Scanning our shelves for material across our subject specialties that relate to music has demonstrated the ubiquity of music. It informs us from a very early age, which can be seen in books of nursery rhymes; it marks our celebrations and passages, whether its in a love ballad or a traditional Christmas song. The books here have all been somehow shaped by music—art informing art. If we train our ear very carefully, we can even pick up the subtle music that exists all around us in nature, as Gunnar Kaldewey has done in his Insect Musicians.
As our time with the "Once a Kingdom" exhibit draws to a close, we thought it would be fitting to further celebrate our relationship with the natural world by curating a selection of books across our subject specialties that feature members of the animal kingdom. This selection of items range in size from Shirley Jones’s suite of etchings of Ordinary Cats, to the Mosaic Press's three-volume micro-miniature set about dogs; and range in scope from natural history chapbooks for children, to a pencil drawing of cats executed by an artist who lost the use of her hands and learned to draw with her feet.
Everyone makes mistakes. It’s a simple matter of human nature. However serious the mistake, they often present us with an opportunity to reflect and learn from them. Such is the purpose of the following list, for which we have selected a couple dozen items from our stock that we bought at various times over the years because something about them appealed to us. Nearly everything has one thing in common (well, besides the fact that we still own them): they all lie a bit outside our areas of specialization.
Given the impact British Romanticism had on the development of themes in American literature—the subject of our last list—it seemed an opportune time to see how printers and artists have interpreted the work of this literary movement. Once again, the range of treatment is vast, in terms of format and scope: from miniature editions of Burns, to the small folio edition of John Clare by the Tern Press; from the Center for Book Arts’ collaborative take on Blake, to Argentine artist Raul Veroni’s vision of Keats and Shelley, published in translation.
As seemingly etched in the firmament as these writers are now, one must not lose sight of how radical their ideas seemed to be at the time—nature as something to be revered, rather than exploited; the eschewing of reason for something more subjective and spiritual; and a rejection of tradition. The fact that we still grapple with these ideas three centuries later speaks to how deeply this body of writing reflects the philosophical underpinnings of human experience—and in a way that makes us stand back and take a deep breath.
It would be difficult to overstate the significance of the contribution of 19th-century American authors to the literary canon—even more so when one is tasked with writing a short, prefatory remark to a bookseller catalogue. After all, what is there for one to say about Dickinson, Emerson, Twain, Hawthorne, Poe, Thoreau, and Whitman that hasn’t already been said?
Our aim for this installment in our ongoing revisiting of our inventory, then, is to examine the variety of ways in which the work of those seven authors has been interpreted by book artists, printers, and illustrators. And the wide array of miniature editions included here demonstrate that a book needn’t be large to be impactful. Here we examine the enduring influence these writings have had on the imagination of subsequent generations of artists and designers, offered during a time when we seek guidance and inspiration wherever we can.
In this list, we explore the art, literature, and culture of Italy. Although it is organized broadly—fine printing, illustrated books, children’s books, and a couple of books on Italian paper—what is striking about this grouping is how far-reaching and eclectic this selection is. Dante, of course, figures largely, from the Raamin-Presse’s juxtaposition of Goethe’s Faust with six songs from the Inferno, to Seamus Heaney’s translation of the Ugolino section of that same work, illustrated by Louis Le Brocquy. You will also find Dylan Thomas translated into Italian, as well as an Italian Christmas tale, retold by a Caldecott award-winner.
Since the advent of printing from movable type in the western world, the Bible has never been out-of-print. In its nearly six-century print run, this foundational text has taken many forms, the smallest of which have long been a focus of ours. In fact, the recent acquisition of a trio of important eighteenth-century thumb Bibles served as the impetus behind this list: joining the first illustrated edition of John Taylor’s Verbum Sempiternum and two fugitive derivative editions of John Harris’s History of the Bible is a wide-ranging group of items that spans the centuries: from a tiny Lord’s Prayer in a silver locket, to a French devotional for children in an elaborate contemporary red morocco binding. Their diminutive size makes miniature books more personal, and therefore, more our own, and there is no better example of this than the thumb Bible carried by a young soldier through the American Civil War, which can be found here.
The return of baseball and the New York Antiquarian Book Fair are two signs that spring is just around the corner. This year, the Fair celebrated its 60th Anniversary and took place from March 5-8 at the Park Avenue Armory. We exhibited newly-acquired items from across our specialty areas, including two pieces of Edward Gorey original art, a selection of items by Dard Hunter, an exceptional illustrated Haggadah printed on vellum, and a family-owned copy of Glimpses of Authors by Caroline Ticknor, extra-illustrated with manuscript materials from authors, such as Charles Dickens, Mark Twain, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Harriet Beecher Stowe, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.