Kenneth Roberts’ Memorabilia: Roberts’ Signature

Collecting the works of one’s favorite author goes well beyond the mere collection of any book written by the author. Serious collectors prize first-edition copies and pre-release copies. Even within this narrow scope, signed copies are more valued than unsigned copies. Thus, greater monetary value is placed upon signed first-edition or signed pre-release copies because the demand can be high.

Verifying the signature of an author long-deceased can be difficult. There tends to be fewer samples of their signature, and with the passage of time, those who knew the author (and their signature) become fewer and fewer. As such, it is easier for forged signatures to be passed off as genuine signatures. This is just as true with Kenneth Roberts’ signed books.

Before I go forward with this post, I must make a disclaimer – I am in no way an expert on Kenneth Roberts’ signature. I have only two samples of his signature. However, I have communicated with others who have his signature and have seen (via reputable websites) images of his signature to be able to recognize a legitimate signature and a forgery.

With that said, I recently received a copy of a Roberts book that contains a copy of Roberts’ signed name and an inscription. The individual who sent me the book informed me that the particular signed copy was in their uncle’s personal library (but no story on how he received the book). The uncle was an author himself and “a Son of the American Revolution, a member of the New York Historical Society, a descendent of the Schuyler families in New York and an avid reader and collector of History books and manuscripts…He was an expert on New York history.” I was excited to receive the book.

Upon the book’s arrival, I eagerly opened the signed copy, only to find that the signature did not seem to match the signatures of Kenneth Roberts that I’ve seen. The book also contained an inscription, and the message did not fit the tone and wording Roberts typically used. Below are images of two Roberts’ signature that I have – signatures that match many other verified Roberts’ signatures.

This is a Roberts signature located in a presentation copy of Boon Island.

Roberts’ signature on Oliver Wiswell 2 vol Limited Edition copy, 468/1050

Now, here is the inscription and signature of the book I recently received (I’ll call it the ‘questionable signature’):

This is the inscription and signature found in the book I received recently.

There are a few things to note regarding the differences:

  1. The questionable signature has a more flowing nature to it.
    1. The underscore starts high and has quick, short “swoop” down as the line continues to the right. Roberts has been known to underscore his signature, but the line is more straight with a slight downward tick at the end. Roberts’ lines are more “matter of fact”, where as the line in question has some flair to it.
    2. The first name and last name in the questionable signature are connected by the crossbar of the “t” in “Kenneth”. The crossbar crosses the “t” and continues into the “R” in “Roberts.” Roberts’ signature never does that. Further, the “R” in the questionable signature has a rather large loop before going into the “r’s” leg. Kenneth Roberts’ “r” has a very ill-defined and small loop.
    3. Note the “n’s” in “Kenneth” in the questionable signature. They are similar to the genuine signatures in that they have “peaks”. However, the similarities end there. With Roberts’ signature, there is the first “n” with its peaks, then a “valley” preceding the second “n” (with its peaks); one is able to distinguish between the two “n’s” in his first name. With the questionable signature, there is no “valley” between the two “n’s”. Rather, there are four consecutive “peaks” with no “valley”. Thus, there is little to no distinction between the two “n’s”.
    4. Kenneth Roberts’ signature has a distinctive “z” look to the “e” following the cursive “b” in “Roberts.” In the first two images, note how the “e” coming off the cursive “b” looks like an elevated cursive “z”. However, in the questionable signature, the “e” that follows the cursive “b” looks as a cursive “e” should.
    5. The “o” in Roberts’ genuine signature is not connected by the following “b”, whereas the “o” in the questionable signature is connected to the following “b”.
    6. The “b” in Roberts’ genuine signature looks like a malformed capital “V”, with the left side higher than the right side. The “b” in the questionable signature is a well-formed cursive “b.”
    7. The “th” in “Kenneth” varies as well. The genuine signature has a “pointy” “h”, whereas the questionable signature’s “h” has it’s appropriate loop and hump.
    8. Finally note the cross at the end of Roberts’ name in the questionable signature. Roberts has used a similar mark in some of his signatures (note the second image above). However, Roberts’ mark tends to be a compact, lower-case “x” as opposed to a cross.
  2. The inscription of the questionable signature does not sound like Kenneth Roberts:
    1. The first thing to note is that it is written as if someone else were writing on behalf of Roberts. The use of the definite article (the best wishes) and the possessive “of” (the best wishes of) give off red flags. An author, when signing a book, rarely (if ever?) writes in the third person (unless they are George Costanza).  I am not familiar with Roberts regularly writing an inscription; he generally reserved inscriptions for close friends or colleagues. Roberts’ normal practice was to just sign his name.
    2. Kenneth Roberts’ tone with other people (outside of his writings) were direct and to the point. Reading his I Wanted to Write and For Authors Only and Other Gloomy Essays indicate that he was a private man who had little time for fans and strangers. Further, he was an impatient man and disliked small talk or anything that lacked purpose. His personality is seen in his signature – the choppy, pointy nature to his signature point to a man with little time for ensuring a picturesque signature. The questionable signature, on the other hand, indicates someone who gives attention and care to one’s signature. Roberts’ signature says “Let’s get this over with”, whereas the questionable signature says “I care about you and want to give you a memento worth keeping.”

Because I’m no handwriting expert, I don’t want to call the last image a forgery. It is possible that someone inscribed the book with the intention of granting best wishes in the name of Kenneth Roberts, not on behalf of Roberts or as Roberts. That is, the inscription and signature were not written to be passed off as Roberts’ own. However, the way the inscription and signature appear gives me the impression that this is more than likely not the case; instead, it is a poor attempt at passing off a Kenneth Roberts’ signature.

Oliver Wiswell 2 vol Limited Edition, Signed

It’s always a good find when you locate an item containing the signature of your favorite author. It’s even better when that find is at an affordable price!  When I set my goal to own every Kenneth Roberts book, I realized that I would not be able to own the more rare copies (lest I spend too much money and my kids go without food). Nevertheless, I’ve searched every book store, antique store, flea market, etc. for copies of Roberts’ books. Further, I’ve taken advantage of the 21st century and searched Ebay, Amazon, Abebooks, and Alibris for those more rare copies.

Well, I’ve had an awesome week when it comes to finding affordable Roberts works. First, I found a first-edition copy of Florida (1926) on auction starting at $10. I was the only bidder and was able to purchase this hard-to-find book for a mere $12 (after shipping). Granted, the spine of the book shows spotting and fading, but it’s a great find nonetheless and a great book to add to my (slowly) growing collection.

Second, recall from a previous post that I found another hard-to-find book – a first-edition copy of March to Quebec, a book that I’ve searched for high and low for years (I enjoy books of this kind).

Lastly, however, is the greatest find of my week. One Kenneth Roberts’ work that I was sure would be out of my range was the limited edition 2 volume set of Oliver Wiswell. This set was printed before the first official printing that went on the market. Of 1050 limited edition copies made, 1000 were for sale. Each set is signed by Kenneth Roberts and is numbered. Usually Roberts’ books that are signed and numbered are at least $150 and over, but I found a copy online for only $50!  Indeed I was very excited and bought it immediately.

Oliver Wiswell 2 volOliver Wiswell 2 vol

Roberts' signature on Oliver Wiswell 2 vol Limited Edition copy, 468/1050

Roberts’ signature on Oliver Wiswell 2 vol Limited Edition copy, 468/1050

For the price, the book is in awesome condition (despite the small scratch on vol. 2 and the chipping at the top of the spine of vol. 2). There is little, if any, fading, and the binding is still tight with no cracks in the hinges. One thing that stuck out to me was the quality of the paper. The paper is heavier than that used in the regular first-edition (I know, not the proper terminology) of Oliver Wiswell. Further, the edging is rougher than that of his other books (a feature I particularly like). The front and back boards are thicker than normal and of a different color than the “regular” Oliver Wiswell copies. The only thing I believe that is missing from this set (which I don’t mind at all) is a slip cover.

It’s a great find, and now I’m motivated to persistently search for other hard-to-find copies at great prices!

Kenneth Roberts Memorabilia: 1938 Parker Pen Ad

Today, July 18, is my birthday. As I’ve grown older, and especially when my two youngest daughters were born five days and 10 days after my birthday, I have become rather specific and picky as to what I want for my birthday. Yes, I still get birthday gifts, but I don’t expect to get a lot of gifts (as one does when they are a child); rather, some money to go to Half Price Books or to go to Music-G0-Round for my drums usually fits the bill. However, the previous fourteen birthdays have primarily been gifts toward books for my education. Occasionally would I get something for my drum set or a book that was outside the realm of my studies.

Parker Vacumatic pen ad featuring Kenneth Roberts in 1938

Parker Vacumatic pen ad featuring Kenneth Roberts in 1938

This year is different, however, as I am no longer in school.  I found a couple of Kenneth Roberts items on the web and pointed them out to my wife. One item that I received today for my birthday is a great ad from 1938. It is an ad for Parker Vacumatic pens featuring Kenneth Roberts. This ad is perfect for me in two ways: first, I am obviously a big Kenneth Roberts fan. Second, I really like old Parker pens. I have two Parker 51 pens that are still in working condition, and a Parker 61 pen/pencil set that has never been used (by the way, be sure to visit Parker51.com – a wonderful site on everything Parker 51). So, the Parker Vacumatic ad really combines two things like enjoy collecting: Kenneth Roberts works and old fountain pens (particularly Parker pens).

Several features about this ad stand out. First, it links a best-selling author with the use of a best-selling pen. Roberts had just published the best-selling Northwest Passage in 1937, and by using his likeness, Parker was riding Roberts’ wave of popularity. Behind Roberts’ picture is the first page of Roberts’ manuscript for Northwest Passage. The caption to the left of Roberts’ image reads:

In drafting the manuscript of Northwest Passage, his great novel of French and Indian wars and the gargantuan Major Robert Rogers, Kenneth Roberts wrote more than 2,000,000 words with his Parker Vacumatic; then rewrote and altered his rough draft to its final version of 300,000 words. The same unfailing pen helped Mr. Roberts create his famous portraits of Cap Huff and Benedict Arnold in Arundel and Rabble in Arms; King Dick, Capt. Boyle and Daniel Marvin in Lively Lady and Captain Caution.

While the ad’s mention of Roberts’ manuscript’s 2,000,000 words clearly intends to highlight the Parker Vacumatic’s durability and reliability, it also points to Roberts’ detailed and diligent work he put into his novels. Having just finished a dissertation that entailed editing and revising, I just cannot fathom writing 2,000,000 words, only to cut out 85% percent for a final tally of 300,000. I cringe at such a thought.

A second feature that stands out is the small print to the lower left-hand side of the ad. In small print, one reads:

 No payment has been or will be made to Mr. Roberts, for the use of his name in this advertisement; and the Parker Pen Company, at his and to show its appreciation, will this summer provide funds to send a welfare worker with the Grenfell Mission to Labrador.

No doubt Roberts had every right to accept money from Parker for the use of his name and image; however, I find that this statement sheds light on a side of Kenneth Roberts that is often overshadowed by his outspoken personality. (For information on the Grenfell Mission, visit this link. The mission was started by Wilfred Grenfell to establish permanent medical care in Labrador and the surrounding area.)

This ad is an amazing piece of history, particularly in the information one can glean about Kenneth Roberts the man. So, when looking through old magazines, don’t ignore the old ads. You never know what you may discover!

March to QuebecP.S. I stated above that I found a couple of items on the web. The second item is a first edition copy of March to Quebec with the dust jacket, both in good condition. I’m very excited about this find as well; I’ve been looking for this book for quite some time in antique stores, used book stores, etc., and could not find it. So, I had to resort to the web (thank you abebooks.com!). Nevertheless, I am excited and have it on my nightstand as we speak, waiting to be read.

Kenneth Roberts in the Saturday Evening Post: “I Like Girls With Simple Tastes” – Part II

IMG_1804[1]Anyone familiar with Kenneth Roberts knows the reputation he had of being a crotchety man. In the forward to The Kenneth Roberts Reader, Ben Ames Williams recollects stories that highlight Roberts’ curmudgeony personality. If one were to think, however, that Roberts’ contemporaries misunderstood him or were perhaps a bit too sensitive, Roberts sets the record straight in the opening sentence of his June 27, 1936 article in the Saturday Evening Post titled “I Like Girls With Simple Tastes.”  With a penchant for getting straight to the point, Roberts begins by stating “As I grow older and more crotchety, I find myself becoming more and more intolerant of persons impossible of thinking straight, talking sensibly or behaving normally” (10). And with that opening salvo, Roberts provides his readers with a torrent of rapid-fire complaints about the day in which he lived.

Roberts’ dislikes ranges from over-paid actresses and under-paid authors to double-speaking politicians; from a public who idealized the founding fathers of America to “society columns which tend to glorify  the activities of young gentlemen and young ladies whose greatest contribution to the welfare of mankind seems to be a mild interest in motoring, cocktail drinking and divorce” (10).  Roberts’ dislikes include novices who view themselves as better writers than those of classical literature, and people who ignorantly champion a political ideal.

Yet, in 1936, nothing matched Roberts’ growing dislike of “the appearance and ideas of the annoyed-looking girls who sit behind the steering wheels of automobiles during the summer months and drive around the country with a contemptuous and careless air” (10). These girls, as Roberts understands it, portray an air of “sophistication,” and it is the desire for sophistication that “is at the bottom of much of the imbecility that is apparently permeating the United States of America and other nations with such rapidity” (10).

Roberts’ Encounter with Sophisticated Girls

"A group of sophisticated young things undertook to enlighten me." Saturday Evening Post 208:52 (6/27/36), p. 10.

“A group of sophisticated young things undertook to enlighten me.” Saturday Evening Post 208:52 (6/27/36), p. 10.

To illustrate his growing annoyance with sophisticated girls, Roberts recounts a visit he had with twelve sorority girls at a Mid-Western college in America. These ladies considered themselves “more sophisticated…and superior to” the undergraduates of surrounding colleges, and during this visit, they sought to enlighten Roberts about what it meant to be sophisticated.

Through his wit and sarcasm, Kenneth Roberts portrays his conversation with the sorority girls as a microcosm of the culture at large. Each girl prided themselves on being the “mental cream of the university,” with one being well-read in the New York Times, with another who mastered golf such that “she had achieved something which eludes many male mental giants–she played regularly in the low eighties” (10). Another sorority sister was an able poet, while another “held the undergraduate dating championship,” having had no less than four dates a day during her senior year (10).

When asked to define “sophistication,” the university’s cream of the crop provided rather empty, flimsy answers. For one, sophistication meant being well-dressed; that is, a sophisticated girl wears “gloves and a hat to classes, and carry a handbag. She must wear spectator sport clothes to football games in the autumn and active sport clothes in the spring” (10).

The poet defined sophistication as having the right social contacts. Yet, to obtain such contacts, one must dress and act in a sophisticated manner (11).

Baffled by what he had heard up, Roberts hypothesizes that the girls’ use of the word “sophisticated” and his own use of that same word were different. To help him understand what they meant by “sophisticated,” Roberts asked that they explain what they meant by “sophisticated men” (11).  The answers given were just as empty. A sophisticated man was one had “been places and done things” (11); one who knew “how to speak to a waiter so the waiter doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable” and “order a dinner without making you feel embarrassed” (11); he is one who is “seen everywhere” and is known by everyone, is mature, and is well-dressed (11). Further, a sophisticated man is one who can hold his liquor well.

One “fluffy blonde” stated that a sophisticated man was an “exhibitionist”; that is, one who didn’ t play chess or weird “things like that” (11). Finally, according to the poet, a sophisticated man “knows what to do and when to do it” (11).

The Real Definition of Sophistication

For Roberts, he didn’t have the heart to tell them what sophistication really meant. Citing the Century Dictionary and Cyclopedia, Roberts informs his readers that “sophistication” (and the verb “to sophisticate”) has five meanings, which include ideas such as fallacy, sophistry, to mislead, “to deprive of simplicity,” and to deceive (11). Based upon this more substantive definition, Roberts concludes that when the young sorority girls he met with–and all others like them–talk about sophisticated men, they are actually referring to “young men who mislead; who are specious–who are in a word, bogus” (11). To admire something that is sophisticated is to admire something that is not genuine and not worth having (11).

The Object of Roberts’ Ire

"The sophisticated admirer of rich men explained her system of winning over a reluctant male to her taste in foods and wine" Saturday Evening Post 208:52 (6/27/36), p. 11

“The sophisticated admirer of rich men explained her system of winning over a reluctant male to her taste in foods and wine” Saturday Evening Post 208:52 (6/27/36), p. 11

The remainder of Roberts’ article is a response to an article written by a young, sophisticated lady (more on this in another post) who boldly claimed that she was interested only in men who had “the assurance, ease and arrogance that only money can give” (11).  Roberts’ questions such qualities, for it defines a “pretty poor specimen” (11).

Further, the young lady characterized the sophisticated man as one who was desired by other women, and one who “dares to break an engagement at the last moment if he is offered an opportunity to participate in something more interesting” (84). For Roberts, such characteristics fail to describe successful men, for they have not the time to be paraded around to be admired by other women, and they would not be successful if they made the habit of breaking commitments (84).

Much more can be said about Roberts summary of this young lady’s admiration of men with money–their affinity for first-class entertainment and an aversion to anything less; their knowledge of the finest wines–yet to do so would make an already long post longer.   He mentions, though, that her “philosophy of life” failed to “mention anything as stupid as books” (84 – classic Roberts’ sarcasm!). However, if she were to pine about books as she did food, wines, dress and money, Roberts was sure that she would prefer the “moment’s best seller to a cheap edition of one of Jane Austen’s novels” (84).

Sherry: A Case Study

According to Roberts, what the young sorority girls and the sophisticated author aimed for – a knowledge of the finer things of life – could not be attained by reading the latest social columns or best-sellers. Rather, it takes a lifetime to be an expert in something.

Roberts illustrates his point by sharing about his fondness of sherry. Yet, for a time, the amount of sherry he drank would not qualify him as an expert in the drink. This was driven home by a visit he made to a sherry-exporting firm in Spain. Here he was shown how sherry was made, stored, drawn, and packaged. The sampling room exposed Roberts to numerous kinds of sherry, whose consistency, color, and flavor varied based upon how they were made and how long they were stored (among other factors).

Despite everything he learned in his visit, Roberts acknowledges that he still lacks the extensive knowledge about sherry that would make him an expert. In fact, he confesses: “I still know very little about sherry” (86).

The sophisticated young girls of his day pretended to have extensive knowledge about wines, current events, etc. That which they portray (and I’m sure Roberts would say this of “sophisticated” men) is only a facade; they are misled into thinking they know more than they really do. For Roberts, he “can’t get along with girls whose tastes aren’t simple – chiefly because [he has] found their beliefs so irritatingly dishonest” (87).  He concludes

The reasoning of the ladies who like men with money is too intricate, too irritating, for me. I prefer girls who think more accurately; who are sufficiently unspoiled to understand the beauty and good taste of simplicity” (87).

***Updated 7/12/14 1:30 am – Corrected “Ben Ames” to “Ben Ames Williams”

Kenneth Roberts in the Saturday Evening Post: “I Like Girls With Simple Tastes”

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“The Saturday Evening Post,” June 27, 1936 edition.

 

Finding a Kenneth Roberts book presents a challenge for his fans in the 21st century. Though some publishers have published reprints of his more well-known works (Northwest Passage and Arundel, for instance), the bulk of Roberts’ published works can be found only on dusty bookshelves of antique stores, used bookstores, or flea markets. Even then, one mostly finds a greater number of reader club editions or reprints as opposed to first editions or copies of his lesser-known works (Trending Into Maine; Florida Loafing; Good Maine Food, etc.). Thus, the hunt for Kenneth Roberts’ books is either frustrating (good finds are few and far between) or rewarding (an unexpected find or a successful buy after a long hunt).

I experienced an exhilarating find a couple of days ago while on vacation in my hometown in the great state of Louisiana. My wife and I were in the antique district of town (while my parents watch our girls, giving my wife and I the freedom to take our time!) when I visited a shop known for carrying copies of The Saturday Evening Post. Before I continue, allow me to make a brief aside here…in addition to finding first editions or rare copies of Roberts’ books, finding any copies of The Saturday Evening Post can be difficult. Roberts wrote quite a bit for the Post, but my searches have found that most shops carry old copies of Life, but very little by way of the Post.  Another annoyance. I digress.

As I searched through the collection of Saturday Evening Post copies – all from 1936 – I stumbled across an issue from June 27, 1936 (pictured). Lo and behold, Kenneth Roberts’ piece was the featured article. To make my day even better, the store owner had a 50% sale on all Post issues. I excitedly rummaged through the remaining issues hoping to find more featuring Roberts, but had only found the one (one unfortunate reason for this is that the store owner had every issue individually sealed in a plastic cover, so I could not look through each issue to see if any of them contained smaller works by Roberts). Nevertheless, I was very excited for this most excellent find!

Roberts’ featured piece is titled “I Like Girls With Simple Tastes.” Now, I don’t consider myself an expert of Kenneth Roberts, but in all the years that I’ve been searching for anything Roberts and all the reading that I’ve done on him, I never recall coming across this particular title. So, in addition to finding a Saturday Evening Post containing a piece from Roberts, I also found something that I had never read of Roberts! Double win!

Roberts’ “I Like Girls With Simple Tastes” is a reaction piece to the “sophisticated” girls of the 1930s – pretentious, “high-maintenance” women. Written in classic-Roberts style, Roberts questions whether these particular women even truly know what “sophistication” is, painting them in an unfavorable light. Roberts’ personality is on full display in this piece as he leaves no one in doubt of his opinions and preferences.

Before one can write of “I Like Girls With Simple Tastes” as “typical Roberts cantankerousness,” the June 27, 1936 issue of the Post provides on the very last page an explanation behind the purpose for Roberts’ piece. One discovers that Roberts did not just decide to write his piece merely to voice his complaints; rather, he wrote in response to a piece by a “sophisticated” woman in a previous Post issue.

So, what will follow in the next few days is a summary of Roberts’ “I Like Girls With Simple Tastes,” followed by a post providing the reasons behind this piece. Stay posted!

Kenneth Roberts Memorabilia: A New Series

It’s hard to believe that I’ve been running this site for three and a half years now; not only has it been a joy getting to do something that Kenneth Roberts fans have found needed, but I’ve also enjoyed getting to meet new people who share in the common interest of keeping alive the appreciation for Kenneth Roberts and his works.  One benefit of meeting fellow Kenneth Roberts enthusiasts is getting to hear stories or see items that would otherwise go unnoticed, which leads me into another new series for this site – Kenneth Roberts Memorabilia.

The purpose of this series is simple: to share the pictures of artifacts that Kenneth Roberts enthusiasts have collected over the years.  Today’s artifact is an envelope addressed to Kenneth Roberts from Tracey Levasseur.  I’ll let her introduce this artifact:

Here’s a very strange story…: last year I was at a friend’s house looking over a stamp collection her father had left her before he passed away in 1967.  It was a hodge podge of stamp albums,
shoeboxes, envelopes, etc and contained everything from stamps to wedding invitations to empty envelopes addressed to other people. As I was pulling these items one by one out of a shoebox my eyes fell upon an addressed envelope that made my hair stand on end. It was addressed to Kenneth Roberts… from a London publishing company. Unfortunately the letter
inside had been lost to time but the simple fact that it was addressed to Roberts and he no doubt opened and replied to it, I had to have it. My friend gave it to me after I’d gone through and appraised the collection, which I thought was nice. What are the odds that I’m going to find this envelope in a stamp collection that had been sitting in my friends closet
for 45 years. Her father had no relationship with Roberts, had not lived in Kennebunk ever, how did he come to acquire this and why did it happen that I stumbled upon it [?]

Here are two images of the said envelope:

An envelope addressed to Kenneth Roberts ca. 1939.

An envelope addressed to Kenneth Roberts ca. 1939. Courtesy Tracey Levasseur.

K. Roberts envelope back

Photo courtesy Tracey Levasseur.

Here’s what Tracey says of the envelope:

The envelope came from Curtis Brown Ltd in London. This was and still is a literary agency which in its early days represented European authors in the US. However after WWI they started representing American authors in Europe. This envelope is postmarked 1939 which I suspect was a correspondence to Roberts regarding representing him in Europe. The address is his Kennebunkport address, which is Rocky Pastures as he would have moved into this house by 1939.

A great piece of history of one of America’s greatest authors.  Much thanks to Tracey for sharing with us!

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