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Sunday, April 26, 2020

A Bookmobile for all Ages

So National Bookmobile Day was several days ago--April 22nd to be exact--and I had no idea there was a day for that. Better late than never, I have a couple of wire service photos to share about a bookmobile in 1949 making the rounds for its patrons young and old in Muskegon County, Michigan.




The message inherent in the pair, intended or not, conveys the joy of books for all ages, but I also see something in there about reading habits developed early in childhood staying with children throughout their lives.

The young children in the bookmobile appear totally engrossed in the books they have found. A line forms outside the bookmobile and anticipation builds for finding a treasure inside.

There is equal engagement with books by the older couple in the second photo. The woman, with her warm smile, appears to enjoy her selection while the man intently ponders two books in his hand, perhaps trying to make a decision with the help of the woman in the bookmobile.


The contrast between the two photos begins and ends with the age of the readers. The greater message here is about the enjoyment derived from books and reading, which knows no age limit and is indeed a lifelong pursuit. 

These two wire service photos are credited on the back to photographer Bervin Johnson of Whitehall, Michigan. The librarian, or perhaps bookmobile volunteer, is listed as Mrs. Conrad Caughey. It's a shame her own name wasn't printed because it's an interesting one--Lake Erie Caughey (nee Evans)! There's a story there, I'm sure. I found that bit of information through some basic genealogy searches, but I could find nothing about her work for the Muskegon County Library and their bookmobile. However, I can tell from the photos that she made people happy throughout the county with the pleasure of books.

Tuesday, April 21, 2020

A Photographic Bookplate


I've been wanting to write about this bookplate since acquiring the book I found it in about eight years ago--Handel, by C.F. Abdy Williams, published in 1901 by both J.M. Dent & Co. (London) and E.P. Dutton & Co. (New York).

The bookplate's setting features a meadow or pasture, where a young man, John Woodroffe Garthwaite, sits in a chair with a book in his hands and a dog by his side. The current pandemic reminded me of this image and the parallels to social distancing activities we are practicing today to mitigate the spread of Coronavirus (COVID-19).

Of course, the scene was composed for reasons other than fighting a pandemic, but the finished product carries a visual message about social distancing into the future some 120 years. Mr. Garthwaite certainly appears socially distanced from any person and is enjoying a fine social distancing activity--reading!

The book's publication date and some genealogy research on Garthwaite help date the bookplate to circa 1901. John Woodroffe Garthwaite was born in 1882 in Oakland, California. If he acquired the book in the year of its publication, he would have been about 18 or 19 years of age. He appears to be about that age in the photograph

Besides a coincidental scene that speaks to isolation today, the particularly interesting thing about this bookplate is the choice for the image's medium--photography. When you think of bookplates, particularly from more than a century ago, engraved images or illustrated designs come to mind. A photographic bookplate circa 1900 seems quite unusual to me because I cannot find any other examples of one. Surely there are, but digging around the Internet with various combinations of keywords for other examples has yielded nothing for my efforts so far.


I also find the image's setting interesting. While many graphic designs include an image of a personal library or collection of books, the young man, or whomever originated the idea, decided against a still-life illustration in favor of a photograph that evokes action--the physical activity of reading a book.

The natural world of the meadow may have played a part as it did in the Art Nouveau style of that time. From roughly the 1890 to World War I, Art Nouveau influenced artistic endeavors from graphic design to architecture. Many illustrated bookplates from that era reflect flora and fauna of the natural world.

Whatever the influence or reasons for producing such an interesting bookplate more than a century ago, I'm glad it was created and found its way into the twenty-first century in fine condition. Handel has not fared so badly either.




Thursday, April 9, 2020

1966 Tokyo Bookstore Idea for the 2020 Pandemic

As businesses close and struggle to stay afloat during these social distancing times, necessitated by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many in the retail sector have been able to adapt by adding delivery or curbside pickup services. I don't know of any bookstores offering this service, but a Tokyo bookstore in 1966 offered a novel concept for the time that parallels 2020 efforts to get control of the deadly virus. 

The Japanese bookstore in the wire photo below was called a "drive-in bookstore" by the press. It may well have been drive-in, as the image doesn't appear to show a drive-through for the car.


Further research, in an attempt to identify the bookstore by name, was unsuccessful. But some interesting information about the business revealed the bookstore comprised a nine-story building with more than a million books in stock. All one had to do was drive up to the window, tell the "pretty clerk" which book or books you wanted, and the order would be placed via closed circuit TV. Turnaround time was estimated to be two minutes. Unless you were stuck in a long line, I suppose.

Actually, I did find another version of a drive-in bookstore created when a driver couldn't stop before crashing through the front window of Southworth's Bookstore near Purdue University in 1958. The owners of the store cleverly, and with a sense of humor, made lemonade out of lemons during the repairs by advertising their business as "Purdue's only drive-in bookstore!"

Friday, August 9, 2019

Abbey Road (the book): A Bookstore Poster


The photo of the Beatles, led by John Lennon, crossing the street above is from a photo shoot that produced one of the most recognizable and iconic record album covers of the 1960s, and all time for that matter: The Beatles' 1969 Abbey Road album. But this isn't the photo used for that album's cover, although it may appear to be at a glance.

Fifty years ago on August 8th, 1969 (I'm a day late getting this out), this photo of the Beatles was taken outside of London's Abbey Road Studios. The Beatles titled their 1969 album after the historic studios in which they recorded it and crossed Abbey Road in a photo shoot that resulted in the album cover below.


Another image from that photo shoot was used for the promotional bookstore poster below that advertised Brian Southall's book, Abbey Road, published in 1982, with a Foreword by Paul McCartney and Preface by George Martin. The book's dust jacket illustration matches what you see on this 12 X 17-inch poster. And what better image to illustrate a book about the famous recording studios than this one, even if it isn't the exact image used for the album?


The differences between photos for the album and the book are obvious. On the album cover, the Beatles are crossing the street from left to right and visible traffic is distant. Paul McCartney is barefoot and holding a cigarette. Contrast that with the outtake photo used for the book's jacket and promotional poster. The Beatles are walking back across the street, right to left, and there is a double-decker bus nearing the crosswalk. Paul is still barefoot, but his cigarette is missing. 

Another of the six photos shot for the album cover went to auction in 2012 and fetched £16,000 (about $25,000)! It also showed the Beatles in reverse direction from what made the final cut for the cover art, but Paul, sans cigarette, was wearing sandals in that one. 

Perhaps a 'backwards' photo is more appropriate for the book jacket as the book takes a look back into the history of the famed Abbey Road Studios.




Monday, June 10, 2019

R.I.P. William D. "Bill" Wittliff (1940-2019)

I'm sad to hear of Bill Wittliff's passing yesterday, June 9, at age 79.

He was a creative force in Texas as an author, screenwriter, photographer, publisher, bookseller, book collector, and designer of books and ephemera. Al Lowman, in Printing Arts in Texas (1975), wrote, "Quite likely there is no more diversely creative talent in Texas today than this gifted designer, artist, sculptor, historian, writer, photographer, and poker player."

I never really got to meet him other than exchanging greetings and thank yous at a book signing in Houston in 2007. I bought five copies of A Book of Photographs from Lonesome Dove, a collection of his photographs on the set of the Lonesome Dove miniseries in 1989. He was the screenwriter for that much beloved and now classic Western. He personalized a few copies for gifts, signed just his name on a few copies, which went up for sale later in my online shop, and, of course, I kept one copy he signed for my wife and me. It is certainly a treasured keepsake.


I have a small collection of ephemera designed by Bill Wittliff, much of it signed or inscribed, and I  wrote about a few pieces for this blog in 2010. I thought I'd dust off one of them and repost it rather than just reference it with a link. The images needed improvement and the writing gets tweaked a bit, but it's essentially intact from 2010.
~~~
About a decade ago I stumbled upon a Texas bookseller's online listing of ephemera designed and printed by William D. (Bill) Wittliff and his Encino Press in Austin, Texas, circa 1960s-70s. The price was very reasonable and I did not hesitate to make that collection part of my collection. In keeping with the content of this blog, I've selected one of several book-related pieces to feature here--a brochure for the second annual meeting of The Collectors' Institute in 1969. Wittliff signed (initialed) the back of the brochure.




I had never heard of this group before, so I did a little research to see what it was exactly and what became of it (assuming it is no longer around). The Handbook of Texas Online has an article on the Collectors' Institute, submitted by the former (and only) president of the Collectors' Institute, Jenkins Garrett.

I learned from Garrett's article that the Collectors' Institute existed from 1968 to 1980. It was "a private association of collectors of library materials, including books, manuscripts, documents, and maps, cosponsored by the Texas State Historical Association and the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin."

Reading further, I realized this group's collecting interest focused on some pretty interesting material and, to that end, invited some of the giants of Texas Belles-lettres, publishing, and book design to speak to the group. What an opportunity that was! Workshops were also held to address collector interests.

The meeting's itinerary, presented inside Wittliff's brochure (below), gives an indication of what one could expect at these meetings. Looks like some pretty distinguished bookmen giving talks, conducting roundtable discussions, or being honored. Very interesting and educational, by all appearances.


The group had twelve such annual meetings, but never met again after the 1980 meeting. I don't know why, perhaps interest waned toward the end.

I hope to find more ephemera and related items about this organization and its meetings and workshops. Meanwhile, here's Jenkins Garrett's article:

COLLECTORS' INSTITUTE. The Collectors' Institute was a private association of collectors of library materials, including books, manuscripts, documents, and maps, cosponsored by the Texas State Historical Association and the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center of the University of Texas at Austin. It was organized on November 23, 1968, with more than 150 members. Between the fall of 1969 and 1980 twelve annual meetings were held, with programs of general interest in the area of publishing, authors, and collections. Speakers included Carl Hertzog, Hallie Stillwell, Lawrence Clark Powell, Archibald Hanna, J. Evetts Haley, and John Graves. In addition to annual meetings, workshops were held each spring. The workshop programs focused on questions of interest to collectors, such as identity, preservation, repair, and maintenance of printed and manuscript material.

Through 1973 transcripts of the meetings were published and distributed to the membership. Jenkins Garrett was president of the Collectors' Institute from 1968 through 1980. From its organization in 1968 through the fall of 1970 Kenneth Ragsdale, a fulltime staff member of the Texas State Historical Association, served as voluntary secretary and coordinator of the institute. In 1974 John Payne, a fulltime employee of Humanities Research Center, volunteered to take over these responsibilities. He served through the fall meeting of 1980. The organization was discontinued after that meeting.









Monday, April 15, 2019

Emil Jeschke - German Books in Cleveland



Here's an old billhead from 1887 for Cleveland, Ohio bookseller, Emil Jeschke. He was a dealer in German books and periodicals. As stated above the graphic in the upper-left corner, he regularly imported books on every German steamer: "Books for technical and artistical use."


Speaking of "artistical," Jeschke employed a local engraving firm, Mugler Engraving Co., to create a fitting logo for his correspondence. The result, which is featured on this billhead, is a display of German books (authors Goethe and Schiller are indicated as is publisher Kosmos). Atop the stack of books is what appears to be a bust of Beethoven.

This July 1st transaction appears to be for one of the periodicals Jeschke advertised - three current year issues of "Season" (May, June, July) at 30 cents each. "Season" may be an abbreviation of a title and from the English spelling, it does not appear to be a German language periodical.

Emil's profile on the Internet some 130 years later is pretty thin. His business ended several years after this transaction took place. A notice in Publisher's Weekly from 1891 indicates a sheriff's sale was conducted to dispose of his stock of German books on January 17, 1891.



From books to baskets?

The next mention of Jeschke I can find is later that same year in an 1891 Cleveland, Ohio directory, where he is listed as a basket manufacturer by the same name at the same business address that is on his bookseller billhead.



A reference in the archives of the Cuyahoga Probate Court indicates a lawsuit against Emil Jeschke in 1891, which probably had everything to do with him closing the bookstore and liquidating his assets through the sheriff's sale. 

If nothing else, Jeschke appears to have been resilient, though transistioning from a bookstore to a basket making enterprise is a curious development, to say the least. Looks like he had some competition with at least six other basket manufacturers in Cleveland. I'd bet the competition wasn't that stiff in Cleveland for selling German language books. Perhaps the market wasn't there by 1891 to sustain a bookseller with that niche. Hopefully, the basket market was.


Tuesday, April 2, 2019

Harry Falkenau - Bibliophile and Antiquarian

Bibliophile and antiquarian are but two words to describe Harry Falkenau (1864-1907) of Chicago. And he was quite accomplished at both, as well as oration, but his real passion was music. This 1903 postal card, however, introduced me to Harry the bookseller and his penchant for rare books as both collector and dealer.

The postal card here served as a business communication, or receipt,  to Iowa College Library in Grinnell, Iowa, acknowledging receipt of payment for an unnamed book.

 Falkenau gained some notoriety as a Cornell University student when he defended Walt Whitman's Leaves of Grass against obscenity charges in 1882. A gifted orator, Falkenau was selected three years later to deliver a commencement speech at Cornell and Whitman surfaced again. His speech was titled, The Poetry of the Future as Foreshadowed in the Writings of Walt Whitman.

He also composed music and played violin and pianoforte. He was a member of the Irving Literary Society (a regular venue for his musical performances), a Fellow in Literature for a year after graduation in 1885, and worked as an Assistant Librarian. He could play Chopin's Nocturne and teach Chaucer and Shakespeare, both of which he did his last year at Cornell.

His love of music and literature created a natural career path, first as a drama critic in San Francisco and later for the Chicago Herald. It's uncertain what prompted him to transition from music into books at that time in his life. Perhaps he was burned out with writing and needed a change of scenery. Whatever the case, it was likely a natural progression given his background and tastes.

He bought an antiquarian book shop in Chicago at 46 Madison Street. The 167 Madison Street address indicated in his stamp on the McKinley Postal card was his second shop, where he apparently dealt in rare books the rest of his brief life. He died at age 43.

During his tenure as an antiquarian bookseller, Falkenau left little in the way of content for future Internet searchers a century later. There is a decent Wikipedia page, which supplied much of the above information and there is the postal card now in my collection that corroborates his business address and nature of his stock. Little else was found during my searches, other than newspaper mentions, until I stumbled across an old newspaper article that featured him as a bookman.


So Harry Falkenau was part of a queer class (anachronistically speaking) of Chicago men who knew first editions and lived in their books! This 1897 article published in the Inter Ocean, an old Chicago newspaper, begins with a harsh admonishment of book buyers who have little or no interest in a second-hand shop that deals in rare books: "The ordinary, uneducated, ignorant, unintelligent, and ignoble man regards a second-hand bookstore with as much lack of interest as a bicycle rider does a blacksmith shop.

These poor souls who are satisfied with an “eighteenth edition or two hundred and fiftieth thousand” printing of a book unknowingly advertise themselves as “philistine and shoddy.” How’s that for a snooty attitude toward the general public of book buyers?

The unnamed reporter who wrote this article didn't have to go far for his story. Falkenau's shop was in the Inter Ocean building. The reporter quoted Falkenau as having claimed to possess the largest stock of its kind in the West and then wrote that Falkenau “fed an eager, aspiring reporter with many facts about the business yesterday.” I take this to mean that the above characterization of the man on the street who doesn’t know squat about books comes from the mouth of Harry Falkenau himself, unless the eager, aspiring reporter exercised some literary license with what he heard. 

Much of what follows in this article is Falkenau's musings and grumblings about the rare and used books trade and how business is conducted. Interestingly enough, a lot of what he has to say still holds true for dealers in the trade today.

To engage in this business needs a peculiarly constituted man. It is an art rather than a business. A second-hand bookseller must know every one of his large stock as well as a horse trainer knows his horses.

The stock kept has to be immense, because there is no regular place where stock can be replenished. He must buy his stock when it is offered to him, and then he must wait until the man comes along who wants the particular books. There is a saying among second-hand book dealers that there is “a man for every book in the world,” just as there the right man for every woman, but to bring the two together is as difficult to bring the right man and woman together. Thus it happens in the book trade that there are many divorces, and many books that languish in single loneliness.

It is interesting, however. There being no fixed prices for old books—so much depending on condition, etc.—the gambling element enters largely into it. The hunters’ instincts are also appealed to. As an instance, a man picked up an original edition of Tamerlane from a lot of rubbish for 10 cents and sold it the next day for $1,800 . You are on the hunt all the time, and you can never tell in what odd corner you may come upon your quarry.

Most of the books are got through the sale of libraries. These are sold through the death of the owner, through poverty, through moving away. Books cannot be compressed, or lessened in weight. And they damage considerably through  moving. The carefully selected library of the father falls to the son of sporting proclivities, and to him they simply waste room. These the book dealer gets hold of and puts again into circulation among those who appreciate the gift of the gods.

The old book dealer begins generally, as Mr. Falkenau did, by being a collector. When he goes into the business, he gives up collecting, because he then realizes the immensity of his undertaking, and the impossibility of ever even approximately realizing it. Collecting old books is like seeking the everlasting fountain of youth, or the philosopher’s stone, and the only ones who are ever cured of the mania are those who turn dealer. Others, especially if it takes the turn of collecting first editions, keep on, ever hopeful, till their death. That is one of the mitigations of the disease; as in consumption, the patient is cheerful till the last.

Then after the funeral, the sorrowing widow sends down  to the dealer, to make an estimate of dear John’s books; and though she pretends to think that she is getting woefully cheated by the price offered, she really is so much amazed at what his old rubbish is worth that she quickly accepts the offer, thinking that there is probably some mistake and that he will find it out if he goes away and thinks it over. (For John always represented to her, when finances were under discussion, that his books cost him but a trifle.) 

The article goes on to talk about the bane of booksellers everywhere--the book thief. On this topic, Falkenau has much to say, as reported in the article. 

Thieves are especially hurtfully, he reports, to booksellers who regard their books almost as friends. Stealing a treasured friend goes beyond hurtful, it is insulting. 

Falkenau appears to view practitioners of his trade as tender-hearted and vulnerable to anyone who shows the slightest interest in his first editions, original imprints, etc. Even though a dealer may suspect a book thief in his midst, he cannot resist showing his treasure because "who knows but that his heart will be turned by books, even as men have been won by women--far less fascinating than books."

One last observance from Mr. Falkenau on how he interprets what outsiders see when looking in at the bookseller and what he thinks of booksellers.

Common people think of book-sellers as isolated hermits, who live in a miraculous manner by the grace of God for denying themselves from the world and for burying themselves in dry but worthy occupation. But old book men regard themselves as the aristocrats of the business world. They form a guild of their own, and through their paper, keep in touch with one another all the world over; in touch in a mercantile and in an intellectual way.

Obviously, Harry Falkenau had a passion for books and for his trade. He had a passion for music. What was missing? Something... With all the contentment he seemed to have in his life, it was a surprise to learn of his suicide in the newspaper report below. He was "despondent" (blamed on insomnia) and had retired to a fruit farm in Michigan to live and hopefully get the rest he so badly needed. It wasn't enough. A family friend provides insight in the obituary as to what his family life was like. He evidently hid his depression very well. Perhaps a closer inspection of the Inter Ocean reporter's article on Falkenau will provide some clues as to an underlying mental illness. 

The News-Palladium (Benton Harbor, Michigan) January 22, 1907





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.

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