I recently inherited this wooden book shaped object, which belonged to my 5th Great- Uncle, Samuel Brillhart. It has become my most treasured possession, representing a link between my current interests (the 18th Century, books and wood) with those of my ancestors. This book is not a true xylotheque, which would also possibly contain seeds, leaves and other samples of the tree itself, instead it is a model or representation of a book. I think the wood is mahogany, which was being exported from Central America as early as the 17th. C. The date, 1746, is also the date that Samuel built a church in York Co., PA. I have a photograph of a drawing of the church, which looks to be a dovetailed log cabin style structure with two chimneys. Possibly the wood came from an alter in the Church?
I’m unclear how the writing was made, it appears to be burned onto the surface of the wood, instead of an ink that would sit more on the surface. It measures 133 x 97 x 35 mm, giving it a more horizontal presence than many 18th C. books, and weighs 254 g. Under his name on the upper cover, there are three lines of writing, “The first/ xxxxxx church/ York Co Pa”.
The wood is very smooth from handling, and the tear out on the head and tail suggest it was carved by a somewhat dull chisel. The spine and foreedge are basically flat. The boards are fairly thick, around 5mm and the squares vary from 3-5mm. The top edge of the boards has parallel handsaw marks, and the tail edge is worn smooth. I especially like the grain on the foreedge, which give a visual effect of edges of a page.
Why would my Uncle make this? Why put the date on the spine and name on the cover? Most books sit quietly closed 99.99% of their lives: was this made to be a reminder to open and read “the book”? Is it a reminder of the power and appeal of the physical presence of the book, even a non functioning one? What questions does it ask about the presumed function of “real” books?