Tuesday, April 19, 2022

Carnet de Bal

Image: Jullion Antiquaire

The fashion of carnet de bal in France or Ballspenden in Austria and Germany began in the early 19th century as an expression of pleasure among the upper bourgeoisie and nobility. The small object is shaped as a miniature book and could be attached to a lady’s gown by hangers or hooks. There were blank pages to document the names of partners and dances at fancy balls. The polonaise and polkas, waltzes and quadrilles were listed, and next to each dance was a corresponding place where the dancer could reserve “his” dance with “his” lady by signing it. A pencil was attached for this purpose.

Many of the earlier bal books were luxuriously decorated using the most expensive materials for the covers, and sometimes ivory for the pages. An 1820s “Souvenir” carnet de bal used nacre with a single enameled pansy in the center. A leafy oval border surrounds the design with ornamented nude female figures in the corners. The pencil stylus with a turquoise stone at top secures the spiral closure.

Image: Hillwood Estate, Museum & Gardens

An extravagant carnet de bal with an oval portrait of Empress Alexandra Feodorovna was made by Faberge before 1899 and purchased years later by Marjorie Merriweather Post for her home at Hillwood Estate and Museum. Embellishing the enamel leafy border are emeralds and diamonds. Pairs of rings held the gold pencil to record the dances and partners at what was surely a royal ball.

Image: Bromer Booksellers

The most opulent example to come my way is a French gold enamel binding with five bone leaves. It measures just short of 3 inches in height by 1 7/8 inches wide. Large enamel plaques of an urn with flowers on the front cover and the initials “AM” on the rear are at the center of an overall fleur-de-lys enameled pattern. A corner diamond within a single rosette completes the design of gold-leaved borders. The original pencil is present topped with a rose-cut diamond. “AM” may not have danced as there are no annotations on the internal bone leaves.

A less elegant dance book was for the Senior Prom of 1943 at St. Rita High School in Chicago. The Prom featured a performance by Russ Morgan’s Orchestra. Frank Sinatra was a friend of the orchestra. The Prom took place just a few months after Sinatra’s historic performance at the Paramount Theater in New York City, which kicked off the “Sinatra Riots” and launched him into stardom. We do not know if Sinatra sang for the Prom that evening, but his presence is apparent in the signature of this wooden bound, tasseled carnet de bal.

By Anne C. Bromer

Wednesday, March 16, 2022

Miniature Books with Silver Plaques

Miniature books are a perfect vehicle for artistic bindings in leather and metal. Sterling silver was used in various ways to decorate the covers of lilliputian volumes and create gift bindings. Midpoint in Queen Victoria’s reign, hallmarked sterling silver plaques came into fashion to enhance both
religious and non-religious miniatures.

The Book of Common Prayer, the official service book for the Church of England and the Episcopal Church in the United States, is a combination prayer book, psalter, and guide to the Gospels. Multiple miniature book editions were printed by London publishers around 1900. The full text printed on thin
India paper is 700 numbered pages. Each book measures about 2 1/4 inches in height.

A distinguishing feature of these miniature prayer books was the overlaying of a thin sterling silver plaque onto the front cover of the dark leather binding. The silver plates were fastened onto the front cover by folding the edges of the silver over the top, bottom and front edge of the book and squeezing tight. Since the plates were very thin, they bent easily and maintained their position.

Designs on the silver vary. A frequently seen image is of five angel heads with wings and surrounding clouds, based on Sir Joshua Reynolds’s 1787 painting Heads of Angels. Below the embossed figures are identifying hallmarks, at least one with an anchor as the symbol of Birmingham silver.


Other themes on miniature Common Prayer books include a stalk of flowering lilies and a wedding party with children holding baskets of flowers. 

Silver plaques were also found on miniature books of poetry from both sides of the Atlantic. Portraits in raised silver of William Wadsworth Longfellow were especially popular.

In The Royal Bijou Birthday Book, a selection of poetry by Shakespeare, Milton, Byron and other literary luminaries were printed opposite blank pages for each day of the calendar year. The owner could then notate birthdays he or she wished to remember. An attractive example of the Royal Birthday Book was bound with an Art Nouveau floral design on the plaque and included a dramatic letter “B” beginning the word “Birthdays.”

Tuesday, March 1, 2022

A Miniature Koran in a Locket

In Glasgow, Scotland at the end of the nineteenth century, the firm of David Bryce and Son pursued the latest technological advances in printing to issue thousands of miniature books. A miniature book is commonly defined as being under 3 inches in height, but Bryce was more interested in printing miniatures that were approximately 1 inch tall. These are referred to as microminiatures.

Miniature Koran in Locket
Miniature Koran in Locket
Image credit: National Library of Scotland

Photolithography, a type of photo reduction process, allowed larger volumes to be reduced to the smallest imaginable size. Bryce effectively marketed these tiny creations as “the smallest books in the world.” There was the smallest English Dictionary, the smallest Complete Bible, the smallest Music Songbook. The smallest New Testament, smaller than all the others, measures just 3/4 of an inch tall by 5/8 inch wide. All the microminiatures were housed and sold in silver metal or brass covered lockets with an inset magnifying glass for ease of reading. 

Miniature Koran
Miniature Koran
Image credit: PBA Galleries

Among the most famous of all Bryce publications is the Koran in Arabic. The text is complete, comprising all 114 surahs, or chapters, which according to tradition are arranged from longest to shortest and in order of their revelation to Muhammed. These Korans were printed on thin tissue paper and bound in elaborately gold-stamped red leather. A brass locket with ring for attachment to a chain made it possible for Muslim Ottoman soldiers during World War I to wear the Koran around their necks. The book and locket were thought of as a protective talisman and were distributed by the Allies to cement loyalty to their cause. Legend has it that soldiers fighting with Lawrence of Arabia in the deserts were among those wearing the Bryce Koran.

A rare copy of the Koran printed entirely in gold came into our possession at Bromer Booksellers. The script and decorative devices shimmer. There is a gem like quality in this amulet, a characteristic of many miniature books. As jewels, they are intimate objects of beauty and fascination.

Monday, March 8, 2021

Easter Island and its Books

Dear friends,

Every now and then I reminisce about the books and people David and I met on our 50-year odyssey as Bromer Booksellers. Below is the story of the remotest place we ever visited and the book collection we built to memorialize that trip.

Anne Bromer

March 2021

John Dos Passos called it the “Island of Enigmas,” the most isolated inhabited place in the world. Owned by Chile, it lies more than 2200 miles from the continent of South America and more than 1200 miles from its nearest, inhabited neighbor, tiny Pitcairn Island. The indigenous people call themselves and their 64-square-mile island Rapa Nui. Chileans call the island Isla de Pascua. The first European, a Dutch explorer named Jacob Roggeveen, set foot on the archipelago on Easter morning 1722, and named it Easter Island. It is composed of three dormant volcanic regions with ancient art exposed in a kind of outdoor museum.

The island’s gathering of enormous carved stone heads standing and scattered about makes it feel haunted. Beginning about 1000 CE the indigenous people began carving heads with torsos out of volcano rock. As a form of ancestral worship, these heads are called moai, and they weigh an average of 14 tons. Most are mounted in groups of various sizes on ceremonial ahus, or rock altars. All face towards the land, as the original Polynesian settlers thought of themselves as the center of the world. For five hundred years, approximately 1000 moai were carved from quarry rock at Rano Raruku in the center of the Island. How these megaliths were transported nearly twelve miles to the edges of the island is a puzzle that only recently has been deciphered. Oral history and modern experimentation appear to confirm that they were walked upright with ropes.

The focus on building monumental heads together with overpopulation depleted resources on the island. Plant and bird life were disrupted to feed the islanders. Fishing boats required too much of the lumber. A rat population found their favorite food in the seeds of the vast palm tree forests and devoured so many that the trees could no longer propagate. More trees were cut down to make way for land to farm. By the 16th century, Rapa Nui was deforested, and the social fabric of its people began to unravel. 

Vicious wars were fought, and the monumental heads were toppled. At the height of its population, there were about 10,000 indigenous people, but with tribal battles and the introduction of disease and slavery brought by Europeans, the Rapa Nui people were nearly extinct by the 1870s. The native population reached its lowest count of 110 in 1878. 

In 1888, Easter Island was annexed by Chile. The islanders were confined to Hanga Roa, its capital, and primarily were sheep farmers, although a large corporation owned all the sheep farms. Under the dictator Augusto Pinochet martial law was declared. Finally after his dictatorship ended in 1990, private property was restored and tourism began to bring the island prosperity. In 1995 UNESCO named Easter Island a World Heritage site. 

On New Year’s Eve 1997, David and I arrived for a visit. Our flight took five hours from Santiago, Chile. The two-mile landing strip, built in case of an emergency for the U.S. Space Shuttle program, is so long that the LAN-Chile pilot didn’t need to apply the brakes. We stayed in a small, Rapa Nui-owned hotel and spent five days exploring the mysteries and lessons of the island. We were so intoxicated with all we saw that we wanted to mark the experience. As booksellers we paid tribute to the journey by building a collection of books. 

Three titles by early explorers were key to the collection, two of which we were able to obtain in first editions, but we were unsuccessful in finding an original edition of the journal of the first European to sight the island.

Jacob Roggeveen (1659-1729) was 63 years old when he and his fleet landed on Rapa Nui, April 5, 1722. In a passage from his journal, Roggeveen saw that the island was already deforested and sandy: “We mistook the parched-up grass, and hay or other scorched and charred brushwood for a soil of arid nature….” The original Dutch edition of 1838 escaped us, but the English translation by Andrew Sharp in 1970 was included.

An engraving of a woman from Easter Island,
after a drawing by William Hodges, who was
on Cook's second expedition to the South Pacific
Image source
Captain James Cook (1728-1779) saw Easter Island from HMS Resolution in March 1774. In the second of his three-volume Voyage Towards the South Pole and Round the World there is a description of what he and his crew witnessed when approaching the island: “On the east side, near the sea, they met with three platforms of stone-work, or rather the ruins of them. On each had stood four of those large statues, but they were all fallen down…and all except one were broken by the fall, or in some measure defaced. Each statue had on its head a large cylindric stone of a red colour, wrought perfectly round.” 

The third 18th-century Easter Island explorer, whose travels resulted in a set of three volumes, was Jean Francois de La Perouse (1741-1788). He was a French admiral, who commanded two frigates with the goal of completing Captain Cook’s explorations twelve years earlier. Voyage de la Perouse Autour du Monde was first published in 1791 and details a portion of a day on Easter Island in 1786 and the author’s colorful first encounters with its settlers. 

“I anchored quite close to the frigate, but the undertow was so strong that our anchors did not hold and we were forced to raise them and tack a couple of times to regain the anchorage. This setback in no way lessened the natives’ enthusiasm. They swam behind us up a league offshore, and climbed aboard with a cheerfulness and a feeling of security which gave me the most favourable opinion of their character. A more suspicious people might have feared, when we set sail, to see itself torn from its relatives and carried away far from home, but the thought of such perfidy did not even seem to occur to them. They went about in our midst, naked and with no weapons, a mere string around the waist with a bunch of herbs to hide their natural parts.” 

Of the approximately 80 books, pamphlets, and objects we collected, most offered a European or Chilean perspective. Included were some of the proceedings of the Literary and Philosophical Society of Liverpool. We would consider the late-19th-century texts and observations by members who had traveled to Easter Island as unevolved. J. Linton Palmer was interested in identifying wooden tablets and figurines. A.J. Mott postulated that people other than, as he termed, “savages” must have carved the “colossal stone images.” 

There were additional books in the collection on explorations, including the voyage of Felipe González de Ahedo, who landed on Easter Island before Captain Cook, in November 1770, and claimed it for the Spanish crown. The English translation account of the expedition was published 128 years later in 1908. In 1915, Captain N.P. Benson’s log of a 900-mile voyage to Easter Island on the schooner El Dorado was printed. He wrote of the harrowing journey “…across a storm-tossed ocean in an open boat, twenty-two feet long, (this) does not fall into the life of every mariner.”

Norwegian explorer Thor Heyerdahl (1914-2002) claimed until his dying day that South Americans were the first to discover Rapa Nui. In 1955, he led a two-year archaeological expedition to the island, which he recounted in Aku-Aku. That book and other volumes by Heyerdahl on the art and mystique of the island were part of the collection. Until very recently, Heyerdahl’s belief of indigenous South Americans being the first to settle the island was considered incorrect. The prevailing theory had been that Polynesians were the first settlers. Now, highly developed DNA analysis has reopened the question. As is true with many of the mysteries of Rapa Nui, new data has changed the science, and it now appears as if the discovery came from both the West and the East. 

The collection included books and periodicals of archaeological expeditions and of secrets and mysteries of the religious rituals of the island. Tales from the past of cultural practices and viewed from an “Ethno-Psychological” viewpoint were set out in Werner Wolff’s 1948 book, Island of Death. Arkham House published The Web of Easter Island in 1948 by the science fiction writer, Donald Wandrei. Dedicated to H.P. Lovecraft, the horror story reinforced perceived terrors of Easter Island. Coupled with the myths and riddles were books about the art and language of the Rapa Nui people, many illustrated with photographs.

In 2006 the playwright Edward Albee went to Rapa Nui and wrote about it in a New York Times three-page color spread. He was 78 years old and had dreamed of the trip for fifty years. He wrote of the nature of life on the island with statues in situ where the ancient carvers left them, unfinished and as yet unborn. He spoke of moai raised on their pedestals as if living beings, while others remained face down where they were once toppled, now dead. The full cycle of life is an essential part of Rapa Nui.

Our trip to the island was a once-in-a-lifetime experience for David and me. In building a book collection, we were able to keep the adventure close. It was our way of remembering those five days of wonderment. As time and memory faded, so did the intensity of that moment. In 2012 we sold the collection en bloc to a colleague in Australia.

Friday, June 28, 2019

Covarrubias, Kahlo, and Popular Pride

Left: Cristina Kahlo, Miguel Covarrubias, Frida Kahlo, and Rosa Covarrubias; Right: Covarrubias and Nickolas Murray

On June 19th, Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts concluded its exhibit “Frida Kahlo and Arte Popular”, a celebration-via-contextualization of Kahlo’s work. Mexican decorative art, ceramics, textiles, and other artisan materials surrounded Kahlo’s pieces, emphasizing the interplay between the two. Arte popular grew out of the Mexican Revolution, embodying the authentic Mexican self that thrived in modern society but never lost sight of heritage and tradition. In turn, Kahlo took on the same themes in her artwork: magical realism, vibrancy, and fluidity between the animate and inanimate and the living and the dead. Kahlo brought “popular” art to its dual sense, taking inspiration from the folk art of the people and giving it a global voice.

Kahlo was not the only artist of her period to adopt arte popular as the substance of a greater platform. Miguel Covarrubias, a close friend of Kahlo among her circle in Mexico City. Their relationship was captured by Nickolas Murray, Kahlo’s longtime lover. Covarrubias featured prominently as a caricaturist and illustrator, rising through a series of New York connections to become a regular contributor to The New Yorker and Vanity Fair. Like Kahlo, Covarrubias drew stylistic inspiration from the local craftspeople he grew up with. The sweeping lines and pure colors in his work mirrors the sensuosity and fantasy of arte popular, translated to suit, and subvert, the imagery of societal powers of race and class.

For Covarrubias, the process of inspiration and execution was a study in ethnography. In New York, through his friends Zora Neale Hurston, Langston Hughes, and W. C. Handy (for whom he also illustrated books), Covarrubias experienced the Harlem Renaissance, which he captured in caricatures and drawings. Those that depicted jazz clubs were printed in Vanity Fair, while others formed the basis of his book, Negro Drawings. When Covarrubias traveled to San Francisco to create a mural for the 1939-1940 Golden Gate International Exposition, he painted six murals featuring grandiose illustrated maps, respectively titled The Fauna and Flora of the Pacific, Peoples, Art and Culture, Economy, Native Dwellings, and Native Means of Transportation. His honeymoon to Bali, paired with a later return trip as a Guggenheim Fellow, resulted in the book, Island of Bali, in which Covarrubias expounded on the local culture and customs through his writing and illustrations, as well as the inclusion of his wife Rosa Rolanda’s photographs. These honest encapsulations of foreign cultures preceded Covarrubias’ perhaps most-loved work, Mexico South: The Isthmus of Tehuantepec. Throughout the book, Covarrubias balances oral history, first hand analysis, biography, and documented history, peppering the text with diagrams and illustrations, as well as colored plates showing the world of the Isthmus through his characteristic style. In our copy, Covarrubias added an additional drawing before the title page, in which with graceful simplicity he exemplifies the local women: their manner of dress, their hairstyles, their labors, and even their attitudes. This work brings to fruition all of Covarrubias’ previous labors, honoring the folk art so influential to him and Kahlo by giving it tangible, international face born out of itself. The likes of Kahlo and Covarrubias brought Mexican arte popular into the greater public purview, a democratization of art that never lost sight of its roots.

References and Links:

The MFA’s summary of the Frida Kahlo and Arte Popular: https://www.mfa.org/exhibitions/frida-kahlo-and-arte-popular

A descriptive op-ed on the MFA exhibit, featured in the Harvard Crimson: https://www.thecrimson.com/article/2019/3/5/mfa-frida-kahlo-exhibit/

A collection of Nickolas Murray’s photographs of Kahlo, Covarrubias, Diego Rivera, and others, up for sale by Sotheby’s: https://news.artnet.com/market/frida-kahlo-photographs-1506793

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Some Safe Harbor: WWII Logbooks from the South Pacific

From 1941 to 1943, Lorain Roswell Snyder, Seaman First Class, traveled throughout the Pacific, winding his way north from the Galapagos Islands, towards the South Pacific, and up to Alaska aboard the U.S.S. Richmond (CL-9). In those years, Snyder, nicknamed “Doc”, recorded not only his activities and the adventures the Richmond encountered, but also cataloged the duties accorded to his role as a gunner’s mate, drew equipment, maps, tattoos, and flags in astonishing detail, and offered his own insights into wartime events like the bombing of Pearl Harbor (“War!!!/Oh my! Well here's what we've been waiting for ... Arizona and Oklahoma got it bad!”). He encapsulated this life at sea, with all the specifics of its vessels and the mercuriality of its personalities and its bureaucracy, in four log books, presented here.

All commissioned naval vessels maintain log books, called deck logs, handwritten or typed by the officers on board. These are held as permanent records by the Navy, and eventually by the National Archives. The Archives’ collection spans the Revolutionary War, their earliest item being a photostatic copy of the log for the Continental Schooner WASP, through Vietnam. A certain number, listed by ship name, have been digitized, including the logs for the Richmond. Snyder’s name does not appear in the logs because he was not a commissioned officer, but the coordinates match - both Snyder’s and the official logs place the Richmond in the South Pacific in May 1942, for example, as well as being off the coast of Siberia for the Battle of the Komandorski Islands a year later.

But the deck logs make no mention of the life of an enlisted man, or anyone else for that matter, other than the arrivals and departures of various seamen, and the occasional relegation of an insolent sailor to the brig. Snyder’s accounts, then, provide a unique and eclectic view, a log crafted for the sake of self-expression, accountability, and education. Two logs document Snyder’s on-board studies to become a gunner’s mate third-class and second-class. His assignments ranged from the proper use and storage of ammunition, the parts of various weapons (Snyder’s artistic acumen is on display in his depictions of a .45 caliber automatic pistol, a gun mount, a flare gun, and other equipment), storm warning signals, and mathematical equations. At the rear of these coursebooks, which function nearly as manuals, Snyder, with characteristic precision, indexed morse code, semaphore, alphabetical and numerical flags, pipe markings, and national symbols.

The technical knowledge of these logs imbues the other two with a backbone of seriousness, even as Snyder rolls his eyes at some men who “just can’t be satisfied with enough” while he is “just taking life easy”. These books, which function as daily diaries, were addressed at the outset to Snyder’s parents, a statement only preceded by the ship’s seal and an account of its destinations from 1939 to 1942. Albeit unintentional, these two introductory elements highlight the personality and enthusiasm of Snyder’s accounts, and of Snyder himself. He expressed wonder at aerial warfare, glib boredom or approval of daily duties, fear at the scattered battles that the U.S.S. Richmond comes across, and joy at familiar sights. Outside of these regular reports, Snyder also drew a map of the Pacific, tracking the Richmond’s course alongside major altercations between the Japanese and the Allies, and penned a humorous poem entitled “A Torrid Tale of the Tropics” about a hapless lover on Waikiki.

At the heart of Snyder’s logbooks lies a love of storytelling and a weather eye toward a safe port. Snyder’s final proclamation - “Home!” - promises pride and relief, satisfaction and adventure.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

The Landscape of a Binding: Caro Weir Ely's Style, C.E.S. Wood's Ambition, and Their Friendship

Charles Erskine Scott Wood. Poems from the Ranges. San Francisco: Grabhorn Press, 1929.

In 1920, the Book Club of California, then still a nascent entity, having published its first letterpress volume in 1914, hosted an exhibition of finely bound books crafted by Caroline “Caro” Weir Ely. Though Ely never matched the prominence of her father, impressionist Julian Alden Weir, or the stature of her grandfather, West Point professor and member of the Hudson River School Robert Walter Weir, she found uniqueness and acclaim as a bookbinder throughout the early twentieth century. As evidenced by the Book Club of California’s exhibition, the literary community, as male-driven as it was at the time, celebrated her skill and apparently appreciated her minimalist style. One man in particular, Charles Erskine Scott Wood, found Ely’s work worthy of continued patronage; at least four books were bound by Ely for Wood, or with Wood in mind. These are The Vintage Festival by Sarah Bard Field, printed in 1920 and bound by Ely on behalf of Field as a gift from Field to Wood, her husband; Julian Alden Weir: An Appreciation of his Life and Works, printed in 1921 and bound by Ely as a presentation copy to Wood; Snow Bound, A Winter Idyl by John G. Whittier, printed in 1911 and bound by Ely sixteen years later as a gift from Wood to Field; and the present Poems from the Ranges by Wood, printed by the Grabhorn Press in 1929 and bound by Ely for Wood.

The relationship between Wood, a military man, lawyer, and author, and Ely was not simply borne by a mutual appreciation of each other’s crafts, nor was it the avuncular fondness of a man for the daughter of an artist he admired and knew as a frequent associate (Julian Alden Weir painted a portrait of Wood in 1901, and a letter from Wood to Weir is featured in Julian Alden Weir: An Appreciation of his Life and Works). Rather, Wood and Ely seem to have known each other as genuine friends. The inscription in the Ely-bound copy of Poems from the Ranges reads: “To Caro Weir Ely, from her friend, with love. Charles Erskine Scott Wood. The Cats – Los Gatos – Calif. 1929”. The friendship between the elder Wood, who was in his twilight years and would die in 1944 at the age of 91, and the much younger Weir, who was born in 1885 when Wood was already in his thirties, certainly follows a pattern of relationships that Weir held with younger artists and activists in his later life, including Ansel Adams, John Steinbeck, and Robinson Jeffers. The difference, however, is that Ely was not based in California or in the Western States at all, instead calling Connecticut home and finding particular footing at Florence Griswold’s artist colony in Old Lyme, where Ely herself eventually settled. What bound Ely and Wood, as it did Adams and Steinbeck and other figures under Wood’s wing but removed from the West, such as Childe Hassam, Margaret Sanger, and Eugene Debs, was their continuous and intrinsic awe for place and landscape, their fascination with the land and the impressions of humans upon it.

For Wood, this passion for nature and nature-dwellers emerged in his transcription of the surrender of Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce at the end of the Nez Perce War in 1877. While much of his account concerns the underhanded dealings of one of his fellow officers, Wood goes out of his way, however briefly, to laud the interactions between the Native peoples and the land. In one instance, he recounts hunting buffalo with two Native scouts while the snowy Bear Paw Mountain looms ahead of them (Wood). Other flora and fauna punctuate the story – the imposing pass into Clark Basin, the plains of the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers, coyotes, and horses tame and wild – in such a way as to insist upon the largeness of the landscape and the consequential, or perhaps continual, smallness of the men. When Chief Joseph emerges to deliver his speech of surrender, then, with “quiet pride”, he seems the largest, the most capable of standing against the forces of nature, of any of the figures mentioned in the narrative (Wood). This attitude translated to Wood’s later work as an attorney advocating for Native rights, in which he continually insisted on the primacy of the Native peoples’ ownership, if such a term may be used, of the lands from which they had been forcibly removed. Wood’s belief in the inevitable hugeness of the landscape was also clear in his artwork, which featured vastness of the frontier surrounding Portland, Oregon and other areas of the American West rendered in watercolors. Wood’s portrayals are hardly intimidating, however. Instead, his decision to cast the open sky, the thick arms of the trees, the limitless coast in soft watercolors softens their size.

Likewise for Ely, nature was a constant, comforting presence, a wild thing to strive with rather than against, a thing to admire and leave free. In her youth, Ely recalled, when she traveled with her family from Branchville to Windham, Connecticut, she reveled in disembarking the train “hot and dirty”, and with great joy “piled onto the waiting carriages, breathing the fresh air and enjoying every moment of the four mile drive over the plains” (Lest We Forget quoted in Dawson, chap. 2, f.16). A similar attitude colored her written and artistic recollections of Weir Farm, now a National Historic Park. The farm sported several gardens, and Ely and her sisters were very likely responsible for the design and upkeep of the Secret Garden, which Ely praised for its endurance, stating that it was “still full of the plants [she] put in” twenty years later (National Park Service, 3). Her etchings and sketches cast the farm in a similar light, drawing out the balance between nature’s whims and the boundaries and designs of the humans who lived there. The sure lines of the farmhouse blend with those of the brush, and the trees cast over the paths and fences insistent shadows. It is no great extrapolation to suggest the same balance characterizes Ely’s bindings. In each of the four examples cited here, Ely’s gilt work and tooling highlights the natural textures of the leather. For Poems from the Ranges, the minimalist exterior draws the eye to the crackings in the morocco, and makes the brilliant floral paste-paper endpapers all the more striking. It is as much a celebration of the feel of a book, and of the materials that make it, as it is a showcase for Ely’s own creative capabilities.



Dawson, Anne E. Rare Light: J. Alden Weir in Windham, Connecticut, 1882-1919. Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2016. Chapter 2, footnote 16.

National Park Service. “The Gardens”. Weir Farm. https://www.nps.gov/wefa/planyourvisit/upload/Garden-Site-Bulletin.pdf.

New England Historical Society. “High Thinking and Low Living in Old Lyme”. New England Historical Society. 2018. http://www.newenglandhistoricalsociety.com/high-thinking-low-living-old-lyme/.

PBA Galleries Sale 464: Fine Literature with Books in All Fields. October 6, 2011. Lots 400, 402, and 403.

Weir, Julian Alden. “C.E.S. Wood”. Portrait. 1901. Portland Art Museum Online Collections. http://portlandartmuseum.us/mwebcgi/mweb.exe?request=record;id=3542;type=101.

Wood, Charles Erskine Scott. “The Pursuit and Capture of Chief Joseph”. Archives of the West, 1874-1877. 2001. https://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/resources/archives/six/joseph.htm.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Announcing Bromer Gallery

To mark its fiftieth year as a leading specialist in rare and beautiful books, Bromer Booksellers is pleased to announce the launch of Bromer Gallery, which will open its first exhibition on November 1, 2018. Bromer Gallery will operate in conjunction with the book shop, and will feature original art, edition prints, and related material, executed by artists whose work is centered upon the idea of the book as art. This new endeavor is a natural extension of Bromer Booksellers’ long history as specialists in the art of the book.

The gallery’s inaugural exhibit, titled “Goldman and Lee: Shadow and Color”, will feature Jane Goldman's watercolors and editioned prints from her Audubon Series, together with the color woodcuts of Jim Lee. The two artists are old friends who both studied with Warrington Colescott and other members of the “Madison Mafia” at the University of Wisconsin, Madison’s famed Print Department.

A noted painter and printmaker, Jane Goldman will be exhibiting work from her latest series, Audubon Suite. This series of hand-painted pigment and silkscreen prints incorporates plates from Audubon’s iconic Birds of America into richly textured, vibrant still-lifes that chart the changing seasons. According to Goldman, this series “displays my abiding interest in creating a contemplative world of objects bathed in light with shadow contrasts. The cast shadows unify objects in the here and now with the 19th century Audubon image; past and present seamlessly occupy the same timeless space.” Since 1987, Goldman has been a partner in the Mixit Print Studio, a collaborative space in Somerville, MA, for printmakers.

Jim Lee, the Connecticut-based printmaker, book artist, and proprietor of Blue Moon Press, will bring the lush landscapes of Ireland, New England, and Maritime Canada to the Gallery. Lee works primarily with color reduction woodcuts to capture the mood and subtle features of a particular area. As he is also interested in the people who inhabit the locations he depicts, the woodcut process allows him to weave references to their history and culture into his work. Lee’s entire aesthetic arises from his draftsmanship, and in his bookwork and prints he tries to use “the intersection of type and image as a continuation of the act of drawing.” Lee teaches printmaking and book arts at the University of Hartford.

“Goldman and Lee: Shadow and Color” will be on exhibit at Bromer Gallery, 607 Boylston Street, Boston, MA 02116, from November 1, 2018 until January 15, 2019. In conjunction with the gallery show, Bromer Booksellers will feature a display of books with woodcuts from across our specialty areas. Visit gallery.bromer.com for more information, and find us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram as @bromergallery.

Monday, August 27, 2018

Simons, Dwiggins, and the Modern Letter

If the modern typographic revolution can be said to have been born in London, the it ought to also be said that it came of age in Germany. The turn of the twentieth century saw the arrival of Edward Johnston to the Royal College of Art and to the calligraphic craft. Johnston explored the use of broad-edged pens for his lettering, renewing the dried-up nineteenth-century penmanship practices with flourishes and individual creativity, and considering the letters themselves, not just their collective referents, worthy of beauty. His teachings influenced the likes of Eric Gill and Percy Smith, but found their greatest hold on the young German, Anna Simons. The simple fact of Simons' attendance at the Royal College of Art was notable, since she matriculated at a time when women were not admitted to Prussian Arts and Crafts schools, and Simons improved upon her standing by becoming one of Johnston's star students.

After completing her training, from 1905 to 1910 Simons taught at Dusseldorf's Royal School of Arts and Crafts, thereby teaching at an institution that in turn had refused to instruct her. During that period she brought exhibitions of English book arts to Weimar, Berlin, and Hamburg, and translated several works on lettering, including Johnston's own Writing and Illuminating and Lettering into German. Yet equal in influence to Simons' determined dissemination of new principles of letter design were her own artistic contributions to the Bremer Presse. Over the course of her career, Simons produced some 1400 titles and initials for the Presse, each one epitomizing new design for a new post-Great War Europe. Doffing the strictures of traditional order and industrial simplicity and conformity, Simons' designs, like Johnstons', presented letters and art themselves, pushing the optics of what they could be and where they could sit on the page.

While Simons engaged the German art world in Johnston’s new concepts of lettering and herself applied them to the tangible design of books and their pages, W. A. Dwiggins was doing much the same in the United States. The connection between Simons and Dwiggins is more explicitly laid out in the inscription inside the front cover of our copy of Titel und Initialen fur die Bremer Presse, Simons’ portfolio of titles and initials employed in the first eight-odd years of her efforts for the press: “Presented by the publishers to WAD, and given by him to Edward A. Karr”. Whereas Dwiggins was primarily a type- and book-designer, Karr, a teacher at the Museum of Fine Arts School and fellow Boston artist, was more concerned with penmanship and lettering, closer to the craft of Johnston. But this second relationship ought not to obscure the first, that Dwiggins was given Simons’ portfolio by its publishers, in a clear acknowledgment of the stylistic similarities and vision of the two artists. Both are responsible for ushering bookmaking in their respective countries to meet the style and technology of the twentieth century; Simons’ influence is heavily felt in the Weiner Werkstatte corpus and in the subsequent rise of Art Deco themes, and Dwiggins’ himself designed the typefaces for the clean layout offered by the new Linotype machine.

Monday, August 6, 2018

Geoffroy Tory: Common Language, Privileged Text

In speaking of Geoffroy Tory, one most often does so in reference to his Champfleury, which established a distinctly French artistic style while it simultaneously declaimed the use and order of the French language in sound and shape. The volume ensconced Tory as a father of French book production, and in particular of French book arts. He invoked deliberate, simple design in his typography and ornamentation, and demanded the same refinement from the language itself. In a later translation of Lucian, Tory announced to the reader that “l’eficace de l’art D’oratorie est de pouvoir faire ample description non seullement d’une gra[n]de chose, Mais aussi bien de une petite [the impact of the art of oratory is to create a rich description not only of a great thing, but also of a small thing]” (Lucian 1533, 2).

Tory’s insistence that the simple beauty of the vernacular mirror the clean composition of the mise en page climaxed in his 1529 Champfleury (subsequent attempts at creating and recreating Tory’s designs are summarized here: http://luc.devroye.org/fonts-32678.html), but was previously demonstrated in the Horae of 1524 and the later 1527 edition of the same. In the Horae, Tory revolutionized French printing, trading the traditional dark closeness of gothic text for open typography and imagery. William M. Ivins, Jr. referred to it as a “blond book”, in which Roman type and uncluttered woodcuts were harmonious and inviting, rather than cluttered and somber (Ivins, Jr., 84). The 1524 edition was a testament to this new affinity for clean design, bearing sixteen full-page borders and thirteen large woodcuts, the borders being repeated throughout on every page. The 1527 edition pushed the principle still further, incorporating twelve woodcuts and four-piece borders on every page in twenty-six distinct combinations. Most notably, Tory selected a type truly neither Gothic nor Roman, but resembling something like Bastarda script used in France and the Low Countries throughout the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. This confluence of progressive design and nostalgic type argued that the printed book could match, and even surpass, the contemplation, care, and beauty of the manuscript.

The profundity of Tory’s contribution to the emerging book trade, the newness of what he had conceived and executed, was met with favor in his own time, as evidenced by the book privileges granted to him through the royal court. The French book-privilege system was one the first - certainly the first of its cohesion and systematization - and most effective in early sixteenth century. Unlike Italy, where the book trade thrived but regulation was stymied by conflicts between ununified states, or Britain, where governmental control was clear but the trade was still nascent, the reach and control of the French government was such that it could suitably oversee intellectual property rights. Privileges were not in any way mandatory and it remained the responsibility of the printer, and in select cases the author, to submit a petition for one. Privileges could be granted by the royal chancery, the sovereign courts including Parlement, provincial parlements and officers, and various academic and ecclesiastical institutions. The chancery acted at the whim of the king himself, and thus was both the most prized of privileges and also the slowest, since it required the king to be in residence. Of the parameters considered when granting a privilege, arguably the most important was the “criterion of newness”, as phrased by Elizabeth Armstrong (Armstrong, 92-99). A book had to be a unique contributor to the existing canon or corpus, being a completely new work, a new translation, or containing a substantial addition or improvement to an existing text. It was especially uncommon for religious works to receive privileges. Although a known almost twenty-four percent of all books published under privilege in France through 1526 fall under the classification of religion, none were for editions of the Bible, and prior to Tory only Antoine Vérard received on for his 1508 Les Heures Nostre Dame (Armstrong, 165). Herein one finds acknowledgement of Tory’s genius; both the 1524 and 1527 editions have been granted privileges. The former was awarded a chancery privilege, with the particular mention of his “certaine histoires & vignettes [certain pictures and vignettes]” and his ability to bridge those “a L’antique [of antique style]” and those “a la Moderne [of modern style]” (Les heures 1524, 1v). The latter likewise received a chancery privilege, with the same nods to his art compounded by praise for his knack for “divulguer, acroistre, et decorer la la[n]gue Latine et francoise [revealing, improving, and ornamenting the Latin and French languages]” in both form and function (Les heures 1527, 1v). The first was granted for a period of six years and the second for a period of ten, the overlap suggesting that the two works were considered distinct enough, and each on its own “new” enough, to earn the right of exclusivity.

Tory’s contributions to the French language, in the ways it was spoken and written, in its abstract and physical forms, in itself and its bibliographic context, provided the nation with a contemporary visage and style unmatched elsewhere. He imbued French books with their “Frenchness”, carving out a distinct national space in an international market coming out of its infancy.



Armstrong, Elizabeth. Before Copyright: The French Book-Privilege System 1498-1526. Cambridge, 1990.

Horae in laudem beatissime semper Virginis Marie. Paris, 1524 [privilege granted in 1524, imprint states 1525].

Hore in laudem beatissime Virginis Marie. Paris, 1527.

Ivins, Jr., William M. “Geoffroy Tory.” The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 15.4 (1920), 79-86.

Lucian of Samosata. La mouche de Lucian, et La maniere de parler et de se taire. Paris, 1533.