Thursday, July 31, 2014

Guest Post: Ian Berke on Stone Books

Ian Berke collects stone books, and only stone books. I recently met Ian when he was visiting New York from his home in San Francisco. Eve Kahn, who wrote an article about both of our collections in the NY Times, brought him to the Met to meet me and from then on we've kept in touch. Eve had promised me that things happen when her articles appear and they have. Meeting Ian and other collectors has been a wonderful benefit of the publicity. Recently, Ian and I received an enquiry about stone books from a NY Times reader. Ian kindly granted permission for me to adapt his thoughtful response for this post. It provides some of his insights into the nature and history of stone book objects. The photographs are from Ian, the captions are mine:


Stone book carved in the Eastlake Style

Notes on Stone Books from Ian Berke

So few people collect (much less know about) stone books. I've been collecting them for about 15 years and have nearly 300.  I am trying to write an article for MAD (Maine Antique Digest), and am doing a statistical analysis of the books (i.e. percentage with female names vs. male names, dates, iconography, inscriptions, etc.). There are generally two types of books: tourist/souvenir books and personal books. Although I have a number of tourist books (Garden of the Gods, etc), the personal books are far more interesting. My feeling is that most were done as after hours work by stone cutters as gifts for friends and lovers.   They tend to be much more skillfully done, but there are also those that are charmingly folky. Clearly done by those with no stone cutting skills. The use of the closed book seems to me to be a reference to the Bible, which was important to 19th & early 20th century Americans in a way that is difficult to appreciate today. Many books have explicit religious iconography or inscriptions (Holy Bible, crosses, anchors, crowns, etc) but most do not.   Some are clearly memorials, and may have tintypes (or later photos) set into the cover.


A marble book made in the form of an album. Many book objects from the latter 19th century are made to emulate photograph albums.

Provenance is something that has driven me crazy. I had expected to find many with accompanying documentation saying "my grandfather carved this in 1885, etc, but in fact once the book has left the family, nearly always any record of ownership disappears. A very very few (3 out of 300) state "made by _____" but they are rare. Most books are carved from marble, siltstone, limestone, slate (rare), and other sedimentary rocks.  Marble obviously a metamorphic rock. Harder stones, such as granites and diorites are rare presumably because it was much more difficult to carve. Agate, which is quite hard (Mohs 7), is usually restricted to very small books. Alabaster and catlinite (pipestone) is also seen.   Catlinite more for tourist books from Minnesota. Italian books are immediately recognizable by the use of different highly ornamental marbles carefully fitted together.


This marble, delicately carved and gilt book features a portrait of Harry. Folk art book objects often feature photos of the giver or receiver of a gift or memorial blook. 

There are also prison books, done by inmates, most from the Iowa State Penitentiary in Anamosa. I have 3 or 4 really good ones. Stone books are getting harder to find, especially the ones with inscriptions. I am particularly interested in dated books, which show that most were made from about 1870 through 1910. My earliest is 1857 and the latest 1937, but those are real outliers.  I go on forever.

Ian Berke

And a few more of Ian's stone books photographed on a background of one inch blocks, for scale:

Heart, hand and pencil in relief; a powerful image of love

Mizpah books are memorials

A beautiful and sentimental gift book

Another version of a faux album, is it Masonic?

Joey sent a comment on the Heckman collection post that leads us to a blogpost on another stone book: http://anonymousworks.blogspot.com/2014/03/19th-century-folk-art-carved-odd.html

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Guest Post: Spruce Boxes from Bruce and Lynn Heckman

Bruce and Lynn Heckman

This past Sunday, I had the pleasure of visiting Bruce and Lynn Heckman to see their remarkable collection of over 1,000 unique, folk art book objects. This is certainly the largest collection of its kind, certainly larger than mine which is only a little over 500. I was expecting to see a substantial collection of unique objects, but I was amazed by the breath and beauty of the collection, the extended show-and-tell viewing and the enthusiastic reception that Lynn and Bruce gave me. I’m not sure I have yet digested what I have seen, but I don’t think I will ever forget the wonderful, inspiring day I had with them. I think I'll make another post later to show a few of the blooks I took photos of that particularly interested me.


One of many shelves of book-boxes in the Heckman's collection
Lynn and Bruce collect as a team and the joy they share in collecting is reflected in the picture of them holding a large book box. They collect many types of book objects, but the largest single category, from a media perspective, is that of  carved wooden boxes with various functions, made during the 18th through 20th centuries. Sewing boxes, puzzle boxes, snake boxes, love-gift boxes, solid carved books, Civil War lancet boxes, banks and safes were all represented; however, the most prominent group within the wooden boxes were the charming American and Canadian spruce gum boxes. Bruce and Lynn provided this post for us so that we can learn more about the history of the spruce gum book box:

Spruce Gum Boxes in the Form of Books
by Bruce and Lynn Heckman


Spruce gum boxes are manifestations of the same impulses that drive the creation of much Folk Art:  Love, moral fervor, whimsy, loneliness due to isolation, and an excessive availability of time. The chewing of gum has been going on for 5000 years, since Neolithic times.  Spruce gum was excreted by trees in the North Woods of Canada and the U.S. and harvested by lumbermen to put in boxes to bring home to loved ones for their chewing  enjoyment. Carving of the boxes spans the 1870's to the 1920's, though some modern examples exist. Modern boxes have a lack of patina that cries out to you after you've handled enough boxes.  We think that some boxes with patriotic were produced for the American Centennial of 1876.


Books were the models for almost all spruce gum boxes, though many were made in the form of a barrel. Bookishness is not normally associated with the lumbermen of the North Woods, but the book icon was widely adapted.  The book-shaped boxes appeal from the tactile, visual, and historical points of view.  Most fit nicely in the hand and were about five inches tall, although some are as small as two and one-half inches and as tall as thirteen inches. Carving varies from the simple to the very intricate. Paint and stains are used, as well as photographs, applied hearts, mirrors, found objects, and colored beeswax. Some boxes have the names of people and places, dates, and sentimental expressions.



Time was abundant in the North Woods and, after a day of felling trees, the nights were occupied with box carving.  The design was made, the piece of wood hollowed out from both ends, and slides were made for the top and bottom.  The decoration was carved and applied and the boxes sealed with shellac.  The heart was the most common decoration and signifies that these objects were created for loved ones at home.  Extensive chip carving was used.  Anchors, ropes, stars, crosses, tree of life, and geometric shapes were incised or applied.


We have been collecting spruce gum boxes since July 1989. Since then, our collection has grown to approximately one hundred boxes. These are part of a much larger collection of 'blooks' spanning three centuries and many countries. The spruce gum boxes appeal to us for their artistic, sentimental, and historical aspects.  We have enjoyed the collecting hunt and sharing our collection with interested collectors.


_______

Record Image
Maine State Museum Collection
If readers would like to see and learn more about spruce boxes, the Maine State Museum has very good images and descriptions of the boxes on their online website.

Click here to read an article about spruce gum from Northern Woodlands Magazine.  






Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Strangest Blooks, Relics of Amercian History

While we are on the subject of sweet-smelling blooks, I thought I'd write a short post about one of the most peculiar genres of blooks I'm aware of -- book soap. The soaps shown below are the only commercially produced book soaps I have seen, but I hope that you will correct me if I'm wrong. Both of the book soaps depicted below are from the Book Cadillac Hotel in Detroit, Michigan. The 'book' in Book Cadillac stands for the name of the three Book Brothers, who were the original developers of the hotel. I know that souvenir hotel soap collecting is a traditional pastime and I'm so happy that someone decided to save these sadly deteriorated examples for us to enjoy (or be a bit turned off by).


Bar of Ivory Soap
Book Cadillac Hotel, Detroit Michigan
American, after 1924
6.3 x 3.7 x 1.2 cm (2.5 x 1.5 x .5 in)
Dubansky Collection

Sterns’ Bay Dreams Soap (Savon Superfin) in paper wrapper
Book Cadillac Hotel, Detroit Michigan (made in Paris)
American, after 1924
 5.7 x 3.3 x 1.5 cm (2.2 x 1.3 x .6 in)
Dubansky Collection

Here is a description about the Book Cadillac Hotel from its current website:

Located at the corner of State Street and Detroit's Washington Boulevard, once dubbed the Fifth Avenue of the Midwest, the hotel first opened in 1924 as the tallest hotel in the world with 33 floors and 1,136 guestrooms. Presidents, entertainers, major sports celebrities like Lou Gehrig and Babe Ruth, and many other notables were guests of Book Cadillac.

Designed in the Italian Renaissance style by architect Louis Kamper, the ‘Book' was the top hotel in Detroit for several years hosting conventions, weddings, and many high society social events. The hotel played a role in the 1948 film State of the Union starring Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn and Angela Lansbury - it was room "2419" where Presidential hopeful, Grant Matthews (Tracy), readied for his speech to Detroit's business leaders. A nighttime image of the hotel's marquee is seen in the movie.

The hotel went in a downward tailspin when America was in its economic dilemma in the late 1920s and 1930s. New ownership pumped up the property and the Book Cadillac continued to flourish through the 1940s and early 1960s. However the grand lady of Washington Boulevard fell on hard times again and struggled through ownership changes and was re-flagged a Sheraton and later a Radisson, until the doors closed in 1984 and the hotel was liquidated in 1986...

This is making me want to send out a challenge for a blook soap-carving contest, let me know if you are inspired to make one.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Ever-Amusing Double Blook

You must have guessed by now that I'm easily amused. One category of blooks that fill me with delight are the double blooks. By that I mean a complex object that is a book-like container which encloses one or more book-shaped objects. They are normally package designs created by companies as novelty items throughout the 20th century, as in the example below.

This Book of Perfume is a premium of Weather-Bird Shoes. I imaging that it must have been marketed through novelty catalogs and could have been printed with the name and logo of any business. It is one of many book-boxes that contain perfume, although it is unusual (but not unique) in the fact that both the bottle and package are book-shaped. As a bookbinder, I find it amusing because it depicts two very different styles of binding. The glass perfume bottle is emulating a fine binding, the type of binding that would have been bound with raised cords, full-leather and gold tooling. In contrast, the modest paper package, is a classic half-leather trade binding, the type of book that people in my experience most associate with a 'real' book.  




Book of Perfume
American, c. 1930
Dubansky Collection


Saturday, July 12, 2014

Guest Post: A Proud Blook Owner, David Prowler on Saul Steinberg

As you can imagine, I was thrilled to have my blook collection written up in the NY Times yesterday. One of the pleasant outcomes has been hearing from readers about their special book objects. David Prowler sent this guest post on his one and only book object that is also a work of art by Saul Steinberg:

I’ve only got one blook but if my apartment caught fire I’d grab it. I came across it in an auction catalogue called ”Fine Modern Literature, Sale 341, September 28, 2006”.  It was a little bit after “Stein, Gertrude, Lot of six titles”, in between “Steinbeck, John Lot of 8 volumes” and “Stevenson, Robert Louis, Island Nights’ Entertainments”.  But it’s not literature or even a book.  It’s:

Steinberg, Saul

1977
Description:
Wooden mock book, designed and illustrated by artist Saul Steinberg. 8x5½" & (¾" thick), with hand-coloring (white, black and tan), carved ruling, carved imitation page edges colored white, penciled “ST. 1977” in white box on front center, oval black ink vignette drawing / emblem below. Inscribed in pencil “For Jane, Happy Birthday and love, Saul St., March 1977.”
Condition: Impressions and rubbing, other light wear, still near fine.


I’m a big fan of Saul Steinberg, even wrote on my blog about him:  http://davidprowler.wordpress.com/2010/11/11/saul-steinberg-dottore-in-architettura/.

I’ve got books (signed and unsigned) and posters (signed and unsigned). I’ve got books in English, German, French, Spanish, and Czech.  There’s one out there in Japanese I should have bought when I had the chance.  It never occurred to me that I could own a unique original Steinberg, much less a sculpture, a blook.  But because it was sold in a book context rather than an art context, there wasn’t much bidding.  And now it is in a Plexiglas frame I made, sitting on my dresser.  

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Thank you David!
I hope to hear from more of you soon.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

New York Times Article: Collecting Books That Are Just Covers


In tomorrow's New York Times, you will see an article that Eve M. Kahn wrote about my blook collection and on book-objects, in general. I've only just read it and saw that there was only room for two illustrations, so I will devote this post to showing you some of the pictures of and links for the other objects she mentions. I won't get them all in today, so check back later for the rest. Click here to read the article in full. 
These were the titles of the objects Eve mentions by name: Bitter Sweet flask, The Sandwich Islands, Noonday Exercises, The Informer alarm, Right the Wrong by E. Raser, World's Greatest Jokes, by R. U. Laffin, the Chef-an-ette and the Tea caddy/paper theater that broke the bank. Other blooks mentioned have already been illustrated in earlier posts on this blog. See if you can find Not So Dusty, by Y. B. Untidy and Crime Does Not Pay by Dusty Evsky.


Here is the late 18th-centruy tea caddy with a secret compartment for the lock and a paper theater embedded in the lid.



World's Greatest Jokes, by R. U. Laffin, is an electric shock book made by the Franco-American Novelty Co.









Noël Coward's souvenir Bitter Sweet flask, 1930, leather and gilt.Victoria & Albert Museum, no. S.2-1978. 







Noonday Exercises Lunch Box


The Informer. Heath. This link will take you to the Radio Museum site where you can see technical information and images about the Informer. The Informer always makes me chuckle because it is a hidden camera that makes itself very conspicuous, both by its title and the two large circular openings cut into the spine. It seems odd that they went to the trouble of having a real book cover made by a library binder an then cut two large holes in the spine which are very uncharacteristic for books. It would have worked better if the binding was black or the mesh was dark red.


This isn't my Chef-an-ette because I don't have a photo of it on this computer. Mine is the same model, but in black sides. I do very  much like the turquoise. You might also enjoy reading the story about on from someone for which it is a family heirloom. The Chef-an-ette came in a number of binding variants and volumes. I've seen them in 3, 5 and 7 volume variants and in three styles showing a change in taste from Art Deco to 50s modern. The Chef-an-ette was invented by Hazel Terry in 1938, but enjoyed popularity through the 1950s.  In the patent, it was titled Reference Device. It's one of my favorite blooks for so many reasons.


Friday, July 4, 2014

Introducing the Book Camera

Since it's July 4 and you will all have your smart phones out documenting everything in sight, I thought it would be a nice day to reflect on the blookish predecessors of the camera. 

Older book objects that fit into the theme of photography are ingenious, elegant, well-made and of great historical significance. They were made over a long period of time and are still being made today, but newer ones are not always so fine.  This genre of blooks includes book cameras, daguerreotype cases, security devices, book safes, lockets, view finders, photograph storage containers and more. 

Book cameras evolved from the late 1880's and throughout the 1890's, as detective or concealed novelty cameras (even earlier if you consider the camera obscura, some of which were made in book form). I don't think that they could have really fooled anyone when they were in use, as the photographer's posture must have been awkward in comparison to an actual scholar rushing to or from the library; it would be nice to see one in use. In most cases, great pains were taken by the manufacturers to create a realistic impression. This is especially true in the case of the Scovill book camera featured below. This camera is made to appear like a parcel of three nicely bound books, in full-leather bindings and gold-tooled leather title labels -- French, Latin and  Shadows. Book cameras were produced internationally in the late 19th century, by a number of manufacturers in numerous single and multi-book formats. I'll show you one of each below.  

This unusual camera is in the collection of the Swiss Camera Museum.



Book Camera with a Flash. Revolver Photogénique.
French. Dr. Ranque. 1890

To the best of my ability I will explain this camera. The Revolver Photogénique is a detective or concealed book camera that produced its own light source in order to better capture movement. By actuating a pull-tab on the side of the camera, a dose of magnesium powder  was dropped into a reservoir. The powder was then channeled to the flame of an alcohol lamp (cylinder side), controlled by a damper.

Here is an engraved image in an advertisement showing it with it's squeeze bulb and an interior view. This image is from a website that suggests that this camera was also a gun. I do have another toy book spy camera in my collection that shoots three plastic bullets, but the Revolver Photogéniqe is not an armed weapon, although it could be dangerous.

Image from Weirdest Cameras of the 1890s. 


Seen below, with an advertisement that sheds light on its context, is Scovill's Book Camera (American), introduced in 1892. From the advertisement, we see that the book camera was marketed to ladies as well as gentleman, that it was relatively light and compact, and that its book-disguise avoided the then-common adverse reaction of the public to the common box camera. Isn't it difficult to imagine a time when hand cameras were universally avoided by the public? How we have changed! If you would like to see the Scovill camera in person, there is one on display in the George Eastman House, in Rochester, New York.








Just to give you an example of a newer book camera, here are two from my collecton. A Russian children's book, made in Japan and The Secret Sam Spy Dictionary Camera that shoots three plastic bullets (I love books that have extra jobs to do). 





Happy July 4!