Saturday, May 31, 2014

A Pattern of People by John O'Connor

I have a confession to make. Two weeks ago I didn't know who John O'Connor was. I probably should have done: a pupil of Ravilious and Nash, an illustrator of books and magazines with a fondness for lissome youths in woodcut format! But it is the way of these things that the universe throws things at you or, put another way "you wait two hours for a bus then three come along at once."

So last week I was blogging that I had bought a couple of artist proofs of O'Connor's work and how happy I was to have them. Then I was working at The London International Antiquarian Book Fair and the lovely people from York Modern Books opposite us had a beautiful Whittington Press book full of O'Connor's work that I was able to peruse and to see the details of the images that I had as my engravings. And then blow me down if yesterday I'm not clearing books from a lady's attic and discover the book above sitting on the top of a box showing the back cover which is another reproduction of one of the images I bought last week... so, three come along at once. Not only that, but it is a completely charming book with these full page woodblocks in a colour and black each accompanied by a reminiscence about growing up in the country. Enchanting stuff...

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Callum James Books Photographic Catalogues

The latest photographic catalogue of European scouting photographs was the third photography catalogues Callum James Books has issued. They have proved very popular and two of the three catalogues are now sold out. The pdf files remain online but all the photographs have found new homes. There are still some photos from the Authors and Others catalogue available. The success of the latest one was perhaps a felicitous thing as it marked an anniversary I completely forgot to mark, on the 26th of this month this blog has been going for nine years: hardly seems possible. But I'm always very gratified when I think of the number of very lovely people that this blog has brought to me from around the world who share some of my more obscure and niche interests.

Maya Angelou (1928-2014)

This woman left an amazing legacy and a little bit of herself in my heart, not least because of this one poem which in its words and in her reading of them act upon the reader and make them a stand taller in their own skin. Do yourself a favour, turn up the volume, close your eyes and listen to Ms Angelou herself reading. RIP.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

European Scouting Photographs: A Catalogue

It's new catalogue time again. Today I've put out a catalogue of over 40 photos from the genre sometimes referred to as Scoutisme: a mid twentieth century style of photography that was used illustrating scouting magazines and books. The catalogue includes photographs by Karel Egermeier, Robert Manson, Jacques Simonot and a number of other photographers and studios.

The catalogue is available as a pdf only and can be viewed here:

UPDATE: This catalogue is now sold out but the pdf remains online for information.

Monday, May 26, 2014

Judged by its cover: A Boy's Own Story by Edmund White

Here at Front Free Endpaper we do love a book with a good story behind it, and in this instance, a cover with a story behind it. This is Edmund White's classic and seminal story about growing up gay in America. It's a classic book for sure and catapulted White into the literary fast lane, rightly so, and if you haven't ever got round to reading it I can heartily recommend it. You might even catch White in the UK over the next few days as he is visiting the country at the weekend and next week.

This edition above is the first British publication by Picador in paperback but the cover image had already been used in the US. As well as being a very beautiful photograph, it is also a very evocative one, largely through its association with this book. There was a time when this book sat on the bedside table of every young gay man in the country. It came as no surprise to me to hear that the photograph was taken at Cape Canaveral which in my mind is always associated with big open skies and that sense of optimism that suffused America in the 50 and into the 60s with the space program and the advancement of science. The photograph was taken as the result of a chance meeting between the photographer Dan Weaks (sometimes Weeks) and Robert L. Rosen, the young man in the picture in 1982. The book came out the same year to wide and huge acclaim.

Things don't start to go pear shaped until two years later when finally a copy of the book makes its way somehow into the hands of one of Robert's schoolmates. As you might imagine, Robert wasn't made to feel too comfortable at Coral Gables High School in Miami when it transpired that his face as all over the cover of a bestselling gay novel. Inevitably legal action followed. Rosen had signed a model release form but, despite appearances, when the photograph was taken he was only 14 years old and so the 'contract' that a model release form sets up would have been null and void. A $30m law suit followed from the boy's father.

Sadly, because all this happened in pre-Internet days, details are scarce. It would be great to find out how the whole episode was resolved. I have tried to contact Weaks, still working very successfully as a photographer, but to no avail. Equally, it would be good to know now, at this distance of time and in this changed climate how the older Rosen, in his forties now presumably, might feel about the photograph, the book and its cover. Most likely these things will remain a mystery though. A Boy's Own Story in more than one sense.

(Thank you to the lovely Jack Cullen for the heads up about the story)

Saturday, May 24, 2014

The 2014 London International Antiquarian Book Fair at Olympia

For a couple of days every week I work for a large provincial antiquarian bookshop as a cataloguer and general helper. This is entirely separate from my running of Callum James Books which is why I don't mention it very much here, nor do I ever mention their name on this blog. However, one of the things this role enables me to do is to attend book fairs, in particular, the London International Antiquarian Book Fare currently going on at Olympia, not as a visitor but as an exhibitor with the shop. The fair is about as 'high end' as it gets in bookselling and everyone exhibiting has to be members of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association or, the international equivalent if they are coming in from overseas. But it is open to the public and if you have an interest in books, no matter what your budgetary constraints (more on that later), it is absolutely, one hundred percent worth the price of admission.

For the largest London and International dealers this is bread and butter work for them: an international round of book fairs in London, New York, San Francisco and elsewhere keep them occupied a lot of the time and they use these occasions not so much as a place to sell books but as a venue for schmoozing their best customers, networking and making contacts. In amongst these big players are tens of other though, very often they are respected dealers who work on their own from their own homes and have no shop front except, these days, the Internet and, a few times a year, a major fair. There are also a smattering of exhibitors like ourselves who still cling onto existence as a bricks and mortar bookshop.

Setting up on the Thursday morning is always something of  high-wire act. The fair starts at 2pm and everything on the stand has to be preened and ready for the public by then, we arrive into the drive-in section of the hall at 10.30 and unload 15 crates of books from the van. If you've ever been to sell at a card boot sale you will understand what I am about to say, as you cram all those crates into the small area of the stand, about the same number of dealers crowd in with you, like the walking dead, mumbling to themselves, and each other, trying hard to maintain the semblance of dignity whilst actually making a grab for almost every book as it comes out of the crates to go onto the shelves to check it out and see if it's a sleeping bargain. It's a strange ritual in which even the most high falutin' of bookdealer must descend, just for a moment, into the world of grubbing around for things to buy and sell. We usually say that if you haven't made a profit on your fair costs by the time it opens, you are in big trouble. This year, we sold a third edition of Jane Eyre for just under £2,000 and a few smaller items but not enough to cover the costs and I won't deny that our spirits were actually a little down as the doors opened and the queue (which stretched round the block almost) began to pour in. More on our fortunes later...

There are two brilliant things about this fair: the books and the people. Being tied to a stand for most of the day isn't an ideal way to see the gems in the hall but be assured there are gems. For three days some of the rarest, most beautiful and most important books, manuscripts and related items still 'in the wild' anywhere in the world are all gathered into one place. I was walking down one aisle and happened glance at a scrap of paper in a glass cabinet and saw a scribbled note signed "M"... for Mozart. There is a tiny notebook in which Aleister Crowley scribbled pornographic gay poetry. There is a soldier's snapshot photograph album with photos of Lawrence of Arabia and another album of photos of a young Alfred Hitchock on holiday... including one in which he is playing tennis in a dress! There are staggeringly beautiful maps and wonderful pieces of ephemera. The stand opposite ours has a letter by Siegfried Sassoon and a copy of the libretto of Peter Grimes signed by both Britten and Peter Pears (come to think of it, on our stand there is a limited edition of The Children's Crusade signed by Britten). The hall is stuffed to the glass dome with museum quality items and they are there to be looked at and handled. There is no end to what you can learn just by wandering the aisles.

And then there's the people... another source of learning. Unlike the objects at the fair, the people move around and even when you are staffing a stand you get to meet the most amazing variety of people and as a general bookseller, you learn much more from them than from any number of reference works. Yesterday I had a long conversation with a gentleman who collects rare and important books on Golf, there was a discussion with a completist collector of Lewis Carroll, a rare books librarian from a UK university came and chatted and shared his incredible knowledge of private press books (and bought a sumptuous copy of The Chamber Drama by John Guthrie at the Pear Tree Press for his library) and so on... all day long the procession of people continues, contacts are made, knowledge is exchanged. It's nothing short of thrilling.

So what of our fortunes. Well, yesterday it seems, our conscious decision to take affordable books (by which in this context I mean books in the £50-£150 range) appeared to be paying off. Smaller book after smaller book was selling quite steadily and so it all began to add up. Today, when I was replaced by other staff for the day, I hear they did very well and sold our beautifully boxed copy of Ulysses by James Joyce as well as a number of other items and so we are now well into profit on the cost of the fair and should we have a similar kind of day tomorrow, it will go down as a good one.

So, another early start, driving up tomorrow morning (now in fact that should read, later this morning - in about five and a half hours time!) and another day of talking non-stop, meeting some wonderful people and hopefully contributing a little to that rarest of all book-things, a real-world bookshop.

I shall be tweeting as much as possible from the fair - if you don't follow me already then please do @CallumJBooks. If you are close enough, come and see us. We can even at this late stage find a complimentary ticket for you, just contact me through twitter if you'd like to come in for free.

Friday, May 23, 2014

Two Wood Engravings by John O'Connor

These two wood engravings arrived today. Very pleased with both of them and I only bought them through the good offices of a Front Free Endpaper correspondant so hat-tip to Stephen for his help. They are 1990s prints from 1950s blocks by John O'Connor and printed by Johnathan Stephenson at the Rocket Press in Oxfordshire.
O'Connor comes with quite the lineage being a student of Eric Ravilious, John Nash and R. S. Austin at The Royal College of Art in the 1930s. He became a teacher himself at a number of art colleges ending up as a visiting lecturer at St Martin's College of Art in London. He was a very active illustrator throughout a long twentieth century career, working well into old age.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Callum James Books: Short List #13

Every now and again Callum James Books releases a Short List to people on the mailing list. This list is usually somewhere between 20 and 40 items long and is a varied and eclectic mix of books, ephemera, photographs and other items that may be of interest to you if you like this blog.

Some time after each short list is sent out the items in it may go on sale in various quarters of the Internet but only if they haven't been snapped up by people who got in their first because they are on the mailing list.

All other catalogues are available through the website but these Short Lists, of which the thirteenth was issued today, never appear on the website. So, what I'm saying is, obviously, if you want to be on the mailing list and to get details of these as they appear, just send me an email using the link to the right and I'll happily put you on the list.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

A Francis King Collection Sold

It sometimes happens in bookselling, if you are lucky, that whole collections can be kept intact. I recently bought this great collection of books by and ephemera about Francis King, most of them signed and inscribed, and I was delighted to sell it the whole collection before the collection was complete. However, it seemed that I'd done enough work to merit finishing off the catalogue for browsing only.

King died in 2011 and as often happens in the years or an authors old age and just after their death, their renown is not as great as it has been and it can take a short while for people to begin to appreciate them again. I'm sure this will happen with King and I'll be delighted to see it when it does. His work is always keenly observed and more often than not taken from the people, incidents and settings in his own life. In fact, this drawing from life once got King into extremely hot water when the former labour MP, and then friend of the author, Tom Skeffington-Lodge, recognised himself in a somewhat unkind portrait in the Mss of one of King's books, A Domestic Animal. The edition had been printed and review copies sent but publication day hadn't been reached. Skeffington-Lodge called his lawyers and the whole edition had to be pulped. One of the real rarities in this collection is a signed copy of one of the escapees from the pulping machine.

Although I can't offer any of these items to you all to buy this time, I do hope that you will enjoy browsing the catalogue here:

A Double Slipcase for Quark/

One of the best things about having a blog all of your very own is that if you want to show-off: you can. You may remember my mentioning a while ago the pleasant surprise I had on buying a set of all four Avant Garde 1970s speculative fiction paperback reviews, Quark/, that they were in nearly unread condition. So with two hours and a pile of board, glue, book cloth, marbled paper and a bundle of sharp implements, I've made this double slipcase for them, of which I am inordinately proud.

Friday, May 16, 2014

Jan Parker Illustrates Witchcraft and Black Magic

I picked up a paperback today that promptly fell apart in my hands. It's a 1971 Hamlyn paperback by Peter Haining called, "Witchcraft and Black Magic". Haining somewhat blotted his copybook with non-fiction works with his two books on Sweeney Todd and Springheel Jack, which is a shame because he was a very competent author even if, in this instance, the text is simply journalistic. But it wasn't the text that drew me most but the illustrations. They are by Jan Parker and have a brilliant mixture of Bosch and Dali and Munch... and so much else. And the book is packed with them: this is only a small selection. Parker doesn't appear in my reference books about twentieth century illustration so I'm unable to provide much more information about him or her.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Robert Lynen A Brave Young Man

This is one of those times when a small slip of paper among a pile catches your eye and leads you to a story, almost like it wants to be found. The young chap in the photo above is pictured in a still from a film. It took a little tracking down because the card is Dutch and has the Dutch title of what is actually a French film from 1932 that translates into English as The Red Head. The guy in the photo is just 12 years old, he was the son of artistic parents, living in Paris he was 'discovered' by filmmaker Julien Duvivier. This was his first film but he made a number and had a career on the stage as well.

He was, it turns out, an exceptionally brave young man who, at the start of WW2 joined the French resistance and used his acting career as a cover for his activities. But he was discovered, arrested, tortured and interned by the Gestapo. After two escape attempts he was executed by firing squad. This brave young man was only 23 years old. Next week he would perhaps have celebrated his 94th birthday.

UPDATE: See also,

Sunday, May 11, 2014

Vintage Photo: The Human Pyramid

I've seen quite a lot of photos over the years of boys and men in this kind of pursuit: attempting to make the most interesting and daredevil shapes out of themselves. This one struck me as interesting for a couple of reasons. The first is something that you can't see from your computer screen but the original photograph is a lot bigger than usual, it was printed more the kind of size that you would use for a school team or class photo. The second unusual thing about this one is that they are cheating (kind of). You can see that the main group aren't exactly gymnasts of great skill and daring but rather are posed on a set of parallel bars with two of them even used to mask the uprights. A nice effort though and the dog is a nice touch!

Friday, May 09, 2014

Quark/ A 1970s Quarterly of Speculative Fiction

In 1970/1 four issues only of this paperback 'review' were published in New York edited by Samuel R. Delany and Marilyn Hacker. It billed itself as "a new quarterly of speculative literature and graphics... the editors have tried to display the finest work of both new and established authors, whatever its imaginative substance, structure and texture." It was closely linked with the New Wave of SF but I have written a little about that previously I discover by searching my own blog. I have had a tatty copy of Quark/1 for years and never come across any others. Always in the back of my mind I fancied having the whole set but never quite got around to organising that. Then I came across a set for sale at an unusually reasonable price, all four at once, so I bought them and they arrived today looking like they've never been read. They are fast becoming my new favourite thing. The excitement of being young and creative in the 70s just zings off every page.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

Charles Keeping Illustrates Hercules

It's a mystery to me why, although we rightly celebrate (and collect) the works of Arthur Rackham, Edmund Dulac, Harry Clarke and so on... the book illustrators of the mid-twentieth century are virtually unknown and hardly collected as such at all. (I exaggerate of course, there are galleries which keep work of this period and collectors who buy the original artwork when they can but I really don't know many who actually collect books in this field) In my, very humble, opinion one of the very best of these has to be Charles Keeping (1924-1988) whose work has been seen on Front Free Endpaper before when we had some illustrations from a book by Rosemary Sutcliff. And today I came across these wonderful examples in The Twelve Labours of Hercules by Robert Newman, a Beaver Book from 1973.

Tuesday, May 06, 2014

Francis King's Dust Jackets

Francis King died in 2011 after a long and prolific career as one of the UK's best twentieth century novelists. He was openly gay from the 1970s onwards and there are gay themes and characters throughout his novels. The Domestic Animal (1969), pictured below, even has the rather disingenuous blurb on the back, "... this is not merely another homosexual novel...". A number of his titles have now found a new life with the wonderful Valancourt Books in Richmond Virginia but many are still only to be found on the secondhand shelves.
Not only was King writing gay interest novels and stories, he was also writing right through the period that interests us most here on Front Free Endpaper when it comes to jacket design and so it is hardly a surprise to find his jackets making an appearance. Not all are credited but many are now scarce, including the Donovan Lloyd jacket, below, for King's first novel To The Dark Tower. Bigger names also illustrated his covers including Osbert Lancaster in very recognisable style providing a cover for the pseudonymous The Firewalkers and a detail from Duncan Grant used as a cover for A Domestic Animal.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Stalag Luft 3 Art and Craft before The Great Escape

As a devotee of The Antiques Roadshow I am often presented on my television screen with artworks from the trenches of WW1 or POW craft work from the Napoleonic wars right up to the Twentieth Century. The above is my favourite from a small collection of photographs showing an NCO's Arts and Crafts Exhibition at Stalag Luft 3 during WW2, famous as the scene of The Great Escape, and it strikes me that all these amazing artworks and objects might still be floating around somewhere, perhaps in Germany, like the ones that turn up on The Roadshow here in the UK: traded with a guard, given as a present to a German visitor, left behind at the end of the war and acquired somehow...

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