(re)Discovering History in the Salisbury House Library

The Library at Salisbury House is the stunning manifestation of Carl Weeks’ longtime love of collecting books. From fifteenth-century incunabula, to Grant Wood, James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, and D.H. Lawrence, the collection includes a trove of wonders.

Most of these books are still displayed on the shelves in the Library at Salisbury House, as they were during the Weeks family’s residency (from 1926 to the early 1950s).

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Archival Image of the Library, c. 1930

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The Library Today

Our records include several Library inventories from over the years, but it became clear that a newly-updated catalog was necessary. Thus, we embarked upon a multi-year project of revisiting every entry in the collection inventory. Each book was taken off the shelves, meticulously examined for condition issues, ephemera, signatures, etc. and – crucially – each book’s location in the Library was confirmed and/or corrected as well.

We could not have finished this mammoth project without the assistance of our wonderful Library volunteers: Christine Whitney, Charles Timberlake, and Judy Ford were integral to the inventory’s successful completion.

Two and a half years later: we’re done! The dream, from our museum staff’s perspective, would be to make the inventory fully available and searchable online. For now, though, we wanted to share a very special discovery that Judy and I made during the final day of updating the collection.

Two medieval Books of Hours number among the most visually stunning works in the Library. These volumes typically contained a range of psalms, hymns, and prayers, and became immensely popular among laymen and women between the 13th and the 16th centuries. The two Books of Hours in the Salisbury House collection contain elements typical of most works in this genre – illumination, decorative borders, full-page illustrations (called miniatures), and text in Latin.

Pictured below is one example from our collection, including the cover, full-page miniature, and decorative text:

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The second Book of Hours in the collection is slightly larger. It dates to the late 14th century and is also highly decorative:

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These two volumes represent the full extent of the Books of Hours in the Salisbury House collection.

….or do they??

As it turns out: we have a third Book of Hours! Now, we did start to wonder as we neared the end of the inventory. We had noted a third entry for a Book of Hours in the old inventory but, believing as we did that the two known copies were all we had, assumed that the third item in the inventory was a duplicate/erroneous entry. Soon, though, we rediscovered a bit of history lost among the shelves in the Library at Salisbury House.

It all began innocuously enough. We pulled a volume enclosed in a very nice, custom-made case with the label “Novum TestamentumJohn Trumbull’s Copy – 1794″ on its spine.

“Well, that’s interesting,” we agreed, “it must be early American artist Trumbull’s copy of the New Testament.”

As with every book we pulled from the shelves during the process of updating the inventory, we removed it from the case for a closer inspection of condition, etc.

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First, we noticed that the book itself didn’t quite fit into its custom-made enclosure:

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Odd.

And then we opened the front cover.

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Hmm. Well, that certainly doesn’t look like it’s from the late 18th century, we agreed. That feeling grew as we leafed through subsequent pages.

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And then we realized – we’d found it! There actually was a third Book of Hours! It had, many years ago, been mistakenly placed in a case that belonged with the Trumbull New Testament (which sat, uncased, a few books down the shelf).

This third Book of Hours includes less decorative elements when compared to the other two, but it will always hold a special place in our hearts. All in all, it’s not a bad day at work when you (re)discover a late 14th/early 15th century book in your museum’s collection!

Woven: A Survey of Salisbury House Textiles

A diverse collection of textiles were among the many fine furnishings and decorative arts acquired by Carl and Edith Weeks for Salisbury House. The collection spans an incredible breadth of space and time, from 1920s Navajo weavings to 16th century French tapestries.

Several pieces are currently on view that suggest the scope of our collection. These textiles, pictured below, are on display for the first time in many years.

Two textiles on display come from our unique collection of Navajo sandpainting rugs. Craftsmen typically incorporated into these weavings ceremonial designs  from the traditional Navajo sandpainting ritual. These pieces were produced for the tourist market in the late 19th century and into the first decades of the 20th century. Carl acquired the majority of his Navajo rugs from the Two Gray Hills Trading Post in New Mexico.

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Navajo sandpainting rug, mid-1920s. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

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Navajo sandpainting rug, mid-1920s. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

In addition to several pieces from the Navajo tradition, the Salisbury House collection contains many Persian textiles. This Kerman pictorial rug was created in south central Iran, and includes some very interesting iconography.

 

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Kerman pictorial rug, c. 1880. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

The Khamseh confederation rug pictured below dates to the mid-19th century. This “Khamseh confederation” was a loose grouping of tribes from southern Persia, and became heralded for their skills in rug-making.

 

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Khamseh Confederation rug, c. 1850. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

Also from the mid-19th century, but from a different geographical location, is this Bokhara piece from Turkestan. These types of rugs, still produced today, are some of the most popular among collectors.

 

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Bokhara rug, c. 1850. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

Tabriz, a city in eastern Azerbaijan, remains well-known for its rug production. This particular Tabriz pictorial rug dates to the first quarter of the 19th century and depicts a pastoral scene.

 

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Tabriz pictorial rug, c. 1825. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

Our survey of Salisbury House textiles concludes with a piece from 1650s France. This verdure tapestry portrays several figures, including an individual on a horse, in a wooded setting. The popularity of French verdure tapestries eventually waned with the advent of wallpaper, which provided a lower-cost alternative for wall coverings.

 

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French verdure tapestry, c. 1650. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

These textiles are currently on view at Salisbury House. Visit us at salisburyhouse.org for tour times and information.

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On 15th-Century Books; or, How I Learned to Pronounce “Incunabula”

The term “incunabula” [in-kyoo-nab-yuh-luh] signifies the first generation of books produced in western Europe using movable type. Johannes Gutenberg’s bible, the signal achievement which heralded the advent of movable type among Europeans, rolled off his printing press in 1455. Later scholars settled on the entirely arbitrary date of January 1, 1501, as the cutoff point for incunabula: those produced after Gutenberg and before 1/1/1501 were outfitted with the fancy incunabula designation, and those produced on or after after that date were, for the most part, simply considered plain ol’ books.

Thus, incunabula hold a special place in the hearts of many collectors of fine and rare books. Carl Weeks, who certainly numbered among the finest collectors of his day, acquired several examples of incunabula for his Library collection.

Let’s start at the very beginning – a very good place to start, as Maria Von Trapp once said. Here, in all its fifteenth-century glory, is our Gutenberg bible leaf. Carl Weeks acquired this piece from New York book dealer Gabriel Wells in the 1920s.

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Leaf from the Gutenberg Bible, c. 1455. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

Gutenberg worked primarily in Mainz, a city in modern-day Germany. Soon thereafter a robust trade in printing emerged in Venice, where deep Italian pockets bankrolled book production for generations. Two Bavarian brothers, John and Wendelin de Spire, established one of the first presses in Venice in 1469. The incunabula leaf below was printed by Wendelin in 1472 and is from an edition of Cicero’s On Duty.

 

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Leaf from Cicero’s On Duty by the de Spira Press, 1472. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

Back at Strassburg in 1472, Johann Mentelin was hard at work on a mammoth production of Nicholas of Lyra’s Postilla super totam Bibliam, which was the first major work of commentary on the bible. Some accounts suggest that Mentelin learned his craft from Gutenberg himself. At any rate, the book produced by Mentelin is a show-stopper. It includes decorated capitals, rubrication, innovative design and, delightfully, annotations from some long-ago reader.

 

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Nicolas of Lyra’s Postilla super totam Bibliam by the Mentelin Press, 1472. Salisbury House Permanent Collection 

 

Venice in 1475 was a wonderful confluence of geography and talent: in addition to the de Spire brothers, Nicolas Jensen, roundly considered one of history’s greatest printers and typographers, turned out beautiful volumes from his Venetian workshop. The leaf below from Jensen’s edition of Diogenes Laertius’ Lives of the Philosophers remains representative of his incomparable design and execution.

 

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Leaf from Diogenes Laertius, Lives of the Philosophers by the Jensen Press, 1475. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

The works of Thomas Aquinas, the prolific Roman Catholic priest, philosopher, and theologian, proved a popular subject for many early printers. Anton Koberger, who established the first printing press in Nuremberg in 1470, produced in 1475 a gorgeous edition of Aquinas’ Catena aurea in quatuor Evangelia (basically, a commentary on the four Gospels). The opening page of the book is a stunner:

 

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Thomas Aquinas’ Catena aurea in quatuor Evangelia by the Koberger Press, 1475.Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

One of the most frequently-reproduced books of the Middle Ages, The Golden Legend by Jacobus de Voragine, chronicled the exploits of several Roman Catholic saints. In 1480, the Italian printer Antonio de Strata published a version of Voragine’s work in Venice.

 

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Leaf from Jacobus de Voragine’s The Golden Legend by the de Strata Press, 1480. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

The second-oldest book in the Salisbury House collection, and our oldest complete bible, had its origins in Venice as well. Johannes Herbort de Seligenstadt was a German printer who worked first in Padua in 1475 and moved to Venice six years later. He ultimately issued three editions of the bible; the version at Salisbury House dates to 1483.

 

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Bible by the Seligenstadt Press, 1483. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

If commentaries on the obscurities of 13th-century canon law really blow your hair back, then this next incunabulum is for you. It’s an edition of Bernardus Parmensis’ exegesis of the Decretals of (Pope) Gregory IX printed in 1487.

 

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Bernardus Parmensis’ Commentaries on the Decretals of Gregory IX, 1487. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

Typically, the authors of most books printed during the incunabula period were already dead. Werner Rolewinck was one of the few exceptions. His Fasciculus temporum combined secular history with biblical history and commentary. This edition was published in Strassburg in 1490, likely by Johann Pruss.

 

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Werner Rolewinck’s Fasciculus temporum by the Pruss Press, 1490. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

Dante Alighieri’s Divina Commedia, completed in 1320, remains a classic in world literature. This incunabula leaf is part of the complete Divina Commedia printed in Venice by Petrus de Piasio in 1491.

 

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Leaf from Dante Alighieri’s Divina Commedia by the Piasio Press, 1491. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

Anton Koberger, the prolific printer of Nuremberg, offered for sale in 1493 one of the most richly illustrated works of the incunabula period. His edition of Hartmann Schedel’s Nuremberg Chronicle continues to be roundly considered one of the finest works of this era.

 

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Leaf from Hartmann Schedel’s Nuremberg Chronicle by the Koberger Press, 1493. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

The last of Carl Weeks’ incunabula collection dates to 1496. The Epistolae Sancti Hieronymi, or the letters of St. Jerome, rolled off the Venetian press of Johannes Rubeus Vercellensis in 1496. Interestingly, the book was printed to include rubrication and illustrated capitals; however, our edition only includes the blank spaces where these additional decorative elements would have been added.

 

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Epistolae Sancti Hieronymi by the Vercellensis Press, 1496. Salisbury House Permanent Collection.

 

What’s in a Motto?

Over the past seven years I have been a tour guide at the Salisbury House. In all that time, I am still finding objects that I have questions about. I guess I shouldn’t be surprised, with over ten thousand artifacts in the museum!

The other day I was looking at the Weeks family crest or coat of arms. The Weeks crest is located in several places in the museum. They appear on the main stair runner, the Great Hall, in the Library on the light sconces, and also on the family’s finest dinnerware on display in the Breakfast Room.

The crest has three battle axes on a field of crosses. At the bottom of the crest is a motto: Cari Deo Nihilo Carent. At first I thought that the first and last words started with G’s. But on closer inspection, I realized that the words started with C’s. 

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Weeks crest on the family’s dinnerware

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Weeks crest on a wall sconce in the Library

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Weeks crest on stair runner

 

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Detail the Weeks crest on the stair runner

 

I had heard that Carl Weeks had made up his own family crest in the 1920s, but was this actually true? I had a real mystery to solve.

Did Carl, in fact, create his own Weeks family crest and motto? Or was there an existing Weeks family crest and motto that had been historically associated with the Weekses? Finally, what did the motto actually mean?

When I was in grade school I had taken Latin so I recognize some of the words. Also while being an altar boy, I had to learn all the payers for the Catholic mass in Latin – which, to this day, I can still recite. My next step was to go online and see if I could translate the Latin to English. 

I knew that Deo was God and Nihilo meant nothing. If you strictly translate the words the motto reads, Dear God Nothing Lacking. But Latin is not that easy. The position of the words can make that sentence mean something completely different. Additionally, certain prefixes or suffixes can give the word a different meaning and change the overall interpretation of the motto. 

During my search online, I came upon a site called “House Of Names,” and searched for the Weeks family crest. It was there that all my question were answered.

According to this website, the motto Cari Deo Nihilo Carent has long been associated with the Weeks family. In fact, the crest pictured on the website matches the crests included in the Weeks family collection.

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Here was the answer! Carl did not make up his own crest or motto – he used the historical Weeks family logo and crest in his design of Salisbury House. The full meaning of Cari Deo Nihilo Carent reads, “Those dear to God want nothing.”  

As you can see we are constantly learning new things about Salisbury House. Sometimes what we thought was true is, in fact, not the case. 

The Black Sun Press and Harry Marks at Salisbury House

They were christened the “Lost Generation” by Gertrude Stein – the extraordinary creative generation in the 1920s and 1930s, including James Joyce, Ernest Hemingway, T. S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, John Steinbeck, William Faulkner, Igor Stravinsky, Isadora Duncan, George Gershwin, Aldous Huxley, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Henry Miller, Pablo Picasso, and many others.  Most of them lived around Paris and southern France, most were expatriates, and many became the core of what is known as “Modernism.”  Particularly among the writers, many were American.  One major port of call for the Lost Generation was the Parisian English language bookstore Shakespeare & Co. run by an American woman named Sylvia Beach.  Beach is best known as the publisher of James Joyce’s Ulysses.

The Library and Rare Documents Collection at Salisbury House provides a fascinating survey of significant works to emerge from the creative energies of Paris during the 1920s and 1930s.

A young and wealthy American couple, Harry and Caresse Crosby, joined the expat crowd in Paris by the early 1920s. He was a nephew of J. P. Morgan, and both were aspiring, but marginally talented, poets.  The Crosbys were regulars at Shakespeare & Co.  Most of their early work consisted of love poems written to each other.  This photo of a bust of Harry by his wife was the frontispiece of the Black Sun Press edition of Poems for Harry Crosby written by Caresse after Harry’s death.

Harry Crosby bust

Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents 

Realizing that they had little chance of getting their poems published elsewhere, the Crosbys decided to use their own money to publish them themselves in finely-made and hand-bound editions.  This was the start, in 1925, of the Editions Narcisse, which soon became The Black Sun Press.  This title page is typical of many subsequent books, with the combination of red and black ink.

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Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents

 

The frontispiece was a drawing by Lawrence – and, in the Salisbury House copy, with Lawrence’s signature – as shown below.

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Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents Collection

The Crosby’s had found an eccentric, but perfectionist printer named Roger Lescaret who printed almost all of their books (their office was upstairs from his shop.)  His work was matched by the perfectionism of Harry and Caresse – their books have the effect of “elaborate care rather than wasteful expense, of delicacy rather than elaboration.”

The second player in the Black Sun Press story at Salisbury House was, naturally, Carl Weeks: the builder of Salisbury House and the collector of its magnificent library.

The third major player in the story of the Black Sun Press was their United States distributor – Harry F. Marks.  Marks was a New York book dealer (with, by 1925,  a shop on West 47th St.) who was known for fine bindings and high-end “sporting books”, i.e. erotica.  He openly listed such books in his catalogs, yet he was never arrested – probably because of his affluent and respectable clientele.  He also dealt in the avant-garde literature of the time, as did his close neighbor, the Gotham Book Mart.

Marks was one of the two favorite book dealers of Carl Weeks, (the other being the New York dealer Philip Duschnes) and Carl was a favored customer who was offered many rare items, many of which still reside in the Salisbury House library.

Harry Marks had attempted to get a signed agreement with the Crosby’s making him the sole US distributor of the Black Sun Press books, but they would not sign such an agreement.  They did, however, provide him with nearly complete print runs of many of their books and even printed Marks as the source for many books as shown in this page from the 1931 Poems for Harry Crosby.  Note that this copy has a signed presentation from Marks to Carl.

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Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents Collection

One of the Black Sun books from 1929 that is discussed in more detail in another blog entry is James Joyce’s Tales Told of Shem and Shaun. That book includes a colophon (an inscription at the end of a book usually with facts about its production) showing its availability at Marks’ bookshop

What follows is a survey of the other Black Sun Press books in the Salisbury House library in rough order of publication date.

One of the early Black Sun books from 1928 was  Letters of Henry James to Walter Berry.  James was, of course, the well-known novelist and Walter Berry was an American lawyer living in Paris who was a good friend of Henry James, Marcel Proust, and Edith Wharton.  He willed his library to his cousin – Harry Crosby.  The Salisbury House copy of the Letters is unique in preserving the original holographs of two of the letters from the book – number three and number ten; the first page of number ten in Henry James hand is shown below.

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Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents Collection

Laurence Sterne’s A Sentimental Journey Through France and Italy was published in 1929 and again the colophon shows Marks as the US dealer.

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Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents Collection

 

Harry Crosby died on 10 December, 1929 in New York in a probable murder-suicide with a woman with whom he was having an affair.  He had combined his sun-worship with a fascination with death for many years.  Now, Crosby would probably be diagnosed with PTSD from his traumatic experiences as an ambulance driver at Verdun in World War I.  Caresse, Harry’s wife, continued the publishing activities of the Black Sun Press for many years after  her husband’s death.

In the Salisbury House collection, Sun, Tales Told of Shem and Shaun, Secession in Astropolis, New Found Land, Einstein , Imaginary Letters, and A Sentimental Journey show the Harry Marks addition to the colophon in nearly identical style.

One of the interesting questions about the Harry Crosby, Harry Marks, and Carl Weeks connections is when Carl started collecting the Black Sun Press.  One answer, albeit a little confusing, comes from a dedication from Harry Marks to Carl in Sleeping Together, one of the parts of the 1931 first volume of Harry Crosby’s posthumous Collected Poems.

As Carl’s adjacent note (left of the bookplate) points out, this is from 1931 (and “introduce” is clearly present tense) and yet it seems likely that Marks was selling Black Sun books to Carl long before then, but who knows?

Harry Marks inscription to Carl in Sleeping Together

Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents Collection

Secession in Astropolis by Eugene Jolas is an experiment in mythic and abstract language somewhat in the style of Finnegans Wake, but without the genius.  It is interesting in that it establishes another important connection in the close-knit modernist group in Paris; Jolas was the founder and editor of the literary journal transition.  This was probably the most influential little magazine in Paris, publishing nearly every major name in early 20th century English literature, including the first major serialization of James Joyce’s Work in Progress (later published as the book Finnegans Wake.)  It is hardly surprising that Harry Crosby was involved there too – as an associate editor and financial backer.  Sleeping Together was reprinted in transition #19/20 in a memorial section after Harry Crosby’s death. The Gotham Book Mart was the sole US distributor of transition.

One of the other major publications in 1929 was The Escaped Cock by D. H. Lawrence.  This book involves a very complicated story, discussed in more detail below.  1929 also saw the publication of another book by Harry Crosby, The Transit of Venus.

1930 saw the publication of a number of important books as well, including a finely printed edition of Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland with color illustrations by Marie Laurencin.

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Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents Collection

Ezra Pound’s Imaginary Letters was also published in 1930 and Salisbury House has one of the fifty limited copies signed by Pound.

Ezra Pound signature

Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents Collection

Other Black Sun books from 1930 in the Salisbury House library include New Found Land by Archibald MacLeish, Harry Crosby’s Shadows of the Sun, and Crosby’s Aphrodite in Flight.  The last is his memoir of learning to fly an airplane.  The last in this general survey (but much less than half of all the Black Sun titles) is the 1936 edition of the Collected Poems of James Joyce.  This is notable for the very fine 1930 Augustus John portrait of Joyce used as a frontispiece; the Salisbury House copy was also signed by Joyce.

Joyce Collected Poems image and signature

Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents Collection

At this point, it’s time to return to the 1929 first edition of The Escaped Cock by D. H. Lawrence, with this frontispiece by Lawrence.

DH Lawrence Black Sun Press frontispiece

Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents Collection

This novella is a different interpretation of the resurrection of Jesus; it was later re-published as The Man Who Died.  Salisbury House has three copies of the first edition and is fortunate to have the complete hand-written manuscript of the novel. The travels of this manuscript – from the hand of Lawrence to the library of Carl Weeks – are the first mystery of the book.  The first page is shown below.

 

DH Lawrence manuscript

Salisbury House Library & Rare Documents Collection

The idea and title for the book derive from a toy rooster escaping from an egg displayed in a shop window in Grosseto, Italy.  Lawrence saw it in 1927 and remarked to a friend that it inspired the title.   The book was written in two parts and both parts were eventually sent by Lawrence on September 2, 1928 to his long-time family friend Enid Hilton.  On May 20, 1929 he instructed Enid to send it to Caresse Crosby, but NOT as a gift.  After the book was published, Lawrence complained to Caresse about the low price she had asked for the print run for – who else – Harry Marks, and about the large profit margin Marks was making.

After Harry Crosby’s death in December, 1929 (and probably after Lawrence’s death in March of 1930), Frieda Lawrence (David’s widow) wrote in 1930 to Caresse Crosby asking for the return of the manuscript, saying, in part, “I won’t give you another word of Lawrence’s to print if I don’t get the ms. of The Escaped Cock. Yours in disgust, Frieda.”  I can find no mention of any further Black Sun books by Lawrence and it is clear that Frieda did not receive it from Caresse, because she expressed surprise in a letter of Dec 1, 1934 to Carl Weeks on finding that Carl had it!  Carl had likely purchased the manuscript from  Harry Marks.

Therein lies the mystery – how did Harry Marks get the manuscript?  One possibility is that Caresse sold it to Marks, possibly out of anger at Frieda, but the biography of Caresse does not show her as vindictive and, despite the death of her husband, she didn’t really need the money.  Another story is part of the Salisbury House oral tradition, but seems a bit far-fetched.  IF Harry Crosby had taken the manuscript with him to New York, and IF the dinner party that had been expecting Harry Crosby (including Harry Marks, of course) when they were informed at the theater of Harry’s suicide had rushed to the suicide scene, and IF Marks had “liberated” the manuscript as part of cleaning up the crime scene – then Harry Marks had it.  If I were a gambler, I’d bet on the first possibility.

The second oddity with this book is the fact that Harry Marks, somehow, eventually obtained the copyright for The Escaped Cock and published it with that copyright.

 

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Salisbury House Library & Rare Document Collection

Salisbury House has an unique archive relating to this edition, consisting of a marked-up copy of the Black Sun edition showing the changes that Marks made to the colophon in preparation for his edition.

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We have seen that there is an intimate connection between the Lost Generation in 1920s and 1930s Paris, The Black Sun Press, Harry Marks, and Carl Weeks.  Some of the connections are a bit murky, but that only adds to the extraordinary Library and Rare Documents Collection at Salisbury House.

 

A Detective Story at Salisbury House

One of the intriguing aspects of the collections at Salisbury House is the opportunity they present for research about the many interesting objects in the house.  A case in point is a very unusual prayer rug displayed in the first floor west hallway, outside the Dining Room.

The rug is a “saf” or “saph”, which is a family prayer rug – in this case, with six niches for a man and his five sons or other male family members.  In use, the points of the arches would be pointed toward Mecca.  Safs are fairly uncommon, and this layout of side-by-side niches is only one of the possible arrangements of the niches.

 

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Prayer rug at Salisbury House

 

The rug has been hanging in this location since at least 1928.  It is listed in a 1928 appraisal inventory as 16th Century with “thousand knots gold field,” but with no location of origin specified  On the other hand, the standard object inventory for the house lists it as from Hamadan in western Iran, but dating from 1880.  That is almost 3 centuries difference – which is correct?

In addition to the design, I originally became interested in the rug when I noticed that the construction is extremely unusual. Nearly all Persian rugs are constructed over the entire surface with the so-called Persian knot with the ends of each knot forming the rug surface (Turkish rugs generally use a different knot).

 

Senneh

 

There are generally warp threads between the knots that help hold the rug together, but they are usually not visible from the front.  The construction of this rug is different in that only the figural design elements are knotted pile of this type, while the background is woven with a herringbone pattern of flat weave. 

In the image below, the raised pile design is in blue, faded red, and a line of light brown, while the woven background is clearly different.  Some of the lighter specks in the background are traces of metallic gold thread.  The rug clearly belonged to a wealthy man!

 

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Prayer rug detail – woven background and pile design

 

While on a visit to the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, I noticed a so-called “polonaise” carpet which had many features in common with the rug in Salisbury House.  The palette was similar, the age was given as circa 1600 (nearly the same as one description of the Salisbury House rug), and the construction combined woven and pile elements.

There were differences, of course – the Victoria and Albert rug is not a prayer rug, it is silk rather than wool, and the background is a brocade rather than a weave.  Nonetheless, the similarities led me to contact the Victoria and Albert to see if they could clarify the background of the Salisbury House rug.

My email was very promptly answered by Dr. Moya Carey, Iran Heritage Foundation Curator for the Iranian Collections at the Victoria and Albert.  This was something of a surprise, in that Dr. Carey, a distinguished scholar of Iranian art, almost certainly experiences many demands on her time. After sending her some images of the Salisbury House rug, she sent me images of a 1986 museum catalog from the Austrian Museum of Applied Arts in Vienna, AustriaThis museum is known for its collection of oriental rugs.  The rug on the cover of this catalog is very nearly identical to the one in Salisbury House, as shown in the following image.  The Salisbury House rug is on the left.

 

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Salisbury House Rug ~ Vienna Rug

 

 

Based on the catalog description of the Vienna rug, the flat woven background is not in a herringbone pattern, but the rug has the same combination of woven and pile techniques.  Clearly, the palette and design are nearly identical.As far as the dating discrepancy, the Vienna rug is a late 19th Century carpet from Khotan, which is in what might once have been called Eastern Turkestan on the Silk Road, in what is now western China. 

The two rugs are so similar that there is little doubt that the Salisbury House rug is also from 19th Century Khotan.Thus, the 1928 appraisal was incorrect.  Even the experts can be wrong!  But the object inventory is also wrong about where it was made, although the date is roughly correct, if a bit too specific. 

In all, it makes a fascinating detective story!  Salisbury House is fortunate to have such an interesting and unusual rug.The rug on the Vienna catalog cover also has an interesting history, which can be found here

I would like to again thank Dr. Moya Carey for providing the definitive research that solved this particular Salisbury House detective story.

Getting Stoned at Salisbury House

If you think that the title of this post is in reference to biblical punishments or the drug culture of the 1970s, you’d be wrong. I am talking about a little known area of Salisbury House called “Friendship Hall.”

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Friendship Hall

Between 1923 and 1928 when Carl Weeks was building Salisbury House, he was also engaged in one of his favorite hobbies: rock collecting. Whenever Carl was traveling, he would bring home a rock from the area he had visited.

During this time he got an idea. Why not start a Rock Club? Since he had over 45,000 retailers selling his Armand Cosmetics products, he could ask them to join his Rock Club. Thus, Carl suggested that they each send him a rock from their part of the world. This was the start of the “American Rock Club.”

Carl also had a monthly newsletter for his cosmetics business called “The Armand Broadside.” This paper went out to all of his retailers, promoting his business. He decided to utilize this existing network for his rock collection as well. It was a perfect plan.

Was Carl successful? Like most things in his life, he knew that the only way to find out was to try it. Within a year, his collection had grown to over 250 rocks. Some of the rocks sent were accompanied by a letter explaining where it had come from.

Now, Carl had a problem. How should he display such a large collection? Being in possession of a creative mind, he got another idea. Why not incorporate the collection into the walls of the house he was building?

In a little known area of Salisbury House, there was a hallway being planned. It would connect the main house to the garage. This was the ideal place for the rocks. Carl had his workmen inlay the collection into the walls of this hall. He called it “Friendship Hall,” after those who had answered his call for rocks.

Years later, after the family left the house in the 1950s, no one could identify any of the rocks. A plot map was never made. This is where I come in.

My name is David Ross and I hold a degree as a “Certified Gemologist -AGS.” I have always been fascinated by rocks and gemstones. As a tour guide at Salisbury House, I saw the rocks and learned that the stories of the stones had all but disappeared. I thought, I can help with that. Little did I know that the adventure I was about to take would lead me to discover wonderful things.

I received permission from the director of the museum to examine the rocks, identify them, and match them with their corresponding letters. This task, though I didn’t know at the time, would take over four months.

I felt like Sherlock Holmes. I let the rocks tell me their stories. By using the process of elimination, I was able to identify most of the rocks and match some of written correspondence in the Salisbury House archives to the stones. I took pictures of each section of the walls. Then I numbered the rocks, identified them, wrote a report and cross referenced the stones with the letters.

I found a piece of the Rock of Gibraltar, marble from the Temple of Jupiter in Athens, two stones from the Temple of the Sun in Mexico, a piece of copper ore, basalt or lava from Idaho, pipestone from Minnesota, an Iowa geode, water stones, and to my surprise, marble from the Parthenon in Greece.

The privilege of getting to examine the collection, for me, was the thrill of a lifetime. I hope when you visit Salisbury House you will experience the thrill of discovery too. I hope you get to see this wonderful collection for yourself. Get stoned at Salisbury House.

Rock from Gibraltar

Rock from Gibraltar

 

Temple of Jupiter

Temple of Jupiter

 

Temple of the Sun

Temple of the Sun

 

Pipestone

Pipestone from Minnesota

 

Geode from Iowa

Geode from Iowa

 

Water Stones

Water Stones

Preservation Notes from Under the Oaks

Textile preservation is underway at Salisbury House. The pair of Louis XVI style armchairs currently residing in Edith’s Dressing Room has certainly seen better days. The sunshine from the nearby window has not been kind to these two lovely ladies over the years. With the new curtains being installed in this room by the end of December, it was time to stabilize the chairs’ upholstery and preserve what remains of it.

Pair of Louis XVI style chairs.

Pair of Louis XVI chairs from Edith’s Dressing Room. The one on the left has had its upholstery stabilized.

The upholstery of the chair on the left has already been stabilized and originally looked very similar to the one on the right, though more faded. We began with a gentle, low suction vacuum, carefully avoiding all areas of loose threads. Next, polyester organza in a soft buttercup color was inserted under areas of loss on the front of the seat and the top of the back. Using a curved needle and 100% cotton thread, loose edges of the original textile surrounding the loss area were stitched to this sheer underlay. Loose warp threads were straightened as much as possible and secured to the organza to prevent them from moving and retangling. A fine nylon net was then laid over the top and secured around the edges, essentially sandwiching the loss areas and stabilizing the rest of the textile. One more gentle vacuum and the preservation of this Louis XVI style chair was complete.

Close up of underlay
Stitching the historic fabric to the polyester organza underlay.

Two wonderful things about this textile stabilization is its complete reversibility and use of inert materials. If, for whatever reason, we needed to remove these repairs, it would be easy (if not time consuming) to do so and return the chair to the same state it was in prior to the stabilization process. Additionally, polyester organza and nylon are neutral materials that will not harm historic fabric, are inexpensive, and come in a variety of colors, which was perfect for this project. Though cotton thread is not chemically neutral, when paired with acidic silk it will fail before the silk will, provided that we continue to protect these pieces from light damage. After all, we would much rather our repairs fail than the historic fabric!

Before After

Left: Before stabilization and vacuuming. Right: After stabilization and vacuuming.


*Many thanks to Camille Myers Breeze (museumtextiles.com) and the Campbell Center for Historic Preservation Studies (campbellcenter.org) for their professionalism and excellence in preservation education and for providing me with the tools and knowledge to begin the journey of preserving the treasures of Salisbury House.