Monday, April 05, 2010

John Halifax , Gentleman

Pickings have been kind of slim for a collector of old books and LP's like myself. Thrift stores that once reserved entire rooms of valuable square footage to crumbling novels and vinyl have let the stock dwindle to almost nothing. This is occurring at a time when the groovy, cool or odd bit of entertainment ephemera of the past is of greater interest to collectors of vinyl. The youth market particularly is re-discovering LP's (several stores have consolidated their vinyl to one location or are separating them out before they get to the sales floor for sale via other outlets) and their scarcity may be due to this interest.

A sobering thought is that whether or not I am successful in finding something I like may have origins in the loss of a loved one from some unknown family. Books, statuettes and records are often disposed of via thrift stores from family members who are loathe to just trash the precious mementos of a deceased family member. Rather than toss boxes of LP's into the landfill it is hoped that others may find as much pleasure from the spoken-word styling of Jackie Gleason covering torch songs of the 50s as their mother once did. While the observation is purely anecdotal, cleaning out the parent's garage of a lifetime of media may be why there are so many copies of the same obscure Italian lounge singer and Swingin' Sixties instrumentals of movie themes at the local Salvation Army discount outlet. Hopefully (?) once Health Care reform is fully underway then the death panels will ensure a steady stream of old junk from Granny's attic will hit the Goodwill for collectors to pick over.

Sadly, books are becoming less important as technology renders print ever more obsolete. Thousands of books are just left to crumble from age. Truthfully there is not much of interest to be found in the copy of John Halifax, Gentleman that I scanned other than the book is of advanced age, published sometime between 1902 and 1945. Originally written in 1856 by Dinah Mulock it is a reflection of the times this volume was printed that the author is referred to only by her married name of Mrs. Craik.

The art by veteran illustrator of many Victorian tales A. A. Dixon is serviceable and competent but is rather generic. Fans of the artist may appreciate seeing some scans of his work that may not be available elsewhere. Also, those with an interest in antique medical devices could find some interest in the wheelchair used by one of the characters but it is unknown if the chair is truly representative of the devices of the time or merely an artists' fancy.

Of greater interest is the provenance of the book itself. Published in England, the inside cover bears a tag from the bookseller and personal notes of previous owners. These are artifacts that would shortly have been lost to history if not for being preserved here.

How the book made its way to San Diego, California in the United States will probably never be revealed. Moreover, the days when books were considered important enough to transport across a city during a move, much less to another continent are long past. Due to shipping costs most books are more likely to be disposed of in the trash or left in donation bins than taken along during a family relocation.

Fortunately much of the text of old, orphan works in the public domain are being preserved by libraries and other services and can be found online. Anyone who cares to read John Halifax, Gentleman can find it via Project Gutenberg or other resources. The accompanying art from the original books are rarely preserved or made available unless some publisher creates a collection for sale or amateurs like myself do so just out of enjoyment or a desire to share.

While I take pains to ensure the books remain intact others are not so respectful or cautious. I'm simultaneously horrified and grateful that industrious artists and entrepreneurs are raiding old magazines and books for the art and framing it or selling the individual pages off piecemeal. I myself own several antique and newer books full of gorgeous hand-drawn and highly-detailed illustrations of drawing and survey equipment and full-color aeronautical flight charts and night sky maps. These drawings just beg to be excised from the binding, framed and hung on a wall. While I can appreciate that old art is being preserved in some form damaging or destroying books for any reason makes me twitch a bit.

Here is a link to the entire set of scans of the art of John Halifax, Gentleman. Enjoy!


  1. I fear I am not of sufficiently strong character as to refrain from making juvenile sport of the bookseller's name. Forgive my childish nature.

  2. Found your blog when googling "Sapolio". I've been thoroughly enjoying reading your posts and this one in particular hit home with me. I am painfully torn on this issue. Being a lover of all things old I would have to be desperate to tear a book apart, it would have to be in terrible condition to begin with and not be a rare publication. Where I'm torn is I'm a born crafter, I love making things out of other peoples discards. Recently I've found many crafters using old books and sheet music to cover anything and everything. Now to bring this full circle I'd like to share with you a link to the blog that caused me to search for "Sapolio"...
    and as a bonus a link to a crafting blog that hosts many projects like what I spoke of...


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