Tuesday, August 19, 2014

How a Patent Can Shed Light on Blooks. Case Study, "Secrets of the American Cup"

When I first get a new blook or at the time of cataloging it, I look closely for any patent information and search for an original patent document. If the object is American, it couldn't be simpler, as these can be searched and downloaded using Google Patents. Many objects may have some version of "Patent Applied For" printed on them, but I'm fairly sure that while this was a deterrent to the theft of a design, most of these objects were never patented. Having said that, I haven't done a thorough patent search for objects in this category, so I could be wrong. 

In the case of secret book flask, Secrets of the American Cup, or, The Cause of the Controversy (Vol. 1, by Richmond B. Stoehr), the patent information was subtly blind-stamped on the interior of the top opening flap. It isn't easy to read, but shows the name if the inventor (Charles A. Brackett) and the U.S. patent date (Jan. 13, 1903). There is a detailed photograph of the stamp below. 

There are all kinds of great reasons to search for patents. What's so wonderful about them, is that you always find out something interesting about the object. Some examples of this are:
  • Some objects, as purchased, are incomplete and the patent will show you how they were originally envisioned by the inventor. 
  • You can see and read about how the object is constructed and what materials were used.
  • You find out more about the inventor, such as their gender, where they were from, what company they worked for or owned, etc.
  • You find out if there were revisions to the original design and what version of the object you have.
  • Sometimes you accidentally find a patent for an object by browsing Google Patents and this tells you that something you thought was unique, is not.
  • Some objects, such as in the case of Secrets of the American Cup, are shown in the patent as a having a slightly different function.
There are a number of blooks (as well as patented bookbinding structures) in my collection that I have found patents for. This is only one example. In this case, the patent shows that the inventor chose to illustrate this box as a candy box in the patent, although he does mention that it could be used for a bottle or flask in the text. 

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Project: A Few Ideas for Ephemeral Edible Blooks

Recently, I've highlighted important blook collections featuring rare antiques. To return temporarily to everyday objects, I thought it was time for short edible book post (because it's a big subject). I'm not an expert; however, I have made book-shaped potato salad, Jello molds, cakes and chocolates in commercially available book molds. I recently bought antique ice cream and maple sugar Bible molds, but I haven't tried them out. I hope that you will comment on this post about edible blooks you have made.

To start, here's a link to a recipe for the freeform Buttery Books puff pastry sandwiches featured below. They look like old vellum bindings (yet delicious with their ham and cheese pages).  

While freeform edible books can be extremely charming and creative, some of you might prefer some structure. There are book molds for this purpose, some old and some new. There are molds on the market for book cookies, ice cream, cake, candy -- pretty much for anything you can think of. Some are open books, others are closed. These leave a lot of room for variety of design. Here is one of the copper cookie cutters I've seen.

You probably have seen the many open book cake pans made by Wilton and other companies. Vintage ones can easily be acquired but they are also still being made in various sizes. It's a good idea to save the packaging if you are collecting:

If you are looking for ideas for book cakes or cookies, I'd suggest that you conduct a web image search for 'book cake'. You will see hundreds of them and they are awe inspiring. Have you heard of Edible Book Day? It occurs every year on April 1 around the world. Here is one cake from a festival that ocurred in Texas:

One of my favorite book molds is the maple sugar mold. These are wooden molds in six parts. They make a full book about 4-5 inches tall. I've seen two, both Bibles. I think that this one is in the Royal Ontario Museum, but need to locate the citation for you. Notice how beautifully carved and book-like it is with its nicely proportioned border and center motif. The one I have is similarly designed, but it has a curved spine and foredge and a dentelle border, a bit more rustic than this one.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

A Glimpse of Gags

The last few posts have been devoted to serious collections of folk art. In contrast, my collection is an encyclopedic gathering of the full scope of book-like objects, from the most humble to the antique or rare. This post was written in response to a recent dialogue on the Book Arts Listserve on the subject of gag books. Gag books have been around as long as books themselves, at least since the 15th century. The objects I am showing in this post are American and date from the late 1930s-60s. These novelties were very popular among boys in the armed forces and in fact, they were marketed to them specifically. Having said that, the gags were ubiquitous throughout the period. They were geared towards children and adults and sold through novelty catalogs and comics, in toy stores and in in souvenir shops.

The gag books were made by a small group of small companies founded by immigrant entrepreneurs. "Fun's Henry Ford" was Sam Adams, born in Denmark and reared in New Jersey. You can read all about him in this Popular Science article from 1955, as well as see a picture of a worker making the famous exploding books. (By the way, check out page 169 for instructions on how to have a coat hanger party, so crazy.)  In addition to the exploding books, Adams was responsible for the hand buzzer and Cachoo Sneezing Powder. Adams' exploding books are altered books, with a tiny mouse trap fitted inside a cut-out in the text block. The trap could be loaded with common caps. When the book was loaded, it could be shown to an unsuspecting friend, who would open it and jump three feet in the air. Those I have seen have risqué illustrations and titles applied over the original covers, to temp the reader. Although Adams popularized exploding books in the late 1930s, similar novelty exploding books were made as early at 1909. I recently acquired one and may show it later.

This is Eve's Surprise, from my collection.
The made-up title on this exploding book is Influence of Nudism on Our Infant Industries (Illustrated). Another is Eve's Surprise.
Here is Eve's Surprise open, so you can see the explosive device with the cap inside.
Sam Adams also made trick snake books. Trick snake books were extremely popular as handmade toys in the late 19th century and enjoyed a Renaissance in the 1950s. Sam Adams' version was titled What I Know About Women and it was made in a number of binding variants and probably copied by other companies due to its popularity. The structure of the Adams snake book is one of many. In this case, it is a book and slipcase. The spring snake was scrunched into a vertical slot in the faux book and held down by a cartonnage cap. It was then slid into the slipcase. When the reader partially removed the book from the slipcase, the snake popped out, and very far indeed. What a surprise!

I believe this is probably an Adams snake book, but it isn't signed or dated. The books came in different sizes, colors and decorative papers. 

Below is another snake book from my collectin. Its title is Souvenir of Atlantic City and is quite small, only a few inches tall. The snake-popping mechanism is different from the one above.

The electric shock book was a similar type of gag, but instead of exploding, it gave the reader a mild electric shock when it was opened. The Shock Books were made with numerous titles. The subtitle on the box shown below indicates there was "a title for every occasion." The one I have is titled World's Greatest Jokes by U. R. Laffin. World's Greatest Jokes was manufactured by the Franco-American Novelty Co. of New York City. It is quite a rustic object. Let's put it this way, the spine is duct tape. Still it is a very amusing object.

This isn't my copy, as I don't have the box, which is wonderful and very informative as it indicates the exploding book was issued in numerous titles for different purposes.

The exploding book requires a AA battery. Here you can see how the cover is wired to the electrical mechanism with lots of metal to conduct the charge. That's probably why the books are bound in foil paper. I've tried it, it's not unpleasant, but it is surprising.
The last category I'd like to show is what is known as the punchline book, because it is a visual joke. The most prolific manufacturer of these was H. Fishlove and Co. of New York City. They certainly were geared towards men and are in pretty bad taste, so you have to look at them with an open mind in order to appreciate their humor. They would definitely be considered to be politically incorrect in today's world. Like the exploding books, they were made from altered books with new cover labels, cut-out text blocks and inserted punchline scenes. The word that comes to mind when I look at them is raunchy, but I love them just the same for their brazen bookishness.

The paper labels on the punchline books were applied over many books of  the same general size, so each is different, although it's an edition.
All of the punchline books have 3-D and even pop-up objects inside, with printed cartoon-like backgrounds.
So, that 's a taste of mid-century gag blooks, I hope you enjoyed the post!

Monday, August 4, 2014

More Treasures from the Heckman Collection

In the post about my visit to Bruce and Lynn Heckman, I promised I'd create another post to show you a mix of the incredible objects that I enjoyed seeing and was able to get snapshots of. I could have gone on forever but we were going through the collection at break-neck speed and taking pictures was a distraction from looking. I did get a few though, and will share these with you here. I'll probably break them up into more than one post, so keep a lookout for more! 

Bruce tells us that this is either an adult word game or a learning device for children.  GR stands for George Rex, King of England. It is from the late 18th, or early 19th century.

An exuberantly decorated carved case for a sprint-loadel phlegm (lancet). American Civil War era:

My personal favorite, a blook pincushion. The cushion has a 'bird' to attach it to a table and a post to hold thread for lacemaking:

A toleware pencil box, dated 1874 (American). The case shows wear, but Bruce says it's the only one he has seen, as yet:

Bruce wrote to tell me that he is working on a post on his trick snake books. 
You are in for a treat...

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.  

Ian Berke recently sent this picture of three source gum boxes he recently saw at the
Maine State Museum.

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.