters, including Smirke, in an enterprise to produce illustrations to Shakespeare's plays, The Picturesque Beauties of Shakespeare (1783–7). The success of this enterprise prefigured the later, larger project of John Boydell, in which Taylor was a leading participant (he received 500 guineas for an engraving of Henry VIII's First Sight of Anne Boleyn, 1802, after Thomas Stothard). It certainly drew Taylor to the attention of Boydell and won him the lucrative commission (250 guineas) to engrave The Assassination of Rizzio by John Opie; this work was awarded the gold palette of the Society of Arts for the best engraving of the year in 1790.

Taylor's success as an engraver lay in his great technical skill combined with a flair for design, qualities which he also demonstrated as a painter of portraits and landscapes. One of his finest achievements was Specimens of Gothic Ornament (1796), a series of engravings illustrating architectural details of the parish church of St Peter and St Paul in Lavenham, Suffolk. Later in his career he engraved the illustrations for Josiah Boydell's Illustrations of Holy Writ (1813–15), the designs for which were accounted the finest artistic work of his son Isaac Taylor (1787–1865). Thereafter his published engraving was confined to illustrations of books by members of the family.

In 1783 the Taylors moved to Holborn but the annual rent of £20 was high and the environment injurious to the health of a growing family, almost all of whom were prone to illness. In 1786 Taylor made the decision to move to the country and, after characteristically diligent enquiry about prices and amenities, rented for £6 per annum a large house, Cooke's House, in Shilling Street, Lavenham, Suffolk. There his two eldest children, Ann and Jane, and his business, flourished.

Taylor's sketchbooks from his time in Lavenham contain many fine drawings and watercolour portraits of family members and of local acquaintances. The garden at Lavenham also provided the setting for his best-known portrait in oils (1792; NPG), that of his daughters Ann Gilbert (1782–1866) and Jane Taylor (1783–1824). In 1792, however, the Taylors' landlord gave them notice to quit and Taylor bought, for £250, the house next door, which was then in a ruinous condition. Its renovation (interrupted by Taylor's contracting typhoid, which nearly killed him) cost a further £250, but his careful and imaginative planning transformed house and garden from dereliction to delight.

Taylor had become a deacon of the Independent congregation in Lavenham and was closely involved in the founding of a Sunday school there. In 1794 he might have become minister, had the congregation not shrunk from the appointment of one of its own number. In late 1795 Taylor, who was gaining a reputation as a preacher, was invited to become minister of the Bucklersbury Lane Independent congregation in Colchester. In January 1796, having accepted the call, Taylor and his family moved to Colchester, where they rented a house in Angel Lane (now West Stockwell Street). On 21 April 1796 Isaac Taylor was ordained.

The move to Colchester coincided with a period of high inflation and the collapse of the art market in the wake of the war with France. Taylor suffered ‘a grievous reverse of fortune’ (Autobiography, ed. Gilbert, 1.100) and was reduced to engraving dog collars. Taylor wanted his daughters to be able to earn their own living; as soon as they were old enough all the children were employed to assist in the engraving business. The boys, Isaac (1787–1865), Martin (1788–1867), and Jefferys Taylor (1792–1853), were formally apprenticed, but his daughters, who were both to become published writers, were tolerated, rather than encouraged, in their literary vocation.

In Lavenham, Taylor's successive workrooms had doubled as schoolrooms for his own children and later for those of neighbours too, Taylor giving instruction from his engraving stool as he worked. This practice continued in Colchester, providing a welcome supplementary source of income. Taylor's object was ‘to give them a taste for every branch of knowledge that [could] well be made the subject of early instruction’ (Family Pen, 126) and he believed that ‘a principal object of education [is] to prevent the formation of a narrow and exclusive taste for particular pursuits, by exciting very early a lively interest in subjects of every kind’ (ibid., 113). His teaching methods were original and he made much use of carefully drawn visual aids, in the preparation of which his older children assisted. In late 1798 he began a series of monthly lectures for young people, delivered free of charge in the parlour of his own house; these proved extremely popular and the programme continued for several years.

Later in life Taylor wrote, and illustrated with engravings, a large number of very successful educational books, including the Scenes series (‘for the Amusement and Instruction of Little Tarry-at-Home Travellers’), and two volumes, The Mine (1829) and The Ship (1830), for the popular Little Library series published by John Harris. He also produced a number of books for the young, of a religious and improving nature, including The Child's Birthday (1811), possibly originally written for his youngest child, Jemima (1798–1886), Advice to the Teens (1818)—the first recorded use of the word to denote young people—and Bunyan Explained to a Child (2 vols., 1824–5). The preface to this last book is revealing of Taylor's approach to education and to religion, warning parents against expecting their children to read ‘all the many hours a wet Sabbath presents’, lest they ‘make that day hated, which ought to be loved’ (p. iv).

In June 1810 Taylor, exasperated by the apparently ineradicable antinomian tendencies of many in his congregation, announced his resignation from his pastorate in Colchester. A year later he accepted a call from the congregation at Ongar, where he remained for the rest of his life, rejuvenating and expanding the congregation, stimulating the intellectual life of the small town, and earning the respect even of the Anglican clergy. He instituted weekly lectures and prayer meetings, restarted the Sunday school, and played a leading part in a thriving book society—the while continuing to exercise his profession as an engraver and producing more than twenty books. He rented, first, Castle House and then New House Farm, just outside the town, and finally, in 1822, he bought a house at what is now 10 Castle Street.

Taylor, who had a stocky frame and an appearance usually of rude health, was described as ‘a genial portly figure … his cheek ruddy with apple tints’ (Autobiography, ed. Gilbert, 2.94). However, his life was punctuated by serious illnesses, including a three-year period in his late fifties, during which he almost succumbed to successive bouts of rheumatic fever. For almost a decade thereafter he maintained a pace of life that eventually proved too much for his constitution. On 12 December 1829, after a short illness, he died at his home. He was buried on the 19th in the Independent chapel's burial-ground; his grave now lies under the vestry floor of the United Reformed church, beside those of his wife and of his daughter Jane.