Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Some Pen and Ink Originals...

Found these original pen and ink sketches in a bookshop the other day. Really charmed by their skill, subject matter and size (only about 3.5 inches at longest sides). They were all mounted in one frame and, of course, the hope is that with such an assured hand, lurking behind the mount perhaps is an recognizable monogram, perhaps a known figure among the neo-romantics of the mid-twentieth century... or maybe at least a book illustrator... No such luck. They are out of there frame now and are completely silent about who drew them. Nonetheless I still think they are really well drawn and certainly by someone both skilled and aware of contemporary art in their time.

Monday, December 21, 2015

Aubrey Beardsley Posters

Sadly, these days, interest in Aubrey Beardsley has waned somewhat. From the 1960s to the 1980s however it was a different story altogether and you couldn't move in London poster shops for cheap reproductions of Beardsley drawings. At the height of this interest, in 1983, Beardsley was considered such an important British artist that The V&A and The British Council sent an exhibition of his work to tour Japan. Most of the items came from the V&A's own collection but many were also 'borrowed-in' from the big collectors of the time. The catalogue for the exhibition is well worth any current Beardsley aficionado getting hold of as, although most of the text is in Japanese, the reproductions are very fine, the vast selection includes many rarely seen items and all the catalogue descriptions are translated into English at the back.

Among those rarely seen items are these posters from the mid-1890s on which Beardsley's artwork was used, including one advertising children's books with the slightly incongruous image of a very busty lady who appears almost tied together by a single brooch at her cleavage. The poster for The Keynote series is a reissue by the book and art dealer Anthony D'Offay in 1966 but the rest, in the exhibition were 1890s originals. Despite the depressed interest in Beardsley now if you found one of these in the attic you would still get a pretty penny at auction.

Tim Schmeltzer: A Short Film

Many thanks to the Front Free Endpaper reader who found and recommended this delightful short piece of artwork by Tim Schmeltzer. The very short film is quite the meditation on many of the things that readers of this blog will enjoy: vintage photography, ephemera, recollections of childhood and so on. A large rock on Fermoyle beach is used to project family home movies from the 70s of himself as a child playing sometimes on the very same rock. The film is viewable on this page on the artist's website.

John Betjeman selects the 1890s

The Saturday Book is a fixture of almost any secondhand bookshop in the UK. It was a ...well, it's difficult to describe really. It was an annual (always out in the weeks before Christmas), it was an anthology, a 'magazine', a review ...all these things. It's editor John Hadfield was a man of broad taste who managed to not just reflect but also anticipate the various 'fashionable' interests of the 1960s and one of these, which found a home in more than one edition of the book was the 1960s vogue for all things 1890s and decadent. So it wasn't surprising, flicking through this, the 25th annual edition of the book, to find a long article on Aubrey Beardsley, nor a selection of "The Best of..." 1890s verse by John Betjeman. The selection itself though was fascinating and, one can't help but think, not a little tongue in cheek.

The poems are broken down into subject sections and from the outset it is made clear that Betjeman has steered clear of the big names of the period. Now, this is the 1960s so it is not unheard of to be forward about homosexuality but under 'Love' Betjeman chooses 'Heart's Desmesne' by John Gray from Silverpoints, 'The Dead Poet' by Lord Alfred Douglas from Sonnets, a 'Symphony of blues and brown...' from In the Key of Blue by John Addington Symonds and most outrageously perhaps "Passional" from Edmund John's ode to beautiful boys in incense-filled churches, The Flute of Sardonyx. Thinking this was some rather hot-house stuff to file under the heading 'Love' and marked by its absence of heterosexuality, I checked the introductory paragraph and sure enough Betjeman (presumably) writes "Love can be given to girl or boy. Passion is sensuous and twines around one's heart like waterlily stems in the river of life. In dark streets there are strange sins connected, perhaps, with 'the love that dare not speak its name'. Racy indeed?

But then I flicked through the other pages. The section 'Women' contains a workmanlike piece of misogyny by William Watson and then two more poems, one by Theodore Wratislaw and another by Alfred Douglas, neither of whom were distinguished by their knowledge of the subject of that section.

Even the section on 'Religion' doesn't escape Betjeman's nodding and winking to those 'in the know'. Another Edmund John poem appears, a long poem, also from The Flute of Sardonyx, called 'The Acolyte' covers two pages and ends:

"Who art thou, Acolyte?
Whose breath makes sweet the God of Sighs?
What lips have kissed thy lithe lips into flame?
Nay, but I know not, would not know thy name -
For I am stricken by thine eyes..."

And then, in the final section, 'The Golden Age', meaning childhood, as a last wonderful flourish to this collection Betjeman puts in a poem by one of his favourite Uranian poets, The Rev'd E. E. Bradford, a very funny poetic romp about a boy called "Paddy Maloy" who just isn't interested in girls!

"O Paddy Maloy is a broth of a boy,
As pretty as pretty can be;
He tosses his curls in disdain at the girls,
For not one is so pretty as he."

...and so in, in the same vein.

The Saturday Book is always worth perusing if you see a copy but I had not seen this issue before and was delighted to see such a mischievous and knowing compilation of poems by poets who barely ever see their work reprinted in the mainstream light of day. Thank you Sir John.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Bathing With Swords

I was struck yesterday by this rather fun illustration. Now, if you're thinking the humour doesn't sound very Victorian, you would be right of course, this is in fact taken from a re-captioned illustration in Spike Milligan's Book of Bits. Nonetheless the illustration itself would appear to be real and taken from some book of daring-do for boys. The signature even looks vaguely familiar but frankly one of the things that makes it so fun is not knowing it's original context.

Monday, December 07, 2015

Yet More Vintage Goodness

Who says you can have too much of a good thing: second post in a row of things that came through the post to Callum James Heights. I promise a return to obscure books and other kinds of artwork soon!

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

More Vintage Goodies in the Post

So the new catalogue has been really fun to do and it's been a busy week packing and posting stuff off to new owners so I'm afraid all I have to share at the moment are three photos of scantily clad young men that arrived in the post this morning... try not to be too disappointed!

Saturday, November 28, 2015

For Industry...

Today's bookplate (and yes, we do seem to have had quite a preponderance of ex libris plates on the blog lately) is a charming Edwardian school prize plate showing how the important things about school life are clearly cricket, football, geography and a few books. I don't know where the school might be but it looks urban and how charming that young Eric was being rewarded here for his industry.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

New Full Length Catalogue from Callum James Books

It's always a delight to be able to put out a new full-length catalogue. If you don't already know about this one that will be because you are not on my mailing list. You can rectify that by simply asking to be included by emailing me using the link to the right.

Unlike my Short Lists which go only to people on the mailing list, full-length catalogues are open to all - you can view this one here:

Many items already sold to members of the mailing list, but plenty still there to rootle through. Enjoy..

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Armstrong Sperry Illustrates his own "The Boy Who Was Afraid"

A beautiful fable of a story for young children, The Boy Who Was Afraid by Armstrong Sperry (published in the US as Call It Courage) is about a young Polynesian lad who, since his mother was killed at sea, has been afraid. He is, as a result a disappointment to his father and the butt of other children's teasing. So, he decides to take a canoe and overcome his fear on a long voyage out to sea. It is a charming coming of age tale made somewhat more poignant by the thought that it was written during WW2, perhaps with an eye on talking to its young readers about their own fears.

The book is made all the more interesting by the illustrations by the author. The book has been reprinted and re-illustrated a number of times but to have the author's own imaginings of how his characters look is a lovely touch. He also has quite a talent for strong, graphic depictions of landscapes I think.

Monday, November 16, 2015

More Vintage Swimwear

Rummaging through boxes of old photos in junk shops is, of course, one way to create and grow a collection of vintage swimwear and hunky chap photos but, on the whole, it's the internet where the best ones are to be found in the most accessible way. Today's selection are sadly not in my physical possession but they are all either being sold or have been sold by one of the best and most consistent sellers of 'our kind of photo' on Ebay: Chuck7048. You can find his current listings here. Having been a customer of his on the odd occasion I can thoroughly recommend his services!

Friday, November 13, 2015

Literary Obscurity: Kettleby by Erminois

Kettleby by Erminois

Well here's one for those who are into the byeways of literary obscurity. It is also a perfect case study in why 'rare' doesn't necessarily mean valuable.

It's unusual. Very unusual. Because it is unusual to come across a book published in the Twentieth Century (1935 in this case) which no one at all is selling already online. That's true as far as I can make out at the time of writing this. But much more than this, the Great God Google in its omniscience can't help either. Google can return just one relevant result: a pdf of a 1935 magazine which has this book in a list of books 'out this week'.

Erminois is clearly a pseudonym and it seems likely that might be related to heraldry in some way but no other book is listed in the British Library Catalogue under that name, although they do actually have a copy, and so do four other of the copyright libraries in the UK.

I have tried looking up the publisher. An advanced search of Abebooks for publishers called Mortiboy's provides a small list of titles, a number of which are natural history with the odd book of poetry and a different novel, all within the 1930s. It doesn't give an impression of a coherent publisher's list nor of a prolific publisher. This may be the main reason this book is so scarce. It is possible that although it doesn't display and of the signs of vanity publishing that someone paid to have it published and perhaps they could only afford a few? There are of course a million reasons why it might be so rare.

It looks like it had a rather good jacket too, the front panel of it is pasted onto the endpaper of this copy (below) and shows a rather graphic depiction of a Volcano. Of course, you are now wondering what this book is about. Well, I haven't read it! Helpfully though is has chapter headings which seem to indicate that the action takes place in the UK and then on the Hawaiian islands and then back in the UK again. The few brief passages I have read don't make me think the world has missed a masterpiece! Nonetheless, to be so absent from the Internet in these days of instant information IS unusual and, for the moment, this one has me stumped.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Rare Ex Libris: Leonard Smithers

I was very lucky the other day to see a very rare bookplate. It is an ex-libris for Leonard Smithers: bookman, publisher to the 1890s decadents including Oscar Wilde, peddler in all manner of erotica and "amatory unorthodoxy". It is something of a mystery. Only one other is known to exist. There is no monogram nor signature, which is unsurprising given Smithers's reputation, it would be unfortunate if you were an artist to have your name permanently inside the kind of books that Smithers might have on his shelves. It bears a resemblance to the work of too many artists of the period to use the style as any clue to authorship. The fact that both copies which exist are printed on the same size paper but it is an impracticable size for sticking in a book, and also the fact that is not known to have been used by Smithers in any of the books from his own library, all suggests to me that this was a proof or an example that was never printed in any numbers. Perhaps Smithers didn't like it or simply commissioned it as an artistic exercise rather then to be used in actual books.

[my apologies for the photo quality, I was reduced to using the camera on my phone when I encountered this bookplate and had no scanner nor proper camera with me]

A List of Eroticae

In the days before erotic story archives on the internet, the business of getting your hands on some erotic fiction was both difficult and costly. This small catalogue is an amazing survival, printed on the flimsiest of paper which is now very friable at the edges but nonetheless gives details of an interesting selection of material. It's also true of course that dealing in this kind of thing could have landed you in a lot of legal bother so it is not surprising that no name is attached to the list. I haven't been through and exhaustively dated each item but, given that the list claims both "new and secondhand" volumes, looking at the most recent items on it we might assume a date of about 1890. What is particularly nice about this list is that it sits in a bit of a gap. The exhaustive and compellingly detailed bibliographical work of C. R. Ashbee (writing as Pisanus Fraxi) often doesn't detail more recent editions of 18th century works and so it is nice to have lists like this from, albeit only just after, Ashbee leaves off. I wonder if this is the only copy of this bookseller's list left?

Sunday, November 08, 2015

Three Ex Libris

A day spent at an "International Antiquarian Bookfair" yesterday resulted in my purchasing not a single book - I'm almost proud of that fact. However, I did find a moment to buy three exlibris bookplates. The top one is the bookplate of Siegfied Sassoon's gay cousin, Philip: also a WW1 officer, a politician, writer and society 'host' as well as an important collector of fine things. The bookplate may represent a ship arriving at the Port of Lympne where he famously made his home, perhaps dropping off the next selection of books for the library on the quay brought in from around the world. There is a monogram "TP" in the corner of the engraving but I don't know who that is yet.

The second bookplate also has a monogram, a much less helpful A in a circle, or possibly an "AO", in any case I again don't know the artist but liked the image as a naked youth sits among his books at the window looking out to where a mountain goat stands proudly on the hill.

The third is by a Danish artist called Henry Brokman (1968-1933) who began his artistic career in the cradle of the symbolists but developed into a somewhat more Romantic style later on. This is the bookplate of Francis Marion Crawford, an American writer of a huge number of novels, many of which are set in Italy where he was born and where he later returned to make his permanent home. Many of his novels have a slightly weird, fantastical or supernatural tinge to them.

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