Wednesday, August 31, 2011


Not quite sure what's going on here but a great moment caught on camera... As always, one can click to enlarge...

UPDATE: Thank you to my correspondent who writes: "Looks to me if it was taken off the side of a freighter or liner in one of the ports on the West African coast. It was the custom fifty years ago when a boat anchored off a port for young men to row out to the vessel and dive for coins the passengers threw overboard."

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Edgar Allen Poe Binding

Edgar Allen Poe has always attracted the big-name illustrators and this 1858 edition of his work was no exception with illustrations throughout by the likes of Tenniel, Pickersgill and Birkett Foster but, although very battered and worn, the thing that attracted me most about the book was its wonderfully ornate and gothic binding, smothered in Add Imagegilt decoration. Now sold, but I almost wish I'd kept it...

Woodcut of Death

I'm not usually taken by the truly antiquarian. That's not to say I don't enjoy looking through a genuinely old, old book, but I've always felt somewhat intimidated by the printed word once it grows more than about 300 years old. However, this did appeal. I've been looking through some more of my huge collection of booksellers catalogues and this is an illustration from an undated (possibly 1930s?) catalogue by l'Art Ancien in Zurich: item 308a of catalogue 37 to be precise. Sadly, the catalogue is a little friable and it wouldn't have been wise to press it flat open onto the scanner so a photograph has had to make do. The title of the book is so very long, and in German to boot, that I won't bother with it here. Suffice to say it was printed in Vienna in around 1510 and is a description of the relics in St Stephen's Cathedral in Vienna. But the book's greatest interest is provided by its woodcut illustrations. The one above appears to be signed with the initials MGW and I couldn't for the life of me offer a convincing explanation of all the iconography used in it, particularly without being able to relate it to the text but nonetheless, wow!, what a piece of woodcarving...

Monday, August 29, 2011

Handsome Vintage Swim

Have had a very nice couple of days away in London visiting my best friend and partaking of brilliantly weird oriental films on DVD, lots of very tasty Whiskey, the best sausage and mash I've had for a long time, and the entire third season of Supernatural... ah, what a weekend...

And on my arrival home these were waiting for me on the mat. I hadn't realised when I bought them that they were all bigger than postcard size. I guess an amateur but a very good one. The picture with the two (brothers I think) in profile is, in particular, very good indeed and reminds me of Herbert List's photos.

[Thank you to all who offered help with the mystery alphabet and Arabic in the post a few days ago. I shall respond to you all individually and then put an update onto that post...]

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Vintage Photobooth

I'm chuffed to marmalade with this photo which is, I suppose, an early form of ID photo or photobooth production. Four tiny little photos of an extremely sweet looking young man playing for the camera... awww!

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Foreign Languages and Mystery Alphabets...

I have two cries for help here...

The first is a sweet little photo-postcard I bought recently (above) which has the very lovely English caption handwritten, "I hope our friendship will last forever" but it also has some Arabic on it as well and I just wondered if any kind readers of this blog might be able to translate it for me and let me know either in the comments or by clicking the 'email me' link to the right of this post...

The second is something more of a mystery. I have a series of books of Edwardian gay poetry and the author himself has written in the books throughout, usually in a reasonably clear English handwriting. However, every now and again there is a line or two, sometimes just a couple of words that look like the scan below. Individual letters look like they could be Greek but if they are then I'm not able to make out what the words might be. Someone has suggested it might be shorthand but it doesn't look like any examples I've been able to compare it to so far... If anyone is able to identify and translate this and is willing as a follow up to look over a few more scans I might send then I will happily reward them with a copy of any book published by Callum James Books that is still in print... which I think makes this my first Blog-competition!

Both images expand when clicked...

Any help at all would be much appreciated...

Victorian Crabs Somewhere Near Liverpool

I think this new addition has to be one of the best photos in my collection. Obviously slightly staged but not overly so and a genuinely lovely image. Came from a collection of images which had a Liverpool background

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Art Deco Dorchester

It's Art Nouveau book design that seems to most get the collectors' heart racing, and there's good reason for that I suppose, but every now and again an Art Deco designed book does come across my desk and since yesterday's post was about Stephen Tennant and the Bright Young Things I thought we might have a look at their natural habitat...

This book was published to commemorate the opening of the Dorchester Hotel in London in 1931. The first half is a short story by Michael Arlen 'A Young Man Comes to London' and the second half of the book is an essay on the new hotel. The most striking part of the production, apart from the zig-zag cloth used in the binding, is four fold-out colour plates showing artists depictions of various areas in the hotel.

Stephen Tennant illustrates The White Wallet

Stephen Tennant is one of those figures of the literary and artistic world who pop up now and again, whose own achievements are enjoyable enough but not great in their own right but whose life is so intricately intertwined with the truly great that they appear more important than perhaps they actually are.

Tennant's mother was a cousin of Lord Alfred Douglas. Tennant was the lover, for four years, of Siegfried Sassoon. In his home at Wilsford Manor Tennant entertained the brightest and best of his generation including Virginia Woolf and E. M. Forster and most of the 'Bright Young Things' of the 1920s where they were all photographed by a young Cecil Beaton as they cavorted around in fancy dress. After the war Tennant went into a long, slow decline becoming increasingly reclusive and spending his time completely redecorating the interior of Wilsford. I recently had a copy of the Sotheby's catalogue from the 1980s of the sale of the house and contents after Tennant's death and there are some fantastic photos of the interiors decked out in silver or fishnet or pink...

Tennant himself was a good artist and a better illustrator/designer but his output was not really large enough to feel that he ever reached his potential. This book above is a poetry anthology edited by Tennant's Mother, Pamela Grey and published by J. M. Dent in 1928. Tennant provided the jacket design, the title page and some decorations (below) but what grabbed me most about the book - as if you couldn't guess) was the design of the patterned paper on the boards. There's nothing in the book to say who designed the paper but I would be surprised if it was Tennant himself.

Vintage Swimwear Poses

Well, I hope you'll excuse another pause in the blogging and accept the above as a token of my remorse for having been so quiet of late. I am now up off my sickbed and back at it.

The above is, in fact, one of a number of recent additions to my collection of photos and postcards of handsome folk in vintage swimwear. This photo in particular got me to wondering what it is about group photos like this from the 1910s and 20s which make them so recognisable as from that era. Obviously the swimwear is a bit of a giveaway but am I crazy or is there also something about the posing of group photos from this period which is very characteristic. I think it is the strange formal-casual nature of the posing: everybody differs slightly from everyone else in pose and there is a particular way that photos of this era have of capturing a moment when not everyone is looking at the camera, when gazes are going off to places we can't see or looking at each other. Anyway, they are a handsome bunch... do click it to see it in all its glory.

Sunday, August 07, 2011

Naked Horsemen

Today's little find. As well as an unexpected treasure-trove of books at a local antiques fair today, this postcard was a pleasant find. We're no strangers here at Front Free Endpaper to the melding of naked man to naked horse and the painting reproduced here is by a Danish artist called Oscar Matthiesen and is called the Scanian Dragoons Head for a Swim (c.1905). There's more information about it and a picture of it in situ showing just how big it is in real-life on Flickr. Amusingly the bodies were modelled by enlisted men and then the heads on their fit shoulders were portraits of the officers.

Bosie and Maurice Schwabe

At the beginning of the year, the curator of the State Library of New South Wales in Australia 'discovered' three letters from Lord Alfred 'Bosie' Douglas to a man called Maurice Schwabe. You can read about the discovery here and here. There were all manner of young men that circled around Oscar and Bosie, some who were drawn into the glamorous bubble of their bohemian lifestyle, some who were courted and some who saw opportunity. [I was recently taken by the life story of one of them called Edward Shelley who's entire life was coloured by his brief association with Wilde-Bosie in the 1890s - but that's another story]. Schwabe, it seems, was involved in a fling with Bosie and appears to have had some role in procuring boys, perhaps through the brothel run by his old school-friend, Alfred Taylor.

When the articles talk about Maurice Schwabe being 'airbrushed from history', this isn't quite true but it's certainly the case that he was packed off to Australia and that his powerful relatives, notably his uncle, Frank Lockwood, the Solicitor-General, did their best to make sure he wasn't implicated in the trial.

The discovery of these letters peaked the interest of a friend of Front Free Endpaper who did a little digging of his own and has kindly agreed to my posting here a few tid-bits of information about Schwabe [I paraphrase]:

Schwabe was born in 1871 and was the eldest of six, one of whom, his sister Gladys, died in 1915 in the sinking of the Lusitania with her husband Paul Crompton and their children. Another notable in his family was his maternal Grandmother Julia Schwabe (nee Ricke Rosetta Schwabe) who was a remarkable woman who lived on for more than forty years after her husband's death in 1853. She had a late flowering as a philanthropist in Naples, where she is buried. A visit by Schwabe to Naples is mentioned in the letters discovered in NSW

He was educated at Malborough where he coincided not only with the aforementioned Alfred Taylor but also with E F Benson, and probably a number of other notables. For information about his personality and appearance we can look to this description:

"Schwabe had been sent abroad before the [Wilde] trials and it is scarcely yet realized what a large part he played in Wilde's ruin. Not by intent - he was not much more intelligent than Taylor - but because he was a busy ambitious young man, anxious to please Wilde and careless of the characters of those he introduced to him. A rotund, quick-moving, talkative fellow he was intrepid in making contacts and indefatigable in pursuit. He lived into another generation, the same industrious entrepreneur, who had many stories about Wilde with which he entertained the Edwardians. He was killed in the First World War." (Rupert Croft-Cooke, Feasting with Panthers: A New Consideration of Some Late Victorian Writers, W H Allen, 1967, p.269).

At the time of the 1911 census, Schwabe was 39 and living in Exhibition Rd with a 22-year-old pianist named Sydney Stoeger. Schwabe seems to have had a young Swiss valet and Stoeger an English one.

Reference has already been made to Schwabe's death in WW1 and it is described in a little more detail here:

"Alfred Douglas maintained contact with Schwabe after Wilde's death and related that he had been killed in the First World War by a party of Germans who had just surrendered and had mistaken him for a traitor on account of his name and his perfect German." (Merlin Holland, Irish Peacock & Scarlet Marquess: The Real Trial of Oscar Wilde, Fourth Estate, 2003, p.314). Merlin Holland footnotes the source of this account as Leon Lemonnier's 1931 biography La Vie d'Oscar Wilde.

A couple more points can be drawn out from the letter's themselves. The letters are superscribed "The Close, Salisbury" and Alfred Douglas's mother had a house called St Anne's Gate which is one of the entrances to the cathedral close at Salisbury.

The 25 March 1893 letter mentions a boy named 'Sidney Bowle'. Luckily he was the only UK resident at the time with that forename and surname, so it is easy to trace him genealogically. Sidney Clement Bowle was born early in 1878, so had just turned 15 when Douglas was communicating with him (from Douglas's incomplete sentence 'I have not...' one presumes that Bowle had not been seduced by Douglas). Bowle went on to marry the 18-year-old Marjorie Adams in 1905 and in 1911 they had a daughter. In the 1911 census, his occupation is listed as 'Army Officer: Captain, Royal Army Medical Corps', and the couple were obviously comfortably off, as they had four servants.

The bit-part players in the Wilde trials are numerous and a lot of work has been done from the mid-20th century onwards tracking them down. Many of them had their lives ruined forever, or at least significantly influenced by those events. As far as I know, and I am happy to be corrected, the drawing together of all those stories into one study is one of the few books which have not yet been written about the Wilde Trials: it is also the one I would most like to read.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Underwater Vintage Swim

Perhaps not as vintage as some, these are dated on the verso in 1973, they are nonetheless great images. And that water that's scintillating like a David Hockney pool is not, in fact, in a swimming pool, that's the sea! and the nearly featureless surface over which they are swimming is simply the clean sand at the bottom of the sea. Who, in the early 1970s had an underwater camera to take their holiday snaps with...?!

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Sandel and Uncorrected Proofs

Following an earlier blog post about the novel Sandel. A friend of Front Free Endpaper sent this photo of his copy (many thanks). It caused a moment's reflection on the position of these uncorrected proofs in book-collecting. I have a sense, but it's only a feeling, that when the market for modern first editions, and particularly what were called 'ultra modern first editions' (which we might surely just as well have called "new books") was sky-high a few years ago, there were bookdealers who felt that uncorrected proofs ought to be worth a pretty penny more than the first edition: on the grounds that they represented and earlier state even than the first edition. My sense of it is that even at the time the collectors didn't really go for this argument much and since that market has now more or less collapsed, it's probably wise to treat these proof copies fairly circumspectly.

Having said that, this copy wasn't bought for its value and the condition of the cover shows just how many times it has been read. More reason still for me to lay hands on one and actually read the thing...

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Lives of the Saints

It's hard not to enjoy the 'lives of the saints': a collection of tales as madcap, moving, mythical and magical as anything ever written as fiction, they have a genre all of their own. The classic is, of course, the vast work by Alban Butler but he was then followed by numerous others, among whom the great Victorian man-of-all-writing The Rev'd Sabine Baring-Gould ought to have a mention. This book though, is getting a blog post more because of it's cover. This, and its companion volumes were published in 1904 which is after the death of Joseph Gleeson White but it is certainly in his style and is published by the company for whom he was a designer during the 1890s. But there is more of a connection than just a stylistic one. The book is by Mrs Arthur Bell, who also wrote under the name Nancy d'Anvers and who was resident in Christchurch contemporaneously with both Gleeson White and Frederick Rolfe, in fact, she gets a mention in the bibliography of Rolfe because it is thought that Rolfe helped her with suggestions and corrections to her book on Rome. In case it's not clear from the scan above this is the upper board of the book and the design is stamped onto white cloth in both red and gilt: a very attractive thing.

Monday, August 01, 2011

Runaway Adventure

It's difficult to decide if this book is an exemplum of why an author shouldn't be allowed to illustrate their own book, or that they should. Runaway Adventure (Sylvan Press, London, n.d.) by M. E. Mathews has ten drawings by the author, of which these are just a few. They are, politely, not very good: however, they are so bad they almost slide into the the category of naive art and as such begin to exert a certain charm. I have no idea what the book is about except that it seems to involve a lot of tying up young men and carting them around through the jungle.
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