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High School Yearbooks of the Rich and Famous

If you graduated from high school with someone who went on to become significant, then your high school yearbook could be valuable. Printed in small quantities, only a small fraction of student annuals reach the collectors market. Most people keep them for sentimental reasons and because they record family history.

Dolly Parton, now aged 72, in her high school yearbook

Yearbooks featuring famous people are popular with collectors because they offer a glimpse into the celebrity’s past when they were humble students.

Genealogists and history buffs are the next biggest collectors of yearbooks. Both are interested in the past but their collecting habits and reasons for collecting differ greatly. History buffs want to find yearbooks pertaining to a notable historical event such as the first African American to graduate from Harvard. Genealogists on the other hand are interested in the history of a specific person or family. The subject of their study may be an important figurehead or a simple tradesman but no matter who they are the yearbooks are collected to trace family lineage or migration. Sometimes family members wish to replace lost or damaged yearbooks that feature a loved one.

It’s possible to obtain the 1942 issue of the Chieftain from the University High School, West Los Angeles, which features a single small grainy picture of Marilyn Monroe. Norma Baker, as she was then, didn’t finish high school. If only they knew what was to come.

Previous sales of vintage yearbooks on AbeBooks include the 1913 Howitzer (Annual of the Corps of Cadets featuring Dwight D. Eisenhower and Omar Bradley) by the United States Military Academy for $500, the 1964 issue of The Sevierian featuring singer Dolly Parton for $500, and the 1948 issue of the Fairmount High Black and Gold yearbook featuring actor James Dean ($450).

“He thinks, he acts, ’tis done.”

Neil Armstrong

The Retrospect, 1947, Blume High School in Wapakoneta, Ohio – $6,326. The first man to walk on the Moon participated in band and the student council.

Bob Dylan, with greased back hair, surrounded by school mates

Bob Dylan

The Hematite, 1957-1959, Hibbing High School, Hibbing, Minnesota – $6,000. Mentioned by his real name of Robert ‘Bob’ Zimmerman, Dylan is instantly recognizable from these photos.

Janis Joplin died in 1970

Janis Joplin

Yellow Jacket, 1960, Thomas Jefferson High School, Port Arthur, Texas – $3,500. Joplin appears in cap and gown looking cheery, with her credits listed as the art club, the Slide Rule Club, both the Future Teachers and the Future Nurses. This book includes former Dallas Cowboys coach Jimmy Johnson.

The Boss… at school.

Bruce Springsteen

The Log, 1967, Freehold Regional High School, Freehold, New Jersey – $3,000. Born to study, the Boss in a suit and a tie.

High schooler “Billy” Clinton meets John F Kennedy

Bill Clinton

Old Gold, 1964, Hot Springs High School, Hot Springs National Park, Arkansas – $2,500. Includes a famous photo of Clinton shaking hands with John F Kennedy. Clinton also played saxophone in the All-State band, and appeared in various clubs and societies.

Kurt Vonnegut never lost that fine head of hair

Kurt Vonnegut

Shortridge Annual 1940, Shortridge High School, Indianapolis. The hair is the same. Slaugherhouse Five author Vonnegut was a member of the student council and an editor on the newspaper.

Football player, choir boy and eventually Meatloaf


The Document 1965, Thomas Jefferson High School, Dallas, Texas – $375. Meatloaf, using his real name, M.L. Aday, is pictured in a photo as a tackle on the football team. He also sang in the choir.

Nellie Lee is, of course, Harper Lee

Harper Lee

The Corolla, 1947-1948, University of Alabama – Two copies, $800-$1,000. The Corolla was Lee’s university yearbook. The 1947 edition includes a shot of Lee as the editor of the student humor magazine ‘Rammer Jammer’.

The World’s Dullest Postcards

More than a million vintage postcards are listed for sale on AbeBooks showing everything from pre-revolution Cuba to Zaire. Spectacular buildings, stunning views, and amazing natural wonders are easy to find. But we were drawn to the picture postcards showing some of the dullest imagery imaginable. Empty rooms, administrative buildings, views of busy highways and parking lots. Take our tour of 10 incredibly dull postcards – wish you weren’t here, love AbeBooks.

Le Racou hotel and restaurant in France, or at least the unremarkable street running alongside it. We’re not sure which building is Le Racou or where it is located in France although it appears to be in a seaside town.

Memorial Field House at Westminster College, New Wilmington, Pennsylvania. This place is still going strong but the excitement of its numerous basketball games isn’t conveyed by this postcard. There appears to be a classic convertible on the far left of the Field House’s large parking lot.

Greetings from the Riviera Motel in Sudbury, Ontario in Canada where the average low temperature in January is -7° F  / -20° C. This motel has long gone but in the 1960s it offered wall-to-wall broadloom carpet according to the flip side of this postcard.  Look at the spectacularly huge automobile in the parking lot.

This is the Stroh Brewery Hospitality Center in Detroit but the party hasn’t started yet. Not a soul or a beer to be seen.  Note the ashtray on every table. The Stroh family began brewing beer in Germany in the 18th century.

This is the lobby of Vivian Beaumont Theater in New York’s Lincoln Center for Performing Arts offering views of its floor, stairways, railings and walls. This venue has staged countless theatrical productions but its lobby isn’t the attraction.

The Hanover Shoe Company Factory in Hanover, Pennsylvania. This building still exists but it’s been converted into apartments. The Hanover Shoe Company left for West Virginia in the mid-1990s but it used to be the biggest thing in this small town.

The Purple Tree cocktail lounge in Savannah, Georgia, doesn’t seem to exist anymore. Its décor is similar to a set from the original 1960s Star Trek TV show. It was probably a great place to sip gin and tonics but the postcard fails to convey excitement.

This is the business department in Bliss College in Columbus, Ohio. An educational institution that doesn’t exist anymore. Its amenities included a telephone exchange and dictaphones. Row upon row of empty tables and chairs.

The Westgate Motor Hotel in Calgary, Alberta. This roadside building, with its box-like apartments, is no more.  It lacked curb appeal.

This is Romford town hall in Essex on the outskirts of London.  It’s still there, administering to the London Borough of Havering. This building is rarely found on tourist routes but useful if you need to apply for a building permit.

20 Pioneering Novels that Paved the Way for Today’s LGBT Literature

Today’s LGBT genre is vibrant, accessible, accepted and intertwined with the likes of memoirs, young adult fiction and graphic novels. It was a long journey to reach this point. At first, homosexuality had to be hinted at and could never be explicit.  It was disguised in everything from vampire tales to philosophical fiction. Countless gay authors had to hide their own sexuality when writing about this subject. Many books with gay themes were banned or (worse) simply ignored and allowed to fade into obscurity. When LGBT plots and characters became more common in 1950s pulp fiction, the narratives had desperately unhappy endings,  same-sex relationships were portrayed as tragic, and the cover artwork was lurid. Two recommended reads on this subject are Eminent Outlaws: The Gay Writers Who Changed America by Christopher Bram and the more academic The Cambridge History of Gay and Lesbian Literature.

Our list is in chronological order

Probably the earliest gay novel published in America

.Joseph and His Friend: A Story of Pennsylvania by Bayard Taylor (1870)

Taylor was a prolific author of poetry and travel writing. This novel describes a relationship between two men without ever becoming sexual or doom-laden. Considering that it was written in the middle of the Victorian era, Taylor’s book was way ahead of its time.

First editions are very scarce and highly collectible.

Imre: A Memorandum by Xavier Mayne (1906)

An early novel about a homosexual relationship between two men that’s important because of its sympathetic portrayal of gay love. AbeBooks sold a first edition for $12,000 in 2009.  Only 500 copies were privately printed. The tale describes a love story between a 30-something British aristocrat and a 25-year-old Hungarian military officer who meet in a Budapest cafe. Xavier Mayne was the pen name of Edward Prime-Stevenson, who was an American author who turned away from a legal career to become a mainstream writer for magazines such as Harper’s and The New York Independent.  Prime-Stevenson also wrote a 1908 study called The Intersexes that defends homosexuality from numerous standpoints.

Not an easy novel to read due to the complex plots

The Counterfeiters by André Gide (1925)

A complex novel with multiple plots that made little impact on its publication due to its gay characters and their intertwining relationships. Today it’s seen as a book that paved the way for post-modern fiction.

A novel of campus life that is long forgotten.

The Western Shore by Clarkson Crane (1925)

One of the first novels about gay university life. Clarkson Crane (1894-1971) attended Berkeley and this novel probably resulted from his experiences. Cane served in France in the U.S. Army Ambulance Corps during World War I. He returned to France in 1923 where he wrote this novel, which quickly faded into obscurity. At this time, American university life was portrayed in literature as being nothing but heterosexual romance, parties, and sport.

A lesbian novel that sparked controversy.

The Well of Loneliness by Radclyffe Hall (1928)

Published by Jonathan Cape, the plot sees an Englishwoman find love with another woman while serving as an ambulance driver in World War I only to suffer social isolation. The novel portrays lesbianism as a natural state. It was hugely controversial and put lesbians in the newspaper headlines.

Gender is a fluid thing in this pioneering book.

Orlando: A Biography by Virginia Woolf (1928)

This well-known novel is important because of the fluid way in which Woolf treats gender. The book describes the adventures of a poet who changes sex and meets important historical figures.

A novel about the challenges of coming out.

Strange Brother by Blair Niles (1931)

A platonic relationship between a heterosexual woman and a gay man is at the heart of this downbeat novel set in New York in the Art Deco era. It highlights many of the issues facing people afraid to reveal their true sexuality. Blair Niles was actually Mary Blair Rice, a novelist and travel writer, who made just this one foray into gay literature.

She is a he in this novel that features characters based on real people.

The Scarlet Pansy by Robert Scully (1932)

Horrible title. The main character, Fay Etrange, is referred to as “her” throughout but she’s clearly a man. This is a story of how the androgynous Fay has endless encounters after moving to New York and diving into the queer world of nightclubs, theaters, and street life. It has been surmised that Scully was actually publisher Robert McAlmon, who founded Contact Editions, and the book’s characters are based upon notable figures in the American expatriate community of Paris, ranging from Sylvia Beach to Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas. Hats off to Fordham University Press who republished this novel in 2016.

This novel was also titled Better Angel.

Better Angel / Torment by Richard Meeker (1933)

Richard Meeker is the pen name of Forman Brown. This novel was also published under the title, Torment. It describes a young man’s gay awakening between the World Wars and, importantly, shows that a homosexual lifestyle can be rewarding rather than tragic. The Torment edition cover blurb reads: “Kurt loved this woman. Did he love her brother more? Is it evil for one man to lavish affection on another?”

Early lesbian fiction.

Nightwood by Djuna Barnes (1936)

An early example of lesbian-themed fiction. Published by Faber and Faber, this novel did not end up forgotten and was praised by several notable authors for its prose. The main character, Nora Flood, is based on the author.

Janes Bowles was married to fellow author Paul Bowles.

Two Serious Ladies by Jane Bowles (1943)

This novel is about two women who break from their traditional lives. One of them visits Panama, where she meets women working in the city’s brothels. Bowles was the wife of Sheltering Sky author Paul Bowles.

James W. Fugaté had to write this novel under a pen name.

Quatrefoil by James Barr / James W. Fugaté (1950)

A landmark novel because it portrays gay men in a positive light. Two men become lovers and one of them has the choice of financial security or true love.  James W. Fugaté wrote the book under the pen name of James Barr. Fugaté served in the US Navy in World War II and rejoined the Navy in 1952 but he was discovered to be the author of Quatrefoil which led to his discharge.

Claire Morgan was Patricia Highsmith

The Price of Salt / Carol by Patricia Highsmith (1952)

First published under the pseudonym of Claire Morgan, this novel has been titled The Price of Salt and also Carol. The story concerns Therese Belivet, a young woman living in New York, who meets Carol, an elegant woman in her early thirties. It depicts a lesbian relationship in a relatively positive light, plus there’s the wonderful prose from Patricia Highsmith.  Cate Blanchett starred in a movie adaptation in 2015.

The characters in this novel were based on real people.

A Room in Chelsea Square by Michael Nelson (1958)

A British novel that was originally published anonymously because homosexuality was still illegal in the UK at this time and because the main characters were based on real people, including the poet Stephen Spender.

This is a collection of short stories.

The Keval and Other Gay Adventures by Harry Otis (1959)

A selection of gay-themed short stories spanning the world. One Incorporated, the publisher was a non-profit philanthropic organization that promoted homosexual literature through a monthly periodical called ONE and other ventures.

Author Christopher Isherwood was well traveled and lived in Berlin during the 1920s.

A Single Man by Christopher Isherwood (1964)

Set in California, this novel depicts one day in the life of George, a middle-aged university professor, in mourning after the sudden death of his partner. Isherwood lived a full life in the UK and the United States but also spent time in Berlin at the height of its ‘Cabaret’ era of sexual freedom.

A lesbian novel set among the casino culture of Reno in Nevada.

Desert of the Heart by Jane Rule (1964)

Originally published in hardback by Macmillan Canada, the hardcover binding was a landmark because most lesbian novels were being printed as pulp fiction at this time. Set in the 1950s’ casinos of Reno, this novel’s plot concerns two women, one waiting on a divorce, who meet and begin a relationship that becomes complicated.

A lesbian novel about the difficulties of coming out.

Mrs. Stevens Hears the Mermaids Singing by May Sarton (1965)

A novel about a lesbian relationship that sunk like a stone in the 1960s before being rediscovered by the women’s movements of the 1970s. Sarton, an established writer at the time, revealed her own homosexuality by publishing this book which deals with the difficulties of coming out.

This gay novel bucked the trend and became a bestseller.

The Lord Won’t Mind by Gordon Merrick (1970)

A gay novel on New York Times bestseller list in 1970? Yes, this one was popular. Charlie Mills and Peter Martin meet and fall in love. The book follows Charlie’s path from being a closeted gay man. Merrick was an actor who wrote a number of gay-themed novels in a mass market style. Merrick’s first novel, the autobiographical The Strumpet Wind was published in 1947 and concerns a gay American spy in France during World War II.

This novel was published until a year after EM Forster’s death.

Maurice by E.M. Forster (1971)

Written in 1913 and 1914, but not published until 1971, the year after Forster’s death, Maurice is a very English story of homosexual love in the early 20th century. Forster never attempted to publish it because he thought gay love had too many taboos. This novel, also featuring class strife and blackmail, was turned into a film in 1987. Unlike many gay novels from the early decades of the 20th century, Maurice is now widely available and frequently read.

Interview with a Bookbinder

Marysa de Veer of Otter Bookbinding

The latest episode of AbeBooks’ podcast series Behind the Bookshelves features an interview with Marysa de Veer of Otter Bookbinding. We met Marysa at the 2018 ABA Rare Book Fair in London, and she was kind enough to explain how she keeps this traditional skill alive and also describes the skills required to restore, preserve and enhance books. Marysa founded Otter Bookbinding in 1993 and their main workshop is in MidhurstWest Sussex, in the UK. Details about Marysa’s bookbinding courses can be found here.

You can also access all the Behind the Bookshelves podcast shows via these platforms.


Google Play




Stand firm & carry on: Churchill’s 1940 instruction leaflet on surviving the German invasion

14 million copies were printed but few have survived: Picture credit – Churchill Book Collector

April 1940. Britain’s darkest hour as the country braced for invasion by German forces. Prime Minister Winston Churchill took the extraordinary step of printing and distributing 14 million leaflets, titled Beating the Invader, featuring instructions on what to do when German troops reached British soil.

The key messages were quintessential Churchill – “Stand firm” and “Carry On.”

The leaflet contains more 1,300 words printed on the front and rear. It begins with an introduction from Churchill. Dunkirk would be evacuated in June, meaning Germany controlled mainland Europe and Britain was next in line for invasion. The leaflets were distributed across the country but most were thrown away when the invasion failed to materialize. Surviving copies are now highly collectible as an important example of government mass communication during World War II. They are also appealing to collectors of Churchill memorabilia.

The leaflet speaks to a wide audience, providing guidance to citizens living along England’s south coast where the invasion was expected to occur and to people in other areas. The War Office appeared to have two goals – provide instructions to people who could be caught up in the fighting and ensure people living elsewhere did not panic. The messaging is practical but the leaflet also contains an element of stiff upper lip public relations with reassuring text that describes how the British forces will counter-attack.

When read in its entirety, the leaflet is ominous. The grim instructions include:

If fighting is close by….

“Keep indoors or in your shelter until the battle is over. If you can have a trench ready in your garden or field, so much the better.”

If living some way from the fighting…

“Stay in your district and carry on. Go to work whether in shop, field, factory or office. Do your shopping, send your children to school until you are told not to. Do not try to go and live somewhere else.”

If you hear church bells…

“It is a warning to the local garrison that troops have been seen landing from the air.”

If newspapers and radio services are curtailed…

“You should not listen to rumours nor pass them on., but should wait until real news comes through again.”

If you have a motor car, disable it…

“Remove distributor head and leads and either empty the tank or remove the carburettor.”

If the enemy attacks ordinary citizens…

“You have the right of every man and woman to do what you can to protect yourself, your family and your home.”

There are seven original copies of the Beating the Invader leaflet for sale on the AbeBooks marketplace, with prices ranging from $225 to $600 depending on condition.

The leaflet includes instructions on disabling cars. Picture credit – Churchill Book Collector

Here is the text of the leaflet in full.

Issued by the Ministry of Information in co-operation with the War Office and the Ministry of Home Security

Beating the INVADER


If invasion comes, everyone – young or old, men and women – will be eager to play their part worthily. By far the greater part of the country will not be immediately involved. Even along our coasts, the greater part will remain unaffected. But where the enemy lands, or tries to land, there will be most violent fighting. Not only will there be the battles when the enemy tries to come ashore, but afterwards there will fall upon his lodgments very heavy British counter-attacks, and all the time the lodgments will be under the heaviest attack by British bombers. The fewer civilians or non-combatants in these areas, the better – apart from essential workers who must remain. So if you are advised by the authorities to leave the place where you live, it is your duty to go elsewhere when you are told to leave. When the attack begins, it will be too late to go; and, unless you receive definite instructions to move, your duty then will be to stay where are. You will have to get into the safest place you can find, and stay there until the battle is over. For all of you then the order and the duty will be: “STAND FIRM”.

This also applies to people inland if any considerable number of parachutists or air-borne troops are landed in their neighbourhood. Above all, they must not cumber the roads. Like their fellow-countrymen on the coasts, they must “STAND FIRM”. The Home Guard, supported by strong mobile columns wherever the enemy’s numbers require it, will immediately come to grips with the invaders, and there is little doubt will soon destroy them.

Throughout the rest of the country where there is no fighting going on and no close cannon fire or rifle fire can be heard, everyone will govern his conduct by the second great order and duty, namely, “CARRY ON”. It may easily be some weeks before the invader has been totally destroyed, that is to say, killed or captured to the last man who has landed on our shores. Meanwhile, all work must be continued to the utmost, and no time lost.

The following notes have been prepared to tell everyone in rather more detail what to do, and they should be carefully studied. Each man and woman should think out a clear plan of personal action in accordance with the general scheme.

Winston Churchill


1 What do I do if fighting breaks out in my neighbourhood?

Keep indoors or in your shelter until the battle is over. If you can have a trench ready in your garden or field, so much the better. You may want to use it for protection if your house is damaged. But if you are at work, or if you have special orders, carry on as long as possible and only take cover when danger approaches.

If you are on your way to work, finish your journey if you can.

If you see an enemy tank, or a few enemy soldiers, do not assume that the enemy are in control of the area. What you have seen may be a party sent on in advance, or stragglers from the main body who can easily be rounded up.


2 What do I do in areas which are some way from the fighting?

Stay in your district and carry on. Go to work whether in shop, field, factory or office. Do your shopping, send your children to school until you are told not to. Do not try to go and live somewhere else. Do not use the roads for any unnecessary journey; they must be left free for troop movements even a long way from the district where actual fighting is taking place.

3 Will certain roads and railways be reserved for the use of the Military, even in areas far from the scene of action?

Yes, certain roads will have to be reserved for important troop movements; but such reservations should be only temporary. As far as possible, bus companies and railways will try to maintain essential public services, though it may be necessary to cut these down. Bicyclists and pedestrians may use the roads for journeys to work, unless instructed not to do so.


4 Whom shall I ask for advice?

The police and A.R.P. wardens.

5 From whom shall I take orders?

In most cases from the police and A.R.P. wardens. But there may be times when you will have to take orders from the military and the Home Guard in uniform.

6 Is there any means by which I can tell that an order is a true order and not faked?

You will generally know your policeman and your A.R.P. wardens by sight, and can trust them. With a bit of common sense you can tell if a soldier is really British or only pretending to be so. If in doubt ask a policeman, or ask a solider whom you know personally.


7 What does it mean when the church bells are rung?

It is a warning to the local garrison that troops have been seen landing from the air in the neighbourhood of the church in question. Church bells will not be rung all over the country as a general warning that invasion has taken place. The ringing of church bells in one place will not be taken up in neighbouring churches.

8 Will instructions be given over the wireless?

Yes; so far as possible. But remember that the enemy can overhear any wireless message, so that the wireless cannot be used for instructions which might give him valuable information.

9 In what other ways will instructions be given?

Through the Press; by loudspeaker vans; and perhaps by leaflets and posters. But remember that genuine Government leaflets will be given to you only by the policeman, your A.R.P. warden or your postman; while genuine posters and instructions will be put up only on Ministry of Information notice boards and official sites, such as police stations, post offices, A.R.P. posts, town halls and schools.


10 Should I try to lay in extra food?

No. If you have already laid in a stock of food, keep it for a real emergency; but do not add to it. The Government has made arrangements for food supplies.


11 Will normal news services continue?

Yes. Careful plans have been made to enable newspapers and wireless broadcasts to carry on, and in case of need there are emergency measures which will bring you the news. But if there should be some temporary breakdown in news supply, it is very important that you should not listen to rumours nor pass them on, but should wait till real news comes through again. Do not use the telephones or send telegrams if you can possibly avoid it.


12 Should I put my car, lorry or motor-bicycle out of action?

Yes, when you are told to do so by the police, A.R.P. wardens or military; or when it is obvious that there is an immediate risk of its being seized by the enemy – then disable and hide your bicycle and destroy your maps.

13 How should it be put out of action?

Remove distributor head and leads and either empty the tank or remove the carburettor. If you don’t know how to do this, find out now from your nearest garage. In the case of diesel engines remove the injection pump and connection. The parts removed must be hidden well away from the vehicle.


14 Should I defend myself against the enemy?

The enemy is not likely to turn aside to attack separate houses. If small parties are going about threatening persons and property in an area not under enemy control and come your way, you have the right of every man and woman to do what you can to protect yourself, your family and your home.


Do not tell the enemy anything

Do not give him anything

Do not help him in any way

Ina Kok wins Breslauer Prize for Bibliography with woodcuts masterpiece

Ina Kok’s award-winning book (left) and the two honorable mentions

Dutch scholar Ina Kok has won the 17th ILAB Breslauer Prize for Bibliography, sponsored by the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers with the support of the B.H. Breslauer Foundation.

Kok is the author of Woodcuts in Incunabula Printed in the Low Countries.

ILAB’s Fabrizio Govi said: “The author has spent decades working on this book compiling an incredible census of illustrations used in editions printed in 15th century Netherlands. We cannot compare Ina’s book to any other publication submitted for the 2018 prize. Woodcut illustrations were often reused during the first period of printing, they were fragile and were easily worn down after a few impressions. As a result, they were sometimes repaired with a few minor changes or completely recut, trying to recreate the original block as closely as possible. This work, published in four volumes and based on the study of almost 4,000 illustrations, is remarkable.”

More than 50 publications from publishers and academic institutions across the globe were submitted. Honorable mentions were given to Dirk Imhof for Jan Moretus and the Continuation of the Plantin Press, and Staffan Fogelmark for The Kallierges Pindar. A Study in Renaissance Greek Scholarship and Printing.

The Breslauer Prize will be awarded during the ABA Rare Book Fair in Battersea, London, on 25 May.

This prize is worth $10,000 (USD) and awarded every fourth year to the most significant reference work within a selection of scholarly books on bibliography, published in the previous years.

Ina Kok’s book offers a complete census of woodcuts in Dutch and Flemish incunabula, and a record of all places in which they appear. Both the book in which the woodcut (or series of woodcuts) appears for the first time and all repetitions of that woodcut before 1501 have been registered. It also offers a survey and analysis of the woodcuts used by each printer. With this, Ina has developed an accurate dating system for incunabula. Two examples are posted below.

17 London bookshops for true bibliophiles

Take a video tour of some of London’s finest bookshops from Chelsea to Chiswick, from Bloomsbury to Charing Cross Road. We highlight high-end antiquarian specialists, sellers of general used books and community bookshops.

In Pictures: the First American Divorcee to Marry a British Royal

Royal Crisis: The December 12 1936 issue of Weekly Illustrated

Meghan Markle is not the first divorced American to marry into the Royal Family. In 1936, King Edward VIII revealed that he intended to marry an American socialite and divorcee, and this sensational news rocked Britain, taking the country to the brink of a constitutional crisis.

Cover girl Meghan Markle

Wallis Simpson was the Baltimore-born woman at the eye of the storm. Her first marriage to a US naval officer ended in divorce in 1927.  During her second marriage to an American businessman, she met and fell in love with Edward, who was then Prince of Wales and heir to the throne.

Edward became king when his father, George V, died in January 1936. At this point, Wallis began proceedings to divorce her second husband, Ernest Simpson. Edward announced to the UK government that he intended to marry Wallis, who was known as Mrs Simpson. This was controversial for a number of reasons.

  • Edward’s own church refused to marry them. The British king is the symbolic head of the Church of England, which, at the time, would not marry divorced people if an original spouse was living.
  • The British government considered the proposed marriage to a divorcee as morally unacceptable.
  • Many people, including almost all members of the British royal family, saw Simpson as a social parasite who craved power and prestige. She was not from the traditional blue-blooded European aristocratic families who normally married British royals.
  • Most importantly however, the British government would resign, causing a general election, if the marriage went ahead. Britain had been a constitutional monarchy since 1688 and such a challenge from the king would have thrown the whole political system into the air.

A 1939 press photo of Edward and Wallis in their French home, Château de la Croë, Cap d’Antibes

The Edward and Mrs Simpson affair remains the biggest crisis to hit the British monarchy in the 20th century and that includes all the sad events relating to Princess Diana. There were intense negotiations between Edward, the royals, the British prime minister Stanley Baldwin, and the prime ministers of several commonwealth countries.

In December 1936, Edward gave up the crown and abdicated, becoming Duke of Windsor. His brother became King George VI. Edward’s only other serious option would have been to end his relationship with Wallis Simpson.

In an historic radio broadcast, Edward said: “I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility, and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do, without the help and support of the woman I love.” He left the country the next day.

Edward and Wallis were married in June 1937 in a French chateau. No members of the Royal Family attended the wedding. After the marriage, Wallis was formally known as the Duchess of Windsor but the pair were essentially living in exile.

Between 1940 and 1945, the Duke was governor of the Bahamas. After that, the pair lived in France and the United States, and were full-time socialites. The Duke died in 1972, and the Duchess in 1986.

Although the couple succeeded in marrying, this story is more of a tragedy than a romance. Wallis failed to become queen and became an outcast with no real role. Edward lost his family and his crown.


The 23 September 1936 issue of New York Woman magazine

Although Edward’s relationship with Wallis Simpson was widely known by the British media, they refrained from reporting about it. This was not the case for overseas media, who were less deferential. The above article was printed in New York Woman magazine on September 23, 1936. While never directly referring to an affair, the magazine is blunt about what’s happening. The journalist writes: “Discretion has never marked their relationship. As early as August of 1934, the then Prince of Wales was so entranced with dancing the rhumba with Mrs Simpson is a Biarritz café that he sent back the plane which had come from Marseilles to take him to Paris.”

A pirate recording of Edward’s speech

Edward’s abdication speech on 11 December was an historic moment for Britain, the Royals and broadcasting, but it only briefly mentions Wallis Simpson and then she is referred to as “the woman I love.”  The text was vetted by parliament. It was broadcast on BBC radio from Windsor Castle. This record (pictured right) was produced by BBC engineers in defiance of BBC orders. This is an incredibly rare pirate recording, hence the $12,000+ price tag. The speech and other associated documents associated with the abdication were quickly printed as the world craved details on the biggest royal story since the death of Queen Victoria in 1901

Separated from the Royal Family, the Windsors were free to do things that normal Royals would not… like publishing books.  In 1951, Edward published a memoir called A King’s Story. Aside from providing his side of the abdication, Edward wrote about his experiences in naval school, studying at Oxford University, serving in the army in World War I and his tours around the world representing the royal family. Wallis Simpson also wrote a memoir called The Heart Has Its Reasons, which was published in 1956. Such was the interest in her life, the book was still being reprinted in the 1980s.

This flag was printed for Edward’s coronation but never flew

Souvenirs celebrating Edward VIII’s coronation were produced in advance of his coronation, which never happened. Edward immediately became king at the death of his father but was not formally crowned. This flag (pictured above) was printed in 1936 in anticipation of the coronation in 1937.

A handkerchief for a coronation that never happened.

Cotton handkerchiefs were also among the coronation souvenirs produced but never issued. Today, they are a curiosity amid the many historic royal souvenirs.

Edward and Wallis continued to be front page material even after their exclusion from the royal family landed them in an odd form of limbo. Famous for being royal and in love, but having no true role in life.

A caricature portrait of Edward by Jack Rosen of the Waldorf Astoria Hotel

The Windsors became full-time socialites after World War II. When in New York, they stayed at the Waldorf Astoria. The hotel’s security director Jack Rosen was a talented artist who often sketched guests. This caricature (above) of Edward was drawn by Rosen in the 1950s. It’s signed by the Duke.

Sotheby’s auction catalog from Wallis Simpson’s sale of her jewels

Wallis Simpson owned amazing jewelry. In 1987, the Duchess’s collection was auctioned off in Geneva and raised $45 million for the Pasteur Institute, a charity dedicated to the study of biology, diseases, and vaccines. The Sotheby’s auction catalog, pictured above, revealed the nature of the glamorous rocks worn by the Duchess.

Andrew Morton’s controversial book

Numerous books have been written about Edward and Mrs Simpson, offering a variety of stances and theories.  For starters, we recommend King Edward VIII: The definitive portrait of the Duke of Windsor by Philip Ziegler, That Woman: The Life of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Anne Sebba, and The Last of the Duchess: The Strange and Sinister Story of the Final Years of Wallis Simpson, Duchess of Windsor by Caroline Blackwood.

Another view of the couple is that they were Nazi sympathizers. They had met Adolf Hitler in Germany in 1937, and British fascist leader Oswald Mosley was a friend and neighbor in France. Andrew Morton’s book, 17 Carnations, uses FBI documents, various archives and correspondence from the royals and leading politicians to investigate these links.

Edward and Wallis spent their final years together in a house in Paris provided by the French government.  After her death, the Windsor’s furniture and art were given to the French state. Wallis is buried next to Edward in the Royal Burial Ground near Windsor Castle after an agreement was reached with Queen Elizabeth II in the 1960s.

Wallis and Edward are buried together near Windsor Castle

News-Week from 22 May 1937, days before the couple were married


Sisters in antiquarian bookselling: meet Elisabeth and Sally Burdon

Meet Elisabeth (left) and Sally Burdon. A pair of sisters involved in the antiquarian bookselling community and yet operating businesses thousands of miles apart. Elisabeth runs Old Imprints in Portland, Oregon, and is one of the most interesting sellers of ephemera that we know. Sally runs Asia Bookroom in Canberra, Australia, a business that specializes in Asian books, art, and ephemera. Both sell on AbeBooks and we’re thrilled that they partner with us. Sally is also President of ILAB (International League of Antiquarian Booksellers), so these are two booksellers with much to talk about. They were kind enough to answer our questions about their family, bookselling and much more.

AbeBooks: How did you start in the book business?

Sally Burdon: I run the now much evolved, original business that our parents began in Canberra in the late 1960s. I joined the business in 1982 when I returned to Australia after a period of living in England and Ireland. Within six months we had opened a branch of the business and for over 10 years we ran the two shops together before combining them physically in one large premises in the early 1990s. My mother continued to work with me until her early 80s when she became too ill to continue. It was wonderful! We were fortunate to be very close, just as we both were with Elisabeth. My mother used to visit Elisabeth every year in the US and together they did many buying trips around the then many bookshops of the Pacific Northwest. I also occasionally visited Elisabeth and we shared many ideas and ways of working. We were always sorry Elisabeth couldn’t work with us on a day-to-day basis but this regular contact and our mother’s annual visits made her feel much closer in those pre-email, pre-Skype days when international phone calls were very expensive.

Elisabeth Burdon: Serendipity…Sally and I were brought up in a “first generation” bookselling family.  Our mother and father, world travellers who had recently settled in Australia, were collectors who became sellers.  Sally and I were both young enough at that time to become involved in helping out in the shop and accompanying our fledgling dealer parents in their book-buying travels.  That included my being the driver on a buying trip my parents embarked on in England in the mid-1970s when I was living in London and working at the British Museum.  The temptation to become more personally involved in the business was only revived after I moved to the US with no immediate career path and an American husband with a penchant for antiques, who was easily persuaded by the idea of a business dealing in antique paper.

AbeBooks: Do you ever encounter other pairs of sisters in this business?

Sally Burdon: It is surprising how rare it is to find sisters in the book business, although I occasionally see or hear of sisters working together in other businesses. I don’t know of any in the antiquarian book business.

Elisabeth Burdon: No, the relationship certainly peaks the interest of customers when we are sharing a booth at a book fair – plus the fact that we live on opposite sides of the world.  Fortunately our specialties mesh well, making for a striking display with diversity of topics covered.  But the family story doesn’t end with the two of us – our brother Jonathan Burdon (Pilgrim Books) and sister-in-law Kay Craddock (whose storied bookshop is a Melbourne, Australia, fixture) are also antiquarian booksellers.  Our other two siblings are both book collectors, so it’s evidently in the blood.

(Editor’s note – Since this interview was published, we have heard more about sisters in antiquarian bookselling. In Paris, sisters Camille and Amélie Sourget have separate bookshops on Rue de Seine and Rue de l’Odéon respectively. In Madrid, Belén and Alicia Bardón are the bookselling granddaughters of Luis Bardón López who founded Librería Bardón.)

AbeBooks: @Elisabeth, you offer a great deal of prints, maps and ephemera. Why go in that direction?

Elisabeth Burdon: I’ve always been interested in the power of graphics to communicate, an interest that was developed while at university using graphic material in the study of Japanese history.  That theme of investigating history through graphic sources has been the through line of a career that has seen shifts in the focus of my stock but has always emphasized non-book printed material.  It’s rewarding to look at ephemeral material and provide a context for its significance in historical research, particularly relating to the strata of society not well represented in antiquarian books per se.

AbeBooks: @Sally, you specializes in Asia. Why?

Sally Burdon: The specialization in Asia was begun by our parents. In the years prior to their move to Australia they had traveled and lived in a number of countries in Asia. These experiences gave them a life-long interest in the Asian region which I have inherited. However my interest in the region is a great deal more than a passive interest gained from just talking to my parents. My husband and I travel in the region and actively study the history and cultures of the area, as well as studying Chinese for fun. Living in Australia, which is geographically close to Asia and has a growing population of people whose family background is Asian, is another motivation. I sometimes think how surprising it is that more booksellers don’t carry strong Asian sections. It is just such an interesting part of the world, so diverse, so rich in every sense that one could never be bored specializing in books, ephemera and other materials on Asia.

Developing our business into Asia Bookroom – a business that is devoted entirely to Asian material rather than a general book business with a specialization in Asia – was a leap of faith. I feel so lucky to have been a bookseller at the time of the huge change that the Internet brought into all of our lives which was what made it possible.  Location of the business, in other words who was walking past the door, was no longer the most important factor which meant that at the beginning of the 2000s my mother and I were able to make the decision to sell off all of the non-Asia stock we held and focus entirely on our specialization. Although appearing risky at the time, it has turned out to be a fortunate decision which has proved successful in all the different ways success can be counted.

AbeBooks: Major book fairs and map fairs bring you together. What do you talk about when you are reunited?

Sally Burdon: Definitely not all business! Naturally we share an interest in the activities of our family members but we also discuss by the hour our reactions to things and our many joint interests such as Asian philosophies, films, books and anything else we can think of! However as this business is such a passion and like most who are involved we live and breathe it, we certainly do talk about business a lot and have helped each other greatly over the years by being always there and always offering an understanding non-judgemental sounding board for the other.

Elisabeth Burdon: In our digitized world, fairs not only play the role of bringing dealers and buyers together, but also the important role of bringing booksellers together, fostering a global bookseller community – and the two of us certainly like to take advantage of that opportunity!  The sense of making far-flung connections was particularly noticeable (despite the language barrier) at March’s Tokyo Antiquarian Book Fair that Sally and I exhibited at, and it is an important part of the role of the International League of Antiquarian Booksellers (as Sally commented on in her brief address at the Exhibitor Reception, the video of which has been posted on ILAB). It goes without saying that the same socializing and exchanging of information goes on between sisters.

AbeBooks: What changes would encourage more women into the business?

Sally Burdon: It is difficult to give a short answer to what I believe is a deeply tangled cultural issue. In short there are many changes I would like to see, but most are subtle and stem from the need for acceptance, support and for good role models. I don’t believe the reason for the large gender imbalance in the trade is as simple as men excluding women – these days I see little evidence of that. Rather it is about ensuring that women are valued and respected in all areas of the trade.  There is no doubt things have changed enormously for women in the antiquarian book trade since I first joined in my early 20s but equally there is still need for change. It is very good to see national associations such as the ABAA and ABA have led the way by enshrining codes of behaviour which include gender equality in their rules. It is also great to see the work of the ABAA Women’s Initiative and the ABA’s social events for women booksellers taking place. There is also an active Facebook page for women in rare books. Awareness is a large part of changing behaviours and these initiatives encourage discussion and a much broader awareness of the ways in which women may have felt excluded or inadequate.

Interestingly the balance is more in favor of women, depending on the country, in  the new book trade and the library world, both of which are related areas of work so it is certainly not because women are not drawn to books and to the old and rare! The work that the Colorado Antiquarian Book Seminar (CABS, see last year’s students and faculty pictured below) and the York Antiquarian Book Seminar (YABS) do in supporting women and men coming into the trade is another significant help, as is the ILAB International Mentoring Programme which offers support to those in their early years of trading, again, this is open to both men and women. These programmes while not designed specifically for women give the women who undertake them networks and the much needed confidence to progress quickly and confidently in the trade.

Elisabeth Burdon: Those changes involve so much more than the book business, but heightened awareness and support are a good place to start.  I am grateful to a number of groups who have taken up this issue, including the ABAA Women’s Initiative, a place to allow for discussion of the challenges women may face not only as they start out but also as they become more established in their careers.  Other important programs include CABS and YABS, the California Rare Book School and the ILAB mentoring program – organizations open to all, which provide training in bookselling as a business and encourage networking.

On a positive note the current President of the ILAB is a woman (that’s Sally).  However she is only the second woman to hold the position (after Kay Craddock, 2000-2002) in this organization which was founded in 1948….

AbeBooks: There does seem to be a new generation of female booksellers coming through – which ones have caught your eye?

Sally Burdon: Yes there are many and since I can’t list all of them here I wanted to mention those who stood out particularly at February’s ILAB Congress in Pasadena. Of the four scholarships to attend the Congress that the ABAA so generously gave, three were to women. And what an inspiring group these three were! Canadian Aimee Peake (pictured right, Bison Books in Winnipeg), Australian Dawn Albinger (Archives Fine Books, Brisbane) and American Laura Massey (Alembic Rare Books, London) – each of these booksellers strike me as very impressive. They approach bookselling in an engaged and intelligent manner and you just know the future of bookselling is safe in the hands of people like this group of women. While speaking of outstanding young women booksellers I have to say how incredibly impressed I am with Congress co-organiser Jen Johnson of Johnson Rare Books & Archives – energetic, intelligent, hardworking, intelligent, funny and very, very good at what she does… with the future of the trade in the hands of women like Jen, Laura, Dawn and Aimee we have little to worry about!

Elisabeth Burdon: I’m loath to single out any of the talented women booksellers with whom I am personally acquainted.  However I will mention two women whom I’ve recently interacted with and who are working in very different bookselling environments…. Rachelle Markley of Crooked House Books here in my home city of Portland Oregon has been the efficient and personable Rose City Book Fair convener of several years as well as a Cascade Booksellers Association Past President; while in Tokyo recently I had the pleasure of meeting the gifted bilingual Rose Counsell (working at Ryu Sato’s bookshop, Kagerou Bunko in Tokyo).  In addition to their enthusiasm in developing their skills and knowledge both demonstrate a dedication to expanding the reach and inclusiveness of the book trade as a whole.

AbeBooks: Thanks for answering our questions. Happy bookselling

Introducing Behind the Bookshelves: A Podcast from AbeBooks

Enjoy bookish podcasts? You’re in luck. AbeBooks has just launched a podcast series called Behind the Bookshelves. The idea of the podcast is to tell the stories behind books and the people who love them.

The first five episodes cover the early days of Penguin, the AA’s Big Book, Literary Oxford, the puzzle-book Masquerade and Mark Twain’s globetrotting. There’s often a fascinating story behind famous authors and their best known books, but the show will also look at obscure and out-of-print titles that may not be so well known. The podcast will appeal to both readers and collectors, and anyone who loves books and a good story.

The host is Richard Davies, who has worked with AbeBooks since 2005. Born in England and now a resident of Canada, Richard will bring a personal touch to the podcasts so expect a broad mixture of weird books, unusual stories, and memorable moments in book history.  The initial format sees audio from Richard alone but the show will expand to include guests and interviews later in the year.

“I’m interested in ordinary people doing extraordinary things and how this can relate to the world of books,” says Davies. “A good example is Allen Lane who founded Penguin and shook up the worlds of reading and publishing by introducing affordable paperbacks. Other people in the publishing business thought Lane was crazy but he was a true visionary. We look at how Lane did this in our first episode.”

Behind the Bookshelves is designed to complement AbeBooks’ existing activity on blogs, Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Instagram.

Our first episode is embedded below. Find Behind the Bookshelves on….


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