So in getting ready for our second annual 25th Book Fair, we’re working our way through a collection of Rand McNally publications, duplicates of material the Newberry has in the Rand McNally archive. These are shiny, new books, hardly touched since they were published half a century or a century or more ago. You expect maps or atlases from Rand McNally. But the company published many things, including:
Geography textbooks: No big surprise here. What’s interesting is that so many are state-specific—there’s a New York edition and a Washington and Iowa and Illinois and…. Whether the material deals with the geography of a specific state or is just written to satisfy that state’s Board of Education, I’m not sure, but it’s an impressive collection.
Other textbooks, including workbooks and even test booklets. I can’t decide whether I prefer the readers, which are sometimes state-specific as well (Nebraska required that Eugene Field and James Whitcomb Riley be replaced in the poetry readers with Twinkle Twinkle Little Star and such verses) or Our Health Habits (I can NOT remember being taught to trim my nails in school, but education has gone downhill, hasn’t it?) or the history books (It’s that long page in honor of Woodrow Wilson for keeping us out of war that impresses me)
Home Cooking: what a beautiful picture of a domestic goddess preparing what has to be an apple pie! And the beauty of it is that the book inside this cover is not about apple pie or even called Home Cooking. It’s Francois Tanty’s La Cuisine Francaise, a guide to French cooking in the home. My guess is that in 1894 the editors felt American housewives would be suspicious of such a thing, and put the Home Cooking cover on to reassure the buyer
Children’s books: Rand McNally for many years was the home of Mollie and May, The Sunbonnet Twins, two little girls who had easy reading adventures and whose gimmick was that their faces never, never showed byond their oversized sunbonnets. (There was also a series about the Overall Boys, but although they wore huge straw hats, their faces did occasionally peep out.)
Private Breger, his Adventures in Army Camp: Rand McNally published a goodly number of military books of all descriptions during World War II. One of the great cartoonists of the war, Private Dave Breger (the cartoonist as well as the model for the main character) is given credit for popularizing the term “G.I. Joe”
Addresses and Reports of Mrs. Potter Palmer: Rand McNally published a great deal of material dealing with the World’s Fair in the 1890s. Bertha Potter Palmer was President of the Board of Lady Managers of the Columbian Exposition, and had much to report on. Rand McNally also published the reports of the Women’s Congress at the Fair, the Banker’s Conference at the Fair, etc. etc.
The Pros and Cons of Golf: This is by Chicago business leader and Teddy Roosevelt man Alexander H. Revell; golf was just vaguely beginning to catch on in Chicago at the end of the nineteenth century.
Two art books by Ford Madox Hueffer, later Ford Madox Ford, far superior, I am informed, to the British editions of the same books
And my personal favorite, The Merchant Prince of Cornville, a mad little comedy by Chicago real estate developer Samuel Eberly Gross, who convinced himself that Edmond Rostand swiped his best material to use in Cyrano de Bergerac. A Chicago judge actually awarded him a dollar in damages in the ensuing lawsuit, and he felt vindicated. I’m told he went on to believe that ALL of Rostand’s plays had stolen something from this book, of which only 250 copies were printed by Rand Mcnally. You’d better buy a copy for yourself and make up your own mind. (NOT that I question the judge’s verdict, mind; it’s just that, um, none of the copies of Cyrano de Bergerac that come through seem to give Mr. gross any authorship credit.)