When I worked as a book clerk at the late Gotham Book Mart in 1980’s, provenance, especially on modern books, mattered little to me. So what if someone famous touched, looked at, owned, or read this particular book, I reasoned. What meaning could possibly be transferred from this?
But recently, while doing some research, I stumbled across the bookplate of Ellic Howe, from the digitized version of The Book-Finishers’ Friendly Circular, 1845-51. (BTW, this copy is much easier to read than the Garland reprint) Howe is a well known book historian and I consider his The Society of London Bookbinders, 1780-1951 the best book yet concerning the London Bookbinding trade.
The Book-Finishers’ Friendly Circular is a wonderful slice-of-life, filled with humor, history, poetry, practical information, and reports on meetings. There is endless arguing about who it making more money, quite similar to what binders often talk about now. The primary evidence in this book informed much of Howe’s publications.
Howe’s stunning bookplate made me realize this book once belonged to him. It illustrates a dramatic one point perspective view a private study. It establishes books as a transactional space between the past and the future: a storehouse of knowledge on the right side of the room, which are being used in this scholars library to create more books, his own writings spread out on the table. Howe’s name is projected on what could be mistaken for a movie screen on one wall, which illuminates the room along with the windows. Is this possibly an allusion to the power of the scholarly interlocutor?
More surprisingly, I felt a bit star-struck: even though I knew I was reading this book virtually, it thrilled me to know I was reading Howe’s copy.