I'm just back from a few days in New York - an end-of-summer break which included (the first time I've ever managed this) visits to two very contrasting second-hand book dealers. Strand Books, on Broadway and 12th near Union Square, boasts eighteen miles of books, and on the top floor has a very welcoming rare book room. I picked up there this signed copy of a title by Lawrence Ferlinghetti, in my view the doyen of the Beat poets and the founder of the City Lights bookshop and imprint in San Francisco. He turns 100 next March.
Ferlinghetti has signed an awful lot of books over the years and this wasn't a first edition or anything like that - that was reflected in the modest price. I'm so pleased to have a signed Ferlinghetti.
Jose Alemany was a Catalan-American photographer with close links to the Spanish leftists; Ray Valinsky was a Pittsburgh-based Communist who gets passing mention in the minutes of the notorious House Committee on Un-American Activities.
I asked in the rare book room if they had anything in the way of political pamphlets - nothing, it seemed. But a trawl round the shelves proved them wrong. I came across these really nice anarchist propaganda pieces from a century and more ago:
And top marks for the Strand's very apposite selection of badges - I love them almost as much as old pamphlets:
The following day I came across a very different type of book store - the by-appointment-only Jumel Terrace Books near Sugar Hill in Harlem, approximately 150 blocks north of Strand Books, It's run by an exceptionally knowledgeable bibliophile and librarian, Kurt Thometz, whose passion is for West African pamphlets, often libidinous in nature, and also extends to African and African-American literature and politics.
He's also an enthusiast for the American radical Aaron Burr, vice-president during Thomas Jefferson's first term and now destined forever to be remembered as the man who shot dead Hamilton, the guy the musical is about, in a duel. Burr once lived in a very stylish mansion just across the road from Kurt's place.
A real treat to meet Kurt, see some of his library and his wonderful brown stone house - and yes, I did buy a few items. Take a look ...
Britain's behemoth - its biggest public institution, its most expensive and by far the most beloved - is celebrating its seventieth birthday.
The National Health Service was the finest creation of Britain's most radical government, the Labour administration led by Clement Attlee which came to power in the 1945 post-war general election. It was the handiwork of the most left-wing of the main figures in that Labour cabinet, Aneurin Bevan. It's not the best health system in the world by a long way - it's creaking and floundering - it's beset by attempts at marketisation and privatisation ... but no government of any persuasion would dare to replace it.
The basic principle that health care should be free to all at the point of delivery is seen as sacrosanct - and what a testament to the British people's sense of social justice.
I don't normally include government publications in my collection of political pamphlets and ephemera. But I was very pleased to come across this wonderful leaflet quite a few years back - I think in a shop in Scarborough. It was issued in February 1948 to tell people what they need to do to get an NHS doctor and free services. It is written with stunning clarity. Take a read ...
Happy birthday, NHS!
These are two lovely Young Communist League workplace-related pamphlets that I picked up at the Radical Book Fair this weekend. The one above dates from a few months before the 1926 General Strike and is about the issue which precipitated that strike - the 'Coal Kings' attempt to cut wages and lengthen working hours. It has an interesting if unsophisticated cover illustration and was one of the first pamphlets issued by the YCL.
The other pamphlet dates from the spring of 1937, buy which time the CP was a more formidable force. It's encouraging support for the Clydeside apprentices' strike - which won its key demands.
Just back from a few days in Edinburgh - and how nice to discover a city which still values second-hand books. I spent a few happy hours browsing in half-a-dozen different shops, and Peter Bell's establishment in particular was a real delight.
The best buy - an edition of Peel's speeches from 1835, which opens with his renowned Tamworth Manifesto from the close of the previous year. This is seen as a foundation stone of modern Conservatism - accepting the need for reform but in a measured manner, and to preserve established institutions rather than to transform them.
In this, Peel described the 1832 Reform Act as 'a final and irrevocable settlement of a great constitutional question'. It wasn't of course - but with these words Peel signalled that the Tories acquiesced in Parliamentary reform. And of course the next Reform Act, in 1867, was introduced by a Conservative administration - headed by Disraeli.
And here are two gems - W.E. Adams' renowned Tyrannicide: is it justifiable? - he'd initially wanted to call it 'Tyrannicide: a justification' - which sought to excuse Felice Orsini's attempt on the life of Napoleon III of France. The stalwart radical publisher Edward Truelove was prosecuted for bringing out the title in 1858; he escaped with a caution. Orsini suffered a far worse fate - he went to the guillotine.
Charles Bradlaugh's pamphlet is an evisceration of the House of Hanover from Britain's leading Republican (and atheist) of the Victorian era. One of his most successful publications was entitled The Four Georges. In the 1880s he had a monumental battle to be allowed to take his seat in Parliament as the duly elected MP for Northampton.
And then below, an extract from a squib published by William Blackwood in about 1880 entitled The Liberal Mis-Leaders. The radical - and unorthodox - Sir Charles Dilke ('Sir Citizen Dilke' he's renamed here) made an easy target ... though he had not as yet got embroiled in the divorce case with more-or-less ended his political career. You may see a passing resemblance to the people's Jezza - beard, cap and, can it be?, clogs.
Dilke's wheelbarrow bears the slogan: 'DOWN WITH EVERYTHING'. The casks in the barrow are labelled; Petroleum. And that looks like the Phrygian cap of liberty so associated with the French revolution at the end of a pike. Looks like our man is intent on blowing something up ...
William Hone's furiously angry The Political House that Jack Built - enlivened by George Cruikshank's caricatures - appeared at the close of 1819, about four months after the Peterloo massacre. You can see a copy of it here. The pamphlet sold tens of thousands of copies, and spawned many copycat titles.
This is one of those 'in the style of' tracts - a rare pamphlet looking at agricultural distress. The woodcuts are nothing like of Cruikshank's standard, but they are wonderfully hand-coloured which gives the pamphlet (this copy was once part of the Renier collection - I bought it in the past week from a specialist dealer) its charm.
See what you think:
"Hope it's as exciting as it sounds!"
That was my neighbour's comment this morning when I said I was heading off to Bloomsbury to attend my very first ephemera fair.
He had his golf clubs on his shoulder, and was heading for Wanstead Flats to play a round or two in the rain. And I hope that was as exciting as it sounds, too!
So, what happens at an ephemera fair? Well, there were thirty or forty stalls selling postcards, pamphlets, prints, posters, itsy bits of paper, maps, books, all sorts of stuff - very well organised and convivial, and well attended too. It was mainly men of a certain age - but I can hardly complain about that.
And I suppose you want to know what I came away with? Well, I'm going to tell you anyway. I got a few books, all ridiculously cheap - so the 1885 Report of the Royal Commission on the Housing of the Working Classes, with all 800 pages of minuted evidence, for £3! (OK, so it was disbound, and I guess a couple of pages of the index are missing - but still a bargain).
The pamphlet above was published by the National Council of Labour, apparently in 1935, both denouncing and mocking Oswald Mosley and his blackshirted British Union of Fascists. Mosley had visited Mussolini a few years earlier - and that's the subject of the biting Will Dyson cartoon on the cover.
But my favourite is this wonderful poster - slightly larger than foolscap - published by the CP in January 1943, when communist concern to support the war effort and so save Soviet Russia extended to speeding up production and making capitalism work more efficiently, whatever the drain it put on the workforce. This was the CP's 'Home Front' - and there's a freshness about the drawing and colouring which I find very beguiling. Richard Gold (from whom I bought this) tells me the artist was Elizabeth Shaw - there's an obituary of her here and a nice piece with photo from the Irish Times. According to her Wiki entry, she worked as a mechanic through much of the war ... so she practised what she preached.
So, that's what you come across at an ephemera fair!
A really wonderful and exciting acquisition, a bound volume of 'The Working Man' for 1862-63, one of the most notable and radical political papers in the fairly bleak period between the decline of Chartism and the upsurge in radicalism prompted by the Reform League in the mid-1860s and then the example of the Paris Commune.
'The Working Man' was socialist and internationalist, and bears the imprint of the followers of Bronterre O'Brien - about whom we have written before (he died in 1864 and is buried in Abney Park in Stoke Newington).
And this particular book is very special - it was the personal copy of George E. Harris, the secretary of the group of working class radicals who published the monthly paper. His signature is on the front end paper (you can see that below, the ink is faint but it reads 'Geo E. Harris / 1862') - and he has annotated some of the pages.
Harris was a bookseller with premises off Edgware Road, and a key figure in London ultra-radicalism: a socialist, O'Brienite, internationalist, individualist and one of a group of O'Brien-influenced radicals who later worked alongside Karl Marx in the International Working Men's Association (the First International), both delighting Marx by their class-based militancy and infuriating him by what he regarded as their 'crotchets' and eccentricities.
Alongside Harris in the committee which published 'The Working Man' were Ambrose Caston Cuddon, an important if somewhat obscure libertarian leftist, and Charles Murray, a key lieutenant of O'Brien whose political career stretched from Chartism to the Social Democratic Federation of the 1880s.
'The Working Man' made a particular fuss about the visit to London of the revolutionary and anarchist Mikhail Bakunin, 'Brother Bakunin', who was to be Marx's great rival in the First International.
At a few places, Harris has added his initials in the margins, indicating that at an anonymous letter or article was his handiwork - here's an example, a letter in response to criticism of Bakunin.
The volume includes eleven monthly issues for 1862, January to November (alas, missing a few pages, apparently a collation error) - and added in is a poorly printed issue for May 1863. This seems to be the complete run of this series of 'The Working Man'. The title reappeared, much in the same spirit, in 1866-7. A gem!
One of the most famous mastheads of the alternative press ... This issue, which I've just picked up for a fiver on Charing Cross Road, dates from October 1967. The paper launched a year earlier with a concert at the Roundhouse featuring Pink Floyd and Soft Machine, and by the time of its - or should that be it's -first birthday - it was already suffering serious grief from the police - as detailed in the excellent Wikipedia entry.
And the alluring, 'retro' woman on the masthead? Well, there's a story attached. Wikipedia's version is this: The paper's logo was a black-and-white image of Theda Bara, vampish star of silent films. The founders' intention had been to use an image of actress Clara Bow, 1920s It girl, but a picture of Theda Bara was used by accident and, once deployed, not changed.
In this issue, the centre spread is 'The Acid Report: chemical, sociological & legal aspects of LSD'. This asserts: The widespread use of LSD represents a new social force in England. In the past, drug users have always been members of the lowest classes; the poorly educated and the slum dwellers, but LSD users are "the cream of today's youth"; college and high school students, as well as advertising men, housewives and ministers. Just a little overstated perhaps, but a sign of those times.
John Peel was among the columnists ... there's a full-page ad for Jefferson Airplane's 'Surrealistic Pillow' (yes, I've still got a copy of that) ... and an ad for a concert headlined by the Jimi Hendrix Experience.
I was only eleven when this issue came out. But I keenly remember a school announcement not much later proudly listing the achievements of the sixth form school leavers. One, it said, was going to work for The International Times, which they clearly considered to be a title of great repute ... even then, I knew it was it, and its reputation wasn't quite as the school imagined.
Wonderfully, the entire archive of it is available online,
Another wonderful find - in the same place that I chanced upon Claude Cockburn's Reporter in Spain.
This cheap pamphlet was published in Dublin in 1916, in the period between the Easter Rising and the start of Sir Roger Casement's trial for high treason. Casement, a British civil servant, was alleged to have sought German support for an Irish rebellion. He was convicted, and hanged at Pentonville prison on 3rd August 1916.
This is a scarce title - notable for the cover portrait by G. Atkinson, and for Redmond-Howard's measured account of Casement (the pamphlet's sub-title is 'a character sketch without prejudice').
This copy is very fragile, the covers are loose and frayed - but it is a wonderful echo of a hugely important and contested moment in British history.
OK, I know you're dying to hear about my very successful day in Cambridge's second-hand book stores ... or more particularly in the antiquarian treasure trove at G. David, the city's premier spot for old books. So, first up - wonderful articles of an early trade society, the United Societies of Skinners, published as a broadsheet in Nottingham in 1816. The whole thing is a little bit bigger than A3 size. It's so exceptionally rare - a fantastic insight into how the artisan crafts regulated themselves.
Then ... a bound volume of William Cobbett's Weekly Political Register for the first quarter of 1821 - great political journalism from the period of ultra-radicalism during and just after the Regency. And - blow me down - bound into the back of the volume, three spellbinding political pamphlets from the era. Two of them are by Cobbett, and the third by an even more noted and intemperate radical.
William Hone's Political Catechism, from 1817, was one of his most celebrated titles - he published several Catechisms, Litanies and Creeds, both mocking the political and clerical establishment, and by their form also lampooning religious practise. In one of the most renowned political trials of the times, Hone was prosecuted - and acquitted - for offending public morals.
Of the Cobbett pamphlets, one also dates from 1817 - when he fled Britain for the United States fearing prosecution for seditious writings. He returned two years later. The other reflects his longstanding interest in the countryside and its cultivators, later reflected in one of his best-known titles, Rural Rides.
And there's more - a copy of the Rowlatt report of 1918 into revolutionary activity in India, which led the following year to the passing of the infamous Rowlatt Act, the extension of wartime emergency measures to curb political expression. The report also contains fold-out maps locating acts of political violence in Bengal, and in its principal city, Calcutta:
And at the more pedestrian - and moderately priced - end of the expedition, but no less delightful ...I got an 1889 election address for G.F. Chambers, seeking to represent Eastbourne on the East Sussex County Council.
The greater part of the pamphlet is given over to an abstract of the previous year's Local Government Act. 'The Local Government Act is, by the common consent of all parties in the State', Chambers asserted in his address, 'a great legislative experiment. The success or failure of the experiment will entirely depend on whether the Electors make choice of men of administrative experience, good business habits, and personal independence.'
These would have been the first contests for County Councils, one of the innovations under the Act. My guess is that Mr Chambers won the Eastbourne seat - does anyone out there know?
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