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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The fabulous Fütterer family and 4,000 years on stage.

The fabulous Fütterer family.

“We introduce ourselves as the two youngest of lecturers and writers of ancient history in the world today,” write Bernice and Eunice Fütterer in the spring of 1911.

They continue,

We are nine and ten years old and we are lecturing in halls or in any place which we can procure, and our subject is, ‘Four Thousand Years of History in One Hour,’ and thus we are demonstrating to the people by one of us writing on one subject while the other is talking on another; and we can write 4,000 years of history in 24 hours; and we learned this history by a new system in about three months, which system is capable of teaching any other children who will put their minds to it.

Thus supposedly do these two children introduce themselves to the world with their May 20, 1911 introduction to 4000 Years History in One Hour. By the Two Youngest Authors and Orators–Nine & Ten Years Old. Bernice and Eunice Fütterer. The Effects of a New Rapid System of Historical Juvenile Education Prepared for the International Juveniles Researchers Authors & Orators Instn. (San Francisco, 1911.)

While a good portion of the pamphlet is taken up with a recapitulation of the Old Testament history which the two Fütterer children, recent immigrants from Australia [sic, for Austria?], were evidently able to spiel forth onstage in under an hour, the real meat of the piece lies in the grandiose plans of the Fütterers mère and père, who hold their children up as the cynosure of their novel method of tuition, which they evidently planned to bestow as a boon on all children under twelve who might fall within convenient reach and who might be persuaded to attend their projected International Juvenile Ancient History Researchers–Authors and Orators Institute.

(That the system seems built on the Fütterer family’s ability to cram Old Testament lineages into the heads of their children is held up as the prophetic witness to  the biblical truth, “a child shall lead them.”)

What, for me, most encapsulates the entrepreneurial spirit of the Fütterer enterprise is their proposal for the upcoming 1915 Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco:

Moreover at the World’s Fair, San Francisco, in 1915, if Providence permits we plan to demonstrate the effects of this system with about fifty children of twelve years and under who will lecture as well as write a 4,000 years story ready for print in one hour; a feat I believe never before accomplished; and your child may be one among them; but the child to excel is he who first learns to read, write, spell, figure and obey well; such may write original letters to me in regard to ‘Worlds Fair’ proposition in Juvenilville.

Copyright records suggest that this pamphlet, despite its San Francisco imprint, was printed across the Bay in Oakland at the press of the Messiah’s advocate. Curiously, this edition of the pamphlet, likely the earliest published variation of the Fütterer system, is not found on OCLC, which notes variations on this title published in Los Angeles in 1912 and 1913, as well as later versions largely concerned with the Fütterer Patent Universal Eye-ographic Bible Atlas.

The copy of the pamphlet I have to hand is stamped in ink at the head of the title page as copy number 4142, this pamphlet being–in addition to all its evident charms–something of an artificial rarity produced for the collector’s market; as is so shrewdly noted at the end of the text,

These books are the first on record to our knowledge ever written by children; and will be numbered from 1 to 5,000, the first 100 to be sold as souvenirs at following prices: No. 1 at $50, No. 2 at $40, No. 3 at $30, No. 4 at $20, No. 5 at $15, No. 6 at $10, No. 7 at $5, No. 8 at $4, No. 9 at $3, No. 10 at $2, and from 10 to 100 at $1 each. These will be of greater value in time to come as curiosities.

In this optimistic assessment of fair market value, I am in full agreement with the enterprising Fütterer crew; the copy I sent home in the wake of my recent too-brief trip to San Francisco for the California Antiquarian Book Fair is described below and on our website. (Further interesting material continues to emerge from my parcels, those interested are directed as always to cast their eye along our concern’s New Arrivals page.)

Fütterer, Antonia Frederick. 4000 Years History in One Hour. By the Two Youngest Authors and Orators–Nine & Ten Years Old. Bernice and Eunice Fütterer. The Effects of a New Rapid System of Historical Juvenile Education Prepared for the International Juveniles Researchers Authors & Orators Instn. San Francisco: Antonia Fredck. Fütterer, Supt., 1911. Small 8vo, original gilt-printed red wrappers, [3], [1]-72, [5] pages. Illus. with a fetching halftone portrait of the Fütterer family (the two children wearing mortarboard hats). Wrappers a trifle sunned and showing a couple of scrapes; a very good copy. First edition.– $225.00

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When your fingers cease to tingle, double down, double down.

This paper wasn't sufficiently unrecorded.

While I was sitting at my desk this morning and cataloguing, I harkened back to the one axiom to which I cling as a bookseller: research on a book or pamphlet creates value.

The bookseller takes an item and does his utmost to create as many reasons as he can to suggest the title might be worth the interest (and money) of a discerning collector or librarian. An otherwise unremarkable piece becomes, with a little historical context, suddenly emblematic of diverse cultural forces.

One of my favorite instances of this phenomenon was the digging I had to do about three years back to sell a supposed tenth edition of Adolf Glassbrenner’s Berlin wie es ist und — trinkt. Von Ad. Brennglas. “Eckensteher.” Mit einem Titelkupfer. Zehnte Auflage (New York: Wilhelm Radde, 322 Broadway, Heinrich Ludwig, Buckdrucker, 1845), an unassuming little unbound duodecimo pamphlet that included a humorous frontispiece signed “Strong.”

Much as I would have liked to have ignored the thing, I had paid a few bucks for it and it wasn’t doing me any good just sitting there, and happily a cursory bit of research suggested the pamphlet in this edition was not listed in the usual online resources like OCLC or the Library of Congress catalog. This led me of course to that bookseller’s Homeric epithet “curious and fugitive.” (The tag is a poetic dodge that allows you to avoid claiming that it’s completely unknown and unrecorded, for how can one disprove the existence of the black swan’s twin?)

The title was a bit of popular contemporary satire from Berlin that had almost certainly been published for the local immigrant market in New York, but was apparently a whimsical speculative sideline on the part of the publisher, the German-American homeopathic pharmacist (and sometime publisher of popular books) Wilhelm Radde, who was at that Broadway address and “was the agent for the Central Homœopathic Pharmacy of Leipsic” (King’s History of homoeopathy and its institutions in America, 1905). This was an early title to go out under Radde’s imprint, and he evidently catered to a market for cheap popular literature (German school books, almanacs, editions of Undine, etc.). Ludwig, the printer, appears to have published a handful of German children’s and religious books in early-mid 19th century New York. The frontispice, depicting a loafer (“eckensteher”) drowsing off his inebriation beneath a dripping downspout, is signed Strong–perhaps T. W. Strong who (to judge from Hamilton’s Early American Book Illustrators and Wood Engravers 1670-1870) was active in New York at this period and who, though apparently not himself blessed with the good fortune to be German, had worked before on projects with German-Americans.

The specific market forces that had conspired to summon this little piece of cheap American publishing out of the void had some 165 years later meant that the little thing in my hand could be said to be of interest to institutions, and indeed it was; it ended up in a research library where it awaits the interest of some discerning scholar of the transatlantic cultural exchanges of the German urban immigrant, or the elasticity of contemporary medical ethics in light of the profit motive, etc. etc.

The example above of course is all by way of digression, since the piece I have in hand this morning is a single issue of a weekly newspaper issued in 1831 in Taunton, Mass., a copy of the Village Fire Fly of November 21, 1831 (pictured above, and published with the genial epigraph, “Laugh and be Fat”).

This copy came into my hands on my trip to New England last November, when I noticed a dealer had penciled something to the effect of “Story like Poe?” across the upper margin. Indeed, the unsigned tale “The Man Buried Alive,” seems as though it could have been written by Poe–it’s a vivid first person narrative of the sensations of a man presumed dead (but who is of course in a sort of trance) who is then brought back to life by grave robbing anatomists on the dissection table after the application of a galvanic charge:

When they had satisfied themselves with the galvanic phenomena, the demonstrator took the knife, and pierced my on the bosom with the point. I felt a dreadful crackling, as it were, throughout my whole frame; a convulsive shuddering instantly followed: and a shriek of horror rose from all present. The ice of death was broken up; my trance ended.

This little 4-page paper measuring barely nine inches seemed a curious place for an early appearance of a possible Poe tale (or an American Gothic tale), but who knew whether or not any copies of the Village Fire Fly still existed outside the one in my hand?  So I added it to my stack of things to buy and moved on to some other ill-informed purchase.

So after some two or three months I finally got to this niggling little problem piece and started digging. First of all, the esteemed American Antiquarian Society (perhaps the best place to start when you have an American imprint before 1876) has a complete file of the 52 published issues of the paper, so I wasn’t going to be able to sell this piece on the strength of being completely unknown. (I held out hope that I might still be able to deploy “curious and fugitive,” and after locating only online versions, I just might slap that label on.)

So that led to the questions, who was the author of this cheerful little piece of taphephobia, and was it original to the Fire Fly?

Alas, though the story bears striking parallels to Poe’s account of the supposed burial and revival in 1831 of one Edward Stapleton in London, recounted by Poe in his 1844 story, “The Premature Burial,” a little digging traces the story here published back to its first unsigned appearance in Blackwood’s Magazine as “The Buried Alive” in October, 1821, after which it was then collected in the popular Scottish author John Galt’s anonymously-published The Steam-Boat (1822). (Given its inclusion in The Steam-Boat, I would dispute the 1997 Poe Encyclopedia, which under its entry for Blackwood’s Magazine attributes the 1821 article to Poe.)

Se even though we’ve figured out the story is a reprint and is not even American, we can at least salvage some comfort that Poe scholars nearly all seem to agree that the anecdote behind the Stapleton story was indeed lifted straight from this story and amplified by Poe. Also, passing reference in a couple of sources suggests the Galt version had in fact been in circulation among American periodicals in the 1820s and 1830s. Poe does not seem to have acknowledged the debt to Galt’s version, and in fact pokes fun of the story in passing in his satirical “The Psyche Zenobia (How to Write a Blackwood Article).” But the story was circulating through the American system and feeding the sources that inspired some of Poe’s macabre masterpieces; Poe’s genius was to take something coursing through the culture and transform it into art.

Of the Village Fire Fly, AAS notes that it ran to 52 weekly numbers through April 16, 1832, and per an 1883 history of Bristol County, the paper was published out of the offices of the Advocate. Besides the macabre story, the 4-page sheet includes humorous squibs (“Why is a cook like a barber?”) and public notices.

All of this research to catalogue a minor byway in American literature recalls Mark Twain’s assessment of the prose style of James Fenimore Cooper,

Style may be likened to an army, the author to its general, the book to the campaign. Some authors proportion an attacking force to the strength or weakness, the importance or unimportance, of the object to be attacked; but Cooper doesn’t. It doesn’t make any difference to Cooper whether the object of attack is a hundred thousand men or a cow; he hurls his entire force against it. He comes thundering down with all his battalions at his back, cavalry in the van, artillery on the flanks, infantry massed in the middle, forty bands braying, a thousand banners streaming in the wind; and whether the object be an army or a cow you will see him come marching sublimely in, at the end of the engagement, bearing the more preferable fragments of the victim patiently on his shoulders, to the stopping-place.

Has the act of researching this piece, with my flags flying and forty bands braying, really added value? Have I disproved my fundamental axiom? Indeed, what I had bought in hopes of being a possible unrecorded piece of Poe (or at least Poe-iana) turned out to be something somewhat less than a unique Gothic snowflake. But as colleague Kenneth Mallory pointed out in an earlier thread on social media today (where I had essentially complained that this piece wasn’t sufficiently unrecorded), the discussion and complaint was “probably the most attention it’s ever gotten.” And indeed, my hope is that the weird confluence of social forces that brought the paper to this point will make the title of interest to somebody else willing to pay for the minor delights and disappointments encountered in the cataloguing of it.

(You may see the final product of the cataloguing here.)

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Isaac Newton and the follies of “gravity.”

Startling Geographic Discovery. After the most patient, impartial, and exhaustive research, the Earth is found to be not a Sun-supported and revolving Globe at all . . . So utterly false and physically impossible is the popular or accepted theory proved to be, that a Premium of £1,000 (One Thousand Pounds) is promised for any public and practical defence of Sir Isaac Newton’s Mathematical Device of “gravitation” theory . . . Croydon: The Zetetic Society, [ca. 1880?].

Thus trumpeted forth this challenge from Croydon, a small broadside that stands as an ephemeral puzzle piece in the pseudo-scientific career of a similarly puzzling monomaniac, John Hampden (1819-1891), long considered perhaps the foremost public face of the 19th century British flat-earth movement.

Hampden had a peculiar genius for becoming embroiled in controversy, a genius well suited for a Zetetic evangelist in search of publicity, and he had long waged a war of pamphlets, journals, and various challenges from his Croydon location. His best known entanglement came after the naturalist Alfred Russell Wallace accepted a challenge (given variously as £100, £500, or £1000) to disprove the Bedford Level experiment, a test originally carried out along the Old Bedford River in Norfolk by the Flat Earth Society president Samuel Birley Rowbotham, who purported to show that the mast of a boat rowing away from him remained visible for six miles–thus suggesting to the rational mind that the earth is not curved.

Hampden had offered a wager (similar to the one issued via this broadside) that Rowbotham’s results could be duplicated, and thus prove that the earth is flat. Wallace–who was also a trained surveyor and at that period somewhat hard up for cash–perhaps foolishly took Hampden up on the offer.

Wallace of course won the wager but made a lasting enemy of Hampden, who persecuted Wallace over the next two decades. As Wallace recounts in his memoir My life: a record of events and opinions (1905),

One day about this time we happened to have several friends with us, and as we were at luncheon, I was called to see a gentleman at the door. I went, and there was Hampden! I was so taken aback that my only idea was to get rid of him as soon as possible, but I afterwards much regretted that I did not ask him in, give him luncheon, and introduce him as the man who devoted his life to converting the world into the belief that the earth was flat. We should at least have had some amusement; and to let him say what he had to say to a lot of intelligent people might have done him good. But such ‘happy thoughts’ come too late. He had come really to see where I lived, and as our cottage and garden at Godalming, though quite small, were very pretty, he was able to say afterwards that I (the thief, etc.) was living in luxury, while he, the martyr to true science, was in poverty. . . . And this man was educated at Oxford University! Seldom has so much boldness of assertion and force of invective been combined with such gross ignorance. . . . The two law suits, the four prosecutions for libel, the payments and costs of the settlement, amounted to considerably more than the £500 I received from Hampden [the balance of the stakes Hampden withheld, alleging fraud], besides which I bore all the costs of the week’s experiments, and between fifteen and twenty years of continued persecution—a tolerably severe punishment for what I did not at the time recognize as an ethical lapse.

That Hampden, entangled as he was in various libel suits and campaigns of harassment against Wallace, would come forward with another monetary challenge suggests the depths of his conviction.

Hampden published a number of pamphlets in support of his ideas, including the intriguing Outbreak of Rabies at the Greenwich Observatory: The Professors Frantic–Astronomy Doomed (Croydon: John Hampden, 1890), a work mentioned in the bibliography of Christine Garwood’s Flat Earth: The History of an Infamous Idea (2007) but otherwise unlocated in the British Library catalog, on Copac, or on OCLC. (One might choose to interpret its scarcity as emblematic of the soundness of Hampden’s ideas, though certainly he best represents a certain strain of thought deserving at least some study.)

This broadside has since been reserved for an institution, but the description remains:

[Hampden, John]. Startling Geographic Discovery. After the most patient, impartial, and exhaustive research, the Earth is found to be not a Sun-supported and revolving Globe at all . . . So utterly false and physically impossible is the popular or accepted theory proved to be, that a Premium of £1,000 (One Thousand Pounds) is promised for any public and practical defence of Sir Isaac Newton’s Mathematical Device of “gravitation” theory . . . Croydon: The Zetetic Society, [ca. 1880?]. First edition. Broadside, approx. 11.25 x 8.5 inches. A trifle chipped along an old fold; some dust-soiling; in very good condition.

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