Category Archives: History

Mastering Modernist Literature… A Guide by Virginia Woolf on Her Birthday

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There have been many authors over the past century that have been considered forerunners in the art of the Modern Novel. As a matter of fact, we have written about quite a few of them in the past. Some tell-tale signs of modernist literature are a few literary techniques like a stream-of-consciousness voice or interior monologue, and even numerous points-of-view within one work. These techniques are used by a great deal of modernist authors, but perhaps none so pointedly as the creator of the complex Mrs. Dalloway, feminist thinker and free spirit Virginia Woolf. 

Screen Shot 2017-01-23 at 8.36.28 AMVirginia was born Adeline Virginia Stephen on January 25th, 1882 in Kensington, London. She was born into a mixed family – both of her parents having been married previously with sets of children on both sides. The family was extremely literate – both parents being well connected in the artistic and literary worlds. In 1895 when Virginia was only 13 years old her mother died, followed closely by her half-sister, Stella and brother Thoby. At this point Virginia began to suffer from the nervousness and had the first breakdown of many she would suffer from throughout her life.

 

Despite her nervous nature and brief periods of institutionalization, Virginia began to spend a significant amount of time with a group of writers and artists that was known as the Bloomsbury Group. By 1910 they were thick as thieves, and Virginia and her sister Vanessa along with writers, editors, and artists Leonard Woolf, Lytton Strachey, Clive Bell, John Maynard Keynes among others participated in both intellectual discussions and amusing pranks. In 1912 she married Leonard Woolf, and though they were never to be passionate lovers, the two were close friends, collaborators and intellectual equals for the three decades they were married. A couple years after the wedding, Virginia published her first novel A Voyage Out in 1915, and in 1917 she and Leonard opened The Hogarth Press in their country home in Richmond. Most of her later work would be published by their press at home. Her writing received moderate to a good amount of success, both from the critics and from her peers throughout her life. Today, Woolf is an author often associated with the feminist movement.

Screen Shot 2017-01-23 at 8.37.45 AMAs far as writing goes, Woolf’s stories are often experiments in point of view and narrative. She focuses her plots on realism – typical days in the lives of her characters, sometimes no plot twists whatsoever. She, alongside other modern authors Joseph Conrad and James Joyce, has been credited with the invention of the stream-of-consciousness form of writing – where the narration takes on a inner dialogue type voice that never ceases and flows lyrically from one subject to the next, just as our regular minds do. This lyrical style is also seen in her descriptions of ordinary, commonplace events in her novels. They are so stylistically written that Woolf elevates the ordinary and creates a world rich in detail.

 

Woolf struggled with depression and nervous breakdowns throughout her life, as I mentioned previously. Unfortunately at the age of 59 in 1941 Woolf succumbed to the pain of every day life and drowned herself in the River Ouse, near the Woolf’s home in Sussex. Her cremated remains are buried in the garden there. Woolf’s work, however, has lived on, and after a brief lapse of popularity following WWII, her work experienced a revival in the feminist movements of the 1970s and has remained popular and taught in colleges ever since!

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Who’s Afraid of… What Happened to Amelia Earhart?

Most of our blogs are about books, bookish things, about author holidays or birthdays, about book fairs and bibliophilia. However, sometimes we like to report on important or significant historical events. Often, those close to our heart (or our homes). So tomorrow, on the 82nd anniversary of her first completed solo flight from Honolulu to Oakland (right next door to Tavistock Books!), we’d like to ask an important question… What happened to Miss Amelia Earhart?

amelia3Amelia Mary Earhart was born on July 24th, 1897 to a family in Atchison, Kansas. She lead a somewhat average childhood. As the eldest surviving child in the family, she played the role of the ringleader well and was often in charge of her younger sister, Grace. “Meely”‘s only slightly unconventional aspect of her childhood was that her mother, Amy Earhart, did not believe in forcing manners or or tradition on her daughters! She didn’t not believe that parents should be shaping their children into “nice” little girls, and gave her two daughters a freer reign than their childhood friends would have known. This gave Amelia the chance to express her true tomboy nature and her family (or at least her mother) embraced it. In 1904 at the age of 7 Earhart completed her first (not quite successful) solo flight with the aid of an uncle. She put together a home-made ramp fashioned after a roller coaster she had seen, and placed the ramp on the roof of the toolshed at her family home. She rode in a wooden box off the ramp, and climbed out of the broken box completely exhilarated!

At this time, however, Earhart was not certain that aviation was her field. She did seem to be drawn to the more male-dominated fields – science and mechanics were the subjects at which she excelled. One story goes that after one of her family’s many moves (her father lost a couple jobs due to alcoholism) she canvassed a town to find the perfect school for herself, basing her decisions on the science laboratories and programs. Her first real job came in 1917 after a trip to Toronto to see her younger sister (who was in school there) when she saw returning wounded soldiers and decided to study as a nurse’s aide from the Red Cross and took care of surviving soldiers during WWI.

Amelia Earhart

In 1920 while visiting her parents in Long Beach, California (the Earharts continued to move and Amelia spent a significant amount of her early 20s living with her sister in Toronto and then Massachusetts), Earhart and her father visited an airfield where pilot and racer Frank Hawks (famous in the day) gave her a $10 plane ride that would forever change Amelia’s life. Immediately after the ride she became determined to learn how to fly and over the next week worked many odd jobs (stenographer, photographer and truck driver, to name a few) to save up what she needed for the $1,000 needed for flying lessons. Her first teacher was Anita “Neta” Snook, a female aviator who trained her students with a “Canuck” (a training biplane also used for teaching the US Army pilots). Almost 2 years later, Earhart flew her first plane (a bright yellow Kinner Airster biplane nicknamed “The Canary”) to an altitude of 14,000 feet and set a new world record for female pilots – the highest one had ever reached! A year later (don’t ask me to explain why it happened in this order… even I don’t understand) she became the 16th woman in the world to be issued a pilot’s license by the Federation Aeronautique Internationale.

Unfortunately, Earhart’s dream of fame and glory would have to wait, as her family’s depleted fortune, parents’ divorce, and a return of a chronic sinus infection that she would suffer from her entire life, forced Earhart to get jobs as a teacher and social worker to support herself and her mother in Massachusetts. She held onto her love of aviation at this time, however, as she laid plans for an organization solely for female aviators and investing a small sum of money in Dennison Airport, Massachusetts.

amelia2Earhart’s fame came spectacularly randomly in 1928, when American citizen Amy Guest decided to be the first woman to fly across the Atlantic ocean (following Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight in 1927). Guest decided that the journey was too dangerous and undertaking for herself, she decided to find a suitable young woman to take her place. One afternoon, Earhart received a call from a Captain Hilton H. Railey, asking her if she would like to fly across the Atlantic ocean. Earhart completed the journey with pilots Wilmer Stultz and Louis Gordon, and was welcomed to both England and back in the United States to rounds of applause, interviews, and even a lecture tour. With the help of George P. Putnam (publisher and publicist who was involved in the original crossing), Earhart remained at the front of the worldwide news, and was marketed as the modern woman. Simple, elegant, intelligent and effective.

In 1929, Putnam proposed to Earhart (six times, I might add) and she finally agreed to marry him. However, Earhart’s ideas of marriage were as unconventional as her mother’s ideas on pantaloons were! Earhart delivered a letter to Putnam on their wedding day stating “I want you to understand I shall not hold you to any midaevil [sic] code of faithfulness to me nor shall I consider myself bound to you similarly.” Wowza! Earhart kept her name and held onto the idea that men should not be the sole breadwinners in a household.

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The next few years held many firsts for the young aviator. Earhart became the first female to follow Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight from Newfoundland to Paris, but due to unexpected winds and electrical issues she was forced to land on a field in Ireland. Despite the route change, she was still the first woman to fly solo nonstop across the Atlantic, and for that Earhart received the Distinguished Flying Cross medal from Congress, the Cross of Knight of the Legion of Honor from France, and the Gold Medal of the National Geographic Society from President Hoover. On January 11th, 1935, Earhart became the first aviator in the world to fly solo from Honolulu, Hawaii, to Oakland, California. She didn’t stop in Oakland for long, however, and her trailblazing went on with solo flights from Los Angeles to Mexico City, and then Mexico City to New Jersey. Throughout the early to mid 1930s Earhart had been planning to one day fly around the world, and in 1937 she finally got her wish and began her journey. She left Oakland, California for Honolulu, but on their (she was accompanied by pilots Fred Noonan and Harry Manning, and stunt pilot Paul Mantz) leaving Honolulu they experienced technical difficulties and were forced to abandon the attempt altogether. On her second attempt, leaving first from Oakland to Miami, Florida, and then on to (almost… so close) circumnavigate the world, Earhart and her one crew member Fred Noonan made it all the way across South America, Africa, the Indian subcontinent and parts of Asia all the way to Lae, New Guinea. 22,000 miles of the journey had been completed, with only 7,000 miles left to go over the Pacific ocean. Unfortunately, Earhart and Noonan would never reach their destination of Howland Island where the United States Coast Guard was waiting for them. They had difficulty reaching the USCG with the radio, could not find Howland, and many issues contributed to an inability to land safely where anyone knew where they were. They ran out of fuel searching for Howland, and disappeared.

There are many conspiracy theories of what happened to Earhart, but most recent evidence shows that she and Noonan may have been able to land the plane on nearby deserted Nikumaroro island, where recently plane remnants and the bones of a female were found. Was Earhart able to land successfully on the island, and lived out a few months as a castaway? Perhaps we will never know. Then again…

(You didn’t really think I was going to be able to shed any light on what really happened to A.E., did you? Silly rabbit.)

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“I delight in what I fear”: Happy Birthday to the Mistress of Terror, Miss Shirley Jackson

For those of you unfamiliar with Jackson’s work, consider yourself warned of potential SPOILERS right now and exit out of this page. Preferably to pick up one of her books and see for yourself.

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I still remember the first Shirley Jackson piece I ever read. Like most American high school teenagers, it was one of her short stories. A terrifying and eye-opening piece entitled The Lottery. To this day, I think it is one of the most horrifying works I’ve ever read in my life (and this coming from an avid Agatha Christie fan). A work that reveals a callous and mindless side of human nature – just following the herd mentality, even if it involves killing your own mother – what wouldn’t be creepy about that? The Lottery has always stuck with me, and also have the other stories by Jackson that I have read since. We Have Always Lived in the Castle is a fan favorite for a reason! So here’s to the real question… what had this seemingly average American housewife done to become the architect of such frightening tales? Well… let’s take a look!

Jackson with her four children, who were much dramatized in her stories and prominent figures in her two later memoirs.

Jackson with her four children, who were much dramatized in her stories and prominent figures in her two later memoirs.

Shirley Hardie Jackson was born on December 14th, 1916 in San Francisco, California. (A local to boot!) She discovered writing at an early age, and during her teenage years dealing with stressful weight fluctuations and feeling like an outcast, writing was her main joy. She originally attended Rochester University, but after feeling unhappy there (with professors who judged her writing quite harshly), she transferred to Syracuse University where she thrived and finally felt like she fit in with her peers. She was involved with the University’s literary magazine, where she met her future husband, literary critic Stanley Edgar Hyman. Around 1935 she and her new husband moved to the sleepy town of North Bennington, Vermont, where Hyman taught at Bennington College and Jackson continued working on her writing. Later on, in 1954, Jackson would say of these years in North Bennington: “our major exports [were] books and children, both of which we produce in abundance. The children are Laurence, Joanne, Sarah, and Barry” (Twentieth Century Authors). 

The Lottery's first appearance in The New Yorker.

The Lottery’s first appearance in The New Yorker.

When The Lottery was first published in The New Yorker in June of 1948, Jackson was catapulted to fame the likes of which she never expected. The initial response to the story was extremely negative. Jackson received 400 letters from readers over the course of the summer – and only 13 were kind (and mainly from personal friends). Many readers instantly cancelled their subscriptions to The New Yorker. While Jackson would tell others that the tone of the letters ranged from “bewilderment, speculation, and plain old-fashioned abuse.” Readers wanted to know if such rites existed, and if so – where they could go and watch someone being stoned to death. They “declared the story a piece of trash.” What could a story possibly do to make people so violently angry? Well… remind them of their own cruelty and confuse them with their own emotions, of course. While Jackson was somewhat shocked by the extremely negative reception of her story, she often refused to give the readers the one thing they wanted… an explanation of what it “really means”. One sentence she was able to send to the San Francisco Chronicle gave an explanation (that I’m sure went over really well with the readers) as such: “I suppose, I hoped… to shock the story’s readers with a graphic dramatization of the pointless violence and general inhumanity in their own lives.” Zing!

screen-shot-2016-12-14-at-9-35-41-amThe negative response her story received did not stop her, however. Jackson continued to write stories and would come to be known as a Mistress of Terror. Her subtle plots infused with strange characters and sinister themes and plots held her audience captivated. She wrote over 100 short stories throughout the years, some children’s stories and several novels. Her novels The Bird’s Nest (1954) and The Haunting of Hill House (1959) are commonly regarded as fantastical and ghostly stories, and have inspired authors Stephen King and Neil Gaiman in their own works. In 1962 she published her novel We Have Always Lived in the Castle, a story following two sisters after the mysterious and unsolved mass death of their entire family in their childhood home.

So what made Shirley Jackson tick? What gave her these ideas? Her own husband has said of the matter that the darkness found in Jackson’s stories were not the side-effects of personal neurosis, but rather a result of the hard times she had seen of the world – “fitting symbols for [a] distressing world of the concentration camp and the [Cold War] bomb.” Jackson wrote of the psychological and physical destructiveness of human nature, and its consequences on others. Her stories obviously resonated with readers so upset by the simultaneous horror and unbelievably realistic nature (after all, many readers believed The Lottery was based on actual rituals experienced throughout the country) and forced all to take a deep look inside and wonder at the violence and evil that could be found in us all. One thing is for sure – were Jackson still alive today (she unfortunately passed away at only 48), I am sure she would find several ways to shock us all into submission. Happy Birthday, Ms. Jackson.

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“A Date Which Will Live in Infamy…” Today we Remember the United States’ Entrance into WWII

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Bookstores and businesses in the antiquarian book world are numerous enough that no matter what you are looking for, you can be sure to find it somewhere. On sites like Biblio.com and abaa.org, you can search for booksellers based on what genre of books you are looking for. One genre we would like to salute on this December 7th, an important day of remembrance and respect in United States history, are antiquarian books with a WWII military basis. 

A picture taken from a Japanese fighter jet (where did they find the time?!) as one of the first torpedoes hit the USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor.

A picture taken from a Japanese fighter jet (where did they find the time?!) as one of the first torpedoes hit the USS West Virginia at Pearl Harbor.

On the morning of December 7th, 1941, 353 Japanese fighter planes attacked the United States military base at Pearl Harbor, Oahu, Hawaii. The lack of any warning for this attack led the president, Franklin Delano Roosevelt to label it “a date which will live in infamy” – primarily based on the lack of a declaration of war (a formal pronouncement) or any true notice of its happening. The Naval base suffered devastating loses, with four of the eight Naval battleships sunk and all severely damaged. This attack, the likes of which many American citizens had never seen up close on our nation’s soil, shocked the nation into joining World War II. 

Prior to the attack on Pearl Harbor, the United States had skirted around the edges of the looming World War II. However, on December 8th, the day after the attack on Pearl Harbor, President Roosevelt delivered a speech asking Congress for a formal declaration of war on Japan. Less than an hour after the speech, Congress consented. Due to a previous agreement between Germany, Italy and the Empire of Japan, United States was suddenly (or at least beginning on December 11th) at war with all three nations, all with the objective of restricting the United States’ ability to help any of their other opposition throughout the war. 

Now, all of this is frightfully interesting (not making fun, just stating such with the knowledge that these things have all been heard before, especially today), but what does this have to do with antiquarian bookselling? Well, good thing you ask. Tavistock Books, among other antiquarian booksellers in the United States and abroad, boasts a small collection of WWII items – books, ephemera, memorabilia… even WWII posters printed on linen – all are things we have been lucky enough to have in stock over the years. On this anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor, we’d like to highlight some of our most interesting World War II items currently on our shelves. 

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See this interesting book here>

This uncommon military book details the XIII Bomber Command – a WWII command and control organization for the Thirteenth Air Force, activated in January of 1943. This organization was created in order to provide authority of Army Air Force bombardments within the 13th Air Force Area of Responsibility during the war. What is striking about this book is that it was created entirely within the Combat Area of the Bomber Command – its handmade nature evident – and provides extensive documentation of the Command’s activities in the Pacific Theater during the year and a half that it chronicles. 

See this Fine poster here>

See this Fine poster here>

Another WWII item we currently have in stock and would like to bring attention to is this 1945 1st edition broadside/poster (linen-backed) by the Women’s Army Corps. As stated a bit earlier, we often try to carry unusual memorabilia relating to WWII. This poster propagandizes the Female Medical Technician campaign – an organization that came about after 5,000 of the U.S. Army Medical Department’s combat-ready men were forced to transfer to the infantry in early 1944. The department suddenly began a major push to recruit women to fill the positions left open, and created departments like this Female Medical Technician campaign (which, by the way, was hugely successful). By the end of the war, the WACs (Women’s Army Corps) Medical Department employed around 20,000 trained, skilled and determined young women.

Again, on this December 7th we honor and remember members of the military that have, so often, given their lives and their time to protecting citizens of the United States. (We have mentioned before that our very own Vic Zoschak was a Lieutenant Commander in the United States Coast Guard before turning his talents toward a career in the antiquarian book trade, right?) We salute all.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A Birthday Cheers to Pablo Picasso, Father of Cubism

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

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

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

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

One example of a modern artist book out today.

One example of a modern artist book out today.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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