Last week, for Halloween, we posted pictures of some of the “scary” books in our collection. One of them was in the shape of a skull, but if you look closely, the letters “TOAST” create the eyes and nose. What does toast have to do with skulls? Is toast scary? Well, maybe if it’s burnt…
Toast Book was published in 1905, and is an illustrated compilation of drinking toasts. The skull connection comes from the poem “Lines inscribed upon a cup formed from a skull” by Lord Byron, which is included, in an abridged version,¹ at the beginning of the book (see first picture below). None of the 250 other toasts in the book are attributed to specific authors, although I definitely spotted at least one which is usually attributed to Robert Burns (see right-hand page in second picture below).
The compiler and illustrator was Clare Victor “Dwig” Dwiggins (1874-1959) who later became a popular syndicated cartoonist. In The World Encyclopedia of Comics, Bill Blackbeard calls him “the greatest of the American comic strip’s lost and forgotten talents.” In the 1910s, his Sunday feature strip School Days often included “elaborate devices cooked up by the kids to carry out various pranks, such as mechanisms of pulleys, wires, and wholly absurd connective parts such as dogs who have to lap up the contents of water buckets…In short, they were Rube Goldberg inventions before Rube Goldberg drew any inventions.”²
The Publisher’s Weekly of Nov. 24, 1906 called Toast Book an “odd gift book,” and described a second book published around the same time: “The Rubaiyat of the Egg, also written and illustrated by Dwiggins, cut in the shape of an egg and printed on yolk yellow paper with scrambled-egg finish.” (p. 145) I’d love to see a copy of that one, since I don’t know what a “scrambled-egg finish” looks like…but I bet it goes well with toast.
²Blackbeard, Bill. “Dwiggins, Clare Victor.” The World Encyclopedia of Comics. Rev. ed. 1999.