These are brief reviews of books recently sent to us. We have included ordering information for publishers that accept mail, phone, or on-line orders. For other publishers, your local bookstore or mail-order house is the place to look.
Columbia’s Daughters: Girlhood Embroidery from the District of Columbia by Gloria Seaman Allen (Chesapeake Book Company, 2012, 272 pp., hardbound, $65 plus S/H from Gloria Seaman Allen, [www.dcneedlework.com]).
Gloria Seaman Allen has written extensively on textiles and decorative arts. Her goals with this book were to trace instruction and styles of needlework in the District of Columbia, to research and document the lives of the young needleworkers from this limited area, and to place the instructors and needleworkers in a geographical and historical context. Regional studies such as these are made easier by the use of technology and archival databases. Allen has discovered 130 needleworks from the area, and she documents them here and in an on-line database (www.dcneedlework.com).
The information is arranged according to the three communities that constituted the District of Columbia: Alexandria, Georgetown, and Washington City. Allen first presents what she learned about each community and the education of young women there. Then she discusses the samplers and their makers. In her concluding reflections, she writes that the “stylistic range reflects the demographics of the District’s three distinct urban areas and their varied influences on needlework instruction.” She points out that there are “missing pieces,” such as samplers by African Americans, samplers with graveside memorials or genealogies, and pictorial samplers of the president’s house and the Capitol.
Appendix I lists the documented samplers and embroidered pictures with name, age, and birth date of the needleworker, including when and where it was made, the type, and where it is now. Appendix II lists the documented needlework teachers and schools in D.C. Appendix III documents student records from the Young Ladies’ Academy in Georgetown relative to needlework charges from 1818 to the 1880’s. There are many footnotes throughout the book, a six-page “selected bibliography,” and an index. This thoroughly researched book adds much to the growing scholarship on needleworks, the girls and women who made them, and the local histories of regions and communities.
I My Needle Ply with Skill: Maine Schoolgirl Needlework of the Federal Era by Leslie L. Rounds (Saco Museum, 2013, 154 pp., softbound, $25.99 plus S/H from Dyer Library and Saco Museum, [www.sacomuseum.org]).
A few months ago M.A.D. publicized the exhibition for which this catalog was written. Funded in large measure by the Coby Foundation, the book stands on its own as a solid resource, though the exhibition has closed.
Rounds traces the history of each artist as fully as she can and connects the design style with the school and teacher when possible. Her introduction gives a good, well-researched overview of the subject. The samplers, arranged mostly by dates and styles, are illustrated in color, and each is presented with a synopsis of materials, stitch types used, size, and the present owner (if known), as well as the name of the needleworker (most are known, though not all) and the dates. Many of the summaries of the needleworkers’ lives include poignant details that enlarge our historical appreciation of the era.
Many of the samplers in the book are related to each other, stylistically or by maker. Curated to good effect, so the relationships build upon each other historically, the book helps us begin to imagine the lives of the young women. For instance, three similar samplers presented together are by Narcissa Stone, Hannah Stone, and Mary Stone. Narcissa “was the second-born of the ten children of Captain Daniel Stone and Nancy Hinkley of Harpswell, Maine. Of their seven daughters, she was the only one to live well into adulthood.…Two other Stone daughters, Lydia and Rebecca, also worked samplers…of notable similarity.” We learn that almost all died at age 19, probably of tuberculosis, “at the time a very common cause of deaths, especially in that age group. It frequently afflicted whole families, killing one member at a time.”
The children had been orphaned early, and Narcissa had become responsible for her younger siblings, so she turned to teaching stitchery in Brunswick, where she lived in the house built by her father. Trained “in business by her father, [she] became actively involved in real estate and part ownership and management of a factory, the Brunswick Company. She died in 1877 after suffering a stroke, with only one sibling, Daniel, outliving her.” These days, we wonder why people complain about having so little time for handwork.
Iron Men in Wooden Ships: 200 Years of Marine Art by James L. Kochan (The Mars and Neptune Press, 2013, 64 pp., softbound, $20 postpaid from James L. Kochan, 218 N. Market St., Frederick, MD 21701).
This full-color catalog was published in conjunction with the exhibition by the same name put together by James L. Kochan Fine Art and Antiques for its 15th anniversary. The exhibition was held at Arader Galleries in New York City in January during Americana Week and then at Kochan’s gallery in Frederick, Maryland, until June 1. The catalog features 28 examples of fine marine art encompassing battleships and battle scenes, sailors, yachts, clippers, and more.
Each artwork illuminates an aspect of marine history and is given a full page and accompanied by a brief biography of the artist and a description of the work and/or a history of the depicted scene. Artists include many who are well known, such as Thomas Birch, James Guy Evans, Robert Dodd, and Xanthus Smith, and some less well known, such as Thomas Yates, John Jenkinson, and Louis-Philippe Crepin. If you didn’t make it to the exhibition, or even if you did, this well-done catalog with beautiful examples of marine art would be a lovely addition to a marine art library or a coffee table.
A Grand Complication: The Race to Build the World’s Most Legendary Watch by Stacy Perman (Atria Books, 2013, 352 pp., hardbound, $26).
With compelling breathlessness, the author twirls us from “Lot 7” at a Sotheby’s horological auction that includes the world’s most expensive timepiece through the complex history of how it came into being and the characters who caused it, and finally to the epilogue, where we discover the name of a mysterious buyer. It is a yarn ball of various story fibers spun together in the chapters between, but with the controlled spin of Perman’s enthusiastic explanations, we read the gathered history and come away with an essence of an era in our pocket.
Perman develops the characters using what feels like glee, after her considerable research. Compilations of facts and her asides and generalizations take some patience or skimming, though for younger readers the asides are probably helpful. (I can imagine it would save them having to Google names and other facts.) She slips in some paragraphs of commentary on the struggles of the Depression and our own time, but most of her focus is on the two wealthy men in pursuit of the “most legendary watch” and their families and on a quite detailed overall history of watchmaking.
“The horological arms race between Henry Graves, Jr. and James Ward Packard was a gentlemen’s contest fought on velvet chairs in hushed salons, aided by discreet Swiss watchmakers, with requests propelled forward in formal letters on richly embossed stationery. Desires were subtly refined and encouraged in part by the watchmakers themselves from one collection to the other. According to one of Geneva’s insiders, there were always commercial matters to consider…which Patek Philippe, shaking loose its Swiss discretion, would come to describe as ‘one of the most remarkable and fascinating duels in horological history.’ From the beginning Ward held the upper hand.”
The race is worthy of a pitch to some television producers for a series. Perman’s ample descriptions of costumes, customs, idiosyncrasies, and social commentary will make the transition as smooth as the ticking of an elegant Swiss watch.
Perman’s chapters “The Comeback” and “The Final Gavel” will seem familiar in style to good coverage of the auctions of clocks and watches of note in recent years. She packed in many more details and background information than we could have done at M.A.D., and it is quite a piece of auction journalism. It is recommended for its zest.
Mauzy’s Comprehensive Handbook of Depression Glass Prices: 10th Edition by Barbara and Jim Mauzy (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2012, 240 pp., softbound, $12.99 from Schiffer Publishing, [www.schifferbooks.com] or  593-1777).
This handbook for collectors, now in its tenth edition, is a price guide and a record-keeping tool with spaces for noting how many of a particular piece and color a collector has. It is published in conjunction with the authors’ big book on Depression glass. In introductory notes the Mauzys report that sales of Depression glass have appeared stronger since the ninth edition of the handbook was published in 2009. They also discuss the flaws normally found in Depression glass and give quick tips on distinguishing between acceptable flaws and real imperfections.
This small book is organized by pattern names. Pieces are listed by size and color with “suggested” prices. An “R” indicates a reproduction piece. For some patterns, there are additional notes on colors, forms, or reproduction pieces. Pieces that are rare, and thus have no value history, are marked “trtp” (“too rare to price”).
A color section has small illustrations of each pattern. The index lists the page number for each pattern and the color page number. The book includes a bibliography, a list of Web sites, blank pages for note-taking, and a handy ruler on the back cover for on-the-go measuring. The authors share their contact information because they recognize that collectors are “the ultimate authority,” and they enjoy hearing from them.
The Official Red Book: Almanac of United States Coins, 1st Edition, edited by Dennis B. Tucker (Whitman Publishing, LLC, 2013, 188 pp., softbound, $9.95 from Whitman Publishing, LLC, [www.whitmanbooks.com] or  546-2995).
This first-edition almanac is a condensed overview of collecting U.S. coins with a view to “entertain and educate active collectors…energize casual hobbyists…and broaden the audience” for the hobby. This small book invites new collectors or those curious about collecting to open its pages and be introduced to the world of coins. It is an easy read that encompasses basic collecting advice. Each coin category includes a brief history and a grade/value chart. The coins range from Colonial and early American to coins minted as recently as 2012, plus error coins and misstrikes. This book will entertain and inform, and it is a good introduction to the hobby.
Victorian Fashions for Women and Children: Society’s Impact on Dress by Linda Setnik (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2012, 160 pp., softbound, $29.99 from Schiffer Publishing, [www.schifferbooks.com] or  593-1777).
Reading this book should make most American woman feel grateful to live in the 21st century with clothing styles that are comfortable, loose, and not medically damaging. Setnik discusses how social values and pressures of the Victorian era defined women’s clothing. Women, she writes, were “decorative objects.” The elaborate dress of the Victorian era included many layers, uncomfortable and physically damaging corsets, and long skirts and frilly trim on impractical clothes—all in the name of fashion. Victorian medical convention dictated wearing wool undergarments all year ’round (to maintain a uniform body temperature) yet warned against the use of stays to shape the waist. “Though the warnings against corsets were legion, most females ignored them.” The author tracks the changing styles of street clothes with many old photographs, descriptions, and history. She also covers more casual clothes worn at home for housework and play. While the focus is mostly on clothing for women and girls, Setnik does include a chapter on boys’ clothing. She includes prices as a general guide of value and includes quotations from period publications that comment on fashion, often negatively. Endnotes and a bibliography document the author’s research.
Airstream Memories by John Brunkowski and Michael Closen (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2012, 128 pp., softbound, $24.99 from Schiffer Publishing, [www.schifferbooks.com] or  593-1777).
In the spirit of the summer season, we offer a book about Airstream travel trailers, the iconic shiny silver aluminum camper designed and developed by Wally Byam in the 1930’s. This book highlights some history and features Airstream memorabilia from the authors’ collections—more than 425 examples of advertising, photographs, postcards, and more. Many are ads that feature Airstream travel trailers. One reads, “Airstream Land Yachting—The Better Way to Travel,” and another, “Adventure is calling you/ go Airstream!” One advertisement, headlined “Nights in shining armor,” shows an Airstream trailer lit up inside. Graphics feature camping trailer parks full of Airstreams and Airstreams by beaches, by lakes, in the woods, in the desert, and on the road. In the “Airstream International” chapter there’s a postcard of a group of Airstreams in front of an Egyptian pyramid, and another image features Wally Byam and his wife with an Airstream and a group of Ugandan natives in 1960. There are humorous Airstream art postcards, an Airstream Christmas ornament, and an Airstream light set. There are chapters on look-alikes, early camping trailers, and Airstream rallies and parks. Each collectible item is fully captioned and includes a value estimate. A bibliography directs your reading to more RV and Airstream fun. This book about a niche segment of collecting may stir your wanderlust for some summer camping, and collecting, adventures of your own.
Lesney’s Matchbox Toys: Regular Wheel Years, 1947-1969 by Charlie Mack (Schiffer Publishing Ltd., 2012, 128 pp., softbound, $19.99 from Schiffer Publishing, [www.schifferbooks.com] or  593-1777).
This small price guide is full of color photos of Matchbox toys from the regular wheel years, 1947-69. The toys are photographed on shelves with each shelf displaying one or more designs in multiple styles or colors. Each page displays up to four shelves of toys. Sets, boxes, buildings, and catalogs are also pictured. The toys are identified by row in captions, but the price guide is separate from the photographs and is found in the back of the book. The price guide lists the cars by year with descriptions and prices for mint boxed models. Unfortunately, the photos lack detail, the color reproduction is muddy in many instances, and the small type is not easy on the eyes. Included are early Lesney toys, “Models of Yesteryear,” major packs, king-size, accessory packs, roadway series, presentation sets, gift sets, pocket catalogs, trader or dealers’ catalogs, and painting books. There is a brief description of boxes and blister packs and the “home display.” Preproduction models, prototypes, fakes, and copies are briefly discussed. A list of collectors clubs and a bibliography complete the guide. Of interest are 14 full-page photographs from the Lesney Products “Matchbox” toy factory at Eastway, Hackney, London, showing the factory, workers, assembly lines, machines, and designers at work. The short history of the company ends with a reference to two other publications in the series: Lesney’s Matchbox Toys: “The Superfast Years,” 1969-1982 and Universal’s Matchbox Toys: “The First 10 Years,” 1982-1992.
Originally published in the July 2013 issue of Maine Antique Digest. © 2013 Maine Antique Digest