Currently viewing the category: "Impossible Books"

JF Ptak Science Books LLC

These pamphlets are samples from a larger collection whose attention to the detail of boredom and blandness and relative inexplicability are extraordinary. The titles intact, it mostly doesn't matter what the contents have to say for themselves–everything, really, is right there on the front page, the meaning best left to the imagination.

0 blog march 9 titlitle that which661

0 blog jan 30 substandard493
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0 blog jan 02 keep man340

Small history--penny465

Small history--gum466

0 blog march 9 titles making of things660

0 blog dec 19 tnazi america302

0 blog jan 02 keep man339

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JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 1016

Luxury for the not-wealthy, the luxuries of the working classes, is a relatively new invention in the West. Virtually unmolested except by the aristocracy, "luxury" was a thing defined to exclude nearly everyone in Europe, the United Kingdom, America and virtually any other place. Not until the second Industrial Revolution did capital become more "absorbent" to those working for it, with the working classes allowed to be paid more and keep more of it–money in the hands of the mass of society became expendable on the stuff of life that wasn't necessarily "necessary". This picture dictionary–collected but not assembled by the social muse and graphical strategist Malcom Mumbry (of Landrum, South Carolina, working-class neighbors to the wealthy in the horse country of northern South Carolina)–displays some of the many new luxuries of the 1880-1920's period, most of which have now been lost to the dust and short memory.

The images are beautiful and unusual–their content may be even more so, and generally unexpected and–occasionally-unimagined. We'll be making posts to this site until we can construct a few representative alphabets of lost luxuries–their initial presentation will not be made alphabetically.

H Hat Ennui.

1-apr 29--luxury--hat ennui

By the time this photo was made in 1920 hat-need had surpassed itself to the point where only ennui could quench the continuing hat-thirst. So much so as a matter of fact that Giles Rope, a French playwright, wrote and co-produced (along with Guy la Flembeur) "Ennui Chappeu", an absurdist work on the developing hat anti-lust. Intended as a silent/violent statement against hat ennui, it became a pro-ennui sensation–not only did men want hat ennui, they evidently wanted to watch other men with hat ennui, as well. The play ran 85 weeks in Paris, 50 in London and 102 in New York, closing in 1926.

H Hats, Bologna

1-apr 29--luxury--bologna hats

Perhaps a more unusual hat story in 1921 was the appearance of party hats for over-sized bologna. The delicatessen standard was new in 1921, and in order to make it more somehow appealing to customers the bologna were dressed in large, flat-brimmed party/sun hats. By 1922, bologna hat racks began to appear in some eateries; by 1923, the hat craze was over, and bologna had shrunk.

S Sob-watching/sob-watchers

1-apr 29--luxury--sobwatch
The somewhat wealthier classes were offered a short "Exclusive Hirelings" pamphlet by Bent Gruel Company (of Chicago), where well-dressed "Attendants" could be hired to "engage at a distance". This amounted to polite watching–interested parties could now hire one (or more) of Gruel's sophisticated cadre to "attend to the visual needs deserted" of people in joy or crisis so that whatever it was being experienced was now not necessarily experienced alone. (In the above scene a client has hired three men to equidistantly observe her weeping by a painted window.)

M Maid Fainting

1-apr 29--luxury--maid fainting

For the millions of Americans who were newly affluent in 1925 but not affluent enough to afford a fainting maid that they could attend to came the Maid Fainting Society Inc of America. Bonded in 15 states, MFSA sponsored overseas maids to faint in good American homes. They were hired out at $4/hour (a handsome hourly sum in 1925), the fainting maids being allowed to keep half. In 1926 a sub-cult of Extra-Tall Fainting Maids was born (an example of which is picture above), and provided an income to thousands for several years. (One of the last silent films ever made, Fainting Maid Maiden, with Clara Bow, 1944, used this phenomenon as a basis for its story; by that time however the craze had passed, the war was on, and no one cared anymore for silent films about fainting maids.)

C Cigar Cane Rentals

1-apr 29--luxury--cane
An excellent example of an extinct semi-luxury that was almost entirely based in England and which never caught on anywhere else in the world was cigar cane rentals. As seen in this photo (made in London in 1922), well-intentioned better-clothed country pensioners were brought into the city and made to pose with their renter canes. Wooden canes evidently deprived Londoners of a "cigar aromaticity" need that was fulfilled with these canes made of cigars. The short craze lasted for about 15 months, during which time better than 500 cane renter holders were stationed around London at walking parks on any given evening. It was an essential part of care rental to do so on brick, as the cigar cane tip made a distinctive sound (a harley-like individuality if you may), which was enjoyed by the renter and the non-renter alike. AS we can see in the photo above, nearly all of the cane renter men have already rented their canes, pushing the last two men with canes to the front for greater visibility.

–end, Part I

JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 807 Blog Bookstore

+ blog 10.26 multiple

+ blog 10.26 liver cvr In the excitable, pulsing pile that is my collection of Naively Bizarre Literature–some 5,000 items now pushing themselves around like a 750-pound bad idea–comes this lovely, "what the ____!?" title: Let's Serve Something New. 53 Selected Recipes for the use of Liver, Heart, Kidney, Sweetbreads, Tongue and other Meat Specialties. Now, once I got the tongue part out of my 18-year-long vegetarian brain, I wondered about what on earth the other part of the ripping title and what "specialties" there might be.+ blog 10.26 liver brains
But before I could get there I was stopped by these unique cartoon illustrations romping their way through the text with spectacular word balloons There are SO many more words that could be injected into these balloons than the ones that were used, and so much more expected. But the zombie texts was inserted by the publisher, which was the American Institute of Meat Packers, whop no doubt were trying to force every last penny of profit out of whatever was left in the sluice sieves of the chopping room floor.

If these cartoons were extracted from this source, and their balloons left blank, and if people were asked to supply new text, the original words would be the very last in a very long list of possible fillers.

+ blog 10.26 i'll have calf brains

Removed from context, the illustrations are unexpected and hysterical; placed back into context, and well, they are a little wince-y.

The recipes that decorate this pamphlet are no less unbelievable, at least from where I'm sitting, and I'm sitting hard: stuffed baked liver with vegetables in liver dressing, pork liver fermiere, liver with brown liver gravy, liver Pasadena (liver and butter and broiled bacon swimming in bacon fat), liver dumplings stuffed with liver, creamed sweetbreads, kidney omlettes, baked stuffed heart with rice border, heart chop suey, scrambled brains, sauteed brains, creamed calves brains, cold jellied tongue, tongue omlette, tripe roll, baked pig's feet, and, not last, Tripe a la Mussolini (which is 1.5 pounds ogf tripe, bread crumbs, and tomato sauce). (Spam stuffed with spam and spam jelly, braised in a light spam sauce, and covered in crackled spam.)

+ blog 10.26 gee mom After everything was said and done, the other surprise meats didn't seem so surprising anymore, what with running up on the heals of delicacies like stuffed tongue and parboiled sumpin's: tails, feet and oysters (a la Waldorf) seemed as harmless as a Sunday Slider.


JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 776 Blog Bookstore

I wonder what is was like to be a traveling salesman hauling
around hundred-pound barrels of pig bristles?

+ simplicity paintbrush

We don’t really find out the answer to that question in Origin and Development of the Paint Brush (1938),
but that remarkable, far from the maddening crowd question does present itself in
the text. And that is why I love
pamphlets like these.

Spending my professional life with the book, and being a
reader, I’ve come into contact with and have been exposed to a good, solid, Big Number of books, a Big Book of Big Numbers of
books. And so when the unusual creeps in
or is stumbled upon, they shine like little novas in my book-sky. And the ones that shine with their own
special light are the titles come in three favorite flavors: the Sublime Mundane, Outsider Logic, and
(and Impossible). Today’s
selection are from the first category, and exhibit titles and texts that look
like non-luminous and uni-dimensional but turn out to be anything but mundane.

+ simplicity escalators

Earlier in this blog I’ve written on pamphlets entitled Flagpole Painting, School Safety Pioneers, Fortunes to be Made with Frogs, Where are the Dead?, How to Repair a Zipper, Mud’s Romantic Story, Soap in Everyday Life, The Fine Art of Squeezing, Salt Salesman’s Manual, Know Your Groceries, The Book of Envelope Facts (and others),
and they’ve all shown a terrific inner quality that is completely hidden by
their so-sleepy and yet strangely-compelling titles. Like the paint brush history pamphlet. Here are a few other new examples:

The Otis Elevator
pamphlet (1947) is efficiently designed beneath its semi-bizarre cover,
floating in odd typeface, completely lifeless design, mannequin humans, and
washed-out pastels. The Chinese coloring
book style of its covers hides a superior content, complete with schematics and
beautifully supplied with photos of elevators long-since removed from sight and
memory. + simplicity escalators back 002

The Hooking pamphlet is not about its obvious contemporary
counterpart, but is a luminous, luxurious introduction and stylizer to the
science of hooking large objects to cranes via giant hooks and chains, and especially
about how to keep yourself from being
crushed by tons of steel not hooked properly.

+ simplicity hooking

The Mystery of Filters
charm is wholly in its title and cover design, its text describing nothing
but camera filters. It is still a cool
cover, nonetheless.

+ simplicity filters

published by Travelers’ Insurance Company, tried to protect themselves a little
further by ensuring safe practices of elevator operation, mostly in industrial
settings. This was published in 1926 and
was already in its seventh printing from its inception in 1913 when the
elevator was just in its second decade of popular, relatively widespread usage.
The haven’t-given-this-cover-design-a-moment’s-thought hides a thorough (and
bland) treatment of elevator safety; too bad, the cover photosnap-art promises
something more. Its not there, except
for this beautiful photo of an industrial elevator op with a tie.

+ simplicity elevatorsAnd coming back to wood barrels that are not necessarily
filled with pig (or wild boar) bristles but with something else less advanced
comes this manual on making wood barrels.
Everything is there, everything you’d need to make a barrel (and a good
one at that), and I admire this sort of fantastic dedication to what is
essentially (to our modern mind) mundane—except that it is as dry
as well-cured barrel wood. But I admire
it still, as I do the Elevator pamphlet,
because, well, they’re done right. + simplicity elevators interior tie

+ simplicity wooden barrels

JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 645 Blog Bookstore

Blog--jun 9 odd titl ssh

In a
continuing thread that I call The Naïve Surreal—common, ephemeral titles
relating to subjects whose meaning has virtually no place outside its own era,
creating art in their otherwise forgettable and forgetting covers and design—come
these two examples relating to women and girls.
There’s really not much to say about their contents, really—so much has
already been said. They’re just a standard
of their time. Things People Won’t Talk About (1937) is [sic] venereal diseases,
and is an appeal for actual public discussion (“the foolish secrecy surrounding
(the diseases) is what makes them so destructive”.

Blog--jun 9 odd tevry grl
Every Girl Should Know

(1928) contains nothing I think outside what everyone would expect it top say,
except that it is rather well written, and also (in places) quite strongly
opinionated. The little pamphlet also
assumes that its readers already know its complaints: “the evils of self-abuse are so well known,
that there is no need to elaborate further on this point”. Its “chapter”
headings tell a lot of the story, and probably enough of it to make their
reading the only thing you need to read:
“Know Thyself”, :Know Thyself Spiritually”, “Woman’s Mission”, “The Age
of Puberty”, “The Ovaries”, “Harmoul—its Importance”, “Rash Marriage”, “Freedom
and More Freedom”, “Lust and Love”, “The Value of Chastity”, “Buying Popularity”,
“Selling the Body for Clothes”, “The Tragedy of Dual Love”, Menstruation”, “Masturbation”,
“Promiscuous Sexual Intercourse”, “Gonorrhea”, “Syphilis”, “The Dreaded Third
Stage”. So. There you have it.

JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 642 Blog Bookstore

Blog--jun 8 fur title How
could one pass up the chance to browse through such a compelling and revolting
title such as Standardized Fur Tags, Their Use and Purpose, (published in NYC
by the Fur Research Institute in 1938)?
Titles like this cry out in equal parts of pity, shame and pride,
calling to their readers like fur-lined Sirens beckoning to fur-encrusted
sailors floundering in a fury sea, hell-bent to crash upon fur-slathered
rocks. In a world of covering things in
fur that once belonged to another living thing, the thinking’s all over but for
the process, pricing and standardization, so that the furriers were less
inclined to cheat one another and focus on the fleecing of the buying
public.Blog--jun 8 fur title 001

this oversized pamphlet reveals the explanation of the fur identified by the
tags that would appear on the interior-neck of the garment. There are 125 descriptions and standardization
of furs, though I must say that what caught my attention first was the fur of
the “natural” house cat (followed by the “dyed” house cat)—they say that this
was not an agoraphobic cat’s pelt used to make the apparel, but from cats “wild
and semi wild”. Like barn cats, I guess.
(We are told that the fur “breaks off”, and is not a very good choice for
outerwear, though it did seem to work for the cat.)

Blog--jun 8 fur title 002

there’s the “dyed Chinese dog” and the “dyed Mongolian dog”—I’m not sure who
would need pelts made of dog (or cat, or anything else for that matter), but I
guess that they were popular enough to be included in these furrier guidelines.
And so the list goes on and on: dyed skunk, pieced skunk, natural skunk,
dyed squirrel, dyed weasel, natural wolf, dyed opossum, etc.

JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 570

(Science Book Blog)

4-1 prop meat
This simply irresistible, charmingly uncomfortable, and semi-surreal title is an excellent example of what I've come to know (and forget) in my career of doing whatever it is I'm doing. Generally though the thousand or so titles in my Naive Surreal collection belong to pamphlets and the occasional book, but the occasional advertisement makes its way into the fray. (None really come quite close to the work of the immortal Otto Fleiss, who produced America's greatest work on making art with fat, White Art in the Meat Food Business. A Practical Handbook for
Butcher, Pork Stores, Restaurants, Hotels and Delicatessens on How to
Make Lasting and Transferable White Art Decorations out of Bacon Fat
Back for Window Displays, Ornaments on Meat Food Cold Buffets and for
Exhibits and Advertising Purposes. Enrich yourself with Personal
It is a toweringly fantabulous work, and is one of this blog's most-viewed posts.)

This ad is innocent enough: appearing in the 1 November 1943 issue of LIFE magazine, it was simply encouraging the modern housewife to go adventuring into cuts of meat that had been deemed unacceptable before rationing and the war, which brought about a meat drought. (The Brits had a far worse time–this issue of LIFE also contained a photo of a leggy London showgirl posing with a "real lemon" which was being raffled off to raise hundreds of pounds for the general welfare.)
4-1 renaissance pandora
I'm sorry to say that this image reminded me of an older, finer, more whimsical but far more damning and stern woodcut. The two aren't terribly-well related, I know, but as I shocked myself in being able to locate it I'm bound to use it now before it slips back into my misty print purgatory.

This image is probably the work of Georg Pencz and appeared in Hans Sachs' Nachred das grewlihc laster...published in Nuremberg in 1535 The booklet was a work directed against the evils of libel and lying and spreading rumor. Pencz' woodcut personified all of this wrapped up in the form of a vice-charmed woman.

The libel-charged rumor-mongre woman (watched from under a tree by a poet who is protected from her by a fellow with an imperial seal and stanchion) is outfitted with very feathery wings and a crowned seat on a collection of snakes. She carries a lidded pot, an offering of some sort, while she hides a knife behind her back with her other hand. She advances with a breast barred and another breast vut and bleeding, while she tugs along in her wake a ball and chain, which sets her traveled path on fire. All-in-all, Pencz paints a dismal picture of womanhood.

As I said, it has little to do with the original image of a Pioneer Meat Woman, but they sort of looked similar in my memory.

JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 564

Color 001

An Occasion An Appreciation,
a badly-titled but butterly-produced and broadly-illustrated work is a shiny, slippery and slick celebration of gummed paper. It may well be the Gutenberg Bible of gummed paper celebration books.

The book is a silver anniversary (1917-1942) of the Mid-States Gummed Paper Company of Chicago, makers of gummed,.flat, non-curling special gum gummed papers. It was a company started by box makers, the logical extension of that business. ("Gummed cloth tapes completed the manufactured joint of corrugated boxes, and gummed kraft sealing tape close the box," Indeed. Also its a nicely-written Color 003
sentence, and a well-written book.) There is a continuous reference throughout the book to "flat, really flat" gummed tape, something that is lost on me if I don't think about it–the use of splashy color throughout the work, though, isn't.

The company's color tapes washed over a wide spectrum, adding an artistic touch to a packaging world which was largely black and white. It also produced color gummed labels for packaging and advertising, which made all the difference. (To appreciate this all you have to do is wind your way through a year or two of LIFE magazine from 1939/1940 and see the vanilla- and blandly-colored boxes of cereals and cans of such and so spread across the issues. People Color 004are much more convinced to buy something that has a colorful, pictorial image on the box than one that is a white box with black lettering. )*

Another very interesting bit about this book is that it published an indexed map of the offices of the headquarters staff–which is a very unusual map to my experience, very. I've got a small collection of office layouts/maps from the 1900-1940 period, mainly because it belongs to a period long ago and far away, even though the tail end of office design like this creeps its way into my own life, showing up at places like "computer headquarters" in tv shows like the Rockford Files in 1980. It is a wonderful insight into the way business was done, and I can just about see the polished red linoleum floors, open Color 002transoms and abundant oak everything, all swirling in cigarette smoke, populated with people wearing real clothing.

Yet another oddity is the map of the locations of the company–it definitely belongs to the Blank and Empty Things category of this blog–showing the five cities where it had offices. The resulting map though is quite unusual, as it shows just the five point and leaves the rest of the country jet black in a deep blue background, everything else missing.

I know I've had some fun with this book, but I've got to say that it was very well done, very well written, and about as interesting as its topic could allow.

* I believe that the first mass-produced book illustrated with color photos was by Leica for its labs, published in Berlin in 1938 (?). color printing in photography had been around by a laborious process since at least the 1890's, but that's a different story

JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 555

“Contrive to have as many treats
for your mind as you can, as many things to which it can fly from itself”
Johnson. (James Boswell, Ominous Years, pg. 287

 blog 20 point missed717
Boredom is a powerful thing. It is also, at least as a word if not as a
concept, relatively young—it first appeared in Dicken’s Bleak House in 1852,
with the word bore making an earlier appearance in 1762. (Bitter Ambrose Bierce
redefines “bore” as a person who speaks when you wish them to listen.) Boredom is distinct from Melancholy, which
relates more to depression than to boredom, and is an idea and word thousands
of years old. Boredom is a universal
constant, a wide acknowledged entity of enormous reach and singular acuity—and the
fact of the matter is that you cannot translate boredom into a narrative. You can create art depicting boredom, and you
can tell what boredom is, but you cannot, really, cannot write a novel with a
boredom narrative. Unless you’re Jane
Austen. It is a tired pursuit of
tireless insipidity which simply escapes capture in the form of a novel—or I
should say, a novel that you’d like to read, or was readable. Boredom still awaits its Quixote. Melancholy on the other hand has many, not
the least of which is one of the most unreadable and fascinating books in the
canons of English lit, Burton’s
Anatomy of Melancholy (which would be an interesting film if another Burton,
Tim, got his hands on it.).

I was thinking about boredom in
terms of some of the printed material in
my Naïve Surreal category—those are the pamphlets where the meanings of their
titles and subjects, once popular in their day, are now aloof and unhinged,
floating in the present with almost no bearing on what their original logical
intent was. And so these titles
sometimes take on a fantastically removed appearance, and sometimes they are
simply simple, so simple that they can be at first blush quite boring. But they’re boring only for a moment, until
the brain wraps itself around the illogic of them, and then they become not
boring—fascinating, someti blog 20 donj't716mes. And what
is that tiny space between the wide widths of boredom and fascination? How microscopic are those pores between the
two entities? And what exactly is that place where boredom and fascination meet?

We Think a Point Has Been Missed (published in March, 1933) is an odd example, going from boring to puzzling to incredible to disappointing to interesting all in about a minute. It is a lovely title to be sure, flying at the heights of the sublime mundane, hiding in its own obvious nature. Opening the booklet we find that it was published by the Columbia Broadcasting System, and at first blush it seems a fainting on miniature problems of the naiscent radio company. But it turns out that it is actually fairly topical: CBS wanted to make it very clear that the eight-minute radio broadcast of President Roosevelt on March 4th 1933* was a significant and exceptional use of the new medium, CBS points out that "Roosevelt did advertising's most significant job…advertising 'courage" and "conquered despair", and that those eight minutes over the radio "added cash value of the nation….commodity markets pulsated, dollars rose around the world, demand for department store credit rose 40 percent". In short, this was an early recognition of the extreme value of immediate access to a national population.

The Roosevelt speech, which went without quotation in this short report, was his inaugural address, the day of his taking the reigns from Herbert Hoover–the "All we have to fear is fear itself" speech, which did indeed galvanize the nation, delivered virtually immediately via radio. ("God bless Roosevelt; god bless radio" intoned Will Rogers.) It is one of the country's best inaugural speeches, made at a time when the country needed one, there in the depths of the Great Depression in the late winter of 1933. But all of this is so far down in this slender seven-page book that the speech almost smokily wisps its way through it, the main emphasis being the importance of the delivery system and not the stuff of delivery. Its a queer little thing, all of its importances semi-hidden, made more pronounced in this particular copy since it was owned by Roosevelt.

The second example or boring-interesting is the ultra-under compelling Don't, which when published in 1926 threatened directions for advising improprieties in conduct and common errors of speech. Written by "Censor", it dragged itself through 76 pages of nitty dialog details that are in a way interesting as a window on correct conduct during the roaring times. Ultimately though the text doesn't survive interest, and all we're left with is the very unusual title.

Which takes us back to appearances and second-life and the intersection of boredom and the fantastic. I suspect that if we apply the microscope to that boundary that we see exactly what we want to see.

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JF Ptak Science Books LLC Post 544

Well. In this tortuously ripped 1907 poetic headbanger on blame and retribution and innocence–and somehow ultimately about capital punishment–are neural squeezings that I have never se blog 12 marriage696en or heard before, which are so loftily bad, and so logically weak, as to make a grown man puddle-up in amazement. I don't want to get too far into this thing, as the entire entertainment part of the work can stop right at the sub-title, because this little pamphlet is just tremendously bad, it transcends being about bad; it climbs out of badness into the so-bad-it-is-good department, and then slips instantly into the bad-good-bad-bad genre.

Since woman has been made of a rib of man, and is the "pupil of man's schooling",

How then can woman obviate

the crimson flesh of shame;
when man becomes degenerate,
is woman then to blame

For woman being part of man,
and should she cause an aching,
how can her sins be other than
the image of his making

It goes on from there, of course, but we really don't need to follow. The answer, by the way, is "yes".

 blog 12 marriage695 When I first saw Rev. Posey Sr's.1947 pamphlet I thought that it read "How to be Happy Through Marriage". Oops. My mistake, though the title as it stands is infinitely more entertaining, what with the story being told in ten thrilling chapters (seeded over 28 sparse pages). In the final installment of these prescriptions for happiness in spite of it all, we are reminded that "Satan is God's arch enemy", and that "IF YOU WOULD BE HAPPY KEEP SATAN OFF YOUR SHIP" and "do all to the glory of god" and MARRY IN SEASON". DO NOT marry a man for a "meal ticket", or "to keep him from marrying someone else", and DO NOT marry too soon or too late. And so on. [Caps in original.]

There's much more sage advice sprinkled liberally around biblical verses, but I think you've already gotten enough of the flavor to appreciate the rest of the meal (food itself sometimes getting in the way of its promise).