Thursday, March 29, 2012

By, For, and About Women (Part Four)

In this final installment of our series celebrating Women's History Month, we have gathered a group of books together that incorporate artistic contributions by women and girls. This includes a miniature book printed by the young daughter of a private pressman, several designer bindings executed by female binders, an original watercolor by a female book illustrator, and many books illustrated by women.

Thank you for reading about the books and objects in our collection that are by, for, and about women. As Women's History Month draws to a close, we hope you have enjoyed the series, and we look forward to sharing more items from our shop with you in the future.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

By, For, and About Women (Part Three)

The third e-list in our series in honor of Women's History Month highlights items created especially for women and girls. This is an eclectic group that includes a bejeweled Book of Hours crafted for a French noblewoman, a set of paper dolls, and an illustrated letter written by a Civil War soldier to an eight-year-old girl. Thank you for having a look, and we'll see you next week for the last in our series, books with female artists.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

E-catalogue 23: The Ides of March

If it weren't for Roman history and Shakespeare, there would be nothing ominous about the Ides of March. Its etymology is innocuous enough: it simply means the middle of March. However, the events of this day in 44 B.C. forever changed the language used in association with it. We would like to mark the middle of March by highlighting Classical literature, or works that have been inspired by Latin and Greek writers. This includes fine press printers who have been enticed by the challenge of designing Classical texts, from Giambattista Bodoni, whose vast oeuvre includes a handsome edition of Anacreon in Greek, to the Officina Bodoni, which often produced original texts and their translations in the same work. Many book illustrators have also found inspiration in Classical texts, including the French Catalan sculptor Aristide Maillol, who embraced a simpler line in his Odes of Horace, and Georges Barbier and Jean-Francois Schmied, whose Les Chansons de Bilitis is widely considered an Art-Deco highspot. As with Caesar's walk to the Theater of Pompey, books also have their destiny as Terentianus reminds us: Habent sua fata libell.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Le Bateau Ivre (The Drunken Boat)

Le Bateau Ivre (The Drunken Boat). One of 250 copies, signed by the artist and designer, Thierry Despont, with text in French and English translation and twenty-eight drawings by Despont.

This copy is in a Sylvia Rennie binding of full blue calf with a design of seven stiff, curvilinear shapes of polished blue, black, and white calf mounted to the front cover as a sculptural element evoking waves and sails. Sylvia Rennie was a student of Hugo Peller, the Swiss master binder, and her work has been shown in a one-woman show at Kroch and Brentano in Chicago, and in other universities and galleries around the world.

Friday, March 16, 2012

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh!

Lá Fhéile Pádraig Sona Daoibh, or Happy St. Patrick's Day, to you! The holiday is tomorrow, and we wanted to mark the occasion by honoring the Irish authors in our midst. Have a look at our photo gallery below, and we hope you have a happy and safe St. Patrick's Day. Éire go Brách!

OLIVER GOLDSMITH. The Vicar of Wakefield. Illustrated by Arthur Rackham, this is one of 575 copies signed by the artist that comprised the English issue.

Goldsmith was born in Ireland in the mid-1700s, but he moved to London in his twenties and stayed there until his premature death in his mid-forties. The Vicar of Wakefield is his most famous work and tells the story of a Job-like vicar and the trials he and his family endure before their fortunes are ultimately restored. The novel was first published in 1766 and was very popular in the nineteenth century, earning mentions in many works of the Victorian era.

OLIVER GOLDSMITH? The History of Little Goody Two-Shoes. A children’s miniature book dedicated “to all young gentlemen and ladies who are good, or intend to be good.” This is a reduced facsimile of the edition published by John Newbery, London, in 1766 and is illustrated throughout with numerous woodcuts. Measures 1 15/16 by 1 7/16 (48x36mm).

The source of the phrase "goody two-shoes," this moralistic tale tells the story of Margery Meanwell, a Cinderella-esque character whose virtuousness is eventually rewarded with happiness and wealth. The story has been attributed to Oliver Goldsmith, though Newbery himself is also likely.

SEAMUS HEANEY. Poems and a Memoir, published in 1982 by the Limited Editions Club. One of 2,000 copies, signed by the poet, Seamus Heaney, Thomas Flanagan, and Henry Pearson. Pearson illustrated the text with abstract relief engravings printed in brown, inspired by prehistoric Irish carvings, and Flanagan wrote the Introduction.

Heaney was born in 1939 in Northern Ireland, and in addition to writing poetry, he is also a playwright, translator, and former professor at Harvard and Oxford. His work often focuses on the life and culture of Northern Ireland, including the effect of "The Troubles" on the people and area. He has won many awards for his poetry, including the 1995 Nobel Prize in Literature, and he has been called the "most important Irish poet since Yeats."

JAMES JOYCE. Dubliners, published in 1914. First edition, one of approximately 746 copies that were bound.

Joyce was born in Dublin in 1882, and though he moved to the Continent, where he lived for the rest of his life, his work remained focused on Dublin. When he first submitted his proposal for this collection of short stories, he wrote, "I do not think that any writer has yet presented Dublin to the world." However, Joyce was far from sentimental about the city, writing, "From time to time I see in publisher's lists announcements of books on Irish subjects so that I think people might be willing to pay for the special odour of corruption which, I hope, floats over my stories."

JAMES JOYCE. Chamber Music, published 1907. First edition, first issue of Joyce's first book. The first printing consisted of 509 copies; however, fewer than fifty copies of the first binding appear to have been issued and perhaps fewer than fifteen copies are extant.

Chamber Music was published only through the considerable efforts of Arthur Symons, the British poet and critic, whom Joyce had met through W. B. Yeats in 1902. Symons not only moved heaven and earth to find him a publisher who wouldn't require a subsidy, but he also wrote an extremely favorable review of the book in the Nation. Despite Symons' efforts and its favorable reception by Ezra Pound and Yeats, Chamber Music did not sell well, and only half of the first printing had sold after the first year.

GEORGE BERNARD SHAW. Shaw Gives Himself Away: An Autobiographical Miscellany, published by the Gregynog Press in 1939. First edition, with a wood-engraved frontispiece portrait of Shaw by John Farleigh. One of twenty-one copies bound in full black-green leather to a design by George Fisher.

This collection of essays and extracts was edited by Shaw, who wrote a Preface to the edition in which he contends, "Now I have had no heroic adventures. Things have not happened to me: on the contrary it is I who have happened to the world; and all that happening has taken the form of books and plays. Read them or spectate them and you have my whole story: the rest is only leather and prunella, breakfast, lunch, dinner, buttoning and unbuttoning, sleeping and wakening and washing, my routine being just the same as everybody's routine." He goes on to say, "The autobiographical -- or pseudo-autobiographical -- sketches which follow therefore do not present me from my own point of view, of which I am necessarily as unconscious as I am of the taste of water in my mouth because it is always there. Instead of telling you what is peculiar about me I have told you what is typical about me, or what for some reason has been overlooked or misunderstood."

OSCAR WILDE. The House of Judgment. One of 150 copies. A miniature book measuring 2 5/8 by 2 1/16 inches (68x52mm) and printed in four colors after a calligraphed original by J. H. Moesman, an important contemporary Dutch surrealist.

Wilde's story is well known, from his birth in Dublin in 1854 to his popularity as a playwright and author in London before his trial and subsequent sentence to two years hard labor for "gross indecency" in 1895. During the height of his fame, Wilde was a sought-after dinner guest, and he frequently made up stories and poems to entertain guests at the parties he attended. "House of Judgment" is one such poem, first published in 1893 in The Spirit Lamp, an Oxford undergraduate magazine, and then in 1894 in The Fortnightly Review with five other poems in prose.

OSCAR WILDE. The Ballad of Reading Gaol. From an edition of 125 copies, this is copy number I of twenty-five specially bound in full morocco. Illustrated with six full-page wood engravings by Forster depicting "the macabre ritual of a judicial hanging."

This poem was written after Wilde had been released from prison in 1897, while he was in exile in France. It gives an account of a hanging that occurred while he was at Reading Gaol and was published under the pseudonym "C.3.3." (cell block C, landing 3, cell 3, Wilde's designation while at Reading). The poem was very popular, and Wilde's name was added to the title page after the seventh printing (approximately two years after the initial publication in 1898).

WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS. John Sherman and Dhoya, published in 1891 under the pseudonym Ganconagh. First edition of Yeats' third book. Of an edition of 2000 copies, this is one of 356 that were bound in cloth. This novella and short story formed the tenth title in Unwin's "Pseudonym Library."

Though Yeats was born in Dublin to an Anglo-Irish family in 1865, he considered Co. Sligo to be his true home, and he fell in love with Irish folklore. These stories influenced his early writing, and in John Sherman and Dhoya, Yeats writes as Ganconagh, "The maker of these stories has been told that he must not bring them to you himself. He has asked me to pretend that I am the author. I am an old little Irish spirit, and I sit in the hedges and watch the world go by..." Yeats was the first Irish author to receive a Nobel Prize for Literature, and he was a major force behind the Irish Literary Revival of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS. Eight Poems by W B Yeats, published by FORM in 1916. One of 122 copies, containing "The Dawn," "On Woman," "The Fisherman," "The Hawk," "Memory," "The Thorn Tree," "The Phoenix," and "There Is a Queen in China."

By 1916 when this collection was published, Yeats's focus had shifted to the political and social issues in Ireland. This book was published just three months before the Easter Rising in Ireland, and just a few months more before Yeats wrote his famous poem, "Easter 1916," about the uprising. Yeats was appointed to the first Irish Senate in 1922 and again in 1925, but he retired in 1928 for health reasons. He died in 1939 in France, where he was buried, but according to his wishes, his body was moved to Co. Sligo, Ireland.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

By, For, and About Women (Part Two)

The second in our four-part series in honor of Women's History Month focuses on books by female authors. This includes everything from literature by Willa Cather and Virginia Woolf to books about books by Marianne Tidcombe.

We hope you take a moment to look through our selection of books by women and stay tuned for next week when we bring you items created especially for women and girls.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Marie Laurencin

Print of a Young Woman (left) and Original etching from Alternance (right), by Marie Laurencin. 

Marie Laurencin was one of few women artists of the early 20th century to experiment with Cubist ideas, although her work does not reach the height of abstraction attained by her contemporaries, Pablo Picasso and Georges Braque. Instead, her focus is on the feminine: the subjects of her work are most often young women depicted in soft, pastel colors. The femininity of her work is often viewed as a response to Cubism's masculine modernism.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Featured Item of the Week: Kingsport Press Miniature Books

Bromer Booksellers is the leading specialist in miniature books, and whenever they are on display, the tiny volumes measuring under three inches always attract quite a bit of attention. People are often curious as to why someone would create books so small. One answer to this question is revealed in the history of the miniature books pictured above.

Among the smallest of our miniature books is this set of three leather-bound volumes published by the Kingsport Press, comprised of the Addresses of Abraham Lincoln (1929), Extracts from the Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge (1930); and Washington: His Farewell Address (1932). Measuring a mere 7/8 by 5/8 inches, the books are smaller than postage stamps; the Addresses of Abraham Lincoln was proclaimed "the smallest book in America" upon its publication.

The Kingsport Press was established in Kingsport, Tennessee in 1921 and grew to be one of the largest book manufacturers in the nation, attracting visitors from across the country. According to a letter to Percy Spielmann, the collector and bibliographer of miniature books, from the president of the Kingsport Press, when the Press first came to Kingsport, the people in the surrounding community who would potentially become the Press's employees, didn't have experience working in the graphic arts industry. Realizing that the company needed to train local people to be typesetters, platemakers, printers, and binders, and aware that a traditional apprenticeship program would not be feasible, the Press set up its own school for all new employees, known as the Kingsport Press Training Division.

In order to graduate, students were required to create a piece that demonstrated their mastery of the program. One student chose to create a miniature book as a final project, which attracted the attention of the Press's management. They thought that the miniature book could be used as a clever way to generate publicity, and a creative form of advertising. As a training exercise, the students of the Training Division produced an edition of 150 books of Lincoln's addresses for the company to distribute without any charge. In 1928, the students sent an exhibit of the book to the Employing Bookbinders of America convention in Boston, which won the prestigious first prize. The miniature book was also featured in several Graphic Arts trade journals at the time. These ventures were very successful in drawing attention to the Press and showcasing the skill of its employees.

An incredible amount of patience and work went into creating these books. The president of the Press describes all of the steps involved in the making of these tiny books in great detail in his letter to Spielmann. According to the president, "The making of a miniature book, which is just slightly more than half of the standard 7/8" x 1" postage stamp, starts in exactly the same manner as the manufacture of a standard book." The text was first set in 7-point Cushing type, which is smaller than what is normally used for the average book. However, after the pages were printed, the most perfect impressions were selected and sent to the photo-engraver, who reduced the text to miniature size. The sheets were folded using special hand-operated machines and then gathered, sewn, glued, and trimmed. They were bound in the same manner as full-size books, using leather and gilt decoration. The Press even invented and manufactured its own small gilding press to be used for the miniature books.

Because of the challenges inherent in working on such a small scale, making miniature books is a perfect training exercise for the production of full-size books. If a person shows the dexterity and skill necessary to print and bind a book that measures less than an inch, he or she is certainly well-qualified to work on full-size books. In the letter to Spielmann, the president of the Press writes, "The little book has proved to be a rich mine of experience for the students. Its size has emphasized rather than minimized all of the problems of book techniques and the noble text has been an incentive to the highest endeavor." He also writes that although the choice of Lincoln's addresses for the first book was mostly by chance, "Since then the appropriateness of the choice has been apparent to author using the English language has ever excelled Lincoln in putting large amounts of human feeling within the compass of a few words."

The Kingsport Press incorporated the making of miniature books into their curriculum, and students from the Training Division produced the three miniature books in this set in 1929, 1930, and 1932. Today, miniature books are still approached as a challenge to book artists and are a true testament of their skill.

For more information on these and other miniature books, visit our website. Thank you for reading, and we look forward to sharing another item with you next week.

For more on the Kingsport Press Training Division, see Miniature Book News, No. 39, and Louis Bondy's Miniature Books, pp. 144-145.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

By, For, and About Women

To mark Women's History Month, every week in March we are going to highlight books and objects in our collection that were created by, for, or about women and girls. As you can imagine, we have quite a few.

Our first list contains items about women, including fairy tales and stories in which the heroine is female, biographical and bibliographical texts about female authors and artists, and artists' books illustrated with all-female subjects. We hope that you enjoy this four-part series of e-lists, and we thank you for reading.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

E-catalogue 22: Asian Influence

The recent celebration of the Chinese New Year gives one a yearly occasion to reflect upon the traditions and influences of East-Asian cultures that reach across the globe. As we examine the artistic output of East Asia, one can certainly behold a worldview that is quite different from that which is familiar to European and American sensibilities. And yet, the mirror that reflects a culture can also be a piece of glass that shows its face to the world, and it is this duality that is the theme behind our latest e-catalogue.

The books selected for this catalogue range from 19th-century Chinese watercolors depicting the harvesting of tea and an album of paintings by Japanese artist Takeuchi Seiho, to works by artists in the West, who were influenced by East-Asian aesthetics and philosophy, such as Edmund Dulac, Morris Cox, and Mali Burgess. When gathering material together for this catalogue, we were surprised at the breadth of subjects that fit our theme. We hope you will find a few surprises here as well.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss!

First edition, first issue of The Cat in the Hat

A very happy 108th birthday to Theodor Seuss Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss, who was born in 1904 and died in 1991. For more works by the good doctor, visit our website,, and we hope you have a day filled with "lots of good fun that is funny!"