As most people know, 1888 was the year in which ‘Jack the Ripper’ committed his heinous crimes. It has been argued that the murderer was a trained surgeon , and under the heading ‘ Medicine’ in A Thousand Ways to Earn a Living ( Tit Bits Offices, 1888) we learn that a naval surgeon could earn from 11 – 17 shillings per day, while weekly pay for a police constable in London started at 28 shillings.
Predictably, the pay structure for members of the ‘oldest profession ‘is not included, although a typical’ lady of the night’ in the East End probably earned more in a week than would an average jobbing actress, whose wages as a ‘super’ in a theatre (the equivalent today of an Assistant Stage Manager) according to the Guide, would be between 10 and 15 shillings a week. Having worked herself up to the top of her profession, via elocution lessons and the inevitable casting couch, a budding Lily Langtry might earn as much as £30 or £40 a week. And all this before the era of Cinema and TV!
As for those who reported the murders and printed the newspapers, pay rates were also surprisingly good. A reporter on a London ‘ daily ‘ could earn anything from £3 to £7 a week, while a sub-editor’s pay might be between £5 and £16. However, a leader writer on a London paper could command £500 to £1,600 per annum and an editor from £500 to £2,000. Continue reading →
Last part of this thrill-packed piece on murder, mayhem, obsession, vengeance and book collecting. Slight doubt is cast on this (incredible) event. The story has inspired a wealth of articles and books from Flaubert right up to Basbanes. However, in 1928 a book appeared in Spain written by bibliophile and author Ramon Miquel I Planas (1874-1950) seeking to rectify the story of Don Vincente and arguing that the anonymous article in La Gazette des Tribunaux (Paris 1837) which had informed the world of the murders had no basis in fact. **Planas argued that the article had been written by French occultist (Priory of Sion) author and librarian Charles Nodier, (1780-1844), most known for his influence on the French Romantics. He found that Don Vincente’s crime does not appear in any local newspapers of the time, that there was no monk by the name of Fra Vincentes at Poblet at the time of its closure, and that the local ‘colour’ does not ring true. Planas's theories have also been later disputed..but if Nodier was the original author, it should be noted that it was rumoured that he had killed a man for outbidding him at auction during one of his trips to Spain.
The account, indeed, does have a slight air of legend about it - especially the part about each victim returning with alacrity to the shop to report a missing leaf…booksellers will tell you that often a missing page is not discovered for years. What does ring true is the murderous anger of the person outbid (almost as deadly as the ire of the person who has been relentlessly bid up to way beyond the price that they had intended to pay. Pace Nodier.) The fetish / obsession about uniqueness is also familiar in rare bookselling lore..The bookseller 'unwilling to part with all but the cheapest of his stock' and who keeps every good book he ever gets (or prices them so high that only a very rich madman would buy ) is also an all too familiar type in life and legend and one who is still with us online and in the cloud…
** This part is in the debt of the ARCA Crimes against Art blog where there are more info and links/ footnotes on the case.
This is an oft told tale of book madness and murder. It has elements that ring true and also mythic elements. It inspired the young Flaubert's 1838 novella Bibliomania. This version comes from the unrecorded scholar Max Sander's article Bibliomania, freely available from Northwestern University School of Law Scholarly Commons. It was published in a criminal law journal in 1943. Sander, a 'scholar specialising in bibliographical-iconographicaI research work' gave his address as The Huntington Hotel, Pasadena, California. See part two for an update and queries on this story...
...As a young man, Don Vincente was a monk in the Cisterciens cloister Poblet near Tarragona, and because of his passion for books he was made keeper of the cloister's valuable library. During a political disturbance of the time the cloister was pillaged, and there was good reason to believe that Don Vincente had been familiar with the plunderers. It was hinted that he had shown them the place where the cloister's gold and silver treasures were hidden, in order to secure precious books for himself. Be that as it may, he went to Barcelona and opened a bookshop with a remarkable stock of rare books, which was patronized by all collectors although he almost never sold a really important item. His frugal livelihood and small business expenses could be covered by selling cheaper stock. He was never seen reading a book; only to own them and look at them, to turn over their leaves was of interest to him. When he had a chance to buy a precious book, he was obliged to sell something more substantial from his beloved stock, but even then the buyer almost had to wrench away his acquisition before Don Vincente reluctantly parted with it.
Found - a sensationalist paperback The Christie Case (Gaywood Press, London circa 1958). A rare non-fiction pulp by Ronald Maxwell - one of the youngest journalists following the case. The book begins:
The Christie case was more than the stories below the headlines for me.It was the story behind the headlines and it took many sleepless nights and long-drawn days to unfold as I followed closely upon the greatest manhunt of modern days, culminating in the final arrest of a man named John Reginald Halliday Christie, in whose flat the partly clothed bodies of four women were found strangled. In the small garden behind the flat, there were uncovered the skeletons of more women, who were still not identified weeks after the discovery.
The story began when a coloured man named Beresford Brown decided to fix the wireless in the kitchen of the ground floor flat at number 10 Rillington Place, Notting Hill, London W 11. That was on Tuesday, March 24, 1953. Beresford Brown intended to share the kitchen of the flat – which had recently been vacated by John Christie – with other tenants of this dingy, two storey house. By accident, the man tapped against the wall, and there was a hollow sound. It intrigued him. He tore away a strip of wallpaper and discovered a small hole in the partition which his action had exposed. Through the hole, in the small cavity inside, he saw a woman's leg. Shaken with horror, he looked closer. There, in the dark hollow, he could see well enough to distinguish the outline of a partly clothed body. In his brief glance it up in the fact that there were two bundles behind the body.
… He ran excitedly into the street in search of the police, it was not difficult to find a constable in this part of the Royal Borough of Kensington... within minutes, the whole apparatus of Scotland Yard been set in motion in motion and the hunt had begun...