We are beginning to release a series of special themed short lists, this one inspired by the “death positive” movement, not just for collecting, but for understanding about death culture and documentation.
I have had the great pleasure of working with Gabby Cooksey since she burst forth from North Bennet School and began inflicting her genius upon the world. I had the great pleasure of placing her first binding in Univ. of Virginia’s Special Collections and the greater pleasure of watching her explore, evolve, and expand with each new work. I have said since I saw her first work that she makes design decisions as a new, now young, binder that I would expect from one with decades under her belt… Part of this is to NBS’s credit, but much has to do with Gabby’s profoundly subtle and sophisticated way of looking at her projects and finding elegant solutions at nearly every turn…
It was not long before she branched out and began writing text, creating art, and printing all elements of some projects. Thus we have today’s gem: The Book of Penumbra, of which Gabby writes,
“Death has always fascinated me because it happens to all of us yet no one talks about it. I wanted to see what other cultures personified death as through myths and legends. The gods in this book are very hushed and for some, even if you speak the name, you’ll be cursed. I wanted this book to be shadows, to be played in the light. I chose a delicate paper so one could see through to the page behind it. The text is in all sorts of shapes because I wanted each story to represent the god being told about. For instance, Sedna is in the shape of drowning, Anubis is his eye, Mac is a pit with someone at the bottom. The borders are all plants, roots, and things found on the earth. Some represent death like the poppy, and the yew tree.”
Completed in an edition of 23, bound in wraps, and housed in a box with an inlaid coffin, it is a beautiful bit of work. As she is seldom content with ‘exquisite’, I received a package out of the blue and found a one-off art binding of the book with seven skulls suspended by gold in the cut-through front board (insert above). Always pushing, always expanding…ever brilliant. I am always excited about what she will produce next. Explore the book below…
In November of 1897 the Library began a program of daily readings for the blind in a special “pavilion for the blind” complete with its own library. In 1913 Congress directed the American Printing House for the Blind to begin depositing embossed books in the Library, and in 1931 a separate appropriation was authorized for providing “books for the use of adult blind residents of the United States.” [LC]
This Act was amended in 1934 to include sound recordings (talking books), and expanded again later to include children, music, and ultimately to include anyone with physical limitations that prevent reading regular print. This program is important to me personally, because of what a remarkable effect it had on my grandmother’s life when she, a lifelong avid reader, lost the ability to read to macular degeneration. The program is still thriving…now sending out books to the vision impaired on flash drives.
There were few record players in homes in the early twentieth century, and thus between 1935 and approximately 1942 the Talking Book project produced about 23,000 record players (at a cost of approximately $1.2 million). While funding from the WPA dried up in 1942, the program continued until 1951, when the Foundation stopped producing its own record players because they were now readily available to the general public. It is this period that is particularly interesting for me, as it is the period where critical components of the record players used were produced by the company my in-laws’ owned and operated until their retirement (though this program far predates their ownership).
Between the mid-1940s to the mid 1950s, Bowen and Company produced the guts for several models of the record players that were provided to clients of the Talking Book project. On a recent visit, my FiL said he had something interesting for me and proceeded to hand over a Model 9C record player and a packing case filled not only with albums, but with a remarkable trove of the technical specs and schematics for the machines design and evolution…as well as some supporting material and, interestingly, a copy of a late advert, when the company had been given permission to sell the players to the general public. It is unusual to find one of the early players in any condition…to find one like this (with many extra needles) and records and (amazingly) a pile of the design/evolution documentation pretty much makes my month. Enjoy the huge pile of images to follow [photo credit to Mary Pennington]
So after a few weeks of decompressing, we are back from RBMS 17 Iowa City! With epic stop overs in Indiana, Chicago, St. Louis, Kansas City, and more! By visiting the dead during the trip, we certainly appreciate our education and places of memories. Much like books, graveyards emulate a sense of memory. While strolling through the local cemetery in Iowa City, we devised a plan to take the crypt a to it logical bibliophilic conclusion. What if you could shelve yourself much like a book, after walking on this complicated earth, in a familiar setting, housed in a familiar form? Thus, the idea of ‘bibliocrypt’ was born! Picture a crypt that embodies a library shelves…stone bindings on the outside, shelves with book-urns lining the inside. #bibliocrypt
Too morbid? Well, we did engage with the living, many living and breathing archives and libraries, librarians, and archivists doing amazing and engaging things to enrich our conscious world. RBMS is typically a time of exchange and growth for many in the field. We were there to listen and talk to people in a wildly critical time of scholarship and information exchange. Unlike most book fairs, this is best time to actually discuss components of library collection development, new modes of material description, and aspects of outreach and engagement. We did a pretty good job of bringing materials that reflected the over theme of the conference: “The Stories We Tell” from artist’s books, narratives, to strange and odd visual storytelling. A pared down booth!
In the future weeks, we will be thinking about yes, death, our biblioarcanum and new catalogs and lists coming out.
Our next big show is Boston ABAA, November 10-12, 2017. #biblioarcanum
Yes, despite what we complain about, there are things we enjoy about the approaching summer. That includes attending the Rare Books and Manuscripts Section conference in Iowa City! Lux Mentis will be part of the Bookseller showcase this year, along with many other fine booksellers. We are especially excited to feature our selection of book arts and primary source materials in keeping with this year’s theme, “The Stories We Tell.” We are also sponsoring the panel: “MATERIALIA LUMINA: THE CONTEMPORARY BOOK IN ITS HISTORICAL CONTEXT: PHILOSOPHICAL MUSING OF THREE MASTER PRINTERS” featuring Peter Rutledge Koch, Russell Maret, and Gaylord Schanilec.
As a large part of our mission we aim to support especially book arts and book narratives, so we will have a good selection of artist’s books and both pictorial and literary narratives. A few of our latest acquisitions will be featured including works by Ximena Perez Grobet, Lorena Velázquez, Alexandra Janezic, Maureen Cummins, and Sam Winston. As usual, we will also bring a few challenging and provocative things.
For those who have seen the proto-type for Maureen Cummins’ newest work we were showing in CA and NYC, we are pleased to say that the work is complete and ready. Maureen just forwarded the following prospectus, which summarizes the work quite perfectly:
The/rapist is an investigation into the gendered history of psychosurgery, as illustrated by the career of Doctor Walter Freeman (1895-1972). A Professor of Neurology with no formal training in either surgery or psychology, Freeman popularized the pre-frontal lobotomy, an operation in which nerve connections to and from the frontal lobes—the seat of human emotion, creativity, willpower, and imagination—are severed. A self-styled showman who drove ice picks through his patients’ eye sockets, rode around in a “lobotomobile,” and conducted a 1953 tour dubbed “Operation Ice-Pick,” Freeman freely admitted that his work created a “surgically induced childhood,” with many “failed outcomes.”
It is a history that raises numerous and disturbing questions about patients’ rights, the abuse of institutional power, and the disproportionate targeting of women. Of the 3,500 or more patients that Freeman operated on, twice as many were female, many depressed or suicidal housewives. Even now, electroshock—Freeman’s favored method of anesthesia—is applied to female patients two to three times as often as males.
In the opening pages of the book, Cummins uses the analogy of physical rape to suggest the way in which psychosurgery became a form of violence-against-women (and men) perpetuated in the name of medical progress. The concept is textually and visually reinforced as the reader pages through the book: the title, “The Rapist” morphs into the word, “Therapist?” while a laser-cut hole bores through the book, penetrating silkscreened images of patients’ heads. These headshots, “before-and-after” photographs that Freeman used to document his work, are re-contextualized, with lines of typography mimicking blindfolds, reclaiming for these patients a measure of dignity, humanity, and anonymity. Throughout the book, the artist’s mordant sense of humor is in evidence: The name Freeman transforms into “Free Man,” while found images—everything from advertising cuts of arrows and pointing fingers to reproductions of Freeman’s ice picks—serve as illustrations, providing ironic counters to the subject matter, often—as with the sunburst, moon, and encircling question marks—cleverly incorporating the hole.
Constructed entirely out of aluminum, The/rapist is inspired by the cold, hard surfaces of medical clipboards and equipment, as well as by Freeman’s actual tools, viewed by the artist in the Freeman/Watts collection at GWU, where she conducted her initial research. Pages of the book are laser-cut, burnished on one side, printed with multiple layers of text and imagery, “dimpled” to prevent scratching and wear, then mounted within rings to a sturdy baseboard. The text is printed in Frutiger, a classic mid-century sans-serif typeface. Images reproduced in the book are 19th century engravings, handwritten notes and text, as well as graphs and headshots from Freeman’s 1950 textbook Psychosurgery: In the Treatment of Mental Disorders and Intractable Pain. The book is housed in a burnished aluminum box with a screwed-down aluminum title plate. For exhibition purposes, copies can be propped up vertically, with the backboard acting as a stand, or positioned with the pages fanned out in a pleasing sculptural form.
Detailed images are available upon request. As you may or may not know, the prices for Maureen’s work step when a certain number of sales have been hit. As this is an edition of 40, we encourage you to let us know as soon as reasonably possible should you wish to add it to your collection.
One of the things we picked up recently was a wonderful copy of the 1791 engraving of William Camden’s The Funeral Procession of Queen Elizabeth. In an early leather folder/binding (remnant of a label is dated 1891), the accordion folded print is twenty-nine feet (29 FEET!) long. Kim is currently working on a detailed description, but in the meantime, here is a taste and images of the entire work:
Spectacular hand-colored panorama of the funeral procession of Queen Elizabeth I in April 1603, reproducing drawings in the British Museum ascribed to Elizabeth’s biographer William Camden, who appeared in the procession in his official role as Clarenceaux King of Arms. Other mourners of note include Robert Cecil, Thomas Egerton, and Walter Raleigh. At the time of her death, most Englishmen had known no monarch but Elizabeth, as the elaborate formal procession detailed here was swelled by thousands of Londoners.
This engraved copy of Camden’s original drawings was produced in 1791 for the Society of Antiquaries, appearing in the third volume of Vetusta Monumenta. This copy nearly entirely colored in an early hand…with an evolving use of color as ‘importance’ increased. Left uncolored, strikingly, is the effigy of the queen mounted upon her coffin, a likeness so startling that the London crowd gasped to see it. It is presumed it was left uncolored to reflect the virtue of the Virgin Queen. The was the first we’ve seen intact in a very long time. [Click and scroll through lovely big images]
These mischievous little skeletons helped lead us to one of today’s most successful pain relievers.
The Antikamnia company marketed an analgesic (pain-relieving) powder to pharmacists and druggists of the late 19th and early 20th centuries using these rather morbid calendars. The name of the company actually means “opposed to pain”.
Antikamnia Chemical Company was later shut down after failing to disclose the active ingredient of their pain-relieving products: Acetanilide. Not only was it illegal (as it is now) to fail to label drugs correctly, but acetanilide was known to impair red blood cells’ ability to release oxygen to tissues. That’s not the kind of drug you want on the market, obviously.
But Anitkamnia was an effective pain reliever, even if you’d go blue after taking it. One thing many people don’t realize about pharmaceutical chemicals is that they are metabolized and modified by human biochmistry. For many of them, the compound in the pill is useless, and they require breakdown or modification to become active. It wasn’t until nearly half a century later that Nobel Prize-winning biochemist Julius Axelrod discovered that the primary metabolic product of acetanlilide is a compound called paracetamol.
Of course, you may know paracetamol by its other chemical name, para-acetylaminophenol … or Tylenol.
I decided to post them all because…well…I kinda love them!
We want to introduce you to a remarkable new work by Sam Winston and Oliver Jeffers, A Child of Books.
“A little girl sails her raft across a sea of words, arriving at the house of a small boy and calling him away on an adventure. Through forests of fairy tales and across mountains of make-believe, the two travel together on a fantastical journey that unlocks the boy’s imagination. Now a lifetime of magic and adventure lies ahead of him . . . but who will be next? Combining elegant images by Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston’s typographical landscapes shaped from excerpts of children’s classics and lullabies, A Child of Books is a stunning prose poem on the rewards of reading and sharing stories—an immersive and unforgettable reading experience that readers will want to pass on to others.” [publisher statement]
The book itself is a charming and beautiful tale and can be found here. The true depth and breadth of the work, however, can be found only in the deluxe editions…and is a bit more dear. There were two states of the deluxe edition, one, however, was an edition of nine and all are already gone, so we will ignore it. Interestingly, the other deluxe is an edition of eighty (80!!!)…a number seldom a good idea in deluxe editions and for good reason. This, however, is the exception that defines the rule. Best, it is clearly designed with both the private collector and the special collections library in mind.
This edition comes with three components, all housed in a colander box. First is a signed first edition of the standard book. Then there is the Process Book, designed by Lewis Trevor and Sam Winston with the assistance of Becky Elms. This book provides elements of a ‘making copy’, detailing and exploring the collaborative process Sam and Oliver went through producing the story and images. Stab bound in the Japanese style by Manuel Mazzotti (London), it provides a wonderful view into the evolution of this remarkable story. Finally, this edition comes with 19 archival fine art prints, inkjet printed with pigment ink onto Hahnemühle Fine Art Bamboo Natural White. Signed by both Sam and Oliver, each embodies a full two-page spread of the story, larger and absolutely stunning. For special collections, there is even a ‘teaching guide’ included to help facility academic use.
Each illustration is a blend of Oliver’s whimsical sketches with the ‘textual art’ Sam is so well known for…manipulating text to create image. Here the texts are drawn from classic children’s books, (e.g the huge furry, horned monster threatening a castle is created from text from Frankenstein, Dracula, and The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and then children escape by climbing down a rope made up of prose from Rapunzel). The blend of illustration styles and the tale itself creates a wonderful starting point to explore the nature of art and writing. It is, in brief, one of the very best things we’ve seen in a very long time. Additional information and images are available and can be found here and/or you are welcome to email.