Saturday, January 4, 2014

Author Mohsin Hamid muses on technology, solitude and e-books

A recent piece in The New York Times poses the question "How Do E-Books Change the Reading Experience?"

In it, authors Mohsin Hamid and Anna Holmes give their respective takes on this topic.

You should take the time to read the whole article, but I wanted to share a short excerpt of what Hamid says, because it's especially thought-provoking:
"I crave technology, connectivity. But I crave solitude too. As we enter the cyborg era, as we begin the physical shift to human-machine hybrid, there will be those who embrace this epochal change, happily swapping cranial space for built-in processors. There will be others who reject the new ways entirely, perhaps even waging holy war against them, with little chance — in the face of drones that operate autonomously while unconcerned shareholding populations post selfies and status updates — of success. And there will be people like me, with our powered exoskeletons left often in the closet, able to leap over buildings when the mood strikes us, but also prone to wandering naked and feeling the sand of a beach between our puny toes.

"In a world of intrusive technology, we must engage in a kind of struggle if we wish to sustain moments of solitude. E-reading opens the door to distraction. It invites connectivity and clicking and purchasing. The closed network of a printed book, on the other hand, seems to offer greater serenity."

When I have extolled the virtues of printed books in the past, Hamid's reasoning wasn't something that immediately sprang to mind. But it's a terrific and logical point. And one to add to the arsenal as we defend the value and beauty of printed books in the years ahead.

Water-stained work of art: Hudson & Manhattan Subway Terminal

Here's a 1909 peek at a New York subway platform, courtesy of a worn, water-stained postcard that was originally mailed in 1911. The illustration on the front of the card, which is credited to Pierre L. Pullis, states "Hudson & Manhattan Subway Terminal New York."

I especially like the hanging lights and the pillars in this illustration.

As I'm a generalist and not an expert, I'm probably going to get some part of the following history wrong. But, to the best of my knowledge, the Hudson & Manhattan Subway/Railroad is the predecessor of the current Port Authority Trans-Hudson (PATH). The original lines, one of which is pictured here, were part of a monumental engineering project that began in 1902 and concluded with the opening of the Uptown Hudson Tubes in 1908 and the Downtown Hudson Tubes in 1909 (the year this postcard was produced). The tubes were given a major rehabilitation and upgrade beginning in the mid-1960s and the tunnels, though not the many (if any) of the stations, are still in use today.

You can find much more about the history of these tubes online. Two good articles to begin with are:

Moving along, here's the back of this postcard.

To many postcard collectors, I suspect this would be considered a badly damaged card — unworthy of collections and generally without value.

To me, it's a thing of beauty. The passage of time has given this postcard more character than it might otherwise have if it was in "mint" condition. You have the purple from the water stain, the brown from where the stamp used to be, the black postmark and the faded but still readable message. This piece of ephemera has survived 102 years!

We see that it was addressed to a woman at Englewood Hospital in Englewood, New Jersey.

Here's the message:
June 16, 1911

Dear Floss:
Your cards both received and are so glad to hear you are better. I expect to be there on to-morrow afternoon. I must go to breakfast. Hope it will stay pleasant. Love from [?] and myself.
Lovingly, Georgia

A couple of other things to note about the back of the card:

1. This is the tiny symbol in the lower-left corner:

2. Along the bottom are the words "Theochrom Serie 6."

Finally, if you really love this century-old illustration by Pierre L. Pullis, you might be surprised — as I was — to learn that it's available as a print from (water stain not included).

Friday, January 3, 2014

Celebrating J. R. R. Tolkien's twelvety-second birthday

Today is the birthday of John Ronald Reuel Tolkien, who was born on January 3, 1892, in Bloemfontein, Orange Free State.

This is the third year in a row of marking the author's birthday here. Here are the previous posts, which are chock-full of groovy stuff:

Pictured at right are the spines from Houghton Mifflin Company's 1965 hardcover boxed set of The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

For this year's celebration, here are links to some off-the-beaten-path Tolkien-related material:

  • In 1966, Gene Deitch made a 12-minute "ashcan" film of The Hobbit so that producer William Snyder could extend his license on Tolkien material and then sell his lucrative option on The Lord of the Rings for a tidy profit. That's the short version, anyway. Read Deitch's memories of the bizarre experience and, if you dare, you can watch the "movie" on YouTube.
  • Speaking of bizarre, here's a LOTR-related correction and then a correction to the correction, as detailed by Gawker. Excerpt: "Most importantly, Aragorn is not 'one-quarter elf.' It's entirely unclear where this description comes from; Aragorn's closest full-Elvish forebear, Idril Celebrindal, is some sixty-odd generations away."
  • In 1938, a Berlin publishing house was interested in translating The Hobbit for the German market. It was also interested in knowing whether the author was entirely of Aryan descent and could prove it. To see how it turned out, see this post on Letters of Note. A few years later, by the way, Tolkien referred to Adolf Hitler as a "ruddy little ignoramus."

"Just sending this postcard to let you know that I'll write later"

Here's the 1906 equivalent of a temporary brush-off.

The note from Dede to Mrs. Otis Nyman states simply: "Will write soon."

A year before the divided-back postcard was introduced in the United States, Dede had only the front of this card to write upon.

But she still didn't say anything useful underneath the photograph of Nahant Road, which is mostly a causeway that leads from Lynn, Massachusetts, to Little Nahant and Nahant.1

The card was postmarked in both Lynn and its destination of Rumford Falls, Maine, in 1906.

Rumford Falls was a settlement within Rumford (which was originally, back in the 1770s, called New Pennacook Plantation). Rumford has been fueled by its paper industry since the 1890s, though the economic climate in that line of commerce is in the midst of taking another hit this winter.

Lacking anything else to say about this postcard, I would note the following:

(1) There are two sets of transmission lines to the left of Nahant Road. I would assume that one is the telephone line and the other is the electric line.

(2) It's interesting to note the well-worn footpath to the right of the dirt road.

I'll write more soon!

1. Portions of the Martin Scorsese film Shutter Island were filmed in Nahant.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Five U.S. states as portrayed in 1932's "A Parade of the States"

The 1932 book A Parade of the States by Bruce Barton appears to have been created to encourage Americans to leave their home states and travel across the country. And this is not a travel tome that points out the pros and the cons of each region. It is a book with enthusiastic statements such as this one by the author:
"Alabama, we salute you! On your behalf, we extend an invitation to the people of the United States to visit you. They will share the thrill of your achievement; and always they will carry with them the memory of your charm."

In further support of the notion of getting Americans out of the house and onto the roads, the book's foreword was written by General Motors president Alfred P. Sloan Jr. Here's an excerpt:
"The United States has grown and become unified as means of travel have been enlarged. ... If this volume makes each one of us know our neighbors better and increases the desire to visit them more often, it will have contributed something to the more perfect uniting of our United States."

What I find most interesting about the book is that it provides a map, illustrated by Lester L. Baker III, for each of the states profiled. These are not traditional maps. They are a cartoony looks at the highlights of each state's industry, natural resources and tourist attractions. As such, they provide look at how these states were perceived eight decades ago.

Here, as a sampling, are the Parade of the States maps from the five states that I have lived in during my first 43 years — California, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Florida and South Carolina.

Hollywood and Mount Wilson Observatory were already on the map for California. Beyond that, that state's beauty was highlighted with references to the redwoods, Yosemite, and the Golden Gate.

How sad it is that my beloved state's primary purpose during its existence has been to serve as a vast reservoir of resources to to plundered and pulled from the earth. This 1932 map notes the state's gas, oil, coke, coal, slate, pig iron, steel, plate glass and mills. But none of its beauty or character.

(Up next: Continued fracking. Unless we can stop it. Read more at

New Jersey
In 1932, New Jersey's highlights included truck gardening, glass sand, fishing and silk mills. Bruce Springsteen and Tony Soprano had yet to be invented.

The Sunshine State would seem to have undergone the greatest series of changes between 1932 and now. Back then, the map portrays it as a vast untouched wilderness, with its pines, fruits, forest, beaches and orchards. If you were doing a version of this map in 2014, I think you'd just plop a huge set of mouse ears in the middle of the state.

South Carolina
Of South Carolina, Barton writes: "There are friendly faces amid the smiling flowers. Go, revel in the blossoms; bathe at the beaches; explore the mountains and the fragrant plains." The map focuses on South Carolina's cotton and cotton-related industries, its pine forests, it tobacco and its phosphate rock.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

1961 postcard: Joseph A. Ferko String Band in Mummers Parade

This unused 1961 postcard, produced by Raum Printing, features a 1961 photo of the Joseph A. Ferko String Band, one of the participants in the storied New Year's Day Mummers Parade in Philadelphia.

The 2014 installment of the event begins at 10 a.m. today on Broad Street.

According to, "mummery traces its roots to ancient Roman laborers who ushered in the festival of Saturnalia by marching in masks while exchanging gifts and satirizing the issues of the day. In the 1600s, Swedish settlers to Philadelphia’s outskirts honored Christmas by beseeching their neighbors for dessert and liquor by dressing up, chanting and shooting firearms. The party eventually migrated to New Year’s Day and evolved into a series of neighborhood parades."

The first official (and judged) Mummers Parade was held on January 1, 1901.

Today's event, which will feature about 10,000 participants, includes five divisions — Comics, Wench Brigades, Fancies, String Bands and Fancy Brigades.

The Joseph A. Ferko String Band is the oldest continuous participant in the Mummers Parade, has performed in the parade every year since 1923, and is the most successful participant in the event's history. Here are some interesting tidbits about the string band, culled from the band's official website and its Wikipedia page:
  • Founder Joseph A. Ferko was the band's captain from 1922 through 1964. (The current captain is Anthony Celenza.)
  • The band played for Franklin D. Roosevelt's 1933 inauguration.
  • The band can be seen briefly in Miracle on 34th Street.
  • In the summer of 1955, the band charted in the Billboard Top 100. (Its recording of Alabama Jubilee sold more than one million records.)
  • The band performed in Cuba in 1959.
  • The band's 1961 Mummers performance, pictured on the postcard, was titled "The Blue and The Gray." You can hear an archived recording of the performance on Ferko placed second that year.

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Happy New Year, poultry-style!

And thus begins 2014! This Fred Good illustration adorns the cover of the Eastern Edition of the January 1936 issue of Poultry Tribune.1

Here are five facts from the "Do You Know?" section of this 78-year-old issue, which you can use to amaze your fellow revelers at whatever party you're attending tonight.2

  • In determining the price you should pay for a breeding cockerel, you should keep in mind that one male will, in a single season of moderate length, sire about 400 chicks.
  • Not more than 300 growing birds can be kept on an acre of range, if the owner wishes to maintain a sod.
  • Cornell University found that for each unit of man labor employed on the poultry farm, at least 10,000 dozen eggs must be produced in order to make a profit.
  • From 14 to 16 days of egg production are lost each time a hen is broody, even though she is immediately broken up.
  • It costs about $1.65 per year to trap-nest one bird.

If those facts were a bit too boring for a holiday, here's something a bit peppier: Ten Band Names Culled From the 1936 Issue of Poultry Tribune.

  • Big Garden Huckleberries
  • Pay-Day Chicks
  • Raydiant
  • The Buff Minorcas
  • Sex-Link Specialists
  • Spizzerinktum
  • Acme Egg Grader
  • Sardilene
  • Old Toms
  • Ketchum Clincher

First footnotes of 2014
1. This issue was originally delivered by mail to Mrs. George W. Libhart of Hellam, Pennsylvania. According to, her name was Mamie.
2. And if you do find yourself reading Chicken Facts off your smartphone to the people standing next to you at a New Year's Eve party, PLEASE leave me a comment or send me an email ( about how it went!

My favorite Papergreat posts of 2013

Where did 2013 go?!?

As we prepare to bid adieu to this year and sally forth into 2014, I took at quick look back at the nearly 400 posts I had this year and chose 16 of my personal favorites.

Maybe this is the first time you've seen some (or all) of these posts, which I think represent a good sampling about what this blog is all about. (And if you know someone who's never heard of Papergreat, send them this link as a New Year's Eve present. It can serve as a nice introduction to the world of ephemera, and it will certainly be more intellectually stimulating than watching Ryan Seacrest or Kathy Griffin tonight.)

The Incomplete Lada Draskovic
Excerpt: "One the most interesting lives I've come across while writing Papergreat is the that of Lada Draskovic. Her story, as I know it, remains incomplete. And it's not just incomplete, but scattered across several different posts. So I thought I'd compile everything I know about her in one place, for the sake of completeness and perhaps to make it easier for someone who's seeking (or sharing) information about Draskovic and her Sweetniks."

Ink blotter for Ticonderoga pencils with Frances Tipton Hunter artwork
Excerpt: "This old ink blotter for Ticonderoga pencils features an absolutely wonderful illustration by Frances Tipton Hunter. (Confession: It took me some guessing and Googling before I was able to correctly read the blurry artist's signature in the lower-left corner.) Hunter (1896-1957) had a style that was similar to Norman Rockwell and was one of the top female illustrators of her era, contributing 18 covers to The Saturday Evening Post in the 1930s and 1940s."

Connecting with the world via postcards in 2013
Excerpt: "If you love mailing and receiving postcards as a way of connecting with the world in a non-electronic way — even in this day of rising stamp prices and shrinking postal delivery — PostMuse's Orphaned Postcard Project is one wonderful effort you can get involved with. ... Another great website to check out if want to mail and receive postcards is Postcrossing. Its motto is simple: 'Send a postcard and receive a postcard back from a random person in the world!'"

(This ended up being the first of more than a dozen Postcrossing-themed posts in 2013.)

Caesar Rodney High School's 1933 baseball results
Excerpt: "Another interesting thing about this cover is that it came pre-printed with illustrations of athletes playing basketball, tennis, football and baseball. The original owner printed the names of athletes who were popular in the early 1930s next to each illustration. ... Two of the names, though, proved to be more challenging. Written next to the two basketball players were Gumy Faulkner and Reds McAllister."

Reader comments: Stamp collecting, mysteries solved & Whirley mugs
(Some of my favorite posts are the ones in which YOU are the star. I love it when you send me your comments, feedback and reminiscences.)

Excerpt: "I still remember coming home from Noel Elementary School (in York, Pennsylvania) one afternoon when I was in second grade in 1954. I was walking down the 300 block of East Poplar Street, where I lived, and I happened to see an orange and black tiger striped envelope in a garbage can which advertised the stamps from around the world that were included inside. Gleefully I snatched that packet from the garbage can and clutched it in my hands all the way home. That day so very long launched a lifelong joyful learning experience for me."

1916 postcard from Norristown's State Hospital for Insane
Excerpt: "Some of the therapy options that were available for the first patients, many of which were occupation-oriented, included a bakery, a billiards room, a carpentry shop, a working farm, a garden, a mattress shop, painting, shoemaking and weaving. Patients could also play croquet and tennis. On the other hand, according to the hospital's website, electroshock therapy, insulin coma therapy, and lobotomies were methods of treatment during the 1930s and 1940s."

Rupert Croft-Cooke observes Ruth Manning-Sanders with the circus
Excerpt: "Driving to Petworth the next morning I passed the Count with the monkey cart and his little cavalcade of ponies, and beside him on his box-seat Ruth was perched. She always drove with the Count in the morning when she was with us, loving the trot of the horses, the fresh smell of the air which is lost to motorists, and the journey made longer. With a gypsy-like scarf round her head, she would sit there chatting with the Count, waving to the successive lorries, waggons and cars as they passed, and happy as a human being could well be in the morning sunlight with a pleasant day ahead."

Postcard featuring my dream house
Excerpt: "Cozy stone house? Check.
Built into the surrounding environment? Check.
Sod roof? Check.
Goat on sod roof? CHECK!!
This Plastichrome postcard by Colourpicture1 features a photograph by Hugh MacRae Morton."

Graphic design: 8 cool company logos from old magazine ads
Excerpt: "Today, for something a little different, here are eight company logos pulled from advertisements featured in the pages of Ladies' Home Journal in 1919 and 1936. I chose these because I thought the graphic design and typography used by these companies were creative and worth sharing here in 2013."

Dubble Bubble Quiz tucked away inside an old schoolbook
Excerpt: "Today's find is an old Dubble Bubble gum wrapper that was tucked away inside the handsome 1936 textbook Elson-Gray Basic Readers Book Six. The book, published by Scott, Foresman and Company, features 400+ pages of reading selections, including 'Starting a Wild-Life Sanctuary' by Dallas Lore Sharp, 'Pandora's Box' by Nathaniel Hawthorne, and 'The Village Blacksmith' by Henry W. Longfellow. The flattened gum wrapper measures 2½ by 1¾ inches. In addition to the cartoon representation of Jonah and the whale, which serves as the Dubble Bubble Quiz."

Hay llamas! 1950s illustrated map of Catskill Game Farm
Excerpt: "The zoo was in operation for 73 years, from 1933 to 2006. It was owned and run by members of the Lindemann family (including founders Roland and Kathryn) during that entire time. It was officially recognized as a zoo in 1958, which allowed for it to expand its collection of animals. The entire site spanned more than 900 acres, but the Game Farm itself consisted of about 136 acres that were open to the public from spring through autumn."

Esther (Bassick) Whittaker and the Gettysburg Address
Excerpt: "And so Esther Elizabeth Bassick — the future Esther E. Whittaker — was born at 4:30 a.m. on September 4, 1910, and weighed in at 7½ pounds. William Howard Taft was the President of the United States and it had been a little less than 47 years since Lincoln's famous speech. ... She died earlier this year. ... At age 102."

The Nimoy Award for 1967 goes to...
Excerpt: "After a short wait, in which we had chewed our fingernails down to the third knuckle, an elevator door opened, and we all looked up — it was him! He was wearing a dark suit with a kind of turtle neck affair. A tremendous black cape was slung over his arm. We were all sitting on a small red velvet couch when he approached us. We all froze, and as a result, we probably had expressions on our faces akin to the Three Stooges."

Hurry and get this old-fashioned ice skating party for just $1
Excerpt: "So realistic, they almost spring to life. Ma and Pa sit bundled in their sleigh as their snowball flinging lads and lasses frolic and gay villages whirl across the ice. Authentic Mid-Eighties costume design, in true, bright, rich colors. ... You and friends will enjoy this rare bit of Holiday Charm that sends you on a sentimental journey back through many Christmases. Use year after year — on mantel, table, near tree. Durably constructed of dimensional plastic."

Helen Myers and the dandy 1926-27 West York girls' basketball team
Excerpt: "Myers was more than just a basketball standout. Her full name, according to the yearbook, was Helen Romaine Myers and her nickname was 'Hellie.' She was her class secretary all four years, was a member of the Athletic Association, was the sports editor of Blue and White (the bi-weekly student newspaper) as a senior, was the business manager of the Ladies' Home Journal Campaign, sang with the Glee Club, competed on the track and volleyball teams, participated in the minstrel show, and was a member of the Alpha Beta Literary Society."

Eight awesome things you'll never find inside e-books
Excerpt: "I'm a Books Guy. Books you can hold in your hands and take anywhere without worrying about battery life or the elements. Books, too, are more than just the sum of the words written by the author. They are full of other treasures. The kind of treasures that, to my knowledge, will never exist with e-books.

"As a Books Guy, I live for those discoveries within old books."

Monday, December 30, 2013

1929 textbook illustration of Château de Coucy

This illustration, from History of Europe: Ancient and Medieval, shows the magnificence of Château de Coucy, a French castle that was built in the early 1200s and blown to smithereens by the German army about 700 years later during World War I.

The huge round tower in the forefront is the keep/donjon, which was one of the largest such fortifications in the world. It measured between 100 and 115 feet wide and between 180 and 210 feet high. According to History of Europe: Ancient and Medieval, the walls were 34 feet thick at the base.

This is all that remains of the grand castle today...

According to Wikipedia, one of Château de Coucy's lords, Enguerrand VII de Coucy (1340–1397), is the primary subject of Barbara Tuchman's award-winning narrative of the fourteenth century, A Distant Mirror, which was published in 1978.

For a wealth of information about and images of Château de Coucy, see the English-language version of this website by Pierre-Emmanuel Sautereau, which focuses on pre-1917 postcards and photographs.

(While I am very happy that Sautereau provided an English-language version of his history website, I think there were some translation problems with this section:
"This site aims to help you discover Coucy-le-Chateau, through postcards and old photos, collected by several collectors. They agreed to share their treasure, I thank them all very much. These documents are obviously for personal research, not for breeding purposes."
And, just to be clear, that goes for all of the ephemera on Papergreat, too. None of it should ever be used for breeding purposes.)

1944 advertisement: How much will you pay for this love seat?

I wonder where this walnut-framed, original-horsehair love seat is today? If it was more than 100 years old 1944, chances are that it's approaching 200 years old today.

This advertisement was featured in the December 1944 edition of Hobbies — "The Magazine for Collectors" — which was published by Lightner Publishing Co. under that name until 1985.

Here are some links to read more about Hobbies and its publisher:

Sunday, December 29, 2013

1936's "Albanian Wonder Tales": Frontispiece and endpapers

Here are a couple of delightful illustrations from 1936's Albanian Wonder Tales, which was written by Post Wheeler (pictured at right) and illustrated by influential children's book artists Maud and Miska Petersham.1

The book, which is dedicated to Prince Essad Kryeziu, contains 10 folk tales, including "The Princess Who Had the Silver Tooth," "The Girl Who Took a Snake For Husband," "The Boy Who Took the Letter to the World Where the Dead Live," and "The Boy Who Killed the Dif."2

Although Wheeler, a diplomat and journalist, was not best known for his folk-tale collections, he did put together a few others, including:
  • Tales from the Japanese Storytellers As Collected in the Ho-Dan Zo
  • Hawaiian Wonder Tales
  • Russian Wonder Tales

Russian Wonder Tales, first published in 1912 and republished numerous times thereafter, is probably the most notable of his folk-tale books, as it contains illustrations by famed Russian illustrator Ivan Bilibin.

Getting back to Albanian Wonder Tales, here is the endpapers' illustration.

1. Per Wikipedia, Maud Fuller Petersham (1890-1971) and Miska Petersham (1888-1960) "helped set the direction for illustrated children's books as known today. ... They worked as a seamless partnership for more than five decades. Both prolific and versatile, they produced illustrations for more than 120 trade and textbooks, anthologies, and picture books. ... [And] they are known for technical excellence, exuberant color, and the introduction of international folk and modernist themes."
2. Difs are described in the story as being "giants four yards tall, eaters of human flesh, which live on high mountains or in the Underworld — whence they come forth into the white world through hidden wells in the forests."