Sunday, March 9, 2008


Searching deeper and deeper into the realms of early American humor has uncovered the existence of relics that I dream of encountering in one form or another. Some of these I have actually gotten my grubby little hands on; other relics sit and sit in my ebay search list, waiting for somebody to uncover them in their attic and get listed.
A prime example is the St. Jacobs Oil Family Calendar for 1883, and possibly 1884. The 1883 edition, according to reviews I have read in period newspapers, contains at least one Spoopendyke story written especially for the publication by Stanley Huntley, as well as other pieces created for it by the nation's leading humorists of the time. I  did actually buy a copy of the 1885 edition (from a book dealer -- not on ebay), from which I read a handful of Bill Nye stories on the Basement. Stanley Huntley's name is listed in the front of the booklet as a contributor, but for the life of me, I can't figure out what he wrote for it. It is possible that he helped edit the Calendar, as he is the only contributor who is credited with being an editor of any sort.

The 1884 edition of the Calendar is a complete mystery to me. Back in the 1880s, the St. Jacobs Oil company of Baltimore gave away millions of these things, either by mail or via participating pharmacies. I have discovered that there are at least a few people out there who collect St. Jacobs Oil bottles, postcards, advertisements, and other ephemera. But so far,  I still haven't encountered either the 1883 or 1884 edition.

A couple of other Stanley Huntley treasures that have eluded me include copies of the New York children's newspaper that featured the serialized story "Daddy Hoppler." Huntley wrote the first couple of chapters of this story, then went to sea for his health for a few months. His wife Florence continued and finished the tale under his name, because she needed the money, and the editors were none the wiser. Unfortunately, I have no idea what the name of the children's periodical is, and cannot find a clue to where this story might be found. The other rarity that has so far been beyond my reach is his science fiction story, A Trip to the South Pole, which was collected in the 1973 book At the Mountains of Murkiness and Other Parodies, edited by George Locke. The book claims the story was originally published back in 1899, fourteen years after Huntley died, so it may be something that Florence dug out of his papers and published somewhere to raise money, or it may have been reprinted in 1899 from someplace else, or may have been by someone else named Stanley Huntley! In any event, I have found copies of this book on some dealers lists for outrageous amounts of money, so I will probably have to wait a long time to see it.

Another Huntley rarity, of course, would be the many issues of Drake's Travellers' Magazine (yes, that is how it is spelled) that Huntley edited and wrote many humorous pieces for. I have one issue, and it was a fluke finding it. I am always looking for more. 

There are rarities by other authors that I am always looking for. I do need to find a few holes in my Philander Doesticks (Mortimer Thomson) collection, especially his early newspaper pieces that were not reprinted in books. David L. Roath, author of The Five Love Adventures of Solomon Slug, apparently edited a humor periodical in the 1850s called Roath's Monthly Magazine. Boy, would I love to find some of those!

There's a wealth of writing (not in books) by James M. Bailey, Fanny Fern, M. Quad, and Max Adeler that are in (so far) undigitized newspapers. These things are high up on my want list. And speaking of Max Adeler, I have read that Charles Heber Clark adopted that pen name based on a character in a story he read as a child, but no one has ever encountered that story, and it remains a mystery.

As more and more old paper gets digitized, more of these important parts of our humorous heritage will become available to future generations. Let us hope that this happens a lot more than it has so far, because all too much of it disintegrates and vanishes every day.

No comments: