Friday, May 16, 2014

Bound by Necessity

We only have a handful of Confederate imprints, but two of them from Mobile, Alabama, are tactile windows into the past. Mobile Bay was under blockade for much of the war, and it fell under Union control in 1864 ("Damn the Torpedoes," and all that). But there was still a need for good reading material and a local publisher, S.H. Goetzel, stepped up to provide the local community with popular European novels like M. E. Braddon's Lady Audley's Secret! and a translation of Muhlbach's Joseph II and His Court (Mobile: S.H. Goetzel, 1864).

Joseph II was advertised on the back flyleaf of Lady Audley's Secret with a caveat that shows the difficulties of doing business in wartime:
The scarcity and high prices of materials compel me to a limited edition, and therefore I would request the public send their orders in time. The uncertainty of wages and general expenses at present disables me from determining the price of the work. I hope to issue the first book by the 1st of May.
But he had another problem related to "the scarcity of materials" he alludes to above. Goetzel lacked good book cloth. Manufactured cloth would have had to be smuggled in from England past the Union blockade--and it is doubtful anything so precious would have been used on a book when there were clearly more pressing needs. But Goetzel had access to stocks of pre-war wallpaper on hand and he found they served admirably as temporary cover material, especially for novels that might not be saved anyway. We like picturing Goetzel, in a fury of passion, grabbing the wallpaper from his stock like Scarlet O'Hara ripping down her curtains, but it probably wasn't quite so romantic.

You can see these remarkable survivors by asking for Rare Book PR4389.M4L3 1864 and Rare Book PT2438.M4Z35 1864.

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