Thursday, August 28, 2014

Guest Post: 19th Century Trick Snake Boxes, from Bruce Heckman

Bruce Heckman sends us another post about the Heckman collection of book objects. In this post he focuses in on an amusing collection of folk art trick snake boxes. Bruce hasn't told us, but I'm assuming that they are American-made in the late 19th century and in many cases made as gifts. As you can see in the photos, the boxes were made in endless styles but their purpose is the same, to delight, surprise and shock the unsuspecting 'reader':

Snake boxes are whimsical and diabolically ironic. The coiled snake boxes described in Mindy's post are created to have exploding coiled snakes. They are sight gags. This post shows a collection of carved wood book-shaped boxes that, when the foredge slide is shifted, a painted wooden snake equipped with a sharpened steel nail rears its ugly head. 

Here is a photo of a group of snake boxes in Bruce's collection:

The snake operates by a string assembly, to emerge and strike on the finger, the one who naively opens the box.  Grooves or applied hearts are situated along the slide to assure the nail's effectiveness.  Make sure you have an up-to-date tetanus shot! 

This snake book has a spine title: Vol. IIX. Ruth Love Hid Out of Site
Diabolical irony is expressed when a box has a heart on it or conveys deep affection on its outside but a painful experience when activated.

The whimsical aspect is clear in the funny shapes and polka dot painting of the wooden reptiles.


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Some Blooks I Made With Helen Hiebert

In 2006, Helen Hiebert invited me to Haystack to attend her class on making paper lamps. It was such fun and Helen is an amazing educator, as everyone knows who has ever read any of her books. Today she sent me a link to her website where she published a photo of some of the blooks I made in her class. By the way, they are Reference Blook lamps and lanterns, if you can't tell. I had forgotten about this photo and thought maybe you'd like to see them. Here is a link to her site: Since then I've made many book objects and hopefully always will.
 My friend Mindy Dubansky made these "books" in my class at Haystack in 2006. I brought along an assistant who knew how to solder and weld, which was a great addition to the class.

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...