Sunday, December 30, 2007

Willard Price: The Photographer

I mentioned, I'm sure, that there might be more from The National Geographic as I go through them... well, when I was first posting about Willard Price, months ago now, I included a section on Price as a photographer: it seemed to me from the photos illustrating his non-fiction travel books, that he was potentially a better-than-average amateur cameraman. In a National Geographic article from November 1944, 'Mindanao, on the Road to Tokyo' by Frederick Simpich, I came across some of Price's photos being used as illustrations. I think they bear out my original hunch that he had a real eye when it came to his photography.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Colouring In

Vintage Coca Cola

Occasionally, when you buy a lot of books, you have to take unopened boxes. In one such set of phenomenally heavy boxes recently I found piles of bound copies of The National Geographic from the 1920s-40s. The National Geographic is a bookseller's nightmare. No one will buy them. I haven't even been able to give them away. Any yet, there is something so, so wonderful about them, the fantastic vintage advertising, the photography, the whiff of adventure that accompanies the mustiness of the pages... it's a hard-hearted person indeed who can throw them away. Nonetheless, after I've finished going through them, that's what I will have to do.

I expect there will be much more from The National Geographic in the next little while.

PS. John C. I wondered exactly the same thing about the Capri cover, but nonetheless, how wonderfully like a 1970's gay porn star he looks! The Museum in York with the Victorian Streets re-created is the York Castle Museum. It is truely wonderful and one of the best museums I've ever been to (I went as a child and went again on this last visit). Papanine, I don't know if you will pop back to this blog at all but thank you for commenting on the old post about Willard Price. If you do see this then Ebay is a good place to find cheap readable copies of the Adventure books for your kids. There will be more Willard Price presently. Nicolas, I shall be emailing soon I promise.

Sunday, December 09, 2007

More from between the pages

From the same haul of books as all the other items I've blogged here, this 6"x4" albumen print fell from between the pages of an otherwise unremarkable tome!

York of Suprises

Last weekend, my friend A and I took one of our occasional short breaks away together, this time to visit York. It was a truely wild and wet weekend and by the Sunday morning we were so fed up of being wet all the time that we decided all we could do was give in to the last big visitor attraction left to visit and hope it would take long enough to walk around that the rain might have stopped by the time we left.

I have to say that really, honestly, neither A nor I have the slightest interest in steam trains or railways in any way. Even as we were going through the shop and into the National Rail Museum itself we were saying to each other in muted voices that we weren't sure how long this was going to keep our attention. It was brilliant.

What we had failed to appreciate was that the hey-day of the railway was the nineteenth century and that any museum of rail has to be a Victorian museum by default. The display of ?Royal Trains, Victoria and Edwards trains both was simply sumptuous and to see the interior of those carriages was an object lesson in the changes between the Victorian and Edwardian age.

But the added suprise was the 'warehouse' room. Clearly the museum has vast amounts of signage, china, posters, ephemera, brass attactchments, gadgets and other bits of railway nonsense that it couldn't possibly display in a sensibly interpreted 'museum' layout. So, rather than store it all away in a warehouse where no one can see it, they store is all away in a warehouse where people can walk about. As we went into the huge, maze-like space I was already saying to A how it reminded me of The Room of Requirement in the Harry Potter novels and then blow me down if I don't see, hanging in a prominent position, a sign for platform 9 3/4.

Of course, on reflection it was clearly the sign for the 3-4 car stop on platform nine but the fact that it had been hung prominently, more prominently than other platform signs, made me sure that some curator had recognised what it looked like and placed it there with a certain knowingness.

If you dislike everything about trains, railways and steam engines... go to the National Rail Museum and York!

60s-70s Gay Paperbacks

From the photographically suggestive, through illustrative hack-work to the slightly surreal, these are a selection of cover designs for some gay-themed paperbacks I pulled off the shelves today.

Friday, November 23, 2007

And While We're on the Subject...

...of vintage photos. I have been thinking on all these lovely old photos and was put in mind of R and my first real triumph when it comes to buying and selling the past.

It was 2004, we were broke, and very new to the idea of buying and selling stuff. In our favourite junk shop we came across a beautiful photo album. We both loved it instantly, the album itself was in reasonable condition but it was full of the most wonderful albumen print photos, mainly 10" x 8", of a tour around the world taking in the Middle East, Ceylon, New Zealand and Canada as well as what might have been parts of South America. The shopkeeper said £50. We had not much more than that in the bank. We demured. But we kept talking about it and eventually I went back on a stormy day with a friend, again I browsed the album and again I really wanted it. I spoke to the shopkeeper again and, surprise, since I had last looked at it, he'd had a chance to have a look too and decided it was wrongly priced so he'd marked it up at £100 now: but since I had been told £50 originally, if I wanted it then I could have it for £60!

I got as far as getting back in the car with said friend and sitting with the rain pelting on the roof while she convinced me that if I wanted it that badly I should go and get it and blow the expense. So I did. Raced home, shared the joy with R. And we really did love it. There were a couple of wonderful Zangaki Brothers photos of Cairo which we both liked much more than any of the ones which would later be highlighted. It took a real effort of will to decide to sell it. We had no idea if we had paid a good price or not.

I took it to Dominic Winter's auction house, then still based in Swindon... It was a horrible drive only alleviated by the fact that he valued it at £300-400 and that it was illustrated with three photos in the catalogue and sold eventually for something over £600. Neither R nor I could be at the auction house on the day of the sale which remains a real regret even today. Our first real trading sucess.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I Won!

Despite my blogging of vintage photos of male swimwear (see below), my actual collection of old photographs, as opposted to a digital collection, is quite small and always seems subservient to other parts of my collecting life. Also, as a 'collection' it's not really up to much as there is no particular theme or direction. It is the quintessential - I bought it because I liked it collection. I can think of a photo of a Victorian English woman in her full-length Kimono and huge silk parasol, there are two hand-tinted silver prints of Venice, a couple of delightful but sentimental Edwardian photos of a boy-girl romance around a hay-stack... and so on... things which grab me for no particular reason but which have impressed me enough not to find their way into my stock but rather into a frame.

This is the latest. An Ebay win. Very pleased!

I Very Nearly Love This Book

This book didn't quite make it into my 'I Love This Book' series, but as I have just finished getting to grips with it, after having had it languish on my shelves for some months, I have to say it came close.

Christ in Hades was the poem that made Stephen Phillips his notable 1890s reputation as a poet and has ensured a much smaller but respectable reputation since. The poem was first published with others in 1897, sold out, and was immediately reissued in January 1898. This edition was published (all three by John Lane at the Bodley Head) in 1917.

This edition is made remarkable for a number of reasons and perhaps the poem itself is the least of those. First we should take note of the cover design which demonstrates quite clearly the continued quality of some Bodley Head publications even after the initial bloom in the 90s. The book is illustrated, and the artwork for cover and endpapers are created by Stella Langdale. There is something rather wonderful about the somewhat misty charcoal images of Hell during the harrowing which, although perhaps don't make the best illustrations for a book are nonetheless very attractive. What I like in particular is that when one takes the cover, endpapers and illustrations together there's a very clear sense of the Nineties 'at work': the slightly oriental look to the sun on the cover, the obviously Beardsley-esque figures on the endpapers and the misty, tortured and slightly pungeant look of the illustrations all speak the Nineties very strongly despite the later publication date. There is a very good potted bio of Langdale here.

But this is not really a poetry book, it is a retrospective. There is a so-called 'introduction' by C. Lewis Hind which, if I mention runs to 69pp and is subtitled 'Relating some literary episodes of the Nineties, which culminated in the "crowning" by "The Academy," of "Christ in Hades", might reveal itself as rather more than a traditional introduction. It is in fact a short memoire of the kind I love because, often overlooked by biographers of major figures, it is sometimes this kind of short work which gives a more anecdotal and dare I say, gossipy sense of 'what it was like to be there.'

Hind was primarily an editor during the Nineties and most notably of the journal The Academy. He lays claim to introducing Beardsley to the world - but who didn't? - and was great friends with the sometime arch-enemy of Oscar Wilde: W. E. Henley. Having just published Aspects of Wilde and read more than a little about Wilde's relationship with Henley through the somewhat jauniced eyes of Vincent O'Sullivan, I was intrigued to read this little note of a meeting between the two in Hind's introduction:

"and of all the splendid talk I heard that night, the most splendid was a duel, poetry the subject, between Henley and Oscar Wilde. It was a broad-sword against rapier, and I knew not which won: the give and take, the hammer and dart were too dazzling. I suppose Wilde won, because a time came when Henley ceased, and Wilde delivered a melodious monologue on Shelley, one of the most beautiful excursions into appreciative criticism that I have ever read or heard."

one has to imagine that Hind was one of those false friends about whom O'Sullivan is so bitter in Aspects who deserted Wilde after his trials, although, from what he goes on to say, a residual affection is clearly present and perhaps can be stated in 1917 more than it could be acted on during Wilde's life:

"I shut out the latter years and think only of his tender and loving understanding of the most ethereal of poets. How strange it will be if, when we awake from the dream of death, we find that we are judged only by the good we have done."

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Piece of the Puzzle

In my recent post about the mystery set of photos I found on the road in South London some years ago, I see that I said I had searched in vain for a photo with the name of the ship on it. Now, in checking the photos that I uploaded here, I notice for the first time that there are life belts visible on one of the photos and blow me down if there isn't the name of the ship, ZOWL, and it's home ports, London, printed on them plain as day. Now I have to decide if I will take up the trail again.

PS. Thank you John C. for your comments. The last time I mentioned Gaughan was in connection with some Samuel R Delany covers for Ace Doubles and I was plesantly surprised to get a well-informed comment on the blog then from Gaughan's daughter! Amazing the connections one can make. I shall be counting the days till Feuilleton is back online - all good wishes for a speedy blog recovery.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Vintage SF Cover Art

There's nothing quite as evocative as vintage SF artwork. There is something about a depiction of the future which is so firmly styled in the past which is very pleasing. Ace Doubles are a particular joy although, because Ace Books were so completely cavalier about record keeping, rights, credits and so on it is normally impossible to give proper credit to artists.

The first book below is one I picked up recently, not just for it's joyous cover art but because it's a pretty much perfect combination of authors (Ace Doubles were two novellas printed back to back and upside down, each with it's own cover). Vulcan's Hammer by Philip K Dick and The Skynappers by John Brunner, Ace Double D-457, 1960.

The second book, I'm particularly proud of since is contains the signature of the High Priestess of fantasy and SF herself, Ms U K LeGuin. Her classic work Planet of Exile is partnered rather oddly with one of Thomas M Disch's least sucessful books Mankind Under the Leash which, if it helps give an idea, was also published under the variant tiltle The Puppies of Terra. The two are together in Ace Double G-597, 1966

The third book below was simply one that I picked up because it's a rule... never see a vintage Ace paperback in a secondhand bookshop and leave without it! Two tales I've not read by A Bertram Chandler from 1965 (Ace Double M-129): Empress of Outer Space and The Alternate Martians. The artwork on this book is credited to Jerome Podwil with interior art (consisting of only two b/w vingettes at the head of each novella) by Jack Gaughan

Finally, the fourth book, not an Ace Double or even single but I pulled it off the shelf at the same time beacause it seemed to me that it's got to win some kind of award for dynamism in cover art: The Genocides by Thomas M Disch (signed as well as it happens!) published in 1965

Vintage Swim

Another one of the ever popular occasional series of posts from my collection of vintage swimwear pics and, as a very special treat... down at the bottom, a couple of bottoms!

Fans of the film The Dead Poets' Society will remember the scene in which Robin Williams takes the boys out of the classroom to the school's entrance hall and has them look, really look closely, at the old school photos which adorn the walls. He makes them look into the faces of the boys in those photos and makes them realise that though they are now all dead and gone, the boys in the photos, with the exception of hair styles and clothes, look just like the themselves - no different at all. But they are all dead! Hence Williams' characters' motto and the motto of the film Carpe Dium (Sieze the Day).

The scene stuck with me at the time and laid the foundation I think for my appreciation of vintage photography. I love to look at these old photos (and not just the swimwear ones which are just a bit of fun) and imagine the colour back into peoples clothes and faces.

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