Saturday, January 29, 2011

Art Deco New York

This is a magnificent publication with a nearly pyrotechnic cover. 64 pages of newsprint, over 160 photographs that make New York look more like Metropolis than Metropolis itself, and brilliantly 1940s in design.
My particular favourite among some pretty cool photography all round is the image looking down into theatre land at night where the glow of light from street level gives the impression one is looking down through the cracks into an infernal urban realm - which, I suppose one might consider not far from the truth at times.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Festival of Britain: The Sphere

An amazing copy of the magazine, The Sphere, from June 1951, the Festival of Britain edition. That cover just leaps off the page. The post-War sense of colour and confidence really shows through. Inside, of course, lots more about the Festival but I was particularly impressed by a couple of photos showing the light display on the South Bank.
It's odd how times have changed. Given today's concern for the environment, one can't imagine a vast furnace of light being used as a form of installation art work in the open spaces of London. In fact, it's easier to imagine that an artist or designer asked to work with a public space in London at night on the theme of light, might instead, be tempted to turn all the lights off.

Alex Rose plays with Book Illustrations

Alex Rose is an artist whose blog I watch regularly. The images he creates, often by collage or by part-destruction of photographs, photocopies, inkjet prints and so on... by burning, wetting, by chemicals... the images are often disturbing and, in a few cases not work-safe. However, he does manage to create that sense of beauty in the mire which is perhaps the mark of any true decadent. Some long long time ago, we toyed with the idea of my publishing some of Alex's poetry and, entirely due to my ineptitude, the project didn't come off. He's been successful since at moving his art into real galleries in the UK, Ireland and in continental Europe.

A while ago he posted three images that used what look to be illustrations cut from Edwardian/Victorian boys' books which he has placed... well, the best thing would be to look for yourselves of course. Unfortunately, because of the way his blog is structured, the best I can do is to link you to the home page and tell you these three photos were all posted on January 21st.

Old City Plans #3: Transport in Glasgow and Philadelphia

One of the most obvious reasons for creating a city plan is to show people the public transport system. Early London Underground maps are great in this respect as, before the iconic map of today was invented, the lines would be shown in more or less true relation to the roads of the city above. These two maps, of two vastly different cities, both deal with public transport

Old City Plans #2: Edinburgh & Birkenhead

One of the things about these old city maps is that they are often folded down into card covers or wallets which are so plain and dull that somehow the colour and design of the map inside is always a suprise. These two maps of Edinburgh and Birkenhead are a case in point.

Old City Plans #1: London

After a little absence, brought on by a superfluity of work and real-life activity, I expect to be able to post here very regularly for the next little while. Thank you to all those who have been in touch recently either through the comments on the blog of via the email link on the right hand side - your comments, particularly on the Forrest Reid post below, have been most helpful.

I think I have uncovered yet another vein of untapped potential for the collector. Once again, this is one of those situations where you don't realise what a cracking collection something would make until you see a number of the items together, in this instance: old city maps.

This one is quite wonderful, published in 1911 by Charles Baker, a gentleman's outfitters who, I confess, I had never heard of before. However, it seems they were quite the Top Shop of their day. As you begin to unfold the map the first thing you see is a series of images of six of their premises. If the size and situation of the shops is anything to go by, this was a major enterprise!

Upon unfolding the map again we get a long panorama of the clothes that Bakers offer to the well dressed boy or gentleman. And then, finally, the pictorial map of London in 1911.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

How Rare is this Book? Forrest Reid's The Kingdom of Twilight

An author's first novel is often his or her most sought after and valuable because, before a reputation is constructed, print runs are small and often, that first novel only become valuable in the light of later success. Perversely, in the price guides you will find Forrest Reid's second novel, The Garden God, usually listed as more expensive than the first, The Kingdom of Twilight. For example, in The Guide to First Edition Prices by R. B. Russell, The Garden God is listed at £800 and The Kingdom of Twilight at £300. The Garden God is thought to be the most desirable of Reid's output because its subject matter is the most explicit, because it holds an important place in the biography of Reid as it marks the book over which he argued with Henry James, and because the first issue is very scarce as it had to be altered very shortly after first publication. However, there are now a number of factors which mitigate against The Garden God retaining it's primacy of value not least of which is a new reprint by Valancourt Books and the fact that the second issue of the first edition is reasonably affordable still - Reid collectors are often readers first and collectors second, their interest is often, and admirably, in the text rather than the edition.
A couple of people in the space of a few months have made remarks to me which make me wonder just how rare this first novel is. Firstly, a visitor commented that he had heard there were only 80 or so originally printed. He had an authoritative source which I now can't remember. And then another friend, in passing, told how they owned everything ever written by or about Reid "save for the unobtainable Kingdom of Twilight." So, I began to wonder, just how many copies are there left in the wild?
If we take the 80 copies at face value there are ways to immediately cut down the number still extant. Worldcat shows about 20 copies in libraries worldwide but Worldcat is not universal so we might bump that to say 25. That immediately leaves us with about 55 copies.
We might also say at this point that it is a very poorly produced book. The flat, stiff backstrip on so thick a book is a disaster: it is nigh-on impossible to open the book in the centre without putting an intolerable strain on the hinges. In my copy, the paper over the rear interior hinge has been torn and it is possible to see that the webbing used to 'strengthen' the binding is actually rather feeble. Reid himself felt it was a fairly shabby production. We might assume that a fair number of our 55 have been lost to being broken or falling apart in the 107 years since publication.
It wasn't just the quality that Reid objected to. He disliked the novel itself and it is said that whenever he came across a copy, given a fair chance, he would destroy it (or sometimes make alterations!) So we might have lost a few more to the author himself.
As to how often it comes up for sale. I can find no auction record of it being sold as an individual book. Apart from my own copy I know of only one other offered for sale recently and that was sold very quickly at about £500 (although I don't know anything about its condition).
It's only a guesstimate but, if the original figure of 80 copies printed is correct, I'd be surprised if there are more than 20 left in private hands. But don't despair... I know this will gall some, but it is meant as encouragement, when I say that my copy was bought, about five years ago, on ebay, where is had gone more or less unnoticed... for about £40. So, it is possible!

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

War Against Bread Waste

I couldn't resist... the idea and, indeed, the whole idea of this are simply delicious.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

Lord Rosebery: Britain's Gay Prime Minister

It's one of those gay-historical things! there isn't quite enough evidence to say with scholarly integrity and certainty that Lord Rosebery, Prime Minister 1894-1895, Foreign Secretary at other points, leader of the opposition at others, was gay. And yet, pretty much everyone thinks he was and was having some kind of affair with Francis Douglas, Viscount Drumlanrig. Unfortunately, Francis Douglas had a very gay brother, Alfred, aka Bosie, lover of Oscar Wilde and countless other men. Bosie and Francis's father, the mad bad Marquess of Queensbury pursued both Wilde and Rosebery and it is thought by many that only enormous pressure from the establishment kept Rosebery's name out of the Wilde trial and kept a serving British Prime Minister from ending up in the dock himself, a trial which would have eclipsed even the three trials of Oscar Wilde.

Why am I bring this up now, you might reasonably ask, if not just to display this fetchingly camp portrait of Rosebery I found on Wiki from a cigar box label? Well, at the time of Wilde's trials the speculation and innuendo about Rosebery was rampant but I came across an unusual example of it in, of all places, the boys' paper Chums. Every week there was a column entitled 'Five Minutes with the Famous' and it is very noticeable that Rosebery appears often in the first few months of 1895 (Wilde's trials started in April), and there is, I think you will agree, a very definite 'painting' going on in the anecdotes they chose to represent him.

"Lord Rosebery, though very ambitious, was considered rather a girlish schoolboy by his Eton friends, and was accordingly dubbed "Miss Prim," a contraction of his family name, Primrose" Chums, Vol III No 129, February 27, 1895, p,422

"Lord Rosebery is said to have been the very pink of neatness and propriety at Eton; he always walked very erect, and always had a smile on his face. He used to read a good deal of history, and was fond of newspapers and Parliamentary reports; but did not distinguish himself either in sports of scholarship." Chums, Vol III No 131, March, 1895, p.455

"Lord Rosebery was very proud as a boy, but showed hauteur in an inoffensive fashion. He used generally to appear blissfully deaf and unconscious when addressed too familiarly by his social inferiors." Chums, Vol III No 154, April 3, 1895, p.507

1950s Bike Decals

Regular readers will know I have something of a weakness for the design stylings of the 1950s and these came to me the other day in a box full of transport ephemera: bicycle transfers. They're just so very 50s and, as it happens, they are currently attracting a fair amount of interest on ebay.

Talking of ebay and regular readers, back in November, you may recall, I was showing off a small sketchbook I had bought at a local antique fair for £20. As an update I should let you know that it sold, in the end, for more than £400.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Isherwood, The Cinema and Sumptuous Books

Christopher Isherwood's star has been in the ascendant for most of this last year because of Tom Ford's beautiful film of A Single Man and Nicholas Hoult's beautiful bottom which featured in said film a number of times. The first editions of Isherwood's first books have always been expensive but it's interesting to follow the effect of the film on the first edition price for the previously inexpensive A Single Man - perhaps, on average tripling the asking price.

I should not pass any comment on the film because I have consistently claimed for all my adult years that I have absolutely no critical faculties when it comes to film. I nearly always walk out of the cinema happy and content, having enjoyed a couple of hours of action or drama or comedy... only to turn to my friends as we leave to find them spitting celluloid feathers about how ghastly the film was. It's become such a thing between some of my friends and me that, by unspoken agreement, I never offer my opinion.

I am reading one of Isherwood's books at the moment, Lions and Shadows, in this gloriously tatty NEL paperback edition: it's a fictionalised autobiography of the 1920s when Isherwood was stumbling through school, Cambridge, early adulthood and even medical school, on his way to becoming an author. Imagine my joy, therefore, when I stumble across the following assessment of Isherwood by one of his Cambridge friends:

"He pointed out, quite truly, that as soon as I was inside a cinema I seemed to lose all critical sense: if we went to together, I was perpetually on the defensive, excusing the film's absurdities, eagerly praising its slightest merits."

The friend, Edward Upward (Chalmers) in the book and Isherwood, fast friends for years, made a game between them of the fictional village of Mortmere, a place of horror and wonder under the surface of English country life. I was delighted, having read the entertaining account of how the stories were written to discover that they were, eventually, published (more of which at the ever wonderful Bookkake), but in Lions and Shadows perhaps the most wonderful part of the whole business are the:

"utterly fantastic plans for the edition-de-luxe: it was to be illustrated, we said, with real oil paintings, brasses, carvings in ivory or wood; fireworks would explode to emphasize important points in the narrative; a tiny gramophone sewn into the cover would accompany the descriptive passages with emotional airs; all the dialogue would be actually spoken; the different pages would smell appropriately, according to their subject-matter, of grave-clothes, manure, delicious food, burning hair, chloroform or expensive scent. All copies would be distributed free. Our friends would find attached to the last page, a pocket containing bank notes and jewels; our enemies, on reaching the end of the book, would be shot dead by a revolver concealed in the lining."

Brilliant! Isherwood deserves to be more widely read and if all it takes to prompt a wider audience is a flash of Nicholas Hoult's bottom then all to the good I say.

Monday, January 03, 2011

2010 Retrospective at Callum James Books

This year just gone has been a particularly productive one for Callum James Books. This is a short survey of the books published this year. First of all three more in Robert Scoble's Raven Series of monographs about Frederick Rolfe. Raven 10 The Crab and The Moon was about Rolfe's interest in and use of astrology. Raven 11 Cigars and Tree Carvings looks at Rolfe as a tutor to four boys, follwing their relationships and subsequent careers. Raven 12 The Pedestrian Uncle is a real tour-de-force of literary detective work which unearths, for the first time, the extraordinary career of Rolfe's uncle, Captain Patten Saunders, an amazing and amusing character who filled a life time with schemes, scams and relentless self-promotion. There are still three Ravens to go and then the set will be complete, sometime in 2011.

Also Rolfe-related, this year saw the publication of a small folio of photographs by Rolfe that were discovered in an album in the collection of the late Donald Weeks. The Christchurch Album reproduces faithfully, in terms of size, quality and colour, the photographs from this previously unknown photograph album, many of which are of Eric, the son of the art critic and editor Joseph Gleeson-White, who befriended Rolfe during his stay in Christchurch.

Three non-Corvine items were published this year in limited editions. The long-awaited Ganymede and Bacchus, two poems by the luscious Roden Noel, illustrated with prints direct from the blocks cut by Sue Martin. This publication fitted into the format in which we previously published Jocelyn Brooke's Six Poems. Later in the year we brought out a little gem of gay bibliography, Murray's Catalogue, which, until now has been a nearly impossible to find early list of pederastic titles that was used heavily by Tim d'Arch Smith in his work on the Uranian poets for his book Love in Earnest. And then we also put out Louis Wain In His Own Words, a reprinting of two interviews given by Wain to Victorian magazines, a fascinating early insight into a well-loved illustrator.

And finally, 2010 saw us move into a new kind of publishing. To compliment the hand-made limited editions that we have been working on now for five years, we are now also offering titles through These are traditional paperbacks, published by us but printed and distributed through Blurb. So far we have three titles available: The Romance of a Choir Boy by John Gambril Nicholson, Aspects of Wilde by Vincent O'Sullivan, and a larger full-colour production, Frederick Rolfe's Holywell Banners by Robert Scoble.

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