“Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection;” a brisk and affectionate glance at the elusive printed record of the sex lives of 19th century America.

There’s an old saw that history is rarely written by the dissipated whore-mongers, which in part is why we might sometimes forget to give the seamier (or steamier) aspects of early American life their proper due.

Happily, a corrective to that usual neglect appeared in a recent article in the Philadelphia Daily News featuring a rare little item from the Library Company of Philadelphia–an 1849 guide to the brothels “in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection.” The untrimmed little stitched pamphlet, A Guide to the Stranger, or Pocket Companion for the Fancy, Containing a list of the Gay Houses and Ladies of Pleasure in the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection (Philadelphia, 1849) has been digitized by the Library Company for handy reference. The article quotes the Library Company’s curator of printed books Rachel D’Agostino explaining that the little guide was likely distributed among the swells in the upper tiers of the local theatres; the small format is of course both handy and covert: “‘Things like this, that were generally not to be public, that people would want to keep hidden away–birth control manuals, things of that sort–would very typically be small like this,’ D’Agostino said.”

(The most notable of the small American guides to contraception is Charles Knowlton’s Fruits of Philosophy, or The Private Companion of Young Married People, published in New York in 1832 and in Boston in 1833–though Knowlton may have had reasons besides the obvious ones of discretion in choosing the miniature format, since his first book, Elements of Modern Materialism, Adams, Mass., 1829–a handsome octavo in full calf and a substantial 488 pages–had been written while the young physician was jailed in Worcester for body-snatching and met with a hostile reception upon its release, forcing him to load his books into a wagon and launch something of a promotional tour to get himself out from under the expenses of publication. As somebody who has hauled around the equivalent of a wagon-full of octavos, I can tell you it’s easier to haul pamphlets.

But while in New York, Knowlton crossed paths with Robert Dale Owen and Fanny Wright, and lectured at the Hall of Science; according to some accounts (see for instance Theresa Notare’s dissertation “A Revolution in Christian Morals”: Lambeth 1930-Resolution #15, 2008), Owen agreed to sell Knowlton’s Elements if in exchange Knowlton would promote Owen’s Moral Physiology; in reading Owen’s Neo-Malthusian work on birth control, Knowlton saw an opportunity:

Knowlton thought that the contraceptive method Owen advocated, coitus interruptus, required too much sacrifice of pleasure on the part of the male. Accordingly, he began research for Fruits of Philosophy, which provided a survey of human sexual anatomy and physiology, a philosophical defense of contraceptive practice upon utilitarian grounds, and formulas for spermicidal douches, Knowlton’s recommended method. Shortly after he published Fruits, Knowlton settled in the Berkshire village of Ashfield, Massachusetts, where his practice prospered in spite of conflicts with local clergy over his ‘immoral works.’ Knowlton’s birth control manual sold well, and he was prosecuted three times under the state common law obscenity statute for selling it.

But this is something of a digression.)

To return for the nonce to the brothels, a few other scattered contemporary examples of this sort of guide can be readily found in institutions, though certainly the scarcity is notable–the Fast Man’s Directory and Lovers’ Guide to the Ladies of Fashion and Houses of Pleasure in New-York and Other Large Cities, by the Ladies Man, New-York, May, 1853, is held as at the American Antiquarian Society only as “positive and negative photostats of a privately owned copy,” while the Library Company also holds the later Visitor’s & Citizen’s Guide of pleasure & amusement in the city of New York (1880) (perhaps in two copies?). The 1893 Traveler’s Night Guide of Colorado seems held only as a “Xeroxed copy of original” at History Colorado.

Taking the mid-19th century as young America’s adolescent years, it seems perhaps little surprising (at least to anyone with experience with adolescents) that a weird erotic charge seemed latent in nearly every aspect of American life. (It seems little surprise that a ready market was found for a trade in carte de visite photographs of American sculptor Hiram Powers’ best-known work the Greek Slave, despite the sculptor’s protestations that she stood clothed in the garb of moral superiority.)

One notable blossom of sexual awakening in the young American garden was of course the sudden proliferation of the overtly “flash” newspapers or “sporting male weeklies” in 1840s New York, with their coverage of brothels and local scandals–”an extensive sexual underground in New York City”–aimed at the gay young blades of the metropolis and entertainingly explored in The Flash Press: Sporting Males Weeklies in 1840s New York (University of Chicago Press, 2008) by Patricia Cline Cohen, Timothy J. Gilfoyle, and Helen Lefkowitz Horowitz in association with the American Antiquarian Society.

(Cohen, a history professor at UC-Santa Barbara also published the excellent account of 1830s American sensation, crime, and low-life with her Murder of Helen Jewett: The Life and Death of a Prostitute in Nineteenth-century New York, Knopf 1998; Gilfoyle is a history professor at Loyola University in Chicago, and certainly his 2006 Pickpocket’s Tale and 1992 City of Eros: New York City, Prostitution, and the Commercialization of Sex, 1790-1920 belong on the shelf of anybody with an interest in American low-life. I’ll add that historian Elizabeth DeWolfe’s 2007 The Murder of Mary Bean and Other Stories looks at the sexual life of an unmarried factory girl in New England and the sensationalist uproar after her death following an abortion. Beth is married to Scott DeWolfe, one half of the titular DeWolfe and Wood, a first-rate bookselling operation in Alfred, Maine.)

A typically grubby copy of an early work of male sexual health.

A typically grubby copy of an early work of male sexual health.

But putting aside for a moment the ephemeral titillation of young blades, information on contraception, abortion, hints to virility, warnings against the dire consequences of masturbation, and first-hand accounts of impotence (and promises of cures for same)–all of this information was available to the book-buying public prior to the Civil War. In my own haphazard way, my bookselling concern has handled titles ranging from the 1847 [et seq.] Married Woman’s Private Medical Companion by “A. M. Mauriceau” (but really by Charles R. Lohman or Joseph F. Trow and essentially an extended advertisement for condoms and for the services of Trow’s sister, the famed New York abortionist “Madame Restell,” born Ann Lohman) or the pseudonymous Eugene Becklard’s Physiological Mysteries and Revelations in Love, Courtship and Marriage; an Infallible Guide-Book for Married and Single Persons, which first appeared in 1842 (and which in 1844/1845 was published bound with Onanism and its Cure), this popular sex manual was amply stuffed with information on contraception, the dread perils of abstinence for men, sexual compatibility, etc.; the work sallied forth under the guise of a supposed translation of a work from a pseudonymous French author, a conceit that is very likely a fig leaf for an original American work.

Homer Bostwick’s 1847 Treatise on the Nature and Treatment of Seminal Diseases, Impotency, and Other Kindred Affections: With Practical Directions for the Management and Removal of the Cause Producing Them; Together with Hints to Young Men (New York: Burgess, Stringer & Co.), begins with a survey of contemporary sex manuals and really hits its stride with numerous case studies of sexual disorders stemming primarily from masturbation: “J. R., aged twenty, naturally of good constitution, in childhood had abandoned himself to masturbation, and with so much frenzy did he pursue the habit, that, although he soon became fully aware of its injurious tendency, he had continued it up to the time at which I saw him first, which was in March, 1844,” etc.

Bostwick’s case studies often include letters from the suffers that deal explicitly with their sexual habits, including a graphic eight page account from one C. R. of Philadelphia outlining his attempts at intercourse while struggling with impotence:

17th.–Breakfast–two eggs, tea and toast; at 11 o’clock, A. M., six oysters, and pint porter; 2 o’clock, dined; 6 o’clock, tea, toast, and two eggs. Spirits not good; felt well, though, after 3 o’clock, P. M.; a train of moody thoughts; went to meet * * *; tried to be lively; laid alongside 3 hours; no inclination; could not excite myself at all by any means; did not at first get nervous, but after 2 hours felt hell itself; drank afterwards freely.

(The distressed C. R. does on occasion meet with an infrequent success–his entry for February 1st notes, “Prolonged excitement. By excitement I mean, sitting on lap, a kiss, pressure of the hand, &c.; felt shirt damp, and continually succeeded by erections–some very firm–some not,” though by the end of the account he writes, “Now, dear doctor, for God’s sake do interest yourself in my case.”)

One could also easily romp through the somewhat more clinical and less anecdotal pages of the Owenite lecturer Frederick Hollick’s Marriage Guide (1850, etc.), which does however in its discussion of contraception attack “a remedy for this purpose, sold extensively by a person calling himself a French Professor, but who is really the husband of a noted Abortionist in New York, who has been in prison for manslaughter” (this of course is an attack on Joseph Trow, brother to the well-known Madame Restell, see above).

You might also lose yourself in the odd byways of the later children’s guide to sexuality published by the eclectic physician and birth control pioneer Edward Bliss Foote, Science in Story. Sammy Tubbs, the Boy Doctor, and Sponsie, the Troublesome Monkey (New York, 1874), one in a series a series of children’s stories published under his Murray Hill imprint; the entertaining didactic tales involve the education of an intelligent young African American boy taken in by a kindly physician based on a lightly-disguised version of Foote himself (the woodcuts of the doctor are clearly modeled on the author), the whole leavened with the zany adventures of two domesticated monkeys (each named Sponsie) whose antics generally tend to point up a relevant physiological lesson.

Foote’s series ran to five titles–each available separately, per the ads in the rear here–and while first four titles were well received, when Foote attempted to put sex education on similar rational footing with The Gymnast Tubbs (the final volume in the series and the only one in this set to have its cover stamped “A Book for Private Reading”) many journals refused to notice the work–while those that did roundly denounced it. In this volume, the young Sammy Tubbs has become a respected lecturer on physiology, at one point addressing a crowd of young women on healthy sexual function; much is also made of the importance of intermarriage of the races to improve the stock–here going so far as to include a romance between Sammy and a well-bred young white woman. (The woodcut illustration of a singing labia and vagina was soon canceled in later issues of the title.)

All of this is just to say that sex was very much on the minds of many early Americans (and I haven’t even glanced yet at the reforming efforts of Rev. John Robert McDowall, who in the 1830s evidently saw a Magdalen lurking behind nearly every door of Manhattan, and whose efforts to rescue fallen women were met with such derision–and certainly no charitable organization’s annual report met with as many published satirical responses as that of the New York Magdalen Society, which was answered by titles ranging from ranging from The Magdalen Report: A Farce in Three Acts by Peter Pendergrass (1831) to The Phantasmagoria of New-York: A Poetical Burlesque Upon a Certain Libellous Pamphlet . . . Entitled the Magdalen Report (1831) to Orthodox Bubbles (Boston, 1831)–all of which hounding, on top of being defrocked, seemed to hurry McDowall into an early grave in 1836).

But anyone who wants to dig more deeply into this fertile subject (as it were), this bookselling concern leans on a short shelf of reference material. In addition to the Gilfoyle and Cohen and Horowitz titles noted above, everybody should secure a copy of the excellent three-volume Annotated Catalogue of the Edward C. Atwater Collection of American Popular Medicine and Health Reform, available here and an excellent introduction to 19th century American popular medicine, including American sexuality and physiology. There is also Janet Farrell Brodie’s Contraception and Abortion in Nineteenth-Century America (Cornell University Press, 1997), see here and here; and Angus McLaren’s Impotence: A Cultural History (University of Chicago Press, 2007), see here. The late librarian of the American Antiquarian Society, Marcus A. McCorison, compiled a handy list, “Risqué Literature Published in America before 1877,” available as a PDF here. One might also back into the subject indirectly with the handy bibliography by Ralph McCoy, Freedom of the Press (Southern Illinois University Press, 1968). Other scholarly work abounds–I haven’t even glanced at the recent work by historians like Jen Manion on 19th century cross-dressing and transexuality, see the excellent blog here–but these will do to get started.

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A Minor Example of Profitable Attribution

From my Catalogue 31 in early 2011, I want to revisit my description of my copy of The Philosophy of Animal Magnestism, Together with the System of Manipulating Adopted to Produce Ecstasy and Somnambulism—The Effects and the Rationale. By a Gentleman of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Printed and Pub­lished by Merrihew & Gunn, 1837.

This anonymous title was plucked from obscurity by Poe enthusiast Joseph Jackson, who argued that this was a previously unattributed Poe title. The text that follows is taken from my Catalogue 31 entry number 75:

(Poe, Edgar Allan, supposed author). The Philosophy of Animal Magnestism, Together with the System of Manipulating Adopted to Produce Ecstasy and Somnambulism—The Effects and the Rationale. By a Gentleman of Philadelphia. Philadelphia: Printed and Pub­lished by Merrihew & Gunn, 1837. 12mo, original rose linen spine, printed drab boards, 84 pages. First edition.

Poe enthusiast Joseph Jackson was fresh off his triumphant (if, to this cataloguer’s eyes, somewhat tenuous) attribution to Poe of the uncommon pseudonymous anti-Dickens English Notes (Boston, 1842) by “Quarles Quickens,” when, in his words, “the publicity given that discovery set a good many booksellers delving for copies. One Philadelphia bookseller, who had not been fortunate enough to uncover a copy . . . did run across an anonymous little book, which seemed to him to have a Poesque touch, although he could not exactly explain why he was thus impressed. He had no knowledge of the copy which came into his possession, but when I was looking over his stock, he handed it to me with the remark: ‘This looks as if it was written by Poe.’”

From this characteristically biblio­polic remark—a certain offhand profit-driven optimism cloaked in supposed expertise—of course soon burst forth a great bibliographic clangor and alarum. In the foreword to his new edition of the Philosophy of Animal Magnetism (Philadelphia, 1928) that was inevitably to follow, Jackson makes a show of professing a suitably demure initial skepticism before launching into a series of assertions regarding Poe’s identity as the author—Poe must have visited Philadelphia in 1837 as he had nothing else better to do; the address of the printers in Carter’s Alley puts them on the same block as the editor Samuel Atkinson, which “would suggest that Poe had called on Atkinson and that the latter had referred him to the printers as likely to publish the book;” the use of italics and small capitals for emphasis is particularly characteristic of Poe (“It is true that his publishers in later years dispensed with the use of small capitals, but the printers of ‘Animal Magnestism,’ Merrihew and Gunn, Philadelphia, were a new firm, and did not remain long in business. They evidently followed the author’s copy literally”); the appearance of the word “Literati” in the dedication to the receptive mind ineluctably suggests Poe, etc.

Jackson’s case was sufficiently convincing to J. K. Lilly, who in 1931 paid $2500 for Jackson’s copy of The Philosophy of Animal Magnetism and—given the well-known difficulties of proving a negative, allied to the book trade’s understandable reluctance to give up a profitable attribution—later bibliographers have seemed equivocal about showing Jackson’s claims the door, despite the later discovery of a presentation copy of this title inscribed “from the Author” in a hand not Poe’s own. BAL vol. 7, page 150 notes, “Jackson attributes this piece . . . to Poe” (leaving the title outside the Poe canon), while bibliographer of animal magnetism Adam Crabtree remarks, “Although there is no general agreement on the matter, this book has been attributed to Edgar Allan Poe.” Scribner in 1941 offered a copy of the first edition for the then-substantial sum of $175 under the fig leaf of “Attributed by some authorities to the pen of Poe.” Only Merle Johnson seems to have sufficient temerity to note (as early as 1936) that this title “is now definitely established as not the work of Poe.” Still, an interesting early American work on the subject, including instructions on how to induce somnambulism.

Crabtree 385. Boards and spine a bit stained, spotted and rubbed; some light, scattered foxing; a very good copy.

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On Shakespeare’s Annotated Dictionary, links and news.

(8 May 2014: I’ve let this slide since the initial flurry of stories. My one update is something of a meta-update: Wechsler and Koppelman have their own page of links to press stories and interviews here. There’s at least one radio interview there that I haven’t included here.)

(26 April 2014: I’ve added below a follow-up story from Mark Tewfik that includes some additional personal background on Dan Wechsler and more on the Baret; I’ve also gotten confirmation that Koppelman and Wechsler did not present anything about the Baret at any conferences prior to their announcement on April 21. I’m leaving town for a couple days but hope sometime next week to organize all these resources in a somewhat more intuitive way, if only to indulge my own blessed rage for order.)

(24 April 2014: Not much new analysis or news today as the media cycle seems to spin out; scroll down to see where I’ve added another story from Forbes by Nathan Raab of the Raab Collection, and a link to a radio interview with Wechsler on WNYC. Thanks are due to colleague Don Lindgren of Rabelais Books, who has been sharing related stories and links that I might otherwise have missed.)

(23 April 2014: There have been a few updates as the story spreads through the media but not much new analysis that I’ve found. Scroll down to this morning’s update at 8:30am EDT about the TLS blog for everything I’ve thought worth collecting over the course of the day.)

(22 April 2014: I have tried to continue to update this post as new stories come out; there is a rough chronological order to the updates, though when the updates come from the same source — say the Folger Library — I tend to group them together. I may not include all stories that simply repeat or revist the news of the announcement unless in a few instances it strikes me as curious that the story was relayed non-critically, viz. BoingBoing.)

On April 21, 2014, news broke that booksellers George Koppelman of Cultured Oyster Books and Daniel Wechsler of Sanctuary Books (both in New York), “believe they have found William Shakespeare’s annotated dictionary.”

(That apt summation from an article by Mark Tewfik, a bookseller in New York associated with Maggs Brothers, which appeared in Australia’s The Age. Tewfik’s article also appears in the Sydney Morning Herald of April 21, 2014. At some point when I’m not pulling this stuff together, I will figure out the interlocking directories of Australian journalism.)

The book in question is an annotated copy of Alvearie or quadruple dictionarie (London, 1580) by John Baret. I assume this is STC 1411, see the catalog entry for a copy of this title at Oxford here.

Koppelman and Wechsler make the case in their book Shakespeare’s Beehive (New York, Axeltree Books, 2014), available here. (You can also register for free at their website to view scans of all the annotations.)

Bookseller and author Henry Wessells has published an extensive review of Shakespeare’s Beehive here. (Updated 9:40am EDT 23 April 2014 to correct the spelling of Wessells’s surname after having received a very polite note from the man himself.)

Adam Gopnik writes in “The Poet’s Hand” about Koppelman, Wechsler, the annotated dictionary, and more broadly about the fascination with Shakespeare relics in the April 28, 2014 issue of the New Yorker (subscription required): “If a movie were made of their quest for Shakespeare, Koppelman would be played by Wallace Shawn, Wechsler by Paul Giamatti.”

(Updated on 23 April 2014 to correct the publication date on the Gopnik piece from the mistyped April 28, 2104, which may have been my unconscious admission of the persistence of Bardolatry. Dates are of course easy to transpose; I will note that as of 7:45am the headline to the account of the announcement by Julia Fleishacker published here on 23 April 2014 on the Melville House Press blog inadvertently gives the Baret publication date as 1850. There is many a slip twixt coffee cup and lip, figuratively speaking, at least when I’m updating this thing in the morning.)

The French site ActuaLitté published an article dated 21 avril 2014, with a nice photo of the “word salad” on the rear blank.

(Added at 3:40pm) Sunday Steinkirchner of B&B Rare Books publishes a nice summary of the Koppelman-Wechsler announcement at the ABAA blog here, and an earlier note about the announcement at her blog at Forbes, here.

As of this writing (9:30am, EDT), Dan De Simone, the recently-appointed Folger Librarian at the Folger Shakespeare Library has, per the Tewfik article, promised an official statement on the dictionary. I’ll update as new relevant links come to light. These links have been cobbled together with some haste and I’ll try to add and/or correct and amplify for my own reference.

10:15am, EDT, updated to add a 8:33am tweet from Sarah Werner at the Folger:

@john_overholt @JackLynch000 @PeterSokolowski Stay tuned for a @FolgerResearch blog post on this!

— Sarah Werner (@wynkenhimself) April 21, 2014

The Folger Research Blog is here. (My abilities to link to tweets is rudimentary and evolving.) The Folger’s page of “Current Press Releases” is here. (As of 11:24am, the most recent Folger press release is dated April 2, 2014.)

Updated 4pm EDT — the Folger research blog article is up here.

Folger Library Director Michael Witmore and Curator Heather Wolfe write (in part):

At this point, we as individual scholars feel that it is premature to join Koppelman and Wechsler in what they have described as their “leap of faith.” Having ourselves worked extensively with collection materials and digital corpora, we have written this blog post in order to highlight research methods that we expect will be used to evaluate Koppelman and Wechsler’s claims. Regardless of the identity of the annotator, the book that Koppelman and Wechsler (hereafter K&W) have turned up is fascinating. . . .

What is new or controversial about K&W’s claim? They are not simply saying that Shakespeare consulted Baret’s Alvearie at some point in his life. As they note in their study, T. W. Baldwin made this argument some time ago, with real success. We know that Shakespeare and other early modern writers used source books like the Alvearie to fire the imagination. Shakespeare’s fascination with proverbs in his plays, for example, can be traced back to some of the printed proverb collections that were becoming popular in the sixteenth century. As the lexicographer John Considine has demonstrated, dictionaries were an important source of proverbs during this period, since they offered up proverbial sayings to illustrate the meanings of words.2 We should not be surprised, then, to learn that Shakespeare read and perhaps was influenced by a book such as Baret’s Alvearie: it supplied him with a trove of sayings, associations, and conceits that many writers trained in the humanist tradition would have been keen to mine for their own texts.

What is new here is the idea that a particular copy of Baret was annotated by Shakespeare and that his annotations are distinctive enough to provide (1) a paleographic link with other known examples of Shakespeare’s handwriting and (2) a kind of associative map to verbal patterns in Shakespeare’s poems and plays.

(See their full blog post for citations.)

(Update at 1:30pm) Professor Grace Ioppolo, FSA, of the University of Reading, tweets her critical observations on the Koppelman-Wechsler Baret. (Ioppolo and Peter Beal are editors of Elizabeth I and the Culture of Writing, British Library Publishing, 2007. See a list of Ioppolo’s publications here. Dr. Peter Beal, FBA, FSA is a Senior Research Fellow at the Institute of English Studies at the School of Advanced Study, University of London.) Because I am still figuring out how to use Storify and was somewhat in haste, I inadvertently left out one of Ioppolo’s relevant tweets.

(Updated 9:45pm) Dr. Jason Scott-Warren of Gonville & Caius at Cambridge and the Centre for Material Texts writes “There is absolutely no reason to believe that Shakespeare was the annotator of the volume.” His blog entry, which touches on the practice of dictionary annotation, is here.

(Updated 9am, 22 April 2014) Aaron Pratt, a PhD candidate in English literature at Yale, here addresses the question of the “Bucke-bacquet” and the powers of wishful thinking, significant figures, and how the Shakespeare cult might be credited with an interesting discovery in any event–whatever the final consensus might be on the Koppelman-Wechsler Baret.

(Pratt also has a foot in the bookselling world, and in the interests of full disclosure I think I should admit that I once sold him a chapbook for a trifling sum.)

(Updated 10:15am, 22 April 2014) Robinson Meyer of The Atlantic publishes this morning a good general summary of the announcement and critical reaction here. Here concludes with a brief meditation on the role of technology, information and print culture:

As scholars debate and discuss the question, they’ll do so in writing, a kind of additional marginalia to the Alvearie’s scribble. And they’ll be helped by the considerable resources placed online by Koppelman and Wechsler, like high-quality scans of the whole book. The sites themselves, and the openness of the scans, seem to make our incredible new information technology worthy of an earlier era’s: Shakespeare had his own new IT, a thriving print culture that was just coming into existence.

(Updated 2pm EDT, 22 April 2014) Cory Doctorow supplies this morning on BoingBoing a fairly uncritical report of the Koppelman-Wechsler Baret here.

(Updated 2:30pm EDT, 22 April 2014) Andrew S. Keener, “a Ph.D. student in English Renaissance Literature at Northwestern University and a casual book collector,” publishes today on his blog a generous and informative piece here, “Not Shakespeare’s Beehive? Doesn’t Really Matter.”

Keener’s piece lays out some of the context of John Baret’s Alvearie (Keener notes, “in recent years I’ve consulted a few hundred copies of books designed for students of Renaissance language, Baret among them”) and explains some of the history of reader annotations and Renaissance dictionaries: “So, if we stop worrying about Shakespeare, Koppelman and Wechsler’s copy of the Alvearie can tell us something useful about the relationship between language-learning and book use in the Renaissance.”

(Updated 8:30am EDT, 23 April 2014) The TLS Blog has an entry “Shakespeare at 450″ by Michael Caines posted on 22 April 2014 here. After surveying celebrations ranging from Shakespeare’s Globe “hosting a series of lectures by distinguished Shakespearean scholars” to “the V&A’s (ahem) Cakespeare competition, which has its own Pinterest page,” Caines notes,

And of the potentially controversial announcement of the discovery of Shakespeare’s annotated copy of John Baret’s Alvearie, or Quadruple Dictionarie, there will be more later – for now, let’s just note that among the earliest to take gleeful note of the claims of George Koppelman and Dan Wechsler is Forbes.com, for whom there are generally applicable lessons for entrepreneurship here: ”here’s how a great find or new invention within your industry can impact your business”. It beats waiting 400 years, I suppose.

(Updated 10:40am EDT, 23 April 2014) Colleague Dan Dwyer of Johnnycake Books says this morning (in a note on an ABAA bookseller listserv) that he will have Dan Wechsler of Sanctuary Books–the co-author of Shakespeare’s Beehive–as a guest on his radio show “This Old Book,” this Friday, 25 April 2014 at 12:30pm EDT.

You will be able to livestream the interview on Robin Hood Radio (“The Smallest NPR Station in the Nation”) here (though be warned the site begins streaming audio automatically when you click through). After the show airs, you will be able to find the podcast here (no direct link to the show seems easily made, scroll down the sidebar “Browse Our Shows,” click on “This Old Book with Dan Dwyer.”)

Dan is a good guy, you may have see him mentioned as the bookseller offering a pair of Eugene O’Neill’s underpants for sale.

(Update 2:30pm EDT, 23 April 2014) Lots of media coverage, none on first glance seeming to add much new to the conversation but this gives some idea of the scope of this story:

Alison Flood posts on the Guardian, “Shakespeare’s dictionary is a possibility that makes me look up,” here.

Lizzie Parry publishes here a piece in The Daily Mail, “Was Shakespeare’s dictionary discovered on eBay?” (After a cursory glance, I will have to cast my loyalties to the book trade aside and note that my favorite Lizzie Parry piece is the wonderfully headlined “Britain’s most bizarre insurance claims include damage caused by a BADGER locked in a shed and a baby vomiting on a laptop during a Skype call.”)

Per this tweet, the BBC News Hour interviewed Koppelman and Wechsler. (I’ll see if I can dig up an archived version as the day passes.)

The CBC Books page posts this story today, “Have we found Shakespeare’s dictionary?” The story includes an audio link to the interview on 22 April 2014 with George Koppelman on the CBC radio show As It Happens.

(Updated 3:15pm EDT, 23 April 2014) Because I’ve always wanted to put the meta- into Metafilter, an entry on MeFi today here notes the Koppelman-Weschsler annoucement (and throws a link to this compilation). One commenter on that entry recounts this tantalizing story,

I have some hazy memories of being in a hotel bar a couple of weeks ago and listening to a couple of academics talking about this. Story was, these guys had a paper accepted for a seminar on manuscript studies at one of the big conferences in Renaissance studies recently. They ignored the theme of the seminar and presented their evidence for this instead. Then the other seminar participants started pointing out how pretty much all of their conclusions relied upon basic misreadings of Elizabethan secretary hand and it became very awkward.

If anyone feels like chasing that story down, I’d be grateful. As the Bard himself might have written, to independently verify this story might make it at least once heard and thrice-meta.

(Updated noon, 24 April 2014) One colleague close to this story tells me that Koppelman and Wechsler kept the story of the Baret quiet, and that aside from a few friends and colleagues, and the scholars with whom they had consulted, they had made no public announcements or presentations. (Update 26 April 2014: I have confirmed that Wechseler and Koppelman did NOT make any conference presentations prior to the announcement on April 21.) Does the MeFi comment above conflate another recent supposed Shakespeare discovery?

(Updated 6:45pm, EDT on 23 April 2014) Jennifer Howard writes about the Koppelman-Wechsler Baret in the Chronicle of Higher Education  piece “Shakespeare’s Dictionary? Skepticism Abounds,” here. Her piece falls into the camp that despite the skepticism of scholars–or perhaps because of the skepticism–the piece deserves more and closer study.

(Updated noon, EDT, 24 April 2014) Nathan Raab of the Raab Collection (an A.B.A.A. member) has published at Forbes here a good general look at the case of the Koppelman-Wechsler Baret, including reactions from scholar David Scott Kastan at Yale, and follow-up reactions from Witmore and Wolfe at the Folger.

(Updated 6:30pm EDT, 24 April 2014) There was a radio interview today with Dan Wechsler on WNYC in New York. The audio is available here.

(Updated 1:30pm EDT, 26 April 2014) I’ve added a follow-up story from Mark Tewfik dated published in Australia’s The Age on April 26 with more of a personal profile of Dan Wechsler here.

***

Whether or not a scholarly consensus builds around whether or not this is Shakespeare’s annotated copy, this is a fine example of booksellers doing work: making an investment in money, time, and resources based on prior experience, taste, and scholarship. As an investment of $4000-$5000 cost up front with a huge potential upside, there’s a lot to be said from a bookselling angle (and with the 450th anniversary of Shakespeare’s birth hard upon us) for them at least pressing the case. This copy of the Baret has now become this copy of the Baret.

(I’ve done none of the reading yet, you might best categorize me as a skeptical agnostic on whether this is the Bard’s own copy. In any case, I’m hoping this will not simply be a nine days’ wonder.)

(Updated on 22 April 2014)  I’ve started some of the reading. Questions of skepticism have been much on my mind, and the exercise of maintaining critical openness has been salutary.

One bookseller has remarked in another forum on the role of faith in bookselling and whether booksellers should be held to a higher standard of evidence. The question of how much evidence a bookseller needs before forging ahead with their material makes me recall A. J. Liebling’s sketch of the carnival impresarios Joe Rogers and Lew Dufour, “Masters of the Midway,” and the duo’s career as “practical ethnologists” running the “Darkest Africa” concession at the Century of Progress World’s Fair in Chicago in 1933-1934:

By the time Dufour got back to Chicago with his company of hamburger-eating cannibals, Rogers had built the village, a kind of stockade containing thatched huts and a bar. ‘We had a lot of genuine junk, spears and things like that, that an explorer had brought back from the bacteria of Africa,’ Joe Rogers says, ‘but this chump had gone back to Africa, so we did not know exactly which things belonged to which tribes–Dahomeys and Ashantis and Zulus and things like that. Somehow our natives didn’t seem to know, either.’ This failed to stump the partners. They divided the stuff among the representatives of the various tribal groups they had assembled and invited the anthropology departments of the Universities of Chicago and Illinois to see their show. Every time an anthropologist dropped in, the firm would get a beef. The scientist would complain that the Senegalese was carrying a Zulu shield, and Lew or Joe would thank him and pretend to be abashed. Then they would change the shield. ‘By August,’ Joe says with simple pride, ‘everything in the joint was in perfect order.

The only firm conclusion I’ve drawn during this flurry of controversy would be my conviction that the promiscuous use of the old medical saw about hoofbeats (and the likelihood of zebras vs. horses) be flagged and/or flogged until we are no longer troubled by its smug ubiquity. The phrase to me suggests that final party guest who will not go home until he has made his point about campaign finance reform; you may be in agreement with his argument but you wish he might retire.

Perhaps an appropriate or more generous aphorism drawn from medical practice sits waiting somewhere, say in Browne’s Hydriotaphia–like “Sense endureth no extremities, and sorrows destroy us or themselves” (Chapter V), or even from Browne’s Letter to a Friend,

Owe not thy Humility unto Humiliation by Adversity, but look humbly down in that State when others look upward upon thee: be patient in the Age of Pride and days of Will and Impatiency, when Men live but by Intervals of Reason, under the Sovereignty of Humor and Passion, when ’tis in the Power of every one to transform thee out of they self, and put thee into the short Madness.

But I wander from the point (and one might in good conscience suggest that I have myself succumbed to the temptations of my humors and passions).

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Obscure Objects Explained.

graterBelow you will find the description of this cheese grater, which was sold out of my recent illustrated online-only catalog, Occasional List 12. Bear with me.

12. [Obscure Object]. Stainless steel Inox-brand cheese grater rescued from the recycling cart of this bookseller’s landlord. Italy, ca. 2013. Approx. 11 inches long, 3.5 inches wide, 1 inch deep. With a handle. — $100

The antiquarian bookseller ca. 2014 awakens at night seized by the anxiety that the trade in fetishized, mass-produced objects has at its base an unsustainable illusion. This anxiety is not novel but has in this digital age a certain immediacy. Further, this cataloguer is sometimes approached by individuals who bear in their hands unfamiliar printed objects and the bookseller is asked by these individuals, “What is this worth?” This query has about it sometimes the air of a sullen challenge and irresistibly reminds the bookseller of Houdini’s unfortunate and untimely end.

After a series of such challenges, this cataloguer becomes convinced he operates in a sort of self-constructed mental gallery of the half-baked Duchamp readymade—his daily pursuit entails asking the potential customer to apply an unconscious sense of generous irony to the idea of falling in love with a book or a pamphlet or a photo or a single printed leaf of paper, to fall in love with the object as the representation of certain ideas aside from the text; these ideas are sometimes material, sometimes aesthetic, sometimes scholarly, and sometimes frankly sentimental appeals—such evergreen winners here include the smell of the used book shop or the cult of the dusty tome. (None of this is new; booksellers have been gilding various cultural lilies for centuries.)

But the dusty tome is perhaps the bibilophilic sentimentalist’s inverted urinal—Morley’s twelve ounces of paper and glue and ink have been transformed as he would have it into a “new life.” This is not necessarily a bad thing, sacramental implications and all, since the market has helped us together to create something with both commercial and cultural value. The bookseller worries about its sentimental basis, though, since sentimentality is not necessarily rigorous or easily quantified. The recent Significant Objects project played with this whole process, in that it billed itself as “a literary and anthropological experiment devised by Rob Walker and Joshua Glenn, [that] demonstrated that the effect of narrative on any given object’s subjective value can be measured objectively. The project auctioned off thrift-store objects via eBay; for item descriptions, short stories purpose-written by over 200 contributing writers . . . were substituted.”  (The whole thing will not sound unfamiliar to the antiquarian bookseller.)

This antiquarian bookseller might modestly suggest however that the Significant Objects project is a bit like what Robert Frost said about free verse and tennis, except that maybe in this case it doesn’t just pull down the net but throws in a shotgun for good measure. Using fiction to sell an object makes it entirely too easy to overpower the customer standing opposed to the bookseller on the biblio-tennis court. The ethical antiquarian bookseller is a sportsman. His volleys are made in accordance with certain rules. Speculation on the significance and importance of the item is allowed; outright fabrication is not. But the bookseller worries: doesn’t the move from the sale of books into the sale of pamphlets, and thence into ephemera and images, suggest a certain slackening of that metaphorical net?

With that in mind, this specific cheese grater was rescued from the recycling cart of this bookseller’s landlord (a specialty wine and cheese shop) just a few weeks ago, and on a lark the bookseller decided to catalog it as a found object; because of that decision, this specific cheese grater now embodies the underlying anxieties of the chosen commercial pursuit in which this cataloguer has been otherwise unthinkingly engaged these past 23 years. The intention here is not to undermine the antiquarian bookselling pursuit, since this cataloguer remains convinced that booksellers rescue much of value that might otherwise be neglected, but rather to remind us all of the role of a bookseller’s subjective if sometimes arbitrary judgment. That’s a lot of weight for one specific cheese grater to bear and it has been priced accordingly. Bottom bar of the cheese grater slightly bent; small spot of rust; in near fine condition.

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The bookseller house call somewhere north of Hell.

Somewhere outside of Hell.

This morning, somewhere outside of Hell.

I get several calls a week from people who have old books. They  want to know what the books might be worth and often they want to know whether I might want to buy them. I might get three or four fruitful calls over the course of a year and can offhand remember maybe three phone queries that yielded a mutually beneficial transaction of great scale (one collection of 17th century illustrated travel books, one nice little English popular medical book from 1653 that recommended rubbing your child’s tongue with honey and “salt of gem” to encourage a backward child to learn how to talk, and one American revolutionary book for which I am myself too backward and lazy to immediately recall).

But in general once the caller has with a few directed prompts begun to describe the books (broken sets of Stoddard’s lectures, Longfellow and/or Whittier reprints, “pretty good shape for their age,” etc.), I have usually made a referral and have cast about after a more productive use of my time.

So when I got a call yesterday from a woman who had been given my name by the librarian in a small town and who told me she had old books that had belonged to her late husband and she wanted to make sure that after she died her niece didn’t put them out at a yard sale for a quarter when they might in fact be worth more, I prepared my usual disclaimers. But before I could deploy the demurral genteel she steamrolled ahead with the anecdote of how her nephew had once borrowed a book from her for a book report and then later he was in Portland, Oregon and a bookseller out there told him the book was worth $1500 and in fact if it “hadn’t been a bootleg” the book would have been worth $100,000, but now the nephew was in Australia and no, she could not recall the title of that book but she had other books and those books were also old.

I stood in the doorway of the shop as she talked and looked out onto a bright September afternoon and felt that familiar itch, and the prospect of driving an hour into the country on the confused (or at least confusing) assurances of a octogenarian began to have a certain fascination. I found myself making an appointment to meet her this morning at her home about a half-hour or so north of Chelsea, Michigan.

One of the better roads in Unadilla Township.

One of the better roads in Unadilla Township.

The roads up there were, like many gravel township roads in Michigan, of variable quality. I finally found the house and parked next to the falling-down barn and a neighbor corralled the big dog who, despite the barking, was allegedly quite friendly and then I went into the house.

There were the not altogether unexpected oxygen canisters and pill bottles and the walker, and my caller cheerfully admitted to being somewhere north of 80. The walls were hung with large mid- to late-19th century portraits of forebears in carved walnut frames and one lengthy handwritten family tree that stretched back into the early 19th century. Books were stacked on the table and I was told there were more books upstairs.

The books were dispiriting–Grosset & Dunlap reprints of dreadful novels, odd volumes of home handy books, and a stack of Gene Stratton-Porter reprints held together with tape. The names penciled in the older books were also the names of various roads in the township–Wasson, Kuhn. I began to suspect I had stumbled into an old settler family’s home but found nothing that seemed to suggest that the early settlers had brought any good books with them.

I was musing on the curious instability of family libraries and had just picked up a ca. 1905 cheap subscription doorstop of popular treatment of the Russo-Japanese War that somebody would have bought from a book canvasser back in the day, when the woman saw what was in my hand and she told me, “That book was sold to my uncle by a young man who was going door to door selling books. He showed up at my uncle’s door at the end of the day and my uncle bought the book and the young man asked if he could sleep that night in my uncle’s barn. My uncle said he could not sleep in the barn, because he had a perfectly good spare bed and the young man would come have supper with them. And so the young man stayed the night and had supper with my uncle and aunt and the next day the young man came back after another day of going door to door and he stayed the night again.

“The day after that, my uncle drove him to the train station–in a buggy, you understand–and the next month when the young man came back with the books my uncle saw him trying to drag that carton of books around and told him to get into the buggy and he drove the young man around and helped him deliver his books. My aunt gave him some more food. This was in Indiana. And do you know what? That young man just gave my uncle that book. He did not take any money for it.

“My aunt was about the most Christian woman you ever saw. You could rob a bank and she would find something nice to say to you. She would never call you mean or low-down. She wasn’t my blood aunt or anything like that, you understand. She was like a mother. A foster mother. She raised me. I was what they called a state child. The state took me when I was six. I ran away when I was six from the first home they put me in but then they found me and put me in another home. I ran away again but they found me again and then they gave me to these people in Indiana when I was eight, this woman I later called my aunt. She taught me everything. She taught me that when you get 50 cents you put 25 cents into the bank. The other 25 cents you can use to buy candy and go to the movies. She was the most Christian person I know and it was because she never talked about it–she just did it. And then when I married my husband and came to live here I was his second wife. She died of cancer in 1972. All these pictures,” she gestured at the portraits, “are of her family. I was just a state brat. And I married into a family tree.

“Anyway,” she said, “there are more books upstairs.”

I went upstairs and found more books of little value. I saw one book in a barrister bookcase that looked like it might be of interest but the door to that case was stuck. I explored around the upstairs under the gaze of other dead family members until I found a letter opener and managed to pry open the door and found in there a thoroughly disreputable copy of a wonderful book (Frederick Hollick’s Marriage Guide, 1850) and went back downstairs and gave her all the money I had in my pocket. She thanked me and asked if she owed me anything for coming out. I said making house calls on bright September mornings like this and meeting people like her was one of the perks of the job.

Chelsea, Mich., home of the Chelsea Mills and the majestic towers of cornbread mix.

A socialist realist painting waiting to happen.

I got lost on the way home (I accidentally ended up trespassing on state prison property, which according to one sign I saw was in fact a felony) but I also saw a few nice lakes and even a sign that seemed to suggest that my family might be able to go camping in a yurt.

But by then I had managed to find my way back to M-52 and headed down through Chelsea, Michigan, home of Chelsea Milling and their gleaming towers full of Jiffy cornmeal muffin mix. I’m now back in the shop and have one more book in my inventory (or had one more book; it has since sold) to show for it. I am not altogether unhappy with my job.

Frederick Hollick, M.D. The Marriage Guide, or Natural History of Generation; A Private Instructor for Married Persons and Those About to Marry, Both Male and Female . . . New York: T. W. Strong, 98 Nassau-Street; Boston: G. W. Cottrell & Co., (1850) [but ca. 1852]. 12mo, original green cloth, gilt lettering, 428, [3] pages. Color frontispiece, two color plates, numerous full-page woodcut illus. and vignettes. A reissue of the 1850 first edition, with some updated text and ads.

Physiology, sex advice, contraception, the perils of masturbation and erotomania, cannabis as an effective aphrodisiac, etc.

The Marriage Companion.

The Marriage Companion.

Hollick had been a popular Owenite lecturer on physiology, sex and likely on contraception (his ads were necessarily elliptical) and his popular Marriage Guide, “Hollick could stop depending on lecturing for his livelihood. After 1852 he devoted himself to writing popular medical books and to his growing private practice, conducted almost entirely by correspondence. About fifty letters arrived daily at his post office in Manhattan” (Brodie, Contraception and Abortion in Nineteenth-Century America).

Text here on the verso of one of the illustrations notes the success of Hollick’s lectures in 1852; the text on the verso of another illustration alludes to contraception and attacks “a remedy for this purpose, sold extensively by a person calling himself a French Professor, but who is really the husband of a noted Abortionist in New York, who has been in prison for manslaughter.” This of course is an attack on Joseph Trow, brother to the well-known Madame Restell, and whose Married Woman’s Private Medical Companion (published under the pseudonym A. M. Mauriceau) advertised “preventative powders.”

Cf. Atwater 1711 (the first edition) & Atwater 1712 (noting that copy as a ca. 1853 reissue with ads for The People’s Medical Journal for July, 1853, not present here).  Binding rubbed and sunned and cocked; somewhat foxed throughout; a couple of gatherings just a trifle loose; a good, sound and somewhat disreputable copy.

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For the letter-spacing kills, but the sprited printer produces life.

We will throw in at no extra charge this awful instance of apostasy.

We will throw in at no extra charge this awful instance of apostasy.

Sometime in 1814, Stockbridge (Mass.) printer Heman Willard found himself with a problem. Even though he ran a thriving shop in the Berkshires (rivaled perhaps only by the Jeffersonian printer/publisher Phinehas Allen in Pittsfield) and had been publishing a moderately successful Federalist newspaper (the Western Star, succeeded in 1806 by the Berkshire Reporter), he no doubt depended on maintaining his reputation of delivering good work as promised.

So when Willard found he was nearly an entire gathering short on delivering this edition of the latter day Puritan meditations of the famed Calvinist Robert Hawker’s Zion’s Pilgrim (“From the fourth London edition,” and no doubt well-suited to a Berkshire revival atmosphere during the Second Great Awakening) he freely admitted in the very columns of his job that he has decided to include an “Awful Instance of Wilful Apostacy,” which per his note, “is added by the Printer of this edition to complete the number of pages promised in the Proposal.”

Perhaps we can get just a little more space between this quotation mark and the letter?

Perhaps we can get just a little more space between this initial quotation mark and the following letter?

And thus does Willard fulfill at least the letter of his agreement, resorting to five pages of perhaps the most expansive letter-spacing this cataloguer has seen in 19th century American printing.

This copy also sports the contemporary ink ownership signature to the front blank, “Sally Pease Her Book price four shillings.” (Her signature repeated in the rear endpapers.) An early owner–presumably Pease–has curiously reinforced the edges of the free endpapers with burlap or a similar coarse unfinished cloth. An early Pease has also repeated the family surname in looping pencil throughout the endpapers. If that was not enough to make this a remarkable find, two conjugate leaves are detached, each with closed tears across the leaves (hinting at the remote possibility of uncollected cancelands).

For all of its charms (which phrase of course the jaundiced student of bookseller descriptions might choose to read as “for all its flaws”), this is a nice little example of a Berkshire imprint. See the full description on our website here.

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An owl cast out of Arcadia.

There has been some nominally droll comment of late on the title of the new David Sedaris collection, Let’s Explore Diabetes with Owls. There are those who would class this as a bizarre book title. I would argue instead that the title does not play by the rules of the genuine bizarre book title, and that it is instead arch and incongruous and self-aware, without any of the relieving claims of postmodernism behind which somebody like Mark Leyner (My Cousin, My Gastroenterologist or I Smell Esther Williams, etc.) might plausibly shelter. The effect of a self-consciously whimsical title is like that of seeing somebody dressed up for Halloween as a sexy nurse–it speaks to a certain lack of confidence in the inherent charms of your own wit, and I end up more saddened than aroused.

Happily, any bookseller with an eye for the incongruous or the risible is likely already at least somewhat aware of Russell Ash and Brian Lake’s groundbreaking work with Bizarre Books (first published in England as Fish Who Answer the Telephone), a compendium collecting titles that, as the authors have it in their introduction, “were published with the serious intention of informing, not amusing. In this, they have signally failed.” (One rich vein they mine of course is that of the unconscious double entendre. Geoffrey Prout’s 1930 Scouts in Bondage–“A Story of Boy Scouts in Strange Adventure,” as the subtitle would have it–is one of the more glittering gems they unearth.)

Brian is one of the principals of Jarndyce Booksellers in London, which has been selling interesting 19th century material since the year of my birth; he is also the current president of the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association, a duty that one outside the trade might be surprised to find was held by a man who has made a life’s work out of the pursuit of such titles as Drummer Dick’s Discharge–but to those in the trade who know even nothing about Brian Lake’s other sterling qualities this quality alone makes perfect sense for the job, since a sense of the absurd is perhaps the one personality trait necessary to dealing with booksellers in large groups, as many tend toward the brilliant and/or melancholic and/or opinionated. I will also note here that any bookseller with at least a modicum of self-regard aspires to unearth a bizarre title that would appear to be otherwise unknown to Lake.

But to return to the bizarre book and a consideration of genuine examples of such, it is the admirable or even religiously enlightened sense of serene un-self-counsciousness that distinguishes the best in this genre. When one picks up a copy of Charles Elton Blanchard’s storied titleThe Romance of Proctology (Youngstown, O., 1938), one does not find some coy misdirection leading instead to comic ruminations on modern life; this is a flat-out comprehensive history of the pioneers of the lower colon.

(Blanchard himself was enrolled among these ranks, and he evidently published widely on the subject–though I will note that he also published an interesting technological science fiction utopian novel, A New Day Dawns: A Brief History of the Altruistic Era (1930 to 2162 A. D.), Youngstown, O., 1932.)

But it is from the cleft of the incongruity between the earnestness of Blanchard’s enthusiasm and the seeming oddity of his masterwork’s title that the purer, undefiled spring of the truly bizarre title bubbles up. And it is in this happy glade — amid the Scouts in Bondage and Drummer Dick with his unfortunate discharge — that any right-thinking bookseller will choose to frolic.

(And the risk of course of putting up billboards in Arcadia, one glade where one might on some days find examples of such title is the Eccentric Authors section of your correspondent, Garrett Scott, Bookseller; you may browse among them here.)

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A Triumph of Genius! False mustaches, magic babies, rubber cravats and the “kurious” mail order catalog of George Blackie & Co.

Kuaint Kueer Sometime midway through the administration of Rutherford B. Hayes, one might out of understandable curiosity have opened the small “Kurious” pamphlet from George Blackie & Co. to read,

We have done a large and increasing trade through the mails for more than twelve years, and from this experience we think we can do this kind of business more promptly and satisfactorily than anybody else.

Since I myself run something of a mail-order bookselling concern, relying on the periodic publication of catalogs and short lists (see for instance my recent Occasional List 4: Sex and Marriage and Sundry Diversions), I can only take my hat off and do honor to the enterprise and industry of booksellers and mail order purveyors George Blackie & Co. of New York City, whose periodic catalogs sallied forth under the name of Kuaint, Kueer & Kurious and Book of New Receipts, with Catalogue of Novelties and Wonders (New York: George Blackie & Co., 75 Nassau Street).

Fake mustachesSuch scattered library holdings as exist for this catalog locate editions of 64 pages, 94 pages (as with my copy) and 96 pages; speculative dates for publication seem to hazard at either [ca. 1870] or [ca. 1874], though from a coin dated 1878 in a woodcut in my copy to hand (the woodcut illustrating “the Coin Casket”–a coin purse of such simplicity, “you can readily make change in winter time, without removing your gloves”), I would suggest a publication date of ca. 1878. Such receipts as are offered here–fixing cracks in stoves, whitening the teeth–occupy but a few pages and seem offered up as a desultory obligation amid the wonders of the novelties sown thick throughout the pamphlet.

Certainly, Blackie & Co. claimed a willingness to serve the customer’s every whim with a zeal that seems only fitting for energies of the Gilded Age; as their prefatory note suggests,

Residing, as we do, in the heart of this great city, and having the many facilities resulting therefrom, we can, on the shortest notice, get any book or engraving, map, photograph, &c., no matter where printed or by whom published.

We do not confine our purchase alone to books, but will, to oblige our customers, get anything they may want–from a boot-jack to a locomotive–guaranteeing in every instance perfect satisfaction.

The customers here seem to have been both retail and wholesale (allusion is made to the success agents have had in selling a number of the articles; a wholesale catalog for peddlers and agents is advertised on the rear wrapper) and the whole offering smacks of a peculiar kind of novelty genius. The catalog is replete with lists of colored engravings for sale on various sentimental subjects, as well as the expected cheap books on dancing self-taught or the proper interpretation of flirting with a fan, as well as how-to books on ventriloquism, guides for the practical clairvoyant, sparring in theory and practice, the black arts of sorcery, cheap cook books, songsters, and a key to mnemonics.

Revolver means businessFeeling as though your lessons in the volume of fistic arts have not proven sufficient for self-protection? One could also order a seven-shot 22 caliber revolver ($2.50 blue steel, $5 chrome). Unable to squeeze the trigger of your new handgun? Perhaps you should order the $6 People’s Electrizer (“A Compact, Cheap and Powerful Electric Battery for Popular Use”), intended to treat rheumatism, neuralgia, paralysis, and colds, and certainly a remedy that might allow you to put the itch back into that trigger finger.

For the more peaceable dandy about town, Blackie & Co. would suggest one of their “Beautiful Genuine False Moustaches” (see above) since “many young men are constantly writing us for Moustaches and Imperials, or Goatees, to make them look manly.” (The “genuine French article” is made with real human whiskers woven into lace and mounted to the face with wax.”)

Triumph of GeniusOnce made suitably masculine with these luxuriant false whiskers, one might then don the latest patent triumph of fashionable genius, “the Hard Rubber Bow and Cravat”–”An Indestructible Neck Tie, A Perfect Imitation of Black Silk.” What advantages might one find in wearing a molded rubber cravat? “They will not soil with wet, sweat, or dust, or look dingy by long usage. They can be washed without injury.”

(The patent rubber cravat is of course not the only boon to the habiliment of modern man; one should also consider the manifold benefits of the P. T. Barnum brand of Elastic Straps and Buckles for Pants, Vests and Drawers. As the uncharacteristically restrained advertising copy would so succinctly have it, “Away with Suspenders.”)

The Magic BabiesHaving thus arrayed yourself in India rubber splendor, with a fine set of whiskers and drawers that will not sag, one might then feel sufficiently confident to perform any number of the card tricks or illusions noted for sale in the pages of the catalog of Blackie & Co. (the illusion of “the Magic Babies” is a “rich joke on the ladies,” esp. “some timid young miss or aged spinster,” while “The Barber’s Pole and Wizard’s Supper” will have the parlor magician drawing from his mouth “a variegated colored Barber’s Pole” that stretches for such length that he might draw it out “till the audience beg him to stop.”) For those whose confidence is such that they choose to sail a little closer to the edge of danger, one might either communicate with the spirit world using “the Mysterious Planchette” (similar to the Ouija board) or fix a poker match with the company’s fine selection of marked cards.

The catalog is, in brief, a compendium (Kompendium?) off all that makes the story of American invention (and personal reinvention) of such fascination to this bookselling concern. Would that we could but aspire to a tithe of the kuaint and the kueer that one might find from our bookselling forebears George Blackie & Co.

The catalog itself:

George Blackie & Co. Kuaint, Kueer & Kurious and Book of New Receipts, With Catalogue of Novelties and Wonders [wrapper title]. New York: George Blackie & Co., 75 Nassau Street, [ca. 1878]. Small 8vo, original printed salmon wrappers, [94] pages. Illus. First edition?

OCLC notes scattered holdings for editions of 64 pages, 94 pages and 96 pages, all undated and all with speculative publication dates of ca. 1870 or ca. 1874; publication date here assigned from a woodcut for a “coin casket” that displays an 1878 quarter. Soiled and worn; old drink rings (with residue of the drink) on the rear wrapper; a good, sound copy.  –  $150.00

 

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The Great Unwashed and the People’s Washing and Bathing Association.

A fine view of both the washing and the bathing rooms at the People's Washing and Bathing establishment.

“Cleanliness is conducive to health,” notes an entertaining and illuminating 1853 committee report, which continues,

Who can tell, but that disease was kept from our city, the last summer, in a great degree, merely by this one establishment? Thirty-eight thousand bathed there in three months. On the 28th of May, 1300 bathed in the house. These went home refreshed, after a hard day’s work. They went home clean; their skin in good condition; their spirits exhilarated, not by a three cent drink, but by a three cent or five cent cold water (or if they choose it, warm water) bath.

(An extract from pages 6-7 of the First Annual Report of the People’s Washing and Bathing Association. 1853. New York: J. W. Harrison, Book and Job Printer.)

That such a boon might now be forgotten (for who now speaks of the People’s Washing and Bathing Association?) leads one to ask from what charitable skull burst forth this wise populist reform in 1850s New-York? For, until this era (and in fact for most years beyond), despite the occasional appearance of commercial public baths in American cities as early as the late 18th century, opportunities for the urban poor to bathe generally remained out of financial reach. (Admittedly, one was not necessarily expected to bathe with any frequency in that era.)

But as indoor plumbing became more common with the upper and middle classes, and the fad for hydropathy as the cynosure of health took hold in the 1840s and 1850s, the idea of cleanliness as a necessary adjunct to healthiness took hold, until by the mid-19th century (as historian Marilyn Thornton Williams notes in her Washing “The Great Unwashed”: Public Baths in Urban America, 1840-1920), “Among the middle class anyway, personal cleanliness ranked as a mark of moral superiority and dirtiness as a sign of degradation.” Further, she notes,

[The] 1849 cholera epidemic which ravaged American cities also produced increasing demands for cleanliness and public baths. . . . In the 1840s and later, urban reformers saw the slum not only as a threat to social stability, but also as a symptom of the moral depravity of slum dwellers. Cleanliness would produce higher moral standards in the slums (Williams, pp. 14-15).

Perhaps the acme of antebellum reform organization annual report pamphlets.

Into this growing social movement stepped the People’s Washing and Bathing Association, an organization whose name might very well stand at the zenith of grandiose names that littered the firmament of antebellum reform. The association itself was the product of a reforming association, having been created in 1851 by the  New York Association for Improving the Condition of the Poor; this specially dedicated bathing association was apparently created to rush in where the city of New York feared to tread, even in the wake of the city’s own comprehensive 1849 report of its Special Committee on Public Baths, which recommended the construction of public baths.

Thus did the People’s Washing and Bathing Association purchase land on Mott Street in 1851 and erect the fine brick building that opened to the public on June 1, 1852, where it offered public bathing and public laundry facilities to the all and sundry. This report (evidently the only issue published) is rich in detail and includes a woodcut view of the Washing and the Bathing departments, statistics, the rules of the establishment, and various endorsements of the advantages to the public weal,

Names can be given of wash-women that have earned $10 per week over all working expenses, working, on an average, less than eight hours a day. The spacious Swimming-Baths for males and females, afford capital places for Boys to learn to swim, without danger, and Girls also, to whom, in these days of disasters, the Art of Swimming may be equally necessary.

This report would seem to suggest that the baths were available in summer and winter alike (Williams claims they were open only in the summer), though Williams is likely correct that even its modest cost to sers put it out of the reach of many of the poor, and that this was largely responsible for the shuttering of this social experiment in 1861.

Suggestive too of the currents of reform, given the contemporary passage of the “Maine Law” and its perhaps evocative temperance overtones that extol the merits of water, this copy with an in inscription at the head of the front wrapper, “With the Regards of Elb. Gerry,” likely that of the grandson of the Declaration signer namesake, this Gerry (1813-1886) a member of Congress from Maine between 1849 and 1851.

This uncommon and ephemeral report has since been snatched up by a discerning institution; we leave its description for the record:

People’s Washing and Bathing Association. The First Annual Report of the People’s Washing and Bathing Association. 1853. New York: J. W. Harrison, Book and Job Printer, 1853. Original printed yellow wrappers, 20 pages. Illus. Printing flaw to the first page of text (but legible). Wrappers somewhat soiled; title page and first leaf somewhat spotted, stained and foxed; a good copy. First edition.

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The end of the world and the arrival of steam in Detroit.

An address to young men of Detroit in 1848.

The anecdote below is drawn from an address delivered in 1848, fairly well along in retirement by the Michigan Whig William Woodbridge–second governor of Michigan, friend to Lewis Cass, son-in-law to the Revolutionary poet John Trumbull–to the Detroit Young Men’s Society, a speech (per the front wrapper of the pamphlet in which it was published) “Relative to the Customs and Institutions of the early Colonists of New England”–though given Woodbridge’s thesis that the peculiar New England character had much to do with the various boons of American civilization (the local school district and township governance, to name two), it it little surprise that there is much here on Michigan as well–including that promised anecdote, on the arrival of steam in Detroit:

Very early in the same morning, and long before my ordinary time of rising, I was startled by a violent and continued knocking at my door. Dressing myself very hastily, I went to see what terrible thing had happened. It was my old and polite acquaintance, Mons. Tremblé, living somewhere along the mouth of Huron, now ‘Clinton’ river. Scarcely allowing himself time for that courteous salutation which Frenchmen, (God bless them!) never forget; and in a condition of undisguised agitation, he burst into an exclamation that ‘the world was coming to an end!’ I thought he spoke distinctly: I thought I heard him clearly: but I could not comprehend him! ‘Plait il Monsieur?’ I said to him; and he repeated his affirmation–’Voila la fin du monde’–he said, ‘que s’approche; et bien tot tout sera detruit!’ He was not drunk, I thought; he did not appear like a crazy man. I could not believe that I was either the one or the other; and feeling that it was my turn to be astonished, I again asked him what he said? what he meant? A third time he repeated his assertion, but in conclusion he went on the remark, that ‘now you and I see vessels driven with violence by fire through the water. Soon they will be hurled through the air also by fire. You and I may probably both live to see these things; and then all things will melt with fervent heat, and the world will be burnt up! The priests told him so–the Holy Bible says it!’ The mystery was solved, he had seen the steamboat!

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