Willie Nelson and Sons at Salisbury House

Yes, you read that correctly. A couple of months ago, Salisbury House hosted a photo shoot with American music icon Willie Nelson and his family as they modeled the new fall line of fashion maven John Varvatos. Famed music photographer Danny Clinch directed the shoot, while the Salisbury House staff peeked respectfully around corners, enjoying the experience. Here’s a video from the full campaign, with thanks to everyone involved in the shoot. You’re helping us share Salisbury House with a whole new audience. We appreciate it.

The Picasso on the Shelf

The Limited Editions Club (LEC) was a publishing house founded in 1929 by George Macy in the heyday of the private press movement. The LEC was dedicated to producing small runs of exquisitely made and finely illustrated books, some of them literary classics, and some of them important contemporary works. Generally, the LEC would issue a dozen books each year, with only 1,500 copies of each item printed. They were often signed by the artists, designers, authors, bookmakers or others associated with the titles in question.

Carl and Edith Weeks were charter members of the LEC, and they remained subscribers through 1954, leaving us with a rare complete collection of these important and beautiful books. Carl and Edith had subscription number 589, so almost all of their LEC books have a “589” hand-written in them somewhere, typically along with the autograph of the artists or authors.

Matisse's "Polyphemus" from LEC edition of James Joyce's "Ulysses." (click to enlarge)

Henri Matisse’s “Polyphemus” from LEC edition of James Joyce’s “Ulysses.”

The two most-widely collectible and coveted LEC books in the Salisbury House library are a 1935 edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses illustrated and signed by Henri Matisse (250 copies were signed by Joyce, but we don’t have one of them — a rare missing item in our otherwise magnificent Joyce collection) and a 1934 edition of Aristophanes’ Lysistrata, illustrated and signed by Pablo Picasso.

Matisse’s illustrations from Ulysses do not depict James Joyce’s Dublin, but rather evoke Leopold Bloom’s one-day odyssey through that city’s streets by making explicit the subtle structural parallels that Joyce wove between Ulysses and Homer’s Odysseus. So while the section paralleling the Cyclops’ tale in Ulysses is set in Barney Kiernan’s pub, where Bloom is berated by an un-named, anti-Semitic “citizen,” Matisse illustrates the scene with a literal depiction of the blinding of the Cyclops Polyphemus. It’s a powerful piece of art (click the image at left to enlarge it; each of the differently sized blue and yellow sheets are bound into the book), but personally speaking, I find that these images distract the reader from Joyce’s narrative, rather than supporting it. If Joyce had wanted his allusions to Odysseus to be so obvious, I think he would have written the book differently. I wonder sometimes if this is why Joyce did not sign all of the Matisse copies.

Aristophanes died some 23 centuries before Carl and Edith purchased their LEC copy of his Lysistrata, so there’s no telling what he would have though about Pablo Picasso’s illustrations therein — but I love them to pieces, and think this is one of the most gorgeous, well-designed, fully-integrated books produced by the LEC. I share some images below, including Picasso’s signature page. Do you agree that he got it right? (As always, click to enlarge)

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D.H. Lawrence: A Manuscript Mystery

Last fall, I wrote a piece called “Carl and Edith Weeks: Book Smugglers” about many of the extraordinary works of literature that Carl and Edith purchased for their library, at a time when possession or transmission of said works was banned because they were considered indecent. D.H. Lawrence featured strongly in that narrative, and as a result of the Weeks Family’s foresight, the D.H. Lawrence collection is among the most exceptional components of the Salisbury House Library.

Lawrence was an Englishman, but he spent the final seven years of his short life self-exiled in New Mexico with his wife, Frieda. He died in 1930 at the age of 45 from complications associated with tuberculosis, his health likely also eroded by his long legal and moral battles against allegations of obscenity in his works. Carl Weeks corresponded with Frieda Lawrence following her husband’s death, while still collecting his works, and as a result, the Salisbury House Library still contains one of the world’s most complete collections of signed and first edition D.H. Lawrence works, plus some amazing one-of-a-kind letters, manuscripts and other documents.

The original Weeks Family research we have been conducting via an Historical Research Development Program grant from the State Historical Society of Iowa recently divulged some fascinating correspondence from the mid-1950s between Carl Weeks and Senator Clinton P. Anderson of New Mexico regarding the Lawrence collection. The Senator and Carl had met at a social function, and Carl apparently described some of the highlights of his D.H. Lawrence collection. Upon his return to his office, Senator Anderson wrote Carl a fairly impassioned letter stating his belief that Carl had a moral obligation to either bequeath the Lawrence collection or allow it to be sold upon his death, so that it could return to New Mexico, where Senator Anderson believed it belonged, for posterity’s sake.

The men traded correspondence on the matter for almost two years, with Carl occasionally noting that he was still taking the Senator’s offer under advisement, while offering instead to return a backpack that had once belonged to D.H. Lawrence, which Carl had never opened, and whose contents he wanted properly “psychoanalyzed” once it was opened. The final piece of correspondence from Carl came in 1955 — in which he noted that he had sold all of Salisbury House’s collections to the Iowa State Education Association, and that Senator Anderson would have to deal with them henceforth on the matter if he wanted the Lawrence collection to move back to New Mexico. Score one for Carl. We do not know if the Senator pursued the matter further, nor do we know what was in, nor what happened to, the mysterious backpack.

This leads me (tangentially) to another D.H. Lawrence mystery, this one involving his 1923 poetry collection, Birds, Beasts and Flowers, of which we have an original galley proof hand-edited by Lawrence himself. Here is the final page of the proof, featuring the closing lines of a poem titled “The American Eagle:”

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Final page from galley proof of “Birds, Beasts and Flowers,” hand-edited by D.H. Lawrence.

This page is among the most heavily edited ones in the manuscript, and it seems that after he completed the edits, Lawrence must have decided that it was too messy or complicated for his editor and publisher to follow, so he inserted the following page into the galley, immediately after the one shown above:

Hand-written D.H. Lawrence edits of the closing lines of his poem "The American Eagle," inserted into the galley proof of "Birds, Beasts and Flowers."

Hand-written D.H. Lawrence edits of the closing lines of his poem “The American Eagle,” inserted into the galley proof of “Birds, Beasts and Flowers.”

It’s a dramatic reworking of the poem, and since this poem is the last one in the book, it creates radically different closing experiences of the collection, one fairly sardonic or bleak (“are you the goose that lays the golden egg? / which is just a stone to anyone asking for meat /  and are you going to go on forever / laying that golden egg / that addled golden egg”) and one almost bordering on the whimsical (“was your mother really a pelican, are you a strange cross? / can you stay forever a strange half-breed cock on a golden perch? / young eagle? / pelican boy? / you are such a huge fowl! / and such a puzzler!”).

If one reads “The American Eagle” as being symbolic of the United States, could this later edit represent a softening of Lawrence’s views on imperial/capitalistic America after spending time in New Mexico, presumably experiencing the United States in a warmer fashion than he might have when his primary experience of our Nation was being branded obscene by its government? I’m not a Lawrence scholar, but it doesn’t seem like too much of a stretch to make such an assumption.

Since the hand-written version follows a mark-up of the original printed galley’s version, it seemed obvious to me that it was the final “official” version of the poem, and therefore the only one which I should find online when I searched for the complete printed text of “The American Eagle” and Birds, Beasts and Flowers.

But it’s not . . . because both versions of the poem can be found online, with the original version being more frequent than the hand-written version. Here’s a cite of the darker one and here’s a cite of the lighter one, appearing in two different anthologies.

So somehow both versions entered into the Lawrence canon, at some time or another, and that’s where my research takes me a dead end (so far), since I cannot find information indicating when or where Lawrence edited, authorized or published a second edition. He only lived seven years after the original Birds, Beasts and Flowers was published, so it’s a fairly narrow window, most of it spent in New Mexico.

I’m still poking around to see if I can figure this one out, so if you know any D.H. Lawrence buffs or experts who might be able to shed some light on how this manuscript came to be published in two versions, I’d be happy to have you point them our way!

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Hand-written note on the back of the galley proof set in the Salisbury House Library, circa sometime between 1923 and 1930.

Knocking Down History

The Salisbury House Foundation was founded in 1993 to preserve, interpret and share Salisbury House for the educational and cultural benefit of the public. Implicit in this mission is a role we have embraced since our inception as caretakers of the Weeks Family history: not just for Carl and Edith (who built the house in the 1920s), but for their forebears, their four sons and their later descendants. (Social media has proven an incredible asset in this latter regard, as we have connected with many Weeks grandchildren via our Facebook page). In 2012, we received a Historical Resource Development Grant from the State Historical Society of Iowa specifically to research and interpret Weeks family history, so we have spent much of the past year delving deep into local and remote archives to better tell the story of this remarkable family.

Of Carl and Edith’s four sons, only their third — Evert Deyet “Hud” Weeks — spent the majority of his life in Des Moines. Hud was born in 1912 and attended Hubbell Elementary and Roosevelt High School, where he was a state record breaking swimmer. He graduated from Wharton College at the University of Pennsylvania in 1934 and returned to Des Moines to help manage Carl’s business empire through the difficult days of the Depression. Hud served as a Naval Aviator in the South Pacific during World War II, then again returned to Des Moines and the family business, eventually becoming President of Weeks & Leo by 1954. Hud held this position until his retirement in 1986, at which point the business passed out the Weeks Family’s management and ownership.

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Nellie and Hud Weeks, 1938. (Photo courtesy Cooper Weeks).

Hud was an avid outdoorsman, pilot and speedboat racer. He married Ellen “Nellie” Cooper — the daughter of legendary speedboater Jack “Pop” Cooper and a record setting racer in her own right — in 1938, and the young couple moved into the gardener’s cottage at Salisbury House (now our Visitors Center and Gift Shop) by 1940. Around 1950, Carl and Edith Weeks subdivided their original Salisbury House property to produce a 2.5 acre lot at the western end, separated from the main house by a deep ravine, for Hud and his family (now including son Cooper and daughter Barbara) to build their own home, a task to which Hud applied his usual exuberance and creative elan.

The Hud Weeks home at 4111 Tonawanda Drive was a custom design that incorporated elements of two prefabricated Lustron Homes around a central atrium, with a large indoor swimming pool at its south end. Lustron Homes were viewed as an affordable and innovative solution to the post World War II housing crisis, and production of the distinctive porcelain enamel clad structures began in 1948 — then ended in 1950 when production problems and corruption scandals led to the dissolution of the company after about 2,700 homes had been manufactured and shipped. Only about 1,500 of them were still known to be standing by 2008.

Hud and Nellie lived in their double-wide Lustron Home on the knoll next to Salisbury House (visible from Hud’s boyhood bedroom) until 1988, when they sold 4111 Tonawanda Drive to the Muelhaupt family and retired to the Barbican Condominiums on Grand Avenue. The couple later relocated to Kansas City, Missouri, to be near their son, Cooper. Nellie passed away in 1995, and Hud followed her seven years later, the last of Carl and Edith’s surviving sons.

Fast forward to the present. Just before I became the Executive Director of the Salisbury House Foundation in April 2012, Chuck Muelhaupt — who had lived in Hud’s former home for 24 years at that point — passed away. Several months later, his widow put the house on the market.

Front view of 4111 Tonawanda Drive, showing the two Lustron Home elements (left and right) integrated into the custom home.

Front view of 4111 Tonawanda Drive, showing the two Lustron Home elements (left and right) integrated into the custom home.

In a perfect world of unlimited resources, Salisbury House Foundation would have snapped up 4111 Tonawanda Drive right away at that point, restoring Hud’s home and the land to our holdings, thereby improving our ability to preserve and tell the Weeks Family story. Of course, the reality is that we live in an imperfect world, and our financial position was (and remains) precarious to the point where we must strive mightily just to maintain the property we already own.

Despite a sympathetic donor making a very generous and gracious offer on our behalf, we simply did not have the financial wherewithal to acquire, refurbish, maintain and operate an additional house, garage, pool and 2.5 acres of land when time the opportunity presented itself to us. As Chief Executive of our corporation, I could not in good conscience recommend to our Board that we encumber ourselves with additional debt to acquire Hud’s home, as such a path could have quickly put Salisbury House itself at grave risk.

And, thus, the property was sold to a private developer in late 2012.

While we knew the developer planned to divide the 2.5 acre lot into two parcels, we were heartened when the plans he presented to the City’s Planning and Zoning Commission on January 3, 2013 noted that the existing single family dwelling would be retained, with only the pool house structure being demolished. The City approved the plans, and this gave us hope that we might, at some point in the future, still have the opportunity to acquire (most of) Hud’s home, and at least a part of his land.

Pool house at the south end of Hud and Nellie Weeks' former home.

Pool at the south end of Hud and Nellie Weeks’ home.

We watched over the ensuing weeks as a variety of contractors (including asbestos remediation crews) worked on Hud’s home, presumably preparing for the grading of the new lot and the demolition of the pool house. We saw nothing that caused us any alarm regarding our new neighbor and his intentions.

Yesterday morning, I had a doctor’s appointment, so I arrived at Salisbury House around 9:40, two and half hours later than my normal early bird tendencies get me here. Literally, as I opened my car door, I heard a tremendous smashing sound, and looked west . . . just in time to see a huge backhoe drive straight into Hud’s house with its arm swinging. The garage had already been knocked down at this point, and the Lustron and atrium portions of the house were flattened in less than 30 minutes, the prefabricated materials easily scattered by the power of the backhoe’s arm. Only the pool house remained.

Quick calls to the Des Moines Historical Society and to City offices revealed that the developer had filed a demolition permit that morning, and that the backhoe began its unfortunate work within minutes of the approval being received. Des Moines Historical Society volunteers arrived quickly, and were firmly asked to leave the property. We allowed them to document the demolition from our side of the ravine. At about 8:00 this morning, the backhoe went into action again, and we watched the pool house being flattened, leaving the top of the hill bare. By 8:20 AM, February 15, 2013, nothing remained standing from the home that Hud and Nellie Weeks had built next to Salisbury House.

Needless to say, we’re shocked and saddened by this turn of events. While the house had no formal standing as a historic property, and many Lustron buffs (often purists, like classic car collectors) would have dismissed it as a “modification,” rather than a true, collectible Lustron Home, it was an important part of the Salisbury House and Weeks Family stories, and it deserved a more noble end than it received. While we fully understand and accept that the developer fairly acquired an unprotected 60-year old residence on the open market after we were unable to do so, we were surprised at the rapidity with which his stated plans evolved, and the easy acquiescence he encountered from the City of Des Moines in the face of such changes.

While the end result may have been the same regardless of what Salisbury House Foundation, Des Moines Historical Society, Salisbury Oaks Neighborhood Association or any other aggrieved parties said or did — in private or in front of television cameras or reporters’ clipboards — our own historic mission would have been greatly served had we been at least given one last chance to photograph the property thoroughly before it was demolished. One hour of time, literally, would have made a difference in our ability to tell the full stories of Hud and Nellie Weeks and the Salisbury House property, and it’s tragic that we were not accorded that opportunity on behalf of our community, as an important piece of Des Moines’ history is now being hauled away in dumpsters, having not been property recorded for history’s sake.

In a nutshell, this is why historic preservation work is so important, and so deserving of your financial support. The Salisbury House Foundation was founded, explicitly, to counter present or future threats to the sanctity of the property and its collections, and to this day we work diligently to ensure that no other Weeks Family property ever leaves these grounds, or suffers from abuse, neglect, or lack of maintenance. Sadly, our mission did not include the acquisition and preservation of the land that Carl gifted to his third son, and the house that Hud built there, so when the limited time window opened for us to acquire it, we did not have the means to do so. Such are the challenges in the imperfect world of nonprofit public service.

But, still, even as we mourn the destruction of Hud and Nellie’s home, we feel that it is important to celebrate the lives that were lived there, happily, with great humor and warmth. We know from numerous sources that 4111 Tonawanda Drive was the site of many amazing parties, and many great family gatherings, and that Hud and Nellie and their children were important, beloved members of our community. And so we would love to hear from you if you have memories, photos or stories about Hud and Nellie’s time in their uniquely futurist home on the hill, so that we can record them for posterity’s sake, and share them with others who may also be mourning the destruction of this property.

You can either post your thoughts and memories in the comments below, or you can contact our Curator and Director of Education Leo Landis via e-mail here to share photos, stories, documents or anything else related to 4111 Tonawanda Drive or Salisbury House. Thank you for your ongoing support through this difficult development, and please take a look around your own neighborhood soon to assess whether there are historic preservation needs there requiring your attention and support!

St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s “Liber Florum”

As we approach our 1,500th like on the Salisbury House Facebook Page, I decided to look for something in our library dating from around 1500 A.D. to mark the occasion. I found something beautiful, though a bit confusing: the book in question had been re-bound in more modern boards at some point with the title “Flores” and the date “1534” on its spine, neither of which reconciled to anything I could find in our databases or online. With a little bit of research, I discovered that what we actually have in the library is called “Liber Floru[m] Beati Bernardi abbatis Clareualle[n]sis,” and it was published in 1499. It’s a magnificent book, made more special by extensive marginalia throughout the text, including an end-note with the date 1534 in it, which perhaps contributed to the erroneous date in the new binding. Here are some shots of pages within this text, with explanatory notes gleaned from my research. As always, you can click each image to enlarge for more detail.

Cover page of “Liber florum Beati Bernardi abbatis Clareualle[n]sis” by St. Bernard of Clairvaux printed by Philippe Pigouchet in 1499. Pigouchet was a prolific printer who began printing around 1487. There are more than 150 known titles of his work surviving. He excelled at printing Horae (Books of Hours), of which there are more than 90 titles survive. The title of the Salisbury House book appears above Pigouchet’s illustrated mark, which features a fur-covered Adam and Eve!

This is the first text page of the Salisbury House Library’s edition of St. Bernard’s “Liber Floru[m].” St. Bernard had died over 300 years earlier, so this is a long posthumous edition of his words and wisdom. Our copy is filled with hand-written marginalia, some seen here at the bottom of the page.


A central page from “Liber Floru[m]” of St. Bernard of Clairveaux. The book was printed with movable type on a press, and it contains hand coloring at the start of each section and sentence.

The final page of St. Bernard’s “Liber Floru[m],” with an inscription at bottom in Latin dated November 1534.


Inside the back cover of “Liber Floru[m]” is an amazingly beautiful hand-written section with hand-coloring. The symbols atop the Latin words would most likely indicate that this was a text to be chanted. Any Latin scholars willing to translate for us?

“The Book of Mormon” in Des Moines

Des Moines Performing Arts is one of the most crucial cultural resources in Central Iowa, working tirelessly to offer exceptionally high-quality, often challenging theatrical, musical and educational experiences at their three great downtown performing arts spaces: The Civic Center, The Stoner Theater and The Temple Theater. I’ve already enjoyed many performances through their great work, and look forward to another fabulous experience next Tuesday, when my wife and I will be going to see the Tony-winning play, The Book of Mormon.

It’s wonderful to see the advance enthusiasm that this theatrical performance is generating within our market, and its week-long run will no doubt play to rapt, packed houses, show after show. But, then, as happens with touring productions, The Book of Mormon (musical) will move on to Minneapolis after its exciting run here . . . while The Book of Mormon (first print edition, 1830) remains in Des Moines, in the Salisbury House Library, along with an extraordinary collection of other historic Mormon books and documents.

Just after the turn of the 20th Century, Carl Weeks (who built Salisbury House) was doing poorly. His first business — The Red Cross Pharmacy in Centerville, Iowa — had not been successful, and he had been diagnosed with “tubercular glands” which precipitated three painful rounds of surgery. Imagine how he must have felt when he then learned that his initial diagnosis had been incorrect, and he actually had nothing more than a case of tonsillitis. Needing a reprieve period to recover — physically and emotionally — and following the advice of his brother Deyet, Carl traveled to “Mormon Dixie,” the then-largely unexplored and unpopulated southwestern corner of Utah.

Carl’s time in Utah was clearly both restorative and formative. He returned to Des Moines, met, courted and married Edith, worked with his brothers in their patent medicine and toiletry businesses, and in 1915 launched the Armand brand that made him his fortune. The trip to Utah also instilled a love of the American West in Carl, and from the very first plans for what became Salisbury House, he clearly identified a need for an “Indian Room” where he could display his collections of Native American art and culture.

Carl also came home from Utah with a strong interest in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (commonly known as the Mormon Church), and he collected many important books and documents related to its history and culture. Additionally, he maintained a fascinating, lively correspondence for many years with Maurine Whipple, a nationally-prominent novelist and short story writer who lived and whose work was primarily set in Mormon Dixie.

Many of these documents and books remain in our collection today, and in honor of Des Moines Performing Arts’ opening of The Book of Mormon (musical), I share some of them with you, below. At our February Treasures Tour, Curator Leo Landis and I will have The Book of Mormon (first print edition) available for viewing, so if you’d like an up close and personal view of it, come see us! (Click on photos below to enlarge them).

This shelf in the Salisbury House Library is almost entirely dedicated to Mormon literature.

This shelf in the Salisbury House Library is almost entirely dedicated to early Mormon literature, including “A Plea for Polygamy.”

Title page, first edition "Book of Mormon."

First edition “Book of Mormon,” published in 1830 in Palmyra, New York.

1845 "Doctrine and Covenants," published in Nauvoo, Illinois.

1845 “Doctrine and Covenants,” published in Nauvoo, Illinois.

The Mormon Church published many immigrants guides to make it as easy to get to Utah as possible.

The Mormon Church and its partner presses published many immigrants’ guides to make it as easy to get to Utah as possible.

Once you arrived in Utah, this book would help you navigate.

Once you arrived in Utah, this book would help you navigate.

Signature of Joseph Smith, founding prophet of the Mormon Church. It is from the signature block of a letter to one of his wives.

Signature of Joseph Smith, founding prophet of the Mormon Church. It is from the signature block of a letter to one of his wives.

Letter signed by Brigham Young, who succeeded Joseph Smith and led the Mormon Immigrants to Utah, where he founded Salt Lake City and later become governor.

Letter signed by Brigham Young, who succeeded Joseph Smith and led the Mormon Immigrants to Utah, where he founded Salt Lake City and later become governor.

One of many letters in our archives from Utah/Mormon writer Maurine Whipple, in this case thanking Carl Weeks for advancing her funds to complete a book.

One of many letters in our archives from Utah/Mormon writer Maurine Whipple, in this case thanking Carl Weeks for advancing her funds to complete a book.

Books as Art: The Private Press Movement at Salisbury House

We have a ten-page typed document in our files with a hand-written note atop the first page reading: “Guide to Salisbury House, by Carl Weeks. Prior to or at the time of ISEA possession.” It is a first person narrative describing many of the important objects in the Salisbury House public spaces. Interestingly, it is not actually Carl Weeks’ telling of the tale, as the unnamed narrator often refers to “Mr. Weeks” when discussing the acquisition, provenance or assessment of particular pieces.

There are elements in the narrative that we now know to be apocryphal or erroneous, so the document often has to be taken with a grain of salt from an historian’s perspective. But some of the anecdotes related therein are so unexpected or unusual that we feel they accurately reflect Carl or Edith Weeks’ very unique perspective on their own collections, perhaps representing oft-repeated anecdotes that our anonymous tour-guide of 1955 heard and found memorable. One such anecdote quotes Carl Weeks as saying:

“There have been three great books printed. The first great book was the Gutenberg Bible. Since a Gutenberg costs about $150,000 Mr. Weeks didn’t buy one, but he did have a leaf out of one of them . . . The second great book to be printed was the Kelmscott Chaucer. One was sold the other day for $1,600 that does not compare with the copy in this library. The third great book was the Oxford Bible, and this is the only copy in existence that has the leaf in it that tells how many were printed: 200.”

Pigskin cover of the Kelmscott Chaucer

Pigskin cover of the Kelmscott Chaucer; click all images to enlarge

Obviously, no one would argue the import and greatness of the Gutenberg Bible, which represented a fundamental change in man’s ability to widely, consistently and quickly reproduce the written word in a (relatively) affordable fashion. Our library contains what is known as a Noble Fragment of a Gutenberg Bible, purchased after a collector dismantled a damaged copy in 1921 and put the intact leaves on the market individually. We also have a 1920s full-sized reproduction of the two-volume, 42-line 1455 edition of the Gutenberg Bible, and it is plain to see that it was clearly a grand and imposing object of art in its own right.

But why would Mr. Weeks have selected the Kelmscott Chaucer and Oxford Bible as peers in greatness to the Gutenberg Bible? (Note that these aren’t their full and proper titles, but I will continue to use them for ease of discussion). Especially given how common their texts are: you can get a copy of the Bible or a copy of the collected works of Geoffrey Chaucer in pretty much any bookstore, in relatively cheap pressings. So why do these particular editions rise to the status (in Mr. Weeks’ estimation) of the Gutenberg Bible?

Title page from the Kelmscott Chaucer

Title page from the Kelmscott Chaucer

The answer to that question lies in the very high regard that Carl Weeks held not only for books, but also for the art of bookmaking. He was an avid reader, so he viewed books as repositories of information or entertainment, certainly, but he also saw beyond the words into the physical elements that make up the book as an object. He valued the inks, the papers, the typefaces, the binding, the illustrations, the design, and all of the myriad small details that can turn even the most mundane of texts into something sublime.

The library that Carl and Edith Weeks built is filled with books that stand alone as works of art in their own right. And Carl and Edith were particularly fortunate to have been collecting such books during the absolute height of what is now known as the private press movement, when many small, independent publishers were producing extraordinarily high quality books in tiny press runs for discerning collectors, like the Weeks Family.

Kelmscott Chaucer, "The Knyght's Tale"

Last text page of the Kelmscott Chaucer

When viewed through the distinctive cultural lens deployed by private press aficionados, then, Mr. Weeks’ choice of the Kelmscott Chaucer (1896) and the Oxford Bible (1935) become more understandable, because in many ways, they mark the alpha and the omega of the private press movement itself.

The private press movement is generally considered to have been launched with the founding of Englishman William Morris’ Kelmscott Press in 1890. Inspired by John Ruskin, the Pre-Raphaelites and the Arts and Crafts movement, Morris believed that beautiful objects could counteract the negative cultural impacts of the modern, industrial world. He and his many disciples eschewed the cheap, poor-quality, mechanical book production methods that prevailed in their era, and chose instead to return to traditional or classical design, paper-making, printing and binding techniques.  They viewed bookmaking as a manual skill, uniquely suited to human hands, and they considered the products of their presses to be works of art, not just convenient vehicles for the transmission of information.

The Book of the Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (to give the Kelmscott Chaucer its full and proper title) was illustrated by by Sir Edward Burne-Jones, edited by F.S. Ellis, engraved on wood by W.H. Hooper, and printed by William Morris, and it is generally considered to be the apex of Kelmscott’s work, and one of the most beautiful books ever printed. It was completed in May 1896, a mere six months before Morris’ death. Carl Weeks bought his first copy of the Kelmscott Chaucer from rare book seller Philip C. Duschnes of New York for $600 in March 1942, then in November 1944 traded his version back to Duschnes for an extremely rare (48 copies only), $1,300 version bound by T.J. Coben-Sanderson (more on him below) in pigskin. We still have this version in the Salisbury House Library.

Morris and Kelmscott’s influence was immediate and far-reaching, and the private press movement expanded rapidly in Great Britain and the United States through the first three decades of the 20th Century. The Salisbury House Library is home to many fine, limited edition works from a variety of influential private presses, including such titles as:

  • The five-volume Doves Press Bible (1903), printed by T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, who bound the rare Kelmscott Chaucer in our colletion
  • Many books, periodicals and pamphlets published by Roycroft Press of East Aurora, New York, which was founded by Elbert Hubbard, about whom I have written before
  • Nonesuch Press’ The History of Herodotus of Halicarnassus (1935)
  • Numerous works illustrated, written or designed by Eric Gill, now best remembered as the creator of the hugely influential Gill Sans and Perpetua typefaces, many of them issued by Golden Cockerel Press
  • The Revelation of St. John the Divine (1932) and The Lamentations of Jeremiah (1933) from Gregynog Press, which was founded by Welsh sisters Margaret and Gwendoline Davies
  • The Complete Works of Gaius Petronius (1927) and Ecclesiazusae (1929) from Fanfrolico Press
  • Ashendene Press’ The Wisdom of Jesus, the Son of Sirach, commonly called Ecclesiasticus (1932)
Front cover "alpha" on the Oxford Lectern Bible

Front cover “alpha” on the Oxford Lectern Bible

Bruce Rogers was a particularly prominent figure in the private press movement, achieving acclaim as an illustrator, typographer and printer both for his small press works, and for the high-quality production aesthetic he brought to retail publishers such as Houghton Mifflin’s Riverside Press and the Cambridge and Harvard University Presses. Rogers also later designed books for the Limited Editions Club, to which Carl and Edith Weeks subscribed for 21 years, leaving us a rare complete collection of this legendary publishing house’s offerings.

Back cover "omega" of the Oxford Bible

Back cover “omega” of the Oxford Bible

From 1929 to 1931, Rogers worked at the Oxford University Press in England, and it was here that he received the commission to design a new lectern Bible embracing the best facets of the private press movement. His masterpiece, formally known as The Lectern Bible for Oxford University Press, was completed in 1935.

There were only 200 copies printed of the largest version of this two-volume Bible, one of which was purchased by Carl Weeks for $600 in March 1944, also from bookseller Philip C. Duschnes, who noted that it was a “special copy bound by Wiemeler of Germany”. We can see a tiny impression of the name “Ignatz Wiemeler” in the gold trim inside the back cover of the Oxford Bible, and his exquisite binding work leaves the massive book surprisingly easy to manipulate, its form clearly supporting its function as a working text for church use.

By the time that the Oxford Bible was published, the private press movement was rapidly dwindling as the worldwide demand for such luxury items crashed during the Great Depression. Fortunately, some of the greatest works of that beautiful, brief creative moment — including some of the most magnificent books ever printed — still live with us here at Salisbury House, a lasting testament to Carl and Edith Weeks’ acuity and refinement as book lovers and collectors.

Title Page of the Oxford Bible

Title Page of the Oxford Bible

Objects Come Home to Salisbury House

After a recent Chamber Music event at Salisbury House, two of our guests approached Deputy Executive Director Cyndi Pederson and offered her an envelope, asking her to open it while they were there. Much to her delight, the envelope contained a yellowed Christmas Card with an image of the Salisbury House north (front) door, signed by Carl and Edith Weeks, who built this house and amassed its extraordinary collections.

Cover of a Salisbury House Christmas Card, circa 1945.

Cover of a Salisbury House Christmas Card, circa 1945.

It was very kind of our guests to return this card to the House whence it originated, and we are grateful to them and so many others who have helped the Salisbury House Foundation recover lost or forgotten objects over the years. I have written before on this blog about the importance of objects in interpreting and presenting the human history of this and other historic properties, and new objects — while seemingly insignificant on their own — can often provide important insights when placed in their proper physical and chronological position.

While this card has no date on it, we can confidently state that it was mailed in the mid-1940s, because we have enough other images and data points to know that Carl and Edith habitually included the names of whichever of their four sons happened to be living at Salisbury House when they signed seasonal cards, so this piece is very likely from after 1940 (when Lafe left Salisbury House) and 1941 (when Hud and his wife moved into the Caretakers’ Cottage). Each and every small item like this provides us with another data point to track and hone our analysis of the family and their history here, and sometimes a single additional piece of information can provide a “eureka” moment to answering big questions or uncovering momentous matters.

Christmas greetings from Carl and Edith Weeks, after their boys had moved out of Salisbury House.

Christmas greetings from Carl and Edith Weeks, after their boys had moved out of Salisbury House.

One of the interesting aspects of having objects come home to Salisbury House is that it leads us to ponder the manner in which they left. Some of Carl and Edith’s art collections, papers, photos and memorabilia have been passed down to family members. Some art work was donated by Carl and Edith to sites such as the Art Center and Scottish Rite Consistory in Des Moines. Papers were donated by sons Hud and William to The University of Utah, documenting young Carl’s travels in Southwestern Utah around the turn of the 20th Century, while other papers relating to the Armand Company and books from Carl’s erotica collection now reside in the Special Collections Library at the University of Iowa.

Many objects left Salisbury House because Carl and Edith were both admirable, regular, well-traveled correspondents with a huge number of friends, acquaintances and admirers, so there are no doubt countless letters, cards and other ephemeral materials packed away in attics, trunks, antique shops and private residences around the country, if not the world. We have a mysterious 1930 note to Carl in our collection from Edith Bolling Wilson, widow of President Woodrow Wilson, thanking him for his “kindness in sending me the small package.” What was in the package? And what story would be able to tell if it came home?

What "small package" did Carl mail to President Wilson's widow? And what if it came home?

What “small package” did Carl mail to President Wilson’s widow? And what if it came home?

Other objects left the House when the Iowa State Education Association (ISEA) had its headquarters at Salisbury House from 1954 to 1998, and renovated parts of the property to make it work for their purposes. The kitchen and scullery, for example, were dismantled and converted into office spaces, so the stove, refrigerator and dishwasher that were once used to feed Carl and Edith’s family members and guests have disappeared into the haze of history, barring a few photos. We do, however, have some original kitchen cabinetry stored in an attic and some counter fixtures that spent years rotting in a farmers’ pasture, and we have recently been contacted about a possible Salisbury House kitchen sink that’s installed in a currently unoccupied home. We hope that sink and other similar objects might come home as we work to restore the historic kitchen to at least an accurate facsimile of its original configuration, and that such a restoration effort will roust other lost objects from their hiding places.

Perhaps the most controversial object to leave Salisbury House was Joseph Stella’s monumental painting, Tree of My Life, which was sold by ISEA in 1986 to raise funds for much-needed deferred maintenance on the property. It is now in the hands of a private collector with a bequest intention to a major art gallery, so it is not likely to come home, ever. And at a very bottom line basis, the Salisbury House Foundation itself was created to ensure that such trade-offs never have to be made again, by creating new philanthropic and operational revenue streams to care for the house, so that its objects may stay here, in perpetuity, for the cultural and educational benefit of the public.

As we mature into our role as an established and trustworthy operator of an exceptional historic house museum, more people are demonstrating their willingness to bring their own Salisbury House or Weeks Family objects back to us, either to be donated into the permanent collection, or to be properly researched and digitally documented for our archives, to help us better tell our story to the next generation of visitors.

Do you have any of the objects that left Salisbury House? They could be papers, furniture, paintings, books, photographs, house decorations, fixtures, Armand or related commercial products, or other objects that we don’t even know exist at this point. If you have some of them, we would certainly love to talk to you about having them come home, maybe just for a short visit and study, or maybe even for good, as a philanthropic donation to the Salisbury House Foundation.

You have our word that they will be in good hands, and that they will be cherished, studied, and celebrated as important parts of the extraordinary Salisbury House history. Who knows what “eureka” moment they might bring?