Sunday, October 16, 2016

Come Meet Me at the Boston Book Fair

Hello Blook-lovers! I hope to see some of you at this Ticknor Society event in Boston. I'll be happy to sign your books, but I won't be carrying many. If you would like one, please order through this website. If you want to give them as holiday gifts I'm offering a 40% discount for 5 or more copies. Email me at See you soon!

Collectors Roundtable: Librarians Who Collect
Saturday, October 29, 2016, 3PM
International Book Fair, Hynes Convention Center
(Come and visit us at booth 625!)

The Ticknor Society's Collectors Roundtable at the International Book Fair this year will be hosted by Beth Carroll-Horrocks at 3PM, and will feature speakers who are librarians, or who work in libraries, and who have interesting collections outside of their institutional holdings.
Mindell Dubansky (The Metropolitan Museum of Art) will talk about her collection of blooks (objects that look like books but aren't books).
Christian Dupont (Boston College) and Silvia Dupont (Newton North High School) collect Italian grammar books from the mid-18th to mid-19th century that were published for French speakers who wanted to learn the language and literature of Italy.
Joshua Lupkin (Harvard University) will describe a collection he stewarded at his previous job (at Tulane University), using an endowment for buying books about cats and dogs, and how he continues to build interest in the collection through social media.

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Blooks Exhibition On NOW at Bard College

Public Exhibition
Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren't
Charles P. Stevenson Library. Bard College.
Annandale-on-Hudson, New York
August 23-October 30, 2016
(second floor exhibition closes on October 14)

From January 27 through March 12, 2016 at the Grolier Club in New York City, I curated the first exhibition of my collection of blooks, which included over 200 book-shaped objects representing over 250 years of their development from many countries. As a part-time resident of Tivoli, New York, I am aware of the important and active role that Bard College has in its community and am pleased to participate in its artistic and scholarly dialogue by presenting a segment of the original Grolier Club exhibition at the Stevenson Library.  I hope that some of you will get the chance to visit the exhibition before it closes next month. Below is a list of objects on view. Most are illustrated in my book.

First Floor

Case 1 (facing cases, from right to left):
Maple sugar mold. Bible. American or -Canadian, c. 1820s.

Marble (memorial) book.  American, 19th c.
Sewing box. Bibel. German, 19th c.
Gift box with hand mirror. Curly Locks. American, late 19th-early 20th c.
Ladies’ dresser set. Milady’s Fancy. Vol. XVII. Enesco. American, 1920s.
Negative box. Tylar's Unique Negative Storer. English, mid–late 19th c.
Biscuit tin. Book. Huntley & Palmers. English, 1920.
Pencil box. American, late 19th c.
Case 2: Baking pan from T. H. Nelligan Bakery, Troy, NY. [American], c. 1947. 
Yarn box. Knitting Volumes. American, mid-20th c.
Toy. Secret Sam’s Spy Dictionary. Topper Toys. American, 1966.
Freemasonry symbolic sculpture. Holy Bible. American, 20th c.
Case 3:
Exploding book. The Bare Facts of Nudism. Adams Co. American, c. 1945.
Punch line book. A Collection of Shapely Pin-Ups.  American, mid-19th c.
Trick snake book. American, mid-late 19th c.
Shock book. World’s Greatest Jokes. Franco-American Novelty Co., New York. American, mid-20th c.
Clutch bag. Chelsea Husbands. A.Hindmarch, London. English, c. 1990s.
Bath products. Secrets by Dermay. Dermay Perfumes, Inc., New York. American, c. 1920-1930s.
Reading light. Magic Booklite. Eagle Electric Manufacturing Co., Inc., New York. American, c. 1949.
Alarm clock. Lava Time. Lava Simplex. Chicago, Illinois. American, 1976.
Recipe file. Chef-an-ette. Terry’s Origin-ettes. Chicago, Illinois. American, c. 1957.
Child’s lunch box. Book Bento. Sanwa Seiko Co., Ltd. Japan, c. 1960s.

Second Floor

Case 1 (facing cases, from left to right):
Lunch box with flask. Noonday Exercise. American, c. 1875 and U.S. Patent 170,441. 1875.

Case 2:
Educational device. The Book of Books. Endeavor Printing Co., Anniston, Alabama. American, c. 1918 and U.S. Patent 1,262,269. 1918.

Case 3:
Candy box. Life Savers: A Sweet Story.  American, 1941–1948 and advertisement from Life Magazine. American, 1940s.
Crosley book radio. New Crosley Transistor Book Radio. Fantasy. Avco. Cincinnati, Ohio. American, c. 1954 and advertisement (Lekmayer’s).
Trade catalog. Jellinek.  Paris. French. Early 20th c.

Case 4:
Souvenir box. Dictionary. Made by C. H. Haines. Canadian, 1885.
Office supply set. Dennison Manufacturing Co. Framingham, Massachusetts. American, c. 1940–1942.
Table lighter. The Book of Smoking Knowledge. Ross Electronics Corp., Chicago, Illinois. American, made in Japan, c. 1960s.
Trench Art lighter, World War I. Marie. French, c. 1914–1918.
Betel box, Mrs. Crosby. Indian or English, c. 1912–1918.
Coal carving. James Fagen. American, Lackawanna County, Pennsylvania, 1897.
Slate paperweight. L. K. E., 1871-1909. American, early 20th century.
Frida (Kahlo) icon. Mexican, c. 2010.
Salt box. Cook Book Salt. Barton Salt Co., Hutchinson, Kansas. American, c. 1940s.
Bookie Blox, Vol. 1. Bookie Blox Co. American, 1922.

If you can't make it to the exhibition, you can still order my book on this website.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Guest Post: Lynn Festa on Blooks and the Nature of Books

Program designed by Jenny Davis
On February 2, 2016 the Grolier Club and Columbia University's Rare Book and Manuscript Library partnered to present a colloquium in connection with my exhibition Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren't. The colloquium was filmed and can be seen in its entirety by clicking on this link:
Speakers included (in this order) Mindell Dubansky (Preservation Librarian, Metropolitan Museum of Art), Lynn Festa (Associate Professor of English, Rutgers University), and Bruce and Lynn Heckman (collectors). Karla Nielsen of Columbia University, was moderator.  This post includes the full content of Lynn Festa's inspiring talk on the relationship between books and blooks. I found it so interesting, I thought you would like to reading it and I thank Lynn for offering it to the About Blooks blog:

I want to talk today both about “blooks” themselves, and about what “book-look objects” have to tell us about the nature of the book: its properties as a material thing as well as word-based text. What do “blooks” borrow from the book, on the one hand, and what do they tell us about the nature of the book, on the other? Why choose to fashion an object— whether a spruce-gum box, a sewing kit, a lunch box, or a lighter— in the form of a book in the first place?  Although objects shaped like other things are not all that uncommon—chocolates and candles and soaps come in all sorts of guises— the blook seems special.

In part, blooks are special because books are not like other things: they are both physical object and text, conjoining the material and the immaterial, the shared world of language and the private world of thought, sense, experience.  Books are strange objects in that they recede into invisibility when we read; the "blook" by contrast insists upon the physical properties of the book in a way that makes its materiality an object of contemplation. “Blooks” remind us of the power incarnated in the book’s— the codex’s— very form, underscoring the ritual or social purposes that books possess apart from being read. The coffee-table book broadcasts a message about the status or refinement of its possessor without being cracked; the book given as a high school prize declares an honor without necessarily being devoured by its teen-aged recipient.

Blooks also remind us of the more casual ways we employ books as material objects rather than reading matter— as doorstops or paperweights, as coasters or barriers to an unwanted conversation on the subway. That many blooks are closed books— offering the shape and mass of a wordless object— reminds us that what we treasure in books is not always the allegedly superior value incarnated in the text. We also love books as things. The “blook” on these terms offers a revelation about bibliophilia, about the love we bear towards this particular copy of a book, as opposed to the story we love, and about the passion and perversion of book collecting.  Even as the Freudian fetishist’s interest in the shoe lies in something other than its purpose as a protection for feet, so too does the collector of books (as well as, perhaps, the collector of blooks) treasure something that goes beyond the so-called “proper” use of the book as a delivery system for language.  Perhaps— countermanding the chiding of countless generations of parents— what matters is not what’s inside, after all? The blook as a representation of the book— with its lavish or cheap bindings, its ornate lettering or unadorned typeface—remind us of the forms of value not associated with specifically literary merit that also inhere in the book. And why should we denigrate these other values? The large number of book-objects that are bibles, for example, reminds us of the role played by the Bible not just as scripture, but also as a perdurable object that consolidates relationships or communities through its presence as a material object— not despite but precisely because of its obdurate materiality. Blooks— or at least some blooks— capitalize on this.

Holy Bible in stone. American, 19th c.

And I say some blooks, because blooks, like books, have genres, moving from the reverent sobriety of a stone-book Bible  to the low comedic value of the mass-produced electric-shock gag gift.
Exploding book, "World's Greatest Jokes by R. U. Laffin." American, Franco-American Novelty Co., New York, mid-20th c.  

Blooks thus alternately consecrate the book— reaffirm its sanctity— and jest with it— cut its high seriousness down to size. In the next few minutes, I want to offer readings of three kinds of “blooks”— three possible ways of thinking about what they tell us about our relation to books that might be roughly classed as the sentimental or affective, as utilitarian, and as playful.  (This is by no means exhaustive, and for every statement I make there will be a counterexample.)

First: the sentimental or affective. “Blooks" toy with a kind of literalization of the inward nature of the book and of our reading practices. On these terms, we might read the book-object as a kind of allegory of reading.  The hollowed-out book shape, for example, literalizes the ways we think of reading as an activity involving depths and insides: we dive into novels, we delve into texts, we talk about what’s in a book.
"Smoke and Ashes by Flame" smoking set. American, mid-20th c.

A book repurposed as a secret hiding place for keepsakes has much to tell us about the forms of interiority and selfhood we associate with the book. Books, like blooks, offer passage to a hidden inside.  Although not all blooks open, the pleasure of opening and finding things within— and here I cannot help but think of the popularity of “unboxing videos” on youtube as a strange extension of this pleasure— is part of what the blook promises. The discovery that something is harbored within the blook thus echoes elements of the experience of reading.

Blooks also capitalize on the way books, as embodied language, exteriorize and make inner feeling at least partially available to other minds.  The book-shaped love tokens and sentimental or memorial objects such as the spruce-gum boxes carved by lumbermen in the North Woods or the stone books carved with the name of the recipient all are exterior signs of inward emotion.  
An American spruce gum box, 19th c.

As personal memento, keepsake, memorial, souvenir, or gift, these objects are vessels for sentimental value. I want to focus on the anthracite book that commemorates the death of the miner James Fagen at the age of 22.
Coal memorial book from Pennsylvania, 1897.

This blook marks the premature ending of a life with too few chapters. The fact that it can’t be opened to be read— that it is a closed book in every sense— and the “muteness” of the stone book— the “inert thingness” of the memorial— make this blook the nonverbal expression of something— the grief of loss— that cannot, perhaps, be brought to the level of language. Words cannot express everything.  The stone book that marks this foreshortened life borrows from the permanence or solidity of stone to suggest the enduring love towards the lost loved one and the promise of eternal life, also invoked by the book’s inevitable reference to the bible. The emotion that suffuses these objects makes the blook, like the book, a tool for preserving and revivifying emotions about absent objects. Both blooks and books give substance and form to the ephemerality of subjective feeling, experience, thought. (One thing that does not come through from looking at the blooks in the exhibition is the immense pleasure of holding them: the smoothness of the wood, the texture of the grain the heft of the stone, the satisfying fit, snug in the hand.  These are tactile as well as visual objects; they are meant to be held.)

If the sentimental or affective “blooks” serve as objects of meditation or contemplation, what should we make of their more utilitarian counterparts? What connections can be made between the contents of certain blooks and the book form? The logic behind housing writing materials, alphabet blocks, and a book repair kit (charmingly titled “The Care and Feeding of Books”)
"Care and Feeding of Books" book repair kit. American, mid-20th c.

in a book-shaped container is fairly evident, to be sure, and the fact that blooks are often vessels for new or emerging technologies— photographs, viewfinders, microscopes, cameras, and tape recorders—suggests the ways the book-form acts as a mediator to buffer technological change (as in “pages” and “folders” on our computers).
Crosley Book Radio. American, 1950s.

Some blooks— the game boards disguised as books, for example— are perhaps trying to borrow from the relative prestige of the book to give idle pastimes greater respectability.
Add caption
"Milton's Poems" card set. American, mid 20th c.

But other objects are not so easily explained. One might, I guess, say that the incendiary content of literature and the flammability of paper explains the book-shaped trench-art lighter (and certainly the useful object crafted out of shell-casings and bullets produces a reminder for the soldier of the civilized world of books, so distant from the violence of war), but what about the sewing kit?  Why put a sewing kit like the 1840s “the Gem” in a book form?

"The Gem" small sewing kit. English, 1840s.

Although part of the reason is decorative (a pretty, fashionable case, easy to transport), another reason is perhaps to hide or camouflage the object. A sewing kit in a book form allows work materials to be left out on a table, and thus ready-to-hand for the kinds of minor repairs for which it is intended, even as the book form disguises the invisible ubiquity of female labor that underwrites domestic life. Perhaps the practical contents of these blooks also serve as a reminder that “book smarts” need to be complemented with practical know-how: the speculative “how-to” knowledge that reading a book about tailoring might convey is replaced by the sewing-kit that enables one to mend a shirt.

Although the sewing kit blook disguises its contents, many blooks do, punningly, proclaim what they ostensibly hide.  The flask is nestled in a blook labeled the Secrets of the American Cup,
"Secrets of the American Cup" flask. American, 20th c.

while the clothing brush is housed in Not So Dusty by Y.B. Untidy.  Here the blook form has recourse to language— to words— to suture the relation between the book form and the blooks’ contents. 
"Not So Dusty by Y. B. Untidy" clothes brush. American or English, 20th c.

That so many blooks have punning titles is, I think, a reflection of the fact that there is something oddly literalizing about the blook. It arrests us on the material form of the book in much the same way that the pun returns language to its most material form, as sound.  The pun plays with the sonic similitude of words, much as the blook plays with the material likeness of the book.
The importance of puns indicates that all is not high seriousness in the world of blooks, and I want to close with a few words about the sheer entertainment value and even silliness of some blooks. The gag books in the exhibition— the folk-art trick snake boxes from which a snake rises to strike the unwary Pandora,
Snake trick. American, 19th c.

the exploding books and the electric shock books— all entail a curious materialization of reading: the serpent serves as a reminder that dangerous things lie in books, while the shocks inflicted in opening a risqué cover literalize the notion that we are reading something “very shocking” (offering a playfully punitive response to the prurient desires that led one to open the book in the first place). These blooks sport with the pleasure of being surprised or perhaps, rather, with the pleasure of surprising someone else (the vague sadism of many practical jokes). But they also play with the delight at illusionistic trickery associated with trompe l’oeil, with the outward mimicry of a form that turns out to be something else. Wherein lies the pleasure of being lured into seeing a book in an object that is not a book? I think the pleasure— and the profit—elicited by this fleeting mistake lies in the toggle between one thing and another that alerts us to the enduring relation we take to books. For in not being a book, the book-look object offers us a glimpse of the many things that we ask books to be.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

The Curious Genre of Maple Sugar Bible Molds

Before the availability of refrigeration which made maple syrup a viable commodity, maple products were produced in solid forms such as maple sugar. Maple sugar was often processed in decorative wooden molds as sale or gift items. Sugar molds were made during the 19th century throughout New England and Canada. I have found a curious group of bible molds which produced small sugar bibles that would fit in your hand. I have seen these in three different designs and assembly styles. Two are in my collection and one is at the Royal Ontario Museum. I don't really have an understanding yet of the context of the maple sugar bibles, but they could have been served at religious communal meals and holidays, or perhaps they were gifts or rewards for children.

Mold 1: This mold was purchased from a dealer in Maine. It probably dates from the late 19th century. It is missing it's foredge piece. In the shipping box there was an additional spine piece, indicating that there were at least two book molds. This is a six-piece mold held together with four wood pegs. Only two are shown. Its bookish features include a curved spine with three raised bands, squares, and a cross design typical of a bookbinding. The mold is fully described in my book Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren't. To understand more about the history and production of maple sugar, I refer you to the essay Maple History, from the website of the Massachusetts Maple Producers Association. Here is a segment:
From the journals of early New England explorers we have learned that there were three types of maple sugar made by the Northeastern American Indians: "Grain Sugar" a coarse granulated sugar similar to that we know as "brown sugar"; "Cake Sugar," sugar poured into wooden molds to become hard cakes or blocks; and "Wax Sugar," which was made by boiling syrup extra thick and pouring it over snow. This wax sugar is what we know today as "sugar on snow."
In the early days maple sap was boiled down and made into maple sugar, instead of the more common maple syrup that we see today. There was no easy way to store syrup as a liquid, but hardened, dry maple sugar was easily stored for use later in the year. The Native Americans of New England used their maple sugar as gifts, for trading, to mix with grains and berries and bear fat. During the heat of summer a special treat was a drink made of maple sugar dissolved in water. The early European settlers who came to New England made maple sugar in the way which they learned from the Native Indian population. The settlers set up sugar camps in the woods where the maple trees were most plentiful, and the trees were slashed with an ax to allow the sap to drip out and be collected. As early as 1790 it was suggested that. slashing the trees was not good for their health, and that a better way was to drill a half inch hole in the tree and insert a "spill" or spile to allow the sap to run out. The early spiles were made of a softwood twig such as sumac that had a soft center. The center was pushed out leaving a hollow wooden tube that could be inserted into a hole drilled into the maple tree. The sap would then drip out through the hollow tube or "spile", and into a collection vessel such as a hollowed out log.
These early sugarmakers gathered their sap in wooden buckets as they went from tree to tree. The sap was then boiled down in a series of large iron kettles hanging over a long open fire. As the syrup got thicker in one kettle it was ladled into the next one and fresh sap was then added to the first kettle. In this way, they always had the last kettle full of nearly completed syrup or sugar. When it was finally thickened enough, the liquid sugar was stirred until it began to crystallize, then poured of into wooden molds. These blocks of maple sugar could be broken up or shaved later in the year when needed. (continued below)
Mold 2: Below is another mold from my collection. Instead of pegs, it uses two wood clamps to lock the pieces for pouring. Notice that the top piece, which represents the foredge of the bible is upside down in this photograph. This mold revealed something new to me about bible molds and their usage. 

What I thought in the sales photographs were raised bands, turned out to be the letters RIP (Rest In Peace), indicating that this mold could have been used in relation to a funeral gathering. 

Below is a detail, showing a registration mark at the right:

The registration mark, which looks like an "A" shows the sugar maker how to assemble the pieces of the mold. 

Mold 3: This elaborate and apparently well-used bible mold shown below resides in the collection of the Royal Ontario Museum, Canada. The bible design is a bit more formal than the other molds and the maker seems more skilled. The spine is flat. Notice the heavy corners. I'm not sure how it was locked, but there could be clamps missing or perhaps it was held shut with hand pressure alone. 

This sweet product of the New England forests was very important to the colonists of early Massachusetts. In addition to providing a homemade source of sugar, the maple sugar was also used for trade or was sold. Many colonists made far more maple sugar than they could use themselves, sometimes as much as a thousand pounds per family. This excess was valuable to the early settlers as it provided some income or could be traded at local stores for other food and supplies. This locally made sugar was also important to the New Englanders because it was a sugar not made by the slaves of the West Indies. Our third President, Thomas Jefferson, was so much in favor of the United States producing its own maple sugar that he even started a plantation of sugar maples at his home, Monticello.
Over the next hundred years or so, maple sugar producing went through some changes. Metal buckets replaced the wooden ones; metal tanks became available for sap storage instead of hollowed out logs or wooden barrels. For boiling, large flat pans soon replaced the three open kettles that were hung over an open fire. A contained fire could be built under the flat pan in a furnace or "arch", thus becoming more efficient because of the large surface area exposed to the fire. Other improvements included the building of shelters for boiling the sap, which became know as "sugarhouses." However, the process still involved much time and labor.
As the price of imported cane sugar declined, more New Englanders bought cane sugar instead of maple sugar. By the late 1800's a Vermont man built what he called a Maple sugar "evaporator." This especially designed flat pan had channels for the sap to flow through as it boiled. In this way fresh sap could always be added to one end of the evaporator, and finished syrup could be drawn off at the other end. Today pure maple syrup is still made in an evaporator with much the same design.
Shortly before 1890 the import tax on white cane sugar was removed, and cane sugar soon out sold maple sugar. What happened in the maple industry however, was that maple syrup became popular. Soon the New England "sugarmakers" were making maple syrup instead of maple sugar, and were selling it in cans and bottles. Now over a century later we still seek that special flavor of pure maple syrup that the original settlers of Massachusetts learned about from the Native Americans.

What I don't know about these molds could fill a book. I'd like to know their dates, who made them, where exactly they were made and how they were used. I've read that Quakers supported maple sugar before the Civil War to boycott the use of cane sugar which was produced by slaves, but I don't know if these molds were produced that early. If you have any insight into the molds of have photos of other bible molds, I'd like to hear from you. In the meantime, I'll continue the search and update the blog post if I find new information.