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Hartmann’s Whitman: Remembrances from the King of the Bohemians

When I read the book, the biography famous,
And is this then (said I) what the author calls a man’s life?
And so will some one when I am dead and gone write my life?
(As if any man really knew aught of my life,
Why even I myself I often think know little or nothing of my real life,
Only a few hints, a few diffused faint clews and indirections
I seek for my own use to trace out here.)
 
– Walt Whitman, “When I Read the Book” (From Leaves of Grass)

 

The best pieces of provenance evidence — the most interesting inscriptions, marginalia, and annotations — tell us not only about the volume in our hands (where it has been, who owned it, and so on), they reveal something about the world beyond the book.  Handwritten indexes, nota benes, and underlining can clue us into what a particular reader took away from a given work.  Marginal glosses and textual commentary can reveal much about the history of scholarship and reading.  And occasionally, personal notes unrelated to the content of a book can give us great insight into the life and times of the book’s owner(s) and those they knew.

When the book owner in question is a particularly noteworthy historical figure, these personal inscriptions and annotations can be of special interest to the historian. One book that I like to trot out now and again as an example of this is our first edition copy of The Great Gatsby, inscribed by F. Scott Fitzgerald. The author’s note in that book reveals something about his creative process, and gives us insight into the character of Jay Gatsby. This example is limited, however, because the note is terse, related wholly to the book at hand.

Provenance Project volunteer Meg Hughey recently discovered another book in our collections that illustrates this point even better: A copy of Walt Whitman’s 1871 poem After All, Not to Create Only owned by Whitman’s friend Sadakichi Hartmann.

Hartmann's bookplate, designed by "LB" -- his wife, Lillian Bonham Hartmann.

(Carl) Sadakichi Hartmann was a man with an eclectic background. Born in Japan in 1867 to a German merchant father and a Japanese mother, Hartmann was schooled in Germany before being disowned by his father at the age of 14 and sent to live in the United States. While making his way in the States as a young man, Hartmann taught himself to appreciate art and poetry, and before too long had become acquaintances with a number of notable contemporary authors and artists, including Walt Whitman (already near the end of his life when the young Hartmann came to know him).

By the early twentieth century, Hartmann was living in Greenwich Village in Manhattan, and had become quite a well-known figure in the Bohemian community there. Hartmann fit right in among the unconventional, unattached artistic vagabonds of New York.  Guido Bruno, an eccentric Bohemian editor who published a number of poems, essays, and other musings by Greenwich Village regulars, even crowned Hartmann “King of the Bohemians.”

HartmannInscription

Hartmann’s copy of Whitman’s poem After All, Not to Create Only bears some evidence of his time in Greenwich Village. Pasted in the front is a programme, printed by Guido Bruno, announcing a poetry reading by Hartmann on October 25, 1915.

HartmannProgramme1

The illustration on the first page (by Hartmann’s common-law wife, Lillian Bonham) shows Hartmann frying eggs with a seated Walt Whitman.

Sadakichi,
trying hard to be
a great man, went
frying eggs with the great Whitman

The free event took place at Bruno’s Garret on Washington Square, and featured Hartmann reading some of his favorite poetry (“providing Sadakichi doesn’t change his mind”).

Sadakichi Hartmann, author of
“Christ,” “Buddha,” and “The
Whistler Book” will read, after an
introductory talk, selections from his
favorite author, Edgar Allen Poe and
from his fellow-journeyman for years,
Walt Whitman.

HartmannProgramme2

Most interesting, however, and unique to the copy in MSU Special Collections, is a series of notes penciled in the last few pages of the thin book. Hartmann appears to have used his copy of Whitman to record anecdotes from his personal life, including several stories of his interactions with Whitman himself. These short episodes reveal much about both poets, and their relationship.

In one note, Hartman recalls asking Whitman about his opinion of German authors Henrik Ibsen and Friedrich Nietzsche. According to Hartmann, Whitman claimed to have read neither of them. Hartmann goes so far as to claim that “Like most American authors, [Whitman] was extremely ignorant about contemporary foreign literature.”

IbsenNietzsche

Another note critical of the poet recounts Hartmann’s chance meeting with Whitman’s housekeeper in Philadelphia. When asked if Whitman had left the woman anything upon his death, she is said to have replied “Nothing to speak of… I thought he would do more.” Hartmann agrees, although he does note that Whitman left his housekeeper $200, at least (not a small sum of money in 1892).

Housekeeper

Not all of the notes about Whitman are critical, however. Hartmann was clearly fond of Whitman, and he mentions readings he did of the elder poet’s work, positive conversations about Whitman with others, and one occasion where he came to Whitman’s defense against a doctor’s charges of insanity.

Insanity

“Dr. Nordan asserted that Whitman showed traits of insanity,” Hartmann recalls. “I protested most vehemently to such a statement.” When the doctor asks if Whitman was absesnt-minded, Hartmann replies “Yes, but he was always a good listener.” The doctor (“the fanatic,” in Hartmann’s words) shoots back: “What of that? What on earth would prevent a mad man from being a good listener?” Hartmann remains silent on this point.

The anecdotes, however, aren’t all about Whitman.  Hartmann, as a regular in the Greenwich Village Bohemian scene and as an established author in his own right, was connected to a number of other noteworthy individuals.  He drops several names in his notes — in one he recounts drinking a bottle of champagne with “old Pfaff,” the proprietor of a popular Manhattan beer cellar, the two reminiscing about Whitman.

Pfaff

In another note Hartmann records that he sent six copies of an unnamed Whitman text to various literary critics, including Georg Brandes, author Paul Heyse, “some Russian critic,” and an individual noted only as “Sanagui.”

Critics

One of Hartmann’s longest notes tells of an early 1890s visit to the home of W.D. Howells, a well known author, editor, and critic of the time.  Hartmann, who didn’t really come into his own as a writer until later that decade, was apparently hard up for money at the time of his visit.  He showed up at Howells’ in the morning begging for five dollars, which the old man grudgingly handed over.  Hartmann promised to repay the loan the next time he came, cynically noting that “at that time I still believed in the possibility of such things,” but never visited Howells at his home again.

Howells2

Another anecdote reinforces the idea that Hartmann was struggling financially for much of his early life.  “Publisher McKay was with a shotgun after me,” Hartmann notes.  “He wanted his $12 back.  But he did not succeed.”

Shotgun

In true Bohemian fashion, Sadakichi Hartmann never quite got out of his dire financial straits, despite his later success as a poet and literary critic.  He eventually moved to California, living and working in Hollywood (and even making a cameo on Douglas Fairbanks’ 1924 film The Thief of Bagdad).  In his later years, out of work and in deteriorating health, he moved in with one of his daughters in the California desert.  Hartmann eventually died in 1944, at the age of 77.

The Special Collections & Archives department of the University of California, Riverside holds a substantial collection of Hartmann’s papers.  It is rare to find his papers and remnants of his personal library “in the wild,” so to speak, and MSU is lucky to have his annotated copy of this Whitman poem.  The handwritten remembrances and anecdotes in the back typify the personal connection that many individuals have with their books, but Hartmann’s notes are peculiarly exceptional due to their uniqueness and association value.

Scans of all of the notes are below, with transcriptions.  I have cleaned up Hartmann’s punctuation slightly for readability, and included [in brackets] my assumptions about missing words affecting the meaning of certain sentences.  As with anything, though, some passages are up for interpretation.  Click on the images for full-sized versions.

afterallnottocreateonly5_png

I spoke about European
expositions. W. said “Oy!”
I said they seem to manage
them more artistically, perhaps
only in detail.
W. said “Show different things,
perhaps, but it amounts to the
same thing.”

One day I asked Whitman
about his opinion of Ibsen [and]
Niet[z]sche. He had read
neither of them. Like most
American authors he was
extremely ignorant about contemporary
foreign literature.

afterallnottocreateonly1_png

Mrs. Davis was a bad cook.
Sloppy, old New Jersey style.
Couldn’t fry meat, only
make gravy. Not even a
good baker. – Pam Walt!

Met Whitman’s housekeeper
after his death in Philadelphia.
I asked “Did he leave you
nothing?” She answered “Nothing
to speak of (Whitman left her
[$]200). I thought he would do
more.” And I believe he
should have.

Saw Donaldson repeatedly.
He lived in a simple red
brick house. He explained,
“I live in a house with such
a simple exterior, because
some day the Revolution
will come. People do not
know what is inside.”
D – fool!

afterallnottocreateonly2_png

Whitman did not like my
remark that some day he
would be put on the
back shelves, like all
of us suppose, [when?] we are no
longer a vital force, only
indirectly so as all good
literature. Kennedy told
me that I had no right
to say such things to the
old man.

Sent copies of Whitman at
my own expense to:
          Georg Brandes,
          Paul Heyse,
          Sanagui [?],
     some Russian critic,
and two other critics,
I have forgotten to whom.
          6 copies in all.

My article on Whitman in the
Münchener Neueste Nachrichten
was my first literary effort
that was printed (1885).

afterallnottocreateonly3_png

At my first Whitman reading
(1896 at Katherine Stagg’s house,
N.Y.), Stedman sent his secretary
as a representative. She
was silly enough to interrupt
me. “Please, tell me what
is all this about? Will
it go on forever?”
          “Until it is finished,” I
replied.

Drank a bottle of champagne
with old Pfaff. Had a place
somewhere near Madison Sq.
Did not get anything out
of him except that
“Whitman was a fine chap.”

Dr. Nordan asserted that Whitman
showed traits of insanity.
I protested most vehemently
to such a statement.
“Was he not absent minded?”
the doctor querried.
“Yes,” I replied, “but he was
always a good listener.”
“What of that?” the fanatic replied.
“What on earth would prevent
a mad man from being a
good listener?”

afterallnottocreateonly4_png

Lawyer Sewill of Camden,
one of Whitman’s admirers,
said to me
“One does not write about such
things. You know, one doesn’t.
One can not talk publicly
about the sex relations with
one’s wife.”
“But he did,” I insisted,
“and he thinks he was right.
Is not one man’s opinion as
good as another?”

Publisher McKay was with a
shotgun after me. He wanted
his $12 back. But he did not
succeed. The following witticism
          occured:
     “I want the twelve dollars back.”
     “That is your business.”
     “I know it is. But when[…]
     how – from you – when will
     you ever have it to give it back?”
     “That’s my business.”

Called about 11 a.m. in the early [18]90[s] at W.D. Howells.
He came from his study,
the parlor, and said rather brusquely
          “I told you not to come in
the morning. I do not like to be
disturbed at this hour of the day.”
          “Excuse me—” I stammered.
“You came to talk to me about
Whitman? Well, you must come
again.”
“No, I came to ask you for five
dollars. I really need it very
badly.”
Howells grumbled to himself, then
produced a five dollar note.
          “I [will] return it next time I come,” I
ventured to say. At that time I
still believed in the possibility of
such things.
          “Very well,” said Howells, “but
don’t come in the morning. Any
other time. Will be glad to
see you.”
          But somehow I never came
again, neither in the morning
nor any other time of the day.

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Found in the Vault: An inscription from Henry Dearborn

Here’s a name that should be familiar to American history buffs and Michigan residents alike: Henry Dearborn, Revolutionary War Colonel, U.S. Secretary of War under Thomas Jefferson, Major General during the War of 1812, and the namesake of Dearborn, Michigan (the hometown of Henry Ford).

Title page

Title page of MSU’s copy of A Discourse, Delivered at Easton (XX AC901.H3 1779)

In  the summer of 1779, at the height of the Revolutionary War, Dearborn played a vital role in General John Sullivan’s campaign against the Iroquois Confederacy, an alliance of Native American tribes largely allied with the British army.  His journal of the so-called Sullivan Expedition is crucial for our understanding of what transpired during the campaign (credit for that PDF goes to the Lane Memorial Library of Hampton, NH).

It is appropriate, then, that Dearborn would have owned a copy of Rev. Israel Evans’ 1779 Discourse, a celebratory address delivered to Sullivan’s regiment at Easton, PA, the launching point for the campaign against the Iroquois (Full title: A Discourse, Delivered at Easton, on the 17th of October, 1779, to the Officers and Soldiers of the Western Army, After their Return from an Expedition against the Five Nations of hostile Indians).

And indeed, it is likely that Dearborn was the original owner of the copy now held by MSU Special Collections.  This fact is not given in our catalog record, but a note of unknown origin penciled on the verso of the title page seems to make the connection:

dsdf

Annotation on the back of the title page.

Of course, we cannot rely on anonymous pencil notes as reliable records of provenance.  Fortunately, there are some marginal inscriptions that provide us with a primary source for this claim of ownership.

Moreover, these marginalia seem to suggest that not only did our copy of the Discourse pass through Henry Dearborn’s hands, but that Dearborn gifted the copy to a close family member.  Here is a close-up of one such inscription, at the top of the title page:

dfs

Inscription in the top margin of the title page.

The condition of the paper makes the full inscription a little difficult to read, but with close study and a few contextual clues we can make out:

Mr. Eliphalit Dearborn
                            from H. D.

And, at the top of the following page, there is another marginal note:

df

Inscription in the top margin, Page 1.

The two inscriptions seem to be in two different, but similar hands.  What can we say about them?  The first is clearly very old, predating most of the wear on the page, and as far as I can tell the handwriting (including the initials) is consistent with Henry Dearborn’s.

Examples of his hand can be found online, and seem to support this theory.  The formation of the in his signature, especially, is identical across all examples I have been able to find.  The D is more distinct, but not inconsistent.

d

Initials from our Discourse.

Example courtesy of Wikimedia

Exa

Example taken from scripophily.net

But what of this Eliphalet (Eliphalit, Eliphelet) Dearborn?  A little digging reveals that there were two members of Henry Dearborn’s somewhat-immediate family to bear that name: his older brother, who died in 1784, and his grand-nephew (his nephew’s son), who would have been 48 years old at the time of Henry’s death in 1829.  Either Eliphalet could have very well been the recipient of this book, although perhaps the elder brother is the more likely candidate.  It is likely that one of these Eliphalets was the source of this this second note, a straightforward ownership inscription (___ his book), with Henry’s name added (perhaps to document the transmission of the text from one Dearborn to another).

Are there any Henry Dearborn experts out there who can corroborate (or disprove) my analysis?  Based on what I’ve seen, I’m inclined to agree with our mysterious pencil-bearing annotator, and assign our copy of Evans’ 1779 Discourse a Dearborn provenance.

And again, the failure of our catalog to document the existence of these inscriptions demonstrates the importance of provenance research in special collections libraries like ours.

————————————————————————-

As an aside, during my genealogical research I discovered that the younger Elipahlet Dearborn, Henry’s grandnephew, married a Jemima Whittier — a third cousin, once removed of poet John Greenleaf Whittier.  Delving into historical family trees is a good way to find oneself frittering away an entire afternoon.

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Update: Mark Twain, Eugene Field, and a Skeptical Odyssey in the Stacks

Back in March, I shared something we had recently discovered in the Special Collections vault: an 1835 edition of Cruikshank at Home, inscribed by noted authors Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and Eugene Field.  We were excited to find the autographs of these two 19th century literary giants, especially because no mention of the inscriptions was made in our library catalog.  However, our excitement began to sour somewhat when we discovered an additional inscription in the back of the book: a note from Eugene Field II, son of the famous poet.

Inscriptions in our copy of copy of Cruikshank at Home, Vol. I (XX PN6173.C75 1845)

Inscriptions in our copy of copy of Cruikshank at Home, Vol. I (XX PN6173.C75 1845)

At face value, the note seemed to corroborate the authenticity of the signatures, claiming that the volume had come from the library of Field Sr. — but a little research cast doubt on this assertion.  It turns out that the younger Field was a notorious forger of literary autographs, including his father’s and Twain’s.  Lacking the requisite expertise to tell a well-faked Twain signature from the real deal, we exhibited the book as a curiosity, but could say nothing more on the matter.

While we are still unable to take a confident position on the authenticity of the signatures, just recently we’ve made some additional (re)discoveries that have thrust our questionable Cruikshank back into the limelight.

Our new Special Collections Librarian Pat Olson was thumbing through old copies of the MSU Friends of the Library newsletter, when one article in particular caught his eye.  The article details the donation of a private library to Michigan State in the fall of 1952:

On September 29th, 1952, Mr. Charles G. Munn of the Reynolds Spring Company of Jackson, Michigan, very kindly donated his private library of 700 volumes to Michigan State College.  Mr. Munn’s books were officially appraised by the Manufacturers’ Appraisal Company at $4,000.  Standard authors… were represented by exceptionally well bound sets, and among these were some first editions, some books with outstanding illustrations, and no less than ten autographed volumes and sets.

The article goes on to list several of the “more outstanding rarities” from the Munn library.  Lo and behold, among the thirteen enumerated books is our now infamous Cruikshank (with an appraiser’s valuation):

Field5

Now, at least, we knew where we had acquired the volume.  Interestingly, the Clemens and Field autographs were not only known, but were a highlight of the collection.  It’s amazing what knowledge can be lost when you don’t keep meticulous historical records (this acquisition, remember, came a full decade before Special Collections existed as a separate library).  As an institution, we had forgotten all about the inscriptions over the course of the last 60 years.

Reading on, we discovered a connection among several volumes in the Munn collection.  Six other books on the list were stated to have come from the Field family library, with inscriptions to prove it:

Byron, George Gordon.
Works… With His Letters and Journals, and His Life, by Thomas Moore, Esq. London, Murray, 1832.
14 vols.; bound in green leather, gold tooled.  Autograph of Eugene Field on title page.  Appraisal $119.
Chesterfield, Earl of.
Letters to His Son… on the Fine Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman… With Topical Headings and a Special Introduction by Oliver H. G. Leigh.  New York, Dingwall-Rock, c 1901.
2 vols.; bound in red leather, gold tooled.  “Of the Beau Brummel Edition of the Earl of Chesterfield’s Letters to His Son, 1999 sets have been printed of which this is set No. 1111.”  On back page: “Added after his Death.  This book comes from the library of my father, Eugene Field.  Eugene Field II.  Sept. 11, 1921.”  Appraised at $100.
Field, Eugene.
The Writings in Prose and Verse…  N. Y., Scribners, 1896.
12 vols.; bound in blue leather, gold tooled.  Autographed on fore page of Vol. 1 by Julia S. Field (Mrs. Eugene Field).  Appraised at $96.
 Irving, Washington.
A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus.  London, Murray, 1828.
4 vols.  Penciled notation “First Edition” on fore page.  Eugene Field’s autograph on inside cover.  Appraised at $100.
Shakespeare, William.
The Plays and Poems… according to the Improved Text of Edmund Malone… ed. by A. J. Valpy.  London, Bohn, 1853.
15 vols.; illustrated with steel engravings.  Vol. 1 contains autograph of Eugene Field at top of title page and autograph of S. L. Clemens (Mark Twain) on fore page.  Appraised $225.
Tarkington, Booth.
Works.  New York, Doubleday, 1922.
16 vols.  Seawood Edition “…strictly limited to 1075 numbered and registered copies, each with a portrait signed by the author in volume one.”  Mr. Munn’s set was No. 2.  Vol. 1 is signed by “Doubleday Page and Co.” and undersigned by Booth Tarkington and each of the remaining volumes is autographed by Tarkington on the title page between title and publishers’ data.  Vol. 1 also contains autograph of Julia S. Field (Mrs. Eugene Field) on a fore page.  The set appraised at $128.

We had struck a Eugene Field gold mine: three additional volumes supposedly bearing Field’s inscription, one of which also featured another Clemens/Twain autograph.  Two featuring the autograph of Field’s wife, Julia, and one with a note from Field’s son, matching almost exactly the note in the back of the Cruikshank volume.

Naturally, we went on a hunt to find these other books on our stacks.

The Byron we were unable to locate.  Special Collections does have an 1832 set of Byron’s Works, but it is in 17 volumes, not 14, and in a green library cloth binding, not gold tooled green leather.  None of the volumes bears the autograph of Eugene Field on the title page.  Interestingly, the first 12 or so of the volumes indicate that they are “volume __ out of 14” whereas the final volumes are “out of 17″.  Whether the publishers changed their minds about the size of the set mid-run, or we have two partial sets put together, I don’t know.

Chesterfield

Inscription from Eugene Field II, on a rear flyleaf of the Earl of Chesterfield’s Letters to His Son (BJ1671.C52 1925 v.1)

We were eventually able to find the inscribed copy of Chesterfield’s Letters to His Son, but it was being kept in the general stacks, not in Special Collections!  After verifying that this copy was the same one mentioned in the library newsletter, we rescued the two volume set and transferred it to our rare book collection.  However, there are some odd things going on with this inscription from Eugene Field II.

This particular edition of Chesterfield (the Beau Brummel edition) was printed in 1925, although the note in the back from Field’s son is dated 1921.  The copyright for this version of the text goes back as far as 1901, but even that is a full six years after Field’s death in 1895.  Needless to say, these facts cast some serious doubt on his son’s claim that the book came from his father’s library.

Field

Julia S. Field’s inscription (?), in The Writings in Prose and Verse of Eugene Field (PS1665.A2 1896 v.1)

We were also successful in finding the listed copy of Field’s Writings in Prose and Verse.  Sure enough, the half-title of the first volume seems to bear an inscription from Julia Field.  Again, there is something odd about this inscription.  Maybe I’m being too cynical, but the parenthetical addition of “Mrs. Eugene Field” after the name seems a little too on-the-nose, don’t you think?  Also strange is the fact that the signature only appears on the first volume of the 12 volume set.

Ah well, perhaps Mrs. Field was merely autographing the work for someone else, to add value to the set — the world may never know!

d

Eugene Field autograph.  A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, Washington Irving (XX PS2072.H67 1828 v.1)

The Washington Irving set was right where it should be on the shelf.  Eugene Field’s (supposed) autograph, matching the one in our Cruikshank, was indeed penned on the inside cover.

d

Note in the back of the 1828 Irving.

Interestingly, however, we found another note from Field’s son, on a rear flyleaf of the first volume.  This note was not included in the set’s description in the 1952 newsletter.

As with the other six books with supposed Field provenance, I have my doubts that the Eugene Field autograph in our Irving volume is authentic.  If it is supposed to be an ownership inscription, which it certainly looks like, why is only the first volume signed?  There is another, older ownership inscription in this same book (on the title page), and that signature appears consistently across all four volumes (which is much more common, in my experience).  What if Field had loaned or lost volumes 2, 3, or 4?  Am I being too cynical again?

Unfortunately, we were unable to locate the Shakespeare or the Tarkington sets among our collections.  There is no trace whatsoever of the Shakespeare volumes, and no record of sale or deaccession.  The Tarkington, however, is another (stranger) matter: we do have a 16 volume Tarkington set matching the newsletter description almost exactly… except that it’s No. 315 in the limited set of 1075, not Mr. Munn’s copy No. 2.  As such, no Julia Field autograph — real or not — is present in our Vol. 1 (or any of our volumes, for that matter).  How did we come to acquire Munn’s set No. 2 in 1952, only to have it replaced with a nearly identical, but differently numbered set in the intervening 62 years?

Our doubts about the Cruikshank Twain/Field autographs were only compounded by the discovery of these other volumes with similar inscriptions.  By finding this donation record in an old newsletter, we were able to move one link back in the chain of provenance, but many questions still remain about the authenticity of these signatures.

However, the somewhat ironic fact is that the notoriety of Eugene Field II has ended up adding some value to these works after all, even if the autographs are fakes.  A set of forged signatures would make an interesting collection in its own right!

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Hand-Coloring in Books: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

One of the lessons we learn through the study of rare book provenance is that no two copies of an old book are truly identical.  Every volume lives its own life, and receives its own marks, scars, and brands as it moves from owner to owner through time and space.  Some marks of provenance are accidental, or at least incidental to the core content of a work, while others are the result of printers, booksellers, and owners making a concerted effort to add value to their books, to distinguish one particular copy from another.

If a book featured printed image plates, most often created from woodcut blocks, one common way to enhance the appeal and uniqueness of the work was to add color to the images.  In the early days of printing, this process would need to be done by hand, applying color to an already printed black and white woodcut plate.  The results could be quite stunning:

Uncolored woodcut of Albrecht Dürer’s famous Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, ca. 1497–98. Image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A hand-colored

A colored copy of the same print, thought to have been colored by Dürer himself.  Image from Harvard’s Houghton Library Tumblr.

The example above is a special case — most early colored plates were not done by the artists themselves, but rather were colored according to a printer’s orders, at the time of a book’s publication, or later at a bookseller’s discretion.  In both cases the aim was to add to the value of a work, to increase its appeal.  Book owners also sometimes colored items in their collections, much for the same reasons.

Books became cheaper and more widely available after the invention of the printing press, and in the process they lost some of their uniqueness and their charm.  In the print era many copies of a work could be churned out quickly with little variation between them, but hand-colored plates gave printers and booksellers a way to recapture some of the vibrancy and individuality of illuminated manuscripts from ages past.

Note

Hand-colored illustrations from our copy of Origine des Ornemens des Armoiries (XX CR151.M38 1680 c.2), a 17th century French work on heraldry.

It’s easy to find images of well executed book colorization online, and we have a few more here at MSU Special Collections (although nothing rivaling that Dürer print).  Most rare book libraries, however, don’t seem as keen to show off their less impressive examples.  Looking at the early hand-coloring usually featured on blogs or in library exhibits, one might come away with the impression that all colored plates are great works of art, or at least that they demonstrate a certain level of expertise or proficiency.  As in any endeavor, however, there are failures — examples of mismanagement, unfinished work, or all-around shoddy craftsmanship.

Take our 1530 copy of Georg Rüxner’s Anfang, Ursprung und Herkomen des Thurniers inn Teutscher Nation (XX folio CR4533.R8 1532), also called simply Thurnier Buch, or the Tournament Book.  The work presents a historical sketch of medieval tournaments in Germany from the 10th century to the tournament at Worms in 1487, providing information on the origin of the tournament and descriptions of the participants.  The book features a number of woodcut plates, including 41 images of various tournament activities and an additional 246 cuts of heraldic imagery.

Most of the plates are at least partially colored, although some of them, seemingly chosen at random, are not.  The book includes a number of duplicate images (appearing on different pages), and in each of these cases, only one of the pairs is colored.  This, at least, has a kind of logic to it — and for the most part, the color on these early plates isn’t awful, but it’s clear that the colorist was working with a somewhat limited palette:

HCW12

Click to enlarge.

HCW13

Click to enlarge.

The hand-coloring of these plates actually displays some level of competency, when compared to others in the same book.  Note that green and red crop up in odd places, though.  Was this an artistic choice, or the result of a limited color selection?  Some woodcuts from this volume take this preference for reds and greens to an absurd level, and demonstrate a general unwillingness to stay inside the lines, as well:

Note

There’s another issue plaguing some of the woodcut plates in our Thurnier Buch — a surprising number of images are only partially colored, and again it is difficult to understand the reasoning behind the colorist’s choices.  Often only one or two figures in the image will be colored, and it isn’t entirely clear whether the colorist ran out of time, got bored, or simply forgot to go back and finish the job.

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In this particular woodcut, figures are colored seemingly at random.  The trumpets and the robes of the trumpeters received color, as did the gowns of two women in the foreground.  Three hairstyles are colored (brown), and a stick (or sword) in the background got a touch of red.  Most notably, perhaps, is that only the scene out of one window is colored.

Note

There is only one instance of color in this image, a touch of yellow applied to one man’s robe.  Why did the colorist stop here?

In many ways, our copy of the Thurnier Buch is like a 16th century coloring book — it’s as if a child was using this work to practice, clumsily applying what colors he had as the mood struck him.

When we dig a little deeper into the history of early hand-colored books, the clumsiness of this work become understandable.  Book collectors might be surprised to learn that printers and booksellers often employed children to complete the coloring process, meaning that essentially these early works were coloring books, of a sort — although they weren’t intended to be fun.  As this blog article from librarian and bibliophile L. D. Mitchell of explains,

[M]ost hand-colored plates were in fact not colored by the illustrators who drew or engraved the printed images, but rather were usually the work of an anonymous watercolorist who, more often than not, was a woman or child working in what was an early assembly-line process.

It’s unclear whether our Thurnier Buch was colored at the printer’s shop or in the collection of the book’s owner.  It’s certainly possible that the coloring is the work of a child, whether a young employee of the printer or the child of an early owner, but it’s also possible that it merely represents the unfinished work of an untrained adult book owner, someone who got bored partway through the coloring process.

It’s understandable that most libraries and book collectors aren’t keen to highlight these less-than-exceptional pieces, but I would argue that many of these botched coloring jobs are appealing because of their ineptitude.  They can be humorous, yes, but they can also teach us something, potentially giving us insight into the hand-coloring process, or connecting us to the past — serving to humanize those who contributed to this aspect of book history, and to remind us that pobody’s nerfect.

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Found in the Vault: A Presentation Inscription from Mark Twain — Or is it?

“And thou, homely little brown thing with worn leaves, yet more precious to me than all jewels of the earth—come, let me take thee from thy shelf and hold thee lovingly in my hands and press thee tenderly to this aged and slow-pulsing heart of mine… soon must we part forever; when I am gone say unto him who next shall have thee to his own that with his latest breath an old man blessed thee!”

– Eugene Field, Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac

Okay, okay.  Last week I know I said we’d be talking about hand-colored plates this time — and that post is coming soon, I promise!  But in the meantime I wanted to highlight an interesting item we discovered (rediscovered?) in the vault just the other day:

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MSU’s copy of Cruikshank at Home, Vol. I (XX PN6173.C75 1845)

This 1845 edition of Cruikshank at Home (Vol.  I), a collection of humorous short stories selected and illustrated by famed English caricature artist Robert Cruikshank, may seem at first glance to be rather unremarkable.

While it is beautifully half-bound in red Morocco leather, it stands at a modest six-and-a-half inches tall and tends to blend in with the books around it on the vault shelves, many of which are similarly bound and just as beautiful.

As the study of rare book provenance has shown again and again, however, often some the most interesting features of books can be found on flyleaves and endsheets — and our copy of Cruikshank at Home is no different in this regard.

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Presentation inscription from Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain.

As you can see, the book bears a terse presentation inscription with a noteworthy signature on the front flyleaf:

Y[ou]r[s] Truly,
              S. L. Clemens
                     (Mark Twain)
 

Search on the Web for Mark Twain’s (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) autograph and you’ll likely conclude that this is the real deal.  And why shouldn’t it be?

As in many institutions, our rare books contain signatures from a number of famous individuals, in the form of ownership inscriptions, presentation inscriptions, and the like.

But what else can we potentially learn about the provenance of this volume?

Close-up of the Clemens/Twain signature.

Close-up of the Clemens/Twain signature.

The book features another interesting signature on the half-title:  that of late 19th century American author and poet Eugene Field.  Based on the location and the appearance of the signature, it appears to be an ownership inscription, meaning that this book was likely in Field’s collection at some point.

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Signature of Eugene Field, Sr.

It seems probable that the two signatures are related, and that the book was either given to Field by Twain, or that Field merely had Twain sign it (although since it’s not a work by Twain, the latter seems less likely).  The two authors were friends, or at least acquaintances, and it’s hardly a stretch of the imagination to picture such a presentation taking place.

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Note from Eugene Field, Jr.

Another piece of evidence in the book seems to corroborate this theory.  On a rear flyleaf is the following note:

This book came
from the library
of my father Eugene
Field.
          Eugene Field II
Oct 20 – 1920
 

So, everything seems to be peachy — we have a fine example of a presentation inscription from one of the most influential American authors of all time, in a book from the personal collection of another famous author, all supported by the testimony of the latter’s son.

But there’s another story to tell.  Do a little digging on Eugene Field II, and you’ll find a number of articles about him, including one from the website Crime Librarywhich is certainly enlightening:

The American poet Eugene Field passed down his unique gift of writing to his son and namesake, Eugene Field II, whom he affectionately nicknamed “Pinny.” However, unlike his father, little Eugene’s gift was less conventional. His skill was not in composing poetry but actually in reproducing the writing style of other people…

Yes, it turns out that Eugene Field, Jr. was a notorious forger, especially infamous for rather masterfully faking the signature of Abraham Lincoln, and making quite a tidy sum in the process.  In addition to selling a number of books and documents with false Lincoln signatures, “Pinny” dabbled in other forgeries.  An article from the Internet Antique Gazette explains:

[Eugene Field, Jr.] had grown up with a comfortable life in the suburbs of Chicago, and upon his father’s death, began casting about for ways to make money without doing much work. Eugene Sr. left… a sizeable library, filled with some rare editions and beautiful bindings, and Pinny began selling them off piecemeal for profit.  

As Pinny was quickly running through his father’s library, he began to dabble in forgeries, and sometime in the 1920s or early 1930s, he met up with forger Harry Dayton Sickles. The two quickly struck upon a plan to ‘increase’ Eugene Sr.’s library. They reproduced Eugene Sr.’s original bookplate, and then set about buying up books, forging signatures and inscriptions, and ‘authenticating’ them with the addition of the reproduced bookplates.

Uh oh.  Our volume may not have a bookplate, but things are certainly starting to look suspicious.  This next line — from the Crime Library article — may put the final nail in the coffin:

[Field and Sickles] were also known to have forged numerous documents and signatures of other famous figures such as, Rudyard Kipling, Theodore Roosevelt and Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), as well as several others.

While it’s possible that our Twain inscription is authentic, it also seems as though we have good reason to question it.  Could it be that the young Field falsified the signature early in his forgery career, or that he or Sickles, partners in crime, faked it in the late ’20s or ’30s and simply back-dated the “authenticating” note on the rear flyleaf?

Was the book presented to Eugene Field, Sr. by his friend and colleague Mark Twain, or is the signature a forgery?  We don’t know — and we may never know.  The irony is that if this volume did not feature the note from Field’s son we likely would have never seriously questioned the autograph’s authenticity.

It just goes to show that often it’s better to have no one on your side at all than to have a liar’s endorsement — or, as William Caxton put it, “men bileve not lyghtly hym whiche is knowen for a lyer.”

What do you think?  Can anyone out there offer any insight into the validity of these signatures?

Credit for the excerpts from the Crime Library and Internet Antique Gazette articles goes to Hollie Davis and Rachael Bell, respectively.  Here are the two links again:
Crime Library:  Abraham Lincoln’s Most Notorious Forgers
Internet Antique Gazette:  Field, Eugene Sr. & Eugene Field, Jr. & Harry Dayton Sickles
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An Artistic Edge: Selected Fore-Edge Paintings at MSU Special Collections

As we have seen time and time again, one can learn a great deal by examining the various marks in books.  However, this study of rare book provenance often focuses on the primitive, mundane, or even ugly facets of book ownership.  Libraries and personal collectors do not generally stamp or inscribe their books to beautify them or to add value, but to mark the items as their property.  And many people, having been born into a centuries-old print culture, see handwritten annotations and marginalia as imperfect human elements marring the otherwise mechanical orderliness of a printed text.

I do not share this worldview, but of course I am biased by my interest in the potential value of these additions as provenance evidence.  However, there are some marks in books to which I suspect even the most ardent biblio-purist would not object — marks interesting not only for their historical value, but also for their artistic merit.

Throughout the long and varied history of the book, writers, binders, printers and publishers have embellished the products of their craft in a myriad of ways.  Early Medieval manuscripts were often meticulously illustrated, and bookmakers have been tooling, stamping, or painting designs onto book covers for centuries.  Even in the modern age of machine printing and mass production, there is a great demand for artisan books bound, decorated or illustrated by hand.

One of the most interesting and uncommon forms of book art, the form I will be exploring below, is the practice of fore-edge painting.  These rare instances of book adornment are the result of painting a design or a scene on the front edge of a book’s text block (the edge opposite the spine).

Fore-edge painting showing Norwich Cathedral. Found on MSU’s 1849 copy of Proper Lessons to be Read at Morning and Evening Prayer (XX BX5147.L4 1849).

Fore-edge painting showing Norwich Cathedral. Found on MSU’s 1849 copy of Proper Lessons to be Read at Morning and Evening Prayer (XX BX5147.L4 1849).

Fore-edge painting remains relatively obscure, despite a recent revival in the practice, largely because the artwork is usually visible only when the book’s pages are fanned out.  In addition, most of these paintings (especially those from the 18th century onward) are hidden by gilded page edges.  Since fore-edge paintings typically remain invisible until the text block of the book is examined closely, and since each painting takes so much care and skill to produce, most people are unaware of this artistic tradition — even many bibliophiles and book dealers have never come across examples of these secret paintings.

Alternate view of Norwich Cathedral, from an 1848 copy of The Book of Common Prayer boxed with the book above.

Alternate view of Norwich Cathedral, from an 1848 copy of The Book of Common Prayer boxed with the book above.

Prior to the development of this art form, titles, shelf codes, or other identifying marks were often inked onto the fore-edges of books, so that the volumes could be easily identified when they were stacked on top of one another.  It is difficult to determine exactly when or where the practice of painting these edges began, although most scholars agree that the simplest form of “flat” fore-edge illustration likely became popular in late-15th or early-16th century Italy.

Regardless of the precise date the practice was invented, by the mid-17th century fore-edge painting had arrived in England, where bookmakers developed the technique of applying paint to fanned pages, so that the artwork would be hidden when the book was closed.  The practice continued to enjoy moderate popularity among England’s elite bookmakers and their patrons for a number of years, but by the end of the 17th century interest in fore-edge painting had waned, and few new works were created until the art’s revival nearly one hundred years later.

Fore-edge painting adorning MSU's 1847 copy of The Seasons by James Thomson (XX PR3732.S4 1847)

Fore-edge painting adorning MSU’s 1847 copy of The Seasons by James Thomson (XX PR3732.S4 1847)

The re-emergence of fore-edge painting as a popular art form in the late 18th century was largely due to the efforts of one English bookbinding and publishing company, Edwards of Halifax.  Although there were other fore-edge painters operating throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a surprising number of these artists did not sign their work, and it remains difficult to identify the creators of many paintings from this era.  Due to the sheer number of works that are traceable back to the Edwards firm, however, a great many unsigned pieces of fore-edge painting end up being attributed to them as well.

After the revival of fore-edge painting by Edwards of Halifax, the trade remained relatively popular throughout the 19th century and into the 20th.  A number of artists and bookbinders made their names creating beautiful fore-edge paintings, most often in the English style of “hidden” painting on fanned pages.  As the art form grew in popularity it evolved into more complex forms, and by the early 20th century paintings were even being done on both sides of the fore-edge (so that one painting would be visible if you fanned the pages one direction, and another if you fanned them the other way), on all three edges of the book (head, tail, and for-edge), or both.  Even in these elaborate cases the book’s edges were usually gilded, hiding all artwork from casual inspection.

This fore-edge painting is hidden beneath gilt and gauffered edges -- completely invisible until the text block is fanned out. From MSU's 1823 copy of The World Before the Flood by James Montgomery (XX PR5032.W6 1823). Click to enlarge.

This fore-edge painting is hidden beneath gilt and gauffered edges — completely invisible until the text block is fanned out. From MSU’s 1823 copy of The World Before the Flood by James Montgomery (XX PR5032.W6 1823). Click to enlarge.

The range of subject matter for these paintings also grew as the art form evolved.   Early fore-edge paintings were of mostly pastoral scenes, but by the 20th century artists were producing paintings for a much wider audience, and had to adapt to the current Zeitgeist and the ever-changing demands of collectors.  Vignettes included depictions of historical or mythical events, sports scenes, cityscapes, and more.  Of course, some fore-edge paintings were added by collectors themselves, and the themes of many paintings often matched the subject matter of the host books.

Crude fore-edge painting of a man on horseback and an early railway train.  On MSU's copy of The Principles of Mechanics by James Woods (XX QA807.W6 1824).

Crude fore-edge painting of a man on horseback and an early railway train. On MSU’s copy of The Principles of Mechanics by James Woods (XX QA807.W6 1824).

A fore-edge painting depicting Regent Street, London.  From MSU's 1862 copy of Poems of Felicia Hemans (XX PR4780.A1 1862).

A fore-edge painting depicting Regent Street, London. From MSU’s 1862 copy of Poems of Felicia Hemans (XX PR4780.A1 1862).

Fore-edge painting of London Bridge, with the Houses of Parliament and St. Paul's Cathedral behind.  On MSU's 1816 copy of The Constitution of England; or, An Account of the English Government by Jean Louis de Lolme (XX JN117.L7 1816).

Fore-edge painting of London Bridge, with the Houses of Parliament and St. Paul’s Cathedral behind. On MSU’s 1816 copy of The Constitution of England; or, An Account of the English Government by Jean Louis de Lolme (XX JN117.L7 1816).

The renaissance of fore-edge painting in the 18th century by Edwards of Halifax pales in comparison to the latest, 20th century revival of the art.  Most modern artists, however, rather than adding their art to contemporary works, instead paint on the fore-edges of old books — often from the 18th or 19th century.  This can make it difficult to date a fore-edge painting through a cursory visual examination alone, and many unsigned and undated paintings can fool even a trained eye.  Worse still, this ambiguity is often deliberate, perpetrated with the intent to defraud collectors.

Thankfully the reputable modern artists seem to outnumber the fraudulent, and it is these known artists who are largely responsible for making the practice popular again in the 20th century.  Chief among these, at least in the first half of the century, was the prolific fore-edge painter Miss C. B. Currie, who produced a series of signed and dated paintings for Sotheran’s of London.  Martin Frost, another modern day fore-edge artist, produced a great deal of signed and dated work in the latter half of the 20th century and still creates fore-edge paintings today.

Fore-edge painting of Stirling Castle, from MSU's 1815 second edition of Sir Walter Scott's The Lord of the Isles (XX PR5310.A1 1815).  Artist unknown.

Fore-edge painting of Stirling Castle, from MSU’s 1815 second edition of Sir Walter Scott’s The Lord of the Isles (XX PR5310.A1 1815). Artist unknown.

Even with the recent “second renaissance” of fore-edge painting, the art form remains relatively unknown and misunderstood.  However, a number of institutions, such as the Boston Public Library, maintain large, beautiful collections of fore-edge painted books from every era, and several artisan bookbinders working today still produce their own fore-edge paintings.

With the help of some outspoken rare book dealers and special collections libraries, this centuries-old trade is finally, slowly working its way back into the public’s awareness.  And I think nearly everyone — even those who would normally cringe at the sight of a marked-up book — can admire the products of this unique craft, tragically under-appreciated in the history of book arts.

Two scenes on a single fore-edge.  This painting only takes up half of the text block -- up to page 248 or so.  Another fore-edge painting can be found on the remainder of the text block if the pages are fanned in the opposite direction.  From MSU's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (XX PR1181.S4 1839).

Two scenes on a single fore-edge. This painting only takes up half of the text block — up to page 248 or so. Another fore-edge painting can be found on the remainder of the text block if the pages are fanned in the opposite direction. From MSU’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (XX PR1181.S4 1839).

A pair of scenes from the other half of the text block, on the fore-edge of pages 249 to 559.  All together, MSU's copy of Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border features four scenes painted across two faces of the fore-edge.

A pair of scenes from the other half of the text block, on the fore-edge of pages 249 to 559. All in all, MSU’s copy of Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border features four scenes painted across two faces of the fore-edge.

For more information on the art of fore-edge painting, see the Boston Public Library’s articles on fore-edge painting and the website of modern fore-edge artist Martin Frost.  Also be sure to check out these previously undocumented fore-edge paintings recently discovered by Special Collections & Archives staff at the University of Iowa!  (original UI Special Collections Tumblr post here)

Does anyone out there recognize the artists of any of our fore-edge paintings?  Has anyone had a chance to see a work like this in person?  Leave a comment below!

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