Billtry

[Untitled]
“A gentleman . . . standing on his head on a footstool,” from Billtry, by Mary Kyle Dallas (New York: The Merriam Company, 1895)
Carol Jording Rare Book Acquisition Fund, Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum

In 1895 Merriam published Billtry by author and poet Mary Kyle Dallas. In the preface to the book, Dallas explains that her story is "the 'what might have been'-- had the bachelor artists of the Parisian studios been bachelor girls of Gotham, and their model masculine, instead of feminine," and that its sole purpose is to make people laugh. Billtry is a male model with very long feet who becomes the muse of three female artists. Instead of becoming an accomplished singer, like Trilby, Billtry is taught to play the accordion with his feet while standing on his head by the evil Mrs. Snively. The Indiana Gazette asserted that, "Persons suffering from the effects of the 'Trilby' craze will be pleased to learn that Mary Kyle Dallas has written an antidote entitled 'Billtry.' There are still some hopes for literature and art."

"Ca fera une fameuse crapule de moins," from Trilby, by George du Maurier (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1895) and "But most of all, his feet!" from Billtry by Mary Kyle Dallas (New York: The Merriam Company, 1895)
Left: "Ca fera une fameuse crapule de moins," from Trilby, by George du Maurier (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1895)
M. G. Sawyer Collection of Decorative Bindings, Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum
Right: "But most of all, his feet!" from Billtry by Mary Kyle Dallas (New York: The Merriam Company, 1895)
Carol Jording Rare Book Acquisition Fund, Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum

Even the cover design itself is a parody of the original 1895 design for Trilby attributed to artist Margaret Armstrong. The Armstrong cover features references to the plot of the novel, including a book and quill, an artist’s palette, and a winged heart caught in a spider’s web, meant to symbolize Svengali’s ensnaring of Trilby and her inability to escape him. The parody cover, rendered by an unknown artist, looks very similar at first glance. Upon closer inspection, however, we see that an accordion and jug of wine have replaced the book and quill (a nod to Billtry’s ability to play the accordion with his feet), a pig with wings has replaced the palette (a reference to the phrase “when pigs fly,” meaning something that is impossible), and a pair of large feet have replaced the heart.

Trilby, by George du Maurier (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1895) and Billtry by Mary Kyle Dallas (New York: The Merriam Company, 1895)
Left: Trilby, by George du Maurier (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1895)
M. G. Sawyer Collection of Decorative Bindings, Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum
Right: Billtry, by Mary Kyle Dallas (New York: The Merriam Company, 1895)
Carol Jording Rare Book Acquisition Fund, Helen Farr Sloan Library & Archives, Delaware Art Museum