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.

New England Historical Society. “High Thinking and Low Living in Old Lyme”. New England Historical Society. 2018.

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.;id=3542;type=101.

Wood, Charles Erskine Scott. “The Pursuit and Capture of Chief Joseph”. Archives of the West, 1874-1877. 2001.

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 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:, 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.

Monday, July 9, 2018

Unfolding Early Education and the Practice of Play

Fröbel-Album. Emmy Boldt (cover title) and Weaving (cover title)

In the early nineteenth century, Friedrich Fröbel proposed the radical notion that education, and early education in particular, was a creative process, and that before setting foot in a customary schoolroom, children ought to be grounded in self-expression and playfulness. The reality of the proposition was the establishment of the kindergarten system and Fröbel’s “gifts” and “occupations”. His gifts consisted of physical implements, such as wood blocks and yarn, which students could manipulate and mutate. His occupations required slightly more craftsmanship, involving the cutting, folding, and pricking of paper and advancing through a series of skills including embroidery and weaving. Both the gifts and the occupations offered avenues for play in tandem with tasks to be mastered, wherein students received the rewards of their own creativity.

Fröbel viewed the various paper techniques as the foundation of the other occupations. In his own autobiographical reflections, he asked of himself “‘What did you do as a boy? What happened to you to satisfy that need of yours for something to do and to express? By what, at the same period of your life, was this need most fully met, or what did you then most desire for this purpose?’” (Autobiography 75). Fröbel’s personal answer, the creation of forms out of paper, fulfilled his and his students’ need to derive “precise, clear, and many-sided results due to [their] own creative power” (Autobiography 76). This activity concretely connected the student to Nature, such that the student could mirror Nature’s creative powers and in so doing find a greater sense of belonging, enterprise, and wisdom. The folding of paper also offered a tangible basis for abstract mathematical and logical concepts. A child would make “progressive experiments which teach it by experience” (Reminiscences 71). Such experimentation was, in Fröbel’s words, the means by which “unconsciousness is raised to consciousness” (Reminiscences 73). His gifts and occupations worked to prompt the child to the nature of work and introduced them through playful and practical means to the abstract notions of the gathering and employment of knowledge.

During his lifetime, Fröbel’s ideas progressed throughout Germany and the Netherlands, gathering the support of several royal proponents, such as the Baroness Bertha Marie von Marenholtz-Bülow and the Duke of Meiningen. Unfortunately, just before his death the Prussian government banned Fröbel’s practices, citing them as “atheistic and demagogic”. Though the ban was more the result of a confusion of names – Fröbel’s nephew had published an unwelcome pamphlet on the education of women – the damage deterred the growth of kindergarten education in Europe for fifteen years. Fröbel’s legacy instead grew in the United States, where his former pupil, Margarethe Schurz, founded in 1856 the first American kindergarten and later inspired the educational reformers Elizabeth Peabody and Lucy Wheelock. Fröbel occupations became particularly popular in the Midwest, as exhibited by the two volumes pictured. Students would compile albums of their work as a means to track their competencies and display their creativity. Whereas the “Weaving” album shows a single skill improved over time, the “Fröbel-Album” evinces a steady progression through a variety of tasks completed with increasing skill.

These and other albums like them, in their invitation to create something out of nothing and to repurpose common materials new fashions, served as an inspiration for later abstract artistic movements. The Bauhaus school took particular cues from Fröbel; Walter Gropius designed the Friedrich Fröbel Haus in his honor (the building was never completed, but building plans can be viewed here). Frank Lloyd Wright also noted Fröbel as a key influence, stating that his early interactions building and rebuilding with a set of Fröbel gifts taught him the basic elements of geometry and structure (Alofsin 359). Fröbel has made more indirect impressions elsewhere in the creation and perpetuation of toys and educational materials that encourage expression through manipulation, such as LEGO blocks and Montessori sensorial materials.

(28032); (28055)


Alofsin, Anthony. Frank Lloyd Wright – The Lost Years, 1910-1922: A Study of Influence. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1993).

Fröbel, Friedrich. Autobiography of Friedrich Froebel. Translated by Emilie Michaelis and H. Keatley Moore. (London: Swan Sonnenchein, 1908).

Marenholtz-Bülow, Baroness B. von. Reminiscences of Friedrich Froebel. Translated by Mary Mann. (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1889).

Monday, June 11, 2018

The World On Display

Polyorama Panoptique. (c. 1830).

The Polyorama Panoptique is not so much an optical toy as an illusory experience. With the wooden box in one hand and the wooden lens in the other, the viewer may find stretched out before him or her the streets of London with the familiar Westminster Abbey in the background or the noble arch of the Champs Elysées. Slides encapsulate these scenes; each one bears a short cloth tab for easy extraction, a label at the back of the frame to identify the illustration, and many have careful cutouts or points edging chandeliers, skylines, and candles. By adjusting the concertina or the doors at the top and back of the box, and thus allowing different amounts of light to illuminate the scene, streetlamps may glow, windows may shine, and day may turn to night. Forty-two such images accompany this particular Panoptique.

The Panoptique was at its popular height from the 1820s through the 1850s, paralleling the success of its full-size inspiration, the Dioramas created by Louis Daguerre and Charles-Marie Bouton. The Diorama, as opposed to the also-popular Panorama, was a dynamic theatrical experience that required movement of both the scenery and the audience. A custom theater was built in Paris, and later in Regent’s Park in London, that provided two adjacent stages, in front of which the audience would pivot on a turntable. Each stage displayed layers of paintings on linen, made transparent in selected areas and arranged along a deep tunnel. Through skylights, screens, shutters, and colored blinds, sunlight then transformed each image, subtly or dramatically. Thus the audience’s gaze was manipulated not only through the inclusion of multiple images, but also through the transformation of the images themselves. Like the Panoptique’s slides, the Dioramas presented familiar scenes and landscapes: the Holyrood Chapel, Mon St. Godard, and the Harbour of Brest, among others.

This hyperrealism of highly recognizable natural and manmade features, and implicating the audience in those scenes through compulsory participation, bestows upon the images a sense of the fantastic. The “normal” – the train plying its way through the land, the cabs and horses circling each other in front of state houses, the men and women milling about the large fora of major cities – becomes abnormal, a thing to be wondered at and interacted with on a new plane. Yet the interaction is stunted; there is an artificial but impenetrable distance between the viewer and the object, one that does not exist in real life. This distance, this insistence at holding the viewer at arm’s length while the world changes, is the true source of the Diorama and the Panoptique’s power. They are so profound because they render the touchable untouchable and the real unreal, and all of it highly ephemeral (the Diorama performance lasted at most fifteen minutes, and the Panoptique’s slides may be changed at will). The Panoptique makes this sensation mobile and places ownership of the experience literally into the hands of the viewer. But this shrinkage and consequential responsibility comes with an increased sense of fantasy and dissociation. The viewer may hold the world in his or her pocket, may turn on or off the lights, but despite their best efforts will never reach the place they see. The key elements, that is, the fixedness of scope and scene and the temporality of the images, dictate the extent of the interaction, and ultimately set the viewer at enough of a remove that his or her activity is inevitably futile. This futility generates fantasy, the sense that if the world cannot be totally embraced and understood, that it cannot be real. The Panoptique in this way moves beyond a simple mechanism of entertainment; it reveals to the viewer their incapability and allows them to wonder at it.


Monday, June 4, 2018

Tradition By Hand: A Book of Russian Folk Art

Denshin, Alexei. Vyatskaya glinyanaya igrushka v risunkakh: raskraska risunkov ruchnaya, yachnymi kraskami, tochno skopirovannymi s podlinnikov. Moscow, 1917.

Folk art, and artistic style itself, bends over time to the weight of cultural change, its authenticity eroding until a new style rises up to take its place. It takes deep traditional roots and regional resilience for a method to withstand such pressures; such is the case with Russian Dymkovo toys. The small figurines were first explicitly mentioned in 1811, but were noted as key parts of a celebration to commemorate a battle some four hundred years prior. Made from clay and river sand and whitewashed with chalk diluted in milk, the toys take on grotesque, almost amoebic shapes. The limbs of men and women extend only vaguely out from their ill-defined torsos, and the legs of cows, deer, and rams are often only half-realized curves protruding from their bodies. All are decorated in geometric patterns in bright colors – a duck may be covered in green dots, a ram’s horns may be a brilliant orange, a woman’s skirt checked in blue and yellow. To this is sometimes added gold leaf, giving the rustic figures a strange richness. They depict not only real creatures, but also fanciful ones, such as horses with two heads or winged beasts.

The 1811 mention of the Dymkovo toys occurs in the writing of Major General Khitrovo, who had been sent into exile to the region of Vytaka. There, at the village of Khlynov, he learned of the legend of the Khlynovo massacre, an event unconfirmed but seared into the collective memory of the town. Each year the villagers gathered to commemorate the bloodshed, and here Khitrovo noted that brightly colored and gilded clay dolls were sold to honor the widows left after the battle. The gathering, called Svistoplyaska, functioned not only as a remembrance of the past, but also as a festival to celebrate spring fertility. The festival required participants to whistle in the new season with pennywhistles, and this ritual was performed by women. Women also were the only ones who created the Dymkovo toys, thus asserting themselves as the heralds of springtime and the bearers of renewal and continuity in the land and among the people.

As time passed, the toys became more sophisticated. Ladies might bear parasols or wear bonnets, men might sport top hats and cloaks, after the fashions of city-dwellers. Toys might display multiple figures – a woman riding a horse, or a couple holding hands – and separate toys might be arranged into tableaux. However, by the beginning of the twentieth century, mass-manufactured porcelain and plaster figurines were threatening the traditional handmade crafts. The Svistoplyaska festival still existed, although now known as the Svistunya, but had been reduced to a children’s party. However, in the Soviet era, the old ways were revived; in 1939, masters of the Dymkovo craft were commissioned to create a panneau for that year’s agricultural exhibition. Now, students may travel to the Vytaka (or Kirov) region, where the Kirov Artist Union closely monitors the use of traditional methods to create the toys. Though the field is still small, it trudges onward in the hands of eager young artists who learn the old ways from village women.

The revival of the tradition of the Dymkovo toys relied not just on the few old women who exhibited their handiwork at the agricultural exhibition; it also owes its success in part to Alexei Denshin (1893-1948), a Moscow artist fascinated with the craft. Denshin published a series of monographs on the toys, and in his later career taught at the Vytaka Art College. His interest in the tradition began early on, as exemplified in this 1917 volume of hand-colored drawings that reproduced original figurines. In them, Denshin well-represents the abstractness of the toys, and his colors glint off the pages as they would off the originals. The volume has a stated limitation of three hundred copies, but the amount of work required to produce it – the drawings are hand-done and glued to each page, the introductory text has been lithographed in sepia from Denshin’s own calligraphy, the book itself is carefully stab-bound with string – suggests that the actual number published is not so high. It retains its original board slipcase, which had hand-done ornamentation in red and black. The volume itself is a work of art, a book of careful construction and whimsical artistic style, but its significance lies in its testament as a man’s consideration of a woman’s art, its recognition of the resiliency of cultural custom, and its celebration of the rural arts that speak to the soul of the Russian countryside.


Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Finding Something Never Lost: A "Ghost" Edition of Ovid

Typically, references to “ghost” editions indicate the absence of a physical book. The volume appears in letters, auction catalogs, library checklists, or the footnotes of other works, but its tangible existence still eludes the bibliographer. This edition, however, is the reverse; we have the book in hand, with a clear colophon and a shred of provenance, and yet it has left no trace in the abstract bibliographic record. I undertook research on the volume, in the hopes of illuminating some as-yet feature that would contextualize it more solidly, but the “ghost” edition is, in fact, a ghost. What I accomplished instead was some strenuous exercise of my bibliographic toolkit for early modern books, a comforting return to my academic roots in Classical literature, and a few more drops of information on the volume itself.

The book contains two of Ovid’s later works, the Heroides and Ibis, each with accompanying commentary. Alongside the Heroides, as usual for such renderings of the period, appear Angelo Sabino’s letters, in which he posed as Ovid’s poetic friend Sabinus. The volume is consistently formatted as a folio in sixes, except for the final gathering of four. The pagination is sloppy, both in structure and typography. Of 94 folios, only the first forty-two are foliated, and of those, the foliation statement is: 1-22, 24 [23], 23 [24], 25-36, [37], 38, [39-40], 41, 43 [42]. The printer prefers “Y” to “V”, and sticks with an uppercase set until page thirty-one, at which point he starts to mix upper and lower cases. New chapters in both the main text and in the surrounding commentary begin with wood-block initials, except for the start of Ibis, which is missing its decorated “T”. The running headers are entirely in uppercase until near the end of Hermione’s letter to Orestes, at which point they follow normal capitalization rules for proper nouns. The text is in an anonymous sort of Roman type, with the title in Gothic.

Overall, the book appears to represent the work of a somewhat adept printer, who had little taste for frills and less for consistency. The colophon attributes the edition to “Caligulam Bacielerium Civem Bononiensem”, or Caligola Bazalieri of Bologna, thanks to VIAF authority records. Bazalieri was active form 1490 to 1512, and thus this volume, printed in 1501, marks the midpoint of his career. Bazalieri’s brother, Bazaliero Bazalieri, was also a printer, and the two adopted similar styles. We have suggested that Caligola Bazalieri’s version of the Heroides mirrors an earlier edition printed by his brother, but since Caligola was also an author and translator, the attribution is murky. Seventeen of Bazalieri’s supposed forty-two editions are known only through bibliographies, making the possession of one at all, and especially one unrecorded, particularly rare. Bazalieri’s significance to the history of the book comes not from the Classical or religious literature that comprises most of his body of work, but from his printing of Buovo di Antonia, a medieval romance originating in the British Isles. Bazalieri’s 1497 edition of the text is believed to be the source of the edition printed a short time later by Elye Bokher, which was the first non-religious book to be printed in Yiddish (Rosenzweig, 29).

The book’s other foothold is in its provenance. A penciled library inscription attributes the volume to the library of the Durazzo family, particularly the avid collector Giacomo Filippo Durazzo III, and indicates that it was bound by Carlo Zehe. These two statements make sense together; Zehe was Durazzo’s legatore di fiducia, or trusted personal bookbinder, and his name is scattered throughout Alberto Petrucciani’s catalog of Durazzo’s collection of incunabula (Petrucciani 1984, 301). Durazzo amassed a vast collection of books and other natural and cultural curiosities, which he eventually housed in a private villa called “Cornigliano” and displayed as a sort of museum. In keeping with the fashion of the time, Durazzo at one point asked for all his incunabula to be washed of marginalia (Jensen, 153). Thus, while the 1501 imprint on this particular volume has probably kept it just barely out of a catalog, it also saved the black and brown hand-written annotations that fall on many of its pages. Though the book is bound in a style not uncommon to Zehe – quarter red morocco with red morocco tips and light red paper over boards and gilt work to the spine – there are no clear marks of provenance. There are some shelf marks on the endpapers, but otherwise the volume is anonymous and attributing it to the Durazzo library is largely speculation. The book remains a tangible ghost.


Jensen, Kristian. Revolution and the Antiquarian Book: Reshaping the Past, 1780-1815. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2011.

Petrucciani, Alberto. "Bibliofili e Librai nel Settecento: La Formazione della Biblioteca Durazzo (1776-1783)." Atti della Societa Ligure di Storia Patria 24 (98) Fasc. 1. Genoa, 1984.

-----. "Gli Incunaboli della Biblioteca Durazzo." Atti della Societa Ligure di Storia Patria 28 (102) Fasc. 2. Genoa, 1988.

Rosenzweig, Claudia. Buovo d'Antona by Elye Bokher. A Yiddish Romance: A Critical Edition with Commentary. BRILL, 2015.

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

The Great Omar and the Modern Renaissance of Jeweled Bookbinding

Last week, Anne Bromer gave a thorough and informative lecture before the Ticknor Society on the twentieth-century resurgence of the art of jeweled bookbinding and the twisted saga of The Great Omar. Below is an abridged version of the talk, so that those who were absent can appreciate the story and those who attended can further explore its details.

The Sangorski-bound Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam, otherwise known at The Great Omar, is the greatest, and possibly only, book to be bound thrice in the same sumptuous manner over an eighty-year period. The first iteration, the true Great Omar, was crafted by the co-founder of Sangorski and Sutcliffe, Francis Sangorski, at the commission of John Stonehouse, the manager of the antiquarian bookseller Sotheran’s, to celebrate the coronation of George V in 1911. It featured 1,051 gems arranged to highlight the upper cover’s three peacocks, the lower cover’s model Persian oud, and the serpent of Eden, skull, and poppy on its interior covers. After a series of setback preventing the book’s direct sale and its shipment to the United States, it finally began its voyage on the ill-fated Titanic. The Great Omar, in its oak casket, was buried on the ocean floor. The second Great Omar met an equally tragic fate. Remade by Stanley Bray according to Sangorski’s original drawings, this instantiation was ruined by the German Blitz of London in 1941, its metal and leather melting the heat from the bombs. In 1989, Bray, at the age of 82, completed the third Great Omar, using the stones that remained from the second. Though this third binding cannot compare in precision or brilliance to its predecessors, it nevertheless marks the mastery of its original designer, the dedication of its reproducer, and the incomparable and consistent artistry of the Sangorski and Sutcliffe firm.

The Lindau Gospels, now held at the Morgan Library

As much as The Great Omar was itself a masterwork, it was also a revival piece. At the founding of Sangorski and Sutcliffe and the inspiration for The Great Omar, jeweled bookbinding had been out of fashion, and thus long out of the artistic realm of bookbinding, for about three hundred years. The style had been popular throughout the medieval period as a symbol of wealth and status. Jewels also adorned the bindings of religious texts, like the Lindau Gospels, as a way of foreshadowing the riches of God’s kingdom and hailing His blessings on earth. Many of these bindings were destroying during the iconoclasm of the Protestant Reformation and the dissolution of the monasteries. This eschewal of the connection between luxury and religion, compounded with the shift in taste from jewels to velvet, embroidery, pearls, and silk bindings, the art of jeweled bookbinding fell by the wayside.

Whereas medieval jeweled bindings frequently used large gems in simple geometric layouts, Sangorski and Sutcliffe’s designs relied on their deliberate integration of the stones into an intricate motif. Their rival, the firm of Robert Rivière and Son, challenged Sangorski and Sutcliffe in this modern style subtle thematics. Rivière and Son’s master calligrapher and miniaturist was Alberto Sangorski, Francis Sangorski’s brother. Two of Alberto Sangorski’s pieces, Keat’s La Belle Dame Sans Merci (21406) and Poe’s Annabel Lee and Other Poems (21734), dazzle the eye with carefully set gemstones surrounding and embellishing the authors’ initials. Their interiors are no less splendid, featuring calligraphy, miniatures, and illustrations all completed by Sangorski’s hand. They, like The Great Omar, are incredible bindings on incredible books.

The art of jeweled bookbinding continues today, albeit in small pockets of the bookbinding world. Shepherd’s Bookbindery recently recreated the first Sangorski and Sutcliffe jeweled binding, a copy printed on vellum of Epithalamion & Amoretti. Other examples pop up in miniatures, which are perhaps less costly but certainly more intimate and needful of surer hands than “full-size” volumes. An excellent example is Derek Hood’s binding on the miniature Shall I Die? Shall I Fly? written by Shakespeare and published by Anne and David Bromer. Following the tradition begun by Sangorski and Sutcliffe, it artfully incorporates twenty garnets into a larger motif of cubist question marks, complementing the indecision of the text. The art of jeweled bookbinding, far from lost, is primed for a second revival.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Androgynous Overlays Celebrate (or Undermine) the Politics of Saxony

Clockwise from top left: Traditional Saxon garb, traveling outfit, woman's thick cape, Lutheran priest's outfit, gardener's hat and gloves, woman's hood, apron, and fan, and (center) the Holy Roman Emperor

In the mid-seventeenth century, Europe saw a boom in popularity of mica overlays for miniature portraits. The items functioned in similar fashion to paper dolls. A base image, often painted in oil and usually fixed in some sort of metal support, was furnished with a set of outfits painted on transparent surfaces. These were referred to as “talcs” because they were formed out of sheer sheets of the eponymous mineral or its kin, mica. The overlays primarily provided entertainment, but they could also subtly celebrate rulers, offer religious influence, and perpetuate new fashions.

This set of overlays comes packaged in a false coin, in this case a 1628 thaler from Saxony. Throughout the Holy Roman Empire, the thaler was the standard against which various states’ currencies were valued. They held to the same general layout across state lines: both sides bear text about their edges, embracing distinctive state imagery. Here, one side states “SA. ROM. PARCHIM. ET . ELECT. 16. 78” around the heraldic shield of the Electorate of Saxony under the Holy Roman Empire. The heraldry belongs in particular to John George I (or Johann Georg I), the Elector of Saxony from 1611-1656. John George I himself appears on the opposite side of the coin, distinguishable by his cropped hair and goatee, surrounded by “IOHAN. GEORG. D. G. DUX SAX. IUL CLIV. ET MONT.”

Both interiors are painted. On one side are two figures, a woman in a blue dress and broad-brimmed hat and a man in an orange tunic. On the other side is the base figure, a woman in a dress of mid-century style, with a tight bodice, wide hips and sleeves, and an off-the-shoulder collar. The woman may be dressed in one of seven outfits, in both men’s and women’s guises. One overlay places the woman in the styling of the Holy Roman Emperor, with laurel wreath, scepter, and fur cape. It is possible that this overlay specifically represents the Holy Roman Emperor Ferdinand III, who reigned from 1637 to 1657, but the defining facial hair was also characteristic of his successors Ferdinand IV and Leopold I. Another overlay depicts the garb of a Lutheran cleric, complete with a white amice, likely a point of national pride since the Protestant Reformation began within the borders of Saxony at Wittenberg. Other overlays dress the woman in a luxurious fur cape, a hood and apron, and the dress of a gardener, with thick gloves and flowers. The androgynous wardrobe reflects the rising vogue of the same practice in courtly circles. Court masques were beginning to feature women performing male characters (the “travesty role”), and fashionable women’s riding garb featured masculine cuts. The overlays stretch this androgyny to include monarchs and religious leadership, an amusing, but potentially subversive, move. There is plenty to explore in these overlays, and they are perhaps more politically dense than their physical fragility suggests.


Thursday, April 19, 2018

A Sample of the British Revival of Stained Glass

Church Windows: A Series of Designs, Original or Selected from Ancient Examples
By Sebastian Evans. Birmingham, England, Chance Brothers Co., 1862.

The great period of English stained glass manufacturing occurred approximately from 1100 until 1500, at which point Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries and general displeasure with the Catholic Church, along with the rising iconoclasm of Puritans, obliterated the industry. For the next three hundred years, the few “stained glass” windows that were produced consisted simply of plain painted glass. However, around 1811 Britain experienced a revival of the ancient method, leading to an enormous boom of commercial stained glass in the 1830s. Inspired by the surviving medieval windows at locations like the Canterbury Cathedral and York Minster, both private artists and designers for mass production used new technologies and techniques to remaster the art’s precision and romance.

Church Windows is a sample book from the height of this era and was published by one of the leading glass manufacturers of the time, Chance Brothers Company. Chance Brothers was particularly known for its technological advances, which included Fresnel lenses and rotating optics for lighthouses, the development of rolled-plate glass, and the successful production of very long pieces of window glass. The latter of these contributions won the firm a contract to glaze the Crystal Palace during its construction for the Great Exhibition of 1851.

This sample book offers a unique perspective on the company’s stylistic endeavors, led by Sebastian Evans. Evans was a man of many talents. From 1855 to 1857, he acted as the secretary of the Indian Reform Association, and was the first man in England to receive news of the Indian Rebellion of 1857. From there, he became the manager for the art department at Chance Brothers. After ten years and many windows, he became editor of the Birmingham Daily Gazette. In 1870 he pursued a legal career, and after being called to the bar in 1873, split his time between his practice and the articles and stories he contributed to The Observer and Macmillan’s and Longman’s magazines.

Evans mingled with the literati of the mid- to late-Victorian period, and became a close friend of Edward Burne-Jones. His window designs evoke the same senses of nostalgia and fantasy as Burne-Jones’s illustrations. The flowers, vines, and crosses that adorn his windows and his affinity for ornate patterns evoke the medieval and classical luxury and mythology of other Victorian artists like William Morris and Dante Rossetti. Each design is colored with a sample palette, and in his introduction to the book Evans welcomes “modifications” of both form and color “to suit particular cases.” The first twenty designs are devoted to small patterns—quarries and borders—which, in the final handful of plates, are contextualized in complete windows reproduced in small scale. In this manner, Church Windows pleasingly and skillfully guides its reader through the creation of a full window, from its smallest details to its overall design.


Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Children Take on Bauhaus

Das Buch vom Zirkus, by Hans-Friedrich Geist. Halle, 1930.

One of the greatest influences of the Bauhaus artists extended not from their own designs, but through the ambitions of their students. Among these, Hans-Friedrich Geist was particularly ardent, devoting his life to teaching art to children and encouraging their intrinsic creativity. He was especially entranced with the works of Paul Klee and Josef Albers, and sat as a guest student in their masterclasses. A teacher from the age of twenty-one, he taught in Altenburg, Meuselwitz, Halle, and Lübeck. He quickly established himself as one of the most prominent and progressive art educators in the Weimar Republic, eventually becoming the artistic director of the Overbeck Society. His contributions were acknowledged in a 2006 exhibition hosted by Meisterhaus Schlemmer in Dessau, Germany (appropriately in a very Bauhaus building), which displayed works Geist’s students created during his tenures in Meuselwitz and Halle.

Our recent acquisition of a publication of children’s illustrations hails from this era of Geist’s career. Das Buch vom Zirkus features twenty-eight full-page original linocuts created by Geist’s twelve- to fourteen-year-old students at the art academy in Halle. Each illustration presents a scene from the circus, including a lion circling its trainer, clowns playacting for the audience, and trapeze artists swinging from the ceiling.

The circus was a popular theme among the Bauhaus artists. Laszlo Moholy-Nagy particularly espoused the motif as an extension of the theater, as a means of intertwining contrasting relationships, such as the tragicomic or the trivial-monumental, to critique societal needs and “[eliminate] the subjective.” Xanti Sandinsky’s pantomimes exemplified Moholy-Nagy’s perception of the circus, pitting tamers against beasts and setting singing and dancing women against colorful backdrops. While Das Buch vom Zirkus is not nearly so refined in its approach, it is a stunning example of Bauhaus early education and the importance of production and publication to the movement.

Reference: Moholy-Nagy, Laszlo. “Theater, Circus, Variety” in Theater of the Bauhaus. Translated by Arthur S. Wensinger. 1924.