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Posts Tagged ‘public domain’

Straw Hats: Their History and Manufacture

May 5, 2015 | by

It’s late, and you’re still awake. Allow us to help with Sleep Aid, a series devoted to curing insomnia with the dullest, most soporific prose available in the public domain. Tonight’s prescription: the first chapter of Straw Hats: Their History and Manufacture, a 1922 book by Harry Inwards.

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Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, The Bed, 1893.

The origin of what is known as a “Straw Hat” is lost in the mists of antiquity.

Ambiguous references to what may have been hats of vegetable materials are to be found in the works of almost all ancient writers, but very little that is specific can be discovered. Perhaps one reason for the paucity of information on this subject may be that the homemade hats of plaited straws or rushes were probably worn only by the common people. With society, as it existed in early days, if such were the case, the matter would be considered almost too vulgar for the classical writers to mention.

Doubtless in the earliest stages of human development any kind of convenient material was utilized by primeval man in the endeavor to keep his head or body warm or cool as the case might require.

Now the mere fact of the shelter afforded by trees would create some inducement towards using leaves for covering the body, for one may assume that even before vegetable products were gathered and used, say, as thatch, for collective shelter, some of them were adopted for individual protective purposes.

The earliest reference to such is the well-known account of the “aprons of fig leaves” mentioned in the third chapter of Genesis. This primitive method of clothing was soon followed by the use of skins (as noted later in the same chapter), but even in this record the vegetable product was used by man before that of animals, and shows in a most unmistakable, even if allegorical, manner, the natural trend of all development, viz., that articles easiest to procure are those that are first used. Read More »

Congressional Districting in Iowa

November 5, 2014 | by

It’s late, and you’re still awake. Allow us to help with Sleep Aid, a series devoted to curing insomnia with the dullest, most soporific prose available in the public domain. Tonight’s prescription: “Congressional Districting in Iowa,” a paper from the July 1903 issue of the Iowa Journal of History and Politics.

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From Tacuina sanitatis, fourteenth century.

It is the purpose of this paper to outline briefly the history of legislation on the subject of congressional districting in Iowa—pointing out the changes made from time to time, showing by means of maps the exact form and extent of the districts established by the several acts of the General Assembly, and commenting upon the motives and circumstances prompting alterations in the boundaries of these districts. Prior to 1847 there were no congressional districts in the State. From 1838 to 1846 Iowa existed as a separate Territory, entitled to one Delegate in Congress, who was chosen for a term of two years and who represented the entire territorial area and population. Then came the change incident to statehood. On August 4, 1846, Congress passed an act defining the boundaries of the State of Iowa and providing that, until the next census and apportionment, the new State should be entitled to two seats in the House of Representatives. A State Constitution was adopted, and on December 28, 1846, Iowa entered the Union. The State had not, however, been districted in time for the election of that year; hence the two congressmen were chosen on a general ticket, each to represent the State as a whole. Since that time Iowa congressmen have been elected by districts and the General Assembly has enacted seven laws respecting the division of the State for this purpose.Read More »

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The Not-So-Ghastly Ghosts of Arthur B. Frost

October 30, 2014 | by

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These are a few of Arthur B. Frost’s illustrations for Lewis Carroll’s “Phantasmagoria,” as collected in Rhyme? And Reason? in 1884. Frost was part of the Golden Age of American Illustration; he illustrated more than ninety books, including a few by Carroll. Read More »

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The Literary Agent of Yore (Unspeakable Rascal!)

October 14, 2014 | by

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An illustration by Lauren Stout for Lawton Mackall's Bizarre, 1922.

My continuing odyssey across the World Wide Web—I’ll read it all, someday—has yielded these two gems from the public domain, both early constructions of the literary agent as a type; neither, I’m sorry to say, is very flattering.

Now as then, agents get a bad rap. In the popular imagination, they’re usually seen as unscrupulous middlemen, always on the phone, insistently plying their wares. The agent, we’re told, is a necessary evil at best, or, at worst, the first in a line of craven corporate interests designed to suck the marrow from a writer’s work, making it suitable for a wide and churlish readership. In movies, writers are always seeking agents, falling out with agents, or at the very least nervously talking to agents, twisting the phone line in their fingers. And then there’s the editor-agent relationship, in which the agent never wins: he’s either part of a profit-obsessed cabal keeping subversive “new voices” out of print, or he’s a tasteless entrepreneur disturbing the delicate rapport between editor and author.

I’d thought all this was a fairly recent phenomenon—I had always imagined it came from the eighties, when publishers couldn’t conglomerate fast enough and the soul was said to have fled the industry—but these two old books suggest it’s been going on much longer than that. Which makes sense: in publishing, the sky is always falling. Every year is an abysmal year for books and a terrific year for books. Editors no longer edit, except when they do; publishers care only for their bottom line, except when they don’t; the three-martini lunch is always dead, always quietly continuing. That’s what’s fascinating about these excerpts: they’re both about a century old, documenting that same thwarted intersection of art and capitalism.

First, from Arnold Bennett’s Books and Persons, an essay collection composed of work from 1908 to 1911, the parts cited below being from 1908: Read More »

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Typographic Sanity

October 1, 2014 | by

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“The Blue Streak Comet,” a Linotype machine.

There’s a post over at Print Magazine about Frank Romano’s new book, History of the Linotype Company, which chronicles the rise and decline of the Linotype, a “glorious contraption” that was not so very long ago the industry standard for printing newspapers, magazines, catalogs, you name it. I’d be lying if I said I knew how it worked—to look at it is to imagine it taking your hand off—but fortunately there’s Wikipedia, which explains:

The linotype machine operator enters text on a ninety-character keyboard. The machine assembles matrices, which are molds for the letter forms, in a line. The assembled line is then cast as a single piece, called a slug, of type metal in a process known as “hot metal” typesetting. The matrices are then returned to the type magazine from which they came, to be reused later. This allows much faster typesetting and composition than original hand composition in which operators place down one pre-cast metal letter, punctuation mark or space at a time.

The machine was invented by Ottmar Mergenthaler, a German immigrant who set up shop in Brooklyn. At the height of its powers, it was used in eighty-six countries and in 850 languages. And the public domain is teeming with miscellany from the Mergenthaler Company, which produced an endless succession of handbooks, manuals, brochures, and pamphlets, among them Linotype’s Shining Lines, a sort of trade magazine with impeccably designed cover art:

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Blinded by Coffee

September 29, 2014 | by

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Two ordinary humans soon to have their vision sucked out of them by coffee, villainous coffee.

Sadie Stein wrote earlier today about Balzac, who was famously enamored of coffee—especially coffee on an empty stomach—as a creative agent, so much so that it probably killed him. On the other end of the spectrum is J. M. Holaday, a—scholar? an armchair scientist? he’s a man about whom Google reveals little—whose sole publication, an essay called “Coffee-Drinking and Blindness,” survives him. The piece appeared in the North American Review in September 1888. Rhetorically marvelous if scientifically unsound, it argues emphatically that drinking too much coffee will make you go blind. And this was not, to Holaday’s mind, mere conjecture. He begins his essay with bold certitude:

I am satisfied that defective vision and blindness will pretty soon be a prominent characteristic among the American people … I make this assertion without having seen any statistics whatever on the subject of blindness. I found out long ago that a cup of coffee leaves a night-shade on the brain which continues longer than an eclipse of the sun. For some time past I have been consulting with different persons in Council Bluffs, who are suffering with failing sight, and in each instance I ascertained that the unfortunate person was and is a regular coffee-drinker.

Indubitable evidence! Correlation does imply causation! Lest you fear that Holaday is a plant—a tea lobbyist, maybe, or a cola manufacturer—he’s quick to note that he was once fond of coffee himself, though he “now feel[s] free of the coffee-drinking vice, and will have no more trouble with it unless I shall again fall a victim to some church supper or to the magnetic blandishments of some buoyant hostess.” Read More »

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