Monday, August 31, 2015

Guarding the Mails

P.H. Woodward - Guarding the Mails (1882)

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I'm just going to quote the book's subtitle:  "Being a Record of Mail Robberies and Their Detection; Embracing Sketches of Wonderful Exploits of Secret Agents in the Detection, Pursuit, and Capture of Depredators Upon the Mails, with a Complete Description of the Many Means and Complicated Contrivances of the Wily and Unscrupulous to Defraud the Public."

Whew.  As you've gathered, a collection of various stories about tricksters, thieves, con artists and such told in a fairly wordy manner.  Nice illustrations.  Justice always prevails!

Sunday, August 30, 2015

The Wonder Clock

Howard Pyle - The Wonder Clock (1915)

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24 illustrated children's stories, one for each hour of the day.  I'm guessing they weren't intended to be read actually at each hour - "Wake up, it's time for your 4am reading."  They're full of swan maidens, sentient storks and ravens, kings, princesses, blacksmiths, stepmothers, fishermen and so forth that probably seemed quaint even then.

Howard Pyle is best remembered today for his Robin Hood and King Arthur books but he was fairly prolific, even doing two books with Woodrow Wilson and one with Henry Cabot Lodge.  The illustrator Katherine Pyle was his sister who also had a strong career.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Aladdin, or The Wonderful Lamp

Aladdin, or The Wonderful Lamp (1850?)

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Another 19th century children's book, this time an Aladdin story with colorful illustrations accompanied by genuinely inept poetry.  "The youth obedient instant hied / When fruits luxuriant met his sight; / The white were pearls in snowy pride, / Diamonds the clear - of brilliant light".

I can find almost nothing about this book but interestingly the same publisher McLoughlin (active in children's books from 1828 to 1920) published at least two other books with the same title, one in the 1860s possibly a larger version of this text and one in the 1880s an early pop-up book.  The illustrator might have been Richard Andre (pseudonym for William Roger Snow).

Saturday, August 22, 2015

The Victor Book of the Opera

The Victor Book of the Opera (1913)

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By 1913 the Victor Talking Machine Company already had a thousand opera records, at least according to this book.  Turns out those are arias not complete operas and according to this book some cost as much as $3.  The Victor Book of the Opera serves as both a catalog and a reference work.  Opera buffs will not only enjoy the descriptions (more than mere plot synopsis) but also the numerous illustrations of both costumes and staging.  It's also interesting for the works mentioned that appear to have fallen by the side.  I've never heard of Ambroise Thomas' Mignon and am pretty sure Massenet's Hérodiade is rarely discussed today but then I'm hardly an opera expert and could well be wrong.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

First Anniversary

Well, a year ago today this blog's first post went live.  For years I had been finding these interesting books online and it seemed like a good way to share the information.  There's already another two to three years of material bookmarked and I still find new things so I won't run out of subjects any time soon.  In fact as more libraries start putting collections online the possibilities greatly increase, particularly in specialized fields.

Originally I had planned to post once every weekend but when starting thought it would be good to do a bunch of posts to build a bit of mass to the blog.  Before long I settled on doing a new post every even-numbered day which is easier to remember than just every other day.  To my surprise I've mostly managed to keep up that schedule (though I've missed a bit the past couple of weeks because it's busy at work).

Some of the responses have been a bit surprising.  The two most popular posts (see below) were ones I didn't think anybody else would care about but clearly lots of somebodies did.  An radio glossary called Radio Alphabet was given a physical reprint by the cool people at WFMU for a fund drive.

Everything I post is interesting to me in some way whether genuine value or just a fleeting comic nod.  There's much less fiction than I originally anticipated because that has to be read in full while most of these books you can get a good idea from a chapter or two and skimming.  Plus I have a noticeable weakness for reference books which don't even need that (though they often occupy me for much longer periods of time).

By far the most traffic comes from the U.S. but after that (with less than 10% of the U.S. total) is Russia, France, United Kingdom, Canada, Germany, Ukraine, Switzerland, Poland and Ireland.  I have no idea if that's meaningful in any way and am not sure why Russia is number two.

As a bit of a recap here are two lists - the all-time most popular posts and then some of my personal favorites.

The Most Popular Posts

The Military Religious Orders of the Middle Ages
The Babees' Book
On the Writing of the Insane
The Lost City!
A Dictionary of Modern Slang, Cant, and Vulgar Words
The Religion of the Samurai
A Bibliography of Unfinished Books in the English Language
Near Home, or, the Countries of Europe Described
The Pre-History of Aviation
What's Cooking, Uncle Sam?

A Few Personal Favorites

The Shakespeare Apocrypha
Dictionary of Sects, Heresies, Ecclesiastical Parties, and Schools of Religious Thought
Literary Forgeries
A Dictionary of Miracles
The Complete Stardust Collection
Insect-Musicians and Cricket Champions of China
Near Home, or, the Countries of Europe Described
The Legend of Longinus
Compendium Rarissimum Totius Artis Magicae
A Bibliography of Bibliography
The Lost Dauphin

But there's plenty more in the archives.....

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Zeppelin: The Story of a Great Achievement

Harry Vissering - Zeppelin: The Story of a Great Achievement (1922)

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Zeppelin-ophiles unite!  This fairly brief book covers most anything you might want to know about zeppelins from design and construction to maintenance to commercial operations.  There are charts of distances and usage, images of the rooms guests occupied, details about planes that serviced the zeppelins.  Did you know they only could take 24 passengers at a time?  I need to read more carefully to find out ticket prices because they couldn't have been cheap.  As it turned out, economics was a stumbling block for zeppelins and the fate of the Hindenburg the decade after this book pretty much sealed their fate.

Saturday, August 15, 2015

The Handbook of Kinematography

Colin N. Bennett - The Handbook of Kinematography (1911)

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An early, British-published guide to motion picture production that includes the ever-elusive formula for mercuric iodide intensifier!  Imagine having to mix your own chemicals and develop your own film.  This is very much a technical guide (without as many illustrations as we'd hope today) that skips story construction, dealing with actors and such merely artistic issues.  There are even instructions for generating electricity for projection - steam "is in many ways ideal" but the very idea of steam-driven movies is wonderfully incongruous.  And just to show nothing is immune from nationalism an ad in the back promotes a John Bull All-British Maltese Cross Projector.  Take that Prussian projectors!  Go hide, you Provencal machines!  We laugh at you, Neapolitan devices!

Monday, August 10, 2015

Stratagems and Conspiracies to Defraud Life Insurance Companies

John B. Lewis & Charles C. Bombaugh - Stratagems and Conspiracies to Defraud Life Insurance Companies (1896)

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This of course isn't meant as inspiration, to the degree that any century-old book might give the nefariously minded.  Instead, it's more a true crime reader detailing various incidents, with sections such as A Clumsy Philadelphia Scheme, The North Carolina Graveyard Operations, Monotonous Repetition of the Drowning Trick, The Wackerle Puzzle, The Belgian Poisoner, The Monster Holmes, Disappearance in the Black Hills, and many more.  It does appear to have been intended to detect fraud so there aren't any of the illustrations you might find in more popular accounts.

Saturday, August 8, 2015

Old Cookery Books and Ancient Cuisine

William Carew Hazlitt - Old Cookery Books and Ancient Cuisine (1886)

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The title is pretty accurate for this mix of bibliography and cooking instructions.  Hazlitt (grandson of the Hazlitt) starts by complaining how much his topic has been overlooked (some things never change) before launching into a look at early British food.  The section on books is probably of more interest to book hounds than cooks focusing as it does on dates, editions, publishers, variations.  I love this kind of thing and likely anybody reading this blog is at least inclined in that direction.

A large part of the book is extracts about various dishes, too random to provide much historical context but certainly of interest for the strangeness.  Some dishes are similar to modern ones and wouldn't raise an eye.  I've never heard of whetstone or Shrewsbury cakes but wouldn't think anything odd if one was set before me.  Others, though, are elaborate to the point of being bizarre.  On p108 you'll find a Pulpatoon of Pigeons which includes pigeons, oysters, veal, marrow, eggs, anchovies and assorted seasonings in something of a pie.  A Tureiner (p103) has butter, beef-steaks, bacon, eggs, chicken, rabbits, pigeons, tongue - the list goes on so long I wonder if it's some kind of parody.  Wormwood cakes (p130) sound dubious - apart from the named ingredient it includes cochineel, allum, cream of tartar and saffron (all his spellings).

Remaining parts of the book cover physical aspects of kitchens, cooking attire, how the use of seasonings developed, and whatever else the author felt like throwing in.

This Hazlitt is a subject for further research.  His other titles include a history of the Venetian republic and books on Tudor and Stuart drama, book and coin collecting, humorous literature, proverbs, the Lamb family, fairy tales, London livery companies and many others.  He edited Shakespeare Jest-Books which hasn't yet fallen into book obscurity.  (I have a print copy.)

Note that this must be an early scan since the quality isn't always the best.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Fishes and Their Ways of Life

Louis Roule - Fishes and Their Ways of Life (1935)

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A somewhat bland title for a slightly unusual look at swimming critters (not all fish).  For one thing there's a whole chapter on the fish that go into bouillabaisse, another on electric fish, another on shark's teeth, all in a somewhat elaborate but not overdone prose (translated from French).  Not a royal road to ichthyology but more like the scenic route.

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

Centaurs in Ancient Art

Paul V.C. Baur - Centaurs in Ancient Art: The Archaic Period (1912)

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The author catalogs types of centaurs from earliest times to about 480 BC as found in various vases, plates, wares, architectural reliefs and so forth.  It's a scholarly work that really is basically a list rather than a synthesis of what he's found.  One sample (p66):  "On shoulder, a female figure in long chiton and himation which flutters behind her is piercing with her spear in uplifted r. the body of a centaur stumbling to l., with branch over l. shoulder and r. hand uplifted in supplication."  There aren't as many illustrations as I'd like to see and most are fairly small.

Baur (1872-1951) was a Cincinnati native, educated in Heidelburg and worked at Yale as curator of classical archaeology from 1919 to 1940 (retirement).

Saturday, August 1, 2015


Wilbur Bassett - Wander-Ships: Folk-Stories of the Sea (1917)

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If you consider it as just water, water everywhere then there's an astonishing amount of stories about the sea.  But if you look at it as one of humanity's oldest obsessions then maybe it's not so surprising.  This author found a few ship-oriented stories, expanded them and added notes.  For the stories he leans towards a slightly more florid idea of literary ("Wind-sheltered by white cliffs and rock-perched beyond the grasp of channel waves nestles defiantly the quaint fishing village of Dieppe.") and makes them closer to a conventional short story than the often abrupt and frequently stark manner of most folk tales.  It's probably why I find the the notes more interesting as they trace various versions of the stories through history or other art.  Included are "Notes on" giant ships, phantom ships, devil ships, the death voyage and the Flying Dutchman.