An Important New Collection of African American Ephemera

The Libraries have recently received a large gift of the family library and material culture collections of Mr. Hemrick (Hink) Salley of Salley, SC. Parts of the library have been in his family for several generations, and Mr. Salley himself is an avid collector with varied interests.

One area he has especially focused on is African American literature, culture, and history, especially in the South. In addition to a substantial book collection, currently being cataloged here in the Irvin department, there is a large ephemera collection relating to African American imagery and race in America that stretches back to Reconstruction.

Much, if not most, of this imagery is overtly stereotypical and racist. There are many colored photo postcards from the early 20th century depicting rural life across the South  as well as comic postcards with racist caricatures. Of especial interest are the late 19th century items, such as a number of tintypes with African American portraits and a large group of advertising cards, fold-out pieces, and trade cards featuring African Americans.

All told, there are several hundred pieces in the collection, which is now available for research use.

Many manufacturers, Northern and Southern, adopted “old South” imagery in the late 19th and early 20th centuries to advertise their products to consumers in all parts of the United States. This nostalgia for an idealized antebellum world of placid Southern order was, of course, far from the reality experienced by those enslaved. The degrees to which African Americans are in turn idealized, scorned, laughed at, disparaged, and threatened in these pieces varies widely in scope and degree, from the relatively mild to the shockingly violent. As a result, this collection will have a great deal of future research value to students of American history, advertising, visual culture, and race.

I have consciously chosen to show several of what I will call milder images of racial difference in this post. There are many more items that are far more disturbing in the collection, and for that reason they are worth preserving, if perhaps not reproducing widely here. The collection is open and available for use anytime, and I would welcome further inquiries about it.


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“Why Haven’t More Movies Stolen From George V. Higgins?”


“Killing Them Softly,” from The New Yorker

The new Brad Pitt film “Killing Them Softly,” which just opened, is based on Cogan’s Trade, George V. Higgins’s third novel, published in 1974. Anthony Lane just reviewed the film in The New Yorker, and his review (quoted above) is half concerned with the film, and half about the significance of Higgins as an author. Lane thinks Higgins is often overlooked when filmmakers (and readers) are looking for source material on gritty realism, authentic dialogue, and treatments of low-life in general amongst small-time hoods, thugs, politicos, and other mostly shady creatures.

We have known this all along, of course, because the Irvin Department houses Higgins’s papers, including all the drafts of Cogan’s Trade, his other novels, short fiction, journalism, law practice records, newspaper columns, and much, much more. In fact, it is our largest and most comprehensive author collection, as Higgins saved everything from his several careers, and it is all here and available for research. More information on Higgins and the collection can be found here.

Higgins was a significant influence on Elmore Leonard, Robert B. Parker, Dennis Lehane, and many others. His name is consistantly referenced up as one of the writers who best “gets” Boston on paper. The Friends of Eddie Coyle, his first novel, was made into an excellent film in 1973 starring Robert Mitchum and Peter Boyle. It’s currently available on Netflix and on DVD.

Here’s to more popular interest in Higgins’s work!


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Some recent book arts acquisitions

Through the generosity of Susan and William Hogue, we have been able (for several years running now!) to acquire a number of interesting artists’ books, examples of contemporary book arts, or other “multiples” or “bookworks” to add to our collections. I deliberately do not want to classify these items into a particular category, as the boundaries of what constitutes an “artists’ book” versus a work of “fine printing,” a “multiple,” or something else are all fairly fluid, depending upon the work in question and how we try to understand its place in a growing body of experimental and innovative work being produced by authors, printers, illustrators and artists, who often collaborate to create projects such as these.

Suffice to say that we are presently building a very interesting collection of contemporary works that:

  • engages with and challenge the nature of the book itself, in all its constituent parts
  • further pushes the experimental boundaries of existing works and major authors in our collections, both visually and textually
  • often involves multiple artistic processes perfected in the 15th, 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, oftentimes all combined in the same work

Here are a few examples of some recent acquisitions:

Above, Scott McCarney’s State of the Union: Live Evil Vile (2006) (on the lower right) is a meditation on state of the union addresses by George W. Bush and was created with a color photocopier, duct tape, Photoshopped tv screenshots and use of the Internet Anagram Server.

Above and left, the cardboard box contains a sampler of works created by members of the International Society of Copier Art (ISCA) from 1986-2003. There are at least 20 small works in it, all different, and comprising a number of different book structures. In the foreground is Maureen Cummins’s remarkable Anatomy of Insanity from 2008, where she took 19th century patient intake records from the McLean Hospital outside of Boston, sorted them by gender, and came to some very interesting conclusions in this book designed to resemble a set of patient medical charts.

We’ve just acquired Karen Kunc’s Fractured Terrain (Blue Heron Press, 2011), one of 25 copies of a beautiful work that combines excerpts of works from Umberto Eco and Denise Levertov on the natural and built environment with Kunc’s multiple illustration processes (woodcut, polymer plate, etching and aquatint) to memorialize the victims of natural disasters.

Allison Weiner’s Rabbitpox (SF Center for the Book, 2009) is a darkly humorous meditation, with great retro-style illustrations, on threats posed by the creation, distribution, and immoral use of new viruses by hostile governments.

Ellen Knudson’s Wild Girls Redux: An Operator’s Manual (Crooked Letter Press, 2009) has won a number of awards and been in several recent book arts shows and exhibits, including last year’s Southeast Association for Book Arts juried show here at USC’s McMaster Gallery.

And finally, Guillermo Gomez-Pena’s Codex Espangliensis: From Columbus to the Border Patrol is a seminal work of the 1990s that combines sixteenth- and seventeenth-century accounts and illustrations of some of the first encounters with indigenous peoples of the New World with contemporary pop culture and comics/comix imagery related to Mexico, corporate culture, and many other things to create an alternative history of Western exploration and settlement, one primary from an indigenous peoples’ perspective.

Brief descriptions and static photos such as these hardly do these works justice. They each have their greatest impact when they are explored and worked through individually. Each one can be requested and examined in the reading room any time we’re open.


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Edith Wharton and Sinclair Lewis: A New Gift

We’ve just received a gift of an Edith Wharton collection and several Sinclair Lewis first editions from Professor James Kibler of the University of Georgia. Professor Kibler is a USC alumnus and has been a good friend of our Libraries for many years, and we are very thankful to have this substantial addition to our Wharton holdings from his gift.

All of the books are in very good to fine condition, and several have dust jackets in equally good condition:

The Marriage Playground is the photoplay edition of Wharton’s The Children. Photoplay editions were brought out by publishers as early film tie-in books. They often included stills from the (silent) picture that is based on the book. Here’s the title page with a film still as a frontispiece:

Early 20th century dust jackets are scarce in general and always interesting. This one is printed on both sides and includes the full Grosset and Dunlap catalog for 1928:

The most spectacular book in this collection is this fine copy of a first edition, sixth printing of The Age of Innocence in a near-fine dust jacket:

And here is a group of Sinclair Lewis’s work. All are first editions; some are first printings and some are later printings. You can see the uniform corporate image of Harcourt, Brace and Company come through in their cloth stamped bindings. In the 20s, it was still commonplace to discard a jacket as mere “advertising” and to shelve the cloth-bound book without it, hence their relative scarcity today.


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