Saturday, May 01, 2010

Fantastic Flying Machines

I am a sucker for bibliographies and book catalogues. So when, at a book auction a couple of weeks ago, I heard the auctioneer announce several lots one after another, all consisting of some cartons of bookeller's catalogues and bibliographical tracts of one kind or another, my hand rose almost trance-like into the air repeatedly with, it must be said, very little recourse to my brain.

But how could one regret the expense when it brings such wonders as this 1930s catalogue from Maggs Bros.: "Curiouser and Curiouser!" Cried Alice. A Catalogue of Strange Books and Curious Titles. In the last few years there have been a sucession of books about books with funny titles and this, I suppose, is their big brother, or perhaps grandfather. Among a host of curiosities, some of which we may come back to at a later date, the collection being sold appears to have a significant subsection of books on whacky aviation. Or rather, aviation that might appear whacky to us now but which at the time was simply the promise of the future. A number of the plates in the catalogue reproduce illustrations of the fantastic flying machines from these titles. The last of the plate reproduced here was taken from

WALKER, Thomas. Treatise upon the Art of Flying, by mechanical means, with a full explanation of the natural principles by which birds are enabled to fly; likewise instructions and plans for making a flying car with wings, in which a man may sit, and, by working a small lever, cause himself to ascend and soar through the air with the facility of a bird. Simmons for Longman, Hull, 1810


It was described in this catalogue as "one of the rarest English books on Aviation" and priced at £31 10s. It appeared later in another Maggs catalogue in 1936 The History of Flight. Today there are two sellers on Abebooks who have copies of the first edition and for either you would have to shell out in excess of £6,000


Anonymous said...

My fave titles which I came across on bookseller tables are "Smorgasbord and God", an incomprehensible volume which is apparently a Gematria text, and features two cats fucking on the back cover, and the indispensable Edwardian self-help book "How To Live Forever" by Harry Gaze (1904 edition)
which includes a section on growing wings by the power of mental concentration. ABE has both.

Mike said...

Even once aeroplanes were well and truly invented the craziness didn't stop. I have a volume of The Captain from 1917-18 (it appears to be around 2-2.5 volumes bound privately as opposed to the single volumes bound in proper covers usually seen). In it a writer not unreasonably predicts, in that age of planes with two sets of wings and one engine, that the huge airliners of the future would have 200 sets of wings and 100 engines!

Who links to my website?