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Vintage Books: The Grade School Textbook as Art

4 Jun

Vintage children’s textbooks are a wonderful source for illustrations.  I am inspired by the work of Henry Darger, an outsider artist who collected pictures and drawings of children to use as reference in his beautiful paintings, which he created to accompany an epic book he was writing.  These old books contain exactly the type of sweet drawings of children in old fashioned clothes that Darger used.  They also feature great typography typical of the times, typography that you don’t really see anymore.  The books tend to be small, most being no more than 7″ X 5″, and when I hold them, as with many old objects, they seem to have this energy about them that makes one wonder about its life before it came into one’s possession.  Also, when you look at them it makes you realize that you can’t remember how to do long division anymore.  I have quite a number of these textbooks, some dating back to the 1920s, but here are a few of my favorites.

The first is a science textbook called “Science Stories: Book Two”  It is missing the page that indicates the publisher, edition and release date, but it is probably from the 1950s.  Concepts such as weather, electricity and living things are explained with small stories that are punctuated with illustrations.

The cover of Science Stories

The inside cover and first page

The images inside depict children in 1920s era clothing, beautifully rendered in water colours:

An illustration accompanying a story about weather

An illustration depicting a westward wind

The illustrations of children are too numerous to show them all.  There were also lovely illustrations of animals.  Here are the ones of the “hipster” animals, the deer, and the wolf:

From the chapter on “Living Things”

I love the pink sky

“A garden spider eats many kinds of insects.”

There were some nice paintings of landscapes from different climates, and drawings of food and household items:

From the text underneath this illustration: “This picture shows clouds in the sky. But they have not covered the sun. Do you think the ground is warm where the sunshine touches it?”

“There was the ocean at last!”

Electric Helpers “Electricity is one of our best helpers.”

I love the way these scissors are rendered in blues and pinks, this would be awesome as a sticker or t-shirt, or, if you are a hipster, as a tattoo (you guys have seen the scissor tattoos that are cropping up lately, right?

The book also had wonderful illustrations on the chapter title pages, and as part of the section headers:

Chapter title illustration

Section header

The second book is an eighth grade spelling book from 1950.  I love the fountain pen and ink bottle on the black cover:

Cover of The Canadian Speller, Grade 8

Most of the illustrations in this book were small horizontal drawings at the heading of the page, accompanying the chapter title.

“Some of the ———– stamps are very rare.” The instructions ask you to write the word “collector’s” in the blank space. Talk about a pointless exercise!

I love that this textbook has stolen copyrighted Disney characters for this illustration. Perhaps they hoped that Canada is so obscure that it would renderthe discovery of this infringement nearly impossible.

Any good spelling text for children should have a chapter about personal problems. “Some persons, losing their tempers, become very impatient, and allow their actions to be controlled only by their moods. They become nuisances to themselves and to all with whom they have any association.” Under this paragraph about solving personal problems and a vocabulary list of related words is this: “REVIEW– Indians wear moccasins on their feet.”

Here’s an illustration to make you cringe; the accompanying text explains that a Christian missionary is someone who pursues the ideal of self adjustment for others’ comfort while enduring personal hardship to do so! What?! I also enjoy the beehive with chopsticks in it that two of the stereotyped cartoonish African women are wearing.

“Going to a Party!” “The main feature of a party is a group of people having fun together.” Is this really information that people in grade eight are unaware of?

“Your Personality and the School” It’s not clear if the one with the personality disorder here is the conceited girl, the two snickering about her behind her back, or the guy prancing around.

This guy’s personality and the School

“How to Make and Keep Friends” There’s a Harold and Maude joke here, but I’ll let you come up with it. The review at the bottom of this page states “I saw two men quarrelling (sic) on the wharf.” I don’t get what you are supposed to be learning from these reviews!

“Our Cruel Blessing” is, according to this illustration, that we have to give money to people dressed like Abraham Lincoln.

The next book is a grade 7 mathematics book from 1940 that has nice black and white illustrations.  Here’s just a few:

Cover of “Junior Mathematics, Grade 7”

The little girl’s outfit is so sweet!

Wow, the boy in the centre seems rather formally dressed to just find a percent of a number

For grade sixers, as we used to call ’em, I have this textbook, “Living Arithmetic”

The cover of “Living Arithmetic” I love the drawing of the pilot and the children looking at blueprints.

“Everyday Problems” They never end, am I right?

“Problems About Measures” I like that the foreground is drawn in dark black, while the background is grey. It’s an interesting effect.

And finally, if anyone is still reading this long post, there is this grade four text “Arithmetic for Everyday Use”

The cover of “Arithmetic for Everyday Use” published in 1937

Things that cost five cents in 1937

A cozy little drawing at the margin of one of the pages

This was super tiny, like one inch by one inch. I love the giant hair bow and giant neck ruffle

In contrast to the above girl’s leisure, a few of the illustrations depicted little girls sent off to do errands that they look too young to do by themselves.

This poor little girl had to go to this maniac’s dead animal store.

This girl’s parents had a less morbid errand for her to run, but still.

This poor little girl had to buy her school supplies alone.  I guess her parents don’t care to take part in the family ritual of “back-to-school” shopping.  God!

Well, anyways I hope you have enjoyed this look at some of my vintage children’s textbooks.  They are really very sweet in their content.  At times though with some of these books there will be a little story about, you know, “see Jane run, run run, run, Dick wants to run too, Dick and Jane run,” but when you flip to the back of the book where there is teaching material for the instructor you see that that little asinine three lines was supposed to teach you a whole page of stuff, like about how physical activity is important to grow up well adjusted, how it’s important to wear weather appropriate clothes, different emotions manifest themselves in a variety of physical ways and on and on, on topics that did not come to mind while reading the thing!  It’s amazing the way books for children of these grades really shape one’s perception of the world in ways you don’t even realize at the time.

I liked their small size too, like I said they were all only about 5 by 7 inches.  They are much better than those hulking 10″ X 12″ hard cover monstrosities they make you carry now.  And most of the text book now just have boring stock photography or crappy modern cartoon-like line drawings that have no artistic value.  No wonder I forgot how to do basic math, I just wasn’t visually inspired the way I could, nay, should, have been!

I purchased all of my vintage children’s textbook (I’ve only shown a few here) at Value Village thrift store, which have them some times in their vintage book section.

Textbooks purchased at Value Village, 1319 Bloor St. W., Toronto

Stickers: Famous Monsters

15 May

As I mentioned in the post “Princess Lovely’s Doctor Beautiful Dream Bride Pretty Set” there is a wonderful store on Church Street here in Toronto called Ontario Specialty Co. that has an awesome selection of vintage toys, sunglasses key-chains, purses, stickers and more, from what must be a large hoard of deadstock merchandise.  I buy many thinks from this store, and though the items are vintage, the stock changes regularly, so you must snap up the things that catch your fancy quick or you’ll be disappointed.  I got a taste of this a little while ago when I bought just one set of these amazing horror stickers, foolishly thinking that I could come back for more later.  But alas I was not the only one who fell in love with these retro monster “puff” style stickers, so they’ll be no”‘tradesies” for these awesome ghouls, not for “Mello Smello” scratch-n-sniffs or anything!

The Mummy

Wolfman

The Skull

Frankenstein

I feel like there must have been a fifth sticker of Dracula, but if there was, I guess I must have lost it.

I found this great cheap paperback from the 1970s at Value Village thrift store called “Great Monsters of the Movies”.  It had cool pictures and information on many classic horror films and the monsters that were their stars.   These stickers looked a lot like some of the monsters in these films:

Cheap paperback book entitled “Great Monsters of the Movies, By Robert K. Davidson. This edition copyrighted 1977

Frankenstein’s monster, from the 1931 film Frankenstein

Compare that to the Frankenstein sticker; same scar on forehead and jawline, but sticker has poutier lips for some reason.

Mummy from “The 1942 film “The Mummy’s Tomb”

The Mummy sticker looks like the Mummy monsters from “The Mummy’s Tomb” and “The Mummy’s Hand”, which was released two years later,  in its similar wrinkled and dry appearing face.

The skull-looking monster from 1973’s “The Abominable Dr. Phibes”

There’s no movie in the book with “The Skull” in the title, but this gross thing from “The Abominable Dr. Phibes” sure looks like the sticker.

From “The Wolf Man”, 1941

I don’t know, the wolfman sticker kind of seems more like a cross between this incarnation of a canine-man monster, and the giant ape in King Kong (1933)

Is it just me, or are these old monsters way freakier than the new CGI crap they churn out now?  To punctuate this point, check out these horrifying creatures from two other classic films:

Monster from “The Phantome of the Opera”, 1925

Gah! Isn’t that way scarier than the stupid asymmetrical white mask wearing goon made famous by the Andrew Lloyd Weber musical?

And look at the weird visage of the murderous snake in “The reptile”, who, despite the obvious phallic association and symbolism, is a woman:

From “The Reptile”, 1966

Frightening, no?

Monster stickers purchased at Ontario Specialty Co., 133 Church St., Toronto

Great Monsters book purchased at Value Vullage, 1319 Bloor St. W., Toronto

Vintage Books: The Raunchinator

2 May

While looking through the mystery and suspense section of the book aisles at Value Village (a Goodwill-like thrift store,) I came across a set of books that were smutty and cheesy looking in that perfect way.  They were just some second rate Jame-Bond-type suave- cocky-guy-fights-international-super- evil novels, but the cover photos and titles were so of the genre they should be used as teaching materials for those wishing to learn more about this exciting, dynamic literary style.

Not familiar with the type of protagonist that inhabits this domain?  The back of one of the books offers a tantalizing peek at this cliche of a hired gun:

Intrigued?

Jonas Wilde, eh?  Good name, it makes the character seem so rebellious, so, so…wild, don’t you think? But the best part of these books are the covers, which of course feature half nude women with guns.  And check out the consonant titles:

"The Dominator" By Andrew York

Who is that, a character in the book?  His girlfriend?

"The Expurgator" By Andrew York

Does anyone see the irony in this title?  Allow me to supply the necessary information:

ex·pur·gate

[ek-sper-geyt]

verb (used with object), ex·pur·gat·ed, ex·pur·gat·ing.

1.

to amend by removing words, passages, etc., deemed offensive or objectionable: Most children read an expurgated version of Grimms’ fairy tales.
2.

to purge or cleanse of moral offensiveness.
(Courtesy of (cut and pasted from) dictionary.com)
It’s a cheap assassin book with a semi-nude woman on the cover wearing a fur coat and carrying a gun while sitting, legs spread, in the front seat of a car.  Is Jonas Wilde’s mission to censor this book?
And lastly there was this one:

"The Captivator" By Andrew York

“The Captivator”, what is that, an allusion to her outfit?  Anyways, hopefully these armed women were a good help to Jonas, even if only as vehicles to boost the books’ sales.

Books purchased at Value Village, 1319 Bloor St. W., Toronto

Vintage Books: Health Knowledge and Reader’s Digest

25 Apr

I love to check the vintage book section at Value Village as they often have wonderful old books with beautiful lithographed illustrations.  The colours achieved with this type of printing are far superior to anything you see nowadays in books, even when a limited  colour pallet is used.  These illustrations are a great resource of inspiration for unusual colour combinations, drawing composition, and illustration styles.  Some are suitable for framing just as they are, I think, or maybe they could be turned into decals, stickers or t-shirts.  Perhaps I’ve said too much!  Don’t steal my idea to steal other’s work and turn it into unauthorized merchandise.

The first illustrations come from a 1953 Reader’s Digest condensed book that contains the stories “Black Widow”, “The Silent World”, “East of Eden”, “Karen” and “The Curve and the Tusk”.  I love how the illustrations are rendered with mostly blues and browns, an unusual combination that is never the less very satisfying.

The cover of the Reader's Digest book

An illustration from "Black Widow by Patrick Quintin

another "Black Widow" illustration.

My personal favorite of the "Black Widow" illustrations.

An Illustration from "Karen" by Marie Killilea

I have a few of these condensed RD books and the lovely  illustrations are uncredited for some reason.  They even feel nice, the ink is somewhat thick, and smoother than the paper.  These types of bright lithographs would make excellent solvent transfers.  This technique, in which you apply a light coating of solvent, such as gasoline onto the image before pressing it onto another surface, will unfortunately ruin the book though.

The second book I would like to share with you, dear reader is a beautiful thick medical atlas from around 1919.  Entitled, “Health Knowledge” this book, volume II of an unknown number of volumes was published by Medical Distributors Inc.  It boasts “34 Departments Scientifically Illustrated”.  I was lucky enough to find this beauty for only $6 at Value Village, a bargain for a book with as many lovely full colour plates and black and white illustrations in the text.

The cover of "Health Knowledge"

Diseases of the teeth

The above illustration of the jaw and teeth is my favorite in the book.  The colours are so beautiful.  Wouldn’t you just love some stickers or a t-shirt of this image?

A close-up of the jawline

Diseased teeth

Look at those colours!  These diseased teeth are stunning through the eyes of this medical illustrator.  These old medical illustrations are so different from the type of digitally rendered illustrations and plastic models you see today.  Modern medical textbook illustrations are very sterile, the frailty of life, the reality of death, and the experience of aging are filtered through a scientific perspective to achieve a comforting emotional  distance. The old illustrations speak to a different experience with death and disease, a more visceral, yet more romantic connection to the body and aging.  During the Victorian era and into the beginning of the 20th century the notion of death was seen as more poetic, medicine was more of an art.  My sculpture thesis was inspired by the fusion of death, medicine and science at that time.  Take for instance the wax medical models that were produced during that era:

a wax model of a baby born with syphillis

This is a lithograph of a photo of a wax model of a baby with syphilis.  Notice how it’s mounted on a piece of wood painted black surrounded by white fabric.  Other wax models of this type can be seen mounted on fine stained wood enveloped in silk.  It’s presented like a little jewel, like a little sleeping doll.  Many full body wax models of women were presented in white nightgowns on purple velvet pillows.  It speaks to the body as the original site of entertainment, theatre and show business, which is also evidenced by the development of traveling sideshows that presented preserved body parts and medical oddities, and the dissections done in front of live theatre audiences that were offered to the public at the time.

Check out this colourful illustration of different colours of urine and what ailments they indicate:

a scale of urine colours

Now wouldn’t you just love that image on a shirt?  Perfect for any occasion, am I right?

the joints

And here’s a happy looking fellow:

The black and white illustrations within the text were also nice, my favorites being this skull:

and these two dapper looking fellows in an odd, almost  homo-erotic embrace (not that there’s anything wrong with that)(actually, I think everything is homoerotic, I just love homoeroticism, don’t you, dear reader?):

"Dont look now Edmund, it appears we're being illustrated into a medical book"
"mmm.. yes, quite."

Two books I will treasure forever.

Both books found at Valure Village, 1319 Bloor St. W., Toronto

Dime Store Books

2 Apr

I like to collect vintage books that have well illustrated covers for inspiration.  As an artist and collector  I think that it is important to one’s art practice to keep interesting objects in one’s living environment.

Both of these books were bought in the one dollar racks outside BMV Books at 2289 Yonge St. (and others) in Toronto, a great place to find vintage books, art books and comics at low prices.

BMV 2289 Yonge St

The first book is an awesome science fiction novel called Survivor by Laurence Janifer.  The colours are just fantastic, wouldn’t you agree, dear reader?

Our hero, Gerald Knave

When I looked carefully at the handsome, manly face of  ‘Knaves’,  the book’s hero, I couldn’t help feeling that he looked somehow familiar.  Lets take a closer look, shall we?

                                          

Those small squinting eyes, that smug, smiling toothy face…so familiar…  Then it hit me, it looks much like a character Daniel Clowes would draw.  Does anyone else see it?  Take a look at a couple of examples, maybe you’ll see the resemblance.

                    

      Perhaps I just have Daniel Clowes on the brain, as I love his comics.  Stay tuned for more cheap discarded items that remind me of his work!

The second pulp novel I found had this amazing illustration:

          

This book, entitled Nightmare Alley, By William Lindsay Gresham, promises ‘occult depravity’, and also boasts a succinct review by The New York Times: “Hundred Proof Evil”.   Tantalizing, no?