Category Archives: Uncategorized

Archival Cataloguing for Booksellers, Part II

By Kate Mitas

Getting to Know Your Archive

Now that you know your archive is about, say, Alaskan beauty pageant contestants or Italian motor scooters (to use two of Lorne Bair’s examples from the last blog in this series), it’s time to write up a snazzy description and send the archive out into the world, right?

Well, no.

As with anything else, first impressions can carry a lot of weight, but they exist to be refined, deepened, and, in some cases, overturned completely by later information. This is especially important to keep in mind when you’re dealing with archives: unlike books, whose (expected) contents are often already known by your customer and documented in bibliographical references, archives, in a sense, don’t really exist until they’re catalogued. Cataloguing an archive defines, as well as describes, its contents for a potential customer. That’s part of what makes archives so exciting to work with, but it also increases the risk of misleading your client (and/or yourself) by imposing a narrative, rather than letting the narrative be dictated by the material.

Physical Content

First things first, to borrow from Brian Cassidy’s oft-repeated maxim at CABS: Look. At. The. Archive.

An archive in progress -- stay tuned!

An archive in progress — stay tuned!

It can be easy to skip over an archive’s physical content and dive right into those letters, or diaries, or photographs — after all, that’s the fun part, when you get to read on the job(!), hunt for clues, do research, and, in general, be utterly and exquisitely nerdy.  In contrast, cataloguing the physical content of an archive is tedious, sometimes mind-numbingly so: you count the different things in the archive, and you figure out what they’re made of and how big they are, and, if you’re like me, you also probably recount something at least once, because the phone rang in the middle and you want to make absolutely sure you’ve gotten it right.  So what’s the big deal about physical content?

Put simply: everything in an archive is a function of its physical content. It’s impossible to draw accurate conclusions about an archive’s intellectual content without knowing its actual composition, and, consequently, to determine a commercial value based on those factors. (Note the qualifiers, here. Sometimes it’s far more practical to slap a price on a minimally-catalogued archive and send it on to another bookseller who knows more about the subject. More on this later.)

Take those photographs of Alaskan beauty pageant contestants, for example. They might be the most interesting subsection of Alaskan life you’ve ever seen, but what if they’re real photo postcards instead of photographs, issued as souvenirs at an annual fair in downtown Anchorage? Or worse, half-tone reproductions? Conversely, what if your Alaskan pageant contestants are only in ten photographs in an album of 300, all featuring contestants at beauty pageants held around the country during a 20 year period (which would be a pretty kick-ass archive, by the way)? And what if those ten Alaskans are scattered throughout the album, rather than grouped together?

You get my point: establishing an archive’s physical content is a way of applying quantifiers to aspects of valuation like rarity and significance, as well as forcing you to reconcile the parts of an archive you found interesting (Alaskan beauty pageant contestants) with the likely intent of the person who formed the archive (beauty pageant contestants). It’s a way of grounding your enthusiasm and, ultimately, making you focus on what an archive actually is, rather than what you might want it to be.

Not everyone includes the same amount and kinds of information when describing an archive’s physical contents. Nevertheless, here is a list of general factors that we include at Tavistock, and which I’ve found to be helpful:

For textual material:

  • number of pages and size of leaves
  • if unique, whether the material is manuscript and/or typescript
  • if manuscript, overall legibility
  • if printed, whether professionally or not
  • estimated word count (of manuscript/typescript material)

For photographic/visual material:

  • number and type of photographs/images, with a breakdown by category
  • photographic process*
  • color, black and white, etc.?
  • professional vs amateur

This list is far from complete, of course — you’ll note there’s nothing here about film, for example, since we almost never handle it — but these attributes are a good place to start when determining the physical content of most textual and photographic archives from the mid-20th century and earlier.

* For a good reference on how to distinguish the type of photographic process used, with a handy fold-out chart for identification, we recommend James Reilly’s Care and Identification of 19th Century Photographic Prints.

Next up in the series: Intellectual Content and Research Methods


Archival Cataloguing for Booksellers: Notes Toward a Guide

By Kate Mitas

archive n. ~1. Materials created or received by a person, family, or organization, public or private, in the conduct of their affairs and preserved because of the enduring value contained in the information they contain or as evidence of the functions and responsibilities of their creator, especially those materials maintained using the principles of provenance, original order, and collective control; permanent records. (Society of American Archivists)

Cataloguing archives can seem like a vastly different endeavor than cataloguing the regular bibliophilic material that, until fairly recently, was every bookseller’s stock in trade. By their very nature, archives are unique, intimately shaped by the person or organization who formed them. Often they include unique manuscript or photographic material that requires research and time to catalogue, sometimes lots of time — although booksellers aren’t researchers, or archivists, and time spent working on an archive means time not spent cataloguing other material. More important, at least for my purposes here, is that the research needed for archives rarely employs the standard (and standardized) bibliographical references, relying instead on primary documents available on genealogical websites like Ancestry, online newspapers, Google, and yes, even Wikipedia. Like a good journalist, booksellers researching archival material need to be able to separate reliable sources from unreliable ones, draw accurate conclusions from them, represent material honestly, and construct an authentic and compelling narrative out of what seems at times to be nothing more than a chaotic mass of papers.

So, if they’re so much hassle, why do we buy and sell archives? In reply, a brief anecdote:

The first archive I ever catalogued consisted of 24 nearly consecutive diaries kept by a man named Lyman Wilmot over the course of about 30 years, from the 1860s to the 1890s, plus related ephemera. Wilmot grew up on a farm in Illinois and later moved with his parents and other adult siblings to Colorado during the silver boom. At the beginning, when he was still in Illinois, I thought he was a bit of a bore and a prude, a lifelong bachelor making endless visits to cousins, selling bibles as a supplement to his farm income and interjecting occasional knee-jerk pieties into his reports on what seemed a rather prosaic Midwestern life. In Colorado, as far as I could tell, he’d only sold pictures, speculated a bit, and worked at a store in Leadville, which meant the purported mining content we’d bought the archive for was of minimal value, at best. This was in September of 2015, about a month after I started working at Tavistock, and I was privately flabbergasted at the amount Vic had spent on the archive, and the price he wanted it to sell at. What kind of nutjob was I working for?

At some point, though, it occurred to me to check Wilmot’s entries from early October, 1871, and sure enough, there were several pages on the Great Chicago Fire (his cousins lived there and lost their house in the disaster). Major incidents in the Civil War and his thoughts on them? Check. Lincoln’s death? Yup. Soon I discovered that one of Wilmot’s young neighbors died after getting struck by a baseball; in another entry, a distressed Wilmot reports just awaking from an erotic dream in which he has kissed a nun. I started staying late every night after work just so I could read the diaries, finding more and more things to appreciate about odd-duck Lyman Wilmot: his involvement with the women’s suffrage movement (eventually leading to his escorting of his mother to the polls for the first time), his visit to a surprisingly prescient phrenologist, this lovely entry from New Years Eve, 1874, shortly before he headed west:

[N]ow as I write the shades of the last evening . . . are gathering fast, the sky is cloudy & as I look out of the east windows of the dining room & see the smoke from the engine of a long freight train rising as a cloud as the train rushes on up the grain, we are now in a living moving world & things look as if they were to last much longer than they will . . . .

And then, astonishingly, I came across a year’s worth of entries documenting Wilmot’s own moderately successful attempt at digging and operating a mine, with two partners, during which he fended off rival claimants and feuded with backers and worked himself into exhaustion every night and marveled at his new strength and griped about always having to bake bread all the time, and, ultimately, grew into himself.

In the end, Lyman Wilmot went bust and moved back to Illinois, but I felt inexplicably proud of him anyway. Plus, I knew that even if he hadn’t struck gold, I had. We put the Wilmot archive in our e-catalogue that month, priced at what I thought then was an astronomical figure, and it sold four times in rapid succession. I wasn’t in Kansas anymore.

Who would’ve thought that an archive of diaries kept by a 19th-century white guy from Midwestern America who no one’s ever heard of could open my eyes to the possibilities and magic of working in the antiquarian book trade?

As institutions and collectors continue to seek highly visual and primary source material, not to mention vernacular material by and about groups traditionally underrepresented in bibliophilic history, booksellers have increasingly dealt in archives and archival material to meet the demand. No one reading this is likely to be surprised by that statement. Nevertheless, despite the undisputed and abiding popularity of archives in the trade, and the plenitude of guides available for archivists cataloguing archives and booksellers cataloguing books, there don’t seem to be any guidelines for how booksellers should go about cataloguing archives.

This blog series is an attempt to fill in that gap in some small way. It’s compiled from my own experiences with archives I’ve catalogued over the past not-quite-two years, as well as from the comments of many of the booksellers and librarians who responded to my request for “pro tips” via the CABS listserv on April 24 – 26; I’ve quoted as many of these as possible, and offer my apologies for those I was not able to include. My hope is that this is only the beginning of the dialogue.

To return to my earlier contention: cataloguing archives can seem vastly different than cataloguing bibliographic material, but it’s not. Many of the same basic skills apply, as do the same ethical and professional standards. The goal, in cataloguing, is simply to ensure that the material we sell is what we say it is.

Step 1: Meeting Your Archive for the First Time

In my experience, archives are singularly unimpressive and reticent in their natural state: a bunch of papers, ephemera and/or photographs crammed inside a box (or many boxes). Depending on where you’ve gotten the archive and what you know about its subject, you may be able to determine at the outset how much time to invest in it. More often than not, though, you have to dig through an archive first to see what you have (especially if you are a mere assistant and your boss plunks said archive on your desk with a cheerful, “More job security for you!”).

More Job Security

More job security…

Respect des Fonds

That said, don’t just start pulling out anything that looks interesting! Arrangement matters, or it might. One of the key concepts in archival theory is the principle of provenance, or “respect des fonds” (literally translated as “respect for the group”). The idea was introduced during the French Revolution, when formal archival practice was established as a way to ensure the integrity of public records. It is “fundamental to contemporary archives work and exists to protect the integrity and authenticity of archival records as evidence by retaining the nature of the relationship that exists among records by the same creator” (Sammie L. Morris and Shirley K. Rose, “Invisible Hands,” Landmark Essays on Archival Research, p. 203).

Maria Lin (Rulon-Miller Books) cautions that not all archives have an original order, however. “If it’s clear that you’re dealing with material that has been arranged in some way archivists would want it to stay that way, but if you’re dealing with material that has been spilled out onto the floor a couple dozen times before you got a hold of it then rearrangement is fine. ‘Respect des fonds’ . . . often applies less with personal archives that have no fonds to begin with.”

First Glance

Before I even get out my pencil and notepad, I like to take a few minutes to glance through the archive first, getting a general feel for what it contains. For me, this is sometimes no more than a way of introducing myself to its different kinds of materials and determining the archive’s overall condition: Does it appear to be complete? Are there any significant defects? If the text is in manuscript, is it legible? If the archive contains photographs, what type of images are they (photo, RPPC, half-tone, color/b&w), and are they clear and well-developed, captioned, etc.?

Not surprisingly, Lorne Bair (Lorne Bair Rare Books) takes a slightly different approach, viewing archives as both a buyer and a cataloguer:

[M]y first step when I approach any archive is gestalt: does the archive “talk” to me on its surface? If it only whispers, I’m immediately filled with doubt — because as drawn as I am to subtlety, I’ve found that it’s unrealistic to expect the same sensibility from my customers. I’m a big one for leafing through lightly and somewhat skeptically: is there a letter, a photograph, a document that seems the least bit unusual? Did the person(s) represented here do anything of sufficient importance to make it into a Wikipedia entry, either they themselves or the thing they were involved in? (I’ve found that this notion, anathema a decade ago, is, it turns out, a decent marker these days for gauging a likely level of compensation for my time. Wikipedia has become our Feuerbachian species-consciousness).  Is it in a language I understand? Will I be able to read the handwriting without a great deal of effort? Is there enough of one thing in the archive — photographs of Alaskan beauty pageant contestants, for example, or of Italian motor scooters — to make it an unusual group of things? If the answer to any of these questions is unsatisfactory, is there something else to hang a hook on – maybe it’s a stack of letters in Russian, for example (huge pain in the ass, for this cataloguer at least) — but they’re postmarked St. Petersburg and dated 1917-1919? (time to brush up on my cyrillic!). Or is it something I can at least flip, with minimal effort, to some other dealer who knows more than me about this (a) language (b) thing (c) person (d) etc.?  I’m willing to look deeper at this point, but if I find myself getting bored or overwhelmed I feel no compunction just walking away. To paraphrase Stanley Tucci, sometimes the pile of paper just wants to be alone.

Ultimately, a first glance is a quick and dirty way of formulating and applying a rough value matrix based on content, condition, and that ever-demanding factor, time. Not all archives are created equal: as alluring as it is to think that each one provides a clear and unique perspective on its particular historical moment, some just aren’t coherent and/or interesting enough to merit a lot of investment. We are, after all, in business.

Next in the series: Getting to Know Your Archive


Where the Sidewalk Ended – Shel Silverstein: Poet, Comic, Musician and All Around Totally Awesome Guy

By Margueritte Peterson

“Although I cannot see your face
As you flip these poems awhile,
Somewhere from some far-off place
I hear you laughing—and I smile.”

Yesterday in 1999, the United States lost a fantastic poet, cartoonist, writer and amazing person – one who influenced hundreds of thousands of lives with his humorous poems and eccentric cartoons. However, we aren’t here to talk about his death – but rather to celebrate his life!

Screen Shot 2017-05-06 at 6.51.26 AMShel (short for Sheldon) Silverstein was born on September 25th, 1930 in Chicago, Illinois. He spent all of his formative years in Illinois, attending Roosevelt High School and then the University of Illinois. Though unfortunately expelled from the University, he was then able to enroll in the Chicago Academy of Fine Arts. Now, bear with me readers, as there are some contradictory articles to be found online and truthfully I can’t tell whether he was then enlisted in the army or drafted, but either way he fought in Japan and Korea sometime around 1948-1951. When he returned from the army, Silverstein spent a bit of time in college at Roosevelt University, though would later be quoted as saying his years in college were a bit of a waste. He is quoted as saying, “Imagine – four years you could have spent traveling around Europe meeting people, or going to the Far East of Africa or India, meeting people, exchanging ideas, reading all you wanted to anyway, and instead I wasted it at Roosevelt.” That being said, however, it was also when he was first published (in the Roosevelt Torch, a student newspaper)! His time at the Chicago College of Performing Arts (part of Roosevelt University) was spent studying music and composition, a talent he would pursue throughout his life.

Silverstein began submitting cartoons in many different arenas. His work could be found in the magazines LookSports Illustrated and This Week. In 1957, Silverstein became the leading cartoonist in Playboy, a job that opened his eyes to the world. He was sent to many countries to create an “illustrated travel journal” with descriptions of far off places. Two decades of his life were spent creating these cartoons for Playboy, and he became an adult household name through his drawing. (Though occasionally his household name was “Uncle Shelby” as that is how he referred to himself in many of his comics throughout the the 1960s and 70s – eventually publishing Uncle Shelby’s ABZ Book – to the delight of many!)

Screen Shot 2017-05-07 at 2.09.44 PMBeginning in the 1960s while being published in Playboy, Silverstein began working on poems and cartoons for children. His book The Giving Tree was first published (after four years of trying to find someone willing to publish it) in 1964, and some would argue is his most classic work – having sold over 5 million copies and still amazingly popular. For the next three decades Silverstein would release many best sellers and award winning titles to the delight of children and adults alike. His children’s poems are known for their simplicity and brevity, but also for their tremendous sense of humor! All are accompanied by an intricate black and white cartoon, drawn, of course, by Silverstein himself. However, comics were not his only claim to fame – throughout his life Silverstein kept up a solid musical career as well. While working at Playboy in 1959, Silverstein recorded his first album called Hairy Jazz. It wouldn’t stop there, however, as Silverstein would go on to create over a dozen music albums over the course of his lifetime. Though one could argue that his music was not quite as popular as his comics and poetry, it is obvious that his level of creativity knew no bounds!


Though Silverstein passed away of a heart attack on May 10th, 1999, still almost two decades later his work is wildly popular with children and adults – the mark, in my opinion, of a success.


OTD in 1830 – the First Passenger Steam Train Begins a Rigorous Schedule!

By Margueritte Peterson
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On this day, May 3rd, in 1830, the first steam train regular passenger service began! Though trains had been in use in the early 1800s, they had not been used for the transportation of people – only the transportation of goods! The incredible discovery that these trains could be used as a way to deliver people from one place to another was going to be the hottest thing since sliced bread – and the gateway to mass transportation – the first of its kind!

Trains gave human beings the ability to develop civilizations quickly. Even the civilizations of Ancient Greece and Ancient Egypt used tracks that horses would draw buggies on, minimizing the amount of force needed to be done by the horse. It was only a matter of time before the ingeniousness of this mode of transport would be understood. Trains, as they were in the early 19th century, made movement easy and quick – distant lands became easily, and instantly, accessible. A trip from New York to California, which previously would have taken a group with a wagon and horses months, now took only a few days. In regards to transporting both goods and people, it became apparent that there was a need of implementing standardized time zones across the world – in order to more efficiently set up schedules – arrivals and departures of both passengers and industry.

Today, despite the many optional modes of transportation (cars, airplanes, boats… teleportation – just kidding), trains are used in a variety of ways. Subway systems and electric trains are used for short travel distances, and longer trains, though used less and less often due to the abundance of air travel available (in the United States, at least – we are happy to report that trains are still used frequently in other parts of the world), are still available and equipped with all the luxuries you might expect. Freight trains continue to move much industry on all continents (and are the bulk amount of the trains in the US at this time). Bullet trains, high speed modes of transportation, can now reach speeds around 200 mph and are becoming more widespread. It is plain to see how the automotive industry shaped the ability to travel and transport goods, and how it has continued for over 150 years to grow and evolve to suit the needs of passengers!

Now, speaking of trains – we’d like to highlight a few of our most interesting automotive items!

Screen Shot 2017-05-02 at 7.53.57 AMThis first item is, to me, one of the most interesting as pertaining to this article. Despite us not knowing precisely when it was printed, this schematic of an early Baltimore & Ohio Rail Road Company steam train car is a blueprint to some of the early days of passenger transport! The Baltimore & Ohio Railroad Company, one of the oldest railroads in the United States, was the country’s first “common carrier” and the first to offer scheduled freight and passenger service to the public between the years of 1828 and 1927. See it here>

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This spec sheet from Baldwin Locomotive Works is a bit more scientific in nature. Printed in 1926 it is not a spec sheet for early passenger travel, but for one intrigued by the automotive industry it is certainly a good source of information on the development of trains over time! Check it out here>

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Last but not least, a more local item! This collection of Bay Area transport items is a wonderful fount of information of the rapid Bay Area transit from 1923 to 1957 – contained within the collection are some blueprints, photographs, advertisements, tickets, charts/timetables, booklets and certificates. The Key System Transit Company (as it was then known) went through several transformations until it has developed into the very system we now use today! See it here>


Announce: UNCOMMON SURVIVORS, A Catalogue

We are pleased to announce that our latest (and greatest) catalogue has hit online shelves everywhere! Don’t miss out on a chance to view and purchase these uncommon and surprising items, beautifully laid out by our very own Kate Mitas! Check it out here>

April 2017 cat cover


What We Found in a California Gold Mine! I Mean, Book Fair. California Book Fair.

So, it’s been a couple weeks since the Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair and over a month since California’s Pasadena Book, Print and Paper Fair and the California ABAA Fair! What that means in layman’s terms is that it has given us just enough time to catalogue some of the highlights found at these fairs and acquired for the Tavistock Books collection! Enjoy some of our latest and greatest, offered here below and linked for your viewing pleasure. Email us at with any questions!


If science and technology is your thing, have we got some goodies for you! Check out this 1873 title detailing a lecture delivered at the South London Microscopical and Natural History Club on April 9th, 1872. The subject? “On Spectrum Analysis as Applied to Microscopical Observation.” Complete with a beautiful original chromolithographic frontispiece as well as its original publisher’s bindings, this is an item not to be missed! Check it out here>

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Now, if you’re more of a reading and writing kind of person, we’ve got something for you too! This English Spelling Dictionary was published in 1752 in Dublin, a third edition thought to be pirated Newbery, it includes all the most important words of the English language to be taught to “Young Gentlemen, Ladies, and Foreigners!” Check it out here>

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One of our more recently explored, but immediately favorited genres is our collection of cook books and menus! It is so fun to see the changes in recipes and menus through the ages, so we do keep a good look out for those. At the recent California fairs we were lucky enough to find this one – a rare cook book from the Castile Sanitarium! Published in 1911, a 2nd edition, but excitingly not found in Axford, Wheaton or Kelly – with OCLC recording only 2 copies and, at this moment, no others available for purchase in the trade! Check it out here>

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The Medical Profession has changed often throughout the centuries – clearly antibiotics were a killer creation, and the leeches thing seems to have run its course (hopefully). Check out this 1856 1st edition of “The Medical Profession in Ancient Times” – a book on a lecture by John Watson to the New York Academy of Medicine the year prior. This copy not only a 1st edition, but also an inscribed presentation copy from the author to George Adlend, Esq. Check it out here>

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Now have we got a gift for the newlyweds in your life! Let’s be totally stereotypical for a moment and enjoy this “Complete Cookery Book with Sections on Household Work, Servants’ Duties, Labour Saving, Laundry Work, Etiquette, Marketing, Carvings & Trussing, the Art of ‘Using-Up’, Table Decoration, the Home Doctor, the Nursery, the Home Lawyer…” and more by Mrs. Beeton! There are 4000+ Cookery Recipes in this one volume… if it isn’t a happy homemaker’s dream come true! Check out this 1923 volume here>Screen Shot 2017-04-07 at 10.10.15 PM



Our holding of “Where I Was Born and Raised” by David Cohn is in uncommonly nice condition – complete with its original dust jacket in Very Good condition! This author wrote about segregation in America and his stories, such as “God Shakes Creation” should not be missed. Check it out here>

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And, saving one of the best for last! Our “Life, Trial, and Execution of Maria Manning and Frederic G. Manning for the Barbarous Murder of Patrick O’Connor” is a series of letters written by our main man Charles Dickens after witnessing the public hangings of Maria and Frederic for the murder of her lover, Patrick O’Connor. Dickens was against public executions like this, which occasioned his writing two letters to the Times protesting the practice of public hangings, emphasizing his belief that such events “had only a hardening and debasing influence on their spectators, and that from the moment a murderer was convicted he should be kept from curious visitors and reporters serving up his sayings and doings in the Sunday papers, and executed privately within the prison walls.” Did we mention that no holdings of this item are found on OCLC? Check it out here>

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OTD in 1926 : H.L. Mencken Gets Arrested in Boston for Selling a Banned Copy of The American Mercury!

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By Margueritte Peterson

On this day in 1926, the Jazz Age was in full swing in the United States. Censorship was not an uncommon or unlawful idea at the time, and many Americans were being held to strict moral codes (like that of the prohibition) that they didn’t necessarily believe in. This was the case all over the United States (as well as elsewhere, but that’s another story for another day), but particularly so in the large East Coast City of Boston, Massachusetts, where the phrase “Banned in Boston” was applied to music, literature, motion pictures, plays among other works of art that had been deemed inappropriate or objectionable by a conservative ruling party. Also on this day in 1926, famed American journalist, critic and satirist H. L. Mencken (Henry Louis Mencken) was arrested in Boston after knowingly and purposefully selling a recently banned issue of his own magazine The American Mercury. This moment in time will forever be remembered as a startling win for those against censorship, as not only was Mencken’s case dismissed but he was later able to win a lawsuit filed against Boston’s Watch and Ward Society for illegal restraint of trade. Though at the time it seemed that his win did little to change the harsh censorship laws in Boston, it did a lot to gather attention.

Now, H. L. Mencken was no stranger to being in the public eye. In fact, he traveled to Boston with none other than the express intention of getting himself arrested for selling one of his own works. He knew that the Watch and Ward Society would make sure he would be punished for selling his issue (banned especially because of a story about a prostitute named Fanny) – and wanted both the attention and the absurdity that was censorship in Boston to be highlighted for the world to see. Not everyone in Boston agreed with the Watch and Ward Society’s harshness, as he was acquitted the very next day by a lenient judge. In fact, around this time Boston began to bite itself in the behind, so to speak, as their banned books began to unintentionally garner favor in other areas of the United States with the taboo of being salacious!

Mencken was a free spirit if there ever was one, and both the prohibition and censorship angered him greatly. He is quoted as saying in 1922, “I am, in brief, a libertarian of the most extreme variety, and know of no human right that is one-tenth as valuable as the simple right to utter what seems (at the moment) to be the truth.” He used his skills and connections in the journalism community to procure a reputation as, well, a bit of a badass! 

Screen Shot 2017-04-03 at 7.44.27 PMThe story of Mencken’s arrest goes something like this – he boarded a train for Boston and once having arrived in the city organized a meeting in a public square with John Chase, the director of the Watch and Ward Society. Once Chase arrived, police in tow, Mencken offered Chase the banned issue of The American Mercury for a half-dollar coin. Chase handed the coin over, dramatically (or so we presume), and Mencken, after having bit the coin (you know, just for good measure), was placed in handcuffs and escorted from the Boston Common! After his acquittal the following day, when the judge ruled that private citizens should not be in charge of what literature ought to be banned or not, Mencken went to lunch at Harvard University, where a crowd of over a thousand happy fans greeted him with applause and gaiety. 

Suffice to say, on this day in 1926 a fairly important moment in the history of censorship was going down! Though the Watch and Ward Society was not shut down and some could argue that no immediate response was garnered from the showdown between Mencken and Chase, here we are, almost 100 years later, still talking about this single incident! Perhaps it wasn’t all for nothing… let’s give H. L. Mencken some credit!

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