Creative Recycling and A Tillyloss Scandal

Posted on May 13, 2012


Elk Rapids is in the middle of Green Elk Rapids Days, the annual celebration of recycling, repurposing, and reinventing how we live.  Reminders are posted all over town.  Here’s one at the Library.

The display includes an example of turning discarded materials into clever craftwork.  I am in favor of clever repurposing and saving money.  Wait, wait . . . discarded books???  I went mousing around and discovered that I am several years behind the curve.  I found a good article in the online edition of the Atlantic (From Trash to Treasure: Turning Discarded Books Into Art). I discovered the Institute for the Future of the Book. (Apparently there isn’t one. A future, I mean. There is definitely an Institute, funded by the MacArthur Foundation. Its blog is guaranteed to make your thinker sore. In a good way.)

As I have begun to suspect, books are officially obsolete, terminally unhip. However, their carcasses can be turned into artistic sculptures, jewelry, shelving.

Hmm.  From my perspective books are art to begin with.  Not all books of course.  Some are tools.  (I suppose someone has written a book called How to turn your books into origami.)  Some are trash to begin with, and might be improved by a judicious remake into, say, decorative recycling bins.  Others are surely worth keeping and re-reading.  This one, for example.

A Tillyloss Scandal was a collection of stories by J.M. Barrie, the author of Peter Pan.  According to book scout Rick Russell, the first edition (New York: Lovell, Coryell & Co., March, 1893) was a completely unauthorized compilation of magazine stories that had originally appeared in the Edinburgh Evening Dispatch, the Scots Observer, Good Words, and the British Weekly.

Well this is embarrassing, particularly as Barrie was a generous soul who donated his copyright to Peter Pan to Great Ormond Street Hospital—a hospital for sick children for crying out loud.  It gets worse.  Other dastardly American publishers stole from the first American pirates and were pirated in their turn.  Finally, Russell says, “It ended up in the Little Leather Library in 1915 or 16.”

The book repurposed in Elk Rapids, Michigan in 2012 was a Little Leather Library Redcroft edition, circa 1920-1924. The books in the series were small, inexpensive, and targeted at everyday people—middlebrow books, not unlike the encyclopedias we bought, one volume at a time, at the grocery store, or the Little Golden Books that were a special treat.  According to online bookseller Unearthly Books, they were inserted in Whitman’s Sampler candy boxes and sold at Woolworth’s dimestores and used as premiums in boxes of cereal.  That reminded me of the Larkin Company (discussed at length in Betty Beeby’s drawers) and that, of course, takes us right back to my Civil War veterans.  Sooner or later, everything does.

The creative recyclers used another Little Leather Library edition, too: Ivan S. Turgenev’s Mumu and Kassyan of Fair Springs.

Here is an irony for you.  I had never read any Turgenev at all, but this made me curious.  As I followed rabbit trails I became absorbed in Turgenev’s life and work.  Mumu, a tragic tale of a deaf mute serf, was first published in The Torrents of Spring (1872). Kassyan was one of fourteen stories collected as A Sportsman’s Sketches in 1852.  The narrator is, like Turgenev himself, a privileged Russian landholder observing the lives of the slaves and tradesmen he encounters during his shooting expeditions.  And again we are back to themes that resonated for my Civil War veterans.

Since you can no longer read the stories in these physical books, I thought you might like to know where you can read them online for free.

Now I am distracted by those Little Leather Library editions.  Off into the underbrush again, where I learned way more about the Larkin Company and Elbert Hubbard and Roycroft Press and the Arts and Crafts Movement than you are likely to have patience for today, or all week for that matter.  If you are still reading this, you will enjoy these links.

  • The Little Leather Library collection at CalPoly says somewhat snarkily:  “The production of the Little Leather Library enabled the masses to read inexpensive classics. The cheap imitation leather Redcroft edition, published between 1920-1924, appears to have been a take-off on the well-crafted books published by Elbert Hubbard’s Roycroft Press . . . . There is a marked difference between the finely bound, hand-crafted Roycroft volumes of Emerson, Edgar Allan Poe, Robert Louis Stevenson and Coleridge and their Redcroft edition counterparts. Although the Arts and Crafts Movement was a reaction to the mechanization of the Industrial Revolution, there were those in the movement who felt that objects should be affordable.  Roycrofters supported those who did fine personal work in all endeavors, to include the design work in factories, but it is doubtful that the Roycroft seal would be applied to the volumes of the Little Leather Library.”  I beg to differ, but we can address that another day.
  • The Larkin Idea Premium catalog from Harvard University Library (I want that desk.)
  • An interesting take on Larkin’s history (Digger Odell Publications, The Larkin Soap Company, (c) 2008 at at “[John D. Larkin] entered into partnership with Elbert Hubbard. It was in fact Hubbard whose marketing genius catapulted the company into the halls [of] American business history. Together, they determined to attract the public by use of give away items. Over the years many different articles were given away. Beginning with small pictures in 1881 the company pursued a marketing strategy which [led] them into such diverse industries as furniture making and pottery.”
  • A compelling PBS profile of Elbert Hubbard in the tradition of Ken Burns

So there we have it.  Books must be dead.  I have referred you to digital images of their carcasses for your reading assignment, and to a video for a scandalous biography.  We can sum up with these images from inside the Elk Rapids Library.  These very nice kids were lined up at the free Wi-Fi stations to work on their projects.

Then we have this poster. It would appear that even old bats can learn new tricks, should we be so inclined.