Friday, October 31, 2014

An Act of Contrition

I've long been fascinated by the predominantly, though not exclusively, Catholic practise of printing Holy Cards: small cards with illustrations, usually of saints, and prayers on the back relating in some way to the image. As a bookseller you find these constantly tucked between the pages of Bibles and Prayer Books. Usually they are either rather modern and graphic or very old-fashioned and rather kitsch. Both styles have their appeal but I've never seen one like this before which sort of falls between the two, exuding an almost retro style. Clearly it is a wartime production and that's confirmed by the 1941 copyright date. The prayers on the back, perhaps strangely, are "A Perfect Act of Contrition".

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Such Drama!

Every now and again friends and correspondents send me photos they have either found on the net or own themselves because they think they will appeal. Which is exactly how this chap came to me from the lovely Elin who owns this photo. There is absolutely nothing to identify him or to explain his costume (although he does look rather Shakespearean) so you are free to imagine your own story to go with him.

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

John Nash Illustrates John Pudney's Almanack of Hope

John Pudney may well be one of the underrated fiction authors of the twentieth century, but possible not underrated as a poet. But I was completely charmed by this Almanack of Hope, a series of sonnets by John Pudney, one for each month of the year and each with a drawing by the great John Nash. The book was published in 1944 and John Nash's style with his slightly twisted natural lines and sometimes weirdly angular shading makes for just the right dark undertone to this wartime production setting the slightly macabre elements against the pre-war pastoral English idyll. It's quite a remarkable set of drawings I think.

Monday, October 27, 2014

The Corvo Cult by Robert Scoble

The 25th of this month, last Saturday, was the 101st Anniversary of the death of Baron Corvo. Last year at this time there were banquets and catalogues and all sorts of things going on. This year, a little more staid perhaps but nonetheless on Thursday at Maggs Bros in London I was at the launch of Robert Scoble's second major book on the Baron. It was a very enjoyable evening and so nice to meet so many readers of this blog: and always good to be chastised for not posting something new every day! I will try and do better. This time, Scoble's book takes the story onwards from Rolfe's death and tells the story of the The Corvo Cult, the extremely dedicated group of people who chased down his life-story, his letters, his first editions: the publishers, collectors, academics, and literati who were, over the years infected with the Covo Bacillus. From the early days of John Lane and Henry Harland, through to Shane Leslie and A. J. A. Symons, Brocard Sewell, A. T. Bartholomew and onto G. F. Sims, Cecil Woolf, Timothy d'Arch Smith and Donald Weeks and up to the present day with some mention of the reconstituted Corvine Society. The names of those who at some point joined the Corvo Cult are legion and they all feature here in Scoble's tradmark lucid and entertaining prose backed up with a fastidious attention to detail in the footnotes... This is a book which is not just for those who know the Baron but also for anyone with an interest in books and literary life through the twentieth century. The book is published by Strange Attractor Press and is best ordered through their website, it is designed to make a pair with Robert's previous book, Raven: The Turbulent World of Baron Corvo.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Ralph Lavers illustrates Redskin Morning by Joan Grant II

As foreshadowed in yesterday's post in which I put up some of the colour illustrations from this book. These are a selection of the black and white work of Ralph Lavers illustrating Redskin Morning and Other Stories by Joan Grant. 

UPDATE: I am reliably informed by a correspondent that this Ralph Lavers is indeed the same as the architect designer of the 1948 Olympic Torch. He was a friend of Joan Grant's and shared her beliefs in reincarnation/past life memories and believed he had himself been a  Pharoah. He was involved in some Egyptian excavations and was employed to draw 'artist's impressions' of sites being excavated. It is also believed he had some contact with Ralph Chubb.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Ralph Lavers illustrates Redskin Morning by Joan Grant

These are the colour plate illustrations for a book of stories with folkloric Native American settings called Redskin Morning and Other Stories by Joan Grant (Methuen, London: 1944). Normally, when I blog about a book which has both colour and black and white illustrations, it is immediately clear to me which of the two I prefer from that particular artist. Not so in this case and I shall show off some of the black and white work in another post. 

Joan Grant was a curious character who was catapulted to literary fame by her 1937 novel, The Winged Pharaoh,  which was rapturously received by literary critics across the world, a story set in Ancient Egypt. She later claimed that this novel and her other stories in historical settings were, in fact, "far memories" of lives she had actually lived. 

I can find nothing more of Ralph Lavers, the artist, in any of my reference books, although there are at least three or four books available (including another by Joan Grant) which list him as the illustrator. Is it possible he was the architect who designed the Olympic Torch for the 1948 London games? Whoever he was these are some delightfully stylized and colourful illustrations with more to follow of his black and white work in this same book.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Lionel Wendt's Ceylon

Lionel Wendt (1900-1944) was born in Colombo, Ceylon, in 1900 the son of a Supreme Court Judge. He was educated at St Thomas's College, Columbo but as a young man spent time in England studying piano at The Royal Academy. Coming from such a privileged background it was assumed that he would become a lawyer and he did indeed qualify and even set up a practise in Columbo for a short while but it would have been no surprise to his friends when that venture didn't last very long and he quickly settled into the life of a concert pianist and teacher. For ten years or so he concentrated on his musical career until about 1935 when he photography became his main preoccupation.

These images are all taken from the book, Lionel Wendt's Ceylon which was published posthumously in 1950. You might legitimately expect that a book with such a title would be full of images of beautiful landscapes. There are such photographs in the book but they are outnumbered by images of lovely young men in various states of undress (and some female nudes too), and there is more than a flavour of the surreal in the work too with long and intricate titles given to images like the one immediately below called, "The Misery of Balanced Perplexities".

Francis Edwin Murray: A Bookseller's Label

Sometime ago I wrote a long post here on Front Free Endpaper about the bookplate of the bookseller Francis Edwin Murray. It was the practice of nineteenth and twentieth century booksellers to stick often tiny labels inside the books they were selling. There are those who collect these labels although it's an admittedly very niche field. I was delighted though to find this in the back of an otherwise unremarkable book yesterday. If you look closely at Murray's bookplate in the previous post you will see that this image (of himself I believe) is also inset into that design.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Dennis Wheatley, you can't give him away... or can you?

There was a time when Dennis Wheatley's first editions were very sought after or, in a phrase I hate with a passion, "highly collectible". Most of his books have never been very expensive, although my 2010 copy of R. B. Russell's Guide to First Edition Prices suggests that his 1930s titles might be worth a few hundred pounds, but for years, those reasonably inexpensive firsts were the staple diet of a provincial bookshop. Not any more. He's dead in the water. Don't get me wrong, I don't think they're bad books, I have very fond memories of a long summer as a teenager in which I hoovered up the whole of the Gregory Sallust series and all the black magic books. I suggested on Twitter the other day that finding a pile of Dennis Wheatley books in the middle of an otherwise decent lot of books is the bookseller's equivalent of a gardener finding Japanese Knotweed growing under your shrubbery! And it happened to me. A lot of books I bought for other things happened to include a big load of Wheatley, not many are first editions, some have great covers, some are ex-library but not all, the condition is mixed. So, let's see if it really is true that you can't give this stuff away...

On Tuesday next week I am donating these to a charity shop near here. If you would like any one or more of them before then, drop me an email. I ask only that you pay the cost of shipping to wherever you are in the world. In the unlikely event that more than two people want the same book I shall doll them out in the order the requests appear in my inbox. Go Wheatley....!

James Cummins Halloween Catalogue

Love it or loathe it, Halloween approaches. One of the undoubted benefits of the season for the bibliophile is the sudden promotion of books on supernatural subjects. James Cummins in New York has made an online catalogue from appropriate items in their stock and it makes a lovely eclectic mix. There are all manner of goodies here from an autograph letter by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow in which he quotes a stanza from his "Haunted Houses" and a first edition of M. R. James's Ghost Stories of an Antiquary to a couple of 1920s tomes on Vampirism and the wonderful original, if unfinished, Rackham illustration above of a witch and her broom from The Ingoldsby Legends. There's something very satisfying about the breadth and interest provided by even such a short list.

Tuesday, October 14, 2014

The Printing Art of George Ratcliffe Woodward

The phrase "Private Press" is used to cover all manner of ventures. If anything seems to fit the description properly, these wonderful booklets by George Ratcliffe Woodward (1848-1934) must do surely. Each sports the proud words on the front "Privately printed at 48 West Hill, Highgate Village", Woodward's home, presumably printed by the retired Vicar himself on a press in the back room somewhere. As a hobbyist he is really very good and whilst I say they are 'proudly' printed, in fact, one of the reasons these booklets are so appealing is their humility. Each is a few pages of beautifully set type sewn into buff card covers. Among the collection I have he stirs into coloured type only once and that is for the little booklet of Christmas carols. All the texts are verses or translations of verses by Woodward himself and yet, true to his calling, he presents them with restraint and not a little dignity. These are all printed well into Woodward's retirement in the late 1920s and early 30s but during his active life, as well as a parish clergyman, Woodward was a musicologist who edited numerous collections of church music with a particular emphasis on Carols.

I have had and enjoyed this little collection for a while but it wasn't until I stumbled on the description of one of them them by another bookseller that I discovered they even contain a little gay interest. One of these booklets contains a couple of translations by Woodward of same-sex oriented love poems by Christophe Ballard, part of the 17th century section of a family dynasty who pretty much had music publishing sewn up in France for seven generations. This is one I like:

j'ayme un Brun depuis un jour

Long I've loved a nut-brown youth;
For beauty, none above him.
He requites my love, in sooth:
Be not astonied if I love him, I love him.

He in wisdom doth excel;
More sweet than she who bore him,
He can keep a secret well:
No wonderment if I adore him, I adore him.

Pale of cheek I wax apace,
When absent he sojourneth:
But when I behold his face,
My colour as before returneth, returneth.

Travel Posters at Swann Auction Galleries

A stunning collection of twentieth century travel posters is about to go under the hammer at Swann Auction Galleries in New York. And when I say it's 'about to' I mean in about two hours time. It's the collection of an anonymous Australian collector and so there is a strong representation of Australian posters but they really are from all over the world. There are nearly 200 posters and I have just gathered a few here that appealed to me but it's quite a catholic collection in terms of style. There is an accompanying Ebay Live auction which, if you are here in time you can follow here and browse the rest of the images.

Who links to my website?