Sunday, May 31, 2009

More from Leonard Smithers

This is the man.

While I was digging around for information on human skin binding before posting the photos and description from Smithers's catalogue I noticed someone remarking on how their hit rate went up every time they mentioned the subject. And it's true. At least three new links to this blog from other sites almost immediately I put the post up... You macarbre lot you.

Nothing quite so icky today but a few moments from Leonard Smithers's Catalogues which caught my eye.

From catalogue No. 1. April 1895, p.15:

"59. BOURKE (capt. John G.) Scatalogic Rites of All Nations, a Dissertation upon the Employment of Excrementitious Remedial Agents, Therapeutics, Divination, Witchcraft, Love-

Philtres, etc. in all part of the Globe, based on Original Notes and Personal Observation, and upon Compilations from Over One Thousand Authorities. 1891, 8vo., cloth, uncut. £2. 10s

An extremely curious work which treats exhaustively upon a subject which, although the historian Buckle regarded it as one well worty of examination and study, had never received the consideration it deserves."

From catalogue No. 3. Sept 1895, p.79, 91:

"348. BEARDSLEY (Aubrey). Original Unpublished Drawing in Colours, "Messalina and her Maid Returning from the Lupanar," size 7 by 11in.

The above is a most characteristic example of the "morbid" fancy of this truly original artist. It was originally designed for the "Yellow Book", but did not appear, being regarded as too outre."

"415. WRATISLAW (Theodore) Caprices. Poems by. London 1893, elegantly printed on hand-made paper, post 8vo., artistic parchment binding, uncut. Only 100 copies printed. 5s.

416. --- The Same, Japanese Vellum Edition, post 8vo., similar binding. ONLY 20 COPIES PRINTED, £1 1s.

417. --- The Same, SPECIAL ISSUE, containing two poems supressed in the above edition. 5 COPIES PRINTED, of which only 2 are for sale. £2. 2s.

The few remaining copies of these charming poems have been transfered to me, from their late publisher by the Author."

Mouthwatering stuff...

Friday, May 29, 2009

Rudolf Lehnert Photo Book

On the whole the links in this post are NOT WORK SAFE.

I was delighted to receive an email from the lovely people at the Intermale bookshop in Amsterdam anouncing the arrival of two new limited edition photo books. One in particular caught my eye: Rudolf Lehnert L’Album des nus masculins.

As I've mentioned before, R and I used to collect postcards by Lehnert & Landrock (Landrock was the business brain Lehnert the photographer) and there was always the sense that in their langorous, softly homoerotic images of young arab men and boys, that perhaps the photographer's eye was seeing the same as we did in these 'exotic' young things. But, as neither R nor I have any German to speak of, and since there were far more photos of nubile young wenches, we assumed, I think, that L&L were merely pandering to the same early 20th century clientele who bought the photos of Von Gloeden and Pluschow, but without the same personal commitment from the photographer. Seems we were wrong! It was more than the homoerotic subtext which attracted R and I to the whole ouevre of Rudolf Lehnert, the topographical photos of North Africa and the Middle East all have an appeal, and by the time we finished collecting we had something like 300 postcards and several of the larger colour photogravure reproductions. Now I just keep an eye out for them and deal in them occasionally.

The other book mentioned by the way was even ruder. But if you like a bit of vintage porn then feel free...

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Leonard Smithers: Human Skin Binding

I've been perusing the catalogues of Leonard Smithers from the mid 1890s. He is best known, of course, for his championing of and profiting from the decadent writers and artists of the period and he is often referred to as a 'pornographer' for the number of then very elicit works which he kept in stock. From his catalogues however, it is very clear that this assessment misses an important fact about Smithers: he really knew about books. His knowledge was much broader than sometimes presented and he had a special fondness for early American books and fine binding.

Thus, item 391 on p.87 of his Catalogue No. 3 (September 1895), sums up both his interest in binding and his rather more risque side. Headed, 'Human Skin Binding' the entry reads like this:

"HOLBEIN (Hans). Dance of Death, illustrated with Old Borders engraved on wood, with Latin Sentences and English Quatrains selected by Anatole de Montaiglon. Paris, Tross, 1856, PRINTED THROUGHOUT ON CHINA PAPER, post 8vo, appropriately bound in HUMAN SKIN, with a double of maroon morocco, enriched with three MOST WEIRD DESIGNS, executed in MOSAIC COLOURED LEATHERS, the binding specially designed and executed by the celebrated RAPARLIER. £31 10s

Raparlier is the present acknowledged master of the Bibliopegistic Art in France, and has created an entirely new school, which in point of originality is worthy of the supremacy of his country in such matters. This example is one of his masterpieces, and in time to come will rank with the most famed productions of Clovis Eve, Padeloup, Derome, and Le Monnier. The front cover of the binding, in human skin, is inlaid in orange, red, brown, white, green, yellow, and purple leathers; the back cover, in human skin, is in red, brown, green, white, yellow and pink inlay; and the double in dark brown morocco shews a crimson inlaid Gallic devil, with a ghastly grin on its white skull, dancing and beating a yellow and white tambourine."

Human skin binding is not as rare as one might think, it has been practiced on and off for hundreds of years, often using the skin of criminals and often, as here, to bind books which might seem particularly appropriate. There is much more informed writing on the subject at the Fine Books Blog. What a shame Smithers's catalogue buget didn't run to colour reproduction!

Monday, May 25, 2009

Vintage photos: Rural Life

Every now and again photographs come my way which really strike a chord. These in particular I found fascinating. Clearly Edwardian, despite the Sunday Best clothes that have obviously been trotted out for the photographer, it was hard to disguise just how run-down and muddy this particular farm or hamlet was. I can't help but think of Larkrise, Candleford and Cranford... a little anachronistic, I know.

Donald Weeks's Baron Corvo Collection

I was delighted on Tuesday last to be invited to Maggs Bros sumptuous shop in Berkeley Square (and one of the most haunted houses in London I'm told), for an evening in memory of Baron Corvo and his most dedicated fan, the late Donald Weeks. It has been a number of years now since Weeks's death and by all accounts, getting his unsurpassed collection of Corvine material catalogued and sold has been tortuous. However, that is what we were celebrating on Tuesday.

It was a remarkable occasion in the first instance as both Tim d'Arch Smith, who compiled the catalogue for Maggs, and and great doyen of Corvine studies Cecil Woolf were both there. It was a remarkable evening also because how often is one at a party where you can hear, "there's a Beardsley man", and "there's a Wratislaw chap" and "there's the greatest scholar of Enoch Soames": a truly 1890s bunch of people. And for me an amazing opportunity to put faces to names that I have known for years as customers or fellow researchers, publishers, writers etc. Even Dame Edna's manager and great 1890s collector Barry Humphries popped in for a while.

The best news of all is that not only has the collection been sold en bloc but it is going to a public collection: the Brotherton Library in Leeds. This is library which already has extensive 1890s holdings including Rolfe MSS. The librarian and staff of the university who were there were simply charming and, having inhaled the catalogue on the way home on the train I'm very much looking forward to getting up to Leeds to renew my acquaintances as soon as possible.

In case you were wondering, the gun was Rolfe's. It was left in the possession of one of Rolfe's Gondoliers who kept it. It was, the Gondolier said, used by Rolfe only as a bird scarer. It was Cecil Woolf who tracked down the aging boatman in the 1960s and persuaded him to give up the gun which was then smuggled back into the UK. The gun is now lost, it's only relic in the collection is the photograph used on the cover of the catalogue.

I am extremely chuffed with my copy of the catalogue, inscribed as it is, by Woolf, d'Arch Smith and Ed Maggs.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

John Addington Symonds: Leander

To Leander in Sunset by the Southern Sea

From what diviner air hast thou
Descended to these sombre skies?
What mighty god enwreathed thy brow
With flaky flame, and filled thine eyes,
Those wells deep-set with light too clear
Too ardent, for our mortal sphere?

Motionless, like a heaven-borne thing
Which earthly vaopurs overwhelm,
Still striving with the spirit's wing
To reach thy antenatal realm,
Then standest on this craggy cove
Live image of Uranian Love.

The limpid waters dream at ease
Around thy billow-beaten throne,
Pearly horizons of grey seas
Melt into skies of amber tone
With rose incarnadined to warm
The flawless pallor of thy form.

'Tis gold, 'tis honey, faintest flush
Of crimson plays round each limb,
Bathing thy body in a blush
So all pervasive, lustrous, dim,
That gazing we are fain to feel
Those hues from thee their radiance steal.

Why prate of god and heaven-born things?
Be thou thyself, victorious boy!
There need no wide aerial wings,
No immortalities of joy.
Thine is the true, the sole ideal:
Man knows nought lovelier than the real.

I don't know as much as I ought about the great man of gay letters, John Addington Symonds. I don't know, for example, whether this poem has ever been published except where I found it, although I suspect so. I have been spending some time in the British Library working on, among others, the lives of Charles Philip Castle Kains Jackson and his young cousin and lover, Cecil Castle. In doing so I came across a quite lovely article by Jackson on Addington Symonds: subtitled, 'a portrait' which is actually something like an extended obituary, for it was written and first published just after JAS's death.

The article was first published in Quarto in the UK but was reprinted as one of the Bruno Chap Books in the US (Vol 2, No. 5 November 1915), which is where I found it. I may have to write more in the future about Bruno Guido, the proprietor of the Chap Books in question and general New York boho figure.

Walter Pater called this poem 'one of the best things he ever did' - which might be overstating the case a bit. According to Jackson, however, it was the last poem JAS ever wrote in England. It was dated September 10th, 1892, the day before JAS left the country for the last time, never to return.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Life Magazine: London: Vintage Photos

The fact that Google has the rights to digitize and distribute the photo archive of Life Magazine is no revelation to most I'm sure. But having spent a little time digging around in it today it does give me the perfect excuse to display the irresistable buttocks of this RAF recuit being given his medical inspection and at the same time to pimp a blog which I have been very seriously enjoying: Another Nickel in the Machine. It's a blog about London, past present and future: but mainly past. The author uses a host of vintage photos to highlight interesting bits of micro-history. It is well written and researched and is frankly the kind of thing that every blogger wishes they could turn out.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Another Raven Flies

Much of the last few days has been spent sorting through, packing and dispatching orders for the lastest in the Raven series of monographs about Frederick Rolfe's life and work. This one, A Duchess and Her Past, tells the life story of the Duchess Caroline Sforza-Cesarini, a quite remarkable story which sheds quite some light on why she found such kinship with Rolfe when he was thrown out of the Scots College in Rome and took him into her home and into her life for quite some time.

The plum coloured covers do look particularly nice with the gilt titles on the special state, very smart! As usual the special state was oversubscribed and sold out within hours. The blurb for the new title it below and it will shortly appear on the website.

Raven Eight: A Duchess and Her Past

by Robert Scoble

When Frederick Rolfe was expelled from the Scots College in Rome in May 1890, he turned for help to the members of the Sforza Cesarini family, from whom he felt sure of a sympathetic hearing. The elderly Dowager Duchess Sforza Cesarini did not hesitate. She immediately invited him to spend the summer as her guest at the family's magnificent palazzo south of the city. The following six months in idyllic Genzano were crucially important to Rolfe's development as a writer, and gave him a lasting insight into Italian history and character. While his psychological wounds were being dressed, he was finding inspiration for the extraordinary books he was soon to write.

This is the first biographical sketch ever written about the feisty duchess. It is only when we know the circumstances of her eventful life that we begin to understand why she felt such an immediate sympathy for Rolfe. Herself an Englishwoman, and like Rolfe a convert to Catholicism, she had been born illegitimately, and had faced an uncertain future before she met her future husband, a rich Italian aristocrat whose early life had been as checkered as her own. Together they played a not inconsiderable role in the fight for Italian unification, and the duchess's husband and son were both appointed to the Italian Senate. By the time she met Rolfe she was a rich and lonely old widow, with a history of standing up to the church authorities.

Of a full edition of 70, the first 12 copies of A Duchess and Her Past constitute the special state, case bound in plum-coloured paper-covered boards with gilt titles, and signed by the author. Numbers 13-70 form the ordinary state of the edition, and are sewn into plum-coloured card covers with a paper label and acetate wrappers.

Thursday, May 07, 2009

W Heath Robinson: The Water Babies

I've written before about my love of The Water Babies and of the early illustrations of Heath Robinson (before the contraptions). So clearly the combination of the two is one of my delights in life. These are not my scans and they are not the best quality but they will suffice for showing something of the genius which went into these illustrations. I have uploaded nearly 40 illustrations from the book to this Flickr set. I don't think I know another artists in the genre whose use of solid black and acres of white space was so assured. Heath Robinson, particularly in The Water Babies gives a bravura display of black and white illustration moving away from the fin-de-siecle decadence to something a little more humoured and delicate.
The first edition (Constable, London, 1915) is a highly desirable object. Even copies in poor condition, with missing plates, are being listed at £40-£80. Once in the realm of copies in very good condition we are talking £200-300 although the top of that range would be a bit ambitious. By this point in his career Heath Robinson was beginning to move away from the traditional black and white, and to find his style (and place in the language) as a creator as a creator of mad-cap inventions. I know the majority opinion is that this is when he came into his own but a look at his bibliography in The Guide to First Edition Prices shows that actually he was far more prolific before about 1920 than afterwards. His 'inventions' were really very late in his career. Happily for me the means a large number of more traditional illustrations to enjoy.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Vintage Winter Sports

These delightful, probably Edwardian, photos are part of a group I have which are obviously all from the same album although the album, and therefore any identifying annotation, is no longer with us. These are just a few of the winter sports depicted taking place in some Alpine town at a time when it didn't get more fashionable than to head off for Switzerland in the winter.

These appear to be contact prints made directly from the negatives.

Holed up in Wales

Have spent the last week in the most delightful retreat in South Wales, just inside the Pembrokeshire National Park and in the last house before the Preseli Hills. Quite magnificent isolation. Every now and again I go away with two good friends for a week of nothingness and this was the first sucvh trip in a while.

We were in one of the best equipped and provisioned self-catering cottages I've ever stayed in. The picture above doesn't do it justice. The landscape is the view from the back door.

If you have interest enough you should see just how isolated we were by copying this:

51 58 48.00 N 4 44 23.94 W

into the search box on Google Earth...
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