Pre-Code Movies and Salacious Paperbacks


I found an interesting estate sale in Amherst last week. I got a nice set of vintage luggage from the 1940s maybe, three suitcases that fit inside one another. It was in the original box, so I figure the decedent whose estate it was was a collector. If you’re buying suitcases to use you generally throw away the box.
The books would bear this out, too. They were from all different periods with none of the contemporaneous clusters you usually find when one family member or another happened to be a big reader.
There were lots of old arithmetic books, early 1800s and some gazettes that were really old too and those can be fun to read, but not that fun. I don’t collect them. Life’s too short. And old beat-up books aren’t really worth anything, generally speaking, even old family bibles.
I did decide to spend a dollar on an old book called The Story of an African Farm by Ralph Iron, and then right under it in parentheses it says Olive Scheiner, so maybe Ralph Iron is a pen name, but if that’s the case why put the real name underneath?
Maybe the author assumes a persona as narrator the way H. Rider Haggard becomes Horace Holly in She.
Back in the old days people could spend years figuring things like this out, but a quick trip to Wikipedia reveals the following:
The Story of an African Farm (published 1883 under the pseudonym Ralph Iron) was South African author Olive Schreiner’s first novel. It was an immediate success and has become recognised as one of the first feminist novels.”
I was going to guess from the binding around 1870.
And from the summary of the 2005 movie I find that there’s an ostrich named Oswald, so I guess I’ll have to read it. It’s pretty beat up already, so it might fall apart, but that’s the chance you take with old books.
I also forked over a dollar for a Horatio Alger novel called Tom the Boot Black with the title page missing. Horatio Alger is like the Bobbsey Twins. There’s kind of an urban legend that there are collectors out there who will pay big bucks for them. If there are I haven’t met them, but if you know of one email me and I’ll cut you in.
Also, The Chinese Parrot, a Charlie Chan mystery by Earl der Biggers. And an intriguing looking volume in pretty good shape called The Bitter Tea of General Yen by Grace Zaring Stone. Wiki says the book was published in 1932, but someone has written 1945 on the fly leaf, which makes sense because it’s a Reader’s League of America edition.
Wiki also says Frank Capra made a movie of it in 1933 starring Barbara Stanwyck, and not just an ordinary movie, a “pre-code movie.” Va va voom! Hard to imagine Victoria Barkley from The Big Valley in a get-up like that… or is it? Hmmm…
Then there’s a salacious looking paperback from the 50s in great shape called The Roman and the Slave Girl by John Medford Morgan, which, it says on the first page, is “a robust and racy novel about ancient Britain where the wild pagan orgies were rivaled only by the barbaric slaughter,” so it appears to have something for everyone.
Wiki says it hasn’t been made into a movie that we know of… yet!