The New York Times posted a great article about the current exhibition being held at the Grolier Club “Printing for Kingdom, Empire & Republic: Treasures From the Archives of the Imprimerie Nationale.” The exhibition contains hundreds of historical punches, matrcies of various typefaces, dozens of books to view, and reveals exquisite artifacts that have never before been shown outside of France.
In addition, a publication Printing for Kingdom, Empire, and Republic: Treasures from the Archives of the Imprimerie Nationale edited by George H. Fletcher was created to accompany the exhibition and is available from Oak Knoll. It tells the story of the Imprimerie Nationale from the royal printers established by François I in 1538 to its triumphant survival in the present day. The book surveys a wealth of objects, all classified as French monuments historiques, and includes artifacts of various printing processes from the days of François I to today. This new publication is beautifully illustrated containing five pages of color plates, four plates in collotypes, illustrations of typefaces, and more.
Remember that talk I was going to give at the Grolier Club as part of a panel discussion on collecting books in the digital age? My title and first picture declared “Good News! The Book is Dead.” After shocking the audience into silence with the title, I proceeded to explain why books as three-dimensional physical objects have a life unto themselves and why libraries have a responsibility to preserve and conserve them. The three talks and the panel discussion were filmed, and we shall give you a link to it when it becomes available. Rob Fleck, who was in the audience, was told there is a life for booksellers in the 21st century and believed it!
I’m hard at work finishing my upcoming presentation for the Grolier Club in Manhattan (Tuesday April 5th, 4-6pm) on collecting books in the digital age.
I’m hoping that my title of “Good News, the Book is Dead” will get the attention of a few people. It has been great fun coming up with my thoughts on e-books, on-line books, and how they will impact the codex as we know it. I won’t say any more at this point as I don’t want to spoil the presentation for those of you attending. More later!
While most people think of books in terms of their contents or texts, Books as History: The Importance of Books Beyond Their Texts by David Pearson explains that books possess qualities beyond their texts. He shows how books can be seen as designed or artistic objects. In this excerpt, Pearson discusses how bookbindings have developed and changed over the years, while adding various levels of uniqueness to books.
Every binding tells a story, whether it is deluxe or humble. Binders offered their customers a choice, a spectrum of options from the simple to the elaborate, and the preferences they exercised can tell us something both about them and about their approach to the texts inside the books. These choices applied not only to external, decorative qualities but also to structural ones; there are various ways in which it is possible to cut corners in the sewing or other internal features of a handmade binding, leading to a cheaper but less hardwearing product. Early instructions from patrons to bookbinders are scarce, but where they do survive they often stress the importance of sturdy sewing and good quality handiwork rather than handsome tooling.
Fancy bindings reveal owners who could afford to pay that bit extra, or perhaps people who wished to display their wealth or status on their bookshelves; or they may be covering books which were regarded as particularly important. Simpler bindings can be equally revealing of personal histories; many of the books owned by John Donne, when he was a struggling and impoverished poet, are bound in parchment wrappers rather than leather, the cheap (or softback) option of the time. Books have often been bound and rebound, or repaired, more than once during their history and those staging posts can indicate the changing regard for the texts inside. A book which has survived several centuries in pristine condition suggests a text which has not exactly been eagerly sought out. Many of the copies of Shakespeare’s 1623 First Folio now found in libraries around the world are in top quality nineteenth-century bindings, reflecting the veneration in which that book then came to be held; the few copies (of more than 200 surviving) which retain contemporary bindings are mostly very plain. A seventeenth-century devotional text is much more likely to be found in a fine binding of its period than a literary one, in line with the values of that time, although we now consider literature to be far more important than theology.
A binding will not only carry these messages which we can interpret, but also more immediate information about where and when it was made. A wall of leather-bound books may at first glance look pretty uniform but although the basic materials and construction methods of bookbindings remained substantially unchanged for many centuries, the decorative conventions underwent steady change from one generation to another, in line with the ever shifting more general currents of ornamental fashion. Just as sixteenth-century architecture or silverware are recognisably different from their eighteenth-century equivalents, so bookbindings are visually distinctive from one generation to another. This applies not only to handsomely decorated fine bindings, but also to much simpler ones; a sixpenny binding of 1600 is not the same as one of 1700, or even 1650. Unlike printers, bookbinders only rarely signed their work and we cannot often identify individual craftsmen; they worked within the stylistic conventions of their day and neither the binders, nor their customers, looked for individuality of design. What we can do, however, is place a particular binding within its time and place – we can recognise that it is English, or German, or French, and approximately when it was made – and also say whereabouts, within the range of options of its time, it sits.
Learn even more about this book and hear a panel discussion on “Collecting the Physical Book in a Digital Age,” at the Grolier Club on April 5 from 4-7pm. Bob Fleck will be giving a presentation that includes references to Books as History, while other speakers including Gary L. Strong and David Rose also share their opinions. The discussion will be moderated by Susan M. Allen. Click here for more information on the event and click here for more information on Books as History. The revised, paperback edition will be available in May.
Last night, I had the privilege of attending a celebration of the publication of Gerald Cloud’s John Rodker’s Ovid Press at the Grolier Club in New York City. It was an enjoyable evening of book talk, anecdotes, and of course, wine! Gerald shared how he chose Rodker as the topic of his dissertation, a great story that we hope he will share on this blog sometime soon.
Gerald also signed some copies of his book at the event, and three signed copies are still available on a first-come, first-served basis. If you are interested in purchasing one, please email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Laura Williams, Publishing Director
After returning from my visit to libraries and museums in New York, I have to say that they were nothing short of successful. The various head librarians, collection development administrators, and curators I met during my trip were all extremely interesting people, who I would love to see again if I happen to venture back to the Big Apple. I even came back a few books lighter, a task I have only been able to accomplish a few times in the past.
It was a breathtaking experience to be able to see the famous New York Public Library and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. The architecture of both buildings, especially the Public Library, was amazing. The two university libraries I visited in the area were the famous Bobst Library at NYU and the extensive Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Columbia. This was a change of scenery for me as I am usually only visiting the academic sector on my trips. Someday soon, I hope to make it back to NYC again to visit the Grolier Club, as well as other important libraries and museums in the area to really promote Oak Knoll and our books. Even with all the work, this trip wasn’t purely business; I was able to stay at my Uncle’s house in Manhattan and visit other family and friends in the area. I definitely had a blast!
-Rob Fleck, Antiquarian & Library Sales