Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Artistic Remains

Regular readers will know that I am rather partial to buying lots at auction which contains someone's artistic remains. Usually this is an art student from the 1940s who never made a career of their study but kept all their sketches and life drawings until the day they died and then, sadly, they end up at auction. The quality is variable but there is usually something charming and appealing about such work. This latest bundle I think is something a little different. I have easily over one hundred watercolour sketches by someone who, although he/she signs most of them, I simply cannot decipher. They are often dated too and come from the late 1970s and early 80s. Many are almost postcard size and don't appear to have been intended as more than sketches - perhaps this artists body of full-scale work is being disposed of in some other way - I will probably never know. What I do know is that this person had a remarkable facility, each one is like a little jewel and I feel this was the bargain of the day at that auction.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Mars from the Turn of the Last Century

As I read through Victorian periodicals, which I am wont to do, I am always amazed by just how much time was spent speculating about the planet Mars and, in particular, the life thereon. These two images come from a 1907 article on the latest thinking about the red planet. The image above is captioned: "This is perhaps the chief diversion of the Martians. If Martians exist, it is reasonable to assume that they possess a civilisation mush higher than our own. Our artist has given reign to his imagination in this remarkable picture, and shows a group of Martians as distant spectators of one of our street scenes, the representation of which is shown in Mars reflected upon a screen by an enormously powerful optical instrument". Yes, clearly, the best thing that this higher caste of being can think of to do is to sit around watching us.

The image below is captioned: "The Martians as represented by an American medium. An American spiritualist pretend to have journeyed 'in spirit' to Mars, and declares that there are two species of Martians - huge giants, ugly and hairy, and smaller beings who can crawl up walls like flies." And of course the human being illustrated, reaching out to make first contact with the shake of a hand, is wearing a bowler hat. Why wouldn't he be!

Monday, February 27, 2012

1950s Boy's Own

I was bewitched, bothered and bewildered today by a pile of Boy's Own magazines from the early 1950s. I suppose it was the covers that called to me: I can't think of any other reason that I left the bookshop with them under my arm!

Sunday, February 26, 2012

George Mallory

This is George Leigh Mallory (1886-1924) painted by Duncan Grant. If you don't know his tragic story then Wikipedia can fill you in on his exploits as a mountaineer - some believe the first to reach the summit of Everest, but he never made it back down again. He is credited with coining the phrase "because it's there", when asked why he wanted to climb Everest. He fell to his death and remarkably his body was found, in an astonishing state of preservation in 1999. Google, of course, will lead you to pictures of this but I wouldn't recommend it. Obviously 38 is still young and no age to die, but when Mallory was younger still he was friends with the movers and shakers of the Bloomsbury Group. Last year R and I saw the Bloomsbury exhibition at Brighton Museum and this portrait of Mallory was there along with the topmost of the two photographs below. I was absolutely sure that the curatorial blurb about the photo and picture described Mallory and Grant as lovers but, not having a biography of either of them to hand I am unable to check up on this although, elsewhere on the Internet, I see that he is linked instead with James Strachey, brother of the more famous Lytton: that at least seems to have been the take on it from his biographer. 

He was, it seems, quite the stunner. The photograph below is, in real life, quite stunning, much richer and deeper than I could reproduce it here.  Arthur Benson, no less, wrote in his diary of Mallory's "strikingly beautiful face". Mallory's former tutor Graham Irving said of the same face, "its shape, its delicately cut features, especially its rather large, heavy lashed, thoughtful eyes, were extraordinarily suggestive of a Botticelli Madonna, even when he had ceased to be a boy - although any suspicion of effeminacy was completely banished by obvious proofs of physical energy and strength" (let the reader understand). Sir Geoffrey Keynes also couldn't resist the art references, "with good looks in the Botticelli style... with the build of an ideal athlete unspoilt by over development of any part." Clearly, men and women both were quickly and powerfully taken by this young man. He eventually went on to marry and have a family before being lost forever on the mountain.

The photos below were taken at 38 Brunswick Square in about 1912, so George is 25 or 26. Just seeing the top photo 'in the flesh' was enough to recreate some of the power that his bodily presence obviously had in life. I think I fell in love a little right there in the gallery. The existence of these nude photos give added poignance to the end of his life and to the photographs which exist of his body on the mountain, still half clothed and bleached white, as though in a black and white photo.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Henry Scott Tuke Photographs

Well, I have to say I wish I had been paying more attention in October 2010 when this lot came up for sale.  I have only just discovered it now in the archives of auction sales. Six apparently unrecorded photochrome images of Tuke and his models. They sold at the Penzance Auction House for £700, well over the £200-300 estimate: and I'm not surprised. Interestingly, the same auction saw the sale of a rubgy cap from the Cornwall Rugby Club that belonged to Tuke's model Charlie Mitchell. It raised a slightly sad £100.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Theodore Sturgeon: Some Vintage Paperback Covers

More SF covers from my current, slightly obsessional, Spring Cleaning session. It's been nearly seven days now of nonstop washing, sorting, tidying and cleaning. At this rate I may be able to see the floor in my study in a week or two. Corgi weren't exactly the height of sophistication when it came to SF publishing but they did at least have the nouse to publish some quality when it came to the writing of Theodore Sturgeon - even if the cover designs were a bit hit and miss!

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Don Tarquinio by Frederick Rolfe: An Unpublished Manuscript

A lot of Corvines (that is, followers of the cult of Frederick Rolfe Baron Corvo) are enamoured of his romans a clef, the great threesome Hadrian the Seventh, Nicholas Crabbe, and The Desire and Pursuit of the Whole. There is something of a tendency to be a little sniffy about Rolfe's 'historical' novels, the two Dons, Don Renato and Don Tarquinio, and Hubert's Arthur (so few people, Corvine or otherwise have ever read The Weird of the Wanderer that it's hardly worth mentioning in this context). But I have a contrary nature and I am, on the whole much more drawn to the historical novels and, in particular, feel that Don Tarquinio is somewhat neglected. It is the tale of a day in the life of a Renaissance "man of fashion" and there's no getting away from the fact that it is slightly bonkers: stuffed to within an inch of its velvet doublet with neologisms, arcane and often apocryphal details, and beautiful young men. It is written with such energy and sheer joie de vivre that I can't help loving it all the same.

The published version has Rolfe introduce the story from the present day as himself, claiming that the bulk of the novel is, in fact, his translation of a medieval manuscript. This is a device he uses a number of times in various novels. However, worried that his publisher might think the whole thing just a little too arcane, he also created a second version of the novel. This, as he wrote to his brother Herbert, the dedicatee, was written in the voice of "an entirely modern rather slangy story-teller". Rolfe submitted both versions to Chatto and, himself, preferred the second. However, Chatto had already accepted the first and that was the version that was published. The manuscript, hand-wrriten and bound in cream cloth and decorated on the upper cover with an image and lettering in black ink (above), was returned to Rolfe and he then gave it to Herbert. The decoration on the front cover of this MS contains a version of the image which was eventually used on the published version. The main difference is that, in the hand drawn cover you can see at the top right of the insert illustration of the boy on the battlements, a bird in the sky. This would certainly have been intended to be a Raven which is how Rolfe signed his artwork.

Somehow, possibly through the intermediary of A. J. A. Symons, this unpublished manuscript ended up in the collection of Donald Weeks. and in 1987 it was offered for sale at Sotheby's. It was to have been one of the stars of a particularly starry sale, estimated at 50,000-70,000 GBP. According to the prices realised list for that auction, it failed to sell. However, at some point after that it was bought by Fay and Geoffrey Elliot and eventually was donated by them in 2002 to the Brotherton Library at Leeds University where it resides today and where it was eventually joined just a couple of years ago by the bulk of the rest of Weeks's collection.

The published version is a genuine romp with lots of truly Corvine flourishes and makes a great introduction to Rolfe's work. The Phoenix Library edition (below) published by Chatto in the 1920s is still cheaply and widely available.

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Vintage Swimwear: The Likely Lads

Well here's a likely look bunch of guys. The one on the left of the first row of three has, what could only be described as, a characterful face.

Regular readers will remember the beautiful Mr Glen Halik, the violinist, whose photo I saw for sale on Ebay at the beginning of the month. That first copy sold, if memory serves, for 77.00 GBP. Just last week a second copy of the same photo went up for sale and made a hair-raising 104.00 GBP

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

The Ultimate Literary Ephemera

In 1987, the literary agency A. P. Watt Ltd sold at Sotheby's a portion of the archive of their founder, the first professional literary agent Alexander Pollock Watt (d. 1914). It included a selection of over two hundred letters from the literary greats of the day, all addressed to A. P. Watt including by such as W. B. Yeats, Jerome K. Jerome, Walter Besant, Thomas Hardy, Hillaire Belloc, Marie Corelli, Bret Harte, Mrs Oliphant, Samuel Butler and Arthur Conan Doyle. The lot was estimated at £1200-1500 and sold for over £3100. I suppose there's little doubt today that the estimate would be £20,00 or £30,000 at least.

But among the other lots from A. P. Watt Ltd were those pictured above, perhaps the best ever auction lot of literary ephemera. These deed boxes were the companies own receptacles for letter and other documents relating to their work with various authors. Some of the lots still contained letters or documents but, for me at least, the main appeal of these is as a cracking object. They all sold, more or less on estimate between £150 and £250.

Monday, February 20, 2012

Vintage Photos: Peeking and Hanging

Am taking a quick break from the wrapping of packages and the sorting out of orders for the new CJB publication and blogging these two delightful photographs that arrived today, each of which must surely have something of a story behind them...

Sunday, February 19, 2012

An Arcadian Photographer in Manhattan: Edward Mark Slocum

An Arcadian Photographer in Manhattan: Edward Mark Slocum

By Donald A. Rosenthal

Just before 1930 an unusual book of poems and photographs was published, apparently in New York. It was called Lads O’ the Sun: Memories and was illustrated by real photographs, tipped onto its pages, depicting naked youths in a style reminiscent of Willhelm von Gloden and his contemporaries in Southern Italy. It wasn’t until the 1970s that the anonymous author and photographer was identified as Edward Mark Slocum (1886-1945) who was also responsible for the editorship of the literary anthology Men and Boys which had appeared earlier in the 1920s. Donald Rosenthal has continued the research into Slocum’s life and work and in the process has tracked down a substantial body of photographic work by him that, as the title suggests, recreates something of the Arcadian style of nude photography in the somewhat cooler climes of the State of New York. This is the first study of Slocum’s photographic work and Rosenthal puts these photos into their artistic and social context as well as telling the story of Slocum’s life by unpicking his extensive use of pseudonyms and anonymity when presenting his work. This book is an important contribution to the history of photography and also to the cultural history of sexuality.

Donald A. Rosenthal studied archaeology and art history at Yale University and Columbia University, where he received a Ph.D. A specialist in nineteenth and early twentieth-century art, he has contributed articles to the Burlington Magazine, Art Bulletin, and Encyclopedia of Twentieth-Century Photography. Dr. Rosenthal has also published a number of volumes on aspects of modern painting and photography. His most recent book is The Photographs of Frederick Rolfe, Baron Corvo, 1860 1913 (Asphodel Editions). Now retired as a museum curator, Dr. Rosenthal lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts (USA).

Callum James Books is delighted to present this new title which is, by far, our most ambitious publication yet. The book is printed on Zerkall mould-made paper with photographs by Slocum and others reproduced throughout. 80pp. 250mm x 180mm, case bound by hand in black cloth and hand-printed patterned paper produced especially for this publication by J & J Jeffery of Edinburgh.

40.00 GBP + P&P (UK: 3.50 GBP – EU: 4.00 GBP – Everywhere else: 5.00 GBP)

Payment can, as ever be made through Paypal to (you do not need a Paypal account to pay using a credit/debit card through the Paypal website. Alternatively, payment can be made by Sterling Cheque: please email for details.

A Review of Rolfe's Reviews of Unwritten Books

The excellent Strange Flowers blog should be on the favourites list of anyone with an interest in the less walked byways of 19th and 20th century literature and history. Obviously, Frederick Rolfe has featured there a number of times but most recently in an excellent short review of Rolfe's Reviews of Unwritten Books. You should also check out the comments for quite the most wonderful criticism of Rolfe in the most excellent parody of Rolfeian language... given that the Reviews were, in themselves a kind of parody the whole thing is becoming something of a Post-Modern literary orgasm.

Saturday, February 18, 2012

SF Cover Design and Some of the Novels of Thomas M Disch

It was Spring Cleaning day today - and probably for a few days to come yet I fear - which means that I have been trawling through the boxes tucked away at the back of the wardrobe that contain the last remnants from the days when my bookshelves contained little else but hundreds of SF paperbacks from the 1950s-70s. Condition was never an issue then and I don't think I was concerned much by cover art either. I've scanned some of the covers I found today and, among them, these four by Thomas M. Disch, once at the forefront of the experimental SF of the 1960s he has since turned to a somewhat more mainstream style but I can still remember that when I first came across his writing, and the writing of others like Samuel R Delany from the same branch of the tree, it was gripping and exciting precisely because it was so challenging. 

The cover of Under Compulsion, above, is one of a series that Panther Science Fiction did, not just of Disch's books, but within their SF output that used abstract photos. I noticed a couple of them in a bookshop just the other day and my collecting antennae twitched slightly.

The most peculiar cover, and one has to say the most peculiar title are those which go with The Puppies of Terra (alternative titles Mankind Under the Leash). But the least successful design as a cover has to be the one that Sphere Science Fiction gave to the masterpiece 334. Clearly no one who had anything to do with the design of the book had ever read it. The cover suggests space opera and the grand vistas of inter-stellar travel. It is, in fact, an urban dystopia set in one huge apartment building whose number is 334 East 11th Street. The book was made up of five novellas, all of which had been previously published and brought together into this book to make a novel. Wikipedia can give you a fuller summary but if you want something exciting and challenging to read and you've never picked up a piece of intelligent SF: you could do worse.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Enquire Within 1930s Style 3

More from the ever wonderful compilation of vintage graphics which is my 1930s, 2 volume set of Enquire Within on Everything. For previous posts see: here and here.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Samuel R Delany and the Pricing of Books

I have read every word Samuel R Delany has published. This is bold, hyperbolic claim clearly but one which, in the broadest terms I can support. However, I realised the other day that somehow I had missed Delany's 2004 post-modern novella, Phallos. Obviously, I would like to remedy that and so I go to the usual online venues to find a copy of the book and discover to my amazement and horror that this paperback novella, from just eight years ago, now costs a minimum of 40.00 GBP and some chancer is hoping for 120.00 for their copy. And it led me to reflect on the strange business of pricing books online. I've been observing the process now as both customer and bookseller for long enough that I think I have a handle on some of the more arcane mysteries of the craft. So let me try and tell you why an ordinary paperback book ends up on sale for such ridiculous prices.

A bookseller, somewhere in the world, picks up a copy of a book from the top of the boxes of his latest house clearance. It's a paperback but when he (or she) goes to their usual bookselling online venues: amazon, abebooks, addall, ebay etc. they can find no other copy for sale. This book, they reason, must be very scarce and so, supply and demand dictates that there should be a hefty price-tag to emphasise its rarity. Let us say they decide to put 100.00 GBP on their book and they leave it online for six months and it fails to sell (this ignores the possibility of it being a genuine rarity with genuine value, in which case it most likely sells at this point and this whole disquisition is irrelevant). So, most likely, out bookseller forgets about this individual book and gets on with their life buying books and selling them for prices that are comparable to the prices of other copies of the same titles they've found online. What they don't realise is that while they've left this rare paperback on sale, others have come across the same book. They have found our bookseller's 100.00 GBP price and whooped with glee that they too have a copy of this rare and expensive book. So, of course, they price theirs at just under the 100.00GBP mark. Over the six months, a number of others all do the same and suddenly there are a half-dozen copies available ranging from 10-100 GBP, leaving our first bookseller looking pretty stupid at the bottom of the search results, as ranked by price. Of course, at some point, the level of the price becomes such that someone will feel they can buy a copy, perhaps at 10 pounds, perhaps when the 10 pound copy has been sold, someone will buy the one at 20 or even 25 pounds. And then more copies will come along and, eager to have the cheapest copy online, the bookseller concerned will take the price back down to 10 pounds again. And so on...

And this, I'm sure is what has gone on with Phallos, as it does with so many other books. There is an added complication in this case that it is a recent book, probably not published in its thousands. So, once the title went out of print with the publisher, the first bookseller to upload a secondhand copy probably didn't find another one out there, they were too new to have come onto the secondhand market. That doesn't make it worth 120.00GBP! Frankly, it doesn't make it worth 40.00GBP either. The price will eventually adjust itself and the price of this book secondhand will probably come down to roughly what any modern paperback costs secondhand. At which point I will be one step closer to genuinely having read every word published by Samuel R Delany.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Francis Edwin Murray's Uranian Books

Francis Edwin Murray was a successful bookdealer and a pillar of the Book Trade establishment in the early 20th Century He was also at the centre of a trade in gay literature that flourished from the turn of the century to about the mid 1920s. As well as trading in other people's books, he was also a publisher of Uranian poetry. In my recent review of Lad's Love by Michael Matthew Kaylor in the Dutch magazine Gay News I mentioned his books and the fact that, when they turn up on the market today, they are often not in the best condition. At the time, an American writer, trying to whip up interest in a volume he was publishing himself, described them as "the flimsy glue paper affairs that Murray gets out". Because nothing else has been written about these books as physical objects, this little nugget has become like received wisdom. However, I'm not sure it was entirely fair. It is true that paper covered boards on a book and paper labels are not the most structurally solid ways of binding a book but it was a fairly standard way of proceeding at the time when one needed to produce books in small runs at an economic cost. The technical understanding wasn't there to enable Murray to choose papers which wouldn't degrade over time and a little imagination applied to these examples in the photos surely suggests that they could have been rather attractive in their day.

Of the books pictured, the Leaves From Love's Rose by H. Allen Mair is something of the odd one out. I don't think there's really any evidence that it's a gay text, let alone a Uranian one. I have not been able to track down any information about the author and he or she doesn't appear in any of the histories of gay literature. The other books are very firmly in the Uranian canon. Generally Murray was producing limited editions of about 200. Some of these, about twenty to thirty depending on the title, were 'large paper' editions. That is, the same printing plates were used to print onto slightly larger sheets (i.e. more white space around the text.) Of the books pictured here, the two Newman titles are large paper copies as are the Rydal Mount Plays (which is signed), but the Fantasies by Philebus is the standard size. It is not clear that there was ever a second state of the Leaves from Love's Rose.

As you can see from these copies, the paper they were covered in, and the paper labels in some cases, degrade and scuff very easily - in fact I managed to chip the paper on one of them just in the process of taking the photos (doh!) - the hinges over the spines are particularly vulnerable. Having said that, the paper inside was usually of a very good quality and in nearly all the copies I have ever seen of Murray's books it remains very white and free from foxing.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Tatty Vintage Swim

Now, I don't want to come over like the bloke who insists he enjoys reading Playboy but onlyl for the articles... so, aside from the fact that it shows a couple of near naked guys in the sea, the main reason I like this is because of the cracks and the damage: give it a certain gravitas...

Monday, February 13, 2012

Fine Paperbacks

I'm always on the lookout for areas of book collecting that are ripe for development and, in order to stop myself from plunging into the expense and wasted months of actually making such collections, sometimes I come here and write a brief note about the idea in the hope of diffusing the actuality.

In the last couple of months I've been fortunate to have to hand a number of paperback books in absolutely fine condition. The ones pictured are from the 1950s through to the 70s. It struck me that we have come to expect the paperback to be creased and dogeared, spine creased and bent, but if these can be in such spanking condition, why can't others. How about a collection of paperbacks from the last half of the twentieth century but with the guiding principle that they can only be bought and added to the collection in absolutely pristine collection: no creases on the covers or the spine, no splayed corners, no splits in the glue binding... It would surely be one of those collections where any reasonably sized bookshop might be expected to yield a couple of finds but not so many that it becomes too easy.

For the record, I know that in the Penguin Handbook, The Culture of the Abdomen, there is a small blemish on the cover which would rule it out of my proposed collection, but I thought I'd include it because the title is so very cool!

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Gay Men's Press

The Gay Men's Press was formed in 1979 and throughout the 80s in particular was a powerhouse of 'minority publishing' along with other special interest publishers catering, for example, to women and black audiences. I think as a publisher the GMP is currently very underrated by collectors, as is much of 1980s culture. In fact, although it limped on as far as 2006, its achievements as a serious literary publisher were largely over by the mid-1990s and it devolved into a publisher of glossy gay photo books. But those first 10-15 years, I think, were a very special moment in gay publishing. The GMP gave a platform to gay writers that they would never had otherwise had. More importantly, as is Rupert Smith noted in an article marking the demise of the publisher, it is in books that we most often meet 'people like us'. The books of the GMP were, to me, and to many I know, like a drink of water in a desert. They also, in their Modern Gay Classics series, kept alive some of the pioneering literature of the gay movement.

They can also be credited with being the named cause of the infamous Clause 28 legislation in the UK that banned the 'promotion of homosexuality' in schools and publicly funded arenas. This because they published a children's book Jenny Lives With Eric and Martin and the Daily Mail conspired to find a copy in the library of a left-wing council and frothed at the mouth and Margaret Thatcher bowed down before the righteous indignity of middle England and low, one of the most vicious and retrograde pieces of legislation in modern British history was written and passed.

Although the bulk of their output was in paperback they also produced some copies in hard cover. I have yet to discover if these were produced for general sale or if they were intended for libraries. I do know that they are pretty scarce these days. I was delighted a little while ago to come across a stash of five hard cover titles.

Better still, in this lot of hardcover titles was The Carnivorous Lamb by Augustin Gomez-Arcos. This was one of the books of my adolescence: which is why I also have the well-thumbed, grubby ex-library copy still from my teenage years (below). It is set in the stultifying atmosphere of a Spanish villa with the Civil War grumbling in the background and tells the story of an intense incestuous relationship between two brothers brought up under the cloying and claustrophobic influence of their emotionally crippled mother. It drips with an eroticism like melting wax and I can heartily recommend it as a difficult but beautiful and poignant read.

UPDATE: I'm reliably informed by a great correspondent that the hardcover issue of GMP books were on sale to the public at the same time as the paperback release.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Vintage Wrestling Team

Another addition to the collection arrived this morning. These rather handsome chaps look to be part of a wrestling team. I think it is from the 1960s, perhaps early 70s but the hairstyles are a little difficult to decode.

Friday, February 10, 2012

Mystery Printing Block No. 2

This one is a little more difficult to see - but much more interesting. The block itself is a little corroded and I have rubbed chalk into the grooves to make it as visible as possible but even so, you may have to click it and enlarge it to appreciate some of the details.

This block appears to show a First World War era British soldier in a posture of crucifixion. What makes it more bizarre still is that his hands and feet are pierced not by nails but by bayonets. There was a persistent rumour during WW1 of this atrocity having been perpetrated by German soldiers either on a Canadian or a British soldier in France. There was even an investigation into the matter which concluded that there was not enough evidence to say whether it had ever happened. This image is made even more interesting, to me at least, by the other figures. The artist has depicted the mourners at the bottom of the 'cross' as ordinary women in very poor clothing while, in the background, posher, well-dressed ladies and gents are clearly scurrying by, trying to get away from or ignore the scene. There is something more than a little subversive about this plate which seems to be taking the 1918 equivalent of an urban myth and turning it into a metaphor for the class dynamics of the war.

I have very good authority saying that the style is very similar to a group of artists known as the School of Rome but, as yet, no one has been able to pin it down to a particular artist and I have not yet found this image printed in any publication.
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