Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Honoring Patrice Warin, Trench Art, Book Object Advisor

Patrice Warin  has been a long-time advisor to me on the subject of Trench Art book objects and I'd like to honor him in this post. Patrice is an historian of Trench Art and has written several books on the subject, including one on writing- and another on tobacco-related objects. Since there are many book-shaped tobacco-related lighters and boxes, I've always written to Patrice for his opinion and he has helped to educate me about their manufacture, authenticity and use. 

The term ‘trench art’ describes the decorative and practical objects made by soldiers, civilians and prisoners of war, during wartime. Beyond their significance as military ephemera, the objects testify to the skill and determination of humans under the extreme pressure of war and their need to create objects that reflect their feelings of spirituality, grief, love and friendship. During World War I, book-shaped smoking paraphernalia was made in great variety. The 'bullet lighter', for example, was a common book object made from dicarded shell casings and driving bands. The lighters were easily made and their compact, flat format, fit nicely in pockets. Lighters were necessary, as matches could not be used in trenches because of humidity, and having a light could be a question of life and death. The images below are example of the Trench Art book objects that Patrice has sent me over the years.

This lighter is an example of a French 'bullet' lighter: 

This is a match safe:
This looks to be a match box cover with a very nice Grolieresque binding design; but Patrice may correct me if I'm wrong:

This is a wooden box like a book made by a French soldier (FS monogram on back cover), to protect his letters or snapshots. The title is Guerre (War) 1914-1915-1916 and on the spine TOME 1 (volume 1): 

Thank you Patrice for your generous advice! You can find Patrice Warin's books on Trench Art on

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

New Lectures: "BLOOKS for the Masses: Fantasy and Invention in Book Objects" and "The Art of Books That Aren't: A Survey of Historic Book Objects"

All proceeds from these lectures will go towards the publication of an exhibition catalog for The Art of Books That Aren't. Grolier Club, January 28-March 14, 2016.  Please contact me if would like to plan a lecture for your class or group or if you are able to make a donation towards the exhibition, the catalog and its programs (

Blooks for the Masses: Fantasy and Invention in Book Objects

Blooks for the Massesis a chronological romp through the evolution of American patented book-objects, designed during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. It will feature approximately fifty patents for practical and fanciful book objects of all kinds. In addition to patent drawings, Ms. Dubansky will discuss the objects’details as they relate to book culture and illustrate real objects that were produced from, or closely resemble, those produced from the patents.

The objects in the talk date from the 1860s to the 2010s. They elucidate how book objects were integrated into popular culture and how the commercial sector has developed the book form to add interest, function and market value to every-day objects. Items in this presentation are wide-ranging and include examples of objects made for the home, office, school and beyond. Shown here is a patent for a lunch-box (1875; patent 170,441) and Noonday Exercise, an unattributed toleware lunch box of a similar style and date.


The Art of Books That Aren't: A Survey of Book Objects

If you aren't able to come to my blook exhibition at the Grolier Club exhibition next year, but wish you could, this is the lecture for you. It is a thematic romp through the history of book objects made from the eighteenth century through today. This presentation will describe a wide variety of handmade and manufactured book objects and place them in historic context through discussing their inventors, marketing history and use -- and showing many beautiful images of book objects. This lecture can be shaped to address the specific needs of a particular audience, if requested. 

Hand warmer or flask. First half of the 18th century. British. Tin-enameled earthenware. Metroplitan Museum of Art, 37.123.3

Friday, February 27, 2015

The Art of Books That Aren't: A Napoleonic Prisoner-of-War Straw-work Box

I wanted to give blog readers an update on my efforts towards preparing for my Grolier Club exhibition next year and to rally support for the exhibition and catalog. Since Christmas, I've been working hard to conserve, photograph, research and write the catalog descriptions and essays, and I've learned so much. The catalog will include over 100-125 rare and unusual never before published book objects, and will be the first book on the subject of blooks. You can read more details about what I'm planning for you and how you can help me accomplish it below. I'm so excited to bring this subject to you, it's a long-time dream fulfilled.

This straw-work box is an example of one the pieces in the catalog, a Napoleonic prisoner-of-war straw-work box. While these objects are beautiful antiques, they also represent very sad stories. Throughout the Napoleonic Wars (1799-1815) many thousands of French soldiers and sailors were held captive in English hulks and prisons. The POW experience was a brutal ordeal, as the men lived in overcrowded disabled ships and prisons, with many dying in horrible ways. This artist of this box chose to live by his wits, subsidize his existence and maintain hope

One of the things that is so unusual about this box is that where the straw is worn on the 
spine, you can see the prisoner's writing. Paintings Conservation at the Metropolitan
Museum of Art took this IR photograph to enhance the writing. Can any of you help to
translate it? 

Thanks to Evan Read of the Metropolitan Museum of Art for this infrared 

Napoleonic prisoner-of-war Sewing box. Maker unknown. 
French. C. 1800-1849.
Straw-work, wood, varnish
16.0 x 10.5 x 5.4 cm (6.3 x 4.1 x 2.1 in)

The top of this sewing box is adorned with a cartouche containing a view of an unnamed 
English prison, surrounded by plant motifs. The bottom of the box is a beautifully preserved 
geometric design, which shows the talents of the skilled maker. The interior contains several
compartments, vibrantly decorated in orange, green, ocher and brown, a pincushion, and a
mirror. While there is handwriting on the spine it is not (currently) readable.

Here's what's next:
Exhibition catalog: 
Photography: completed (more may come)
Writing: finish end-March
Editing: I will need help!
Designing: Roni Gross will design the catalog (May-Aug)
Fund-raising campaign: May (not sure what service)
Printing: September-mid-December

I'll need to raise thousands of dollars for the book and programs. If you would like to make
a donation now or can help in any way, please let me know. Here are the other things I'd like
to prepare for the exhibition. Maybe you can help: a loop showing all of the books that move
in action, exploding books, gag books, musical books, Halloween props and more. I am 
planning a symposium on the history of the book as object and a blook magic show. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Max Gunawan and the Lumio Book Light

If there is a hero of the modern blook, it's Max Gunawan, inventor of the Lumio book light and Mini Lumio+. It would be hard to imagine a more elegant blook or a more engaging man. Lumio is a rechargeable LED light with about a long-lasting battery. Its covers are wood and magnets are embedded in the covers so that the 'book' can be attached to metal surfaces. The interior 'pages' are made of Tyvek. The Lumio book light is in octavo format. I asked Max why he made it that size and he said, it just felt right. That's bookness for you. Soon, the mini-Lumio book light will be out. It's a pocket-sized version modeled on a Moleskin notebook, which is a book that Max is familiar with and has enjoyed using.  The Mini+has a removable, magnetized spine that hides a convenient phone charger. You can read all about Max and the lamps on the Hellolumio website

Max has had an interesting and inspiring journey and it's been a great success. It wasn't long ago that Max quit his job in an architect's office to follow his dream of designing and manufacturing useful, simple and beautiful objects for us all to enjoy. Since then he has had  a successful Kickstarter campaign, created TED talks, gotten financing through appearing on the TV show Shark Tank, and is selling the lamps in many Museum shops. I recently contacted Max to ask if he would consider contributing a lamp so that I could show it with it's historical precedents in my upcoming exhibition. He generously agreed and came in person to deliver and demonstrate it to the delight of the book conservation staff. If you want to read more about his journey, follow the links in this post.

Here's a few links about Max and Lumio:

Max's TED talk:

Shark Tank video:

Interview with Max:

Monday, February 9, 2015

Loving Blookish Valentines Day Thoughts

Dear Readers, 
I think that you are my Valentines this year. Love to YOU! 

Maybe these blookish Valentine's Day cards will inspire you to make Valentine cards or artist's books in time for the big day.

There are book-shaped greeting cards for many occasions, but since we are on the brink of Valentine's Day it's appropriate to show a variety of images of vintage cards that I found over the last year and encourage you to explore love and the book. 

The foredge clasp makes Love to My Teacher appear to be a diary with a strangely narrow spine. I can see having given this to my first grade teacher Miss Alice Schill, who was very loving. I don't think I ever got in trouble for talking too much in her class. She always remembered me, even through high school. It makes me think of her now. 

Next is a blook Valentine that is a Telephone Directory for the Loveland-Heart Disrict, in two binding variants. I like the straight-forwardness of it, with a twist of humility, and also the sub-district list of intense emotions. The promise of bliss is tempting. I might have left out hate, freeze, despair and jealous on a Valentine card. It's not very poetic and it might put the recipient in kind of a spot. 

Here it is in another binding variant. 

I like the cards that show people and objects hidden inside the book and peeping or tumbling out. His heart may be an open book, but it looks like she's got hers pretty heavily defended. I guess he has to captivate her and get her to come out of that book. 

All genres of books appear on Valentine's Day cards. I like the use of a secret code book in the one above. I'm all for clarity. 

A traditional southern belle featured on a set of romantic novels (I assume from the heards and lace), waiting for her beau to arrive. 

I Want You For My Valentine. Love can be tricky and it's best to go slowly, or know how to run fast. Watch out for predators, no matter how fuzzy or handsome they appear. I don't feel comfortable knowing that they hide in books! Does this mean the cat is smart but the mouse is notThis looks like a reference book, I hope the mouse can read.

Your Face is Like a Book postcard, by Fox. Hmn?

"Leaf" Me Be Your Valentine might be a stretch, I don't think it means anything, just a silly play on words. This indicates an unfocused or confused lover.

My Heart's An Open Book is a common sentiment or metaphor found on many blooks. Much more sincere than the fox or cat cards. I would like to be this kitty's Valentine.
 Booked to Be My Valentine feels very organized, a sign of a dependable or committed lover, it's in print after all. 

 The Sweetest Story Ever Told; You're My Valentine. Very sweet indeed. This title, or variants of it is common to blooks -- A Spicy Story, A Sweet Story and similar titles are on many Christmas candy boxes and spice sets.

Monday, January 12, 2015

Save the Date for a Grolier Club Exhibition "The Art of Books That Aren't"

Book padlock, German or French. Late 19th or early 20th century.
This is the only book lock I have seen in all the years of collecting, have you seen others? Fortunately it does still have its key.  
Save the date for the first exhibition of my book object collection, titled The Art of Books That Aren't: January 28 through March 12, 2016. Note that this is next year, but work has begun. I've been busy rounding out the collection, writing labels, conserving the objects and photographing them. My goal is to have a catalog and I will be writing to you later about it when it has taken shape. There will also be a special event (panel or symposium), in addition to a curator chat(s). If you are interested in planning events or workshops relating to this exhibition or in publishing an announcement of it, please let me know.

Someone made this tiny Bible box for Geneva LaToer in 1853, when she was 10 years old. The box pivots out from one corner and I'd say it was backwards, as the cross only appears on the back of the box. It's rare to find these humble folk art boxes with inscrptions. There are many book objects made for children and many specifically employed in educating them in the Bible. There will be others in the exhibition. See this earlier post.
Support has been coming in many ways even before asking, so that's reassuring. I've received several wonderful donations of objects, a little donation of funds from a friend and an offer from Roni Gross to design the catalog. My photographer friends at the Met are training me to take better photographs, Stan Pinkwas contributed the title of the exhibition, my neighbor Pamela Morin drove all of my blooks to NYC from upstate, Aaron Salik at Talas has offered to provide refreshments at a special event and young magician Francis Karagodins will work on learning how to perform the book magic props! It will definitely take a village to get the blooks exhibit and events to fruition, so THANK YOU to all of you who have supported me now, in the past and into the future. It's not a simple thing to present and legitimize this wonderful subject, but we will have fun doing it.

Note: Many others have generously contributed in so many ways. Everyone will be thanked on the Blook Club page of this blog in upcoming weeks.

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Happy New Year!: The Gift Book Annual and the Blooks They Inspired

Between 1823 and 1861, lavish gift books were produced as gifts for the New Year in England and later in America. Their popularity and success as gifts for children and adults, caused a spin-off of a group of book objects made in their emulation. These objects include photograph cases, sewing kits and trinket boxes. The faux gift books were made in as many decorative binding styles and techniques as the real books. Examples are lacquer bindings, gold-tooled leather bindings, painted paper bindings and stamped cloth bindings. In general, the names of their makers are not known, but there are some exceptions.

New Year gift books had their roots in the elegant French and German almanacs and friendship books that were characterized by their beautiful bindings, a variety of contemporary literary material and high-quality steel engravings. These relatively expensive books were marketed to middle-class families and their publishers took great care to ensure that their appearance complemented the library, parlor, and boudoir. The gift books were given sentimental titles such as Friendship’s Offering, The Gem, The Token, Forget Me not, Keepsake, and Literary Souvenir. Many innovations in bookbinding technology were developed for and tested on the literary annuals. Early volumes were bound in colored, glazed paper covers, printed with decorative motifs. Later volumes were bound in silk fabric and decorative leather bindings.
Sewing Kit
The Gem
English, c. 1840
Leather, silk moiré, book board portfolio with flaps
11.6 x 6.6 x 2.0 cm (4.6 x 2.6 x 0.8 in)
Dubansky Collection