Rare Book Monthly

Articles - November - 2019 Issue

A Lighter Touch, Eight Vintage Fun Reads

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BARNABY and his fairy-godfather Mr. O’Malley, published in 1943, is one of eight vintage American humor titles recommended to keep you laughing through these grim times.

Suicide, depression, anxiety, tornadoes, homelessness, hurricanes, tidal waves, impeachment, climate change, corruption and an unending litany of bad news 24/7. Yes my fellow book people, it’s scary and dangerous out there, with seemingly no end in sight. Though there are no fast or easy solutions to our increasingly grim national landscape, I guarantee it will help (if only for a little while) to lighten up. To that end, here are eight titles - short and long, but mostly vintage, that have made me laugh, not once but many times. Though in places some of the language has become politically incorrect, the humor is still as refreshing as ever.

 

  1. (1895) Fenimore Cooper’s Literary Offenses aka Cooper’s Indians by Mark Twain

If you were ever force fed James Fenimore Cooper in high school you’ll want to read this satirical essay by Mark Twain. The great American humorist pokes fun at Cooper’s prose style, incongruities and pretensions. Twain writes: The rules of discourse require “that when a personage talks like an illustrated, gilt-edged, tree-calf, hand-tooled, seven- dollar Friendship's Offering in the beginning of a paragraph, he shall not talk like a minstrel in the end of it. But this rule is flung down and danced upon in the "Deerslayer" tale.” Matters not if you’ve read Cooper or ever plan to read him, Twain will make you laugh.

Full text online twain.lib.virginia.edu/projects/rissetto/offense.html but better to read it in hard copy.

 

  1. (1905) Pigs is Pigs by Ellis Parker Butler

Like most of the books on this list I first read Pigs is Pigs when my Dad handed me a little hard back copy - and though it looked old and dated, it has remained as fresh and funny.

This is the story of a freight agent and a customer who argue over whether guinea pigs are barnyard animals or domestic pets and which freight rate they should pay.

Here’s the agent expounding his position to the customer: “Pigs is pigs,” he declared firmly. ‘Guinea-pigs, or Irish pigs is all the same to the Interurban Express Company an' to Mike Flannery. Th' nationality of the pig creates no differentiality in the rate, Misther Morehouse! 'Twould be the same was they Dutch pigs or Rooshun pigs. Mike Flannery,” he added, “is here to tind to the expriss business and not to hould conversation wid pigs in sivinteen languages fer to discover be they Chinese or Tipperary by birth an' nativity.”

Both sides hold firm to their position and as time passes the guinea pig population at the freight station explodes. When at last the higher ups reach a decision and it’s time to deliver the animals they have multiplied mightily:

Wan wagonload more an, I'll be quit of thim, an' niver will ye catch Flannery wid no more foreign pigs on his hands. No, sur! They near was the death o' me. Nixt toime I'll know that pigs of whaiver nationality is domistic pets—an' go at the lowest rate.”

Online text www.gutenberg.org/files/2004/2004-h/2004-h.htm

  1. (1937) Education of Hyman Kaplan, by Leo Rosten, Harcourt Brace

In this collection of short stories about a NYC night school class for immigrants we meet teacher Parkhill and his brilliant, devious and megalomanic student H*Y*M*A*N K*A*P*L*A*N. Kaplan, whose native tongue appears to be Yiddish, has his own unique ideas of how to speak read and write English.

As Parkhill describes him: “Mr. Kaplan’s English showed no improvement during the next hard weeks. The originality of his spelling and pronunciation, however flourished...a man to whom “Katz” is the plural of “cat” soon soars into higher and more ambitious endeavor. As a one paragraph “Exercise in Composition,” Mr. Kaplan submitted: ‘“When people is meating on the boulvard, on going away one is saying, “I am glad I mat you,”’and the other is giving answer, “Mutual.”

The accents may have changed but the misunderstandings and rivalries among transplants are still hilarious. There are lots of inexpensive copies around in both hard cover and paperback. The author wrote a second volume, The Return of H*Y*M*A*N   K*A*P*L*A*N, but it’s not as good.  

 

4. (1941) Hotel Splendide by Ludwig Bemelmans, Viking

Ludwig Bemelmans is best known for his Madeline books; but the one I like best is Hotel Splendide. It’s a thinly disguised series of personal memoirs from Bemelmans’ years behind the scenes at the luxury Ritz Hotel in NYC. These are gentle and uniformly funny observations on the comings and goings of the high and mighty from the vantage point of the waiters, and kitchen staff. My favorite story is titled Night in Granada, about a rich and difficult patron who orders a huge cake to be delivered to her via gondola at a sumptuous party, and what happens when the cake falls into the lagoon.

 

           5. (1943) Barnaby (and Mr. O’Malley) by Crockett Johnson, Henry Holt

What, you never heard of Barnaby or his fairy-godfather, Mr. O’Malley? You are definitely missing out on one of the more elegant and convincingly funny comic strips of the mid-20th century. Mr. O’Malley is short, hatted, paunchy and winged. He flies and smokes cigars. A member of the Little Mens Marching & Chowder Society he frequently pauses to exclaim “Cushlamochree!” Barnaby plays straight man to O’Malley, a tongue-in-cheek top banana with a penchant for showing up at improbable times. Each appearance wreaks havoc in the life of young boy and his unbelieving parents, who dismiss the winged one as an “imaginary friend.” For a taste of Crockett Johnson online try ”Notes on the Origins of Barnaby” as it appeared in Comics Journal in April 2013. www.tcj.com/crockett-johnson-and-the-invention-of-barnaby/

 

        6. (1941) Subtreasury of American Humor edited by EB White & Katharine S. White

This is a fat funny anthology of vintage humor; inside you’ll find Cooper’s Indians and parts of Hyman Kaplan, along with dozens of other selections from the late 19th and first half of the 20th century. Both editors were long-time contributors of The New Yorker, and the collection is sometimes termed as "the New Yorker school of American Humor." Though some of the selections have dated, most have not. There are hundreds of copies to pick from offered online in both hardback and paperback, some for as little as $1. A great book for browsing and rediscovering American humorists of an earlier era.

          7. (1950) All the Ships at Sea by William J. Lederer, William Sloane

My Dad was friends with author Lederer from their days in the Philippines, and I can’t remember a time this book wasn’t in our house or in my own personal library. These are humorous stories about life in the US Navy, all of them sprinkled with funny bits and classic USN personalities from the overbearing captain to the zealous draftee who wants to go to Annapolis. Lederer’s sequel, Ensign O’Toole and Me, is entertaining but not quite as good. Plenty of inexpensive copies offered as paperbacks.

          

         8. (1991) Frank De Lima’s Joke Book by Frank De Lima, Bess Press

Out here in the Aloha State Frank De Lima is still cracking us up. Most of what’s in this joke book would be considered politically incorrect, even the subtitle, “Having fun with Portagees, Pakes, Buddha Heads, Buk Buks, Blallahs, Soles, Yoos, Haoles, Tidas, Pit bulls and other Hawaiian minorities” probably wouldn’t make it past the 21st century copy editor. Not withstanding such tender sensibilities Frank De Lima is a funny man who has been making the people of Hawaii laugh for more than 30 years. Here’s a sample: “Did you hear about the man who was half Italian and half Portagee? He made himself an offer he couldn’t understand.” Lot of copies listed on Amazon, and plenty of Youtube videos. Something to offend every ethnicity.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <b>Bonhams, June 29:</b> LIFE OF OSLER, PRESENTATION COPY TO NEPHEW NORMAN GWYN. CUSHING, HARVEY. 1869-1939. <i>The Life of Sir William Osler.</i> Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1925. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Bonhams, June 29:</b> OSLER TO HALSTED MENTIONING CUSHING AND WELCH. Autograph Letter Signed ("Wm Osler") to William Stewart Halsted on medical matters, 2 pp, January 19, 1919. $1,500 to $2,500.
    <b>Bonhams, June 29:</b> CUSHING PRESENTATION COPY TO LUCIEN PRICE. CUSHING, HARVEY. <i>Intracranial Tumours.</i> Springfield, 1932. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <b>Bonhams, June 29:</b> OSLER ON HIS CHILDHOOD. Autograph Letter Signed ("Wm Osler") to Mabel [Brewster] on returning home to Staplehurst. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Bonhams, June 29:</b> SCULTETUS, JOHANNES. 1595-1645. <i>Cheiroplotheke, seu armamentarium chirurgicum XLIII.</i> Ulm: Balthasar Kühnen, 1655. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Bonhams, June 29:</b> VICQ D'AZYR, FELIX. 1748-1794. <i>Traite d'anatomie et de physiologie.</i> Paris: Didot l'aine, 1786. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Bonhams, June 29:</b> TAGAULT, JEAN. C.1499-1546. <i>De chirugica institutione libri quinque....</i> Lyon: Guillaume Rouillé, 1549. $400 to $600.
    <b>Bonhams, June 30:</b> EDWARD S. CURTIS (1868-1952). Autograph Logs and Journals from his 1927 Alaska Expedition. $7,000 to $ 9,000.
    <b>Bonhams, June 30:</b> EDWARD S. CURTIS (1868-1952). Cañon de Chelley, 1904. Oversized orotone, 17 x 22in in original Curtis Studio frame. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, June 30:</b> EDWARD S. CURTIS (1868-1952). 26 cyanotypes, featuring images of Cheyenne tribes from Volume VI of <i>North American Indian,</i> c.1907, made by Curtis in the field. $30,000 to $50,000.
    <b>Bonhams, June 30:</b> EDWARD S. CURTIS (1868-1952). The Vanishing Race, 1904. Oversized orotone, 18 x 24in in original Curtis Studio frame. $20,000 to $30,000.
  • <center><b>Cowan’s<br>American Historical Ephemera<br>& Photography<br>June 25, 2021</b>
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> [CIVIL WAR] -- [SHERIDAN, Philip Henry]. Personal headquarters flag of Philip Henry Sheridan used when he led the 2nd Michigan Cavalry. Spring - Summer 1862. $20,000 to $30,000.
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> [EARLY PHOTOGRAPHY]. Half plate daguerreotype of firefighter Walter Van Erven Dorens. [San Francisco]: n.p., [ca 1854-1856]. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> [LINCOLNIANA]. Abraham Lincoln banner possibly made for the 1864 presidential campaign. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <center><b>Cowan’s<br>American Historical Ephemera<br>& Photography<br>June 25, 2021</b>
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> [REVOLUTIONARY WAR - CONTINENTAL CONGRESS]. [HOLTEN, Dr. Samuel]. An archive of letters related to Danvers, Massachusetts, physician and statesman Dr. Samuel Holten. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> [UNION PACIFIC RAILROAD]. CARBUTT, John, photographer. Exceptional collection of 27 stereoviews from the series, "Excursion to the 100th Meridian, October 1866." Chicago, [1866]. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> [ALASKAN GOLD RUSH]. William Steele West and family, extensive archive of photographs, diaries, correspondence, and personal items. [Ca 19th - 20th century]. $8,000 to $12,000.
    <center><b>Cowan’s<br>American Historical Ephemera<br>& Photography<br>June 25, 2021</b>
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> [TAYLOR, Zachary]. Quarter plate daguerreotype featuring the 12th President of the United States. N.p.: n.p., [ca 1845]. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> [WASHINGTON, George]. Signed Society of the Cincinnati document. $5,000 to $7,000.
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> LINCOLN, Abraham. Autograph endorsement signed ("A. Lincoln"), as President. [Washington], 29 September 1862. 1 page, 4to, old creases. $5,000 to $7,000.
    <center><b>Cowan’s<br>American Historical Ephemera<br>& Photography<br>June 25, 2021</b>
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> JEFFERSON, Thomas. Autograph letter signed ("Th. Jefferson"), as United States President, to Robert Patterson. Washington DC, 2 July 1805. 1 page, 4to, evenly toned, small tear from seal. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> [EARLY PHOTOGRAPHY] -- [ALCOTT, Elizabeth Sewall]. Ninth plate ruby ambrotype attributed to Elizabeth Sewall Alcott. N.p., [ca 1856-1857]. $3,000 to $5,000.
    <b>Cowan’s, June 25:</b> [WESTERN AMERICANA]. RUSSELL, Andrew Joseph, photographer. <i>Salt Lake City, From the Top of the Tabernacle.</i> [1869]
  • <b><center>Sotheby’s<br>Livres et Manuscrits :<br>de Cervantès à Houellebecq<br>18 – 25 June</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s, 18 – 25 June:</b> Jouve, Paul -- François-Louis Schmied -- Rudyard Kipling. <i>Le Livre de la Jungle,</i> 1919.<br>€ 80,000 to € 120,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 18 – 25 June:</b> Cervantès Saavedra, Miguel de. <i>El ingenioso hidalgo Don Quixote de la Mancha.</i> Bruxelles, 1607.<br>€ 30,000 to € 50,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 18 – 25 June:</b> Buren, Daniel - Aimé Césaire. Cahier d'un retour au pays natal. Solstice, 2004. 1/140 ex. Avec 1/20 suites d'œuvres originales.<br>€ 4,000 to € 6,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s, 18 – 25 June:</b> [Musique] - Gioacchino Traversa. Six sonates à violon seul. [Vers 1770].<br>€ 3,000 to € 5,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jun 24:</b> C.F. Payne, <i>Micawber, Imitating Norman Rockwell’s “Triple self-portrait,”</i> mixed media, 2002. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jun 24:</b> Brian Froud, media illustration published in <i>The Land of Froud,</i> 1977. Estimate $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jun 24:</b> Haddon Sundblom, <i>All a Girl Needs,</i> oil on canvas, published in <i>The Ladies’ Home Journal,</i> 1942. $8,000 to $10,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jun 24:</b> Adrianne Lobel, <i>My One and Only,</i> 26 scenic concept collages for the Broadway musical, 1983. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jun 24:</b> Charles Schulz, original four-panel pen and ink <i>Peanuts</i> comic strip, 1971. $15,000 to $25,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jun 24:</b>Jack Davis, mixed media cartoon for <i>Playboy,</i> 1959. $6,000 to $9,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries Jun 24:</b> Charles Addams, mixed media cartoon for <i>The New Yorker,</i> 1937. $6,000 to $9,000.
  • <center><b>Galleri Bygdoy Allé<br>Sales Exhibition Catalogue 47<br>Part III<br>Antiquarian Temptations:<br>Rare Books, Atlases & Maps,<br>Photos & Manuscripts</b>
    <b>Galleri Bygdoy Allé:</b> PIETER MORTIER. “Le Neptune Francois ou Atlas Nouveau des Cartes Marines. Levées et Gravées par ordre Exprés du Roy…” Paris, 1693.
    <b>Galleri Bygdoy Allé:</b> MARC CHAGALL illus. SHAKESPEARE. “The Tempest.” Large folio. Monte-Carlo, 1975. Signed by the artist.
    <b>Galleri Bygdoy Allé:</b> JOHN SPEED and followers. “A New and Accurate Map of the World.” Hand-colored engraving. London (1626 – 1627 – circa 1650) – 1676.
    <center><b>Galleri Bygdoy Allé<br>Sales Exhibition Catalogue 47<br>Part III<br>Antiquarian Temptations:<br>Rare Books, Atlases & Maps,<br>Photos & Manuscripts</b>
    <b>Galleri Bygdoy Allé:</b> MATTHÄUS SEUTTER. “The Colossus Series.” Set of 4 prints, contemporary hand-colored engravings, each c. 57x49cm. Augsburg c. 1730
    <b>Galleri Bygdoy Allé:</b> (CHARLES LE BRUN). “La Grande Galerie De Versailles, et Les Deux Salons qui L’Accompagnent, peints Par Charles Le Brun premier Peintre de Louis XIV…” Paris, 1752.
    <b>Galleri Bygdoy Allé:</b> G. BRAUN – F. HOGENBERG. “Danorum Marca.” Contemporary hand-colored engraving, 33x48cm. Cologne, 1588.

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