Sunday, October 19, 2014

Posada Art Books, a Dutch miracle in Brussels


[1] Posada Art Books. A photo I took of Ada en Martijn Oleff in front of their shop, at Spoormakers straat 50 rue des Éperonniers in Brussels on 22 September 1980.

by Huib van Opstal

‘The spark hit me… A fascinating world…’
   
STEPPING INTO his bookshop, Martijn Oleff instantly gave you the feeling you were an old friend. I bet he did that to every customer of Posada, the shop he and his wife Ada Roorda ran in Brussels, the capital of Belgium. Their Posada began in 1974 as a small gallery specialized in art prints (‘grafiek’) and was named in remembrance of a Mexican artist-engraver who published and sold his raw prints and pamphlets in his own shop too, José Guadalupe Posada (1852-1913) – with the added attraction it contained Ada’s first name.

[2] Mexican newspaper boys. Niños voceadores de periódicos on the cover of a stapled booklet, engraving on type metal by J.G. Posada, c.1900; sent out as a Posada Art Books mailing around 1979.

POSADA ART BOOKS moved house twice, but all three addresses were located in bilingual Brussels. The first in 1974-81 was at Spoormakers straat 50 rue des Éperonniers, zip code 1000, at the heart of the city. A shop that soon morphed into a very special type of bookshop that offered what was called ‘Art visuel (livres neufs et d’occasion),’ every type of art publication in any language, new or used. A spicy detail is that the Belgian book trade at the time saw selling modern art and books in foreign languages in Brussels as suicidal. But Posada Art Books became a thriving business: a Dutch miracle in Brussels.

[3] Posada mailing. Six thematical book lists folded into El purgatorio artistico, engraving on type metal by J.G. Posada, c.1900; sent out as a Posada Art Books mailing around 1979.

DUTCH BOOK HISTORIAN Piet J. Buijnsters published his latest book in 2013, when he was 80 years of age, a history of the antiquarian book trade and the love of books in Belgium, a work applauded as a ‘trailblazer’ — titled Geschiedenis van antiquariaat en bibliofilie in België (1830-2012). In this 432-page book Buijnsters included 35 of his personally conducted interviews with Belgian antiquarians and collectors. In the Summer of 2010, one of these was held at Posada Art Books in Brussels with an antiquarian who already knew the days of both his bookshop and his life were numbered: Martijn Oleff, who spontaneously gushed out a wide range of names and details that once inspired his career. Almost ‘a long monologue’ according to Buijnsters.

[4] First Posada logo. A stylized symbol looking like a mirrored S. Was it Mexican? A good-luck sign? A labyrinth?

ADA S.B. OLEFF-ROORDA. Martijn and Ada, both born in 1941, came from the Netherlands (or Nederland, or Holland), he from Rotterdam, she from Scheveningen (part of Den Haag, or The Hague). They met in their teens and after some international stints in the book and print trade in the Netherlands, the US, Mexico and Spain, decided to try their luck in Belgium in 1974. They did their business in Dutch and French, and spoke some German, English and Spanish as well.

MARTIJN CORNELIS OLEFF (born 10 October 1941, Rotterdam, Zuid-Holland — ‘Oleff, that’s Scandinavian’ he told his interviewer), first worked as a biochemical analyst at Organon in Oss, Noord-Brabant, much to his dissatisfaction. In the early 1960s he stayed in Spain for many months. He then began to work as factotum for the small publishing company of Ad Donkers in Rotterdam, at the same time following a two-year correspondence course in Bookselling & Publishing. Just-married, he and Ada headed for the US where he landed a job with art book seller Wittenborn and Co. in New York.

[5] Art book seller. George Wittenborn managing his paperwork in the 1960s.
GEORGE WITTENBORN (1905-74, Jewish, fled from Germany in the 30s) with his wife Joyce Phillips (from England) in the US mainly dealt in imported art books, the latest titles from the finest European publishers from Germany, France, the UK, Spain, Italy. The Wittenborns. also published books and since 1956 used every inch of available wall space of their Madison Avenue shop as their ‘One-Wall Gallery.’ Martijn Oleff couldn’t resist mentioning that artists Roy Lichtenstein and Andy Warhol were frequent visitors at “Wittenborn and Company, 1018 Madison Avenue.
‘Working with Wittenborn, the spark hit me… A fascinating world… I got to know many other book traders, and major customers and museums too.’ Martijn Oleff  (in: Buijnsters, 2013)

[6] Don Quichotte. ‘A ‘calavera’ or skeleton-view featuring Don Quixote, a broadsheet print by José Guadalupe Posada, engraving on type metal, c.1900; published around 2 November — All Souls’ Day or “the Day of the Dead” in Mexico.

WANDERINGS. While working and living in the US for two years, in New York, Martijn developed an interest in Mexican culture and began to collect the metal cut prints of J.G. Posada. Since their residence permits expired after two years, he and Ada drove to Mexico to set up a bookshop there, for some gallery owner — a failed project. Back in Europe Martijn worked a couple of years at Editorial Blume in Barcelona, Spain — abruptly ended by Sigfrid Blume’s bankruptcy. Then, around 1970 in Ada’s hometown The Hague in the Netherlands, they set up Edition Unida and published ‘multiples & graphics’ (‘grafiek’) of modern artists. When their financial backing fell away they tried their luck in the South, in neighbouring country Belgium, in the city of Brussels. In April 1974 they opened their first Posada shop at Spoormakers straat 50 rue des Éperonniers, initially using the rented premise as a small gallery to sell the remainder of their art prints — which didn’t work out as expected.

SELLING old and new fine art books became their core business, although they kept selling art prints and multiples. Martijn was always snooping around for good old stuff, in other shops, at the Vossenplein place du Jeu de Balle flea market in the old city of Brussels, at trade fairs. Posada as a bookshop really took off when it acquired the complete stock of bookseller Hankard.

[7] Cheese market. A walk along the Spoormakers straat rue des Éperonniers, a view towards the Kaasmarkt rue du Marché aux Fromages, c.1905 photo.
[8] Cows and cheese. A walk along the Spoormakers straat rue des Éperonniers — a closer view of the Kaasmarkt rue du Marché aux Fromages, the location where the cheese market was held, c.1905 photo.
[9] Adverts. A walk along the Spoormakers straat rue des Éperonniers, a view of the large wall advertising at the Kaasmarkt rue du Marché aux Fromages, with already a glimpse of number 50 in the distance, on the left, 1905 photo.
[10] Corsets and lace. A walk along the Spoormakers straat rue des Éperonniers — the shop at number 50, c.1910 photo. When Posada Art Books left here in 1981 the shop was taken over by Wijnand and Mieke Plaizier who specialized in posters and cards.

AFTER SEVEN YEARS at Spoormakers straat 50 rue des Éperonniers Martijn and Ada moved their shop to a larger space around the corner, their second Posada shop, at Magdalena steenweg 27 rue de la Madeleine, in 1981. Finally, seven years later again, they moved to the adjoining building at number 29, their third Posada shop and a truly glorious location, in 1988.

Six years earlier, Belgian graphic artist Ever Meulen was commissioned to make a brand new Posada Art Books logo, in 1982.

[11] Bilingual streets. A 1970 list of all street names in the Brussels area in both Dutch and French, with zip codes, titled Lijst der openbare wegen van de Brusselse agglomeratie met aanduiding van de postnummers; Liste des voies publiques de l’agglomération Bruxelloise avec indication des numéros postaux. Paperback, size A5, 315 pages, plus 46 pages of later added modifications (in the shape of 9 inserted booklets, 1970-81), published by the Belgian Postal Administration and untouched by designer’s hands.

PART OF the larger kingdom of the Netherlands until 1830, Belgium split itself off by a nationalist revolt and became the present kingdom of België or Belgique situated between the Netherlands and France. But its population still bickers on about its multiple languages. Today a larger half of around 60% of Belgians speaks Flemish (Dutch, also in dialect). A smaller half of around 39 percent speaks Walloon (French, also in dialect) — even German speakers claim one percent. Today, a linguistic frontier officially splits the country in two: only Dutch spoken in the North, only French spoken in the south. On top of it, Brussels, its capital right in the middle, is bilingual with all street name signs lettered in Dutch and French, crammed in any size of sign, no matter how long the text runs. But this French-Dutch agglomerative wall dictionary is never read in full. To turn a blind eye to the opposite language, to half of the names, is standard procedure. Denial is the second name of most Belgians.
[12] Bilingual street name sign. ‘Spoormakers’ or ‘éperonniers’ were makers of spurs.
‘With customers from both sides of the linguistic frontier, I wasn’t troubled by the linguistic conflict in Belgium. But some customers had a problem with it themselves. Resulting in customers standing outside, before the shop window, waiting until the Flemings inside left, or vice versa!…’Martijn Oleff  (in: Buijnsters, 2013)

YOUNG and Dutch, I was working as art director-designer for a Dutch bi-weekly pop music paper — Muziekkrant Oor — when chief editor Jan-Maarten de Winter and I commissioned a series of section logos from Eddy Vermeulen for the year 1978. Eddy was a top-notch graphic artist from 1946 who worked in Brussels under his trade name ‘Ever Meulen.’ A few years later I managed to connect Martijn Oleff with him to have an illustrated Posada logo done.

[13] Posada logo design. Some of the initial pencil sketches by Ever Meulen, 1982 — with the germ of the triple-A idea…
[14] Pencil sketch. Logo, final design sketch in pencil by Ever Meulen, with the triple-A idea developed into a mask-like lettering.
[15] Final version. Hand-lettered, in Indian ink.
[16] Printed version. Used in a variety of print products in 1982-2011.
THE WAY Martijn Oleff with his jolly walrus mustache is portrayed in Ever Meulen’s final logo design for Posada is spot on: when a customer walked into his bookshop Martijn would look up as an old friend… in the midst of some intense research… Then offered you coffee with a smile, and books and papers in every shape or size. And whatever book or artist you mentioned, he always shared some stimulating insight about it – producing more and more printed works you’d never seen before. Strips or bandes dessinées were limited to just half a shelf and he jokingly agreed “to hell with comics!” — the incredible shrinking medium with its zealots and their restrictive definitions. Reaching mainstream audiences with comics was already on the wane in the 1980s.

[17] Already a memory. The third Posada shop on the cover of a Dutch book about the Belgian antiquarian book trade, by Piet J. Buijnsters, published in 2013.
2010-2011. In his final working year at the Magdalena steenweg rue de la Madeleine, Martijn Oleff reminisced about his international dealings in the past with:
…art book dealers like Heneage, Batterham, Sims & Reed in London, Perkins in Oxford, Laget in Paris, Vloemans in The Hague, Brouwer in Amsterdam, Ursus and Rietman in New York, Walter König in Cologne, De Nobele in Paris, and many others…Martijn Oleff  (in: Buijnsters, 2013)

THE GETTY. He took pride in having the library of the New York Getty Museum as a regular customer. He collected typewriters and ornamental prints (1830 and later). Published an occasional little catalogue himself and was blessed with Ada doing all day-to-day administrations. They lived in nearby Duisburg, halfway Brussels and Leuven-Louvain, arrived in the center of Brussels by car, six days a week, around seven o’clock each morning, and had their daily dinner at noon around the corner, in a cosy restaurant, often taken visitors with them.

[18] Martijn Oleff. Tribute in Elsevier magazine (detail with photo by Jan van de Wel).
 
FINAL. A final interview with Martijn and Ada in the Dutch weekly Elsevier under the header ‘A world bookshop’ (een wereldboekhandel) concluded in late 2010: ‘They’re tired’ (ze zijn moe). The new internet possibilities changed all book searching and selling. When closing shop in May 2011 Martijn was approaching seventy and physically already suffering unspeakable diseases. He finally passed away in Duisburg around ten o’clock in the morning of Tuesday 10 June, 2014. His cremation was the following Saturday, in silence; twenty of his family members were present at the funeral service.

[19] Closed down. The shopfront the week after, early May, posters in four languages, Dutch, French, French and German, saying: ‘Posada art books will be permanenly closed from May 3, 2011. We thank our customers and our colleagues for their friendship and loyalty.’

[20] In fond memory. Martijn Cornelis Oleff, bookseller, b. 10 October 1941, Rotterdam, Nederland – d. 10 June 2014, Duisburg, België.

THANKS TO:
Piet J. Buijnsters
Marcel Cattoor
Eddy Vermeulen
Jan-Maarten de Winter
Mieke & Wijnand Plaizier
Universiteit Gent
Elsevier Weekblad
Carla Joosten
Ada S.B. Oleff-Roorda

In late 2011 the premises at Magdalena steenweg 29 rue de la Madeleine were rented to chocolatier Neuhaus, who offers chocolat only in an interior setting of cold glass and marble. The old-style interior has been knocked out. 

Go back to the interiors of all four floors of the Posada bookshop in early 2011 via dozens of photos HERE.

See Martijn in Posada in early 2011 HERE.

See the website initiated by Martijn Oleff, Les Polyèdres, set up by Remy Bellenger HERE.

…Venez chez moi, je vous montrerais mes Polyèdres…Alfred Jarry, Ubu Cocu

See the present Plaizier shop HERE.

See Ever Meulen HERE and HERE.

See the 2013 book by Piet J. Buijnsters, Geschiedenis van antiquariaat en bibliofilie in België (1830-2012) at Vantilt publishers HERE. 


Sunday, October 12, 2014

Little Willie’s Dream strip


[1]
“…Wow! What a narrow escape eh!? Where did Broncho Billy go? Oh! I was only dreaming…”
COMIC HISTORIANS delight in finding unknown examples of comics mimicking the dénouement of Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo dream strips where our hero falls out of bed to find it was only a dream. Examples can be found both before and after McCay began Little Nemo in Slumberland in the New York Herald on October 15, 1905.

Little Willie’s Dream was a 1914 comic strip feature in Motion Picture Magazine. W.H. Sheahan made a Little Willie’s Dream page for the November 1914 issue; L. Kirshbaum made one for the January 1914 issue.

Gilbert M. “Broncho Billy” Anderson (1880-1971, real name Max Aronson) while still a budding movie actor —‘lost his role as a mounted outlaw in The Great Train Robbery (1903) because he kept falling off his horse’ (Brownlow, 1978). He did eventually make it as an actor in Westerns though. His biggest success came when he decided to set up his own film company, together with George K. Spoor. An S for Spoor and an A for Anderson gave it its name: the
Essanay Company (1908-16). Gilbert M. Anderson became the first ‘motion picture cowboy’ in over 500 short Broncho Billy Westerns, one-reelers, and finally two-reelers. All filmed in his own primitive little studio in Niles Canyon, California. It was there that the first Broncho Billy was made, in July 1910. Most of these short films are lost.

[2] Nov 1914. Willie ‘shall die at the stake…’ Little Willie’s Dream. One-pager by W.H. Sheahan; dream strip in Motion Picture Magazine.
[3] 1910s. Rerelease of the early Broncho Billy one-reel films or ‘photoplays.’
[4] 1912. “BRONCHO BILLY.” Essanay publicity photograph. ‘…Broncho Billy Anderson, dressed in the Easterner’s conception of the Western costume, derived largely from dime novels…’ (Fenin & Everson, 1973)
[5] Jan 1915. Willie is shown ‘how to ride a hawss…’ Little Willie’s Dream. One-pager by L. Kirshbaum; dream strip in Motion Picture Magazine.
[6] 1905-11. Little Nemo in Slumberland. Final.


Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Lichty Cartoons


1 [1961] Detail from Grin and Bear It by Lichty, Sunday page
CARTOONS by George Maurice Lichtenstein (1905-83) who presented himself as ‘Geo. M. Lichty’, signing his work ‘Lichty’ — with the dot on the ‘i’ as a small circle.
      
2 [1947] Modern Screen (advertisement)
3 [1947] Modern Screen (advertisement)
4 [1947] Modern Screen (advertisement)
5 [1948] Modern Screen (advertisement)
6 [1961] Grin and Bear It, in Vancouver Sunday Sun, Sept. 17
7 [1961] Grin and Bear It, in Winnipeg Free Press, August 5
8 [1961] Most of Lichty’s work of this period is inked with a lush brush (detail from Grin and Bear It page)
See also Line and style HERE.

‘i’
  

Monday, September 29, 2014

Ralph Rollington’s Marriage


[1] A.J. Allingham, aka ‘Ralph Rollington

   by Robert J. Kirkpatrick
 
‘Ralph Rollington’ – the name was familiar to many readers of boys’ story papers throughout the 1880s, as both an author of school and adventure stories and as an editor/publisher of a range of cheap periodicals, in particular The Boy’s World and Our Boys’ Paper. He later became well-known for his anecdotal A Brief History of Boys’ Journals, published in 1913. Rollington, whose real name was Albert John Allingham, painted a rather rosy picture of what was, in the late 1800s, a time of intense and often bitter competition between rival publishers, and he himself came across as genial, benevolent and mild-mannered. But behind the air of bonhomie and easy friendship that Allingham portrayed lay a dark secrethis troubled marriage to an American woman which started with tragedy, then presumably settled into a state of stability, only to descend into acrimony and violence, with Allingham being accused of both cruelty and adultery. But that was only half the story…

[2] Marriage.

SECRETARY. Albert John Allingham, born in Southwark, UK, on 26 June 1844, began his working life as a compositor alongside his older brother James (who went on to launch The Christian Globe in 1874). In 1866, he travelled to New York, where he was later to meet up with the author Bracebridge Hemyng, and where, on 9 August 1868, at the Presbyterian Church of the Sea and Land, he married Eva Leoni Smith, a 23 year-old secretary. Their first child, Albert William, was born in New York in May 1869, but he died aged only 5 months. The couple then settled in London, where they had four further children: Eva Leoni (b. June 1870), Nellie Grace (born January 1873), William Albert (b. May 1875), and Violet May (b. May 1880).

BOYS’ PAPERS. Between 1879 and 1888 Allingham devoted himself to writing for and publishing boys’ papers, enjoying only limited success. He was usually struggling financially, although unlike many of his contemporaries he managed to stay out of the bankruptcy courts. It may have been that life in London was not as glamorous as Eva had been led to believe it would be, and the family’s relative poverty may well have created tension between the couple.

CLAIM. On 16 October 1890 Eva filed a petition for divorce. At the time she was living at 131 Ruckledge Avenue, Harlesden, Middlesex. In her affidavit, sworn on 15 October, she claimed that her husband had been mistreating her since around 1877in her own words:
Albert John Allingham has habitually treated me with unkindness and neglect and cruelty and that he has habitually used coarse and offensive and insulting language to me and swore at me and threatened me and (…) has dragged me out of bed and downstairs in the middle of the night and that on divers occasions he has assaulted and struck me.Read the full petition HERE.
She went on to highlight three specific incidents of violence, at their homes in East Dulwich in 1881, Heston, Middlesex in 1882 and Dulwich in 1883, which culminated in Allingham walking out on her in 1885. Furthermore, she claimed that since 1879 Allingham had habitually committed adultery with a woman calling herself Mrs Lilley, Mrs Lilian English and Lilley Tempest at various places including Islington, Dulwich, Nunhead and Tottenham.

Ava’s solicitor continued to act for her between October 1890 and July 1891. In March 1892 a new solicitor filed a notice that he was now acting for her, but when the case was finally called at the Royal Courts of Justice in the Strand on 25 October 1892 no one appeared, and the judge ordered that it be struck off. The divorce was therefore never finalised.

CENSUS. At the time of the 1891 census, Eva and her daughter Violet May were recorded as visitors at an address in Chipping Barnet, Hertfordshire, staying with a Henry Dixon, a 50 year-old carpenter, and his family. Albert Allingham was absent from the census, possibly having returned to New York with his other children, as there is no trace of them in the census either.

Whether or not Albert was a violent and/or adulterous husband as Eva claimed cannot be proved. Under the then existing legislation (the Matrimonial Causes Act 1857) if a husband wanted a divorce he had only to prove his wife’s adultery, whereas if a wife wanted a divorce she had to prove not only adultery but also cruelty or desertion.

Ironically, direct evidence of cruelty came to light three years after Eva had filed for divorce, but this time it was on the part of Eva herself.

[3] Cruelty.
Eva, described as a lady of independent means, living in Twickenham, on 12 February 1894, at Brentford Police Court, was charged with having cruelly ill-treated her daughter, May, aged 13, in a manner likely to cause her unnecessary suffering. May (actually Violet May), had been living with her mother since the previous August. The Pall Mall Gazette (13 February 1894) reported:
The child stated that she could not remember a day for the last six months when she had not been beaten. She had been struck with switches, with a blind-roller, with a carpet stick, with a violin bow, and with the back of a hairbrush. Once she bought a cake with twopence belonging to her mother, and for that she had been put in a cold bath, her head being held under water until she was quite exhausted, while she was afterwards beaten with a knotted rope until she was covered with weals, which were rubbed with salt.
Other newspapers, including Reynolds’s Newspaper, reported that her evidence included that she was only ever given breakfast and tea, and no dinner; that she was compelled to keep pieces of soap in her mouth for up to half-an-hour; and that Eva had scrubbed her teeth with a scrubbing brush such that her gums bled. The Pall Mall Gazette continued:
She had several times run away from home in consequence of the treatment she received from her mother. The punishments she had mentioned were inflicted for various small offences, such as neglecting her household work, making mistakes in errands, or telling stories.
Corroborative evidence came from May’s elder sister (named as Mary in some reports, but presumably Nellie), who witnessed some of the acts described whilst staying with Eva the previous year.

DENIALS. When Eva reappeared before the Court a few days later, she denied having beaten her daughter as alleged, claiming that she had only ever beaten her with a stick taken from the garden. She also denied the other accusations. However, the magistrates did not believe her, and she was found guilty and sentenced to three months imprisonment with hard labour, and fined £10 (half of which would go to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children).

When she was released from prison Eva went to live in Battersea, from where, at the end of June 1894, she summonsed Albert Allingham for non-payment of maintenance totalling £36 15s. It appears that at some point after separating from Eva Albert was required under a court order to contribute 35 shillings a week to her support. In his defence to the summons, Albert said that he was not aware that he was obliged to provide for her maintenance whilst she was in prison.

The magistrate told him that he was liable under the court order, and that it was no defence to say that she was being supported by the state. Despite Albert then claiming that he was unable to pay, an order for payment was made, although Albert was then allowed to take out a summons against his wife to show cause why the order should not be varied, on the grounds that he was paying for his daughter’s education. The outcome of this is not known (London Standard, 29 June 1894).

FINAL. The final act in this rather sad saga came in March 1895, when Eva was charged with obtaining relief from the Wandsworth and Clapham Poor Law Guardians by falsely representing herself as destitute. The magistrates were satisfied that, despite her claim that the allowance she was receiving from Albert was very small, Eva had made a false declaration of her circumstances, and she was sent to prison for 21 days with hard labour (Pall Mall Gazette, 13 March 1895).

What happened to Eva after that is not known. She does not appear in any further census returns, nor is there is any record of her death in any of the online indexes. Violet May Allingham married James Charles Reynolds, an actor, in Barnet in 1905. Albert Allingham appeared in the 1901 census, described as a widow, and living as a boarder in Hammersmith with the family of Nicholas Boyce, a professional musician. He died in Hammersmith on 24 August 1924, aged 80, and was buried in the Essex village of Chappel, home to his daughter Nellie Grace.

[4] Sentenced.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Alley Oop Sundays, Vol. 2


Foozy, Alley Oop and King Guz.
“…Monstrous Queen Umpateedle reduces all the men in the strip to stunned silence…”

by John Adcock

EIGHTY YEARS AGO the Alley Oop Sundays began, on September 9, 1934. This second volume of Sundays is another beautiful full-color collection from the archives of the Kingdom of Moo. The core characters — Alley Oop, King Guz and Foozy who speaks in rhymeall have explosive tempers which create differing alliances that drive the plots. The monstrous Queen Umpateedle, wife of Guz, can be explosive too and reduces all the men in the strip to stunned silence.
HIGHLIGHTS. The present volume’s highlights include an outdoor boxing match broadcast through the hills on primitive amplified megaphones, the addition of a new animal character named Terry the pterodactyl, aerial warfare, the creation of a Moovian zoo, a traveling circus made possible by the discovery of the wheel, war with the kingdom of Lem, a bruising game of football and the promotion of Oop as top cop of Moo.

New animal characters
INSPIRATION. By winter of 1938 Vincent T. Hamlin was feeling the stress of working seven days a week on the comic strip. Worse, “regardless of the vastness of my Moovian people’s jungle world” his inspiration was drying up. Hamlin’s wife Dorothy, according to his autobiography The Man Who Walked with Dinosaurs, suggested incorporating time-travel into the strip. Hamlin convinced his syndicate to give it a try and Alley Oop and Oola were materialized into the twentieth century on April 8, 1939.
NEA claimed that “the operation was a success,” the majority of letters and telegrams from readers were in favor.
The reaction of readers varied in form from the shortest telegram, “I can’t stand it much longer. For gosh sakes get Alley Oop back to Moo,” to a two page letter from a prominent New York doctor who psychoanalyzed Hamlin and discovered a “dissatisfied” complex that had caused Hamlin to make the change.

ENDING ABSURDITY. Fantagraphics Books published three reprints of Alley Oop time-traveling daily strips in the 1990s. Following that a rumor circulated that time-travel serials appeared only in the daily strips, the Sunday’s apparently all took place in the jungles of Moo. This volume will put that absurdity to rest. The collection ends with the first five time-travelling Sundays dated April 2, April 9, April 16, April 23 and April 30, 1939. Next up, based on Homer’s epic the Iliad, Alley Oop, Oola and Foozy travel to ancient Greece and participate in The Siege of Troy…

Moo – Foozy’s poem of color, green, blue and red

            Alley Oop; By V.T. Hamlin;  
            The Complete Sundays; Volume Two; 1937-1939,
            hardbound, 128 pages.
Russ Cochran/Dark Horse Book.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Bards of the Seven Dials



[1] The History of Bluebeard, Ryle & Co., c.1846

by John Adcock

“He often makes a good deal upon a monster. A rape has often afforded him great satisfaction, but a murder — an out-and-out murder — if well timed, is board, lodging, and washing, with a feast of nectared sweets for many a day.” — True History of Tom and Jerry, by Charles Hindley, 1888

THE PRINTERS of the Seven Dials published selections from Shakespeare, Byron, Dibdin and Eliza Cook; songs and ballads; accounts of apparitions; “awful and ’orrible” murders; and dying confessions from the celebrated murderers of the hour. John “Mother” Pitts, Jemmy Catnatch, and others in the City and provinces carried on the tradition of the chap-book sellers, who tramped the country in the 18th century selling books at villages and farms. The Enclosure Acts encouraged the traveling colporteurs to set up shop in the City of London where many settled in the environs of the Seven Dials.

In 1856 working-class author Charles Manby Smith (1804-80) confessed to a “lurking partiality for some of them which the memories of childhood have rendered dear.” The booklets were still sold in large quarto for a penny, a smaller publication costing a half-penny, smaller still, a farthing.

“Jack Spratt, Cock Robin, Mother Goose, Simple Simon, Goody Two-shoes, Mother Hubbard, et hoc genus omne — together with Books of Fate, Universal Dreamers, Universal Fortune-tellers, Jack Sheppard, Dick Turpin, Moll Flanders, and others of that type.” — The Press of the Seven Dials by Charles Manby Smith, Chambers's Journal, June 28, 1856
W.M. Thackeray noted that in 1839 Catnatch’s emporium also sold wholesale valentines, “children’s toys, in the shapes of little carts, tin-trumpets, drums, dolls, picture-books, lollipops, pin-cushions, laces.”

[2] The Seven Dials, London
Evelyn’s diaries record that, in 1694, St. Giles’s was a place “where seven streets make a star from a Doric Pillar, placed in the middle of a circular area...” George Augustus Sala wrote of getting “hopelessly, irretrievably lost” in the labyrinth of streets. “I ought to be tolerably well up in my Dials, for I lived in Great St. Andrew Street, once; yet I declare that I never yet knew the exact way in or out of that seven-fold mystery.” 

An anonymous author wrote that by 1845 the Doric column was gone and “four out of the seven houses that form the angles between the different streets were occupied as gin-shops or ‘palaces,’ and each of these had a large clock with an illuminated dial in its uppermost story.” He suggested visiting gin-palaces between 8 o’clock and midnight on a Saturday night, to view by gaslight the “striking contrasts of the maddest mirth with the most squalid misery.” The streets were filled with a multitude of beggars, match-vendors, drunken brawlers of both sexes, children selling tape and pins, apple and fish-women and “noisiest of the throng, the ballad-sellers with stentorian lungs calling out the names of the last new songs, often in strange and startling combinations enough, and offering them at the rate of a halfpenny per yard.”

FLOCKS. Flocks of ballad singers arrived at the Beggar’s Opera on Saturday night to “purchase, to pay, to exchange, to bleed a tankard, to fathom a rowley-poley, and blow a cloud. Ah, the glorious confusion of those festivals! Who that has heard, will ever forget the mingling contributions of the hundred voices, exercising themselves in the respective pastimes of singing, scolding, swearing, roaring &c.”

[3] Curiosities of Street Literature by Charles Hindley, Reeves & Turner, 1871
The Beggar’s Opera was a thieves den, and “a sort of house of call for street ballad writers. When the publisher wants a song, or a ghost story, or what not to be immediately got up, he knows where to send for the particular man who can do it. Very often he has to lock the writer up in a certain room of his warehouse, in order to prevent his going out and getting drunk before the article is finished. I have been told of one instance where an inveterate tippling poet, in spite of this precaution, got tight. One of his ‘chums’ brought liquor in a bottle to the door, and he sucked it through a straw placed in the keyhole!”

BALLAD SINGERS. Forgotten mendicant ballad singers included Ned Buckhorse, who made music by striking his chin, Ned Friday, Jemmy Dawson, Mary Cornwall, Mary Grace and Thomas John Dibdin, (1771-1841) who wrote nearly 2000 songs and numerous plays during his lifetime. Joe Johnson “was wont to wear, on days of business, a model (and an elaborate miniature it was) of the brig Nelson on his hat. She was full-rigged, had all her masts set, and looked for all the world as if she scudded before a gale of wind.”

When blind Jack Stuart, the last of the old ballad singers died on August 15, 1815, his funeral procession “included most of the friends to the profession in and near the metropolis. It was headed by the two Worthingtons, blind fiddlers, dressed in the ghastly costume of mourners, who did all in their power to perform a dirge. Several of the most respected mendicants of the day lent the aid of their powerful talents to increase the melancholy interest of the occasion.”

A ballad was written titled “The history of John, alias Jack Stuart, commencing with his death and funeral, being a sad lament for his downfall, likewise his dog, Tippo, showing the true end of greatness in this here world.” The dog Tippo went by inheritance to George Dyball, the mourners probably ended up in one of “two public houses in Church-Lane, St. Giles’s, whose chief support depends upon beggars; one called The Beggar’s Opera, which is the Rose and Crown public-house, and the other the Robin Hood.”

[4] Old St. Giles’s — Church Lane and Dyot Street, 1869
G.W.M. Reynolds described the Seven Dials in his fictional The Mysteries of London:

“The shops are all of the lowest and dirtiest description; nauseous odours impregnate the atmosphere. In winter the streets are knee-deep in mud, save when hardened by the frost; and in summer they are strewed with the putrefying remnants of vegetables, offal, and filth of every description. Half-naked children paddle about in the mire or wallow on the heaps of decomposing substances just alluded to, — greedily devouring the parings of turnips and carrots, sucking the marrow out of the rotting bones, and rejoicing when they happen to find a mouldy crust, a morsel of putrid meat, or the maggot-eaten head of a fish.”
LAKE OF FILTH. Reynolds was probably not exaggerating. “There is a lake of filth under London, large enough to swallow the whole population,” said one journalist in 1852. The houses in the nefarious Jacob’s Island overlooked a quadrangular ditch which was the reeking common sewer of the neighbourhood, where the dwellers took water for drinking, washing and cooking.

“In the bright light it appeared the colour of strong green tea, and it positively looked as solid as black marble in the shadow; indeed it was more like watery mud than muddy water: and yet we were assured this was the only water the wretched inhabitants had to drink…”
The muck was put into buckets and left to stand for a few days, once the effluvium had settled the liquid was skimmed from the top and used to slake the thirst of the poverty stricken wretches who lived there.

“Supposing the peripatetic to have well lost himself in Seven Dials… Supposing him to have been told to move on, to have been mocked, cursed, hooted, and to have one oyster-shell, and one turnip-stalk cast at him by way of reply, and supposing him, finally, to have become so wearied and dispirited with the noise, the dirt, the smell, the horrible labyrinth he has wandered into, and the howling fiends that come dancing and fighting from it, that he feels half inclined to throw himself under the wheels of the fire-engine that comes tearing by (there always is a fire — when there isn’t a murder going on in the vicinity of Seven Dials), or to rush into any one of the seven gin-palaces that stare at him like seven Acherons, and drink himself to madness with vitriolic acid and coculus indicus: this desirable state of things being arrived, and state of mind attained, I beg to offer to the peripatetic a friendly remedy against suicide or insanity. He will find solace, amusement, and instruction, in the contemplation of “cocks…”
“Now, a cock is a lie. It is, however, so far different from and above simple mendacity, that to succeed, it must be a lie pictorial, a lie literary, a lie poetical, or a lie dramatic. And, it must be, above all things, a lie typographical; for an unprinted Chanticleer is a mere rumour, that brings profit to no one; whereas, printed, it is sold for a halfpenny, and brings bread into the mouth of a seller.” Bright Chanticleer, George Augustus Sala, 1855
GHASTLY PLOT. In the first volume of his dreadful masterpiece, The Mysteries of London, G.W.M. Reynolds told of a boy, seven, and a girl, five, sent out begging by a drunken parent, who returned home short of money and were fearfully beaten by the harridan. The mother hatched a ghastly plot with her husband, just returned from jail, namely, to blind the girl so she would be more effective a beggar.

“There’s nothin’ like a blind child to excite compassion,” added the woman coolly. “I know it for a fact,” she continued, after a pause, seeing that her husband did not answer her. “There’s old Kate Betts, who got all her money by travelling about the country with two blind girls; and she made ‘em blind herself, too she’s often told me how she did it; and that has put the idea in my head.”
“And how did she do it ?” asked the man, lighting his pipe, but not glancing towards his wife; for although her words had made a deep impression upon him, he was yet struggling with the remnant of a parental feeling, which remained in his heart in spite of himself.”
“She covered the eyes with cockle shells, the eye-lids, recollect, being wide open; and in each shell there was a large black beetle. A bandage tied tight around the head, kept the shells in their place, and the shells kept the eye-lids open. In a few days the eyes got quite blind, and the pupils had a dull white appearance.”
“And you’re serious, are you?” demanded the man.
“Quite,” returned the woman, boldly: “why not?”
“Why not indeed?” echoed Bill, who approved of the horrible scheme, but shuddered at the cruelty of it, villain as he was.”
“Ah! Why not?” pursued the female: “one must make one’s children useful somehow or another…”
Reynolds’s readers, servants, shop-girls and costermongers, would probably have been familiar with the awful tale as a “cock,” periodically dusted off and sent bawling Phoenix-like through the neighbourhoods to rake up halfpennies for the umpteenth time. Sala noted that the older the cock was the more it was admired.

            “For, observe, though personal reflections upon the aristocracy do not go down among the nobs at the Westend, horrors are always sure of a sale. The inhuman mother with the black beetles is a great favourite in all the areas that sober insect, the beetle, coming familiarly home to the serving man and woman’s mind in connection with the kitchen dresser and the coal-cellar and ofttimes, as a patterer dwells, with grim minuteness, upon the horrible perticklers of the murder; or the agonies of the small children under the walnut shells; or, as with grisly unction he describes Vyenna in flames; the red flag of the Marsellays histed over Paris; the Kezar’s hanser to the Hemperer; war to the last rubble and the last knife; the Preston strike hended in blood; the hartillery called out; or (a very favourite device), ferocious hattempt upon Her Majesty by a maniac baker; you will see John the footman, or Mary the housemaid, steal up the area steps and into the street, purchase a halfpenny of dire intelligence, which, shallow cock as it is, is read with trembling eagerness and enthralled interest, in kitchen or servant’s hall, till the cat puts her back up by the fire, and the hair of the little footpage stands on end.”
COCKS. The cocks were not exclusive to the Seven Dials; cocks were also used in the morning, afternoon and Sunday newspapers. Her Majesty’s invented doings were a favourite subject of newspaper “chanticleers”:

“The Queen enters Highland cottages; eats bannocks; tastes the whiskey… adopts children, and pensions octogenarians. She asks the way down by-lanes and across commons of country boys, and slips sovereigns into their hands when she leaves them; writes Victoria with a diamond ring upon cottage window-panes, and makes anonymous water-colour drawings in the albums of private families. As to Prince Albert, he carries schoolboys’ pickaback, makes the Prince of Wales (with some touching moral remarks) present his patent leather shoes to a beggar, and matches his cob against the trotting pony of a butcher…” Bright Chanticleer by George Augustus Sala, in Household Words, March 31, 1855

[5] Curiosities of Street Literature, 1871
The reports of the outrages of Spring-Heel’d Jack must have been seen as a “good go” by purveyors of street literature. The chanters, ballad-sellers and newspaper vendors of the Seven Dials, were all part of an efficient system of distribution that helped spread rumours throughout the city of London, London’s suburbs, and into rural areas, through ballads, ‘cocks,’ dying confessions and Dream Books.

FLYING STATIONERS. The authors of these ephemeral works took any job offered; they wrote begging letters, translated French and Latin works, hacked broadsheets and songs, wrote numbers for penny bloods, and edited penny papers. This motley and enterprising crew included patterers, the ‘haristocracy’ of street sellers, who cried the “last dying speeches” under the scaffold; chaunters of street ballads, who bawled their wares from the Holy Land (aka St. Giles) to the mansions of the West-end; and flying stationers who ordered ballads, broadseets and penny books (bearing the words Printed for the Flying Stationers), for distribution in the country at large commercial fairs. 

“The patterer is a liar by profession. It is true, he prefers truth, if it is to be had, but this is simply because it will serve his purpose better, not from any moral preference. As long as real crimes are committed often enough to keep the trade brisk, it would be a useless expense to spend time and money forging fictitious ones. But if no Rush or Manning is atrocious enough to dip his hands in the blood of his fellowman, the patterer does not scruple to make a murder for the occasion. The practice has prevailed so long that a large number of successful cases are on hand, to be brought out whenever necessary. Some dreadful tales have in this way been reproduced again and again for fifty years back. “The Scarborough Tragedy” has been worked for twenty years or more. Every winter its horrors are retailed as of the most recent occurrence.” Street Literature of London, in Leisure Hour, January 1852.

DYING SPEECH. The last dying speeches were doggerel verse broadsheets accompanied by wretched shudder impelling woodcuts hawked beneath the gallows itself on execution days. They were one of the oldest forms of literature in England dating back to at least 1605 with The Life and Death of Gamaliel Ratsy. Ratsy was a theatrical Elizabethan gentleman highwayman (also called highway-lawyers) who supposedly wore a hideous feathered owl-mask to terrify his victims into compliance.

[6] Curiosities of Street Literature, 1871
POVERTY. Most of the authors of the catchpenny productions of the Seven Dials were impecunious wretches who spent their lives between the gin-houses and the debtor’s prison, earning a precarious living by editing bawdy periodicals, newspaper penny-a-lining and writing topical songs. One song-writer, “Captain” Jack Mitford, who died in December of 1831 in St. Giles’s workhouse, sold the celebrated song “Our King is a True British Sailor,” to seven publishers in the Seven Dials, and “questioned how he could think of acting so basely to Mr. Williams, (to whom he had first sold the song, and who had expended much in advertising the same) he replied, — “Sir, my poverty and not my will consented.”

According to the Morning Chronicle of January 2, 1832:

“For many years Mitford has lived by chance, and slept three nights of the week in the open air, when his finances did not admit of his paying 3d. for a den in St. Giles’s. Though formerly a nautical fop, for the last fourteen years he was ragged and loathsome, he never thought but for the necessities of the moment; and having once had given to him an elegant pair of Wellington boots, sold them for a shilling; the fellow who bought them put them in pawn for fifteen shillings and came back in triumph with the money. “Ah,” said Jack, “but he went out in the cold for it.” He was the author of “Johnny Newcomb in the Navy.” The publisher gave him a shilling a day till he finished it. Incredible as it may appear, he lived the whole of the time in Bayswater fields, making a bed at night of grass and nettles. Two penny worth of bread and cheese and an onion was his daily food, the rest of the shilling he expended in gin. He thus passed 43 days, washing his shirt and stockings himself, in a pond, when he required clean linen. He was latterly employed by publishers of a humble class, and of a certain description.”
OBSCENE. Publishers “of a certain description” was Victorian shorthand for pornographers. The bawdy Crim. Con. Gazette was published at Elliot’s Genuine Foreign Wine Warehouse, at 14, Holywell-street, Strand, with Jack Mitford supplying articles and songs. Mitford also wrote verses for obscene caricature prints produced by William Benbow and J.L. Marks. Edward Duncombe, pornographer and blackmailer, had a shop at Little St. Andrew’s Street, Seven Dials.

[7] Curiosities of Street Literature, 1871
INSANE. In 1824 Mitford and Benbow, “the pirate bookseller,” appeared on a charge of libel brought by a man named Warburton, operator of a private insane asylum, who had kept Mitford incarcerated between May 1812 and March 1813, following a mental breakdown. The libels were published in A Description of the Crimes and Horrors of the Interior of Warburton’s Mad-house at Hoxton!, which quoted a keeper named Davis as saying that “it is a rule that if a man comes here mad, we will keep him so; but if he has his senses when he comes here, we will soon make him mad.”

When Benbow was served he was reported to have said, “That’s the very thing I want. It will be as good as 500l. (500 pounds) in my pocket. I have another publication ready, which will be ten times as bad.” The Jury returned damages of 500l. to the plaintiff and Benbow immediately came out with Part Second of the Crimes and Horrors of the Interior of Warburton’s Mad-houses at Hoxton and Bethnal-green!

FURIOUS WITH DRINK. The Morning Herald (of January 1832) gave much the same account of Mitford’s life as the Chronicle, adding that he “formerly edited the Scourge and Bon Ton Magazine.”

“A Mr. Elliot, a printer and publisher, took him into his house, and endeavored to render him ‘decent.’ For a few days he was sober; and a relative having sent him some clothes, he made a respectable appearance; but he soon degenerated into his former habits; and whilst editing a periodical called the Bon Ton Gazette, Mr. E. was obliged to keep him in a place half-kitchen, half-cellar, where with a loose grate tolerably filled, a candle, and a bottle of gin, he passed his days, and, with the covering of an old carpet, his nights, never issuing from his lair but when the bottle was empty. Sometimes he got furious with drink, and his shoes have been taken from him to prevent his migrating; he would then run out without them, and has taken his coat off in winter and sold it for a half-pint of gin. At the time of his death he was editing a penny production, called the Quizzical Gazette.
This miserable man was buried by Mr. Green, of Will’s coffee-house, Lincoln’s Inn Fields, who had formerly been his shipmate. He has left a wife and family, but they were provided for by Lord R–, Jack Mitford was a respectable classic, and a man of varied attainments; yet for fourteen years ‘he had not where to lay his head;’ and he has been heard to say; ‘if his soul was placed on one table, and a bottle of gin on another, he would sell the former to taste the latter.’”
FAME. Tragedy was not the lot of all peripatetic journalistic authors, however, James Grant, of whom it was said that “there is not a man in London who performs a more laborious Sabbath-day’s work,” left £9,000 at his death on 23 May 1879.

The most famous of the street publishers of ballads, dying confessions, and pamphlets was Jemmy Catnatch. When he set up his shop in London he entered into a fierce rivalry with existing entrepreneurs like Johnny Pitts and his mother, an ex-bumboat woman known as “Old Mother” Pitts, who kept the Toy and Marble Warehouse in the Seven Dials. Catnatch’s successor was W.S. Fortey, who kept the shop at Monmouth Court solvent until at least 1871.

[8] Curiosities of Street Literature, 1871
DIVIDED IN FOUR. In his collection of street literature Charles Hindley divided his subjects into four. His first category was ‘Cocks’ or ‘Catchpennies,’ Street Drolleries &c, such as Shocking Rape and Murder of Two Lovers, The Life of the Man that was Hanged but is now Alive; Funny Doings in this Neighbourhood; The Female Sleep-Walker and How to Cook a Wife.

Division II was ‘Broadsides on the Royal Family,’ ‘Political Litanies’ &c. Divison III were ‘Ballads on a Subject’ such as The Sayers and Heenan Championship Fight, The Ghost of Woeburn Square and The Female Husband. The fourth and last Division was ‘The Gallows Literature of the Streets,’ which covered trials, crimes and ‘dying confessions.’

BOARD-PAINTERS. For the most part the authors played fast and loose with the truth; although some were “founded on a fact.” If a cock was popular enough it warranted the seller doing “board-work”; renting a fixed illustrated board to sell his ‘pamphlets’ under, rather than selling them on the fly. The board-painters made gaudy use of red, orange and blue water-colours covered with gum-resin to protect them from the rainy weather.

PENNY BLOODS. The street literature of the Seven Dials, along with the rise of the penny press, encouraged the tone and subjects of the penny blood and penny dreadfuls, which were published in 8 or 16 page penny weekly parts. Thomas Frost, who wrote penny bloods for publishers Edward Lloyd and George Purkess in the 1840s, said that

“The Salisbury Square school of fiction did a good work in its day. It was the connecting link between the Monmouth Street Ballads and ‘last dying speeches,’ lives of highwaymen, and terrific legends of diabolism which constituted the favourite reading of the masses fifty years ago, and the more wholesome refined literature enjoyed by them at the present day.” — Forty Years Recollections by Thomas Frost, 1880 


Curiosities of Street Literature HERE.