Grant Wood Comes to Book Club

It began at book club.

The Salisbury House Young Professionals routinely hosts this event  every couple of months. Literature collected by Carl and Edith Weeks, still housed in the magnificent library today, provide inspiration for the books chosen for discussion.  Sinclair Lewis’ Main Street (1920) was the pick for January 2014.  The selection was particularly apt, as the Weekses purchased several Lewis works over the years, including the 1937 Limited Editions Club publication of Main Street illustrated by Grant Wood.

Following a rousing discussion of both Lewis’ and Wood’s work in Main Street, your correspondent wondered: how else did Wood’s life and work intersect with the story of the Weeks family?

What we found is pretty cool.

First, the Limited Editions Club (LEC) version of Main Street is itself a treasure.  Even if one picked up the book without noticing the Wood references on the cover and frontispiece, his familiar style is immediately apparent in the illustrations.  Wood’s signature appears in the book as well.

Wood Collage.3

This edition of Main Street, published in 1937, appeared at a time when Wood was increasingly well-known in the national art scene.  His first one-man exhibitions took place two years earlier, in Chicago during February and March of 1935, followed by his Feragil Gallery show in New York.

Prior to the opening of the Chicago exhibit, however, Wood attended a January 1935 lecture in Iowa City by fellow regional artist Thomas Hart Benton (R. Tripp Evans’ Grant Wood: A Life details both the visit and the interaction between the two artists).  The two men then traveled to Des Moines where they jointly addressed the Des Moines Women’s Club.

Wood spoke first, followed by Benton.   A Des Moines Register reporter covering the lecture remarked upon both men’s appearance.  “The soft speech of Wood clashes obviously with the vigorous and rough, though exact, words of Benton,” wrote Register journalist Gordon Gammack.  “The latter, as he did Saturday, is the kind of person who can turn abruptly to a lady who has interrupted him and say ‘damn it…’ without being impolite.”

It must have been an entertaining evening.

The Register also included a photograph of Benton, Wood, and the man whose hospitality they had both enjoyed earlier that afternoon: Carl Weeks.  A photograph (grainy and unfocused, sadly) of the three men accompanied the article.  Benton was seated, with Wood and Weeks flanking his right and left.

Wood THB Carl article_cropped

It’s not clear whether or not Woods and Weeks had met before January 1935. Thomas Hart Benton and Carl Weeks, though, knew each other.  One of Carl’s grandsons, Cooper Weeks – who himself lived in the same neighborhood as the Bentons in Kansas City and knew them well – remembered hearing his grandfather talk about Benton, and vice versa.  Cooper recalled that  Benton credited Carl with one of the first big sales of his career, a $500 purchase of an early Benton work that remains in Cooper’s family today.

As for Grant Wood and Carl Weeks, we do know that they kept in touch for a time.  Not long after this Des Moines rendezvous, Wood traveled to Chicago for the opening of his first significant one-man exhibition at Lakeside Press Galleries.  Our records indicate that Carl visited him in the Windy City.   Indeed, their meeting occurred in the midst of a critical moment in Wood’s life: his courtship of and marriage to Sara Sherman Maxon.

An onionskin copy of correspondence from Weeks to Woods, pictured below, was dated March 11, 1935.  Nine days earlier, as Evans’ biography recounts, “Wood’s neighbors read with astonishment that he was to be married that night in a small ceremony in Minneapolis.  The fact that Cedar Rapids’ “bachelor artist” had a secret fiancee was nearly as dumbfounding as the circumstances of the wedding itself – a ceremony conducted with little warning, far from home, and with no friends or family in attendance.”

Weeks’ letter also reflects the surprise commonly elicited by news of the marriage (though he includes none of the misgivings typical among many of Woods’ close friends upon hearing of the nuptials).

Marriage letter

To have been a fly on the wall when Carl Weeks “butt[ed] in on something” between Grant Wood and Sara Sherman Maxon!

Wood and Weeks remained friendly in the months following his marriage to Sara.  Another letter from Carl to Grant in May of 1935 suggests that the two planned, at some point, to meet again.

Carl to Grant

“Taliesin” almost certainly referred to Frank Lloyd Wright’s famous property in Wisconsin. Did Weeks and Wood ever visit Wright’s estate together?  Unfortunately, the answer to that question continues to elude us.  Still, the confluence in the lives of Carl Weeks and Grant Wood, occurring as it did in the spring and summer of 1935, provides a  window into a deeply consequential time in Wood’s life.

The union between Grant Wood and Sara Sherman Maxon was not destined for “great happiness,” as Carl wished for them.  Their fraught marriage ended in 1939.  Indeed, Wood famously enlisted his housekeeper as proxy to deliver his desire for a divorce to Sara.

Salisbury House’s Grant Wood-related objects have stories to tell, like so many of our museum’s treasures.  Our collections provide avenues for explorations of  Picasso, The Book of Mormon, Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, and many, many more.

Our next book club, which will be held in March, focuses on D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.  Is there a connection, one may well wonder, between Salisbury House’s holdings and this master of twentieth-century letters?

Yes. D.H. Lawrence is coming to book club.

Best Wishes for Xmas, (signed) James Joyce

The early weeks of December often bring a welcome variety to one’s mailbox: Christmas cards.  These envelopes, a nice respite from the usual junk mail and bills, reflect a long-held tradition of exchanging postal pleasantries at Christmastime.  The Weeks family, who built Salisbury House in the 1920s, kept this custom as well.  Our collections here at the museum contain a few samples of the Weekses’ own Christmas cards, and other cards and holiday greetings penned by well-known artists and writers of the twentieth century.

The exchange of Christmas cards was a practice first established in the mid-1800s.  A British businessman, Sir Henry Cole, is typically credited with producing the first commercial holiday card in 1843.  One of the Cole originals sold at auction in 2001 for over £22,000.

800px-FirstchristmascardSir Henry Cole’s Christmas Card, c. 1843

By the turn of the twentieth century, this December ritual had taken hold in Europe and the United States.  Indeed, a young Carl Weeks had his own Christmas cards printed around this time.  The card pictured below is undated, but the fact that the text includes only Carl’s name – and not Edith, whom he married in 1907 – suggests the piece was printed sometime around 1900 (though, as we will see, Carl did not uniformly include Edith’s name on the family Christmas card even after their marriage).

Just Carl undated

After the completion of Salisbury House in 1928, the family home often illustrated the Weekses’ Christmas cards.

Color CEW undated

CEW BW Xmas late 1930s_1940s

The Weeks boys also appeared in the annual Christmas card from time to time.  A handwritten date on the back of the card pictured below indicates that it was sent “around 1938.”  This is curious, given the inscription: “Holiday Greetings from the Three Bachelors of Salisbury House.”

First of all, the only unmarried Weeks man around 1938 was Lafe (the youngest son, standing in the image below).  William was married in 1935.  Carl, of course, was married to Edith.  Perhaps “Three Bachelors” was meant as a joke…but one wonders if Edith or Margaret (William’s wife) found it particularly funny!

Bachelors Reverse says ca 1938

In addition to sending out holiday cards, the Weekses also received them from a variety of friends and acquaintances.  Joseph Stella, a prolific Italian-American artist of the twentieth century, maintained a long relationship with Carl and Edith.  Correspondence over the years between the Weekses and the Stellas often included a Christmas greeting.

 More broadly, though, Carl and Edith were important patrons of Stella’s work.  Stella inscribed a 1926 photograph of himself in the process of painting The Apotheosis of the Roseone of his major works, with thanks to the Weeks family for supporting his artistic endeavors.  The Rose now hangs in Salisbury House.

Stella combined

The Weekses and Stella remained in touch.  From Paris in 1931, Stella penned the following letter:

Stella 1931 note

Paris – Dec. 14 – 1931

Dear Mr. Weeks,

For Christmas I send to you and to Mrs. Weeks my best wishes.

Cordially,

Joseph Stella

Another holiday greeting, addressed to Carl at his office, came from the writer Maurine Whipple in 1942.   Extant correspondence between Whipple and Weeks was quite extensive, and suggested a unique relationship that was reflected in her 1942 Christmas card.

Whipple 1942

Salt Lake City

Dec. 17, ‘42

Dear Bro in the Gospel:

Just a word of cheer and Season’s Greeting before I go back to my corner of the Lord’s vineyard.  Indeed I am blessed to have a corner to go back to! Since the invasion of the gentiles into our City of Saints the weather has turned so foul that truly I think the Lord is pouring out His wrath.  At any rate, I have had four wisdom teeth out and am completely recovered from last fall’s accident and am now ready to work fifteen hours a day for the Arizona Strip, of which you are slated to receive the first autographed copy! (If I hear from you someday, that is.  I am worried – Satan is abroad!)

Faithfully,

Sister Whipple

The year prior to this Christmas missive, Whipple’s The Giant Joshua, a novel about the Mormon religion, was published to widespread popular and critical acclaim.  This holiday letter from Whipple to Weeks took place at a time in which she was increasingly well-known on the national stage.

Additionally, the historical backdrop of the early 1940s is apparent within this exchange.  December 17, 1942:  the United States had been engaged in World War II for almost exactly one year.  The envelope that landed on Weeks’ desk advertised for war bonds and stamps:

Whipple 3 env

Yet another singular Christmas card arrived at Salisbury House in December 1948.  Mailed to the Weekses from Philip Duschnes, a prominent New York bookseller, the envelope included an astonishing supplement.  A leaf from a fifteenth-century manuscript, intricately illuminated on vellum, was enclosed in a paper mat.

Duschenes 1948

An inscription inside the card provided additional identifying information:

Dechenes xmas 2

Philip Duschnes became well-known during his career as a bookseller for offering high-quality pieces and also for the practice of selling single leaves from significant works.   Weeks, a devoted bibliophile, was clearly a good customer.

Duschnes often collaborated with Otto Ege, a dean at the Cleveland School of Art and lecturer at (Case) Western Reserve University in Cleveland.  One of their joint efforts, titled Original Leaves from Famous Books: Nine Centures, 1122 A.D. – 1923 A.D. remains in the Salisbury House collection today.  The collection, one of fifty made available for purchase, went on the market in 1949.  Leaves from the “famous books” were placed in a paper mat and included a brief description penned by Ege.

Leaves.1

This leaf came from a fourteenth-century manuscript of Aristotle’s Ethics, detailed below by Ege.

Original leaves 4 infor

As Ege notes, a secular writer likely penned this 1365 manuscript.  Compared to the leaf from the Book of Hours included in Duschnes’ Christmas card above, marked differences appear in the production of the manuscripts that suggest the secular versus the religious origins of each.

As amazing as the Duschnes, Whipple, and Stella pieces are, however, there is yet another object in the Salisbury House collections that takes the cool quotient up a notch.  The piece initially appears to be a fun, vintage-y Christmas postcard:

Joyce 1

 The back of the postcard reveals just how awesome this piece is:

Joyce 2

Your eyes do not deceive you.  Yes, this is a Christmas card signed by James Joyce and Nora [Barnacle] Joyce.

The massive geek-out does not stop there.  Attempts to date the postcard yielded a trove of information that takes this piece to epic levels of amazing.

We started with the stamp.  Although the postmark date remained illegible, we were able to track down some reliable-looking information about the stamp’s origins.  Issued in 1927 and dedicated to the French chemist Marcelin Berthelot, the commemorative stamp suggests that the postcard probably dates to the late 1920s.

There’s more.  The Christmas postcard is addressed to Mr. and Mrs. James Stephens.

James Stephens, like Joyce, was an Irish-born writer.  According to an article by Richard R. Finneran published in the James Joyce Quarterly, the two men did not immediately become friends.  Indeed, their relationship remained somewhat antagonistic until the 1920s.   Despite this early frostiness, Joyce and Stephens agreed around 1927-1929 that, should Joyce face insurmountable difficulties in completing Finnegan’s Wake, Stephens would finish the work for him.

This postcard, held here at Salisbury House, surely dates to this very time, during which Joyce and Stephens cemented their friendship and struck their agreement regarding Finnegan’s Wake.  

This postcard, held here in the Salisbury House collections, illuminates the story of one of the greatest literary creations of the twentieth century.

Merry Christmas.

The Cadillac of Water-Closets: Sanitation at Salisbury House

“If Salisbury House does not feel one hundred years old on the day that we finish,” Carl Weeks once intoned, “then we have failed.”   Happily, Weeks’ goal  was beautifully realized upon the completion of his new home in the 1920s.  Certain portions of the house, however, were decidedly modern.  The bathrooms of Salisbury House – all sixteen of them – reflected the detailed attention to high-end furnishings that made the Weekses’ home, in Carl’s words, “a harmonious association of the centuries.”

The Weeks family were among the “one-percenters” of the 1920s.  Indoor toilets remained limited for most folks until after World War II.  The outhouse, not a flush toilet, represented the most common form of sanitation for much of the population, particularly in rural areas.

2000.40.575Rural Iowa outhouse, c. 1930s. Special Collections,
State Historical Society of Iowa, Des Moines
 

Indeed, sanitation for most people in the early twentieth century did not look dissimilar to the situation as it stood for much of recorded history.  A hole in the ground sufficed for centuries. Public latrines, for example, were not uncommon in classical Rome.

RomanLatrines at Dougga  (http://www.flickr.com/photos/prof_richard/7759983358/)

Despite the occasional existence of surprisingly complex sewer systems in the classical and premodern eras, the preferred method of excrement disposal for the masses remained al fresco.  Most people unceremoniously dumped waste out windows or doors into the open sewers of city streets.  Passers-by were well-advised to remain alert.

The late sixteenth century saw a significant advancement in the field.  Sir John Harrington, plumber to the stars, created a water closet prototype for the benefit of Queen Elizabeth I in 1596.   Nearly two hundred years later, Scotsman Alexander Cummings secured the first patent for a flush toilet.

toilet

Rendering of Cummings’ design http://www.robinsonlibrary.com/technology/engineering/biography/graphics/bramah4.gif

By the nineteenth century, various historical processes spurred the development of the modern waste disposal system.  Industrialization, urbanization, advancements in the fields of medicine and epidemiology, and the rise of social movements aimed at urban reform, among others, laid the groundwork for contemporary sanitation methods.

A new industry sprang up to meet the public’s needs.  Around the turn of the twentieth century, a variety of companies vied to become the public’s preferred purveyor of all things plumbing.  Here in the United States, the Meyer-Sniffen Company of New York emerged as a rising star. Their 1884 Catalog “D” contained a dazzling array of faucets, sinks, toilets, bathtubs, and other accouterments.

Cover and title
 
 

Tubs.Shower

What set Meyer-Sniffen’s wares apart from the average products installed by Joe the Plummer c. 1920?  John Christou of George Taylor Specialties, a vintage faucet and valves company in New York, explained the appeal of Meyer-Sniffen in a 2002 interview for Old House Journal.

“Without regard to cost or consumer, Meyer-Sniffen equipment appears to be purposely heavy—not so much as to be better mechanically than their competitors,” he remarked, “but to be different.”  According to Old House, the company’s plumbing products were “unmistakable: massive but rich with voluptuous curves and thickness.”   Further, Christou continued, “parts that other manufacturers would nickel plate, Meyer-Sniffen would make out of pure nickel.”  Much of Meyer-Sniffen’s product line centered on providing high-end clients with high-end finishes.  “No matter how many years a mansion, club, or hotel staffer polished this faucet,” concluded Christou, “they could never wear off the shine.”

The company’s products appealed to Carl Weeks.  Leaving aside his affection for “voluptuous curves” in a context entirely apart from plumbing, Weeks likely responded to the quality and durability of Meyer-Sniffen.  Although many of the original fixtures of Salisbury House have been removed during the years since the Weeks family lived here, the remaining pieces are fine examples of the company’s workmanship.

On the second floor of Salisbury House, each of the seven bedrooms bedroom includes an en-suite bathroom.  We first noticed the Meyer-Sniffen trademark on the toilet in the porch room bath, just off the balcony in the Great Hall:

MS Toilet

An earlier version of this “Vortex Special” toilet was, in fact, pictured in their 1884 catalog.  Among several options pictured, the offerings shown here include both a standard and ornate finish.

Toilet MS

The tanks were not wall-mounted as shown at Salisbury House in the 1920s, but otherwise the style remained similar.

The Weekses also employed a bit of classy camouflage for the bare toilets.  It’s possible that all the bathrooms in the house originally contained the wicker and wood toilet covers pictured below.  The remaining examples now appear in the baths in the Queen Anne guest bedroom (left) and Edith’s suite (right).

SH toilets

The bath fixtures that have survived the years also attest to the durability of Meyer-Sniffen. The sink ensemble in Edith’s suite (top) and the fixtures in the Queen Anne bath (bottom) are still in remarkably good shape.

Fixtures

The installation of first-rate tubs, toilets, and hardware would have themselves alone assured the superiority of Salisbury House bathrooms.  However, the Weekses were not done.  Deftware, the finely-crafted tiles made in the Netherlands, were incorporated into the tile walls of several baths.  The Delft tiles embedded into the walls of the baths in William’s room (top), the Queen Anne room (middle), and Edith’s suite (bottom), are pictured here.

Delft

So much about the Weeks’ home remains extraordinary.  Its architecture, artwork, rare books, artifacts, and the plumbing – yes, the plumbing – testify to the breadth and depth of the Weekses’ vision.   On your next visit to Salisbury House, take a closer look at these Cadillacs of water-closets.  

 
 
 
 

The Sons of Salisbury House

Today, Salisbury House operates as a museum.  Our world-class collections include an incredibly array of art, rare and limited edition books, historic documents, artifacts, furnishings – the list could go on and on.

What can get lost, sometimes, in this catalog of treasures, is the family who first called the House home.   Our newly-installed exhibit aims to illuminate their story.

Panel1.Final

The Weeks family moved into Salisbury House in 1926.  Charles, the eldest, was eighteen.  Lafe, the youngest, was eight.   This new exhibit focuses on the Weeks sons’ early lives and continues through their adult years.

A wealth of photographs, many of which have never been available for public viewing, figure prominently in the exhibit.

The image below is part of a larger collection on display of Weeks family stereographs taken around 1919-1920.

Frosty

Despite its damage, the stereograph below offers a rare, intimate portrait of Carl and Edith, the boys’ parents.

Edith carl

William’s room, which previously functioned as meeting space, has been refurnished.  Additional exhibit panels continue the story of the sons of Salisbury House here as well.

Wrap up panel

Ultimately, the story of the Weeks boys resonates with families everywhere.  Aspects of their lives, especially the splendor of their home after 1926 were unique, but the rhythms of life common to most families emerge as well.  Incorporating the Weekses’ narrative into the broader fabric of the museum enhances the richness of Salisbury House.  Come by for a visit to view all of our treasures!

Heads

Hemingway & Weeks

Carl Weeks was a man of action.  “If you dream it,” he once declared, “you can build it.”  Weeks achieved a considerable amount of success in his life: a magnate of the cosmetics industry, his business made him a millionaire by his mid-forties.   Salisbury House itself stands as a testament to the man’s financial success and purposeful vision.

A man similarly defined by action and vigor entered Carl Weeks’ life in the 1920s.  First through the written word and then a personal relationship, the lives of Carl Weeks and Ernest Hemingway intersected.  Although the men were born a generation apart – Weeks in 1876 and Hemingway in 1899 – shared tastes in both literature and recreation eventually created a link between the two men.  Fragments of this fascinating story remain today in the collections of Salisbury House.

Carl and Ernest.3

Weeks had made his millions by the 1920s, but Hemingway was just beginning to exert what would become his considerable literary might.   Post-World War I Paris proved a salutary writing environment for Hemingway, and in 1926 he added two books to his growing oeuvre with the publication of The Sun Also Rises and The Torrents of Spring.

Something about young Hemingway’s prose appealed to Carl Weeks.  A first edition of The Torrents of Spring was added to Weeks’ already-extensive book collection.

Torrents_JPG

 When Carl Weeks purchased Torrents in 1926, he was at his financial and professional peak.  Hemingway’s star, on the other hand, was still on the rise.  Three years later, A Farewell to Arms (1929) catapulted him even further into the whirlwind of literary celebrity.  By now, Weeks’ grand home in Des Moines included a richly-appointed library which stored a trove of rare, limited and first-edition books by renowned authors, including, of course, Ernest Hemingway.

Library Original

Farewell_JPG

Weeks also purchased a first edition of Hemingway’s Death in the Afternoon for his collection in 1932.

Death_JPG

During the first half of the 1930s, the interaction between Carl Weeks and Ernest Hemingway extended beyond that of enthusiastic bibliophile and prolific author.  The two men met.

The location and manner of the meeting between Weeks and Hemingway remains difficult to ascertain.  Still, a shared interest in two legendary Hemingway pastimes – drinking and fishing – emerged in correspondence between the two men.

An inscription from Hemingway to Weeks, penned inside the front cover of a first edition of The Green Hills of Africa (1935), suggests the pair had shared drinks and perhaps planned to do so again.

Green Hills_JPG

To Carl Weeks

Instead of a drink at Penas’

With very best wishes

Sincerely,

Ernest Hemingway

Where did Hemingway and Weeks meet each other and, apparently, drink together?  One possibility seems to be Havana, Cuba.  Sloppy Joe’s Bar in Havana was a well-known watering hole for American tourists and celebrities, including the Weeks and Hemingway, in the 1930s and 1940s.

A photograph of Edith Weeks (on right, with an unidentified woman) at Sloppy Joe’s in Havana could suggest the location where the paths of Carl and Ernest may have crossed.

Edith Havana

In 1936, Carl Weeks and Ernest Hemingway exchanged correspondence regarding Week’s planned fishing trip to Florida.  Hemingway’s response to Weeks, sent by postcard from Key West in May 1936 to Weeks’ business address, illustrates the mutual interests of the two men.

Postcard_JPG

Key West

May 31 

 Dear Mr. Weeks,

Should be good chance for marlin and big sails off ten fathom bar, then I’ll be at Miami after tuna so will probably miss you.  But two years ago we had excellent big sailfishing here in June.

Thanks  for the Punch parody.

Ernest Hemingway

Whether or not the two stayed in contact remains uncertain.  Weeks, at least, continued his interest in Hemingway’s work, and purchased a first edition of For Whom the Bell Tolls in 1940.

For Whom_JPG

For Whom the Bell Tolls represented the last of the Hemingway first editions in Weeks’ collection.

Hemingway went on to win the 1954 Nobel Prize in Literature, and by the late 1950s both men neared the end of their lives.   Hemingway’s suicide in 1961 preceded Weeks’ death of natural causes in 1962.

Ultimately, the full extent of the relationship between Carl Weeks and Ernest Hemingway remains a matter for further research.  The fragmentary story that remains, though, suggests a fascinating confluence in the lives of both men.

Company Women

Salisbury House graces the crest of a hill just off 42nd Street on Tonawanda Drive in Des Moines.  Surrounded by old oaks and formal gardens, the imposing brick and limestone structure evokes a time and place far removed from twenty-first century life.

For some visitors, a walk up the driveway towards Salisbury House generates a range of responses: gasps, jaws-dropping, and a general sense of awe are often elicited by the majesty of the property.

Exterior

This is where I get to come to work every day.

My name is Megan Stout Sibbel and I have the great pleasure of taking over the position of Curator and Chief Historian here at Salisbury House.

I first visited Salisbury House on a long-ago field trip during (I think) elementary school.  As with most kids who grow up in Iowa, I am fairly sure we hit the state’s classic field-trip trifecta: Living History Farms, the Science Center, and Salisbury House.

Following that first school-age encounter with Salisbury House, I drifted in and out of Iowa.  A double-major in English and History rounded out a B.A. from Simpson College.  Next up: the Peace Corps.  For a little over two years, I taught English in a small town named Kochkor up in the mountains of Kyrgyzstan.  Upon my return from the Peace Corps, I eventually landed in a PhD-track graduate program in history at Loyola University Chicago.  The focus of my graduate work and dissertation – public history and women’s and gender history – culminated in the completion of my doctoral degree in the spring of 2013.

Now, back in Iowa, I am thrilled to come on board at Salisbury House.  As an historian, I am continually amazed at the wealth of the collections and the great potential for this museum to garner rightful recognition as a national treasure.

From my perspective, one of the intangible treasures of Salisbury House appears in the how the house and its collections reflect our nation’s broader history.  For instance, women’s entry into the public workforce at the turn of the twentieth century represents an especially rich example of the intersection of Salisbury House with the American past.

The images included below come from a 1916 scrapbook compiled by Carl Weeks, the man who built Salisbury House.  He documented the packaging and shipping of primarily mail-order pharmaceutical products from D.C. Leo & Company, a business that Weeks and his partners originated in 1901.

An essential part of Weeks’ workforce – and the individuals he chose to document in this scrapbook – were women.

By the early twentieth century, the “new woman” in America was on the rise.  Whereas the culturally idealized nineteenth-century woman remained cloistered in the “domestic sphere,” raising children and taking care of husband and home, this situation changed significantly by the end of the century. Increasingly, women found work in the burgeoning manufacturing and mercantile economy across the country.   The women of Carl Weeks’ D.C. Leo &  Company in Des Moines, Iowa, reflected this nation-wide trend.

The scrapbook compiled by Weeks showed the steps involved in the receipt and filling of pharmaceutical orders to D.C. Leo & Company.  Female workers, representatives of this broader cultural shift in women’s labor, appear in nearly every step of the process.

WEEKS’ CAPTION: THE PHOTOGRAPH SHOWS JUST AN AVERAGE MORNING’S MAIL, REMITTANCES AND ORDERS.  The young lady is opening, sorting, stamping each piece of mail matter with “Date Received.”

Opening mail

The woman pictured in the foreground is engaged in typical clerical work.  Only a generation or two before, however, this type of office job would have probably been held by a male worker.

WEEKS’ CAPTION: HERE ARE THE YOUNG LADIES WHO MAKE OUT YOUR ORDERS. 

Two at desk

Here again, female workers fill clerical positions for D.C. Leo & Company.

WEEKS’ CAPTION: FIRST PRINT SHOP.  FOUR OF THE LABEL PRESSES ARE SHOWN IN THE PHOTOGRAPH.

Print room

Here, the women of the company. prepare the labels that were affixed to the pharmaceuticals and cosmetics sold by the company.   More than basic clerical staff, women were involved in the production of supplies for the company as well.

After the labels were produced, other women applied the labels to the boxes and packets sent out from the factory.

WEEKS’ CAPTION: After the labels are printed, and dry, they go to the labelling [sic] table.  At each table, the young lady has an assortment of all preparations, in boxes, on shelves before her.  If the order calls for Cold Tables, she takes down the Cold Tablet container, gets out the required number, and LABELS THEM AS SHOWN IN THE PHOTOGRAPH.

Labelling

For women entering the workforce in this era, a set of assumptions often underpinned their efforts.  First of all, these positions were generally considered jobs – not careers.  Young, often single, working women, so the theory went, should remain in the workforce only until they found a husband.  Then, it was often back into the home to care for the family.  The women of D.C Leo & Company may have felt the potential pressure of this dynamic.

WEEKS’ CAPTIONFIRST FILLING DEPARTMENT.  This machine counts, fills and boxes a gross of Cold Tablets every four minutes, fifteen gross an hour, one hundred and twenty gross a day.  They are seldom idle…the circular machine in the foreground does the same thing for Kidney Pills.

Group filling

Each step of the process, as documented by Weeks himself, relied primarily upon the labor of women.

The image below is unlabeled, but it appears to show another view of the filling department.  The young woman pictured is filling a number of small boxes with a product from the container above.

Lone girl filling

By 1916, the year from which these photographs date, D.C. Leo & Company had been in business for fifteen years.  Carl Weeks was on the verge of the greatest business success of his life.  The Armand Co., a sister company to D.C Leo & Company, was newly incorporated.  The cosmetics line produced and sold by Armand would make Weeks a millionaire in just a few years’ time; construction on Salisbury House would begin soon after.

This collection of photographs offers a glimpse into the very particular story of the man who built Salisbury House.   Behind the man, however, was a workforce composed of increasing numbers of American women.

The Bibles of Salisbury House

There are a lot of myths and apocryphal tales about Salisbury House that have taken root in the popular perception of Carl and Edith Weeks’ amazing home. Some of the ones that we hear most often include:

  • “The house was moved intact, brick by brick, piece by piece, from England.” The real story: The house is modeled after King’s House in Salisbury, England, and some architectural elements were acquired in England, while others came from more mundane locations, including cobblestones ripped up from High Street in Des Moines.
  • “Carl Weeks’ father died when he was a young boy.” The real story: Carl’s father and mother separated, and Carl’s father lived for many years afterward, into Carl’s own adulthood, in northwestern Iowa; this myth was repeated often enough that the story of Carl’s father’s premature passing actually made it onto our visitor center signs before recent research proved it wrong!
  • “Carl Weeks collected or tried to collect every Bible ever printed.” The real story: Carl only collected a tiny fraction of the probably immeasurable number of Bibles that have been printed since the first Gutenberg edition in 1454, but among the ones that he did collect are some of the most important and beautiful Bibles ever produced.

Spine from our oldest complete Bible, published in Venice.

One of our conceptual planning ideas for 2013 or 2014 is to curate an exhibition of some of the more incredible pieces from the Salisbury House Bible Collection, most of which spend most of their time locked away in climate controlled, high security rooms. We’re going to be doing some fundraising for this project and perhaps reach out to some area churches as presenting or collaborating sponsors over the next year, since we’ll have some significant costs associated with safely sharing these works with the public, while also conducting the in-depth research required to interpret and present them in the ways that they deserve to be seen.

But until we get there, we’ve been doing a little bit of preliminary research just to get our hands around the holdings, and there are some exciting things that we can share with you now, just to give you a sense of what we’re finding.

In addition to our many Bibles printed with movable type, we also have some earlier hand-lettered and illuminated incunabula from the 13th to 15th Centuries. Our oldest Biblical documents were produced in 1200 and 1225 in England; they are single, hand-illuminated leaves, one from a Psalter, one from a Bible. We also have three illuminated Books of Hours dating from the 14th and 15th Centuries.

Dutch Bible, 1553.

The 42-line Gutenberg Bible, printed in the 1450s, is obviously a landmark work of art and culture, a true game-changer for the ages. There are only 48 substantially complete copies left in the world today, and none have changed hands since the 1970s. In 1921, though, a New York book dealer dismantled a damaged copy and sold individual leafs to collectors; these are now known as “Noble Fragments,” and we have one of them here at Salisbury House. We also have two leaves from the 1460 Gutenberg Catholicon (another seminal early printed work, this one a Latin encyclopedia cum dictionary) and a leaf from the original 1611 King James Bible, among many other fragmentary pieces.

Our oldest complete Bible was printed in Venice in 1483 by Franciscus Renner of Heilbrun. It was clearly a working or study Bible, and many of its pages contain hand-written marginalia exhibiting the distinctive sepia tone of aged iron gall ink. We also have the New Testament from a Douay-Rheims Bible (1582, the first translation of the Bible from Latin Vulgate to English), a complete Dutch Bible from 1553, a 1607 English Bible bound with The Book of Common Prayer and Sternhold and Hopkin’s Psalms of David, a Greek Apocrypha from 1612, and many dozen other Bibles printed around the world up through the middle of the 20th Century.

Bruce Rogers’ massive Oxford Lectern Bible (1935), next to a reproduction of a Gutenberg set, for scale.

In addition to his interests in the Bible itself, Carl Weeks was also fascinated by and hugely supportive of the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th Century, wherein the art of book-making was celebrated in ways that matched the magnificence of a text’s words with illustrations, paper and binding of equal brilliance. The Salisbury House Library features two epic books inspired by this cultural movement: Bruce Rogers’ 1935 Oxford Lectern Bible (we have one of the 200 large format editions)  and the 1903-1905 Doves Bible. Every facet of these books is beautiful, and they are truly great works of art in their own rights.

Five volume Doves Bible, 1903-1905.

Some of our Bibles aren’t important because of the quality of their construction or when or where they were printed, but rather because of who owned them. We have Lewis Carroll’s Greek New Testament, for example, along with Bibles either inscribed or owned by John Trumbull, James Boswell, William Henry Harrison, and others. Carl’s favored book-dealer was a gentleman named Harry Marks, from New York City, and we often find notes from Harry in our books themselves or letters in our archives providing background or provenance for Carl’s benefit.

C.L. Dodgson signed his Greek New Testament; most know him as Lewis Carroll of “Alice in Wonderland” fame.

While we work to develop a full exhibition of our Bibles over the next couple of years, we are going to be taking one step in the short-term to allow some of these fragile or priceless pieces to be seen, without subjecting them to the rigors of daily exhibitions and tours. In January, we will be launching what we’re nominally calling “The Treasures Tour.” It will be an evening tour, held once per month, to a limited number of people (probably 20), with preregistration required. We are developing a list of items that will be shown each month of this tour (likely including the Gutenberg leaf, along with some of the other Bibles mentioned above), and will also feature a few wild card items each month, perhaps inspired by the season, or happenings in the world around us, or simply by finding something remarkable in our research.

Harry Marks’ notes, Lewis Carroll’s Greek New Testament.

In the early 1990s, when the founders of the Salisbury House Foundation were assessing the true merit in preserving Salisbury House as a historic house museum, they engaged the National Trust for Historic Preservation to conduct an assessment of the house and its holdings. Their conclusion: “Salisbury House is a nationally significant architectural resource; its decorative arts and book collections are unique to the Midwest.”

I know I speak for everyone on the staff here, as well as our volunteers and board members, when I say that we are all actively committed to working in the years ahead to continually return to and be invigorated by the fundamental principle upon which our organization is built: that Salisbury House is truly, truly special, and its collections are worthy of international recognition.

Carl and Edith Weeks: Book Smugglers?

The Library at Salisbury House contains an undeniably important collection of early 20th Century, English-language literature and manuscripts, providing yet another enduring testament to the high levels of critical foresight and refinement that Carl and Edith Weeks applied when making their various cultural acquisitions. Interestingly enough, the act of purchasing some of the most important books in the Library also likely involved Carl and Edith skirting the laws of the day, as the works of James Joyce, D.H. Lawrence, Sinclair Lewis, William Faulkner and many others were banned regionally, nationally or even internationally at the time of their publication.

Consider James Joyce’s Ulysses. There are three copies in the Salisbury House Library: one from the 1,000-copy first edition from 1922, one signed and illustrated by Henri Matisse for the Limited Editions Club in 1935, and one “ordinary edition, 2 vols., in worn box” (per our inventory notes) published in Hamburg in 1932. Now consider the legal and literary environment within which Carl and Edith acquired these books (with thanks to Anne Lyon Haight’s Banned Books: 387 B.C. to 1978 A.D. for reference):

1918: Early installments of Ulysses published in The Little Review were burned by the U.S. Post Office.

1922: Imported copies of Ulysses were burned by the U.S Post Office.

1923: 499 Copies of Ulysses were burned by English customs authorities, 500 copies were burned by the U.S. Post Office, and U.S. federal courts ruled against its legal publication; as a result of this latter action, no copyright existed in the United States and Joyce received no royalties from thousands of pirated editions in the years ahead.

1929: Ulysses is banned in England.

1930: A copy of Ulysses sent to Random House is seized by the Collector of Customs as obscene.

Contraband from Carl and Edith’s Library.

It was not until 1933, in fact, that courts in the United States finally ruled that Ulysses was legal for importation, publication and distribution to the Nation’s citizens, following a series of cases and appeals spawned by another copy of the book being captured by Customs upon import. Did Carl and Edith own one of their first two copies before then? I don’t know for sure, but I suspect that they did, since there’s clear evidence of their wanting (and getting) things hot of the presses during their peak collecting years. Did they break the letter or spirit of the law, or violate the social mores of their era, to get it? You be the judge.

The Salisbury House Library also contains a massive collection of signed, first-edition works by D.H. Lawrence, along with many pieces of correspondence with and about him. His works were perhaps even more controversial (and illegal) in the United States, with Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Women in Love and Paintings being banned for import by Customs in 1929. Amazingly enough, it was not until 1959 that an unexpurgated version of Lady Chatterley’s Lover was published in the United States — and it was immediately seized by the Post Office and impounded, resulting in a year-long legal battle that finally removed the book’s stigma as a piece of literary contraband.

By the time a reader could legally purchase a complete, domestic edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover, its author had been dead for 30 years, Edith Weeks had been dead for five years, and Carl Weeks had but one year left in his long life. I think it’s a testament to Carl’s tenacity in pursuit of great literature that he apparently purchased a copy of that 1959 edition, making it one of the dozen or so final additions to the Library in his lifetime. That (legal) 1959 edition of Lady Chatterley’s Lover still shares shelf-space with a signed original (illegal) 1928 edition, as well as two (illegal) pirated American editions published in the late 1920s.

So bravo for our wise book smugglers at Salisbury House, who knew and recognized great art when they saw it. We’re all the better for their efforts.

Note: September 30 to October 6 is the 30th Annual Observance of Banned Book Week. We will be featuring famously banned books from the Salisbury House Library throughout the week on our Facebook page, so be sure to follow us there. We will also be placing a selection of banned works in Lafe’s Bedroom for public viewing, so come and see us . . . the leaves are turning, it’s a joy to see.