The cover takes a bow

August 22, 2016

cover_smallestAs a newly self-published writer, I hoped not to embarrass myself with my self-designed cover for The House at the Edge of Time. And I knew I was letting myself in for some on-target criticism by submitting the cover to Joel Friedlander‘s monthly e-Book Cover Design Awards. So it was with trepidation that I took a look today at his site; and …

He liked it! Not gold-star worthy, but he liked it! Proof: “Nice job. The restraint shown in the imagery and typesetting really helps create a cover with the promise of an exciting story. In other words, with a good concept you can stand out without a big colorful photo.” (link. It’s waaaay down the page, and you get to see some terrific covers.)

So, several decades of looking at book covers and a little money for some excellent clipart can work together right well!

I like the cover, too. I liked it for the four months between creating the cover and publishing the book. I liked it every time I opened the image to see if it still looked good to me. Which may be a good idea: get the cover done well in advance and keep looking at it, to see if it still works.

(I’m getting a professional to do the next one, though; I’m really no artist.)

If you’re self-publishing, you might enjoy Friedlander’s site.  I’ve gotten a lot of good information there.

You can buy a copy of The House at the Edge of Time at Barnes & Noble and Smashwords; also Kobo, Intera, Scribd, and amazon.  And on iBooks and Overdrive, though I have no links for those.  (And—really—please buy it.  Really.)


Bloomer girls, 1852

November 22, 2015

As someone who hasn’t even owned a dress for the last 25 years, I tend to be more charmed than amused by 19th-century attempts at “dress reform.” Those loose trousers under yards of drapery look much more comfortable than the skirts sweeping the ground, the mud, and—as Esther puts it in Bleak House—“all the light objects” in the room.

Yes, all that drapery makes the wearer look like a pantalooned armchair. But the alternative was dragging ten or fifteen yards of fabric through your day. (Which, besides being uncomfortable, could be dangerous: one of the Merry Cousins burned to death when her skirt got too close to a fireplace.)

Francis Woodworth had a different reaction. As a former minister, he was culturally conservative. But when it came time to write about the new style of clothing, he seems to have been remarkably sympathetic, pointing out how practical it would be for walking in the woods. Still, he didn’t really approve.

This piece from Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet includes a rather wonderful illustration of what may be a variation of Bloomer dress. Other illustrations I’ve seen feature gathered trousers topped by a knee-length dress that makes even a slender young woman look like a ruffled pumpkin. The clothing here is just as drapy, but the calf-length skirt looks pretty graceful.

Still, it didn’t catch on. It was superceded by the hoop skirt, which—as Harriet Beecher Stowe points out in Household Papers—could require twenty yards of fabric.

Blue jeans are just so much simpler.

(And why was it called “Bloomer dress”? The style became associated with Amelia Bloomer after she adopted it and enthusiastically promoted its use. Even though she dropped the style, the name stuck.)

“The Bloomer Dress” (from Woodworth’s Youth’s Cabinet, October 1852, pp. 110-113)

two women in Bloomer dress

My readers have all heard of the Bloomer costume, no doubt. But probably very few of them have ever seen a lady with the dress on. Have you ever seen one worn, reader? and if you have, what did you think of it? Was it becoming, or otherwise? Presuming most of the boys and girls who read these pages have never seen one, and knowing that there is a great deal of curiosity afloat about the thing, on the part of those who are unacquainted with it, I must present a picture giving an accurate representation of the dress, as it is worn by some of our western ladies.

Now, my friend, what do you think of it? “It looks odd,” you say. So it does; there’s no disputing that. Every new style of dress looks odd. Do you remember when the ladies wore large bonnets? I suppose not. You are hardly old enough. But I remember the time very well, when my mother wore a bonnet of such a monstrous size, that it was about as much as she could do to go through a door, if the great thing flared out to its full width. Now how do you think your mother would look with one of these great umbrellas on her head? Why, you would laugh outright, to see her or any one else walking the streets with such a bonnet on.

I can remember, too, when the men used to wear a hat, the crown of which was small enough to fit the head at the brim, but which was almost twice as large on the top. What a curious-shaped thing it was, the great bell-crowned hat! If it should make its appearance now, in our streets, don’t you think we should all laugh at it, and call the fashion unbecoming and absurd?

But recollect that when the hat was worn, and was considered in the fashion, there was very little or no complaint about the absurdity of it. Nobody laughed at it then. At least, I never heard of any one’s laughing at it. So of the monstrous bonnet. It was fashionable once, and then it seemed becoming enough. The ladies did not laugh at the thing and make fun of it. And so it is with all fashions. They are not generally regarded as so much out of the way, until some other fashion comes along, and then, after a little while, the old one seems odd and queer. Now, as you say, the Bloomer dress looks odd enough. Well, the reason may be because it is so entirely unlike anything else which the ladies wear or have worn.

“There! Uncle Frank likes the Bloomer dress. How he praises it up.”

No, my little friend. You are too fast. I don’t say that I should like to see our ladies generally dressed in this style. I am not prepared to say that. I am not sure that I should be pleased, if I should see all the women and all the little girls about the streets dressed as Mrs. Bloomer recommends. On the whole, though a man ought to be a little diffident about laying down rules for the regulation of the dress worn by the other sex, on the whole, I think, if the ladies should come to me for my opinion, (a thing, by the way, which I have not vanity enough to expect,) I should most likely go against the general use of the Bloomer dress, while I might recommend some change, for the sake of convenience, in the present style of dress.

I can’t help thinking, and must say, that, aside from the appearance of the thing, the Bloomer costume must be very convenient in the country, if one has to ramble about the fields and forests much, and, it seems to me, that a lady must miss a great many of the luxuries of country life, if she does not take such rambles. I have been out with ladies, before now, on a botanical tour, when I could not avoid noticing that their mode of dress was very inconvenient for that kind of business; and at such a time, I don’t know that it would have struck me as at all unbecoming or improper, if those ladies, instead of the ordinary dress, had worn a genuine, out-and-out Bloomer suit, just like the one you see in the picture. However, we men may think what we will about the Bloomer dress, and say what we will about it, I presume that our mothers, and sisters, and wives, and daughters, will take the matter into their own hands, and decide it for themselves. The great majority of them don’t like it. That is clear enough, and it does not appear now as if it would get to be a common mode of dress very soon. Its origin, if there were nothing more, is unfavorable to its popularity. It did not come from Paris, and we in this country, as all the world knows, have set up the Paris dress-makers and milliners for our guides.

Two little gardeners

November 21, 2014

PeterWhen I saw the lumpy little boy on the left at an antique show, I had to buy him.  (Along with his sister; I didn’t want to break up the family.)

Why?  Because I recognized him.  I already had his … ah … twin.

“The Little Gardiner” (proofreading is so important) is the frontispiece for Peter Parley’s Story of the Little Gardener, a little paperback book published in 1833.  It’s a sentimental little story about an Irish orphan who makes good.  The orphan’s name is Peter.Gardener

“Peter the Little Gardener” advertises W. N. Stevens Variety Store, at “S. E. corner of Third and Arch Streets,” in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The ad probably is late 1830s; the store was at this address from 1837 to 1839. (It’s advertised in Philadelphia newspapers until at least 1845.)  An early owner named Simon laid claim to a picture he clearly liked. (His name is also on the back.)

They’re an interesting pair.  The original is a wood engraving, overseen by Samuel Griswold Goodrich, who was particular about the illustrations in his works.  The lines are delicate, and Peter’s face has a 19th-century glassy-eyed sweetness.  (Though that hat is not going to stay on his head for long.)  The copy is evidently a wood cut, with thicker lines.  The artist apparently needed some more lessons.  (And that hat isn’t staying on long, either.)  It’s a mirror image because the artist was copying without taking into consideration what was going to happen when the wood block was printed.

Illustrations often were copied, reworked, and edited.  Though this one is a puzzler.  Why put the character’s name on the illustration?  Could there have been a pirated copy of the little chapbook?  (Goodrich’s creations were copied more than once.)  Did it have the wood cut as a frontispiece?  And what on earth kind of plant is that?  How do you keep it from toppling right over?

The Harvest Girl

November 7, 2014

This delightful little illustration showed up at an antique show beside a strangely familiar (and oddly grotesque) sibling.  They were overpriced.  I bought them anyway.

HarvestGirlThe little harvest girl advertises W. N. Stevens Variety Store, at “S. E. corner of Third and Arch Streets,” in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  The ad probably is late 1830s; the store was at this address from 1837 to 1839. (It’s advertised in Philadelphia newspapers until at least 1845.)

Probably the image was copied from another.  (Her sibling’s definitely was.)  While I haven’t yet found the original for the Harvest Girl, this kind of doubling was fairly common in 19th-century American periodicals and books.  Illustrations were expensive to create, and publishers used them and reused them and reused them …  (Someday I will tell the epic saga of the monkey.)

And, apparently, copied them from other publishers.  (That sibling, for example.)  Maybe this is a copy of a better illustration.  Maybe not.  It has a wonky charm of its own, however, and it was certainly worth the price.

Showing the Mammoth

May 30, 2014

Mammoths and mastodons are mentioned surprisingly often in early American works for children, but they weren’t often illustrated.  Partly, it was due to the cost of illustrating:  cash-conscious editors were most likely to use a ready-made illustration, rather than adding the expense of having one engraved.  So I was especially pleased to open a newly purchased volume of the Quaker publication The Childrens Friend and find a wood engraving of an astonished hunter gazing at an astonishingly large mammoth:


It’s part of an article describing the discovery of a mammoth in Siberia in 1799; having waited five years for the ice to melt, the man and his friends “feasted on the carcase” and harvested the tusks.  Part of the charm of the illustration is that peacefully snoozing … er, I mean deceased mammoth:


It’s a definite improvement on the earlier representations, which were much more … fundamental:

Mastodon skeleton, from Robert Merry's Museum, 1841The mammoth illustrated in Robert Merry’s Museum in 1841 was pretty basic, as was the mastodon shown in Charles Willson Peale’s museum ten years earlier:

a mastodon skeleton on display(That’s a Roman sarcophagus under the mastodon’s ribs; the background is probably the cases with taxidermied birds that appear in Peale’s self-portrait.)

At least toward the end of the century works for children were getting some of the details right.  (Though, just how edible would that mammoth have been after defrosting for five years?)  And starting a new stereotype:  instead of the mammoth-as-skeleton, illustrators were presenting the frozen mammoth on its feet, perfectly preserved in a block of ice.  Let’s see that face again:

mammothChFPA_headeyes closed, trunk artistically curled, not a hair out of place …  And standing on all four legs, waiting to amaze us.

That’s the mammoth most of us have in mind when we hear about a frozen mammoth being found, not the carcass deformed by tons of ice over thousands of years.  We love it still:

mammothPearlThat’s Charles Livingston Bull illustrating a scene from Samuel Scoville, jr’s The Boy Scouts of the North; or, The Blue Pearl, with the protagonist gazing at one of Scoville’s patented wonders:  “There, frozen in a solid block of clear ice, towered a monster such as had not walked this earth for ten times ten thousand years. Unburied from the grave where it had rested, untouched by time, and intact as when some unknown fate had overtaken it when the last Ice Age overwhelmed the earth, the monstrous creature, standing erect, seemed ready to step forth out of an age-long sleep.”

Still astonishing; still wonderful; still inaccurate.  But at least this one doesn’t get eaten.

Mr. Peale’s mastodon

June 14, 2010

a mastodon skeleton on display

I’ve been working recently on updates for the online exhibit of works on fossils published for American children before 1873.  (Seven months.  It’s been seven months since I scanned the first illustrations.)  Mostly it was so I could put up an illustration from 1831 of the mastodon skeleton on exhibit in Charles Willson Peale’s museum.

Charles Willson Peale founded his museum in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1786. It contained an eclectic collection of natural history specimens, portraits of admirable historical figures, and human artifacts from various countries–all intended to edify visitors and to show the place of human beings as part of the animal kingdom.

His most famous display, however, was the mastodon skeleton he obtained in 1801. Eleven feet high at the shoulder and fifteen feet from chin to rump, it was huge and strange and confusing: was it carnivorous? Was it an elephant? If so, what were elephants doing in North America? There were a lot of questions to be answered about the “Great American Incognitum.”

Samuel Griswold Goodrich is the focus of a lot of my research.  He tried to mix education with entertainment in his books on geography, history, natural science–just about anything he thought children might need to know about.  And he knew that if you were going to introduce something as new-to-readers as the mastodon, it helped to have a picture of the thing.  So he provided one.

Well, sort of.  No one seems to have figured out what the living animal must have looked like, but there were illustrations of the skeleton put together by Peale.  So in his discussion of Peale’s museum in The Child’s First Book of History, Goodrich included a picture of the mastodon on display in the museum.

The image is tiny (two inches wide and 1.5 inches tall) and the skeleton is almost lost in the background.   It’s tuskless, and, to us, the head is oddly misshapen.   But the illustration certainly gets across its point:   the skeleton is huge–the human visitors barely reach the first leg joint–and it’s evidently part of a wide-ranging collection.  What appears to be a stuffed alligator (or crocodile) is suspended in the background, with two statues (a message-bearing Hermes and what appears to be a “Dying Gaul”) nearby.  Was the illustration wholly accurate? in other words, were there classic statues on display nearby? Probably not.  But it’s a charming visualization of the major themes of Peale’s museum:  education and variety.

The skeleton pictured here greatly resembles one drawn by Titian Ramsay Peale II, which appeared in American Natural History, by John D. Godman (1826-1828).  Strange as the skeleton looks, the illustration is fairly accurate. The head is flat on the top because the top of the skull hadn’t yet been discovered.  And where are the tusks? Tusks seem to have confused naturalists of the time; there were arguments that the tusks curved up, like those on elephants, and there were arguments that the tusks curved down, so the mastodon could dig for mussels (and a wood engraving by Alexander Anderson appears to have the tusks inserted in the eye sockets). Leaving off the tusks may have seemed the safest option.

What’s puzzled me is why this illustration hasn’t been mentioned in the secondary works I’ve been looking at, and that’s made me notice (yet again) how often researchers seem to copy from each other.  Paul Semonin’s American Monster:  How the Nation’s First Prehistoric Creature Became a Symbol of National Identity has been invaluable to my research into how the mastodon was perceived in early America.  And he does mention The Child’s First Book of History.  He doesn’t mention the illustration, but he does say that “In 1831, he [Goodrich] reproduced Charles Willson Peale’s broadside advertising the exhibition of the ‘mammoth’ … introducing his young readers to the American monster as the ‘uncontrouled Monarch of the Wilderness’ and the ‘largest of all Terrestrial Beings!'” (p. 378).

Now, I have three copies of various early editions of that book; and I’ve seen the copy of the first edition at the Internet Archive, and that broadside isn’t anywhere in any of the copies.  And reproducing an entire broadside isn’t the kind of thing Goodrich tended to do.  But from what I can see on google books of Charles Coleman Sellers’ Mr. Peale’s Museum, the broadside is reproduced in that book, with the caption to the illustration I’ve put at the top of this piece, and the words “from Child’s First Book of History“.

Was there a misprint?  No idea–I haven’t seen a copy of Sellers.  But presumably Semonin did; and he copied the info from that into his profoundly confident sentence.  Looking at his bibliography I don’t find that he managed to track down the First Book of History.

And this is why I manage to produce so little:  I’m always redoing other people’s research before I use it.  Good habit–when you have a really good research library at your disposal.  Lousy habit, though, if you want to actually finish anything.

How I love this illustration.  Those tiny human figures pointing out various parts of the skeleton; the skeleton itself, looming so huge in the dark gallery, that sprightly little eye-catching statue of Mercury/Hermes; the slightly chubby dying Gaul (or is it an odalisque?); the mysterious shape in the upper left-hand corner–so much in such a tiny rectangle.  Goodrich liked it too:  he used it at at least twice more that I can find.

It’s just a shame Peale’s museum didn’t put it on their broadside.

It’s still weirdly startling to find a name I recognize contributing to the periodicals I study, whether it’s Winslow Homer illustrating for Our Young Folks or F. O. C. Darley illustrating for the Riverside Magazine for Young People.  So I shouldn’t have been as surprised as I was to find that Thomas Nast illustrated the entire first issue of The Little-Pig Monthly (1859).

Nast drew for Harper’s Weekly; he’s probably best known for his enduring images of “Boss” Tweed and his roly-poly Santa Claus.  But he drew for children, too, most notably a picture of the mascot of The Little Corporal rising from the ashes of the Chicago Fire, which had destroyed the Corporal‘s editorial offices:

A single illustration is one thing.  But Nast drew all the illustrations in the first issue of Little-Pig Monthly.  Don’t let anybody tell you mid-nineteenth-century periodicals for children had few illustrations:  they were a selling point.  The May issue of Little-Pig Monthly was 104 pages and had 45 illustrations of animals and people (and pig tails–two, at the “tail end” of two works apparently intended for young readers), every one of them drawn by Nast.  This is a good one:

an editorial pig

He also probably drew the original illustration for the cover, at the top of this piece.  The number of colors on the cover is unusual, given the expense of printing in color.

Unfortunately, the magazine failed pretty quickly–if it got off the ground at all.  Publishers often published sample issues, to gauge interest and to advertise the magazine (I have a unique issue of Youth’s Pictorial Magazine, which failed to launch in 1848; the editors are very clear that this is a sample issue and that the actual magazine will be much better printed).

Little-Pig Monthly did have a weird sense of its potential audience:  it wasn’t for adults or for children, but for both.  This meant that half the magazine might appeal to adults, and half the magazine might appeal to children.  Given that a subscription was $3 a year, when a subscription to another magazine might run you $1, it’s easy to guess why the magazine failed to thrive.

Not that the editors didn’t try.  The first issue is dated “May.”  It advertises the July issue.  The Library of Congress web site has a scanned advertisement describing what the advertisers say is the June issue; the description is of the May issue.  In September, a notice of the July issue appeared in Godey’s magazine.  Still no takers, apparently.

It was a tiny blip in the career of Thomas Nast.  But it’s the kind of thing that makes opening a magazine I’ve not seen before a lot more fun than most people expect.