Wednesday, March 31, 2010

An Award-Winning Book Collection

I'm proud to announce that my collection has been awarded the University of Massachusetts's Book Collection Prize. Tarquin Tar's Bookcase is now officially an award-winning collection!

Thanks to all of my readers -- regular and occasional -- who've allowed me to periodically regale them with all of the trivial and triumphant tidbits from my collection.

[Image is an origami trophy made by artist Nick Robinson using pages from the 2006 catalog of the British Book of the Year awards ceremony.]

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Attribution of an Anonymous 1903 Book and More Unscrupulous Dealers' Shenanigans

Modern books by anonymous authors typically don’t remain anonymous very long. But occasionally a twentieth or twenty-first century volume crops up that still compels dealers and scholars alike to scratch their heads, shrug their shoulders, and take a best-guess approach. And in some cases -- as in this week’s book -- it seems that some dealers take advantage of a book’s anonymous authorship in an attempt to foist a famous (and hence expensive) author’s name onto the volume.

This week’s book is the anonymous The Literary Guillotine, a satiric critique of fashionable (and not-so-fashionable) literary styles, writers, and books of the turn-of-the-century. Written in the style of a series of criminal trials held “before the Literary Emergency Court holden in and for the District of North America”, the principle characters of the book are Mark Twain and Oliver Herford (both sitting as judge of the court) and Charles Battell Loomis (for the prosecution). One dealer (Sumner & Stillman) provides the following amusing reference from the book:

One is a case brought by Henry James against Mary Baker Eddy, claiming infringement of patent because her new book seems to bear his level of obscurity. In finding for the defendant Eddy, Mark Twain and the other two judges note, “The testimony does not show an infringement of patent on the defendant's part. On the contrary, an examination of the works of the defendant shows clearly that her obscurity is of her own invention, beyond the mental capacity of mere man. In reading the complainant's [James's] later writings, one cannot, it is true, by any effort of the mind understand the separate patent obscure sentences; but at the end one has a fairly foggy idea of the lack of progression of the story.”

The book was published in London and New York by John Lane, of the London-based Bodley Head, in October 1903; it had first appeared, however, in 1902 in the magazine The Reader, published by The Reader Publishing Company. No editions subsequent to that of 1903 were published. The appearance of the 1902 serial publication date on the copyright page has confused some dealers, leading them to think that their copy of the 1903 edition is actually a second edition. However, the phrasing used to identify the publication date is consistent with that known to be used by the Bodley Head to indicate its true firsts at the time. The book was printed by the important Boston, MA firm The Heintzemann Press -- described in the New York Times (25 May 1901) as a distinctive, even revolutionary, printer of “strength and...distinction”. It is an intriguing book, though by no means extraordinarily rare;

Heintzemann printed the book in duodecimo format. It was issued with uncut pages but all in my copy have been cut by a previous owner. The pages measure 12cm x 18cm and are of a firm (though now slightly aged) stock with vertical 2.25cm chain-lines (no watermark); pages facing red ink have picked up faint leaching-over of the color. The running-titles include a somewhat fancy decorative border. The pagination runs as follows: [i-ii], decorative flyleaf; [iii], half-title; [iv], blurb; [v], illustrated title page; [vi], copyright page; vii-x, table of contents; [ix], blank; [x], abstract of first “case”; 1-262, text proper (in nine chapters); [263], “advance opinions” of the book; [264-265] publisher’s advertisements for “Books on Modern Criticism” (see end of post); [266-267], blank; [268] decorative flyleaf.

The title page illustration shows various writers’ names (in red) floating around the silhouette of a guillotine scene (in black), almost as if the names were spurting out of the device like blood; the same illustration appears on the cover. The pastedowns and outer pages of the flyleaves bears a decorative pattern of book titles in black ink and authors’ names in red ink (see top of post). The binding is made of gray papered boards bearing the illustration in black ink and the title in white (see below); the spine is black buckram with a paper title label. The top-edge of the pages are red. The corners are a bit bumped, but it is otherwise in fine condition. I can find no evidence that it was issued with a dust-jacket.

The nature of the book’s contents has made its anonymity problematic for dealers and scholars. Many of the writers who appear in the book have at times been put forward as a candidate for the book’s authorship (sometimes even those writers being mocked in the book!), including Booth Tarkington and Winston Churchill. Dealers particularly like to attribute it to Herford, Loomis, or, of course, Twain (Samuel Clemens), though these seem unlikely (the cause of the confusion may be the awkward art design in the corner of the cover and title page: beneath the cryptic “By ?” float the names of Twain, Herford, and Loomis [see below]). Occasionally it is wrongly attributed to the publisher, John Lane -- a common error with listings of anonymous books. All of these misattributions are the result of either radically sloppy research or attempts at outright deception.

The author of the book was undoubtedly poet, dramatist, and novelist William Wallace Whitelock (1869-1940). Most dealers online base this claim on a 23 December 1924 letter sent to photographer Irving Underhill (1872-1960) by Twain scholar and bibliographer Merle Johnson (published in the summer 1951 issue of the newsletter Twainian). In the letter, Johnson alludes to the fact that Twain was aware of (and unperturbed by) Whitelock’s use of him in the book. This is the only piece of contemporary external evidence about the book’s authorship that most dealers seem to cite, though I’ve come across at least two more abundantly obvious references that considerably predate Johnson’s letter. The following appears in the entry for J. B. Lippincott Company in the 14 September 1907 issue (No. 1859) of The Publisher’s Weekly:

They have also just ready “When Kings Go Forth to Battle,” a new novel by William Wallace Whitelock, whose “Literary Guillotine,” published several years ago, aroused considerable favorable criticism. (p. 604)

Even more baldly obvious, however, is the title page of Whitelock’s Foregone Verses, published in 1907 by Richard Badger of Boston; beneath the author’s name it plainly states “Author of ‘The Literary Guillotine,’ ‘When the Heart is Young,’ etc.” Despite the wishful thinking of some profit-mongering dealers, it seems incontrovertible that Whitelock was, indeed, the author of The Literary Guillotine.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

I'm a millionaire! (If I lived in 1923...)

A couple of weeks ago, while my mother was out visiting the Pioneer Valley, we wandered into a local bookstore and picked up a nice copy of the first full-English translation of Robert Burton’s essential early modern pseudo-psychology treatise, The Anatomy of Melancholy (ed. Floyd Dell and Paul Jordan-Smith; New York: Tudor Publishing Company, 1938). I was intrigued by the book for academic reasons, but also because of a fascinating insert I noted as I flipped through it in the store.

When we got back home and started browsing through the book, we found several more of these peculiar inserts, apparently serving as bookmarks that had been long forgotten by some previous owner of the book (perhaps “Gladys L. Wheeler”, whose bookplate is inside the front cover; see below). Altogether, there were twelve colorful, well-preserved German bank notes in the book, spanning a period from 1908 through 1923. These important pieces of paper currency chronicle an extremely tumultuous and formative fifteen-year period in the history of the German nation, covering the transition from the imperial government (1874-1918) to the Weimar Republic (1918-1933) and the years before, during, and after World War I.

In chronological order, the Reichsbanknotes we found were the following:

100 marks: serial number 3684867H; Berlin, 7 February 1908 (10cm x 16cm)

100 marks: serial number G0220597; Berlin, 21 April 1910 (10cm x 20.5cm); two of these

1,000 marks: serial number 3256531K; Berlin, 21 April 1910 (11cm x 18.5cm)

50 marks: serial number 437438; Berlin, 24 June 1919 (10.25cm x 15.25cm)

10,000 marks: serial number U01369332; Berlin, 19 January 1922 (10cm x 18cm)

500 marks: serial number S8694405; Berlin, 7 July 1922 (9cm x 17.5cm)

50,000 marks: serial number 18N619250; Berlin, 19 November 1922 (11cm x 19cm)

5,000 marks: serial number K480537; Berlin, 2 December 1922 (9cm x 13cm)

20,000 marks: serial number 788021; Berlin, 20 February 1923 (9.5cm x 16cm)

2,000,000 marks: serial number 082710; Berlin, 23 July 1923 (8.75cm x 16.25cm)

In addition, there was a Darlehnskassenscheine note:

20 marks: serial number R7518630; Berlin, 20 February 1918 (9cm x 14cm)

Both bills measured their value in reichsmarks (or simply “marks”), though slightly differently. The reichsbanknotes were issued by the central government (first the Imperial Treasury and then, in the Weimar period, the state bank) and carried their value first with gold-backing and then (after Germany left the gold standard) with a pledge of the full faith and backing of the state.The darlehnskassenscheine notes were issued by the state loan offices (only between 1914 and 1918) and were covered by industrial and agricultural goods, rather than bullion; they were, in effect, liquid “cash” borrowed against the material collateral of the nation and useful for paying the immediate costs of the war. Those of you who are really interested in the dirty details of early twentieth-century German monetary policy can find additional information in chapter eight of Elisha Friedman’s International Finance and Its Reorganization (published in 1922, Friedman’s book provides a contemporary, rather than historical, account of Germany’s fiscal woes).

I’m not a numismatist, so my research on these bills has been fairly haphazard. The years prior to the outbreak of World War I saw German monetary policy and value relatively stable; however, with the outbreak of the war, the government soon abandoned the gold standard for its currency and quickly began producing paper bills to meet its extraordinary wartime costs. The result was massive, crippling inflation and the disappearance altogether of coins from the German currency system in the 1910s and 1920s. At the end of 1923, the newly-appointed National Currency Commissioner Horace Schacht instituted a reform program that replaced the worthless reichsmark with the new rentenmark (the value of 1 rentenmark was set at 1 trillion reichsmarks)

Not only were many of these bills worthless then, but even today there are so many out on the market that, as collector’s items, they are generally inexpensive. Rather than think of them as collectible investments, then, I prefer to admire their exquisite art-deco and early twentieth century artwork, the craftsmanship of the printing and paper design (some terrific watermarks [above and right], vibrant inks, and anti-counterfeiting colored threads), the elaborate and almost dynamic teutonic fonts, and, of course, their unique and ultimately unrecoverable relationship to my 1938 edition of The Anatomy of Melancholy.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss

The birthday anniversary of Springfield, MA native Theodor Seuss Geisel -- better known as Dr. Seuss -- was this past week, on March 2. The importance of Dr. Seuss (1904-1991; left) needs little explanation from me: his early career work drawing advertisements for companies, animated training cartoons for the military, and political cartoons for newspapers and magazines during World War II gave way to some of the most influential children’s books of the twentieth century. Though his first children’s illustrations appeared in the (relatively unsuccessful) collection of children’s sayings titled Boners, his first book that he both wrote and illustrated was And to Think that I Saw It on Mulberry Street (1937). But his break-out success was undoubtedly The Cat in the Hat (1957), a book proposed by his publisher, Houghton Mifflin, as part of a challenge to create a children’s primer that used a set list of 225 key early-reader vocabulary words.

Over the course of his prolific career, Dr. Seuss wrote and illustrated 44 children’s books which sold over 200 million copies in more than 15 languages. His books were adapted into eleven television specials, a Broadway musical, and a feature film, netting him two Academy awards, two Emmys, a Peabody, and the Pulitzer.

This week’s book is an early printing of Dr. Seuss’s fifth children’s book, Horton Hatches the Egg, published by Random House (New York) and Random House of Canada (Toronto) 1940; though not a true first, this is apparently a late printing of the first edition (which appeared in 1940). Judging from descriptions of the boards on the first book club edition, I’m fairly certain that this is not from that printing; it may be a specifically Canadian edition (accounting for the Toronto information on the title page imprint), but in the copyright information of the true first the Canadian distributor is listed as Macmillan. As for the muted binding (see below), which seems so incongruous on a children’s book, it may suggest a budget reprint. Some dealers do describe the rather dull binding of this copy, but many of the first editions of Horton Hatches the Egg are also described in rather colorful bindings, with art on the cover. has a thorough page dedicated to identifying and valuing first edition Dr. Seuss books (a pricey published guide is also available for the truly-dedicated Seuss collector); according to their information, true firsts of this book include the phrase “First Printing” in the copyright information (along with the printer’s name: Duenewald Printing Corporation) and “are extremely difficult to find.” With its dust-jacket and in very good or excellent condition, a true first of Horton Hatches the Egg is valued at between $4,400 and $7,400. My copy is being sold by online dealers for between $12 and $30 -- about 0.2% of the value of an ideal copy.

Dealers online list the book as octavo format, but it may be more accurately described as octavo in sixes (six leaves to a gathering); the pages are unnumbered but it runs to a total of 64 pages. The initial blank flyleaf is conjugate with the front pastedown; the second leaf is tipped-in and bears an abstract of the story on the recto (blank verso); this is followed by the title page. The ninth leaf is also tipped-in, pasted to the first leaf of the second gathering (leaf #10). The final two leaves are blank -- the first is the final leaf of the last gathering and the second is the final flyleaf, conjugate with the rear pastedown.

The pages measure 20.5cm x 25.5cm and are of a slightly acidic stock; this has caused some of the lithographed colors (black, red, and blue only) on some illustrations to leach across onto the facing pages in places. Unfortunately, the dust-jacket is missing; the book is bound in brown buckram cloth with black impressed titling on the front. The corners are only very slightly bumped; generally, it is in very good condition for such an old and popular children’s book. The only marking is a pencilled owner’s inscription (“Bart”) in a juvenile cursive hand on the front pastedown. Whoever young Bart was, he clearly took good care of his books.

In the lower inside corner of the pastedown there is a shiny green and silver store sticker for the Santa Fe Book and Stationery Company of Santa Fe, NM, listing the store’s phone number as “58”. This store was an offshoot of what had been Healy’s Stationery Store; in the early 1920s, the Healys allowed Roberta Robey to set up what was Santa Fe’s first bookstore in the corner of their stationery business -- when she opened her own place (Villagra Bookshop) in 1927, the Healys moved their business to the corner of Don Gaspar and San Francisco streets and expanded the operation to include books (“having been taught by Miss Robey,” according to Santa Fe memoirist and book-seller Spud Johnson, “that books, amazingly enough, were actually merchandise that at least a few people were willing to buy”). According to local historians Marta Weigle and Kyle Fiore in their Santa Fe and Taos: The Writer’s Era, 1916-1941, both Robey and the Healys prospered, though by the 1930s hers was the more successful venture. I can’t find any information about when the Santa Fe Book and Stationery Company closed, but they were evidently still in business in the 1940s, when Dr. Seuss’s book appeared.

The plot of Horton Hatches the Egg is likely well known by my readers and, if not, it is relatively easy to find synopses and passages online. It is possible to unearth a number of latent political messages in the story -- commentary, for example, on the gross absurdities of capitalism, the inequities of stereotyping judgments, the perils of anti-environmentalism, and the nature of evolution. Since the abstract at the front of my copy is somewhat bibliographically peculiar, and since it offers a neat contemporary summary of the story, I will quote it here:

When kindhearted Horton, the elephant, agreed to sit on Mayzie’s nest to keep her egg warm while she had a bit of vacation, he didn’t know what he was in for. And when an elephant sits up in a tree on a bird’s nest, why, that is news.

“Look!” they all shouted.

“Can such a thing be?

An elephant sitting on top of a tree...”

Poor Horton! He was an elephant of honor, and he had promised to stay. There he sat through winter storms. It gets pretty funny and pretty exciting when Horton gets to Palm Beach (the tree, nest, and all). When the egg hatches, that is a surprise you’ll not get over.

I’m not sure who wrote this awkwardly-worded abstract or for what purpose (it seems a bit like an advertisement), but my suspicion is that it is related to a book club promotion of some kind. If anyone out there has any more information about these kinds of abstracts at the start of children’s books from the period, I would be grateful for further information.

In 1942, “Merrie Melodies” -- a Warner Brothers animation series -- produced a roughly ten-minute animated version of Horton Hatches the Egg. Horton was so popular with readers that he returned in Horton Hears a Who (1954), which was made into a popular 2008 feature film with the voices of a range of comic talent, including Jim Carrey, Steve Carrell, Carol Burnett, Will Arnett, Seth Rogan, and Amy Poehler. Though Horton did not reappear in Dr. Seuss’s works after 1954, the Whos featured in his popular Christmas classic How the Grinch Stole Christmas (1957). Horton does appear, however, as the central character in the 2000 Broadway musical Seussical. The afterlife of Horton makes him -- following the Cat in the Hat and the Grinch -- probably one of the most widely recognized characters to come from the fertile creative imagination of Theodor Seuss Geisel.