I will admit that I am a little bit of a nostalgia junkie.
I’m especially susceptible to collecting old books. One reason I love them so much is the quality of books that were produced in by-gone times
We live in such a disposable society now days that we forget that there was once a time when books were printed on paper so well milled you could actually feel the texture of the fibers as you ran your fingers across a page. And leading artists of the day were hired to create not just cover art, but chapter headings and story illustrations throughout the book, as well.
I’ll give you an example of what I mean, and share with you one of my favorite antique books. The Girl I Left Behind Me by Weymer Jay Mills was published in 1910. My copy is not in the best shape; there are some tears on the pages and some foxing, as well. I enjoy it anyway, because it was an unusual book even for its time because it was so beautifully illustrated.
Even the copyright page had its own little piece of artwork by artist John Rae, who had free rein to illustrate and embellish scenes from the novel as well as page and chapter headings.
One reason why this particular book may be more lavishly illustrated than others of its time is the reason it was published in the first place. Here’s a close-up of the book’s dedication page:
I wondered, after I read it, who Mrs. Adolph Ladenburg was, and what she did to excite so much admiration that the publisher and author would produce such a lavishly adorned volume. It only took a little bit of Internet research find out.
Mrs. Adolph Ladenburg (born Emily Louise Stevens) was a powerhouse of east coast American society from the 1880s until her death in 1937. Her father was a wealthy New York banker; her husband, whom she married at the age of twenty-two, was a wealthy partner in a Wall Street investment firm.
Emily was a skilled horsewoman, and is credited with being the first woman who dared to wear a “split skirt” while riding, which allowed her to modestly straddle her horse, instead of riding side-saddle.
She was also a charitable whirlwind, who dedicated much of her time and energy to aiding women and children (she championed one of the first school lunch programs in New York).
By the age of thirty-one Emily was a widow, and a very wealthy one. She never married again, but she was a frequent subject of romantic speculation in newspapers across the country. Here’s an example from a Virginia newspaper in 1902:
In one three-month period alone her name was romantically linked with three different men; one newspaper asserted she had been engaged to each man for a very short period of time. Whether that’s true or not is still a topic for debate.
How this little book came to be written about Emily is also a mystery. I think it’s possible that at one time her path crossed the author’s path. Weymer Jay Mills was a magazine editor and writer who covered the Vanderbilts, the Whitneys, the Astors, and other prominent members of society. It would not have been difficult for him to come upon Emily Ladenburg during the course of his job.
It’s equally possible that Mr. Mills was just someone who adored Mrs. Ladenburg from afar and hoped that by writing this story, he could somehow attract her attention. Either way, it seems to me that Mr. Mills was quite smitten with Emily Ladenburg.
Just like Helen of Troy, whose beauty launched a thousand ships, Mrs. Ladenburg’s beauty and style launched a lovely little book that has been on my shelf for many years. Mr. Mills’ writing style is fanciful and over-the-top; Mr. Rae’s illustrations are romantic and sweet.
You can click on the cover below to open a PDF of the book so you can read the story and see all of the lovely illustrations the artist created. I hope you enjoy the book as much as I do!