Tag Archives: books

A Scrapbook? An Altered Book? A Work Book? Outsider Art? Something Else?

One trait that unites book people (bibliographers, typographers, librarians, book conservators, graphic designers, collectors, book historians, printers, booksellers, curators, papermakers, bookbinders, etc…) is an emphasis on using an accurate terminology when describing aspects of the material book. The problem is that these sects have developed their own distinct usage, which sometimes overlap, and sometimes don’t. For example, the term “text block” means something entirely different to bookbinders and printers.

Booksellers and bibliographers often refer to Carter’s ABC for Book Collectors. Conservators are largely adopting the Language of Bindings from Ligatus, which is supposed to be available as a book from Oak Knoll soon. Binders usually use the lingo of the workshop where they learned the craft from. Printed resources include Etherington’s Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books and Glaister’s Encyclopedia of the Book.

Most of us learn our terminology haphazardly. Considered historically, prescriptive attempts at linguistic change often fail, even if what they propose is more rational or accurate. Given improvements in text searching, and the ease of taking and disseminating digital images, I wonder if the need to use a strict terminology is as important as it once was.

Top Edge. B.F. Tefft, Webster and his Master-Pieces. Auburn and Buffalo: Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1854. My Collection.

That said, I recently purchased a book that does not fit neatly into any existing descriptive framework that I’m familiar with. The distortions on the top edge of the book caught my attention when I looked at it in the store. Then I noticed the extremely crude backing, making it a useful “how-not-to” example when teaching. Many sections have two reverse folds! Then again, these reverse folds may have helped lock the sections into place, given the typical detaching of the spine linings: note the pages are not falling out at the foreedge. The binding itself is in good shape considering wear, even with an additional quarter inch or so of added material. The case binding structure is quite adaptable to different text block thicknesses.

But the real reason I bought it was for the neatly glued in newspaper clippings of quilt patterns on the first twenty-four consecutive recto leaves. As in the example below, they typically completely cover the entire text block. The high quality of the text paper has helped buffer the newsprint, preserving it, though at the expense of the host: note the extensive staining on page 92, again quite typical.

 

Typical layout of four patterns per page. B.F. Tefft, Webster and his Master-Pieces. Auburn and Buffalo: Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1854. My Collection.

It is not unusual for books to become repositories for all sorts of things: plants, leaves, receipts, scribbled notations, and the occasional hair-on mouse skin. I’m guessing the quilt patterns were added in the early 20th century. The additions cover and obscure the original text.

What to call it?  Gary Frost, I think, would consider this in his broad rubric as an “intervention”. While it is certainly an altered book, I don’t think it has the artistic connotation that the phrase usually implies.  It is not really a commonplace book, or an artist’s book. It is not extra-illustrated. It is more than a scrapbook, since the additions change the original book into something else.

Originally the book was about Daniel Webster, who created the first American dictionary, and a dictionary documents the recorded usage of words. This particular copy was altered in a way that obliterates the text in order to become a reference for quilting. Even through there is some text on the quilting patterns, images dominate. Likely unintentionally, this book is a physical manifestation of the conflict between text and craft, the book learning verses practical activities, the head and the hand. How are books used? More than reading, it seems.

*****

While rereading this post, and looking through the book again, I noticed at least 22 pages near the end with pressed plants. Most seem to be intentionally arranged, resembling marginalia. or in this case the title page of the Doves Bible. Hmmm.

One of over 22 pressed plants. B.F. Tefft, Webster and his Master-Pieces. Auburn and Buffalo: Miller, Orton & Mulligan, 1854. My Collection.

Tearing Up Books

A client of mine, who is a rare book dealer, pulled a paperback out of his coat pocket.  It had the covers torn off and a number of pages removed. Slightly puzzled, and before I could start my “This is going to be very expensive” speech, he explained.

“When I’m finished reading a page, I tear it off and throw it away.  The book is much lighter and easier to carry.  I just do it with worthless paperbacks. Look, it is already half the size!”

I doubt any of us would have a problem with discarding an unwanted section of a newspaper.  Or a notebook page.

But a book! Symbol of permanence, order, fixed sequence and immutable fact. His action was as strong of a comment on the nature of books as many destructive and altered artist books I’ve seen. Or is it a manifestation of our single use, disposable, throw-away culture?

I couldn’t do this to a book. Could you?

 

 

Virtual Reality in the Library

When I first read about the Alberto Manguel/ Robert Lepage collaboration “La bibliotheque, la nuit” at Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales du Quebec, in Montreal, Canada, it sounded nuts.  A virtual reality exhibition of the interiors of libraries?  Even for someone deeply involved with books, this sounded like a real bore. And it seemed desperate, libraries trying to reinvent themselves as entertainment? But I was curious enough to check it out.

Once I experienced the exhibition, I was floored.  Ten libraries from around the world were virtually presented, with a short 2-3 minute narrative describing them. Paper-based books formed the background to many of the scenes and there was a constant subtext alluding to their importance.  Overall, it was an oddly reflective and poetic. When experiencing a library, you were generally located in the center of a reading room, and could look in every direction. The Oculus Rift VR simulators were very impressive. The experience felt so real it was disconcerting to look down and not see my own body in the virtual space.

If one of the goals of this exhibition was to establish libraries as a third space, I left doubtful. But I can imagine some kind of “stack view” using virtual reality to help visually find books of interest on the shelves, which would be incredibly useful to those of us researching bindings (except for all the books in boxes…). Or, much like books are now digitized, will libraries themselves be “preserved” using virtual reality in the future, and this will be how we remember and experience this once culturally powerful dinosaur?

If you are attending the joint 2017 AIC/CAC Conference this May in Montreal, this exhibition will still be on. It is within walking distance of the conference site, reservations required.

 

library

You enter the exhibition through a reproduction of Manguel’s personal library. A gentle rains falls outside the stone framed windows. My Photo.

Mi-type

The Mechanics’ Magazine, Museum, Register, Journal, and Gazette. No. 1051,Saturday September 30, 1843, 265.

I recall hearing that most type is about 50% redundant if the only consideration is legibility. If so, I’m interested in why mi-type, or something like it, never caught on. If the entire history of print was reduced by half the material costs—assuming it was just a legible— this would have been significant in labor/ cost/ carbon reduction.

Books and Representations of Books on Display at The Cloisters Museum

The Cloisters is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, located in upper Manhattan, quite near my studio. In fact, I think I might be able to see it, if I climbed up on my bench and peeked out the upper left corner of my window. Northern Manhattan is quite different from the rest of the city. It is where the Dutch purchased the island from the Native Americans and there is still even a farmhouse located on Broadway dating to 1784, which is now a museum.

The Cloisters was built (assembled?) in 1938, and consists of four medieval buildings imported from Europe. It is located inside the 66 acres of Fort Tryon park. There are also beautiful gardens, including a nice garden featuring plants used for making dyes and paints. Looking across the Hudson River, there is a stunning view of the Palisades of New Jersey which John D. Rockefeller so admired he purchased 12 miles of shoreline to preserve the naturalistic view from the park.

The Cloisters is not only my favorite museum, but it has my favorite painting,  The Merode Alterpiece. Note to the impecunious: although the Met recommends a $25 entrance fee, you can pay whatever you wish.

In April of 2015, I decided to photograph 34 actual books and works of art which contain representations of books which were on display. This was also a great chance to try a lot of handheld, low light photography with my new Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7, which is proving to be the second best camera I’ve ever owned. There are higher resolution images for most of these on the Met site, searchable by accession number.

If anyone would like to visit my studio, we could take a short detour to the Cloisters and look at the works, discussing what we can — and can’t — learn from looking at representations of books in art. Or you can can use this as a virtual or self guided tour.

BOOKS AND REPRESENTATIONS OF BOOKS ON DISPLAY IN APRIL, 2015,

AT THE CLOISTERS MUSEUM, NYC

This virtual tour starts on the main level in the Late Gothic Hall, and follows a counterclockwise path around the Cuxa Cloister, then jumps to the Gothic chapel, Glass Gallery and the Treasury on the lower level.

LATE GOTHIC HALL

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Antiphonal, Tempera, gold and ink on parchment, Italian, 1467-70 (60.165)

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Detail, Altarpiece with Christ…, Carrara marble, Andrea de Giona, Italian, 1434 (62.128a-i)

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Detail, Alterpiece with Scenes of the Life of Saint Andrew, Attributed to the Master of Roussillon, Tempera and gold on wood, Catalan, ca. 1420-30 (06.1211.1-.9)

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Detail, Alterpiece with Scenes of the Life of Saint Andrew, Attributed to the Master of Roussillon, Tempera and gold on wood, Catalan, ca. 1420-30 (06.1211.1-.9)

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Detail, Alterpiece with Scenes of the Life of Saint Andrew, Attributed to the Master of Roussillon, Tempera and gold on wood, Catalan, ca. 1420-30 (06.1211.1-.9)

MERODE ROOM

DP273206

Annunciation Triptych (Merode Alterpiece), Workshop of Robert Campin, Oil on oak, South Netherlandish,  ca. 1377-1444 (56.70a-c) http://images.metmuseum.org/CRDImages/cl/web-large/DP273206.jpg. This painting is a hyper real jewel.

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Detail, Annunciation Triptych (Merode Alterpiece), Workshop of Robert Campin, Oil on oak, South Netherlandish, ca. 1377-1444 (56.70a-c)

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Detail, Annunciation Triptych (Merode Alterpiece), Workshop of Robert Campin, Oil on oak, South Netherlandish, ca. 1377-1444  (56.70a-c) Ok, these are not books, but the next best thing: TOOLS! He is building two mousetraps.

BOPPARD ROOM

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Detail, Paschal Candlestick, Paint on wood, Spanish, Castile-Leon, ca. 1450-1500 (44.63.1a,b)

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The Dormition of the Virgin, Oak, German, Cologne, late 15th C., (1973.348)

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Detail, The Dormition of the Virgin, Oak, German, Cologne, late 15th C., (1973.348) Quite likely the most accurately depicted book in the entire collection. It is hard to believe this was once painted, and even harder to believe how someone could scrape the paint off! The detail in the position of the hand, the throw-up and drape of the book, and the anguish in the face is unforgettable.

UNICORN TAPESTRIES ROOM

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Book of Hours, Published by Thielman Kerver, Paris,1504 (20.53.3)

EARLY GOTHIC HALL

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Detail, Enthroned Virgin and Child, Paint on maple, Spanish, ca. 1280-1300 (53.67)

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Saint Martin with the Virgin, Pot metal and colorless glass with vitreous paint, French, 1245-48 (37.173.2,.5)

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Detail, Legend of Saint Germain of Paris, Pot metal and colorless glass with vitreous paint, Franch, ca. 1245-47 (1973.262.1)

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Detail, Enthroned Virgin and Child, Paint on birch with glass, French, ca. 1130-40 (47.101.15)

SAINT GUILHEM CLOISTER

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Detail, The Annunciation, Carrara marble, Italian, ca. 1180-1200 (60.140)

FUENTIDUENA CHAPEL

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Detail, The Adoration of the Magi, Limestone, Spanish, ca. 1175-1200 (3077.8)

LOWER LEVEL, GOTHIC CHAPEL

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Detail, Saint Margaret of Antioch, Limestone with paint, Catalan, ca. 1330-40 (47.101.13a)

GLASS GALLERY

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Detail, Three Scenes from the Infancy of Christ, Pot metal and colorless glass with vitreous paint, Austrian, ca. 1390 (36.39.1a)

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Detail, Tomb of Ermengol VII, Count of Urgell, Limestone with traces of paint, Catalan, ca. 1300-1350 (28.95.a-i)

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Annunciation, Colorless glass with vitreous glass and silver stain, South German, ca. 1480-1500 (1985.244)

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Detail, St. Lambrecht of Maastricht, Colorless glass with vitreous glass and silver stain, South Netherlandish, ca. 1510-20 (32.24.48)

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Souls Tormented in Hell, Adapted from Dieric Bouts, Colorless glass with vitreous glass and silver stain, South Netherlandish, ca. 1500-1510 (1990.119.2) BOOK BURNING!

 

 

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Saint Peter with a Heraldic Shield, Colorless glass with vitreous glass and silver stain, South Netherlandish, ca. 1520 (12.137.6)

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Annunciation, Colorless glass with vitreous glass and silver stain, South Netherlandish, ca. 1500-1510 (1972.245.1)

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Detail, Saint John on Patmos with Apocalyptic Visions, Manner of Dierick Vellert, Colorless glass with vitreous glass and silver stain, Antwerp? ca. 1520-30 (32.24.65)

 

 

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Saint Jerome in his Study, Style of the Pseudo-Ortkens, Colorless glass with vitreous glass and silver stain, Brussels, ca. 1520 (1998.304.3)

TREASURY

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Detail, Bishiop of Assisi Giving a Palm to Saint Clare, Oil, gold and silver on wood, German, ca. 1360 (1984.343) It appears to be a sewn, but unbound book? A wrapper?

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Detail, Reliquary Plaque with Christ Blessing, Walrus ivory, German, ca. 1200 (65.65.174)

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Detail, Diptych with the Coronation of the Virgin and the Last Judgment, Elephand Ivory, French, ca. 1260-70 (1970.324.7a)

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Detail, Plaque with Saint John the Evangelist, Elephant ivory, Carolingian, early 9th C. (1977.421) The inscription reads “The word of John soars to heaven like an eagle.” It looks like the eagle is carrying a small book. The plaque may have once been from a book cover.

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Plaque with the Crucifixion and the Holy Women at the Sepulchre, Elephant ivory, Carolingian, ca. 870 (1974.266) Likely a central decoration for the front board of a Gospel book.

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Detail, Evangelists Mark and Luke, Gilded copper and glass, French, ca. 1220-30 (2012.70.1,2)

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The Cloisters Apocalypse, Tempera and ink on parchment, French, ca. 1330 (68.174) It is telling that the binding materials are not listed at all. For the Met, a book is the text and images..

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The Hours of Jeanne d’Evreus, Tempera and ink on parchment, French, ca. 1324-28 (54.1.2) This book was recently beautifully rebound by Maria Fredericks in shaped mat board and alum tawed skin. Note the similarities in the opening and the end band between the book in the Merode Alterpiece and Three Scenes from the Infancy of Christ stained glass (36.39.1a)

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The Psalter and Hours of Bonne of Luxembourg, Tempera, gold and ink on parchment, French, before 1349 (69.86)

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The Belles Heures of Jean de France, duc de Berry, Tempera, gold and ink on parchment, French, 1405-1408/9 (54.1.1a or b) Again, recently rebound by Maria Fredericks into two volumes.

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Detail, Thirty Five Panels with Scenes from the life of Christ, Oak, French, early 16th C. (50.147.1) It appears the book is partially damaged.

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Detail, Thirty Five Panels with Scenes from the life of Christ, Oak, French, early 16th C. (50.147.7)

Thread Bookmark

Thread bookmark

Thomas Nuttall The Genera of North American Plants and a Catalogue of the species to the Year 1817. Philadelphia: Printed for the Author by D. Heartt, 1818.    Courtesy The Library Company of Philadelphia.

There are many kinds of bookmarks, and most often those that are attached to bindings are silk ribbons. This owner made bookmark, which is on a boards binding, almost crosses the line into becoming a kind of oddly knotted end band, which boards bindings never originally had. The fourteen separate threads are sewn into the spine, and were used to mark the pages of this presumably frequently consulted catalogue of plant species. It also seems to have stabilized the binding a bit at the head, where the spine on these  bindings often delaminates.

flowers

Thomas Nuttall The Genera of North American Plants and a Catalogue of the species to the Year 1817. Philadelphia: Printed for the Author by D. Heartt, 1818.    Courtesy The Library Company of Philadelphia.

It is also evidence against once strongly held notions that boards bindings are “temporary”. This binding not only displays considerable use (dirt, stains, flower and leaf storage) but the owner consulted it enough to warrant take the time to install this method keeping track of multiple places at one time, and used the book in the field.

It Is Not His Book. Huh?

this is not his book

Samuel Daniel, The Whole Works of Samuel Daniel, London, 1623. Collection David Kasten.

Seeing someone’s name, or a list of names, in a book is not unusual. It is still practiced to indicate ownership, prevent theft, and possibly to add value depending on the name. Names when accompanied by dates are often useful for establishing family history and can aid in dating bindings and repairs.

Earlier books sometimes posit the locus of identity to the book itself; “I belong to Peachey” for example. Sometimes a name is followed by the phrase, “this is my book”.  This has always seemed a bit strange to me—why would someone sign a book that wasn’t theirs?  Doesn’t the name alone signify ownership?

In this case, perhaps it doesn’t. Did Thomas Sedgewick sign a book that wasn’t his? The writing appears to be from the same hand; the ink color and degree of corrosion are quite similar, and the handwriting looks similar to me, especially the heavy “k”‘s at the end. Another possibility is that after reading the book he no longer wanted to be associated with it. Or maybe someone else added the second line, to deny Thomas Sedgewick ownership, or simply as a joke?