Friday, January 25, 2008

Suffragette on a Flying Trapeze

My personal collection of book trade ephemera is *supposed* to focus on the book trades of the frontier. I have to remind myself of that every once in a while. Am I the only one who gets sucked down tangents? I doubt it.

Anyway, I've had a business card for a while for one FR Aldrich, an agent for Advance Steam Printing Co. in Norman, Oklahoma Territory. Now, Norman was founded and occupied the night of the initial land run into the Unassigned Lands April 22, 1889. Oklahoma became a state in November 1907. That date range was the closest I could get to FR Aldrich and his business. An 18 year gap is a little too big for me for someone really not all that long ago or far away.

I tried Googling the name F.R. Aldrich, thinking Aldrich would be an uncommon enough name to locate easily. I did find lots of Fr. Aldriches, as in Father Aldrich, and I did find a couple FR Aldriches. One was a female college student in the 1940s on the east coast, others had too little info for a positive ID. But one suspect turned up in Kansas in 1913 and 1916 and was a school district superintendent. He (?) could be the same person. Not much difference in time and location, but a little bit of a career shift. Then again, we've already uncovered more than one barber bookseller. I could see how connections to publishing and printing could be useful as a school superintendent.

I turned my attention to identifying the font used for the main text. I had hoped the font would help me date the card. Printers like to use new hip typefaces in their advertisements, an opportunity to show off new faces and technical capabilities. If I can get the actual name of the face, maybe I can track down a date and get closer to figuring out FR Aldrich's story. Today, thanks to the charter member from Michigan of the American Book Trade Index, I found another example of this cool, but odd font in a directory ad for a newspaper in Ann Arbor Michigan from 1892.

The 1892 date of the directory is spot on for the range I already had. I've run through the resources of the Oklahoma Historical Society for FR Aldrich and the Advance Steam Printing Co. without any luck. I ran the FR Aldrich card through What the Font , a website you can upload .jpg files and the website searches out the closest match for your font. The first time I ran the card through none of the "matches" were even close. Admittedly, the image of the card isn't very sharp, and there just aren't that many letters to work with, especially letters that would be totally unique to this type face. I ran the Ann Arbor Democrat ad through, and What The Font matched it very closely to a face called Trapeze Normal. Very cool. Almost.

The problem is that there are other computer fonts called Trapeze, and I can't seem to find the historic typeface's name it is based on. It's a lead and perhaps one more piece of the puzzle. Maybe just a piece of a piece.

But, Emma E. Bower caught my eye. Now, it really was not uncommon for women to be editor/ publishers of newspapers in the U.S. In fact, women had been in charge of presses from the very earliest presses in North America in 1639. However, in many cases, these women were widows taking full control over the family printing business. They would often operate under their husband's name, or under initials.

Googling Ms. Bower reveals some tempting tangents. First of all, she is Dr. Emma E. Bower, M.D., of Port Huron, St. Clair County, Michigan. Not only a Democrat, but a Delegate to Democratic National Convention from Michigan, in 1920. She served as Secretary of the Ladies of the Maccabees, an insurance/ fraternal organization for women only, from 1893 until at least 1919. The Knights of the Maccabees claim them as an auxiliary organization at least well into the 1920s. The Ladies of the Maccabees said they started out as such, but had become "wholly independent" after a couple short years. Her name also appears with some mentions of the suffrage and temperance movements, but I couldn't find any specifics or print sources I could access for more info. She certainly sounds interesting!

So, from the Land Run in Oklahoma to a suffragette in Michigan. Stupid tangents...

Friday, January 11, 2008

AA and Ephemera Collecting

A recent arrival for my collection. Typically I buy items and put them away once a decent image is uploaded to the American Book Trade Index. Then I'll go back and poke around, recording details as I can find in bibliographies and Google. Blah, blah, blah, but it is a lot of fun, and odd things turn up. This advertising cover is a great example.

Some details: 1875 is in the round part along the roof line of the building. What's that round bit of wall that sticks up called anyway? The sign at the top of the building says "Rialto Block". A sign below the top row of windows reads "Journal Bindery". The address under the engraving says "State St., Montpelier, Vt.". I looked a bit for a Clarks Journal in Montpelier, and didn't find much. A JD Clark is listed as a bookbinder on the Rialto Block in an 1887-8 Directory. So, according to the cancellation mark on the cover, and the directory, we can place Clark-Journal Bindery at least from 1883-1888.

I thought I would try looking for the addressee, a Judge Walter P. Smith. Well, it turns out he's the father of Robert Holbrook Smith. Robert H. Smith is generally known as Dr. Bob, one of the founders of Alcoholics Anonymous. The enclosure from the envelope is long gone. I imagine it would have been a bill or a quote for binding ledgers or some such thing. The Clarks Journal sounds like a bindery attached to a newspaper. These kinds of operations did a lot of ledger and similar binding.

So, does the Rialto Block on State Street still stand in Montpelier?

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Captains of Industry and Rural Kansas

This trade card is the type of thing I'm hoping to preserve through the American Book Trade Index. I know nothing about it. It's like millions of other trade cards from the end of the 1800s, but this one is from a bookseller in Anthony, Kansas. This one is also different because it is the size of a modern business card, instead of the more usual trade card size. The story of the Book Trade in America isn't always about people like the Harpers and Mathew Carey. It's about M. Mason too.

Anthony Kansas is on the border with Oklahoma, and as of the 2000 census, home to 2440 souls. Actually, the Anthony Chamber of Commerce currently claims 2302. Many rural towns across the fruited plain are shrinking faster than this. Not only are we losing people, we're losing the stories and history. There is a chance that folks in Anthony Kansas do not remember the Mason Book Store any more, although there are still some Masons in the phone book. Google sure doesn't remember a book store in Anthony, but it is hardly the mighty be-all of human knowledge we wish it could be. It'll also likely be a while before the Harper County Museum gets in on the Open Library, or one of the other digitization efforts. I wonder if anyone there still has a business directory from the end of the 1880s? Would a town like Anthony publish one? Until then, the American Book Trade Index is a start to preserve the history of the American Book Trade, even in places like Anthony Kansas.

1908 Chicago Fire

Trolling everyone's favorite global garage sale, I happened across this very cool post card. Having recently rode out another ice storm in Oklahoma, this striking image certainly caught my eye. I've seen this sort of thing before, having grown up in a different longitude than Oklahoma. Darkened buildings, ice everywhere: obviously there had been a fire in the dead of winter. That, and I keenly observed the firefighter standing in the road. Digging a little deeper, history now knows this as the Wabash Ave. Fire, January 27, 1908 in Chicago. Newspaper accounts of the period place losses at $1.7M in losses. Nearly all the newspaper accounts mention how the theaters were nearly empty as the fire caused the trains to run late. Of the insurance records, and newspaper articles, none mention the Morris Book Shop, whose little white sign can just be made out in the lower right quadrant of the postcard.

Digging a little more, I found the photograph on which the postcard is based. Walter Carl Schneider took this photo, I assume, on the morning of the 28th. By 1908 the 24-year old amateur photographer had seen his work published in The New York Herald. I couldn't find any information about Mr. Schneider selling this photo to be made into a postcard, but it apparently was.

The fire on Wabash Ave. didn't seem to keep the Morris Book Shop down though. Catalog 77 from the Morris Book Shop is offered via the ABAA website featuring 46 pages of "Books and Literary Material". No address given online, but it is dated 1917.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

Lost Books, Cervantes and Dali

Friend of mine at work has been reading. This is dangerous enough, but he's been reading old books. He's asked for recommendations of 19th Century American fiction. Reading old books can be downright alarming. I've been thinking about readers and their books the last few days, as I've added a personally coveted edition of Don Quixote to my collection. It's the Illustrated Modern Library edition with illustrations by Dali. Just fantastic stuff. I also recently found a bookseller trade card advertising a specific title. I don't see these types of cards as often as trade cards only advertising the merchant, and the title of the book was completely new to me.

According to WorldCat, 59 libraries carry copies of We Von Arldens, which was actually written by Clara Louise Burnham, not a "Miss Douglas". It was originally published by Henry A. Sumner, in Chicago in 1881. There also seems to have been another printing in 1882. I'm not familiar with any of Burnham's work, but according to bookfinder she did write a lot of novels. It was interesting that although there are hefty library holdings, there are no copies of this novel for sale online. At least none I could find. Has anyone read any books by Clara Louise Burnham, and more importantly, can you recommend any?

One thing I can recommend to anyone wanting to start a book collection, but not sure where to begin, is the Modern Library series. Did you know some people *collect* the Modern Library series? Yes, I'm one of them, and there is a great website that collectors have built up over several years which is really worth a look. If you've seen it before and have lost the link, it was formerly called, but the domain name was sold and it is now So, why collect the Modern Library? Well, there is a lot of great writing, both fiction and non, poetry, philosophy. The books are readable, handy, uniform size and look good on the shelf.

Many titles feature original dust jacket art by some fantastic artists, like Rockwell Kent and E. McKnight Kauffer. There were also several editions that received new introductions by the author and in many cases, these editions were the only time these intros were printed. Folks like CS Forester (African Queen, which includes a final chapter the original publisher omitted), F Scott Fitzgerald (Great Gatsby), Robert Frost, William Faulkner, Dashiell Hammett (Maltese Falcon) , and many many more. The best part about collecting the Modern Library series is that it is quite affordable. You can make it quite expensive (try finding an illustrated Alice in Wonderland!), but it doesn't have to be. For instance, I currently own 6 London imprint Modern Library books, including one in dust jacket, but these were all found using tenacity, not spreading dough. Go visit for more.