Left of Center from Lorne Bair Rare Books
Lieutenant Calley mask on the cover of Lorne Bair's Catalog 8.
By Michael Stillman
This month we received our first catalogue from Lorne Bair Rare Books of Winchester, Virginia. Lorne Bair has been a bookseller for the past 15 years and is a member of the ABAA and Virginia and nearby Washington (D.C.) antiquarian bookseller organizations. Recently published is Bair's Catalog 8 and it is filled with their specialty, books related to radical and other leftist movements and causes over the years. There are books pertaining to socialism and anarchism, equal rights movements for blacks, women and gays, much on the labor movement and workers' rights, utopian communities, prison reform, and the Spanish Civil War. Items range from the abolition movement to the Vietnam War. While most of these works come from the left, Bair does provide some balance, so you will also find a few racist pieces, KKK and John Birch points of view represented. For those who like their politics removed from the safe center, Lorne Bair Rare Books has items you will appreciate. Here are some examples.
Item 20 is a plea involving one of the most noted of civil rights cases, that of the Scottsboro Boys. The Scottsboro Boys were eight black teenagers, accused, convicted, and sentenced to death for raping two white women when all were traveling on a freight train. Evidence was sorely lacking, but in 1932 Alabama an accusation of a black man raping a white woman was as good as a conviction. The defendants were lucky to avoid being lynched before their convictions were issued. Their case went to the U.S. Supreme Court twice, and was struck down twice, once for ineffective counsel, once for failure to include blacks on the jury. During the height of this legal confrontation, this plea was issued: Mr. President: Free the Scottsboro Boys! It includes contributions from two of the Scottsboro mothers plus a preface from the great novelist Theodore Dreiser. It was published in 1934. After a couple of overturned convictions and death sentences, some of the defendants were released, others pleaded guilty for reduced sentences, and eventually all were freed. The last still subject to possible arrest was pardoned in 1976 by Governor George Wallace of all people, though at a time when he was beginning to repent for his earlier segregationist views. Priced at $250.
Item 12 is one of the stranger Utopian pieces: Secret Enemies of True Republicanism. Most Important Developmments [sic] Regarding the Inner Life of Man and the Spirit World, in Order to Abolish Revolutions and Wars and to Establish Permanent Peace on Earth... Nice sentiments from the author and Benedictine monk Andreas Smolnikar, but it appears the good monk may not have had both feet on the ground. He had become infatuated with the ideas of fellow German immigrant J.A. Etzler, who developed plans for a machine that could cultivate 20,000 acres of land for less than $1 an acre and with the labor of only 3 or 4 men. That's a stretch by today's standards, but with only the benefit of mid-19th century technology, he should have known better. Smolnikar apparently built the machine, but it immediately broke down. One of his followers, George Karle, had a vision revealing how it could be fixed, but drowned before repairs could be made. Smolnikar pinned the blame for Karle's death on Mormon founder Joseph Smith, even though Smith was dead, explaining Karle died as a result of "the instrumentality of the departed Mormon prophet Joe Smith, not directly but by the instrumentality of a cow." Makes perfect sense. The book was published in 1859. $1,500.
Left of Center from Lorne Bair Rare Books
Lester Maddox proclaims John Birch Day.
That eerie figure with the die-cut eyes you see on the cover of this catalogue is actually a mask from the Vietnam War era. It is the face of William Calley, at the time (1969) accused of war crimes, later convicted. It was worn during the 1969 March on Washington to imply that all Americans were war criminals so long as the Vietnam War continued. Item 94. $125.
Item 84 was a book written to support one cause, but became the standard work for another. It is Upton Sinclair's The Jungle, published in 1906. It was meant to awaken people to the miserable conditions facing Chicago's poor immigrants, but instead it awakened America to the unsanitary conditions in the meat-packing industry. Sinclair later wrote, "I aimed for the public's heart but by accident I hit it in the stomach." Interestingly, though the public has turned on government involvement in so many social causes once championed by the left, no one seems to be arguing for the government to stop inspecting meat and other food sources, even if that is kind of socialist behavior. $350.
The gay rights movement has finally achieved some notable victories in the past few years, but it had little public support a half century ago. It was a subject most would not even mention in 1957 when Helen Branson published Gay Bar. Branson operated a very early "gay bar," Helen's, in San Francisco, a meeting place for those involved in the earliest stages of the gay rights movement. Item 43. $650.
Here is one of those items from the other side of the political spectrum. It is a proclamation from The Honorable Lester Maddox, Governor of Georgia. The "Honorable" Lester Maddox proclaimed August 8, 1968, John Birch Day. Birch was an American in China in the 1940s, killed by the Communists. To those well right of center, he was the first casualty in the war against communism, and so a group of rightists named their organization for him, the John Birch Society. Such a group would have met with the approval of Governor Maddox. Maddox was a restaurateur who gained recognition for threatening those who sought to integrate his restaurant with "Pickrick drumsticks" (clubs named after his "Pickrick" Cafeteria). When the law closed in on him, Maddox closed down his restaurant rather than serve blacks. For this, the voters rewarded him with the governorship of Georgia in 1967. The Georgia constitution prevented Maddox from succeeding himself, so in 1971 he ran successfully for Lieutenant Governor and served under the new Governor, Jimmy Carter. Item 95. $125.
Lorne Bair Rare Books may be reached at 540-665-0855 or email@example.com. The website is www.lornebair.com.