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Sunday 12 January 2014

Typewriter Collecting 40 Years Ago

A chapter on typewriter collecting was included in the book Collecting Mechanical Antiques, by English writer Ronald Pearsall, and published by David & Charles of Newton Abbot in 1973:

Ronald Joseph Pearsall (October 20, 1927-September 27, 2005) was an English writer whose scope included children's stories, pornography and fishing. His most famous book The Worm in the Bud (1969) was about Victorian orgies, prostitution and fetishism. Pearsall's other works included three on popular music between 1837 and 1929, several on the history of sexuality and many on antiques. His book The Table Rappers (1972) was an exposure of fraud mediums, tricksters and charlatans in Spiritualism.
In its obituary for Pearsall, headed “Prolific writer with a portfolio ranging from angling to sex”, The Guardian said he was “the author of books on an impossibly wide range of subjects”. "Best known is his study of sex in Victorian society, The Worm in the Bud (1969). Reprinted in 2003, it was a pioneering work, the sometimes troubling material tackled with irrepressible cheerfulness. In the late 1970s punk maestro Malcolm McLaren [manager of The Sex Pistols] was interested in producing a musical derived from the book, but it came to nothing.
"Pearsall also wrote an important book on Victorian spiritualism, The Table Rappers (1972), reprinted 2004, and popular books on many other aspects of Victorian society and culture. These included Victorian Sheet Music Covers (1972); Victorian Popular Music (1973); Collapse of Stout Party: Victorian Wit and Humour (1975); Night's Black Angels: The Forms and Faces of Victorian Cruelty (1975); and Tell Me Pretty Maiden: The Victorian and Edwardian Nude (1981).
"But Pearsall was no specialist. He considered himself a professional and would write about anything that was asked of him. His output (more than 60 books) included thrillers, comic books (Is That My Hook In Your Ear? 1966, on angling), children's books (under the name Ronald Rawlings), books on antiques (he contributed to many of the Connoisseur's Guides) and painting (he was also an artist), travel books, even pornography (under another pseudonym).
"He was also one of the team that wrote Dennis Wheatley thrillers after Wheatley died in 1977. In addition, there were countless magazine and journal articles on every conceivable subject, from the history of the Lee-Enfield rifle to Popular Psychological Fallacies. His work appeared in anything from The Undertaker to Country Life and The Musical Times.
"He had a lucid, fluent style, was brilliant at research and had remarkable powers of concentration.
"Pearsall was born and brought up in Birmingham, the son of a machine tool worker. In 1940 he was evacuated to Ombersley, near Worcester, where he lived with his brother, two aunts and four cousins, in what seemed in retrospect idyllic years. A rebel from the outset, he left school at 14. Two years later his thriller, The Scarlet Mask, was published. There followed an interlude in the army and a bewildering variety of jobs. He worked as an assistant in WH Smith and in a shoe shop, as a currency cashier in a travel agency, a hotel receptionist, insurance agent, cinema manager, and store detective. He moved to London in 1954, and in the late 1950s began to establish himself as a freelance writer. Meanwhile, he taught himself to play the piano and did the rounds with various dance bands in the early 1960s. Pearsall moved to Hastings in the mid-1960s.
"The success of The Worm in the Bud brought in some money and unexpected consequences. Parts of the book, suitably spiced up, were published in four weekly instalments in The News of the World. The newspaper also financed a trip to Copenhagen, then the sex capital of Europe, so that Pearsall could obtain some more up-to-date experience.
"Under [his wife's] influence, he took an interest in antiques and dogs, producing many books on the former (The Joy of Antiques, 1988; Antique Furniture for Pleasure and Profit, 1990) and many paintings of the latter."
The Telegraph's obituary said, "Ronald Pearsall, who has died aged 77, was a literary jack-of-all-trades, writing on matters as diverse as antique dolls and the history of monarchy as well as publishing children's books, thrillers and even pornography; he was best known, however, as a historian of Victorian sub-culture. In his book The Worm in the Bud (1969, the title a quotation from Twelfth Night: "But let concealment, like a worm i' the bud, Feed on her damask cheek") Pearsall investigated the often seamy reality behind the Victorian "whited sepulchre" ideal of sexuality. Pearsall investigated what went on behind the lace curtains and suggested that repressive attitudes created a climate in which the fetishistic, the illicit and the depraved thrived. He examined Ruskin, his erotic nightmares, unconsummated marriage and preoccupation with young girls; Swinburne's predilection for flagellation; the cult of the corset ("tight lacing produced a very close simulacrum of hysteria and could result in certain erotic sensations"); the buccaneering trade in pornography, and the orgies that took place at grand country houses. But he emphasised that even in the twilight world of illicit sex, conventional Victorian social hierarchies still prevailed. In a chapter on prostitution, Pearsall noted that Henry Mayhew, the Victorian sociologist, divided prostitutes into six broad categories, their status mirroring the class of their clientele. Far from being a marginal activity, Pearsall noted, prostitution was an important element in the capital's economy. One contemporary authority estimated that around £8 million a year was spent on prostitutes and that, out of a London population of two and a half million, there were about 80,000 women plying their trade. As a result of high levels of illegitimacy and infanticide, Pearsall reported, "dead babies in the Thames were so common that attention was not drawn to them". Pearsall was particularly fascinated by the thriving underground trade in erotic books and discovered a "private case" in the British Museum that contained hundreds of examples of 19th-century pornography, mainly from the collection of Henry Spencer Ashbee, a Victorian businessman and erotomaniac who under the "scatological pseudonym" of "Pisanus Fraxi", privately printed three bibliographies that established him as Britain's leading authority on pornography.
"[He was] educated at King Edward's. He was a bright child with a gift for writing; at 14, when he left school, he had a small paperback thriller, The Scarlet Mask (1941) published, but received no payment as his publisher vanished. 
"[In later life] The British Council sent him to Sweden to lecture on English humour. Inspired by success, he went on a to write a series of books on aspects of Victorian society. In The Table Rappers (1972), he examined the Victorian passion for the occult, revealing a colourful world of tricksters, charlatans and entrepreneurs, including venomous mediums who sabotaged each others' seances. In Night's Black Angels: the Forms and Faces of Victorian Cruelty (1975), he explored how, behind the high moral tone of the times, the domestic and social conditions of Victorian England brought out some of the worst aspects of human depravity.
"He returned to the fertile theme of Victorian sexuality in Public Purity, Private Shame: Victorian Sexual Hypocrisy Exposed (1976). An interest in antiques led to several books on the subject, including The Joy of Antiques (1988), Antique Furniture for Pleasure and Profit (1990) an Encyclopaedia of Everyday Antiques (1992), along with a series of Connoisseurs' Guides and a novel, The Belvedere (1976). He also published travel books and books on art (he was a proficient amateur painter)."


Jasper Lindell said...

I wonder whether if it was more unusual then to collect typewriter than it is now... mightn't have moved on the unusual scale, actually.

Interesting to see acquiring ribbons has been a concern for collectors for a good while. Reminds me of the claims 'letter writing is dead' made in the 1890s that have continued in bursts since then.

Anonymous said...

What an interesting character Mr Pearsall was! Thanks for posting.