Monday, August 6, 2018

F.R. Wendemuth's Checker Books

An unusual specialty for a bookseller and publisher--books about the game of checkers. In this little sales brochure, Wendemuth is promoted as the largest dealer and publisher of checker books in the world.

Wendemuth (1860-1938) was not just a bookseller and publisher with a narrowly-focused inventory; he was also the draughts editor of the Chicago Daily News and a former draughts champion of Illinois and Chicago. The December 2010 issue of the ACF (American Checker Federation) Bulletin named him as one of the greats of the Chicago checker players.

So he knew what he was talking about when customers inquired about books on draughts, or checkers. By the way, if you don't know, draughts is the British word for the game and checkers the American equivalent.

In this little catalog, Wundemuth promoted his books as investments, advising customers to always buy First Editions. Let's check in on some of his investment advice and see how certain purchases played out in the last century.

Listed among the Two-Move Restriction Books is Banks vs Jordan 1914 Match in cloth covers for a dollar. A quick online check of bookseller inventory for that title results in two copies in the $40 range. 

Staying with this category of books, let's see what America vs. Great Britain 1927 yields. Wendemuth describes this hefty 459-page book as one of the greatest works on the game. He had it in cloth for $5 and De Luxe Full Morocco Binding for $10. I have a cloth copy priced at $12.50, but the front cover is damaged. Better condition copies in cloth binding run up to $75 with varying grades of condition, signatures, etc. I didn't find any bindings in full Morocco, but they'd probably start somewhere at the $100 level. 

If the two titles above are any indication, then, yes, first edition checker books have appreciated in value. As an investment, though, there's relatively little upside for having held onto them the better part of a century. Unless that investment was in the pleasure of building a fine collection of books on checkers. 

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

A Rudolf Flesch letter to a bookseller 
(high readability score!)

Rudolf Flesch (1911-1986), a writer, readability expert, and proponent of the Plain English Movement, collected books on language, English, and writing. So it comes as no surprise that a letter he wrote to a New York bookseller in 1948 included an order for a book on language and a request for more books on the subject, particularly rare books.

Flesch, an Austrian immigrant who fled to America ahead of Hitler's invasion in the 1930s, had earned a law degree in Vienna, but in his new country, his scholarly pursuits turned to Library Science (Ph.D. from Columbia University), reading, and writing about the English language.

In 1955, he wrote the classic, Why Johnny Can't Read and What You Can Do About it, which advocated phonics for teaching students how to read. The book was a best-seller. Parents loved it, educators not so much. Today, more than 60 years later, cognitive neuroscientists still advocate it as an important tool in teaching reading skills. And many educators remain ambivalent about its use. In 1981, Flesch was compelled to write Why Johnny Still Can’t Read, but the Reading Wars have continued to this day. 

Flesch was not a fan of the Dick and Jane books used at that time to teach children to read, but he did like Dr. Seuss books and his praise wound up on the dust jackets of some of those books. And he may have been indirectly responsible for Seuss’ best-known work, The Cat in the Hat

In the December 23, 2002 New Yorker, Louis Menand writes that John Hersey, who like Flesch deplored the teaching methods for young readers, mentioned Dr. Seuss as an author that publishers should consider for inspiring school children to read. William Spaulding, director of Houghton Mifflin's education division, read both Hersey's article and Flesch's Why Johhny Can't Read and proposed a list of words similar to the word lists in Flesch's book for Seuss to use in creating a story that first graders could read. Seuss initially balked at the idea, but worked with it and the words provided him, eventually culling out those he would use to write the story. 

When Flesch mailed his typed, signed letter to Schulte's Book Store to order A.P. Herbert's What a Word, he had already published two books by this time: The Art of Plain Talk (1946) and The Way to Write, with A.H. Lass (1947). He was working on his third book, The Art of Readable Writing (1949) and perhaps Herbert’s book found a place in his reference library for that project.

Also in 1948, Flesch published in the Journal of Applied PsychologyA New Readability Yardstick, in which he first proposed his Reading Ease Formula, which became a standard readability formula for the U.S. Department of Defense and other government agencies. 

Against this backdrop of language studies and efforts to improve readability in the post-World War II era, Flesch's 1948 letter to a bookseller provides an interesting snapshot of a process at work, underscoring the importance of a relationship with a knowledgeable and reputable bookseller. Those booksellers and relationships still exist, but the Internet era has taken its toll on both. 

A concluding thought on Flesch and the books he collected in addition to the A.P. Herbert title in this letter is this: What happened to those books, Flesch's personal library, upon his death? Surely it was a substantial collection on the topics of language, reading, and writing. Was it donated to the archives of a university library or similar institution for scholarly studies? Or did his heirs inherit them? Or, hopefully not, did they scatter to the four winds? I've not been able to find "Flesch papers" or Flesch's book collection intact anywhere through online searches. In the event they sold at auction and re-entered the second-hand market, I've searched high and low for evidence of this, such as books with Flesch's bookplate (if he used ex-libris) or other marks of ownership. Taking a cue from the previous paragraph, perhaps I should find a reputable bookseller with a specialty in the subjects Flesch collected. 

Wednesday, November 18, 2015

The Handsomest Book Store on Earth

I have ephemera touting various book stores as "the best," "the biggest," or "the cheapest." But I've come across only one book store that made the following claim:

The Handsomest Book Store on Earth

And that would be the St. Paul Book and Stationery Co., at Fifth and St. Peter Streets in St. Paul Minnesota, according to the postal history below:

 This 1895 ad cover for the book store claims its superior physical beauty, yet refrains from an illustrated representation of the premises on its business stationery. Did handsome apply to the exterior, interior, or both? What were the criteria for such a superlative?

Many other postal covers I've seen for like establishments have included illustrations of the building in which they set up shop. St. Paul Book and Stationery Co. chose to use that space on the front cover of the envelope to tell you something about their business. I would argue that was much better use of the space.

Instead of looking at the handsomest book store you ever saw, you could learn something about the business, which just might lead to your patronage in that handsome space. 

You could learn about the kinds of books they stocked, their ability to help you start a home or school library, the stationery products and engraving services offered, the variety of office supplies on hand, and maps, globes, and charts, as well as other desirable school supplies.

And if you decided to visit their store, I suppose you'd just have to judge for yourself how handsome the place was and if it lived up to their claim as the handsomest. 

In an 1889 edition of Caspar's Directory of the American Book, News and Stationery Trade, I found an entry for St. Paul Book and Stationery Co., which indicated that the business got started in 1879 under that name, but its origins went back to 1859 under different ownership.But I haven't been able to find an image for the shop at the address on the cover above.

In absence of any evidence to the contrary, they get the benefit of the doubt for having been the handsomest book store on earth.

For now.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Books offered by F.F. Hansell & Bro., New Orleans

In 2009, I blogged about an old billhead from New Orleans bookseller, F.F. Hansell &Bro., dated 1900. There wasn't much information on that piece to indicate what kind of stock Hansell had in his store, but comments on that post indicated office furnishings were in the mix along with a few books. I wondered if they sold "real" books or maybe just account books and ledgers for businesses in addition to a few school texts a standard author or two. That question was answered with a recent addition to my collection--a Hansell brochure/catalog of popular books and standard authors representing an impressive inventory of quality literature. Real books.

This undated (appears circa 1900), 7 X 10-inch folded sheet features Hansell's Home Library on the front (and continuing on the next page), with 204 cloth-bound volumes dressed in gilt tops to choose from. Titles such as Aesop's Fables, Alice in Wonderland, Emerson's Essays, Carlyle's French Revolution, Robinson Crusoe, Swiss Family Robinson and on and on. Standard works in literature, history, travel, etc.

Page three above advertises Hansell's multivolume sets of standard authors, bound in half calf. Here you would find Dickens' Complete Works in 15 volumes, Gibbon's Roman Empire in 5 volumes, and many others considered standard authors of the day.

Continuing that multivolume theme, the last, or rear, page offers a small sample of the great authors' works in small books, bound in leather or cloth. The illustration of the Dickens set implies that these sets came housed in a leather case. The "New Century Library" refers to the edition and the publisher

Thomas Nelson's name keeps coming up as publisher in repeated searches for these pocket size editions, though the publisher is not named in Hansell's brochure. It's doubtful that F.F. Hansell used the same name as Thomas Nelson did for their multivolume sets.

Regardless of the publisher, this little advertising piece shows that not only did F.F. Hansell deal in "real" books, they offered an impressive array of literature in various affordable editions and bindings for the reader or student of serious literature.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Rare Bibles and Johnny Appleseed

Edwin Alfred Robert Rumball-Petre (1881-1954), a dealer in rare Bibles, who also wrote about collecting Bibles, during the first half of the twentieth century issued this bulletin because he wasn't selling enough rare Bibles to warrant producing a new catalogue. That and the itch to write something prodded Mr. Rumball-Petre (let's go with R-P for the remainder of this post) to conceive and write the little bulletin below. This is No. 1 of how many I don't know. Maybe sales picked up and the bulletin run ended with No. 1.

And with this bulletin, R-P dropped what he called the impersonal "we"* of the catalogue writing and commenced with an informal, conversational, and humorous style complete with asterisk to explain the pronunciation of his name along with a description of himself in bookselling terms:
*Why not take this opportunity of saying that clients who address "Rumball-Petre" with "Dear Sirs," make a 2-vol. edition of what is only one. It is in almost mint condition in spite of nearly sixty years circulation. The oft-mispronounced part of its title can be set right by reference to Funk's "What's the Name, Please?" where the reader is told to pronounce "Petre" as "Petyr."
And here I thought this was going to be a serious-toned piece of literature on rare bibles. There is a bit of that, but R-P was a gifted writer who could communicate effectively with a lighter touch. Click on the images below to enlarge them to a readable size and enjoy this little bulletin.

R-P dealt exclusively in rare Bibles as a bookseller and wrote a number of books and articles about them for collectors, with a focus on early American Bibles. The catalogues he produced, titled Bibles of Yore, have become rare and collectible in their own right, along with some of his books about rare Bibles. 

He wrote about other subjects as well, but this man of Bibles was also a man of the cloth--Rev. Rumball-Petre, minister of the Unitarian Church in Rochester, New York. And that's about all the biographical information I could find on this man, outside of clues within this bulletin.
Searching the far corners of the Internet with a variety of key words yielded Rumball-Petre’s length of time in this world, his birth place (London), and where he died (Los Angeles). Beyond that, it’s as difficult finding anything else as finding copies of his very scarce catalogues. Fortunately, this bulletin offers a few more clues that help piece together a sketch of his character.

Aside from his sense of humor and intellect, with regard to the scholarly pursuit of researching and writing about rare Bibles, this bulletin reveals a streak of generosity driven by a desire for preservation of some of the treasures that passed through his hands. Moreover, that desire was for preservation in the most appropriate institutions. To that end, he donated a copy of Plantin’s 1584 Biblia Hebraica to the Vatican Library and a Greek Testament once owned by a descendant of Pocahontas (John Randolph of Roanoke) went to the Library of Congress. No doubt they could have fetched him a nice price from private collectors, but he apparently felt a “higher purpose” for those rarities. 

R-P includes in his inaugural bulletin a few paragraphs on how he deals with his customers regarding prices. The tone strongly suggests a genial, straightforward approach and willingness to negotiate if at all possible. He also hints that some titles are priced lower than market value, though he has no wish to undersell his colleagues.

He concludes with a few thoughts on the wanderings a few centuries ago of John Chapman, otherwise known as Johnny Appleseed, American folk legend. As the story goes, Johnny Appleseed wandered the countryside of the American frontier planting apple seeds. What's this got to do about rare Bibles?

R-P writes that what is usually forgotten in Johnny Appleseed stories is that he carried a Bible with him and tore out pages for pioneer families that did not own a Bible. An interesting combination--forbidden fruit and the word of God! 

Rumball-Petrie (let's conclude with his full surname) placed one of those pages, or leaves, pretty high on his want list. That John Chapman carried a Bible with him during his frontier treks is undisputed. That he tore pages out of it for those in need of spiritual verse, who knows.  I’d bet, though, that an elusive, perhaps mythical leaf remained elusive for a certain rare Bible dealer in the last century. And the story, myth or not, lives on.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Autographs from Goodspeed's, June 1932

At a price to fit any purse...

When you thumb through this little catalog from Goodspeed's Boston bookshop, you'll want to load your purse or wallet with wads of cash (no credit cards) and jump in a time machine for a bargain basement shopping spree.

Rare and collectible autographs found in letters and other paper items are for sale at prices that seem ridiculously low even for 1932.

For example, right on the front cover of this booklet, no less an American icon than George Washington is represented by two signed letters (below) for the measly sum of $200 and $150, respectively. How many zeros would be added to the asking price for the same letters offered for sale today?

If the above prices are too rich for your blood, how about 85 bucks for a one-page document signed by Washington... and countersigned by Thomas Jefferson. Eighty-five dollars???

Letters from Presidents Madison and Monroe were evidently not as popular with collectors, as their signatures commanded a mere $35.

But there's also an Abraham Lincoln signed document for the same price. Other presidents range from $25 to $100: Andrew Jackson, John Quincy Adams, Millard Fillmore, Zachary Taylor, Ulysses S. Grant, James A. Garfield, Theodore Roosevelt, Calvin Coolidge, and Herbert Hoover. And other Lincolns are priced at $100.

Speaking of Garfield, there's a particular interesting collection of eight signatures that are connected to his assassination: Garfield himself; his assassin, Guiteau; the judge in Guiteau's trial, as well as counsels for defense and prosecution and three surgeons, whom I assume testified in the trial. All yours for $20.

Lest you think only American presidents made the cut for this catalog, there's plenty for the bibliophile also.

How about a Charles Dickens letter for $50? Signatures on letters, envelopes, and checks for James Fenimore Cooper, Washington Irving, and Henry Wadsworth Longfellow were priced in the $5 to $35 range. The list of well-known American and British authors goes on and on at prices that just make you shake your head. For classical music lovers, there's even a Franz Liszt full-page Christmas greeting to a friend for $2. Wow.

Now, if you bought any of the 303 items listed in this catalog, Goodspeed's would let you add any two items from the back cover with their compliments.

For that nice offer of a few freebies, I'd have to travel back to 2014 and google some of those names to help make my selections.  Or just accept whatever was available. I would imagine they went pretty fast.

And what would I have bought from the catalog? Everything!

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Bookplate for a Hooper Hooper

Here is a bookplate with an unusual pairing of the same middle and last names: Samuel Hooper Hooper.

The bookplate features a boar's head, which can be found in other family crest or armorial designs. But I'm not sure what the button-like objects are or represent.

Samuel Hooper Hooper showed up quickly in an Internet search that landed on a page featuring a building Hooper once lived in. The site also offers some biographical information on Hooper:
"Samuel Hooper Hooper was a real estate investor and investment banker. In later years, he became a wine importer. He organized and led the Boston Assembly society balls for many years, and was a founder and the first president of the Tennis and Raquet Club."
His biblio connection? He was a member of "one of the oldest and most distinguished independent libraries and cultural institutions in the United States:" The Boston Athenaeum.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Tennyson in the Land of Pecos Bill

Lord Alfred Tennyson, the great poet laureate of England, never visited America, but his writing was known throughout the land, even in the arid region of Pecos, Texas in 1893 a year after the author died.

Only a few decades or so before, Apache and Comanche tribes roamed the area and only a few intrepid pioneers had attempted settlement in that remote part of the state. Thanks to railroad expansion in the 1880s, a bit of civilization came west to Pecos, including Mr. Tennyson, all dressed up in Morocco. I'm not sure what Pecos Bill would have thought about that.

Above is the receipt for a $10 Class D membership, whatever that is, good for 10 years in the National Library Association. W.V. Glascock is listed as the agent who sold the membership. Mrs W.T. Monahan is the new member and probably anxious for some fine books to provide a little culture in her home in a desolate region of the West. 

In addition to her membership, Mrs. Monahan would also receive a presentation volume of something written by Lord Alfred Tennyson. The receipt just indicates Tennyson, no title to go with that. But it was a nice copy bound in Morocco. Perhaps Mrs. Monahan had a choice of books from which to select her first book.  

The Chicago Public Library has in its Trade Catalog Collection an 1891 catalog from the National Library Association at the address indicated on this receipt. That helps confirm the company was in business for at least a few years. 

The reverse side of the receipt advertises for agents to sell memberships and offers testimonials, including one from Donohue & Henneberry, a reputable book manufacturing concern in Chicago that claimed a good business relationship with the National Library Association for more than just a few years. An endorsement from them was pretty solid. Quite possibly, they were supplying the books to the National Library Association. In 1890, as the link above indicates, they began publishing a series of inexpensive editions of popular novels. So the timing is consistent with the date on this receipt and three years later one of those editions may have landed in Pecos, Texas.

As for recruiting agents to sell the books in the far corners of the country, the National Library Association made their pitch as follows: 
Gentlemen and Ladies looking for healthy and pleasant employment, to represent our association. We have over 200 Teachers, School Superintendents, Principals of Schools, and Clergymen now engaged in procuring members for the National Library Association. The business is much pleasanter than canvassing for books, and energetic solicitors earn from $100 to $200 per month.
It goes on to offer testimonials from the kinds of individuals that are in their apparent target population for prospective employees. W.V. Glasscock fit the profile. He was a teacher, or at least earned a certificate from one of the state's normal schools in 1889. An article in the Austin Weekly Statesman, from August 29, 1889, states the the Education Department in Texas granted certificates to... a list of qualified students follows, in which Glasscock, of Ellis County, Texas, was named a recipient.

In a 1902 obituary for Glasscock's brother (Ellis County Archives),  W.V. is listed as a survivor and said to be a rising businessman in the county. Could selling books as a young teacher a decade earlier have been a part of that?

Friday, February 21, 2014

Everybody's Library in Malta

Here's one of the smallest pieces of paper in my collection from one of the smallest countries in the world--a cash sale receipt from Malta

In Valletta, the capital city of this densely populated Mediterranean country south of Sicily, is (or was) Everybody's Library at 35 Archbishop Street. An apparent sale is recorded on the front side, while the reverse seems to have some tax-related notation.

Did the customer buy a Penguin paperback or a book about the penguin? And would "-12-8" be a date? The answers to those questions don't exist. And maybe the book shop doesn't either. Judge for yourself in the photos and link further down.

Measuring 3.5 X 4 inches, this receipt, which appears to be at least 60 or 70 years old, is the only paper remnant of this book shop I can find on the Internet. In fact, the only other indication of its existence can be found in several photographs. The first two below are courtesy of Gulja Holland, an artist and photographer who posted these photos on and granted permission to post them here.

These images appear to represent two entrances (front and rear) or an old location and new location for the book shop. Since these images were first discovered, I have found others on to give different perspectives on this establishment, one which shows displays in the storefront windows, though there's not a book in sight. New and different business, old sign? Regardless, the images are interesting. See them HERE.

And for some perspective on Malta's location, see the map below. The red circle in the larger inset map shows Malta's location below the boot of Italy and Sicily. The country directly south of Malta is Libya.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Books of the Southwest: J.F. Collins of Santa Fe

Books of the Southwest is the title of a 1920s-era catalog from bookseller J.F. Collins of Santa Fe, New Mexico. Given its brevity and size, it's not so much a catalog as it is an advertising brochure for some of the store's stock in the genre of Southwestern literature.

Authors Charles F. Lummis, Mary Austin, Will James, and Charles A. Siringo jump out at me, as I've had their books in stock at various times.
This 6 X 6.5-inch folded paper is printed on half of one side (the "front") and entirely on the other side (the inside pages). More than 60 titles are listed and one book is featured with a description: Old Santa Fe, by Ralph Emerson Twitchell.

Twitchell also has the highest-priced book listed in Collins' catalog--Leading Facts of New Mexico, 5 Volumes, for $100, a good amount of money for the times. If you wanted to buy the set today, Xochi's Bookstore & Gallery in Truth or Consequences, New Mexico appears to have the only copy advertised online, and at the appreciable sum of $850.

Most books in the Collins catalog are priced around a few dollars, but a few had hefty price tags for the 1920s. In addition to Twitchell's set, there was also Spanish Mission Churches of New Mexico, by L. Bradford Prince for $25. You can still find a few copies today in the relatively reasonable price range of $50 to $100. 

Researching Collins and his book shop did not yield much information about the bookseller and his longevity in the business. I did find the labels below at Seven Roads Gallery, always a good source of images advertising booksellers from around the US and beyond.

The most revealing bit of information about the business I could find, other than the catalog itself, is a Christmas-time newspaper ad from the Santa Fe New Mexican, December 13, 1926. It provides more information about the business and inventory beyond books they carried.

On a somewhat related note, the Austin Book, Paper & Photo Show, presented by the Texas Booksellers Association, is this coming weekend (January 11-12, 2014). Texana and Western Americana books and materials are prominent at this show each year. Some of the titles in Collins' stock nearly a hundred years ago will no doubt be available this weekend from various dealers in Austin, albeit at much higher prices than Collins could have dreamed of getting for them!


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