So Long Summer: A Visit to Isaiah Thomas Books on Cape Cod

Labor Day used to mark the end of the season on Cape Cod until the beginning of the K-12 school year was pushed back to late August.  So today is like the perfect time to run the last of our summer’s tributes to independent booksellers across the country.

I’ve been haunting Isaiah Thomas Books on the Falmouth Road for years.  It’s a stone’s throw away from the Cahoon Museum of American Art, which is currently undergoing expansion.  You can’t miss the rambling house painted bright pink with stained glass windows…

isaiah_thomas_entrance isaiah_thomas_stained_glass

There is plenty of parking for people looking for second hand copies of books for summer reading, crafting books, Barry Moser prints, antiquarian books, books on Cape Cod and New England, art books, books in foreign languages, books on collectibles–toys, china, silver, jewelry, textiles, clothing and accessories, model trains, etc.  The Isaiah Thomas website claims the stock is about 70,000 titles, but it has to be an understatement. There are books piled high on the floor in front of bookcases that reach the ceiling, there are books wedged in the space between the tops of the books and the bottoms of the shelves.



The sculptures littering the premises are something of a distraction.  I don’t remember seeing the inflatable Orca leaping over a case of miscellaneous hardbacks or the King Tut in the history section last year.

isaiah_thomas_tut isaiah_thomas_orca

My second stop after the collectibles section is the children’s department, which also houses all the cookbooks.  A very enlightened arrangement for the gourmet bibliophile.  The tiger is new too.


It’s always fascinating to see what children’s books Cape Codders discard from year to year.  Once there were shelves and shelves of books in the Goosebumps series, which I should have culled for the collection and didn’t.  Another time I scored a complete set of Beatrix Potter’s little books for the Cotsen gallery and we are still retrieving them from the floor and putting them back in the Hearth of Darkness.    One summer I wiped clean two of three shelves of American Girl books and had the pleasure of directing a Princeton undergraduate history major to them within a year.  August 2015 was the summer of series books, some with great designs on the dustjacket spines.  Lemony Snickett, Nancy Drews in the yellow bindings,  Hardy Boys, Junior Deluxe editions, The Happy Hollisters, The Boy Allies…

isaiah_thomas_boy_allies isaiah_thomas_junior_deluxe



It is hard to visit Isaiah Thomas without being waylaid by the store cat, who shamelessly demands love and generally gets it.  While she was sprawled on the counter near the cash register, the proprietor confided in me that she is no mouser…  Customers are warned not to let her escape into the parking lot anyway.

isaiah_thomas_cat isaiah_thomas_door

I could buy on-line from Isaiah Thomas Books, but somehow it’s not the same as poking around the premises with Max Raabe crooning in the background on a cloudy morning that promises to turn fair by lunchtime.


A painting by Ralph Cahoon, of course.


Curator’s Choice: GRRRRL gets Busy on The Flapper’s Magazette


According to Ellen Welles Page, brains, not beauty, defined the flapper.  In her “A Flapper’s Appeal to Parents” in the December 6, 1922 Outlook Magazine, she asked, “I wonder if it ever occurred to any of you that it required brains to become and remain a successful flapper?  Indeed it does!  It requires an enormous amount of cleverness and energy to keep going at the proper pace.  It requires self-knowledge and self-analysis.  We must know our capabilities and limitations.  We must be constantly on the alert.  Attainment of flapperhood is a big and serious undertaking!”


Readers of Flapper were constantly encouraged to enter mail-in beauty contests, serious undertakings that required brains, self-knowledge, and self-analysis to chose the right photo because the magazine’s editors would not go so far as to say that aspirants for the title of “most typical flapper in America” should rock “bobbed hair; powder and rouge on the face;…lip stick; ‘plucked eyebrows;’ low-cut sleeveless bodice; absence of corset; little under-clothing, often only a ‘teddy-bear;’ high skirts, and ‘roll-your-own-stockings.”  But the enterprising girl with a great look just might “win a nice little wad of pin money and get a real opportunity in the movies.”

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Little girls were avid readers of Flapper too, according to the editors.  The sharp-eyed reader may notice that Pauline Z. is enjoying Flapper Experience–Flapper under a new title…

little flapper

This is probably not just editorial wishful thinking,  because Cotsen has one issue of a manuscript magazine (probably the first and last) written, illustrated and hand-lettered by a British girl in the 1920s that simultaneously imitates and sends up magazines for thoroughly modern Millies like Flapper.


Our editor could mimic Flapper’s fashionably breezy and girly style when she wanted her sister-readers’ opinion of the magazine’s title.  But in the next sentence she could turn bossy because it was time to solicit entries for that exciting new contest!

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To fill out the double page spread where “Editor’s Chat” appeared, she devised an unillustrated advertisement for an imaginary beauty product.  The reader has to flip back to page 8 to see the wonders it could work on dark hair.  It’s the girl’s obvious pleasure in talking back to contemporary images of female beauty that reminds me of today’s girl zines.

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The editor of The Flapper’s Magazette  didn’t leave behind many clues as to her identity, besides some potshots about a sister with gentleman callers that suggest she could have been someone’s pesky younger sibling.  Most of the illustrations she signed  “V. F.” or “V. F. F.,” but the one on the third page she wrote out her last name “Furniss.”   The address of the editorial offices: “Messrs, Vivie, Wivie, Den Offices, Teddington” suggests that her first name might have been “Vivien.”  While it’s true that children’s manuscript magazines often are collaborative projects, “Vivie, Wivie” seems just as likely to be a silly play on a two-syllable given name, as a disguise for two children.  The address may also be a clue that Miss V. F. Furniss lived in Teddington in London’s Richmond upon Thames district.


Mail-in contests certainly made an impression on our editor.  She invites her readers to vie for fine prizes (no specifics given) by submitting heads constructed from the  noses, eyebrows, Betty-Boop eyes, and bee-stung lips to be cut out of pages 10 and 15.

flapper's_magazette_heads_contest_pieces_1 flapper's_ magazette_heads_contest_pieces_2

Contestants might have wished that there were a bigger selection of hairstyles, hats, and collars.  As you can see from the picture below of Clara Bow and friends, it would have been difficult to come up with a really smart head from what Vivie Wivie provided!



The other contest sponsored by The Flapper’s Magazette was literary.  All contestants had to do was to complete a limerick about  It-Girl, Clara Bow, whose portrait appears on the facing page.


Look closely at “Clara Bow” and you’ll see a long braid draped over her arm.  I’d always assumed it was a row of buttons down the sleeve.  But in going through the manuscript this time to write about it, I realized that couldn’t be right and that V. F. Furniss may not have been drawing accurate pictures of fashionable girls.

flapper's magazette_clara_bow clara bow 2

But could flappers have long hair?  According to some very informative blogs and You-Tube videos about hair styles of the Roaring Twenties and how to recreate them, it’s a myth that all flappers had bobs.  Movie star Mary Pickford’s long luscious golden ringlets were also quite stylish.  But even if a girl’s parents  stormed that she would cut her hair over their dead bodies, the unfortunate fair had options.  It was possible with a little ingenuity and hair pins to achieve the look of short, curly hair, as you can see from this delightful video, based on an actual 1920s hairstyling manual.

My guess is that V. F. Furniss was too young to get permission to chop off her hair, but old enough to be interested in figuring out how she would present herself in the future.  While most of the girls she drew in The Flapper’s Magazette had bobs, at least three of them, including “The Charming Flapper,” had hair tucked under in faux bobs with long braids down the back.  Were her illustrations a safe way to experiment with different looks without taking the plunge?  While attracted to modern short styles, was she a little bit scared at the prospect  herself as a votary of fashion, sacrificing her long tresses on the goddess’ altar?

Maybe some day I’ll have some time to try and track down V. F. Furniss, girl journalist and cultural commentator…