• GoatMan: How I Took a Holiday from Being Human

    See more sample pages from this book at Wink.

    GoatMan: How I Took a Holiday from Being Human

    by Thomas Thwaites

    Princeton Architectural Press

    2016, 208 pages, 5.9 x 8.6 x 0.9 inches

    $16 Buy a copy on Amazon

    Thomas Thwaites has a curious idea of what it means to take a vacation, at least if the just released GoatMan: How I Took a Holiday from Being Human is any indication. What started off as a casual observation about how Queen Elizabeth's dog, Noggin, probably worries a good deal less than his royal master evolved into a quixotic book full of ruminations on ruminants. Animals, Thwaites imagined, live in the moment, free from worry, at one with the land. How wonderful to be so unburdened, he thought. So, after briefly considering becoming an elephant, he decided to try his hand at being a goat.

    Along the way, Thwaites learned a good deal about goats. Humans, Thwaites tells us, have been interacting with them since 9000 BCE – from the domestication of bezoar goats somewhere in the foothills of the Zagros Mountains to the mythical, sexual subjugation of goats by the goat-horned, Greek god Pan, as depicted in a rather graphic sculpture discovered under layers of ash deposited on the city of Herculaneum by Mount Vesuvius in the year 79. Much to our relief, Thwaites just wants to be a goat, not to "do" one.

    Which is not to say the book is not occasionally disgusting. The section describing the R&D behind his goat suit includes the dissection of a goat named Venus, who died of natural causes and whose skinned limbs, palm-sized brain, and oozing guts are explored in gory detail. I'll spare you. Suffice it to say that in the end, Thwaites gets his opportunity to clomp about on all fours on the steep hillsides of Switzerland, where he hangs out with a herd of Swiss goats and does what goats do – he grazes. For the record, the green-green grass, he reports, is sweeter than the blue-green stuff, which is bitter. Later, Thwaites makes a meal of the grass he'd been chewing and spitting into an artificial goat stomach, using decidedly non-goat cooking techniques to make it digestible for his human digestive system. The resulting "burnt grass stew," he confesses, was the "most unappetising meal of my life." Perhaps, though, if Thwaites had simply spent a few days hiking on two legs instead of four in this beautiful place, he would have had fewer goat concerns on his human mind.

  • Railway Paradise: How a Fine-Dining Empire Made the Southwest Palatable to Outsiders

    Who were the Harvey Girls, and what were the Harvey Houses in which they worked? It's actually more innocent than it sounds, as Hunter Oatman-Stanford explains in his latest piece at Collectors Weekly. The Harvey Houses were a series of eateries and hotels run by a British ex-pat named Fred Harvey alongside the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad tracks that ran from Chicago to Los Angeles. The Girls were women from the East Coast and Midwest, imported to replace the local, often uncouth male waiters in towns like Raton and Belen, New Mexico. Together, the Girls and the dining establishments they worked in lent an air of respectability to the still-wild American Southwest at the turn of the 19th and 20th centuries, as Hunter learned when he spoke to Richard Melzer, author of Fred Harvey Houses of the Southwest.

    Here's a snip from the article:

    In 1883, Harvey had decided to fire the rowdy male waiters at his restaurant in Raton, New Mexico, and hire respectable young women in their place. Customers responded so positively to the female staff that Harvey began replacing all of his company's male servers, advertising for women employees in newspapers throughout the Midwestern and Eastern states.

    Unlike much of the Eastern United States, in small Western outposts, it was acceptable for single young women to work and live away from their parents — though they were often stigmatized as being prostitutes or sexually promiscuous. "The Harvey Company called its servers 'Harvey Girls' — not waitresses — because the term waitress had a bad connotation: It was linked to the saloon girls," who were viewed as bawdy and indecent, Melzer says. "Fred Harvey didn't want customers thinking there were saloon girls at his restaurants, and he certainly couldn't recruit respectable women to work there if they thought they'd be working in a saloon-like atmosphere." To ensure there'd be no confusion, the Harvey Girls were always attired in a conservative black-and-white uniform, just one of many strict job requirements.

    Harvey had no trouble finding suitable young women, despite the perception that the Wild West would scare them off. In fact, many women jumped at the opportunity for economic independence, adventure, and travel in an era when their prospects were greatly limited. "A lot of them came for the chance to see a different part of the country," Melzer says. "After six months at a Harvey House, you could be transferred, so even if you started in a small place like Belen, New Mexico, you might eventually get to Santa Fe or to the Grand Canyon. Others came for the money, hoping to send it home to their families, save for their education, or maybe open a business themselves someday."

    However, many took jobs with the Fred Harvey Company for a more traditional reason: The high ratio of single men to single women meant they had great prospects for meeting potential husbands. Yet even with such a goal in mind, women who moved west were often required to step out of their traditional roles simply to survive.

  • Walt Whitman — patriotic poet, gay iconoclast, shrewd marketing ploy, or all three?

    About four months ago, cigar boxes, matchbooks, and coffee tins bearing the name and likeness of 19th-century poet Walt Whitman began appearing on the Show & Tell section of Collectors Weekly. Turns out, as Lisa Hix learned when she spoke to Ed Centeno, who posted the items from his personal collection, Whitman's name and bearded visage were once used to sell everything from tobacco products and booze to apple sauce. For the record, Whitman did not smoke, and as the son of an alcoholic father, he argued on behalf of Temperance causes. Presumably, Whitman ate apple sauce, but marketers never asked his permission to to sell stuff when he was alive (1819-1892), nor was Whitman ever compensated for the use of his good name.

    All this advertising attention to Whitman is curious since, in general, poets don't make good marketing tools. The Whitman name is particularly problematic. While some people are inspired by his steadfast support of the Union cause during the Civil War, imperiling his own health to work as a nurse in a Washington, D.C., Army hospital, others see him as a very early champion of gay identity, as well as a hell of an erotic writer. Being patriotic and gay are obviously not incompatible, but the latter often gives those who would make money off the former pause.

    Here's a snip:

    During the Gilded Age, new industrial technology, particularly in chromolithography and tin-stamping, caused an explosion in product branding and advertising with colorful product labels, tin boxes, and tin signs. This new era of marketing meant familiar literary characters and beloved authors could be used to drum up excitement for an unknown products.

    So when cigar maker Frank Hartmann bought the Spark Cigar Factory in Camden, New Jersey, in the late 1880s, the celebrated local bard was an obvious mascot. By 1890, his company introduced its Walt Whitman brand of cigars. But Hartmann wasn't the only entrepreneur to have this idea: At least a few companies in the cigar manufacturing center of Binghamton, New York, started offering their own Walt Whitman cigars around the same time. The branding arrived as Whitman was facing his mortality and doubting whether Americans were truly touched by his life's work. When Whitman disciple Horace Traubel presented the poet with an 1890 envelope advertising Walt Whitman cigars, he reported that Whitman exclaimed, "That is fame! … It is not so bad—not as bad as it might be: give the hat a little more height and it would not be such an offense."

  • If you're too young to remember the magic of Tower Records, here's what you missed

    In honor of Record Store Day, I got on the phone with Russ Solomon, who founded Tower Records in the early 1960s — the late-great chain was also the subject last fall of a terrific documentary by Colin Hanks called "All Things Must Pass." In speaking with Russ, and then my son Tom, age 25, about their recollections of Tower, it became clear that how one feels about the place, which meant a great deal to me, is purely generational. To that end, I interviewed both Tom and Russ, as well as Tower's former COO, Stan Goman.

    From my story in Collectors Weekly:

    Napster, as Hanks' film makes clear, was not even the biggest factor [in Tower's demise]. Sure, it allowed people to get music for free, but it would not have been so attractive to consumers if the record companies, with the complicity of chains like Tower, had not insisted on keeping the prices of CDs high and discontinuing the practice of selling singles, which is what music consumers had been buying since Russ and Clayton Solomon sold their customers used 3-cent 78s for a dime.

    "The 78," Solomon says, "which morphed into the 45 in the 1950s, was really the lifeblood of the record business. It was all about singles. When the record companies decided not to make singles anymore, I think that was the beginning of the downfall of the industry. They were taking away what the kids really wanted by forcing them to buy an album. That was a big mistake."

    "To me," says my son Tom, "one of the cooler parts of the documentary was seeing how the market changed. For a while, Tower sold singles and LPs, then singles on cassette, and then the record companies got greedy, didn't sell many singles as CDs, and raised the price of CDs. So, when MP3s came along, you could suddenly get singles again. The greed of the record companies probably had the biggest impact on encouraging music piracy. You'll notice that today the market is all about singles." On this, Russ Solomon and no less an authority than former record producer David Geffen, who is also interviewed for Hanks' film, wholeheartedly agree.

    Tower's unchecked expansion and the record industry's greed were self-inflicted wounds, but there was a third factor other than Napster that helps explain why Tower went broke—competition. One of the characteristics of CDs is that they are smaller than LPs, which means you can put more of them in the same amount of space in a store. And as "Thriller" had shown, hits lured people into stores. To put it simply, consumer-electronics retailers, and even big-box chains like Walmart and Target, decided they wanted a piece of this action.

    "Walmart and Target didn't sell enough to bother us," Solomon corrects me. "But Best Buy did. They sold CDs, videos, and video games to draw people into their stores to look at their electronics and televisions."

    And they were selling those CDs dirt cheap. "We were paying, say, $10.40 for a CD," Solomon continues. "Well, we could sell anything in the Top 40 list for $11.98 and not be hurt particularly because we sold a lot of them. But they were selling everything for $11.98. In contrast, we were up around $15, or something like that, for most of our stock. It was really hard to compete against that. We had a bigger selection, but they had enough, and that sucked away a lot of our business."

    Finally, then, there was Napster. "I think I first became aware of Napster when we had the store in Boston—a great store, I might add," Solomon says. "It became a kind of a worry, but a worry you didn't bother with. The record companies were more hysterical about it than we were, and they had good reason to be. The whole industry was in confusion when it started, but I don't think we were really affected by it. We had so many other problems—overexpansion, what have you."

    Stan Goman takes the impact of Napster on Tower more personally than his former boss. "Napster? I didn't get that. To me, it was just stealing. And that's the reason there's no real record business anymore, because you can't compete against stolen items. I hope Mr. Napster, whoever that asshole is, is happy, because he put a lot of people out of work."

  • Visiting Scarfolk, the most spectacular dystopia of the 1970s

    Since April of 2013, Cory has posted frequently about Scarfolk for Boing Boing. Now, Hunter Oatman-Stanford has interviewed Richard Littler, the creator of this fictional 1970s dystopia. Even in the three years since Cory's first post, the line between Littler's fiction and our contemporary reality has gotten disturbingly blurry.

    Here's a snip from Littler:

    "Scarfolk is paranoid and cynical, and often touches on themes such as surveillance and the diminishment of civil rights. To a certain extent, Scarfolk is speculative because it plays with the recent political developments and either subverts them or exaggerates them to the point of absurdity, though that's becoming difficult with people like Donald Trump and the incumbent British government. Increasingly, there are official actions and statements that come across like they've already been created by satirists. It's becoming hard for us to outdo our sources!"

  • Minecraft: Blockopedia – for full-on Minecraft geeks, as well as over-the-shoulder admirers

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

    Shaped like a hexagon to mimic the dimensions of a cube, Minecraft: Blockopedia is designed for full-on Minecraft geeks, although those of us who have only watched the game over the shoulders of children and loved ones will find plenty to admire here too. After the briefest of introductions and a quick glossary to help noobs make sense of the stats that accompany each block's name, it's off to the races, with page after page devoted to blocks made from rocks, blocks made from plants, blocks that serve particular functions (a ladder), and blocks that do particular things (acting as a switch).

    One of the coolest characteristics about Minecraft is how it chooses to observe the laws of nature and physics, or ignore them. Sand, we are told, can be a cave-in hazard, but when it's smelted in a furnace, it turns to glass. Both statements are true, but don't go looking for glowstone the next time you're spelunking – it is only found in a sinister dimension of Minecraft called the Nether. And while sugar cane in both the real world and the Overworld of Minecraft can be used to make sugar, guess where it can also be used to block flowing lava?

    Though the format and illustrations in Minecraft: Blockopedia are the book's most prominent features, it's still a book filled with lots and lots of, you know, words. Writer Alex Wiltshire mostly plays it straight ("Water is incredibly useful."), but often he lets the language and logic of Minecraft add color, as in "Sticky pistons are made by crafting a piston with a slimeball…" and "If you dig podzol without the silk touch enhancement it drops dirt." Got that?

  • The geo-chemistry behind Rookwood pottery

    When most of us gaze upon an eight-place setting of fine porcelain china or a curvaceous ceramic vase, we see exactly that, but when Jim Robinson of Rookwood Pottery looks at such objects, he sees rocks, as I learned recently when I interviewed Robinson about his role as the venerable art pottery firm's glaze chemist.

    His interest in rocks and geology came early. "When I was in high school in 1967," he says, "I had a great professor, Richard Tremblay, who got into plate tectonics just as it was emerging. He explained to us how the surface of the planet was skidding around, powered by these upwellings of magma, and how when two plates encountered each other, one went down into the subduction zone and the other sprouted mountains. Well, I came seriously unglued when I heard that, and I've been reading about rocks and geology ever since."

    To put it mildly, this love of rocks and minerals has completely colored Robinson's world. "I'm looking out a window now at a brick building," he tells me as we are chatting over the phone. "Every brick building is made out of different clays. Some are kind of taupe gray. Some are really deep rust. Every brick is different because each comes out of a different hole in the ground. That just blows my mind." More particularly, Robinson's romance with stone has had a profound impact on his work as a ceramist. "Once you get an image in your mind of the earth and how active it is," he says, "you start to put two and two together. You think, 'That's where the minerals are.'"

    One mineral Robinson knows well is feldspar, two of whose alkalis, potash and soda, are common ingredients in clay. Potash and soda are easy to find, their ubiquity nothing more—or less—than the product of deep time. "The reason why a clay industry developed here in the Midwest is in large part because of the Appalachian Mountains," Robinson begins. "When feldspar weathers, it turns into kaolin, the stuff porcelain is made of. The potash, soda, and calcium that's locked up in the feldspar erodes out, running all the way to the sea—that's why the sea is salty. However, the clay ingredients—minerals like pyrophyllite and silica—settle in places like Georgia and Kentucky, Tennessee and Ohio. It's the coolest damn thing."

  • Shoulder to Shoulder – Cycling in the sixties with Jacques Anquetil

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

    When most people think of professional cycling today, the name Lance Armstrong probably still comes to mind. Between 1999 and 2005, Armstrong won a record seven Tours de France, only to have them all tossed out in 2012 after it was revealed the Texan had been using performance-enhancing drugs. Between 1957 and 1964, a Frenchman named Jacques Anquetil won five Tours, also – by his own repeated admission at the time – on drugs. But the trait shared by Armstrong and Anquetil that interests authors Shelly and Brett Horton in Shoulder to Shoulder: Bicycle Racing in the Age of Anquetil is not doping but celebrity. Forget Armstrong (in their book, the Hortons do just that): What John F. Kennedy was to U.S. presidents and The Beatles were to rock 'n' roll, Anquetil was to cycling.

    Anquetil's story, as well as that of other Anquetil-era racers like Tom Simpson of England, Federico Bahamontes of Spain, and Rik van Looy of Belgium, is told through more than 100 magazine and newspaper photos collected and restored by the Hortons. Each photo is captioned, though not sourced, and accompanied by a short note in the back of the slim volume. We learn, for example, that a 1962 photo of the driver of a support car, who's leaning out the car's window to drip oil on the rear gears of a cyclist's bike during the Circuit des Boucles de la Seine, actually depicts a ruse to give the unidentified rider a chance to lean on the car's fender for a precious few seconds. As for the photo of Rik van Looy smoking a cigarette as he pedaled during the 1961 Giro d'Italia, it makes you wonder if his pair of secondary classification and numerous stage victories in the Tour and Giro could have been parlayed into something more with healthier lungs.

    These glimpses of cycling in the sixties are welcome, as are the images of the punishing circuits, the mercurial weather, and the crashes that came about as a result of both. But the book's focus is Anquetil, which means we get to see him as a young man being served soup by his mother, Marie. There are photos of Anquetil meeting the legend who preceded him, Fausto Coppi, and the cyclist who would equal his number of Tour victories, Eddie Merckx. We see Anquetil exulting during the 1962 Tour, which he won, cruising in a motorboat with his wife, Janine, and signing the inside of a leggy blonde's thigh in a photo clearly staged for a nearby group of photographers. It all looks impossibly romantic and dashing, which, not coincidentally, was exactly the impression the world was given of Jacques Anquetil.

    – Ben Marks

    Shoulder to Shoulder: Bicycle Racing in the Age of Anquetil

    by Shelly Horton and Brett Horton

    VeloPress

    2015, 120 pages, 7 x 8.3 x 0.6 inches

    $17
    Buy a copy on Amazon

  • Out of the Shadow of Aunt Jemima: the real black chefs who taught Americans to cook

    Featuring reviews of more that 160 cookbooks written by African Americans during the 19th and 20th centuries, Toni Tipton-Martin's The Jemima Code is a much-overdue look at at how African Americans really cooked over the last 200 years, as well as how caricatures of African Americans were used to sell white homemakers everything from "Pickaninny Cookies" to pancake mix. Over at Collectors Weekly, Lisa Hix interviewed Tipton-Martin to learn more about this heretofore malnourished chapter in America's culinary history.

    Aunt Jemima the Pancake Queen became a national sensation in 1893, thanks to Davis' ingenuous promotion at the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. The company hired 56-year-old black actress Nancy Green to play Aunt Jemima at the fair. A former slave, Green was eager to leave behind a life of drudgery — as her other career options involved washing dishes or sweeping floors — in favor of the world of entertainment and advertising. With her warm, smiling persona, Green made pancakes, sang songs, and told nostalgic stories about the "good ol' days" making breakfast for her plantation masters. Her pancakes were believed to be made of love and magic, not culinary artistry or domestic science.

    That image of a fat, happy slave — who faithfully nurtures a white family while neglecting her own — lived on for 75 years through the Aunt Jemima Pancake line, purchased by Quaker Oats Company in 1925. Ubiquitous in ads, she promoted easy-to-make variations on pancakes, waffles, and other pastries in promotional recipe pamphlets, and an Aunt Jemima impersonator even received the keys to the city of Albion, Michigan, in 1964.

  • Drawn in Stereo captures the art of noise

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

    In my other life as a board member of The Rock Poster Society, the phrase "rock art" just about always equals "rock posters." For Michael Gillette, though, whose beautiful Drawn in Stereo was published last fall by AMMO Books, rock art encompasses a whole lot more than concert advertisements. Oh sure, Gillette has designed his share of rock posters for bands like Saint Etienne, Colorama, and MGMT, but he's also created animations for the Beastie Boys and My Morning Jacket, as well as portraits of musicians as diverse as Paul McCartney, Madonna, Jay-Z, and Pink for music magazines and websites like Spin, Mojo, and The Fader. Beyond the music world, his work has even appeared in the hallowed pages of The New Yorker and Esquire (every illustrator's dream), and he's been hired by such marquee clients as Levi's, Nokia, and Sony, for whom he created the cover art for the vinyl version of the "American Hustle" soundtrack.

    Drawn in Stereo delivers all of this prodigious output in a straightforward, unhurried manner, not unlike the artist's work. Or so I thought until I read an anecdote in the book's interview with Elastica's former lead singer, Justine Frischmann. In that casual conversation between two friends, Gillette admits to having started and finished some of his deadline-driven assignments in only a day, a trick that requires finishing a wet acrylic-on-paper illustration with a hair dryer before delivering it to "a courier at the door."

    That interview, as well as the organization of the images in the book, loosely tracks Gillette's journey from England to California, where he now lives with his wife and their two daughters, but the lack of linearity is a plus. Instead, Gillette organizes Drawn in Stereo along the stylistic choices he's made, a few of the people he's known, and the media he's experimented with – and usually mastered. There's a section on his drawings, including several from Beck's 2006 album, "The Information," followed by a number of moody pieces composed in Photoshop and a smattering of movie posters.

    But it's the portraits that really grab us, which shouldn't be too surprising given the music industry's preoccupation with personality. Foremost among these are the lovely and sad watercolors from his "Little Angels" series, which depicts fallen music idols such as Kurt Cobain, Biggie Smalls, and Amy Winehouse as children, their guileless faces seemingly lifted from nursery- or elementary-school photos taken on picture day. Later in Drawn in Stereo, we are treated to Brian Eno and David Bowie, each posing as a "Glam Songbird." The humor of these sumptuously rendered images – Eno the "Art Rock Hopper" is perched on a microphone, Bowie the "Stardust Warbler" grips a mic stand in his talons – is as disarmingly dry as the children in "Little Angels" are tender. Who knew the world of massively commercial pop could inspire such subtlety?

    – Ben Marks

    Drawn in Stereo

    by Michael Gillette

    AMMO Books

    2015, 192 pages, 9.7 x 11.2 x 0.8 inches

    $30 Buy a copy on Amazon

  • East of the Sun and West of the Moon – Norwegian folklore intricately illustrated by artist Kay Nielsen

    See sample pages from this book at Wink.

    If Walt Disney gave us the definitive picture of German fairy tales such as Cinderella and Snow White, first published in 1812 by Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm, Kay Nielsen helped the world imagine the settings and characters found in the stories of Norwegian folklorists Peter Christen Asbjørnsen and Jørgen Moe. The lifelong friends were inspired by the Grimms, and like the brothers, the look of the stories they had collected came to life many years after they were published in 1841. In the case of Asbjørnsen and Moe, the catalyst was a London publisher named Hodder & Stoughton, which hired Danish artist Nielsen, in 1914, to illustrate a collection of the friends' Norwegian stories called East of the Sun and West of the Moon.

    That volume is reproduced in its entirety, with a gorgeous new layout by Andy Disl, in a new slipcovered book from Taschen. Like the Hodder & Stoughton version, Nielsen's illustrations are the book's stars. Unlike it, the Taschen package also includes illustrated essays about Asbjørnsen and Moe's contribution to the 19th-century's preoccupation with "indigenous literature," as well as an overview of Nielsen's career, which included a stop at Walt Disney's studio to create the artwork for the "Night on Bald Mountain" sequence in the 1941 animated masterpiece, Fantasia.

    Nielsen's influences ranged from the Art Nouveau fantasies of Aubrey Beardsley, which can be seen in his earliest work, to Japanese woodcuts and the Ballet Russes, which dominate East of the Sun and West of the Moon. More important than Nielsen's influences, though, is the way he defined Nordic cool, both in terms of temperature and sensibility. In Nielsen's world, verticality rules – it is a place filled with uniformly tall and slender people striding serenely or doing battle beneath limitless skies. Diving into the details of Nielsen's intricate illustrations, one can almost feel the bite of the frigid air they breathe or the sting of the blades, spears, and arrows they wield. This angularity and precision are perfect foils for his thick, slow trolls, with their wide feet and fat phallic noses, giving them a look that in 1914 must have appeared truly monstrous to young and old readers alike.

    East of the Sun and West of the Moon

    by Kay Nielsen (illustrator) and Noel Daniel (editor)

    Taschen

    2015, 168 pages, 9.4 x 11.7 x 0.9 inches

    $26 Buy a copy on Amazon

  • Tales of book-collecting bonanzas

    Needle-in-a-haystack stories are the caffeine of collecting. As the editor of Fine Books & Collections, Rebecca Rego Barry knows this better than most; her new book, Rare Books Uncovered, is filled with more than 50 such tales of book-collecting bonanzas. Recently, I interviewed Barry for Collectors Weekly. She told me about her conversations and correspondences with everyone from legendary rock guitarist turned book hunter Martin Stone — he reportedly sold Led Zeppelin's Jimmy Page a copy of the I Ching that had been owned by occultist icon Aleister Crowley — to author and book dealer Larry McMurtry, who typed out his book-discovery story before mailing it to Barry.

    This raises an interesting question: When one person finds a rare book, is their gain always at the expense of somebody else? "That can be true," Barry says, "but among the booksellers I work with, especially those that belong to organizations like the ABAA or the ILAB, there's an ethical obligation not to swindle each other or people who don't know any better, like little old ladies selling their husband's things. Personally, if I were to go to a garage sale and thought I had found a $5,000 book on sale for a dollar, I would feel conflicted. In most cases, though, the more common example is that you see a book you feel like you've seen before and decide to take a chance on it. It's only after you get it home and do your research that you know if you've hit the jackpot — or overpaid."

  • The forgotten kingpins who conspired to save California wine

    Last month, Frances Dinkelspiel's new book, Tangled Vines, cracked the New York Times' Best Seller list. It's a great read, since it mostly follows the events leading up to an arson-caused wine-warehouse fire in 2005, in which 4.5 million bottles of wine worth at least a quarter-billion dollars were lost.

    Dinkelspiel's account of that inferno, as well as the man who sits in jail for causing it, is riveting, but I found myself even more interested in the author's numerous references to an organization called the California Wine Association, which controlled as much as 84 percent of the state's wine business from 1894 until 1920. That means the C.W.A., as it was called, was in charge of millions of gallons of California wine that were stored in almost two dozen San Francisco warehouses, most of which were destroyed in the 1906 earthquake and the fires that followed.

    Another two million [gallons of wine] were salvaged from the C.W.A.'s main headquarters, at Third and Bryant Streets, but not before "the wooden tanks and casks came apart in the fire storm," as [wine historian Charles] Sullivan describes it. The spilled wine might have washed into the streets as it had at other warehouses, but a "plugged sewer line" and the building's solid concrete walls and floor kept the sloshing wine within the structure. Suddenly, the building itself had become a wine cellar, which enabled the C.W.A. to pump the precious liquid through fire hoses to a small fleet of barges, which were towed to Stockton in the San Joaquin Valley, where the wine was distilled into brandy.

  • The politics of prejudice: how passports rubber-stamp our indifference to refugees

    When Hunter Oatman-Stanford began working on an article about Neil Kaplan's collection of old passports, we had no idea his story would be so timely. Alas, the acts of terrorism in Paris, followed by the backlash against Syrian refugees, and then a certain political candidate's proposal to block all Muslims from immigrating to the land of the free, has given Kaplan's collection of old paper new meaning.

    (more…)

  • Coin-op cuisine: when the future tasted like a five-cent slice of pie

    For his latest piece at Collectors Weekly, Hunter Oatman-Stanford spoke to filmmaker Lisa Hurwitz about the Horn & Hardart chain of cafeterias and automats. Despite being limited to Philadelphia and New York (a Boston branch was short-lived), Horn & Hardart was the largest food-service business in America from the 1930s through the 1950s. As it turns out, though, its famous automats were not especially automated, relying on hundreds scurrying cooks and kitchen staffers to fill entire walls of glassed-in compartments with plates of scrapple, deviled crab on toast, and nickel slices of apple pie.

    Upon entering an automat, customers would head to one of the restaurant's "nickel throwers," who would give customers change to use at the banks of food-dispensing windows. "The most vivid and common memory that people have shared with me is of the amazing nickel throwers," Hurwitz says. "Especially how, without even counting, the thrower could feel the exact change needed with her fingers. You'd give her a dollar, and she'd throw you 20 nickels across this beautiful marble or wooden counter." Horn & Hardart's machines accepted both nickels and quarters, though with such low prices, a few nickels often covered an entire meal: A cup of coffee was five cents; a ham and egg sandwich was ten.

  • How America bought and sold racism, and why it still matters

    We've all encountered what people today call Black Memorabilia — a Mammy cookie jar, a racist postcard — but have you ever wondered where these depictions came from, and why they are so common? In her latest article for Collectors Weekly, Lisa Hix interviewed Dr. David Pilgrim, author of Understanding Jim Crow, to get some answers to these and other questions. Hix learned that Black Memorabilia was popularized by post-Reconstruction whites to dehumanize African Americans, and that while slavery may have ended in 1865, Jim Crow has persisted in various forms and guises to this day, which helps explain why the presence of an African American family in the White House has not been enough to put America's racial history behind us.

    Stock caricatures such as Mammy, Uncle Tom, Sambo, pickaninny children, coon, Jezebel, Sapphire, and the black brute were employed to spread these messages to millions of people. Companies mass-produced these images in every form — including postcards, cleaning products, toys and games, ceramic figurines, ashtrays, cast-iron banks, children's books, dinnerware, songbooks, tea towels, cookie jars, matchbooks, magazines, movies, gag gifts, salt-and-pepper shakers, planters, fishing lures, trade cards, ads, records, and tobacco tins. If you lived during the Jim Crow era, you'd encounter such caricatures everywhere, in your newspaper, on restaurant walls, on the shelves at stores, and at the cinema or live theater.

    "If you believed that black men were Sambos, childlike buffoons, for example, then why would they be allowed to vote?" Pilgrim says. "Why would they be allowed to hold office, serve on a jury, or attend public schools with whites? If black men were brutes who were a threat to white women, why would they be allowed to share beaches, public-school classes, or taxicabs? If black women were Mammies whose best roles in life were serving white families, why would they be allowed in other occupations when the society needed them for that? So the caricatures, and the stereotypes which accompanied them, became rationalizations for keeping blacks at the bottom of the racial hierarchy. Perpetuating these caricatures was a way to make sure you didn't have to compete against black people economically. In short, it was a way of sustaining white supremacy."