Book Hunters are a focused lot but they do find time for other pursuits. Even the most dedicated need a break occasionally. There are numerous examples of rare bookmen who write fiction, mysteries, even poetry with varied success. But that is too close to the flame. Rather let’s look at more diverse bypaths that flesh out the following bibliophiles' interests. Naturally for my purpose these pursuits resulted in something printed. The examples are from my own collection. (The fact that I collect them certainly adds a layer of complexity to me which we shall not explore here.)
Formidable bibliographer Fredson Bowers tormented me early on via his Principles of Bibliographical Description (1949). The work is as hearty and dense as German dark bread. I was very much used to peanut butter and jelly on white bread. So, choking down the Principles while taking a bibliography class in graduate school was healthy but unpleasant. Negative thoughts of Mr. Bowers crept in. Then I discovered a biographical essay of Bowers by his student and disciple G. Thomas Tanselle. Tanselle confirmed Bowers’ intensity of purpose, his willingness to actively defend his scholarly views, his domination of the bibliographical and textual studies of his time. But he also mentioned that Bowers liked dogs. He liked them a lot as do I. Bowers raised and bred them, particularly Irish wolfhounds, and became an expert in the field. Bowers was so immersed that he wrote The Dog Owner’s Handbook (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1936), his first book, preceding any of his bibliographical publications. Tanselle notes that “The front of the dust jacket was labeled ‘A Guaranteed Dog Book,’ and the flap explained, ‘Any purchaser who is not satisfied with it may return the book within five days for refund’. . . The book had some success, for it was reprinted by the Sun Dial Press in 1940 and was still mentioned in the 1950s in some of the lists of recommended books that appeared in the American Kennel Club's magazine.”
I have a number of association copies of Bowers’ bibliographic works in my collection. None gave me quite the thrill as finding a rare presentation copy of the first edition of The Dog Owner’s Handbook, the only example I’ve ever encountered.
William P. Barlow, Jr. of Oakland, California is a dedicated bibliophile. An accountant by trade, he has been collecting books for over sixty years. He has an unrivaled private collection of the Baskerville Press, auction catalogues, private library catalogues, Thomas Dibdin, and other bibliophilia. Since he began collecting in the 1950s, he has entered each acquisition—thousands of them--into a large ledger book recording the price, provenance, and other details.
Bill Barlow is very clubbable and is an active member of long-standing with the Grolier Club of New York and Roxburghe Club of San Francisco. He taught a class for many years with Terry Belanger on “Book Collecting” at Rare Book School in Virginia. He’s an active public speaker on bookish topics. His accomplishments are many. And, he is the only private citizen I know of with a Hinman collator in his dining room—not just any collator, but the one used by Hinman himself in researching the printing history of the First Folio of William Shakespeare. But that is another story.
Bill is also a printer. He privately prints whatever he finds interesting or amusing, usually in pamphlet form, typically under his Nova Press imprint. His printing shop is set up on the second floor of his house in Oakland. The weight of the machinery and type must be several tons. The books (and a large collection of stamps in file cabinets) add several tons more. A delightful visit a number of years ago resulted in a question about structural integrity. Bill just shrugged. There is a guest room on the first floor but I didn’t stay there. If I had, I wouldn’t have slept much thinking of the weight of the bibliophilic world literarily above my head.
Bill is the consummate host and over wine and an Asian meal at a nearby restaurant, I was surprised to learn something decidedly non-bookish about him. William P. Barlow, Jr. was a champion water skier in his youth (and beyond). The image of this tanned bookman on skis, deftly slaloming and jumping, waving effortlessly to adoring fans as he sped by was disconcerting at first. And it was revealed he had also printed a number of items relating to water skiing. I will mention two examples, each combining his creative bent and sense of humor.
The first is A Playlet for Water Skiers [In One Actlet] (1961). The playlet records the lively banter between a water ski judge and his assistant as they reflect on their underappreciated talents. Barlow writes in the preface, “For a number of years I have been distributing Christmas booklets regularly dealing with printing or book collecting. This has been a bit unfair to my water skiing friends, who have been regularly mystified by them. This year, out of respect for them, I have written something about water skiing. They may still be mystified.”
The second is Songs for Water Skiers: Another in the Continuing Series of As-Yet-Unsuccessful Attempts to Inject Water Skiing into the Mainstream of American Cultural Life (1967). Bill points out in the introduction that all popular sports have their own songs, a good example being baseball’s “Take Me Out to the Ballgame.” To remedy this for the sport of water skiing, Barlow wrote and composed two original songs included here—“Sweet Anna Lee,” and “Go, Go Trickin’ With Me.” This second song incorporates water skier slang throughout.
From dogs and water skiing let us move on to high adventure, or perhaps more aptly, “What the hell was I thinking?”
Bruce Cotten (1873-1954) was a focused Americana collector, particularly of material related to his home state of North Carolina. Charles Everitt writes in The Adventures of a Treasure Hunter, “One of my favorite collectors and customers is Bruce Cotten, who lives in Baltimore and spends all his time collecting. . . His privately printed book, Housed on the Third Floor (1941), is highly unusual in that it represents a collector talking about his own books instead of hiring some cataloguer to do it. . . Among the other charms of Cotten’s book is the fact that he gives what I consider to be the best excuse I’ve ever read for collecting books:
‘Book collecting, whether an acquired taste or acquired nuisance, is in either case acquired. It develops by degrees, and passes through numerous forms and phases, rather curious to look upon.
‘At first you only want certain sorts and kinds of books and reject innumerable volumes that in after years you are violently seeking. You only by degrees overcome your own prejudices and dislikes and gradually find yourself including and exploring in ever larger fields. Then there is always, and for a long time, a struggle, when you realize that the disease has really gripped you; and numerous determinations are made to stop this thing entirely and not to permit yourself to be classed with those mildly deranged people who collect things.
‘There are collectors of buttons, tobacco tags, boxes, inkstands, clocks, corks, pins, paperweights, dog collars, and almost everything else on the face of the earth, and as a collector of North Carolina books I have been looked at with shocked amazement by these very same people and made to feel inferior.
‘Notwithstanding, I have persevered and have insisted that book collecting is superior to all other forms of the disease. I even agreed with Dr. Rosenbach when he said that ‘after love, book collecting is the most exhilarating sport of all,’ though I was shocked and had some misgivings one day upon being introduced to a man in New York who collected only books written by one-eyed men.”
Cotten’s adventures were not limited to book hunting as I discovered after finding his scarce first book, privately printed in 1922 for family and friends, An Adventure in Alaska during the Gold Excitement of 1897-1898 (A Personal Experience). It is an engaging account of Cotten’s ill-fated Alaskan gold adventure—one that resulted in much excitement but no monetary reward. The memoir provides an interesting glimpse of events surrounding the Klondike Gold Rush. Cotton writes matter-of-factly, “It is difficult to explain how I came to be attracted to and finally drawn into this motley mass [of men] that was surging toward the north. There are periods, I presume, in every person’s life when they are possessed by some mysterious force that compels them to some certain action, though that action may not be well reasoned and is often the opposite of what we would ordinarily expect that particular person to do. . . this is a tale of failure.” Cotten recounts joining a prospecting company and falling unwittingly under the scheming of Mr. Homer Pennick, “remembered by a large number of other prominent men in this country, who pronounce him the most talented confidence man that ever operated on this continent.” Cotten’s descriptions of the then wild and rowdy city of Seattle and his trek onward to Alaska are vivid and memorable, his hopes of get-rich-quick glory imploding in-route.
Americana dealer William Reese of New Haven, CT, had privately printed in 200 copies Dream Books (2000). He is not recounting books he dealt with, ones that got away, or general stories of rare books in his field. But this, “All the books described herein were seen and handled by me in dreams. Although presumably imaginary, they generally revolve around a kernel of fact, and much of the bibliographical background, as well as some specific incidents, are real enough. The rest of the narrative is the story of the dream itself.”
This Borgesian scenario is vividly re-imagined with illustrations from the books, title-page reproductions, and full descriptions. Reese also describes each “dream” of finding these imaginary rarities in detail, replete with plausible facts, wit, dry humor, and inside jokes. For example, “I had received a notice from a town library within a few hours’ drive of New Haven, selling off out-of-scope books by sealed bid sale. So, on a warm spring day after the New York Book Fair, I drove north into just-blossoming New England for an appointment to view. ‘No descriptions or lists of books can be provided,’ read the flyer, ‘All books sold as is. Books will not be shipped. Successful bidders will present check on notification and collect purchases within seven days’ . . . The long, low basement room where the soon-to-be-deaccessioned items were housed, cut across the cat’s cradle of pipes wrapped in decaying asbestos, was a scene reminiscent (for those who had the pleasure of attending) of the famous Franklin Institute on-site sale. Two hundred arbitrary lots, only identified by number, were piled on the floor. The only ruling principle in lotting was size duodecimos in decaying calf in boxes, octavos with boards akimbo in heaps, and larger folios stacked like cordwood. The deterioration of the suede bindings on a set of Elbert Hubbard’s works, accelerated by steam heat, had spread a fine red powder like cayenne pepper over all.”
You know you’re in deep when a bypath is dreaming of Dream Books—and publish a fully-realized book of them.
|Dream Books complete with color illustrations|
Jacob Blanck, bibliographer and bookman, is well-known for compiling much of the monumental Bibliography of American Literature. I own a significant portion of his reference library along with manuscripts and correspondence. He was fun-loving and humorous, not willing to take himself too seriously, despite the dense bibliographic wood he hewed daily for decades. He had a particular interest in important children’s / young adult books reflected in his bibliography Peter Parley to Penrod: A Bibliographical Description of the Best-Loved American Juvenile Books (1938). The creative juices were stirred at some point, certainly inspired by having a young daughter afoot, and he authored two credible children’s books, Jonathan and the Rainbow (1948), and The King and the Noble Blacksmith (1950), both beautifully illustrated by Caldecott winner Louis Slobodkin and published by Houghton Mifflin in Boston. Then this short burst of creative activity ceased and Blanck produced no other formal fiction, his time spent buried neck-deep in 19th century bibliography.
The famed A.S.W. Rosenbach, dealer and collector extraordinaire, was a confirmed bachelor with an active night life according to his biographers Edwin Wolf and John Fleming. Most of the works issued under his name, such as Books and Bidders (1927) and A Book Hunter’s Holiday (1936) record his hunting and chasing of rarities. However, like one of his idols and fellow book hunter, Benjamin Franklin, books weren’t the only things chased. Rosenbach’s acquisition of numerous personal letters written by Franklin to his wife, mistresses, and friends reflecting on the ways of love led to the privately printed The All-Embracing Doctor Franklin (1932), issued in 198 copies, and distributed to select friends. Rosenbach’s essay combines biography, scholarship, humor, a well-told story, and numerous double entendres. It is one of his most entertaining productions. He writes, “[Franklin’s] many amorous adventures, his gallantries, his winning ways with the fair sex, his love of epistles have not been set down in the way they deserve. If they were as well known as his experiments in electricity or his feats of statesmanship we would be even prouder of him than we are today. Franklin must be regarded as America’s upstanding genius.”
I have a number of presentation copies of the book in my collection, the most beguiling being the one inscribed to Belle da Costa Greene, J.P. Morgan’s librarian, who shared Rosenbach’s love for the ribald story.
Another iconic and iconoclastic bookman, Charles Heartman (1883-1953), literally tried to get things cooking with a book unique among his slew of historical and bibliographical publications. Heartman’s varied career in books included rare bookselling, auctioneering, publishing, and editing. His focus was Americana of all stripes and he was also a notable pioneer in the collecting of African-American material. However, there was time for a little frivolity, too. The result was his Aphrodisiac Culinary Manual: Being in Part, The Squire of Baudricourt’s Cuisine de L’Amour, in Use for Many Centuries, Especially Designed for Physical Regeneration, Vigor and Health, Renewed Through the Appropriate Use of Condiments and the Aromatics in the Preparation of Dishes and Beverages; Containing a Modern Adaptation of Nearly Two Hundred Selected Historical Recipes Originating from Many Countries and Chosen from Famous Cooking Manuals and Herbal Lore. Also Perfumes and Diversified Dainties. (New Orleans: 1942). Heartman gives a selected list of cookbooks consulted, including Lafcadio Hearn’s Cuisine Creole. Sales must have been solid as it saw another edition in 1952.
The Heartman’s were well-known for their elaborate dinner parties held in conjunction with their book auctions. One hopes that aphrodisiac dishes were not served during such events.
Another amorous example in book form is a love letter of sorts written by an explicit personality to her seemingly staid and proper book hunter husband, T. Edward Hanley (1893-1969). Hanley, a Pennsylvania businessman and Harvard graduate, was a mighty collector and philanthropist. He began to collect books and manuscripts while in college utilizing allowance money sent by his father. Things only got better when he had his own cash flow and he gathered over his life a library of some 50,000 rare books and manuscripts focusing presciently on contemporary authors of the time—somewhat in the vein of collector John Quinn—such as James Joyce (including the corrected page proofs of Ulysses), D. H. Lawrence, G. B. Shaw, Dylan Thomas, Samuel Beckett and many others. His massive collection was purchased by the University of Texas between 1958 and 1964, forming the foundation of the modern literature collections at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center. I worked with much of this material first-hand as a graduate student / intern at the HRC. Hanley seemed to always have the best copy and/or the most interesting copy, and the choicest letters and manuscripts. The level of his collecting prowess is under-appreciated since his material was assimilated into a university library. Hanley was an exceptional supporter of university libraries in general, buying and donating approximately 100,000 subject-specific volumes desired by Harvard, Princeton, the University of Arizona and St. Bonaventure.
Fr. Irenaeus Herscher of St. Bonaventure University’s Friedsam Library wrote, "In his quiet, unobtrusive manner, Dr. Hanley reflects the very culture of learning which he strives to endow. Like Lorenzo de Medici, under whom the Italian Renaissance reached its apogee, Dr. Hanley has spent tremendous sums out of his own pocket on art and books. It is a reverence for learning that is rare and wonderful."
But the reverent Hanley had a fun side, a real fun side. My interest in him led me to perhaps the most unusual work featuring a bookman ever written: Love and the Art of Love (1975) by Tullah Hanley, his second wife and a former exotic dancer. Tullah was a mid-life crisis fix for Hanley, yet over time they developed a close, heartfelt relationship that blossomed into a successful marriage. The book is a sexually explicit, oddly touching, autobiographical tour. Tullah tells many book-related stories. She also provides details of their sex life better left unwritten.
Richard Curle (1883-1968), an English writer and bookman remembered primarily for his writings on Joseph Conrad, wrote no explicit tales. However, he attempted an ambitious, indeed foolhardy effort, to explain the unexplainable. Curle was a versatile writer and collector, authoring with the substantial help of Carroll Atwood Wilson, Collecting American First Editions: Its Pitfalls and Its Pleasures (1930). Curle wrote on travel, authored novels and even produced a book on stamp collecting. He then took on a challenge that even the greatest male figures in literature, science and psychology have never been able master. Was this a dare? Did he lose a bet? Was he looking for answers after a painful breakup? Whatever the case, the result was a deadly serious 258 page tome entitled Women: An Analytical Study (1947). Chapters include “Feminine Ruthlessness,” “The Problem of Modesty,” “The Background of Moods,” “The Intuition Myth,” “An Anatomy of Nagging,” and “What Women Really Want.” A later commentator called the work a “psychological curiosity.” As you would guess, Curle raised many questions but found no answers. My copy is inscribed to the aforementioned Carroll Wilson.
We’ve covered in these various bypaths of bookmen the training of dogs, water skiing, high stakes travel adventure, books in dreams, the writing of children’s books, and hormonal delights. One further item from my collection comes to mind as I browse my shelves. It is related to J. Pierpont Morgan, financial titan and appreciator of fine books and manuscripts, but not a book written by him or about him. In fact, this particular pursuit is hardly mentioned in the standard biographies of him at all. Perched high upon his capitalist throne, orchestrating grand mergers and acquisitions, both business and bookish, I found this bypath of his hard to believe, yet I hold the evidence in my hand. My catalogue description will close the show.
“It’s Fun to Stay at the Y-M-C-A”
J. Pierpont Morgan. SIGNED MEMBERSHIP CARD, AS TREASURER, OF THE YOUNG MEN’S CHRISTIAN ASSOCIATION, NEW YORK CITY, DATED FEB. 14, 1870.
Membership card of J. C. Merritt, signed by J. P. Morgan as treasurer, acknowledging payment of annual dues in the amount of $2.00. On the verso of the card are printed six “suggestions” outlining a member’s duty.
After the Civil War, Morgan became involved in supporting the YMCA organization, eventually giving them a $100,000 gift. Evidently, he also put in time as volunteer treasurer—hard to imagine the great financier and collector signing $2.00 YMCA membership cards, but here you have it. Jean Strouse makes no mention of Morgan’s connection to the YMCA in her hefty biography Morgan: American Financier (1999). Various YMCA online information does, however, as do briefer sketches of Morgan that record his $100,000 gift.