Thursday, March 3, 2016

BLOOKS review by Claire Voon from the Hyperallergic website March 2

J. & Company, “Instructeur Magnétique Américain. Grammaire” (c. 1870–90), a French educational grammar game (all photos by the author for Hyperallergic)
Books exist as receptacles of information, but for many years people have adopted
their format and appearance to create other objects or containers for an array of items.
Such objects are referred to as “book-looks” — or “blooks,” a term coined by Mindell Dubansky,
a preservation librarian at the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s Thomas J. Watson Library
who has over the years amassed hundreds of examples. A sample of her growing collection is
now on view at the Grolier Club in the exhibition Blooks: The Art of Books that Aren’t,
filling the shelves of its second floor gallery with over 100 objects that resemble books,
illustrating our fascination with their design and architecture rather than simply the contents
of their pages. Most of the ones that can open are arranged in ways that show both their
outsides and interiors, making for a thoughtful and extensive display.
The variety of blooks — both handmade and commercially manufactured, and constructed
of all types of material — is remarkable and overwhelming, with some items dating as far
back as the late 18th century. As you may expect, many of these creations take advantage
of the format of a book to hide items of personal value in hollowed-out areas, perfect for
camouflaging on a shelf. Children’s coin banks, for instance, hide behind misleading covers
 that market the vaults as encyclopedias. On view, too, are slender cases meant to hold
recipes in the shape of a seven-volume recipe book — in which one previous owner once
hid a personal letter regarding “her unsuitable conduct and questionable behavior.”
This potential to conceal also led to a number of blooks for impish entertainment: beyond
classic board games (and even educational ones), some blooks were mass-produced as gags.
One 19th-century trick book stashes a snake that emerges open-mouthed from its wooden
lair if you tug a string. The exhibition also features an entire case of “punchline” books
that deliver jokes — at times silly, at times shocking — to viewers upon the opening of
their “pages.” One absurd title, for instance, suggests it will advise on how to save the hair
of those in fear of balding; upon opening it, however, you instead see a compartment for
literally preserving locks.
Other containers adopted the design of a book simply for aesthetic reasons, serving as
practical objects while nodding to what was perhaps their owners’ passion for reading —
or at least a desire to present the illusion of intellect. Someone once organized his or her
office supplies in a large tome, and one woman kept her 14-piece vanity set in a blook
with an elaborate 1920s-style cloth binding. Then there’s the very meta “book repair kit,”
which came complete with an eraser, mending tape, sponge, glue, and its very own book:
an instruction manual to properly proceed with mendings. On the flip side, other blooks,
from ceramic ashtrays to lighters with decorated dust jackets, focused only on the
superficial look of a book and do not open at all.
Many of these objects are admittedly slightly kitschy, but the unexpected shedding of pages
 — what makes books symbols of knowledge — to simply having the image of a book
around you is what makes blooks particularly endearing. Still, some blooks offer more
than just their unique physical presence and do hold sentimental value for their owners.
One cabinet in the exhibition features a number of wooden love tokens and small,
palm-sized memorials carved with tender texts to loved ones, all created in the shape
of books. Although unassuming and easy to glance over compared to larger, impressive
volumes, they have the same power of the tomes they emulate, serving to transport the
mind and heart in deeply meaningful ways.

Trick snake book (mid-to-late-19th c.)

Trick snake book (mid-to-late-19th c.) (click to enlarge)

A stamp holder
A hand-carved wooden cigarette case (1914-1917)
A hand-carved wooden cigarette case (1914-1917)
A framed faux box with three-dimensional open books showing decoupage images of famosu European paintings (mid-20th c.)
A framed faux box with three-dimensional open books showing decoupage images of famous European paintings (mid-20th c.)
Crowell, Collier and McMillan, "Your Future" (1950s-60s), a child's book-coin bank
Crowell, Collier and McMillan, “Your Future” (1950s-60s), a child’s book-coin bank
Hand-carved slate memorial book, inscribed with "In Memory" on the spine and "In, God. We, Trust" on the cover
Hand-carved slate memorial book, inscribed with “In Memory” on the spine and “In, God. We, Trust” on the cover
Philip V. Spinner & Company, "Smoke and Ashes [by] Flame" (1927), a smoking set
Philip V. Spinner & Company, “Smoke and Ashes [by] Flame” (1927), a smoking set
Writing or tea box with a paper theater (late 18th to mid-19th c.)
Writing or tea box with a paper theater (late 18th to mid-19th c.)
"How to Save Your Hair" (1941 edition of mid-19th c. publication)
“How to Save Your Hair” (1941 edition of mid-19th c. publication)
Reversible Collar Company, "Album Collar", a collar box for a new and improved cotton and paper collar (1870s)
Reversible Collar Company, “Album Collar”, a collar box for a new and improved cotton and paper collar (1870s)
A carved maple sugar mold in the shape of a bible, likely meant for a communal holiday meal or funeral (c. 1820s)
A carved maple sugar mold in the shape of a bible, likely meant for a communal holiday meal or funeral (c. 1820s)
Marble memorial box (19th c.)
Marble memorial box (19th c.)
"The Care and Feeding of Books" (1947), a book repair kit
“The Care and Feeding of Books” (1947), a book repair kit
Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren’t continues at the Grolier Club (47 East 60th Street, Manhattan) 
through March 12.

The last public tour of the show will be next Thursday, 1-2. 
You can purchase a catalog via this blog, 
or contact me at

THANK you Hyperalleric and Claire Voon for this 
wonderful review. Here's a link to the original:

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Blooks on CBS Sunday Morning, the good news program

The CBS Sunday Morning news segment about my exhibition Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren't is linked below for you to share or watch. Thank you for all of your letters and photos. If I haven't answered you already, I will. The outstanding response to the exhibition and the support you have given me are so much appreciated. Some of you are writing about exhibit logistics that you missed along the line. Here are some FAQs about the exhibition and catalog:

Location of exhibition: The Grolier Club, 47 East 60th St., New York, between Park and Madison Aves. Open Monday-Saturday, here's a link to their site: There is no charge to visit this exhibition.

Dates of exhibition: The last day of the show is March 12. I will give free weekly tours every Thursday from 1-2 PM. I often come in spontaneously on Saturdays (2-3 PM) for extra free tours, email or ask at the Club, I'll let them know. For additional private tours (fee may apply) contact me at

Buy the catalog: Yes, I have written, done the photography for and self-published a full-color catalog of the show. It is and may always be the only book written on the subject of blooks. I encourage you to buy it. The cost is (for US) $51 which includes postage. International buyers should contact me. You can purchase it here,  on the NEW BOOK page and at the Grolier Club through March 12. If you want to pay with a check, send $51 to Mindell Dubansky, 4-D, New York, NY 10128. Include the mailing address of the recipient please. You will see that I've also written a book about an early book cover designer, Alice C. Morse.

Donations: Many people have donated funding towards this project and even contributed wonderful blooks to my collection. You will see them acknowledged in the Donor page of this blog, in the catalog and on the exhibition labels. If you would like to help to expand the collection and support related projects, please contact me at

  • Will the show travel? There are no plans as yet to travel the collection
  • Where do I keep them? Pretty much everywhere at home
Here is the CBS segment on my exhibition, aired yesterday on CBS Sunday Morning.

When I get a chance, I'll post some of the photos you've sent and pictures of the extraordinary objects that you have donated to the collection. 

you are invited to this free public lecture about blooks on March 2 at FIT. 

Sunday, February 7, 2016

Judith Leiber's Book Purses

Judith Leiber
Many fabulous and not-so-fabulous designers have been creating book purses for a long time, at least since the 1890s. Judith Leiber's crystal book purses stand out as the most luxurious, numerous and varied. (Olympia Le- Tan is another book purse designer of note.) As far as I have been able to determine, Leiber designed two types of book purses, a single and a three-volume, strapped variants. I'm creating this post as a way of collecting images and information on the purses. It's a work in progress and I'll add them as I find them. Check back now and then. Here is an article on Leiber from the Jewish Women's Archive. 

This is a description from an auction sale of one of the bags:

Judith Leiber Crystal Books Minaudiere Evening Bag

5.5" Width x 3" Height x 2.5" Depth

Minaudieres by Judith Leiber are a rare blend of art and utility. Testament to the flawless craftsmanship and creativity of these minaudieres, they included in the permanent collections of prestigious institutions such as The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, The Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and The Houston Museum of Fine Arts. This minaudiere shaped like a stack of books is done in a plethora of colors and accented with gold hardware. The interior is done in gold metallic leather. This bag includes a coin purse, a comb, and a small dustbag.

Little Black Book is not so little.

From Saks Fifth Avenue. Sold for $4,695 (2014)

A very elegant version with faux marbled ediges

Also seen in green. This one is the most realistic of the designs seen so far.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Unplanned tour of Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren't this Saturday (2/6)

Hello blook fans, just letting know that I'll be at the Grolier Club tomorrow for an unplanned public tour from 2-3 PM. So please join me if you are in the mood!

Golier Club
47 East 60th Street
between Park and Madison Aves.

Catalogs are available at the Club and through this blog.

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren't opens at the Grolier Club (January 27)

"Wow" is the word I heard most often this week, since my show at the Grolier Club opened this past Wednesday. It's pretty much the most amazing week I've ever had, although I'm too dazed to appreciate it fully. At this moment my prominent emotions are gratitude to others for their support throughout the project and relief that everything worked out (next week I'll probably be walking around wearing sunglasses, giving autographs). By Saturday, the show had an astoundingly large review both in the New York Times by Jenny Schuessler and an equally impressive but different one in the Guardian by Rebecca Barry, and a charmingly written listing in the New Yorker. Tomorrow I'm being interviewed for CBS Sunday Morning on TV! I'm going to report more to you about it but I wanted to put something now on the blog to acknowledge how things are going for blog readers because you might be wondering why you haven't seen a post yet.

For those of you who can't make it to my show, exhibitions manager Jennifer Sheehan took photos and posted them on Flickr.

Cara Schlesinger (editor of my book) took this picture of me looking tired and shellshocked when I opened the NY Times and seeing the article and my photographs on the front and back pages of the Weekend arts section. This was shot after we were screaming and jumping up and down for awhile:

Here is Jenny Schuessler, the author of the NY Times article. We are at the Grolier Club last Wednesday. Both she and her editor came to the opening, which was so nice.

Here are the blook chocolates I made as party favors for the opening. Spent Martin Luther King's birthday and the blizzard Saturday perfecting my technique, it was hard to stop the white chocolate at the end of the text block:

The installation for the hallway was challenging because of all of the little things that had to be carefully mounted. Mark Tomasko led the effort, here assisted by Mary Schlosser. Both of them also mounted my Alice C. Morse show years ago. Talk about loyal Grolier Club volunteers!

The day my book arrived from Korea. It's doing well so far. Lots of individuals have ordered it, libraries are starting and it's for sale in several bookstores, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art bookstore and the Morgan Museum and Library store. 

Since the show opened, I've gotten so many emails and letters with pictures of blooks, like this amazing sewing box sent by textile conservator Kathleen Kieffer:

Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Book Motif Illusion

When it came to selecting a design for the cover of my new book Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren't, I immediately thought of the graphic device in which a two-dimensional image of an iconic or substantial book is used to give a piece of ephemera psychological and aesthetic clout. This motif has been frequently used since the nineteenth century for the design of menus, needle books, advertisements, invitations, greeting cards and pamphlets. You will see some of them in my exhibition at the Grolier Club this winter. 

The 2-D (usually closed) book motif has been used to represent many genres of texts and bookbinding formats. There are those that represent account books, reference books, literary works and memory books. In all cases, the iconic image of a book contributes a sense of importance, permanence and beauty. For the objects made in this form, the book motif is essential to their message and commercial success. The image of the book alone instills confidence in the buyer and inspires people to collect and save the objects. The examples below illustrate the use of this charming motif.   

This die-cut Calument Baking Powder  advertisement shown represents a half-leather binding, the binding style most of us think of when we describe a "real book." This sturdy binding style was used internationally throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by trade, edition and hand binders.

Sometimes, as seen on this Uncle Sam's Macaroni trade card, the book is represented as a portal. I've seen the book-as-portal device work both ways. Sometimes something is popping out of the book and other times, there is a portal into the book, that suggests you are entering into a special, transformative world of one kind or another.

There are many book-shaped trade cards, here are a few examples.

Trade card for Hood's Sarsparilla
Peter, Paul and Brothers Book and Stationary Store, Buffalo, NY.

From the 1920s through 1950s, the book motif was often used for the design of greeting cards on many subjects, including get well messages, birthdays, anniversaries, religious rites of passage, and more. Many include bookish messages and puns on book-talk. They often focus on the anthropomorphic nature of books, comparing our lives to books, with the pages being the days, years the chapters and so on. These can be very amusing. A Book of Conundrums card, is a faux riddle book. If you visit my exhibition, you will see an entire case of book cards.  

Occasionally, I come across the book motif used as a sales tag. This cardboard retail garment tag has an insert photograph of Shirley Temple wearing a "Shirley Temple Brand Cinderella Frock."  On the back of the tag is stamped "3628," 1930s.

I don't own all of the objects illustrated in this post, but I did just purchase the Edy's Character Study of Sweets ice cream parlor (California, and yes, the Edy's we now know for their ice cream) menu shown below. I'm sure that the College Ice soda, listed on the first page would make us smarter.

I hope to see many of you at my exhibition. I'd love to meet you. Please consider attending one of the free lunchtime tours, every Thursday from January 28 through March 10 or the panel on February 2. Please consider supporting my work on blooks by purchasing this book trhough this website. Warm regards for a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Heckman Collection of Book-shaped Spruce Gum Boxes - Update

I wanted to let readers know that in October Bruce and Lynn Heckman published an extensive, illustrated article about their collection of North American spruce gum boxes. The article, "Spruce Gum Boxes: Folk Art for Sweethearts"  appears in the Maine Antique Digest (October 27, 2016) and includes numerous color photographs of the best examples from their collection of over one-hundred nineteenth and early twentieth century book-shaped boxes.

There are two other posts about Bruce and Lynn's extensive collection of blooks on this blog:

Bruce and Lynn will be panelists during the Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren't colloquium, sponsored by the Grolier Club and Columbia University on the evening of February 2. The colloquium is open to the public but requires an RSVP to Maev Brennan at