The Confessions of a Book-Hunter – 1926


“I belong to that class of unfortunate beings who are addicted to a habit which it is not easy to break off.  This sounds alarming, but let me assure you that neither drug nor dram is the cause of my undoing, and that I have no intention of following in the foot-steps of the English Opium-Eater. The truth is that I am a bibliophile, and I suffer a complaint common to the tribe, namely a feverish appetite which can only be assuaged by choice tit-bits in the form of ancient quartos and duodecimos”.

The Bookmans' Journal, July 1926.So far, so good – the opening paragraph of an article headed The Confessions of a Book-Hunter, which appeared in the July 1926 issue of The Bookman’s Journal.  But as I read on, I began to have my doubts – this didn’t really sound as if it had been written by someone familiar with, or wholly at ease, with the language of books.  The sticking-point came with the author’s tale of his having discovered “some years ago” that black tulip among books, a copy of Shelley’s anonymous “lost” first book, written with his sister, Elizabeth – Original Poetry, by Victor and Cazire (1810) – in a “particularly dirty bookshop, small, dark and dusty” in the backwaters of Hastings.  He had come out without any money on him, but having hurried home to get some, returned to find that the book been sold for threepence to the book-collector Mr Nicholls [sic] of Barnesbury [sic].  After the death of this collector, the book was subsequently sold at Sotheby’s for £600.

This story cannot possibly be true.  Fake news from 1926. The book-collector Adolphus Frederick Nichols (1811-1902) of 25 Arundel Square, Barnsbury, is thought to have acquired his copy of Original Poetry, by Victor and Cazire for sixpence (almost certainly without realising it was by Shelley and his sister) on November 23rd 1876 (before he lived in Barnsbury).  Nichols died on 19th February 1902.  This book was then indeed sold at Sotheby’s – on November 2nd 1903, and indeed for £600 – then a record price for any nineteenth-century book – but the author of these fake Confessions was at that time only five years old.  And the book had in any case ceased to be a “lost” one even earlier – before the author of these Confessions was even born – a copy inscribed by Shelley to his cousin and fiancée, Harriet Grove, was discovered in the hands of her niece in Dorchester in late 1897 or early 1898 – the first to surface of I think just four copies now known – one in the Ransom Center (the Harriet Grove copy), one in the Huntington (the Nichols copy), one in the British Library (the Wellesley copy discovered in 1903, soon after the sale of the Nichols copy), and one in the Pforzheimer – this last acquired as recently as 2014 (such things still happen) – see A Black Tulip Comes to the Pforzheimer Collection. There is a good account of the discovery of the first three copies in the Burlington Gazette (the supplement to the Burlington Magazine) for December 1903, pp.2-4.

The author of these Confessions was one Edward J. Lavell, a journalist by profession (with all that this implies in terms of veracity) – and I’m certain that it is nothing more than an entertaining piece of journalistic fiction, stitched together from various sources.  It is by no means impossible that he did own some of the books he lists amongst his triumphant discoveries – but I beg leave to doubt it.  On the other hand, I have by now become interested in Lavell.  He was born Joseph Edward Lavell on 27th August 1898 at Wallasey in Cheshire, later in life transposing his forenames.  He was the only child of the Irish financial journalist Mathias Lavelle (usually spelt with a final ‘e’) and his wife Mary Croshaw, who had married in 1897.

By 1921 Edward J. Lavell was working as a journalist in Ramsgate, joining the freemasons in that year, while the 1933 edition of Who’s Who in Literature and other similar interwar works of reference fill in some further background.  He had contributed not just to The Bookman’s Journal, but also The Bolton Journal; The Bolton Evening Chronicle; The Kent Argus; The Irish Independent; The Anglo-Scottish Press; The Fascisti Bulletin; Pitman’s Journal; The Liverpool Evening Express, on which he was sub-editor from 1929, and the Manchester Evening Chronicle.  He was currently living in Manchester (later in Southport) and was the editor of Home Topics, published by the New Catholic Press, a magazine begun in 1923 on the back on an earlier publication called The Catholic Home Journal, which had commenced publication in 1905.  His chief recreation was listed as travel – and records survive of voyages to Cherbourg and Santander in 1925 and 1926.

He married Lucie Cottingham (1906-1991) at Wallasey in 1938 and the couple were living, with his wife’s elderly mother, on Caithness Drive in Wallasey the following year.  Lavell’s occupation on the emergency 1939 Register is mostly illegible, but the words “war correspondent”, “Spain” and “Albania”, seem clear enough.

During the Second World War he contributed a number of occasional articles to the Liverpool Echo – an entertaining and morale-raising piece on the Droll Fellows from Albion: The Strange Englishman; “says little, grouses and deprecates, but sees things through”; a very good article on the pernicious influence of the “cockney” received pronunciation being so heavily promulgated by the BBC; an amusing piece on a wartime bus-conductor’s opening gambit of “Any more for anywhere? Special cheap tickets for Utopia”; articles on Silesia, Czechoslovakia and Japan; on H. G. Wells and the Atomic Bomb; on post-war planning, and on the forthcoming 1945 election, etc., but unless a letter written from Tewkesbury to the Birmingham Daily Post in 1966 on the Rhodesia question is from the same hand, that would appear to have been the end of his journalistic career.  His wife died at Wallasey in 1991, but I have been quite unable to discover when or where Lavell himself died.

His piece in The Bookman’s Journal ends on a slightly plaintive note: “There is a poetic justice in this world.  A publishing firm has just accepted my first novel, and maybe when I am dead copies will find their way to some dusty bookstall, and there be spurned by the bibliophile”.  This is intriguing.  According to the various reference books, Lavell was the author of Treasure Trove and Other Stories (Thanet Publicity Agency, 1922); Memoirs of the Abbe Brouillard (Catholic Press, 1924); The Vision Beautiful (Anglo-Scottish Press, 1925); The Blue Danube (a serial), 1928; Mr Povy, A Seventeenth Century Panorama (short stories), and Italy, a musical drama.

There is a copy of the first of these in the British Library, but nowhere else, as far as I can tell.  As for the rest, I can’t find a single copy or even a trace of them in any of the world’s major libraries, and certainly not in the market-place.  I suppose this might make them technically rarer even than the Shelley book – although I suspect even a seasoned bibliophile might well still spurn them.  But then again – he may simply have made these titles up along with everything else, to boost a rather slender C.V.  Do let me know if you come across a copy of any of them.

I am extremely grateful to my friend and neighbour Gillian Neale, currently studying for a Masters in the History of the Book, for discovering this curious article and letting me have the loan of her copy. 

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John Lothian (1802-1846)


Always a delight to come across an old print depicting a bookshop, particularly if it can be readily identified.  Here is a steel engraving of the “East Side of St. Andrew’s Square, Edinburgh”, engraved by James Johnstone of Edinburgh from an original study by the London artist Thomas Hosmer Shepherd (1793-1864).  It was published in 1830 by Jones & Co. of London as one of a series of views of Edinburgh which appeared in monthly parts as “Modern Athens! Displayed in a Series of Views: or, Edinburgh in the Nineteenth Century” (1829-1831).  I came across it last year (although I must certainly have come across it before and simply failed to register the bookshop) in Edinburgh itself – in a bookshop not far from the National Library of Scotland.

lothiansshopIt felt like a gift from the gods.  The bookshop in the print was that of John Lothian (1802-1846) – a man about whom I was intending to speak at a forthcoming talk on the Scottish Map Trade to be given at the Library in a few weeks’ time.  And Lothian was definitely someone I needed to know more of.  I regret to say that we had neglected to give him an entry in “British Map Engravers : A Dictionary of Engravers, Lithographers and Their Principal Employers to 1850” – well, not neglected exactly – he was neither an engraver nor a lithographer, and “principal employer” may be stretching it a bit given his relatively short career – but he was also a globe-maker, or at least a globe-publisher, which should have given him an automatic right of entry as a special category.  All of his maps and atlases are rare, but his globes excessively so – we simply didn’t know he produced any.

Pair of nine-inch globes by John Lothian. Edinburgh : 1828. © William Doyle Galleries, Inc. 2014.

Pair of nine-inch globes by John Lothian. Edinburgh : 1828. © William Doyle Galleries, Inc. 2014.

I used the engraving to illustrate the talk, as well as this image of a pair of Lothian globes from the website of an American auction-house – still the only surviving Lothian globes of which I am aware.  So far, so good – and, although not entirely straightforward, I had managed to put together the outlines of Lothian’s life and career.

He was born in Edinburgh on the 12th September 1802 and baptised at St. Cuthbert’s a week later – the son of Andrew Lothian and his wife Margaret Hogg.  He set up as a bookseller at the age of twenty-two and was at these premises at 41 St. Andrew Square in the New Town from 1824 until 1831.  He began as a general bookseller – mainly religion, with a bit of music and poetry – but soon came to specialise in cartographic material.  By 1830 he was offering an “Historical Atlas of Scotland”, as well as a very prettily engraved and coloured Scottish county atlas; pocket-maps of the individual counties; a pocket bible-atlas; a large map of Edinburgh three feet across, with eighteen fine views; plans of most of the major Scottish towns; pocket road maps; recent maps of the wider world – and a range of globes – five-inch, seven-inch, nine-inch and twelve-inch.

© Daniel Crouch Rare Books

© Daniel Crouch Rare Books

He was clearly by now in thrall to cartography.  The preface to his county atlas insists that “Geography and Chronology have frequently been called the Eyes of History”, we all need our pathway to understanding “macadamized” by the use of maps – without a knowledge of them we will “derive as little benefit … from the facts we carry in our heads, as the ass does from the library he carries on his back”.  This is all true and I hope you will all be attending the London Map Fair this weekend to make good any deficiencies you may have in that regard.  And what is also known about Lothian is that he produced maps of both Edinburgh and Leith engraved by George Bartholomew (1784-1871) – the earliest signed maps from the founder of what was to become one of the greatest of all cartographic publishing houses.

The Scotsman, 7th January 1829. © British Library Board.

The Scotsman, 7th January 1829. © British Library Board.

The reason that his premises are shown with such prominence in the print is simply that he was the Edinburgh agent for the publication of this series of views, working closely with the London publishers, but this set me to thinking of what an engraving like this does not show.  What, in particular, this engraving does not show is what else was going on in this quiet south-east corner of what was originally a highly fashionable residential square – and, although Dundas House at No. 36 (set back from the other frontages and not visible in the print) became the headquarters of the Royal Bank of Scotland in 1825 – the square had not yet become Edinburgh’s major financial hub.  It does not show who Lothian’s neighbours were and does not reveal that this small urban space had become something of a locus for the map trade.  It does not show that the engraver and lithographer Alexander Forrester, who produced some of John Wood’s beautiful town-plans, was a neighbour at No. 30.  It does not reveal that although the celebrated map and atlas-publisher John Thomson had by now moved to No. 32, he had been Lothian’s original next-door neighbour, in the years 1824-1826, at No. 40.

Thomson’s “New General Atlas”, completed in 1817, was quite the equal of anything being produced in London at the time and the first to mark Edinburgh as a potential rival to the capital in terms of map publishing.  He then began work, from 1818 onwards, on his “Atlas of Scotland” – large maps of the Scottish counties made to the highest standard.  Despite an initial 1,200 subscribers, it was, in Thomson’s words – “a work which he never would have undertaken, had he known the difficulties to be encountered”.  Even before it was finished, he went bankrupt and had his estate sequestrated in April 1830.  His creditors were compelled to settle up with the unpaid engravers to enable it to be completed.  It finally appeared in 1832 – a stunning achievement – for the first time adequate mapping of the whole of Scotland was readily available – but Thomson’s final remaining assets were auctioned off in 1836 and he disappeared from view.

Post Office Annual Directory 1824-1825,

Post Office Annual Directory 1824-1825. © National Library of Scotland

Quite what Thomson thought of his young next-door neighbour carrying on a rival map-publishing business, is unknown (and Lothian may have been there first).  But Lothian’s output essentially replicates Thomson’s – but at smaller scale – large folio atlases from Thomson – smaller and (in his words) more “economical and correct” versions from Lothian.  I suppose it is not impossible that the two men viewed their businesses as complementary and that they were colleagues rather than rivals, but that could hardly be the case with some of the other neighbours.  Thomson had moved to St. Andrew Square before the Great Fire of November 1824 in the Old Town compelled so many of his former neighbours to relocate in the same direction.  Among them were the Kirkwood family, at this time represented by the elderly engraver James Kirkwood and his grandson Robert – the very first of those affected by the fire – it broke out in their own workshop when a pot of linseed oil (used in the preparation of plate-printing ink) caught fire. They moved more or less immediately to No. 3 South St. Andrew Street, running south off this corner of the Square, and only a few doors from Lothian and Thomson.

Edinburgh Evening Courant, 26th July 1828.

Edinburgh Evening Courant, 26th July 1828. © British Library Board

Earlier in the century, the Kirkwoods had become the makers of the first serious globes produced in Scotland – and that Lothian should have moved into globe production just at the time his new neighbours were trying to rebuild the business (their plates had been lost in the fire) can hardly have been viewed as a friendly act.  In the event, Robert Kirkwood seems to have won the globe-wars.  It appears to have taken him until 1828 to resume globe-production but by 1832 he was selling his twelve-inch globes for virtually the same price as Lothian’s nine-inch ones – and Lothian moved out of the square.  Forrester had already left and then – in 1835 – so did Kirkwood. John Thomson was the last to leave in 1836 – but just as these major map-businesses depart, who should arrive?  The brothers William and Alexander Keith Johnston (W. & A. K. Johnston), destined for a time to sweep all before them in British mapmaking, moved into No. 4 on the south side – just yards from the Lothian shop. They had been trained by the Kirkwoods and had worked for Thomson, but bought up Thomson’s bankruptcy stock of maps and plates when they were auctioned off – and before long usurped the Kirkwoods in the matter of globes.  They were to remain in St. Andrew Square for the next thirty years.

As for John Lothian, he next appears living with his brothers, Alexander and Andrew (both lawyers) at 37 George Square to the south of the city (not George Street, in the New Town, as is sometimes claimed).  In 1834 he completed both “A New and Elegant Classical Atlas” and his “New General Atlas” – an atlas “neither to be swelled in price or bulk by letter-press, nor by unnecessarily subdividing countries and multiplying maps” – both published in monthly parts and the latter at least apparently printed for him by W. & A. K. Johnston.  He then moved, still with his brother Alexander, to 21 Atholl Crescent (1836-1838), and subsequently to 2 Baxter’s Place (1840-1843).  At this latter address, where, incidentally, Robert Stevenson (1772-1850), the celebrated light-house engineer, was their next-door neighbour, he began to style himself as “geographer” rather than “map publisher”.

Edinburgh Directory 1841.

Edinburgh Directory 1841.

A final move for John Lothian and his brother was to 3 Abercromby Place (1844-1846), the house (again incidentally) where Marie Stopes was born in 1880.  Alexander Lothian’s estate was sequestrated for debt in 1842 – the papers describing him as both advocate and publisher – so presumably he was involved in John Lothian’s residual publishing activities, but beyond winning the Silver Medal of the Edinburgh Society of Arts in 1837 for the invention of a device for bottling liquors, and compiling a “Table to Find the Number of Days Between Two Dates”, marketed as “Lothian’s Time Reckoner” and published by James Brydone in 1839, quite what John Lothian was doing in these years is a little unclear.  But in 1841-1842 he and his brother had been sharing the Baxter’s Place premises with Thomas Brumby Johnston (1814-1897), the younger brother of William and Alexander Keith Johnston, later to become a partner and the future head of the firm – which perhaps suggests that by now Lothian was himself working with or for the Johnstons.

According to Moir’s “Early Maps of Scotland”, John Lothian died on 11th May 1846, his personal estate (valued at £95) consisting of a three-quarter share of copyrights, copper-plates and sheets on hand of his maps and atlases.  I suspect that the final two publications to bear his name, “The People’s Atlas” and the “New Edinburgh General Atlas”, both published by others in 1846, were made up from these surviving plates and sheets.  A later edition of the latter was published by his Edinburgh contemporary John Gellatly and the plates for his county maps seem to have been acquired by Adam & Charles Black.  A relatively short life – just forty-three when he died – and a correspondingly short career – but by no means an insignificant one.

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Deal Done


A couple of posts ago, I featured a picture of an Edinburgh binding from the website of Nick McConnell (McConnell Fine Books).  It brought to mind that I hadn’t been down to Deal on the Kent coast to see him for far too long – and as my new intern lives down in Kent in any case, I thought I might save her the journey up to London, for one day at least, by heading in that direction for a day out book-hunting.  We shall call her Lizzie (because that’s her name) and she is one of this year’s batch of students on the Masters course in the History of the Book at London University.  One of her formal modules is a stint of 200 hours working in the rare book trade, so no doubt you will hear more of her (and quite possibly from her) in the coming weeks.

Although we visited a second-hand bookshop or two along the way, the sum total of our purchases before arriving at Nick’s was meagre: a very cheap book each (simply to read) and a possible minor bargain of a modern first by a not over-collected author for 50p.

McConnell Fine Books (see pictures) are located on Beach Street, right on the front at Deal, looking out to sea – just over the road from the Royal Hotel.  It’s a seventeenth-century building, long known as “The Golden Hind” – and it’s been a bookshop as far back as I can remember.  It’s still a shop, although nowadays it’s open only by appointment.


Nick McConnell

But well worth making that appointment.  Nick has been a specialist in fine bindings for forty years or more and there is nothing in “The Golden Hind” that is less than beautiful – and much that is simply stunning.  Not just the bindings themselves, but the exquisite condition they are preserved in.  Interesting too, in talking to Nick, that one way in which he feels that book-collecting has changed over the years is that nowadays it is not always enough for his customers that a book should be a fine example of the bookbinder’s art, but that the book itself also needs to be both rare and interesting.

This seems to me to represent slightly muddled thinking, or at least to be symptomatic of both wanting to have your cake and eating it – but we go where our customers direct us.  Nick pulled out for us a couple of things to demonstrate this kind of double attraction: a seemingly completely unrecorded book of chair-designs from a Covent Garden maker dating from the 1830s – and two bound volumes of some of Walter Crane’s earliest and most fragile work – beautifully preserved, the colours searing off the page and fresh as the day they were printed.

beachstreetWhile Nick and Lizzie moved on to a discussion of the most effective ways of booksellers using social media – the upshot of which seems to be that she will be spending some of her 200 hours in the trade gingering up his presence on Twitter, Instagram and elsewhere (there was mention of video clips) – I combed the shelves in a more resolutely old-fashioned way.  An uncommon Dickens item (with a genuine issue point for once) bound by Zaehnsdorf – the very same copy as that catalogued by a New York auctioneer in 1926 as “a magnificent copy of the first issue of the first edition” – was the first thing to beguile me.  Soon followed by an oh-so-pretty three-decker from 1830 in a delightful contemporary binding and with another distinguished provenance.  It was turning into a very good day all round.

I’ll be seeing Nick again later today at the ABA Rare Book Fair at its new summer location in Battersea.  You can see him there too – and having seen some of the books he was packing to bring up to town – you will not be disappointed.  And that’s to say nothing of all the many other incredibly good booksellers (180 of them) from all over the world who will also be exhibiting there for the next three days.  We are talking about the crème de la crème.  There can be no excuse for not finding your way there, even if it is south of the river.


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Strabo’s “Geographica” in a Sixteenth-Century Dust-Jacket


Another fascinating guest post from Mark Godburn

1559-3A copy of Strabonis de Situ Orbis Libri XVII (Lyon: Gabriel Coterius, 1559) has come to light in a contemporary dust-jacket.  The book is bound in limp vellum with quasi-yapp edges and remnants of fore-edge ties.  The jacket is made from a scrap of vellum with handwriting on it, and is reinforced on the underside with other manuscript scrap.  The jacket has French flaps and four small slits in the corners which correspond to the position of the fore-edge ties, presumably so the ties could be threaded through. The jacket and binding appear contemporary to each other and to the sheets.

1559-5Years ago, I saw another vellum book with a vellum jacket from the 1700s, and there are surviving homemade and lending-library jackets from the 1700s.  There also are German bindery jackets from the late 1700s and early 1800s made with printed scrap under outer paper, similar to the construction of the 1559 jacket.  But I have never seen a verified jacket of any origin within 200 years of this one.  Has anyone?

Whether the 1559 jacket was homemade or produced by the binder, it does show that dust-jackets were known by the 1500s.



Mark Godburn – Norfolk, Connecticut – USA



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Two Dundee Bindings

Sir Arthur Helps, Companions of My Solitude. 1851. Bound by James Brody Brechin of Dundee.I’m not quite sure what the opposite of carrying coals to Newcastle may be, but that’s certainly how I felt when coming away from the recent Edinburgh Book Fair, bringing back to London two Scottish bindings.  Ian Marr had brought them up from Cornwall and they had sat unwanted on his shelves, under the gaze of Scottish collectors, Scottish booksellers, and Scottish librarians, for at least a day before I happened across them – very modestly priced and full of interest.  Quite why I think I might be able to sell them down here, when they plainly hadn’t excited much interest up there, doesn’t really bear any kind of deep analysis, but booksellers do what booksellers do – they buy books more often than they sell them.

Both books are by that interesting Victorian éminence grise Sir Arthur Helps (1813-1875), old Etonian, Cambridge Apostle, Clerk to the Privy Council, author of Friends in Council, confidant of Queen Victoria, and connected to many of the leading political and literary figures of the day – Gladstone, Disraeli, Ruskin, Carlyle, etc.  “His Thoughts upon Government [1872] provided some of the most pertinent reflections on the evolution of government practice in mid-Victorian Britain” (Stephen L. Keck, Sir Arthur Helps and the Making of Victorianism. Newcastle-upon-Tyne, 2013. p.17).  And as Lucy Soulsby, headmistress of Oxford High School for Girls, advised her young women, “Those of a philosophical turn may read Kant and Hegel, but all would find life easier for the mild metaphysics and shrewd wisdom of Friends in Council” (Keck, p4.)

Difficult too, to disregard a man who once wrote, amongst a plethora of other aphorisms, “Routine is not organization, any more than paralysis is order”.  And he was born just up the road from here in Balham – which must give him a certain (if not unique) cachet in the annals of the great and good.

The first book is Helps’ Companions of My Solitude, published by Pickering in 1851 – musings on life in general and the questions of the day, with much on workers and their pay, education, the position of women in society, etc.  As Ian pointed out in his extensive and very helpful catalogue notes, the index is a joy in itself –

Monomaniacs, too little account taken of them, 189.

Originality, diseased desire for, 249.

Parliaments, an instance of misplaced labour, 8.

Pope Alexander the Sixth, to blame for the Post-office regulations, 26.

Peter Carmichael

© National Library of Scotland

The book was bound for Peter Carmichael (1809-1891), engineer and wealthy industrialist, a fortune made in the flax trade.  A partner in the Baxter Brothers mills at Dundee, he could afford to buy Arthurstone House and its estate in 1869.  Interesting to see that Helps’ influence extended well beyond the metropolitan milieu and Westminster politics – Carmichael (I assume it was he) has read the book thoroughly and pencil-marked numerous passages.  Interesting too, that although the work was published anonymously, Helps’ authorship was evidently an open secret.  His name appears in large letters in this somewhat unusual position at the foot of the spine.

The binding is a of a very hard and tightly-grained red leather – sealskin, I think – contrasting green label, raised bands with distinctive vertical bars, single small tool in blind in the compartments, gilt panels on the gently bevelled boards, very prettily marbled edges and endpapers, etc.  A bold gilt stamp on the turn-in declares it to be the work of J. B. Brechin, binder, of 7 Castle Street, Dundee.  Nothing much on him to be found anywhere, although there was apparently a piece on one of his bindings in The Bibliotheck in 1989 (which I’ve not seen) and there is a nice example of his work in the Folger.

Stamp of James Brody Brechin

His name in full was James Brody Brechin (1827?-1897), actually born in Brechin, in or about 1827, and a binder in Dundee from at least as early as 1851.  He was originally a partner in “Young & Brechin”, who moved to the premises at 7 Castle Street in 1853.  The partnership was formally dissolved on 31st July 1857, shortly after Brechin had married Mary Nicoll.  Brechin continued alone in Castle Street until 1871, then moving to Commercial Street (1871-1876), and finally to the High Street, before retiring in the mid-1880s.  In 1861, at around the time he was producing this binding, he was employing five men and two boys, and apart from bookbinding he was also publishing bibles and bible commentaries.

Dundee Courier, 24th November 1852. © British Library Board.

Dundee Courier, 24th November 1852. © British Library Board.

He was more than just a workaday bookbinder.  There was a long account (forgive me if I quote it in full, I found it fascinating) of some of his work being displayed at a local charity exhibition in the Dundee Courier in 1867:

The most attractive articles on the fifth table are the examples of illuminated and inlaid morocco bookbinding, designed and executed by Mr James B. Brechin, Dundee.

No 1. — This design is entirely made up of blind tooling and runs over both sides and back. The colour of the morocco is purple, inlaid with maroon, having a centre design in scarlet.  Edgings of scarlet lap into the purple, and eight circles of green fit into the centre of large circles, which curve along the fronts of the boards.  The back is richly inlaid with smaller patterns in various colours.  The pattern on the gilded edges forms two designs, one in dull gold and the other burnished, which very much enhance the beauty of the edge gilding.

No 2. — The sides of this specimen are of very intricate workmanship, being composed of three designs, one in scarlet, another in green, and third in dark purple, inlaid with maroon morocco, and intertwining with each other.  At the top and bottom of each board are edgings of yellow morocco let into the rose red morocco in which volume is bound.  There is, besides, a deal of tooling in gold on this example.  The insides and back are also richly ornamented, and a very beautiful double pattern in dull and burnished gold decorates the edges.

No. 3. — Is bound in light green smooth morocco, with yellow corner pieces illuminating the comers of the boards, and having centre patterns of orange coloured morocco let into green ovals in the middle of the boards.  Larger ovals, sunk below the level of the rest of the boards are formed of light blue morocco, into which are let flowing blind designs in scarlet morocco.  The back is composed of two compartments of light blue leather with scarlet patterns let in, also blind.  The gold tooling on this specimen is very effective, and harmonises well with the illuminated work. The insides have a series of light blue ovals inlaid with smaller ones in orange and scarlet morocco, and tooled in gold. The patterns on the edges are also in ovals, with scrollwork in the body of each, which give a brilliant appearance to the edges of the volume.

Armorial bookplate of Peter Carmichael.No. 4. — This is a very rich example of illuminated workmanship, having about fifteen different colours of morocco inlaid in orange-coloured calf, in which leather the book is bound.  The design is composed entirely of squares and angles, with gold lines running through the whole.  The first panel on the side is made up of green and blue angles let into red morocco, with others in gold alternating. The second panel in the centre is formed of a series of crosses, with their points of contact hid behind differently-proportioned squares.  The design on the back is in keeping with those on the sides, part of it being also sunk.  The insides of this specimen are very richly wrought in gold, the leather being carried over the joints and end-papers.  The tooling on the edges is in harmony with the rest of the workmanship, and is partly in dull and partly in burnished gold, very carefully wrought with small tools. We understand that the last specimen, along with a large memorial volume containing the proceedings of the British Association, with illuminated title, contents, and pages in colours and gold, by J. B. Brechin, and richly bound in illuminated morocco by him, are reserved for presentation to the Free Library. (Dundee Courier, 27th September 1867).

Now this all reads like something not from the 1860s but from a modern Designer Binders exhibition, so my question is – to all of you out there – where on earth are these extraordinary bindings now?  And what else did James Brody Brechin produce over the course of his career?

In November 1878, he made the newspapers once more, but in a rather different context.  He was fined £1 at the Sherriff’s Court in Dundee for refusing to have a child vaccinated.  He sent a long and dignified letter in explanation to the Dundee Evening Telegraph, which was published on Saturday 23rd November 1878.  He pointed that some doctors were well aware that although the overall benefits of vaccination were not disputed, the effects were not in every single instance beneficial.  He wished only to delay having the vaccination until he judged his son old enough “to bear the operation with safety”, going on to point out some of the complete anomalies in the current working of the regulations.

By 1881 the days of the wide general patronage of binders like Brechin were coming to an end.  His employees were now down to a single man, just one boy, and a woman.  He retired a few years later and died suddenly on 7th July 1897 at his home at 2 Tay Street Lane.

Sir Arthur Helps: Oulita the Serf. 1857. Bound by William Smith of Dundee.The second binding is for one of Arthur Helps’ least-known works – Oulita the Serf. A Tragedy (1858).  Set in Russia in the early years of the nineteenth century, it is a philosophical play on the treatment of women and the concept of slavery.  Helps had reviewed Uncle Tom’s Cabin when it first came out in this country, corresponded with Harriet Beecher Stowe, and met her when she came to London.  She wrote of him, “Somehow or other I had formed the impression from his writings that he was a venerable sage of very advanced years, who contemplated life as an aged hermit from the door of his cell.  Conceive of my surprise to find a genial young gentleman of about twenty-five, who looked as if he might enjoy a joke as well as another man” (Keck, p.12).

The binding, despite some minor differences in detailing, is essentially the same in design as the first one – obviously by the same hand – except that it is not.  Looking to find Brechin’s stamp in the same place, I found instead a similar stamp (in blind) recording the work of W. Smith, binder, of 88 Nethergate, Dundee.  And William Smith (fl.1860-1879) was even more obscure and difficult to trace than Brechin.

Blind stamp of William Smith of Dundee.

Born in Dundee itself, in or about 1834, Smith set up for himself in 1860 with a borrowed amount of £150.  He was at this 88 Nethergate address only between 1862 and 1865, when he moved to larger premises at 104 Nethergate, which gives a relatively narrow time-frame for the execution of the binding.  His business rapidly expanded, he was frequently advertising for staff at this period, and his activities soon encompassed bookselling, printing, lithography, and the sale of stationery, as well as bookbinding.  By 1871 he was employing twelve men, eight boys, two women, and two girls.

Dundee Courier, 17th March 1863. © British Library Board.

Dundee Courier, 17th March 1863. © British Library Board.

His downfall came suddenly.  A creditors’ meeting was summoned in August 1871, his estate sequestered, and his entire stock and plant offered for sale as a going concern.  Examined in the Sherriff’s Court in September, he blamed ill-health and unspecified “other reasons” for his troubles, but mostly the over-hasty action of some of the creditors.  He somehow managed to start up again, now at 112 Nethergate.   In 1876 he became embroiled in a row with Dundee’s venerable Snuff & Twopenny Whist Club – the members were complaining about the noise from his printing machines housed on the floor above their club-room.  This was perhaps the least of his troubles, because the creditors were once again gathering.  In November of that year his entire business was sold to William Kidd, who ran it successfully for many years.  Later in the month, Smith was attacked and robbed in the street.  In March of the following year, he was compelled to admit in court that he had been “slightly under the influence of drink” that evening.  He was unable to identify the accused, who was promptly acquitted.

Dundee Courier, 28th August 1871. © British Library Board.

Dundee Courier, 28th August 1871. © British Library Board.

Worse was to come – and I rather wish I hadn’t discovered this, but research doesn’t always take us to comfortable places.  In June 1877, he was arrested for assaulting his wife.  Now living in Newport, across the Tay, he had returned home “somewhat the worse for drink, and on entering the house proceeded to smash everything that came in his way.  On his wife going out to the garden, the accused followed her, and seizing hold of a rake, threw it at her with considerable force”.  He was sentenced to thirty days’ imprisonment, with a threat of thirty more, and strongly recommended “to refrain for ever from taking intoxicating liquor” (Dundee Courier, 29th June 1877).  It also came out that he had previously been convicted of assaulting his former wife.

He had resumed business of a kind in Barrack Street, Dundee, but creditors’ meetings and sequestrations were again in the air in October 1877.  He failed to appear for a bankruptcy hearing in December 1877 and a warrant was granted for his apprehension.  His son, David Low Smith (who later became a bookseller in Manchester), was summoned to account for what had happened to the household furniture.  Although a dividend of some kind was paid in May 1878, there were further public examinations and bankruptcy proceedings in June 1879.  And after that William Smith seems simply to disappear from view.

Sir Arthur Helps: The Spanish Conquest in America. London, 1855-1861. Bound by Andrew Grieve of Edinburgh. © McConnell Fine Books.

Sir Arthur Helps: The Spanish Conquest in America. London, 1855-1861. Bound by Andrew Grieve of Edinburgh. © McConnell Fine Books.

What is interesting about these two Dundee bindings is the degree of precise instruction that Peter Carmichael must have been giving his binders.  This was how he wanted his books by Arthur Helps to be bound – and for further proof of that, Nick McConnell (McConnell Fine Books), down in Deal, has another Helps book bound for Carmichael in exactly the same style, the four volume Spanish Conquest in America (1855-1861).  To all intents and purposes the same design, but this time bound by Andrew Grieve of Edinburgh.

George Williamson: Memorials of the Lineage, Early Life, Education, and Development of the Genius of James Watt. Edinburgh, 1856. Bound for Peter Carmichael by William Smith of Dundee.

George Williamson: Memorials of the Lineage, Early Life, Education, and Development of the Genius of James Watt. Edinburgh, 1856. Bound for Peter Carmichael by William Smith of Dundee.

Quite why Carmichael should have used three different binders, when to use one could have led to an even more precise matching of design is a mystery.  Perhaps none of them were getting it quite right, but Carmichael’s archive, papers and journals are now at the University of Dundee and perhaps the answer lies there, should anyone wish to look.

The evidence that this was Carmichael’s specific design just for books by Helps is conjectural (i.e. I’m guessing) – does anyone know of others? – but the meagre information I can find on other bindings executed for Carmichael on books by other authors, all look to be quite different in style.  There is an architectural book in the National Library of Scotland bound for Carmichael by Brechin in green morocco, and a travel book in blue morocco by Smith turned up at auction a couple of years ago. But after scouring the world of books on the internet, the only image it revealed that I could reproduce was of a book (another bound by William Smith in the early 1860s) already sitting here forgotten on my own shelves.  There may be a lesson in that.

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Priscilla Mary Warner (1905-1994)

Magazine cover 1923

© Loughton County High School for Girls

I noted in passing in the previous post that Frank Ford was first cousin to the children’s writer and illustrator Priscilla Mary Warner (1905-1994) – and as there does not seem to be a great deal of information about her out there either, I thought I might as well follow up with something on her. Once again, I am grateful to the Ford family for a great deal of help and encouragement.

Priscilla Mary Warner was born Priscilla Mary Ellingford at Forest Gate in East London on 2nd March 1905 – the youngest child and only daughter of Arthur Walter Ellingford (1862-1942) and his wife Edith Hays Keeler (1874-1964), a milliner, whom he had married in 1900.  Arthur Ellingford, once a master mason employing his own men, later became a foreman in a local de-silverisation factory, and later still an accounts clerk.

His daughter, named Priscilla after his mother, attended Loughton County High School for Girls.  Her earliest known published work is this cover she produced for the school magazine in 1923 – the same year in which she was awarded an Essex County Arts Scholarship.  From there she went to the Royal College of Art, becoming an Associate in 1926.  Her first recorded book-illustrations, those for Rosamund Essex, Stories of Missionary Saints, appeared the same year.  It was published by the “Junior Work Department” of the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts and there is seemingly no copy in the British Library.

christmas1931In 1931, she illustrated Eleanor Graham’s Welcome Christmas! Legends, Carols, Stories, Riddles, Etc., published by Ernest Benn.  The press was enthusiastic: “Anyone, young or old, who remembers the thrill of gathering Christmas holly in the woods, and the delicious rustling secrecy of wrapping up the family’s presents on Christmas Eve, will like Miss Eleanor Graham’s book.  Old stories and carols, legends of Christmas and the good Saint Nicholas, Christmas games (do children still play “General Post” and “London Street Cries”? — if not, why not?).  This is as attractive a Christmas pot-pourri as one could wish for.  The lively black-and-white illustrations by Priscilla M. Ellingford are plentiful and just right” (Yorkshire Post, 16th December 1931).

To my eye, there is a touch of the Eric Gill about her illustrations from this period – a style she was to repeat for Eleanor Graham’s High Days and Holidays: Stories, Legends and Customs of Red-Letter Days, again published by Ernest Benn, which came out the following year.

Her career seems to have been placed on hold for a few years when she married the Rev. Keith Stanley Warner (1903-1971) at West Ham in 1934.  A local man, he was a graduate of Leeds University and the couple were soon living at St. Saviour’s Vicarage, Arcadia Street, Poplar.  No doubt the life of a vicar’s wife in the pre-war East End brought challenges of its own.  Embroidery MaryThere followed spells in Reading and Ealing, but the marriage seems soon to have foundered and presumably ended in divorce.  Her husband was remarried to Vera Kathleen Deschampsneufs (talk about fresh fields and pastures new!), a nursery-school teacher, in 1943.

The most active and distinctive part of Priscilla Warner’s career as an author and illustrator began in the years following the war.  In 1948 she published both Biddy Christmas and Embroidery Mary.  The former, published by Basil Blackwell, is the story of a ten-year-old girl and her pretty grey donkey, Biddy, mixed in with some Bible legends and a message on the true meaning of Christmas. There was also an American edition, published by Doubleday in 1950.  

Mr&Mrs Cherry1Embroidery Mary, published by George G. Harrap, recounts the tale of a little girl who goes to stay with her uncle and aunt.  Her aunt teaches her needlework and embroidery step-by-step and the young reader is given beautifully illustrated lessons at the same time.  It remains hugely popular and sought-after in the needlework community and led to a number of more explicitly instructional publications, including Pictures and Patchwork, published at Leicester by the Dryad Press in 1950.  There were later editions reissued as Embroidered Pictures & Patchwork in 1960 and 1964 and there were also at least three Dryad Handicrafts leaflets – No. 136 – Embroidered Dresses for Children, No. 139 – Embroidery with Braid and Binding, and No. 141 – Embroidery for the Nursery.

Her Picture Come True (1951), again published by Blackwell, relates, I regret to say, the story of a failed bookshop.  A dream of escape to the country also fails, but the bookseller’s daughter’s drawing of the perfect little country house keeps hope alive.  This too had an American edition, published the following year.

Tessie Growing Up (1952) was again from Blackwell.  Blessed with generous parents, Mr&Mrs Cherry6young Tessie buys a derelict gipsy caravan and restores it to its former glory as a play-house. The American edition, retitled Tessie’s Caravan, was published by Doubleday in 1953.  From 1952 onwards, the SPCK published some cut-out sheets of her work on religious themes, and in 1953 there were “cut-out folders” called The Advent House and Santa Klaus. A Christmas Play in 8 Scenes – the only copies of these I can trace are in the National Library of Scotland: I have not seen them and am not wholly clear about them.

Also published late in 1953 (although dated 1954) was the delightful Mr and Mrs Cherry from Harrap – a personal favourite in the family:

Mr&Mrs Cherry10“Where Ann lives there is a Weather House on the table in the hall. Do you know why it is called a Weather House?  It’s because the little wooden man and the little wooden woman who live in it are there to tell you if it will be wet or fine.  

The man and woman in Ann’s Weather House are called Mr and Mrs Cherry, because their round, shiny red cheeks look like cherries.  If Ann sees Mrs Cherry outside she knows it will be fine. But if Mr Cherry is outside, with his umbrella up, she knows it will be wet. 

Ann was very fond of Mr and Mrs Cherry, and generally spoke to them when she passed by. Sometimes she thought that Mr Cherry winked …”.

A slight change of tack brought A Friend for Frances (1956) – also published in German asA Friend for Frances2 Franziska findet eine Freundin – and its sequel, If It Hadn’t Been for Frances (1957), both published by Collins – young girl from poor farming background wins place at High School, etc. – but these appear not to have her own vibrant illustrations.  This was certainly the case with her final book, The Paradise Summer (1963), again published by Collins, which was illustrated by Pru Seward.  It once again reiterates the countryside, family, farm, animal and friendship themes.

Priscilla Warner had moved to Ripon in Yorkshire in the 1950s and taught art at the local college.  Her elder brother, the Rev. (Harold) David Ellingford (1904-1988), was the vicar there, living at the vicarage with their mother – premises which she also shared from time to time.  She taught until her retirement after a period as head of the Art Department at Ripon College and in her retirement lived with her brother at nearby Masham.  She died on 27th January 1994 at Greenwell House Nursing Home at Bedale, aged eighty-eight.

My thanks are due once more to the Ford family, in particular Linden Ford, for most of the information and all of the pictures (except where noted) – and the Deschampsneufs joke.

For anyone interested in collecting, curating, or dealing in children’s books, there could be no better opportunity than attending this summer’s London Rare Books School course, Children’s Books, 1450-2000, being taught by my friend and colleague Jill Shefrin.  Full details can be downloaded from the link below.  (There are also a few places left on my own The Modern Rare Book Trade course).

IES Children’s LRBS Flyer Oct 17

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Frank Ford

Frank Ford jacket for "Barmy in Wonderland" (1952)

Frank Ford jacket for “Barmy in Wonderland” (1952).

No-one with even a passing interest in British twentieth-century first editions will fail to recognise the work of the artist and cartoonist Frank Ford, if only for the series of dust-jackets he produced for the fiction of P. G. Wodehouse either side of 1950 – a sustained sequence commencing with “Money in the Bank” in 1946 and ending with “Barmy in Wonderland” in 1952.  The vibrant colour, the economy and verve of line, the theatrical expressions and the bold and confident boxy signature all make his work instantly identifiable.  For all that, it was only a chance exchange with a new customer which led me to think a little bit further about him – a customer (and thank-you to him) attempting to collect books decorated with his less well-known dust-jackets.  What a delightful notion, to build a whole collection of Ford jackets to be displayed together.

Frank Ford signatureIt is said that Ford’s work was much influenced by the American “New Yorker” school and there is some truth in that, but this is a very British style, showing at least as much affinity with the world of the saucy seaside postcard as anything more exotic.  It is a world of chinless wonders and innocents abroad, Colonel Blimps and rubicund majors, horrifying aunts, portly clerics, imperious butlers, decent chaps with pipes, not-so-dumb blondes, and flash types with dodgy moustaches.  A friendly and familiar world of stereotypes and just perfect for

“Ow often must I tell ’im about ’is tone values?”

“Ow often must I tell ’im about ’is tone values?” From “You Needn’t Laugh” (1935).

Wodehouse – a world in which we don’t take ourselves too seriously and all-too-human foibles are treated with affection and a generosity of spirit – although Ford’s cartoons can also have a subversive, or at least a self-deprecating, edge – the neat role reversal of the nude model herself painting the artist in a silly pose – or the delightful Cockney char who tidies up the artist’s paintings as well as his studio – “Ow often must I tell ’im about ’is tone values?”

Frank Ford jacket for "Joy in the Morning" (1947).

Frank Ford jacket for “Joy in the Morning” (1947).

What I didn’t expect about such a familiar figure was that there should be such a dearth of reliable information about him.  I searched reference books and the internet in vain for something more substantial than a short statement about his period of activity and some brief examples of the work.  There is no mention of him at all on the British Cartoon Archive website, which seems to be an extraordinary lapse.  He didn’t prove easy to track down, but luck and serendipity played their part.

Frank Wallis Ford (1906-1970) was born on 28th June 1906 at Hurstbourne Road, Forest Hill, in South London, the elder of the two sons of Harry Cecil Ford (1875-1917), a clerk to a firm of brokers in pearls and precious stones, later killed in action on the Western Front, and his wife, the Peckham-born Cecilia

Frank Ford jacket for "Full Moon" (1947).
Frank Ford jacket for “Full Moon” (1947).

Hunter Keeler (1875-1964).  Ford’s parents had been married in 1904 and by 1911, the family, now enlarged by the birth of his younger brother, Geoffrey Ford (1909-1976), were living at 69 Silverdale, between Sydenham Station and Sydenham Recreation Ground (now known as Mayow Park).  After his father’s death, the family moved to the eastern suburbs and Ford was educated at Chigwell School.

There was an artistic streak in the family – the children’s author and illustrator Priscilla Mary Warner, née Ellingford, (1905-1994) was a first cousin on his mother’s side – and after leaving school, Ford studied for a time at Bournemouth Art College.  He is then reported to have worked for the giant publishing house of C. Arthur Pearson Ltd., but by the age of twenty his independent cartoons were already being regularly accepted for publication by “The Bystander”.

From "The Bystander", 31st July 1929. © Illustrated London News Group. Image courtesy of The British Library Board.

“It breaks my heart, Lorna …”. From “The Bystander”, 31st July 1929. © Illustrated London News Group. Image courtesy of The British Library Board.

His work evolved rapidly in style, the earliest of it barely distinguishable from the kind of thing that had been appearing in “Punch” for years, but soon developing via the occasional almost Beardsley-like elaboration into a recognisable art deco phase – razor-sharp renditions of flappers and their beaux in dramatic black-and-white – and from there, through an increasing economy of line, into his own highly individual style.  The humour could be sharp too – a holiday romance abruptly ends in 1929 with the words, “It breaks my heart, Lorna, to think that by this time next week I shall have completely forgotten you”.  His double-page spreads of social types under such headings as “Public Enemies” and “Better Uninvited” – caricatures of the Aesthete, the Balloon Burster, the Buttonholer, the Coy-Maker, the Mistletoe Fiend, the Raconteur, the Wet Blanket, and all the other types best avoided at parties – are a particular joy, as are the limericks of his “Weeds from Poetry’s Garden” sequence.

A collection of his cartoons, some of which had previously appeared in “The Bystander”, NeedntLaughwas published in a generous large format by Methuen in 1935 under the title “You Needn’t Laugh”, and by this stage he was also contributing to many of the other popular magazines of the day – “Lilliput”, “Passing Show”, “Punch”, “Strand”, “Tatler”, etc.  He was also undertaking advertising work and occasional book illustration – illustrations, for example, for Alec Waugh’s “Eight Short Stories”, published by Cassell in 1937, and the British edition of “Why Should Penguins Fly?”, written by the really rather risqué American cabaret performer, Dwight Fiske, and published by Robert Hale, also in 1937.  There is a splendid coloured Ford dust-jacket for the latter, if you can find one – and I’m told that the book was always strictly off-limits to Ford’s children.

Frank Ford at war. Photograph courtesy of the Ford family.

Frank Ford at war. Photograph courtesy of the Ford family.

In the spring of 1939, Ford joined the Territorial Army in anticipation of the coming war, subsequently becoming a lieutenant in the regular army’s 157th (Hants) Royal Armoured Corps.  Posted to North Africa in 1942, his artistic skills were made good use of in the development of Montgomery’s inventive camouflage schemes and the brilliantly successful deceptive ploy involving dummy tanks, fake artillery, bases, dumps and pipelines.  Ford even appears to have been seconded for a time to a wholly fictitious 101st Royal Tank Regiment as part of the overall deception.  Having seen action in Egypt, Cyrenaica, Palestine and Syria, he returned to England in August 1944.  After the cessation of hostilities, he then spent some time in Germany helping to deal with the colossal numbers of “displaced persons” – in his case Latvian ones –

Frank Ford jacket for John Jowett's "Travellers' Joy" (1950).

Frank Ford jacket for John Jowett’s “Travellers’ Joy” (1950).

Latvia having been ravaged by both the Nazis and the Soviets.  No doubt aided by his gentle humour and the ability to play a “mean pub piano”, he made many friends.  I am very much indebted to his family for information on this and many other points, as well as this photograph of Ford in action in the desert.*

In England once more, Ford resumed his former career.  He also married Joan Burgoyne, née Rayner, (1916-1992), originally from Hampstead, at Bournemouth in 1947.  His style now pared to utter simplicity of line and mass, in the years either side of 1950 Ford produced a good many dust-jackets for Herbert Jenkins Ltd. – not just the well-known Wodehouse titles already mentioned, but also fresh designs for reprints of earlier Wodehouse books and jackets for other authors from the stylish Jenkins stable of humourists – the now largely forgotten “John Glyder” (Allen George Roper, 1888-1957), John Aves Jowett (1921-1960), and others.

Frank & Geoffrey Ford, "Digby's Holiday" (1951). Courtesy of the Ford family.

Frank & Geoffrey Ford, “Digby’s Holiday” (1951). Courtesy of the Ford family.

He also illustrated the now seemingly impossible-to-find children’s book, “Digby’s Holiday” (1951) – the story of a crane leaving its building site to have its own seaside holiday and causing mayhem – this, a particular favourite in his own family, was co-produced with his younger brother, Geoffrey Ford, who had himself earlier written “Hedgehog’s Holiday” (1938) and “Patsy Mouse” (1947) – both illustrated by Helen Haywood (1908-1995), creator of the “Peter Tiggywig” books, a skilled fore-edge painter, and a lifelong friend of Frank Ford and his family from his Bournemouth Art College days.


© Colnect.

Ford’s later activities concentrated rather more on his work in advertising (he was art-buyer for the Everett’s agency for some time).  Some of us, those of a certain age, will very well remember the Fremlin’s Brewery “Elephant” campaign – Ford’s images of friendly elephants ubiquitous on buses, billboards, and beer-mats – and he also created posters for such events as the Toy Fair.  His career subsequently wound down with the onset of angina, although he continued to produce the weekly “Minnie” cartoon series for “Woman’s Realm” from 1958 until his death in 1970.  He died at the age of sixty-four on 28th July 1970 at Ashford Hospital near Staines.

"Which do you recommend for a whist drive?" For "Woman's Realm", 4th December 1965. Courtesy of the Ford family.

“Which do you recommend for a whist drive?” From “Woman’s Realm”, 4th December 1965. Courtesy of the Ford family.

Mourning his death and the first ever issue of the magazine not to have a fresh “Minnie” cartoon, a colleague from “Woman’s Realm” remembered him and his old-school virtues in words that can hardly be bettered:

“Frank was our friend and we all loved him.  People who met him casually took him for a jolly, breezy, light-hearted man.  In fact, he was deeply sensitive, thoughtful and – like so many humourists – serious-minded and rather sad at heart about the silliness of the world.

Before his last illness, he had been twice in hospital, forbidden to work.  He never said a word to us.  He drew Minnie secretly under the bedclothes and had her smuggled out to the post.  He was a professional and he never let us down.

Frank Wallis Ford (1906-1970). From "Woman's Realm", 19th September, 1970. Courtesy of the Ford family.

Frank Wallis Ford (1906-1970). From “Woman’s Realm”, 19th September, 1970. Courtesy of the Ford family.

Quite recently, by chance, we discovered that he had been devoting a great deal of time to social work.  He never talked about it.  The truly good don’t advertise the good they do.  He would have hated us to catalogue his virtues or to probe into this other work he did so self-effacingly.  He is still entitled to his reticence.  So we simply record our lasting affection and gratitude to a friend and colleague, and send our deepest sympathy to his wife and children”.

I am extremely grateful to those same children, Nick and Linden, for their incredibly generous help in putting together this snapshot of their father’s life.   

*For both a more complete account of Ford’s wartime experiences and a case-study in the use of army records, there is an article by Nick Ford entitled “Tracing Frank’s War” in the May 2014 issue of “Your Family Tree” magazine, pp.42-44.

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Lacking a Plate – A Good Thing?

43385I suspect that most booksellers (whether they are willing to admit it or not) have half a shelf or so (rather more in my case) of books that became in some way problematic in the course of cataloguing.  Books which were then put aside to be dealt with on another and perhaps more auspicious occasion.  An occasion which in most instances never quite seems to arrive, but full of New Year resolve and resolution I thought I might rescue one or two of these lost souls from their period in limbo.

Immediately I ground to a halt again.  What am I to make of this?  A 1926 privately printed book of memorial tributes to that great librarian Sir John Young Walker MacAlister (1856-1925) – “The Incomparable Mac” – Librarian and Secretary of the Royal Society of Medicine, founder and editor of “The Library”, Hon. Sec. of the Library Association, etc. – you can look him up in ODNB or on Wikipedia, if you feel so inclined, and there is a 1983 Library Association biography by Shane Godbolt and W. A. Munford.  It’s a book I acquired years ago from the late Barry Bloomfield, himself a librarian of great note, also known as the bibliographer of Auden and Larkin, a much-missed friend who at one time was Director of Collection Development at the British Library.

Sir John Young Walker MacAlister

Sir John Young Walker MacAlister

It is a copy that has evidently been specially bound, although whether it is one of the twelve special copies bound by Cedric Chivers (as apparently are copies in the British Library and National Library of Scotland) is not made clear.  It probably is (needs checking), because as internal inscriptions make plain, this copy once belonged to MacAlister’s widow, Elizabeth MacAlister (1854?-1939).  The inscriptions, in the hand of the MacAlisters’ eldest son, Donald Alexander MacAlister (1875-1968), also make it clear that he was the editor of this graceful little volume, which is something I don’t think we knew before.  In addition, there are pencilled notes identifying the anonymous authors of several of the tributes.

So far, so good.  Nice little book, not exactly rare, but at least uncommon, and with a very attractive provenance.  But then on checking it – there should be five photogravure plates (all portrait photographs of MacAlister taken by his son) – and this copy only has four.  One has pretty obviously been forcibly removed.  The book is defective, which would normally be the end of the matter – not worth cataloguing.  But then again, we all like a book with a narrative to go with it – a book with its own personal story to tell – and this one does.  An inscription by the editor spells out exactly what happened: “My mother hated the full face photo which I had had placed here & cut it out.  I can quite sympathise with her action for Sir John was ill & I ought not to have printed a photo which so obviously showed it. D. M.”

inscriptionI note in passing that one of the British Library copies is also catalogued as having just four plates – has this been similarly doctored?  We have the evidence that the editor regretted including the photograph – perhaps it was removed from copies not distributed immediately.  But the problem remains that however interesting my copy might be, who is going pay good money (or any money at all) for a defective book?  It runs counter to everything we understand and have been taught about book-collecting.

But then again, unless you simply wanted a soulless text to work from, would you not rather have this copy with its close family connections, its back-story and its special binding than a run-of-the-mill copy?  And if that is the case, should I be pricing it at more than a complete copy?  Surely not – but why not?  While I ponder these questions, I think you may find that the book has once again quietly made its way back to its place on the limbo shelf.

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Son of London

Christmas in Electric Avenue, Brixton

Christmas in Electric Avenue, Brixton


Born in Brixton in South London, that literary outsider Thomas Burke (1886-1945) recalls a suburban Christmas of the early 1890s.  A seasonal extract from his posthumously published “Son of London” (1946).

Yorkshire Post, 20th September 1946

Yorkshire Post, 20th September 1946

“I was five years old, and I was in a small candle-lit room in a small house in a dim by-street of a South London suburb, standing as it were in a vortex whirling with the hues of glory.  The glory was composed of many elements; of the street whose rumour came faintly through closed curtains; of a bright wood fire; of sprigs of green stuff with scarlet berries; of Kate Greenaway’s pictures, and the odour of tangerine oranges and the frosty glitter of mince-pies, and a coloured catalogue of Dickins & Jones; of the unearthly mystery of voices in the outer dark singing songs about Good Kings and Shepherds; of shops radiant with storms of light and unimagined treasure; of cards showing scenes in crimson and green and gold of baronial halls or village streets or cottages with lit windows in landscapes of snow, into all of which I could enter as into the rooms of a real house or into the street round the corner; and of the carnival shapes of tins and boxes, and the gay trifles called crackers.

crackersAt the heart of this glory was something that was called Christmas, and this Christmas illuminated the people about me, and my feelings and sensations, as it illuminated the room.  It was not a date in a calendar, a day of the year, a celebration or a holiday.  It was a living presence that set the air tingling, and pervaded all things and transfigured them with its burst of colour – colour blushing, blazing, shining, sparkling.  It had brought at once a hush and a stir; a hush of common living and a stir of new and vital being.  For the first time in my short memory life had come alive; everybody had woken up; and in that exaltation they all, even the most tiresome, became dear to me, and all things became charged with goodness.

Bon MarcheThat, I felt, was Real Life.  All I had known before in my five years, all I had heard talked of as Real Life, had been a grey sham.  That something called Christmas was life as I remembered it at some time that I couldn’t really remember; some time before I entered the cage of this world and that dim street and that little room.  Everything was resolved into living colour and odour and delight – the bright eyes of crystallised fruits, the odour of burning wood, the glow of oranges and the purple of wet streets, and the miles of grieving lamplight whose very grievousness was delight – all were fused into one harmony of spirit and sense called Christmas.

Kate Greenaway Christmas Card

Kate Greenaway Christmas Card

The miracle had been wrought of simple things. There was seldom, in that home, a sixpence to spare at the week’s end, but out of a handful of hoarded coppers an effect was created of the bursting of a flower into bloom.  A few penny toys; a few half-penny Christmas-cards; a ha’porth of holly; a fourpenny box of crackers; a sixpenny box of crystallised fruits; a present of mince-pies; a more generous fire than usual, and two candles instead of one, and somebody’s discarded Kate Greenaway book – and up came that mystery, or sense of mystery, which is the true Christmas”.

Thomas Burke 1886-1945

Thomas Burke 1886-1945

Unaccountably ignored by the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Burke is best-known as the author of the notorious and much reprinted “Limehouse Nights” (1916) – the short stories of which provided silent films for both D. W. Griffiths and Charlie Chaplin.  A journalist, anthologist, novelist and short-story writer, he is also remembered for “Twinkletoes : A Tale of Chinatown” (1917);  “Whispering Windows : Tales of the Waterside” (1921); “East of Mansion House” (1928); “The Bloomsbury Wonder” (1929): “Night-Pieces : Eighteen Tales” (1935); “Victorian Grotesque” (1941), “Dark Nights” (1944), etc. – as well as a sequence of books on his native London, much revered by his fellow Londoners – “Nights in Town : A London Autobiography” (1914); “London Lamps : A Book of Songs” (1917); “Out and About, a Note-Book of London in War-Time” (1919); “The Outer Circle : Rambles in Remote London” (1921); “The London Spy : A Book of Town Travels” (1922); “City of Encounters : A London Divertissement” (1932); “The Real East End” (1932) – this with glorious illustrations by Pearl Binder; “London in My Time” (1934); “Dinner is Served! or, Eating Round the World in London” (1937), “The Streets of London” (1940), etc.     

city-of-encountersBiographical information is often wanting or contradictory, but, for the record, Burke was born in Brixton on 30th November 1886, the son of James Burke (1825?-1887), a sixty-one-year-old retired clerk and store-keeper foreman in the civil service, and his considerably younger second wife, Emily Williams (1847-1932), a cook and the daughter of a local coachman.  The couple had married at Herne Hill in 1881. Burke was baptised, as Sidney Thomas Burke, on 4th February 1887 at St. Mark, Kennington, the family then living at 43 St. Lawrence Road, Brixton.  His father died just over a month later, in March, leaving just a fraction over £50 to his widow and two infant children.

His mother was compelled to work as a caretaker, Burke’s childhood was peripatetic and he spent some years in the London Orphan Asylum at Watford.  Selling his first short story at the age of sixteen, by the age of twenty-four he was supporting the family, by now living at Craigton Road in Eltham.  He was at that time supplementing his writing income by working as secretary to a literary agent.  His elder sister, Annie Louisa Burke (b.1884) was working as a waitress and the family finances were helped out by a paying lodger, Rudolf Weber, an Austrian bank-clerk.

When he married Winifred Wells (1896-1983), the daughter of an East End blacksmith, at East Ham Congregational Church on 9th September 1918, he was living at 28 Oakmead Road, Balham – just a five-minute walk from where I sit.  He died on 22nd September 1945 and was cremated at Golders Green a few days later, leaving a rather meagre estate of just £288.3s.6d.  

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Tom and the Crocodiles

Dolores del RioA very attractive haul this year from last weekend’s Chelsea Book Fair.  Always a joy to visit, and I managed to bring away just about as many books as I could carry on both the Friday and the Saturday.  Business all around seemed brisk – and footfall was considerably up on last year.  Good to see all those friends, old and new, and so many smiling faces.

Cataloguing the fresh acquisitions began well when I managed to include a reference to Dolores del Rio wearing this extraordinary outfit – a nice copy of Eric Ambler’s “Journey into Fear” (1940), a masterpiece of a spy thriller and a book I’ve not had a copy of since 2003.  (Dolores del Rio played the exotic cabaret dancer in the 1943 Orson Welles movie version).

Hide my EyesThen a copy of Margery Allingham’s “Hide My Eyes” (1958) – this copy descending from the family of the girl who appears in the photo on the dust-jacket (apparently Margery Allingham’s niece).  And on to dealing with this fabulous art-deco dust-jacket design by Alan Rogers for the British edition of Ursula Parrott’s very modern bright-young-things novel, “Ex-Wife” (1929), filmed the following year as “The Divorcee” – Norma Shearer took Best Actress at the Academy Awards. Does anyone know anything about Alan Rogers?  He did a few posters for London Transport at about this time, but I don’t know what else.  Otherwise, I can’t see how I can make a profit on this one – paid over the odds just for the joy of owning it for a while – but fingers-crossed I shall get my money back.  (Do other booksellers do this?  Probably not – at least not the successful ones).

Ex-WifeLots of further fun to be had in cataloguing the rest, but I think my favourite so far (although by no means the most valuable) is “Tom and the Crocodiles” (dated 1867, but published late in 1866) by Anne Bowman (1796-1886).  Not an author I’d come across before (at least I don’t think so), but she seems to have been just about the only woman writing these over-the-top and dramatically illustrated adventure stories – think Mayne Reid, R. M. Ballantyne and George Manville Fenn.

Tom and the Crocodiles“A new work, from the pen of Miss Anne Bowman, full of adventurous excitement and hair-breadth escapes from all kinds of peril. A family are shipped from London to a West India island, where they pass through a never-ending series of vicissitudes enough to daunt the energies of the strongest amongst the members of it.  No one can complain of monotony who peruses these spirit-stirring pages” – a review of “Tom and the Crocodiles” when it first came out in November 1866 from “Bell’s Life in London and Sporting Chronicle”.  What with shipwrecks, pirates, slavers, rapids, jaguars, panthers and native risings, not to mention the unremitting piety and platitudes of the mother, the crocodiles were probably the least of the Selwyn family’s worries.

Frontispiece to Tom and the CrocodilesAnne Bowman was one of the early front-runners in this particular field.  Mayne Reid’s first novel had appeared in 1850, Ballantyne’s first book for children came out in 1856, Manville Fenn’s later still.  Her own, “Laura Temple. A Tale for the Young”, was published in 1852, soon to followed by “Travels of Rolando” (1853); “Esperanza; or, The Home of the Wanderers” (1855); “The Castaways” (1857); “The Young Exiles” (1858); “The Boy Voyagers” and “The Kangaroo Hunters” (both 1859);  “The Bear-Hunters of the Rocky Mountains” (1860); “Among the Tartar Tents” (1861); “The Young Yachtsmen” (1864); “The Boy Foresters : A Tale of the Days of Robin Hood” (1867) and several more, finding time in between to produce other books including, inter alia, “Charade Dramas for the Drawing-Room” (1855); “Routledge’s New Reading Made Easy : A First Book of Lessons” (1855); “Poetry : Selected for the Use of Schools and Families” (1856); her own poems, “The Norman Invasion, and The Day of Rinrory” (1857); “The Common Things of Every-Day Life : A Book of Home Wisdom for Mothers and Daughters” (1857); the intriguing “How to Make the Best of It : A Domestic Tale for Young Ladies” (1861), and even “The New Cookery Book” (1867) – a book of “plump, well-stuffed, nicely-coloured, and tempting appearance, well suited to the subject”, according to the “Illustrated London News”.

© Lavender Fields Books

© Lavender Fields Books

Her books do not seem to be particularly easy to find – at least not in decent condition – but they don’t appear to be particularly expensive either.  For all her evident productivity and contemporary popularity, there seems to have been very little written about her, even by the specialists in children’s fiction. Not even her biographical dates seem to have been firmly established, library catalogues contenting themselves with the fairly self-evident, “Bowman, Anne, active 19th century”.  In fact, she was originally a bookseller, and more than that, a bookseller’s daughter, coming to writing in mid-life with a fully developed eye for what sold and what didn’t.  She may not have had the first-hand experience of adventure in foreign climes of a Reid or a Ballantyne, but she had lived among the inspiration and information on the shelves around her all her life.

Bradford Daily Telegraph, 31st July 1886

Bradford Daily Telegraph, 31st July 1886

For those who want or need to know, she was born at Stanwick St. John in North Yorkshire in 1796, the eldest child of Thomas Bowman and his wife Ann Pulleine Johnston, who had married the previous year.  Moving to nearby Richmond, her father built up a business from 1799 as a combination of bookseller, bookbinder, printer, stationer, owner of a circulating library, and music-seller – a business which passed to Anne Bowman and her younger brother, Thomas Johnston Bowman (1798-1871), in the 1830s.  By 1851 they were employing five men, with their aged parents both still alive and living with them in Bank Yard. Ten years later, Thomas Johnston Bowman had joined his father in becoming a legal clerk, while Anne Bowman, on the back of her success as a writer, could list her occupation simply as that of a railway shareholder. She stopped writing in the late 1860s when she reached her seventies, but lived on for another twenty years or so, dying at Richmond aged ninety-one in July 1886.

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