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The Rare Books of Valentine’s Day

Valentine’s Day is upon us. If this day of hearts, candy, and warm fuzzies isn’t exactly your cup of tea, you’re not alone! Here’s a look at our three best less-than-romantic rare books for the holiday.

Mark Twain’s (Burlesque) Autobiography and First Romance

Twain_Autobiography_First_RomanceThe title of this work is quite misleading; the events have no relevance to Twain’s life. The book, published by Sheldon & Co in 1871, contains two separate stories: “A Burlesque Autobiography,” which first appeared in Twain’s Memoranda contributions to The Galaxy; and “First Romance,” which was originally published in The Express in 1870. They were not Twain’s favorites; indeed, two years after the book was published, he bought the printing plates and destroyed them.

The short stories do feature characters who are supposedly related to Twain. Twain ends the story abruptly, saying only “The truth is, I have got my hero (or heroine) into such a particularly close place, that I do not see how I am ever going to get him (or her) out of it again—and therefore I will wash my hands of the whole business, and leave that person to get out the best way that offers—or else stay there. I thought it was going to be easy enough to straighten out that little difficulty, but it looks different now.”

Just as the story has no real connection to Twain’s life, the illustrations also have no connection to the text. They use illustrations of the children’s poem The House that Jack Built to criticize the Erie Railroad Ring and its participants.

Revi-Lona: A Romance of Love in a Marvelous Land

Cowan_Revi_LonaWhere romance and science fiction intersect, you’ll find Revi-Lona: A Romance of Love in a Marvelous Land by Frank Cowan. The novel is set in Antarctica and includes all the expected elements, such as prehistoric creatures and super science. Though Bleiler dates the novel’s publication to 1879, other sources simply place the novel “circa 1880′s.”

Though Cowan published a number of works, he’s probably better known for being Andrew Jackson’s personal secretary for managing land patents. Cowan was appointed to the position in 1867 and remained in the post until Jackson was succeeded by Ulysses S Grant. That same year, Cowan perpetrated a major literary hoax with his friend Thomas Birch Florence, who owned a failing Georgetown newspaper.

In an effort to bolster sales, Cowan and Florence came up with a fantastic story; they reported that the body of an Icelandic Christian woman who’d supposedly died in 1051 had been found under the Great Falls of the Potomac River. The body proved that other settlers had reached America a full five centuries before Christopher Columbus. Though the story did bolster sales, Cowan and Florence were eventually found out.

Fact and Fiction! Disappointed Love! A Story

Disappointed_Love_Cochran_CottonThe drop title of this work is “Drawn from the lives of Miss Clara C Cochran and Miss Catherine B Cotton, Who Committed Suicide, By Drowning, in the Canal at Manchester, N. H., August 14, 1853.” The two young women worked and roomed together at the Manchester Corporation and had “frequently expressed a purpose to drown themselves.” But their housemates thought little of it and paid the girls no heed.

Then on August 14, 1853, Cochran and Cotton “proceeded hand-in-hand, with great apparent cheerfulness, to the bridge crossing the upper canal…and together leapt into the water.” A few people witnessed the event. The women had obviously premeditated their demise, as both left letters to loved ones and put their affairs in order. Cochran, only nineteen years old at the time of her suicide, stood to inherit a large sum on her 21st birthday, which made her motives even more inscrutable to her contemporaries.

What are your favorite obscure or eccentric tales of love? And what rare book would you most like to receive for Valentine’s Day yourself?

Related Posts:
A Look Back at Long-Lost Manuscripts
Courtship, Romance, and Love…Antiquarian Style

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Rare Books a Mother Could Love

This Sunday the United States celebrates Mothers Day, and many of us are still searching for the perfect gift ideas. If your mother has a predilection for rare books, choose the perfect volume for her personal library.

Evoke Childhood Memories

Classic children’s books give Mom an opportunity to reminisce about her youth–and to share a piece of her childhood with future generations. Choose a title from a beloved series.

Poppy_Ott_First_EditionsThe Poppy Ott series by Leo Edwards (pseudonym for Edward Edson Lee) was published in the 1920′s and 1930′s. Though these books were primarily marketed for boys, plenty of girls fell in love with Poppy Ott and his penchant for stumbling into adventure.

Brownies_First_Edition_Palmer_CoxPalmer Cox’s Brownies series recounts the adventures of mischievous, fairy-like sprites in humorous verse. These books were already beloved classics by the turn of the 20th century and maintained their popularity long after.

Nancy-Drew-First-EditionMildred A Wirt wrote the perennially popular Nancy Drew series under the pen name Carolyn Keene. Nancy Drew and her friends always managed to find a mystery, and the series remains in print today.

Japanese-Fairy-TalesThe Japanese Fairy Tales series, published in Tokyo in the 1890′s, offer a beautiful glimpse into the mores and stories of Japan. Bound in the “yamoto toji” style, the books are in french-fold format and printed on crepe paper.

Bring Art to the Shelves

The right rare art book is both visually stunning and intellectually engaging. If your mother loves art–or beautiful objects–one of these rare items may be the ideal gift.











Lewis Lott produced his Collection of Beautiful Miniatures in the 1860′s. It includes faithful reproductions of 70 original miniature paintings, mostly from the 14th and 15th centuries.

Chang Dai-ChienChang Dai-chien was one of the most renowned and prolific Chinese artists of the 20th century. This collection, published by the East Society, includes 130 reproductions of his paintings since 1944.

Avalon-Bay-California-Frank-HebertFrances Hebert’s original watercolor of Santa Catalina Island’s Avalon Bay in California depicts an elevated view of the bay, from the hills to the South-Southeast. It’s matted and mounted in a gilded wooden frame.

Share a New Perspective on a Favorite Author

Some legendary authors, like Walt Whitman, are famous for leaving behind copiously annotated manuscripts. These documents provide a more dynamic view of the author’s work, but they’re not the only way to offer a fresh perspective on a beloved writer.

Hospital-Sketches-Louisa-May-AlcottLouisa May Alcott is famous for Little Women, but fewer people know that she served in a hospital. Hospital Sketches and Camp and Fireside Stories includes six sketches about Alcott’s time working in the hospital.









Anais Nin’s first book was DH Lawrence: An Unprofessional Study. The work gives us insight on both Lawrence and Nin, an unusual combination and an interesting item for collectors of either author.

Amergin-Sven-BerlinPoet, artist, and dancer Sven Berlin was a member of the St. Ives art colony–until a falling out with other writers over his novel The Dark Monarch. This original draft of Berlin’s Amergin the White Stag contains magnificent pen and ink drawings to be used as illustrations, along with Berlin’s notes to the typist, chapter notes, etc. It’s truly an intriguing manuscript.

Even if none of the above suits your mother, all of us here at Tavistock Books wish all mothers the very best of days!  We thank you for visiting our blog, and hope you enjoy your day!