Thursday, February 12, 2009

Old Boys' Book Collectors Part One

The first wave of collectors of penny dreadfuls, boys books, and boys story papers grew up in the 1870's reading and collecting the penny papers of Edwin Brett, George Emmett, and Charles Fox. By the turn of the century these men, now in their forties, and feeling nostalgic for the books of their youth, turned to the columns of Notes and Queries and T. P.'s Weekly for discussions and comradeship with fellow enthusiasts.

The story of old boys book collectors begins in 1877, when J. Penderell-Brodhurst (editor at The Guardian) addressed a letter from Wolverhampton to Notes & Queries (5thS.VIII, 21 July 1877). He was interested in obtaining a list of book titles pertaining to “highwaymen and knight-of-the-roadism in its many shapes.” Penderell-Brodhurst stated that he was not collecting the books, merely lists. He appended a list of eight titles, including Ainsworth’s Rookwood, Jack Sheppard, and Talbot Harland, and Lord Lytton’s Paul Clifford. “I may say that I am attempting to write the Romance of the Road, and shall be very glad of suggestions or assistance.”

J. Penderell-Brodhurst’s request brought an enthusiastic response (5thS.VIII, 6 Oct 1877) from John Taylor (Northampton), Olphar Hamst, J. Brander Matthews (Lotos Club, New York), Ed. Marshall, C. A. Ward (Mayfair), and Sam Shaw (Andover). One of these people, Hamst, once his name is unscrambled, was Ralph Thomas. Thomas was a prolific contributor to N&Q and will return later in our story.

The first literature on boys’ journals began appearing in 1882 in Volume 2 of Ralph Rollington’s Our Boys’ Paper, which carried an article entitled The History of Boys’ Literature, “a bibliographic review of twenty years progress” covering the period 1862-1882. That same year E. Harcourt Burrage, author of Handsome Harry, published The Ruin of Fleet Street, part reminiscence and part temperance tract, under the by-line of “A Latter Day Pilgrim.”

According to Frank Jay: “One of Mr. Burrage's last works was a volume of reminiscences entitled either “People I Have met,” or “Characters I have met,” I forget which, in which he told the writer he had included a good chapter dealing with the old bohemian journalists, etc., connected with old boys' literature, etc., and although he repeatedly tried to take various publishers to take it up he failed to do so, and so the MSS, has not appeared in print. As a matter of fact, the MSS has, I am afraid, been irretrievably lost.”

We now turn to 23 Feb 1906, in the pages of T. P.’s Weekly, where another query, by “J. W.” (John James Wilson?) in the ‘Notes, Questions, and Answers’ (N.Q.A.) column, led first to assorted replies T.P.‘s Letter Box, then to a series of articles on Bygone Boys’ Papers, authored by “J.” and others.

It' anyones guess who the personages behind “J. W.,” “Bookworm,” “J.,” “H. K.,” “G. J. T. H.,” and “An Old Publisher” were. J. W. may have been John James Wilson, a noted old boy; J. may have been Frank Jay, although none of this is certain. One familiar name was that of a well-known collector, George Gilbertson, who was born in 1860, which I know because he wrote a rollicking poem in the Collector's Miscellany in 1935 to celebrate his 75th.

I’m Seventy five! I’m Seventy-five!
Happy that I am yet alive;

You can read the rest of that gem here.

Frank Jay must have been approximately the same age as Gilbertson judging by the letter to George Emmett I opened this post with. Barry Ono reported the death of Frank Jay in 1934.

Note: Dates will appear in the top page bar when clicked on to enlarge.

Here the correspondence ended but the old boys book brigade carried on, returning to T. P.'s Weekly columns in December of 1912.

Continued in Our Next...

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