Thursday, December 23, 2010

"In the Service of Kris Kringle"

An early posting this week, since Tarquin Tar is going to be on hiatus over the Christmas holiday. (And for those of you who keep track of such thing -- because, you know, I certainly don't -- this is, indeed, my 100th post.)

Charles Dickens’s most famed holiday tale is, of course, A Christmas Carol. But the yuletide season inspired the famed English author to produce other tales as well. This week’s book is a rather rare (again, not listed by WorldCat) American book edition of the Dickens short story, A Christmas Tree, published by Dodd, Mead & Company of New York in 1907 (note: the link provided at the title is to one of the London editions of 1907, not the Dodd, Mead edition).

The Christmas tree, so ubiquitous in holiday households today, was only introduced to English, and later American, homes in 1841. Originally a German tradition, it was brought across the channel by Queen Victoria’s German husband, Prince Albert.

Dickens’s story, first published in London in 1850, is one of the earliest English narratives to center on the icon. Publishers Weekly summarizes the story thus:

Perhaps best described as Dickens's "other" Christmas story, this is an elderly narrator's reminiscence of holidays past, each incident inspired by the gifts and toys that decorate the traditional tree. There is a range of appeal in the story itself, from snug memories of beloved toys to the passing along of eerie stories surrounding various childhood haunts.

The first American edition was published in a collection of Dickens’s short stories by T. B. Peterson of Philadelphia in 1864. In 1907, the artist George Alfred Williams painted a series of illustrations to accompany “A Christmas Tree” and another Dickens holiday story (“The Holly Tree Inn”) and there subsequently followed a small flood of new book editions of the story in England, Scotland, Canada, and the United States.

The Dodd, Mead & Company edition is not illustrated. It was released as Volume 8 in the publisher’s Little Prose Masterpieces series. There is no indication of the printer, but it was a beautifully done job, with richly inked type evenly pressed into thick, ivory craft paper (no watermark; 2.75cm vertical chain-lines). The top edge of the pages is gilded and a white satin marker ribbon is stitched into the binding (left by a previous owner at pp. 42/43). The binding is a smooth ivory paper over boards; an ornate gilded vine decoration is on the front and back cover. Over the front decoration, in red ink, is stamped the title; over the back decoration, in the same ink and font, is the name of the series. The spine also bears the title in red ink.

Red ink was used on the title-page and for the title and initial, decorative majuscule on the first page of the text (on a few other pages, a couple of drops of the same red ink splash into the margin, though never obscuring the text). The pages measure approximately 7.25cm x 14.5cm, but deckling makes the width measurement vary. Collationally it may be expressed as 24o: [#] [18] 28-46 [π]: $1; pagination runs [ii] [1]-[44]+6. The initial and final blank leafs are fly-leafs conjugate with their respective pastedowns.

What is perhaps most moving about my copy, however, is the singular, cryptic trace of provenance inscribed in cursive ink on the title-page -- the record of a mother’s long-ago Christmas gift to her son:

for our dear Paul

who gave himself to

the service of

Kris Kringle, this

yuletide - and made

our beautiful Christmas


May the Christmas spirit a-

bide with him for ever.

1907. “Mommy”

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Nineteenth-Century Book Furniture Put to Good Use

A full-day, three-part antiques auction at Kimball’s in North Amherst yesterday left us with some fine additions to our household, both furniture and some books and ephemera. Rather than pluck out one of the latter, however, this week’s post features one of the more interesting pieces of furniture from the auction. My wife generously got it for me as an early Christmas gift.

The object in question is a nineteenth-century book stand, standing 5’ 5” at its tallest and opening to 1’ 9” at its widest. Four curved cast iron legs on small metal wheels support a pipe that runs up to the book-supporting mechanism. Midway up the pipe is an ornate cast irony tray (5” x 11”) for holding extra books. Originally all of the cast iron had an anodized copper finish, but now only vestiges of it remain.

The book-supporting mechanism is a set of cast-iron springs and hinges connected to two wooden “wings” of quarter sawn oak, smoothed and finished, each measuring 8” x 13”. The wings can be adjusted to hold a book open to any angle, or fold closed all the way, and have a bevel along the bottom to keep the book from sliding off; by loosening two wing nuts, they can also be slid in or out to accommodate books of differing thicknesses (from 4” to 6”). Between the wings are two gently curved bands of metal to cradle the spine of the book. The entire book-supporting unit can be adjusted to any angle or rotated around the center pipe, and the center pipe itself can be adjusted for height.

The only marking on the object is an “E” stamped into the cross-bar that supports the two wings. According to others auction listings, similar book stands bear a stamp reading “Pat. Dec. 10. 1895” -- perhaps the lack of a similar stamp on mine is an indication that this was manufactured prior to the patent date (perhaps by a rival company?). The only companies that I can identify as manufacturing a similar product are the Aermotor Company of Chicago (founded in 1883 by LaVerne W. Noyes; Noyes made his start-up capital selling these stands and then, in 1888, used that money to start up the company, still in operation today, that became the only producer of windmills in the country -- the profiles of Aermotor windmills have become iconic emblems of American agriculture), but theirs has a distinctly different look than mine, as does the one made by George J. Flanagan and the Giffen & Giffen Company (also of Chicago -- and about whom I can find nothing online), which included a paper label with instructions and had wooden wheels and a less ornate storage shelf. Apparently the Cuyahoga Machine Company of Cleveland also made a version in 1880, but I can find no descriptions or pictures of it.

Mine is in good condition, but it looks like someone left a book with a soft cover (perhaps leather or cloth) pressed against the wings for too long because there’s some discoloration and residue on the wood. All of the adjustable pieces, however, still work, and the wheels roll smoothly. Aside from the residue, the wings are clean and fully intact.

I’m not sure what the intended market was for these when they first appeared. Obviously ministers wouldn’t need them; they’ve got rather nice pulpits from which to read their Bibles. I assume the target buyer was the at-home reader and collector of books, particularly someone who might need to have a large volume, like the Bible or a dictionary, at hand and always open for easy reference. They continued to be manufactured into the 1920s, and references to their use appear in print into the 1950s but then they largely vanish (one exception: a similar stand is the first purchase made by Rene Chun at the famed Brimfield Antiques Fair, as related in her article “Haul of Fame” in New York magazine [July 7, 1997. 37]). Nowadays, of course, who needs to always have a particular book out, open on a stand, and ready to consult? Isn't that what the Internet is for? What kind of person would use such a baroque contraption?

Mine sits in our living room -- next to Tarquin Tar’s Bookcase -- comfortably cradling our Oxford Universal Dictionary, which has been opened to a random page for leisurely, serendipitous browsing... “Insuetude” -- “the quality of not being in use”... perfect.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Follow-Up to the Dust-Jacket...

Our resident professional information sciences expert has drawn my attention to another (more plausible) explanation for why the title on the spine of my
Seven Famous One-Act Plays is inverted. She points out that the inversion probably had nothing to do with the Penguincubator -- as I guessed -- but is merely an artifact of publishing conventions in Europe.

She pointed out that two discussion boards online -- one at LibraryThing and one at MetaFilter -- have more information about this peculiarity. A quick scan of the European imprints in Tarquin Tar's Bookcase confirms this: nearly all run opposite their North American peers.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

A Dust-Jacket that Was Never Meant to Be

Two weeks ago my post was on the subject of the relationship between different, often seemingly contradictory, forms of information media. I’d like to pick up that thread again this week. This book was a gift to me from a professor who specializes in the history of the book; he uses a similar book in his classes to teach this concept of the persistence of material forms as media change, and when he gave it to me he suggested that I might find it useful to do the same.

The book is the first edition of Seven Famous One-Act Plays, published by Penguin Books at their then-new headquarters near Heathrow at Harmondsworth (Middlesex, England) in 1937. It retailed for six pence (about $1.70 in modern money) and was one of many titles that, beginning in 1935, Penguin sold through numerous outlets, including the unique Penguincubator vending machine (the spine title on the early Penguins is inverted from the customary direction -- running from bottom to top rather than top to bottom -- because it was designed to be loaded into the machine cover down so it would be dispensed cover up upon purchase; the inverted spine title allowed it to be read through the machine’s display glass).

It is, as the title indicates, a selection of brief plays ideal for reading and amateur production -- book number 117 in Penguin’s famous paperback series. Each of the plays includes a brief introductory “note” about it, its performance, and the playwright. The book itself begins with a longer introduction (pp. 11-14), likely written by J. A. Ferguson (whose play Campbell of Kilmohr is included) principally dedicated to explaining and defending the then-relatively new genre of the one-act play (essentially, the one-act play is not an incomplete or partial version of the conventional two-act play; rather, through an “extreme of verbal economy”, the one-act play is a complete and whole dramatic narrative of its own).

The seven plays included are (in order of appearance):

A Marriage Has Been Arranged, by Alfred Sutro; first produced at London’s Garrick Theatre on March 27, 1904 and published that year by Samuel French. pp. 15-31.

The Cloak: A Studio Play, by Clifford Bax; first produced by the Travelling Theatre of the Arts League of Service (undated) and apparently first published in this collection. pp. 33-49.

Two Gentlemen of Soho, by A. P. Herbert; first produced by William Armstrong at the Liverpool Playhouse on September 3, 1927 and first published in 1927 by Samuel French. pp. 51-77.

Campbell of Kilmohr, by J. A. Ferguson; first produced by Lewis Casson for the Scottish Repertory Theatre Company at Glasgow’s Royalty Theatre on March 23, 1914 and first published by Samuel French in 1915. pp. 53-100.

The Maker of Dreams, by Oliphant Down; first produced by the Scottish Repertory Theatre Company, directed by A. Wareing, at Glasgow’s Royalty Theatre on November 20, 1911 and apparently first published in this collection. pp. 101-123.

The Dear Departed, by Stanley Houghton; first produced by “Miss Horniman’s Company” at Manchester’s Gaiety Theatre on November 2, 1908 and first published in 1910 by Samuel French. pp. 125-147.

The Monkey’s Paw, by Louis N. Parker, adapted from the story by W. W. Jacobs; first produced at London’s Haymarket Theatre on October 6, 1902 and first published by Samuel French in 1910. pp. 149-180.

Following the plays, the book concludes with eight pages (unpaginated) of a “Complete list of all Penguin and Pelican Books to the end of 1937” (“NB: New books may have been added to the series since this book was printed. Ask your bookseller for the latest list.”) The list of Penguin Books, in which each title has a number, is organized by genre: fiction (orange covers), crime fiction (green covers), travel and adventure (cerise covers), and biography and memoirs (dark blue covers); the list concludes with a grouping of titles under the heading “November, 1937” (which includes Seven Famous One-Act Plays) and another under “January, 1938” (presumably forthcoming at the time this was published). These lists are repeated on the back cover of the book, but in numeric order.

In the advertising on the final pages, there is also a list of Pelican Books (numbered but with the letter “A” prefixed; in light blue covers), a “series of books on science, economics, history, sociology, archaeology, etc.”. The last page of the advertising is for “The Penguin Shakespeare”: “A sixpenny Shakespeare specially edited for Penguin Books by Dr. G. B. Harrison” (numbered with a “B” prefixed; only 12 published at that time). The advertising concludes with the welcoming comment, “If you have any suggestions to make for future books, please don’t hesitate to send them in.”]

Collationally, the book may be described as 16o: A16-F14: $1. The stock is flimsy and acidic (though it is in very good condition, with no foxing, tearing, or staining). It is a softcover, bound in paper. What makes this copy so peculiar is that, though it is a paperback, the book has a dust-jacket. Eventually dust-jackets on paperbacks vanished -- a product both of paper rationing during the war and the eventual realization that using paper to protect paper covers was pointless. But when Penguin first began popularizing these cheap, handy paperbacks, the idea of a book was that it had to have a dust-jacket: putting a jacket on a paperback -- especially during the strict paper-rationing during wartime -- is a testament to the durability of certain publishing conventions. Despite radical changes in the material form of the book and the increasing costs of paper, the old ways only gradually changed. New forms, after all, so often mimic the old forms simply because that is what is known and familiar: the first printed books looked like manuscripts, the first films resembled stage plays, and even the latest e-books are made to emulate the appearance of the printed page.

The oddity of a paperback bearing a dust-jacket is perhaps best captured by surveying dealers’ listings for this particular book: 16 dealers list carrying a “complete” copy of the 1937 Seven Famous One-Act Plays; only 6 mention the dust-jacket. And simply looking at a photograph of the book won’t indicate the presence or absence of the jacket, since the front cover, spine, and back cover were printed to look exactly like the dust-jacket itself. The new changes the old, but it can never absolutely replace it.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Rest in Peace, Henry Hubbell

This week’s book was part of a mixed “pick” lot I obtained at an ephemera auction back in October. The book is volume two of The Poetical Works of Mark Akenside. With The Life of the Author; it was published in Philadelphia, 1804, by Benjamin Johnson (31 High Street), Jacob Johnson (147 High Street), and Richard Johnson (2 North Third Street). It was printed by Benjamin.

Benjamin Johnson (1776-?), fifth of Anne Alexander and Abel Johnson’s fifteen children (possibly sixth: he and his brother Joseph were twins), was publishing and selling books in Philadelphia as early as 1792 and continued up until 1807. In 1795, his older brother Jacob entered the trade on his own, but, as this book shows, they often collaborated on certain projects (as early as 1802). I can find less information about “Robert Johnson”, though he seems to have still been active as a Philadelphia publisher in at least 1806 and collaborated with Benjamin and Jacob as early as 1805. I can find no immediate evidence that he was related to Benjamin and Jacob.

Akenside (1721-1770; right) was an English physician who found a second calling in the writing of both pastoral and didactic poetry as well as lyrical odes that never really pushed the boundaries or experimented, either metrically or thematically (Edmund Gosse described him as “a sort of frozen Keats”). His early outspoken dissenting political views and non-conformity in the way of religion (he was an Enlightenment era deist) attracted ridicule and scorn from many established writers in English society. But later in his life, his politics changed and he came to embrace the Tory perspective; this conversion earned him favor late in his career and he ended up as personal physician to Queen Charlotte, wife of King George III. He continued to write poetry throughout his life, however, and was still laboring at revising a new version of The Pleasures of Imagination when he died of fever at the age of 49.

The earliest collected edition of Akenside’s poetry was published in two volumes by the Martins at the Apollo Press, Edinburgh, in 1781. All subsequent collections of his poetry were derived from that Apollo edition. A London edition followed from J. Bell in 1782 and an “embellished” edition (that is, containing engravings) from C. Cooke of London in 1795. Further London editions from other publishers appeared in 1805, 1806, 1811, 1818, and throughout the remainder of the nineteenth century, into the early twentieth.

Rather bizarrely, the normally reliable WorldCat catalog reports the first American edition as the jointly published Little, Brown, and Company (Boston) and Evans & Dickerson (New York) of 1854. This is off by half a century. As far as I can tell, the Johnsons’ Philadelphia edition of 1804 is the first American edition of the book (though not the first appearance in America of Akenside’s poetry; according to the holdings of the American Antiquarian Society, his Pleasures of Imagination collection had been published in 1794 and 1795 and his Poems of Established Reputation in 1803). No dealers are currently selling a copy of the Philadelphia edition, so I’m not able to estimate its value. Even more bizarre is that no where can I find evidence that the Johnsons published an accompanying Volume I -- it is not listed on WorldCat, AAS, or Google Books.

The book is bound in tan cloth that has been finished to emulate the look and feel of leather. An elaborate raised decorative pattern is on the front and back boards: at the center, there is a bee hive surrounded by a garland of flowers (a reference, perhaps, to an image that Akenside uses in several of his poems) and surrounded again by laurels (a reference to poetry); atop this device sits the classical figure of the Caduceus (a reference to Akenside’s profession as a medical doctor). The gilded name “Akenside” appears on the spine. There is some chipping and bumping to the edges of the boards; the most egregious damage to the binding, however, is a large chip taken out of the lower portion of the spine (though this does not reduce the binding’s integrity).

The page edges are gilded and each page measures 9cm x 14cm; the paper is of a middling quality and some foxing can be found throughout. The endpapers at front and back are marbled. Collationally it may expressed as 12o: [#3] [*] A6-H6 [I6] K6-N6 [O6] Q63]: $1 & 2 [3]. In addition to the signature, the first page of each gathering includes “Vol. II.” in the lower inside corner; [I1] erroneously records “Vol. I.”, however. There are no catchwords and no errors in pagination or the running-titles (though the title given on p. 92, 180, and 186 expands the usual formula for the versos -- “Pleasures of” -- and gives “Pleasures of &c.”); “D2” is mis-signed as “L2”. Page numbers appear in the upper outside corner on all numbered pages, with the exceptions of 94, 95, and 98, on which the numbers are centered in square brackets at the top of the page.

The contents begin, after three blanks, with a heavily-foxed illustrated frontispiece (a stippled engraving by W. Haines -- a known Philadelphia engraver and artist whom Benjamin Johnson frequently employed -- illustrating a passage from Book I of The Pleasures of Imagination). Following this: the title-page; an anonymous essay on “The Design” of Pleasures ([3]-8) and the text of the original, 1744 version of Akenside’s long, philosophical poem The Pleasures of Imagination, including Book I (9-33); Book II ([35]-65); and Book III ([67]-92). The second half of the volume contains a revised, or “Enlarged”, version of the poem from later in Akenside’s life; the two texts juxtaposed -- the original and the revised -- makes it possible to see how Akenside’s ideas and language changed over time.

This half begins with a “General Argument” ([93]-95) and then proceeds with a version of Book I dated 1757 ([97]-127), a version of Book II that is undated ([129]-157), a version of Book III dated 1770, the year of Akenside’s death ([159]-180; the final page concludes with a line of asterisks after the text), and then “The Beginning of the Fourth Book”, also dated to the year of Akenside’s death in 1770 ([181]-186, also concluding with a line of asterisks). This is followed by a table of contents (which erroneously assigns the “General Argument” to page 97, while, at the same time, grouping it with the original version of the poem given in the first half of the volume) and Johnson’s simply, unadorned colophon. Throughout, each Book begins with a brief “argument” in prose; the first Book in the first half also begins with a Greek epigram from Epictetus. Line numbers are given every five lines (restarting in each book) and occasional footnotes provide assistance in explaining uncommon allusions (whether these are authorial or editorial is unclear).

Astute readers will note that the shift in pagination style, the modified running-title, and the errors in signatures appear only in the second half of the volume. I suspect that (at least) two different compositors in Johnson’s shop were responsible for assembling the book and the worker in charge of the second half was not fully in step with the worker in charge of the first half (it was not uncommon for printers to split up books into parts to be printed concurrently so that their production could move more quickly).

The title-page of my copy has been purposefully damaged: the “Vol. II.” designation has been carefully torn out. It was done sufficiently long ago that some acid damage from the frontispiece has leeched onto the recto of the leaf behind the title-page. I’m not sure why someone would deface the book like this, but I’m guessing it had something to do with an effort by an unscrupulous dealer to sell the book without revealing that it was part of a broken set. The only other indication that this is part two of two volumes is the “Vol. II.” component of the signatures, noted above. Without seeing that, I wouldn’t have noticed that it was incomplete (though it only contains one of Akenside’s poems); the copy on Google Books has an intact title-page that shows the missing text from my copy.

I’m particularly intrigued by the two bits of marginalia in the book. Both are written in a cursive hand with light pencil. On the recto of the second blank at the front is written:

Henry Hubbell’s Book,

He died June 11th 16yr.

This book given his 9th year to


The same hand has written -- very faintly, as if whispering -- vertically up the outer edge of the verso of the third blank at the back of the book:

“Henry suffered but his sufferings are over”

I haven’t had much luck tracking down these individuals, and I’m not even entirely certain about the “16yr.” part of my transcription; the pencil is very faded and the cursive isn’t entirely clear at that point.

Nonetheless, I find this sad, quiet tribute moving: a young boy giving a girl (his sister? a childhood crush?) a small book of poetry and then, upon his too early death, she quietly records his memory into the volume. Though the pencil has faded, along with the story of who these people were, the physical book has become a small memorial or tombstone, marking the passage of a life from long ago.