The Latest and Greatest from Tavistock Books

The fall book fair season has slowed to a crawl, but the elves at Tavistock Books have been working overtime, cataloguing away! Presented here are a few notable new items at Tavistock Books, ones found at recent fairs such as Sacramento and Boston – and carefully picked out by Vic & Kate (you know, the Tavistock elves) to present to you here! Keep an eye out for our upcoming catalogue, as well… this one containing reconsidered (reexamined, re-catalogued, and, in many cases, repriced) albums & archives. You wouldn’t want to miss even more fun and interesting items coming your way this holiday season!

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This 1826 broadside called “The Sorrowful Lamentation of John Oliffe and John Sparrow” details the pitiful tale of two men in the early 1800s and their shameful tendencies toward the stealing of farm animals! Both men lay under the sentence of death – Oliffe for horse-stealing and Sparrow for sheep stealing! This Very Good copy of this broadside is even more special as it is unique – we find no copies of it on OCLC. See it here> 

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A rare item of local California history is up for grabs! This promotional booklet on Ben Lomond, a mountain in Santa Cruz named after a similar mountain in Scotland. This item, printed circa 1907, is not found in Rocq, nor on OCLC (though a reproduction is held by the Santa Cruz Public Library). This 70 page booklet is invaluable “number of views which will serve to give the reader a general but necessarily very much limited idea of the surpassing beauties of this favorite locality of mountain homes.” [t.p.]. See it here>

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This spectacularly colorful calendar marks a great year – 1901! Each of the 7 pages are chromolithographed with diverse scenes, such as the “1st Canadian Contingent Embarking at Quebec” or a “Relief of Ladysmith”. This calendar was issued as a Canadian Souvenir of the War in South Africa (Second Boer War) – once again, we find no copies listed on OCLC. See this colorful item here> 

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Nothing like a good booklet on a hospital founded in the 1840s as a center for consumption and diseases of the heart to make you feel glad for your lot this holiday season! The hospital, now called the Royal Brompton Hospital, was to be financed entirely from charitable donations and fund raising. At its opening, some of the hospital’s most famous patrons included singer Jenny Lind, Charles Dickens and even Queen Victoria (who gave £10 a year, apparently). Once again, we find no copies of this booklet detailing the patrons of the establishment on OCLC. See it here> 

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Another early item we have available is this Catalogue of the Officers and Students at Fryeburg Academy for 1852-1853. Fryeburg Academy was one of the very first schools built in Maine, and it was also one of the first schools in the continental United States to accept women! This preparatory school still known as one of the finest schools in the nation, and only one known copy of this booklet found on OCLC. See it here>

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Our Remarks on the Present Condition of the Navy and Particularly of the Victualling is a piece from 1700 written by John Tutchin, a radical Whig controversialist and political journalist. In 1704 after accusing the British Navy of supplying food for the French Navy, Tutchin was arrested and imprisoned (again, having been so previously) for his beliefs and outspoken nature, and died from injuries sustained being beaten in prison. Interested? See it here>  

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Welcome Home, My Lovelies

Taylor Bowie doesn’t look like much of a tough guy. He’s short and thin, with a wispy goatee and wire glasses, and he wears a baseball hat and sneakers for almost all occasions. He loves books and food and cats, not necessarily in that order, and he’s been in the book trade so long even his hair has gained mythical status — young booksellers tell of having heard it once existed. He’s the unofficial godfather of many fellow booksellers’ cats, and like any proud parent once regaled me with pictures of his extended feline family over lunch at a book fair, struggling all the while to silently come to terms with a disappointing vegetarian chili prepared by a chef he admires. The point is, everyone loves Taylor, and for good reason. So you can imagine my surprise when I dared to go up against him in a dispute about the veracity of a particular item, and got my ass firmly and unequivocally handed to me. Politely, of course.

It all started with a menu. And not just any menu: a full, priced menu from the 1930s gambling ship S.S. Rex. We’d picked it up from Taylor along with a much more abbreviated souvenir Rex menu, and two others from the Rex’s sister ship, the S.S. Tango. Both ships had been owned by Tony “The Hat” Cornero, a Depression-era rum-runner turned casino magnate with a penchant for stylish haberdashery, who attempted to skirt California’s anti-gambling laws by re-outfitting a couple of old fishing barges and operating them just over 3 miles from the Santa Monica shoreline, in international waters. The Tango menus weren’t the problem — I was able to track down others that had surfaced over the years with relative ease. But the Rex menus were another story.

A menu from the S.S. Rex gambling ship . . . or so we thought.

A menu from the S.S. Rex gambling ship . . . we thought.

For one thing, the Rex borrowed its name from a glamorous Italian cruise liner also in operation at the time, one that actually merited the designation “S.S.” (unlike the far more prosaic and unwieldy gambling ship, which had to be towed from one location to the next). To make things even trickier, both menus had an image of a large cruise ship on the front, and the full menu even had a crown logo, similar to the cruise liner’s. Was it possible that these menus weren’t from the gambling ship, after all?

The Italian cruise liner, S.S. Rex (www.italianliners.com)

The Italian cruise liner, S.S. Rex (www.italianliners.com)

What clinched it, or so I thought, was the name and date scrawled in pencil on the back of the full Rex menu: “Ledy Fabian / Sept. 2, 1938.”

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“Ledy Fabian / Sept. 2, 1938″

A search in the GG Archives’ passenger lists brought up one Pilade Fabiani, who sailed with his wife and two sons from Cannes on August 9, 1938, aboard — you guessed it — the Italian cruise liner S.S. Rex. Further inquiries proved that he arrived in New York on August 17, whereupon he listed his address as a street in New Haven, CT.

Regrettable as it was, Taylor sure seemed to gotten it wrong. Vic broke the news to him, and we planned to ship the lot back in the next post. That was that, or so I thought.

But Taylor wasn’t getting dissed that easily. Much as he respected my research skills, he said, I was wrong. He’d been dealing with material from the ocean liner Rex for 25 years, and had never come across a priced menu, much less one in English, with prices in American dollars! Plus, he was sure that “Doc” Puccinelli, the maitre’d listed on the back of the menu, had been involved in the San Francisco gambling scene in the 1930s and ‘40s.  Of course, we could return the menus, but, to put it less diplomatically than Taylor did, he was convinced that we’d be idiots if we did.

Well. I hadn’t seen that coming. Taylor — gentle, generous, cat-loving Taylor! — turned out to be stubborn as hell when he wanted to be, and he wasn’t budging. Everything in his experience told him that these were menus from the gambling ship Rex. Everything in mine told me that the odds of a guy named Ledy or Pilade Fabian[i] sailing to Connecticut on a cruise liner named the S.S. Rex in August, and then dining on a gambling ship of the same name on the other side of the country a few weeks later were . . . improbable at best. But if, if, Taylor was right, then he’d be right about us being idiots for getting it wrong. More precisely, I would be the idiot.

Lacking 25 years of experience, however, the only thing for it was more research: I couldn’t simply rely on Taylor’s word, as reliable as his word presumably is. After all, everyone makes mistakes from time to time. And besides, what if a potential customer asked me the same questions I’d asked Taylor? How would I prove that these weren’t menus from the cruise liner, if I hadn’t even been able to prove that to myself?

Let’s just say that it was a very good thing Taylor held out. Because a little more digging turned up the fact that Pilade Fabian had indeed lived in New Haven — and that his father likely still did in 1938, at least according to the 1935 city directory. Pilade himself seemed to have moved with his family to Los Angeles in 1935, and was settled in San Diego by at least 1939. It looked a lot more likely that he could’ve made it home and out to the Rex by September 2, 1938, five days before the gambling ship was raided (not for the first time), a raid Cornero initially greeted by spraying the incoming police officers’ water taxis with high pressure hoses.

I never found anything explicitly connecting “Doc” Puccinelli to the gambling industry, but he did apparently own a sea food restaurant frequented by members of the mob, and possibly a cannery in San Pedro as well, which might’ve been a good spot for a young up-and-coming rum-runner to unload his wares. Even better, a lucky stumble led to the discovery of Noir Afloat: Tony Cornero and the Notorious Gambling Ships of Southern California, a relatively new book by Ernest Marquez that was available via the ever-handy interlibrary loan system. And in it, miracle of miracles, was a copy of an S.S. Rex menu with a cover almost exactly the same as our own:

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(Noir Afloat, p 50)

Needless to say, the menus have found a new home, or rather, an old one, of sorts: in Los Angeles, among a large collection of other material having to do with California’s gambling ship history.

And as for me? Note to self, Grasshopper: be patient, and do your damn research. And always, always listen to Taylor — especially whenever food is involved.

Taylor "The Godfather" Bowie, seen here with Lola, aka "Bruttiboni" ("Brutal Bunny" to her victims)

Taylor “The Godfather” Bowie, seen here with Lola, aka “Bruttiboni” (that’s “Brutal Bunny” to you)

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“We sit in the mud… and reach for the stars”: A Tribute to Ivan Turgenev

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Recently I sat down and made a list of some authors and book-related events that I wished I knew more about. Too often we can find ourselves leaning towards what we already know – authors we are comfortable with and like. So to avoid stagnancy, we are going to do a couple blogs on things we are not experts in (not that we are experts in everything… just close). Behold… Ivan Turgenev. 

screen-shot-2016-10-22-at-9-39-03-pmIvan Turgenev was a 19th century Russian author most well-known for his works Fathers and Sons, A Sportsman’s Sketches, First Love and A Provincial Lady. However, before becoming an author of novels, short fiction and plays Turgenev was a young Russian intellectual from a broken home. Born in Orel (now Oryol) to Sergei Turgenev and Varvara Petrovna Lutovinova, a wealthy heiress. Turgenev did not experience a happy childhood – his father was a womanizer and his unhappy mother was quite abusive to the young Turgenev and his brother. Turgenev studied at the University of Moscow for a year once coming of age, and then spent the rest of his schooling at the University of Saint Petersburg from 1834 to 1837 – studied Classics and Russian Literature in particular. From 1838 to 1841 Turgenev attended the University of Berlin. While there, he was quite impressed with the German way of life and resolved to help bring ideas and concepts of the German Enlightenment to Russian society. 

Turgenev maintained friendships with several literary greats of the day – one of his closest friends being French author Gustave Flaubert and also maintaining relationships with fellow Russian authors Leo Tolstoy and Fyodor Dostoevsky, though his associations with both were often strained by differing opinions on literature and misunderstandings of personality. (Fun fact: in 1861, Tolstoy and Turgenev’s relationship was under enough stress to warrant Tolstoy challenging his acquaintance to a duel. Though he apologized afterwards, the two were not on speaking terms for the next 17 years.)

Turgenev’s first put his name on the radar of others with a work called Sketches from a Hunter’s Album (also called Notes of a Hunter, in some circles). It was a collection of short stories “based on his observations of peasant life and nature, while hunting in the forests around his mother’s estate of Spasskoye. Due to his time spent in Germany and his fascination with the Enlightenment, Turgenev was extremely anti-serfdom (a regular practice in Russia at the time), and this work published in 1852 is believed to have swayed public opinion at the time in support of exterminating the dated practice in 1861. Turgenev considered this work to be his single most important contribution to Russian literature, though in modern times it is not necessarily the one most know him for. 

See our 1st US book edition holding of Turgenev’s Dimitri Roudine here>

The 1850s-1860s were a considerably artistic time for Turgenev, he wrote several novellas, novels, short stories and plays while still in Russia. Slowly Turgenev traded his style of Romantic idealism with beautifully written phrases on nature and the inconsistencies of man and love for a more realistic style. In 1862 Turgenev’s most popular and enduring work was published, a novel called Fathers and Sons which was both beloved and reviled in Russian society – embraced by the modern thinkers and cast out by the more traditional, older generation. The extreme criticism he received for his work by the traditional thinkers spurred his final move from Russia – to live out the rest of his days between Paris and Baden-Baden. Turgenev is a fine example of a forward thinker who wasn’t scared to push the limits of what was expected in society at his time. Though the only thing I have read of his publications so far has been First Love (a short, and very interesting read – if anyone is looking for recommendations!)… I think I may just have to pick up a copy of Fathers and Sons next time I head over to the neighborhood book store…

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Boston or Bust! One Bay-Area Bookseller’s Look at the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair (Said Bookseller Being our Very Own Vic Zoschak)

If it’s the second weekend in November, I must be in Boston.  Wait, I was in Boston last week, late October…?  Yes, this year, due to a date conflict at the Hynes, the Boston fairs were right in the middle of the 2016 World Series.  Can you imagine the craziness in town if the Sox had beat the Indians [who are looking pretty tough this post-season] and then the Jays…?  Hey, it’s bad enough as it is with a few hundred [thousand?] booksellers, collectors & librarians running around the Back Bay.

So yes, Wednesday October 26th, found yours truly boarding a direct United flight, SFO – BSO.  My usual [bad] luck took a vacation, and the flight departed [more or less] on time, arriving right around dinner time.  Which I had at the conveniently-located restaurant next to my hotel, Rooster Bistro.  Totally forgettable.  Totally.

A good night’s sleep suppressed that memory, and when Thursday dawned, I made my way to the North Bennett School in the company of Laurelle Swan [Swan’s Fine Books, Walnut Creek CA], an ABAA scholarship recipient to that day’s ABAA/RBS Educational Seminar.  A joint effort, this year 30 bibliophiles gathered to hear the likes of David Whitesell, Terry Belanger, Todd Pattison, Don Lindgren & Nina Musinsky speak about their respective areas of expertise.  I, while there that morning to welcome those 30, was not a seminar registrant this year.  So once all had departed for their designated classrooms, I departed for Brattle Book Shop, 9 West Street.  On arrival, I immediately headed for the 3rd floor [Rare Books].  For those not ever having had the pleasure, Brattle gets lots of books.  Lots.  And Ken frequently pencils bookseller-friendly prices on the flyleaf.  And, this week there was a 50% sale in effect, which began on Monday.  [Note to self: fly out earlier next year].  Yes, I soon expect parcel(s) to arrive from Brattle [as do, I’m sure, hundreds of other booksellers].

Thursday night, traditionally, is the night for the meeting of the ABAA Board of Governors.  This year was no different, and we convened at the nearby Brasserie Jo.  The meeting was filled with typical ‘governing’ administrative matters, which I only mention here, because as part of the meeting, the board approved 7 new ABAA members, of which 5 will be noted here, for, in the past, I have often crossed paths with these fine folk: Kim Herrick, Laurelle Swan, Andy Langer, Michael Thompson & Abby Schoolman.  Congrats to you all!

broadsideAs is the custom at the Boston fair, Friday night 5 pm rang the opening bell.  I, like many others, made my way in & started visiting folks I knew…  and quickly realized it was downright hot in the hall!  I don’t know the gate, but if ambient temperature reflects occupancy, it was well attended!  I recorded but a single purchase that night, but hey, if, as was the case here, it’s an unrecorded 19th C. adventist broadside, I’m [very] ok with that.  Thank you John.  My book scouting continued the next morning at the Boston Book, Print & Ephemera Fair.  As said elsewhere, “the incomparable Peter Luke snared most of my attention (not to mention funds) with such great items as this 19th C. execution broadside.”

Saturday night.  Why does everything gets scheduled Saturday night?   The Grolier reception.  RBS gathering.  Trivia night.  What to do?  Well, in this case, since I had a Grolier nominee in the works, that got some time.  As did the nearby BSO, which played Mozart & Bartok.  My advice, skip the Bartok should it ever come up.  

An image Vic nabbed at the BSO!

An image Vic nabbed at the BSO!

Sunday, my luck returned true to form…  United 477 was 2 hours late departing Boston.  I shouldn’t complain too much however, as the reason for the ATC induced delay was rain in San Francisco.  We need it.  As I need Boston.  It’s a great fair, in a great town, and I always come away with some great items.  Next year, it’s in November, after the World Series.  So no dilemma about where to be when the Giants are playing … whomever [the Sox?  If so, then I’ll be in Boston again in October!].  In either case, see you there.

PS.  Yes, I know, I need to take more pictures.  I’ll ask Greg for lessons.

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A Birthday Cheers to Pablo Picasso, Father of Cubism

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Ask ten people near you right now who the most famous artist of all time is. I guarantee you (in the way where I can’t really pay up if I’m wrong) that at least half will name Pablo Picasso as the first artist who comes to mind. Picasso, a Spanish painter, sculptor, designer, poet and playwright is commonly regarded as one of the greatest and most daring artists of all time – after all, it is he we can thank for bringing world-wide awareness to the Cubist artistic movement and to the artistry of the collage. 

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-10-11-41-pmPicasso was born in Malaga, Spain, in 1881, the eldest child of Don Jose Ruiz y Blasco and Maria Picasso y Lopez. Pablo’s father was also a painter, and he specialized in naturalistic representations of different kinds of birds and animals. Growing up, Pablo’s artist father more often than not taught as a professor of art at schools around the country. At a young age Picasso showed artistic talent – in fact, his mother claimed that the boy’s first words were “piz, piz!” for “lapiz” meaning “pencil.” After turning seven Picasso received  lessons in drawing and painting from his father, and eventually the family settled in Barcelona, where his father taught at the School of Fine Arts and Pablo thrived in the city’s artistic nature. At the age of 13 Pablo was admitted to the School of Fine Arts after finishing an entrance exam that usually took students a month in just a short week. 

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-10-12-28-pmIn 1900 Pablo made his first trip to Paris, and while living modestly (and by modestly I mean burning some of his early work to use as fuel for the fire in an apartment only slightly larger than Harry Potter’s cupboard) he first began to develop his range of painting style. Amusingly, Picasso is one of the few painters whose work is separated into periods based on the color scheme of the paintings! (True, his later work is based on style, but still amusing, no?) The Blue Period, the Rose Period, the African-Influence Period… all use obvious factors to group Picasso’s art into a certain “type”. After 1909, Picasso and his friend and fellow artist Georges Braque began an entirely new style of painting that would come to be known as “Cubism”. Cubism was highly stylized, often using neutral tones to highlight contrasting shapes of people and items. These paintings are extremely remarkable and very distinguishable from other styles of painting. 

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-10-13-25-pmLater on in life, Picasso explored many various types of art, spending quite a bit of time working on sculpture, to the delight of many, and even penning over 300 poems beginning in the 1930s. He moved in Bohemian circles in France for the rest of his life, and by the time of his death he was an international celebrity, often with fans as interested in his personal life (and two wives and four children and various mistresses) as they were in his art! Nevertheless, his art has remained, to this day, wildly popular and unique, and often an inspiration to modern artists. 

One example of a modern artist book out today.

One example of a modern artist book out today.

Now why are we, as an antiquarian book business, blogging about an artist? Funny you should ask! A. It is good to mix it up from time to time, and B. Artist Books are becoming more and more widely known and collected. Artist Books, not necessarily being books about the artist, but rather artistic forms of expression coinciding with our favorite things… books, are created by many designers around the world who were influenced by Picasso’s modes of expression. Artist Books are works of art in and of themselves, often with designer bindings and hand drawn illustrations within. Often, these “books” are not to be read, but rather to be put on display. These beautiful works are sweeping across the antiquarian book world… and we wished to honor the birthday of one who helped bring modern art into this world, and therefore (a long-shot, but still…) helped allow the Artist Book to exist! Happy Birthday, Pablo Picasso. 

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The Migratory Habits of Booksellers

Ahh, book fair season is upon us once more: when booksellers of every stripe take to the skies and highways of America in search of fresh resources and temporary bibliophilic nesting grounds. It’s one of the book trade’s enduring mysteries, and a sight to behold. Drawn by forces scientists have not yet managed to explain — collective memory, blind professional instinct, shifts in the earth’s magnetic field, or merely the prospect of good food and drink with colleagues — flocks of booksellers converge for weekends at a time in cities and towns across the country, clogging bar stools and sharing vast quantities of hugs, trade knowledge and alcohol. Here, they perform the time-honored ritual of artfully displaying their brightest finds for local bibliophiles and librarians to admire, in the hopes of attracting paying customers and thus ensuring continued survival. It’s an improbable business model in the best of times, and the second decade of the 21 st century is not, alas, the best of times. It’s hard to know these days if exhibiting at book fairs is increasingly an exercise in magical thinking — an evolutionary failure to adapt, with portents of incipient dodo-ism – or an increasingly necessary means of making available the real, tactile wonder of books (and ephemera, etc.) and advocating for the pleasures of owning them.

Setting up!

Setting up!

In a bizarre reversal, Tavistock Books kicked off the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair in style and with a degree of hope, toasting a decent showing at the Sacramento fair and our just-released catalogue with a glass of champagne in the American Express lounge at SFO. Contrary to last year’s comedy of bad luck, no van wrecks preceded our departure, and, though we didn’t know it yet, no luggage would be lost en route. Our books, along with those of a whopping 14 other California booksellers, were already waiting at the venue, thanks to the combined might and keen packing skills of road warriors Brad Johnson (The Book Shop) and Jesse Rossa (Triolet Books). If the décor of the Amex lounge – typical neutral airport fare with an upscale twist, backed by a wall-length display behind the bar composed of old 1940s-style suitcases, radios and cheap “antique” books (of the World Book Encyclopedia variety), its warm shades of red and yellow the only color in the place – hinted at an ominous book nostalgia underway around us, we chose to disregard it. Besides, we’d already begun drinking before noon.

As usual, Louis Collins was running a tip-top operation once we got to Seattle, complete with roving bands of equipment crews and free coffee and pastries for exhibitors. The venue was hot, as is always the case, but a brisk pre-fair business left many dealers looking pleased, if glistening. In yet another odd reversal, this time I found myself offering occasional tips to fellow assistant and booth-mate Jeremy Reidel, of Books Tell You Why, doing an admirable job of setting up his first solo booth display. The inevitable rain the following day did nothing to dispel the crowds of fairgoers, given an extra boost by the Ephemera Society, and even Sunday brought a significant number of people into the fair. And, through it all, strangely enough, the Tavistock booth stayed relatively busy. We weren’t selling things hand over fist, to be sure, but we kept selling things: to collectors, institutions, old customers, fellow booksellers, all day Saturday and, to a lesser extent, on Sunday, too. All in all, it was a frankly surreal turn of events. Had the good ship Tavistock finally broken its bad luck streak?

To some extent, astonishing though it may be to admit: yes. Unlike many at the fair, it seems, we had good sales this time around, or at least good enough to cover our expenses and cost of goods and make a little profit, to boot. The buying was decent, and we walked away from a pre-fair Sunday morning trip to Taylor Bowie’s shop loaded with armfuls of great new cookery material. Not to mention this lovely eye-catching poster, scouted by Vic in the first few minutes of set-up and soon to be catalogued (contact us for details if interested):

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I even found a book for myself . . . from our own booth, much to Vic’s endless delight, which I eventually bought after hiding it from the customers all morning. As Vic has been fond of telling people, however, we probably made somewhere around $1.38 an hour – and that’s not including potential missed sales from the shop being closed, the costs of repairing at least one book that didn’t weather the journey and extra handling, etc. So did we really come out ahead, in the end?

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All dressed up!

I’d like to think there’s more to it than just number-crunching. That, in some incalculable way, discussing Stephen Greenblatt with a long-time Seattle-area collector branching into Renaissance studies, or helping a new customer find just the right early nursing books for her research, or getting a whirlwind lesson in medieval paleography from Kait Manning (Philip Pirages) and being schooled in maritime journals by Greg Gibson (Ten Pound Island Book Co.), or simply being part of a physical, non-virtual book presence in the life of a community once a year, amounts to something. It’s too damn fun not to.

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Happy Birthday to our Favorite Children’s Book Serialist… Mr. Edward L. Stratemeyer!

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On October 4th, 1862, a children’s literature tycoon was born. With his humble beginnings, of course, no one ever would have suspected that a talented writer and publisher was in their midst. Stratemeyer was born the youngest of six children in Elizabeth, New Jersey to a young tobacconist and his wife. Both of Edward’s parents had immigrated from Hanover, Germany in 1837, and yet Stratemeyer’s main language was English growing up. 

As a child, Stratemeyer read Horatio Alger often, enjoying his rags-to-riches tales immensely. He later was said to have remarked on how much Alger’s stories influenced him as a young man, and gave him some of the confidence he later used to begin his career. It looks as though even as a teenager Stratemeyer had some idea of what he wanted to do as an adult, as he opened his own amateur printing press in the basement of his father’s tobacco store. He printed local & homemade flyers and pamphlets, and a few short stories such as The Newsboy’s Adventure and The Tale of a Lumberman. After graduating high school, Stratemeyer worked daily in his father’s shop, and kept up printing a few items here and there. It wasn’t until he turned 26 that he sold his first story to popular children’s periodical Golden Days, and received $76 for his contribution (a fact that the helpful internet informs us was over six times the average weekly paycheck for the average US citizen at the time). 

screen-shot-2016-09-22-at-11-20-45-amAfter experiencing this hint of fame and riches, the young writer moved to the larger city of Newark (NJ) and opened a paper shop. He continued to write while earning his daily bread, and penned stories in many different genre’s – short westerns, serials for New England periodicals, dime novels, detective fiction… you name it, he wrote it (well, perhaps except for romances. But I digress). In 1893, just three short years after moving to Newark, Stratemeyer was hired by well-known dime-novel author Gilbert Patten to write for the Street & Smith periodical popular with young boys & men at the time, Good News. Stratemeyer was a popular editor & author at the magazine. 

Just a year later in 1894, Stratemeyer began publishing some of his stories as hardcover novels, the first of which being Richard Dare’s Venture – part of the Bound to Succeed series. Though his first four novels sold reasonably well, the publisher of the stories, Merriam, was unable to publish any further stories due to an economic depression that struck the United States in the late 1890s. Stratemeyer wouldn’t be sad for long, however, as shortly thereafter publisher W. L. Allison picked up his books and published twelve of his titles, and in 1899 an amazing thing happened to young Stratemeyer… he was asked to finish writing for two of his childhood heroes! 

Our affordable copy of The Rover Boys on the River, one of the series known to be Stratemeyer's favorite!

Our affordable copy of The Rover Boys on the River, one of the series known to be Stratemeyer’s favorite! See it here>

First Stratemeyer was asked by Lee & Shepard to pen the last book in a series begun by “Oliver Optic”, of William T. Adams. Adams had passed away before being able to complete the series, and the fans were left with baited breath. Around the same time, author Horatio Alger’s health was declining and he was also unable to finish his writings. Stratemeyer began work on Alger’s stories shortly before Alger’s death in 1899. Alger’s sister Olive negotiated with Stratemeyer to complete some of Alger’s stories that remained as notes or early chapters but that were never finished, and publish them under Alger’s name. The first popular series that Stratemeyer wrote was known as The Rover Boys – an instant success and a series that achieved immense popularity. Stratemeyer is even said to have mentioned that this series was his favorite throughout the years of authorship and publication!

In 1905, just a few short years later, Stratemeyer formed the Stratemeyer Literary Syndicate and began hiring journalists and other writers to pen stories based on his plot ideas. Stratemeyer paid each author a flat rate for the books they submitted, and then kept all of the copyrights to the novels themselves. The journalists wrote under pen names, which also allowed different authors to publish books in the same series. In this vein, printer, author and publisher Stratemeyer was now acting as a “literary agent” for ghostwriters in a way. 

Through the Syndicate, Stratemeyer would be the imagination behind quite a few immensely popular series books, including the Tom Swift series, the Bobbsey Twins, the Hardy Boys, and the Nancy Drew books. Though there are many more titles and series under the Syndicate’s name, these are the most well-remembered today. After Stratemeyer’s death in 1930 at the age of 67, the ownership of the Syndicate was passed on to his two daughters, Harriet and Edna. At first, the sisters thought to sell the Syndicate, but quickly realized that they preferred to keep their father’s business alive. They went on the keep the Syndicate running for twelve years together, and then Harriet kept the Syndicate together until her death in 1982. 

Today, Edward Stratemeyer’s books are largely considered some of the most beloved and well-known children’s series books in the business. They certainly opened a door for series books, and gave many authors the ability to write a be published (even if it wasn’t under their name and they had no rights to their work… but regardless). Happy Birthday to Edward L. Stratemeyer!

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