Yesterday I was lucky enough to pay a visit to the Newberry Library. I only hope that for those of you outside of Chicago you are able to see such treasures in your lifetime. I never took advantage of the NYC Public Library the way I should have, considering the depth of their collection. In a few weeks I will traveling to England for a short trip — I am definitely going to make time for the British Library, and I will share my discoveries with all of you. The Newberry really is a bibliophiles’ paradise — if you want to see, for example, one of the earliest accurate works of anatomy, De Humani Corporis Fabrica by Andreas Vesalius, you just have to ask. Or how about the Sangorski and Sutcliffe binding of John Milton’s Paradise Lost, c. 1900?
This image does no justice to their ridiculously ornate snakeskin and semi-precious stone binding, nor does it show you the peacock on the back cover, or even the beautifully marbled interior leaves…
If only I could be an eighteenth century scrivener, toiling away with my quill pen on handmade papers at my escritoire, drinking some armagnac for inspiration. Of course, in all likelihood, I may have wound up as a 14th century amanuensis to someone as …um, conflicted as Margery Kempe, forced to spend my time avoiding accusations of Lollardry. (Margery’s visions of Jesus scare me, but in many ways she’s like a 14th century version of Mary Jane Hooper’s Harper Valley P.T.A., if you know what I’m talking about.)
I’ve always had a fascination with amanuenses, actually; the idea of devoting oneself to transcribing another’s account of their life is unusual business. There’s the selfless aspect of it, the continual flexibility it requires in planning for yourself, plus the fly-on-the-wall voyeurism of following another person around for possibly years, so deeply invested you would have to be to accurately represent the whole person. You may not think you’ve read the work of an amanuensis; I would argue that The Autobiography of Malcolm X is a modern version of the form, but I digress.
So my visit to the Newberry was very inspiring; I am working on a longer post that will detail methods of book binding, but I am far away from completing that anytime soon. In the meantime, I thought I would offer a few links, as well as a gallery of some of my favorite art deco book bindings ever.
First off, if you have never heard of Boekie Wokie book store in Amsterdam, then I implore you to check out their shop. They are an artist-run bookstore for books by artists, and this is a 360° panoramic shot of the shop. All kinds of hand-bound, stitched, glued, scrapbooked, letterpressed, spiral bound, appliquéd, and burnished books are there for your perusal. Like this copy of Mrs Dead and Mrs Free by Evren Tekinoktay:
If you’ve never beheld a book drawn from a wild range of found source materials such as ballerinas, toilet paper, sofas and printed fabrics then you just ain’t livin’.
Then there is Max Ernst, whose work continues to put me in a sublime state of awe. I recently came across a wonderful little blog post about him that I wanted to share with my readers. It’s a little older, from 2004, and it does say “Not to be introduced into the British Empire or the U.S.A.” so please, be quiet and respectful when visiting his site. I really don’t know how seriously to take that little caveat. It reminds me of one of my favorite ever warnings, courtesy Loompanics Unlimited, circa 1990: “If you are a prisoner or a Canadian, please check with local authorities before ordering any books.”
(And curses, but I discovered the Ernst post just a little too late! The most recent post on Giornale Nuovo was for a book giveaway, featuring some jaw-droppingly exquisite little volumes. Hopefully I catch number eleven! Thank you Giornale Nuovo for making the Internet that much more delightful and mysterious.)
Finally, here is the mini gallery of Art Deco book covers, which are just too wonderful to hide any longer:
Paul Bonet / Joan of Arc 1925 Paris
Pierre Legrain / Song of Songs 1925 Paris
Pierre Legrain / Quelques fables de la Fontaine 1928 Paris
Pierre Legrain / Lediadé me de Flore 1925 Paris
Rose Adler / The Back of the Music Hall 1925 Paris
Geneviéve de Léotard / Vers et Prose 1928 Paris
And happy 100th to Robert A. Heinlein, who passed on in 1988 but for whom a grassroots campaign is working to name a US Navy DDC Destroyer 1001, Zumwalt class, in honor of him.