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Happy Birthday to Keats! Ezra Jack Keats, that is

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When you say the name “Keats” I can bet you that there is a divide of people, some think of John Keats while others will think of Ezra Keats. While both authors are intensely talented gentlemen… both follow very different subject matter. Ezra Jack Keats is known as the Caldecott Medal award winner of 1963… and possibly as the first great author to introduce multiculturalism into popular children’s literature.

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Ezra Jack Keats was born Jacob Ezra Katz on March 11th, 1916 in Brooklyn. The third child to Polish-Jewish immigrant parents, Keats led far from an idyllic childhood. The family was very, very poor – leading the artistic child to begin his creative energy making art out of scraps of trash (wood, fabric, etc.) that he found near his home. While his father was working as a waiter, he tried to dissuade his son from entering the arts, explaining how tough it was to make a living doing such things. That being said, Benjamin Katz (his father) also would bring the occasional paint tubes home with him, claiming that a “starving artist” had traded it for a meal. In this way, Keats knew he was supported even when words told him otherwise. Keats won a Scholastic national contest when he was just a teenager, for his illustration of a group of homeless men warming themselves by a fire.

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Keats’ Scholastic award winning oil painting. (ezra-jack-keats.org)

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After school, Keats worked several jobs while illustrating on the side, taking art classes when he could. He was drafted into service during WWII, where he put his artistic skills to work, creating camouflage patterns for the soldiers’ uniforms. Sadly, around this time is when Keats legally changed his name due to antisemitic sentiment in the world. After the war, Keats spent a year in Paris working as an artist, realizing that for the first time it truly could be a way of life for him. Upon moving back to the United States, Keats threw himself into his art, working as a commercial artist helping illustrate books and articles for publications like Reader’s DigestThe New York Times Book Review and Playboy, to name just a few. It was in doing this that publisher Elizabeth Riley saw a book cover illustration done by Keats in a store window in 1954, and approached him asking him to illustrate children’s books for her. Keats illustrated over 70 children’s books for other authors throughout the next years, until in 1960 he co-wrote one of the stories to follow along with his illustrations. His first protagonist was a young Puerto Rican boy named Juanito who lost his dog.

 

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By 1963, Keats was still bothered by the lack of children of color as protagonists in books available. He wrote and illustrated The Snowy Day, and used a young African-American child protagonist named Peter as his subject, stating that is where people of color “should have been all along” (ezra-jack-keats.org). That same year, Keats’ Snowy Day won the highest medal a children’s picture book could – the Caldecott Medal.

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Keats continued writing and illustrating until his death in 1983. His books follow a myriad of subjects and characters (Peter featured heavily in a few), where the children in his stories are sometimes faced with true hardships or problems and learn and mature through their pages. While it is true that winning the Caldecott Medal made Keats a household name… his inclusivity and love for all make his stories stand the test of time. Happy Birthday to a true ally – Ezra Jack Keats.

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The Dangers of Pip’s “Great Expectations”

Charles Dickens - Portrait of the British novelist.

During this week of Dickens’ 209th birthday, we thought to do a short exposé of sorts into one of his most famous works. Great Expectations has captured the hearts and minds of millions since its publication in 1860 with its story of presumptions, manipulations, love and fear. The novel centers on young Pip as he follows dreams that seem outside his reach, and his actions once his dreams are made a reality. But what can we learn from this beloved story that may still be relevant today? More than you might think!

pip magwitchStarting with a short overview of the story (for the .000001% of you that have been living under a rock these past 160 years), we can come to look at the “expectations” housed within and see what we can decipher from the moral tale it holds. When young orphan Pip encounters an escaped criminal hiding in a churchyard one Christmas Eve, it gives him the fright of his life. The young boy is scared into thieving for the convict, and though the criminal is recaptured and clears Pip of suspicion, the incident colors Pip’s outlook on life. The young boy is sent to the house of the spinster and slightly mad Miss Havisham, to be used as entertainment for the lady and her adopted, aloof and haughty daughter Estella. Pip falls in love with Estella and visits them regularly until he is old enough to be taught a trade as an apprentice blacksmith. Four years into Pip’s apprenticeship, however, a lawyer arrives with news that Pip has anonymously been provided with enough money to become a gentleman. An astonished Pip heads to London to begin his new life, assuming Miss Havisham is to thank for his unexpected new windfall. Once in London the young Pip is introduced into some society, and makes new friends. His heart still belonging to Estella, he is ashamed of his previous life and expects his social advancement, new wealth and sudden social standing to sway her emotions towards him more favorably. It does not, Estella remains cold as ever, and Pip’s illusions are finally shattered when he realizes that his benefactor is not Miss Havisham at all, but the escaped convict Magwitch whom he helped in the churchyard all those years before. Through many mishaps and misfortunes, Pip and his friends attempt to help Magwitch escape England (which is ultimately unsuccessful), where he had returned to simply to make himself known to Pip. Pip learns valuable lessons throughout the story – interestingly not necessarily from those with money and social standing, but more often than not from those in his own class. The story has a kind ending, with Pip and an altered, warmer Estella walking hand in hand over a decade after her initial rejection of him (though Dickens originally planned a more likely, yet more disheartening end to the story and was convinced by Edward Bulwer-Lytton to change it).

So what qualities does Pip have that give the book its title? Pip’s expectations are common in most of us, whether living in Dickens time or the here 21st century… Pip wants social advancement and wealth. He wants to be taken seriously and not looked down upon. He has a lifelong ambition to be something he is not, and when he is finally able to be such (wealthy and more respected), he finds it is not at all everything he ever dreamed of. By the end of the story, Pip certainly realizes that the qualities of loyalty, kindness and compassion are far more important than wealth and social standing. With the shadows that come to light in the story, Dickens mocks the very hypocritical idea of the “gentleman” as every man you meet in the story is not exactly what you think he is. With this realization, Pip finds he has chased a phantom dream, not a concrete one.

How do we see these expectations still in use today? Though “society” is not necessarily the boon it once was (I find the people who truly care about society are the ones in “society”… and the bulk of the population of the world outside it could really give two figs), aspects of the circumstances they enjoyed are still very much at large within us. Wealth, for instance, matters to most – not only is the cost of living in certain areas astronomical, but our materialistic society makes it more difficult for any to be raised without the wishes of privilege. Oftentimes, the factor of wealth is seen today in desperate competitiveness or harsh attempts for a raise or a promotion, even when one is happy and competent at their current job. A desire for the finer things in life leads most of us to spend money we shouldn’t, or don’t even have, in order to feel a sense of gentility or even simple belonging, when in reality it isn’t necessary! (Keep in mind Travis Bradberry’s thoughts on the matter: “Sure, things can make life more fun and comfortable in the short run, but they can’t make you happy in the long run. Too many of us expect a future event ['I’ll be happy when I get that promotion'] to make us happy, instead of looking more deeply into the real causes of our unhappiness. If you don’t fix what’s going on inside, no external event or item is going to make you happy, no matter how much you want it to.”) Our desires for respect are more understandable and able to be grasped, as a focus on gaining people’s trust and respect is hardly a quality to look down upon. As long as it is gained through acts of loyalty, kindness and compassion, you can’t go wrong!

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Perhaps we ought to keep these moral tales from Great Expectations in mind as we (very) slowly move into a post-Covid world. We may have to get back into the swing of things, but we can choose to re-focus our energy on the important things, rather than the silly. After all, if we’ve learned anything this year, I believe it is that the most important things in life are family, friends, respect, kindness and health… none of Pip’s “great expectations” factor in whatsoever!

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See our holding of All the Year Round (1859-1868) containing the first appearances of both A Tale of Two Cities and Great Expectations here! It is certainly a sight to behold.

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Favorite Books of Past US Presidents

Tavistock Books joins millions of Americans in welcoming President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris to the White House, bringing much needed peace and guidance back to the American people.

                   Ben Franklin wants to read this list of his faves’ faves… just like us! ;)

DISCLAIMER: Please, dear readers, take this list with a grain of salt! While some are irrefutable, stated by the Presidents themselves, others have been assumed. See the full list by Dave Odegard, explained in detail, here.
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1. George Washington (1789-97): Cato, a Tragedy by Joseph Addison

2. John Adams (1797-1801): An Historical and Moral View of the Origin and Progress of the French Revolution by Mary Wollstonecraft

3. Thomas Jefferson (1801-09): Literally everything

4. James Madison (1809-17): The Collected Essays of John Locke by John Locke

5. James Monroe (1817-25): Pleasures of the Imaginations by Mark Akenside

6. John Quincy Adams (1825-29): Oberon by Christoph Martin Wieland

7. Andrew Jackson (1829-37): The Vicar of Wakefield by Oliver Goldsmith

8. Martin Van Buren (1837-41): Autobiography of Martin Van Buren by Martin Van Buren

9. William Henry Harrison (1841): A Memoir of the Public Services of William Henry Harrison by James Hall

10. John Tyler (1841-45): The Wealth of Nations by Adam Smith

11. James K. Polk (1845-49): His Diary

12. Zachary Taylor (1849-50): The History of England by David Hume

13. Millard Fillmore (1850-53): A Dictionary

14. Franklin Pierce (1853-57): The Life of Franklin Pierce by Nathaniel Hawthorne

15. James Buchanan (1857-61): Life of George Washington by Jared Sparks

16. Abraham Lincoln (1861-65): Collected Works of William Shakespeare

17. Andrew Johnson (1865-69): The American Speaker

18. Ulysses S. Grant (1869-77): Most likely a novel by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

19. Rutherford B. Hayes (1877-1881): The Collected Speeches of Daniel Webster

20. James Garfield (1881): Robinson Crusoe by Daniel Defoe

21. Chester Arthur (1881-85): Something by Charles Dickens or William Makepeace Thackeray

22. Grover Cleveland (1885-89): Commentaries on the Laws of England by William Blackstone

23. Benjamin Harrison (1889-93): One of Walter Scott’s novels

24. Grover Cleveland (1893-97): Commentaries on the Laws of England by William Blackstone

25. William McKinley (1897-1901): Collected poems by Lord Byron

26. Theodore Roosevelt (1901-09): Influence of Sea Power Upon History by Alfred Thayer Mahan

27. William Howard Taft (1909-13): Something about the Supreme Court… probably

28. Woodrow Wilson (1913-21): Congressional Government by Walter Bagehot

29. Warren Harding (1921-23): Rules of Poker

30. Calvin Coolidge (1923-29): The Collected Works of Cicero

31. Herbert Hoover (1929-33): David Copperfield by Charles Dickens

32. Franklin D. Roosevelt (1933-45): A collection of Rudyard Kipling poems

33. Harry S. Truman (1945-53): The Lives of Great Men and Famous Women by Charles Francis Horne

34. Dwight D. Eisenhower (1953-61): A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court by Mark Twain

35. John F. Kennedy (1961-63): From Russia with Love by Ian Flemming

36. Lyndon B. Johnson (1963-69): The Other America by Michael Harrington

37. Richard Nixon (1969-74): Anything by Leo Tolstoy

38. Gerald Ford (1974-77): Any Horatio Alger novel

39. James Carter (1977-81): Let Us Now Praise Famous Men by James Agee and Walker Evans

40. Ronald Reagan (1981-89): The Hunt for Red October by Tom Clancy

41. George H.W. Bush (1989-93): War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy

42. William J. Clinton (1993-2001): Meditations by Marcus Aureilus

43. George W. Bush (2001-09): The Bible

44. Barack Obama (2009-2016): Self-Reliance by Ralph Waldo Emerson and/or Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison

45. Donald Trump (2017-2021): All Quiet on the Western Front: A Novel by  Erich Maria Remarque

46.
President Joseph R. Biden Jr. (2021 – ): Ulysses
by James Joyce 

Vice President Kamala Harris (2021 – ): Native Son by Richard Wright

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How a Dickensian Christmas Can Boost the Spirits of Those of Us Living in 2020

When you think of the word “Dickensian” what comes to mind? We would not be surprised if you mentioned soot-covered children working in factories, or angry adults beating each other down with vicious words and persnickety actions. Then again… what comes to mind if we say “Dickensian Christmas”? I’ll bet an entirely different view comes to mind. Perhaps you see a warm and cozy drawing room, children playing by a large fire, adults jolly and laughing over punch with a large tree in the corner and candles lit on its branches. Sound familiar? Well it isn’t an accident. There is an old story (a myth, if you will) that on the day Dickens died, as the news was ravaging through the streets of London, a small costermonger’s daughter said with dawning horror, “Mr. Dickens is dead? Then will Father Christmas die too?” Whether this story is based in reality or not, the feeling still remains… Dickens is a name commonly associated with the holidays the world over. We’d like to examine why that is and what we can learn from it this particular holiday season.

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We have published several blogs before reviewing Dickens’ childhood experiences, and the traumas he endured as a youth. Being one of the unwashed and poor factory children we associate with the word “Dickensian” was what led him to spend his life working with social reform to aid the poor and undervalued members of society. How then did he become so widely associated with the holiday that a poor vegetable seller’s daughter thought his death might mean the end of Christmas forever? For Dickens, it was easy. His childhood made him never want to experience such a Christmas again. He gravitated towards positivity, light and joy – and made sure to share it with those around him. Christmas in the Dickens household (when Charles was a father himself) was legendary. He would perform magic tricks for his friends, the table would be set elaborately, his wife would make and/or supervise the making of all manner of foods, they would have a warm fire and sing/perform together… Dickens made for himself and his family the Christmas he wished for as a child.

 

dickensBefore Dickens published A Christmas Carol (written in only a six short weeks, and published the week before Christmas at considerable expense to Mr. Dickens), he and his wife Catherine were experiencing your average hardships. They were expecting their fifth child, and supplications of money from his aging father and family, with dwindling sales from his previous works had put him into a tough financial place. In the fall of 1843, a 31-year-old Dickens was asked to deliver a speech in Manchester, supporting adult education for manufacturing workers there. His extreme interest in the subject (one that hit a bit too close to home, I believe) and his resolve to aid the lowly pushed an idea to the forefront of his mind – a speech can only do so much… to get to the crux of the matter he would need to get into the hearts, minds and homes of his readership and country. As the idea for A Christmas Carol took shape and his writings began, Dickens himself became utterly obsessed with his own story. As his friend John Forster remarked, Dickens “wept and laughed, and wept again’ and that he ‘walked about the black streets of London fifteen or twenty miles many a night when all sober folks had gone to bed” while writing it. Dickens took the financial hit publishing it on his own, in a beautiful cloth bound book with gilt leaf edging, and colorful illustrations by John Leech.

 

The book became an instant sensation, and this book – celebrating the joy, kindness and positivity possible in humans, not to mention the ability to change for the better – did even better than Dickens could have imagined. It transformed into a handbook, of sorts – how to live a successful, kind life, both in the holiday season and beyond.

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So what can we here in 2020 take away from A Christmas Carol and Dickens’ obsessive love of the holiday? Well, the first thing might be to embrace the warmth of home. With all the griping about the hell that 2020 has put us through, and the harsh realities of staying home for months and months, staying away from friends, not being able to eat out or travel… perhaps one last push of 2020 can be for us all to embrace what we have right in front of us – a roof over our heads, a fire (or a heater), and good food. I realize that in past years (and in A Christmas Carol, of course) we might have not only embraced the love we could find in our own households, but invited others to experience it as well. Perhaps in 2020 the time has come to focus more of our attention on those in our immediate household. Shower them with as much love and kindness as we would use for all of those around us.

 

Similar to how Dickens and his family celebrated, decorate as festively and as cozily as you so choose – don’t let a lack of visitors deter you from putting together a beautiful tree, or hanging a wreath on your door. Pass the longer evenings with a great book and a hot drink, or perhaps do as Dickens did and allow your creativity to flourish. Finally take the time to write that story you’ve been meaning to, or put together a skit for your family to act out on Christmas morning. As Dickens probably did, send your letters off to far away family and friends with your love, and perhaps a gift or two… the real gift, of course, being that your thoughts are with them, even when you cannot be. For those that do not celebrate the holiday of Christmas, we say the same endearments hold true… enjoy the winter season with your immediate family, decorate however you choose, drink warm hot toddies and allow the candlelight to spark your creativity. Whatever you do… don’t allow yourself to forget the main take-away of A Christmas Carol. Be caring, giving, and loving to all of those around you, value their lives as you value your own. Only then will you truly find the spirit of Christmas inside of you!

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Safe and Happy Holidays to All

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Honoring our Literary Heroes this Halloween

Long ago, before the days of commercialized holidays and plastic trick or treating pumpkins, many of our pagan ancestors celebrated a time of year that honored the thinning of a veil between the worlds of the living and the dead. At a time of year when the Northern Hemisphere is getting ready for a winter slumber, it was thought that this liminal time was an ideal moment for reverence and adoration of ancestors, of spirits, and of those not necessarily dwelling in the realm of the living. Some celebrated the Gaelic festival of Samhain (pronounced “Sow-en”), marking the end of the harvest season, and enjoyed calling on their deceased loved ones and predecessors to enjoy a feast with them, or even to walk amongst the living for a period of time. Today, the spirit of Halloween is often absorbed in candy and nylon costumes. This year, we would like to honor the true spirit of the holiday by saluting some of our favorite authors who have passed on.

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Who would we wish to “see” crossing the veil and walking around amongst us on this All Souls Day? Well, literarily speaking….

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Charles Dickens

This obvious choice is our #1 pick of which author we’d like to see amongst the living on Halloween night. Who wouldn’t? We would wonder if he had any inkling how his fame and popularity would persist for years to come…

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Henry James

Considered one of the greatest novelists in the English-speaking world, James was also an interesting character. He was frequently known to abruptly change the subject, or ask for a dance when no one else was dancing. James once wrote to fellow writer Hugh Walpole “We must know, as much as possible, in our beautiful art . . . what we are talking about – &  the only way to know it is to have lived & loved & cursed & floundered & enjoyed & suffered – I don’t think I regret a single “excess” of my responsive youth – I only regret, in my chilled age, certain occasions & possibilities I didn’t embrace.” If we came upon James, we would love to ask what possibilities he did not embrace… perhaps so we should not live to regret not taking those chances either!

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Robert Heinlein

A favorite Heinlein quote of ours is this: “An armed society is a polite society. Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.” To which we say – yes! In the modern world we wonder if we have lost a bit of our good manners. We don’t wish to re-enter a time when negative actions were brushed under the rug with politeness, no. We just wonder if we might ever again feel like the pride in our actions match the pride in our words. I wonder what Heinlein would have to say about our current political climate…

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Agatha Christie

Now here is a choice that would be truly selfish, as Christie was an enormously private person. But in a perfect world, we might be able to pick Agatha Christie’s brain, see how a seemingly “normal” woman came up with such amazing mysteries and tales. And perhaps, we would see if she’d be willing to set the stage for a 21st century murder!

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Oscar Wilde

Did you know that Wilde’s last words were “Either this wallpaper goes, or I do?” Not only was he a renegade of the “Gilded Age” but his sense of humor puts him a cut above so many. So in terms of having a good laugh on Halloween night? We have to go with Wilde.

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Mary Shelley

We know what you’re thinking… right, because she wrote Frankenstein. Wrong! Mary Shelley was accomplished for a variety of reasons – but mostly for going against the grain. True to her blood (being the daughter of Mary Wollstonecraft), Shelley did not accept a life of mediocrity. She sacrificed much for the love of her life, she believed that women should have equal power to a man (including having some sexual freedom – relatively unheard of for her time), and she was a gifted writer and storyteller. Once again, we wonder what she would think about Frankenstein being such a phenomenon today!

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Edgar Allen Poe

*Sigh* Yes, we had to go here. Would it even be Halloween if we didn’t include someone a bit spooky in the mix?

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What authors, out of those that have passed on to another realm, would you invite to walk amongst you this Halloween? Let us know!

In the meantime… Happy Halloween, bibliophiles!

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“There is one thing the photograph must contain, the humanity of the moment.” -Robert Frank

This week at Tavistock Books, we’d like to highlight one of our favorite genres currently in our inventory… photographs and photograph albums! We have had several amazing items on our shelves over the years, as we find these personal and first hand accounts of history absolutely fascinating. What makes a photograph, scrapbook or photo album worth collecting, you may ask? Stay tuned for the 411 on the Tavistock team’s thoughts!

This cache of nine large photographs dates back to the lumbering community of the Pacific Northwest in the early 1900s. Check it out here.

This cache of nine large photographs date back to the lumbering community of the Pacific Northwest in the early 1900s. Check it out here.

Q: So, antiquarian photo/scrapbook albums… first things first! What makes you decide whether or not to invest in one for inventory?

Vic: What I primarily look for is a story being told.  That said, most albums are unidentified faces, with few places.  If an album is not captioned by the compiler, it makes it difficult to supply context to a potential buyer.  

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Q: Is subject matter, provenance or condition the first thing checked by the Tavistock team, followed, I’m sure, quite quickly by the others?

Vic: All of those are important, though, imo, condition of the album itself not as important as condition of the images.  That said, subject matter of primary importance, with provenance coming in immediately behind.  Regarding this latter attribute, I’d consider purchasing an album with no captions if it came from a known & documented provenance, especially if said provenance was someone of import, such as, say, a Rochester neighbor of Charles Dickens.

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Q: What are the benefits of buying a photograph album, or other piece or personalized ephemera from an antiquarian seller, rather than off eBay or another such site?

Vic: We’ll, I probably buy more from general eBay sellers rather than established antiquarian professionals, for the former category will often go for the quick sale, rather than take the time necessary to properly research the material at hand.  An example recently was the acquisition on an archive of family letters & manuscripts from an individual involved in the Texas Convention of 1845 [and subsequent aspects of Texas history].  Let’s just say I anticipate a generous profit margin in this acquisition once fully researched & catalogued.

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This family travel photo album dates back to the turn of the century... the 20th century, that is, and focuses on California, New Mexico, Arizona, Kansas, Alabama and Texas. Check it out here.

This family travel photo album dates back to the turn of the century… the 20th century, that is, and focuses on California, New Mexico, Arizona, Kansas, Alabama and Texas. Check it out here.

Q: In looking at the descriptions of these albums on the Tavistock Books website, it is clear a TON of research has gone into describing these albums! Without giving away any secrets of the trade, can you give us a basic overview of how you go about researching a person who put the scrapbook together? It must take a lot of precious time!

Vic: Therein does lie the rub…  much time is involved, and that time needs to be a generous block without interruption.  And, of course, one needs the availability of appropriate reference sources.  I do subscribe to ancestry.comnewspapers.com & JSTOR [though SFPL].  Google, of course, has been a vast help in this arena as well.  It’s amazing what information can be noodled out when searching the web.

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Q: In your opinion, what is the most interesting item you have of this nature on the Tavistock shelves at this time, and what about in the past? Feel free to also tell us about something you might not have sold but perhaps have seen at antiquarian book fairs, etc.!

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A happy Samm, knee deep in the R15 acquisitions!

Vic: I’ll defer to Samm on this one, for she recently went through R-15, where all our uncatalogued albums had been stored, “pending cataloguing”.  

Samm: I spent days going thru this shelf of archives – some catalogued, some not.  It was really difficult to sort through it all. But one item I thought was really cool was a photo archive of the New York Railroad and Interurban railways.  Its HUGE! As we state in the description “A massive photo album brimming with over 1100 images of street cars, trolleys, motor cars, locomotives, service trains, interurban railway lines, and railroads across New York from the 1890s up to WWII. With neatly handwritten captions, photographer’s notes often on verso, and even some typed text.”  The old photos of New York alone are incredible. Definitely worth looking at, linked here.

As for things we sold in the past, hard to answer we sell stuff regularly, hard to pick out one that struck a cord.  But this New York album, I know I will miss when gone!

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Check out Samm’s recommendation – the fabulous New York rail album here!

And that’s that! Also, don’t miss out on the upcoming ABAA Virtual Book Fair from June 4th to the 7th – where yours truly will be exhibiting! We’ll unveil some newly catalogued archival material… and maybe even a photo album or two. Join the count down and find out more information here

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Repeat After Me… “There’s No Place Like Home”

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“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” Everyone, repeat it with me. “There’s no place like home.” I know we’re all feeling a bit of the cabin-fever felt by Jack Nicholson in The Shining (although, you know, hopefully to a significantly lesser extent), but let’s risk sounding like a broken record… we are lucky if we have the ability to stay home! We know money must be tight, but without the ability to put a price tag on our or our loved one’s lives we are extremely fortunate to have this ability. So in our opinion, “There’s no place like home” is possibly a great mantra to repeat to ourselves every morning. And every evening. And every afternoon. You know, just until it sinks in.

This extremely famous quote (mantra), brings us to today’s blog, however. On this day in 1919, 101 years ago, L. Frank Baum passed away. While we don’t mean to celebrate his death, we would like to bring attention to this world-famous author today with a few facts about his life! Keep on reading…

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1. The “L” in L. Frank Baum stands for Lyman, where he was born Lyman Frank Baum on May 15th, 1856 in Chittenango, New York. The seventh born (out of eventually nine kids) always hated his first name and preferred to be called “Frank”.

 

2. Baum was a somewhat sickly child, educated at home (with exception to two very uncomfortable years he spent at a military academy between the ages 10-12). Hi father indulged several of his whims and encouraged his eccentricities. Baum was gifted a small printing press as a child and began making a home journal with his younger brother that he would distribute to family and friends for free. He began a Stamp Collectors journal as a teenager, and eventually another on Hamburg chickens. Another eccentricity… as a young man Baum raised fancy chickens! Who knew?

 

3. I don’t mean to keep going on about these chickens but let’s get back to them for a second – as they were the subject of Baum’s very first published book! At the age of 30, Baum published The Book of the Hamburgs: A Brief Treatise upon the Mating, Rearing, and Management of the Different Varieties of Hamburgs. Okay, I promise to stop harping on about the chickens.

 

4. Baum had a lifelong love affair with the theater, and dreamed of being on the stage. He did have a short career in it, after his father actually built him his own stage in Richburg, New York. As he was touring with one of his creations – The Maid of Arran (a prototypical musical, for all intents and purposes, based on the novel A Princess of Thule by William Black), the theater back home in Richburg burned down, and in it most copies of Baum’s plays.

 

5. In 1882, while touring with The Maid of Arran, Baum married one Maud Gage – the intelligent daughter of Matilda Joslyn Gage, a famous feminist and women’s suffrage activist. Baum would be a proponent of women’s rights for the rest of his life, standing strong alongside his wife.

 

6. As wonderful as it is to hear of a man standing up for women, Baum was not faultless. As tough as this might be to hear, when Baum was living in Abderdeen, South Dakota his emotional response to the death of Sitting Bull prompted him to call for the extermination of all indigenous peoples! After the Wounded Knee Massacre (where the US army killed hundreds of the Lakota tribe, including women and children), Baum reiterated once more, “The Pioneer has before declared that our only safety depends upon the total extirmination [sic] of the Indians. Having wronged them for centuries, we had better, in order to protect our civilization, follow it up by one more wrong and wipe these untamed and untamable creatures from the face of the earth.” Yikes! Some do argue that Baum was actually attempting to generate sympathy for the native tribes by coming out with such a ludicrous statement, but it sure is shocking either way.

 

7. After having children with his wife Maud, Baum found he had a talent for telling them stories at bedtime. After overhearing one of these stories one night, Baum’s mother-in-law Matilda encouraged him to write one of them down. Baum had a wonderful relationship with Matilda and respected her greatly – if she thought his stories deserved to be published, perhaps she was right! This encouragement would become the impetus for his writing The Wizard of Oz.

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8. The idea for The Wizard of Oz apparently came to Baum very suddenly, and he wrote it all down in pencil. Once he had a working manuscript, he wanted to call it The Emerald City. Unfortunately, his editors did not want to use the name of a jewel in the title (bad luck, apparently – who knew), and as Baum sat in his office he looked over at a file cabinet labeled O – Z. Hence, the land of Oz was created!

 

9. The first release of The Wizard of Oz, published in 1900, sold out in two weeks. It became an instant classic, and received full critical and literary acclaim. Some consider it America’s first true fairy tale! The book remained a bestseller for two years, and Baum went on to write thirteen more Oz books for a bestselling series.

 

10. Baum did not only write a book on raising fancy chickens and the Oz series, oh no! He was quite a prolific writer up until his end, and actually published 50 novels, 80 short stories, hundreds of poems, and at least a dozen plays. He wrote under pseudonyms, he wrote articles for journals. And he was a family man. The all around package! (Except for his views on native peoples.)

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Our 1905 1st edition of The Woggle-Bug Book by Baum, inscribed by him on the copyright page! Check it out here.

Fun fact: The line is NOT “There’s no place like home” in the book! It is actually “I’m so glad to be at home again!” But that doesn’t really have the same ring to it for the opening of this blog so…

Also, Dorothy’s slippers were silver, not red. Bursting all kinds of childhood bubbles over here!

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“There’s no place like home!”

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