We close out our series of lists featuring books-about-books with a nod to the self-referential nature that these works tend to take. The preservation of stories about printing, typography, bookbinding, and book collecting lies at the core of this selection, covering a variety of bookish worlds, from the booksellers imagined in Henry Morris’s San Serriffe, to the Typestickers of Los Angeles. The high level of production also befits the texts they contain: consider George Parker Winship’s address on William Caxton, delivered to the Club of Odd Volumes in 1908 and printed at the Doves Press; or the indulgently extravagant entrée into the world of books and book collecting that is The Colophon—available here as a nearly complete run and with the first part in original slipcases.
Dipping our toes for a second time into the refreshing waters of books-about-books, we delve a little into the notion of book decoration. At first blush, the most obvious landing point is the illustrations a book contains, as the illustrated book offers an additional window into the interpretation of a text. Here, our selection covers some vast ground: from ukiyo-e to Edward Gorey. Diving a little deeper, one can also look at the decoration of the object itself as a form of interpretation—thus, we have included several notable works on bookbinding. And because ownership also helps to place books within a contextual framework, in addition to being another form of adornment, you will find a few books about bookplate artists as well.
For the month of August, we have prepared a series of short lists that show the great diversity within the area of books-about-books. We’re kicking off the series with a look at the ways in which books incorporate the element of bonus content—after all, most people enjoy a good surprise.
As booksellers, we have handled a plethora of books with wonderful association copies—and, indeed, we still do. In our latest offering of association copies and books and art inscribed by the artist, we now turn the spotlight onto those books and works on paper in which one can find a few choice connections. We offer, for instance, a copy of the Officina Bodoni’s Four Gospels in Italian, inscribed by Pope Paul VI to the mayor of Milan—a connection that becomes even more intriguing when one considers that prior to becoming Paul VI, Giovanni Battista Enrico Antonio Maria Montini served as Archbishop of Milan for nearly a decade. Or consider the story behind the first type specimen to feature Bruce Rogers’s Centaur type, inscribed by BR to William Edwin Rudge, for whose imprint BR designed eighty publications.
Because author collecting is an intimate activity, acquiring autograph material deepens one’s understanding of the object of one’s collecting interest. Through these bits of preserved handwriting, we catch flashes of personality, possibly glean an overlooked biographical tidbit, or take pleasure in seeing the evolution of a piece of writing. In the spirit of opening up these potential vistas into an author’s mind, we offer a selection of autograph material, whether in manuscript form or inscriptions within books; and running the gamut from Elmer Adler discussing the foundation of Casa del Libro just before leaving for Puerto Rico, to Walt Whitman arranging the London sale of copies in sheets of his Complete Poems and Prose.
While there are certainly many booksellers who make history a specific area of specialization, that has never been our focus. And yet, here we stand on the cusp of launching an e-catalogue on the subject of history. We have come to find out that one can find oneself on the road to acquiring books and other material with historical content without being completely conscious of it. Some items, of course, are more obvious: an original painting of the Atlantic Charter and the Four Freedoms—executed the year before Norman Rockwell indelibly imprinted it upon the national consciousness—is not only thematically forthright, but also imposing in terms of sheer size. Some are less so, such as Gaylord Schanilec’s subtle tribute to the High Bridge in St. Paul, which uses images and newspaper accounts to tell the story of a bridge and its impact on the community from its construction in the 19th century to its demolition in 1985.