London Types is a favorite book, though one that I’m not privileged to own. If you’re searching for a Christmas gift (not likely, but I’ll mention it anyway), you can find some copies in the $1K range in fairly good condition.
There were both U.K. and U.S. versions of the book, each published in 1898 (Heineman over there, and R.H. Russell in New York), with William Nicholson woodcut illustrations of typical London street people—”bobbies,” chimney sweeps, flower girls of the Eliza Doolittle type—and quatrains by W. E. Henley. I had a shot at getting a copy in Chicago fifteen years ago but the checkbook was running on fumes. Nicholson’s woodcuts were the sort of thing you’d find at the Rourke Gallery in the old days. But I think of it today, after stumbling on a later book (1922) by journalist Ben Hecht, 1001 Afternoons in Chicago. Hecht, by the way, was a near contemporary of Floyd Dell, another Chicago journalist whose career followed a similar trajectory; like Hecht, Dell’s writings reveal similar insights to Chicago in the first few decades of the 20th century.
You’ll know Ben Hecht’s name if you enjoy classic films and take the time to watch the credits, all the credits, crawling by at the end: his name appears as screenwriter for “Scarface,” “Wuthering Heights,” and “Gone with the Wind,” among many, many others. But before that chapter in his career, Hecht had been a journalist of the grizzly noire type during the 1920s, in Chicago for the Daily News. In ’21 he began an innovative column, “One thousand and one afternoons in Chicago,” which later became a book, a collection of Hecht’s columns with companion illustrations by Herman Rosse. Hecht’s columns were the verbal counterpart to the Nicholson woodcuts; I can’t speak to the insights of Henley’s quatrains.
Until Howard shared his copy of 1001 Afternoons, I hadn’t known Rosse’s work as a book illustrator. So I share a few of them with you today for what they “say” about Chicago in the 20s. Not incidentally, 1001 was produced by Covici-McGee, a Chicago publisher of extraordinary volumes. Pascal Covici was a Romanian Jew whose publishing ventures once earned him a $1K fine for obscenity! Kudos, Pascal. Hecht certainly hung with the right crowd.
This may be the earliest book I’ve seen with full-bleed illustrations—images that exceed the page size and draw you into their perspective, glimpses rather than pictures, adding their own narrative to that of the author. Frankly, they stand well enough on their own. Consider these dizzying views of the Chicago streetscape, long before the arrival of Mies and the Second Chicago School.
I’ve not shown you Rosse’s skinny one-by-eight-and-one-half-inch slivers that begin each story, tailored to the tale. Instead, here is a view that I saw hundreds of times, on the “A” train from 63rd and Loomis during the trek downtown. Urban renewal has sterilized this landscape out of existence, which I suppose is not a bad thing. What replaced it, however, proved to be equally sterile and ought, in its own time, be replaced with something better, as anything would be.
Like me, my friend Howard Tabor had wanted to be an architect; like me, he took another path, one different from my own. Chicago, it’s safe to say, has been instrumental in both cases.
PS: Speaking of evocative fine printing that feels good to the eye and looks good to the hand, I’m reminded of the skinny illustrations in a recent edition of Anne Frank’s Diary of a Young Girl [Het Achterhuis], with illustrations proportioned to the house where Anne sought refuge until just a few weeks before the end of the war. Those skinny illustrations of that comparably narrow house are by Joseph Goldyne and merit your attention, if you can find a copy in your neck of the woods. Otherwise stop by and enjoy mine.