Those of you who are regular readers of mine, particularly my The Weather Doctor site, will know I am a huge fan of the late Eric Sloane. I first read Sloane's Eric Sloane's Almanac and Weather Forecaster almost half a century ago while in grade school, and his works helped fuel my budding interest in clouds and weather. In the 1960s, he published or reprinted a series of books on early Americana that I bought and read over and over. I have a fairly large collection of Sloane's works 17 of his 26 original books but Voyageur Press's recent reprint of Eric Sloane's ABCs of Early Americana, A Sketchbook of Inventions, Curiosities, and Lore is a new title for my library.
Sloane's clearly written and well illustrated books on the sky and weather have been an inspiration to me for decades. But recently, having taken up graphic arts I have revisited his other works as well. His paintings and pen-and-ink drawings are a source of excellent examples and often provide fine technical pointers. I see Eric Sloane's body of work as more than just educational and inspirational, however, it is most of all fun! To thumb through one of his books is a refreshing breath when the troubles of my fast-paced life becomes overwhelming.
Many of his books, like the one reviewed here, are sketchbooks of items and buildings from America, particularly the Northeast. In Eric Sloane's ABCs of Early Americana, the author takes us through a variety of objects and practices from past centuries in America. He tells us that he patterned the book after early Americans' interest in the lore and beauty of the English alphabet. Sloane arranged this sketchbook in an A-Z format, filling each page with his own fine handlettering and including a brief caption to elucidate the origin and use of each object he pictures.
Many of the rich and varied entries are American firsts from the saltbox house to basketball, hex signs to ear trumpets, popcorn to rocking chairs. He reminds us of long-forgotten words such as frow, niddy-noddy, jouncing seat and velocipede. The sketchbook brings back many delightful words and inventions that are vanished antiquities of America's past of which few are aware.
If you are a die-hard Sloane fan, rejoice that another of his works is again available. I hope its reprinting as well as other recent reprints of his works by Voyageur Press and Dover Books will rekindle interest in this fascinating man. If you are new to Eric Sloane, here is a book to wet your appetite. I am sure you will seek out his other works.
reviewed by Keith C. Heidorn
August 8, 2005
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