Capital Fun

In my last post before the London International Antiquarian Book Fair next week, I want to share a rather delightful Victorian children’s game, which using rebuses (see my earlier post for something similar from the eighteenth century) and fractions to help teach the cities of the world:

Capital Fun 3

The cards are grouped in pairs: one is headed ‘Capital of x’, with a rebus beneath to help the child work out the answer.  For example, the clues for ‘Capital of England’ are: ‘Two thirds of a [picture of a LOG]’, ‘Half an [picture of a HAND]’, ‘Two Fifths of an [picture of an ONION]’.  The ‘Capital of America’ is ‘Four Elevenths of a [picture of a WASHERWOMAN]’, ‘Three Fourths of a [picture of a RING]’, ‘Half a [picture of a TONGUE]’.  The card with the correct answer is then placed below to form a completed picture illustrative of the city.

The cities featured are: London, Dublin, Paris, Berlin, Dresden, Vienna, Rome, Madrid, Lisbon, Bergen, Warsaw, Moscow, Washington, Quebec, Cairo, Teheran, Suez, Calcutta, Kandy (Sri Lanka), Pekin, Edo (Japan), and Ava (Burma), and the whole is preserved in its original box:

Capital Fun 2

We all look forward to some ‘capital fun’ at Olympia next week!



Posted in America, Cross-cultural material, France, Germany, Russia | Leave a comment

The King was an hors d’œuvre

As regular readers of this blog will know, something I particularly like is cross-cultural material.  So this was a nice find:

French Constitution

This is the first edition in English of the French Constitution of 1791, the first written constitution in France (based on the American model), and reluctantly accepted by Louis XVI.  It’s a very rare book.

The translator, the young Scottish political writer Thomas Christie (1761–1796), had spent six months in Paris in 1790.  ‘There he met, among others, Mirabeau, Sieyès, and Necker, and returned to England as an enthusiastic supporter of the principles of the revolution.  He published A Sketch of the New Constitution of France, and in the following year, 1791, joined the attack on Burke with his Letters on the Revolution in France and the New Constitution …  He returned to Paris in 1792, and was employed by the national assembly on the English part of their proposed polyglot edition of the constitution.  Only the English and Italian sections had appeared by the time that the assembly made way for the convention, and the republic took the place of the monarchy’ (Oxford DNB).  As Etienne Dumont remarked of the Constitution: ‘il y avait trop de république pour une monarchie, et trop de monarchie pour une république.  Le roi était un hors-d’œuvre: il était partout en apparence; mais il n’avait aucun pouvoir réel.’


Posted in Cross-cultural material, France | Leave a comment

A 17-foot timeline

It’s May, and I’ve started cataloguing recently-acquired material in preparation for the London International Antiquarian Book Fair at the end of the month.  I’m not sure how this will fit on the stand, but…

We're going to need a longer tape measure...

We’re going to need a longer tape measure…

This large, folding chromolithograph (it’s over 6.5m long) is Adams’ Illustrated Panorama of History (London & Paris, A. H. Walker, 1878).  First published in 1871 under the title Synchronological Chart by the Oregon pioneer minister Sebastian C. Adams, and in various later editions under different titles, this was, for a timeline chart, ‘nineteenth-century America’s surpassing achievement in complexity and synthetic power.  Adams, who lived all of his early life at the very edge of U.S. territory, was a schoolteacher and one of the founders of the first Bible college in Oregon.  Born in Ohio in 1825 and educated in the early 1840s at the brand-new Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, at the heart of the American abolitionist movement, Adams was a voracious reader, a broad thinker, and an inveterate improver.  The Synchronological Chart is a great work of outsider thinking and a template for autodidact study; it attempts to rise above the station of a mere historical summary and to draw a picture of history rich enough to serve as a textbook in itself.

Adams 1

‘Adams’ Synchronological Chart was big—seventeen feet long and more than two feet tall—but it was also visually richer than its contemporaries.  Though he conceived it in far-away Salem, Oregon, Adams traveled east to have his chart made by the virtuoso Cincinnati lithographers Strobridge & Co., a firm that produced precision maps, details engravings of Civil War scenes, travelogues, and colorful advertisements for commercial clients including theaters and circuses.  In its final form, Adams’ chart embodied characteristics of all of these: it was huge and detailed, packed with information, and a riot of color …

Adams 2

‘Adams initially produced the chart independently by selling subscriptions and investing his own money.  But after the 1871 edition, his work was picked up by printers in different American cities and then in England as well.  Indeed, it is still available in colourful facsimile today’ (Daniel Rosenberg & Anthony Grafton, Cartographies of Time, pp. 172–3).

Adams 3

Adams 4

Adams 5


Posted in America, Cross-cultural material | Leave a comment

Sherwood the Faithful

Back in December 2013, I wrote about the ill-fated Decembrist Revolt.  What I hadn’t realised at the time was that the plot to stage the coup was uncovered by an Englishman, one John Sherwood (1798–1867).


He was born in Greenwich, but left England as a child to go to Russia with his father, a mechanic who served as foreman at the Alexandrovsky cotton mill in St Petersburg.  The young Sherwood ‘seems to have had a good education, learning French, German and Latin, as well as English.  On leaving school he was employed as a teacher of English in a general’s household.  Unfortunately, he fell for one of his pupils, eloped with her, but on being caught up with, the young couple were parted, she to a convent, he to the army.  Eventually he was promoted to Lieutenant, and served among other places at Kherson, in the deep south, where one day he chanced to overhear some superior officers engaged in deep conversation.  It turned out to be a plot to assassinate the Emperor, which eventually culminated in the Decembrists’ Revolt of 1825.  Sherwood, being anxious to please the Emperor, wrote him a letter, which he entrusted to the Imperial physician, Sir James Wylie.  From the on, he was allowed a bodyguard, and asked the Emperor’s permission to join the Masonic lodge where several of the conspirators were active.  Eventually, the officers were detected and punished.  Sherwood was promoted to Captain, and decorated.  He and his father were awarded a pension for life, Ivan Vassilievich (John son of William) was given a coat of arms with the Imperial eagle in the centre, and became known as Sherwood-Verni (faithful).  Nicholas I thought it might be risky for Sherwood to remain in Russia, and suggested he should retire and settle in England.  But the Faithful one preferred to remain where he was, and his bonus was that his wife was restored to him’ (Michael Skinner, What we did for the Russians, p. 61).

I discovered all this when researching the following, the decree from June 1826 which rewarded Sherwood for his part in uncovering the conspiracy by naming him ‘Sherwood the Faithful':



Posted in Cross-cultural material, Russia | Leave a comment

The Human Slaughter-House

‘We’re only charging machines.  And the machine triumphs into our flesh.  And the machine drinks the blood from our veins, guzzling it by the bucketload.’  These lines come from the extraordinary novella Das Menschenschlachthaus by Wilhelm Lamszus (1881–1965), which I read recently.

Lamszus 2

I’ll admit I’d never heard of it until I saw it among the items in the DHM’s First World War exhibition.  Published in 1912, it uncannily predicts the mechanised nature of war which was to come.  Though perhaps forgotten now, over a century later, at the time it sold 100,000 copies in three months, was translated into eight different languages, and was then banned in Germany in 1915.  The dust-jacket for the first American edition (New York, 1913) sums it up for us:

Lamszus 1


Posted in Cross-cultural material, Germany | Leave a comment

A theatrical retirement


Kemble as Hamlet, 1802


When the great Shakespearean actor, John Philip Kemble (1757–1823), retired from the stage in 1817, aged 60, he was showered with gifts and accolades, and dinners were given in his honour.  His farewell performance as Coriolanus had been met with a rapturous standing ovation; The Morning Post reported ‘the repeated shouts of cheering from all parts of the house were ardent and ecstatic beyond anything of its kind perhaps ever witnessed’.

His retirement banquet, held at the Freemasons Tavern on Great Queen Street, on Friday 27 June 1817, was ‘a singular honour, even Garrick had nothing comparable’ (Kelly, The Kemble Era, p. 201).  Lord Holland and the Duke of Bedford presided over the event, which was very well attended by over three hundred guests ‘drawn from the highest reaches of rank and talent’.


‘The evening went off swimmingly.  A silver medal presented to Kemble bore on one side a classically austere profile of the actor, on the other the legend, “Thou last of all the Romans fare thee well.”  Speeches and toasts flowed together.  An ode which Thomas Campbell had written for the occasion was vastly admired …  [The French actor François-Joseph] Talma, who praised his illustrious colleague “in a clear and powerful voice, with great boldness of utterance, and much vehemence of action,” was impressed no end by the proceedings.  Back home he wrote an account of the evening and of “le premier acteur du théâtre anglais, aussi justement chéri pour son noble caractère que pour ses rares talents.”  Kemble’s farewell, everyone agreed, was a splendid one’ (Baker, John Philip Kemble, p. 341).


Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Radicalisation as official government policy

The German diplomat, Orientalist, and historian Max von Oppenheim (1860–1946) had published a memorandum as early as 1914 on ‘revolutionizing the Islamic territories of our enemies’ during the First World War, i.e. trying to persuade religious leaders in the Muslim world to call for a Holy War against colonial powers such as Britain and France.  Allied to this was a campaign to try and radicalise Muslim prisoners of war (a mosque was even erected in one camp, Wünsdorf, the first ever built in Germany) through printed matter, such as this camp newspaper, El Dschihad:

El Dschihad

Circulation began in March 1915, with editions produced in Arabic, Russian, and—the largest print-run—Tatar.  Similar newspapers, under different names, were also issued in Georgian, Hindi, and Urdu.

This is just one of the items I shall be exhibiting next week at the New York Antiquarian Book Fair.  To see my full fair list, please click here.


Posted in Cross-cultural material, Germany | Leave a comment

Letters from America

This week I’m getting everything ready in preparation for the New York Antiquarian Book Fair, the weekend after Easter.  My books will go off on Thursday.  It’s always nice to take something new to a fair, so when the following came in recently I decided to keep it back for the booth in April:


The title reads: Letters about America and Russian immigrants; this is the first edition in book form, published in St Petersburg in 1873.  Norman Saul picks up the story: ‘Concentrating on New York and the Russian exile community are the fascinating “letters” of Nikolai Slavinskii, serialized in Otechestvennyia Zapiski in 1872 and published as a separate book the next year.  A nobleman from south Russia, Slavinskii had come to America in 1869 to visit his sister, Mary Frey, who had accompanied her husband in a quest for free communal experimentation.  Colorful and detailed, his writings cover virtually all aspects of New York City life from the Bowery to Williamsburg to Thompson Square, where Russians congregated, and is one of the most intimate portrayals of the emerging metropolis.  He digressed at length on a number of subjects: the American press, with particular focus on the National Police Gazette and Harper’s Weekly; markets and food distribution, including a vivid description of Fulton Market; the new Chinatown; the medical profession and especially the role of women in it; police and crime; arson and the fire departments; cheap and efficient transportation systems; political rallies and parades (such as on St. Patrick’s Day); and minstrel halls, theaters, and concerts.  He deplored the general ignorance about Russia that he encountered but was surprised by a reasonably accurate portrayal of Peter the Great in a new play, The Tsarina, performed at a theater in Brooklyn.

‘Slavinskii seemed to be particularly interested in popular culture, visiting the San Francsico minstrel and other music halls, the Cooper Union lectures, the Beethoven Jubilee at the American Institute Coliseum with 3,000 singers and an audience of 13,000, and the skating rinks and beer gardens.  He noted that California wines were just entering the market, though whisky, ale, and beer were still dominant; described ice cream sodas (like ones in Odessa but better); and recorded that “Shoo-Fly, Don’t Bother Me” was the most popular song of 1870.  He was amazed by the number of female employees, the monopoly of domestic housework by African-Americans and Irish immigrants, the bustle and intensity of all work, insurance policies being sold on trains, the rapid ups and downs of personal fortunes, and the high level of crime and violence.


Nikolai Slavinsky (1839-1918)


‘Like most Russians, Slavinskii was intrigued by American Indians and devoted two “letters” to the subject.  He considered that their individual treatment was better than he had expected to find but bemoaned their collective, violent exploitation.  Of special interest is his narrative of the visit that an Indian delegation led by Chief Red Cloud made to New York.  He attended a theater presentation for the party and thought that the emphasis on military power in the performance was purposely to overawe the Indians.  But at Red Cloud’s Cooper Union appearance, Slavinskii was impressed with the chief’s cool dignity and his quiet but dramatic feeling of the Fetterman massacre of 1866.

‘Slavinskii’s main contributions, especially for his Russian audience, were his stories of the Russian community in New York, which numbered thirty or more.  Centred around “Dr. M.” from south Russia who had served with Garibaldi, the “circle” was attempting to fill a void by serving as an immigrant aid society for the increasing number of visiting Russians.  Dues were collected from those who could pay to help Russians upon arrival or in dire need.  Although encouraged by the support of the consul general Osten-Saken and by the building of a new Russian Orthodox church under Father Bjerring in 1870, the members still quarreled among themselves, primarily because they represented a varied and contentious lot of unhappy political misfits, as Slavinskii illustrated.  The portraits reveal an interesting spectrum of both Russian and American life …

‘For example, … Lev Bel’skii, [previously] a postmaster at Kronstadt, opened a “private letter office” in New York that specialized in “erotic” mail–actually a lonely hearts club, with a newsletter distribution of 10,000 copies–but he got into trouble for opening mail and taking out money.  After being attacked and wounded by one of his customers, he recuperated in Bellevue, married a wealthy woman, took her money, and returned to Russia, where he posed as an American and lectured on the country …

‘Many became dejected and disappointed about life in the United States and returned home.  Slavinskii considered that the time spent in America had not been wasted but had been a “practical school.”  Not only could the community provide only limited help, but little sympathy could be expected from Americans who considered poverty a sign of laziness.  The generally higher-class Russian immigrants were frustrated by an inability to make use of their “intellectual talents” in the United States’  (Concord and Conflict: the United States and Russia, 1867–1914, pp. 211–3).


Posted in America, Cross-cultural material, Russia | Leave a comment

A tramp abroad

Something for St Patrick’s Day…

I’ll admit I’d never heard of Jim Phelan (1895–1966), the Irish tramp, writer, and Republican revolutionary, until I came across this book.


Published in 1941, it’s the first edition in Russian, translated by the excellent Vera Toper, of The Green Volcano (1938), a novel set in revolutionary Ireland, 1916–22.  As one might expect from such a wartime publication, it is extremely rare.

The preface, by the literary critic Abel Startsev (1909–2005), was removed from this copy when Startsev became persona non grata.  In 1949, during Stalin’s anti-Semitic campaign of 1948–53, Startsev was arrested on charges of anti-Soviet propaganda (he had previously written a number of works on America and American writers) and sentenced to 10 years in the Gulag.



Posted in Cross-cultural material, Russia | Leave a comment

Mrs Jarley’s Waxworks

I am currently reading my way chronologically through Dickens’ novels.  I started this reading project last year, but as I’m not reading them back to back (and I’m actually quite a slow reader), I’m only as far as The Old Curiosity Shop.  With the tale of Little Nell still fresh in my mind, I was interested to come across this:

Dickens Mrs Jarley

The book (apparently here in its first collected edition) describes how to put on various tableaux vivants of famous characters, both real and fictitious, in which the performers are presented in the guise of waxworks.  Mrs Jarley is but a minor character in Dickens’ novel, but the entertainments she peddles to Nell are here made flesh, and her travelling spectacle revived and expanded.  The scenes—dozens are here collected—see the ‘statues’ arranged on stage.  Following introductions from Mrs Jarley, who narrates throughout, each is seen to come briefly to life adding humour or a grotesque aspect to the vignettes.  Characters include Little Nell, Lord Byron, Childe Harold, Old King Cole, Little Red Riding Hood, Christopher Columbus, Robinson Crusoe, Lady Macbeth, King Lear, Juliet, and (in parts III and IV, drawn up by the English newspaper editor, William Gurney Benham) Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom, Shakespeare, Coleridge’s Ancient Mariner, William Tell, Guy Fawkes, Cinderella, Buffalo Bill, and Lewis Carroll’s Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

Mrs J 1

Mrs J 2

The original author, George Bradford Barlett (1832–1896), was a New Englander who wrote the popular Concord: History, Literary and Picturesque (which ran to more than fifteen editions in his lifetime), as well as poetic encomia to Massachusetts.  He evidently saw success with this theatrical effort, for there are many recorded examples of Mrs. Jarley’s Waxworks being performed in the church halls and temperance houses of New England.  Interestingly, the phenomenon enjoys literary echoes in the work of that other Concord native, Louisa M. Alcott (in Jo’s Boys, the titular siblings enjoy entertainments presented by Professor Owlsdark, whose ‘marbles’ have strong echoes within the present work), and Laura Ingalls Wilder, whose intrepid Ohio homesteaders visit a performance of ‘Jarley’s Waxworks’ in Little House on the Prairie.


Posted in America, Cross-cultural material | Leave a comment