Saturday, October 24, 2015

This Book Could KILL YOU!!!

OK, so that might have been a bit dramatic, but, there is some truth to that statement.

We've all heard it. Someone complaining that video games can kill because they make our children violent. Or how movies like Natural Born Killers inspire a murderous desire in viewers. But what about books?  Has a book ever inspired anyone to kill? Or even worse, much like the ominous VHS in the movie, The Ring, can a book actually kill a person? Well, the answer is, yes.  But it's complicated, let me explain...

Arsenic makes a lovely shade of green.

A fashionably green room is simply to die for!
The beginning of the 19th century brought with it a new mindset about "home". For the first time a persons home was considered to be a sanctuary, a place to hide away from the world and relax. And for the first time, people started to fill their homes with objects and things to create an atmosphere of wealth and fortune in the home. The Victorians were so enamored with the idea of the home being a show piece for their status in the world, they were known to decorate their homes as lavishly as possible. They were very mindful of what was considered to be in fashion and made certain that their homes were filled with the latest styles. During this time green was the highest of fashion and the truest most vibrant greens were those made by mixing arsenic and copper. This combination appeared in everything from wallpaper, fabrics, toys and more. Books were also used to display these wallpaper sample, and what looks nicer than a book cover wrapped in pretty green wallpaper!?

Not many of these poisonous books still exist but there are a few. The book most notorious for being poisonous is this one. The book, wrapped in ornate wallpaper may not look like much, but a closer look reveals that this book is wrapped in wallpaper removed from Napoleon Buonaparte's bedroom. The very bedroom he died in while in the custody of British soldiers. That wallpaper is likely the cause of Bounaparte's death. There are many theories surrounding his death but this one book might just be the best evidence yet. Only time will tell if this discovery will lead to some real answers.

So when you are buying rare books, always be cautious of books from the Victorian area. Especially books bound in wallpaper. It might be the last book you ever buy!

Sunday, October 4, 2015

The Hauntingly Beautiful Partnership of Poe and Dulac

We have all heard tales of the short, strange life of one of America's first professional writers, Edgar Allen Poe. He was born in Boston to actors who separated when he was only a year old. Poe's father was never to be seen again and his mother died the following year. Poe was taken in by the Allan family and raised to adulthood. His gambling and lifestyle alienated him from his adoptive family. He married his 13 year old cousin in 1835 who would die young in 1847 and Poe would follow her two years later at the age of 40.

A less famed but no less noteworthy character is the French born and British naturalized Edmund Dulac. His personal life is far less entertaining than Poe's but his career as an illustrator was impressive. Dulac rose to fame illustrating 9 volumes by the Bronte sisters for J.M. Dent publishers. The next three years found him doing illustration work for several different magazines. He would then begin work illustrating gift editions of classic works for Hodder & Stoughton with The Arabian Nights in 1907. He would illustrate several similar editions for Hodder & Stoughton over the next decade but would end this association at the outbreak of the Great War. After World War 1 Dulac began illustrating children's books and stamps; work which he would continue until his death in 1953.

We at Oddfellow's Fine Books and Collectables have had the privilege of carrying a breadth
of work by both of these great men. Our most recent Dulac find is also a Poe find! The Poetical Works of Edgar Allan Poe Illustrated by Edmund Dulac and published by the Hoddard & Stoughton publishing house in 1912 is stunningly beautiful. The covers are in a royal blue cloth with an elaborate and macabre embossed pattern highlighted in black and set off by a gold gilt title. Inside, we are treated to decorative end papers with a subtle "The Bells" theme. likely reminiscent of the first Poe/Dulac book published by Hoddard, The Bells and Other Poems. The poetry is printed on thick, textural paper that begs to be touched as much as read. There are dozens of beautiful designs and illustrations printed within the text as well as 28 full color, full page lithographic prints. 

These, like many of Dulac's works are haunting in their beauty and bring to life the words of Poe. $250. Please see this and thousands of other titles we have to offer by visiting our website at:

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

The Poetic Mr. Frost

Robert Frost was a talented poet who had a skill for taking mundane life and illustrating the hidden beauty of each day.  Here is just one example of his work....

Lovely snowy crow photo from Boreal Photography

Dust of Snow

The way a crow
Shook down on me
The dust of snow
From a hemlock tree
Has given my heart
A change of mood
And saved some part
Of a day I had rued.

We are excited to share that we have TWO of Robert Frost's works that are SIGNED!  First is "Come In and Other Poems" and the second is "From Snow to Snow".  Both made out to people Frost actually knew.  Click on the links above if you are interested in purchasing them.

Do you have a favorite poem by Robert Frost?  Share it in the comments below!

Monday, May 12, 2014

15 Signs You're Married to a Bookman

We all have something we are passionate about.  I’m pretty obsessed with online marketing.  My husband, Brandon, is passionate about books.  He lives the life of a true bookman, so much so that we now own a book shop.  Do you live with a bookman (or bookwoman) in your home?  Here is a list of 15 things that might warn you that your significant other is obsessed with books.    

1.       Your mail has more literary magazines than junk mail.

2.       Bookmarks are a hot commodity and can be used as household currency.

3.       NEVER put a book on the shelf out of order, he will spot it immediately.

4.       His “favorite” books fill at least four book shelves.

5.       You feel like Ernest Hemingway is a close family friend, even though he died 19 years before you were born.

6.       Most of his friends are old enough to be his father.

7.       He cannot read a story about Sherlock Holmes without a pipe.

8.       He has a found pressed flower collection.

9.       When house hunting, rooms are measured in ‘book shelves’ not feet.

10.   He has an eReader, but never uses it.

11.   He uses words like “foredge” and “gutter” when describing a book.

12.   Readers Digest books are not allowed in the house.  Ever.

13.   Seating arrangements in the home are determined by optimal reading light.

14.   You never have to read a book because he gives you a full book report on everything he reads.

15.   Your collection gets so big you open a book store :)

-Martie Rison


Monday, March 3, 2014

To Clean or Not To Clean: A Diatribe by Brandon Rison

I love it when the phone rings here at Oddfellow's. Usually it means I either get to sell something or, even better, buy something. We love buying stuff, we were collectors long before we were dealers and collectors drool over new stuff. Unless, of course, that stuff is damaged:  scuffed leather, torn bindings, bent coins, or, worst of all, cleaned ANYTHING!

"What?" You say, "I saved you time and cleaned it for you. You should thank me."

Awwww yeah...... look at the fine patina on this little lady.
I have heard this and many other reasons for sellers cleaning their items. Sadly, all their time and effort is wasted because cleaning ALWAYS lowers value.

A cleaned coin may be shiny but most cleaning methods leave tiny scratches over the surface of the coin that will leave the coin looking dull as it builds a new layer of tarnish. Tarnish and oxidation are present on any handled silver and part of what makes circulated silver coins beautiful. Removing the tarnish may provide shine, but it takes away character and character is part of the value in any collectible. While there are chemicals and methods that can "properly" clean a coin most collectors will only see a coin that is too shiny for its grade, know it has been cleaned, and move on to the next coin. Bottom line is, don't clean your coins. No matter what you read on the internet or what the Dip-o-Matic Coin Shiner 9000 bottle says there is no proper way to clean a coin.
Click for a larger image.  This is an example of what cleaning your coins can do.  No No NO!!!
Books are a different subject. They must be dusted and leather bound books that are not frequently handled need the occasional application of leather conditioner. While these may sound like simple tasks, they are often the causes of damage to books. When dusting do not use any chemicals (e.g. Pledge, Windex, etc.) and dust with clean, dry paint brush or a synthetic feather duster that has not been used to clean anything but books. As for leather conditioning, there are products available for leather bound books but the best, and cheapest, way to protect leather books is simply to handle them often (and properly). The oils in your skin will protect and soften the leather as well as anything you can buy. That is all the cleaning required. Do not try to erase anything, wipe anything off, or use water to clean your book. While the water may seem obvious I am amazed by the number of wet books that come through the door. Fight the urge, don't clean.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Five Great Books from the Middle East

These days when we hear about the Middle East it is always bad news. I am not going to mention terrorism, Islam, women's rights, genocide or any of the other hot topics. Instead, I simply wish to list off a few great book's about the region has produced or inspired that might help us shed some of that negativity towards a beautiful and unique part of the world.

5. Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T. E. Lawrence is an account of the author's experiences as a British military officer during the Arab Revolt of 1917/18. Emir Faisal bin Hussein bin Ali al-Hashimi, King of Syria led a revolt against the Ottoman Empire to liberate what is now Jordan, Syria and parts of several other Middle Eastern countries. The British took advantage of the revolt and used Lawrence, who was already in the region to do research, to communicate with the rebels to coordinate their attacks with Allied battle plans in WWI. (The book was also made into a pretty decent movie!)

4. The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini is another biography that tells the story of a boy who can predict where a kite will land and his friendship with a rich kid during the 1970s in Afghanistan.  While it may sound a little silly, the story is actually pretty good.  It gives some good insights into Afghani culture over the last 40ish years and tugs at your heart strings a little too. (Also a movie!)

3. The Great War for Civilization by Robert Fisk (not a movie) is over 1000 pages on the last 100 years of Middle Eastern history and well worth the time it takes to read for anybody who finds themselves asking "Why?" about the region. A word of caution, the author does not paint the western world in a very pretty light.

2. The Cairo Trilogy by Naguib Mahfouz consists of the books Palace Walk,
Palace of Desire, and Sugar Street. While Egypt may not technically be in the Middle East it identifies more with that region than it does with Africa. In this series we follow the lives of Cairene and his family from Egyptian independence in 1919 through the end of WWII. The series details the symbolic family struggle between tradition and change at a time when Egypt was torn between east and west. (A great black and white movie... if you don't mind subtitles)

1. Who hasn't heard of Ali Baba and the 40 thieves, Aladdin's lamp or Sinbad the Sailor (all movies)? The Arabian Nights, at least according to the full title, brings us these along with 998 more traditional stories and folk tales from India, Western Asia and the Middle East.  First compiled in Arabic during the 1200s at the height of the Islamic Golden Age the stories are presented as part of a frame story about a Perisan king who marries and then kills a new woman every night because his true love had been unfaithful.  When his kingdom runs out of virgins he marries his Vizier's daughter who, after the nookie, tells him the first half of a great story.  Wanting to hear the end, the king puts off the execution for a day to be told the end of the story AND the first half of another great story.  He stays the execution again and this pattern continues for 1001 nights.  Depending on which version you read she either gets killed when she runs out of stories, or the king falls in love and they live happily ever after.  There are several "greatest hits" versions telling just the most popular tales as well as multi-volume versions with all 1001 stories.  We at Oddfellow's are happy to keep a selection of both kinds available at all times.

Thanks for reading!

Sunday, August 18, 2013

The Goat Doctor

Dr. John R. Brinkley is possibly the most interesting man you have never heard of.  This guy is so fascinating it just blows my mind that nobody has turned his life story into a movie.  I realize that I'm a little wordy on this one but the story is just too good!

I don't always try to fool the masses, but when I do,
oh wait, I usually do that.  I'm good at it too.
John Romulus Brinkley was born July 8th, 1885 in the hill country of North Carolina.  His father had been a Confederate Army medic and earned his living as a medicine man. His mother/cousin, Sarah Burnett, was his Father's 4th wife's niece who had come to stay with the family for a short while. It is also worth mentioning that his father (the medicine man) had thrice been a widower to continually younger women who would die of mysterious illnesses.

As Brinkley reached adulthood he decided he would follow in his father's footsteps and become a physician.  After failing out of or being expelled for failure to pay tuition from a number of colleges he decided to forgo the degree and took to the road posing as a Quaker doctor.  He would stop in rural towns and in an elaborate "medicine show" cure a couple of lucky passers through (not locals) and then sell several bottles of his patented medicine before skipping town.

During this same time Brinkley wed a childhood classmate Sally Wilke, John and Sally worked the medicine show together for a while before settling in Chicago where he again started med school and went to work at the telegraph office.  The Brinkley’s had a child and when things became rocky the couple split.  John kidnapped his daughter and fled to Canada offering his wife the ultimatum of reconciling or never seeing her daughter again.  The couple got back together and moved around the Midwest and south where John would pose as a "undergraduate physician" for a time until being discredited and relocating. 

Finally in 1912 John got his degree.  A shady diploma mill called Kansas City Eclectic Medical University agreed to give Brinkley a Doctorate based on the credits he had earned (and a fee).  With his new degree Brinkley opened a clinic in Greenville, SC with another "doctor" named Crawford.  Brinkley and Crawford advertised a cure for manly vigor. They injected colored water for $25 a pop that was said to cure impotence and then after only 2 months they skipped town having never paid a penny to rent, utilities, or their other creditors.

Brinkley and Crawford next landed in Memphis where Brinkley met Young Minnie Jones, a friend of Crawford's, and after a four-day courtship Minnie and John were married even though John was still married to Sally Brinkley. While on their honeymoon Brinkley was arrested in Knoxville and extradited to Greenville where he was put in jail for practicing medicine without a license and for writing bad checks. Brinkley told the sheriff that it was all Crawford's fault, and gave investigators enough information that they were able to nab Crawford. The two former partners met again in jail. 

"How YOU doin'?"
After his run-in with the law and being bailed out by his new father-in-law Brinkley was also able to get his college debts paid off and spent a year attending college seemingly now on the straight and narrow, he graduated in 1915 from the same Kansas City school that had given him a fake degree.  He then went to work as the plant doctor for Swift & Co. Lard where he became fascinated with the physiology of the animals they would slaughter, especially the goats which he felt to be the most virile of all the animals. 
During WWI Brinkley was drafted as a medic but was unable to serve being "sick with a nervous breakdown" and was discharged after only 2 months. Now jobless, Brinkley moved to Milford, KS after seeing an advertisement stating the town needed a doctor.  This is where the story REALLY gets interesting. In Milford Brinkley performed his first operation to restore male virility and fertility by implanting the testicular glands of goats into the scrotum of a male patient.  The patient reported it a success (I mean, who wouldn't) and the media took the story and ran with it.  Brinkley's office was soon filled by men of a certain age, and when the first patient's wife gave birth to a baby boy (about 7 months after the operation) Dr. Brinkley became a national success overnight performing his operation on movie stars and politicians. His marketing department advertised his abilities to turn men into "the ram that am with every lamb" while Brinkley performed his (mostly) harmless operation on so many men a day that he started to get sloppy.  He would use unsanitized instruments, frequently while drunk, in less-than-sterile places (occasionally the waiting room on busy days). It goes without saying something was bound to go wrong and it did on more than one occasion. Brinkley would be sued more than a dozen times for wrongful death between 1930 and 1941.

"Now hold still, this will only hurt a lot....."
All of these operations made Brinkley a rich man.  To further his goat gland message and to satisfy his need to entertain Brinkley built a radio station in Kansas.  The radio station played a mix of popular country music and Brinkley's voice for hours at a time. In addition to advertising the goat operation Brinkley had a show on his radio station called The Medical Question Box where he would read listener mail asking about medical problems and he would then prescribe medicines available only at members of the "Brinkley Pharmaceutical Association" Most of these medicines were over priced homeopathic treatments or placebos but Brinkley was paid a cut for all of the sales and got even richer.  

In 1930 the American Medical Association revoked Brinkley's license after a spy had witnessed the doctor's operations first hand.  In true Brinkley fashion he launched a write-in campaign for Kansas Governor using his radio station.  He planned to reinstate his one medical license once elected.  His campaign rallies featured music stars from his radio station, German and Swedish speaking staffers to appeal to the large number of immigrants in rural Kansas, and the charisma of good ol' doc Brinkley.  Brinkley won the election with roughly 40% percent of the votes but before announcing the winner to the public, the Kansas Attorney General (who had put the final stamp of approval on revoking his medical license) announced that only votes placed for J. R. Brinkley and not those for Doc, Doctor, or John Brinkley would be counted meaning that instead of Doc Brinkley, Harry Hines Woodring was to be the next governor of Kansas.  Shortly after the FCC revoked Brinkley's broadcaster's license in an effort to shut down his still lucrative medical practice (he hired licensed doctors to perform the procedure) and pharmaceutical sales. Undeterred, he just moved his transmitter to Mexico.

At this time (early 30s) Mexico was pretty irritated with the U.S. Government for a number of things including not leaving any AM bandwidth for  Mexican stations to operate in.  As a result, they issued Doc Brinkley a license to build a 50,000 kilowatt radio station that even located in Ciudad Acuña, Mexico could still be heard throughout Kansas and most of the midwest.  Not satisfied with that, Brinkley convinced the Mexican government to let him increase that to first 125,000 kilowatts and later 1 million kilowatts.  It is said
I'm on a Mexican - whoah - radio

Brinkley's radio station could be heard all the way to Canada on clear nights and closer to home in Texas it could be heard even without a radio.  There are reports of hearing Brinkley's station on barbed wire fences, bed springs, and even dental fillings.  Broadcaster shifts at the station had to be shortened due to frequent nosebleeds and headaches.  Brinkley's new station followed much of the same format that his old station had showcasing up and coming roots and country music stars and selling Brinkley's potions (now by mail).  He even opened another hospital in the nearby small town of Del Rio, TX where the locals were happy to have the inflow of money and could care less what the AMA and federal government said about the good doctor.

In 1938 Morris Fishbein of the AMA published a two-part series called "Modern Medical Charlatans" that included an expose of Brinkley's checkered career and education. Brinkley sued Fishbein for libel and $250,000 in damages (about $5 Million today). A Texas jury found for Fishbein, stating that Brinkley "should be considered a charlatan and a quack in the ordinary, well-understood meaning of those words".  The jury verdict unleashed a barrage of lawsuits against Brinkley, by some estimates well over $3 million in total value. Also around this time, the IRS came knocking on Brinkley's door.  It seems the good doctor had never paid taxes.  He declared bankruptcy in 1941, the same year the U.S. and Mexico reached an agreement on allocating radio bandwidth which included a clause that shut down Brinkley's station.

Brinkley died penniless and alone in his home in Del Rio, TX on May 26th, 1942.  At the time of his death he was under investigation by the FBI for mail fraud.