Sunday, May 30, 2010

Roadtrip Day One - Tewkesbury

This week, R and I are on our own little 'Antiques Roadtrip'. Due to the wonders of motel rooms with WiFi I'm able to sit here, late at night, while R snuffles gently in the background and offer up some fairly senseless reflections on a long day just gone. Tewkesbury was actually just our destination today, but en route we stopped at a large antiques centre just north of Chipping Norton, which is itself just north of Oxford. Station Mill Antiques was a worthwhile stop where I found a small bundle of WW2 letters, photographs and telegrams from a US army officer in the Provost Marshall's office to his sweetheart in England.

The nicest thing about today though was actually the journey. Through numerous Cotswold villages and into Tewkesbury which, although we arrived far too late on a Sunday night for anything to be open, looked to be a delightful town and certainly we enjoyed standing on the bank of the Avon in the shadow of an enormous red-brick Victorian mill, watching swallows perform the most remarkable feats of aerobatics. Sadly, the Abbey [pictured above] was just closed when we arrived.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Demonic Manuscripts and Books in Human Skin

You'll remember perhaps how excited I was to find a copy of Maggs Bros. 1932 catalogue of "strange books and curious titles" called, Curiouser and Curiouser. I promised a return to its pages. Two books today which spring from the pages of the catalogue. The first is a manuscript in fact from c.1600, possibly owned by Dr Dee himself and described as follows:

[Demonology]. Book of Invocations of the Demons Vercan, Maymon, Suth, Samax, Sarabotres, Mediac or Modiac, and Arcan.

Manuscript in Latin written on 23 leaves of vellum by an English necromancer. On the first page is a roughly drawn crucifixion lettered "Tetragrammaton" enclosed within a circular inscription " Jesus Nazaranus Rex Judeorum, etc.," on the verso of the first leaf a drawing of the Almighty invoked by thefour evangelists, then follow 13 striking full-page representations (some coloured) of the demon Vercan, who is shown in various shapes and with various attributes; opposite each drawing a Latin invocation arranged in a circle within a circular inscription either in Latin or Hebrew, and 6 full-page drawings of the other demons mentioned above (Maymon, Suth, etc.), each with his invocation in Latin on the opposite page. [above].

In 1932 this was yours for a mere £275. The National Archives have a groovy little application called an
Historical Currency Converter which allows you to bump that price through the years to see what it's equivalent might be today. It shouldn't be any surprise to know that Maggs were asking in the region of £10,000 for this MSS.

The second book today is another of that curious breed which seems always to provoke internet interest, the book bound in human skin. I've written about such a book before which I found in the catalogues of Leonard Smithers. Unfortunately, Maggs Bros are a far more scrupulous company than Mr Smither's and so, from consideration to their readers, they did not include an illustration, however, it is described thus:

[LADMIRAL (Jan.)]. ALBINUS (Bernhard Siegfried). Dissertatio de arteriis et venus intestinorum hominis.
Together with:
ALBINUS (Bernhard Siegfried). Dissertatio secunda. De sede et causa coloris Aethiopum et caeterorum hominum.
Together with:
ICON durae matris in concava superficie visae, ex capite foetus humani octo circiter a conceptione mensium, desumtae.
Together with:
ICON durae matris in concvexa superficie visae, ex capite foetus humani octo circiter a conceptione mensium, desumtae.

Together with:

ICON membranae vaculosae ad infima acetabuli ossium innominatorum positae, ex puero desumtae.

Together with:

EFFIGIES penis humani, injecta cera praeparati exhibens inventa anatomica aliquot nova.

The set of Six Medical Tracts, each with an anatomical plate, printed in colours by Jan Ladmiral.


4to. Leyden and Amsterdam, 1736-1741.

And this little number would have cost you £105 (aprox £3,900 in today's money - a bargain!)

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Gollancz Collecting Joy

I know, I really do know, that this is no way to measure success in book-collecting. However, humour me, and acknowledge that you know something of the contentment I feel now that my collection of Gollancz yellow-jacketed science-fiction has just spilled over onto three shelves. Helped by a multiple purchase of fine and signed copies from Cold Tonnage Books, (which ought to be a compulsory link in the favourites bar for anyone interested in buying SF, horror or fantasy books), and the purchase on Ebay of Philip K Dick's I Hope I Shall Arrive Soon and William Gibson's Burning Chrome, both in fine condition and hard to come by in any condition, I now have seventy titles: almost enough to home in on when the various jacket designs took place.

Monday, May 24, 2010

David Paynter Revisited

I have in the past posted a couple of times on this blog about the Sri Lankan artist, David Paynter. Those posts have brought some responses over time and now I am contacted by a correspondent in Sri Lanka who is keen to see Paynter's reputation enhanced, particularly in his native country. My correspondent, RK, has also sent some charming small reproductions of some more of Paynter's works.

'The Pumpkin Boy' at the top is owned by RK's brother. The last painting above, 'Sushila' was painted in 1953 and is of RK's mother who was a student of Paynter. The rather cute 'Sing Sing and the Tea Set', showing the young monkey on a table is now in a private collection in England. Also in England, probably is the lady in the red dress, a portrait of Margaret Rawlings.

Perhaps the most intriguing of the images though is the black and white reproduction of the portrait of Nehru. RK tells me that Nehru was not particularly enchanted by this portrait since, at the height of his powers in 1954, he felt it made him look sad. It was therefore sidelined and eventually put away somewhere. RK is very keen to know where it might have ended up so, on the off-chance that a David Paynter expert may come this way on the end of a Google search one day: if you know the whereabouts of the lost Paynter, please do use the email link to the right to be in touch.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

St John's Ambulance Guy

This was also a chance find at the South of England Postcard Fair this weekend just gone. Unlike 'John', there is no information about this guy except what the picture tells us, a good-looking young member of the St John's Ambulance Brigade, possibly from around the First World War period. Anyway, he caught my eye so I thought he may do the same for you...

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Lehnert & Landrock: Shepeard's Hotel in Cairo

Some year's ago R and I had a collection of some 350 postcards and photographs by Lehnert and Landrock. They were an enterprising pair: Rudolf Lehnert was the photographer, Landrock the businessman. We sold that collection some years ago. But as I go about my normal business of attending antiques and collectables fairs, when I have seen a single of couple of L&L cards (not to be confused with LL cards!) I have bought them in a kind of nostalgic way. Some months ago, I realised that this ad hoc purchasing had resulted in some 80 L&L cards being tucked away in my desk drawer and that I had, almost by default, created another collection. So, when I decided to treat myself with a trip to the South of England Postcard Fair, the main purpose was to scan for Lehnert and Landrock images. I found ninety-nine in the end and among the scenes of North Africa (Egypt, Tangier, Algeria), Palestine, and the scantily clad nubile arabs, were this set of b/w photos of the interior of Shepeard's Hotel in Cairo. These are actually by Lehnert and Landrock Succ. - a continuation of the company past it's original owners, probably from the 1920s-30s.

What a place. Shepeard's Hotel was founded in the 1840s as the British Hotel in Cairo. One hundred years later it had a reputation for wealthy clients and secret assignations, this is Indiana Jones and Gregory Sallust territory: heads of state, wealthy businessmen and dodgy diplomats: you only have to look at the photos to be transported into that, now completely alien, world.

There was a fire in the 1950s which means that the current Shepheard's isn't the one in these photos, in fact isn't even on the same site.

Vintage Swimming Boy and Brief Soldier

For a couple of months now I have been promising myself a treat - an all day trip to the South of England Postcard Fair in Woking - I know, I'm easily pleased! That was today, one of the most summery days we have had yet this year. I've spent the best part of seven hours examining the postacrds on offer and there will be more about the main thrust of this trip in a post above but, for now, I'm just sharing this particular postcard.

Clearly it's a picture of a handsome young man who is a rather good swimmer, displaying the medals he has won on his swimsuit, it also appears from the photo that he has some kind of squint or 'boss eye'. On the verso is an address in Birmingham from which the card is being sent by "J Sanders" in 1911 with Christmas greetings for his friend Tom. A little consultation with the census documents of 1901 and 1911 suggests that this is the 15 year old John Alfred Sanders who, in 1911 is working as a Warehouse Boy. A little further digging turned up his Army Pension Records, slightly odd since at age 19 in 1915 he is recruited into the Remount Division of the Army Service Corps in Romsey and then some 14 days later is discharged. The Remount camp at Romsey was designed to receive horses from all over the UK and abroad and allocate them to front-line units. John's occupation by now is given as a Horse Fettler and so we can see why he was sent in this direction by the recruiters. However, his very prompt discharge was under the King's Regulations paragraph 392 section iii: this is the provision to discharge someone who is "not likely to become an efficient soldier". At this time in his life we also know that john is 5' 4 3/4", weighed 138lbs, has an chest measurement of 35" and, perhaps crucially, the Army records reveal that the slightly dodgy eye is in fact made of glass and completely blind. It seems likely that this was the reason for his discharge although it remains curious that he was attested and taken in only to be discharged 14 days later.

There may be still more things that could be discovered about young master Sanders

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Gift Book

QUILLER- COUCH, A. T. [arranger]. The Golden Pomp. A Procession of English Lyrds From Surrey to Shirley. Methuen & Co., London, 1895.

I love this little book, not for its contents (which are sweet enough but straightforward: an anthology of pleasing verse, much of it love poetry), nor for its quality or condition as an object (which are pleasantly average and somewhat shabby respectively), but for its history. I once read an article on a book-blog, I'm sorry I forget where, which suggested that these kinds of items would make a great collection: books given as gifts.

This one has the bookplate of George Erskine Jackson. Jackson (1872-1945), I'm informed by his obituary, was born in the North West provinces of India, son of the Deputy Surgeon General. He was a highly decorated officer serving in South Africa and in the First World War and ending up a Major. Crucially, the obituary mentions that he was educated at Corpus Christi College, Oxford and it was here that this book came to him. The obituary says that one of his greatest friends at CCC wrote of him, "He was without doubt the most popular man in the college, always unruffled in temper, sweet to everyone, yet firm when the occasion demanded it. He had the respect as well as the affection of everyone." Such effusive praise leads one to wonder if this 'greatest friend' was actually the giver of this book for, as well as the bookplate, there is also, tipped into the front of the book, a holograph letter which is absolutely charming.

"[C.C.C. Oxon. June 16 1895] Dearest Jackson, Will you accept this little book to remind you of the fours years we have spent together during which we have been such good friends? I think you will like it.
You have always been the greatest help to me; and whether in things of official or unofficial nature have done your very best to make everthing go smoothly and happily in college. I think no single cloud has ever arisen between us during all the four years that we have worked together.
I hope we shall not forget one another when we are no longer together, and that all will fo well with you everywhere and always.
Ever your affectionate friend,
C. Plummer."

I can't prove it yet but I suspect that C. Plummer was, in fact, the Rev'd Charles Plummer, Fellow of Corpus Christi and big cheese in Victorian Hagiography. But that is the beauty of books like this, like small stained-glass windows, they draw you into a snapshot view of lives lived a long time ago. Whoever wrote that article recommending a collection of books given or presented to ordinary people was right to claim it would be a fascinating pursuit.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Some Random Vintage Photos

These are from a handful I picked up the other day at an indoor carboot sale...

Raven 11: Cigars and Tree Carvings

If this blog has been a little quiet of late then this is one of the reasons why. The last couple of weeks have been taken up printing, sewing, binding and putting the finishing touches to the elventh in the Raven series of monographs by Robert Scoble on the life and work of Frederick Rolfe. The blurb is pasted below but in essence this essay is about Rolfe as a teacher and gives new details of the relationship between Rolfe and three of his most interesting pupils, all of whom went on to lead very significant lives in their own ways.

Callum James Books is going to be having something of a bumper year in 2010 as there are a large number of projects in hand and about to come to fruition. I wouldn't be surprised if there is something like one new title a month for the next little while.

Raven Eleven: Cigars and Tree Carvings
by Robert Scoble

Over the two decades of Frederick Rolfe's adult life prior to his embrace of writing as his profession, such salaries as he was able to earn came principally from teaching, first as an under-master in a succession of schools, and later as a tutor to private pupils.

Rolfe was an intelligent man, with an absorbent mind and a surprising range of practical accomplishments. He was musically proficient, fond of the outdoors, and a watchful student of human behaviour. These attributes, combined with his inexhaustible resourcefulness in proposing and planning new entertainments and iconoclastic topics of conversation, made him a memorable teacher.

This latest addition to the Raven Series traces the stories of three of Rolfe's pupils: Lawrence Grant, later to achieve a measure of fame as a Hollywood character actor; Malcolm Hay, who went on to contribute importantly to British intelligence in World War I; and Leo Schwarz, future pillar of the Catholic community and papal knight.

Each of these three left a detailed account of their time with Rolfe, recalling happy memories of him, and from their fascinating stories an aspect of his personality emerges which has largely been missed by his biographers: his skill as a stimulating and confident teacher.

The Raven Series has been planned as a set of fifteen scholarly essays which will add substantially to our knowledge of the life and work of Frederick Rolfe. Each essay is being published in a strictly limited edition, and there is little doubt that complete sets of the fifteen monographs will be sought after by collectors in the years to come.

Of a full edition of 70, the first 12 copies of Cigars and Tree Carvings constitute the special state, case bound in Russian green paper-covered boards with gilt titles, and signed by the author. The special state of this title also includes a facsimile of a Rolfe letter not present in the oridinary state. Numbers 13-70 form the ordinary state of the edition, and are sewn into Russian green card covers with a paper label and acetate wrappers.

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Richard Marsh in the New Wormwood

I was delighted the other day to receive two contributor's copies of Wormwood 14 edited by Mark Valentine and published by Tartarus. It contains the piece I wrote a while ago on Richard Marsh, 19th/20th century author of fantastic and fast-paced novels. You should buy it - not for my short piece obviously - but because Wormwood is one of the most excellent publications available for anyone who loves fantastic, horror, detective, obscure or decadent literature. Back issues are also available.

It's really lovely also to see a mention of The Christchurch Album in the Camera Obscura column at the back of the journal which highlights publications its readers might not want to miss.

Saturday, May 01, 2010

Fantastic Flying Machines

I am a sucker for bibliographies and book catalogues. So when, at a book auction a couple of weeks ago, I heard the auctioneer announce several lots one after another, all consisting of some cartons of bookeller's catalogues and bibliographical tracts of one kind or another, my hand rose almost trance-like into the air repeatedly with, it must be said, very little recourse to my brain.

But how could one regret the expense when it brings such wonders as this 1930s catalogue from Maggs Bros.: "Curiouser and Curiouser!" Cried Alice. A Catalogue of Strange Books and Curious Titles. In the last few years there have been a sucession of books about books with funny titles and this, I suppose, is their big brother, or perhaps grandfather. Among a host of curiosities, some of which we may come back to at a later date, the collection being sold appears to have a significant subsection of books on whacky aviation. Or rather, aviation that might appear whacky to us now but which at the time was simply the promise of the future. A number of the plates in the catalogue reproduce illustrations of the fantastic flying machines from these titles. The last of the plate reproduced here was taken from

WALKER, Thomas. Treatise upon the Art of Flying, by mechanical means, with a full explanation of the natural principles by which birds are enabled to fly; likewise instructions and plans for making a flying car with wings, in which a man may sit, and, by working a small lever, cause himself to ascend and soar through the air with the facility of a bird. Simmons for Longman, Hull, 1810


It was described in this catalogue as "one of the rarest English books on Aviation" and priced at £31 10s. It appeared later in another Maggs catalogue in 1936 The History of Flight. Today there are two sellers on Abebooks who have copies of the first edition and for either you would have to shell out in excess of £6,000

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