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The first great photography craze

Before Instagram, selfie sticks, disposable cameras, Polaroids, and box brownies, there were carte de visites – small photographic albumen prints, mounted on card, which were wildly popular during the Victorian era.

Also known as CdV, carte de visites followed the early pioneering photographic techniques such as daguerreotype and ambrotype, which were expensive and difficult to reproduce. Cartes de visites were born from calling cards, which bore the owner’s name and usually an emblem, and were presented to the host during a social visit. Homes often had a tray near the door for collecting calling cards.

In 1854, Paris photographer Andre Adolphe Disderi patented the 2 1/2″ x 4″ carte de visite format. They  were created by using a sliding plate holder and a camera with four lenses. The technique spread to the photographic studios in the great cities of the world. Carte de visites were extensively used in the American Civil War era as families sought mementos before loved ones left for war. Queen Victoria had numerous albums filled with images of her extensive family.

Small and inexpensive to produce, cartes de visites became the international standard. They were collected, exchanged and placed in family albums. Most carte de visites were taken in studios but some adventurous photographers took them outdoors in early examples of photojournalism.

For many people, posing for a carte de visite was the first time they had been photographed. Smiles are almost completely absent. Some people look ill at ease. Most photographers posed their subjects as if they were being painted for a grand oil painting. Look past the stern expressions and you will see Victorian fashion, various accessories and props, uniforms, and hair styles and epic facial hair.

From 1860 until the end of the century, carte de visites were immensely popular. But people didn’t just want pictures of themselves or loved ones, carte de visites of celebrities were also in demand. Images of politicians, authors, explorers, sports stars and other people of note were widely circulated. Eventually the larger cabinet cards replaced CdVs as the technology behind photography continued to advance.

A Selection of Carte de Visites

Bottle Corker

This undated photo was taken in Birmingham in the Midlands. We assume a bottle corker was someone who put corks into bottles rather than removed them.

Soccer Player

An unidentified Scottish footballer/soccer player. The photo was taken by John Spence of Bridge Street, Musselburgh. Circa 1880.

Australian Soldier

Taken in Sydney in 1863, the uniform appears to be that of the New South Wales Volunteer Artillery.

Mother and Baby

This was taken in the English seaside town of Torquay circa 1880. Interesting to see that the design of the baby carriage (aka the stroller) has come full circle

Kit Carson

This 1862 carte de visite shows Kit Carson (seated) and Edwin Perrin. Carson was a frontiersman and a Wild West legend in his own lifetime. Here he is pictured in his Union army coat. Perrin led the 1st New Mexico Volunteer Infantry in the American Civil War.

General Custer

George Custer in his Union uniform in 1865. The photo is printed from a negative taken by Matthew Brady, who was best known for his Civil War photography. Custer, a Civil War hero, was killed at the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876.

Man with Top Hat

This gentleman from Palermo in Italy, circa 1870, looks like a true man about town in his immaculate clothing, dapper cane and stupendous top hat laid to one side.

Alexandre Dumas Pere & Adah Isaacs Menken

Adah Isaacs Menken was the highest paid actress in the middle of the 18th century. While performing in France in 1866, she had an affair with author Alexandre Dumas, which caused a scandal as he was more than twice her age. Her only book, Infelicia, a collection of 31 poems, was published several days after her death.

Hans Christian Andersen

The Danish author of The Little Mermaid and The Snow Queen poses for a carte de visite. A keen traveler, Andersen died in 1875.

Victor Hugo

An 1874 carte de visite of Hugo. He published his last novel in 1874, Quatre-vingt-treize, about the Reign of Terror during the French Revolution.

Boy and his Toy Horse

Circa 1880s and taken in Liverpool, the smartly dressed boy is also holding a riding crop.

Little Artists

Booted and suited, two smartly dressed boys from Naples. Circa 1860.

Lady Reading

This Italian lady is completely focused on her book. Circa 1860.

Soldier and Wife

Circa 1890, this carte de visite was taken in Bury St Edmonds. The two stripes show that he was a corporal. He’s smoking while she holds a book and looks decidedly uncomfortable.

Italian Solider

This military man from Bologna looks completely at ease.  Circa 1890s.

David Livingstone

“Doctor Livingstone, I presume?” This is the explorer David Livingstone, who was famously found by fellow explorer Henry Morton Stanley in 1871 near Lake Tanganyika in Africa.

Three Priests

A trio of Catholic priests in Rome circa 1870. Two are following instructions and posing for the shot but the third isn’t cooperating. Looks like a scene from Father Ted.

Sultan of Turkey

Abdul Aziz Khan was the 32nd Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, and reigned between 1861 and 1876. A formidable looking man.

William Makepeace Thackeray

Taken in London, undated.  William Makepeace Thackeray was a novelist famous for writing Vanity Fair.

Edward VII

Taken in September 1863 when he was the Prince of Wales, Edward is wearing full Highland dress. Abergeldie Castle is close to the Queen’s Scottish home of Balmoral.

Randolph Churchill

Winston’s dad. Randolph was both Chancellor of the Exchequer and Leader of the House of Commons during his Tory political career.

Swiss Costume

Circa 1870, a lady in traditional Swiss dress.

Water Carrier

A Venetian water carrier around 1870.

Facial Hair

This gentleman from Torino has outstanding muttonchops. Circa 1870.

Dad and Kids

It must have been a cold day when this father posed with his warmly wrapped up children.

From Guernsey with love, Annie Barrows interview

Author Annie Barrows is the guest on the latest AbeBooks podcast. Annie is the co-author of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society, one of the most popular novels of the past 10 years.

Annie Barrows

Published in 2008, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society has been published in 37 countries and in 32 languages, and been adapted into a movie on Netflix. The novel is an epistolary story, told mostly via letters, set in World War II Guernsey during the occupation by Nazi Germany. It’s a book that shows the enduring power of literature in the most trying circumstances.

Annie speaks about how she came to be listed as co-author along with her aunt Mary Ann Schaffer. We also discuss historical research, and how the novel has affected Guernsey’s tourism industry, and book clubs around the world.

Annie is also the author of various other titles for adults and children. Her Ivy and Bean series stretches to a dozen books that have been delighting young readers around the world since 2006. She has a degree in medieval history and a masters in creative writing, and has worked as an editor for the publishing house, Chronicle Books. Annie’s website offers a wealth of information about her career.

Find copies of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society

Lily James stars in Netflix’s adaption of the Guernsey novel Pic: Kerry Brown/Netflix

Talking wine with Natalie MacLean

We’re talking wine in the latest AbeBooks podcast. Award-winning wine critic Natalie MacLean joins us to discuss the wonderful world of wine, from the most famous vineyards to wine in literature, $15 wines versus $30 wines, tasting in the digital age, pairings with food, and much more.

Natalie (pictured) is the author of two books about wine – Red, White and Drunk all Over, which is about many areas of the wine business from critics to vineyards and wine shops, and Unquenchable, where Natalie visits the world’s vineyards producing affordable wines and reveals the stories behind these businesses. Natalie is drawn to the people behind the wine world and both books could easily fall into the memoir or travel categories.

In our interview, we learn that Natalie loves literature with wine references, such as The Cask of Amontillado by Edgar Allan Poe – a tale of revenge, wine and catacombs.

Her website is a huge resource for winelovers, full of reviews, ratings and recommendations. Natalie has also recently launched the Unreserved Wine Talk Podcast where she interviews notable people from the wine business, and talks candidly about her experiences in wine. Also Red, White and Drunk all Over is now available as an audio book.

She’s truly bringing wine to a wider audience by avoiding jargon, focusing on affordable wines and telling background stories about the wines being poured into our glasses.

Natalie mentions seven Unusually Great Food and Wine Pairings in the interview and you can find out more here – champers and potato chips anyone?

Unquenchable, Natalie’s book about affordable wines

Talking Dust Jackets: An Interview with Martin Salisbury

Martin Salisbury’s book on iconic dust jacket design

The author of The Illustrated Dust Jacket 1920-1970 reveals why he loves artwork from this era.

A former illustrator, Martin Salisbury is a professor of illustration at the Cambridge School of Art in the Anglia Ruskin University in the UK. He is the author of a book called The Illustrated Dust Jacket 1920-1970, which showcases many of the great cover illustrations in modern publishing and the stories behind their creation. Martin’s also written another book called 100 Great Children’s Picture Books, but today we are talking about dust jackets.

AbeBooks: Your book, The Illustrated Dust Jacket, covers 50 years of design but is there one particular decade that is more important than others?

Martin Salisbury:  “The 1920s was the time when dust jackets were most influential because that’s when publishers were just starting to realize the potential of the dust jacket as a marketing tool rather than a protective wrapper.

“My personal favorite decade is the 1940s, the immediate post-war years. It just seems like the most creative period. It’s been called the neo-romantic period, but after all that austerity there seemed to be a craving for art, and literature, and poetry, and beauty. Some people criticize that period for being slightly in-ward looking. But there were many great designs and paintings during those years.”

AbeBooks: How did you discover the techniques and mediums used by each illustrator to produce their jacket art?

Martin Salisbury: “Having trained as an illustrator in the 1970s and worked as an illustrator before I got involved in education, the print processes, the techniques and the media are things I am very familiar with. I can recognize the processes from experience. My books are printed by offset lithography but going back in time people were using letterpress printing where artists had to print each color as a separation so there was a much closer relationship between artist and printer. Today, the illustrator can create their artwork in any media, be partly digital, and there is no real need to work closely with the printer. Anything can be printed. Some artists are now limiting themselves to two or three colors and returning to the more organic look. It’s a reaction to the overtly digital aesthetic.”

AbeBooks: Out of all the jackets you’ve seen and considered, is there one jacket that is your personal favorite?

Martin Salisbury: “There are many. The Illustrated Dust Jacket is full of personal favorites and many of the reproductions are from books I own myself.  There’s one that stands out, the jacket to Time Was Away published in 1948 in the UK and designed by John Minton, an artist who I have somewhat of an obsession about. The design falls into the neo-romantic period. It’s a gorgeous wrap-around cover that evokes travel and in this instance it’s a travel book about Corsica.”

Martin’s book highlights artists such as Victor Reinganum

AbeBooks: There are a number of travel books featured in your dust jackets book.

Martin Salisbury:   “Yes, previously travel wasn’t as accessible to ordinary people so the power to evoke another place is key. Time Was Away – that’s a line taken from a Louis MacNeice poem. It’s about the languor of being in a faraway place. You also see it in cookery books when they were trying to show where the recipes were coming from, trying to be exotic I think.”

AbeBooks: Perhaps you can explain how dust jackets changed from being plain wrappers that were often thrown away to being pieces of art used to market books?

Martin Salisbury:  “The dust wrapper term has clung on but originally they were just that – wrappers in the shop. They would serve to protect the book until the point of sale and then be thrown away. Towards the end of the century, wrappers would have some typography, occasionally printed decorations, and then in the 1910s and 1920s they started to become these wrap-around artistic jackets and they became the norm.”

AbeBooks: Do you ever come across beautiful vintage jacket designs that you’ve never seen before and that stop you in your tracks?

Martin Salisbury: “Fortunately, yes, but it’s becoming less and less frequent. I visit secondhand bookshops and book fairs. One still stumbles across somethings. Sometimes I recognize the artist and sometimes I don’t. Recently I came across a beautiful little book called The Last of the Dragons from 1947 by A. de Quincey and illustrated by Brian Robb, who used to be head of illustration at the Royal College of Art, a wonderful artist. I snapped it up for a mere £5. It seems to be very scarce. It’s a great joy to come across something you’ve never seen before.”

The first edition of Fitzgerald’s classic novel

AbeBooks: Are dust jacket illustrators always credited?

Martin Salisbury:  “Usually, but in the early years it was more common for artists not to be credited. However, sometimes you’d see that the artist had sneaked a signature onto the cover itself. Every now and again, there’s a cover where it’s impossible to find who did it.

“There have been many examples of uncredited artworks. For instance, the cover of the first edition of Tender is the Night by F Scott Fitzgerald, a beautiful South of France Riviera scene. I came across a copy at a book fair in London and opened it up in the hope of seeing the illustrator’s name but the only thing I saw was the price tag which was £18,000. I was so terrified that I put it back and I still don’t know who the artist is.”

AbeBooks: What are your thoughts on modern dust jacket design?

Martin Salisbury:  “We are in a golden age again. The UK has seen a surge in hardback book sales, led the children’s book market and we are seeing beautifully designed books. They had to become more and more beautiful to compete with the screen. Jackets are embossed and spot laminated. A lot do hark back to that mid-century period and people are using printmaking techniques like linocuts and wood engravings which are in vogue again, even if they are artificially created digitally.”

AbeBooks: What about jacket design in places like Germany and Russia during this period? There must have also been some influential designs in these countries?

Martin Salisbury: “Eastern Europe and Russia has a fantastic history in book design but it often was constructivist in design or Bauhaus themed, while my book focused on more pictorial designs. The Eastern European traditional is a lot more abstract, and harsh in a way but very beautiful. The Weimar Republic was an absolute high point – there’s a wonderful book by Taschen called The Book Cover in the Weimar Republic, but again more graphic than pictorial.”

AbeBooks: And finally what are you reading now?

Martin Salisbury:  “An extremely obscure book – based on the jacket design, which has been sitting by my bed for a very long time. It’s called Caribbean Nights by William J Makin and the jacket design is by Leslie Holland. It was published by Robert Hale in 1939.  It has the most beautiful exotic patterned design. It’s the memoirs of Makin when he was setting up a newspaper in Jamaica, it’s a mix between a travel book and a memoir. Absolutely fascinating.”

Rare Books LA – the new face on the book fair scene

A new book fair is about to make its debut. Rare Books Los Angeles occurs on February 1 and 2 at the Pasadena Convention Center. It is organized by Brad and Jen Johnson, the husband and wife bookselling team behind Johnson Rare Books & Archives. They also run a bricks and mortar bookshop in Covina on the outskirts of Los Angeles.

More than 100 sellers, including many of the world’s top antiquarian dealers, will be offering rare books, prints, photos and ephemera at Rare Books LA.

“Our guiding principle is to be inclusive,” said Brad Johnson, “And to bring in a lot of trades that are allied to the rare book business. We are working closely with the International Fine Print Dealers Association and a consortium of mostly Los Angeles-based specialists in classic photography. There’s always been a lot of overlap between their worlds and the book trade, and we thought it would be a great opportunity to get everyone under one roof.”

If you wish to visit Rare Books LA, then it’s at the Pasadena Convention Center on Friday 1 Feb from 2pm to 8pm and Saturday February 2 from 10am to 6pm.

A ticket costs $20 on the Friday, which is good for both days and proceeds benefit the Huntington Library, and tickets will cost $10 on the Saturday.

However, there is an online promotional code for AbeBooks customers which entitles you to a 50% discount on tickets to the fair. Just use ABEBOOKS when prompted in the checkout process.

More details and tickets can be found at rarebooksla.com

Listen to our podcast interview with the Johnsons where we discuss Rare Books LA plus their bookshop dog (Elke), heavy metal books, Wayne’s World, acting, menus, vintage board games, and Hugh Hefner’s library.

The Johnsons…. organisers of Rare Books LA

And yes, we do mean heavy metal books, which is a particular passion for Brad. Frustrated that books and ephemera about the punk era gets all the attention, Brad is on a mission to discover and highlight key moments in the 50-year history of heavy metal through books and other printed matter.

Scott Baker Wallace, avid collector of Agatha Christie

Scott Baker Wallace, devoted collector of Agatha Christie books and objects

Meet Scott Baker Wallace from Victoria in Australia. Scott is a devoted collector of Agatha Christie books and also other objects associated with her detective stories. In our latest podcast, Scott describes his adventures in collecting and the places he’s visited along the way.

Christie wrote 66 novels, 14 short stories and the world’s longest running stage play. More than a billion copies of her books have been sold.

We all think we know something about Agatha Christie, who remains the world’s most famous writer of detective fiction. However, you’ll find Scott takes Agatha Christie knowledge to another level. Enjoy the interview.

Podcast interview with Rebecca Baumann

Rebecca Baumann enjoys collecting HP Lovecraft books

We interview Rebecca Baumann in the latest episode of AbeBooks’ Behind the Bookshelves podcast. Rebecca’s day job is Head of Library Public Services at the Indiana University’s Lilly Library in Bloomington, Indiana. The Lilly contains one of North America’s finest collections of rare books and manuscripts. However, we are discussing Rebecca’s personal book collection of crime, science fiction, horror and what she describes as “smut paperbacks” from the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, which can also be labelled as pulp. Rebecca has a deep fascination with books that are unusual and weird. We think you’ll enjoy the interview, which takes us from the vaults of Indiana University to HP Lovecraft’s New York and the modern-day book fairs of London.

Some of the books mentioned by Rebecca include:

Helen’s Story by Rosanne Rabinowitz – a modern retelling of Arthur Machen’s classic novella The Great God Pan.

Mrs Caliban by Rachel Ingalls – a lonely married woman encounters a gigantic frog-like creature recently escaped from a sadistic laboratory.

At the Mountains of Madness by HP Lovecraft – in the Antarctic, an expedition uncovers strange fossils and a lot of terror.

The King in Yellow by Robert Chambers – a masterpiece of weird fiction.

The Checklist of Fantastic Literature  (see image below) – the first bibliography of science fiction, fantasy and weird books in the English language with more than 5,000 books listed.

Death of a Sadist by RR Ryan – the tale of a young man who admires art so much he loses his soul over it.

The Pale Ape by M.P. Shiel – a collection of supernatural fiction first published in 1911.

The Auctioneer by Joan Samson – the ways of a small town are suddenly undermined by the systematic demands of a magnetic newcomer.

A superb dust jacket design


Judge’s copy of Lady Chatterley sells for £56,000

A copy of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, used by the judge who presided over the famous 1960 obscenity trial, has sold for more than £56,000 (about $71,500) at auction, reports the BBC.  Judge Laurence Byrne brought the copy of DH Lawrence’s novel into the courtroom each day. As everyone knows, Penguin, the book’s publisher, was found not guilty.

The judge’s wife Dorothy Byrne had read the book and indicated the sexually explicit passages to her husband who did not read the book. During the trial, Laurence Byrne famously asked whether the novel was “a book that you would… wish your wife or your servants to read.”

The Illustrated Dust Jacket 1920-1970

One of our favorite books of 2018 has been The Illustrated Dust Jacket 1920-1970 by Martin Salisbury.  This is a book for anyone who loves beautiful dust jackets. It traces the evolution of the book jacket from its functional origins as a plain protective covering. Salisbury celebrates the work of more than 50 artists from Rockwell Kent to Edward Gorey and NC Wyeth, and covers several styles including Art Deco from the 1920s and 1930s.

Find copies

Lisa Grimm: an interview with a ghostlore collector

Our latest edition of the Behind the Bookshelves podcast features an interview with Lisa Grimm (pictured), who is a collector of books about ghostlore, general folklore and weird fiction. Lisa, who lives in Seattle, is a trained librarian but no longer works in libraries. Brought up in St Louis, Lisa has also lived in the UK.  Aside from books, her other passions are craft beer and travel, and her website offers more on these subjects. She tweets as @lisagrimm.

First editions of MR James’ Ghost Stories of an Antiquary – books Lisa would like to own.

Among the authors mentioned by Lisa is MR James, who is famous for his ghost stories.  Montague Rhodes James (1862-1936) was a scholar at Cambridge University. In some respects, he modernized the ghost story format. He wrote a number of collections, including Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1904), More Ghost Stories of an Antiquary (1911), A Thin Ghost and Others (1919), and A Warning to the Curious and Other Ghost Stories (1925). They were designed to be read aloud to a group for entertainment. A typical “Jamesian” tale often includes the discovery of an old book or another old object that usually creates a world of supernatural trouble for someone.

A selection of Lisa Grimm’s ghostlore books

Haunted East Anglia by Joan Forman – one of Lisa’s exciting discoveries

A selection of Lisa’s early printings of Rider Haggard books