Tuesday, September 24, 2013

The Man who sold Alton Towers

Charles Chetwyn Talbot, 20th Earl of Shrewsbury (1860 – 1921) was this man, and it turns out that he was a bit of a cad. Having inherited the title at the age of 16, he proceeded at the age of 19 to elope with an older, wealthy, married woman, by which he had two children. As a commoner his wife was never accepted by the aristocracy, whereas the Earl went on to receive several honours, including one from the Queen. The couple separated in 1896, a few months after this letter was written, and Shrewsbury decamped to Ingestre Hall, twenty or so miles south of Alton Towers.

Perhaps Lady Shrewsbury felt her husband was spending more time with his sporting passions and business interests than he was with her. He was, after all, potty about  polo and the letter addressed to ‘ B ‘ was probably sent to Algernon Burnaby, one of his regular polo pals at Alton Towers. When he moved to Ingestre he established the Staffordshire Polo Club there. He also owned a hansom cab service—the vehicles being emblazoned with ‘ S. T ‘ for Shrewsbury and Talbot. He was the first to have those cabs that operated in London and Paris fitted with noiseless tyres. In addition, he was a motoring pioneer. In 1903 his company, Clement Talbot Ltd, began to import from France what became the ‘Talbot ‘car.

According to the official History, Alton Towers was sold to a group of local businessmen in 1920. A year later, The Earl died and the title was inherited by his grandson, his own son, Viscount Ingestre, having died during the War. In 1924 the grounds began to be developed as a tourist attraction and the dowager Lady Shrewsbury was booted out of the house she had known for 44 years and re-housed, probably at Ingestre. She lived on, possibly more accepted by now, until 1940.

After the Second World War Alton Towers fell into decay, but by now the vast grounds had become a popular resort. It was only after 1973 that the Alton Towers amusement park, with its terrifying rides and spectacular features, came into being. The ruins of the house are now part of the Alton Towers Experience.[RR]

Monday, September 23, 2013

King Kong's Vital Statistics

Found in Mostly Monsters by John Robert Colombo (Ontario 1977). A curious work of 'found' poems mainly from monster books and movies. For example, this piece extracted from Gustav Meyrink's 1915 novel The Golem:

But this I know-
That there is something here
In our quarter of the town...
Something that cannot die,
And has its being within our midst.
From generation to generation
Our ancestors have lived here
In this place, 
And no one has heard more tales
About this reappearance
Of the Golem-
Happenings actually experienced
As well as handed down-
Than I have.

Another 'poem' is taken from a publicity handout for Merian Cooper's 1932 movie King Kong:

Height   50 feet

Face   7 feet from hairline to chin

Nose   2 feet

Lips   6 feet from corner to corner

Brows   4 feet 3 inches

Mouth   6 feet when stretched as a smile 

Eyes   Each 10 inches long

Ears   1 feet long

Eye-Teeth   10 inches high, 7 inches at base

Molars   14 inches round 4 inches high

Chest 60 feet in repose

Legs  15 feet

Arms  23 feet

Reach   75 feet

Thursday, September 19, 2013

NIM - the first Computer Game (1951)

Sold this item about 10 years back for $500. Possibly worth a whole lot more now. The game is the same as the match-stick game being played in the movie L'Année Derniere a Marienbad and is said to have originated in ancient China where it was known as Tsyanchidzi the 'picking stones game.' The match game can now be played online at the Archimedes' Lab site. Good luck if you can beat your computer there!

Computer manual. Original booklet from The Festival of Britain, 1951 with the words "FASTER THAN THOUGHT." on cover with the Festival's symbol.

Revealed to the public as part of the Science Exhibition at the Festival of Britain in 1951, the Ferranti Nimrod Computer was the first ever computer game - a machine built exclusively for the purpose of playing a computerized version of the logical game of 'Nim'
(From the booklet) The game is for two players, being played nowadays with matches. At the beginning of the game one of the players arranges the matches in any number of heaps in any way he chooses. The players then move alternatively taking any number of matches from any one heap but at least one match must always be taken. In the normal simple game the player who succeeds in taking the last few matches wins but in the reverse simple game the player who takes the last match or matches loses. 

Nimrod could play all the variations of the game and at the exhibition members of the public were invited to play against the machine; at the end of each game the computer would flash up the message 'COMPUTER WINS' or 'COMPUTER LOSES'. When the famous British scientist and ENIGMA codebreaker Alan Turing played it he managed to beat the computer, although witnesses were amused by a malfunction whereby Nimrod 'changed its mind' from 'COMPUTER LOSES' to 'COMPUTER WINS' and refused to stop flashing.

The booklet, which was sold at the exhibition for a shilling and sixpence, is a detailed guide to the machine and how it plays the Nim game, preceded by a more general introduction to the emergent sciences of computing and artificial intelligence. As an indication of how early the language is, it could be noted that the term 'memory' is mentioned only as an alternative to the preferred term 'storage'. Rare -  so elusive that it is not listed by Hook and Norman in their compilation of the most exhaustive bibliography of computer literature to date, The Origins of Cyberspace.

Two Windmill Girls play Nim at the Festival of Britain

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Rudolph Putnam Messel—a forgotten member of The Brideshead Generation

When, a few years ago, I bought a copy of Ernst Toller’s Brokenbrow (1926) for its brilliant illustrations by George Grosz, I didn’t take much notice of the bookplate. Recently, I took another look and discovered that it was made for Rudolph Messel, Oxford friend of Evelyn Waugh in the early twenties and one of the lesser known members of the 'Hypocrites Club'.

Born in 1905, the son of wealthy stockbroker Harold George Messel, art was part of Rudolph’s heritage. Famous stage designer Oliver Messel was his cousin and his aunt Maud was daughter of the celebrated Punch cartoonist Linley Sambourne. In 1918, when he was 13 he lost his mother. On his father’s death two years later Rudolph may have become a ward of his uncle Leonard, who in 1915 had inherited Nymans, in Sussex, from his father Ludwig (also a stockbroker ).While Leonard was transforming the gardens of Nymans and filling the mansion with costly art works from around Europe, his nephew Rudolph was living an effete life at Oxford as a member of the notorious Hypocrites Club, whose more famous members included Evelyn Waugh, Terence Greenidge and Lord David Cecil. In 1926, aged 21, Rudolph stayed for a few days on Lundy with Greenidge, probably on the recommendation of Waugh, who had visited the island two years earlier with some fellow Hypocrites. Greenidge and Messel had interests in common . Both liked dogs and both were keen on film. The eccentric Greenidge was perhaps a little keener on dogs than was Messel and attracted attention on Lundy by a habit of kissing his pooch on the mouth.

As a student Rudolph boasted that he intended to write a full length study of film-making which he would call This Film Business. The book, duly published in1928, was advertised as the first serious study of the cinema. It was well received and is still highly regarded by cinema historians. Messel is known to have published just one other book, Refuge in the Andes  (1939 ).

 In Oct 1947, like his Oxford contemporary Betjeman before him, Messel married the daughter of a Field Marshall, in this case the Hon Judith Horatia Birdwood, daughter  of Lord Birdwood, and the pair retired to live a life of rural bliss at the Victorian Ford House, Drewsteignton, on the edge of Dartmoor. It was Judith who designed the bookplate for her husband as a 1949 Valentine’s Day gift. The design consists of a cartouche bearing Messel’s initials around which are arranged symbolic images of his life. Going clockwise we see a typewriter followed by books, a bottle of Gordon’s gin, a tankard, a flagon of cider, a sheaf of corn and a harvest fork, a packet of cigarettes, and lastly, a sheet of music.
Messel died in 1958 at the early age of 53, possibly due to an over fondness for gin, cider and cigarettes. Oddly, Rudolph’s cousin Oliver features several times in Humphrey Carpenter’s The Brideshead Generation (1989), but there is no mention of Rudolph.

Today, you can buy Rudolph and Judith’s former home in Drewsteignton, albeit with several modern alterations that doubtless would not have met with their approval. With its 7 bedrooms, this Victorian mansion stands in extensive grounds, and can be had for a very reasonable £1.3M  [RH]

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Boon Haw's Tiger Balm Car

Aw Boon Haw was the founder of the Tiger Balm fortunes.  His splendid sports car is shown in Carveth Wells 1940 book North of Singapore. 75 years later it is on display in the Tiger Balm mansion Haw Par Villa in Singapore. Aw Boon Haw used to drive the car (a customised Humber) around Singapore, a tiger head on the radiator, fangs protruding, wire whiskers. Red bulbs were in the eyes, and the horn sounded like a tiger’s roar. Great publicity - way before Shell's  "tiger in your tank."

There is a story of a road rivalry between Boon Haw and Sultan Ibrahim of Johore. Sultan Ibrahim was a sportsman and hunter. The incident took place when the Sultan, enraged at being overtaken by Boon Haw in his famous Tiger Car. Sultan Ibrahim shot at the Tiger Car on Bukit Timah Road. It was considered lese-majesté to overtake royalty even on foreign roads*. Notwithstanding, the British colonial administration forbade the Sultan thereafter from visiting Singapore ever again except for purpose of going to and from the Singapore airport.

* This tradition of royal road rage still persists among plutocrats - for example Aristotle Onassis's biographer notes that he detested anyone who overtook his Porsche...

Friday, September 13, 2013

Salinger reading Salinger

An auction concluded this August at the august RR Auctions where a credit card receipt signed by the reclusive J. D. Salinger made $450. It was described thus:

Receipt for a purchase of two books at the Dartmouth Bookstore in Hanover, NH, on November 11, 2001, 2.75 x 7.5, signed in black ballpoint, “J. Salinger.” In fine condition, with an area of slight staining at the bottom. Pre-certified PSA/DNA and RR Auction COA.

This was spotted by a Jot101 reader (many thanks JK) who saw the salient point in the lot - one of the books was about the writer himselWith Love and Squalor: 14 Writers Respond To The Work Of J.D. Salinger.

This writer remembers Catcher in the Rye being confiscated at school in the 1960s and one of the 'Squalor' contributors, Walter Kirn, talks of how the book was snatched from his hand and thrown across the floor at college when he was reading it after the murder of John Lennon (it was reported that his assassin had found secret messages in the novel.) It is not uncommon for a writer to buy books about himself - we had a copy of J. Franklin Bruce's book on Robert Heinlein extensively annotated by Heinlein. Of course being notably litigious JDS may have been looking for something to put his lawyers on to...

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

A Devastated Bookshop

Sold in auction in New York 25/6/13 as part of  'The Library of Stuart and Caroline Schimmel' a pair of book related watercolours. These paintings appear to have been traded several times in the last 20 years but here made $3250 including the 'juice' (i.e. Bonham's sturdy 25%). Described thus:-


PARKMAN, ALFRED EDWARD. 1852-c.1930. Two original watercolors, "Canynge House, Redcliffe Street after the Great Fire 1881," 295 x 242 mm and 303 x 247 mm, the first titled and signed "Parkman." Float-mounted, matted and individually framed.

Canynges House was built in the middle of the 15th century by a family of rich Bristol merchants; the original Renaissance fireplace is depicted in the first drawing. By the 19th century the house was occupied by C.T. Jefferies & Sons, printers and booksellers, and is shown here after the disastrous fire of October, 1881.

These slightly  disturbing images are reminiscent of the well known photos taken of the library at Holland House in Kensington, London after enemy attack in WW2.

Monday, September 9, 2013

The model for the Phantom of the Opera’s girl

It is now generally accepted that the Swedish diva Christine Nillson, afterwards Duchess de la Miranda ( 1843 – 1921), was the model for the Phantom’s lover, Christine Daee in Gaston Laroux’s novel The Phantom of the Opera (1910). Both figures have biographical facts in common—both were Swedish blondes with blue eyes, both sang at country fairs in Sweden to provide money for their parents and both trained in Paris.

During her brilliant career touring Europe as one of the greatest sopranos of her age—a direct rival of the Italian Adeleina Patti — Nillson must have sung before Laroux in Paris at least once, and the novelist, like so many other men of the time, was doubtless in thrall to her wonderful bel canto voice and Nordic physical beauty.

In 1887 Nillson married her second husband (Count Casa Miranda) and soon afterwards retired, to become one of the best known celebs in Europe. The undated, rather effusive letter to ‘Mrs Kennard’-- probably the now forgotten ‘horsey’ novelist ( a sort of late Victorian Jilly Cooper )--Mrs Edward Kennard ( 1850 - 1936 ) post-dates 1895, when the Hotel Metropole in Brussels opened its doors. As the singer mentions having recently stayed at this ultra exclusive resort of the rich and famous (both then and now), and as she was writing  to Kennard from the swanky Grand Hotel in Menton on the French Riveira, it seems likely that  post- retirement, she was still a very wealthy woman. [RH]

Friday, September 6, 2013

Fulham Gallery. (First exhibition.) Only Connect.

Having just sold this art catalogue we would like to record it's passing by archiving the catalogue entry. A rare John Fowles item, amongst other things, and visually attractive and interesting to touch and handle. A record of when the Fulham Road was an artistic hub...the title is from E.M. Forster (the epigraph to Howard's End) and has been adapted more recently by waggish dealers as 'Only Collect.'

Tall narrow 8vo. Trendy in appearance with blue thin plastic covers printed orangey red over abstract photo by Michael Dillon. No date (1967). Stiff plastic spine with 18 page catalogue printed recto only on 3 different coloured papers. Short introduction by John Fowles ('Only Connect.') Foreword by the d/w illustrator Tom Adams whose gallery this was. It was showing the work of poet / artists like Michael Horowitz and Asa Benveniste and established artists like Prunella Clough, Carel Weight and John Bratby. The first item listed in the unillustrated catalogue was an oil by Adams 'The Magus.' Adams did the jackets for Fowles first 3 books as well as many Agatha Christie works.  A rare ephemeral item lacking from most Fowles collections. A search on the web revealed the following: 'In 1967 Adams opened the Fulham Gallery, which not only gave first exhibitions of some now famous artists, but was for several years the center of the late '60's phenomenon - the poetry print. With C.Day-Lewis (the Poet Laureate) and artist Joseph Herman and John Piper, Adams produced the investiture print for the Prince of Wales.

 Adams also designed posters for Mark Boyle's light shows (The Sensual Laboratory), going on tour with The Jimmy Hendrix Experience and The Soft Machine. His connection with the modern world of rock music continued when he met Lou Reed, an admirer of his Christie and Raymond Chandler covers. Reed asked Adams to design the cover for his first UK solo album. As a result of this friendship with Lou Reed, Andy Warhol offered to sponsor of exhibition of Tom's work in New York. Adams did eventually work in the States in the early 70's where he was asked by Marshall Arisman to teach at the New York Central School of Art.'

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Aerophobic Germany

From Pilgrimages to the Spas in pursuit of health and recreation; with an inquiry into the comparative merits of different mineral waters: the maladies to which they are applicable, and those in which they are injurious by James Johnson M.D. (London 1841). A fresh air fiend Britisher attacks unhealthy Germans...

Aerophobia. From one end of Germany to the other, among all ages, ranks, and professions, an AEROPHOBIA, or dread of fresh air, universally prevails ! If you take a seat in the diligence or eilwagen, your German neighbour in the corner closes the windows immediately, lest a breath of pure air should enter the vehicle. On arriving at the hotel, half poisoned by the disoxygenated atmosphere of the coach, and enter your chamber, you find all the windows securely fastened, and the air of the apartment a mass of heavy mephitic vapour, like that which issues from a long unopened tomb. If you descend to the spies-saal, where the air is 
still farther vitiated by the fumes of tobacco, and throw open a window, you are stared at by the ober-kellner, the under-kellner, and every "GAST" in the "HAUS," as a person deranged. I had long puzzled my brains to account for this aerophobic phenomenon, and, at last, traced its cause to 
the GERMAN STOVE that black brewery of mephitism, which, bearing a mortal antipathy to the fresh air of Heaven, imbues every one who sits near it with the same prejudice. In fine, the German exhibits as great a horror of oxygen, as he does a mania for azote! [Azote = Nitrogen] 

And what is the consequence of this? Why, that the Germans are ten times more susceptible of colds, rheumatism, face-aches, and tooth-aches, than the English, who live in a far more variable, wet, and ungenial climate. This aerophobia is one of the causes too, of that sallow, unhealthy aspect which all Germans, who are not forced to be much in the open air, 
exhibit. It is no wonder that they swarm like locusts round their numberless spas, in the Summer, to wash away some of those peccant humours engendered by their diet, and fermented by their stoves.