Thursday, October 25, 2007

A real Indiana Jones day

If you're like me and work in a museum and/or archaeology, Indiana Jones makes you roll your eyes a bit. But, being human, you are also swept away in the fun and adventure shouting along with Indy "THAT BELONGS IN A MUSEUM!". You may even say "Dang, I wish I was an archaeologist/ museum curator." Then reality sets back in and... well, you have days like this.

Now, I'm fascinated by printing. Letterpress printing. It comes with being a fourth degree bibliophile. My job at the museum allows me to explore some of my interests. I've wanted to put together a program for kids where they could print things themselves. Something simple, like a bookmark. You get the idea. Doing my part to engage kids with history and spread bibliophilia.
Last..., I don't know. We'll say it was last Thursday, one of the other curators comes to me with a great little tidbit: An old defunct newspaper was looking to divest itself of stuff. Being a knowledgeable hand with the "black art" of printing, he was going down there Monday to see if the museum could use any of it for our collections. Knowing my interest in printing, he welcomed a "wish list" of stuff I could use to get my program off the ground. I was pumped. Friday rolls over and I find out he won't be going, but was sending another lady down in his stead. Wonderful as she is, she doesn't know much about printing. I threw a few photos and words together for her to know what I was wanting.

I fret all weekend and resolve: I'm going too, no matter what. Monday dawns, rainy and windy. A big cup of joe poured, we head out. We finally arrive at our destination: A rural town where if you've ever wondered what a Cadillac would look like if it was bred with a monster truck... I have a place for you! Also, if you are wanting a pet beagle, there seems to be an unlimited supply roaming the roads and highways in this town and the next one over.
The elderly daughter of the former editor greets us, leading us to the buildings where everything has been kept. The first building had a few galleys and some Linotype slugs. I grabbed a galley and move to carry it outside---- and step through the floor. I was fortunate to be on the ground floor and only went in a few inches. I tromped ahead, stomping my way through the floor and outside. Now, I'm a big boy, but literally wrecking a wooden floor was unexpected. To my credit, it was rotted out real bad.

The next building wasn't bad. Concrete floor and a couple skylights made a world of difference. It wasn't pitch black inside like the first. Several cases of type and a mid-1940s Vandercook. I jotted down the serial number of the Vandy and grabbed the wood type. I checked the other fonts and made some notes as to what lead was there. I was getting nervous. Was this it? Not what I had hoped. "Let me take to the newspaper office," the old lady said.

The next building had metal sheets screwed to the front covering whatever windows used to face the street. The little old lady said "Now a cat or two have been in here some, so there is an odor." I bet you're all thinking what I thought in that moment. If you're not thinking what I'm thinking, you're surely the neighborhood cat-lady. "Now, Daddy never let us in here. He worried we'd be crushed by something." Perfect. She unlocked the door. As the door opened the building sighed a distinctly moist, warm feline puff into my cringing face.

It was just at noon. Thoughts of lunch vanished in the drizzle. We took turns going in, closing the door, stepping clear, then opening the door for the next person. My partner from the museum had a camera, clinched jaw and set face. I could see the will power being summoned to the top. It was not just a few cats. Several would have been a joy. It was more like dozens of feral cats have been undisturbed here for the better part of thirty years. Heaping mounds of decomposing cat poo oozed and crumbled everywhere. It was pitch black inside. The flashlights also revealed three linotypes, a couple melting pots. Uncounted numbers of type cases. Most of them against the walls along the perimeter of the large room. Nearly all sitting at unnatural angles, having fallen through the floor, some bursting their lead onto the floor. A few magnesium plates sat on the composing table. They were furry with corrosion. Worthless. As we moved through, trying our best not to touch anything, I worried about one of us slipping on the paper several inches deep on the floor, moist and soiled. Either on the paper, or whatever lie underneath.
We slunk around to the back of the shop, passing layout tables heaping with more and more you-know-what. The lady said her mother used to hand feed the paper into old the drum press when her father took over the paper in the mid-1950s. He ran the newspaper there until his death in the mid-1980s. The name in the cast iron was so coated with ink and crud, I couldn't make anything out except "New York". Big help.

The drum press was old. Maybe seriously old. The dinosaour was pretty grungy, but seemed complete. It was very dark in there and hard to tell. You can just make out a bit of the drum press in the shadows if you look at the big versions of some of these pics. There was also an old-style Chandler and Price, a new-style C&P, a paper cutter, and other stuff. By then I knew, we had to go. I knew the museum wouldn't likely be interested in anything. It was too far gone. They should have called when he died 25 years ago. Disappointed, we picked our way out. As I begin to slide back past the linotypes at the front, my unfortunate colleague points "Hey. Isn't that, that?" I look around to see the pile of papers and poo she's pointing to, seeing for the first time a cylinder and a handle poking out.

I climbed over, leaping with maybe a little joy. I knew exactly what it was. I must have been smiling ear to ear. I tipped the thing over, scattering the paper and other toppins' off to reveal a Miles Nervine proof press.

Exactly what I showed my colleague that morning with the words "My lofty hope is to find one of these." Dr. Miles invented a patent medicine and ran a program in the late 19th Century aimed at small town newspapers. In exchange for one year of advertising in the paper, he would send you this neat little proof press. It's very small, table top sized. It's period for the programming I do most (1890s) and simple enough for even the youngest of kids to be able to use. It's in nearly perfect shape. Just needs the slime under the bed cleaned off.
Here are a few photos that we got. Believe me, the photos do not do this building justice. She tried to keep the cat contributions to a minimum in the photos. However, it does capture the eery feeling I got going in. It didn't take much imagination to see the lady running the drum press, the husband composing type, someone proofing a job.

So, if Mr. Spielberg, Lucas or Ford read this post, here is an idea for Indy 4: to match the horrors of the snakes in Raiders of the Lost Ark, the bugs of Temple of Doom, and the rats of Last Crusade, I offer: Leavings of a feral cat colony.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Update on Bookseller/ Barber

Well, today was a good day at my house. I got home from a *gross* experience (more on that later) to find a damp cardboard box on my stoop. Lo and behold, some very cheap books arrived! Lucky for me, they were all dry. They're all ex-library, but I couldn't pass up the prices. Nothing collectable, just solid reference type stuff. Sorry, but it's still a secret where I got them as I haven't bought everything I want just yet from the seller. They didn't have very good descriptions, and of course no photos, but only one turned out to be a real dud. Not bad out of six or seven books.

One I'm looking forward to browsing is Historic California in Bookplates by Clare Ryan Talbot. I don't have a very big collection of bookplates, but I love learning about them. I hope to have a couple made. Heck, I may even have a whack at doing it myself. Also got an early Madeline Stern book on Mrs. Frank Leslie. Also, Vol. 13 (1799-1800) of Charles Evans' American Bibliography. This could be an extremely useful tool in the American Book Trade Index cause. I also got an index of Printers found in Evans. And, until uploads the rest of Evans, I'll have to dig up copies of vols. 9-12. Also, I don't think this index is the index from the set. Hmmm.

Ah, the update on Mr. Deming? He's listed in Charles Evans' American Bibliography, Vol. 13, (1799-1800) pg. 163.

"Sold wholesale and retail, by L. Deming, no.1 Market Square Corner, of Merchant's Row, Boston." Broadside 4to. Item 37772.

This places him another 30 years previous in Boston. It seems this guy sold books for 50+ years!

Friday, October 19, 2007

Barbers and Booksellers

In 1830, Leonard Deming not only sold books, stationary, ballads, songs and pamphlets, but wanted to let readers know he also gave haircuts.

According to the American Antiquarian Society (AAS), "Leonard Deming is listed at this address in Boston directories for 1829-1831." On one of the songs he published at this location ("The Bloody Brother") is this jolly jingle: "If you’d like a good song to dissipate care--pray call at L. Deming’s, no. 1, Market Square;--where you’ll find a collection the best in the city ..." In all of the items in their collection from this period, no records at the AAS record the barbershop.
However, our good friends at the AAS did the leg-work and say later publications of Leonard Deming's were issued imprinted from "[Boston] : Sold, by L. Deming, wholesale and retail, no. 62, Hanover Street, 2d door from Friend Street, Boston., [Deming was at this address from 1832 to 1837]." According to the AAS, Leonard Deming lived 1787-1853.

Looking for Mr. Deming through Google Books, I noticed an item dated 1851 coming from a Leonard Deming in Middlebury, VT. I wondered if it could be this same gent publishing in Boston from 1829-1837. Further digging revealed all, barbershop included. "[Boston] : Sold wholesale and retail, by Leonard Deming, at the sign of the barber’s pole, no. 61, Hanover Street, Boston, and Middlebury, Vt., [Leonard Deming was at this address from 1837 and 1840]." Emphasis mine, of course. He must have opened a branch office/shop in Middlebury sometime between 1837 and 1840, and by the 1850s Deming transferred his full efforts there. Why the move? I remember there was a terrible fire in Boston that gutted many bookseller and printing operations in the 19th Century. Was that during the late 1830s? Where did I read that? Also, is Deming buried in Middlebury, Vermont?

Through the fog a vague little photo begins to emerge. I've seen this odd combination before. The good folks over at Fine Books & Collections ran a photo of a stamp from another bookseller/ barber from an Arkansas book shop called Roy Bean's Used Book Center and Barber Shop. That stamp includes a 5-digit zip code, which places Roy Bean's in the latter half of the 1900s. Also, it is described as being found in a vintage paperback. See for yourself in the reader's letters section toward the front of your July/August 2006 issue. Seeing another bookseller/barber got me curious how common this combination is. How long do bookseller-barbers go back? At least to 1830, I guess. Anyone know or heard of others?

Enjoy book history or Book Trade history? Check out the 1,000+ images related to the pre-1900 American Book Trade at the American Book Trade Index Flickr group. Help us grow a fun bibliographic tool.

Photo above is by permission of Philenor Rare Books. Book is currently listed on eBay here. Item number 190164124426, if the link breaks. I have no connection whatsoever with Philenor Rare Books and have recieved no compensation for posting their image here.

Friday, October 12, 2007

WPA October Library Poster

I love the month of October! The changing leaves, the cooler weather. How do we spell relief in Oklahoma? O-C-T-O-B-E-R. I grew up in Nebraska. There, it was typically Octo-brr-rrrrr. Confession: another big plus for me is College Football. I digress.

October seems to be a bookish month. Am I the only one who feels this way? I don't know if it's because school is in full swing, if the cooler weather slows us down, but it seems like more people read now than in the summer. Autumn makes me think of reading and libraries. I ran across some great WPA artists and thier posters somewhere on the internet. This little gem is probably my favorite. Does anyone know what "Bright Blue Weather" means? I have no idea, but this poster is just fantastic. I have some other very nice scans of WPA library related posters and will post them in the appropriate months. Pinky swear. Proof? Look below for one for September.

In other news, we at the American Book Trade Index group at Flickr, are now up and over 1000 images! Hooray! Also, please note: I said "we". That's right, there is now membership. Of course, I belong (who wouldn't?), but more importantly, a gentleman with interests in the history of Michigan has come aboard.

So, let me extend the invitation again: Enjoy this most-bookish month and get in on the ground floor of what could be an amazing tool for researching the history of the book in America: The American Book Trade Index.

Monday, October 8, 2007

French and Richstein, booksellers, trade card

Isn't this gorgeous? I love the layout, the image, the typography. It all comes together very nicely. I've seen it described as a trade card and a voucher. Isn't it a bit long for a trade card? If it was a voucher of some kind, wouldn't it say something to that effect, or give a value? Is there anything on the back? Is it supposed to look like currency? Anyway, trying to nail down some years on this little gem. The capitol dome was completed with the statue on top by 1869. Wikipedia says 1863, but photos on the Library of Congress page dated 1864 show an uncompleted dome. Also, the dome looks a little tall and skinny in this photo. That could just be the artist's interpretation. I wonder when you could no longer drive your horse and buggy up to the front steps. A completed auction cites it to 1862, as part of a lot of souvenirs from DC from that year. In that case, the completed dome would be pure imagination, or based on another sketch.

Thanks to the Lincoln Log ( I know they were in business May 7, 1862, as President Abraham Lincoln (a documented bibliophile) ordered some books: "Library of the Executive Mansion" orders books from William F. Richstein, bookseller and dealer in foreign and American stationery, 278 Pennsylvania Ave. "1 set Hood's Poems $6.50, 1 Goldsmiths Poems $5.00, 1 Homes of American Authors $6.00." [Thomas Hood, Poems; Oliver Goldsmith, Poems; Homes of American Authors: Comprising Anecdotical, Personal, and Descriptive Sketches, by Various Writers . . ., New York, 1853.] Last item is paid for by President; others out of annual appropriation of $250 for books for White House per Benjamin B. French, Commissioner of Public Buildings." Pg. 180. (Pratt, Harry E. The Personal Finances of Abraham Lincoln. Springfield, IL: The Abraham Lincoln Association, 1943.)

I wonder if Benjamin B. French is the same French of French & Richstein...

Thursday, October 4, 2007

What's in a label?

Discovered an article on collecting book trade labels today. Written from the Australian perspective, it is interesting to hear more about this quiet hobby. It got me wondering how many collections already exist, perhaps even in institutional collections. Elizabeth June Torcasio, the author, also seems to have an especially keen interest in 20th Century Australian radicals, which I can respect. To whet your appetite:"Collecting book labels is clearly an eccentric occupation. A cursory glance at the inside the cover of an old book, then on to the next until a label is spotted. Other customers may wonder about the object of the search. Enthusiasm, however, makes one obvious to public reaction. All too often there is a pale space where a label has been removed..."

read more | digg story

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

Ahhh. The Good Ol' Days

1808, Boston, Joseph Bumstead, book dealer, handbill. Click on the handbill and it should take to you larger versions. I do have it as a .tif file so it can be read properly. The long s (which look like f's) can make for funny reading. I particularly liked "bookfellers".

From this handbill offering book auction services: "Many Books which now lie sleeping on shelves, or buried in obscurity, may in this way be put out of the hands of those who want Cash more than Books- and into the hands of others who want Books more than Cash." And, at no cost to the book owner!

1808, nice and early. I did find more through the Library of Congress to be added to the US Book Trade Index. They have high res scans of these, but the files are too large to upload into Flickr. I'll keep you updated.