Sunday, February 20, 2011

When Sherlock Holmes first met H.P. Lovecraft

This episode of Book Scribbles is a bit more on the personal side than some of the other entries thus far presented.  It starts a long time ago, more than thirty years now, when the small press world was much different it is now, long before computers became our overlords. Back then, all fanzines were printed and sent through the mails, each reflecting some hopeful publisher's/writer's vision, and with readerships ranging from the micro (a dozen or less) to the more-or-less macro (a hundred or more). Without computers, editors depended upon word of mouth as well as listings in publications like Scavengers Newsletter for not only submissions but readership.

One of the more unique of the fanzines was called The Holmesian Federation, a journal devoted to fans of both Sherlock Holmes and e (then) defunct science fiction TV series Star Trek.If I remember correctly, I think I heard of The Holmesian Federation  though Scavengers Newsletter or a letter from a one-time correspondent. I wrote a letter to the editor, Signe Landon, and asked a story might be considered if it mixed Sherlock Holmes, not with Star Trek, but with H.P. Lovecraft. The idea was okayed.

The story, "The Adventure of the Ancient Gods", appeared in issue 4 of The Holmesian Federation. The little fanzine was not much different than hundreds of others being published at the time, and the only thing that really set it apart from other Star Trek 'zines (of which there were so many that it constituted almost a sub-genre of its own) was that it mixed the two literary universes -- Star Trek and Conan Doyle.

The editor like the story, but I never really was sure how it went over with the 'zines readership, but at least it stood out from the other stories in issue 4 simply because of the odd mix. To me, it seemed an obvious joining, mainly because both Lovecraft and Sherlock Holmes were higher interests to me than Star Trek -- after all, it had been a long time since it had appeared on television, and, really, I don't know that there was anyone around who thought, even in their wildest dreams, that Star Trek, in any form, would ever return to the small screen, though there were rumors of a theatrical film. So, it was published, there it was, and there the story died...or so I thought.

Several years after "The Adventure of the Ancient Gods" had first seen print, an editor who published one of my other stories happened to mention that Gary Lovisi, a writer living in Brooklyn, was something of a fan of mine and would I contact him about that odd little story which had appeared long ago in The Holmesian Federation #4. I did write him, we exchanged several letters, and the story was published as a chapbook under the title Sherlock Holmes in the Adventure of the Ancient Gods. One curiosity about this first edition was the misspelling of my surname on the cover by the artist who designed title and byline as calligraphy. Gary was very apologetic about the mistake, but I took it in stride, since anyone with a surname like mine is just asking for trouble. The mistake was corrected when Gary later published a second, then third, edition. Oddly, it made the first edition something of a collectors item among people who worry about such errors. Gary's company, Gryphon Books can be found at

Later on, writer and literary critic, Peter Cannon, wrote a book called Pulptime, which told a story about a meeting between Sherlock Holmes and H.P. Lovecraft. It was hailed as the first story of its kind...until some other people pointed out the prior publication of "The Adventure of the Ancient Gods." It was a small joy to me, but in this world, you just have to be happy with whatever joys you can. When "The Adventure of the Ancient Gods" was recently included in a German-language anthology, the seminal nature of the story was mentioned in the advertising and I wrote, small joys.
German anthology containing "Sherlock Holmes und die alten Götter"

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Some Surprises Found in an Imperial Photo Album

Collectors of British books are familiar with the red-covered souvenir photo albums produced during the reign of the then-current monarch. Easiest to find are the "Royal" Albums; less common are the "Imperial" Albums, produced back in the day when Britain still had an empire. So, I was very pleased to find the following offered by an auction house a few years ago:

When involved with any auction, always set a limit that you will pay for any item, and stick to that limit, no matter what. It's all too easy to catch "auction fever" and get carried away, bidding more than you want, sometimes more than you can afford; and always be sure to check what the auction commission will be, and include that in your limit.

To the right is the imprint of the stationer from the inside front cover. Such imprints are not always present, but they enhance the experience of ownership, especially for the Anglophile seeking "atmosphere." In this case, the imprint is of Alfred Pradier, who leased the shop at 42, Tottenham Court Rd on 27 November 1895, for £450; in 1910, he was still there but shared the premises with a photographer named Attilio Lapparini. This is important in dating the book. We can also use internal clues from the pictures, such from the page reproduced below.

This is a photo of Windsor Castle, and the caption informs us that it is the residence of Her Majesty when in London. The only person who could have been on the throne is Queen Victoria, who reigned 20 June 1837 through 22 January 1901. After her came two Edwards and two Georges; then the present Queen Elizabeth II, but by the time she ascended to the throne, the British Empire had become a Commonwealth. So the book was published between 1895 and 1900. A range of five years is not bad for an undated book.

The inside back cover of the book has a nice map of Central London. It is a great piece of cartography for the map enthusiast, and its detail is typical for craftsmen of the period. The book is a collection of 64 photographs, showing most of the standard points of interest in Central London and the West End.

Now, as you may have inferred from the blog's title, the book was not my only acquisition that day, as I discovered when I opened the book. Evidently this book formerly belonged to a person who cared about the rulers of the realm for I found...

A photograph of the funeral of Edward VII (Victoria's son) on 20 May 1910, a somber Friday, marking the end of a reign all too short; his mother would have been surprised at what an able ruler he proved to be.

And, also a news clipping marking the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, as well as a newspaper clipping showing the Queen Mum. The Queen Mum (Queen Mother) was, of course, Queen Elizabeth, widow of George VI and mother of Queen Elizabeth II. She was much loved by the British people, and her death in 2002 was a time of great mourning. She and her husband, who guided Britain through the turbulent years of WW2, recently re-entered the public consciousness due to the recent very fine film The King's Speech, starring Colin Firth as the king who had to overcome a serious speech impediment so he could adequately and confidently speak for a nation going to war.

Another item of note found within the pages of the book is a clipping showing the Sultan of Oman during his visit to England to celebrate the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, and was given a grand reception. Sultan Qaboos bin Said, who deposed his paranoiac father in 1970, was able to repay the British Queen 34 years later, when she paid a State visit to Oman, with a celebration that was grand in every way.

The book was a treasure trove of photographs and newspaper clippings. According to the auction statement, the book was part of an estate in Beverly Hills. When attending an auction, always arrive early so you have a chance to properly view the items, as that will help you set your limits. I have to admit, though, that I did not get a chance to view it ahead of time, and so set my limit based solely on the book alone.

Sometimes, you just get lucky...

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Books With Hidden Treasures

"Don't judge a book by its cover" -- that probably the first maxim learned when it comes to books, but most people care less about about books than they do people, they usually use it as a warning against prejudice, against judging people by the colors of their skins, the state of their clothes, the manner of their speech, the beliefs of their religions.  However, since we are self-proclaimed bookaholics, we'll set aside all the fluffy, huggy, kumbaya urges and stick to books.

While true bibliomaniacs can derive a great deal of pleasure from a book's cover, the feel of it, the smell of it, the beauty of its craft, and the intricacy of its engraving and embossing.  We can enjoy a book's cover, may even purchase a book based solely on the beauty of its cover, but at the same time we understand that the content may be drivel, sheer period melodrama, maybe nothing more than some shop girl tale (a genre popular in the 19th Century) or a rugged youth-falls-into-wealth tale.  But, as I wrote, a book can be collectible simply based on its cover, whether for craftsmanship or subject matter. If you come across such a dilemma during one of your book safaris, remember that the cover is only part of the book, that there are other portions of the books to consider.  And to find other book treasures you will have to look in other places, some of them quite surprising; and some of these secret places to look when scouting books might put you on edge.

If you come across an old book with gilt or marbled edges, something you might want to try is moving the pages back so they form a 30- to 45-degree angle. If you are holding a fore-edge book, you will suddenly see revealed a previously hidden painting, illustrating something about the book, the author, or, sometimes, even a panorama of the city in which the book was printed. In the book to the left, the pages are held back to reveal a nautical scene. When the book is returned to its normal closed state, the painting vanishes,

In the book to the right we see a terrestrial scene revealed when the pages are held back, held in place by two highly finished sticks, secured by bolts and wingnuts. You may ask if this in anyway damages the book. The answer is, no it does not, but you still have to do this gently, spreading the pages back only until the image appears. The books you see here are displayed in standard fashion; these particular books are from the rare books collection of the San Diego Public Library, and displayed under glass cases, illuminated by special lights. If you plan on building such a collection, this is the best way to display them, to protect the books, the colors, and the images. Although it can be fairly expensive to build up a collection your own, it also possible yo pay much less...after all, the image is hidden, so the owner may not know what he has and you can just buy it as an old book. As a Book Snake, I do not see a moral dilemma here, but it's a decision you have to make for yourself.

Above, is a nice example of a fore-edge book which reveals a high detailed panorama of a busy 19th Century seaport.  Collecting this "hidden treasure" books can be fun, and, who knows, you might be the one to discover a nice addition to your private collection; or you could become a patron of the arts by donating it to the library or museum nearest you...just make sure it has a rare book collection.

On a final note, here's a very short video showing how to gently reveal the the treasures hidden in a fore-edge book:

Thanks for much of the material in this blog must be given to Richard Crawford, the Special Collections Librarian and Rare Books Curator at the San Diego Public Library.