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.


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.)


Get Ready for Spring Book Fair Season!

Happy New Year! For us California folk, the New Year means one main thing… the beginning of the California Antiquarian Book Fairs! There are quite a few to check out, if you’re so inclined, starting at the end of January and spreading through to mid-February! Though we are partial to our California fairs (probably because they are awesome…), ours aren’t the only fairs to look forward to this season! Therefore, to get you hyped up about some book fairs, we’d like to give you a short overview of some of our favorites, with references to their websites for more information and previous blogs on those fairs to give you some insight! So sit back, relax, and enjoy the book fair ride!

Photo: Bustamante Shows

Photo: Bustamante Shows

First up we have the Southern California Antiquarian Book, Print, & Paper Fair on February 4th and 5th. On alternating years, the California ABAA fair switches between the Bay Area and Southern California. When the ABAA fair is in one place, the other city has a respectable book fair the week before! Not only ABAA members exhibiting, you are always sure to find a variety of items, often reasonably priced! This year the Southern California fair will be held at the Pasadena Convention Center, as it has been in years passed, and you will find Tavistock Books at booth 400! The website for the Southern California Fair can be found here. (Read one of our past blogs on the Southern CA Antiquarian Fair here!)

Also at this time, the Codex Symposium will be held February 5th through the 8th at the Craneway Pavilion in Richmond, CA (a Bay Area local fair… to massive proportions!) Many booksellers who travel to the California fairs make the Symposium an important stop on their trip – and for good reason! As their mission statement says, the Codex Foundation “exists to preserve and promote the hand-made book as a work of art in the broadest possible context and to bring to public recognition the artists, the craftsmanship, and the rich history of the civilization of the book.” See more on the Symposium here

In 2015, Vic shows Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf a 19th century map of Oakland, California!

In 2015, Vic shows Oakland Mayor Libby Schaaf a 19th century map of Oakland, California!

A short week later, we hope to find you in our neck of the woods for the Bay Area’s California International Antiquarian Book Fair held by the ABAA (Antiquarian Booksellers’ Association of America). An absolute hit when it was held in the Oakland Marriott in 2015, we are sure it will draw the same attention as it did then when it debuts again on Friday, February 10th. Though there was a significant amount of doubt as to whether holding the fair in Oakland would be successful, the large turnout and significant amount of sales put everyone’s minds to rest! The Oakland Marriott is easily accessible to all in the Bay Area by BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit – literally a 2 minute walk to the Center from the station), and in a comfortably large arena with good food and great speeches (one by our very own Zoschak!) – you won’t be disappointed! Check out more information on tickets here, and don’t forget to stop by the Tavistock Books booth (number 1001) while you are there! (Read our blog on 2015′s Oakland ABAA Fair here , and Kate’s recent blog on the Pasadena ABAA fair last year here!)


Kate and Vic have some fun at last year’s Pasadena ABAA fair!

If you are in the Los Angeles area on February 11th and 12th, and not able to make it to the Bay Area ABAA Fair, then shame on you. However, you could also entertain yourself with the Greater Los Angeles Postcard and Paper Show, a nice local show if your thing is postcards or paper/ephemera! See more information here

The Los Angeles Art Book Fair, February 24th to the 26th, will be held by Printed Matter with an Opening Evening on February 23rd for VIP ticket holders. The fifth annual LA Art Book Fair will be held at The Geffen Contemporary at MOCA in LA – and is always a favorite for California Art Book dealers and enthusiasts! See the website here

Now, we may be partial to California fairs, that is true, but we do attend and occasionally exhibit in other states! Vic travels and shops the New York ABAA and Boston ABAA Fairs each year, and constantly comes back with great finds! However, the ABAA fair isn’t the only reason he finds such great treasures. During what is termed Rare Book Week in New York, there are at least three different book fairs to be attended. The ABAA Fair, the New York City Book and Ephemera Fair and the Manhattan Vintage Book & Ephemera Fair are all great shows that, should one be in the general vicinity, should absolutely be attended! Find these fairs between March 9th to 12th in New York City. Their websites can be found here, here and here! (Read Vic’s blog on his last NY experience here!)


Kate at her first Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair!

Last but certainly not least is our old faithful and one of our absolute favorites, the Sacramento Antiquarian Book Fair, to be held on Saturday, March 25th this year. This fantastic local fair is a great place for shopping, for socializing, and sometimes even for selling! We adore this hidden gem of a book fair, as should you. Come and check it out, Tavistock Books always exhibits and we will be at booth 35 waiting for you! See more information on the fair here. (Read Kate’s blog on her first Sacramento Book Fair here!) 


“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.


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.


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


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 and, 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. 


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.


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!


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> 


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>


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> 


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> 


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>


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>  


Welcome Home, My Lovelies

Taylor Bowie doesn’t look like much of a tough guy. He’s short and thin, with a wispy goatee and wire glasses, and he wears a baseball hat and sneakers for almost all occasions. He loves books and food and cats, not necessarily in that order, and he’s been in the book trade so long even his hair has gained mythical status — young booksellers tell of having heard it once existed. He’s the unofficial godfather of many fellow booksellers’ cats, and like any proud parent once regaled me with pictures of his extended feline family over lunch at a book fair, struggling all the while to silently come to terms with a disappointing vegetarian chili prepared by a chef he admires. The point is, everyone loves Taylor, and for good reason. So you can imagine my surprise when I dared to go up against him in a dispute about the veracity of a particular item, and got my ass firmly and unequivocally handed to me. Politely, of course.

It all started with a menu. And not just any menu: a full, priced menu from the 1930s gambling ship S.S. Rex. We’d picked it up from Taylor along with a much more abbreviated souvenir Rex menu, and two others from the Rex’s sister ship, the S.S. Tango. Both ships had been owned by Tony “The Hat” Cornero, a Depression-era rum-runner turned casino magnate with a penchant for stylish haberdashery, who attempted to skirt California’s anti-gambling laws by re-outfitting a couple of old fishing barges and operating them just over 3 miles from the Santa Monica shoreline, in international waters. The Tango menus weren’t the problem — I was able to track down others that had surfaced over the years with relative ease. But the Rex menus were another story.

A menu from the S.S. Rex gambling ship . . . or so we thought.

A menu from the S.S. Rex gambling ship . . . we thought.

For one thing, the Rex borrowed its name from a glamorous Italian cruise liner also in operation at the time, one that actually merited the designation “S.S.” (unlike the far more prosaic and unwieldy gambling ship, which had to be towed from one location to the next). To make things even trickier, both menus had an image of a large cruise ship on the front, and the full menu even had a crown logo, similar to the cruise liner’s. Was it possible that these menus weren’t from the gambling ship, after all?

The Italian cruise liner, S.S. Rex (

The Italian cruise liner, S.S. Rex (

What clinched it, or so I thought, was the name and date scrawled in pencil on the back of the full Rex menu: “Ledy Fabian / Sept. 2, 1938.”


“Ledy Fabian / Sept. 2, 1938″

A search in the GG Archives’ passenger lists brought up one Pilade Fabiani, who sailed with his wife and two sons from Cannes on August 9, 1938, aboard — you guessed it — the Italian cruise liner S.S. Rex. Further inquiries proved that he arrived in New York on August 17, whereupon he listed his address as a street in New Haven, CT.

Regrettable as it was, Taylor sure seemed to gotten it wrong. Vic broke the news to him, and we planned to ship the lot back in the next post. That was that, or so I thought.

But Taylor wasn’t getting dissed that easily. Much as he respected my research skills, he said, I was wrong. He’d been dealing with material from the ocean liner Rex for 25 years, and had never come across a priced menu, much less one in English, with prices in American dollars! Plus, he was sure that “Doc” Puccinelli, the maitre’d listed on the back of the menu, had been involved in the San Francisco gambling scene in the 1930s and ‘40s.  Of course, we could return the menus, but, to put it less diplomatically than Taylor did, he was convinced that we’d be idiots if we did.

Well. I hadn’t seen that coming. Taylor — gentle, generous, cat-loving Taylor! — turned out to be stubborn as hell when he wanted to be, and he wasn’t budging. Everything in his experience told him that these were menus from the gambling ship Rex. Everything in mine told me that the odds of a guy named Ledy or Pilade Fabian[i] sailing to Connecticut on a cruise liner named the S.S. Rex in August, and then dining on a gambling ship of the same name on the other side of the country a few weeks later were . . . improbable at best. But if, if, Taylor was right, then he’d be right about us being idiots for getting it wrong. More precisely, I would be the idiot.

Lacking 25 years of experience, however, the only thing for it was more research: I couldn’t simply rely on Taylor’s word, as reliable as his word presumably is. After all, everyone makes mistakes from time to time. And besides, what if a potential customer asked me the same questions I’d asked Taylor? How would I prove that these weren’t menus from the cruise liner, if I hadn’t even been able to prove that to myself?

Let’s just say that it was a very good thing Taylor held out. Because a little more digging turned up the fact that Pilade Fabian had indeed lived in New Haven — and that his father likely still did in 1938, at least according to the 1935 city directory. Pilade himself seemed to have moved with his family to Los Angeles in 1935, and was settled in San Diego by at least 1939. It looked a lot more likely that he could’ve made it home and out to the Rex by September 2, 1938, five days before the gambling ship was raided (not for the first time), a raid Cornero initially greeted by spraying the incoming police officers’ water taxis with high pressure hoses.

I never found anything explicitly connecting “Doc” Puccinelli to the gambling industry, but he did apparently own a sea food restaurant frequented by members of the mob, and possibly a cannery in San Pedro as well, which might’ve been a good spot for a young up-and-coming rum-runner to unload his wares. Even better, a lucky stumble led to the discovery of Noir Afloat: Tony Cornero and the Notorious Gambling Ships of Southern California, a relatively new book by Ernest Marquez that was available via the ever-handy interlibrary loan system. And in it, miracle of miracles, was a copy of an S.S. Rex menu with a cover almost exactly the same as our own:


(Noir Afloat, p 50)

Needless to say, the menus have found a new home, or rather, an old one, of sorts: in Los Angeles, among a large collection of other material having to do with California’s gambling ship history.

And as for me? Note to self, Grasshopper: be patient, and do your damn research. And always, always listen to Taylor — especially whenever food is involved.

Taylor "The Godfather" Bowie, seen here with Lola, aka "Bruttiboni" ("Brutal Bunny" to her victims)

Taylor “The Godfather” Bowie, seen here with Lola, aka “Bruttiboni” (that’s “Brutal Bunny” to you)