Wherever he went in the world, with or without Isabel, Larz Anderson sent Isabel cards and notes, many of which had a local flavor. He once annotated a color picture postcard of Prague (probably around 1908) adding a silhouette of himself with the bubble caption “That’s a pretty girl: reminds me of Isabel!” He was especially attentive at Valentine’s Day, producing clever and highly personalized sentiments for his beloved Isabel, whom he often called “Punk” and “Pudding.”
[Valentine, ca. 1908, made aboard the Anderson’s houseboat, the Roxana.]
Larz compiled these and many other sketches, notes, and handmade greeting cards into four small printed volumes all titled Larz Anderson: U.S.A. The first appeared in the summer of 1909, when his mother wrote, “I am enjoying your book of sketches so much.”
[Cover of one of the U.S.A. books.]
It is not clear WHY Larz had these little books printed. There is no publication data (year, publisher, etc.) nor is there a copyright notice. By 1909, Isabel was already writing professionally and understood the need for a copyright. Larz clearly printed these privately for very limited distribution. (Copies rarely if ever come up for sale on eBay or other sites, unlike Isabel’s books.) Many of the references in the notes, however, are so obscure that they could only have been meaningful to Larz and Isabel, and some are a bit on the “racy” side (though not by today’s standards; i.e., a view of Isabel reclining with her petticoats exposed). All this leads me to conclude that the books were never really meant for anyone but Larz and Isabel.
[Larz ruminating on the course of his marriage to Isabel.]
The couple often traveled without each other; or rather, Larz often traveled abroad without Isabel, who stayed behind to spend time at her cottage in New Hampshire. The Larz Anderson: U.S.A. volumes could very well have been Larz’s own Gilded Age version of an iPad, in which he could carry around with him his most precious memories of Isabel. Even the simple cover provides a clue, its almost generic title providing a “return address” in the event a book was lost or misplaced abroad. During his lifetime Larz was so famous that something mailed to “Larz Anderson, U.S.A.” would likely have reached him.
What do you think?
Please use the response form linked below to send me your thoughts on why Larz published the “U.S.A.” volumes.
I will publish the best suggestions in a future update to this blog post.
All illustrations from “Larz Anderson: U.S.A.” [undated, ca. 1909-1915]
from the author’s collection.