Photographs of Books; Books in Photographs

Fox Talbot’s “A Scene in a Library”, The Pencil of Nature, Plate 8, 1844.

Though this is not the first photograph of books, which according to Larry J Schaff of the Talbot Catalogue Raisonne is Talbot’s “Bookcase” in Lacock Abbey, 26 November 1839, or the first photograph in a book, which was Anna Atkins’ Photographs of British Algae from 1843, I’m pretty sure it is the first photograph of books to appear in a book.

The books were from Talbot’s own working library when he was a student at Cambridge University. He arranged them outside, photographing them in the sunlight; even so, the exposure took 10 minutes. Book titles include: The Philosophical Magazine, Miscellanies of Science, Botanische Schriften, Manners and Customs of the Ancient Egyptians, Philological Essays, Poetae Minores Graeci, and Lanzi’s Storia Pittorica dell’Italia and more. Unfortunately, Schaff mentions that this personal library was largely dispersed in the mid-20th century.

I think this is also the first photographic shelfie, a 21st century term for a curated intellectual self-portrait using books or other objects on bookshelves.

Note the co-existence of many binding structures: extra boards bindings (left, top shelf), boards bindings (bottom, middle, spine torn near head and creases along spine) cloth case bindings with a natural hollow and paper labels (inferring from the smooth, uncreased spine), wrappered periodicals(?) with printed titles; and a large number of traditional leather bound books.

This is around the time period we will be examining in detail in my upcoming Early Nineteenth Century Bookbinding workshop. It’s exciting to have contemporary photographic evidence to add to the context of these books. If 19th c. photographs and books interests you, Carol Armstrong’s Scenes in a Library: Reading the Photograph in the Book, 1843 – 1875. Cambridge and London: MIT Press, 1998 is also recommended.

Boudoir Libraries, 1855- 2011

New-York Quarterly, Vol. 4, Issue 1-2, 1855 (p. 4).

I was interested to find that ‘instant libraries’ go back at least to 1855. The Strand Bookstore, here in NYC  is still doing it, selling books by the foot, and lists Steven Spielberg (surprising) and Ralph Lauren Polo (not so surprising) as clients. At least in 1855 there was a pretense that the content of the books mattered a bit (“the best authors”) whereas in 2011 it is just the appearance (“antique leather books”) that matters, although the Strand does offer subject specific books by the foot for intellectually discerning decorators.  Inflation alert: Currently, Neiman Marcus has a 250 volume instant library for $125,000 in their ‘Christmas Book’, and a Boing Boing article about this Hideous Bespoke Library with Pre-Selected Books: $125,000.

The Holloway Reading Stand and Dictionary Holder

Chela Metzger recently found this very cool Victorian reading stand during a conservation project and agreed to guest blog about it.  It is almost robotic in its complexity.  There is a link to other trade catalogs digitized by the Winterthur near the bottom of this post and they can be browsed by keyword. Chela is Conservator of Library Collections, Winterthur Museum, Delaware.  Recently, she published a review of Julia Miller’s ‘Books Speak Plain’ in Bonefolder Extras.

Courtesy, The Winterthur Library: Printed Book and Periodical Collection

In honor of the long lineage of reading “devices” meant to make everything about reading easier and better, I would like to showcase the late 19th century Holloway reading stand and dictionary table. As the trade catalog’s longer title notes, this reading stand has a “dictionary holder, book rest, lamp stand and writing table”.

Courtesy, The Winterthur Library: Printed Book and Periodical Collection

The reading stand company notes that scholars and writers will find the stands of “great convenience”. While I doubt the stand could handle one of the truly behemoth unabridged single volume dictionaries found in the US by 1914.

Courtesy, The Winterthur Library: Printed Book and Periodical Collection

Courtesy, The Winterthur Library: Printed Book and Periodical Collection

I do think the reading stand would adapt well to the laptop environment, and could hold food, drink and a favorite novel at the same time. And, I suppose, a reasonably sized dictionary as well. One reading stand adapted to a reader reclining on a couch is mentioned as a useful tool for the invalid, and for those who like to read while resting. The catalog notes : “Readers and thinkers are not lazy people. Anything that will conserve their physical strength is useful.” Cleary a pre-diet/exercise world statement. And pre carpel-tunnel symdrome.

Courtesy, The Winterthur Library: Printed Book and Periodical Collection

Finally, one option is to include a gold bronze chess board with your reading stand. Note that the chess board can also support a dictionary if needed. Clearly our generation is not the first to multi-task.

I came across this wonderful catalog as part of the conservation work for the Winterthur Library’s ongoing Internet Archive project to digitize our extraordinary trade catalog collection. For a glimpse at an ongoing digitization of trade catalogs at the Winterthur library, please see:



NK2265 H74 TC Winterthur Library, Winterthur Delaware

Holloway Co. (Cuyahoga, Ohio)

The Holloway reading stand and dictionary holder: combining a dictionary holder, book rest, lamp stand and writing table

Variant title: Century Dictionary case: made expressly for holding the six volumes of the New Century Dictionary

Buffalo, N.Y.: The Company, [ca. 1892] (Buffalo: Press of Gies & Co.)

Thanks Chela!  Email: cmetzger[at]winterthur[dot]org

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