Category Archives: Antiquarian Books

The Prince of Paradox

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Who WAS G. K. Chesterton?

According to many, he is one of the most prolific and best writers of the early 20th century – and yet he is not one often found on school curriculums or on the average household shelf. So the question is… who was G. K. Chesterton and how did he contribute to the literary world and become his nickname – “The Prince of Paradox”? Let’s find out.

chesterton3Gilbert Keith Chesterton was born on May 29th, 1874, in Kensington, London. His childhood is not elaborately researched, but we do know that he was born to a family of Unitarians, and as a young man was interested in the occult and regularly played (or practiced) with a Quija board with his younger brother (and only sibling) Cecil. He was educated at St. Paul’s School in London, but instead of continuing on to a university as you might have expected, Chesterton attended the Slade School of Art in London – in hopes of eventually becoming an illustrator. Though at Slade Chesterton took lessons in both art and literature, Chesterton left without a degree in either! 

RNS-CHESTERTON-SOCIETYWhen Chesterton was 27 years old, he married Frances Alice Blogg – an author herself, who would prove to be a major influence on Chesterton’s writing and religious life throughout the years. As www.chesterton.org mentions, Frances was in charge of all aspects of Chesterton’s life – kept his schedule for him, kept house, and kept him in check. According to the site, Chesterton often “had no idea where or when his next appointment was. He did much of his writing in train stations, since he usually missed the train he was supposed to catch. In one famous anecdote, he wired his wife, saying, ‘Am at Market Harborough. Where ought I to be?’” To which Mrs. Chesterton would almost inevitably respond with “Home.” The Chesterton’s were perhaps the epitome of the phrase “Behind every great man is an even greater woman.” 

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Chesterton cut an amusing figure, indeed. He was 6 foot, 4 inches tall, and weighed almost 300 pounds. He could often be found laughing at himself, smoking a cigar, and scribbling away in the oddest of places. And what was he scribbling? Well – that is a question, isn’t it! Around the turn of the century, Chesterton worked as a freelance art and literary critic before 1902, when the Daily News gave him his own weekly opinion column. From then until the mid 1930s, Chesterton pushed out a steady stream of work – be they stories, poems, essays, articles, biographies or critiques – Chesterton wrote them all. Some of his most notable works included The Napoleon of Notting Hill (a book said to have influenced the setting of Orwell’s 1984), a critical study of Charles Dickens (which you know we love to hear), Orthodoxy (did we mention he was also a theologian?), the Father Brown short stories (has anyone read these? A Catholic priest who solves ghastly crimes and putters about resolving conflicts in his small town? I love them – think Miss Marple-esque), Eugenics and Other Evils (this guy really does get around in terms of subject matter), and The Everlasting Man (the book which reportedly turned C.S. Lewis’ face towards Christianity). Now that’s a resume, eh?! And of course – that is only a smattering of the work Chesterton produced. (The total of which includes roughly 80 books, hundreds of poems, 200 short stories, 4000 essays, and a few plays – jeez!)

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So why the nickname? Well a paradox is defined as: “a seemingly absurd or self-contradictory statement or proposition that when investigated or explained may prove to be well founded or true.” Throughout his work, Chesterton consistently employs a long scope of humor and wit. This is true in both his fiction and non-fiction – and he often used paradoxes to make severe, if humorous (and not to mention true) statements on government, policies, religion, literature and humanity. For example – one of Chesterton’s political paradoxes could still occasionally be considered true today! He said “The whole modern world has divided itself into Conservatives and Progressives. The business of Progressives is to go on making mistakes. The business of the Conservatives is to prevent the mistakes from being corrected.” Ouch! As the Imaginative Conservative (online blog) puts it, “Chesterton show[ed] us that life is full of paradoxes. It is full of those apparent contradictions, those incongruous juxtapositions, that point to deeper truths. Take, for instance, the fact that it takes a big man to know how small he is, or the fact that pride is the sin of a small man who thinks he is big.” Indeed, even more of Chesterton’s paradoxes come into play in his studies of religion – where he considers Christ one of the greatest masters of the paradox. 

In all, G. K. Chesterton is not read as widely as he ought to be – considering the breadth of his work and the fact that, if you look hard enough, there is surely something of his for each and every one of us! My advice? Start with Father Brown… you won’t be disappointed!

Happy Birthday to this author, one of the most influential authors of the 20th century!

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In Honor of Emily

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“Hope is the thing with feathers” by Emily Dickinson is the first poem I remember reading and analyzing as part of a school assignment. 

The first time I read it, I definitely did not “get it”. I honest to goodness remember my initial reaction to my teachers’ analysis of the poem itself. It was the first time I asked myself the question… how do we know that that is what the author wanted us to read into it? How do we know for sure that she meant for the bird to signify the innocence of the emotion of hope? With some authors it is harder than others – as some authors left… well… less of a trail of breadcrumbs for us to follow. One of those authors was Emily Dickinson – the recluse who, to this day, inspires many with her words, whilst we know relatively little about her innermost thoughts during her most productive literary period. On today the anniversary of her death, we’d like to give a brief background on this interesting poet and focus not on exactly what her words mean to us, but rather on the lasting legacy she left behind. 

emily3Emily Dickinson was born in Amherst, Massachusetts, on December 10th, 1830. She was the second of three children, with one elder brother named Austin and a younger sister, Lavinia. Her father was not only a lawyer by trade, but a trustee of Amherst College, where his father had been one of the founders of the school. With their background in education, the Dickinson children were given a thorough education for the time, certainly when it came to the two girls. At the age of 10 Emily and her sister began their studies at Amherst Academy, which had begun to allow female students a scant two years before their studies began. Emily remained at the school for seven years, studying math, literature, latin, botany, history, and all manner of respected academia. Upon finishing her studies at the Academy in 1847, Dickinson enrolled in the Mount Holyoke Female Seminary (now Mount Holyoke College). Although the Seminary was only 10 miles from her home, Dickinson only remained at the school for 10 months before returning home – for reasons many have tried to unearth but none can be sure of. 

emily2Though throughout her late teens Dickinson seemed to enjoy life in Amherst socially, and was certainly already writing poetry (a family friend Benjamin Franklin Newton hinted in letters before his death in this time that he had hoped to live to see her reach the success he knew possible), by her twenties Emily was already feeling a melancholy pull, exacerbated by her emotions when it came to death, and the deaths of those around her. Her mother’s many chronic illnesses kept Emily often at home, and by the 1860s (Dickinson’s 30s) she had already largely pulled out of the public eye. By her 40s, Dickinson rarely left her room, and preferred to speak with visitors through her door rather than face-to-face. Unbeknownst to any, Dickinson worked tirelessly throughout this period on her poetry, and by the end of her life had amassed a collection of roughly 1,800 poems neatly written in hand sewn journals. That being said, less than one dozen of her poems would be published during her lifetime. The first book of her poetry, published four years after her death on May 15th, 1886 by her sister Lavinia, was a resounding success. In less than two years, eleven editions of the first book had been printed, and her words spread across nations. 

“Hope” is the thing with feathers -
That perches in the soul -
And sings the tune without the words -
And never stops – at all -
 
And sweetest – in the Gale – is heard -
And sore must be the storm -
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm -
 
I’ve heard it in the chillest land -
And on the strangest Sea -
Yet – never – in Extremity,
It asked a crumb – of me.
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It is only now, in researching her life and rereading a few of her best-loved poems that I can see the answer to my question of long ago. We don’t know what Emily Dickinson wanted each word to signify. We don’t need to know. It is the way her poetry made and makes the public feel that gave it the popularity it still holds to this day. “Hope”, indeed. 

Today we honor Emily Dickinson and her lasting impact on the world of poetry. 

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Happy Birthday to the Most Irritating Houseguest Charles Dickens Ever Had

Hans Christian Andersen was born in Odense, Denmark, on the second of April, 1805. As a small child, Andersen’s father read to him Arabian Nights - thus introducing the young child to both classic literature and what one might deem a “fairy tale”. At the age of 14, he moved to the capital to become an actor – and though he was accepted into the Royal Danish Theatre… once his voice changed the school advised him to focus instead on becoming a poet… a suggestion that he later turned into authorship.

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Fairytales seemed to be part of Andersen’s literary journey from the beginning, as several of his early stories revolved around tales he heard as a child himself. By the age of 30, Andersen was already writing profusely and showing his work. In fact, in 1833 at the age of 28 he had already received a small travel grant from the king of Denmark to travel through Europe and log the stories he found there. And, well… write he did!

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Andersen is most well-known for his fairytale translations, no one can deny this fact. In 1835 he published the first two installments of his Fairy Tales, with the second installment arriving only two years later. Unfortunately, his collection which included tales such as The Princess and the PeaThumbelinaThe Little Mermaid, and The Emperor’s New Clothes did not sell well at first. Part of the problem was in the translations of these well-known stories. Andersen’s ability to write did not cover his lack of innate foreign language skills.

After honing his skills and continuing to publish fairy tales for ten years, Andersen finally had a breakthrough in 1845 after his translation of The Little Mermaid appeared in Bentley’s Miscellany (a periodical). Soon after, his story was published in a few volumes following its reprint, including Wonderful Stories for Children. A review of the story was published in The Athenæum in London in February of 1846, and the review sang its praises as “a book for grandfathers no less than grandchildren, not a word of which will be skipped by those who have it once in hand.” Andersen became a king of fairytales (of sorts) and would continue translating and publishing them until 1872.

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During his heyday of publishing fairytales from around the Europe, Anderson published various travelogues that he had written during his many journeys abroad while accumulating stories for his collections. Though his travel journals do approach the subject matter in a similar way to his contemporaries’ travel journals, singularly he used his own strengths to expand the style to meet his own requirements. He combines factual evidence and graphic/detailed reports of his experiences with more reflective and meditative verse on various concerns, including his authorship, the issue of timelessness,  and the essence of works of fiction in the travel writing genre. His travelogue In Sweden even contains local fairy tales! (The man just didn’t know how to take a break…)

In 1847 a most happy occurrence happened for Andersen – he traveled to England for the first time and enjoyed resounding success among his fairytale fans. Andersen was able to meet one of his idols, one Charles Dickens, at one of the many parties of a Countess of Blessington. Both authors resonated on certain levels – they were both immensely popular (though Dickens more so, of course), and both took the time to portray citizens of the lower classes in their works. A decade later, Andersen visited Dickens at Gads Hill Place, Dickens’ home – a visit which unfortunately turned into an over-extended stay of over five weeks. Dickens and his family were dismayed that their Victorian politeness allowed a man, even one as highly respected and liked as Andersen, to overstay their welcome by so long. (Read our blog on the extended stay here.) Eventually Andersen had to be asked to leave, and Dickens stopped communication with the author, much to Andersen’s confusion.

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When Andersen turned 67, he took a tumble out of bed and unfortunately was never able to recover from his injuries. Andersen developed liver cancer shortly thereafter and died surrounded by friends (having never married). He was internationally esteemed at the time of his death, and to this day his name immediately recalls international fairytale stories to all of our minds! Happy Birthday to the king of fairy tales, Hans Christian Andersen!

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A Sacramento Update in Honor of Samm’s One Year Anniversary!

This past weekend’s Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair marks Samm Fricke’s one year anniversary with Tavistock Books. Some of you loyal blog followers might remember that Samm joined us in panic mode just two days before the fair last March, and we were just as lucky to have her then as we were to have her at this – her third Sacramento Book Fair! We sat down with her to pick her brain on her feelings now versus one year ago, so enjoy this little Q&A on Samm’s experiences at this fair!

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Q: So Samm! This Sacramento Book Fair this past weekend marks your one year anniversary with Tavistock Books. How does it feel? 

SF: I must say it feels pretty good! All in all I think I am getting a handle on things. I am feeling more and more comfortable in my book skin each day, and also learning something new each day!

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Q: What was your favorite thing about this Sacramento Book Fair, and how is it different from your favorite aspects one year ago?  

SF: Hmm, my favorite thing? Haha! Probably the simple fact that is was the Sacramento Book Fair!  The last two fairs we exhibited at (Pasadena and the Oakland ABAA fair) were huge and stressful, so it was quite nice to come back to a less chaotic fair and see some familiar faces.  Some of those faces I of course saw in Oakland and Pasadena, but without us all being so hyped up it was nice being able to relax with my colleagues and fellow bibliophiles! That being said, I also loved that I could actually say I had two Sac fairs under my belt!

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Q: What do you think your most important lesson was this year and how did you go about learning it? Did Vic teach you? Did you make a mistake? (No joke, my first week I dropped a book that Vic had just spent hundreds of dollars having the binding redone on. Both boards snapped off and I had a mini heart-attack. Vic was at a Giants game. C’est la vie.) 

SF: (First of all, haha Margueritte! That is my worst fear!) There have been so many lessons, and still so many lessons I have to learn!  Vic teaches me everyday – “let me show you” and “have I mentioned this bibliography?” – are some of most common phrases I hear each day! I have, of course, made mistakes here and there, its a learning curve! Thankfully none of my mistakes have lead to him going bankrupt or losing items in his collection… yet! Kidding! Within my first week, I was taking photos and bumped the books behind me. One fell. My heart skipped about 3 beats while I saw Vic look over.  Thankfully, however, it was an inexpensive book and nothing was damaged (unlike you, Margueritte!). But I won’t lie – I thought I was going to die.

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Q: What are you most excited about moving forward in the book trade? 

SF: Like I mentioned a year ago, I just want to continue learning new aspects of the book trade. There is always something new, even with the old! And yes, you can quote me on that one.

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We are so happy to have you on board, Samm!

Here’s to the next Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair!

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New Acquisitions for Your Viewing Pleasure

The recent fairs have given us a fair amount (pun intended) of new inventory! As we haven’t posted one in a while we thought it might be nice to give you an in-depth look at some of our latest and greatest… though there are many more ready to go home with their new owners! Check out our website’s categories for more info on these and other awesome titles.

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We would be remiss in sending our hometown book fairs love without beginning this blog with one of our favorite local finds! DeWitt’s Guide to San Francisco was published in 1900, and is illustrated by nearly 20 engravings! The city guidebook lists tourist sights, hotels, restaurants, banks, businesses, churches, clubs, schools, etc. Love San Francisco? Perhaps you should see what has changed in the last 118 years! See it here.

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This cabinet card photograph depicts three young girls, most likely of the Utes tribe, where they resided in the southern end of Colorado. The photograph itself is circa 1890s, when the town of Rouse, Colorado (now a ghost town) was home to, what was in 1888, the largest coal mine in the state. View this amazing piece of 19th century photographical history here.

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This 1890 edition of The Care of the Sick has a beautiful gilt illustrated binding – and is a solid Very Good copy of this handbook for Nurses, detailing care for the ill both at home and in the hospital. You love nursing material as much as we do? Check it out here!

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We also have a pretty spectacular collection of children’s series books – Nancy Drews, Tom Swifts… Hardy Boys? All can be found on our website and on our shelves! Some series books are not quite so well known as these, however… like this copy of The Bobcat of Jump Mountain. Part of the Boys’ Big Game Series, this title was published in 1920 and our copy still has its original dust jacket! Did we mention it is signed and inscribed by the author, the year of publication? See it here.

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Now this may look like nothing special, but in fact these two volumes make up a first US edition of Oliver Twist… and we would be remiss Dickens specialists indeed if we did not include one of his titles in this list! Now certainly Oliver Twist needs no description to provide its storyline or enforce its importance… so let’s just say that this rare set is not often offered in the trade. See it here.

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Kind of a strange leap from our classic main man, but here offered as well is a 1941 1st edition of rogue author Henry Miller’s The World of Sex. Bibliographers Shifreen & Jackson have speculated that the 3 states of the first [ours given priority] runs of this work may each have had a run of 250 copies. This first state binding is increasinly uncommon, especially in its original jacket – as ours is! Expand your horizons here.

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And while we’re on the subject, here is another fun find from the fairs! We almost feel like the mid 20th century Gilbert Vitalator requires no explanation except for their own marketing! With this vibrator attached to your fingers… “…you’re ready for the thrill of your life. Press your fingers against your body on the spot you wish to massage, and flip the switch. Things happen quickly here, but they can be explained slowly. The Vitalator sets up a vibration which travels to your finger tips and flows through them to your body. But it is not merely a vibration. If you had a pencil in your fingers, set to paper, it would be tracing tiny ovals with lightning rapidity. This rotary movement – this “Swedish massage” action – in the secret of Vitalators superior benefits.” Woohoo! Can be used by men and women, apparently. See this funny body massager here

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This poem, Dickens in Camp was written by Bret Harte shortly after Dickens’ death in the 1870s. Published in a fine press edition in 1923 by John Henry Nash in a run of only 250 copies… and it is signed by the famous publisher! Check out this wonderful tribute to our main man here.

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This Red Cross WWII campaign promotion poster advertises Toys for Kiddies – an initiative where patients in military hospitals designed and created handmade toys for children in homes and orphanages at Christmastime. With the materials provided by the Red Cross, apparently the men spent months making and competing to produce the most creative children’s toy of the season. See this 1940s broadside here.

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Last but not least, we offer as a tribute to the wonderful OZ themed California fair just a couple weeks ago this beautiful 1st edition, 1st printing of Frank L. Baum’s The Woggle – Bug Book, inscribed by the author to one Ruth Bailey Ingersoll in 1905 – the year of its publication. Said by bibliographer Bienvenue to be “remarkably difficult for collectors to find, particularly in good condition. … the large book is one of the most delicate and ephemeral of all Baum’s publications”, we are lucky enough to offer a very pleasing Very Good copy of this unusual early Baum title here at Tavistock Books! Check it out here.

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We hope you’ve enjoyed this brief list of some fun new items on our shelves! Stay tuned throughout the rest of book fair season to see more of them.

 

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The ABAA’s Northern California Chapter Annual Holiday Dinner… a Night in Pictures

As many of you loyal Tavistock Books blog followers (mom, I’m talking to you) know, every year we here at Tavistock Books attend the annual Northern California Chapter Holiday Dinner – a night of fun and food, goings over of the years events as they relate to our chapter of booksellers, and the sharing of bibliophile joys and yearnings.

Instead of raking through an entire blog of minutes from this years shindig, we would like to provide some of the highlights and then tell the tale in images – as some people say that one image is worth a thousand words.

Strictly speaking, we here at Tavistock BOOKS simply don’t believe such tosh… but nevertheless!

The evening began typically with happy hour, and once seated for dinner and guests introduced, chapter Chair Ben Kinmont reported on several book fairs, including the York Book Fair, the fair in Chelsea (both in the UK) and the Boston Book Fair. Apparently the York fair is the hidden gem of the season! Also of note is the extended application acceptance for the California Young Book Collector’s Prize, which we reported on a couple weeks back. Some frightfully good submissions have already been sent in, but there is still time for the young book collector amongst you! Now the California ABAA chapters will be accepting submissions until December 15th, with the prize due to be announced in early January after careful consideration by our four judges! There were words from Michael Hackenberg and Laurelle Swan, comments were made on Andy Langer’s wonderful fastidiousness, and Secretary Alexander Akin passed out the minutes from the last Northern California Chapter meeting, which were approved readily (and firstly by our own Vic Zoschak), whereupon the raffle was finished and many went home with beautiful gifts of Giants tickets, bottles of lovely wines and spirits and gift baskets of snacks and goodies!

It was a wonderful evening surrounded by our fellow bibliophiles – enjoy the pictures and happy holidays to you and yours!

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We Give Thanks

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As those of you who don’t live under rocks are aware, around this time of year immense attention is placed on discovering what we are grateful for and giving thanks. We here at Tavistock Books are grateful for many things indeed – a finely mixed Manhattan, a wonderful dinner with like-minded bibliophiles… the San Francisco Giants. But most of all we are grateful for our customers. They keep our business, and passion, alive and kicking. Our customers vary widely – like most booksellers we connect with libraries, museums, bibliophiles and collectors on a daily basis. And it is one of these categories (though all are beloved) that we would like to bring attention to this holiday season – to young collectors in our state of California. 

Last month we reported on the National Collegiate Book Collecting Contest, which grants awards to collectors at University level that have put together rather outstanding collections at such young ages. Here in California, the Northern and Southern Chapters of the Antiquarian Bookseller’s Association of America have put together the California Young Book Collector’s Prize – a sought after prize to a young collector (age 35 and under, if you please) that shows the remarkable promise of being a great book collector – one that we will owe our livelihood and our profession to as years go by! 

As the ABAA chapters state, “All collections of books, manuscripts, and ephemera are welcome, no matter their monetary value or subject. The collections will be judged on their thoroughness, the approach to their subject, and the seriousness which with the collector has catalogued his or her material.” The prize includes a $500 credit to spend at the upcoming 2019 California International Antiquarian Book Fair, an exhibition space at the fair for their collection (as well as a stipend for exhibiting expenses), a years memberships to both the Book Club of California and the Bibliographical Society of North America, and a year long subscription to The Book Collector. This prize aims to celebrate the pleasure of antiquarian book collecting, and to bring understanding and awareness to others that this is an enjoyment that can be achieved by any – so long as you have the heart and the soul to do so! Congratulations to all applicants – you are one of the things we are most grateful for year-round. 

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Applications must be sent as a .PDF file to ABAA Northern CA Chapter Chair Ben Kinmont at bkinmont@gmail.com by December 1st, 2018 to be considered. Find out more information by emailing us or commenting! 

Happy Thanksgiving to All! 

(But you know, especially to our faithful book collectors.)

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