Last week, I left work early and treated myself to a browse around my area’s local used bookshop, Too Many Books. While they have a large number of current gently used books, they specialize in older, more loved books. I hadn’t planned on buying anything, but after browsing the spines the older books, one in particular caught my eye.
You may remember that a while back I wrote about the highly popular ‘Lord Fauntleroy’ fashion in the Edwardian period (1901-1910) of dressing little boys to look like the character in the book by Francis Hodgson Burnett. Well, I found that book. And while the book is pretty neat in itself, there’s another reason why I had to have this book, which I will get to soon. But first, check out this elaborate cover!
I have no idea what cherubs playing a harp has to do with the book, but they are typical to Victorian style aesthetics. The back cover is probably my favorite, with it’s concentric swirls highlighting the little ‘CSS’ in the center, which stands for Charles Scribner’s Sons, a New York publishing company started in 1846.
Reginald B. Birch illustrated Little Lord Fauntleroy, working closely with Francis Hodgson Burnett on precisely how the little lord was to be illustrated and perceived. Birch’s pen and ink drawings are quite spectacular, including little details which really capture both his and Hodgson’s imagination.
Now onto my absolute favorite detail of this particular book. One of the endpapers is inscribed, and while this is always fascinating, as it tells the passage of the book through owners, this particular inscription made my eyes widen, and I’m pretty sure there was an audible gasp when I saw it!
I know the name Gretchen Harding (1886-1947) means nothing to any of you, but it connects me to a line of prominent Roanokers: I’m currently processing a family collection at the History Museum of Western Virginia, which includes a large amount of material created by this very same Gretchen.
Gretchen was born in 1886 in Canon City, Colorado, to Theodore Marsh Harding and Minnie Lahm Harding, pioneers in the small Colorado community. Her father, T.M., owned a prosperous hardware store named ‘Harding’s Hardware,’ and her mother was active in society, starting a scholarship fund for girls. In 1899, when this book was inscribed, Gretchen was 13.
Some other little tidbits about Gretchen’s life:
In 1909, Gretchen traveled to Korea, China, Japan, and Hawaii with Bertha Coors and Augusta Collbran, daughters of the beer magnate Adolph Coors. She compiled 5 separate scrapbooks chronicling this trip across the world as they sailed on the S.S. Manchuria. Additionally, she collected postcards and wrote home frequently, telling the tale of the East at the turn of the century. In 1910, Gretchen traveled to Roanoke to visit with friends, where she met Sparrell Simmons Gale, a prominent Roanoke physician, Northern & Western Railway surgeon, and co-founder of Lewis-Gale Hospital, which is still in operation today. They married in 1911, and they had four children: Margaretta, Theodora, Josephine, and S.S. Jr. Unfortunately, Margaretta died at the age of 2, Theodora had a physical handicap (apparent in photos after 1927), and S.S. Jr died in 1936 at the age of 16 of pneumonia. To add to this sadness, Dr. Gale passed away in 1927.
Gretchen was a typical Gibson Girl beauty. She exquisitely pulled off the curving S-shape and the piled bouffant of the time period. Unfortunately, I can’t show any photographs of Gretchen (or her parents) because of copyright laws and image use restrictions in place by the museum I am contracted under. Perhaps someday soon, if I, or someone else, is able to accession them and upload them through museum’s digital collections, I can then link it back here. But that is a ways off at the moment, so until then, you’ll have to just imagine Gretchen looking almost exactly like Charles Dana Gibson’s Gibson Girl.
I tracked the provenance of this Little Lord Fauntleroy book, both from what I know of the family’s history, as well as after conversing with the Too Many Books’ clerk. I learned that it was passed to Gretchen’s youngest daughter, Josephine Gale Ellis, who then passed it to her daughter, Gale Palmer Penn. At Gale’s husband’s death, Too Many Books purchased their entire collection and assimilated it into the store. This was the only Gretchen-inscribed book I found while quickly browsing. I’m sure, if I had time, I would have searched the store high and low for any additional inscriptions! In addition to this one, I found two inscriptions from Gale Palmer, one from Josephine Ellis, and one ‘To my darling Theodora, from Mama.’ While these books were fairly pretty, I wasn’t interested enough to take the jump for the prices asked.
I wish this post were more visually stimulating in terms of the family content, but that’s how it goes!
Stover, Francis. ‘Reginald Birch, the Man Who Put Curls on the Little Boys of America.’ Milwaukee Herald 7 July 1943: 14. Web. 14 July 2014 http://news.google.com/newspapers?nid=1499&dat=19430707&id=afUZAAAAIBAJ&sjid=qCMEAAAAIBAJ&pg=4058,2197802
To see an image of T.M. and Minnie, visit Denver Public Libraries searchable collections. Minnie is the 3rd from the left, and T.M. is to the right of her. Again, because of copyright laws, and image use restrictions, I cannot reproduce the image on my site without paying a fee.