Category Archives: Collecting

“If people did not want their stories told, it would be better for them to keep away from me.” The Life of Sherwood Anderson

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By Margueritte Peterson

As embarrassing as this is to admit, I was first introduced to this great American author through a guilty-pleasure-teenage-girl-TV-show (that shall NOT be named) and began to research him after hearing his works mentioned several times. What I originally thought might turn into a Stephanie Meyer situation (author of Twilight… It was a teenage girl show, after all) actually turned out to be a very serious author of Americana. I read the work he is most often remembered for, Winesburg, Ohio, and immediately understood why he was popular in his time… though was a bit confused as to why I, a Literature Major, had not heard of him as of yet. 

Sherwood as a child and his family in rural Ohio.

Sherwood as a child and his family in rural Ohio.

Sherwood Anderson was born on September 13th, 1876 in Camden, Ohio. The third of seven children, Anderson’s first memories were of the family moving around quite a bit – though spending five or six years in Caledonia, Ohio, most of Anderson’s memories involved his father’s insolvency and inability to hold down a job. The family went from place to place, each time Mr. Anderson losing respectability and finances for his growing family. Because of his family’s difficulties, the young Anderson only completed about 9 months of high school before dropping out at the age of 14 to work various jobs around town in order to bring in money for his family. Despite the lack of advanced schooling, Anderson was an insatiable reader and was consistently borrowing from the local library, as reading was not necessarily a popular past time in the Anderson home. 

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 7.01.30 AMBy the time Anderson was 18, his father had been drinking and disappearing for weeks at a time, leaving all the children home with their mother to fend for themselves. Having been working desperately for years as a washer, Anderson’s mother Emma died of tuberculosis in 1895 when Anderson was only 19. Having no reason to continue living in the small town of Clyde, Ohio, where the Anderson’s had eventually settled, Sherwood followed his older brother to Chicago, where the two lived in a boarding house as the brother attended the Chicago Art Institute. He continued on in Chicago, eventually renting enough space for his sister and two younger brothers to move into a couple years later. However, having signed up for the Ohio National Guard, his living in Chicago was short-lived, as he was sent to Cuba in 1898, after the fighting in the Spanish-American War had stopped, for 8 months. After his return, Anderson worked in Clyde once more for a few months as he saved money, and eventually joined two of his siblings in Springfield, Ohio, where finally, at the age of 23, Anderson enrolled in classes and was able to complete his high school education. 

Upon his graduation in 1900, Anderson was one of seven students in his graduating class chosen to give commencement speeches. One observer of his speech, Harry Simmons, was an advertising manager for a publishing house. Simmons was so impressed with the speech that he offered him a job as an advertising solicitor right then and there. In the summer of 1900, Anderson went back to Chicago to begin work for the type of business he would work in for the next 6 years.

Screen Shot 2017-02-28 at 7.01.19 AMOne important aspect often noted in Anderson’s life is the nervous breakdown he suffered as a result of professional stress in 1912. By this time, he had begun a new business called the Anderson Paint Company. The intensity of running his own (large) business took its toll and Anderson disappeared for four days, before walking into a drug store and asking an employee to help him figure out his own identity. To this day, it is uncertain as to whether Anderson’s breakdown was involuntary or voluntary, as his story changed over the months and years following the episode. Either way, however, it helped Anderson leave his business, his relationship, and start fresh. Anderson had begun publishing some stories in 1902, and soon writing would become his main source of income. 

Anderson’s first novel, Windy McPherson’s Son, was published in 1916, followed shortly thereafter by Marching Men, published in 1917. However, in 1919 he would publish the work he would remain famous for, a collection of interrelated short stories of residents in a small Ohio town – the book Winesburg, Ohio. The book was a success, as researcher Daniel Mark Fogel writes that Anderson, “Instead of emphasizing plot and action, Anderson used a simple, precise, unsentimental style to reveal the frustration, loneliness, and longing in the lives of his characters. These characters are stunted by the narrowness of Midwestern small-town life and by their own limitations.” For what seemed like the first time, an author focused very little on plot and much more on character development than any other aspect of stories. Anderson continued publishing novels, despite the success of his book of short stories. He published his novels Poor White and Many Marriages in the 20s while living in New Orleans with his third wife, while entertaining and influencing other famous writers in the United States. 

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Throughout the 30s, Anderson published many different kinds of works. A book of short stories, Death in the Woods, a book of essays entitled Puzzled America and a novel called Kit Brandon: A Portrait. Though he still experienced some success and notoriety, his public persona had begun to wane and he was no longer quite as influential as he once was. He continued writing until his death in 1941. His death was just as different as his nervous breakdown, interestingly enough. On a cruise to Panama, Anderson began experiencing abdominal pain and succumbed to a strange infection before he was even able to return to the United States. An autopsy revealed that he had swallowed a martini toothpick, which had perforated his intestines and caused an infection to spread throughout his body. A strange death following an interesting life of a little known but quite influential American author! 

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Some New Treasures at Tavistock

It’s finally the after-California-craziness time of year (though the Sacramento fair IS coming up again in March…) and boy did we find some neat new items while exhibiting at the Pasadena and Bay Area Fairs! We always like to feature a few new, great (in our humble opinion) things after we get a large amount of stuff catalogued, so sit back, relax, and enjoy the books!
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This 1918 1st edition “Oriental Cook Book” states in the preface ““we believe we have finally evolved a book which gives, in designedly limited compass, the most representative, meritorious and easily adaptable methods of food preparation that are known and practiced all over the Orient…” – which they decidedly must have, as this Cook Book widely used and popular at the time. Though the book itself is not what we would consider unique, the Dust Jacket our volume has decidedly is! See more here>
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This 1907 Albumen Stereoview set shows something we don’t see every day in Tavistock Books – 101 images of turn of the last century Italy! Beautiful views of local civilians, ruins, and Italian rooftops can be seen throughout – all captioned in many languages and housed in the original publisher’s case. See it here>
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This 1st edition of Gold Mines of the Gila was written in 1849 by Charles W. Webber ,”a former Texas Ranger who, fascinated by tales of gold and quicksilver in the country north of the Gila River, wrote this lurid tale of border life to promote an expedition into the area. He succeeded in organizing the ‘Centralia Exploring Expedition to California via the Valleys of the Pecos, to Gila and the Colorado of the West.’ The expedition, however, suffered cholera on the lower Rio Grande and the loss of horses at Corpus Christi. As a result, the project was abondoned and Webber never reached California” (Camp). A sad tale, to be sure, but an amazing early written account of the west! See it here>
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Our “Challenge to Death” is the 1935 1st US edition of a group of works by some of the most famous British authors at the time. With contributions from Rebecca West, Julian Huxley and Vera Brittain, how could you go wrong? As the original Dust Jacket blurb states, “fifteen of the outstanding writers of Great Britain give this book – their best and sincerest thought – to the cause of peace, in this dark hour of destruction. They are the voice of the best that is in England.” A wonderful homage to art in a confusing time at the beginning of WWII. See it here>
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The Camp Dodger was the official news publication of the 88th Infantry Division of the United States Army. Beginning in early 1919, an Overseas version of the publication began to be printed, with help from local French ladies in the area! This photograph shows 5 women and one man running the press for the soldiers stationed in France during WWI. See it and learn more here>
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This presumably handmade late 19th, early 20th century receipt portfolio is fashioned from a piece of plain leather, with a thin belt of leather extending down the center of the interior to hold in the receipts. Our research indicates that the shop for which these receipts were written was owned by a Morris Truesdale of New York, a shoemaker who later seems to have managed a shoe factory in town. The receipts often list a combination of dry goods (sugar, rice, tea, molasses, etc), boots and/or shoes, clothing (shirts, overalls), fabric, and more, and most appear to have been compiled over the course of several months or longer. A unique find, as we can locate no other portfolios of this kind on the market or in available records, and only one business record (1894) for M. Truesdale. See this fantastic item here>
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Fair-ly Blue in the Face… That’s a Wrap, Everybody!

The entrance to the fair!

The entrance to the fair!

By Margueritte Peterson

Well, another year has come and passed us by. Another Book Fair has come and gone. I would venture to say not just any book fair, of course, but the ABAA’s 50th California International Antiquarian Book Fair, to be precise. Despite no longer being an antiquarian bookseller personally, I still attend the California ABAA fairs to see such an amazing group of people in a fantastic setting. Without a doubt, the ABAA’s California Fair is a beautifully set-up fair where one can find all manner of items. From incunabula to amazing pop-up miniatures – modern firsts to Hollywood movie posters! And let’s not forget the Tavistock Books Booth with an array of items from Dickens to Americana! Everyone can find something that suits them at the ABAA Fairs (whether or not they can afford it is a different question entirely). 

IMG_20170212_150408However, since I’m now attending the fair as an outsider, it is difficult for me to remark on certain aspects of interest to other booksellers and those attending other fairs around the country. In terms of attendance, I was there on both Friday evening and Sunday afternoon and turn-out seemed steady and flowing. It was not often that I saw booths occupied solely by only their manager or owner. There was a healthy number of booksellers as well! Over 200 exhibitors signed up for and exhibited at the fair, and all that I spoke to said that, in terms of sales, it was a success (which is bookseller lingo usually means that they made the money they spent getting to and exhibiting at the fair back… so at least there’s that!). To help with some of the questions specific to exhibiting booksellers, I got a bit of info from the Tavistock Team – Vic and Kate:

Q: How painless was set-up and take-down as compared to other fairs you have exhibited at recently, especially compared to last year’s Pasadena ABAA Fair?

Setup was rather drawn-out for us, though that was partly our fault — our original booth design looked better on paper, and it took a while to rearrange the various cases. Then electrical was slow to get all the booths wired, and didn’t get to our row until late Friday morning. It’s hard to get everything situated just right when you can’t really see what you’re doing (or how clean the glass is!), and we were still futzing right up until the fair opened. But after our travails, we got it finished in time!

Q: What were sales like? Was it a profitable fair for Tavistock Books?

We’re happy to report that the good ship Tavistock stayed afloat. It wasn’t a great fair, but it wasn’t a bad one, either. Given our sometimes less-than-stellar track record, we’re not going to complain, in fact, as Vic has been saying, “We’re OK with OK!”

Q: Was turnout as grand as you expected it to be? Two years ago at the ABAA fair there were reportedly quite a few thousand people. Was it a similar experience this year?

Other booksellers reported aisles too packed to walk down, so we presume the turnout was high. Our location [on the corner of the exhibitor space, across from the Bancroft Library’s wonderful exhibit of California fiction] never seemed to get that kind of traffic, unfortunately. Though maybe that’s just a case of the cash box being greener on the other side of the curtains?

Q: What was the overall bookseller attitude toward the fair? Two years ago many were quite skeptical of holding the fair in Oakland, but the sales and turnout cured their skepticism! Was there any anxiety over how this year’s fair would hold up to the past in the bookseller community?

From what we’ve heard so far, it sounds like just about everyone is happy with how the fair went. Given the unusual and somewhat bizarre array of circumstances working against this fair’s success — the proximity of the New York fair, the recent enactment of California’s new law about signed material [AB 1570], the Mission Impossible-style theft from a London Caladex facility of three booksellers’ wares before shipment to the fair, and the emergency landing of a plane bearing another bookseller’s books in the remote arctic en route to California — that’s saying a lot. Kudos to all involved, and a big “thank you” to fair coordinator Michael Hackenberg for his tireless efforts, as well as all the good folks at White Rain Productions!

Though you wouldn't know it looking at them, these two have pains shooting up their legs and out their eyeballs!

Though you wouldn’t know it looking at them, these two have pains shooting up their legs and out their eyeballs!

The ABAA Fair coming only a week after the Pasadena Book, Print, Photo & Paper Fair offers a wonderful twofer for out of town booksellers and customers, but in all truthfulness, it can be quite stressful on the booksellers themselves. You would never know it to look at the smiling faces behind the beautifully-arranged display cases, but by the Sunday of the second fair there is more than one smiling face masking an exhaustion only known by those who spend whole days in a row on their feet being charming. Oftentimes, people who don’t know antiquarian bookselling think of it as a somewhat lonely job – sitting in a dark corner sniffing dust-covered leather tomes and muttering to yourself in between inhaling on your pipe – but despite the fact that at times it is a solitary life (and often preferred that way), most people don’t understand that the level of sociality experienced in the few days of a book fair can amount to the equivalent of months’ worth of gabbing by the water cooler in an office setting. Book Fairs are an amazing place to really see what the sellers are made of… they are cool under pressure, they are charming even if their sales are down the toilet, they smile even if they have pain shooting up their legs and out their eyeballs!

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Michael Thompson of Boreas Fine Art showing some of his trickiest and most beautiful pieces!

In terms of interesting items at the fair, a few things that caught my eye were the colorful miniatures at new-ABAA member (and friend to Tavistock Books) Kim Herrick’s booth for her business The Book Lair, and the larger-than-life art books shown to me by Boreas Fine Art’s Michael Thompson. Not to mention that even in the Tavistock Books booth something fun caught my eye… a circa 1850 Gold Scale used in the California Gold Rush – in its original manufacturer’s wooden case! Now that is something you don’t see every day! 

 

 

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Vic giving his Book Collecting 101 speech at the fair on Sunday!


A few events also stuck out in both attendee and exhibitor minds alike, as the ABAA Fairs always put on interesting and educational seminars and receptions. Alongside other seminar speakers like Western Americana-expert Gary F. Kurutz and William Blake specialist John Windle, our very own Vic Zoschak gave his usual two seminars (usual because they are helpful and beloved by all) Book Collecting 101 and What’s This Book Worth? on Sunday afternoon. I stopped in on these speeches (that I personally witnessed at the ABAA California Book Fair in 2013) and can say with certainty that they are an absolute necessity for those starting out in the trade or in the antiquarian book-buying world and are unsure of how or where to begin. On Friday evening the trade also held a Women in Bookselling reception for the growing number of ladies involved in the book business! Now, along with the socializing of the day and the bookseller dinners in the evening… a full weekend was on everyone’s schedule! And, as usual, the booksellers we know and love handled it with unbelievable grace and charisma. And now, let us return to our dark corners to catalogue new fair finds and smoke our pipes in peace. 

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

By 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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The Migratory Habits of Booksellers

By Kate Mitas

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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By Margueritte Peterson

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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