THIS IS A PERMANENT BOOK!
19 August 2011 -
Hayward Cirker was a lifelong New Yorker who with his wife Blanche started a small mail delivery service for remaindered books in 1941. His interests were deep and wide, his curiousity boundless, and when a physicist friend gave him the tip that an obscure out-of-copyright German mathematical treatise with the uber-dry title ‘Tables Of Functions’, might find a market if someone were to take the risk of reprinting it, he rose to the challenge. Six months later this first ever Dover book by Jahnke and Emde, retailing at $4, had sold out its run of 2000 copies and was headed for conspicuous success as a science bestseller.
One of the world’s best loved and most interesting publishing ventures was up and away.
The Dover story is pertinent to the current anxiety about technology shifts in the publishing industry. When the sensation of affordable paperbacks hit America during the second world war there were many doomsayers counting down the end of their beloved book culture. As government subsidies of wartime publishing were reined in after the armistice - subsidies which produced those now collectable editions of Steinbeck etc, with war recruitment slogans and advertisements on the back – traditionally minded publishers began reverting to the use of only cheap detective stories and westerns etc in the pulp format, rather than some of the more substantial content that had appeared that way during the war. Relying on pre-war cultural models rather than looking to how things might alter in a vastly altered postwar world these companies believed, or hoped, that readers wanted their more ‘serious’ reading in traditional handstitched hardbacks. But Hayward Cirker caught the mood of the times and in a very unromantic warehouse in lower Manhattan began to combine his assiduous talent for finding out-of-print books in the public domain with the fresh and accessible enterprise of more affordable paperback formatting.
Decades later, in 1978, when TIME magazine ran an article on Hayward Cirker and the Dover phenomenon, they focussed on the mysterious knack Cirker had for rescuing forgotten books and successfully republishing them with a utilitarian flair. TIME described the scenes in the working day of Dover: Blanche Cirker ransacking the mail for the titles of neglected books still remembered by readers, staff photographing pages of old books for Dover’s signature facsimile style, Hayward Cirker scouring bookstores for forgotten gems which he could resurrect, and bidding for faded volumes at auctions across the city, Long Island, and the rest of New York State.
Though Hayward Cirker died in 1982 and Dover has been sold on it is nevertheless still flourishing. The list of Dover titles that the Cirkers built up is immense – over 7000, including the works of 69 Nobel Prize winners! – and its range of specialist, technical and cultural material incredibly vast. Back in the 1950s it didn’t take long for readers to become aware that whether it was specialist books on physics, dollhouses, military history, classical music, fairy tales, 19th-century novels, cinema, ancient Egypt, mathematics, architecture, boomerangs, or tales of exploration and philosophical memoirs, the Dover titles were far from throwaway items but rather were published on great paper stock and with attractive and distinctive designs. They were proudly ‘permabound’ and and on the back of each of the titles was a note to reassure buyers - and to chasten the snobs and the doomsayers perhaps - briefly summarising the Dover ethos. The summary invariably ended with the catch cry – THIS IS A PERMANENT BOOK
Seventy years after Dover Publications began the shelves of many bibliophiles and booklovers, craftspeople and artists, engineers and scientists, would look a lot different without them. I still remember the excitement when I bought my copies of Kandinsky’s ‘Point And Line To Plane’ and ‘Concerning The Spiritual In Art’ back in the post-punk mists of the 1980s. With Cirker’s omnivorous gifts a veritable ocean of material has been freed from unwarranted redundancy, and hundreds of classic texts, like the Kandinskys, have been relaunched. Charles Perrault's 1697 ''Contes du Temps Passe,'' for example, was reissued by Dover, Nabokov’s Russian translation of Alice’s Adventures In Wonderland was a Dover book, they reissued all the great Victorian and Edwardian childrens stories, also the Brothers Grimm and Hans Christian Andersen, and for a time even branched out into recordings, releasing records of classics in performance, and also the sheet music of the great composers of the western repertoire.
But it is for the diversity, the usefulness, and the sheer quality of their books that Dover is mostly known. From their many books of picture and graphic ornament archives to their seminal engineering tracts, from ’Cookies From Many Lands’ to ‘Elements of Point Set Topology’, from ‘American Vaudeville: It’s Life & Times’ to ‘Build Your Own Inexpensive Doll’s House’ to ’The Travels Of Marco Polo’ to ‘Classic Childrens Book Illustrations’ Dover is a remarkable phenomenon in the world of books.
Back in ’78 when the journalist at TIME suggested that with the breadth of his interests and expertise Hayward Cirker would be more suited to the Quattrocento than to the Manhattan warehouse district, Cirker was having none of it. ‘I’m no renaissance man,’ he replied. ‘I’m just curious.’
Given our own expertise here at Barwon Booksellers, in rummaging through the dusty world for the neglected, the special, the beautiful and the useful, we have a particlular fondness for Dover titles. Below is a just a small sample of what we currently have instore.
Elements Of Point Set Topology by John D Baum - $8
Japanese Warriors, Rogues and Beauties
(woodblocks from adventure stories) ed. Kendall H Brown - $17
Figure Drawing by Richard G Hatton - $10
Salem Witchcraft by Charles W Upham - $18
Molecular Collision Theory by M.S. Child -$9
Wings (Dover Pictura – incl CD Rom) - $25
Complex Variables & the Laplace Transform for Engineers
by Wilbur R LePage - $12
Wizard Of Oz Paper Dolls by Ted Menten - $7
The History Of Freemasonry by Albert Gallatin Mackey - $20
An Edwardian Bestiary by Maurice & Edward J Detmold - $12
The Complete Guide To Artistic Anatomy by John CL Sparkes - $11
The Art & Illustration of Walter Crane ed. Jeff A Menges - $17