Nina Jones: Her Book

Cover of “Nina Jones: Her Book”

Is it presumptuous to name a book after yourself? Nina Jones: Her Book (1916) is the only eponymous title in Paul Elder’s catalog. This attractive book of poems divulges no hints of the High Society life of the author. It was not a life that Nina Jones was born into, nor one that anyone expected her to have.

Nina Maude Jones was a California native, born on 13 June 1885—though she would would later claim 1893. Her mother, Nellie Murphy, also a California native, was born in 1868 and married an Englishman named Jones at the age of 17, perhaps because she was already pregnant with Nina. At some point Jones died, leaving Nellie to raise Nina as a single mother—not a trivial matter in the 19th century. In 1896, when Nina was eleven years old, Nellie was hired as a housekeeper at Milo Potter’s Van Nuys Hotel at the corner of 4th & Main in downtown Los Angeles.

Title page of “Nina Jones: Her Book”

Milo Potter was one of the more colorful characters in turn-of-the-century Southern California. Born in Michigan on the 19th of May 1854, he worked in Florida first as a fruit farmer, and then as a cotton broker, but neither experience ended well. He finally found his calling as a hotelier, and built a 100-room hotel called the Potter House in Crescent City, Florida which was a success until it was destroyed in a fire. After a few years at a hotel in New Jersey, he moved to to Los Angeles and began working at the Westminster Hotel on 19 October 1888.

Potter had by then decided that the 19th of any month was his “lucky day,” and he arranged for all his important events to happen on the 19th. When the Van Nuys Hotel was built across the street from the Westminster, Potter signed a lease on 19 September 1896, left the Westminster on 19 October, and opened the Van Nuys on 19 January.

Nina Jones Vescei in 1921

The next twist of the story shocked everyone in town: the 47-year-old Milo Potter—flashy businessman, risk-taker, self-promoter, and confirmed bachelor—married the hotel housekeeper Nellie Jones! The private ceremony was held on the 19th (of course) of November, 1901. The society columnists were beside themselves in surprise:

Cupid has conquered him at last! Maids and matrons on matrimony bent had about given Mr. Potter up as a confirmed bachelor who would not be caught with any feminine bait however tempting. But Mr. Potter would not be human did he not have some vulnerable spot in his heart where a shaft from Cupid’s bow could enter. The dart has found its mark, and Milo M. Potter, the successful boniface, popular clubman, fancier of fast horses, semi-millionaire and enterprising business man, has become a benedict. Mr. Potter is the kind of careful man who does not take the whole world into his confidence when he is about to take an important step. After he makes up his mind to do a thing he goes ahead and does it with neatness and dispatch, without any flourish of trumpets or beating of tom-toms to call attention to his acts. That has been his invariable rule in the conduct of his business. and he did not establish a new precedent for himself In the manner of his courtship and marriage. Not more than half a dozen people outside of the contracting parties knew that Mr. Potter contemplated matrimony, up to the moment the ceremony was performed, and the happy couple will be miles away on their bridal tour before even the scores of inmates of his own house will hear the news. The wedding was one of the quietest and most unostentatious, considering the prominence of the pair, ever celebrated in this city. It took place at 4:15 o’clock yesterday afternoon in the private apartments of Mr. Potter in the Van Nuys Hotel. The charming lady who caused Mr. Potter to forsake his bachelor ways was Mrs. Nellie M. Jones, who for five years has been housekeeper of Mr. Potter’s hotel, and who by her efficiency, culture, grace and tact has made herself an indispensable governess of the splendid caravansary. [Los Angeles Times, 20 Nov 1901]

Milo Milton Potter ca. 1880. Photo courtesy of Neal Graffy.

The marriage to Nellie Jones was not the only surprise up Milo Potter’s sleeve. A few weeks after the wedding, Potter purchased a 30-acre oceanfront parcel in Santa Barbara called “Burton’s Mound.” The mound was in fact a Native American shellmound, built over centuries by the Chumash people, who called the area “Syukhtun.” Potter was betting large, and within a year he had built the six-story 390-room Potter Hotel, which opened on 19 January 1903. Its elevation on the mound gave it spectacular views of the city, mountains, ocean, and Channel Islands. Potter was helped immeasurably by the completion of the Santa Barbara section of the Southern Pacific coast railway: now trains stopped on their way between San Francisco and Los Angeles. There was plenty to do at the Potter Hotel: immaculately landscaped grounds, tennis courts and a zoo, a nine-hole golf course, horse racing track and polo grounds, sailboats, and a farm which raised the poultry and livestock that appeared on the menus of the hotel’s three dining rooms.

Desider Josef Vecsei in 1919

When Nellie Jones married Milo Potter in 1901, Nina Jones was sixteen years old. The daughter of a hotel housekeeper was transformed overnight into a wealthy society teenager. For a time Nina served as a hostess at the Potter Hotel, and we can only imagine the wealthy and famous guests that Nina met.

And then, in 1916, at age thirty-one, Nina Jones published her book of poetry. Presumably a vanity publication, she dedicates it to her step-father Milo, “a poor offering for so much kindness.” It is an attractive little book, with gold-stamped lettering on the spine and cover, decorated endpapers, coated stock, and initial capitals in orange ink. It was probably issued with a dust jacket, but this has not been seen. The poetry is sincere but not memorable. One extolls her mother Nellie’s blue eyes, and several bemoan the carnage of World War I raging in Europe.

When we next hear from Nina, it is April 1920 and she is about to marry the Hungarian concert pianist Desider Josef Vecsei, whereupon they “will leave very soon for New York, from which port they will sail within a short time for France, where they will make their home for the present in Paris.”

The Potter Hotel. Photo courtesy of Neal Graffy.

Milo Potter sold the hotel in 1919, whereupon it was renamed the Belvedere, and later the Ambassador. The hotel burned to the ground on 13 April 1921 and was not rebuilt. Nellie and Nina remained wealthy after Milo’s death in 1925, and they seemed to have escaped the ravages of the 1929 stock market crash. In 1930, Nellie Potter lived in a home in Montecito valued at $100,000, equivalent to $1.6 million today.

The Van Nuys hotel survives at the corner of 4th & Main, and is now called the Hotel Barclay. It has had quite a colorful history, but has seen hard times in recent decades, as it now straddles the border between the Historic Core of Los Angeles and “Skid Road.”

Nina Jones’s Cinderella story sadly did not include a long lifespan. Nina died on 4 July 1935 at the age of fifty. Her mother Nellie Murphy Potter died on 2 April 1946, aged seventy-six. Desider Vecsei died on 1 March 1966, aged eighty-three.

Decorated endpapers of “Nina Jones: Her Book.” The racy Art Deco bookplate of Eve in the Garden of Eden by Rudolph Guzzardi (1903-1962) was clearly pasted in at a later date
Page 7 of “Nina Jones: Her Book”
Page 39 of “Nina Jones: Her Book”
Colophon of “Nina Jones: Her Book”

California and the Opening of the Gateway Between the Atlantic and the Pacific

Cover and spine of “California”

What would motivate an author to publish anonymously? The reviewers of California and the Opening of the Gateway Between the Atlantic and the Pacific wondered the same thing. There must be something wrong, they thought. “Writers who prefer to have their productions appear anonymously are usually moved by one motive, a lack of self-confidence in their own powers,” wrote The Saturday Chronicle in New Haven, Connecticut. However, the reviewer continued “But the man who wrote California must have had some other reason for withholding his name. There is a true feeling for poetical form in these stately and musical lines.”

The review must have both pleased and infuriated the author, who was a woman: Margaret Cutter. I had not known her name until earlier this month, when it was brought to my attention by Simon Taylor at Left Coast Books in Santa Barbara. Simon discovered Margaret’s signature in a copy that he had for sale. In the same hand, at the end of the poem, are the words “August 1914,” presumably noting when Margaret completed the poem.

Title page of “California”

California was clearly meant to dovetail with San Francisco’s big party, the Panama-Pacific International Exposition, held from February to December, 1915, in what is now the Marina District. The Fair was ostensibly to celebrate the opening of the Panama Canal, but was really designed to show the world that San Francisco had recovered from the 1906 earthquake and fire. The book’s foreword is an excerpt from the 1657 book Cosmographie by the English ecclesiastical writer Peter Heylyn (1599-1662), where he attempts to describe every aspect of the known world: geography, weather, politics, and religion. Concerning the New World, he writes that the isthmus of Panama

…is so small a Ligament for so great a Body, that some have thought of turning these two Peninsulas into perfect Islands. Certain it is, that many have motioned to the Council of Spain, the cutting of a navigable Chanel through this small Isthmus; so to shorten their common Voyages to China and the Moluccas.

Signature of Margaret Cutter. Photo courtesy of Simon Taylor.

But though Margaret’s poem was completed in August 1914, the book was not published until October 1916, a full ten months after the PPIE closed. Any number of personal or financial issues, on Cutter’s side or Elder’s, could have caused the long delay, but assuming the book was intended for sale (as opposed to a vanity publication), not being able to feature the book at Elder’s booth in the Palace of Liberal Arts was surely a big disappointment.

The poem California is in two parts. In Part I, Cutter’s verses tell of the discovery of California by the Spanish, with brief mentions of the Chinese traders and the arrival of the Americans overland from the East during the Gold Rush. In Part II, Cutter uses the blossoming of California’s weather in February as a metaphor for the opening of the PPIE in February, 1915. She then describes California’s arms as open wide to the world, just as they were in 1849 when the world rushed in:

Critical praise for “California”

So once again does California call,
Glad invitation gives to festival,
The world invites to celebrate
The passage of the newly opened strait.
Bids men to keep triumphant jubilee
Which marks the kinship of humanity;
Her Golden Gate wide open set
For the world’s armament in glad truce met,
Her valley vestibules fresh strewn
With petals of the almond bloom.

The foreword, an excerpt from Peter Heylyn’s “Cosmographie”

It’s not a particularly attractive book. The design hearkens back to the Elder & Shepard days, before the heyday of John Henry Nash’s Arts & Crafts aesthetic at the Tomoye Press. The text is set in Caslon, more austerely than Herman Funke’s typical work with Elder. There is generous white space at the bottom and sides of the pages. The title page, half-title, copyright page, and colophon are set in all caps. The cover and spine are unadorned except for pasted-on labels. Perhaps California is a vanity publication after all: Paul Elder might not otherwise have settled for this quality of work, or permitted the author to remain anonymous.

The book includes a dedication page reading “To the Cause of Peace,” no doubt referring to World War I raging in Europe. The dedication was surely a late addition: when Margaret completed her poem in August 1914 the hostilities had only just started, but by the time the PPIE opened six months later, the War had spread across the whole of Europe. Indeed, due to the War, international attendance at PPIE was far less than the organizers had hoped, and the pavilions of many European countries were smaller than planned.

Page 3 of “California”

During her life, Margaret Cutter’s name was also recorded as Margaretta, Margarita, and Maggie, but in public she went by the formal name Mrs. Norman W. Cutter. She was born Margaretta Porter in Berlin, Connecticut in 1852. The Porter family traced its ancestry back to John Porter, born in Kenilworth, Warwickshire, England about 1590. John and his family left England and arrived in Dorchester, Massachusetts on 30 May 1630. Margaret’s grandparents, Norman Porter Sr. and Abby Galpin, were married in 1823. On their wedding day, they set off for Lexington, Kentucky, first by stagecoach and later by mule. There Norman setup shop as a merchant, and soon amassed “a small fortune,” enabling the Porters to live comfortably for the rest of their lives. They had a son, Norman Jr., and eventually moved back to Berlin. Norman Jr. married Hannah Peck in 1846; Margaret was the fourth of their six children. When Norman Porter Sr. died in 1863, Norman Jr. moved the whole family to San Jose, California. Margaret married Norman Webber Cutter on 15 April 1880 in San Jose. They had been married for only eleven years when Norman died at the age of 41 in 1891. They had no children, and Margaret never remarried. By 1910, she was living in Santa Barbara, and was still living there when she died in 1939 at the age of 87. She and Norman are buried together at Oak Hill Memorial Park in San Jose.

Pages 10-11 of “California”

Despite the critical praise for her verses, Margaret Cutter appears never to have published another book. Everything points to her having inherited enough of her grandfather’s (or her husband’s) money to live comfortably. For example, either Margaret or Norman had collected a number of old and rare maps, which she donated them to Fort Lewis College upon her death.

My thanks again to Simon Taylor for discovering the mystery author.

Colophon of “California”

The Passing of an Oak

Cover of “The Passing of an Oak.” Courtesy of the Bancroft Library.

In 1905, workers in Monterey, California cut down a dead oak tree and tossed it into Monterey Bay. Perhaps they did not know that it was the most famous tree in the city’s history.

Three centuries before, on 3 December 1602, the expedition of Spanish explorer Sebastián Vizcaíno landed at the mouth of a creek in Monterey Bay. Vizcaíno’s mission was to locate safe harbors that the Spanish galleons could use on their voyages back from the Philippines, and this bay looked superb. The expedition’s chronicler, a Carmelite friar named Antonio de la Ascensión, celebrated Mass under the limbs of a large oak tree that stood near the creek. In his report, Vizcaíno noted the tree as an excellent landmark for future Spanish explorers.

Title page of “The Passing of an Oak”

Despite Vizcaíno’s glowing report, many decades would pass before the next expedition to Monterey, that of Gaspar de Portolá in 1769. Spain was now anxious to establish outposts in California before the empires of Russia and England could do the same. After many hardships, Portolá arrived overland on 24 May 1770. Junípero Serra sailed into Monterey Bay the following week, on 3 June 1770, and said Mass under Vizcaíno’s oak tree.

The oak tree was damaged by lightning in 1840 but remained otherwise healthy until 1903, when workmen repairing a culvert accidentally introduced salt water to the roots. The tree died the next year. (Our book’s foreword instead blames the tree’s illness on damage from engraving beetles, which are a type of bark beetle.) Let us charitably assume that those who cut down the tree in 1905 and unceremoniously threw it into the bay were ignorant of what the tree meant to the city.

Foreword of “The Passing of an Oak”

Fortunately, Ramón Mestres, the pastor of Monterey’s Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo, heard what had happened and had the tree pulled from the water. With financial assistance from civic leader and philanthropist Harry Ashland Greene, the remains of the trunk were preserved with creosote and erected behind the cathedral. Greene also commissioned local craftsmen to make several chairs out of its branches, two of which he donated to the local parlor of the Native Sons of the Golden West. One of the chairs was exhibited along with other Monterey products at the Panama Pacific International Exposition in 1915. The oak trunk remained on display at the Cathedral, along with a marble plaque, for many years until it deteriorated beyond repair. Several fragments of the tree are now preserved in local museums.

Page 1 of “The Passing of an Oak”

At this point, enter James A. Murray (1840-1921), a wealthy entrepreneur. According to his biographer Bill Farley, Murray was a “western iconoclast, a pioneering and dominating spirit, more comfortable in saloons than board rooms, who fought for wealth and mother country to his last breath.” Murray had made his first fortune in the mines of Montana, and proceeded to make further fortunes with investments across the United States. He established a second home in Monterey in 1904, and quickly took a keen interest in local history. Murray owned one of the three paintings by Léon Trousset depicting Junípero Serra’s first Mass beneath the famous oak tree. In 1908, to commemorate the lost tree, Murray commissioned sculptor Douglas Tilden to carve a tall granite Celtic cross with bas-relief portraits of Serra and Mission Carmel. The cross was erected near the original site of the tree and is now California Historical Landmark #128. (The Celtic design was a nod to Murray’s homeland of Ireland, where he feverishly supported the expulsion of the British and creation of an independent Irish republic.)

In 1949, the California Centennials Commission unveiled another historical marker a few yards away from the granite cross, this one commemorating Portolá’s founding of the Monterey Presidio in 1770.

The Vizcaíno-Serra Oak, late 1800s. At some point a plain wooden cross was set in the ground, bearing the date of Serra’s landing. Several different postcards were printed with views similar to this.

With all that as backstory, let us turn to today’s book, The Passing of an Oak. In 1909, Mary Murray, James’s wife, commissioned Paul Elder & Company to publish Mary Spence’s short poem about the Vizcaíno-Serra Oak. It is an elegant but slim volume: just seven stanzas of poetry, one stanza per page, in simple blue paper wraps. Remarkably, only twelve copies were printed, an almost comically small press run. Elder’s books were typeset by hand, and this was a lot of trouble to go to for just twelve copies. Surely it took longer to set the type than to print the twelve copies! If Mrs. Murray felt so strongly about printing Mrs. Sullivan’s poem and honoring her husband’s philanthropy, why did she print so few?

It’s unknown whether Murray first saw Spence’s poem and decided to publish it, or Spence wrote the poem upon commission from Murray. In any case, Mary Murray and Mary Spence must have been acquainted, and were perhaps even good friends. As you will read below, poet Mary Spence married well, and was ensconced in Monterey’s upper-crust society. The Murrays often vacationed in Monterey before moving there, and were donors to the local arts scene.

The granite monument as first erected in 1908, near where the oak once stood.

Mary Spence was born Mary Teresa Sullivan in San Francisco in 1863. Her father was Irish immigrant “Big John” Sullivan (1824-1882), who was a member of the pioneer Stephens-Townsend-Murphy party of 1844, the first wagon train to cross the Sierra Nevada during the expansion of the American West. He later was one of the five co-founders of the Hibernia Bank of San Francisco. Mary received a private education from a French governess, and later attended the College of Notre Dame in San Jose. In 1886 Mary married Rudolph B. Spence (1858-1913) of Monterey. Rudolph’s Scottish grandfather David Spence had married into Monterey’s Estrada clan, owners of the extensive Rancho Llano de Buena Vista, a large Mexican land grant in the Salinas valley. In due course Rudolph inherited a portion of the rancho. Mary did not pursue a literary career, content with occasional short poems, fables, parodies, and book reviews under different pen names. She died in San Francisco in 1920 and is buried next to her husband in the Monterey City Cemetery.

Close-up of the monument. Photo by Kevin Dayton, 2015.

The landscape where the oak once stood has been much altered since the late 1880s and does not resemble the period photographs shown here. The granite cross is located at the corner of Pacific St. and Artillery St. in Monterey (see annotated photograph below). There is no parking of any kind at that intersection, but turn right onto Artillery and then right again on Corporal Ewing and you will find a small parking lot. It’s also an easy walk from other historic buildings nearby, such as the Custom House (where the United States flag was first raised over California in 1846) and California’s first theater, at the corner of Pacific and Scott.

In 2015, a mural was unveiled along the Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail, depicting the oak as it was thought to look in Vizcaíno’s day. While the mural and the oak tree site are only about 50 yards apart as the crow flies, there is no direct way to get from one to the other: you must walk the long way around via Scott St.

The preserved remains of the Vizcaíno-Serra Oak at the Cathedral of San Carlos Borromeo
Close-up of the plaque underneath the preserved oak tree
Map of the immediate vicinity. The landscape has been much altered since Serra’s day, when the shoreline was much closer to the oak tree.
One of the chairs made out of fragments of the Vizcaíno-Serra Oak
2015 mural of the Vizcaíno-Serra Oak alongside the Monterey Peninsula Recreational Trail.
Historical marker commemorating the founding of Monterey by Portolá on 3 June 1770, located a few yards south of the granite cross.

The Boers and the Uitlanders

Cover of “The Boers and the Uitlanders”

Why did Elder & Shepard publish a book about a guerilla war in southern Africa?

In 1901 the southern tip of Africa was immersed in a conflict known as the Boer War. The belligerents were the Boers, pastoral farmers who were descendants of the original 17th- and 18th-century Cape Dutch settlers, and the British Empire. The Boers lived in the Orange Free State and the Transvaal Republic, and the British controlled the Cape Colony. The Boer War was the culmination of more than a century of lesser conflict between the Boers and Britain, but the War’s immediate concern was who would control and benefit most from the lucrative gold mines in Witwatersrand, in the Transvaal. American engineer John Hays Hammond was plop in the middle of all this—along with his wife Natalie, the author of The Boers and the Uitlanders (1901).

Title page of “The Boers and the Uitlanders”

John Hays Hammond (1855-1936) was born in California, where his father had prospected in the Gold Rush. Perhaps this rubbed off on the young John Hammond, for he studied science at Yale, then mining in Freiburg, Germany, where he met and married Natalie Harris (1859-1931). He soon was a respected mining engineer, working for, among others, Senator George Hearst. In 1893 the Hammonds moved to southern Africa where John helped open new mines in Witwatersrand. The Boers were happy to reap profits from the gold mines, but resented the presence of the British and American prospectors, whom they called uitlanders (“foreigners”). By 1895 Hammond was managing Cecil Rhodes‘s gold mines and had become quite wealthy.

Natalie Harris Hammond, author of “The Boers and the Uitlanders” (courtesy Library of Congress)

It was then that history caught up with Hammond. Cecil Rhodes, Hammond, and others had formed the Johannesburg Reform Committee in the Transvaal in an attempt to secure basic rights for the uitlanders. The Committee was something of a sham, in that Rhodes knew President Paul Kruger would never accede to their demands, but his hope was that the British uitlander community would rise up against Kruger’s government. This did not happen, and after the botched Jamieson Raid of December 1895, most of the committee members, including Hammond, were arrested and thrown in jail. Hammond was one of four defendants who were sentenced to be hanged, but this was soon reduced to 15 years in prison, and later commuted entirely. Most of the ringleaders were shipped back to Britain, and the Hammonds returned to America in mid-1896.

The Boers and the Uitlanders, p3
Page 3 of “The Boers and the Uitlanders”

Five years later, on 9 January 1901, Natalie Harris Hammond gave a speech at the Century Club of California (a private women’s club in San Francisco), and the text appeared later that year under the Elder & Shepard imprint as a vanity publication. She begins with a short history of the Boers in the Transvaal and the subsequent tension as the uitlanders flooded in during the gold rush. Her villain is Transvaal president Paul Kruger, whose railroad monopolies charged the uitlanders outrageous fares, and whose taxes on uitlanders verged on extortion. But her views of the Boers themselves—as well as the displaced native peoples—borders on racist:

The natural disaffection of the Boer against any governing control became thus accentuated to a degree that brought open rupture, and the so-called “Great Trek” was the result. … With scant food and small supply of water, surrounded by hostile tribes, these dogged Vortrekkers pushed along through wasted of arid land, sweltering under a brazen sun by day, tented at night by a strange and silent sky. For more than twenty years they wandered on, in search of their land of Canaan, leaving solitary graves to mark their course; for privation, fever and native assegais [spears] claimed a heavy toll. …

In ceaseless fight against wild beasts and savages, the courage of the Trekkers became tinctured with cunning. Habits of cleanliness inherited from their Dutch forefathers, and the spirit of thrift which came from their French ancestry, were thrown aside as useless burdens on that long and painful march.

The Transvaal Boer of today was evolved, uncleanly, improvident, cruel to the weak, crafty with the strong, ignorant, superstitious, strong in family affection, but lacking attachment to any special locality. Honesty and truthfulness towards others were virtues unknown to him, for with others he had little or no dealings. …

Neither President Kruger nor his Boers had the education or experience which would enable them to work out the questions which arose when the Uitlanders came in. A very small percentage of the Boers could even read or write.

John Hays Hammond, Sr. (courtesy Library of Congress)

As one would expect, Hammond is hardly the impartial historian. The British and American uitlanders were there to extract immense wealth from the gold fields, and were not above treachery and warmongering to attain those ends: the riches they extracted was not going to stay in Transvaal to benefit the Boers. This was still the golden age of British imperialist colonialism, and Queen Victoria was still on the throne (she died 13 days after Hammond’s talk at the Century Club). And in fact, the Boers would eventually lose the Boer War in 1902, and with the signing of the Treaty of Vereeniging the Boer republics became part of the British Empire.

When John Hammond returned to the United States in 1896, he was now both rich and famous. He became a professor of mining engineering at Yale in 1902, and also served as a very highly paid general manager for the Guggenheim Exploration Company, making him wealthier than ever. He became active in the Republican Party and was friends with several U.S. Presidents, particularly William Howard Taft. He was announced as a candidate for vice-president in 1908, but did not get many votes at the convention. Hammond appeared on the cover on Time magazine on 10 May 1926.

John and Natalie Hammond are buried in the Greenwood Cemetery in Brooklyn, New York.

Errors of Thought

Title page of "Errors of Thought"
Title page of “Errors of Thought”

This book is surely the strangest that Paul Elder ever published. It is the antithesis of the attractive, well-printed, easily-read giftable volume that was the Elder specialty. Without a doubt a vanity publication, Errors of Thought in Science, Religion and Social Life (1911) is a long, rambling, incoherent screed on education, science, history, religion, and politics. It’s also poorly typeset, printed on coated stock, and published without a stiff binding. Two states have been seen, the second including an errata page which is just as incomprehensible as the main text. Indeed, it is difficult to understand why Paul Elder was willing to put his name on this bizarre book. And who was the author, identified only as “St. George”?

The story of St. George begins with George Hugo Malter (1852-1927) who immigrated to the United States from Silesia (then in Germany, now part of Poland) in 1866. Malter made his way to California and became a mining engineer, but by 1879 he had abandoned engineering to become a grape grower and winemaker. He proved a successful vintner, and by 1900 Malter owned one of the largest vineyards in California at over 2000 acres. He was a member of the Bohemian Club and the owner of the Emerald, a well-known yacht. The village around his home base in Fresno County was named Maltermoro (today a residential neighborhood of Fresno known as Sunnyside).

The winery’s main brand was called “St. George,” and it specialized in aperitif and dessert wines: Pale Dry Sherry, Dry Sherry, Sherry, and Mellow Sherry; Ruby Port and Tawny Port; Golden Muscat and Muscatel; Madeira and Grenache; Tokay, White Port, and Angelica.

In 1904, Malter married Mabel P. Richardson (b. ca. 1884), a California native. He was 52, she was about 20; it was the first marriage for both of them. Their son George Jr. (1906-1979) would eventually take the reins of the winery. It is the 27-year-old Mabel who is the author of our book. Sadly, I know nothing else about Mabel, although it’s now clear where she found her pseudonym. In 1914, Mabel wrote another eccentric book, The World Process, this time self-published by the “St. George Publishing Company.”

Prohibition was not kind to the St. George winery. By the time Malter died in 1928, all that was left was a small acreage and the manor house. The winery limped along until 1942, when it was purchased by the the Eastern wine enterprise L. N. Renault & Sons.