“On Paper” Gets a Makeover

After the 2013 publication of Nick Basbanes’s On Paper, book artist Tim Elycalled the author and requested the unbound sheets of the book, just as they appeared off the press. Basbanes’s editor kindly obliged, and off On Paperwent to Washington State to Ely’s art studio where he forges one-of-a-kind, handmade books that have been compared to illuminated manuscripts for their impeccable detail and expression. Photo credit: Nick Basbanes

Basbanes didn’t hear from Ely for five and a half years, but, considering that Ely’s work is found in private collections as well as the Library of Congress, Yale University, Smith College, The Victoria and Albert Museum, the Lilly Library, and the Boston Athenaeum, there was hardly any rush. Then, earlier this spring, the artist sent Basbanes a note saying the book was ready, and had it shipped to Massachusetts under the most careful of conditions.

Unwrapped, Basbanes came face-to-face with his book, now clad in a creamy off-white clamshell box with marbled borders. The book itself is now bound with strips of handmade Japanese paper, papyrus strips, and leather. Peppering the front and back boards are Ely’s own glyphs–symbols the artist calls “cribform” that take on different meanings depending on their placement and the tool used to create them. It is, said Basbanes, “a most exquisite piece of art.”

 

Ely, who had been doing what he called “a slow deep read of On Paper,” set himself a goal to “require every self-proclaimed book artist to read it and know it,” likening the use of paper to the “idea of drawing as a major expression,” finding inspiration in using paper as “a medium for telepathy.”

Spine of "On Paper." Photo credit: Nick Basbanes

“Beyond deep reading, I have found that the best way to become informed about an event or gather a bit of enlightenment is to make an expressive book,” Ely said a few years back. Indeed, his work is a kind of bookmaking alchemy, fusing the ancient art of monastic manuscript binding with contemporary expression.

PHOTO CREDITS: NICK BASBANES

Catalogue Review: Librairie Metamorphoses

The second catalogue to appear from Librairie Métamorphoses is a tour de force. No surprise, considering that the Parisian firm was founded by Michel Scognamillo, former librarian and confidante to French collector Pierre Bergé, the lifelong business and romantic partner of fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent.

Before we talk about the contents, let’s look at the front matter. Smartly sheathed in a matte black binding and illustrated with a black-on-red silkscreen self portrait of Marcel Duchamp (#21 in the catalogue; price available on request), this volume is dedicated to Cédric Herrou, the 39-year-old olive farmer who ferried dozens of asylm seekers through France via what has been dubbed the French Underground Railroad. It is a fitting tribute, considering the contents of the catalogue are dedicated to the ideals of equality and freedom of expression.

 

So, what’s inside? Where to start? With the selection of material dedicated to poet Guillaume Apollinaire? Or the handwritten sheet music by George Bizet (€15,000)? Correspondence from George Sand to her dear friend Gustave Flaubert (€12,000) is marvelous, too, but perhaps the pièce de résistance is a 1671 edition of Molière’s The Middle Class Gentleman (Le Bourgeois gentilhomme), printed at the playwright’s expense and bound in its original vellum.

 

This particular volume is exceptional as a masterpiece of French literature and as a turning point in the editorial emancipation of Molière, who had personally financed the publication of his play Tartuffe in 1669. With The Middle Class Gentleman, Molière declined to transfer his rights to a bookseller after the play became successful, as he had done with Tartuffe. Now, the playwright retained all legal rights and profits for himself. And yet the haste with which this edition was printed is evident: typographical errors, erratic punctuation, and sloppy copy calibration abound, but these characteristics only add, according to the catalogue, “a certain charm” to the volume and to its rarity. Price available upon request.

There’s no website for Librairie Métamorphoses, but interested parties can visit the shop at 17 rue Jacob in the 6th arrondisement in Paris, call 33 06 13 92 76, or email at scolivre@gmail.com.

More treasures fill this beguiling catalogue, while the bibliographical notes are reason enough to seek it out. If only I had more than “pure praises” for Libraries Métamorphoses, but for now it will have to do

Beatrix Potter Portrait to Appear on Cumbrian Currency

Brexit may be in turmoil, but there is a bright spot to leaving the E.U: being able to print hyper-local money that’s backed by the national government. This year, Beatrix Potter, educational reformer Charlotte Mason, and other notable residents of the English region of Cumbria will grace various denominations of the Lake District pound (LD£), a currency launched there in 2018 to encourage local shopping and promote independent businesses.
“It’s been an amazing year for the project,” said Lake Currency Project founder Ken Royall in a January report by the BBC. Available at Lake District post offices and tourism centers, the currency can be swapped pound for pound with sterling and is accepted at over 350 hundred local and independent shops throughout the Lake District, a region in the northwestern region of England popular with tourists. Over 140,000 LD£S are currently in circulation.
Unlike standard currency which never expires, LD£S is an annual currency. The 2018 batch expired on January 31 but could be exchanged until the end of February for fresh 2019 LD£S notes. Any expired currency becomes found money for the district, helping fund community projects and maintaining the stunning landscapes that make the region such a hot tourist spot.
The Lake District currency is the first paper money issued with Potter’s likeness.The brightly colored banknotes were designed by artists Rebecca Gill and Cumbrian native Debbie Vayanos. Meanwhile, Potter’s charming characters like Peter Rabbit and Squirrel Nutkin have appeared on the British pound since 2016 and are coveted among numismatics. Last August, a coin collector stabbed a man to death and then stole the victim’s coin collection, which included rare Beatrix Potter 50p coins. (The murderer was recently sentenced to thirty years in prison.)
No need for violence here, nor must Potter collectors book a flight to Cumbria to get their hands on these: Lake District Pounds are available online.

 

Image courtesy of Lake District Currency Project

Cotsen Library Publishes Massive Dual-Volume Catalogue

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Turn to any page of the recently published, two-volume, folio-size Catalog of the Cotsen Children’s Library: The Nineteenth Century  — say, page 24 of volume II — and the bibliographical detail accompanying each entry and illustration are case studies in thoroughness. In my case, page 24 reveals a charming, full-page, illustration of Theodore Léfèvre’s Bébé saurait bientôt lire (approx. 1880), a hand-colored wood engraving frontispiece for an elementary reader.

 
This project didn’t come together overnight; for over twenty years, a team of dedicated librarians and staff at the Cotsen Children’s Library at Princeton University have been fastidiously compiling a complete catalogue of that library’s research material. To put it mildly, this has been no small undertaking. Out of the nearly 100,000 items donated by Princeton alumnus (‘50) and Neutrogena executive Lloyd Cotsen, 23,000 non-circulating items spanning the 15th through the 20th century and written in thirty languages will ultimately be included in the multi-volume compendium.

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Included in the Nineteenth Century are descriptions of 6,370 children’s books in the library’s holdings and 270 full-color illustrations. Titles were selected for this publication based on their illustrations or their representation of a particular style or development. As the focus is on the 19th century, work by well-known illustrators like Charles Perrault and Kate Greenaway figure prominently, as do examples of then-revolutionary printing and illustrating techniques.

 
These lavender, gilt-stamped cloth volumes are arranged alphabetically, with each entry given meticulous bibliographic detail. The pair is being sold through Oak Knoll Press for $250. Nineteenth Century joins the Cotsen’s earlier two-volume catalogue, published in 2000 and 2003, chronicling the library’s 20th-century holdings. A final, two-volume project is in the works that will examine the Cotsen’s children’s books dating from the 1400s through 1801.

 
Among some of the treasures in the Cotsen’s holdings include picture letters by Beatrix Potter, incunables, drawings by Edward Lear, and even an early-Coptic schoolbook. Though the Cotsen collection is non-circulating, the library hosts an array of impressive virtual exhibitions using its holdings.

 

Images courtesy of Oak Knoll

Miniature Books at Grolier Club put on a Mighty Show

This story appeared on the Fine Books Blog Friday, March 8, 2019

Though the barometer may suggest otherwise, one of the telltale signs of spring in New York is the annual arrival of Rare Book Week, going on now through March 12. Besides the various pearls for sale among the well-stocked stacks at the three book and ephemera fairs, holding court around Manhattan are a slew of shows and exhibitions dedicated to celebrating the people and things of the book world. One that serious bibliophiles should not miss is the Grolier Club’s exhibition of Pat Pistner’s miniature bindings and books, now on view in the second floor gallery.

 

 

The 275-item installation–a misleading number, given that some items, like the 42-volume set of Sherlock Holmes mysteries is counted as one piece–spans the history of texts written on a diminutive scale. A miniature Babylonian cuneiform tablet accounting “plucked” sheep dating from approximately 2340 BCE shares space with sumptuous illuminated Books of Hours and contemporary artists’ books by Timothy Ely and Nancy Gifford. From an archive that currently includes 4,000 items, the Naples, Florida-based bibliophile whittled down her selections to those she said best represented the considerable historical scope of her collection.
“Collecting is so personal,” Pistner told a group during a Wednesday lunchtime tour of the exhibition, which she led along with co-curator Jan Storm van Leeuwen. “Some people focus on one element, but I’ve chosen to take a much broader view, with the goal of collecting the best possible examples of miniature bindings from across history.”
Out of so many tiny treasures bound in gold, silver, and other precious elements, can Pistner possibly have a favorite? “I love all of them, but these are perhaps my most prized,” she said, gesturing to a case containing 16th-century miniatures from France and Italy. She graciously posed for a photograph holding up a liturgical miniature called the Enchiridion p[re] clare ecclesie Sarum, a 1528 tome hailing from the collection of Charles Louis de Bourbon, Duke of Parma. The text dates to the 16th century, but the binding was by Pierre Marcellin Lortic, a 19th-century binder.

 

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Another, less dramatic (but no less significant) prize sits in a wall case in the hallway: a miniature printing of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. Issued in 1862, the unassuming single-section pamphlet in tan paper is Lincoln’s preliminary proclamation freeing the slaves and the first printing in book form of the text. In a hurried effort to spread the word, 50,000 copies of this mini were distributed by Union soldiers to African Americans as they marched through the South. “Not many remain in existence,” Pistner explained. This one, like nearly every other item in the exhibition, is an exquisite example, all a reminder of the major role miniature books play in understanding the history of the written word.

 

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“A Matter of Size,” is on view now through May 19. Free lunchtime exhibition tours led by the curator will be held on April 24 at 1 pm and May 18 at 3 pm. No reservations necessary. The accompanying 476-page, fully-illustrated catalogue ($95, Oak Knoll) is a meticulously compiled resource that covers the breadth of Pistner’s collection as well as its place in the bibliosphere.


Images: Top two photos courtesy of the author; bottom, courtesy of Oak Knoll

Photography’s First Superstar: The Work of William Mortensen on Display at NYC Book and Ephemera Fair

Some saw him as a provocateur. Others, like Ansel Adams, called him the Antichrist. However you felt about him, photography’s first superstar was arguably William Mortensen (1897-1965).  Never heard of Mortensen? Go read all about him and a forthcoming exhibition dedicated to his work here.

Wiilliam Mortensen (1897 - 1965). "Untitled (Woman with Mask)", circa 1924 - 1926 Photograph Courtesy of Stephen Romano Gallery

WIILLIAM MORTENSEN (1897 – 1965). “UNTITLED (WOMAN WITH MASK)”, CIRCA 1924 – 1926 PHOTOGRAPH COURTESY OF STEPHEN ROMANO GALLERY

 

https://bit.ly/2TvMZC4

Ticknor Society Announces Book Collecting Prize for New England-Based Bibliophiles

New England bibliophiles, rejoice! A book prize awaits you!

Here’s the details: Collections must be compiled, curated, and owned by the contestant, who must reside in one of the six New England states. Eligible collections may include books, manuscripts, and ephemera. Collections will be judged on their originality and creativity and not market value or size.
Applicants are asked to submit an essay of up to 1,500 words describing the inspiration behind the creation of the collection, as well as its history, current status, and anticipated direction. Images of one or more items in the collection and a bibliography of the collection are also requested.
The bibliography should include the author, title, place, publisher and date of publication, type of binding, condition, annotations on the importance of individual pieces, and why each item is in the collection.
One winner will receive a $1,000 prize and offered a complimentary one-year Ticknor Society membership.
The application deadline is April 15, 2019 and the winner will be notified on June 30. The prize will be awarded at the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair in November.
Appy here: www.ticknor.org