Sunday, August 31, 2008

Some More Vintage Photos

A small selection from recently acquired photos.

1. Don't you just love the 'Brideshead-look' being affected here.

2. Probably Prince Albert Edward, later Edward VII.

3. A photo taken in Woburn Abbey Military Hospital, 1916.

Frederick Rolfe Hadrian VII on the stage

Following my previous post on this subject, my Australian correspondent sent scans of two more programme covers for Hadrian VII. The first is for the first Australian production (March 1969) and the second is the original (April 1968) version of the West End, London production with the original Hadrian brought to life by Alec McCowen.

Now, if I were really wanting to collect the ephemera of Hadrian VII, the play, I would presumably be scouring Camden Market in London for this item to which Donald Weeks makes an offhand reference in The Book Collector (Autumn 1981, p.362):

"The Badge Shop in London sells a 2 1/2" diameter badge, showing Alec McCowan, the actor, in white Vatican garb and as a cigarette-smoking Hadrian VII, facing the words 'Life's Funny'."

Which reminds me, I've recently been rediscovering the fun of editing Wikipedia. Having done some work on the bibliography of the entry on Frederick Rolfe I turned, at the request of a friend to post an entry he'd written on Rolfe's brother Alfred. By the look of it, however, it seems like I may have to do some work on the Hadrian VII entry!

Willard Price SIGNED Books?

This rather unprepossessing book is the first US edition of The Amazing Amazon by Willard Price published by John Day in 1952. It's not a great copy, the spine is badly faded, there's no dust jacket, it's an ex-library book with a readers' ticket in a pocket inside the back cover and the normal ex-library nonsense one would expect. BUT, on the half-title there's a signature in ball-point pen which says 'W. Price'.

I have searched and searched the normal places for books by Willard Price and I have NEVER until now seen a signed copy of any of them. It's almost as if Price moved in such a different world to most members of the literati that he never had occasion to sign any of his books - perhaps too busy actually doing the travelling. This, of course, means that I now have some doubts about the signature. I have nothing to compare it with. Why sign a library book? (admittedly this is a library in a Franciscan Religious Community not a public library) but then, on the other hand, no forger in their right mind would put a signature into an ex-library book. And why forge Price's signature at all? I'm inclined to say that I'm happy with it as his signature until such time as I have more evidence.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Fashion Parade

Just a small selection from some photos I sold recently in which the hat seemed to be quite the most important part of the get-up!

Frederick Rolfe on the Stage

One of the not very often acknowledged up-sides of rummaging through 7,000 volumes of a deceased person's estate is occasionally coming upon something you'd like for yourself. In the 1960s Peter Luke wrote a stage play based upon Rolfe's book Hadrian VII. It was quite the sucess at the time and even had a broadway run for a while. To my shame I have never read the play. I would like to one day. This program is not something I would have sought out but it is nice to have, even though it has been slightly bothered by damp, and a delightful surprise to come across a Rolfe-related item in a collection which otherwise focused on buses and trains and 1950s kitsch. The program is actually much more interestinly illustrated than I would have thought, mainly it seems to me with items from the collection of the late Donald Weeks.

Monday, August 25, 2008

Gay Paperbacks

As a result of my recent post about Eric Jourdan's Two, I was reminded about an article by the doyen of Gay paperback fiction(!) Ian Young which mentions not just Two but a host of other paperback delights that should be sought out. Ian is the author of Out In Paperback above. Sadly Ian's Gay and Lesbian Catalogue is offline at the moment but when it goes back up it's always well worth hunting through.

Stravaganza, Gallagher and Dorian Grey

John C. suggested, in a comment on my earlier post about the advertising cards for Stravaganza, that the cutie in the first one that I showed looked a bit like the beautiful David Gallagher in the 2006 movie of Dorian Grey. I thought it would be worth just slapping up these pictures so we can all gaze on the beauty... (ahem) I mean, compare the two...

Friday, August 22, 2008


It has been a hectic week. I have heard of the suicide of the grandson of someone I used to know and like well. I have been worried for another friend whom I know only through the Internet but who appears to be unwell at the moment. The seventh in the Raven series of monographs about Frederick Rolfe is 'in the presses', and there is much stitching, cutting, folding and sticking going on and I have also been attending to the clearance of several thousand books from a tiny 1930s house some forty or so miles away from here which has been a grimy and occasionally rewarding task. On top of all of that, for the last few days I've had the most excruciating toothache every few hours. So, if you have emailed or messaged me in some way this week and are still waiting to hear back then, my apologies, please bear with me.

One of the nice things about going through vast quantities of books is the sense one begins to get of the person who owned them. In this latest accquisition I picked up a number of items, not because they will likely have any great value but because the covers or illustrations were so completely typical of the 40s and 50s when so much of the more ephemeral parts of this persons hoarde seem to have been gathered. For your delectation - a selection is above.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

New Photo by Frederick Rolfe Baron Corvo

It's always nice to be the first to realise the significance of something. This was an accidental find but a very welcome one. It was found in a copy of The Sketch from 1895. The Sketch was something like The Illustrated London News or The Graphic, an illustrated newspaper which, like all the others had to grapple with what to do with this new-fangled method of reproducing pictures 'the photograph'

What's nice, I think, about this photo in particular is that it shows, whilst Rolfe may not have been the best photographer of the time, that he was up there with the most experimental. We know that he experimented with some success in colour photography, underwater photography and flash light photography. This, to my knowledge, is the first example of Rolfe attempting outdoor photography at night. Clearly this is a reproduction 'from a photo' and it's obviously had to have a lot of remedial work done in the plate for the printers, nonetheless it's not a bad attempt.

The accompanying text reads:

"The Electric Avenue is familiar to all Brixtonians, but very few have witnessed any attempt to photograph it by night. The Baron Corvo has done, with what success the accompanying reduced reproduction of his photograph shows."

I have mentioned before on this blog that there is, in production, a book of Rolfe's photos. Unfortunately it's not my project so it's not my place to provide news but rest assured I will be letting people here know as soon as I hear that it's out.

Monday, August 18, 2008

R's Challenge

R bought this picture at a local junk shop for a number of reasons. First, he thought it was an interesting photo, the men and boys all seem to have buttonholes wich might make you think it was a picture of the male attendance at a wedding and yet, the variation of dress seems a little too wide. Second, he wondered if one of the faces in the picture was actually someone famous: the ringed face in the bottom picture. We won't give away just yet who R thought it might be but in order to aid guessing you should know that the photo studio responsible for the photo is in Southsea. Third, because he wanted to challenge me to restore it: so watch this space. I've made a start and it might take a little while but a challenge is a challenge.

Unexpected Art

I posted below about my penchant for cinema foyer freebies (postcards that is!). And I've recently updated my Postcard Blog with a few new ones. But the ones I wanted to highlight here are the art cards. Great because you can get them home and look up the websites. My favourite out of these three I suppose has to be the top one but they are as follows:

2. Train by James Nicholls


I'm probably a long long way behind on this one but, whenever I go to the cinema I just can't resist picking up the free postcards [and there's another post to come on this topic] but on this occasion I saw these rather attractive cards and thought they must be advertising some new film I'd not heard of and, particularly because of the cuteness of the guys in the top two, I was already deciding I had to go see it as I was turning the cards over to discover they are actually the covers of a series of books. I haven't read them yet. This isn't a recommendation as such. However, the website is everything you'd hope for out of a posh publisher's website for a series of books.

You can go and bone up on what Stravaganza is all about yourself of course but basically it seems a cross between straightforward fantasy and alternative history, starting with the row between Romulus and Remus which, in this world caused two dimensions to split and for the world of the books to develop into the Reman Empire and eventually Talia, the equivalent but not the same as Italia in our world. The title seems to come from some strange practice in this alternative dimension called stravagation, a kind of navigation but between dimensions. Anyway, all this was enough to make me think I might like to try the series out.

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Just a bit of fun...

Having been entranced in my late teens by the film Dead Poets' Society, and of course, entrancedby Robert Sean Leonard in said film, I've long been also fascinated by the implications of that scene where Robin Williams takes the boys to look at the old school photos in the hallway and gets them to imagine what they would look like if in colour, pointing out how very like us they actually are. History is in black and white but I love to have a go at colouring it up from time to time... The original sepia photo was nicked from someone's Ebay listing. Not entirely sucessful but it was a half-hour bit of fun this evening.

Monday, August 11, 2008

William of Norwich first thing in the morning

Blogging at 9am?! Not on this blog surely! But yes, I have succumbed and have been up for hours already watching the UK's wonder boy Tom Daley in the Olympic 10m syncro diving.

So now I have a chance to say that I've had a very helpful little postscript to the post below about Rolfe's 'missing ' MS from Mark Valentine who runs the Tartarus Press and edits Wormwood. Anyone reading this blog who doesn't know either of those should high-tale it over to the website immediately. Any Mark writes as follows...

I thought you might be interested to know that the book announced at the same time, directly underneath the Rolfe one, Oblivion's Poppy by Richard Le Gallienne, also never appeared, although (like Rolfe), Le G did go on to publish other books with Mathew & Lane, and indeed became their principal reader. He was a prolific and versatile writer who never usually had difficulty completing books, so the disappearance of this one (a study, it seems, of obscure books and writers) is also mysterious. To lose one book may be a misfortune, but to lose two looks like...etc

Friday, August 08, 2008

Frederick Rolfe Notes: Saint William of Norwich

There is, to my mind, nothing more intriguing and juicy than a good literary mystery. Which is perhaps one of the reasons why Frederick Rolfe appeals to me so greatly. Certainly my first exposure to Rolfe’s writing was when I picked up a copy of the Collected Poems and read the footnotes. A number of the footnotes were nothing more than the editor, Cecil Woolf, naming the dedicatee of the poem (usually only designated by initials) and then saying ‘I have not been able to discover what became of him’ - and this was the point at which I was hooked, thinking to myself, ‘well you might not but I’m going to have a damn good go’. Since then Rolfe’s life has provided numerous mysteries for me to dig into, most of which have already been solved by other people, some still remain.

One such is a ‘missing book’ mystery. There are some tantalising references to a very early book by Rolfe, never published, but which suggest that there was at least a manuscript, or that the book had advanced even further than that towards publication. In 1889 Elkin Mathews and John Lane began, together, what was eventually to become The Bodley Head but, at that very early stage all the publishing was being done under Elkin Mathews’s name. In May 1890 Elkin Mathews’s catalogue of ‘New and Forthcoming’ works contained the following:

Will be published shortly, medium 8vo., finely printed on handmade paper, in a limited edition, with etchings. The Story of S. William: The Boy Martyr of Norwich, from forty contemporary and subsequent Chronicles, all of which are given in full, with copious Notes and Translations &c., &c. By the REV FREDERICK WILLIAM ROLFE, late Professor of English Literature and History at St Marie’s College Oscott.”

The copy reproduced above is from the catalogue as bound into the back of Chambers Twain by Ernest Radford. In the Bodleian Library in Oxford there is a complete prospectus for the book, now called The History of St. William: The Boy Martyr of Norwich and the author given as 'Frederick William Rolfe, Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and of the Royal Society of Literature.' The book is given as ‘to be published shortly’. The prospectus not only goes into the lush details of the fine printing of an edition of 300 with the first 50 on handmade paper, old capitals and lines, parchment binding, gilt, etc. it also details every one of the 40 “contemporary and subsequent chronicles” which are going to be reproduced and states that the book will also include the proper Office and Mass of the Saint as well as his litany and hymns. This prospectus is simply dated 1890. The prospectus is decorated with a line drawing by Rolfe of S. William. The whole sounds rather juicy.

It seems unthinkable that Mathews and/or Lane would have allowed such extravagant and detailed advertising without at the very least having a manuscript in hand. And yet, the big BUT in all of this, the butt of the mystery, is not that the book was never published - these things happen and happened to Rolfe quite a bit - the mystery is that there is never another mention of it. It was obviously a substantial work but in all the vast body of letters Rolfe left behind, and in three romans a clef, there is no mention made of this book, neither is there anything more than this from Elkins and Mathews and The Bodley Head, despite the fact that five years or so later, Rolfe renewed his acquaintance with The Bodley Head and John Lane became the publisher of Stories Toto Told Me. Nothing!

There is further tantalising evidence that the book once actually existed. On Rolfe’s application for election to the Royal Historical Society, he gives under ‘publications’ his poem ‘Lytel Seynt Hew’ and the William of Norwich book, after which, in parenthesis, “in the press”. This is tantalising because the document is dated May 1889. Rolfe obviously had no problem exaggerating his qualifications - the titled Rev for example was only tenuously his as he had only been admitted into minor orders, the claim to have been a Professor of English Literature and History at Oscott was based on the fact that as a ‘divine’ or student for priesthood, he was also expected to do some teaching of the boys in the school. My point is, Rolfe exaggerates but to say ‘in the press’ is very specific and somehow I believe it. However, if that was the case it is extremely early for Mathews and Lane to have a book like that, very different to most of their output, in the press and almost ready to go, and then for it to be still ’forthcoming’ in even an October 1890 version of the catalogue suggests that there’s a story there.

Given the mention of Oscott in the catalogue, plus the clear need for access to a big specialist library, and the dates, it seems most likely that Rolfe wrote, or edited, this MS whist he was as Oscott. Certainly, it would fit with his interests too. Rolfe’s other publications thus far had all been about boy Martyrs and his poem about Lytel Seynt Hew - aka Little S. Hugh of Lincoln - published in The Universal Review also hints at a further specialisation of this interest. Little S. Hugh of Lincoln and William of Norwich are both saints by dint of their connection with the anti-Semitic blood-libel myth of the Middle Ages. Briefly stated it was believed that once a year, the Jews of Europe would conspire to kidnap a good Christian boy and to crucify him. It was obviously false and simply a figment of the fevered imaginations of a rabidly anti-Semitic population. However, it was strong enough that several of the boys concerned - who were probably not even crucified and were most likely the victims of common murders, perhaps with mutilation, were canonised. Their cults were later suppressed. Rolfe, however, was fascinated and he returns to the theme a number of times in poetry and prose. There is a scene in Hubert’s Arthur in which the protagonist is made the attempted victim of one of these ritual killings by the supposed Jewish conspiracy. I am not by any means blind to the faults of my subject here but I think it is probably true that this strange, heady mix of religious devotion and sado-masochistic imagery was the main pull of such stories for Rolfe, although I would never want to claim that his attitudes towards Jewry were enlightened. So it is hardly surprising that Rolfe tried to ‘write the book’ on William of Norwich, the supposed blood-libel victim, of all the English victims who had the strongest and most widespread cult, even though that was not large. And no surprise that it should come out of his time at Oscott when he seems to have developed and nursed this interest.

But the mystery remains. Wherefore the silence? Why is it that in all the years since 1890 that book is never mentioned again by Rolfe. In fact, he never actually mentions it at the time, save in his application to the Royal Historical Society. Perhaps, in some dusty crate in the basement of some antiquarian bookseller, there is a pile of papers made up of what might seem desperately uninteresting accounts of an obscure medieval saint. Stranger things have and do happen…

Wednesday, August 06, 2008

Robin Maugham. The Man With Two Shadows

On returning from London last night there was a huge parcel waiting for me which contained a really lovely and generous gift of books from a friend. Among a number of signed Robin Maugham's was this rather wonderful dust jacket on Maugham's 1958 novel, The Man With Two Shadows designed by Bruce Petty.
PS. Nicolas, it's truly lovely to see you here again. We must 'do' some emails!

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

Jesuits and Graffitti

I have spent most of the afternoon today in the bowels of the Provincial Offices of the Jesuit Order in this country, rifling through their archives of material about Holywell in Wales for Frederick Rolfe material. There were discoveries! and I'm sure there will be more about all that at a later stage. But afterwards I met an ex-boyfriend for an early supper and then we took a stroll along the banks of the Thames and found ourselves first of all by the bookmarket on the South Bank under Waterloo Bridge. Fortunately the market was all but shut up but I did see two volumes of Pater's Marius the Epicurian and a couple of titles by Edmund Gosse louging around on a tressle: they were next to a nearly fine copy of the Journals of Denton Welch... I was strong and we passed them all by.

Further down the South Bank is the Tate Modern who are currently doing an exhibition on the theme of Street Art - and as a conesequence, the Thames facing side of the old power station has been given over to some fairly powerful statement pieces. See above... Okay! Well, it would be a case of see above except it seems that Blogger is having some kind of fit over accepting my images... I will try again to illustrate this post tomorrow.

Saturday, August 02, 2008

Almost Arts and Crafts 1

No sooner have I finished blogging below about not having batteries for my camera when R comes home from a late-night shopping trip with a pack of Energiser Ultimate in his paws!

So I can share another item from this afternoon's rummaging and with all this talk on the blog recently of the Arts and Crafts Movement I thought this 1905 bound volume of Work: A Journal of Handicrafts seemed like just the thing. Just a smidgen too technical and DIYish to be truely part of the Arts and Crafts vision I suppose but nonetheless, there's definitely an influence there, particularly when you look at that 'Jewel Box'
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