San Francisco. 1901-1903. Three notebooks. ; ; pp., on lined paper. Illustrations. Uniform contemporary black leather over limp paper covers. Spines partially perished, some rubbing and soiling. Minor dust-soiling to text. Overall very good. Item #WRCAM55186
A collection of three fantasy-tinged illustrated storybooks composed and illustrated by William Edgar Randall, a teenaged San Francisco storyteller and artist in the first few years of the 20th century. These three journals detail "Ed" Randall's fertile imagination, which takes the form of stories or fake letters, most of them illustrated with charming black and white ink title vignettes or calligraphic titles, which are sometimes accented with watercolors. As an adult Randall would work as a civil engineer and as a commercial illustrator - these volumes are early evidence of his artistic skill and imagination. At the start of each journal is a titlepage that often features an original ink-drawn bookplate, one of which hilariously states, "This book was dug up from under Carlisle Castle and supposed to have been written about anno domino 1902 or 1903 by one W Edgar Randall who lived at that remote period of the Earth's existence." At the beginning of each journal is also a manuscript table of contents or "Index," illustrated. Some of the more straightforward entries, such as short biographies of Nathaniel Hawthorne, John Greenleaf Whittier, or Paul Revere (or an essay on Chalk) appear to have been school assignments for which Randall was using the journal to compose a draft. In other entries it is clear that Randall is weaving what he has recently learned in school or experienced in real life into fanciful, detailed, re- imaginations of trips or adventures. In one of his imaginary letters he details a trip to Egypt and describes the sites he sees from his hotel window and the excavation of the Sphinx. An excerpt from the letter reads: "To relieve you of any burdensome illusions about the city of Cairo, I may and will tell you that most of the city and its people are quite civilized, and the high class are really quite progressive....Early in the morning, (very early indeed, 10 AM), came a 'jellah', or peasant, guiding a small flock of fowls with a palm- leaf, singing their praises the while, in sentences containing words from the English, French, Italian and Egyptian and a great many Greek words through in at random. A gayly turbaned cook spoke a few words to him, and there immediately ensued a lengthy debate over the price of the 'priceless birds.' In about an hour and a half the gaily turbaned personage, aforementioned, carried off a fowl in high satisfaction as having (as I afterwards learned) beaten down the price [to] two piasters which is about ten cents!"). In another letter he describes arriving in San Francisco and the various sites around the city like the Golden Gate and the Presidio: "When we got off the boat and came trough the Ferry Building, into San Francisco, a man with 'Lick House' on his cap informed me that his hotel was the best....A person residing at the St George wanted to explore the Golden Gate Park so we went together. It is oblong in shape with a 'Panhandle' a mile long at the eastern end. There are public tennis courts, packed down with oil, a deer and buffalo paddock....The Police are all very kind, most of them big-hearted Irishman, and when I got lost one night, came to the hotel with me. Yesterday we went to the Presidio. It is very much like other concentration camps but larger. Within it are an extensive golf links, and a life-saving station." There are also original short stories throughout the journals, such as "Vacation," detailing a short adventure to Santa Cruz; "Emperor's Bird's Nest," which describes a swallow nesting in the Emperor's tent; "Adventures of W.E.R.," a fanciful retelling of Ed's own childhood in which he writes, "W.E.R. was a boy. He was a very small boy when he got lost in the cornfield and never went near the place again [sic] for the simple reason that he was not allowed to;" "A Winter's Story," in which Randall details the exploits of an American corporal in Manila; "A Rolling Stone," a short story of two brothers, one whose "steadiness prospered" and one who gathered moss; and "The Minutes of the 37th Assembly of the Spider's Congress," a story which recounts the fateful meeting between city and country spiders. A descriptively-interesting excerpt of the spider story is as follows: "A member then told of how he saw a boy put a spider on a stick in the middle of a puddle of water. This did not trouble the spider for he sat down on the top of the stick and started to spin threads about a foot in length. After he had spun ten threads the wind lifted them and the spider and carried off. When the spider wanted to land, he cut one thread at a time and came easily to the ground." Randall's numerous illustrations include starfish, clams, shrimp, various insects, skulls, stylized gnome-like humanoids, and other fantastical figures throughout. Another humorous illustration is a set of drawings that showcases a snake's last meal. In one notable entry Randall composes a limerick about himself, reading: "There once was a fellow named Randall – / Who lived on peanuts and scandal / One day in his mirth / He jumped clean off the earth / And now the planets he'll handle." The most charming aspect of this entry is the "music" Randall composed to accompany the limerick, in which the notes of the stanzas are actually little costumed men acting out various scenes. William Edgar "Ed" Randall was born on January 29, 1888 in Marin, California to William James Randall (1852-1908) and Abbie Louise Perham Randall (1853-1908). He had a younger brother, Lawrence George Randall (1893-1953). After marrying Polly Randall (1888- 1966), the couple moved to New York City where Ed was employed as a civil engineer. Later in life Randall found work as an illustrator and columnist. Ed Randall passed away on December 15, 1964 after a short stay in Bellevue Hospital. He is perhaps most well-known for his "shadow portraits" and a caricature of Paul Whiteman, which became the orchestra leader's trademark. The present notebooks are a visually delightful record of one young man's fanciful musings on a variety of topics in old San Francisco and around the world of his own imagination.