Baby Roland booklets

Cover of "Ascent of Man"
Cover of “Ascent of Man,” Baby Roland booklet #2

Imagine a children’s book designed to encourage a toddler to learn the thrill of accomplishment by, say, climbing up a flight of stairs. Today, that book would probably be full-color drawings. In 1902, Elder & Shepard published such a book, George Hansen’s Ascent of Man, consisting of a series of photographs of a real toddler, Hansen’s own son Roland.

Ascent of Man was just one of a series of five booklets, all featuring the young Roland:

  • Vespers
  • Ascent of Man
  • Lima Beans
  • In Company
  • His Calculations

George Hansen (1863-1908) was born in Hildesheim, Germany. His grandfather, J. G. K. Oberdieck, was a famous pomologist (the study of fruit) and was rewarded by the Prussian government with a reserved place in university for whichever of his grandchildren wanted to pursue horticulture. George was chosen, and he attended school in Potsdam. He moved to England in 1885 and worked for F. Sander & Company in their orchid house, drawing illustrations for their publication Reichenbachia. He came to San Francisco in 1887 and was named foreman of the University of California Foothill Experiment Station in Jackson, in the Amador County foothills. He spent seven years there, collecting in the surrounding Sierra Nevada. As a result, some thirty new species were named for him.

In 1889, George married Linda Frances Rinehart (1869-1948), a native of Amador County. But in 1896 Hansen suffered a debilitating spinal injury, forcing him to leave his position at Foothill Station and move to Berkeley. He spent the last dozen years of his life largely confined to his house and garden, and died there on 31 March 1908. The photographs for Baby Roland were taken by Hansen at the family home at 2705 Hearst Ave. in Berkeley. The house no longer exists. Roland’s life too was short: born in April 1900, he died 4 March 1920 at the age of nineteen.

Title page of "Ascent of Man", with unusual tree bark endpapers
Title page of “Ascent of Man”, with unusual tree bark endpapers

There is no typesetting in any of the booklets; all the text and decorations are drawn by hand, almost certainly by Morgan Shepard. The cover and title pages also feature photographs of Roland. To best display the photographs, the paper is coated stock, instead of the laid paper usually favored by Elder. The endpapers are impregnated with thin strips of tree bark, a style used by Elder in several other titles.

Morgan Shepard, who spent most of his adult life writing and publishing books for children, probably coordinated the whole project, as perhaps he also did with Hansen’s book What is a Kindergarten?, published the previous year.

The Baby Roland booklets are now quite scarce.

Page 3 of "Ascent of Man"
Page 3 of “Ascent of Man”
Page 7 of "Ascent of Man"
Page 7 of “Ascent of Man”
Page 19 of "Ascent of Man"
Page 19 of “Ascent of Man”
Page 23 of "Ascent of Man"
Page 23 of “Ascent of Man”
Cover of “Lima Beans,” Baby Roland booklet #3
Cover of "In Company"
Cover of “In Company,” Baby Roland booklet #4
Cover of “His Calculations,” Baby Roland booklet #5

Love & Friendship

Cover of "Love & Friendship"
Cover of “Love & Friendship”

If one had to choose a prototypical Paul Elder gift title, elegant yet undemanding of the reader, Lillyan Shaffner’s Love & Friendship (1910) would be a perfect choice. Indeed, I have many Elders inscribed, for example, “to Miss Hopkins, from Charles Johnson.” How better to court the lady of your dreams but with a lovely little booklet that can be read in a single evening?

Perhaps that is the biggest reason that Paul Elder printed so many volumes of aphorisms and quotations. As has been noted in previous posts, Elder had quite a fondness for them, and compiled and edited many collections himself.

Frontispiece and title page of "Love & Friendship"
Frontispiece and title page of “Love & Friendship”

The wraparound decorations are by Harold Sichel, one of Elder’s favorite artists; his HS monogram appears at the bottom of the page. The typography and two-color design are by the exacting printer John Henry Nash. Love & Friendship is one of many booklets that came in matching envelopes, such as the one pictured below.

Pages 4-5 of "Love & Friendship"
Pages 4-5 of “Love & Friendship”

I have been unable to locate any information on the author, Lillyan Shaffner.

Matching envelope for "Love & Friendship"
Matching envelope for “Love & Friendship”

The Secrets of Beauty & Mysteries of Health

Cover of "Secrets of Beauty"
Cover of “Secrets of Beauty”

In 1886, the wealthy New Orleans society couple James and Cora Brown-Potter visited England, where they had the privilege of spending a weekend with the Prince of Wales (the future King George V). But privately, sparks were flying: Cora had announced to James that she was going on stage, with or without his consent. There were also rumors of a love affair with the Prince of Wales himself. James soon returned to America with their eight-year-old daughter Anne, but without Cora. Though they wouldn’t be formally divorced until 1900, their marriage was over.

Cora remained in England, one of the first American socialites to become a stage actress. She made her debut in 1887 at the Theatre Royal in Brighton. Oscar Wilde, writing anonymously for The Court and Society Review, said “With regard to Mrs. Brown–Potter, as acting is no longer considered absolutely essential for success on the English stage, there is really no reason why the pretty bright-eyed lady who charmed us all last June by her merry laugh and her nonchalant ways, should not—to borrow an expression from her native language—make a big boom and paint the town red. We sincerely hope she will; for, on the whole, the American invasion has done English society a great deal of good. American women are bright, clever, and wonderfully cosmopolitan.”

Frontispiece and title page of "Secrets of Beauty"
Frontispiece and title page of “Secrets of Beauty”

Born Mary Cora Urquhart (1857-1936), Cora hept her husband’s surname for the rest of her stage career. For the next decade, Cora Urquhart Brown-Potter and Harold Kyrle Bellew had a successful partnership and toured extensively. Cora went so far as to assume management of Savoy Theatre in London, made famous in the 1880s by Gilbert & Sullivan and D’Oyly Carte, but she was not able to reverse the theatre’s declining attendance.

In 1908, when she was 51 and nearing the end of her acting career, Potter wrote The Secrets of Beauty & Mysteries of Health. Given her life story, it’s unclear why she chose the modest California firm of Paul Elder & Company to publish her book. However, this was the three-year period following the 1906 San Francisco earthquake when Elder was trying to make a go of it in New York City; perhaps Elder and Potter contacted each other there.

Cora Brown-Potter in 1887, after she had begun her stage career in England. Photo by Hayman Seleg Mendelssohn  (1847-1908)

From her introduction, Potter hints that she will bring what today we might call a “feminist sensibility” to the work:

We women are no longer puppets on the stage of life, placed here or there for show or effect by mere men; we are living, we are free, at last we are true citizenesses of the world, bound, not by the feudal ties of serfdom or fealty, but by the larger and ennobling bonds of citizenship and patriotism. Through centuries of darkness and oppression, through ages of doubt and despair, have we struggled and toiled till at length we have reached the glorious prize of liberty, which now is ours, ours, OURS!

However, she shies away from radical departure of social norms. In the last chapter, euphemistically entitled “The Torso,” she argues in favor of corsets (provided they are properly fitted), noting that she performed her entire stage career whilst corseted.

Dust jacket of “Secrets of Beauty”

Most notably–and dangerously–from a 21st-century viewpoint are the large number of recipes for tonics and makeup. The ingredients often read like the inventory of a compounding pharmacy, such as this recipe (Potter calls them “receipts”) for a skin lotion on page 154: “tincture of benzoin 5 drops, zinc oxide ½ dram, glycerin 1-½ dram, lime water to 1 ounce.” Displaying the medical ignorance of the era, Potter talks in near-glowing terms of such highly toxic metals as arsenic, antimony and mercury, such as an ointment made from yellow mercuric oxide for unsticking one’s eyelids in the morning. (Needless to say, please DO NOT try any of these recipes yourself.)

The reviewer for the San Francisco Call on 24 May 1908 was sanguine: “While there is little original material in the book, there is much that is interesting and some of it is no doubt valuable. The style of writing is poor, but no pretense is made for style. The book is beautifully printed and bound, and contains a number of reproduction of pictures of Mrs. Potter in her various characters of the stage.”

Cora Brown-Potter’s last British stage appearance was in 1912. She died on 12 February 1936, at the age of 78, at her villa in Beaulieu-sur-Mer not far from Monaco along the French Riviera. Shortly before her death, Cora Urquhart Brown-Potter became a French citizen.

Page 22-23 of "Secrets of Beauty"
Pages 22-23 of “Secrets of Beauty”
Page 154-5 of "Secrets of Beauty"
Pages 154-5 of “Secrets of Beauty”
Pages 234-5 of "Secrets of Beauty"
Pages 234-5 of “Secrets of Beauty”


Cover of "Blottentots"
Cover of Paul Elder & Co’s “Blottentots”

The craft of making art from inkblots is called klecksography (from klecks, the German word for “stain” or “blotch”). The modern reader might call to mind the Rorschach Test, but klecksography has a much longer history.

The first person to publish a book using inkblots was Justinius Kerner (1786-1862), a German poet and medical writer. Due to failing eyesight, he would often accidentally drip ink onto his paper. Rather than throw away the resulting inkblots he decided to keep them as artwork, and wrote poems to accompany them. He finished the book Klecksographien in 1857 but it wasn’t published until 1890, twenty-eight years after his death.

Page 7 of
Page 7 of Justinius Kerner’s “Klecksographien”

In 1896, Albert Bigelow Paine (1861-1937) and Ruth McEnery Stuart (1849-1917) published “Gobolinks,” (a play on the words “goblin” and “ink”). Paine and Stuart envisioned Gobolinks as a game, where the players have five minutes to create an inkblot and then a poem to accompany it. Judges are chosen amongst the group, and they choose the best submissions;  players whose works are chosen then become judges for the next round, and the previous judges become players. After the proscribed number of rounds, the final judging is conducted.

Enter Paul Elder & Company in 1907, with Blottentots, and How To Make Them. The book is certainly derivative, but the inkblots are creative and the verses delightful for youngsters’ ears. The author is John Prosper Carmel with calligraphy by Raymond Carter, but the former is believed to be a pseudonym of the latter. I have been unable to find any information about Mr. Carter.

Cover of Stuart and Paine’s “Gobolinks”

In 1921, fifteen years after the publication of Blottentots, Hermann Rorschach (1884-1922) wrote his book Psychodiagnostik, which was to form the basis of the test which bears his name. Some have suggested that Rorschach based his inkblots on Kerner’s, but there appears to be no conclusive evidence of this.

The rules of Gobolinks
The rules of Gobolinks
Page 3 of Gobolinks
Page 3 of Gobolinks
Frontispiece and title page of "Blottentots"
Frontispiece and title page of “Blottentots”
Pages 2-3 of "Blottentots"
Pages 2-3 of “Blottentots”
Pages 22-23 of "Blottentots"
Pages 22-23 of “Blottentots”
The first of the ten cards in the Rorschach test
The first of the ten cards in the Rorschach test