Tag Archives: reading

Ellic Howe, Google Books, and a Bookplate

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Ellie Howe’s Bookplate. From the front pastedown of The Book-finishers’ Friendly Circular on Google books: https://books.google.com/books?id=LlwEAAAAQAAJ&pg=PAcontents.

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.

Hurricane Sandy, Reading, Money

Last week, after hurricane Sandy, I had no power, heat, lights, internet, hot water, cell service or client meetings.  Life and work were on hold. The temperature in my studio was a crisp 53 degrees, which was not conducive to working, so I spent most of the days walking around Manhattan. One thing I noticed was that while paper and screens were used for communication, paper emerged as a necessity for commerce.

Myself, and most residents living in lower Manhattan needed to walk to 27th St., where power and cell service began. The grocery stores that remained open in lower Manhattan had plenty of food and water: what people needed was juice for their phones and cash. Mass charging on daisy chained power strips took place in coffee houses, outside of stores, at portable generators in parks, and even at pedal powered dynamos on Avenue C. This atmosphere of cooperation extended into the street where cars—without traffic lights—negotiated the intersections without incident in my observation.

But paper still had its place. At Fishs Eddy, many wrote cheeky post it notes to Sandy, a kind of postmodern post card. Also, paper money was once again a necessity. Credit cards were useless without electricity or cell service.  But Banks and ATM’s were closed. Do many Manhattan residents stash cash under the mattress? Merchants tallied bills with a pencil and paper or visual inspection. Tax was largely ignored, possibly rationalized because there were no services, or likely too difficult to record.

Could this be a glimpse at a potential post-apoclyptic culture?  What if all cell phone service had disappeared? How many of us still have battery powered radios? Among other things, Sandy highlights the overlapping and non-linear nature of technological change as well as the durability of paper, a technology which is at least 2,000 years old.

I didn’t see anyone using books, though….

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Contact me or the AIC-CERT disaster response team, or The New York Alliance for Response if you have wet or water damaged books.

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Things are back to normal for me, but there are still ongoing needs for others. Many, especially in New Jersey, are still without power, heat, and need gas, food, etc. Donate to your favorite charities if possible, or these local ones.

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David Nye has a great and very readable social history of blackouts titled “When the Lights Went Out”. There is a section on the 2003 east coast blackouts.