Sunday, January 31, 2010

The London Planetarium

And while I'm on the subject of 1950s graphics - a little bit, of late. This came out of a box of bits and pieces the other day. Just the most wonderful piece of period graphic design on the front of a large brochure about the London Planetarium

Ex Libris Charles Philip Castle Kains Jackson

A while ago I was doing some work in part of the remains of the collection of the late Donald Weeks and saw there, and photographed, a copy of the bookplate of Charles Philip Castle Kains Jackson. Jackson was a solicitor come art critic and art magazine editor who was firmly in the circle of Gleeson White and, of course, Frederick Rolfe, particularly during the latter's time in Christchurch. Jackson was gay and in a relationship with his younger cousin, Cecil Castle. I find the pair of them fascinating. It is easy enough to pinpoint gay men in history but much much more difficult to find relationships but, through Jackson's writing, Rolfe's letters and sundry other sources, there is enough evidence to attempt a description of their relationship - which I hope to do in print at some point in the future.

So I was delighted when I got a chance to own my own copy of CPCKJ's bookplate (above) It is signed with a monogram in the top right corner by Alan Wright (an A and a W enclosed in an artist's palette). Wright too is an interesting figure. He was born in 1864 and lived to the age of 95 and worked as an illustrator of books and articles for nearly forty years. He was almost a contemporary of Beardsley, Walter Crane, Arthur Rackham, Heath Robinson and that lot, his work was regularly alongside theirs in the periodicals of the day and yet today he is almost unknown.

There are two possible reasons for this I think. First, his long-life. It could be he's a little like Richard le Gallienne, an 1890s figure without the sense of common cause to die before the turn of the century: it may be that he simply isn't counted in the crowd because he outlived them all. Secondly, however, it has been suggested that it might have been his association with Rolfe which was part of his undoing. Wright was the illustrator of 'How I Was Buried Alive' by Rolfe in The Wide World Magazine. However, The Aberdeen Free Press launched an excoriating attack on Rolfe following that story and it has been suggested that it was after this point that Wright's star began to wane, that he was, in some way, tarred with the same brush.

Wright became a very early Corvine, somewhat obsessed by his memories of his occasional encounters with Rolfe during the 1890s, often referring to them in later life. One of the nice things about this bookplate is that it shows perhaps the one artistic thing that Wright took from Rolfe: the method of drawing feet which details the big toe but simply outlines the rest.

Captain "Space" Kingley

What's not to like about these fantastic illustrations from the 1950s? Captain Kingley, or Space to his friends, only appeared in three Christmas annuals from 1954-6 and I'm told - by a blogger who has actually read them - that the stories themselves were pretty thin and silly, well below the talent of the artist who worked on them. I was particularly taken by the Flame Men of Mercury.
In truth this copy is ridiculously tatty and didn't really survive the scanning process. Nor was it intended to. I only picked it up in a fit of pique the other day as R and I came to the end of an hour or so in a bitterly cold antiques centre. He had found loads of stuff to feed his lust for 20th century ceramics and I had nothing, so when I saw the warming, 50s colours of the cover glowing behind an old teapot I had to have it. If only to share here.

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Raven 10: The Crab and the Moon

It is half-past one in the morning and I am listening to the achingly beautiful Domine Jesu Christe from Durufle's Requiem while I assemble packages of books. It's slow going because I have some kind of bug which is making me nauseous and feverish.

I sent out the announcement of Raven 10: The Crab and Moon last weekend. As usual the special state sold out within hours and a healthy number of orders for the ordinary state were received but, what tends to happen every time I announce a new book is that the email jogs people's memory and suddenly I have lots of complicated orders to fulfill as customers decide to order the new book along with a few others that they had been meaning to get around to. I am not complaining about this - simply sharing my evening with y'all.

Raven Ten: The Crab and the Moon

by Robert Scoble

In late 1899 and well into 1900, Frederick Rolfe worked for most of every day in the great circular Reading Room at the British Museum, researching his book on the Borgia family. One of his fellow researchers was the Museum's recently-retired Keeper of Printed Books, Richard Garnett, also working on the Borgia. The two men had several conversations about their common interest in Renaissance Italy.

Rolfe will have been intrigued to discover that, while in his public life Garnett had reached the very pinnacle of Victorian respectability, in his private moments he pursued an activity which was in technical breach of the law. He was an astrologer.

For the first forty years of his life, Rolfe had little interest in astrology, but it is noticeable that the two novels on which he worked most strenuously after meeting Garnett, Hadrian the Seventh and Nicholas Crabbe, are studded with astrological references. Born under the sign of Cancer, the Crab, and 'ruled' by the Moon, Rolfe began to refer in his correspondence to his crab-like characteristics, and to find in astrology a fertile source of powerful symbolism.

This latest addition to the Raven Series traces the trajectory of Rolfe's interest in astrology, and elucidates the many astrological references in his published work. It analyses Rolfe's own natal chart, showing how he would have been tempted to see in it a foreshadowing of his life's vicissitudes.

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

Of a full edition of 70, the first 12 copies of The Crab and the Moon constitute the special state, case bound in black paper-covered boards with gilt titles, and signed by the author. Numbers 13-70 form the ordinary state of the edition, and are sewn into black card covers with a paper label and acetate wrappers.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Pterodactyls and the London Illustrated News

When I was ten or eleven, like most boys of that age, even before Jurassic Park, I had a bit of a thing for dinosaurs. Going through an old draw I found the following which I have kept from that time. I don't know where I came across the original reference but I remember having the help of the children's librarian in my local public library to fill in the request form to get hold of this article from the LIN. So dumbfounded where the librarians who received the request, possibly at the British Library itself, that when the photocopy of the article came back it had attached a limerick they had composed. I wish I had the limerick still. Clearly, it began "There once was a pterodactyl from..." but I really don't remember the rest. The story itself I find just as fascinating today as I did at the age of ten.

"VERY LIKE A WHALE - A discovery of great scientific importance has just been made at Culmont (Haute Marne). Some men employed in cutting a tunnel which is to unite St. Dizier and Nancy railways, had just thrown down an enormous block of stone by means of gunpowder, and were in the act of breaking it to pieces, when from a cavity in it they suddenly saw emerge a living being of monstrous form. This creature, which belongs to the class of animals hitherto considered extinct, had a very long neck, and a mouth filled with sharp teeth. It stands on four long legs, which are united together by two membranes, doubtless intended to support the animal in the air, and are armed with four claws terminated by long and crooked talons. Its general form resembles that of a bat, differing only in its size, which is that of a large goose. Its membranous wings, when spread out, measure from tip to tip, 3 metres 22 centimetres (nearly 10 feet 7 inches). Its colour is a livid black: its skin is naked, thick and oily; its intestines only contained a colourless liquid like clear water. On reaching the light this monster gave some signs of life, by shaking its wings, but soon after expired, uttering a hoarse cry. The strange creature, to which may be given the name of living fossil, brought to Gray, where a naturalist, well versed in the study of paleontology, immediately recognised it as belonging to the genus Pterodactylus anas, many fossil remains of which have been found among the strata which geologists have designated by the name lias. The rock in which this monster was discovered belongs precisely to that formation, the deposit of which is so old that geologists date it more than a million years back. The cavity in which the animal was lodged forms an exact hollow mould of its body, which indicates that it was completely enveloped with the sedimentary deposit."

---- The London Illustrated News, Feb 9th 1856

Was this the oldest living creature ever to have existed? Perhaps not but a great starting point for a story of bizarre and macabre happenings: almost Lovecraftian...
For more see this well written article on the veracity of the story - particularly the last three or four paragraphs...

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Vintage photo: mother and son

This is, I think, a delightful photo which manages to be both informal and overdressed at the same time. Edwardian obviously, presumably mother and son and possibly by an amateur photographer in the family who could only get enough light for the indoor portrait by posing the pair looking out of a window.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Book Coasters

A bookshop reasonably close to me which has a picture framing workshop attached has come up with an ingenious use for books that are never going to sell for huge sums. This is a set of coasters made from pages of a modern Dandy Annual. I think they are also planning to use things like the covers of Mills & Boon romances, the interior text pages of old paperback versions of classics, scraps of torn dustjackets and so on...

Rolfe in Oban

To add to the collection of related-to-one-of-my-authors-but-otherwise not-very-valuable vintage photos these two came to me a little while ago. Albumen print photos from the studio of the prolific photographer and postcard publisher James Valentine. They are photos of Oban in Scotland where Frederick Rolfe spent a particularly unhappy few months. The then Marquess of Bute decided, with a converts zeal, that he wanted to found a choir school for the putative catholic cathedral, yet to be built, in the town. It was a foolish idea but when Rolfe was offered the mastership the combination of boys, catholic religion and noble patronage made it impossible for him to refuse. It went badly wrong.

It is always tempting to put most of the failures of Rolfe's life down to his paranoid and abrasive personality but there are a couple of examples, and this is one, where his paranoia may have had some grounds and the mastership of the choir school, although doomed from the beginning by the bizarre nature of the idea, was one of these moments. He was undermined and unsupported and when an odd assortment of clergy turned up at the school they failed to acknowledge Rolfe's authority over the boys and the school and Rolfe accuses them of drunkenness and general bad behaviour. I have copies here of the letters the clergy wrote to the Bishop complaining about Rolfe and it is clear from the handwriting, let alone the content, that the writer was very much in their cups. Rolfe's position quickly became unfeasible and he left. These photos show Oban for the slightly scraggy Scottish town that it was at the time: almost contemporary with Rolfe's stay there.

Friday, January 15, 2010

Harry Clarke Scraps

Harry Clarke has been a reasonable regular feature on this blog in the past. I'm much more partial to his intricate black and white work than the coloured stuff really but these three detached pages which I assume are from his illustrations for Hans Andersen's Fairy Tales (1916) were in a recently acquired batch of bits and pieces and they have a certain something. I love the b/w background to the 'Emperor's New Clothes' illustration in particular.

David Paynter

Way back in 2008 I reported a trip to Brighton Museum and illustrated it with a photo of a very sexy painting by one David Paynter, of whom I knew precious little and was disappointed to to discover was not represented in the museum's postcard selection. Anyway, that post resulted in a number of emails. One of which informed me that Paynter was in fact a Sri Lankan artist and his dates were 1900-1975. I also have scans of a couple of other of his paintings which I may be able to share in due course. However, one thing that did come in way back after that original post, was an email from Canada containing this much better reproduction of the painting, from a postcard, possibly from the Brighton Museum twenty years ago.

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Vintage Men

I have been scanning huge numbers of old photos in preparation for selling them and, although, perhaps oddly, vintage photos of men don't sell all that well, I couldn't let these two pass in their handsom, fin-de-siecle, wistfulness, without sharing.

Thursday, January 07, 2010

Arnold W. Smith: Battersea Polytechnic Secondary School

I've mentioned before how I like it when, from time to time, photos turn up that are in some way connected to one of my authors. This is a school photo at Battersea Polytechnic Secondary School which had Arnold W. Smith as headmaster. Smith published a couple of volumes of poetry, one of which, a very slim volumes, a cycle of sonnets of superior quality, I republished recently: A Boy's Absence. Sadly, this photo was taken in 1913 and Smith was headmaster of the school from 1918 to his death in 1927 so it just misses him but I'd be very surprised to ever come across another photo of the school so it will have to do.

Tuesday, January 05, 2010

Carnaby Xmas

As twelfth night looms into view and outside the house is a blanket of white as the snow has been falling heavily for some hours now, I thought I'd just share a picture of these rather funky decorations from Carnaby Street. R and I were in London on Sunday to see Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake at Sadler's Wells. If I can bring myself to, I might have a word or too to say about it but not tonight.

Saturday, January 02, 2010

Alec Clunes Catalogue

Some while ago I blogged about the book catalogues I had found from Alec Clunes's bookselling business. They were his own copies of his catalogues, marked up by him with details of which books had sold and so on. I found them a good home shortly after that blog post but a growing interest sent me back to the original source where I picked up a box load of other material from the career of this rather interesting thespian.

Most of the material catalogued here relates to Clunes's theatrical career, rather than his later career as a bookseller. In particular, the bulk of the 28 items are connected to a tour of continental Europe undertaken by Clunes as Company Manager and Leading Man just after the War in 1946. Sent by the British Council, the English Arts Theatre Company took Shakespeare and Shaw on an unashamedly uplifting tour to people still crawling out of their shell holes. It was, by all accounts, a great success.

So, a short catalogue in pdf format:

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