A Mix of Material from Peter Harrington

- by Michael Stillman


A Mix of Material from Peter Harrington

Peter Harrington recently issued their Catalogue 113. As usual, it is a mix of books and some ephemeral items, with subjects that know no bounds. Anything can be found here, as long as it is of some significance and importance. With that said, we will turn to a few samples, which can only scratch the surface of displaying the 241 items contained herein.


We begin with an inscribed copy of a book of essays and speeches written by John F. Kennedy called The Strategy of Peace. This was not written by President Kennedy. Rather, it was written by Senator Kennedy. The parts were written from 1956-59 when Kennedy was a senator from Massachusetts, and published in time for the election of 1960 when he was elected President. Kennedy was grappling with the never-ending problem of achieving peace in the context of a world where colonial governments were falling and Americans were paranoid about the Communists. Kennedy believed America should be standing for its ideals, supporting those who sought to throw off domination by far-off colonial powers. However, those powers were also America's allies in the Cold War, allowing the Soviet Union to take on the role of defender of oppressed peoples. For Kennedy, America needed to redesign its policies to be more supportive of those people trying to obtain their freedom, while still supporting the West in the battle against Communism. It was a hard needle to thread. Part of Kennedy's strategy was to negotiate with the enemy, a controversial idea then as it still can be now, though his predecessor, Dwight Eisenhower, did just that. Item 126. Priced at £5,000 (British pounds, or about $7,714 U.S. dollars).

Here is another book about peace, but rather than being about achieving it, it was about what to do after it was achieved. In this case, the peace was that which came at the end of the First World War, when the Allies defeated Germany. The book, entitled The Economic Consequences of the Peace, was written by the noted economist, John Maynard Keynes, and published in 1919. Keynes had been sent to the peace negotiations as a representative of the British Treasury, but had no real authority over the treaty terms. As they emerged, he was appalled. The terms, notably the war reparations, designed to punish and keep Germany in tow, Keynes saw as far beyond Germany's means. He foresaw that this would lead to chaos in Germany, which would then spread to the rest of Europe. When his warnings went unheeded, Keynes resigned from his position and wrote this prescient book. The seeds of Europe's next conflagration had been sown in the treaty ending its last one. Item 127. £1,250 (US $1,929).

Who is the smiling woman with the close-cropped hair who graces the cover of this catalogue? She has signed her name, but that handwriting is hard to decipher. There is a reason. It is written in Cyrillic. But, why would the lady, Josephine Baker, sign her name in Cyrillic? Baker was a dancer/singer/actress, the first black movie star. Her rise was phenomenal. Born in poverty in St. Louis, as a child she was out trying to make a living on the streets. She could dance, and it got her noticed. Soon she was in New York, and appearing on Broadway and other venues as a teenager. She would be off to performances in France before turning 20, where she became an enormous star. France was more open to her than was segregated America. She would spend most of the rest of her life there, with occasional triumphant returns to America. In France, Josephine Baker was a beloved figure and national hero for her work during World War II. She used her celebrity status and invitations to diplomatic gatherings to obtain information about France's enemies, which she then reported back to allied authorities. But, why is her signature on this circa 1930 publicity photo in Cyrillic? It turns out she was close friends with Serge Lifar, noted dancer with the Russian Ballet, who undoubtedly taught her this signature. Item 11. £2,500 (US $3,858).

Oscar Wilde developed a reputation in his years at Oxford for his aesthetic beliefs and his flamboyant personality. He also wrote poems that were printed in various literary publications. However, his writings did not have much impact until he submitted his poem Ravenna for the prestigious Newdigate Prize. It is given annually for the best writing in English verse by an Oxford student. The poem was inspired by a visit to the Italian city of Ravenna the previous year. Following his award, and the personal recitation he gave after its receipt, the poem was published - Newdigate Prize Poem. Ravenna. Recited in the Theatre, Oxford, June 26, 1878. This copy has an author's inscription on the cover. Item 231. £8,750 (US $13,503).

Here is a classic, if somewhat obscure photo-book from 1936, The English at Home. Offered is a copy of the first U.S. edition published in 1936, the same year the first edition was published in Britain. It is a look at the English in the years shortly before the Second World War. Ironically, the photographer was a German, Bill Brandt. Brandt came to England to photograph and try to understand the English people. He roamed around the country, photographing the English engaged in what were common activities for them. However, what we see are great contrasts, as he photographed in the cities and countryside, the wealthy and the poor. In so doing, he created something of an anthropological look at the English, sort of like what the English did with natives of far off (and less developed, in their eyes) lands. As Raymond Mortimer noted in the introduction, "He seems to have wandered about England with the detached curiosity of a man investigating the customs of some remote and unfamiliar tribe." Item 23. £1,250 (US $1,920).

Peter Harrington may be reached at 020 7591 0220 or mail@peterharringtonbooks.com. Their website is www.peterharrington.co.uk or www.peterharringtonbooks.com (for U.S. customers).