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. 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 Washinton 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.  

(From the Dubansky Collection of Blooks)

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

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!

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Care and Feeding of Books, 1947

The last post featured a first-aid kit for an automobile. Here is a first-aid kit of another kind,  one for books. The Care and Feeding of Books is one of many commercial book repair kits made over the years. I'm sure you wouldn't have any trouble finding a similar new kit today. This type of kit will send chills up the spine of any book conservator because we never would want to see any of these materials in contact with books, but still it has historic interest. If you ever need a book repaired, you should call a conservator. Maybe later I will show you pictures of the (often maddening and occasionally rather amusing) destructive home book repairs that I have spent hours correcting and sometimes collect for teaching purposes. 

This octavo blook is of particular interest becasue of its bookish aesthetic and use of real bookbinding materials. Unlike other kits I have seen that are in paper boxes printed to look like books, this one could really fool you. It is a gold-tooled, quarter-sheepskin binding with plain-weave bookcloth sides. There is no maker's name on the box. Perhaps the Leather Vita company whose name is on some of the contents may have produced it -- or it could have been the brainchild of a bookbinder. The box certainly must have been manufactured in a hand bindery of some kind.

This copy of The Care and Feeding of Books is full of its original contents. They are shown below, with the exception of the book repair instruction book. The box includes a Leather Vita book entitled The Care & Feeding of Books (1944), Leather Vita leather softener, Carter’s Rytoff ink remover, a Dixon pink eraser, Dennison Transparent Mending Tape, Sanford’s Liquid Glue, a yellow sponge, a piece of white flannel, a piece of dark red flannel, and a clear plastic letter opener (probably for slitting never-opened pages).

Book Repair Kit
The Care and Feeding of Books
American, c. 1944
21.5 x 16.5 x 5.3 cm (8.5 x 6.5 x 2.1 in)
(Dubansky Collection)

I was able to find an advertisement for an earlier repair kit in another binding variant, a fine leather binding. The ad copy indicates that the kit was specifically designed to stand between real books on a book shelf. Here it is in Popular Science, March 1942, Volume 40, Number 3,  page 71:

Monday, June 30, 2014

A Blook Club Feature: Long Life by Exide. The First First-Aid Kit for the Automobile

This is the first post of a Blook Club Feature. If you go to the Blook Club Page of this blog you will see a list of the people who have generously contributed to my collection. You too can be a member of the Club by donating blooks, published references, and scholarly input. I would also welcome your assistance in building the collection through financial contributions, should you be so generous to want to help. Each donated blook will recieve a Blook Club Feature Post. (I also hope to do this retrospecively in order to thank everyone who has contributed to date).

Here is an example of a very interesting object that was given to me by Tom Bodkin. I don't know the circumstances in which he found it but I'm very happy that he did. Upon acquisition, I conducted a bit of research and discovered its surprising historical significance. It is the first first-aid kit produced specifically for the automobile! It's had a hard life and is a little beat up, but fortunately all of its contents and design elements still exist. 

Photograph by Richard Minsky

Photograph by Richard Minsky

The Exide First Aid Case. Long Life by Exide; with a quote by Charles Dickens
Exide Battery Corp.
English, c. 1937
Tin, cloth, gold foil, miscellaneous first aid materials
20.8 x 13.3 x 4.7 cm (8.2 x 5.2 x 1.9 in)

This copy is very water damaged, but one can still see that the binding is covered in brown pebble and morocco grain bookcloths, and it is stamped in gold on the spine with Long Life by Exide. On the front cover there is a Dickens quote: Grief never mended no broken bones and as good people’s wery scarce, make the most on ’em (from Sketches by Boz, 1836).

Here is the text from the original press release describing it. Reference: The World’s Carriers and Carrying Trades’ Review. Vol. XXXIV-No. 397; October 15, 1937. November 4, 1937, p. 110:

“Exide” First Aid Kits.

The Exide Press Luncheon held at the Clarendon Restaurant on October 14th, was chosen by the Exide Company as the occasion on which to introduce a scheme to meet a motoring necessity which has long been neglected or overlooked.

With road casualty figures increasing annually—it is surprising that the percentage of cars carrying first aid kit could probably be put as low as one in a hundred. Hasty work on a roadside adjustment generally results in skinned knuckles or a cut hand which need immediate attention if dangerous conditions are to be averted, and for these reasons alone the kits are sure of an enthusiastic welcome by motorists.
We were impressed by the ingenious adaption of the famous Exide slogan, “Long Life,” printed on the spine of a “book” which opens and reveals the contents neatly and compactly arranged inside.

Distribution of the kits will be directed through the Exide organisation of 600 Service Agents, and it is hoped eventually to reach every motorist by means of the Company’s association with the retail motor trade.

Each kit contains one bottle of iodine, one bottle of smelling salts, one bottle of burn lotion, one bottle of sal volatile, one phial of aspirins, one pair of scissors, one roll of adhesive plaster, one packet of gauze, three rolls of bandage (1 in., 2 ins. and 3 ins.), one packet of cotton wool, one packet of surgeon’s lint, twelve safety pins in a box, one tin of pure white Vaseline, one pair of tweezers; and a scheme is in operation which enables the Company to sell the kits at 3/6 each.

Exide aim at a “first-aid kit for every car,” and they are to be congratulated on their initiative in being the first concern intimately associated with the motoring industry to sponsor a plan which meets an urgent need.

An aside: I can't believe we have to put up with those unattractive plastic first-aid cases, why can't we have bookish first aid kits these days? It will probably show up soon as another Project Page. If you make one, please send a picture.