Archive for May, 2011

When Lorne is away, the workers will play.*

Monday, May 23rd, 2011 by Jordan

Today Michael and I celebrated/mourned the failed rapture by purchasing Lady Gaga’s new album (released today!), Born This Way.  It seemed absolutely appropriate, especially with these song titles: “Government Hooker,” “Judas,” “Bloody Mary,” and my personal favorite, “Black Jesus + Amen Fashion” with the lyrics, “On the runway, work it like Jesus.”  With over a hundred books to photograph and edit for our new catalog, I’m definitely grateful to have Gaga’s support in the background (something that Lorne won’t allow in his presence; too bad Michael and I made the executive decision that the entire album is the store’s new theme song).

In more serious news, I was admitted to Rare Book School in Charlottesville last week! I will be taking G10 – The Principles of Bibliographical Description, and its reputation precedes itself as one of the most difficult courses available. I’ve already gotten to work on the reading list, but I’m going to have to pull a Billy Blanks and go double time to get it all done before the end of July.  Ever since I was in high school and took the college tour of UVA, I’ve always dreamed of living on the lawn, and now I’ll finally get that chance! But, I can’t help but feel a little deceitful in doing so.

I’m a graduate of William & Mary and some of you may know the rivalry between my alma mater and UVA. For those of you who don’t, I’ll explain. W&M students consider the Cavs (it’s sad, really, we don’t even have a good nickname…the Tribesmen? I hope we aren’t called the Griffins now that we have that new pants-less mascot) to be dreaded enemies, and to most UVA students, we’re not even on the radar. But we do have the prestige of turning down an Ivy League request on three separate occasions. Oh, and we have that joke: “Why did Thomas Jefferson found UVA? Because his children couldn’t get in to William & Mary.”  Both of these  statements are proudly spread by all W&M students, not because we couldn’t get in to UVA (who are we kidding?), but because we chose to join the elite ranks of a college where students hold their education over anything fun, where libraries aren’t open 24 hours a day because everyone gets their work done before 10PM, and where social ineptness is not only accepted, but enabled. The last bit I can certainly attest to (even though as I write this I’m proudly wearing a green and yellow W&M tee shirt); the four years that I spent in Williamsburg definitely took a toll on my charisma and charm.  You think I’m outgoing now? You should have seen me seven years ago.

So, yes, I’ve always had a slight distaste for UVA, despite always wanting to live in Charlottesville and receive an invitation to a secret society (unfortunately I learned too soon in life that since I have no money, I will never be invited to such an organization). I don’t know if my love-hate relationship with that gorgeous nook of Virginia is because most people recognize the name UVA more than William and Mary; or that in addition to several more options of bars (and I mean several−Williamsburg has a good 3 bars to Charlottesville’s 20), and I’m jealous of the much higher rate of successful fake ID usage; or maybe that every spell check I’ve ever encountered ALWAYS underlines Williamsburg in red, but never Charlottesville.  Whatever the reason, and yes I have more (don’t even get me started on football game attire), I’ve decided to throw all preconceived notions to the wind, and fully embrace my animosities. I’ve always been a fan of fads, and as Lady Gaga says, “Jesus is the new black,” and, well, he forgives everyone, right?


*My apologies to all graduates of UVA if I offended you. Let’s be friends, OK? Just don’t talk about how college was the best four years of your life.


We are professionals – do not attempt at home.

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011 by Jordan

It’s official, Lorne Bair Rare Books has “sold out.”  As you may have seen in Lorne’s earlier post (well, really in the unflattering picture that he took of Lee Ann, Warren Bernard, and me at lunch), we are attempting to reach out to the masses in the form of hip yet radical organic cotton apparel. To get a better look at our message to the people, here’s a slightly more flattering picture.

Please don't murder anyone, that is, unless we ask you to.

Now, if we were to really embrace our sold out-ness, we would mass produce these in China or Indonesia or even Micronesia and sell them for at least $25.00 each.  But, we decided to stay green-ish, by sticking with American Apparel, and asking a good ole’ American (or should I say, Amurhhcan) company to silk screen our design.  We ordered enough shirts for ourselves (yes, even Michael Mendillo got one!) and then a few more to get a bulk pricing deal.  We are handing them out as gifts and they are available on a first-come-to-our-minds, first serve basis.  That means, if you ask  us for a tee shirt, you certainly will not get one; we are trying to stay slightly unconventional here.

I know that the phrase “Murder the Organizers of your Boredom” will cause excitement, motivation, even panic in some hearts, but please be aware that we, under no circumstances, are responsible for your behavior.  If you decide that your creepy orange cat is a drag, don’t go out and scream our name after you’ve done away with it.  The same goes with FOX News, community theatre, and your local bar.  But, if you feel like you just might die of ennui, please come visit us, we will try and help, unless, of course, you bore us.

The Ann Arbor Book Fair – This Sunday From 11 to 5

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011 by Lorne

The Ann Arbor Antiquarian Book Fair will return to the Ballroom of the Michigan Union at 530 S. State Street in Ann Arbor on Sunday, May 22, 2011, from 11am to 5pm.

For the past five or so years, I’ve made the annual trek to this smallish (38 dealers have signed up as of this writing) but always fun and interesting book fair. I never make much money there, but I get to hang out with some of my favorite booksellers on the planet, like Garrett Scott, Dennis and Dennis from First Folio, and Aimee England, a tireless book-and-ephemera-hunter whose pedigree as a dealer of social movement material is even older than mine (alas, Aimee has no website, but here’s a link to an article she wrote about the AABF way back in 2003!).  And, if I’m lucky, I’ll get to see one of my favorite librarians on the planet – the amazing Julie Herrada, curator of the Labadie Collection at the UM Special Collections Library – the largest collection of Anarchist literature in America! Best of all I get to stay with my old buddy Lisa, who edits obscure math journals and whose house is full of shy and wonderful animals and who makes me coffee for my ridiculously early wake-up time on the morning of the fair (don’t you, Lisa? Umm, Lisa…?).

To make it all even more worthwhile, I get to drive all the way across Ohio in the Minivan of the Revolution, through the green and rolling parts as well as the brown and rusty parts. I don’t suppose everyone would consider this a treat, but Ohio has always fascinated me, especially the old caving-in relics of steel towns – it’s like touring the prehistoric home of a race of long-extinct industrial dinosaurs…call it The Land That Capitalism Forgot. Don’t know if I’ll stop to shop for books along the way this time – I’m in kind of a hurry to get back and get our next catalog out – but I’ll enjoy the sights anyway, and I’m thinking I’d like to detour a bit and drive along old Rte. 2 from Cleveland to Toledo, which will take me along Lake Erie through such charmingly down-on-their-heels factory ghost-towns as Lorain and Sandusky. If I do I’ll try to take some pictures along the way and share them next week.

If you’re in the area, why not join us? Admission is only $5, and your entry fee goes to benefit the William Clements Library at the University of Michigan – surely a good cause, because I doubt they’re gonna get much out of that self-serving gas-bag Rick Snyder this year!

Why You Collect? Why I Collect. Why I Oughta… A Day With Comic Art Collector Warren Bernard

Monday, May 16th, 2011 by Lorne

I spent a very pleasant day Friday with my old friend and long-time customer Warren Bernard (that’s him up there…on the right). He’d gotten wind of a stack of The Masses and The Liberator I’d recently acquired and, as is his wont, made the Hadj to Winchester to be sure he got first pick. Over lunch we got to talking about the circumstances that first turned us into collectors and, from there, the nature of collecting and connoiseurship in general. As a counterpoint we had for company my wife, Lee Ann, and my assistant Jordan deButts – neither of whom has been blessed (or cursed, depending on your point of view) with the collecting gene. It made for an interesting conversation, spurred along by Warren’s passionate – and I mean passionate – devotion to his subject.

Warren is one of America’s foremost collectors of comic art, political cartooning, and caricature. As a scholar-volunteer at the Library of Congress he’s catalogued more than 800 original cartoons, and he’s probably the most knowledgeable collector and scholar of the work of 20th-century American political cartoonist Herb Block (aka “Herblock”) – a subject on which he’s recently delivered two lectures at the Library of Congress . His enormous collection extends as far back as the early 19th century and includes not just political caricature but comic strips, graphic novels, and comic books as well. Where Warren’s interests and mine overlap, naturally, is the strikingly visual realm of radical cartooning which had its heyday from around the 1890s through the Great Depression.  Its exemplars include, first and foremost (from my humble point of view, at least), the Unholy Trinity: Art Young, William Gropper, and Hugo Gellert, along with such important but less prolific practitioners as Robert Minor (a brilliant cartoonist whose career was cut short by his slavish devotion to the Communist Party); John Sloan (only a small portion of whose work can properly be described as “radical”); Boardman Robinson, Fred Ellis, Stuart Davis (yes, Davis’s early career included many illustrations for The Masses and other left-wing publications), and others. Needless to say, Warren’s collection includes healthy accumulations of work by each of these artists, and many more besides. Much but by no means all of it he has acquired from me over the years, and I’m happy to say that in the course of that time we’ve succeeded in bridging the dealer-customer gap to become friends and mutual (mutual, I think) admirers.

In any case, Warren and I, in the course of discussing the origins of our mutual collecting passions, stumbled onto the fact that we were both exposed at an early age to the concept of ‘rarity’ – in his case, through a numismatic uncle; in mine, through my father, whose many preoccupations included birding (always on the lookout for the elusive Painted Bunting or Scarlet Tanager); trains (my childhood included countless pilgrimages to abandoned depots in hundreds of little forgotten railroad towns whose spirits had departed with the invention of the automobile…if one of these towns still had an old station house, my father could unfailingly detect it beneath the veneer of fifty years’ worth of renovations); and music (not just any music- but always the most primitive, obscure, forgotten music imaginable, always just barely listenable through the hissing and popping of old 78 records). I’m convinced that this preoccupation with ‘rarity,’ with seeing, touching or hearing something that very few others have ever seen, heard, or touched, is at the root of a great deal of human behavior, at least in its bizarrer aspects. It is what motivates the collector, certainly; but it’s also what puts people in line a 3a.m. in order to buy the first iPhone in Dubuque, and inspires others to lower themselves into active volcanoes. Collecting, in other words, is simply one expression of what I suspect is a universal, or near-universal impulse for discovery and self-definition.

I’m curious to hear from readers about how, or whether, the concept of ‘rarity’ entered your lives, and how it has expressed itself. Have you become, like Warren, a passionate collector of some obscure and wonderful class of object? Or, like me, become a dealer – that is, someone with all of the instincts, but none of the patience, of a collector? Or were you that guy out in the Best Buy parking lot at 3 in the morning? And how have other circumstances in your life – relative wealth or poverty; marriage and children; career, religion, race, politics, sexual orientation – how do you reckon these have informed your collecting (or non-collecting) habits?

This Week’s Scumbag: William Zantzinger

Monday, May 9th, 2011 by Lorne


In keeping with the (very) brief tradition begun with last week’s Scumbag post, I’m going to use this entry not only to revive the memory of a nasty little man whose name should live in infamy, but also to introduce readers to a hero of whom they may never have heard. In this case, as with the last, the two are connected by history. I can’t promise I’ll be able to pull off such a neat balancing act every week, but I do rather like the every-action-produces-an-opposite-and-equal-reaction symmetry of the whole thing…so maybe I’ll try.

It’s been two years since Wild Bill Zantzinger, a gentleman farmer from a prosperous family, by all accounts a peace-loving, church-going, quiet family man, known as a bit of a “character” to his neighbors,  passed away peacefully in his home town of Chaptico, Maryland. Unfortunately, this was 36 years too late to save Hattie Carroll, the African-American waitress who Zantzinger beat to death with a gold-headed cane in a posh Baltimore hotel bar in 1963.  Zantzinger and his victim were immortalized (sort of) in Bob Dylan’s 1964 ballad The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll – not one of Dylan’s best efforts, but still a pretty good murder ballad that, given its topicality, achieved some notoriety during the Civil Rights struggle.

But the first poet to turn his attention to Hattie Carroll’s murder was the remarkable Appalachian socialist preacher, labor organizer, historian and folklorist Don West , a man I briefly met during my West Virginia childhood and who remains a hero to many in the southern mountains. Don was born in Georgia, and in his early years was active in organizing tenant farmers in the deep south, where he also took part in the very earliest iterations of the Civil Rights movement, working side by side with Communists and a few brave black organizers – thankless and dangerous work in those places in those days.  Later on he came to Summers County, West Virginia – one county to the west of Monroe County, where I grew up – and founded the Appalachian South Folk Life Center at Pipestem. That’s where I met him, sometime around 1974, in the company of my father. Recent transplants to the region, we were seeking out traditional old-time Appalachian music, and Don was a wealth not only of information but also of encouragement. He told us about Charlie Poole and Nimrod Workman – not then the household names (chuckle) they’ve become now, and my father went right out and bought every Charlie Poole reissue he could find (here’s a righteous sample, courtesy of YouTube), and I proceeded to learn every song on those records by heart. Those songs are still a big part of my life, and so is Don West.

West’s nine-stanza poem “Ballad For Hattie Carroll”  is not a great piece of writing, but it adheres to the tradition of the topical Southern ballad, where the literal and immediate recounting of events often takes precedence over “fancy” writing.  The poem was first published in Broadside magazine in March of 1963, at a time when Bob Dylan was very much involved in the Broadside scene in Greenwich Village; there’s no doubt that West’s poem inspired Dylan’s ballad, written six months later.  British journalist  Paul Slade has written a remarkable piece on the whole Zantzinger affair and the origins of Dylan’s ballad; you can find it on his blog which is really a remarkable work-in-progress — well worth a regular visit.

Meanwhile, here’s Don West’s poem in its entirety. He  intended it to be sung, to the tune of “Wayfaring Stranger,” and I’m giving it a try right now. It sort of works. And William Zantzinger, if I get my wish, will sleep a little less peacefully tonight.



Come all you poor and honest people
You who would like to understand
And listen to a sad, sad story
Of happenings in this troubled land.

The story of a brutal murder
Done by a rich and powerful man
Who beat to death a maid of color
With stylish cane held in his hand.

Hattie Carroll, an honest worker,
Left her home that fateful day
But little did she stop to ponder
That she might never draw her pay.

She went to work that cold gray evening
As she had often done before
Serving food and drink to rich men
At the big hotel in Baltimore.

The big man pounded on the table,
She hardly heard what he did say
And when she went to get his order
He took his cane and flailed away.

The poor girl bent and then she staggered
Her eyes could barely see the lights
But no one turned a hand to help her–
It was a ball for socialites.

They took her to a place called Mercy,
The doctor looked and shook his head.
There’s nothing now I can do for her,
Alas she was already dead!

The church was crowded at the funeral
Good people mourn, her children weep.
She left a family full of sorrow
And to us all a pledge to keep.

A pledge that we shall end such sadness
Brought on by men of powerful name,
That we shall not forget this mother
Whose murder brings to us such shame!


I’m just not ready for prime time.

Monday, May 9th, 2011 by Jordan

I have been reluctant to write a blog post, mostly because Lorne tells me repeatedly that I am a terrible writer, but also because I had (and still have) no idea what to write.  I am not a bookseller, nor am I very radical (though I do believe owning a Lenin t-shirt and a Che Guevara poster put me just under the cusp), and I don’t drive a Honda Odyssey.  So, preparing an entry for a blog titled “The Minivan of the Revolution” is a little daunting.

My task has been to create a weekly feature, so I am currently accepting any and all suggestions (except for one, see below).  Being a chemist and an equestrian, I’m inclined to write weekly about my off-the-track Thoroughbred, or tell readers how exactly to create an unstable explosive.  Unfortunately horses and radical figures are usually at opposite ends of the political and social spectrum, and though one may think bombs would be closer to our specialties, no one wants one that explodes in your hands.

However, I am thrilled that our website has gone live, giving me the ability to tell the world (or maybe just our one reader) all about my life here at Lorne Bair Rare Books.  And I promise by next week I will have figured out something clever and interesting enough to keep you coming back that doesn’t involve nudity (yes, that has already been suggested).

In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this picture of my landlady’s calf, fondly christened “Nubby,” as he dutifully waits for dinner.


Greetings Fellow Worker Michael Mendillo

Monday, May 9th, 2011 by Lorne

Today we welcome Michael Mendillo to the bookselling ranks. Michael is a vocal performance major at nearby Shenandoah Conservatory; his  aspirations  include not only an eventual performing career, but also law school with a specialization in entertainment industry law.  For the interim he has generously assented to setting his sights a little lower by working for us.  Starting today he’ll be assisting Jordan with packing, shipping, and logistics (a fancy word for whatever else needs sorting chez Bair – and there’s plenty of it!). Hopefully he’ll also be helping her out with her vocal performance skills, which (in my experience & estimation) are sadly deficient.

So if, next time you call us, you’re greeted by a resonant tenor voice instead of the cranky frog croak to which you’ve become accustomed, remember to say “Hi, Michael,” and offer your congratulations (or condolences – depending on how well you know us) on his new career.



Thursday, May 5th, 2011 by Lorne

Well folks, the poppies are blooming, the stinkbugs are stinking, and the grass needs mowing a THIRD time this week. This can only mean that we’ve made it to another Cinco de Mayo – gracias a Dios! Incidentally, this is NOT, as many seem to think, Mexican Independence Day  (that would be September 16th). Cinco de Mayo rather commemorates the Mexican Army’s astounding victory over France at the Battle of Puebla, in 1861 – a battle which probably had more long-term strategic implications for the United States than for Mexico. But it was a huge moral victory, a source of great national pride, and it’s always been a great occasion on which to raise a glass (or two) of Patron añejo, which we shall certainly be doing this evening … and now if only Netflix would start offering a few movies by our beloved brilliant Cantinflas, our day of celebration would be complete!


Notable Dead Scumbags: A Weekly Feature

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011 by Lorne


Big Scumbag

Why only dead scumbags, when so many brilliant examples walk, nay, parade, brazenly, among us today? Well, please consider that we are rare book dealers, denizens of the camera obscura; obscurity in fact is our raison d’être; and to be alive, in our opinion, not only violates the first rule of obscurity (isness vs. wasness), but  also carries with it the living germ of redemption; and however improbable the chances of such a seed’s germination and florescence strike us in the case of, say, T. Ronald Dump, it should not be our place to close the door on their possibility. The dead, meanwhile, rest in the shadows with their accomplishments, and history shines its lamp, &c. &c.

This week, to launch our series, we offer for your consideration one of our all-time favorites, a real first-team all star among scumbags. Segregationists make great scumbags, their so-called beliefs so often having been motivated by the basest instincts – political expediency; crass cynicism; appeal to popular prejudices; plain old stupidity. How nice, then, to find all these traits gathered into one festering foul ball of race-baiting scumbaggery! I can be referring to none other, of course, than that paragon of Mississippian virtues, Senator Theodore G. Bilbo (1877-1947), famous among other things for denouncing Richard Wright’s great novel Native Son on the Senate floor, thusly:

“Its purpose is to plant the seeds of devilment and troublebreeding in the days to come in the mind and heart of every American Negro…It is the dirtiest, filthiest, lousiest, most obscene piece of writing that I have ever seen in print. I would hate to have a son or daughter of mine permitted to read it; it is so filthy and so dirty. But it comes from a Negro, and you cannot expect any better from a person of his type.”

Okay, I confess: that bit’s taken from Wikipedia, and hardly rises to a level of obscurity worthy of a bottom-dwelling tidbit-scavenger like moi (still – pretty good, though, and I’ll bet most of you have never had the chance til now to apply this trenchant bit of literary criticism to your own understanding of Wright’s magnum opus). But have faith in me, dear friends: I wouldn’t go here had I not first unearthed a little treasure ahead of time. One of Hon. Bilbo’s less well-known contretemps was with a young Italian-American woman from the Bronx named Josephine Piccolo. In 1945 Miss Piccolo had the temerity to write Hon. Bilbo asking him to desist from his filibuster of the Fair Employment Practices Act, then in committee. In response, Miss Bilbo received a letter which began: “My Dear Dago” and concluded with  instructions to “keep your dirty proboscis out of the other forty-seven states…I have no one to account to except the people of Mississippi…”

Piccolo, one of whose brothers had died in the Normandy invasion, went public with the letter, prompting New York congressman Vito Marcantonio to denounce Bilbo on the floor of the House.  Marcantonio’s speech was followed by a hailstorm of denunciations and recriminations which ultimately proved to be Bilbo’s undoing, as he failed to win re-election in 1946, despite his catchy campaign slogan: “I call on every red-blooded white man to use any means to keep the niggers away from the polls; if you don’t understand what that means you are just plain dumb.” Bilbo died in New Orleans in 1947, too late.

In 1945 Josephine Piccolo published a brief account of L’Affair Bilbo, giving her side of the story and expressing her determination to “…never rest until he is removed from public life and influence.” The pamphlet, titled My Fight With Bilbo – La Mia Lotta Contra Bilbo (the text  is in both English and Italian), was published by the Garibaldi American Fraternal Society of the International Workers Order (a CPUSA-affiliated civic organization) and is now exceedingly rare; only one American institution (Cornell) appears to own a copy, and we have never seen another exampe in commerce. We unearthed it recently among a stack of uncatalogued pamphlets in our backstock and offer it now as an important document marking a turning point in the history of public racism in America – and as a window through which we were able to gain a new appreciation of one of America’s really great scumbags.