Friday, November 23, 2007

And While We're on the Subject...

...of vintage photos. I have been thinking on all these lovely old photos and was put in mind of R and my first real triumph when it comes to buying and selling the past.

It was 2004, we were broke, and very new to the idea of buying and selling stuff. In our favourite junk shop we came across a beautiful photo album. We both loved it instantly, the album itself was in reasonable condition but it was full of the most wonderful albumen print photos, mainly 10" x 8", of a tour around the world taking in the Middle East, Ceylon, New Zealand and Canada as well as what might have been parts of South America. The shopkeeper said £50. We had not much more than that in the bank. We demured. But we kept talking about it and eventually I went back on a stormy day with a friend, again I browsed the album and again I really wanted it. I spoke to the shopkeeper again and, surprise, since I had last looked at it, he'd had a chance to have a look too and decided it was wrongly priced so he'd marked it up at £100 now: but since I had been told £50 originally, if I wanted it then I could have it for £60!

I got as far as getting back in the car with said friend and sitting with the rain pelting on the roof while she convinced me that if I wanted it that badly I should go and get it and blow the expense. So I did. Raced home, shared the joy with R. And we really did love it. There were a couple of wonderful Zangaki Brothers photos of Cairo which we both liked much more than any of the ones which would later be highlighted. It took a real effort of will to decide to sell it. We had no idea if we had paid a good price or not.

I took it to Dominic Winter's auction house, then still based in Swindon... It was a horrible drive only alleviated by the fact that he valued it at £300-400 and that it was illustrated with three photos in the catalogue and sold eventually for something over £600. Neither R nor I could be at the auction house on the day of the sale which remains a real regret even today. Our first real trading sucess.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

I Won!

Despite my blogging of vintage photos of male swimwear (see below), my actual collection of old photographs, as opposted to a digital collection, is quite small and always seems subservient to other parts of my collecting life. Also, as a 'collection' it's not really up to much as there is no particular theme or direction. It is the quintessential - I bought it because I liked it collection. I can think of a photo of a Victorian English woman in her full-length Kimono and huge silk parasol, there are two hand-tinted silver prints of Venice, a couple of delightful but sentimental Edwardian photos of a boy-girl romance around a hay-stack... and so on... things which grab me for no particular reason but which have impressed me enough not to find their way into my stock but rather into a frame.

This is the latest. An Ebay win. Very pleased!

I Very Nearly Love This Book

This book didn't quite make it into my 'I Love This Book' series, but as I have just finished getting to grips with it, after having had it languish on my shelves for some months, I have to say it came close.

Christ in Hades was the poem that made Stephen Phillips his notable 1890s reputation as a poet and has ensured a much smaller but respectable reputation since. The poem was first published with others in 1897, sold out, and was immediately reissued in January 1898. This edition was published (all three by John Lane at the Bodley Head) in 1917.

This edition is made remarkable for a number of reasons and perhaps the poem itself is the least of those. First we should take note of the cover design which demonstrates quite clearly the continued quality of some Bodley Head publications even after the initial bloom in the 90s. The book is illustrated, and the artwork for cover and endpapers are created by Stella Langdale. There is something rather wonderful about the somewhat misty charcoal images of Hell during the harrowing which, although perhaps don't make the best illustrations for a book are nonetheless very attractive. What I like in particular is that when one takes the cover, endpapers and illustrations together there's a very clear sense of the Nineties 'at work': the slightly oriental look to the sun on the cover, the obviously Beardsley-esque figures on the endpapers and the misty, tortured and slightly pungeant look of the illustrations all speak the Nineties very strongly despite the later publication date. There is a very good potted bio of Langdale here.

But this is not really a poetry book, it is a retrospective. There is a so-called 'introduction' by C. Lewis Hind which, if I mention runs to 69pp and is subtitled 'Relating some literary episodes of the Nineties, which culminated in the "crowning" by "The Academy," of "Christ in Hades", might reveal itself as rather more than a traditional introduction. It is in fact a short memoire of the kind I love because, often overlooked by biographers of major figures, it is sometimes this kind of short work which gives a more anecdotal and dare I say, gossipy sense of 'what it was like to be there.'

Hind was primarily an editor during the Nineties and most notably of the journal The Academy. He lays claim to introducing Beardsley to the world - but who didn't? - and was great friends with the sometime arch-enemy of Oscar Wilde: W. E. Henley. Having just published Aspects of Wilde and read more than a little about Wilde's relationship with Henley through the somewhat jauniced eyes of Vincent O'Sullivan, I was intrigued to read this little note of a meeting between the two in Hind's introduction:

"and of all the splendid talk I heard that night, the most splendid was a duel, poetry the subject, between Henley and Oscar Wilde. It was a broad-sword against rapier, and I knew not which won: the give and take, the hammer and dart were too dazzling. I suppose Wilde won, because a time came when Henley ceased, and Wilde delivered a melodious monologue on Shelley, one of the most beautiful excursions into appreciative criticism that I have ever read or heard."

one has to imagine that Hind was one of those false friends about whom O'Sullivan is so bitter in Aspects who deserted Wilde after his trials, although, from what he goes on to say, a residual affection is clearly present and perhaps can be stated in 1917 more than it could be acted on during Wilde's life:

"I shut out the latter years and think only of his tender and loving understanding of the most ethereal of poets. How strange it will be if, when we awake from the dream of death, we find that we are judged only by the good we have done."

Friday, November 16, 2007

A Piece of the Puzzle

In my recent post about the mystery set of photos I found on the road in South London some years ago, I see that I said I had searched in vain for a photo with the name of the ship on it. Now, in checking the photos that I uploaded here, I notice for the first time that there are life belts visible on one of the photos and blow me down if there isn't the name of the ship, ZOWL, and it's home ports, London, printed on them plain as day. Now I have to decide if I will take up the trail again.

PS. Thank you John C. for your comments. The last time I mentioned Gaughan was in connection with some Samuel R Delany covers for Ace Doubles and I was plesantly surprised to get a well-informed comment on the blog then from Gaughan's daughter! Amazing the connections one can make. I shall be counting the days till Feuilleton is back online - all good wishes for a speedy blog recovery.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Vintage SF Cover Art

There's nothing quite as evocative as vintage SF artwork. There is something about a depiction of the future which is so firmly styled in the past which is very pleasing. Ace Doubles are a particular joy although, because Ace Books were so completely cavalier about record keeping, rights, credits and so on it is normally impossible to give proper credit to artists.

The first book below is one I picked up recently, not just for it's joyous cover art but because it's a pretty much perfect combination of authors (Ace Doubles were two novellas printed back to back and upside down, each with it's own cover). Vulcan's Hammer by Philip K Dick and The Skynappers by John Brunner, Ace Double D-457, 1960.

The second book, I'm particularly proud of since is contains the signature of the High Priestess of fantasy and SF herself, Ms U K LeGuin. Her classic work Planet of Exile is partnered rather oddly with one of Thomas M Disch's least sucessful books Mankind Under the Leash which, if it helps give an idea, was also published under the variant tiltle The Puppies of Terra. The two are together in Ace Double G-597, 1966

The third book below was simply one that I picked up because it's a rule... never see a vintage Ace paperback in a secondhand bookshop and leave without it! Two tales I've not read by A Bertram Chandler from 1965 (Ace Double M-129): Empress of Outer Space and The Alternate Martians. The artwork on this book is credited to Jerome Podwil with interior art (consisting of only two b/w vingettes at the head of each novella) by Jack Gaughan

Finally, the fourth book, not an Ace Double or even single but I pulled it off the shelf at the same time beacause it seemed to me that it's got to win some kind of award for dynamism in cover art: The Genocides by Thomas M Disch (signed as well as it happens!) published in 1965

Vintage Swim

Another one of the ever popular occasional series of posts from my collection of vintage swimwear pics and, as a very special treat... down at the bottom, a couple of bottoms!

Fans of the film The Dead Poets' Society will remember the scene in which Robin Williams takes the boys out of the classroom to the school's entrance hall and has them look, really look closely, at the old school photos which adorn the walls. He makes them look into the faces of the boys in those photos and makes them realise that though they are now all dead and gone, the boys in the photos, with the exception of hair styles and clothes, look just like the themselves - no different at all. But they are all dead! Hence Williams' characters' motto and the motto of the film Carpe Dium (Sieze the Day).

The scene stuck with me at the time and laid the foundation I think for my appreciation of vintage photography. I love to look at these old photos (and not just the swimwear ones which are just a bit of fun) and imagine the colour back into peoples clothes and faces.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Mystery Snapshots

In about the year 200o I was living in South London, it was a fiercely hot summer and on one particularly searing afternoon I was coming back from taking the dog for a walk when I came across a battered old suitcase lying open - seemingly forced open - on the pavement. From it, for several metres down the road were strewn about 40 or so colour photographs. By the state of some of them it would seem that they might have been there a while and been trodden on by other passers-by.

I was intrigued and gathered them up - and the suitcase. There was nothing else, just the suitcase and the photos, as if they had been tossed out of a car. Back at home I started looking through the photos but there were absolutely no clues to the identity of the people in them. In the end I took them to the police station, filled in a lost property slip and, when the however many weeks were up, I was sufficiently interested to go and see if they had been claimed and they hadn't - so they became mine.

Most of the photos appeared to be of a sailing holiday taken by a middle-aged couple and a younger man. Now, it would be disingenuous to say that the rather handsome young man in his sky blue speedos wasn't anything to do with why the photos grabbed me but there was something appealing also about the idea of trying to put some kind of story or context to them. I scanned the photos for anything that might help and was amazed to find that in all the photos of the boat - of which there a good number - not one of them showed the boat at the right angle to see its name. Also, of the photos taken on land, not one has so much as a street sign visible to indicate even what country they were in.

On top of all that there was the rather curious question of what the relationship between the three actually was. On first look it seems obvious that it is a middle-aged couple with their grown-up son. But as you spend more time looking at the photos you begin to question this a little. There is something about the positioning of one person to another, something about the way the camera is directed, about its 'gaze' that makes you begin to wonder. At first I thought I was imagining that so I handed them to the most innocent and prudish friend I have and she at first said, "don't be silly, of course its mum and dad and their son" but as she kept flicking through them and spent a little time really looking at them she too had to conceed that maybe that wasn't the whole story: that perhaps there was something odd going on.

Another strange feature of the photos is, of course, how they were found. My first assumption was simply that the suitcase had been stolen from travellers somewhere in London and that it had been dumped from a moving car once any goodies had been removed. Which, I suppose is still essentially what I think happened. But... it is strange that the photos in this 'stolen' case should look so old. The young man in particular seems to be concerned with the way he looks and the way he dresses which makes me think that he wouldn't be wearing anything too out of date - and yet the clothes in the photos are clearly from the late 80s, early 90s, some ten years before I found the photos strewn across the road in South London.

Anyway, click and enlarge and see what you think... If by putting them on the internet, by some miracle, the owners or subjects of the photos should see them I am more than willing to return the entire set to you... and of course, would love to have the mystery solved for me...

More Willard Price

A long time ago now, it seems, I published a very long post here about Willard Price, adventurer, explorer, journalist, boys' novelist and all round product of the most optimistic part of the American spirit. He's best well known for his 'Adventure Series' of stories - primarily for boys but a lot of women I know of my age seem to have read them as children as well. There are fourteen Adventure books and they were written, amazingly, over a period of nearly 30 years. My first aim in collecting Price is to have all fourteen Adventure books in their UK first editions by Jonathan Cape.

Below are the latest additions to my collection: South Sea Adventure (1952) and Underwater Adventure (1955). Alongside those I've also managed to find two other books which speak something of the length of his writing career, as well as perhaps of a lack of imagination in choosing titles! - two non-fiction books: Amazing Amazon (Heinemann, London, 1952) and Amazing Mississippi (Heinemann, London, 1962).

One of the most evocative things about the Adventure books and one of the things that makes them resonate with childhood memories are the scratchy, scribbly, frantically energetic illustrations by Pat Marriott. The last time I posted about Price I added in some of Marriott's illustrations and so below are some of the larger illustrations from Underwater Adventure.

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