Monday, 15 January 2018

Book Box And A Mysterious Volume of Shakespeare's Works

I came across this box while shopping with a friend. It was the only one in the store, and had no information with it. It may well be intended for bibles. That doesn't matter. 

It's lovely, has as lovely an interior—which, strictly speaking, is really only the business of the book it holds—and its top converts to a reading stand.

Despite the picture above in which I tried to trick you into thinking I used the box to house some rare, antique book. I actually keep my copy of I Wonder (described in an earlier post) in it. A beautiful book deserves a beautiful home.

Now, about that antique book.

It's odd. There are far more questions than answers around it. It came it in a box of "inherited" books from Mr. Allison, a professor who lived at the opposite end of my road in my childhood community of Acamac. I got to know him when I delivered newspapers. My brother and I would have to go into people's houses and collect money every week, and we got to know a lot of our neighbours that way. The Allisons were fascinating, two elderly people living in a huge old house at the bottom of an overgrown field. There were not many children in that place who followed elders around while they showed off the million things in their rambling farmhouse and outbuildings, who hung on every word, and who dreamed of being educated. We were all poor families and kids were mostly growing up to have a trade. I was soundly ridiculed for wanting to learn.

Mr. Allison knew seven languages and taught at the local campus of the provincial university. When he died, his widow sent me a box of his books.

 I was thrilled, but mostly confused by the books. They were all far above my age and some of them were very specific to the courses he taught. But one of them was Shakspere's Works (sic).

"For Mr(s?) Forsyth
with love & best wishes
from E. L. Wilkinson
Xmas 1885(3?)"
That's not a typo. I can't get an exact date on the publication, because this book has thus far eluded my efforts to find publication data. But given the fact that it has a celluloid cover and a written date for when it was gifted, I've assumed it comes from somewhere in the last quarter of the 19th century. There are other books from that time that spell Shakespeare as "Shakspere."

Printed By Ballantyne, Hanson And Co
Edinburgh and London

It was edited by Charles Knight and published by JohnWalker & Company. 

Charles Knight was an editor and author who was born in 1791 and was dead by 1873. 

On the back page the book lists the printer as Ballantyne, Hanson and co. whose printing/publishing history seems to be  between 1858 and 1926, but only infrequently outside of 1878-1916. One assumes the title would show up in the years of very few pressings, so I'm tempted to narrow this book's printing down to a seven year period between 1878 and 1885. But that doesn't truly line up with its editor's lifespan. 

What I think is that Knight did indeed edit the works of Shakespeare, which John Walker & Company published in numerous versions during his life and after his death. Either that, or this is a reprint by Ballantyne, Hanson & co. It's just that a celluloid cover on a second edition seems strange to me. I'm not an expert. I could be wrong there. The other possibility is that this was one of his last, if not his last edited books.

Did you see that little pencil note by the publisher's name? It might be an "M." I suspect it is the mark of a reseller. The inside of the front cover of the book has another pencil mark: a price. I've seen these marks many times at used book stores. 

There's some scribbly mark I can't make out that might be a signature or an old price that got corrected and 2.70 

Yes, that seems cheap, but I have reason to believe that the time this book was sold was prior to the 1940's. So, relatively speaking, not that cheap.

My quick and dirty value-of-a-dollar calculator site (using a range of possible years going back as far as I could and ending at 1940) has the price between $47 and $65 by today's standards. Of course, the price would be calculated differently today. The book is in rougher shape, but it's also more rare (just TRY to find a copy online. It's frustrating).

Inside the book

It's an illustrated volume with 64 full page illustrations. The text is laid out in two columns and the illustrations have all that lovely victorian detail I'm so fond of.

The gilded edge pages all have borders. There's somewhat of a variety of design and colour throughout the book. I've found no real pattern to them. I thought for a while that they changed with each piece of writing, but that's not necessarily true throughout.

For the record, they don't coincide with sections of the book—it's divided into Comedies, Histories, Tragedies, and Poems

The cover is celluloid, and while not incredibly common for books in that era, it does show up as cover material in a wide variety of books. 
Celluloid cover and 19th century spelling
The picture above makes it seem like I was abusing the poor book, but that's just the magic of photography. I treat it very tenderly because the cover's so fragile. It's actually not particularly intact.
My memory of the book when I got it was that the cover was fine. An aunt relieved me of it while I was still rather young and I only got it back after she passed away some 40 years later. By that time, it was in rough shape. It might well be that I was merely imagining it romantically, and I don't speak ill of the dead, so we'll leave that there.

Besides, my aunt would not be the first, or most abusive custodian of the tome. When I got it, I found several things pressed in the pages. A leaf on it's own, a flower, a clump of petals, and some newspaper clippings. All of this detritus is bad for books. 

Note the discolouration of the pages where the rose petals had been pressed. Organic materials bring a host of problems to paper. And newsprint is no better. It's acidic. I've removed the material, but damage has been ongoing for a while.

So, was I tempted to blame my aunt for this lexiconic crime? Well, yes, actually, I was. Despite the fact that she was a librarian, she had a habit of pressing all manner of things into books. When she died, my uncle had to check each book to get the cash out of them. She would store paper money between pages.

But I found a clipping in this book about a man's death and burial. 

His name was Willard Moore and when he died, he had been farming in Acamac, my old community. The far greater likelihood is that the clippings and all the flora were pressed into the book by my old patron, Mr. Allison.

I tried to find information on Moore, but have thus far discovered squat. Cedar Hill cemetery denies having him, and he doesn't appear in any recorded deaths in the province.

news clippings with WWII references
With no date on the clipping (and short of a trip to the archives) I'm left to do some sussing from the context on the other side of the paper. Luckily, one of the clippings had some text.

The text describes political correspondence between Stalin and Roosevelt. A reply had been sent by Stalin, thanking Roosevelt for sending congratulations. The battle won by the USSR was against the Germans. The text reads "…with the victory of the Soviet forces at S—" so I looked up correspondence between those two leaders, with a guess that it might involve Stalingrad. I was able to find a thank you from Stalin that came very close to matching the text:
Sent on February 6, 1943
To Mr Franklin D. Roosevelt, Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces of the United States of AmericaThe White House, Washington
Thank you for your congratulations on the victory of the Soviet troops at Stalingrad.
I am convinced that the joint combat operations of the armed forces of the United States, Great Britain and the Soviet Union will soon lead to victory over our common foe.
J. Stalin
Looking at the other clipping in that context, I could see that it was an image of a helmeted man, a soldier. This would have been an advertisement or an illustration to another article. It had to be from the Thursday or Friday edition of the same paper, since it discussed in past-tense the funeral and internment of Moore.

So, the book was in Acamac in 1943, and very likely in the possession of Mr. Allison from that point until it reached me in the 1970's. Whoever Moore was (friend, employee, neighbour) he was not likely the owner. Also, my aunt Marg is (mostly) off the hook for the poor condition of this lovely book. It's in my library only for now. I believe it needs a better home. It needs to be repaired and cared for properly. Sometimes even interesting old books like this one are not considered important enough to save, but I will ask around.

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