Monday, December 27, 2010

See you at the Sunshine City antiques show

We look forward every year to the Sunshine City Antiques & Collectibles Show at The Coliseum in downtown St. Petersburg or "St. Petersburg's historic Coliseum," as the publicity material says, and rightly so. The venerable Coliseum is a beautiful place for a show. (We'll be back there again in March for the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair. More about that later.)

The Coliseum was built in 1924, amid the Roaring Twenties hoopla that was rampant in St. Petersburg and other places in the state. It was a ballroom. Still is, sometimes, with dances being staged there regularly. In fact, there's going to be a New Year's dance there in a few days – but, as they say, that's another story.

In the old days, The Coliseum was a venue for nationally known talent. It drew the likes of big band leaders Harry James and Paul Whiteman. Boyish crooner Rudy Vallee no doubt made the ladies swoon when he performed there. But the flappers are gone and so is the swing and the jazz (except for New Year's Eve and some other special occasions).

And in their place are the collective memories of our culture and of bygone eras. And, of course, the objects. It is the objects – and the spaces – that evoke for us the feelings of times past. So it is most appropriate that a show like this should be staged in a venue like The Coliseum, with its polished dance floor and its elegant arches.

In the slide show above, you'll see some of the kinds of books we'll bring to the show. In keeping with the venue and the theme, we'll have books that may remind you of your childhood, or of your grandma's childhood. We hope you'll stop by and see us.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The poem that gave us Santa Claus

'Twas the night before Christmas, when all through the house
Not a creature was stirring, not even a mouse;
The stockings were hung by the chimney with care,
In hopes that St. Nicholas soon would be there;

-- Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas
Published in 1869.
The poem that gave us Santa Claus as an American tradition was first published anonymously in the Troy (NY) Sentinel in 1823. For generations, the poem was attributed to Clement C. Moore, a wealthy Manhattan biblical scholar.

Then about a decade ago, a literary sleuth from Vassar College advanced the notion that the famous poem was actually written by Henry Livingston Jr., a  gentleman poet from Poughkeepsie. The literary landscape at Christmas time has never been the same since.

Regardless of the author, the poem is probably the single work responsible for giving us the modern notion of Santa Claus, a jolly, rotund fellow with a sleigh full of toys powered by eight tiny reindeer. The poem also is the source of the tradition that Santa Claus lands on the rooftop and slides down the chimney.

To be sure, there were many European traditions from which Santa Claus came, but it was this poem, popularly known as The Night Before Christmas, that solidified in the American consciousness the traditions as we know them today.

The controversy over the authorship of the poem might have remained in literary obscurity forever had it not been for Mary Van Deusen, a descendant of Livingston and an amateur genealogist, who started pursuing the question while seeking information about her father, a Greenwich Village poet whom she had not known.

Van Deusen’s research led her to Don Foster, the Vassar professor, and the two worked together to uncover the facts they contend prove that Livingston probably wrote the poem and that Clement Moore most likely did not.

The New York Times published an extensive story about the controversy and Foster’s book, Author Unknown, in which he makes his case. Van Deusen produced a Web site with remarkable detail about the research and a wonderful collection of antique illustrated editions of America's favorite Christmas poem. Enjoy.

We wish you and yours a very merry Christmas. If you’re in the area between Christmas and New Year’s, drop in to see us. We’ll be keeping regular hours and we’ll look forward to seeing you.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Inflammatory Swedish history angered Danes

Johannes Magnus' history published 1558.
Johannes Magnus, Sweden’s last Catholic archbishop, got caught up in the politics of the Reformation but escaped to Italy, where he found time to write a book about the history of the Scandinavian people.

Some scholars, Danes in particular, don’t think much of Magnus’ history, though. Magnus was decidedly a Swedish nationalist and didn’t treat the Danish people very kindly in his book. In fact, he suggested that Danes were actually descendants of Swedish criminals who were exiled south of Sweden.

His book, Gothorum Sueonumque Historia, ex probatis Anriquorum Monumentis Colleta, & in xxiiij. libros redacta, naturally sparked loud Danish protests, and spate of Danish books refuting Magnus’ conclusions.

Johannes Magnus
Magnus was the son of a political official in Sweden. He was born Johan Mansson in 1488. Magnus is a Latin translation of his name. He became a theologian as did his brother Olaus.

King Gustav I of Sweden appointed him Archbishop of Uppsala, the ranking bishop in Sweden, replacing Archbishop Gustav Trolle, who had fallen in disfavor in Sweden after getting into an argument with the Swedish regent, Sten Sture the Younger.

Just as Magnus was about to leave for Rome to be ordained, word came that Archbishop Trolle was to be reinstated. King Gustav, caught up in the fervor of the Reformation, decided to defy the Pope’s authority and installed Magnus without papal approval.

It wasn’t long, though, before Magnus stirred the pot even more by declaring the Lutheran teachings wrong. The king promptly sent Magnus to Russia as a diplomat, and five years later installed Laurentius Petri as Archbishop of Uppsala. Magnus figured his chances of becoming archbishop again were pretty slim so he went to Rome, where his brother had gone to explain to Pope Clement VII why Archbishop Trolle ought to be removed.

By 1533, after finishing his investigation of Archibishop Trolle, the Pope agreed that Trolle should go and decided to name Magnus to the post. But by then Sweden had broken completely with the Vatican and installing Johannes Magnus was out of the question.

The brothers Johannes and Olaus remained in Italy. Johannes wrote his history of Sweden, Norway, Finland and Denmark. He died in 1544 and his brother had the book published 10 years later. A subsequent edition, published in 1558, contains two chapters by Olaus. A copy of that edition is in the rare book collection at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

Johannes Magnus relied on the work of Jordanes, a sixth century Roman official who wrote a history of the Gothic people, to argue the venerable age of the Swedish nation and the inferiority of the Danish. Naturally the Danes took exception to his conclusions and there ensued a series of rebuttals and counterattacks over many generations.

Johannes’ brother, Olaus, was a talented illustrator and cartographer. He is considered one of the most important geographers of the Renaissance. He produced a massive map of the Scandinavian countries that was published in Venice in 1539. It was considered lost for a long time and was found in the National Library in Munich in 1886.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

William Bartram's trials and travels

Published in London, 1792
Everybody has to find their niche in the world and for William Bartram it wasn’t life as a merchant. He was decidedly unsuited for business of any kind. He was a nature lover, and eventually established himself as a botanist. Lucky for us.

The man who gave us one of the best accounts of Florida during the British Period might not ever have gotten to Florida had it not been for his failure as a merchant.

William Bartram
Bartram grew up frolicking in the Botanical Garden his father, John Bartram, established on the Schuylkill River near Philadelphia. He was the only one among John’s seven sons to show much interest in botany. As a young teenager he drew birds and trees and plants, showing the promise as a botanical artist that was realized later.

But in 1756, at the age of about 17, he began to learn the mercantile trade at the side of a merchant in Philadelphia. Still, he kept drawing nature. He spent every spare moment pursuing natural history. His father recognized his abilities and eventually some of William’s drawings ended up being published in England and Holland.

After more than four years in Philadelphia, William was undoubtedly most pleased at the opportunity to go to North Carolina under the watchful eye of his uncle, Col. William Bartram. Young William set up a trading post to earn a living but the wilderness beaconed and he spent considerable time studying his natural surroundings. His business failed.

In 1765, William’s father was appointed royal botanist for King George III. The new position required a trip to British Florida and on the way John stopped in North Carolina to see his brother and son. His business now closed, young William was basically unemployed so he became his father’s assistant and went with him to Florida.

Title page from London edition.
What a trip for the young man. William and his father met knowledgable scientists, cartographers and powerful officials, including James Grant, the British governor of Florida. William drew plants and animals every chance he got. The voyage undoubtedly gave him the experience he would need for later accomplishments.

In 1766, when his father’s business was finished and he was ready to depart for Philadelphia, William decided to stay on in Florida and grow indigo and rice on the banks of the St. Johns River. After all, there were numerous plantations up and down the east coast of Florida doing the same thing more or less successfully.

Not William Bartram. His effort lasted less than a year and was more financially disasterous than anything he had previously tried. He returned to Philadelphia, where he tried to earn a living in agriculture and as a merchant, without a lot of success. In the meantime, he joined Benjamin Franklin in an organization of scientists and scholars dedicated to the pursuit of useful knowledge.

Peter Collinson, an avid gardener and botonist, took in interest in young William Bartram and arranged for him to be commissioned to draw mollusks and turtles for wealthy British benefactors, including John Fothergill and Margaret Bentinck, the Duchess of Portland and the richest woman in Britain.

Frontispiece: Mico Chlucco, King of the Seminoles.
It was Fothergill who proposed and financed William’s journey to explore the wilderness areas of North and South Carolina, Georgia and East and West Florida. The trip began in 1773 and took four years, and eventually resulted in a comprehensive account of the flora and fauna as well native tribes and European settlers in the area at the time.

But not immediately. William was commissioned by his benefactor to ship specimens and drawings to London and he did so. In the meantime, relations between the upstart colonies and Britain deteriorated and the Revolutionary War began. William’s last shipment to Fothergill was in 1776. The following year, William concluded his travels and returned to Philadelphia.

Although several of his journals were published separately shortly after the end of his journey, it would be 15 years before William Bartram’s Travels Through North & South Carolina, Georgia, East & West Florida was finally published in 1791. The following year the British edition appeared. Neither garnered particularly raving reviews at the time, though Bartram’s work inspired poets William Wordsworth and Samuel Taylor Coleridge. A copy of the British edition is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

In later generations, naturalists came to value Bartram’s detailed descriptions of the flora and fauna of the southeastern region of the country. And virtually no one cares that he was a dud as a businessman.

Monday, December 13, 2010

Antiquarian book fair began 30 years ago

Yes, that's Slicker in 1978. The photo ran in the Times.
Sarah the Archivist unearthed a clipping the other day that reminded us that the upcoming Florida Antiquarian Book Fair in March will be No. 30.

Whew! Three decades of bringing the best in antique, rare and collectible books together under one roof for Florida book lovers. It gives one pause, doesn't it? But, frankly, we're looking forward to the event. It'll be great to see old friends again.

The photo accompanied a 1978 article in the St. Petersburg Times by Charles Benbow on used bookstores in St. Petersburg at the time. It predates the beginning of the antiquarian book fair by a couple or three years. Charles Benbow was a writer at the Times for a couple of decades. He covered the arts mostly, but also wrote about television and architecture. For many, he was one of the favorite writers at the newspaper and well thought of in the arts community. He passed away in 2003.

The article contrasted the small, individually owned book stores like ours with the big chain-store operations. Benbow's sentiments clearly lay with us little guys. "What can compare with the pleasure of rediscovering your favorite old best-seller," wrote Benbow. "A dusty hardback of Anthony Adverse, Gone With the Wind, The Good Earth or Hawaii can cause a flood of nostalgia aboout the time and place they were first read."

Sadly, some of the establishments mentioned in the article have closed but we're still here and we're looking forward to the book fair in March.

Here's a list of the more than 100 dealers who will be at the antiquarian book fair. You also can send an e-mail to ask for more information about the book fair.

Before that, though, we have a lot of other shows we'll be attending. There are three in January alone: the Sunshine City Antique Show, the Pilot Club of Jacksonville Antiques Show and the Citrus County Book Festival in Dunnellon. More about all of those as we get closer to them.

Meantime, we're still looking through the Lighthouse Books, ABAA archives. No telling what else we'll find.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Uncle Remus, Br'er Rabbit and history

Title page from first edition.
Joel Chandler Harris was in his 30s* when the first Uncle Remus stories were published in the Atlanta Constitution in the summer of 1879. He was an associate editor and took over a humor column for the paper.

Joel Chandler Harris
The response to the adventures of wily Br’er Rabbit and his nemesis, Br’er Fox, was enthusiastic. It wasn’t long before Harris’ columns were reprinted in newspapers around the country. He recieved more than a thousand letters requesting a collection of the stories in book form.

Uncle Remus, His Songs and His sayings. The Folk-Lore of the Old Plantation, was published by D. Appleton and Company in 1881. A first edition of the volume is in our collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

Harris was acclaimed for his ability the capture the dialect of the plantation Negro and his preservation of the folk tales he had heard as a youth living and working on a plantation learning the printers’ trade and journalism.

He gained the following and friendship of President Theodore Roosevelt, Mark Twain and Rudyard Kipling. Ralph Ellison was an admirer, too. Harris is thought to have influenced the work of Enid Blyton, Beatrix Potter, A.A. Milne, Thornton Burgess and Kipling.

Twain used to read from Harris’ work during his lectures. He said the Tar Baby story was particularly popular. Twain must have really appreciated Harris. Literary critic David Carkeet pointed out that Twain liberally lifted conversation and turns of phrase from Harris in the Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, The Mysterious Stranger and other works.

To be sure, Harris had his critics, too. H.L. Mencken thought of him as more of a stenographer for the plantation slaves from whom he learned the stories than a writer. Alice Walker accused him of “stealing a good part of my heritage.” Some scholars doubt a white man could have gained the trust of plantation blacks to collect their folklore. In the 1960s, Harris was critcized for being racist and promoting sterotypes. Even today, academia has largely ignored Harris’ literary contributions.

Still, Joel Chandler Harris has gained a steadily growing following in recent years. An Uncle Remus Museum has opened in Eatonton, Georgia, Harris’ birthplace, and has spawned an Uncle Remus Web site.

Wren’s Nest, his home in the West End section of Atlanta has been preserved and restored as a museum dedicated to Harris and his work. In 1882, Harris bought the farmhouse the family had been renting and had it transformed into a Queen Anne Victorian. One suspects Harris would have loved telecommuting. He is said to have taken the mule-drawn trolley to town from home to pick up his assignments then returned home to write on his porch.

The home acquired the name Wren’s Nest after Harris’ children discovered a wren had built a nest in the mail box and persuaded their father to build a new mail box so as not to disturb the wren. It was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1962.

To many, Uncle Remus remains a beloved character of the Old South and Harris’ collection of African American folktales and his preservation of the trickster tale genre is considered a significant contribution to American literature.

*Scholars still debate whether Harris was born in 1845 or 1848. In any case, today is his birthday.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Robert Frost’s first book

Whose woods these are I think I know.
His house is in the village though;
He will not see me stopping here
To watch his woods fill up with snow.
– Robert Frost, Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

Robert Frost about 1910.
Robert Frost wasn’t much of a farmer but he loved living on a farm. Though he was born in the city (San Francisco), some of his formative years were spent on his grandfather’s farm in Massachusetts. Indeed, much of his poetry seems influenced by his rural life.

His grandfather left him a farm when he died and Robert worked it for a few years but he really wasn’t suited for farming. He wrote poetry and he wanted to make a living doing it. In the end, he sold his farm and moved his family to Great Britain in 1912. The family lived briefly in Glasgow and then settled into a cottage in Beaconsfield, a small town northwest of London.

It was in England, where he found a more receptive audience for his pastoral poetry, that his literary career began to blossom. He met Irish poet William Butler Yeats and American expatriate poets Hilda Doolittle (known as H.D.) and Ezra Pound. His first book, A Boy’s Will, was published by David Nutt in 1913. 

Frost's first book, 1913
Still, Frost was largely unknown in the literary world. His publisher had only 1,000 copies printed and bound them only as needed. One of the earliest copies of this volume is in our collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

It is a remarkable book in near fine condition. It is bound in bronze pebbled cloth and signed on the half-title page by the author. The title and author’s name are gilt-stamped on the front cover. It is thought to be one of less than 350 copies in this earliest binding. The remainder of the edition were bound in batches, and there are four other known bindings.

The book is divided into three parts, with 20 poems on Part I, seven in Part II and five in Part III.  Many of the poems in this book reflect the rural and natural influences on his work, in imagry, at least.

Frost and his family returned to the United States in 1915, and he promptly bought a farm in New Hampshire, where they lived for several years. Rural life, indeed, seemed to suit Robert Frost and feed him creatively. Of course, Frost’s work is far deeper and too full of symbolism to simply be considered a Currier and Ives poet.

Images: Please click to enlarge.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

The characters give us the Dickens

Title page with illustration.
The Christmas season always seems to evoke images of Charles Dickens and Victorian England, probably because of his enormously popular A Christmas Carol, a novel that has firmly established the iconic character of Scrooge and the phrase “Bah! Humbug!” in our culture.

That the story has been told and retold, produced on stage and in the movies, parodied and pilloried, is a testament to Dickens as a consummate storyteller. Indeed, from nearly the beginning of his writing career, Dickens’ work has been well received. Eager Londoners flocked to plunk down their shillings to get the next episode of his serialized first novel, The Pickwick Papers, in 1836.

A year later, The Pickwick Papers came out in book form and was equally sought by readers. There is a rare copy of that first edition in the Lighthouse Books, ABAA collection. It is a book that may give us among the best depictions of the coaching inns of old England.

The premise is simple: Members of a peculiar club experience life in the English countryside of the late 1820s and report back to fellow members about their adventures. They travel by coach and stay in the inns, encountering an amazing array of fascinating characters. This is, after all, Dickens’ primary gift to us, isn’t it? The characters? The humorous characters.

Pickwick, himself, of course. Mr. Samuel Pickwick, Esq., a kind old gentleman of means who conceives the idea for the club in the first place.

Mr. Nathaniel Winkle, his traveling companion and a man so inept with guns he could have been a prototype for a certain former U.S. vice president.

Mr. Augustus Snodgrass, a would-be poet. Mr. Tracy Tupman, a squat man with a self-image of a suave ladies man.

And then, of course, there’s Sam Weller, Mr. Pickwick’s Cockney valet, a character whose wry observations quickly found a following in Victorian London. Weller may have been singularly responsible for the early growth of Dickens’ popularity.

This is a beautiful full tan polished calf volume with gilt-decorated spine. It is extra-illustrated with nine additional plates by Buss and Miller––perhaps just the thing a wealthy Dickens character might have given as a Christmas gift, after a visit from the Ghost of Christmas Past, of course.

Our specialties

Our specialties include Floridiana (Florida History, Florida Authors, Florida Related Ephemera), American History, Literature of the South, Military History (including, but not limited to, Civil War, Spanish-American War, World War I, World War II, Vietnam, Korean War), Children’s Literature, Maps, Leather Bindings and Rare & Unusual items.

We also have a wide variety of general stock, including a large Landscape/Gardening section, a great selection of Christian/Church History/Bible Study titles, Beat Literature, and much more. Please browse our extensive category list.

Appraisal service

Michael F. Slicker, is one of about 450 qualified members of the Antiquarian Booksellers Association of America, Inc., and its affiliate the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers.

Condition of the book, demand for it and history of comparable sales are among the factors considered in evaluating the value of a book. Other factors may apply as well.

Please contact us for more information regarding our certified appraisal services. We encourage you to visit our website, Lighthouse Books, ABAA

Florida Antiquarian Book Fair

Michael Slicker was the founding president of the Florida Antiquarian Booksellers Association and has served as chairman of its annual Florida Antiquarian Book Fair since its inception.

The 36th annual book fair is set for April 21-23, 2017 at The Coliseum in St. Petersburg.

The fair is the oldest and largest antiquarian book fair in the Southeast. Learn more about the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair and the Florida Antiquarian Booksellers Association.

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