American Collections blog

18 posts categorized "Artists' Books"

06 August 2021

Two Conflicting Pioneers and their Precursors in the Amazon

This blog by Pola Oloixarac is part of a special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting recent research across the British Library's Americas collections by scholars and creatives associated with the Eccles Centre, including those supported by the Centre's Awards.

Travel has changed a lot since the early naturalists voyaged through the Amazonia, and it continues to change today thanks to Covid restrictions. While I’ve been unable to foray in person into the archives of the British Library as I was hoping - summer, London, arcane tomes - I’ve had the luck of encountering the mighty digital explorer, Dr Aleksandra Kaye. Dr Kaye knows her way around the British Library’s vast digital  archives and like any sensible 19th century naturalist seeking help from a guide, I secured her expertise in unearthing their intricate holdings.
 
In the first written accounts of the Amazon, the anthropological gaze is under-developed. Though entranced by the power of landscape, the earliest naturalists typically didn’t consider the human culture they encountered. The richness of the human Amazonian world typically escape their notice. Indeed, where Amazonian people are referenced, early accounts by European naturalists are explicitly racist. One explorer, however, who did take some account of indigenous people was the French painter Hercules Florence, although how he saw them was problematic. He travelled to the Amazon from 1825 to 1829 and ended up spending his life in Brazil.

What excited Florence was undiscovered places and he was uninterested in indigenous village life. He remarked in his diary that the jungle is repetitive and that, "to see a Brazilian village, is to see them all"1. He became obsessed with capturing the unchartered territory and capturing it through sound and image with pioneering technology. Florence experimented making photographs in Brazil in 1833 and wanted to record the sounds of what surrounded him. This led him to devise a method to record wild bird song in the Amazon. While looking for a way to record sound, he stumbled into photography. Indeed, while trying to publicise his experiments in sound recording he managed to devise the first printing machine in Sao Paulo.

In the first page of his diary he mentions the expedition slaves, noting that all humans become the same bundle of flesh under the severity of the Amazonian environment. When the expedition’s commander, Gregory Langsdorff (Fig. 1, below) succumbs to yellow fever, Florence notes that illness made no distinction about social class in the context of the Amazon.

A  slightly side-on black and white image of G.H. Langsdorff.
Fig. 1: G. H. von Langsdorff, Voyages and Travels in Various Parts of the World… London: printed for Henry Colburn, 1813. British Library shelfmark: Mic.F.232 [no. 38483]. Image courtesy University of Alberta, due to Covid restrictions.

Langsdorff claimed to be the first to attempt the fluvial crossing of Brazil, from Pantanal to Belum. Until now it was believed that the first trip was in 1825 but Dr Kaye’s research has revealed a precursor: there was a previous trip funded by the Imperial Russian court and led by Adam Johan Krussertern in which Langsdorff took part. Before his trip with Florence in 1825, Langsdorff had added himself hastily and at his own expense to the Krussertern expedition as a second naturalist (the first was Wilhm Gottlieb Tilesius). Langsdorff, therefore, went into the Amazon at least two times, around 1803-1807.  These earlier expeditions could explain why the subsequent Langsdorff trip a few decades later was hardly noticed by the very Russians who funded it, considering it, perhaps, redundant. Indeed, the reports of the Langsdorff investigation languished in St Petersburg for over a century largely undiscovered.

Langsdorff’s story is a reminder of how much these exploratory naturalist expeditions had in common with modern filmmaking. Langsdorff had, in effect, been to the Amazon first as a location scout (1803-1807), but his vision of the Amazon and the legacy of his expedition could not exist without artists to document the trip. For his 1825-1829 expedition - the one that would make him famous - Langsdorff only wanted the very best artists. He hired Johan Moritz Rugendas, but their relationship faltered when the Prussian commander sought to take ownership of the artist’s original works. Rugendas, however, was aware of his own worth as an artist and would not bow to Langsdorff. The Brazilian diaries of both Rugendas and Langsdorff paint the latter in a negative light: Langsdorff was controlling and wanted Rugendas to assign him copyright, but the artist resisted and ultimately deserted the expedition. 

This is how Hercules Florence joined the trip as a second painter to first painter André Taunay. Traveling with Langsdorff, Hercules Florence experimented with photography (he called it “painting with light”). He claimed to be its first inventor, documenting his attempts using silver nitrate and natural acids like urea. Despite these claims, however, Dr Kaye found that Alexander Agassiz, also claimed to be the first to use photography through carbon printing for general illustrations of natural history. In 1871 Agassiz made this claim in the pages of the Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard College (British Library shelfmark Ac.1736/26), where his father, Louis Agassiz, was an acclaimed professor. Agassiz argues that photography is likely to overtake lithography as a mode of illustrating natural history and includes two photographs with his work. His view that the new printing technology would withstand the test of time is born out by the archive; and 150 years later, we can look at these photographs at the British Library.

Sea urchin 1
Fig. 2: Bulletin of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard College. 1871. British Library shelfmark: Ac.1726/36.

Did Agassiz know of Florence’s efforts to make pictures by “painting with light”? Or was Florence unknown to his contemporaries, even those working as naturalists in Brazil? These questions beg answers. For now, we can only reflect on the fact that the London edition of the early Langsdorff travels (before his trip with Florence) is much more richly illustrated and complete than the American version. In the UK edition we find a lithograph of a Brazilian house (Fig. 3, below) and a musical score called “Brazilian Air” (Fig. 4, below). Both are accessible digitally, which makes comparing them possible. The US edition from 1817 has been digitized by the British Library and is in the public domain - the UK edition from 1813 is only available digitally inside the library, but the University of Alberta digitized their copy and made it publicly available. The London edition was published in two separate volumes, while the US edition has less images, is more cramped and in smaller format and is published as a single book. As a consequence the US edition would have been cheaper to produce and therefore more accessible to bigger audiences.

Two women crouching and engaged in domestic tasks.
Fig. 3: G. H. von Langsdorff, Voyages and Travels in Various Parts of the World… London: printed for Henry Colburn, 1813. British Library shelfmark: Mic.F.232 [no. 38483]. Image courtesy University of Alberta due to Covid restrictions.
A page of musical notation and lyrics.
Fig. 4: G. H. von Langsdorff, Voyages and Travels in Various Parts of the World… London: printed for Henry Colburn, 1813. British Library shelfmark: Mic.F.232 [no. 38483]. Image courtesy University of Alberta, due to Covid restrictions.

Another interesting item with connections to Brazil uncovered by Dr Kaye is a 1916 book of short stories by Edith Wharton, the American author, called Xingú, and Other Stories (London; New York printed: Macmillan, 1916; British Library shelfmark NN.4057). The “Xingú” text portrays a dialogue between elite ladies who cannot fathom what is meant by Xingú. They think Xingú is something mysterious or rude, which creates quite a lot of drama among them. Eventually they discover it’s a Brazilian River. The text keeps you wondering, what would The Age of Innocence (Mrs. Wharton’s vivid masterpiece) be like, if set in the Império do Brasil? A crossover of the directors Martin Scorsese and Joaquim Machado de Assis, with vast corridors of palms, would surely depict a young emperor obsessed with becoming a masterful photographer, like Dom Pedro II of Brazil once was. He would have been especially pleased about finding the British Library's digital versions of his photographs available today.

Pola Oloixarac is the author of the novels Savage Theories, Dark Constellations and Mona. She’s the recipient of the 2021 Eccles Centre and Hay Festival Writer's Award.

1. Hercule Florence Diary: http://etnolinguistica.wdfiles.com/local--files/biblio:kossoy-1977-florence/kossoy_1977_hercules_florence.pdf

26 July 2021

Shape-shifting: Creative research and 'The Owner of the Sea'

This blog by Richard Price is part of the Eccles Centre's special Summer Scholars blog series highlighting recent research by scholars and creatives working across the British Library's Americas collections. 

In a past life I was a researcher, studying for a PhD. I was investigating the novels and plays of the writer Neil M. Gunn who wrote in the interwar period and just beyond. I used the Lord Chamberlain’s Plays collection in the Library to see what the state censor of the day had made of Gunn’s play The Ancient Fire (1929). Gunn had located this drama in two politically sensitive places: post-war Glasgow, dependant on warship contracts for the British Empire, and a Scottish Highlands dominated by super-wealthy, super-absent landlords. I suspected there would be crossings-out in blue pencil, blustering annotations – any manner of indignation – and I was right. The Lord Chamberlain’s office was not going to let that play pass across its desk without the sharpening of pencils.

I duly completed the PhD and to this day use “Dr”, mainly to remind myself I actually did it. As it happens the revelations about censorship – it is still quite shocking to see a person’s art damaged by systematic authority – didn’t form much of my thesis. As often in research, specific information you glean doesn’t always, or even usually, make it to the central argument. Mine was more about aesthetics and internal Scottish self-identity rather than British politics, though of course these three components have various kinds of critical relationship with each other.

And, bar a published paper here or there afterwards, that was it. Fairly soon I decided to settle for just two vocations rather than three – Librarianship and Poetry. I let Research go, continued to work for a certain national library then located in the Round Reading Room of the British Museum (among other places), and continued to work in my own time – yes, I have finally learnt to call it work – as a writer.

Or I thought I had left Research. As the years have gone on, I’ve realised that thing that is reading and thinking and conversing about a subject before making something from that activity is still, of course, Research. 

Here are some topics I’ve felt the need to study for creative projects over the years: medical and psychological interventions for insomniacs (Rays, poetry, 2009); airborne pathogens (The Island, novel, 2010); stroke and patient care (Small World, poetry, 2012); the Scottish Highlands in wartime (Wind-breakers, Sea-Eagles and Anthrax, radio, 2019); the history of little magazines (Is This A Poem?, essays, 2015); the music of Gil Scott-Heron and Brian Jackson (The World Brims by the Loss Adjustors, album, 2018); and, most recently, Inuit legends (The Owner of the Sea: Three Inuit Stories Retold, poetry, 2021). I’ve used a mixture of interviews with practitioners, straight-out purchases of academic books, and of course library-based study for all these.

Writing that paragraph I realise I’ve just missed the most significant segment of research that I have carried out: reading poetry. Contemporary poetry, yes, but poetry from all kinds of territories, times and directions, too; books and magazines about poetry which maintain context and skills knowledge; and of course conversations and correspondence with other poets and with readers including those who may not even know they could like poetry. Any writer, I imagine, is continually and voraciously reading works within their form and discussing them, so much so that they lose sight of it sometimes as study, as ‘Research’. In some ways, I hope that they do lose sight of it. Play, pleasure, enjoyment – immersion – perhaps, these are under-rated qualities in a society driven, at times, by a mixing up of  education and the work ethic? In any case, all this is the circulating blood at the heart of research, creatively speaking.

I think there’s another element, and perhaps that is also ‘invisible’ to many as labour, as researching activity. It is developing a practical understanding of the material demands, from physical form to people networks, that one’s art moves in, through, and across. For visual artists this is, say, ‘To know the gallery trade’. For a poet like me, who often works with book artists, it’s knowing the artist’s book market and the kinds of possibilities book artists explore in their work; it’s working with book artists. The same is true for knowing the mainstream poetry publishing world: this doesn’t happen instantly but takes years of finding-out (and luck). Some may say that these are compromising complications for a ‘pure poet’ or equivalent artist but I’m not so sure that one can ever escape the material nature of even such an apparently ethereal art.  I’d go further, that the nature of its material form and distribution is a big enough part of its meaning for a poet to devote time to learning it. 

This helps in a way to explain how The Owner of the Sea came about, and how it was that this ‘invisible’ aspect of research inspired its creation. It was integration within the materiality of one part of the poetry world – artist’s books – that led to it. For well over twenty years I have, in my time away from the Library, been an appreciator of and collaborator with the Anglo-Brazilian artist Ronald King. Our first book was gift horse (Circle Press, 1999; British Library Shelfmark: Cup.512.b.232). It’s a large off-white book with very few pages and striking images which are not inked – they are ‘blind embossed’. The printing equipment has made an impression on a damped page whose paper has to be chosen carefully for its strength and stretchiness in the process. Because no ink is used on these images the eye relies on slight shadow and light differences to make them out. Ron ‘animated’ the image: he used the central figure of a horse starting from a standing position and gradually going into a gallop by the end of the book. The artist Karen Bleitz set the type of the poem in soft grey.

Decades later, after a series of King-Price collaborations, all duly and proudly now in the British Library collections, we joined up for a return to a blind-embossed book, Sedna and the Fulmar. Ron asked me to write a small set of poems based on one of the legends of Sedna, who is a major sea spirit or god, known by various names across different Inuit territories. As a young man, Ron had lived in Canada and had stumbled across her legend. He had never found a satisfying artistic way of responding until now when he would use blind-embossing as an analogy for Arctic white-space, the images imprinted as it were into the snow of the page.

Following his invitation to work with him again, the more conventional usage of ‘Research’ came into play for me. I began to read (and write) more about Sedna than the project required. I was particularly taken by Frédéric Laugrand and Jarich Oosten’s The Sea Woman: Sedna in Inuit Shamanism and Art in the Eastern Arctic (University of Alaska Press, 2008; British Library shelfmark: YK.2009.b.8589) which offered not only information for me to make narrative outlines but a rich sense of traditions and beliefs surrounding Sedna, including shamanism.

The cover of Frédéric Laugrand and Jarich Oosten’s The Sea Woman: Sedna in Inuit Shamanism and Art in the Eastern Arctic, showing the mermaid-like goddess in blue water.
Frédéric Laugrand and Jarich Oosten, The Sea Woman: Sedna in Inuit Shamanism and Art in the Eastern Arctic. Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2008; British Library shelfmark: YK.2009.b.8589

Unlike my encounter with the Lord Chamberlain’s plays, this time I wasn’t going to let the extra research go to waste. I very quickly established a narrative for a poetry sequence which would, yes, incorporate the small number of poems I had been commissioned to write, but would tell a longer story. I sent the whole sequence to Michael Schmidt, my publisher at Carcanet but also editor of the poetry journal PN Review. He offered to publish it in its entirety in the magazine almost by return of email. He also encouraged me to write more poems based on Inuit figures.

My study took me to further mythic accounts, from the more fragmentary ones assembled from various nineteenth century accounts by the anthropologist Franz Boas to Kira Van Deusen’s focussed and revelatory book Kiviuq: An Inuit Hero and His Siberian Cousins (McGill-Queen’s, 2009), based on the stories of living storytellers. This helped me counterbalance the story of the female god Sedna with the one of the male hunter Kiviuq.

The cover of Kira Van Deusen’s Kiviuq: An Inuit Hero and His Siberian Cousins, showing an Inuit person’s face.
Kira Van Deusen, Kiviuq: An Inuit Hero and His Siberian Cousins. McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2009; British Library shelfmark pending.

I also visited a now tragically defunct website, Kiviuq’s Journey, which Van Deusen had also been involved in, and which featured summaries of the tales of the mythic hunter Kiviuq. Again, these were taken directly from living Inuit storytellers (sadly, at least some have since died). Being Canadian, the site was out of scope for the work of our own UK Web Archive, but it does survive thanks to the US-based Internet Archive.

Screen shot of the website Kiviuq’s Journey taken from the Internet Archive.
A screenshot of the apparently defunct website Kiviuq’s Journey, taken from the Internet Archive: https://web.archive.org/web/20191214155128/http://www.unipka.ca/

So there were a range of focussed research resources I used for my poetry collection. But wait, I haven’t given examples of the ‘background research’ (like beneficial background radiation) that I mentioned is a way of life for poets – the collections we read day in and day out and the conversations we have. As my readers will know I am a poet of the sequence – from Tube Shelter Perspective (1993) to Small World (2012) – my poems inhabit connected narratives poem by poem, building drama, jumping gaps whose significance the reader will see as they read on. That is in part from being influenced by and having an affinity with such writers as the Tom Leonard of nora’s place or the Bernadine Evaristo of the verse novel The Emperor’s Babe.

Purple book cover of The Emperor’s Babe by Bernadine Evaristo, depicting a black woman’s hand holding a bunch of grapes.
A recent edition of The Emperor’s Babe by Bernadine Evaristo, originally published by Hamish Hamilton, 2001, British Library shelfmark: H.2001/2208.

It was adding this, what?, sensibility? towards the poetry sequence to my understanding of the narrative structures in Inuit story (at times trance-like, shamanistic, structures) that was the ‘breakthrough’ for me. In fact, sometimes it felt like writing the poems was being in a trance: I look at The Owner of the Sea and I don’t fully understand how these poems came to be written.

Conversations-wise I also shared my drafts with poet friends, including Nancy Campbell , author of Disko Bay and The Library of Ice, who has lived in Greenland and knows Inuit culture far better than I do. Nancy provides an afterword to the sequences in the book.

There is a key point about appropriation here, one that any researcher – creative or otherwise – needs to think carefully about when using the creative labour and common intangible heritage of indigenous cultures. I have, for example, been careful within The Owner of the Sea to acknowledge not just the authors I’ve mentioned but the many individually named storytellers who are cited in the key works. I’ve also emphasised distances in my introduction to the book, in asides contained within the poems themselves, in the jangle of contemporary UK language registers, and the distinctly un-traditional way the book proceeds. No reader could think that the book is anything but a contemporary collection from a Western poet, albeit based on the key moments of Inuit narratives. The original stories are not poems, they are in an entirely different form, the story of oral tradition, a tradition which has its own conventions and needs a set of sophisticated and localised skills for its rendering and which, though I imagine has some overlaps, must be very different from my own poetry tradition. My poems are also not translations and again I emphasise that.

Purple cover of The Owner of the Sea: Three Inuit Stories Retold, by Richard Price, depicting a sculpture of an Inuit woman.
Richard Price, The Owner of the Sea: Three Inuit Stories Retold; with an afterword by Nancy Campbell. Carcanet, 2021. Shelfmark pending.

It’s important, I feel, that the reader understands that set of distances and hopefully enjoying the different textures of poetry in The Owner of the Sea can, if they want, lead to the stories the book pays tribute to. I liken this distancing not to scientific or anthropological activity, each fraught with the risks of dehumanisation in such a context where framing is important to the investigating process, but as the distancing that takes places when any one art form, and its culture, tries to relate to another, especially across very different societies and (because the stories are hundreds and probably thousands of years old) across time. Instead of framing, ‘reaching towards’ is what such an activity does. An analogy would be, say, a 16th century painting from Europe depicting the story of Christ’s Nativity many centuries before in ancient Palestine. That artist, whether they are painting for devotion or for patronage or, as may be likely, both, cannot in the making of that painting, I believe, be seen as only ‘appropriating’ the teachings of and folklore around that religion. Rather they are responding in a way that is paradoxically distanced and dedicated: if they are an appropriator in some way they are also and, perhaps more firmly, an apostle.  They are also bringing in their contemporary world – the architecture of the stable, the nature of the snow – all European rather than Palestinian (in poetry, we would think of Peter Whigham’s Catullus or Christopher Logue’s Homer, where the world of now glances through the world of the past).

I am also aware that this painting analogy is itself a very Western one, and I use it here to give the  opportunity to pause to remember what trauma Christian organisations enacted on Inuit and other indigenous communities in Canada up until very recently, for example through the brutal residential schools systems. In fact in writing these poems I was driven by the sense that these stories -- where creatures are ‘human’’ and humans ‘creaturely’, all within a nature-space that depends on each and their relationship to each other -- were significant not just for their narrative interest but for their reflections on human behaviour. To write the tribute that The Owner of the Sea became was to place Inuit ideas, with all their unsettling challenges and breath-taking beauty, right into contemporary discourse, where they are much needed.

Richard Price is Head of Contemporary British Collections at the British Library. Richard’s The Owner of the Sea: Three Inuit Stories Retold is available here.

12 February 2020

Dear Diary....Mark Twain and a timeless love story

 

Black and white illustration of Adam and Eve being expelled from the Garden of Eden
Image taken from page 397 of 'Rome ... With ... illustrations. A new edition' British Library shelfmark HMNTS 10129.h.13.


Have you ever wondered what Adam and Eve were really thinking in the Garden of Eden?

 

Colour photo of the green front cover of the book, The Niagara Book'
The Niagara Book: A Complete Souvenir of Niagara Falls by W.D Howells, Mark Twain, Prof. Nathanial S. Shaler, and others. Buffalo, New York: Underhilll and Nichols, 1893. (10413.b.37.)

In 1893, Mark Twain contributed a short story to the Niagara Falls souvenir collection, The Niagara Book. His clever tale being something of an oddity among stolid pieces on the geology, flora and fauna, and famous visitors of the falls. His contribution, a satirical take on a biblical love story, was entitled, The Earliest Authentic Mention of Niagara Falls: Extracts from Adam's Diary. Translated from the Original Ms. Here, Twain took inspiration from the Book of Genesis to re-imagine the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. By setting his version in the more relatable 'paradise' of Niagara Falls (where Adam enjoys going over the falls in a barrel), he was able to take full advantage of wordplay opportunities on the Fall of Man doctrine from the Bible.

The tale, later published in book form in 1904 as Extracts from Adam's Diary / Translated from the original MS, is told from Adam's perspective and follows his grouchy musings on the sudden, and unwelcome, appearance of a troublemaker in his world: "Monday: This new creature with the long hair is a good deal in the way". Used to a solitary and lazy existence, Adam is initially bewildered and frustrated with the stranger's excessive industry and habit of naming everything she sees before he has the opportunity to do so himself. He is contemptuous of her existence and bemoans her notions of beauty and wonder: "Saturday: She fell in the pond yesterday when she was looking at herself, which she is always doing". However, he is begrudgingly won over by his new companion: "...for I am coming to realize that she is quite a remarkably comely creature". Twain's wit is at his best in this acerbic take on what is a widely accepted creation story, with Adam’s accounts gleefully dry at times: "I advised her to keep away from the tree. She said she wouldn't. I forsee trouble. Will emigrate". Adam’s story poignantly ends with him speaking at Eve's grave, "Wherever she was, there was Eden."

Photo of Mark Twain seated with cigar in hand
Photo of Mark Twain taken by A.F. Bradley, New York 1907. Source: http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3c12065/

Though the tale follows the original story in the Book of Genesis, with Eve eating the forbidden fruit and the inevitable expulsion from paradise, it also offers a poignant reflection from Adam a decade later: would he rather have never met Eve?: "After all these years, I see that I was mistaken about Eve in the beginning, it is better to live outside the Garden with her than inside it without her". In Twain's story, we see a commentary on his own life: he famously remarked that he would never meet his match in a woman and, like Adam, seemed destined for a solitary life. But he was proved wrong in New York on New Year’s Eve in 1867 when he met Olivia Langdon (Livy): the shy and intelligent daughter of a wealthy coal merchant. They began a long courtship conducted mainly through letters, with 184 handwritten notes passing between them. This letter writing was to continue throughout their life together.

Red front cover of book 'Eve's Diary'
Eve's Diary. Translated from the original MS. by Mark Twain. New York: Harper & Bros, 1906. (012330.h.54.)

Livy died following a long illness in 1904, and, after locking himself away, Twain composed what many have dubbed his eulogy to her. Eve’s Diary was published in the 1905 Christmas issue of the magazine Harper's Bazaar, and then in book format in June 1906. This companion piece to Adam’s Diary follows Eve from her creation to her grave and was the only time Twain wrote from the perspective of a woman. He made great use of the opportunity to do so, and delivered a sharp-witted account of Eve’s thoughts on Adam, who she dubs “the other experiment”. She is impatient of his monosyllabic responses and laziness: “I wonder what it is for. I never see it do anything”. The story is notable in exemplifying his changed views on women’s suffrage. Twain was a staunch opponent of women’s right to vote, but after meeting Livy and having daughters, he changed his mind.

In Eve’s Diary, in contrast to Adam’s account, Eve is shown to be extremely bright and warm: expressing wonder and innate curiosity about the world around her. She is even taken with the grumpy Adam and is accepting of his faults and perceived lesser intelligence. His companionship offers a chance for conversation, something she loves (and an opportunity for a dig from Twain) : “I talk all day and in my sleep, too, and I am very interesting”. Unlike Adam’s, Eve’s account glosses over the Fall: “The garden is lost, but I have found him and am content”, and she is quicker to come to this realisation than Adam. Her final entry is delivered forty years later, and expresses a wish that, if they are not able to pass from the world together, it is her who goes first: “…life without him would not be life; how could I endure it?”. When reading this alongside Adam’s Diary we know that she gets her wish: Adam’s story ends with him speaking at Eve's grave: "Wherever she was, there was Eden." Although Twain proposed to have the two stories joined together in one volume, unfortunately this never happened in his lifetime.

Photo of grey slipcase and front cover of the book 'Extract's from Eve's Diary'
Extracts from Eve's Diary ; Extracts from Adam's Diary by Charles Hobson. San Francisco: Pacific Editions, 2003. (RF.2017.b.43)

 

The four love stories: the original tale from the Book of Genesis, Adam’s Diary, Eve’s Diary, and the story of Twain and Livy, have been themselves retold in a 2003 artists’ book from San Francisco artist, Charles Hobson. Entitled Extracts from Eve's Diary ; Extracts from Adam's Diary, this creative interpretation interweaves excerpts from Genesis, the two diaries, and handwritten letters between Twain and Livy, with illustrations of two figures moving towards embrace. The motion of the two figures is inspired by the photographs of Eadweard Muybridge from his Human Figure in Motion study from 1901, and is enabled by the intricate design of the book. The artist has used a French door structure with cut-out pages and collaged folded sheets to involve the reader in revealing the journey of Adam and Eve toward each other, and away from ignorance.

The book is presented in a slipcase and opens in two concertinaed halves to display Eve's story on the left and Adam's on the right, allowing passages from each to be easily compared and contrasted. The copy at the British Library (shelfmark RF.2017.b.43) is the final edition in a limited run of 38 copies and includes a separate print of Adam and Eve embracing. The parallels between Twain’s Adam and Eve, and himself and Livy have been beautifully encapsulated in this artistic volume, with the design of the book is extremely effective in portraying what Twain surely felt to be a too brief but passionate time in Eden.

Photo of the book spread open to reveal the sequence of illustrations
The concertinaed halves opened up to reveal the two stories side by side

 

Photo of the book folded open to reveal the two full page illustrations of the figures
The cutout pages opened up to reveal the two figures   

 

Further reading:


The Niagara Book: A Complete Souvenir of Niagara Falls by W.D Howells, Mark Twain, Prof. Nathanial S. Shaler, and others. Buffalo, New York: Underhilll and Nichols, 1893. (10413.b.37.)


The Human Figure in Motion by Eadweard Muybridge. London : Chapman & Hall, 1901. (Tab.443.b.1.)


Extracts from Adam's Diary / Translated from the original MS. by Mark Twain. New York ; London : Harper & Bros, 1904. (012330.h.50.)


Eve's Diary. Translated from the original MS. by Mark Twain. New York: Harper & Bros, 1906. (012330.h.54.)


Extracts from Eve's Diary ; Extracts from Adam's Diary by Charles Hobson. San Francisco: Pacific Editions, 2003. (RF.2017.b.43)

 

Lucy Rowland, Curator of Oceania Published Collections post-1850

23 September 2019

‘To Robert Frank I now give this message: You got eyes’

And who would disagree with Jack Kerouac’s assessment of the Swiss-born American photographer, who died at the age of 94 on 9th September. There have already been numerous obits etc on Frank by others more expert on the subject than me, so I thought I would just take a brief look at the publishing history of Frank’s most well-known book -The Americans.

Frank was awarded a Guggenheim fellowship in 1955 for his project 'to photograph freely throughout the United States, using the miniature camera exclusively…,' his application having gained support from a number of photographer luminaries such as Walker Evans and Edward Steichen. The funding enabled him to make several trips from New York over 1955/56, including one 8 month trip to the West Coast in a 1950 Ford Coupe. Frank took over 20,000 images on nearly 800 rolls of 35 mm film, many of them being processed and contact printed en route, which no doubt enabled him to more easily review and develop some of the themes which recur in his work – symbols of popular culture, race and class, religion, music etc. Frank later wrote “I have attempted to show a cross-section of the American population. My effort was to express it simply and without confusion. The view is personal….” (quoted in The Book of 101 Books, edited by Andrew Roth, PPP Editions, New York, 2001, p.150).

Thirty-three of these photos appeared at the end of 1957 in US Camera Annual, but Frank's intention had always been to produce a book. From his huge collection of images, he somehow managed to select just eighty-three photos, but finding a publisher proved to be even more difficult. It was Frank’s friend Robert Delpire, the influential Paris-based art publisher, editor and curator, who was eventually to publish ‘Les Américains’ in 1958. It’s interesting to take a closer look at this first edition since it’s a very different book to the later and much better known American edition, even though the photos and the sequence of them is exactly the same. Delpire had a strong interest in documentary photography - and his own distinct vision for the book. In addition to contributing his own writing, Alain Bosquet (poet, novelist and translator) gathered together texts by writers as diverse as Simone de Beauvoir, Erskine Caldwell, John Dos Passos, Benjamin Franklin, Abraham Lincoln, Richard Wright, Walt Whitman and many many more to accompany the photos. Appearing in Delpire’s Encyclopédie Essentielle series in 1958, Les Américains also includes sections on significant dates in US history, population statistics, and encompasses themes such as politics, religion and so on. Frank’s photographs therefore become more like illustrations to a sociological and political text. Each photo faces a page of text and our reading of the photos is inevitably influenced by what appears in that text. As David Levi Strauss has commented, ‘That powerful image from Dolores Park in San Francisco where the African American couple turns toward the camera in anger is wholly influenced by the facing page quotes from Faulkner and John Brown (The Book of 101 Books as above). As you will also see from the below image, no photograph was included on the cover, rather it has some drawings by Saul Steinberg.

Photograph of Les Américains. Photographies de Robert Frank [RF.2017.a.63] showing the front and back covers of the book
Les Américains. Photographies de Robert Frank [RF.2017.a.63]

It’s not surprisingly that Frank wasn’t overly happy about this edition, and sought to persuade Grove Press to publish an American edition. Fortunately he was successful and this time all the texts were removed, not least because some of them were considered too critical of the US, un-American in fact. For this we can be thankful. As already mentioned, the eighty-three photos and their sequencing remain the same, but now each photo is opposite a white page, blank save for a small caption which provides the location of each image (much like the format of Walker Evans’ earlier and influential American Photographs, which Frank so admired). Now we have the space to appreciate the photographs and we can interpret just as we want all those images of flags, funerals, cars, jukeboxes and so on. The one other difference is that this edition, of course, carries an introduction by Jack Kerouac. The two men had met at a party in 1957 and Frank had shown Kerouac some of the photos from his road trips. It’s not hard to imagine why they had appealed to Kerouac, whose novel On The Road appeared in September of that year. ‘The humor, the sadness, the EVERYTHING-ness and American-ness of these pictures!’ The introduction is an almost perfect accompaniment, and also helped to situate Frank as a part of the Beat Generation. In fact, by the time the edition appeared in 1959, Frank was already exploring the medium of film and was making Pull My Daisy with Kerouac, Allen Ginsberg, Gregory Corso et al.

Surprising as it might now seem, the reception of The Americans on publication was quite mixed. Some people loved it, but it also attracted a lot of criticism, both for the quality of the images (described as blurry and grainy) but also some considered it to promote a too negative view of America. It is also hard to believe that the MOMA bookshop even refused to stock it at first. Of course now it has become one of the most influential and celebrated photobooks of the Twentieth Century. As David Campany has written, it was a survey of ‘all that seemed uncomfortable in the American psyche, captured by a photographer with a rare ability to turn the most unpromising moments into new symbols,’ describing it as the ‘visual equivalent to jazz’. (David Campany, The Open Road, Aperture, 2014, p.25). The jazz analogy often appears in writing on the book, and I particularly like this sentence on the sequencing of the photos from Martin Parr and Gerry Badger’s The Photobook: a history, vol. 1. ‘Ideas ebb and flow, are introduced, discarded, recapitulated, transfigured, transposed, played off and piled up against each other with the exuberant energy of a Charlie Parker saxophone solo.’ (Phaidon 2004, p.247).

Sadly the BL does not have a copy of the first edition of The Americans since what we now refer to as photobooks were usually not considered for acquisition for the old reference collections in the past. Consequently, the only copies of many American photobooks that we have are often in what used to be the old lending collections. Some gaps have been filled more recently but first editions are usually too expensive these days as they have become so collectable. At the end of the day, it’s the images that you want so reprints still work for many purposes.  In this case, the Library has an Aperture edition from 1969 (shelfmark AL69/4991) which includes a section of filmstrip images at the end (Frank comments that they ‘represent for me the continuation of my work’) plus several later reprints and editions. We do, however, have Les Américains (Shelfmark RF.2017.a.63). David Levi Strauss has said that ‘The French edition is sociology, the American edition is poetry.’ You can look at them both and decide for yourself.

I started with Kerouac so I’ll end with him too:

‘Robert Frank, Swiss, unobtrusive, nice, with that little camera that he raises and snaps with one hand he sucked a sad poem right out of America onto film, taking rank among the tragic poets of the world!’

Photograph of 'The Americans' 50th anniversary edition, published by Steidl in 2008, next to Library holding of Les Américains

(above copy of The Americans is my own copy of the 50th anniversary edition, published by Steidl in 2008)

 

By Carole Holden

03 April 2019

América Latina: Artists’ Books at the British Library

In early February the British Library held its third hugely successful Artists’ Books Now event: América Latina. The evening brought together artists, collectors, academics and curators to consider the multiple dynamics at work in the creation of Latin American artists’ books. It also enabled the audience to handle and explore the works on display and to discuss them with the contributors and each other.

Artists, curators and members of the audience engaging with the artists' books.
Image: Jerry Jenkins

Amongst the items considered were cordel literature and cartonera, both of which are richly represented in the Library’s collections. Cordel literature are popular and inexpensively printed booklets or pamphlets containing folk novels, poems and songs which often have decorative covers printed from woodcuts.

Brazilian woodcut prints illustrating cordel publications from Connie Bloomfield’s collection. 
Image: Jerry Jenkins

Cartonera is a publishing movement which originated in Latin America in the early 2000s and which employs recycled material to make literary works. Historically these works have social, political and artistic significance. The British Library holds cartonera from Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, and Mexico. Beth Cooper, Curator for Latin America and Caribbean collections, has been working with Lucy Bell and Alex Flynn on an AHRC funded cartonera research project ‘Precarious Publishing in Latin America: relations, meanings and community in movement'.

The Library also holds works from Ediciones Vigía, an independent publishing house located in Matanzas, Cuba. Vigía originally opened as a space for writers and artists to gather and discuss their work. Participants began creating single-sheet flyers that advertised meeting times for interested artists, and eventually they evolved into a book publishing house. Many of their works are produced in coarse paper from substances including sugar cane, offcuts of cardboard and other leftovers. They are decorated with drawings, cut by hand and enhanced with material objects: scraps of tissue paper, cloth, cord, as well as less likely ornaments including sand, twigs, leaves and nails. The maximum number of any work produced by the house is two hundred. Clearly there is an intersection with the cartonera, although the roots of each movement are differentiated by time, with Vigías being a backlash to the uniformity of Cuban printing and publishing of the 1980s.  

Artist Francisca Prieto discussing her work The Antibook. British Library shelfmark: RF.2003.a.233.
Image: Jerry Jenkins

América Latina offered a wonderful opportunity to explore and unpick the ways in which  artists’ books can be seen as a transnational and international medium which does not respect boundaries or borders.

Huge thanks are due to all of the contributors: Michael Wellen, Curator, International Art, Tate Modern; researchers and collectors Lucy Bell and Connie Bloomfield; artist book and zine maker Rafael Morales Cendejas; visual artist Francisca Prieto; and Beth Cooper, Curator, Latin America and the Caribbean, The British Library.

Jerry Jenkins, Curator Contemporary British Publications, Emerging Media

 

15 February 2019

Witch-hunts and the iconographic power of fear

Lost among other headlines, today brought news of a fascinating discovery in the Cresswell Crags in the British Midlands: approximately 1000 apotropaic markings, also known as witches markings.  Research is ongoing by Historic England to understand more about this latest discovery at the Crags, but it seems as though they belong to a rich history of markings made to protect against witches.  Typical markings include "the double 'VV' engravings, which may make reference to Mary, Virgin of Virgins and PM is Pace Maria.  Other designs are believed to be devices for capturing ‘evil’. These include diagonal lines, boxes and mazes and could be a response to a period of unexpected sickness, death or poor crops".

Given this latest witch related discovery, it seemed appropriate to introduce readers to a new acquisition by up-and-coming New York based illustrator and book artist Normandie Syken, "Little Red Witch" which shall be available in the reading rooms very shortly, at shelfmark HS.74/2395 .  This rather large yet exquisitely detailed book is a contemporary re-telling of the infamous Brothers Grimm tale, with a twist: the story is set in Salem, Massachusetts during the 17th Century witch trials that saw 185 people accused of witchcraft in a one-year period, resulting in 59 trials and 19 executions.  By far the vast majority of the accused were women, and where men were accused it was most often by association with a female witch (usually a family member).

   

DSC_0477
Binding of 'Little Red Witch' shelfmark HS.74/2395

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This is, then, clearly not going to be your average fairytale.  Our witch heroine is sent from Salem to her witch grandmother's cottage in the woods to wait out the anti-witch hysteria overtaking Salem with her loyal companion, an unnamed black cat.  

DSC_0479 DSC_0479
 

En route, she enjoys the freedoms offered by the woods to celebrate her true witch nature, along with new-found woodland friends with whom she shares a midnight dance around a fire.  Amongst the revellers is a wolf of whom our heroine is far from intimidated, recognising in him a fellow in the dark arts.

DSC_0484

Nonetheless, the wolf betrays her confidence and so the book returns to the more familiar narrative of 'Little Red Riding Hood'. 

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"What big teeth you have"

However, this only lasts a short while before further twists on the narrative are introduced.  Notably, there is no woodcutter to save the day.  Instead Little Red and her grandmother apply their witch knowledge and cunning to save themselves from their seemingly terrible fate.  

DSC_0485
Brewing a wolf-potion

What is particularly interesting about this retelling is how a number of themes that emerged from the Salem witch trials are integrated into the narrative.  Some of these, such as the ever present black cat, broomstick, and cauldron are now instantly recognisable elements of the popular imagining of witches.  Others are less iconographic: single women, particularly spinsters; inherited inter-generational witchcraft; an ability to commune and speak with animals; familiarity with herbal remedies; speaking with the Devil; causing harm through poppets (doll-like effigies); the power of words to curse; and of course the symbols of witchcraft which have their counterpoint in the protective markings seen at Cresswell Crags.  While some of these may not have appeared in a 'Family Fortunes' list of witches' traits ('Family Feuds' for our US readers), they are nonetheless all uncannily familiar.  Such is the power of historic narratives to traverse centuries, particularly those that invoke fear of the unknown and suspicion of difference.

It should come as no surprise then that all of the above can be found in the historical record as anecdotal evidence used to accuse people of witchcraft, both in witch-hunts in Britain and those that took place in the American colonies.  The imagined threat of witches clearly posed a very real danger to individuals and society in the early modern period. Estimates of numbers of people who were killed during European witchhunts vary from 40,000 up to 500,000 over 300 years.

Of course, much of the 'identifying' characteristics of witches were heavily gendered: women's work and women's words were read through a sinister lens.  As Carol F. Karlsen groundbreaking sociological history of the Salem witch trials details, "witchcraft played a critical role not only in shaping, maintaining, and describing [the social structure of New England], but in reconciling men's feelings about women with the demographic, economic, religious and sexual changes of the time."  They are words that are important to reflect on, particularly considering that witch-hunts continue to be a present threat in some areas of the world where women continue to be at highest risk of persecution.

Read in this light, 'Little Red Witch' reclaims the negative connotations of witchcraft, which Normandie Syken uses to carve her very own mischievously dark fairytale, and a formidable heroine in 'Little Red'.

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Witches' ally, cuddling wolf-poppet.

 

NB: The author gifted several prints from the book upon acquisition.  As these are contained within the book, and with the author's permission, we felt it appropriate to donate these to another home where they have the opportunity to be seen by a wider audience.  We are pleased that the Glasgow Women's Library will shortly be the new home to these prints, together with a spare copy of Karlsen's book to provide a little more context.

 

Images on this page are all reproduced with permission of Normandie Syken, with whom copyright remains.  We kindly ask that you please respect this.

References

Normandie Syken, Little Red Witch, HS.74/2395

Carol F. Karlsen, The Devil in the Shape of a Woman: Witchcraft in Colonial New England. British Library shelfmark YH.1988.a.422 

"Witches' Marks Discovery 'Largest in Britain'.  Historic England: https://historicengland.org.uk/whats-new/news/witches-marks-discovery-largest-in-britain 

- F.D Fuentes Rettig

25 August 2017

Miniature books: a Lilliputian world - Part two

From 18th century to our days

Undoubtedly philosophers are in right, when they tell us that nothing is great or little otherwise than by comparison… [1].

1_Part II_Gulliver

A detail from the book Gulliver’s Travels, illustrated by Rex Whistler (London: The Cresset Press, 1930), vol. I, p. 87 [Shelfmark: C.100.l.14.]

 

As I continued my research on miniature books, I felt as Gulliver arriving at Brobdingnag, a little creature discovering a gigantic world, and assuming that the books world itself is a vice-versa dimension depending on how you look at it: what is a book but a tiny object in comparison to what it can actually contain?

In the first part of the journey, the leitmotif of the narration was to investigate the origins and meaning of the miniature books world, discovering that they were not only as old as their standard size counterpart, but were also responding to practical necessities.

Coming closer to our times, there has been a decisive peak in the production chart of Lilliputian books between the 18th and 19th century, when a profound love for small books is registered amid American and European publishers.

Some of the most prolific printers and publisher, for example, were Mein and Fleming in Boston, Isaiah Thomas in Worcester, Mass., Mahlon Day and Samuel Wood in New York, with a substantial counterpart in United Kingdom with Elizabeth Newbery and her successors and imitators in London, and in France with the Parisian J. B. Fournier. During this period, miniature books became increasingly popular in America, a historical moment also known as the “Golden Age” of minute print production [2], particularly thanks to a fruitful market demand of miniature chapbooks and almanacs [3]. The invention of lithography, the industrial revolution, and the improvement of railways and postal services have played a decisive role in increasing the production and distribution of miniature books [4].

2_Almanac

The American Ladies & Gentlemens Pocket Almanac and Belles Lettres Repository for 1802 (New York: David Longworth, 1801), measures 4 5/8” x 2 3/4” [Shelfmark: RB.8.a.480]

 

The same rise in circulation is ascribable to the many series editions of Children’s books. At the end of the 18th century, the editorial production for children was strongly fuelled by the theories of Jean Jacques Rousseau, who argued that the main aim of education was to develop the natural man, which promoted the study of natural science. Therefore a proliferation of miniature books dedicated to biology, astronomy, geography, ethnology, and political economy, is recorded in the last quarter of the century.

At the start of the 19th century, there is a marked decrease of publications following this didactic trend, with a move towards works influenced by the theories of Friedrich Fröbel, a German pedagogue who claimed that the education of tender minds also needs to contemplate imagination and daydream. As a result, fairy tales and fables were produced for young public in the miniature form [5].

An example of this latest educational trend is offered by two miniature chapbooks belonging to the American Collection. The first, Pretty Stories for Pretty Children is one of the fruits of the long life stationary store in Newark, New Jersey, of Benjamin Olds. Active from 1816 to 1865, Olds’ workshop published three series of the twelve-book set Cobb’s Toys (8, 10, 11), making the 1835 edition the first miniature series produced in New Jersey, followed by a successful second series [6].

3_Pretty stories

Lyman Cobb, Pretty Stories for Pretty Children (Newark, N. J.: Benjamin Olds, 1835), measures 3 3/4” x 2 1/4” [Shelfmark: RB.23.a.37757]

 

The second sample, The Christmas Dream of Little Charles, is the product of the Kiggings and Kellog’s stationary, a very well established firm specialised in children’s books with two prolific printing presses active in New York from 1849 to 1866 at 88 John Street, and at 123 and 125 William Street [7].

CHRI

The Christmas Dream of Little Charles (New York: Kiggins & Kellogg, 1860), measures 3 5/8” x 2 1/4” [Shelfmark: RB.23.a.37758]

 

In the early years of the 20th, century the interest in miniature books has continued, offering new available subjects for renewed demands. The Bible, the Child’s Bible and the Koran were generously printed by Americans and Europeans to be spread all around the world. However, the new trend was surely a mass distribution of travel books and dictionaries. For example the edition of thousands of tiny dictionaries, in all possible combinations of European languages, published by Schmidt and Gunther of Leipzig in the series Lilliput-Dictionaries, or their prolific Lilliput Bibliothek, proposing a complete reading of German classics such as Heine, Lessing, Goethe, Schiller and others. Both editions measure only 2 x 1 ¼ inches [8].

The mid-20th century continued on the track of the accurate production of proclamations, addresses, and presidential campaigns of the previous century. In this respect, particularly touching has been learning of the history of the Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation miniature edition. A million copies of the first complete book were produced with the intent to be distributed to Union soldiers and Southern slaves. Declaring freedom from slavery, it also invited “the free colored inhabitants of Louisiana” to join the Armed Forces against the Southern States [9].

5_Lincoln

Abraham Lincoln, The Proclamation of Emancipation by the President of the United States (Boston: John Murray Forbes, 1863), measures 3 1/4 x 2 1/8. Photographic reproduction of an illustration taken from Miniature books: 4000 years of tiny treasures, by Anne C. Bromer, Julian I. Edison (New York: Abrams; New York: The Grolier Club, 2007), p. 156 [Shelfmark: LC.31.a.5071]

 

Acclaimed as one of the most outstanding contributors and dedicated amateur, Achille J. St. Onge has been a prolific producer of this refined genre. Starting his career as publisher of sophisticated editions of the inaugural addresses of American Presidents, beginning with Thomas Jefferson in 1943, he has also dedicated beautiful editions to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II [10].

The American Collection holds a very prestigious St. Onge sample edition, and one of his last creations. The addresses of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, delivered at Westminster Hall and Guildhall on the occasion of Her Silver Jubilee 1952-1977 (Worcester, Mass.: Achile J. St. Onge, 1977).

6_Queen 1

QUEEN

The addresses of her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, delivered at Westminster Hall and Guildhall on the occasion of Her Silver Jubilee 1952-1977 (Worcester, Mass.: Achile J. St. Onge, 1977). “One special copy illuminated by Margaret Adams for presentation to Her Majesty the Queen”--Colophon. Measures 2 3/4 x 1 7/8 [Shelfmark: Cup.550.g.741]

 

As we get more close to our days, the small but significant collection I am working on within the North American Collections, has also offered the occasion to explore modern manufacturing processes of the minute prints. Starting from the 1870s, the definition of miniature artists’ books began to have wider recognition. The art of book crafting together with poetry and design masterfully flow into a miniature container [11].

8_dog

A Dog’s Tail, printed by Anicka and Gaylor Schanilec, (United States: Midnight Paper Sales & Flaming Cat Press, 2004), measures 1 1/2” x 1 1/8” [in cataloguing process]

 

The latest decades are definitely witnessing a revival of the ancient art of book craft. A brilliant example of the art of making books by hand is offered by two of the most important contemporary miniature book-artists [12]. Peter and Donna Thomas met each other at an Elizabethan-themed market town in California where they were crafting books following the late Middle Ages typographical techniques, from handmade paper preparation to illustrations and bindings. Since the 1970s, the couple has documented the art of papermaking, and book crafting producing exquisite artist’s books containing fascinating historical topics [13].

TRAIN

Peter Thomas, Donna Thomas, Train Depots (Santa Cruz: Peter and Donna Thomas, 2008), measures 3” x 2 1/8” [Shelfmark: Cup.550.g.740]

 

Very few other private presses have accomplished to the challenge of putting together the whole process of book creation (writing the text, preparing the colour illustrations, hand cutting and setting the types, hand making the paper, letterpress printing, and binding), “none have published more books that the Thomases”, which described their first years of art working as a learning experience involving a lot of practice [14].

12_Beauty cover

Donna Thomas, Bathed in Such Beauty: A pictorial Ramble on the John Muir Trail; with a quote by John Muir (Santa Cruz : Peter & Donna Thomas, 2016), measures 4 x 3 1/4 [Shelfmark: RF.2017.a.44]



Miniature books: a Lilliputian world - Part one


Annalisa Ricciardi is currently working as Cataloguer of the American Studies Collections. She is working on a heterogeneous collection of extraordinary interest and artistic value of American fine press and artists’ books, such as limited, numbered, and rare editions chronologically placed between 18th and 21st century.


[1] Gulliver’s Travels, illustrated by Rex Whistler (London: The Cresset Press, 1930), vol. I, p. 91 [Shelfmark: C.100.l.14.]
[2] Doris V. Welsh, The history of miniature books (Albany, New York: Fort Orange Press, 1987), pp. 41, and 41-45 [Shelfmark: 2708.e.1550].
[3] Robert C. Bradbury, Antique United States miniature books, 1690-1900 (No. Clarendon, Vermont, The Microbibliophile, 2001), pp. 3-7, and 7-14 [Shelfmark: YD.2005.a.4829]. For a complete reading, see by the same author also: Twentieth century United States miniature books (No. Clarendon, Vermont, The Microbibliophile, 2000) [Shelfmark: YD.2006.a2436], and Miniature Almanac, in Welsh, The history of miniature books, pp. 77-81; English Almanacs and calendars of the 18th and 19th centuries, and French, German, Austrian, and other European almanacs, in Louis W. Bondy, Miniature books: their history from the beginnings to the present day (London: Sheppard Press, 1981), pp. 39-47; 48-56 [Shelfmark: 2708.e.223].
[4] The 19th century, the supreme age of miniature books, in Bondy, Miniature books, pp. 57-58 [Shelfmark: 2708.e.223].
[5] Welsh, The history of miniature books, pp. 74.
[6] Bradbury, Antique United States miniature books, pp.123-124.
[7] Ibidem, pp. 159-161.
[8] Welsh, The history of miniature books, pp. 47, and Newsletter of the LXIVmos, no. 11 (October 15, 1928), pp. 3-4 [Shelfmark: P.P.6491.cae.].
[9] Presidents, politics, and propaganda, in Anne C. Bromer, Julian I. Edison, Miniature books: 4000 years of tiny treasures (New York: Abrams; New York: The Grolier Club, 2007), p. 156 [Shelfmark: LC.31.a.5071].
[10] The miniature books of today and tomorrow, in Bondy, Miniature books, pp. 169-171, and Presidents, politics, and propaganda, in Bromer and Edison, Miniature books, pp. 156-158.
[11] On the consolidation of the artist's books as an autonomous genre, see: Stefan Klima, Artists books: a critical survey of the literature (New York: Granary Book, 1997) [Shelfmark: YD.2015.a.1556].
[12] On the art of making miniature books, see: Peter and Donna Thomas, More making books by hand: exploring miniature books, alternative structures and found objects (Hove: Apple Press, 2004) [Shelfmark: LC.31.a.3315].
[13] The art of the book, in Bromer and Edison, Miniature books, pp. 42-43, 196-197; Twentieth century United States miniature books, pp. 302-308.
[14] Twentieth century United States miniature books, pp. 302-303.

 

09 August 2017

Miniature books: a Lilliputian world - Part one

Since when and why

In a little time I felt something alive moving on my left leg, which advancing gently forward over my breast, came almost up to my chin; when, bending my eyes downwards as much as I could, I perceived it to be a human creature not six inches high, with a bow and arrow in his hands, and quiver at his back… [1].


A particular from the book: Gulliver’s travels, illustrated by Rex Whistler (London: The Cresset Press, 1930), vol. I, p. 15 [Shelfmark: C.100.I.14]

 

I like to report on my first encounter with the miniature books world as a moment that was like waking up from my ordinary library day of submersion in beautiful American artists’ books, and discovering an exciting alternative reality made of miniature items. I perceived that these objects almost animated, approximately three or four inches tall, kindly throwing darts of curiosity at me with their bows loaded with charm. I immediately fell enamoured with them, and it did not take long before my desk was busy with library materials on miniature books.

“For those of us who have been bitten by this particular bug” [2] there is nothing left to follow the appeal of the beauty offered by the small miniature art masterpieces.


Some of the books consulted for my research, and on top the little: A dog’s tail, printed by Anicka and Gaylor Schanilec, (United States: Midnight Paper Sales & Flaming Cat Press, 2004), measures 1 1/2” x 1 1/8” [in cataloguing process]

 

Wondering ‘why’, and ‘since when’ have been the guideline of my innocent journey into the history of the little items. One of the first things I learned is that as old as the discovering of the written world is its counterpart in the miniature form. Secondly, I acknowledged that this world is regulated by laws, and for that, you will define as miniature books only those which respect the standard of being possibly even less than three inches but no more than four, and almost as it was heresy, five.

Defecting from the established rules in fact, an item of four inches or little more would only be a pain for a purist, and a joke for all artisans involved, printers, binders, papermakers, illustrators, illuminators, and engravers who would give all the very best of their art under more challenging and extreme circumstances from one to three inches.

It is said that to reach the completion of the 1878 Dante’s Divina Commedia edition (Padua: Salmin), also known as the “Dantino”, many artisans were injured: the necessary operations of preparing and cutting the types caused a serious injury “to the eyesight of both the compositor and corrector. It took one month to print thirty pages, and new types were necessary for every new form.”. Around the 70’s of the 19th century, two brothers from Padua, Italy, together with a small team of professionals such as casters, compositors, and correctors, developed an unprecedented minuscule typefaces, which they named carattere a occhio di mosca (fly’s eye type), and that was firstly used for the micro Dante’s masterpiece. The measures of the book are 1 1/4” x 1 3/4”, and it is only readable trough a magnifying glass [3].






The book of the world, by Irene Chan (Baltimore?: Ch'An Press, 2000), measures 1” x 1” (box). The text of this miniature book consists of an excerpt of John Dalton's 1808 Atomic Theory. The illustration is an image of Dalton's elastic fluids drawing that looks like the eye [Cup.550.g.739]

 

Indulging in more technical details, you would call a miniature book a 64mo. A single leaf of paper folded 64 times, originally printed with 64 pages on each side of it, and then scrupulously folded in order to bring up the correct sequence of the pages. The size of the pages are obviously determined by the size of the original master sheet, but a 64mo would inevitable be around 3 to 5 inches [4].

The purpose of creating, producing and collecting miniature books is two-fold: firstly, the practicality and secondly, personal pleasure, and the sense of beauty in small objects. Before Gutenberg, for matters European, miniature manuscripts were periodically produced completed with illuminations. Subsequently, the production of miniature books has continued to reflect the latest progresses of print machines and processes. There were miniature books printed in early Gothic and incunabula type characters, or in the earliest Greek types, Hebrew and so on. As in a shrinking mirror they were reflecting all new type acquisitions and binding progress [5].

Little books were simultaneously produced in the centuries alongside regular standard, so that men and women of faith could easily bring with them their collection of psalms and devotional books, students could carry their small library in a pocket, smugglers of ideas could easily hide tiny booklets in a secret bottom of their cape, merchants could quickly retrieve from their belt a tiny but complete guide on the equivalence of grains prices, scales, measures and conversion, and foreign currencies value meanwhile closing a deal, or that sharp businessmen could brilliantly define a legal contract.

It has been for that purpose that some of the earliest examples of books on miniature support were produced during the Babylonian Empire, as for the case of two small cuneiform tablets of Ancient Mesopotamia which preserve an antique writing system and concern trade and administrative issues. One of them, a clay tablet dated back to the 7th year of the reign of Bur-Sin, circa 2325 B.C., comes from the region of Ur, today Iraq, and measure only 1 5/8” x 1 1/2”. It contains extremely useful information while dealing with barley and bran for sheep (1), and the other, a Babylonian clay tablet from Senkereh, now Iraq, is dated 2200 B.C., and measure 1 7/8” x 1 1/4”, it was also used in the trading of animals and provisions (2).


(1), and (2). Photographic reproduction of an illustration taken from Miniature books: 4000 years of tiny treasures, by Anne C. Bromer, Julian I. Edison (New York: Abrams ; New York: The Grolier Club, 2007), pp. 11-12 [Shelfmark: LC.31.a.5071]

 

Another beautiful miniature object is the world’s first printing on paper. A very tiny scroll 23/8” tall obtained from wood blocks, is dated back to 770 A. D. and is well known as the D’harani prayer. Only the story of its origins is as enchanting as the scroll itself. With the aim of spreading awareness on Buddhism, the Japanese Empress Shotoku, gave order to print a million copy of these prayer-scrolls encased in charming wooden pagodas, then asked they be distributed all over the country divided among ten Japanese temples, a project which required over six years of continuous work [6].


A rare example of the D’harani prayer (23/8” tall) as illustrate by the Library of Congress Asian Collection



Miniature books: a Lilliputian world - Part two


Annalisa Ricciardi is currently working as Cataloguer of the American Studies Collections. She is working on a heterogeneous collection of extraordinary interest and artistic value of American fine press and artists’ books, such as limited, numbered, and rare editions chronologically placed between 18th and 21st century.


[1] Gulliver’s travels, illustrated by Rex Whistler (London: The Cresset Press, 1930), vol. I, p. 18 [Shelfmark: C.100.I.14].
[2] Louis W. Bondy, Miniature books: their history from the beginnings to the present day (London: Sheppard Press, 1981), p. 3 [Shelfmark: 2708.e.223].
[3] Louis W. Bondy, Miniature books, pp. 93-95; and Anne C. Bromer, Julian I. Edison, Miniature books: 4000 years of tiny treasures, (New York: Abrams ; New York: The Grolier Club, 2007), pp. 47-49, 114 [Shelfmark: LC.31.a.5071].
[4] Doris V. Welsh, The history of miniature books (Albany, New York: Fort Orange Press, 1987), pp. 5-11 [Shelfmark: 2708.e.1550].
[5] Welsh, The history of miniature books, p. 2.
[6] Miniature books from the collection of Julian I. Edison (St. Louis, Missouri: Washington University), pp. 1-2 [Shelfmark: Cup.406.j.11]. See a rare example of the D’harani prayer as illustrate by the Library of Congress Asian Collection page: https://www.loc.gov/rr/asian/guide/guide-japanese.html

 

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