Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Noel Mewton-Wood: Brilliant, Tragic, Genius

This is the second mention on Front Free Endpaper for the tragic story of Noel Mewton-Wood (1922-1953), a lost musical genius. A couple of years ago I found a scan of an obituary and noticed the understated reference to his lover between its lines. I am very grateful to a Swedish reader of the blog, Rickard, for recently pointing me to a 3CD anthology of "The Legendary Recordings" of Mewton-Wood not only for the music, which is stunning, but also for the very informative essay in the accompanying booklet. The opening paragraph gives some idea of the kind of person he was by telling us of his "protean grasp of things musical and beyond - he knew Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire almost by heart, could recite large stretches of the unexpurgated Arabian Nights from memory, had learned a great deal about medicine and atomic physics, and was a expert tennis and chess player. He designed and carpentered model theatres, was a fine driver of fast cars and, according to musician, broadcaster and good friend John Amis, 'was the only pianist I ever met who could (and did) whip out a broken piano string and put in a new one on the spot'" And all this on top of being possibly the best concert pianist of his age. 

He was Australian and spent the first 14 years of his life in Australia where his talent was noticed early on as attested by the photos and concert poster at the bottom of this post. So in the mid-1930s he was whisked away from home and taken all the way around the world to Britain where he was enrolled to study at the Royal College of Music in London. A stellar career as a concert pianist ensued but the essay by Cyrus Meher-Homji hints at darker emotions beneath the ostensibly brilliant and successful facade. "Along with that encompassing joie de vivre was a darker side- self-doubt and frustrations when certain situations did not advance with the speed he would have wanted them to. It simmered beneath that Dionysian exterior and was eventually to triumph." At the age of just 24 Noel met a young man called William ('Bill') Fredericks who worked for the British Council and they became lovers, and set up home together at Hammersmith Terrace in London, next to the river. In 1953 Bill died from complications following a ruptured appendix. Bill was known as something of a hypochondriac and so for the first little while Noel hadn't taken his complaints seriously and this seems to have given his morbid side something to latch onto to lay the blame for Bill's death on himself. Possibly already in a period of depression about professional matters Bill's death caused a serious plunge in Noel's emotional stability and despite the best efforts of friends to keep him under observation in the winter of 1953 he drank a cocktail of gin and cyanide in a suicide premeditated by at the least the weeks since he had secretly acquired the lethal chemical. 

Imogen Holst, assistant to Benjamin Britten, recorded the great composer's reaction to the news of Noel's death, "grey and worried, and talked of the terrifyingly small gap between madness and non-madness." Britten wondered aloud why it was that so many of the people he liked the best found living life so difficult.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Glitterwolf: An LGBT Literary Magazine

I've been reading Glitterwolf more or less since it first came out and couple of years ago, a magazine of "fiction, poetry and art from LGBT contributors" so I am both delighted to be able to plug issue no.6  now that it contains three poems by yours truly, but also slightly shamefaced that I haven't mentioned it before.

It's a great magazine and if you want to catch up with it I can heartily recommend the omnibus of issues 1-3 which is now available. There is, of course, also a website where you can find out a little more about the magazine. It's not expensive: please consider giving it a go.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Happy Birthday Baron Corvo

Although most of the media, when it thinks of birthdays today, will be interested in a certain young prince of this realm, we should not overlook the birthday of another; today marks the 154th birthday of Frederick Rolfe Baron Corvo. To mark the occasion I offer you a few images from an amazing book. These are pages from a copy of In His Own Image by Rolfe that belonged to the poet and schoolmaster John Gambril Nicholson. This copy is extra-illustrated with nine photographs of young men by Rolfe. The book is a series of stories based loosely on Italian folk tales and framed by a group of lusty Italian boys who tell the stories to the narrator and whose own picturesque adventures are also recounted. A number of the photographs pasted into this copy are captioned by hand giving details of which of the boys in the book they are intended to be: they are clearly intended as illustrations. Other material from Rolfe including a drawing and a handwritten note also grace the pages of this unique book. It was once the possession of Dr Rocco Verrill but was sold last month at Bonhams in London along with an astonishing collection of holograph letters and other material by Rolfe forming a large part of the sale on 18th June just gone.

Boris Karloff Reads to the Frightened

One of the most interesting of the vintage paperbacks in my latest catalogue perhaps is this selection of 26 very short stories by Michael Avallone but for which the main credit on the cover goes to Boris Karloff: "recorded by". Further investigation inside reveals that there was indeed a record, on the Mercury label featuring Karloff reading the tales in this book. A little digging on Youtube and it doesn't take long to find them.

Monday, July 21, 2014

More G. F. Sims Catalogues

This is not the first time, by a long chalk, that G. F. Sims's book catalogues have featured here on Front Free Endpaper.  His catalogues are something of a benchmark for those who come after. Book catalogues are one of the few things that I still collect for myself and whilst Sims's later catalogues are relatively easy to find, numbers before 50 are a little scarcer so I was delighted to find a selection of ten or so earlier ones, none of which I already have, listed at a very reasonable price on abebooks the other day. I am slowly getting through the wonders they contain but each one makes for a rueful shake of the head wonderingly questioning how he managed to find such things. For instance, I've just read about a collection, probably complete, of 650 magazines, leaflets and other ephemera that were dropped by the RAF as propaganda in France during WW2, they were indexed and details were given of the distribution and dates of each item. The collection was preserved by one of the officers in the department involved in arranging the drops. Sims gives over two pages of the catalogue below (no. 33) to describing the collection in fascinating detail. Such discoveries are what booksellers dream of.

Next to be enjoyed about the catalogues is their own covers, Sims was always great at finding an image from the contents of the catalogue to grace the cover, and in this instance the two bottom ones below have a certain charm.

Also, it's through flicking through these catalogues today that I have been introduced to a new word: Bibliotaphe. Combining the Greek roots for both 'Book' and 'Burial' most dictionaries have it as 'someone who hoards books', Sims described one of of the collectors whose books he is selling in one of these catalogues as a bibliotaphe but chooses to define the condition as 'one who keeps their books locked away'.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Bill Geldart Illustrates The Hungry Cloud by Tom Ingram

William Geldart (credited as Bill) illustrates this 1971 book by Tom Ingram, The Hungry Cloud. I haven't read it yet but there are just enough little references tucked away in forums and other odd corners of the internet to make me wonder if this is something that will come under the heading of 'forgotten masterpiece', maybe not, but I'm hoping to get a chance to read it in the near future. Certainly, the illustrations are very promising. Geldart has had a long and distinguished career in illustration of all kinds and his website has ample examples of his current style. These come from earlier in his career however, at a time when his work was with advertising agencies and as an art editor for a magazine: they have a much more stylised look to them and the shapes and abstraction, particularly evident in the last few below, speak very much of the period.   

New Catalogue from Callum James Books: Vintage Genres

The latest catalogue from Callum James Books is now available. This contains mainly affordable paperback editions of books from the genres of Science Fiction or Supernatural Fiction. It includes a great selection of August Derleth's work as an anthologist, a number of Peter Haining's attempts to follow on that tradition, a good smattering of books by Philip K Dick and H. P. Lovecraft and there is some cracking cover art throughout. You can read the pdf catalogue here:

There are several other catalogues currently in the works here at Callum James Heights so if genre fiction isn't your bag just stay tuned for more in the near future from other parts of the repertoire. Members of the mailing list received notice of this catalogue a couple of days ago and if you too would like to get an early heads up about new catalogues and publications and exclusive access to my occasional Short Lists then please just drop me an email using the link to the top right of this page.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Vintage Swimwear Photo

 I must have been on a little buying spree recently. This is the latest vintage photo to fall through the letterbox.

WW1 Soldiers: A Tender Embrace

There has been quite a lot online and in the press recently, I think occasioned by the publication of a book, about male affection in vintage photos... or Vintage Bromance as it is now rather worryingly being called. There are in fact a number of books available now which hark back to more innocent days when men were more willing perhaps to show a tender affection towards one another. Any one of those books would, I'm sure, be jealous of this beauty that arrived this morning. Film star looks all three of them, real tenderness in pose and expression and with an added poignancy of their military uniforms marking them out as likely participants in the hell that was the First World War. I can't properly decipher the name of the chap on the left except to know that he was only 18 when the photo was taken. So delighted to add this to my collection today.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Spot the Author: Esquire's 1973 Anniversary Edition Cover

This is the cover of the 40th anniversary copy of Esquire magazine from October 1973 which had a fold-out montage of all the literary contributors to its pages. It is a very clever piece of cut and paste for the time and stuffed full of some of the biggest names in literature. I thought it would be a bit of fun to hold back the key to all the names until you good folk have had a chance to try your guesses at who these people all are, handily numbered in the photo so if you want to have a guess in the comments below feel free. I was struck both by the fact that the group contains just two women but also by how many of these men were gay, not a bad proportion really. 

No prizes, just some fun if you fancy it.

UPDATE: Thank you to all who had a go either in the comments or by email to me or just privately at home.. but particularly to those willing to stick their neck out in public, it's much appreciated. The key is now posted below the scans of the cover - don't kick yourselves too hard if you got any wrong... just a bit of fun!

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

Nicholas Mordvinoff illustrates The Starman's Son by Andre Norton

This is the second time this book and these illustrations by Nicholas Mordvinoff (1911-1973) have featured on Front Free Endpaper, the last time nearly four years ago. A slightly different edition this time and a slightly different  selection from the illustrations. This is the second time I have had this book in a condition where it is just too far gone to be saleable but I have enjoyed the illustrations all over again for this post-apocalyptic children's classic.

Monday, July 07, 2014

Vintage Swimwear: A Selection

It's been a while since we've had a good selection of handsome chaps in their vintage swimwear so tonight I have both delved into my hard drive and found some more recent numbers too. None of these, sadly, are from my own collection but are gathered from many point of the internet. Enjoy!

Robert J Kirkpatrick and the Standard Work

A while ago I put up on Front Free Endpaper a selection of illustrations from the covers of catalogues by Robert Kirkpatrick, the doyen of all things 'boys fiction'. All of the experience and knowledge of years of specialist bookselling went into two books, The Encyclopedia of Boys' School Stories (2000) and Bullies, Beaks and Flanneled Fools. An Annotated Bibliography of Boys' School Fiction 1741-2000 (2001) both of which I have known about and admired for a long time, both of which are regarded as 'standard works': there is something almost noble about the work undertaken to produce a good bibliography.

But it wasn't until very recently that I came across the above as Robert's latest massive piece of field-defining, standard-workery! From the Penny Dreadful to the Ha'Penny Dreadfuller. A Bibliographical History of the British Boys' Periodical 1762-1950. It seems I am a year or so late to the party and at the moment the British Library website says it has no copies ("other bookselling websites are available") but the recommendation from the judge of the Henry Darton Award printed at the bottom of the British Library web page I think makes it a must have item.

Tuesday, July 01, 2014

Unusual Vintage Family Photo

I don't often buy vintage photographs if they don't relate to my interest in vintage swimwear but I thought this one was just so charming and unusual that I had to really. A turn of the last century family but in a highly unusual casual post. One of the boys is playing with his sisters(?) hair, another is sat grumpy on the grass, another lounges on the right. The women on the hammock is hamming it up somewhat and the older woman is a long way from the stiff Victorian matriarch usually seen in these family group shots. Really unusual and quite lovely for it. I have scanned it reasonably large for your delectation so please do click on it for a larger version.
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