A new kind of bookshop in 1930s New York City

Drew elizabeth pic 001Discovered in a copy of The Publisher’s Weekly for March 22nd 1930 is this feature by John D. Stannard on a New York bookshop that aimed, with its decorations and objets d’art, to emulate the comfort and charm of a private library.

Elizabeth Drew, a graduate of Vassar College and her ‘ associate’ , the artist Jessie Leach Rector, opened their (unnamed) shop on 43 East 60th Street in September, 1929, just a few weeks before the Wall Street Crash. Designed to be an antidote to the ‘ graceless ‘stores that most booklovers had become used to, the couple had created a ‘ bookish background’ in which old furniture and rare objects of art competed with books for the attention of customers.

Everything in the shop was for sale, including the ‘ lamps, lampshades, old prints and watercolours, framed and unframed mirrors, screens and tables’ provided by Rector, who specialised in interior decoration, and the ‘primitive Indian pottery and Spanish colonial silver which Drew imported from Peru. Drew emphasised that although her store was sophisticated, had an exclusive list of patrons, and sold old and rare books, including modern first editions and fine bindings, her ideal customer was the ‘middle-class ‘type who travelled into town on the subway.

A key innovation devised by Drew was the monthly review of new books in the fields of fiction, biography, essays, Book-of-the Month, Literary Guild, Crime Club and best sellers, which was sent out to a hand picked 6,000 names, half of whom came from friends of the two booksellers, and which bore the testimonial ‘ Recommended by Elizabeth Drew’. In fact, the reviews came not only from Drew herself, but by these friends, who signed their work. Continue reading

Bruce Calvert—the man who cancelled Christmas

Bruce Calvert advert pic 001Found in the classified column of The New Masses for May 1927 is this advert for The Open Road, a monthly magazine described by its founding editor, Bruce Calvert, as ‘A Zinelet of High Voltage for People Not Afraid to Think’ and a cure for ‘ Mental Obstipation and Brain Fag ‘.

Calvert, who ran the operation from his home in Pequannock , New Jersey, delightfully dubbed by him ‘Pigeon-Roost-in-the Woods’, had been a hard-bitten magazine editor in Chicago and Pennsylvania before moving to the backwoods of Griffiths, near Gary, in his home state of Indiana, to take up the life of an anarchist-freethinker inspired by, among others, Walt Whitman and Thoreau. In 1908 he had brought out the first issue of The Open Road, which appeared regularly until 1915. Espousing a philosophy of ‘right thinking and right living ‘, Calvert made his magazine a fount of various heterodoxies which delighted in offending straight-laced home-loving and family-orientated Americans. In April 1911 one of the most controversial issues challenged the hijacking of Christmas by commerce—a point of view which earned him the soubriquet of ‘Indiana’s Prize Crank ‘.

By November 1911 ‘The World League for a Sane Christmas’ had established its HQ in Room 431 of the State Life Building in downtown Indianapolis. Members who paid their $10 subscription could expect their money to go towards various planned publications as well as a booklet entitled The Christmas Insanity. Moreover, each new member was obliged to sign the following agreement:

‘I will from this time forward neither give nor accept Christmas presents outside my own immediate household, and I will do all I can by distributing literature and other propaganda work to discourage the senseless practice of indiscriminate Christmas giving, to the end that true human love and brotherhood may reign in the hearts of men instead of the maudlin insanity which now disgraces the day ‘ Continue reading

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Cafe Bizarre – Beatnik club

Found- a rare piece of Beatnik ephemera, a card from New York's Cafe Bizarre with the phone numbers and name of Rick Allmen who started the club in 1957. The Cafe Bizarre was one of the better known clubs to capitalise on the beatnik phenomenon, and the venue for many counterculture poets and musicians of the period. Musitron Records even recorded an album of Beat festivities at Cafe Bizarre in the late '50s. (In the post-beatnik-era Andy Warhol discovered The Velvet Underground there.) Another band who played there was the Lovin' Spoonful who described the place as a 'little dump' (1965 -post its Beatnik Glory).They played 3 gigs a night and were paid with tuna fish sandwiches, ice cream and occasionally peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. More can be found at Rock and Roll Roadmaps.

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The ‘Belfast of Canada’

Anyone with even slight Catholic sympathies would probably not have got on well in Toronto during the late nineteenth century, when it had become a hotbed of Protestant ascendancy. By the turn of the century, the power of the Orange Order, who returned twenty of the twenty three mayors in fifty years, got it nicknamed 'the Belfast of Canada'.
Even by the 1940s this legacy had not waned sufficiently for the artist and writer Wyndham Lewis who, forced by circumstances to spend several years there during the War, was constantly frustrated and angered by the philistinism and religious bigotry of its leading lights.

The prevalence of militant Protestantism in mid nineteenth century Toronto is well illustrated by this scarce flier of c 1869 from Maclear and Co, the dominant publisher in Canada for many years. In advertising the forthcoming reprint of The Siege of Derry, originally published in 1823 by  the Rev John Graham, a clergyman from Ulster , it combined blatant propaganda on behalf of ‘ the heroes of the Irish struggle in 1688 – 90 with a nifty aside aimed at backsliding Anglo-Catholics:

'When men bearing the once-revered name of Protestant , aye Protestant clergy, have set up the Confessional, the Rags and mummeries of Rome…'

A rather appropriate piece of propaganda, given the crisis now attending the power-sharing agreement at Stormont.

R.M.Healey

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Mina Hubbard—feminist icon and explorer extraordinaire

Mina Hubbard (1870 – 1956) is not a name that means much in the UK, although this intrepid explorer of Labrador ( the first woman to do so) retired to Britain and ended up in suburban Coulsdon, of all places, where she died rather tragically at the age of 86.
Born in Bewdley, Ontario, in 1870, to a Canadian father and an English mother, there was little in her early years that would suggest that worldwide fame as an explorer would attend her by the time she was 35. After leaving school she spent two years  teaching, then trained as a nurse. It was while nursing that she met the journalist Leonidas Hubbard, then ill with typhus (or typhoid). The couple married in 1901 and within 2 years he had embarked on an unsuccessful expedition to map northern Labrador that ultimately cost him his life.  Such a tragedy would have destroyed some women, but Mina was made of sterner stuff. When Dillon Wallace, a survivor of the expedition, published his account Mina suspected that he had been responsible for her husband’s death through starvation and vowed to revenge herself on him by embarking on her own expedition to achieve what he and her husband had failed to do. Recruiting three guides, two of them Cree Indians, she left for Labrador on June 27th 1905 and by 29th August had completed a trek of 576 miles, beating Wallace, who had embarked on the same day, by seven weeks. Not only did she bring home an accurate map of northern Labrador, but she also made an important  photographic record of the native Labradorians she had met.

On her return home Hubbard became an overnight celebrity. Before long she had been sponsored by the Royal Geographical Society to undertake a lecture tour in England. It was while on that tour that she wrote this letter to a Miss Lewis (possibly an admirer) gratefully accepting an invitation to dinner. She also met her second husband, the MP Harold Ellis. In 1908 appeared A Woman’s Way through Unknown Labrador , which became a best-seller.  Today this account of her expedition, and in particular the   photographs she took of the native tribes, is generally recognised as one of the most valuable anthropological records of the period. More recently, however, it has sparked controversy. In particular, feminist commentators have interpreted the text as a seminal document in women’s studies. Hubbard’s projected persona in the book is seen as that of a woman performing a male role as a conqueror of a hostile environment.

The Ellises produced three children, but the couple parted in the twenties and Mina returned to Canada in 1936. After this she seems to have led a rather conventional life, latterly in poverty. In 1956, while staying with a friend in Coulsdon, near  Croydon, she left the house to ‘ explore’ and on her way to the nearby Coulsdon South station she wandered aimlessly over the tracks, was hit by a speeding train and killed instantly. She was 86. What the grizzly bears and below zero temperatures of Labrador had failed to do, a British Railways commuter train had completed. [RMH]

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The Magnetor

The Magnetor, according to this advert placed in the Winter 1958 issue of Tomorrow, the quarterly review of psychical research, is a 'stunning device' and an 'admirable conversation piece' which 'demonstrates dramatically reality of the non-material.' Apart from having an aversion to the definite article, the person who placed this advert from the office of a distinctly dodgy outfit in Woodstock, New York, called ‘the Far-A-Field  Co’, also seems a trifle unforthcoming about the actual powers of the Magnetor.

The phrase ‘conversation piece ‘is usually a warning sign that what you are urged to buy is a load of old tat disguised as something extraordinarily fascinating. In the case of this particular device, the word Caution inscribed on a label tagged to the base of what seems to be some sort of electrical apparatus, is a direct invitation to the adventurous among the Tomorrow readership to do something dangerous.

It’s all appears rather fraudulent, like that bomb detector made from a golf ball retriever and a car aerial that a few years ago some anti-terrorist boneheads here and abroad were glad to paid thousands of pounds for and which earned the wily fraudster a large Georgian house in Bath’s Royal Crescent, luxury foreign holidays and a six year jail sentence. The advert mentions no price, but doubtless this is revealed in the brochure, which the reader is invited to acquire. Possibly intended as a gift for the psychic who has everything.

Nothing can be discovered online about The Far-A-Field Company or its Magnetor, but the small town of Woodstock, New York, has long had a reputation for tolerating the alternative lifestyles of musicians and painters. In 1903 the Byrdcliffe art colony, which produced ceramics, metalwork and weaving, was established here and 13 years later came the summer Maverick Music Festival, which is still going.  The town gave its name to the famous Woodstock Festival of August 1969, which was due to be held here, but actually took place at a dairy farm near Bethel, some sixty miles away. Of more relevance, however, is the fact that in 1976 the Kharma Triyana Dharmachakra Tibetan Buddhist monastery was built here. Far Out or Far-a-Field? You decide. [RR]

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The Meaning of the Missiles

The Meaning of the Missiles---a Cold War warning from American peace organisations.

If the cease fire in Eastern Ukraine fails and the US government votes to arm the Ukraine forces, some experts predict that this dangerous escalation could create a situation similar in its ramifications to the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962.

This 'Survival Leaflet no 6', which was issued in 1958/59 by three American peace organisations, possibly  directed by Quaker pacifists, but acting in concert, seems deliberately alarmist in its predictions of a push button nuclear war in which American cities are atomised by Soviet H bombs and cities in the Soviet Union are destroyed by rockets from European installations under the control of the Pentagon. But this destruction was quite feasible in 1957, when, according to the leaflet there were 'precise plans to erect in Europe some fourteen rocket positions in each of which will be emplaced perhaps fifteen missiles.'

The antidote to such warmongering, according to the authors of this pamphlet, is love and pragmatism overcoming political ideology. Public opinion in favour of a build up of missiles must be changed and the way to do this was for American lovers of peace to write to their representatives, talk to those in positions of power, organise local meetings and distribute copies of this leaflet, which cost $1 for 50. [RR]

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Barron’s Textbook Exchange, Brooklyn 1941

Found on the front endpaper of an American book on Abraham Lincoln -- this bookplate label advertising a used bookstore. This store was the first business of the still extant and flourishing Barron's  textbook business and the owner started out mimeographing textbooks in the basement of the shop long into the night after the shop was closed. As Publisher's Weekly noted in 2011: 'In 1941, the after-hours mimeograph business became Barron's Publishing, and its first offering was the aptly named series Barron's Regents Exams and Answers...Seventy years later, the series is still going strong, albeit with some innovations—apps, e-books, and a subscription-based Web site—that could never have been imagined in 1941.'

He was still around and working in 2011 when he celebrated 70 years of business, which dates this label from the early 1940s. Of note is the broad range of business he was engaged in  - used books, stationery, art supplies, records both classical and modern, gym wear and even new books...this kind of enterprise is still needed to survive in the book trade.

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Mona’s 440 Club – dancing at the Lesbian Bar

Found, folded into an American thriller from the Donald Rudd collection of detective fiction, this napkin - a memento of Mona's 440 Club generally credited as being the first lesbian bar in the United States -'Where Girls Will be Boys.'

James R. Smith's San Francisco's Lost Landmarks (2004) says the following about Mona's:

Mona's 440 Club was another [club] that took advantage of the city's tolerance and tourism. Opening in a Columbus Street basement in North Beach in 1936, Mona Sargeant's tavern quickly hit the travelsheets as a place "where girls will be boys." The first openly lesbian club, Mona's female waiters and performers wore tuxedos and patrons dressed their roles. Within a couple of years, Mona's moved to 440 Broadway and took the address as part of the club's new name, Mona's 440 Club. Great entertainment, first local and later national talent, made a night at Mona's an event.

Continue reading