There Will Be Fun

evanion broadstairs

© The British Library Board. Pressmark Evan.2668. – M. Evanion’s conjuring entertainment at the Assembly Rooms, Broadstairs, 1873.

“There Will Be Fun”, promises the British Library with its new exhibition on the world of Victorian Entertainments.  And so there is – plenty of it.  The material is drawn mainly from the Library’s Evanion Collection, an extraordinary archive of five or six thousand ephemeral nineteenth-century items – posters, flyers, handbills, advertisements, programmes, tickets and so on – put together by Londoner Henry Evans (1832?-1905) – better known as “Evanion”, conjurer and ventriloquist, and quite a star of the variety halls in his prime.  In old age, in ill-health, and down on his luck, he apparently sold the entire collection to the British Museum in 1895 for a pound – any more than that, it seems, and the purchase would have had to be approved by the trustees, who would undoubtedly have said no.  The value, foresight, imagination and instincts of private collectors and the purblindness of the great and good appointed to boards of trustees seem to be eternal verities.

© The British Library Board.  Pressmark Evan.408.  “The Mahatmas Outdone”, presented at the Egyptian Hall by Maskelyne and Cooke in 1891.  Lithographed by Culliford & Sons.

© The British Library Board. Pressmark Evan.408. “The Mahatmas Outdone”, presented at the Egyptian Hall by Maskelyne and Cooke in 1891. Lithographed by Culliford & Sons.

Evanion would no doubt been better offering his collection to Clara Millard (see previous post), who herself had connections to this Victorian world of theatre and illusion – but more of her next week.  The exhibition is built around five larger-than-life characters of the period – first of all Evanion himself, and a career and a publicity machine built on what was perhaps a single a royal performance.  Next up is John Nevil Maskelyne (1839-1917), rather more famous as a magician and illusionist than Evanion and, much to his credit, a scourge of cardsharpers and fake spiritualists.  Originally trained as a watchmaker – his partner George Alfred Cooke (1825-1905) was a cabinet-maker – Maskelyne was a master of the mechanical.  Their tenancy of the Egyptian Hall in Piccadilly ran from 1873 to 1905 and throughout the period this was “England’s Home of Mystery”, the home of stage magic and in particular “Psycho” and “Zoe”, Maskelyne’s card-playing and portrait-drawing automata.  Maskelyne is claimed to have invented the trick of levitation and, on a more prosaic level, he patented a coin-operated lock of the type still in use in the public lavatories of my childhood.

© The British Library Board.  Pressmark Evan.2005.  Sanger’s Grand National Amphitheatre, Lambeth, 1881.  Lithographed by James Upton, Birmingham.

© The British Library Board. Pressmark Evan.2005. Sanger’s Grand National Amphitheatre, Lambeth, 1881. Lithographed by James Upton, Birmingham.

“Something new under the sun twice daily” was the tag-line of “Lord” George Sanger (1825-1911), greatest showman of the age, master of the travelling circus, and later the tenant of more permanent theatrical arenas, including the famous old Astley’s Amphitheatre in London.  His autobiography was simply called “Seventy Years a Showman : My Life and Adventures in Camp and Caravan the World Over” (1908).  Helen Peden, the British Library curator in charge of the exhibition, drew our attention to a passage recounting a bloody battle on the public highway with a rival travelling troupe, each group intent on reaching the best pitch first.  Sanger’s  murder in 1911 made national headlines and thousands attended his funeral.

© The British Library Board.  Pressmark Evan.260.  – Oxford Hall, Ilfracombe.  Miss Annie de Montford, 1881.

© The British Library Board. Pressmark Evan.260. – Oxford Hall, Ilfracombe. Miss Annie de Montford, 1881.

Annie de Montford (1836-1882) was variously billed as “the psychological star”, “the most renowned lady electro-biologist of the age”, and “the most powerful mesmerist in the world – the marvel of the two hemispheres”.  Originally a millworker but carried along by her belief that powers of the mind can enable you to become anything that you want to be, she was part scientist, part variety turn.  The “Midland Examiner” (18th March, 1876) gave an account of her “Two Hours in the World of Wonders” show: volunteers were mesmerised and made to believe they were being chased by wasps, that they had been shipwrecked, that they were circus performers, or soldiers, or members of Parliament, or dentists, etc.  She closed the eyes of members of the audience with sounds and no matter how hard they tried they could not open them again until she released them from her spell.  And she turned a man into a corpse of suspended animation, placing him between two chairs, supported only by his neck and feet – “while in this position a young man stood on his legs without the least emotion on the part of the inanimate and without his knowledge entirely.  His eyes were totally deprived of sight and the limbs rigid marble”.

The fifth and final colourful character is of course Dan Leno (George Wild Galvin, 1860-1904) – quondam clog-dancer, comic singer, pantomime dame and comedian, billed as “the funniest man on earth”.  He is plausibly thought of as the inventor of stand-up.  With the possible exception of the immortal Marie Lloyd, there was no greater music-hall star in late Victorian England.

Alongside the exhibits, there are five video clips of specially commissioned original performance pieces inspired by collection and in part recreating the acts of the pivotal figures.  In addition, the “There Will Be Fun Repertory Company”, organised, like the performance pieces, by entertainer and co-curator Christopher Green, will be giving live Saturday afternoon performances,  and there is a full programme of special events, all in the cause of “bringing the British Library’s collections to life”.

I have nothing against any of this, and will probably be turning up for a performance or two.  Christopher Green is an interesting and thoroughly engaging man and I was still humming his “There Will be Fun” song (“There is Learning – For the Discerning”) – to myself several days after our guided tour.  But I do begin to wonder if this ubiquitous quest to “bring collections to life”, is actually starting to deflect attention away from the material itself.  Nothing needs resurrection if it is not actually dead – and these collections certainly aren’t.

Alfred Concanen, “Modern Advertising: A Railway Station”.  Printed by Stannard & Son.  From Henry Sampson, “A History of Advertising from the Earliest Times” 1874.

Alfred Concanen, “Modern Advertising: A Railway Station”. Printed by Stannard & Son. From Henry Sampson, “A History of Advertising from the Earliest Times” 1874.

I say this because there are whole parallel narratives to this exhibition.  It is a celebration of the performing arts, certainly, but without the noise and the razzamatazz, it is also a perfect feast of Victorian commercial printing (click on the images to enlarge).  It is a tale of the emergence and rapid universality of colour printing.  It is a specific chapter in the history of design.  It is the story of a new breed of specialist theatrical printers.  It is a full report on the birth of modern advertising.  As that doyen of bibliographers, G.  Thomas Tanselle, put it long ago, the exhibits themselves “are there, holding clues to their own history, and we must try to learn all we can from the physical evidence they preserve.  They are, after all, the primary evidence …  physical objects that are themselves pieces of historical evidence”.

There are other lives here – ones not so readily accessible on Wikipedia.  For the historian of print, there are colour printers unknown the historian of colour printing, Robert M.  Burch – a couple unknown even to his successors, Wakeman, Bridson and Gascoigne.  My suspicion is that colour-work for book illustration was lagging well behind the work of these poster-printers.

© The British Library Board.  Pressmark Evan.334.  “The Artist’s Dream” presented at the Egyptian Hall by David Devant in 1893.  Lithographed by Joseph Weiner.

© The British Library Board. Pressmark Evan.334. “The Artist’s Dream” presented at the Egyptian Hall by David Devant in 1893. Lithographed by Joseph Weiner.

There is eye-catching work, for example, by” J.  Weiner Ltd.”, the London offshoot of a long-established international firm, with offices also in Vienna and Paris, and later New York.  A firm awarded first prize in the English Section at the “International Exhibition du Livre”, held in Paris in 1894.  They were represented in London by the young “art printer” Joseph Weiner (1868?-1941), son of Jacob Weiner, the founder.  The firm were advertising contractors too, owning advertising sites, including a monopoly of the iron pillars used for advertising in Vienna.  The firm was floated on the London Stock Exchange in 1895 and the prospectus carries a glowing report.  The work is of the highest quality and represented on almost every hoarding.  Their poster for the London, Chatham, and Dover Railway “is itself a work of art, and admitted by those connected with the trade one the most artistic placards ever exhibited”.  One popular poster was turned out in four-and-a-half days from the placing of the order, a feat which “cannot be matched by any other firm in London”.  Their works in Acton Street are conspicuous for cleanliness and order, the machinery maintained in splendid condition (St . James’s Gazette, 8th August 1895).

But there was a darker side.  It came to light in 1898, when Joseph Weiner (not for the first time) was prosecuted under the Factory Act – eight counts of employing women at night after the legal period of employment, and two of employing women before the legal hour.  The eight young women began their shift at 8 o’clock on a Friday morning and worked through until 6.20am the next day.  They then rested until 8 o’clock, when they began their Saturday shift, continuing until 1pm – the normal time to finish on a Saturday.  The facts that the women had volunteered to get out 50,000 copies of something in a hurry to help out an old customer, that they were given rest-breaks and refreshments, that the work was light and they were paid double-time, cut no ice at all with the magistrate, who regarded it as “a very bad case” and imposed a stiff fine (Morning Post,  19th August  1898).

© The British Library Board. Pressmark Evan.191. Crystal Palace, London. “Cinderella”, 1874.

© The British Library Board. Pressmark Evan.191. Crystal Palace, London. “Cinderella”, 1874. Designed and lithographed by Thomas Way.

In another bay there is a lovely and restrained poster, technically highly accomplished, for E.  L.  Blanchard’s production of Cinderella at the Crystal Palace – the Blanchard who turned up in a post here on the blog in a different context only a few weeks ago.  The poster is quite unlike anything else in the exhibition.  It was designed and lithographed by Thomas Way (1837-1915), the man who brought art back into harness with lithography, taught Whistler the technique, prepared his stones and printed his work.  It dates from 1874 – and in terms of technique and design, with its echoes of William Morris and foretaste of art nouveau, it is perhaps twenty years ahead of its time.  Surely worth a caption?

© The British Library Board.  Pressmark Evan.371.  – Sanger’s Grand National Amphitheatre.  The Great Alvantee, 1872.  Lithographed by Theophilus Creber of Plymouth.

© The British Library Board. Pressmark Evan.371. – Sanger’s Grand National Amphitheatre. The Great Alvantee, 1872. Lithographed by Theophilus Creber of Plymouth.

This Sanger poster is by the prosperous Theophilus Creber (1845-1902) of Plymouth, who described himself as a “show printer”.  Brought up in Devonport Workhouse (not as an inmate, his father was the teacher), he was a man in love with his work to the extent that he took his own lease on the old Olympia Theatre in Plymouth and re-opened it in 1887 as a Theatre of Varieties, promising “first class entertainments …  free from anything objectionable in the slightest degree”.  By 1898 he had taken over the Theatre Royal at Eastbourne, spending a fortune on refurbishing it.

The Era, 9th April 1898.

The Era, 9th April 1898.

An account in “The Era” describes the work carried out in elaborate detail (see illustration).  He also owned Fred Ginster’s Circus, which was put up for auction, lock, stock and barrel, later that year – possibly to pay for the refurbishment:  “The Circus Plant is in First-rate Condition, and is now Travelling, and will be up to Day of Sale.  It comprises the following :–  100 Horses and Ponies, Procession Carriages, Living Waggons, Luggage Waggons, Pony Traps, Splendid Sets of Red and Blue Leather Harness, Waggon Harness, &c.; very Large Two-Pole Tent, with Wallings and Seating Complete; Horse Tents, Dressing Tents, Property Tents, Procession Dresses, Shields, Banners, Flags, &c.; Twenty-five of the Best and Cleverest Horses in the Circus Business; Four Black Hungarian Horses, Performing Together, and to do Separate Trick and Menage Acts; Dignity and Impudence, the Big Horse and the Little Pony, which do Three Acts; Ten of the Best Ring Horses in the Business, go to every Act; the Smallest and Prettiest Ponies, Two White Sacred Mules, 17h.  high, &c” (The Era, 17th September 1898).  His business survived until 1932 when it merged with the Salisbury Press.

© Richard D.  Sheaff.  Jubilee invitation card of James Upton of Birmingham.

© Richard D. Sheaff. Jubilee invitation card of James Upton of Birmingham.

Well represented with a number of posters (e.g. the first Sanger poster above) is James Upton (1821-1874), the “famous colour printer” of Birmingham, who also had some colourful moments in his own life.  He was embezzled by his book-keeper to the tune of hundreds of pounds in 1861.  He was eye-witness to a grisly incident headlined “Terrible Fight with Leopards in a Menagerie” by the press in 1869 – it was Upton who alerted the keepers.  He was bankrupted and forced to hand over the running of his business to trustees in 1872, but was back in business, creditors paid in full, and prosperous once more by 1874.

The Stage, 21st June 1889.

The Stage, 21st June 1889.

He died a few months later, the business continuing in his name under his son William Albert Upton (1860-1908) and grandson James Baskerville Upton (1891-1973) in turn.  The firm was still in business (as the Upton Printing Group) recently enough to have printed the sleeve for the Rolling Stones’ “Let it Bleed” album, which represents rather a delightful continuity in the marketing of popular entertainment.  The fiftieth-anniversary invitation card comes from Richard D.  Sheaff’s wonderful website (link in the blog-roll), which I thoroughly recommend to anyone interested in printing ephemera (especially American).

© The British Library Board.  Pressmark Evan.446.  Alfred Concanen, Royal Polytechnic Institution, Westminster.  Professor Pepper’s Ghosts, ca. 1885.

© The British Library Board. Pressmark Evan.446. Alfred Concanen, Royal Polytechnic Institution, Westminster. Professor Pepper’s Ghosts, ca. 1885. Printed by Stannard & Son.

Aside from the posters, flyers, tickets and so on, I spotted some lovely music-covers by the best-known printer of such things, William Thomas Stannard (1815-1895) of Poland Street, son of a London postman.  Trading with Francis Dixon as “Stannard & Dixon” until that partnership was amicably dissolved on 30th June 1868, Stannard was later joined by his son, William Stannard, as “Stannard & Son”, until that partnership too was dissolved on 19th November 1891.  He was employing thirty hands in 1881.  He often worked with the great commercial artist Alfred Concanen (1835-1886) – “The most painstaking of the Pre-Raphaelites must fail beside Concanen!”, averred Sacheverell Sitwell.  Stannard was another colourful printer and something of a master of illusion himself – he turns up in two quite different places on the night of the 1871 census.  He appears to have been maintaining two separate domestic establishments, the family home in St.  Pancras, and another in Battersea with his mistress Selah Sands and her infant daughter.  He is described as deaf on one of these returns, but I suspect he may simply not have been answering questions that night.

© Richard D.  Sheaff.  Trade-card of C.  J.  Culliford & Sons.

© Richard D. Sheaff. Trade-card of C. J. Culliford & Sons.

In 1896 the firm of “C.  J.  Culliford & Sons” advertised itself as the oldest firm of theatrical printers in Great Britain, established in 1837.  To judge from the various examples of their work in the exhibition, they were, to my eye at least, also the best – the colour work clean, crisp and intense (see the “The Mahatmas Outdone” poster above).  Charles John Culliford (1816-1893) also frequently acted as his own artist and designer.  He was born in Bath and I think was probably a younger brother of (James) Edward Culliford, also a draughtsman and lithographer.  Edward Culliford was imprisoned for debt in 1836, 1839 and 1842, and then sentenced to twelve months for forgery in 1848 – but he was also at one time the lessee of the Fitzroy Theatre.  Charles John Culliford was himself imprisoned for debt in 1852 and declared bankrupt in 1862.  Life was clearly precarious in the world of theatrical printing, but on this occasion Culliford successfully applied for discharge almost immediately.

© Museum of London.  Image Number 001945.

© Museum of London. Image Number 001945. Lithographed by Culliford & Sons.

In 1863 he advertised the largest poster ever executed and by 1871 was employing five men and two boys.  Joined in time by his sons Charles Stewart Culliford (1855-1914) and Henry Thomas Culliford (1862-1935), by 1889 he could advertise in “The Stage” that a new twenty-four sheet poster would be the finest of his career.  But for all his effort, skill and perseverance, when he died in 1893 his estate was valued at a meagre £130.11s.11d.  The younger son had by now gone into a separate partnership with Herbert Clement Haycock as “Culliford & Haycock”, but the original business continued (until 1925) and was responsible for one of the earliest cinema posters – a charming 1896 poster advertising John Nevil Maskelyne’s “Animated Photographs” at the Egyptian Hall.  Maskelyne, working with his son of the same name, had patented an improved projector known as the Mutagraph, pictured in the corner of the poster, in that year.

There may have been some opportunities missed in terms of explanatory captions, but this is a glorious exhibition.  Do go and see it.  It’s free.  It’s on until 12th February 2017.  Details here at  But please don’t think that it’s all about the luvvies.  These exhibits don’t need bringing to life, they are shouting for attention.  Get there as soon as you can.

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The Most Successful Book-Huntress in the World

Clara Millard“Miss Clara Millard, an English woman, has the enviable reputation of having created a new work for women, and of demonstrating that by persistent effort the business may be made successful.  She calls herself a book hunter, and whatever the volume is that may be needed to complete some portion of the library, she will find it, and she has shown marvelous aptitude and skill in tracing out rare volumes.  In one instance she secured for a New York banker a copy of Browning’s ‘Pauline’ of which before her discovery only seven copies were known to be in existence.  It is true that the work can by no possibility become one in which many may engage, for it requires some qualifications, such as acquaintance with literature and libraries, which cannot be picked up in a moment; but the fact that she has made her special business so successful is evidence that women do not need confine themselves to stereotyped methods of support, but can find business for themselves if they will have patience and persistence”. (From Frances E.  Willard & Others, “Occupations for Women: A Book of Practical Suggestions for the Material Advancement, the Mental and Physical Development, and the Moral and Spiritual Uplift of Women”, New York, 1897).

Clegg's Directory 1891

Clegg’s Directory 1891

Actually, I have had my eye on Clara Millard for some considerable time.  Hers was a name that kept cropping up as I scoured contemporary directories looking for the late nineteenth-century book-trade in my “Book-Hunters of 1888” series of posts.  She stood out, not because she was a woman – there were other women booksellers in London – Lily Cancellor in Chelsea, Mrs Grose in Panton Street, Mrs Kettle in Camden Passage, Mrs Pepper in Lambeth, Clara Simmonds in Mile End, Mary Lee Tregaskis (who was a bookseller long before her husband ever was), Mrs Winn in Wych Street, others no doubt sheltered behind initials rather than forenames – but Clara Millard’s assertive advertisements had a kind of bravura uncommon in the book-trade.  When it comes to the books you are looking for, “Miss Millard has scratched the word ‘impossible’ out of her dictionary”.

Miss Millard of Teddington – then a country village on the outskirts of London just finding its way to becoming a fully-fledged suburb – first announced herself to the world with a sequence of advertisements in the “Morning Post” and the “London Evening Standard” in the spring of 1881.  She was offering not books but a string of luxury items at attractive prices – a tennis set; a musical cabinet table; a golden otter paletot (worth 150 guineas but on offer for half that); a silk and sable cloak; opal, emerald, diamond and sapphire rings; a superb Persian carpet; four charming old miniatures for 100 guineas; an aquamarine necklet and pendant – and so it went on, week after week, month after month, year after year.  By October 1881 she was styling herself Miss Millard, Secretary, Amateur Traders, Teddington, Middlesex, and in the following January she launched a catalogue, also called “The Amateur Trader”, described as “A monthly general advertising medium and subscribers’ universal omnium gatherum”, with herself as “editress” – remember that word, it will crop up again.  Initially the catalogue offered space to anyone who willing to pay a shilling per twenty-four words to advertise items they wished to sell anonymously, but gradually it became a vehicle almost entirely for her own stock.  It aimed to be “pleasing, trustworthy and reliable” and we are assured that “its proprietress has already numerous flattering credentials from a wide circle of correspondents” – it actually subsumed an even earlier publication from the same “proprietress” called “The Ceramic Gazette, and Journal of Decoration and Home Adornment” (1881).  As “The Amateur Trader” expanded rapidly on its original four-page format, testimonials were soon in evidence – “a storehouse of gems” and “it enumerates good things for good people”.


London Evening Standard, 10th April 1890

Gradually the offers of goods for sale in the newspapers were replaced by requests for fresh stock.  These became omnivorous, voracious, all-devouring, relentless, and appeared “without lull or cessation” (although anything which did not pass muster was sent straight back).  Here’s a typical appeal from 1888: “ENQUIRY.  – PLEASE RESPOND.  – Have you any old-fashioned, unwearable jewellery or damaged modern ornaments in gold or silver, silver and Sheffield plate, curios, coins, nic-nacs, artificial teeth, laces, silks, velvets, satins, furs, tapestries, crewels, collections of postage stamps, miniatures, paste articles, books, or anything possessing value or merit? Then for higher prices than elsewhere send them to me per post, rail, or carrier, and in a few hours afterwards you shall have the money to accept or reject, or bring them down personally, between ten and four.  Clara (Miss) Millard, Mulberry House, Teddington, Middlesex” (Morning Post, 15th November 1888).  By 1893 she could state unequivocally that she was “simply the best buyer and the quickest payer in the world for gold, silver, jewels, curios, laces, velvets, buttons, down to artificial teeth” (London Evening Standard, 14th September 1893).  She was particularly keen on artificial teeth (presumably for their scrap value) and often advertised separately for those.

Although books had appeared in “The Amateur Trader” almost from the start – standard sets, illustrated books and first editions of Dickens were all listed in 1882 – they were plainly something of an afterthought and originally just about last on her list of desiderata.  This was soon to change.  Her first separate book catalogue appeared in February 1889, offering black-letter, sporting books, first editions, Americana and Australiana, Napoleonic broadsides, and much else.  By December 1890 there were several different 120-page book catalogues – “The Country Gentleman’s Catalogue”, etc., with “bibliographical notes interspersed”.  By the end of 1892 she could calmly state that, “My book catalogues, embodying a continuous list of rare editions and scarce volumes, have awakened simultaneous echoes of satisfaction and wonderment throughout the length and breadth of the world”.


London Evening Standard, 15th June 1892

Her career was meteoric.  Her publicity machine extraordinary.  By 1887 she was installed in new premises at Mulberry House, which had to be closed for nine weeks the following year to enlarge the showroom.  By that time she had shops in Kingston and Teddington too.  Soon after there were two shops in Teddington (Nos.  38-39 Teddington High Street) and later on she added 39a as well.  Her activities were by now attracting notice worldwide.  There was a profile of this “ingenious lady with fine instincts”, who had “devoted the greater part of her life to the study and acquisition of curiosities”, in “Cassell’s Saturday Journal” (24th May 1890).  She keeps five dogs to deter burglars and sleeps above the showroom to watch over it.  And how does she know the value of things? – “I can hardly tell you.  It is a kind of instinct, acquired by years of training.  I very seldom make a mistake, and I am never taken in by imitations.  I intuitively recognise genuine articles …  I sometimes wonder how I do it myself”.


London Evening Standard, 27th July 1893

When she opened a separate bookshop, it was news as far afield as Cheboygan, Michigan – “A clever English woman, Miss Clara Millard …  has made a new departure in woman’s work, starting a shop for the sale of rare old books.  She calls it ‘The Book Seekers’ Haven’, and she publishes an occasional catalogue of her wares, entitled ‘Eureka’” (Cheboygan Democrat, 8th October 1891).  Across the world in New South Wales an explanation was given, largely lifted from the interview in “The Publishers’ Circular” mentioned below.  “It is now some ten years since Miss Millard, of Teddington, began business as a dealer in antiques, jewels, miniatures, and high-class cabinet specimens of divers kinds.  She has found out that there are collectors and buyers for everything, and she does her best to meet their wishes.  She has bought horses and oil paintings, instruments of science and of torture, playing cards and pearls, old-fashioned fire-arms and fans, sun-dials, carriage gates, and lace …  It is hard to say what is the most remarkable transaction she ever engaged in, but …  she once sent the late Mr.  Frank Marshall (editor of the ‘Henry Irving Shakespeare’) a sapphire ring in exchange for a sow and a litter of nine pigs.  Amongst the consignments which reach her many contain books.  In fact, it was the numerous consignments of literature that led her to take up the bookselling business in earnest, and add a separate department” (Hay Standard, New South Wales, 12th October 1892).


London Evening Standard, 30th May 1895

They were impressed in Scotland too: “One would hardly expect to find a well-stored book depôt in a Middlesex village.  Teddington, however, possesses not only an emporium of literature suggestive of Booksellers’ Row in the Strand, but the proprietrix—Miss Clara Millard —undertakes to find, to use her own forcible words, ‘any book ever published that is still in existence’ …  This lady bibliopole had recently sent her from Russia a magnificent Hebrew bible, written on vellum in a fourteenth century hand, and bound in massive silver of the seventeenth century — the sale price of which is £850.  Miss Millard’s collection of old and rare editions, articles of vertu and pictures, is of great historic and antiquarian interest” (Dundee Evening Telegraph, 30th September 1891).

Bookselling remained only one aspect of the business.  As an antique dealer, “The Publishers’ Circular” (11th June 1892) suggested that she had “perhaps the finest collection of articles of vertù on sale anywhere in the world” – but she was on this occasion being interviewed for their “Booksellers of Today” series.  She was asked if she was resented as an intruder by the regular trade.  She answers emphatically “No!” – she is on excellent terms with her colleagues, gets all their catalogues, reads them all, and buys from about 90% of them.  She has been given carte blanche by a number of American collectors to buy on their behalf.  She seldom attends sales as the number of books that are just sent in keep her staff busy all day long.  And she has a personal “fad for very tiny books”.

Her celebrity probably reached its zenith with a full-scale interview in the society journal, “The Sketch” (14th March 1894), complete with a more formal portrait than that which had appeared in “The Publishers’ Circular” (which, unless I am imagining it, bears the vestiges of a cheeky grin).  “The Sketch” uses the fashionable studio portrait reproduced above – Miss Millard tall, slim, wasp-waisted, and looking no more than twenty-five, according to the reporter.  The interview has already been reproduced and quoted from at length on the Antique Dealers Blog (, so I shall not repeat much of it here – but to her bookselling exploits we can add the sale of Nelson’s original battle orders to the fleet on the eve of Trafalgar to the Queen.  “The Amateur Trader” had already described this in greater detail – it was Admiral Collingwood’s copy, slightly damaged at the fold, which interestingly, in an apparently deliberate snub to contemporary practice, she had “decided not to have ‘neatly repaired’”.  Beyond that, she notes the swift and successful acceptance of a challenge to find a copy of Matthew Arnold’s prize poem, “Alaric at Rome” from a man incorrectly referred to by the reporter as C.  J.  Wise – this is of course Thomas J.  Wise, great book collector and even greater forger – he issued a facsimile in 1893 and there is his letter to her on the subject in the Harry Ransom Center.


London Evening Standard, 23rd March 1900

The most interesting part of the interview is her own account of her entry into the trade: “Oh, when I was sixteen I had to decide upon some way of earning my own living …  I had always lived with people who liked nice things, and I understood a little about curios, so I started with the sale of our own china and curiosities.  I prepared a catalogue, and sent it round to collectors and wealthy people.  The catalogue was a happy thought; it attracted notice, and the whole transaction was so successful that I went on as I had begun”.  She added that she owed a great deal to her mentors, Lady Schreiber (Charlotte Guest), Lady Currie (Violet Fane) and Baron Rothschild – “Thanks to them, I made fewer mistakes than I should otherwise have done.  Then, I have had a larger share of good luck than falls to the lot of most people”.

Elsewhere Clara Millard received laudatory notices in “The Stationer”, “The Bookman”, “The Publisher”, “Publishers’ Weekly”, “The Critic”, “The Englishman”, and even “Notes and Queries”.  There was to be another full-length interview with “the famous lady dealer in curios”, widely noticed elsewhere in the press, in “The Woman at Home” in 1896.  Other women were fascinated – a woman reporter wrote in 1896, “I am sure that my readers will be interested in new occupations for our sex, and I therefore draw attention to what this lady is doing …  Her business may be called that of a book detective …  She produces a number of testimonials from well known literary people showing that she has been singularly successful in commissions on their behalf” (Bristol Mercury, 8th August 1896).


The Book-Lover, 1900

Her advertising is a joy – someone should anthologise it.  Her cataloguing was much admired: the “London Daily News” (3rd December 1895) found it “vigorous” and especially liked the “flowery components” – “In describing her treasures, the lady shows the great critical faculty of zest.  She writes about a miniature, or a piece of lace, as Hazlitt wrote about a fives match, or a prize fight, ‘as if she loved it’”.  As distinguished a prose stylist as E.  V.  Lucas could write that “when she has amassed the fortune that must inevitably be the reward of her energy, [she] should take to literature” (“The Book-Lover”, 1900).  You can read the rest of this passage, in which she takes top billing over Quaritch and Dobell, by enlarging the image.  And she had other famous fans: Baron Friedrich Von Hügel sent a reading list to Maude Petre from Florence in 1899, adding in a postscript that, “There is a Miss Clara Millard, Teddington, Middlesex, who is a professional book-hunter.  She would get you any or all of those old books referred to above, with astonishing quickness, and would not (I hope) charge too much.  Through ordinary booksellers you might have to wait months – years perhaps”.  A testimonial from the United States in 1901 declared, “I have perfect confidence that if I desired the tablets upon which Moses wrote the Commandments you could procure them for me”.  She advertised that as only just beyond the limitation of her powers.

booklabelYou will perhaps sometimes see her little black-and-white bookseller’s label reading, “Miss Millard.  Book and Curio Finder, Teddington, Middlesex”.  The advertising continued unabashed for some years and there was a renewed splurge throughout the “United Queendom”, as she calls it, in 1900.  Thereafter she appears less and less.  The advertising stopped after 1903, although as late as 1909 the “Barnsley Chronicle” could continue to call her by her new tag-line “the most successful book-huntress in the world” (7th August 1909).  But while she disappears from the newspapers at that point, “The Amateur Trader” continued publication until 1916 – the very last issue offering “The Generall History of Women, containing lives of holy and prophane, famous and infamous, of all ages” by T.  Heywood, old calf, 1657, rare £3. 3s”.  We also know from the Antique Dealers blog that she remained in the trade, moved from Teddington to Milford-on-Sea on the Hampshire coast, and was a member of BADA in 1920.


The Athenaeum, 26th November 1901

Clearly I am in thrall.  I am entranced.  I am smitten.  I am becoming obsessed.  She deserves a book or a Ph.D.  thesis, not just a blog post.  Any woman who can promise, forcibly or otherwise, to find “any book ever published that is still in existence”, any woman who can catalogue like Hazlitt, has at the very least my full, continuing and undivided attention.  Add to that her habit of tossing Latin tags into her advertising just for the fun of it – “Floreat Millard”, “et sic de similibus”, and the priceless “Aut Millard, aut nulla” – she is plainly a keeper.

But there is a question, and my question actually, Miss Millard, is – Who are you really?  And where have you sprung from, so finished, so polished, so young, so perfect, so confident, so forcible, so driven, so well-connected, so expert on everything “under the canopy of heaven”, as your advertising has it.  You appear to come from a well-to-do family – you began by selling off the family silver, as it were, but if that is the case, why then did you need to establish a way of earning your own living at the age of sixteen?  And when and how the years of training?  And why the curious expression that you have always lived with people who like nice things rather than speaking of your family?

I ask because, for all your celebrity, for all that you are an icon of the new womanhood, although you are all over the newspapers, although your name appears on electoral registers, in street and trade directories, and even early telephone directories (Kingston 9), I cannot find a single one of the regular archival traces.  There is no record at all of your birth, your death, or even of a marriage which may have masked your name – at least not as Clara Millard.  The census returns of 1881, 1891, 1901 and 1911 find you nowhere in the vicinity of Teddington or elsewhere.  You are not related, as I thought perhaps you might be, to Wilde’s bibliographer, the bookseller Christopher Sclater Millard – nor even to Evelyn Millard, the famous actress of those days.  In all the regular and conventional ways, you simply do not exist.  And, more than that, the address at Mulberry House, Vicarage Road, Teddington, where you live with your five dogs, which you advertise as your “permanent residential address” from 1887 to 1903, was in 1891 in the occupation of a family called Ellis, and in 1901 that of a family named Spring.  So who are you really Miss Millard?  Because actually, as more of the story takes shape, I find you strangely even more impressive still.

To be continued …

Posted in Book Collecting, Booksellers, Bookshops | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Lines of Thought

culI’m not sure whether there is, or even whether there should be, a recognised collective noun for a bunch of booksellers, although the googleweb thrums with suggestions – a bind or a binding; a blessing (thank you);  a case;  a chapter – which has a certain historical basis, although it makes me think of printers rather than booksellers;  a commission;  a dickens or a trollope (but not apparently a shakespeare or an austen);  a doze of bookfair exhibitors;  an eccentricity;  an extinction (a little bleak);  a generosity (thank you, again);  a madness (speak for yourself);  a mildew (a little harsh); a poverty (a little too truthful) ; a quire;  a ream;  a remainder – which is quite clever;  a ring (careful!); a scruff (ouch!);  a set;  a shelving;  a shuffle;  a signature;  a stack;  a stealth (don’t know where that one came from, although it has a ring to it);  a treasure;  a volume (not least for the noise they make when assembled together), or even a whinge of booksellers (cruel). No doubt you can think of others – perhaps a corduroy or a tweed of booksellers.

Whatever we call ourselves, there was a gathering of many of our brightest and best at Cambridge University Library the other day. I won’t pick out names – but many of them have featured here on the blog at one time or another.  We had been invited there to celebrate an anniversary.  The library is celebrating its six hundredth anniversary this year (yes – 600 years – pause to consider that).  It’s a slightly arbitrary anniversary – to be precise, it is six hundred years since the first recorded mention of the library – two bequests were made to it in 1416, which implies that the library was probably already something of a feature in university life. There was even a library catalogue by 1424, although admittedly only listing 122 volumes.  Big oaks, little acorns – there are now over eight million items and more than 128 miles of shelving.


© Cambridge University Library. Geoffrey Chaucer, The workes of Geffray Chaucer newlye printed, wyth dyuers workes whych were neuer in print before. 1542. Sel.2.2, f. clxvii.

We assembled at the small exhibition which has been running all summer – “Lines of Thought” – a selection of some of the greatest and most interesting treasures.  Mark Purcell, Head of Research Collections, welcomed us with a generous and gracious tribute to the quiet but important part the book-trade makes in the building of great libraries. We met and mingled with the librarians and discussed what we do and what they do.  All exceedingly pleasant and good things shall surely flow. Lines of communication firmly established.  And the consensus was that more libraries should host receptions for the trade – in fact all libraries should, preferably weekly.

There was some intrigued speculation on who had and had not been invited – and why.  But I gather it was simply a matter of the librarians inviting booksellers they knew personally or had bought from recently.  Certainly it was an impressive group of the trade’s most scholarly and studious.


© Cambridge University Library. UMZC 17/Col/8/y/26, Columbia livia – domestic, almond tumbler. UMZC 17/Col/8/y/9, Columbia livia – ancestral, rock dove. Objects on loan from the University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge.

As for the exhibition itself – small, as I say – not a vast number of books and two of them on closer inspection turned out in fact to be dead pigeons.  Close inspection was mandatory – the lights were low, very low.  Conservators are good people of course, but they do sometimes forget that the point of conserving things is to enable them to be seen.   Apparently people visiting the exhibition have taken to using their mobiles as torches, which rather defeats the object.  No such bad behaviour from the booksellers, obviously.

Isaac Newton

© Cambridge University Library. Isaac Newton, Philosophiæ naturalis principia mathematica. 1687. Adv.b.39.1, p. 3 and facing added leaf.

With so much wealth to pick from, the selection of what to include in this anniversary exhibition must have been far more searching and exhaustive than the question of which booksellers to invite. But under six basic themes – roughly communication, science, faith, history, genetics and anatomy – we were given the key moments  in the history of human thought.

Charles Darwin

© Cambridge University Library. George Montbard, Watercolour caricature of Charles Darwin in the ‘Gallery of Ancestors’, ca.1871. MS DAR 225: 178.

So many eye-catching things that it’s difficult to single a handful out – a Gutenberg bible and a first folio in the same room. The great works of Copernicus, Galileo, Halley – and Isaac Newton’s own copy of the “Principia Mathematica”, heavily annotated. A Stephen Hawking draft typescript for “A Brief History of Time” just across the way to bring us up to date.

Much on Darwin and then even more on Darwin of course – hence the pigeons (his observations on selective breeding were largely drawn from the work of pigeon-fanciers).  A curious display-case on one wall  with the great literature of Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, Chaucer – and Margaret Drabble (I make no comment).


© Cambridge University Library. Printing plate for Porto-Bello: or a plan for the improvement of the port and city of London. 1789. Maps.17.G36.

And a personal favourite – an eighteenth-century copper printing plate for a rather crude map of London. The etching and engraving unsigned, the workmanship far from the best, but how nice to see an actual printing plate for a map after spending so many years studying the engravers of such things.  All in all, a very pleasant day out.  The most enormous thank you to all concerned.  Do try and catch the exhibition if you can – it’s only on for a couple more days, but there is a very interesting online version too which will hopefully stay up longer (

Posted in Antique Maps, Booksellers, Exhibitions, Libraries, Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

W. J. Adams of Fleet Street


Fleet-Street and St. Dunstan’s West. – Mid-Day. 1851.

Just back from a delightful couple of days in the north of England working through an extraordinary private collection of early British tourist and guide-books.  My co-author Ashley Baynton-Williams and I are planning on an online supplement of addenda and corrigenda to our “British Map Engravers” and, although we have only been told of a mere handful of ‘missing names’ since it was published in 2011, we both felt that there must be more.  We also felt that, if anywhere, we would probably find them amongst the numerous ad hoc maps locally produced for local guides.  We jumped at the chance to get to work on this collection.

We were right in our assumption and shall now be adding entries for John Beck of Leamington;  Joel Bennett of Southampton, for an attractive map made to accompany the fourth edition of John Bullar’s “A Companion in a Tour round Southampton” (1819);  William Gill Brown of York for a couple of plans made to accompany a guide published by Henry Sotheran in York in 1852;  James Chapman, also of York;  the splendidly-named Appleyard Ginder of Canterbury;  the York lithographers William Roger Goddard and his partner John William Lancaster; the well-known wood-engraver Orlando Jewitt, now to be included for a plan of Ripon Cathedral; John Lavars of Bristol;  the artist Philip John Ouless of St. Helier and his collaborator H. Walter; that English pioneer of lithography David Redman, and possibly James Williamson of Lincoln, although strictly speaking he falls just outside our cut-off date.  A dozen fresh names to add to the 1600 or 1700 already in the dictionary – a few more than we hoped, considerably less than we feared.

We saw many other delightful things of course – I was particularly taken with a plan of Cambridge by Friedrich Schenck of Edinburgh – a little jewel of early colour printing made to accompany “The Pictorial Guide to Cambridge” (1847) – but we always like to come across pictures of old bookshops and here is the frontispiece to “Adams’s Pocket London Guide Book”, published by W. J. Adams of Fleet Street – undated but evidently one of the spate of new London guides brought out to try and cash in on the Great Exhibition of 1851.

Edward Litt Leman Blanchard

Edward Litt Leman Blanchard

The text to the book is by the always interesting Edward Litt Leman Blanchard (1820-1889), king of pantomime, peerless and tireless hack – he who once wrote,

“Those that work are the illustrious,

And those most noble are the most industrious”.

The frontispiece is captioned “Fleet-Street and St. Dunstan’s West. – Mid-Day” (although the clock outside the watchmaker William Halksworth’s premises, next door to Adams, is very far from mid-day).  It was engraved by ‘Delamotte’ –Freeman Gage Delamotte of Red Lion Square – a regular contributor to Adams’ publications, but it is the publisher William James Adams (1807-1873) himself who interests me.  He is the almost wholly forgotten man behind the story of Bradshaw’s Railway Guides – those indispensible handbooks which so informed the travel and coloured the imagination of generations of British readers.

Michael PortilloMichael Portillo has done it on television more recently, but here is Israel Zangwill planning his holidays in the 1890s – “I would travel for weeks in Bradshaw, and end by sticking a pin at random between the leaves as if it were a Bible, vowing to go where destiny pointed. Once the pin stuck at London, and so I had to stick there too, and was defrauded of my holiday”.

The Bradshaw was as ubiquitous and as necessary as the latest app. Andrew Lang complained in 1892 that the older families nowadays never added a book to their ancestral libraries, “except now and then a Bradshaw or a railway novel”.  The Bradshaw turns up everywhere in fiction – in Bram Stoker’s “Dracula”, in Daphne du Maurier’s “Rebecca”, in Max Beerbohm’s “Zuleika Dobson” (one of the two books in Zuleika’s ‘library’) and in Erskine Childers’ “The Riddle of the Sands” – “an extraordinary book, Bradshaw, turned to from habit, even when least wanted, as men fondle guns and rods in the close season”. And they were loved most of all by the crime writers – to disprove an alibi, to project a theory, to hinge a plot. There are Bradshaws in the Sherlock Holmes stories, in Agatha Christie, and in all their lesser brethren.  Here’s the conspiracy-obsessed William Le Queux in 1919 (I include this chiefly to please a friend):

“That gave me a further clue. I took down a Bradshaw, and, glancing at the train by which the little fat man had travelled, made an interesting discovery.  It was the Newcastle express.  I began to see why the mysterious little man had booked to Peterborough.  That afternoon I ascertained that the parrot’s cage in the house in Lembridge Square sported a broad ribbon of yellow satin … An hour after midnight came another air-raid alarm – the second to coincide with the appearance of the yellow ribbon” (Sant of the Secret Service).

George Bradshaw

George Bradshaw

The Bradshaw was of course the invention of the eponymous Mancunian George Bradshaw (1800-1853), map-engraver turned publisher, and Bradshaw is rightly and duly honoured – but it was his London agent W. J. Adams of Fleet Street who was his chief apostle.  It was at Adams’ transformative suggestion that the initial price was halved and that publication became monthly.  It was Adams who soon became the lead publisher.  It was Adams who commissioned Blanchard to compile a whole series of travel guides to lure people on to the trains and who more or less invented the concept of rail travel for pleasure  –  “Bradshaw’s Descriptive Guide to the London & Brighton Railway” (1844); “Bradshaw’s Descriptive Guide to the London & South Western Railway” (1845); “Bradshaw’s Descriptive Guide to the South Eastern Railway” (1846); “Adams’s Illustrated Descriptive Guide to the Watering-Places of England, and Companion to the Coast” (1848); “Adams’s Pocket Descriptive Guide to the Lake District” (1852) and so many more.  As early as 1848 he published Edwin Lee’s “Continental Travel with an Appendix on the Influence of Climate, the Remedial Advantages of Traveling [sic]”.

bradshaw 1842Adams became even more of the guiding figure after Bradshaw’s untimely death (he died of cholera in Oslo in 1853) – and it was Adams who expanded the range of the Bradshaw companions, timetables, guides and separately published maps to cover the railways and cities of the world.  And for light reading on the journey – Blanchard and Adams combined again to publish “The Carpet Bag, Crammed Full of Light Articles, for Shortening Long Faces and Long Journeys” (1852).  It was Adams, in essence, who made the Bradshaw the national institution it became.  The whole story of the Bradshaw phenomenon is there in the picture.

Adams DetailAs for William James Adams himself, little is known.  The Wikipedia entry for George Bradshaw, although to some extent acknowledging Adams’ importance,  still gets his name wrong (William Jones Adams).  He was born in Westminster on 12th June 1807, the son of Thomas and Susanna Adams, and baptised at St. James Piccadilly. His early life beyond that remains wholly obscure. He married Sarah Hoole (1813?-1877), the daughter of an engineer, at All Saints Poplar 14th March 1831 and when their  first child Henry John Adams (1831-1881) was baptised early in 1832, W. J. Adams was described simply as a mariner. Quite how he progressed from there to becoming Bradshaw’s London agent in 1841, initially at 170 Fleet Street and then from 1843 at 59 Fleet Street remains unknown.

Bradshaw1842sampleOne of his comparatively small number of non-railway specific publications was “Compendium of the Improvements Effected in Electric Telegraphs, by Messrs. Brett and Little, with a Description of their Patent Electro-Telegraphic Converser” (1847), which suggests he was  a man entirely comfortable in the machine age.  And he was a man obsessed with work, one of Blanchard’s “most industrious” – although when his children were small the family had homes in Poplar and then Newington, by the 1850s they were all living right there on the premises at 59 Fleet Street.

The eldest son was trained in lithography and his younger brother William Robert Adams (1846-1917) was soon employed as his father’s assistant.  Both became partners in or about 1868, when the firm became ‘W. J. Adams & Sons’. The only daughter, Catherine Sarah Adams (1844-1861), died tragically of consumption at the age of seventeen.  Aside from his publishing, Adams was a famously efficient passport agent, able to produce a passport with all the necessary visas in next to no time. He became a freeman of the City of London in 1856 and he was also the senior churchwarden at St. Dunstan in the West, just across the street, in 1869. He died at 59 Fleet Street on 21st December 1873 and was buried at Norwood on the 27th, leaving a considerable estate valued at something under £9,000.

The business continued unchanged as ‘W. J. Adams & Sons’ at 59 Fleet Street beyond his own death and that of his elder son in 1881, until William Robert Adams retired to Dorking in 1901, the enterprise then reverting to the Blacklock family, Bradshaw’s original partners in Manchester. And at this point, the Bradshaw was still only halfway through its illustrious history – the guides continued appearing until 1961.

Posted in Antique Maps, Booksellers, Bookshops, Engravers, Forgotten Authors, Mapsellers | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Hyman Kaner (1896-1973)


Courtesy of Morgan Wallace.

Good to run into lots of friends and colleagues – old and new – at London Rare Books School last week. Not least, Paddy Elliott of Madoc Books in Llandudno. I mention him in particular because Llandudno (handsome seaside resort on the north coast of Wales, for those whose geography isn’t all it should be) bubbled to the surface again just a few days later.

I was asked if I knew anything further of the author and publisher Hyman Kaner of Llandudno, whom I mentioned a few weeks ago as one of the publishers who commissioned artwork from H. W. Perl.  Well, no – not really – but the various available accounts of him are all a little sketchy and I can fill in a few gaps.  And it’s an excuse to show some more Perl covers.

Kaner first surfaces on the 1901 Census returns as the five-year-old Haim Isaac Kaner, eldest son of Carol Kaner and his wife Debora or Deborah, née Weisental. All three were born in Romania, but by this time were living in London.  A family tree gives Hyman’s place of birth as ‘Gulatz’ – presumably the large port of Galați on the Danube.  Carol Kaner had a tobacconist’s shop at 48 Cambridge Road, Mile End, where the family lived with a second son, Israel Isidore Kaner, who had been born in London two years earlier.

A surviving school admissions record shows Hyman Kaner being enrolled at Enfield Road School in Hackney on 19th March 1906, noting his date of birth as 19th August 1896 (a date later given as 13th August 1896 when he died in 1973 – I’m not sure which is correct). His previous school had been Settles Street, where Perl himself was a pupil for a short time. Kaner stayed at Enfield Road until 1908 and, as we shall see, his early education evidently served him well.

In 1911 the Kaners were living in cramped accommodation (just three principal rooms) at 141 Balls Pond Road, Islington. Carol (now Charles) Kaner is no longer a tobacconist but working as an assistant in a draper’s shop. In a marriage of fifteen years, five children in all had been born, with four still living  – the boys Hyman and Isidore, as they are now named, have been joined by daughters Rosie and Vera.

By the 1920s, Hyman Kaner was still living at home with his parents at addresses in Bethune Road, Stoke Newington, and Sanderstead Avenue, Hendon, but in 1926 he married Lily Hashfield (1902-1965), the London-born daughter of a Russian mechanical engineer and his Polish wife. Her father, Morris Hashfield, generally in tandem with his business partner Hermann Allbrook, is known for a number of patents taken out for improvements relating to sewing-machines, double-loop stitching, chain-stitching, fur and glove sewing, looper-shafts, machine-stitched buttonholes, mechanical embroidery, etc.

Two sons, Philip Gerald and Peter Alan Kaner, were born 1927 and 1929, both births registered at Edmonton, as was the marriage. The birth of a daughter, Daphne, was registered at Hendon in 1933, but in the interim the Kaners had been living at Leigh-on-Sea, on the Essex Coast, where Hyman Kaner was recorded in directories as Hyman Kaner, B.Sc., A.S.A.A., incorporated accountant. He is generally reported to have been a civil servant, rather than an accountant, but both were probably true at different periods.

In 1937 his “A New Theory of Goodwill” was published by Pitman – this must be ‘goodwill’ in the business sense used by accountants, rather than some utopian scheme for spreading happiness: it was followed in 1938 by “Balance Sheets Explained, Analysed, and Classified : A Guide for Investors, Professional Men and Students”, again published by Pitman.

The family had been living in North London – Clifton Road in Crouch End, then Cranbourne Gardens in Hendon in 1938-1939, but Kaner next appears in Llandudno. He was presumably among the 5,000 employees of the Inland Revenue (plus their families) who were sent there as a perceived safe area in 1940.  Apparently over 400 hotels and guest-houses were requisitioned to accommodate them, while a similar number of civil servants from the Ministry of Food descended on nearby Colwyn Bay (someone must have written a comic novel about this, surely).

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace.

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace.

In or about 1944, Kaner began to write and publish his own work – a very mixed bag, mainly but not exclusively crime, mystery and science fiction.  As a number of the books are undated the sequence is far from clear.  Some appeared in hardback, some in paperback, some in both forms. I suspect his first essay at self-publishing was in fact “Is Capitalism a Failure?”, billed as the first title in the “Progressive Thought Series”, printed for him by a local firm in Conway and the only one of these titles not expressly published by the Kaner Publishing Co.  I am not at all sure that any more titles appeared in the series, and he seems quickly to have decided that he might make his points better by the use of fiction.

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace.

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace.

The topically-titled collection of short stories “Fire-Watcher’s Night” (1944) was billed as the first in a new “Red Band” series – and may indeed have had its genesis in nights of fire-watching. The series is labelled “completely irregular” by the British Library and I don’t know which, if any, of the following titles were also part of it.  Hubin notes that some of the four stories are “criminous”, and one at least “Cuthbert Pistlethwistle and the Ghost” sounds like a ghost story. It is said that the collection was later reissued under the title “The Professor’s Drug” – the title of one of the other stories.

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace.

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace.

Perhaps it was too many years of staring at balance sheets that led to the wittily titled “Squaring the Triangle and other Short Stories” (1944).  It comprises ten stories, including “Love at Dark Sight”, “Psychomigrology”, “Slimming” and “War Flash, A.D. 1975”.  The six stories in various styles of “Hot Swag” (1945) include “The Passing of the Dictator” and “Returning a Wife”.  Not all of the stories in “The Naked Foot” (1945 or 1946) are new.  These were followed by “A Lady Screams”; “The Cynic’s Desperate Mission”, “The Terror Catches Up”; “Ape-Man’s Offering” and “An Alibi Too Much” (all apparently 1946).  Some of the stories had appeared before, but new ones included “Prize-Winning Bride” and “Emergency Wife”.

twilightAll of the above titles are scarce, some exceedingly so, but for reasons that are not at all clear (perhaps simply a matter of over-production in the first instance) Kaner’s two best-known titles, his novels “The Sun Queen” and “People of the Twilight” (both 1946), are also much the most common.  Both are science fiction, the first, incorporating (we are told), “many novel theories and ideas”, sees Roger Marshall and his girlfriend Joan Lorimer teleport themselves into a sunspot and find the Sun Queen engaged in a terrible war against the Black Knights and the evil superstition of the Rock God.  In the second, Professor Hayton discovers a gateway drug to an amazing and idyllic parallel world – but shatters the peace and happiness of a lost race.

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace.

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace.

Although Kaner produced one more collection of his own stories, “Ordeal by Moonlight” (1947), including “A Deal in Husbands”, he now switched briefly to publishing the works of others. There were a handful of popular favourites – Louisa May Alcott’s “Little Women” (1947); R. M. Ballantyne’s “Martin Rattler” (1947); W. H. G. Kingston’s “Manco, The Peruvian Chief (1948), and Robert Louis Stevenson’s “Treasure Island” (1949). There were some short stories from Hamilton Enterkin in “Dames out the Ring” (1948); a book called “Guns Up – Pronto!!”(1949) from Jeffrey Parlick, and, most notably, some science fiction from John Russell Fearn in the form of “The Slaves of Ijax” (1947) – as well as three westerns from the same hand: “Rustlers Canyon” (1947);  “The Avenging Ranger” (1948) and “Yellow Gulch Law” (1950). This last title was published at Harrow after the Kaners had returned to the London area in or about 1949. In that year they were living at 70 Gayton Road, Wealdstone, with Morris Hashfield also in residence.  Kaner’s publishing career then came quietly to an end with Cliff Rogers’ “The Dame Laughed” (1952).

The Kaners subsequently moved in succession to Chiswick, Twickenham and Barnes. Lily Kaner died early in 1965 – Hyman now simply referred to at the granting of probate as a chartered accountant. He himself died at Hendon on the 21st August 1973, shortly after his seventy-seventh birthday.

Posted in Book Collecting, Dust-Jackets, Forgotten Authors, Pulp Fiction | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Assertive Cataloguing

Reese description

Photo via Aaron T. Pratt @aarontpratt

My attention was recently drawn to this rather assertive, not to say pugnacious, example of cataloguing from the excellent William Reese Company of Connecticut.  A little barbed for some tastes, perhaps, but the point is a well-made and timely one.  It may also provide us with a useful model and a way forward in attempting to deal with the relentless accretion of false bibliography which is cluttering up the internet: there is scarcely a collected author about at least one of whose books some demonstrably untrue – or at least highly dubious – claim is not being made.


The William Reese copy

It is timely, first in that I am due next week to give lectures at the London Rare Books School on both “Bibliography in the Book Trade” and “Cataloguing in the Book Trade”.  This will provide a useful case-study in how these things can go wrong.  By my count, there are currently five different copies of this Brooke pamphlet listed on the internet stating that it was “limited to only 500 copies”;  “published in an edition of only 500 copies”; “only 500 copies printed”, or some variant of that formula.  All five appear on the appalling ABE, home of bibliographical iniquity, which comes as no great surprise, but it is more than a little alarming that two also appear on the ILAB website.  Quite who has copied whom, or whether perhaps all these descriptions derive from some earlier misconception now disappeared from the listings, it is impossible to say.  Certainly there is no credible source for the claim.

Keynes 28

From the Keynes bibliography

The Keynes bibliography is quite unambiguous that 20,000 copies were printed and the earlier Danielson bibliography does not bother listing the pamphlet at all – all five sonnets had previously appeared more than once elsewhere – although this is the earliest form in which most people would have encountered them and the pamphlet has an interest and a particular resonance all of its own.  The “500” mistake – and I have no doubt that it is a mistake rather than a deliberate attempt to mislead – presumably derives in some fashion from the fact that only 500 copies were printed of Brooke’s “Poems” in 1911.  Take away the inverted commas and the statement that Brooke’s poems were first printed in an edition of 500 copies is both true and thoroughly misleading.

We all make mistakes – I know that full well.  I discovered something of a howler of my own while researching the lecture: a case of actually being misled by the bibliography itself and not double-checking in the index.  But spotted and quickly corrected and some mistakes are more culpable than others.  This “500” error is a serious one.  It implies that the pamphlet is far more scarce and therefore more valuable than it actually is and, perhaps worse, there is an implied suggestion that the culprits know rather more of these matters than other booksellers, who quite properly make no mention of the supposedly small number of copies printed, and are thereby made to look as if they are the ones who have not done their homework.

What makes matters worse in this instance is that three of the culprits go on to say that “this scarce pamphlet is Brooke’s third appearance in print”; “This was Brooke’s third appearance in print” or “His third overall appearance in print” – a claim even more extravagant and extraordinary than the “500 copies”.  If we exclude the prize poems privately published at Rugby, the corrected reprints of the 1911 “Poems”, the “Appius and Virginia” offprint, the probably earlier “War Poems” privately printed for Lady Desborough, the probably earlier American copyright copies of “1914 and Other Poems”, as well as the possibly earlier American-published play, “Lithuania” – which is rather a lot to exclude – then it might just be possible to claim the pamphlet as his third separate publication or his third conventionally published book of poems – but that is clearly not the same thing at all as his “third appearance in print”, for which to be true we would also have to exclude the dozens and dozens of Brooke’s lifetime contributions to periodicals – “The Meteor”, “The Phoenix”, “The Vulture” and “The Venture” at Rugby, “The Westminster Gazette” and “Saturday Westminster”,  “The Cambridge Review” (well over thirty contributions to that alone between 1907 and 1913), as well as contributions to “Basileon”, “The English Review”, “The Modern Language Review”, “The Nation”, “The Gownsman”, “The Spectator”, “The New Age”, “The Eye Witness”, “The Poetry Review”, “The Cambridge Magazine”, “Rhythm”,  “Internationale Monats-Schrift für Wissenschaft Kunst und Technik”, “Poetry and Drama”, “The Blue Review”, “New Numbers” and “The New Statesman”.

WesternDailyPress06041915I think what is actually meant or what lies behind this “third appearance” remark, perhaps its genesis, is that this might be thought the third appearance in print of these particular poems.  If we exclude their appearance in the eighty-seven copies of the unpublished American printing of “1914 and Other Poems” produced to secure copyright, and in Lady Desborough’s “War Poems”, both of which probably pre-date the pamphlet, this may be true of four of them, but certainly not the fifth.  All five of these war sonnets first appeared in the fourth issue of Lascelles Abercrombie’s fairly obscure quarterly “New Numbers”, published in deepest Gloucestershire in December 1914, and were then posthumously reprinted in the London edition of “1914 and Other Poems” in June 1915, before appearing in the pamphlet in November of that year.  In the interim Brooke had both died and become suddenly famous – hence the spectacular leap to a print-run of 20,000 copies – with Dr Inge, Dean of St. Paul’s, quoting from “The Soldier” (If I should die) in his Easter sermon in April 1915.  This led to the poem being printed, in full, in the press both at that time and again three weeks later when news of Brooke’s untimely death began to filter through.

GloucesterEcho27041915Here it is in the “Western Daily Press” on Tuesday 6th April 1915 and in the “Gloucestershire Echo” on Tuesday 27th April 1915.  It certainly also appeared elsewhere in the newspapers of the day and in the Poetry Bookshop’s “Georgian Poetry 1913-1915”, published in November 1915 and which may also pre-date the pamphlet.  Whichever way you look at it, this “third appearance in print” claim is complete and utter nonsense.  It is not even true of one of the poems , let alone of Brooke’s entire published output.  The appearance of this wholly implausible, improbable and untenable claim on these public websites damages the reputation of the book-trade as a whole.

The second way in which this highlighting of malfeasance is all rather timely is that the finishing touches are currently being put to the ABA’s new set of Guidelines which will accompany its Code of Practice.  Regular readers will have seen my posts on this topic from earlier in the year.  For some years past there has already been an injunction in place against plagiarism and the lifting of other booksellers’ catalogue descriptions, which is another aspect of this, especially if carried out in so uncritical a fashion.  I do not believe for a moment that the culprits in this case – none of whom, I must make clear, is an ABA member – have all independently come up with these “500 copies” and “third appearance in print” claims.  Someone has plainly been cribbing.

Just as pertinently, there has always been a general instruction in the Code that “Members are responsible for the identification and accurate bibliographical description of all material offered for sale”, which of itself covers the case fairly adequately, but – for the avoidance of doubt, as the lawyers say – we now intend to add the following sentence to the Guidelines: “They must have access to the most appropriate and up-to-date bibliographical resources and demonstrate their skill and scholarship in using them.  References must be sufficient and appropriate, and misleading statements or implication through selective quotation, omission, or uncritical use of outdated sources is strictly unacceptable”.

This is a testing standard, especially as much of our bibliographical inheritance may indeed be outdated, in particular the older point-mongering collectors’ guides.  I doubt very much that this applies to the Keynes bibliography of Rupert Brooke, but this was first published in 1954 and last revised (as far as I am aware) in 1964 – over fifty years ago.  I have no reason at all to doubt his figure of 20,000 copies for the pamphlet: he was at school with Brooke, began collecting his work at that time, and was familiar with his circle.  Although he does not give an explicit source for the 20,000 figure, an acknowledgement in the preface of help received from the publishers, Sidgwick & Jackson, “for information concerning the printing of Brooke’s works”, strongly suggests that the figure was taken direct from the publisher’s archive.  But even so, after this lapse of time, it may be worth someone having another look.  It’s the “uncritical use” of sources, wherever found – on the web or on the shelves – that is the problem.

Postscript: For a measured response from the always-worth-listening-to Jim Hinck of the go-to website for finding books, viaLibri – visit his own blog at

Jim makes some excellent points, of course, and there is little to disagree with, but to respond briefly: No – I certainly don’t hold the internet responsible for the creation of duff bibliographical information – there was plenty of that around before, especially, as I say, in the “older point-mongering collectors’ guides”. But the internet has caused its far more rapid and far-reaching dissemination and I am by no means as sanguine as he is that these examples can ever now be extirpated (see my “Not Peevish” post of 20th December 2013 and then check today’s online listings of “Dombey & Son” – I’m still waiting for someone to show me a copy of the book where Captain Cuttle’s hook is on his right arm).

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Rare Books London 2016 – Notes from a Young Collector

Kayleigh BettertonA guest-post from Kayleigh Betterton

As we come to the end of yet another London International Antiquarian Book Fair, the fifty-ninth ABA summer Fair to be precise, collectors’ pockets are feeling a little lighter and our Twitter feeds are now full of Instagrammed photos of illuminated manuscripts, fine bindings and dealers behaving badly at the exhibitors’ wine reception.  Customers and dealers alike are now making their way back home to unpack their treasures, or, if you’re in any way like Benjamin, to revel in the fact that ‘ownership is the most intimate relationship that one can have to objects’ … even if you’re now having to survive on Waitrose Essentials pasta for the rest of the month in order to ‘balance out the books’, so to speak.

fostersAnyway, enough philosophising, this year’s theme at Olympia – The Gothic – was a popular one; with stalls sporting a wide and varied range of Gothic works (although I’m not entirely sure if the PBFA dealers down the road at the ILEC got the memo …).  Peter Harrington put on a fine display, as per, with their Gothic display-case featuring the first edition of Stoker’s “Dracula”, with its impressive yellow cloth, amongst others.  On the Thursday evening, when Laurence and I had a wander round, they were also relating the story of Sammy Jay’s discovery of Mary Shelley’s copy of “Frankenstein”, inscribed to Lord Byron, as their Gothic anecdote for the weekend.  Stephen Foster, on the other hand, had a collection of exquisitely bound Jane Austens on display; with the celebrated Hugh Thomson 1894 edition of “Pride and Prejudice” and J. M. Dent’s “Northanger Abbey” (at least it’s Gothic pastiche) taking pride of place on his shelves.

congaBy the time I arrived back at Olympia on the Saturday, the tours were in full flow; with Jonathan Kearns giving an energetic talk about all things Gothic. Whereas Ben Maggs and Alice Rowell from Maggs Bros. were taking a more decadent route – with a tour and talk about the Book Beautiful (I hear that green velvet waistcoats and a glass of prosecco in hand were an obligatory aspect of this one). Here they are in all of their dapper glory, and as one Twitter user pointed out, looking ready to start a bibliophiles’ conga line … now that really would be a sight to behold.

silverpointsSpeaking of Maggs … They had a fab nineteenth century display on show this weekend (probably courtesy of Alice, a fellow lover of all things fin-de-siècle).  John Gray’s “Silverpoints”, with the cover, initials and typography designed by Charles Ricketts, was especially tempting and was much talked about at the 1890s Society meal on the Friday evening.  Maggs also had another beautiful Ricketts-designed work for sale, the first book published by the Vale Press in 1894, “Hero and Leander”. With woodcuts, initials and borders all designed by Ricketts and Shannon – another prime example of late nineteenth-century publishing.

bladesI did have my eye on an early twentieth century Pseudonym and Antonym Libraries reprint poster, featuring Aubrey Beardsley’s iconic Girl and Bookshop design, up for sale. However alas, it became the-one-that-got-away, when after a brief five-minute lap of the PBFA Ibis Hotel hall, I went back to discover that it had already been sold!  Do not fear though, I didn’t leave empty-handed … I chanced upon a lovely miniature of William Blades’ “The Enemies of Books”, published in 1985 by the Catherijne Press and as I had appropriated Blades’ title for my own MA dissertation, I thought that it was an opportunity not to be missed.

The fair also allowed us to spread the word about the University of London’s first Society of Bibliophiles: the more observant of you may have noticed our new flyers nestled in amongst the dealer catalogues at the fair.  flyersThe flyer had details about the launch party (check out the new Soc’s blog for more details – and with it, we’re hoping to trap and seduce a new, young, breed of bibliophile. That said, Robert Weaver of Dulwich College and Jonathan Cooper of Papplewick School, have already begun this process by catching them early and could both be found on Saturday, giving their boys a tour of the fair.  Cooper’s boys, the Bibliomaniacs, were even trying their hand at dealing and had been made honorary members of the PBFA. When I caught them towards the end-of-play on Saturday, they informed me that they had been doing a roaring trade and had nearly sold all of their stock. A hopeful and heart-warming note to leave the fair on.

With this in mind, I will now leave you back in the safe blog-posting hands of Laurence, however I’m hoping he will be kind enough to let me guest-post again with more information about the UoL’s new Society … so please do watch this space.

Kayleigh Betterton is a book-collector and ardent Victorianist; dividing her time between teaching at a school in South London and writing her PhD thesis. She is passionate about educational research partnerships between the state and independent sector and is also writing about the psychologies of collecting in the fin-de-siècle. She is a member of the Half-Crown Club, a book-collecting society that meets at the Athenæum, and is also the founder of the University of London’s first Society of Bibliophiles.

Posted in ABA, Book Collecting, Book Fairs, Booksellers | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

H. W. Perl (1897-1952)

Redheads Are Poison

© Look and Learn

The artist H. W. Perl is chiefly known to aficionados of British post-war pulp fiction.  He was one of the most prolific artists in that genre, working for almost all the leading publishers – and he was quite simply one of the best – one of only a handful of pulp artists remembered and collected in his own right (click on the images to enlarge).  He is one of only a few artists who, at least at his best, could truly be said to rival Reginald Heade as the best of the entire bunch.  dangerous-damesWhile it is true that Perl’s work can be very uneven in quality, this is also true to some degree of his colleagues and chief rivals – Heade himself, David Wright, John Pollack and Brab (Oliver Brabbins) – and likely to derive from sheer pressure, pace of work, and hammering deadlines than any real failings in technique.

borrowedloveWhat is distinctive about Perl at his best – unlike the brazen perfection of Heade and Wright’s fantasy women – is that the Perl Girls, as we think of them, at least look like real women: women we can imagine having real lives behind the falsities of the pin-up pose – women who might be up for a laugh or a drink in the pub; women we can even imagine quietly reading a book; women with everyday concerns for friends and family, or who might once in a while have a momentary doubt as to what the posing was about.

HAMILTON True Life Stories

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace

Some of them, it is thought in his family, were modelled on one of Perl’s own glamorous and confident sisters-in-law – others look more as if they have been culled from movie magazines: I’m fairly sure I’ve spotted two or three Marlene Dietrichs and at least one Carole Lombard  amongst his prodigious output, while an experienced collector points to Jean Kent as another of his favourites.

The Chef

“The Chef”, exhibited at the Royal Academy by Hyman W. Perlzweig. © Courtesy of Debbie Hughes.

Little enough is known about some of Perl’s rivals and colleagues, but at least the basic outlines of their lives have been established.  But of Perl – until now – until a recent comment on the blog popped up out of the blue from a member of his family and made everything clear – nothing at all appears to have been established, not even what the ‘H’ and the ‘W’ stand for.  H. W. Perl is in fact a pseudonym – well, almost a pseudonym, barely a pseudonym – the artist who exhibited three pictures at the Royal Academy between 1938 and 1940 as Hyman W. Perlzweig (his real name) can only be said to have been hiding in plain sight.

Asher Perlzweig, The Herzl March. © Library of Congress.

Asher Perlzweig, The Herzl March. © Library of Congress.

Hyman Woolf Perlzweig was born in the East End of London on 28th May 1897, the second child and second son of Asher Perlzweig and his wife Sarah Stern.  His parents came originally from the eastern reaches of the old Austro-Hungarian empire, but met and married in Jarosław, now in south-eastern Poland, due east of Kraków.   Asher Perlzweig (1870?-1942) was a cantor or precentor at the Vine Court Synagogue, a highly accomplished musician who had trained at the Cantorenschule in Vienna, at the famous Vienna Conservatoire, and also at the Guildhall School of Music.  Many of his compositions and arrangements were published and he has his own entry in “The Palgrave Dictionary of Anglo-Jewish History”.

Maurice Louis PerlzweigThere is also an entry for his eldest son, the pulp artist’s big brother, Maurice Louis Perlzweig (1895-1985), an even more famous figure, a founder of the World Jewish Congress, later Director (in New York ) of its International Affairs Department, and its representative at the United Nations, the draughtsman of many documents submitted to the Commission on Human Rights.

74 Blackstock Road

74 Blackstock Road

In 1903 the growing family – there were to be eight children in all – moved to Finsbury Park,  in North London, where Asher Perlzweig officiated at the Finsbury Park Synagogue.  By 1911 they were living at 74 Blackstock Road, a busy thoroughfare off the Seven Sisters Road – a part of the world not unknown to my own family: my Uncle Harry was the mayor in these parts back in the day.  The atmosphere in the cantor’s home, as recalled by Maurice Perlzweig in a series of interviews given to Peter Jessup in 1981-1982 for Columbia University’s Oral History Research project, was an intellectual and a European one, “though we spoke English at home, [it] was not only influenced by the Polish background of my mother, but also the Viennese background of my father”.

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace

But the children were soon assimilated and went happily enough to local schools: “The one thing about it that my father didn’t like was that … they taught me to play football and cricket, which he thought were rather barbaric forms of activity … But generally I got on very well.  For example, I have no recollection of anti-Semitism”.

Hyman probably did not share Maurice’s sporting prowess (Maurice was a champion sprinter), as he apparently had something of a hunched back and a concomitant weak chest all his life.  He was firmly rejected for active service in the Great War.  Nor apparently did he follow Maurice to London and Cambridge universities, but he did win a scholarship of some sort to study sculpture at the Royal College of Art.

The Lost Kingdom

The Lost Kingdom

The 1920s represent something of an undiscovered blank in his career, but his first book illustrations – at least the first known to me – appeared (as by Hyman W. Perlzweig) in Samuel Gordon’s “The Lost Kingdom : Or, The Passing of the Khazars” (1926), a novel about the destruction of the legendary kingdom of Khazaria – a potent symbol (on both sides of the argument) in the quest for a Jewish homeland, in which his eldest brother was such a powerful voice.  There were also some children’s illustrations in at least one of F. & M. Spurgin’s “Golden Year” annuals, published by Art & Humour Publishing in the 1920s.

Hyman W. Perlzweig, Self Portrait. 1933. Courtesy of Debbie Hughes.

Hyman W. Perlzweig, Self Portrait. 1933. Courtesy of Debbie Hughes.

By 1930 or so, perhaps earlier, and now simply as H. W. Perl – a contraction also favoured by his youngest brother Max, who formally changed his name to Perl in 1950 – he was producing dust-jackets for Harrap’s “Shilling Library” series.  He had also begun on his career as a pulp-fiction artist, initially for the publishers Arthur Gray (1889-1960) and Frederick Matthew Mowl (1887-1949) who had begun publishing in the 1920s, originally as the Federation Press, operating from at least 1926 from Gramol House, Farringdon Avenue – the ‘Gramol’ being a combination of their two surnames.  It was as Gramol Publications that they began really to saturate the market for cheap paperback fiction of various kinds and in bewildering numbers.  For the purposes of dating their enormous output, they were listed in telephone directories at 54 Fetter Lane (1928-1929), then successively from 13 Bread Street Hill (1929-1931), 3 Duke Street (1932-1936) and 67 Chandos Street (1936-1937).  There were hundreds of titles published as Gramol Mystery Novels, Gramol Thriller Novels, the Gramol Women’s Novel Library, Gramol Girls Popular Novels, the Boy’s Novel Library, Girls’ Complete Story Novelettes, Girl’s Novel Library, The Schoolgirls’ Novel Library, Snappy Novels, Threepenny Novels,  the Adelphi Novels, the New Adelphi Novels, the Regent Novels, as well as the Gramol Cinema Novel Library, etc.

Most of their output is now almost impossible to find, fulfilling Michael Sadleir’s criterion for “the most vital quality of any possible collectability … extremely difficult to find fine, but when found … inexpensive”.  Many of the individual titles are listed in Stephen Holland & Richard Williams’ indispensible, “The Gramol Group 1932-1937” (1990) – although many titles are known only from publishers’ lists and others have probably disappeared forever.  (The Gramol imprint was revived during the 1940s, perhaps having an unexpected popular hit with Percy Muir’s “Book-Collecting as a Hobby” (1944) – still an excellent introduction – but the firm was by then, I am fairly certain, in other hands).

playthingsFrom at least 1930, H. W. Perl was one of Gramol’s leading cover artists, even if they do seem to have been regarded as the worst-paying publishers of the period.  The titles of four novels by Sylvia Stanley he provided designs for are perhaps representative and certainly give some of the flavour: “Her Marriage Vows” (1931); “A Mill Girl’s Misfortune” (1932), “Lure of the Limelight” (1932) and “From Factory to Fame” (1933).  These sort of titles turn up so seldom that it is difficult to be dogmatic about Perl’s work at this period, but the elongated and stiffly-posed bright young things of this cover for Elisabeth’s Wilding’s “Playthings” (1933) show an artist in tune with his times.  His self-portrait from the same year leaves us in no doubt either of his talent or of his awareness of current trends.

Alongside this kind of fare Gray and Mowl were also publishing some slightly spicier stuff – an untitled series of over 100 mildly salacious novels from authors masquerading behind such names as Paul Rénin (Richard Goyne), Paul Reville, Roland Vane (Ernest Lionel McKeag) and Henri Lamonte.  Perl occasionally illustrated these titles as well, certainly at least three of the Paul Revilles – “The Devil’s Playground”,  “Love’s Awakening” and “Poisonous Lure” (all 1930).

Lord of the Gallows

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace

It was a fraught business and Perl was perhaps fortunate not to get caught up in the matter (as some later pulp artists were) when Gray and Mowl ended up in the dock at the Old Bailey in February 1931, indicted for “publishing and selling indecent books likely to corrupt public morals”.  One of the four books produced as specimens was Reville’s “Arabian Passion”.  The charges were ludicrous by modern standards.  I will perhaps write up the farcical trial on another occasion: it featured both three young women being removed from the courtroom for “giggling and tittering” and the Gramol counsel (John Frederick Eales, K.C.) pleading quaintly that “girls to-day played tennis in costumes which, thirty years ago, they would not have dreamt of”.  Ludicrous or not, Gray and Mowl were each sentenced to six months in prison and subsequently flatly refused leave to appeal, with a demand from the bench as to why more of the people involved had not been prosecuted.

When London Laughs

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace

The flow of titles from Gramol appears not to have been unduly interrupted and may even have increased in the wake of a temporary notoriety.  Perl continued, apparently unperturbed, to work for Gray and Mowl, who perhaps toned things down just a little.  He produced at least forty-five covers and jackets for the firm – and quite probably as many more as yet unidentified.    Some hardback detective fiction and full-length novels were published under Gray’s name alone and subsequently in paperback under Mowl’s name – with distinctive art deco designs usually by Perl (someone please find me a copy of “When London Laughs”) – which perhaps indicated a desire to move upmarket and into respectability.  This was a change of style which Perl may have wished to pursue further, but by now he had probably established his name in a particular milieu.

Official Communique

Courtesy of Debbie Hughes

The Gramol work came to end in 1937 and Perl may perhaps briefly have returned to his more ostensibly serious work as Perlzweig  for a time (assuming he had ever wholly left it), exhibiting at the Royal Academy, painting studies of London characters, and certainly accepting commissions for portraits and so on.  As a sideline during the war he adopted a different  persona as a cartoonist for “The Leader”, producing delightful cartoons full of the chirpy cockney insouciance of the Blitz and the “London Can Take It” years.

DesireThe call of the pulps was never far away.  Arthur Gray appears to have reinvented himself as the Phoenix Press (the Phoenix Book Co. appears next door to Gramol at 66 Chandos Street as early as 1937), and he was soon publishing and republishing Rénin, Reville, Vane and all the rest.  And Perl was soon at work for him.  This cover for “Desire”, an old Gramol title from ten years earlier, showing an artist at work, probably dates from about 1940.

Miss Otis Piccadilly

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace

When Edwin and Irene Turvey (see my earlier post on them) started Modern Fiction Ltd. in 1943, Perl was soon illustrating their most popular lines – the saucy romances of “Henri Duprès”, the American-style thrillers of “Ben Sarto” – both in fact the work (at least initially) of the moonlighting journalist Frank Dubrez Fawcett (1891-1968) – and later the hard-boiled tales of the “Griff” series (“Dope is for Dopes”, etc.), commenced by Ernest McKeag.

Miss Otis Goes UpThe Perl covers for “Ben Sarto” and “Griff” helped propel sales almost to the pitch later reached by Heade with his famous designs for “Hank Janson” (Stephen Daniel Frances).  The Sarto novels feature such charmers as the United Ladies’ Club of Chicago in “Chicago Dames” (1947) – Dynamite Doll, Slappy Sal (not to mention her husband Jelly the Fish), Velvet Vi, Reno Doreena and Anna Toplitski, who craves the “sharp, puncturing kiss” of the hypodermic syringe.  His most enduring character, the subject of a whole sequence of novels, was Miss Otis, the “ritzy racketeer”,  strongest of all strong women, and one of the defining characters of the genre: “an experienced dame, you would say, looking at Miss Otis in her sun parlor; a dame who had got ‘it’ in overweight quantities”.

The Sun QueenPerl worked widely and helped to popularise many of the other pulp fiction publishers, even providing illustrations (not his best work) for the distinctly weird output (often written by himself) of the Romanian-born Hyman Kaner (1896-1973) who began publishing as far afield as Llandudno in 1944 – although it is actually conceivable that Perl had known Kaner from schooldays: they both attended the Settles Street school in the East End for a short time and later moved to North London.

Dublin’s Grafton Publications were another firm to use Perl, as were Raymond and Lilian Locker of Hanley, as well as the London imprints of Hamilton & Co., Grant Hughes, Brown Watson, and Barnardo.  When the Bear Hudson firm decided to switch from their little craft handbooks and wartime make-do-and-mend offerings to go in for pulp fiction in about 1945, it was generally Perl to whom they turned for covers – for titles such as Frank Griffin’s “Death Takes a Hand” (1945) and the legendary “Spawn of the Vampire” (1946) by N. Wesley Firth.

Pay Off

Courtesy of Morgan Wallace

Perl also produced a quantity of work for the Curtis Warren firm after it started out in 1948, putting his distinctive designs to the work of such luminaries as “Nick Baroni” (“Red Doll”, “Night Club Moll”, etc.) and “Brett Vane” (“Miss Pinki Pays Off”, “This Honey is Mine”, “High Heels and Scanties”, etc).  It is said of this particular firm that they would often ask the writer to write the text to illustrate the cover and the title, rather than the other way round – an arrangement probably not unique in the world of pulp.

H. W. Perl 10 March 1952.

H. W. Perl 10 March 1952. Courtesy of Debbie Hughes

Perl was at his best at around this period, as British pulp fiction enjoyed its high tide, before the trials and bankruptcies of the early 1950s.  By this time he was evidently making a sufficient living to enjoy having a flat in Clifton Gardens, off Warwick Avenue, in Maida Vale, one of London’s leafiest and attractive residential streets.  Known as “Sos” to his talented, interesting and liberal family, he is remembered with great affection.  He died on the 21st December 1952 at the General Hospital in Willesden, his weak chest in all likelihood succumbing to the last and worst of the great London killer fogs, which had descended on 4th December of that year and lasted a whole week – yellow, sulphurous, choking, oily, blinding, lung-busting – and one of my own earliest memories.

12 Clifton Gardens

12 Clifton Gardens

I am very grateful to Debbie Hughes, Perl’s great-niece, and to the great Perl and pulp collector Morgan Wallace, who is building a Perl Pinterest board at, as well as all researchers and cataloguers, past and present, for their help in preparing this piece.                   

Posted in Book Collecting, Dust-Jackets, Forgotten Authors, Pulp Fiction | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Something about Frank Karslake

Frank KarslakeFrank Karslake (1851-1920) is remembered for a number of things.  In the wider world, he is remembered chiefly for having founded the Guild of Women Binders, which for a brief period either side of 1900 produced some exhilarating work, much admired,  much collected, and still capable of thrilling.  Less well remembered is that in parallel to the Guild, he also ran the Hampstead Bindery – its work perhaps less distinctive, but exquisite in itself.

Gwladys Edwards

Guild of Women Binders. Bound by Miss Edwards, possibly Gwladys Edwards. © The British Library Board.

Within the book trade and among its historians, he is further remembered as the founder in 1902 of the annual “Book Auction Records”, a work which in the days before such things had migrated online, was not only a rich repository of information (if sagely interpreted), but completely indispensible for the serious bookseller.  In its early years it was also often enlivened by Karslake’s own reminiscences and thoughts on the book trade of his time – these heavily drawn on in my earlier posts in the “Book-Hunters of 1888” series.  He was also the man whose single-minded energy and drive led to his founding the Second-Hand Booksellers’ Association (now the Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association) in 1906, serving as its first Secretary until his death in 1920.  These are all, in their varying degrees, good things.

Johanna Birkenruth

Binding by Johanna Birkenruth, Guild of Women Binders. © The British Library Board.

Perhaps a greater thing – one that appears to be no longer remembered at all – is that in 1886, he founded the Society for the Suppression of Hydrophobia and the Amendment of the Dog Laws.  It was an event widely noticed in the press at the time and the agenda was simple: to stamp out rabies in this country by measures eventually including muzzling and licensing.  There had been twenty-six or twenty-seven deaths from rabies in London alone in 1885.  Public support was large: Karslake, still spelling his name Kerslake at this time, lectured on the subject, called public meetings, published his “Hydrophobia : Its Cause and Prevention” in 1890, and brought about decisive action.  By the turn of the century, the disease was all but eliminated in this country, although he returned to the subject once more right at the end of his life with “Rabies and Hydrophobia : Their Cause and their Prevention” (1919).

hampstead bl

Binding by the Hampstead Bindery. © The British Library Board.

Nothing to his discredit in any of this, far from it, but Karslake has not been a man universally admired.   The auctioneer Tom Hodge of Sotheby’s, writing in 1907 to his fellow book-auctioneer John Edmund Hodgson, outlined his reasons for refusing an invitation to a dinner of the new Second-Hand Booksellers’ Association: “I too have received an invitation to the dinner but I shall certainly not accept it … I consider it entirely a mistake and altogether inadvisable for Auctioneers  to be looked upon & ranked as one of the trade; secondly the Association is far too closely identified with its founder [Karslake] …  The Association, started by the Secretary, is an obvious attempt to reinstate himself in the good opinion of second-hand booksellers but until the Association absolutely eject him I do not see how it can ever get a good reputation …  I very much regret that many ever honest men have in any way allowed themselves to be coupled with Mr. Karslake.  I do not think you & I need care two pins about it beyond being careful to keep clear of it …  We are not of, nor in the trade & booksellers must be made to remember this …” (quoted in Frank Herrmann’s “Sotheby’s : Portrait of an Auction House” (1980).

Leaving aside Hodge’s general feelings about his best customers, there were clearly very specific issues with Karslake.  There is no mention at all of any of this in the ABA’s own centenary volume,  edited by Giles Mandelbrote and published as “Out of Print & Into Profit” (2006), in fact there is little mention of Karslake at all.  Curiously he is not even indexed in the booksellers’ section, although this he plainly was for most of his life.  The only passage of any substance comes from the late Anthony Rota, reiterating the tale of the famous dinner at the Criterion restaurant where the association was founded in December 1906.  Of Karslake himself he wrote: “The man responsible … was Frank Karslake (1851-1920).  A successful businessman, he is said to have made most of his money from land deals in North America, where he owned at least three ranches.  Around the turn of the century he returned to his native England and once more took up the trade which he had earlier found so satisfying.  Back in London, in 1902 he became founding editor of ‘Book Auction Records’ … which he published from his imposing house in Pond Street, Hampstead”.  As both Anthony’s grandfather and great-grandfather (Percy Dobell and Bertram Dobell) would have known and worked with Karslake on the ABA Committee, I think we have to take this as how the trade itself has historically viewed Karslake.

Beyond that, Karslake’s daughter Madge Karslake (1886-1962), who took over his duties as Secretary to the ABA, contributed some affectionate personal reminiscences to “Book Auction Records” after his death in 1920, but there is no clue there either as to what the issues that so enraged Tom Hodge may have been.

Karslake was born Frank Kerslake in Birmingham on 20th July 1851 and baptised on 12th October 1851 at St. Thomas – the son of John Kerslake, bootmaker of 41a New Street, and his wife Mary Anne Findon, whom he had married in 1843.  The spelling Kerslake was retained until the 1890s.  The family seem to have been prosperous enough: along with their five children, the Kerslakes had two domestic servants in 1861.  The following year, the family moved to London.  Shortly after, Mary Anne Kerslake died – according to Madge Karslake young Frank returned from school one day, “walked into the drawing-room, and there found the mother he adored, lying dead upon the sofa  … A born lover of books, to those ever dear companions my father turned for consolation in those early days of bereavement.  The treasured volumes were smuggled to his room to be read by the light of a candle; a forbidden possession which was kept hidden away, to enable him to read, long after the daylight had faded”.

In the autumn of 1867, according to Karslake’s own account, he was working in a “branch” of his father’s business in Coventry Street, “supposed to be learning the business.  But the occupation was one for which I had neither taste nor capacity”.  When his father let the premises to the bookseller David White, former assistant and subsequently manager of Henry George Bohn’s great bookselling business (where he had worked alongside Bernard Quaritch), the young Karslake prevailed upon White to take him on as an apprentice.  There may have been some slight reinvention in this account, Karslake’s father, who had remarried, seems to have been on his way down in the world by this time –working as the manager of someone else’s boot and shoe business by 1871 – but certainly Karslake went to work for White and followed him to Bond Street when White went into partnership with the well-known Frederick Startridge Ellis.  It was White’s system of cutting up and meticulously filing catalogue slips which was later to inspire “Book Auction Records”.

robson-kerslake-adAt some point in or about 1873, the young Karslake decided to set up for himself.  It was on 4th December of that year that he married Martha McGregor (1851-1924) at Caterham – she was the daughter of a sergeant-major in the Royal Artillery.  They were to have nine children, all of whom lived to adulthood.  By then he was apparently sharing a bookshop with a younger brother in Booksellers’ Row.  According to his daughter, Karslake then for some reason attempted to have an alternative career on the stage.  It was not a successful venture and by 1881 Karslake had returned to bookselling, this time in partnership with Bartholomew Robson, a bookseller he had known since their days in lodgings together (for whom see my post of December 24, 2015).  It was a successful partnership and the business in Coventry Street was plainly prosperous.  It is true that in James G. Nelson’s “Publisher to the Decadents : Leonard Smithers in the Careers of Beardsley, Wilde, Dowson” (2000) there is a claim that “Robson & Kerslake”, as the partnership was known, “often sold ‘under the counter’ pornographic books” – a claim echoing one made in Mary S. Lovell’s  “A Rage to Live : A Biography of Richard and Isabel Burton” (1998) and repeated with more force in Colette Colligan & Margaret Linley’s “Media, Technology, and Literature in the Nineteenth Century” (2011) – but there are perhaps far too many good books now in major collections with a “Robson & Kerslake” provenance for this truly to be regarded as any major part of their trade.


Morning Post, 12th March 1891.

In 1892 Karslake decided to emigrate to California and begin a new life.  According to his daughter this was for reasons of health and on doctor’s advice.  Farmland for instantly profitable fruit-growing in Placer County, California, had recently been heavily advertised in glowing terms in the English press and this was Karslake’s destination.  On his own admission he borrowed £1,800 from David White – about £750,000 in today’s terms on the basis of average earnings (other measures are available) – “for a special temporary purpose”, although according to his daughter he was offered “what was considered to be a high position of trust with an English firm”.  For her, at the age of six, it was an idyllic time: “It was midsummer 1892 when we arrived in California, a beautiful time of year there.  My father had three ranches, and our house was built according to his ideas; and a perfect home it was.  From the long panelled drawing-room in which a hundred persons could stand up to dance, to the great play room and gymnasium on the top floor; everything had been perfectly planned.  The house stood on the height of a hill, and from the verandah there was a glorious view … thousands of peach trees in bloom … the matchless blue of a Californian sky”.

The idyll soon came to an end: “It was not long before my father realised that there was nothing in the post which he had accepted, and nearly four years later he decided to return to England, where he once again became a bookseller”.  The newspapers and archives of the period tell a rather different story.  The two eldest sons had gone on ahead, but the remainder of the family sailed from Liverpool on the “Alaska”, bound for New York, on the 9th July 1892 – the passengers still listed under the spelling Kerslake.  It was a spelling never used again.  Quite why the Kerslakes became Karslakes somewhere along the way is not explained. Perhaps it simply betokened a new start in a new life.  Perhaps the name had always been pronounced Karslake and the family had grown tired of correcting other people’s mis-spellings – I have sometimes felt the same way about my own first name – ‘Laurence’ spelt with a ‘u’, perfectly correct and wholly orthodox – and yet people insist daily on spelling it with a ‘w’.  But, for all that, to change the spelling of your name by a single letter in mid life is an odd and slightly suspicious thing to do.

SouthseaWhat Madge Karslake does not mention is that her father returned to England at least twice before bringing the family home for good in 1896.  He returned alone, as Frank Karslake, fruit-grower, in July 1893, and again in June 1895, this time as Frank Karslake, merchant.  And what he was doing on these return trips was touring round the country drumming up custom for his so-called ‘agricultural college’ – an institution of which he was variously described as both founder and principal – no mention at all of his being employed by anyone else.  The “Portsmouth Evening News” (17th August 1895), for example, announced that Karslake (Principal of the Placer County Agricultural Training College, Penryn, Placer County, California), was to give a public lecture entitled, “California, the Wonderland of the North American Continent” – the lecture to be illustrated with “80 Oxy-Hydrogen Lantern Slides of the scenery of the Yosemite Valley, The Sierra Nevada, The Big Trees, The Fruit Ranches, Orange Groves, Ranch Operations, &c., &c.  Any questions may be asked at the close of the Lecture. Tickets and Prospectuses of the College may be procured, free of charge …”.


London Evening Standard, 17th August 1894.

A subsequent report in the same newspaper (29th August 1895) gives the gist of the lecture: “The object of the College is to provide a place where British youths who emigrate to the far West may be taught their business.  Too often, he [Karslake] said, it had happened that parents had sent their sons out as a pupil to some colonial farmer, and paid a heavy premium in order that he might receive some practical training.  But the farmer having secured the money treated the youth as an ordinary farm hand, so that when thrown on his own resources the latter was not much better acquainted with colonial farming than when he left England.  Parents who sent their sons out to the Placer County College, however, could rely on their being thoroughly taught, and afterwards assisted to start ranching or fruit growing for themselves”.

Quite what qualifications a forty-four year old bookseller might have for running an agricultural college – beyond the usual distressing tendency of booksellers surrounded by books on all manner of subjects somehow coming to believe that they know everything that’s in them – are not at all clear.  A year later, the “Manchester Courier” (Saturday 26th September 1896) carried an article bluntly headed, “Frauds on British Immigrants in California”.  It deals mainly with land fraud and the selling of ranches on false valuations – and it may perhaps be that Karslake was a victim of this himself – but the British Consul-General at San Francisco, a Mr Warburton, also specifically noted “the case of the Penryn Agricultural College … as to which there had been serious complaints.  This institution was suddenly closed by notice dated June 18 which the Consul-General gives in full … signed by one Frank Karslake. The student who brought this Mr. Warburton’s notice wrote:— ‘I regret to say that the majority of us are entirely without means, either to support ourselves or protect our interests’, and a later notice warned the students that no food could be supplied to them after June 30 last. ‘These unfortunate young men or boys’, says Mr. Warburton, ‘are thus thrown suddenly and without warning on their own resources, with very little prospect of obtaining employment’”.  Karslake and his family had arrived back in England on 13th March 1896, their adventure abandoned, but he was still lecturing on the merits of his college in Glasgow in April, and still advertising it widely in the press until the end of May.  In the whole of the “Manchester Courier” article he is the only person mentioned by name in respect of the frauds.  While it is possible that this was a well-intentioned enterprise which unfortunately went wrong, the available evidence would appear otherwise.

35 Pond Street

35 Pond Street, Hampstead.

Back in England, Karslake returned to bookselling with a shop on the Charing Cross Road and it was also at about this time that he acquired the imposing house in Pond Street. For a failed venture, Karslake seems not to have come out of it too badly.  The newspapers take up his story again in 1899.  A short piece in the “York Herald” (Saturday 18th November 1899), headed “Artistic Bookbinding”, continues, “As is well known, the higher branches of book-binding prove very remunerative, and a man who is strong and original can make a very comfortable living at it.  People prize their books so highly, and desire to see them so well adorned that they are glad to pay for original and artistic work.  Mr. Frank Karslake, who has two daughters engaged in book-binding, and intends to have two other daughters taught the craft, commends the Guild of Women Binders in London to the notice of parents with daughters whom they wish to learn a useful trade to enable them to earn a livelihood in a light and remunerative employment which  requires taste, skill, and thoroughness”.


Yorkshire Herald, 18th November 1899.

This sounds for all the world like a variation on the agricultural college scheme (or scam) – and almost certainly it was.  Karslake went bankrupt early in 1904 and the official hearings throw further light.  The “Manchester Courier” (Friday 19 February 1904) reported the matter with reasonable neutrality: “A sitting was held in the London Bankruptcy-court, yesterday, for the public examination of Frank Karslake, from whose statements and the Official Receiver’s observations it appeared that in December 1894, he opened an agricultural college in California, receiving students at an annual fee of 100 guineas, but the venture proved a failure, and he returned to England.  The debtor was now described as of Pond-street, Hampstead, and Charing Cross-road, bookseller.  He had also carried on a book-binding business, which was known as the Guild of Women Binders.  He advertised for and obtained lady pupils at a fee of 50 guineas each and agreed to teach them according to the system carried on at the Hampstead Bindery.  Also, after 12 months, if they made themselves proficient, to engage them at a salary of not less than a guinea a week, or to provide them with piecework.  The statement of affairs showed liabilities £2,769, of which £1,955 were expected to rank, and an estimated surplus in assets of £769.  The debtor further stated that his Californian college was killed through the Jameson Raid, the result of which was that young men went out to South Africa to fight the Boers, instead of entering his college and growing apples in California. (Laughter)”.

The “London Daily News” (Friday 19th February 1904) in a report headed “Lazy Lady Students : An Industrial Fiasco” added additional detail: “Mr. Frank Karslake, bookseller, of Charing-cross-road, said that amongst his ventures was a bookbinder’s business, started in May, 1898, at Pond-street, Hampstead, known as the ‘Guild of Women Binders’.  He advertised for and obtained lady pupils at a fee of 50 guineas to teach them bookbinding according to a system carried on at the Hampstead Bindery, South Hill Park.  Since January, 1901, he had received as premiums £2,405.  No doubt that business had resulted in a loss, although he never realised it until shortly before the failure.  What with the waste of gold and leather, and the fact that many of the pupils preferred reading novels to working, or learning to work, it was bound to be a loss.  It suffered from the want of a proper supervisor.  One of the main causes of his failure had been the war in South Africa, his business being mainly in luxuries, the demand for which consequently fell off.  The hearing was adjourned”.

Dividends were paid from time to time, but it was 1912 before Karslake was finally discharged from the bankruptcy.  The bankruptcy laws were draconian and it must have taken some sleight of hand to hang on to the house in Pond Street.  We can quite see why Tom Hodge took such a dim view.  And such then was the man who founded the ABA – an extraordinary mixture of a man, a man who did so many undoubtedly good things, but who was also, in all likelihood, a fraudster – and certainly an undischarged bankrupt theoretically disqualified from business.  Perhaps he was simply unlucky in his ventures – I am not at all sure.  David White, whose probity was a byword, remained a true and loyal friend.  Bartholomew Robson was among the first to join the ABA.  The trade as a whole was forgiving: in 1913 at the annual dinner of what had now become the International Association of Antiquarian Booksellers, “the thanks of the Association, together with a handsome service of plate, and a testimonial subscribed by 122 members, were presented to him”.  He died on 25th March 1920 – probate granted to his widow, his effects declared at a meagre £314.8s.4d.

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Do you not twitter Gentlemen?


© British Library Board

“Do you not twitter Gentlemen?” – what’s this then, a line interpolated into Shakespeare to bring him up to date and make him ‘relevant’?  Well, yes, that’s actually more or less what it is.  It’s a line from a fresh prologue written for “Othello” in 1660 to announce the fact that for the very first time Desdemona will be played by a real woman and not a “man in gown, or page in petty-coat”.  Although the general tenor of her introduction to the twittering gentlemen perhaps reminds us of how sage Noël Coward was in his advice to Mrs Worthington on the advisability of putting daughters on the stage, it’s now flagged up in the latest British Library exhibition as one the ‘iconic’ moments in the four-hundred year history of all things Shakespeare – “Shakespeare in Ten Acts”.

Vivien Leigh (as Titania)

Vivien Leigh (as Titania) from A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Old Vic Theatre, 1937. Photograph by J. W. Debenham. Courtesy of the Mander and Mitchenson Collection at the University of Bristol and ARENApal

It’s a commonplace that each generation reinterprets Shakespeare in its own way – and this exhibition certainly does that.  The exhibition notes are full of phrases like ‘institutional sexism’, ‘struggle for racial diversity’ and ‘creative reuse of film and digital media’.  Much of it tells us far, far, more about ourselves and our own crises of conscience and confidence than it does about Shakespeare, the theatre, and the nature of acting and illusion.  And much of it left me cold.  Inexplicable to me that in an overview of the twentieth-century global impact of  Shakespeare there should be no mention (unless I missed it) of the 1930s Paris production of “Coriolanus” which caused riots in the streets.  In fact there doesn’t seem to be much mention of the Roman plays at all – ‘small Latin and less Greek’ in our schools these days.  No mention either that I could see of Tom Stoppard’s breathtakingly brilliant “Rosencrantz and Guildenstern”, which must surely be at the top of anyone’s list of twentieth-century takes on Shakespeare.

Shakespeare First Folio

© British Library Board

But it doesn’t really matter at all what I think about some of the later ‘acts’ of the exhibition, because you are going to have to go and see it anyway for its opening riches.  A first folio – yes, of course – that seemingly least rare of rare books.


© British Library Board

But also the first quarto of “Hamlet” (1603) – one of just two known copies.  The first quarto of “Lear”.  The first edition of “Love’s Labours Lost” (1598) – the first book to have Shakespeare’s name on the title-page: a particular joy for me, this one – it was published by Cuthbert Burby, one of my remote predecessors as a bookseller with a shop in the Royal Exchange.  And there are extraordinary manuscripts too: Richard Baines’ damning deposition on the alleged atheism and perhaps worse of Christopher Marlowe – how truly shocking to see it – written just days before Marlowe’s death; John Manningham’s contemporary diary with a highly scurrilous and, one hopes, apocryphal story about Shakespeare, Burbage and the groupie.

Thomas More

© British Library Board

And above all – way above all – the only surviving lines of theatrical dialogue in Shakespeare’s own hand: Shakespeare writing lines for Sir Thomas More as he faces down the mob  in a wholesale revision of a play by Anthony Munday probably never performed – still a toxic subject, as the censor’s notes make clear – “Leave out the insurrection wholly and the cause thereof”.  Anne Boleyn’s daughter was still on the throne when Munday wrote it.  But what a loss to our understanding of the period. This is simply electrifying.  Go.  Stand.  Admire.  Pay homage.  Revere.

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