Better late than never is our motto around here.
We're finally getting back to paperback artist Gene Bilbrew, whose odd style, with its scantily clad women and their muscular butts has become collectible in recent years. We didn't get it at first, but like a lot of art, once you're exposed to it regularly you begin to appreciate its unique qualities. There's clear intent in Bilbrew's work, a deliberate attempt to approach illustration from a different angle, and we've grown to understand that his cartoonish, chaotic, often humorous, and often bondage themed aesthetic is purposeful. In fact, his imagery has become so intertwined with the bdsm scene that in 2019 the National Leather Association International established an award named after Bilbrew for creators of animated erotic art. While it's not exactly a Pulitzer Prize, the point is that Bilbrew's bizarre visions keep gaining wider acceptance. So for that reason we've put together another group of his paperback fronts. You can see more of them here, here, and here, and you can see a few rare oddities here, here, and here.
I have a vision... It's getting clearer... It's you... buying the updated and revised edition of my book.
Above you see the cover of Old Aunt Dinah's Dream Book of Numbers. We've already talked about Gene Bilbrew's covers for 1970s dream books. We're revisiting the subject today to give you this additional look at his work, but also to take a historical angle on his specifically African American art. Playing daily numbers was an African American invention, part of an underground economy that flourished in many large cities, but reached its apotheosis in Harlem.
It's impossible to know when playing the numbers began—certainly long before the turn of the twentieth century—but the practice took off during the 1920s when a black West Indian man named Casper Holstein began using bank-to-bank transaction data published in New York City papers as the selection mechanism for his daily numbers. Previously, numbers had been chosen in various unreliable ways, but Holstein's innovation placed the selection of numbers in public view, removed any suggestion of corruption, and as a result Harlem's daily lottery thrived.
Which is exactly why the city of New York decided to take it over in 1980, a coup it managed in part by promising to use a portion of the numbers revenue toward public education costs. And of course, proving once again that politicians are the lowest creatures that ever crawled from beneath slime covered logs in miasmic swamps, the city then cut its contributions to the education budget so there was ultimately no net gain for schools, while profits were neatly excised from the black community.
Old Aunt Dinah's Dream Book of Numbers is the third dream book illustrated by Bilbrew we've shared. We're fascinated by the exotic, made-up personae on the covers. The idea of gypsies, Arabs, creoles, Asians, or very old people somehow tapping into mystical power thrived in pulp fiction, early movies, cartoons, and, as you see, even on the covers of dream books. Old Aunt Dinah is our favorite dream book invention, but the characters Madame Zodia and Princess Shaharr—the latter of whom we'll show you later—are close runners up.
For those who don't know what books like these are about exactly, we explained that in our typically roundabout way in previous write-ups, here and here. Shorter version: Dream until your dreams come true. We already have a couple more to share, and we'll keep an eye out for others. And of course we'll continue to be on the lookout for paperback art by Gene Bilbrew. You can see what he's about by clicking this link.
Make your money dreams come true.
Do you ever play the lottery? We don't, except occasionally the local Christmas lottery in which a 150 kilogram pig is the prize. But presumably, if you play the lottery it's in hopes of winning a mountain of cash rather than a mountain of pork. Well, hope no more. Above you see just the ticket to help you score those megamillions. Zodia's Book of Numbers was published in 1972, but you'll still find it for sale rather cheaply on auction sites.
The way it works is, first you have a dream— Go ahead. We'll wait.
Okay, now you take elements from your dream, such as “coffee” or “kettle” and inside the book you''ll find those words assigned a three digit number, which you then sprint with down to the local convenience store and feed your hard earned cash into the ravenous maw of state sponsored voluntary taxation. Or if you speak Spanish, there are also entries in that language. Because scams are nothing if not inclusive. And in addition to a useless number the all-seeing Zodia also provides something more permanent—a useless fortune related to the word you looked up.
Here's an example. Say your word is “key.” You check the book, and it says: Key 934—To dream of a key means a plan will succeed with advice from friends. If the key opens a door success and money are assured.
All well and good, but the reason we're sharing this item is because the cover was painted by Gene Bilbrew, a unique African American paperback illustrator of the 1960s and 1970s. He's one of those guys we've talked about whose work has been reevaluated in recent years and become highly collectible. An example appears in the post below. We also put together a collection a while back, which you can see here. And apparently, Bilbrew made an industry of illustrating these dream books, because this is second we've found. Look here.
Then artichoke prices collapsed and we had to do something drastic or lose the land. This fetish thing really saved us.
Above, a cover for the 1966 sleazer Fetish Farm, by Ken Gardner, author of Sex Hospital, Night Lust, and Sex Hostage. You've heard of cruelty free farms? This one is the opposite, but at least no animals are harmed. The art on this is by Gene Bilbrew, who we've written about plenty. Learn about him here and here.
Okay, I'll take one last guess. You're from Parks and Wildlife and you want to check my fishing license.
African American illustrator Gene Bilbrew uses his unique aesthetic to create yet another arresting paperback cover, this time for Lee O. Miller's 1967 sleazer Vacation Fun. Bilbrew is one-of-a-kind. When we first saw his work we pronounced it “not great,” but since then we've come to understand how unique and talented he really was. So has the art world—we've seen pieces of his priced upward of $12,000. We have a small collection of his work here, so have a look and judge for yourself.
Dream a little dream with us.
Gypsy's Witch Dream Book of Numbers is a lucky number book published in 1972 and based on the principle of dream interpretation. Basically, you have a dream, look up its elements, and find the associated numbers. For example, take an average dream—say you're in an all nude, alcohol licensed strip club on the Turks and Caicos with about 10K in your pockets and the dancers include Anjelique Pettyjohn, Kimiko Nakayama, and Joey Heatherton, along with assorted Miss Universe contestants, and on a small stage in the corner the music is being played live by Shakira, but she's performing Curtis Mayfield's “Give Me Your Love” and the rest of the Superfly soundtrack. You can't decide who to buy a lap dance from, so in order to convince you Anjelique, Kimiko, and Joey begin demonstrating progressively more amazing and shocking contortionist maneuvers, even going so far as to ask you to help them achieve certain positions, at which point your waitress Elke Sommer brings a raspberry Rickey and tells you she's off work now, but go ahead and have a lap dance first, because she'll wait. We'll stop there. So then you go into the dream book and look up “naked,” “island,” “dancer,” and maybe, just to cover your bases, “summer,” “Star Trek,” and “pretzel.” You find the three-digit numbers associated with those items, which you take to the nearest 7-Eleven, buy several Powerball tickets containing those numbers, and win diddly squat. That's basically how the dream book works. Oh, and the cover was painted by mid-century paperback artist Gene Bilbrew. Almost forgot to mention him.
Mid-century paperbacks and the many sides of erotic dance.
We've seen more paperback covers featuring dancers than we can count. No surprise—they are after all an essential element of crime fiction, and many of the covers depicting them are excellent. But as you might imagine, novels that feature strippers, showgirls, and burlesque dancers as characters also fall into the sleaze genre quite often, which in turn makes for a lot of low budget cover work. So we have the full range for you today in a collection depicting the kinetic art of stage dancing, with illustrations from Bernard Safran, Robert Maguire, Robert McGinnis, Gene Bilbrew, Doug Weaver, and others, as well as numerous unknowns. Enjoy.
He cooked up a different formula for paperback art.
Gene Bilbrew is one of those illustrators whose art seems at first glance below the usual standard, but he had a strong style, and the more you look at it the more you see it as the purposeful product of a unique talent. Like the work of leftfield illustrator Eric Stanton, Bilbrew's paintings eschew realism of any sort and instead strive to catch the eye, achieving the ultimate goal of commercial art. Check out the assortment below.
Actually, you’re playing the queen of Spurta, not Sparta, but otherwise this is pretty much like the Greek myth.
So much for taking a few days off. We’ll get out of town eventually, but since we didn’t actually leave, it gives us a chance to show you Anthony Dean’s Screen Test, from Wee Hours Books, 1966. And though the cover art by Gene Bilbrew isn’t great, we like it because it shows the moment when it dawns on the actress that when her agent said, “The movie is about fifty men crammed inside the Trojan horse,” she must have misheard the last word.
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