Saturday, October 20, 2018

Summer plans tucked away inside "Claire Ambler"

I came across some interesting pieces of ephemera tucked away inside a hardcover copy of 1928's Claire Ambler, by Booth Tarkington (1869-1946).

First up is a newspaper clipping from the May 20, 1946, edition of The New York Times, reporting Tarkington's death at age 76 the previous day. One of the three subhedes states "Creator of Penrod and Other Beloved Characters Twice Won Pulitzer Prizes." There is also this line: "His ways were nonchalant, and he was an arduous smoker of cigarettes in the early Nineties, when 'coffin nails' were regarding as something extremely bad."

We also learn: "He would frequently get out of bed in the middle of the night, put a fur coat over his pajamas and venture forth in search of some quaint character he felt he must talk to."

But the coolest piece of ephemera is a 5⅝-inch-wide envelope, which has had its stamp torn off but still has its contents intact. The letter was postmarked in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, on August 9, 1944, and was sent to Miss Suzannah Bagley in Millersburg, Pennsylvania (Dauphin County). It was even sealed with a little bit of wax on the back.

The first item inside the envelope is a handwritten note, written over three pages on a piece of folding notepaper that's 5⅛ inches wide. Here's the first page...

The full note states:
August 7, 1944
Dear Sue,
We are going to have a wonderful time. Mother said there isn't much to do but swim.
I will be very happy to teach you to swim.
I will enclose a list of the main things I'm taking along.
I don't think we should take our tennis rackets.
I know this isn't a very nice letter, but I don't have anything to say.
Sincerely & Happily Yours,
P.S. It's a mirsable [sic] day. Please excuse writing & spelling.
Soph indeed included a list. She did her best to type it up on a sheet of lined paper. Back then, of course, there was no backspace key. Here's the typed note...

My favorite parts are bringing a book in case of rain and "I don't plan to waer [sic] socks in the day time." I also love that she added "Please excuse my typing."

I hope Suzannah and Soph had a fun time with their swimming vacation. Since this letter was tucked away inside Claire Ambler, I wonder if that's the book Suzannah brought for rainy days. The book has the name Josephine Shepp written on the first page. There's a woman by that name who (1) is buried in Millersburg, (2) lived from 1906 to 2001, (3) had a sister who married a Bagley. So perhaps Josephine was Suzannah's aunt.

In which my great-grandmother wishes the Queen would leave

My great-grandmother mailed this postcard to my great-grandfather in, if I'm reading the postmark correctly, May 1964. It went from the United Kingdom to their house in Wallingford, Pennsylvania.

The cursive note states:
Had my ship room confirmed now in Parliament bldg. Service in Westminster so have to wait for service to be over. Queen is at "Windsor" so hope she leaves soon. Thrilled to be here! Love, Greta
Save this card!
Well, we can definitely, 54 years later, consider the card "saved."

Thanks to the power of Wikipedia, here are some other things that were taking place in England in May 1964:

Dust jacket and built-in bookplate from 1937 Van Loon book

Shown above is the somewhat-less-than-mint dust jacket for prolific author Hendrik Willem Van Loon's 1937 book Observations on the Mystery of Print and the Work of Johann Gutenberg. Given that the book is 81 years old, we can forgive some tanning and chipping on the jacket, I think.

The jacket illustration was also done by Van Loon. According to the flap: "The Jacket depicting the Book Fair of 1537 in any mediaeval town, was printed in two colors by Mortimer & Walling, New York, from plates by Chromatic Photo Engraving Co., New York." The book was printed especially for The New York Times National Book Fair. Van Loon ends with this paragraph:
It may take courage to restate this truth in the the midst of the turmoil of today. Wherefore we should proclaim it from the top of the Rockefeller Center and should print it here in the biggest, boldest letters that are to be found in the upper case of the printers who are preparing this little book for you, summing it up in these few but all-important words:
Here's an excerpt from Bruce Cline's review of the book on Goodreads:
"This thin volume is, of necessity, a short romp through the annals of the history of printing, reaching back to early China and the Mediterranean, and somewhat focusing on 16th century Europe, principally Holland and Germany. Van Loon delicately dispels the notion that Gutenberg invented movable type, but adds that the precise inventor(s) are unknown and unknowable."
Meanwhile, the book contains a nifty bookplate that has been printed onto the inside front cover:

While there is no specific credit, I'm guessing this illustration was also done by Van Loon.

The name written on the bookplate is Mary E. Tidd. I found multiple people with that name. One of the best possibilities might be the Mary who was from Williamsport, Pennsylvania, and graduated from the Training School for Nurses of St. Joseph's Hospital in 1908.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Signature of J.B. Doncyson, artist

Long, long ago, a man named J.B. Doncyson of Topeka, Kansas, signed his name, in elaborate fashion, inside this copy of 1898's Caleb West: Master Diver1, by Francis Hopkinson Smith, who also, it so happens, built the foundation of the Statue of Liberty. The book, published by Houghton, Mifflin and Company, features illustrations by Malcolm Fraser and Arthur I. Keller.

Perhaps those illustrations inspired the one-time owner of this volume.

It will come as no surprise that Doncyson had a fancy, artistic signature after you read this newspaper article about him that appeared in the October 30, 1915, issue of The Topeka State Journal:


Topeka Citizen Who Spends
Much Time in Art Work

Began to Make Drawings When
a School Boy.


Does the Illustrating for the
Masonic Lodges.

Has Begun to Receive Orders
From the East.

A Topeka man, an amateur, is so good an artist that he hardly has time to do anything else but make drawings. J.B. Doncyson, 909 West Tenth street, of the Scottish Rite temple, has been doing art work for the past ten years and now makes all the drawings used by the Masonic orders and other lodges of Topeka, to say nothing of a large amount of work done for his friends.

He started drawing while a boy in Topeka schools, back in the eighties. His teacher cuffed his ears several times for marking up his books with sketches but the habit was not broken and he became a prominent high school artist later. In 1893 his trip to the Chicago world's fair revealed to his youthful eyes some of the most priceless paintings in the world and young Doncyson attributes much of his later ability to viewing the masterpieces of Europe. He never has taken drawing lessons and depends for the correctness of his technique, perspective and proportion with his eye upon judgment alone.

"A man can't do good work and do it fast — that is outside of cartoon work," he said today at the Scottish Rite temple. "I work an average of twelve to fourteen hours on a picture that amounts to anything, but can dash off a comic sketch in half an hour. As brevity is the soul of wit, too many lines will ruin a funny picture."

His Cartoon Work.

He formerly did cartoon work for the State Journal, the Santa Fe, and two or three other Topeka concerns. The companies hired an amateur because he was doing as good as if not better work than professional artists in Kansas City.

In addition to his drawing, which takes nearly all his time, Mr. Doncyson is a secretary in the Scottish Rite temple. That is a man's job also as it necessitates taking care of $78,000 worth of costumes, feeding four or five hundred people every week or so at a banquet, and handling the immense amount of mail that comes in and goes out on regular business.

"We have so much mail that we have to use as complicated system of mailing as the Saturday Evening Post does," said Mr. Doncyson.

The reunion of the Masons in November has caused a great amount of publicity matter to be sent out. Mr. Doncyson has handled all of the art booklets and practically designed all of the them. In fact he has had so much experience and become so proficient that he does the work for Masonic valleys in the east.

1. Of the book, reviewer AJ wrote this on Goodreads in 2016: "This was the number one best seller in 1898. Despite the title the book is about everyone else besides Caleb West. Loosely based on the author's building of Race Rock Light House in NY. ... I would estimate that 80% of the book is NOT about Caleb West, master diver. It was a good period piece to read about about life in the 1870s."

Here's an excerpt from the book that I came upon while flipping through: "Mrs. Leroy selected a low camp-stool, resting her back against the railing, where the warm tones of the lamp fell upon her dainty figure. She was at her best to-night. Her prematurely gray hair, piled in fluffy waves upon her head and held in place by a long jewel-tipped pin, gave an indescribable softness and charm to the rosy tints of her skin. Her blue-gray eyes, now deep violet, flashed and dimmed under the moving shutters of the lids, as the light of her varying emotions stirred their depths."

Tuesday, October 16, 2018

50-year-old advertisement for Haggar slacks

This advertisement for Haggar slacks appears on the back cover of the souvenir guidebook for HemisFair '68, an official World's Fair that was held in San Antonio, Texas, from April 6 through October 6, 1968. The fair had as its primary legacy the introduction of the proto-H.R. Pufnstuf, then named Luther. (Which isn't nearly as bad as the 1893 Chicago fair's "legacy" being that H.H. Holmes was working nearby and attended the event with some of his eventual victims.)

While the particular style of slacks in the advertisement has perhaps gone out of style, Haggar has not. It was founded in Dallas, Texas, in 1926 by Lebanese immigrant (as the company website proudly points out) Joseph Marion Haggar Sr., rose to become the top brand of pants in America in 1970, and is still a robust clothing manufacturer today. It also has an eco-friendly line of clothes made from upcycled water bottles, and that certainly makes up for the fact that you can no longer get plaid Haggar slacks at your local Sears Target.

Monday, October 15, 2018

Old inscription and a lighthearted threat of missed turkey

The above inscription appears on the first page of The Sick-A-Bed Lady, an actual hardcover book that was published 107 years ago, in October 1911.

The book, by Eleanor Hallowell Abbott, is actual a collection of stories. It's not just one long novel about a lady who's sick in bed, because that might become ponderous quickly. The title page gives this fuller title (which clearly would not fit on the cover): The Sick-A-Bed Lady and Also Hickory Dock, The Very Tired Girl1, The Happy-Day, Something That Happened in October, The Amateur Lover, Heart of the City, The Pink Sash, Woman's Only Business.

The frontispiece, still protected by tissue paper, has the caption "That will help you remember where your mouth is," and I'll just leave it at that. The book is dedicated "To The Memory of Two Fathers."2

The last line of the book is "Across the young, tremulous, vibrant greensward I heard the throb-throb-throb of a man's feet — running." I think greensward is just a fancy word for lawn, and I'm not sure how it could be "tremulous."

Anyway, throb-throb-throb aside, the interesting part of this book is the aforementioned inscription, written in lovely cursive ink. It states:
It may be lots of fun to be a sick-abed Lady, but if you don't get well "P.D.Q." you'll miss the turkey.
P.D.Q. was a polite way of saying "Pretty Damn Quick" — immediately, directly, forthwith, pronto or straightaway. Does anyone out there still use it in 2018?

1. Possibly a prequel to The Sick-A-Bed Lady.
2. Possibly Greg Evigan and Paul Reiser.1

Secondary footnote
1. Do you think Paul Reiser got eaten by that xenomorph? Or do you reckon he talked his way out of it?

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Edward Gorey bookplate inside
Budd Schulberg novel

This nifty old Edward Gorey bookplate is affixed to the inside front cover of a 1950 hardcover edition of Budd Schulberg's The Disenchanted.1 The bookplate is copyright 1953 and thus is from the early period of Gorey's career, when he was about 28, and according to Wikipedia, living in Manhattan and working for the art department of Doubleday Anchor, illustrating book covers and sometimes adding interior illustrations.

These Gorey bookplates, from Antioch Publishing, are fairly collectible. This very afternoon, never-used originals are selling for $8.95 apiece on eBay. There's also — and this is the better deal — an eBay offer of the original box containing the Gorey bookplates, plus the last five bookplates, for $20 plus shipping.

As far of provenance of this bookplate, Thelma L. Kelley is a little too common of a name and not quite enough information to positively determine her identity. A quick Google search provided two reasonable possibilities right off the bat. Whoever is she was, though, she had great taste in bookplates.

To delve into previous posts about Gorey, start here.

1. Of the novel, James Hartley has this to say on Goodreads: "This is a book that deserves to be called a classic. Hunt it out if you´ve never heard of it; if you have any interest in drunken writers, the history and workings of Hollywood, the reality of being a writer, the hangover of success, hangovers in generally, or simply working with someone who is impossible to work with."