Monday, February 28, 2011

History of the Knights of Malta

Blessed Gerard
In 600, Pope Gregory ordered that a hospital be built in Jerusalem for Christian pilgrims visiting the Holy Land, and Christians operated that hospital for about 400 years. Charlemagne even added a library to it.

Then the leader of the Islamic Fatimids, one of the groups opposed to Sunni Muslims, captured Jerusalem, destroyed the hospital and 3,000 other buildings. The Christians who weren’t killed departed hastily.

About 18 years later, merchants from Italian city-state of Amalfi and Salerno got permission from a new Fatimid leader to rebuild the hospital in Jerusalem. Benedictine monks operated it and took in Christian pilgrims once again, and that went on for another 70 years or so until the First Crusade, which tended to inhibit commerce the merchant city-states conducted with Muslim countries and travel by Christians to the Holy Land, unless they were heavily armed.

Now there was an industrious and devout fellow named Gerard who had established a religious order, though scholars still debate exactly where Gerard came from (many say Italy, some say France) or when the order was established (some say before the First Crusade, some say after). Gerard eventally became known as Blessed Gerard, but scholars disagree on many of the details of his life.

What is known is that in 1113, Pope Paschal II approved the new order of hospitallers in Jerusalem founded by him, and that that group, though it has been called by various names over the centuries, still exists today.

A history of the group, titled The History of the Knights of Malta, is the the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA. The two-volume set was published in 1718. The notorious pirate Blackbeard was wreaking havoc along the Carolina coast and the city of New Orleans was established that year.

The book was written by a René-Aubert Vertot, a French priest-historian, who became a member of a French literary society. He also wrote a history of the Swedish revolutions. An anecdote is shared among scholars that after Vertot had finished the Knights of Malta history someone approached him with more information. He is said to have replied, “My siege is finished.”

Critics suggest that reply demonstrates the author’s disregard for historical accuracy. Others dismiss that claim, interpreting the remark as simply a means to dispatch an unwelcome visitor who had documents of dubious value.

The handsome volumes are full of historical detail about the various leaders of the religious order along with engravings of their portraits and maps of their various locations over the years.

The order. under the name the Knights Hospitallers of St. John of Jerusalem, provided care for sick and injured visitors to the Holy Land as well as military support for the First Crusade. The military order Knights Templar, was a contemporary group, and is, perhaps, better known today, owing to books like The Da Vinci Code.

It took the Hospitallers awhile to get to Malta. After the fall of Jerusalem, the order holed up in Tripoli for awhile, then took refuge in Cyprus but got too involved in Cypriot politics and decided to leave. It took two years of battle to get the Byzantine people who were occupying the island of Rhodes to surrender. The Hospitallers built a strong fortress of a city and remained there for 213 years, fighting off periodic attacks from Ottomans and Arab forces, and growing a fleet and battling the Barbary Pirates.

Then in 1522, Sultan Solemn the Magnificent of the Ottoman Empire overwhelmed the Hospitallers, now known as the Knights of Rhodes, with 400 ships and 200,000 men. Half of the Knights were killed. Those who survived were allowed to retreat to Sicily, from which they disbursed throughout Europe.

They begged King Charles V of Spain to give them Malta, which he did. They stayed for 268 years and changed their name to the Knights of Malta. There is legend that in exchange for owning Malta, the Knights were to send Charles one Maltese falcon a year. Dashiell Hammett used that bit of ancient history as a key element in his detective novel, The Maltese Falcon.

For much of the time the Knights occupied Malta, they were fighting Barbary pirates and Turkish shipping interests. The Knights’ fleet became one of the strongest in the Mediterranean. Some scholars suggest that some members essentially became pirates themselves, living off the good they plundered from ships they attacked on the premise that they were carrying Turkish goods. Still, their hospital and religious work continued.

The Knights of Malta departed only when Napoleon took over the island as part of his strategic plan to wage war in Egypt. They lived in obscurity for many years, until Pope Leo XIII took an interest in the order, spurring renewed energy as a humanitarian organization. Its headquarters was established in Rome and its hospital work became its main concern.

Today, the Sovereign Military Order of Malta, is the successor to the Knights of Malta. It is recognized as a sovereign entity by the United Nations andother international bodies, though some scholars dispute its status. In 2008, it established a presence in Malta where it has a 99-year agreement for the use of Fort St. Angelo, an ancient Roman structure that the Knights of Malta had fortified when they arrived in 1530.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Happy birthday, John Steinbeck

John Steinbeck
Today is the birthday of John Steinbeck, author of the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel The Grapes of Wrath. He was born in 1902 in Salinas, California.

His first commercial and critical success came in 1935 with the publication of Tortilla Flat, the story of homeless young Mexican-American men enjoying wine and life in Monterey, California, after World War I. The book was the basis of a 1942 movie starring Spencer Tracy, Hedy Lamarr and John Garfield.

Steinbeck’s best-known work, The Grapes of Wrath, was published in 1939. It told of the plight of Oklahoma sharecroppers during the Depression who are driven from their land by drought and migrate to California.

It received immediate critical acclaim and won the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1940. It was the basis of a 1940 film starring Henry Fonda and directed by John Ford.

Steinbeck’s closest friend was Ed Ricketts, a marine biologist. Ricketts and Steinbeck took a trip in 1940 to the Gulf of California to collect invertebrates for scientific study. They wrote a book based on the trip called Sea of Cortez. Rickets served as the model for characters in some of Steinbeck’s books, including Cannery Row, The Grapes of Wrath, and some of his short stories.

In 1948, Ricketts and Steinbeck planned to go to British Columbia for another book they planned to write together. About a week before the trip, Ricketts was injured when a passenger train struck his car. Ricketts was put in a hospital and Steinbeck returned to California to visit him. Ricketts died shortly before Steinbeck arrived.

Steinbeck was depressed for about a year after his friend’s death. Ricketts strongly influenced Steinbeck’s work, especially his ecological themes. One biographer said that Steinbeck’s work declined after Ricketts died. Critics lauded his 1952 novel, East of Eden, which Steinbeck considered his best work. It was made into a movie starring James Dean in 1955.

In 1960, Steinbeck took a road trip across America with his poodle Charley. His book, Travels with Charley: In Search of America tells of that trip. Steinbeck’s son, Thom, said his father took that trip because he knew he was dying and wanted to see the country again before he died.

Steinbeck received the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1962. On the day the prize was announced, a reporter asked if Steinbeck thought he deserved the prize. Replied Steinbeck: “Frankly, no.”

Happy birthday, poet Longfellow

It is the birthday of poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, best known for the works Paul Revere's Ride, Evangeline and The Song of Hiawatha. He is considered by some to be the best loved American poet. Here is a poem by Longfellow:

The Arrow and the Song

I shot an arrow into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For, so swiftly it flew, the sight
Could not follow it in its flight.

I breathed a song into the air,
It fell to earth, I knew not where;
For who has sight so keen and strong,
That it can follow the flight of a song?

Long, long afterward, in an oak
I found the arrow, still unbroke;
And the song, from beginning to end;
I found again in the heart of a friend.

Download a PDF of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's poems.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Happy birthday, Victor Hugo

Victor Hugo
It is the birthday of Victor Hugo, the French poet, novelist and playwright. Born in 1802, he is best known in America for two novels, Les Miserables and The Hunchback of Notre Dame. In France, he was best known for his poetry. Indeed, some call him France’s greatest poet.

Some of his best known poems were written after the death of his eldest daughter at age 19, drowned in a boating accident. He was deeply affected by his daughter’s passing.

Aspiring writers should take heart. It took Hugo 17 years to finish what was perhaps his greatest novel, Les Misérables, a book about social justice. The novel was instantly popular in France, though it received mostly negative newspaper reviews. The French National Assembly addressed the issues raised in the book very promptly.

Hugo was in self-imposed exile when he wrote the book, living on the British Island of Guernsey in the English Channel. Hugo left France when Napoleon III came to power in 1851. He didn’t return to his homeland for 19 years.

The publishing of Les Misérables is said to have prompted the shortest correspondence in history. When Hugo learned it had been published, he wrote a single-symbol message to his publisher: “?” The publisher replied:”!”

Hugo died in 1885 at the age of 83. He is buried in the Pantheon in Paris in a crypt with two other literary luminaries, Émile Zola and Alexandre Dumas.

Hugo’s work heavily influenced Charles Dickens, Fyordor Dostoevsky and Albert Camus.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Where the Bard found his stories

William Shakespeare
Every great writer needs good, solid source material. Harper Lee had her childhood, Truman Capote had a sensational murder case in a small town and Shakespeare had Holinshed’s Chronycles.

This ambitious history of England, Scotland and Ireland was published in 1577. A copy of it in two thick volumes is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA. It will be on display at the Florida Antiquarian Book Fair in March.

There isn’t a whole lot known about Raphael Holinshed, except that he, along with other contributors, created this massive history of Great Britain. The late historian Vernon Snow has declared that Holinshed was a Cambridge-educated translator but no one has found any other work by him and nothing is known of what else he might have done.

What is known is that Holinshed went to work for a London printer who had a grand vision to create a comprehensive history of the known world from the Great Flood to the reign of Queen Elizabeth I. The printer, Reginald Wolfe, conceived his massive project in 1548 and worked on it by himself for a time. Eventually he realized that he needed help and hired Holinshed and a clergyman named William Harrison. But Wolfe died in 1548 and the book still wasn’t finished.

Wolfe left the project under the direction of three associates in the printing business. They hired Holinshed who in turn hired Harrison, Richard Stanyhurst, an Irish poet and historian; Edmund Campion, a Jesuit priest who eventually became a saint; and John Hooker, a writer and antiquarian. The scope of the work was reduced to focus only on Great Britain.

Finally, in 1577, the book was published as The Chronycles of Englande, Scotlande and Irelande. There were several subsequent editions of the book, including some without passages on Ireland censored by the British Privy Council. Apparently the council took exception to some of Stanyhurst’s contributions. It was not until 1758 that the work acquired the name Holinshed’s Chronycles.

The first volume contains the histories of England, Scotland and Ireland. The second focuses specifically on the lives of some of the English royalty, including Queen Mary, several of the Henrys, Edwards and Richards.

Scholars say Shakespeare relied heavily on the book as he wrote his histories, as well as MacBeth and King Lear, though it is unlikely that the book was his only source. Academic authorities think he probably used the writings of  Sir Thomas More and the Italian historian Virgil as well.

What is clear is that Shakespeare used Holinshed’s Chronycles not only to plot his various works but also to add texture to characters. For instance, in Richard II, a superstitious Welch Captain worries about withered bay trees being the sign of doom. Holinshed reports that in 1399, “old bay trees withered and, afterward, contrary to all men’s thinking, grew green again: a strange sight, and supposed to import some unknown event.”

In another instance, Shakespeare appears to have borrowed directly from Holinshed, using dialogue found in the earlier work with but little change. Holinshed wrote: "The proclamation ended, another herald cried: "Behold here Henry of Lancaster Duke of Hereford, appellant, which is entered into the lists royal to do his devoir against Thomas Mowbray Duke of Norfolk, defendant, upon pain to be found false and recreant!"

Shakespeare wrote:
Harry of Hereford, Lancaster, and Derby,
Stands here for God, his sovereign, and himself,
On pain to be found false and recreant,
To prove the Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Mowbray,
A traitor to his God, his king, and him,
And dares him to set forward to the fight.
(Richard II 1.3.104-9)
Some scholars caution that the massive history may be suspect in its accuracy, noting that some of Holinshed’s sources may have been less than objective accounts. But aside from the historical content, the books offer an interesting glimpse into the world of Elizabethan publishing, a period apparently marked by the great love for blackletter typography.

The title pages and some incidental typography use a more readable font that may be an ancestor of Times Roman. But most of the narrative is set in the sort of font you associate with the word “Christmas” in Merry Olde Englande. It is a typeface most designers today would agree should be used sparingly.

The volumes are filled with copious black and white illustrations depicting wars, beheadings, stake burnings, weddings, coronations and other manner of activities that kept the royals and their subjects entertained and occupied over the centuries.

William Shakespeare must have drooled.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

A broadside from Waterloo

About six weeks after the end of the famous Battle of Waterloo in 1815, prominent London publisher Rudolph Ackermann published a handcolored broadside detailing the battle in which the French Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte was defeated.

It was presented to Prince Frederick, Duke of York and Albany, who was commander-in-chief of the British Army at the time and credited with organizing the nation’s forces that enabled the British to defeat the French. A matted and framed copy of the broadside is in the collection of rare and unusual items at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

The sheet shows the positions of British, Prussian, Belgian and French troops near the Belgian town of Waterloo. The French Army was under the command of Napoleon, who had returned to power in France earlier that year, causing unrest throughout other countries in Europe. The Duke of Wellington commanded the armies of the Seventh Coalition, an allied group of like-minded countries that knew Napoleon’s return to power was not good news.

The broadside details the troop movements for a four-day period leading up to the key battle on Sunday, June 18, 1815. It is the handiwork of a Lt. Tyler, who was a member of 2nd Guards Brigade under the command of Major-General Sir John Byng. Evidently, Lt. Tyler had sufficient time to take copious notes after the decisive battle.

Rudolph Ackermann, the publisher, had a reputation for producing fine color plate books. He was proprietor of an establishment called The Repository of the Arts, which in addition to his publishing business, housed the only public library for the arts in London.

Ackermann was a stickler for detail. He trained his workers to delicately hand color the plates in his books. He contracted with prominent printing firm of L. Harrison & J.C. Leigh to print the broadside.

During the French Revolution, Ackermann hired French émigrés to work in his shop. It is not known whether any of them handcolored the Battle of Waterloo sheet but it is certainly possible.

Monday, February 21, 2011

She left her print on Colonial America

Anne Catherine Green, painted by Peale
Anne Catherine Green is the sort of woman they ought to make a movie about – a widow left with 14 children and a struggling printing company in Colonial America supports the rebellion, saves her late husband’s business and achieves success in her own right.

When Green’s husband, Jonas, died in 1767, she carried on her husband’s printing business, including publishing the Maryland Gazette, a newspaper that carried notable attacks on British policy in the tumultuous days before the American Revolution. She also was the Maryland colony’s official printer, producing books, pamphlets, almanacs––and money. Colonies printed their own money then and Green was contracted to print currency for Maryland.

An example of Green’s printing is part of a framed display of authentic American colonial currency that is part of the collection of rare and unusual items at Lighthouse Books, ABAA. (It appears in the slide show above.) Interestingly, the Sixth of a Dollar note includes the legend “Printed by A.C. And F. Green.” By law in male-dominated Colonial America, the name of the man who printed the currency had to appear on it. Green added the name of her son, Frederick, to the note to make it legal.

Upon her husband’s death, Green began tightening up the lax receivables in the printing business and paid off her husband’s creditors within three years. When her husband died, Green added the name of her oldest son, William, to the masthead of the Maryland Gazette, but then he died in 1770. After that, Frederick, helped with the newspaper and the printing business. Only six of Green’s 14 children lived to become adults.

Anne Catherine became prominent and successful in the Maryland colony. She commissioned a portrait by Charles Willson Peale, the prolific artist who painted such American luminaries as Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, Alexander Hamilton, Thomas Jefferson and John Hancock. In the portrait, the words “Annapolis printer to …” appear on a paper she holds. It is a reference to the act by the Maryland legislature choosing her to succeed her husband as the colony’s official printer.

The American colonists had a tough time with money––mainly they didn’t have enough of it, and the British Parliament wasn’t doing anything to help. Early on they just traded things: you had beaver pelts you exchanged them tobacco and musket balls.

Colonists liked gold and silver coins but most of them came from Spain and Portugal, and were brought in by pirates. Massachusetts even minted coins briefly but finally the various colonies got around to printing money. Massachusetts also issued the first American paper money in 1690––to pay soldiers to fight the French in Canada.

By the time of the American Revolution, colonists had gotten a lot better at printing money. The slide show above depicts the various colonial notes in the display of early American currency. A description of them follows:

New Jersey Colonial Note of 1764
Fifteen shilling note printed by James Parker in the hamlet of Woodbridge. The King’s Arms were prominent.

Delaware Colonial Note of 1776
Although printed January 1, 1776, this note bears the King’s Arms. Two signers of the note, McKinley and Collins, became governors of the new state of Delaware. The third signer, B. Marlowe, deserted to British loyalists in New Jersey by rowing across the Delaware before he signed all the bills. Rebel James Sykes completed the signing assignments.

Continental Currency 1775 and 1779
First and last Continental notes. The Latin phrase is translated: “Either death or an honorable life on the first notes. The Latin on the 1779 note translates “The end is in doubt.” This note is the only one to be printed in red and black. All Continentl issues were printed by Hall and Sellers in Philadelphia and this paper money depreciated so rapidly that the phrase “Not worth a Continental” became common.

Pennsylvania Colonial Notes of 1760
All Pennsylvania issues from 1723-1764 were printed by Benjamin Franklin and David Hall. One note is signed by Charles Thomson, Secretary of the Continental Congress and the original signer of the Declaration of Independence, along with John Hancock that was sent to George III. “Death to Counterfeiters” was a phrase on most paper money but did not discourage such practices.

Delaware Colonial Note – June 1, 1759
The early issue of “The Three Lower Counties” (of Pennsylvania) printed by Benjamin Franklin and David Hall. When creased money was torn, the pieces were held together with a pin, hence, the term “pin money” originated. This paper currency was printed to raise money for the colonists’ participation in the French and Indian War.

Pennsylvania Colonial Notes of 1773
Printed by Hall and Sellers, this money bears the Penn family coat of arms.

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Friday, February 18, 2011

If you're reading this, thank Dick and Jane

The Big Book is about 19 inches by 25 inches.
After McGuffey Readers and before Hooked on Phonics, there was Dick and Jane.

Millions of adults of a certain age remember Dick and Jane well. For many, they were the first introduction to books, to stories that didn’t appear on radio or television or in the movies.

From the 1930s through the 1960s, Dick and Jane books were the standard teaching text for beginning readers in schools throughout the nation. Oh, sure. Some places had Alice and Jerry and Jip, but by far the more ubiquitous reader was Dick and Jane (and the dog named Spot, an altogether more suitable name for a dog than Jip.)

Dick and Jane lived an idyllic middle American life in a quiet neighborhood, uncomplicated by the harsh realities of modern living. The stories were simple, of course, especially at the beginning. They grew progressively more difficult as a child moved through the series.

These were basal readers, textbooks designed to teach reading. A basal series usually came with pre-primers and primers for students, word cards, charts, tests and records, a teacher’s edition and a large version, called the Big Book, for use in front of the classroom. An example of the Big Book is in the collection of rare and unusual items at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

Over the decades, the clothing for Dick and Jane changed, as did their pets and playmates. Early on they had a kitten named Spot but soon the kitten’s name became Mew, and then Puff by the 1950s. The dog at first was a terrier named Happy but eventually became a Cocker Spaniel named Spot.

Dick and Jane were siblings about the same age. They had a little sister named Sally. They were little white children and there was no diversity in their world. It was not until 1965 that an African-American family moved in next door and Dick and Jane had new playmates, Mike and his twin sisters Pam and Penny.

The books were as simple as the storyline. Each page contained a colorful illustration that helped move the plot forward and a few words in huge Century Schoolbook typeface. And repetition, the foundation of those basal readers.

Look, Jane.
Look, Dick.
See funny Sally.
Funny, funny Sally.

The plots involved simple everyday activities to which the young readers could relate. Playing with an umbrella. Playing dress up. Rollerskating down the sidewalk. In one episode, Dick puts a harness on Spot and goes for a wild ride under puppy power.

The basal readers received their share of criticism by proponents of a phonics-based reading system. Although the Dick and Jane series did not totally ignore phonics, the emphasis was on sight word reading and repetition.

The series, published by Scott, Foresman and Company, and the Alice and Jerry series, published by Row, Peterson and Company, eventually fell out of favor.

Still, millions of Americans today have fond memories of learning to read with Dick and Jane.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

The St. Petersburg Piers of the past

The St. Petersburg Pier is back in the news with Darryl LeClair, a real estate developer, unveiling plans the other day for a downtown beach, an amusement ride and an amphitheater.

The Pier in St. Petersburg has had a rich and varied history. Actually, there have been several piers, including a railroad pier that was the terminus for the Orange Belt Railroad that Peter Demens finally finished.

Over the years, piers have come and gone. We thought it would be interesting to browse the vintage post cards in the collection at Lighthouse Books, ABAA to see what the old piers and the pier area looked like.

Whether a staunch supporter of the inverted pyramid or wholeheartedly embrace something, anything but, the pyramid, or long for the days of the Million Dollar pier with its Mediterranean-style ambiance, you're certain to find something here of interest.

We'll guess that almost no one wants to return to the days of the rickety railroad pier, although you'll have to admit the fishing looks pretty good.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Lew Brown and the Sunshine Offer

Lew B. Brown
It was the summer of 1927. Lew Brown, the legendary publisher of St. Petersburg’s afternoon newspaper, the Evening Independent, was at the eye doctor. He needed more than glasses. He had glaucoma in one eye and a growing cataract in the other. He might lose his eyesight.

At 65, the hard-driving editor, had a decision to make – would he give up his career? Retire? It would be tough for the energetic booster of St. Petersburg, originator of the celebrated Sunshine Offer that declared the Evening Independent would be free any day the sun didn’t shine in St. Petersburg, the man who coined the phrase “Sunshine City.”

After all, he was the man who had pushed for making the Pinellas Peninsula a separate county from Hillsborough and then pushed to get a paved road built to connect Upper Pinellas to St. Petersburg. He was the man who had organized the Pinellas Home Guard when World War I began (earning him the rank of major), the man who campaigned for building a electric new pier when the old one was severely damaged in a hurricane.

He was a man of decision. He decided to officially turn over the leadership of his newspaper to his son, Chauncey, who essentially had been running the newspaper for years anyway. He and his wife Mollie left on vacation. They went to Canada, then to Moosehead Lake, Maine. He hiked the mountains, went on a canoe outing with his chauffeur-houseboy, fell into cold water, rescued the chauffeur-houseboy, went missing in the wilderness, unsuccessfully tried to walk logs like a lumberjack, got rescued – and, finally, wished he’d never left St. Petersburg and his beloved Evening Independent.

By Thanksgiving that year he was back at his old job, representing the paper in the community. He was a speaker at the dedication of the new pier. But the Florida Boom was over and real estate advertising started slipping. Still, there were bright spots. In December 1927, there was a celebration of 365 days of sunshine in St. Petersburg. There was a big parade. The next day it rained and the Evening Independent published a free edition.

Brown’s granddaughter, Marion Zaiser, tells this story in her biography of her grandfather, The Beneficent Blaze: With Brown’s eyesight not as strong as it had been, his wife Mollie started reading to him. One night after she had been reading him some poetry, she said, “Mr. Brown, I do wish you’d have a collection of your poems published.” Brown had written poetry for many years. As he worked as  printer's apprentice, he had poems published in various newspaper. Mollie had collected scraps of paper on which he had scribbled verses over the years.

First edition published in 1928.
In 1928, A Bit of Lace and Other Poems was published. A copy of the first edition is in the collection of rare and unusual books at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

One of the poems in the book is "Sunshine City Sunshine (A Song)." According to Zaiser, St. Petersburg’s appellation as the Sunshine City came about this way: Shortly after Brown bought the paper in 1909, he was working one day when his printer brought him page proofs showing that there was some space to fill.

Brown had put aside a poem he had written three months earlier, after a fishing trip to Pass-A-Grille. It was titled “When All The Time Is Summer.”

Brown didn’t think that would do. He wanted something catchier. He stared out the window at the midmorning glare, thinking the sand in the railroad bed must be scorching. The sun was everywhere. He scrawled an idea across the top of a sheet: The Sunshine City.

The reaction was immediate: most people loved it. Other Florida newpapers chided him a bit. He figured he was onto something. He tried unsuccessfully to copyright the phrase. He started using it in news stories and editorials.

Sunshine City Sunshine (Click to enlarge).
Once there were rumors the Barnum and Bailey Circus would make its winter headquarters in Tampa. (It eventually settled in Sarasota.) Brown ordered a feature story about P.T. Barnum. When he read the story, a quotation of “the world’s greatest showman” resonated with him. “Any man who should connect his advertising with the weather would make a ten-strike.”

Brown hit upon an idea. To show people everywhere that the city had more days of sunshine than anywhere else, Brown was willing to bet his paper on it. He vowed to give away the Evening Independent any day the sun didn’t shine in St. Petersburg.

People tried to persuade him of the lunacy of the idea, predicting he’d go bankrupt. Exclaimed his wife, Mollie, “Mr. Brown, I do believe you’ve had a sun stroke!”

But Brown went ahead with the offer despite the dire warnings. Six weeks after he announced the offer, Brown had to make good on it. A tropical storm from the Caribbean cast dark skies over St. Petersburg – for two days in a row. Brown wondered at times if he’d made a terrible mistake and prayed for guidance.

In the end, people got extra papers and sent them to their friends in the north. The New York Herald-Tribune ran a Sunday feature about the Sunshine Offer. “That’ll be reprinted in nearly all the nation’s big city newspapers Some fourteen million subscribers will see it, ” Brown said. Mail arrived addressed only to “Evening Independent, Sunshine City.”

Brown’s gamble had paid off.

The local Board of Trade produced a brochure that included Brown’s “Sunshine City Sunshine” printed on the back cover. Brown’s boosterism had caught on . St. Petersburg was officially The Sunshine City.

Major Lew B. Brown thanked God.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Happy birthday, Charles, Sinclair and Laura

Charles Dickens, Sinclair Lewis, Laura Ingalls Wilder
You could call it the trifecta of literary birthdays. Today is the birthday of Charles Dickens, Sinclair Lewis and Laura Ingalls Wilder.

Dickens was born in 1812. His novels of social commentary and fascinating characters were among the most popular in Victorian England. Not long ago we featured a rare first edition of his 1836 novel, The Pickwick Papers.

He popularized serialization, chapters of his books being published in magazines. He wrote new chapters even as the previous ones were being published. His books have never been out of print. He inspired G.K. Chesterton and Leo Tolstoy.

Sinclair Lewis was born in 1885. Lewis’ social commentary focused on middle America and the ills of capitalism. He was known for strong characters as well, especially women. He was the first American to receive the Nobel Prize for Literature. He also was awarded the Pulitzer Prize, which he refused to accept.

His novel Main Street, about small-town life, was a best seller. His 1922 satire on American culture, Babbitt, also was set in a small town, the fictional Zenith in the fictional state of Winnemac. It was also the setting for four other books, including Elmer Gantry and Arrowsmith, both of which were filmed as movies.

Laura Ingalls Wilder was born in 1867. Her book Little House in the Big Woods was based on her childhood in an American pioneer family. Her family’s experience homesteading in Kansas was depicted in her novel Little House on the Prairie, the basis of the popular television series.
Her books have never been out of print.

Happy birthday to three great contributors to the world of literature.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

1845 Florida map: Spanish land grants

This 1845 map of Florida was published in Germany.
When the Spanish came back to Florida the second time, the government tried with some success to get settlers to establish ranches and homesteads. The Spanish crown granted vast tracts of land to soldiers and others who had served the king.

When the United States acquired Florida in 1821, the government agreed to honor all Spanish ownership of lands the king had given to individuals, providing the land actually been settled and worked. As might be expected, there were numerous claims for land, many of which ended up in court for decades. 

Three disputed claims that ultimately went to the United States Supreme Court were the Arredondo Grant, which includes Micanopy and Paynes Prairie (and a smaller claim where Fort Myers is today), the Delepines Grant near Cape Canaveral and the Mirandas Grant, which includes parts of present-day Hillsborough, Manatee, Hardee and Polk counties.  All three are shown on this 1845 map in the colletion at Lighthouse Books, ABAA.

We’re at the Miami Map Fair through the weekend. The map fair is at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida. Here an article from the Latin American Herald Tribune on the Miami Map Fair. We'd be delighted if you stop by to see us at the fair.

Please click the map image to enlarge it.

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Friday, February 4, 2011

1772 hand-colored map of West Florida

1772 map by John Lodge is part of the Lighthouse Books, ABAA collection. Please click to enlarge.

We’re at the Miami Map Fair this weekend at the Historical Museum of Southern Florida, so it’s a perfect time to talk maps. The one you see here is particularly interesting. It shows West Florida in 1772. Of course, any student of Florida history knows that most of what the British called West Florida wasn’t Florida at all. Rather it was the coastal parts of Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama, with a little sliver by Pensacola thrown in.

Be that as it may, here’s the story of this map. John Lodge was a prolific London mapmaker and highly regarded engraver who produced maps for several publishers who needed them for their books and periodicals. In February 1772, one of Lodge’s clients published his magnificent map titled A Map of Part of West Florida. That is the hand-colored map you see on this page.

The periodical Lodge created this map for was The Gentleman’s Magazine or Monthly Intelligencer (yes, that was the full name), a monthly collection of tidbits and longer articles that the publisher thought might interest the educated classes in London.

An enterprising fellow named Edward Cave started the publication in 1731 and became very wealthy as a result. He was the first to use the term magazine (meaning a storehouse) for a periodical. By the time Cave died in 1754, The Gentleman’s Magazine was quite successful. Cave was succeeded first by his son, Richard and then by David Henry, who was running it in 1772.

When this map appeared it would be four years before the beginning of the American Revolution. The British had high hopes for this new land called Florida that they had acquired from Spain in 1763. They encouraged settlers with incentives of free land and support for growing export crops like indigo, sugar cane and hemp.

New Orleans came under Spanish rule in 1763. It was a thriving city, having been established by the French a half century earlier. But the area that would become Baton Rouge was sparsely populated. Clearly there were plans for development, though. The full name on the map: A Map of Part of West Florida, from Pensacola to the Mouth of the Iberville River, with a View to show the proper Spot for a Settlement on the Mississippi. Comprehensive title.

The Miami Map Fair runs through Sunday. Hope to see you there.

Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Lois Lenski and the Marjorie Rawlings book

When the Whippoorwill
First edition, 1940
It’s not terribly surprising that Lois Lenski, who was known for writing children’s books with a regional flavor, would have a copy of Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’ When the Whippoorwill in her collection. A first edition with Lenski’s signature on the front flyleaf is in the Lighthouse Books, ABAA collection of interesting and unusual books.

Lois Lenski
Lois Lenski
Lenski, whose Strawberry Girl won the Newbery Medal in 1946, would surely have been interested in Rawlings’ tales of Florida’s Scrub Country. After all, Rawlings’ book includes such prize-winning works as her novelette, Jacob’s Ladder, and her short story Gal Young Un, both of which contain the sort of regional speech patterns that interested Lenski.

When Rawlings’ book came out in 1940, Lenski and her husband, Arthur Covey, were still living on a farm in Connecticut. They had been there for about 11 years and had been raising Covey’s two children from a previous marriage, Margaret and Laird along with their own son, Stephen.

At that point, Lenski had been illustrating books for others and writing and illustrating her own for nearly two decades. By then, she had published 22 books, including some children’s historical novels. But the books for which she would be widely known were yet to come.

Lenski’s ill health in the early 1940s prompted she and her husband to spend winters in the south, first in Louisiana and then in Florida. Their travels exposed Lenski to lifestyles quite unlike her own. She was particularly interested in how the children in different regions lived. Her investigations led to Bayou Suzette, published in 1943, the story of a young white girl living in the Louisiana bayou country and her friendship with an orphaned Indian girl.

That was followed in 1945 by Strawberry Girl, the story of a young Florida Cracker girl whose family battles nature and neighbors to build a strawberry farm in the wilderness. There followed 15 more books in the American Regional Series.

Lenski wrote her name on her book. Click to enlarge.
Lenski would have been fascinated by Rawlings’ tales, especially as they depicted life in inland Florida in the 1920s and 1930s. Jacob’s Ladder, the novelette that won her a cash award from Scribner’s, was first published in Scribner’s magazine in 1931. It tells the story of a young backwoods couple and their struggle against a hurricane. Gal Young Un is the story of a spinster running a farm who is exploited by a fast-talking man from the city who marries her for her property and her inheritance.

None of these or the other stories in When the Whippoorwill focus on children, though, but it’s likely Lenski found the tales of life in the piney woods worth her time nevertheless. And evidently she didn't want to lose it. She wrote her name on the front flyleaf the way people do when they lend a book to a friend but don't want them to forget where it came from. Interestingly, no bookplate for Lois Lenski. Just a simple signature in pencil.

Lenski and her husband spent many winters in Florida. They finally built a house in Tarpon Springs in 1951, only a couple of years before Rawlings died. It’s not clear whether Lenski and Rawlings ever met, though it’s unlikely.

Lenski and her husband lived in the house on Roosevelt Boulevard on The Canal off of Tarpon Bayou, where she wrote and he painted and sketched. Arthur Covey died 1958. Lois Lenski died at her home in 1974 at the age of 80.

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