Category Archives: Books
A strange title for a blog post and a strange wording to find on the front board of a book. It turns up on various Albatross books produced in the period around 1950 when the business was casting around, looking for a way to succeed in the very different publishing conditions after the war.
Albatross had been hugely successful before the war, publishing English language paperbacks in Continental Europe, defeating and effectively taking over, the long established Tauchnitz business. But attempts to revive the brand after the war faltered in the face of difficult market conditions and strong competition from British and American paperbacks, including of course Penguin Books.
In 1948 the business seems to have tried a different approach, having a range of titles bound up in a creamy coloured card binding, almost a sort of false vellum, and probably using existing unsold paperback stock. These were then given a standard Albatross dustwrapper , which in the post-war period showed the name of the local sales partner company, varying by country. All of the copies in this style that I have seen, have a dustwrapper from either Norway, Sweden or Denmark although they may have been sold elsewhere as well.
The front and back boards have an intricate blind stamped frame with on the front the title in the middle, the date 1948 in Roman numerals at the top, and the Latin phrase ‘Io Diomedeæ et Amicorum’ at the bottom. It’s not immediately clear what this means and a quick Internet search brings up a description of a similar book and the suggestion that the phrase translates as ‘I like pie’.
That seems hardly likely, and a more promising search result shows a similar phrase ‘Io Grolierii et Amicorum’, used by Jean Grolier de Servières, a famous bibliophile from the sixteenth century. He had his books bound in a range of fine bindings with this phrase as an inscription on the front board. It translates as ‘ For the use of Jean Grolier and his friends’.
So the Albatross binding it seems is some kind of reference or tribute to Jean Grolier. That’s confirmed by the Wikipedia entry on Grolier, which shows illustrations of some of his books, including strapwork designs very similar to the Albatross cover design. That leaves little doubt that this is a ‘Grolier binding’, albeit very much a poor man’s version of it.
But who might have produced such a binding and why? And if Diomedeæ refers to a person, who is it? In the Greek legends, Diomedes was a warrior in the Trojan War and one of the main characters in the Iliad.
The answer though is far simpler. Albatrosses are seabirds in the family Diomedeidae. The Latin name for the Wandering Albatross is Diomedea Exulans. So ‘Io Diomedeæ et Amicorum’ means ‘For the use of The Albatross and his friends’.
It’s unclear how successful or how widely used this binding was, but Albatross was certainly struggling as a business at this time. Over the next few years it tried various different things in order to survive, including other types of hard binding. In 1951 though it came back to Grolier for a rather more luxurious binding. The copy that I have is on Albatross volume 583 – ‘London belongs to me’ by Norman Collins, but it seems to have been used for other volumes as well, including volume 600.
This time the boards have a rather different strapwork design in colour, but still clearly in the Grolier style, with that same phrase at the bottom and with a central arabesque that refers back to the same source (see the image of a Grolier design above). The book has a glassine jacket, printed on the flaps, and an elaborate design of spine, with more arabesques, the albatross symbol and at the base, the name ‘Torriani’.
The Legatoria Torriani was one the largest Italian bookbinders for most of the twentieth century, based in Milan up until 1960. By 1950 the Albatross company was based in Rome and this book was printed in Verona, so Torriani would have been a natural choice of binder. The owners may well have had an interest in the history of bookbinding and Grolier had spent several years in Milan as an aide to the French Court. While there he had met Aldus Manutius, the founder of the Aldine Press and he had used local bookbinders for many of the books in his library.
Whether the suggestion to use Grolier as the inspiration for a series of Albatross bindings came in the first place from Torriani or from Albatross or from elsewhere, we may never know. But the resulting books now provide rather a nice memorial to both Grolier and Albatross.
Almost all Services Editions are paperbacks, mostly very thin, cheap paperbacks on poor quality wartime paper. Apart from the need to reduce costs in wartime, there was also the practical matter of fitting into a battledress pocket.
So what are we to make of the Harrap Services Editions, a hardback series issued towards the end of the war? These are not only hardbacks, but some of them very substantial books, certainly not pocket size.
Of course there were hardback books in Service libraries throughout the war. Many of the early books were donated by the public and came in all shapes and sizes, as well as being on all manner of topics, many of them of little interest to their intended readers. On the other hand it was precisely because many of the donated books were unsuitable, that the new series of paperback Services Editions were launched in 1943.
Those paperbacks were a huge success and were so widely read and passed around that many of them simply disintegrated, one of the factors making them so scarce today. Some units developed their own solutions, providing homemade hard bindings to make them last a little longer. But perhaps as the war moved towards an end in 1945, it became clear that there was a need for something more durable.
Did the armed forces commission a series of hardbacks from Harrap, or was it an initiative from the publisher? By 1945 the dominance of the two long series of paperback Services Editions, from Collins and from Guild Books, was coming to an end. Several other publishers were starting to produce Services Editions, presumably under some sort of contract with the Services that at least enabled them to access the necessary paper ration. But I suspect individual publishers still had a fair amount of discretion over exactly what they published as Services Editions.
In the case of Harrap, all they seem to have done is take some of the books that they were publishing anyway and stamp Services Edition on the front cover. There is nothing in the printing history that suggests a specific printing for the services. The only evidence that they are Services Editions at all is that stamp on the front board. Nor is there any evidence that they were a series in the normal sense. They come in all shapes and sizes and all types of book. The five examples I have come across include two spy novels by Helen MacInnes, an oilfield novel by Robert Sturgis, the semi-fictionalised account of life in Thailand that later formed the basis for the musical ‘The King and I’, and a biography of General Allenby, a military leader. Are there many others?
Four of these five books were printed in 1945, and the fifth in 1946. Judging by the scarcity of the books today, the numbers printed (or the numbers of those printed that were stamped “Services Edition”) must have been small. Almost all Services Editions are now difficult to find, even those paperbacks printed in editions of 50,000 copies. But while it’s relatively easy to make 50,000 poor quality paperbacks disappear, that seems more difficult with hardbacks. If even 5,000 copies of each book were printed, you might expect several hundred to have survived. But if they have, I don’t know where they are.
Two of the copies I have show clear evidence of Services use. One other has the half-title torn out, often seen with Services Editions, presumably to remove evidence of Services ownership. So unlike some later Services Editions, they do at least seem to have reached their intended market.
I’d love to hear from anyone who knows anything more about these unusual and rather surprising books.
I used to work for a company, Eagle Star Insurance, which claimed to have been founded in 1807. It was useful for an insurance company to have been around for a long time. It gave you more confidence that it might still be around when you came to make a claim, or when your 30 year pension policy finally matured.
The claim was nonsense, really. Eagle Star had actually been founded by Edward Mountain as the British Dominions Marine Insurance Company in 1904. It later bought up older companies, including the Eagle Insurance Company (founded in 1807) and the Star, before renaming itself as the Eagle, Star and British Dominions in 1917. Twenty years later it dropped the British Dominions bit to become just Eagle Star, and adopted the history of the Eagle company, as well as its name. In my time there, Eagle Star employed an archivist and had a small museum with such treasures as an insurance policy issued to Charles Dickens.
But when Eagle Star in turn was bought up by Zurich Insurance Company, that history was no longer wanted. Zurich had a little earlier celebrated the 125th anniversary of its founding in Zurich in 1872 and had its own museum. It had no interest in tracing new roots back to London 65 years earlier. The Eagle Star museum was closed and a new home was sought for the archive. It ended up in the City of London’s Guildhall Library, where it still is, including that Dickens policy.
Publishing is another industry, like insurance, where large numbers of companies have been amalgamated into a small number of modern conglomerates. So when HarperCollins, a business that has been around for less than 30 years, announces that it is celebrating its 200th anniversary, it’s a reasonable question to ask exactly what it is that goes back 200 years. For example, Thomas Nelson, one of the many publishing companies belonging to HarperCollins, was founded in Edinburgh in 1798. It could have celebrated its 200th anniversary almost 20 years ago. ‘William Collins, Sons’ was founded in Glasgow in 1819, so still has two years to wait.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the company that dates back 200 years is the American firm of J & J Harper. I suppose they’re regarded as the company that came out on top in the various mergers, and it’s the winners who get to write the history. So the history of HarperCollins starts in 1817. And it has to be said that it’s an impressive history, showcased in their wonderful anniversary website at http://200.hc.com/
The business has combined so many publishing companies over the years that the list of books first published by its various subsidiaries is long and includes many titles that have become part of the culture. William Collins was Agatha Christie‘s publisher for most of her books, J. B. Lippincott was the publisher of ‘To kill a mockingbird’ and Lippincott’s Magazine saw the first publication of the Sherlock Holmes novel ‘The sign of (the) four’. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings was first published by George Allen and Unwin, C.S. Lewis’s early Narnia books were published by Geoffrey Bles, and Harper Brothers published American classics such as ‘A tree grows in Brooklyn’, ‘Charlotte’s Web’, and later ‘The Exorcist’. All of these are now part of HarperCollins. It has collected history as if it were collecting stamps.
So Happy Birthday, HarperCollins, and congratulations on your first 200 years … or so.
If you spend some time looking for, or looking at, Tauchnitz Editions, it won’t be long before you come across one or two that are bound in vellum, with old albumen tourist photos of Italy bound in at various places throughout the text. They’re often attractively decorated on the front cover, sometimes very elaborately, and often still in relatively good condition for books that are well over 100 years old. Booksellers seem to have very little idea of how to value them, and I’ve seen them for sale at prices varying from two or three pounds to many hundreds of pounds.
From a book collector’s point of view they’re a nuisance. The same titles are found over and over again, almost all Italian-themed novels or travel books, almost always reprints and usually with the half-title page missing. Or anyway from my point of view, as someone who collects Tauchnitz first printings, they’re a nuisance. I guess there may be some book collectors who find them more interesting than the standard unadorned Tauchnitz editions. I assume most of the copies priced in the hundreds of pounds go unsold, but there may be some buyers out there to justify the high prices.
The most famous Tauchnitz collectors of all, William Todd and Ann Bowden, who compiled the Tauchnitz bibliography, did have some time for them, if only as a curiosity. Alongside their main Tauchnitz collection, which ended up at the British Museum, they put together a separate collection of the extra-illustrated editions, which is now at the Princeton University Library.
The books seem to have been produced and sold as travel souvenirs, to some extent almost as guide books, with tourists visiting the sites mentioned in the stories. Although produced in huge numbers, each book seems to be almost a one-off, with no two copies identical. The cover designs all seem to be slightly different, and the choice of photographs is always different too, as is the number of photographs, which can range up to almost 100. Did customers design their own book in some way, making their own choice of photographs and of design, possibly pasting photographs onto blank leaves inserted into the binding?
The choice of books though seems to be much more limited than the choice of designs. The most common title by far is Nathaniel Hawthorne’s ‘Transformation’, which has an alternative title of ‘The romance of Monte Beni’ on the title page but is often referred to as ‘The marble faun’ on the covers, the title by which the book is known in America. This book alone accounts for 37 of the 53 books in the Todd collection at Princeton, and there are around another 30 copies of it currently offered for sale on ABE, at prices ranging from £10 to £450.
The story of ‘The Marble Faun’ is set in Rome and it’s usually found illustrated with postcards of Rome. The next most common title, ‘Romola’ by George Eliot, is set in Florence and usually found illustrated by postcards of Florence. Other titles include ‘Pictures of old Rome’ by Frances Elliot, ‘The last days of Pompeii’ and ‘Rienzi’ both by Edward Bulwer Lytton, and ‘Lays of Ancient Rome’ by Macaulay.
For Tauchnitz, the trade must have been a blessing, massively increasing sales of titles that might otherwise have sold relatively few copies. ‘Romola’ had been one of George Eliot’s least successful novels, when first issued in 1863, but probably ended up as one of Tauchnitz’s best selling titles after being taken up by the Italian tourist trade some 20 years later.
Not all of the Italian vellum bindings have postcards bound in. Some like the copy of ‘The divine comedy’ illustrated above, look similar externally, but have no photos. There is also another range of elaborate custom bindings, almost all on Italian themed books, that I’ll come back to another time.
One of the most intriguing titles to have been given the Italian travel souvenir treatment is ‘Childe Harold’s pilgrimage’ by Byron, which was issued in 1862 as the first book in the short series of Tauchnitz ‘Cabinet Editions’. These were, for Tauchnitz, ‘de-luxe’ editions in a smaller format than usual, nicely bound with gilt edges, and selling at a premium price. They were not a success. The series ran to only four titles, and most are now very difficult to find. Like ‘Romola’ and ‘Transformation’ though, ‘Childe Harold’ seems to have enjoyed a second opportunity when it was discovered by the Italian binders. Too small to have postcards inserted, it was nevertheless given a wide variety of vellum bindings and is now signficantly easier to find than the other volumes in the series.
Books have a history that can sometimes be very strange. It’s bound up with the history of their owners, their authors and their publishers and of course with the history of their times. But they don’t always give it up easily. This is part of the story of one book that lived through some of the most turbulent times of recent history – a time when books were banned and burned, but also a time when books were part of a great war of ideas.
At first sight the book is rather drab and uninspiring – a two volume edition of ‘Dreamers of the ghetto’ by Israel Zangwill, bound in a dark cloth binding with plain boards and just the title in gilt on the spine. It’s an edition from 1898 published by Bernhard Tauchnitz in Leipzig, over 100 years old but showing little sign of its age. The volumes would originally have been sold as paperbacks and then privately bound. Tauchnitz editions, in both paperback and bound copies were a common sight in continental Europe over a period of 100 years, roughly from 1840 to 1940.
Israel Zangwill, a British Jew, had made his name as an author a few years earlier with the publication of ‘Children of the ghetto’ in 1892. That had been an instant success in Britain and in the US, although unusually it didn’t appear in a Tauchnitz Edition. So ‘Dreamers of the ghetto’ was the first of Zangwill’s works to be published by Tauchnitz, followed later by ‘Ghetto comedies’ in 1907 and ‘Ghetto tragedies’ in 1908.
Zangwill was a political activist and initially an advocate of Zionism, although he later became one of the main supporters of territorialism, the movement that called for a Jewish territory that was not necessarily in Palestine. He was also a supporter of cultural integration and popularised, if not invented, the phrase ‘The melting pot’, when he wrote a play with that name about the absorption of immigrants into American culture. According to his entry on the Jewish Virtual Library, he was ‘probably the best known Jew in the English-speaking world at the start of the twentieth century’.
So it’s perhaps no surprise that the Tauchnitz Edition of ‘Dreamers of the ghetto’ should have been bought by Dr. Georg Landauer (1863 – 1943), who came from a wealthy Jewish banking family in Vienna. It has his bookplate on the front pastedown, with a rather cute picture of a cat and the motto ‘Ganz oder gar nicht’, which roughly translates as ‘All, or nothing at all’.
Vienna at this time was one of the largest and wealthiest cities in the world, the capital of the Austro-Hungarian empire, under the Emperor Franz Josef. Dr. Landauer appears in a list of the 929 richest people in Vienna in 1910, published in a recent book, ‘Traumzeit für Millionäre’. But the good times were not to last. The first world war led to the break-up of the empire and there were other clouds on the horizon for Jewish families. Dr. Landauer converted to Catholicism in 1920, but it was not enough to save him. After the Anschluss in 1938 he was arrested and his property confiscated under the Aryanisation programme. He was held for two days before being allowed to emigrate to Britain, but he had to leave his books and other property behind.
The next evidence of ownership is a stamp on the reverse of the title page in each volume for the Studienbibliothek Linz, showing the eagle emblem used by the Nazi party. After the Anschluss, the National Socialist Walter Luegmayer was appointed as Director of the Linz Library and it’s known that many collections of books were forcibly acquired.
Perhaps more puzzling is why a book like this, essentially celebrating Jewish culture, should have been preserved in a library under Nazi control. This was the era of banned lists, banned authors and book burnings. Did it survive simply because the library didn’t realise what it was about, perhaps because they couldn’t read English and had never heard of Israel Zangwill (‘probably the best known Jew in the English-speaking world at the start of the twentieth century’ – see above!). Or was it perhaps saved by a subversive librarian, whose respect for books was greater than for his or her political masters?
After the war the Annual Report of the library refers to the gradual return of many foreign book collections that had been acquired by confiscation. Dr. Landuaer had died in 1943 in Tunbridge Wells in Kent, but according to information from the Antiquariat Peter Ibbetsen, the 5000 or so books in his collection were partially restituted to his son, Dr. Adolf Landauer, and then sold to the antiquarian book trade.
One way or another this book and various others ended up in the care of a British bookdealer, from whom I bought them a few years ago. Another phase in its life has begun. Who knows what other adventures may lie ahead of it?
The heading for this post is the sub-title of ‘Do no Harm’ by Henry Marsh, which I chose as the first of my holiday books this year. It’s a fair description for the book – a memoir from a senior neurosurgeon, now close to retirement, but coincidentally it just about sums up all my summer reading. I hadn’t appreciated when I was packing, that one of my other choices – ‘Saturday’ by Ian McEwan, was also about a brain surgeon, although this time of course a fictional one. And the other books certainly covered plenty of life and death, if no more brain surgery.
I’d heard Henry Marsh talking on the radio before reading his book, and heard the book described more than once as remarkably honest. It is, in the sense that he talks openly about his failures as well as his successes. That means not only the occasional death on the operating table, but coming across others, years later, who had been left in a permanent vegetative state as a result of his failures. And he’s open, although perhaps not to his patients, that mistakes, even with terrible consequences, are almost a necessary part of the learning process, if we’re to end up with experienced consultants.
He’s also candid about the arrogance and feelings of being a Master of the Universe, that the job can tend to cultivate. That may apply, with less cause, even beyond brain surgery, to other surgeons who can hold our lives in their hands. At least in his case though, the arrogance doesn’t entirely prevent the feelings of self-doubt or the necessary humanity and understanding of what patients must be feeling. He recognises that he’d much prefer to be carrying out a difficult operation than having a difficult conversation with patients – a failing he suggests is common amongst surgeons, to the extent that many unnecessary or even damaging operations are performed. Consultants prefer to offer patients the hope that an operation may succeed, rather than be honest with them that at best the result is likely to be a painfully extended death rather than a swifter less painful one.
The book’s a great read, although quite an emotional one and a fascinating insight into a little known world, at least to me, as someone who’s spent little time in hospital and even less watching medical dramas. I always imagined that brain surgeons were cutting into the brain and attempting to influence in some way the way it worked. It seems instead that their bread and butter is the more humdrum business of cutting out tumours, while trying to avoid as much as possible of the brain itself.
Fortunately there are few glaring inconsistencies between the fictional neurosurgeon in ‘Saturday’ and the real one in ‘Do no harm’. Ian McEwan has done his background research well (I went straight to the acknowledgements to check whether Henry Marsh had been consulted, but it’s another of his colleagues who provided the advice). The arrogance and self-satisfaction is still there, and although it starts to unravel in a ‘Bonfire of the Vanities’ style moment, McEwan spares us the full descent into Hell and is satisfied with a brief look over the edge into the abyss. It builds up to an action-packed and gripping finale, but the real strength of the book is in its slower, more descriptive sections, with extended riffs on a game of squash or the preparation of a fish stew. I’ve enjoyed all of the McEwan books I’ve read and will be searching out more.
I also enjoyed ‘Elizabeth is missing’, a first novel by Emma Healey, an unusual combination of murder mystery and literary exploration of dementia, another theme that I’ve seen tackled elsewhere recently. The action shifts constantly between past and present, as our heroine Maud, who can hardly remember what happened a minute ago, solves a 70 year-old mystery. It’s in some ways a similar structure to the one that A.S. Byatt used so well in ‘Possession’ and then Tom Stoppard in ‘Arcadia’, and it’s well suited to the subject of dementia. On the whole, the episodes of flashback to her youth work better than the passages in the present, which are a bit predictable and repetitive, but it’s a great read.
As of course is Agatha Christie. I’ve worked my way through quite a few of her classic mysteries in recent years, several of them from the Albatross Crime Club editions. ‘The ABC mysteries’ definitely feels rather dated now, but so carefully plotted that it still keeps you on the edge of your seat, pitting your wits against the great Hercule Poirot.