May 16 is National Biographer’s Day. I’ll bet you didn’t know that! We see a lot of biographies and memoirs come into HPB: life stories of the rich and famous, plus memoirs of the poor and infamous.
But it’s also wonderful to learn more about some of the offbeat, footnote characters in history, and I was delighted to hear about some life-story gems our stores have acquired lately.
The Rise of Mr. Ponzi by Charles Ponzi
First Edition, published by the author in 1935-37
Like Thomas Crapper, Ponzi’s surname became a generic term for something unpleasant. Without Charles Ponzi, pyramid business scams may have become known as Madoff schemes, but Ponzi beat Bernie Madoff to it by several decades, swindling investors and banks out of $20 million—in 1920s dollars!
He not only shamelessly wrote his own story but published it himself. There were so few printed, and so few survived, that it was long thought by many to have never existed. There’s a newspaper story of the time that states that the printer—surprise!—wasn’t paid by Ponzi and refused to finish the small print run. It has more recently been rescued and reprinted, but this one is the real deal, one of the few anywhere on the planet!
Dock Ellis in the Country of Baseball by Donald Hall
Coward, McCann, Geoghegan, 1976. First Printing
It’s baseball season, and our stores are chock-full of baseball bios: Mantle, Mays and other heroes of the game. Dock Ellis is not so well known, but his story was interesting enough to entice poet Donald Hall to make it into a book.
Ellis pitched for several teams, most notably the Pittsburgh Pirates and the New York Yankees, from the late ‘60s to the late ‘70s. He had a substance abuse problem during his time in the majors but reformed later in life and counseled addicts. He was a rebel with another cause, too, championing baseball players’ rights, especially those of African-Americans.
The book and dust jacket are in Very Good condition. At our Mansfield, Texas, store for $20.
Hercules Mulligan: Confidential Correspondent of General Washington by Michael J. O’Brien
First Edition, First Printing, 1937.
There have been countless biographies of the Father of Our Country and many of his associates, but this may well be the only biography of Hercules Mulligan, a tailor, haberdasher, member of the Sons of Liberty and spy for George Washington during the Revolution. Independence Store Manager Carmela Feigenbaum notes that Mulligan “is not very well-known, but his fame is increasing, thanks to his appearance as a major character in the Broadway musical Hamilton.”
The book is in Good condition and the dust jacket is in Very Good condition. There is a split endpaper along the rear hinge, but the hinges and binding are still tight. Minor shelf-wear with previous owner’s stamp inside front cover.
This is a scarce book, offered by our Independence, Missouri, store for $100.
- The title page of Charles Ponzi’s autobiography states that it was published in New York City and in Rome; that’s because he was deported to Italy for his criminal activities before the book was completed.
- Dock Ellis swears he was high on LSD while pulling off his 1970 no-hitter.
- Hercules Mulligan was Alexander Hamilton’s main inspiration to become a revolutionary; in turn, when Washington was seeking a reliable spy, Hamilton recommended Mulligan for the job.