Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Book Motif Illusion

When it came to selecting a design for the cover of my new book Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren't, I immediately thought of the graphic device in which a two-dimensional image of an iconic or substantial book is used to give a piece of ephemera psychological and aesthetic clout. This motif has been frequently used since the nineteenth century for the design of menus, needle books, advertisements, invitations, greeting cards and pamphlets. You will see some of them in my exhibition at the Grolier Club this winter. 

The 2-D (usually closed) book motif has been used to represent many genres of texts and bookbinding formats. There are those that represent account books, reference books, literary works and memory books. In all cases, the iconic image of a book contributes a sense of importance, permanence and beauty. For the objects made in this form, the book motif is essential to their message and commercial success. The image of the book alone instills confidence in the buyer and inspires people to collect and save the objects. The examples below illustrate the use of this charming motif.   

This die-cut Calument Baking Powder  advertisement shown represents a half-leather binding, the binding style most of us think of when we describe a "real book." This sturdy binding style was used internationally throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by trade, edition and hand binders.



Sometimes, as seen on this Uncle Sam's Macaroni trade card, the book is represented as a portal. I've seen the book-as-portal device work both ways. Sometimes something is popping out of the book and other times, there is a portal into the book, that suggests you are entering into a special, transformative world of one kind or another.


There are many book-shaped trade cards, here are a few examples.

Trade card for Hood's Sarsparilla
Peter, Paul and Brothers Book and Stationary Store, Buffalo, NY.

From the 1920s through 1950s, the book motif was often used for the design of greeting cards on many subjects, including get well messages, birthdays, anniversaries, religious rites of passage, and more. Many include bookish messages and puns on book-talk. They often focus on the anthropomorphic nature of books, comparing our lives to books, with the pages being the days, years the chapters and so on. These can be very amusing. A Book of Conundrums card, is a faux riddle book. If you visit my exhibition, you will see an entire case of book cards.  


Occasionally, I come across the book motif used as a sales tag. This cardboard retail garment tag has an insert photograph of Shirley Temple wearing a "Shirley Temple Brand Cinderella Frock."  On the back of the tag is stamped "3628," 1930s.


I don't own all of the objects illustrated in this post, but I did just purchase the Edy's Character Study of Sweets ice cream parlor (California, and yes, the Edy's we now know for their ice cream) menu shown below. I'm sure that the College Ice soda, listed on the first page would make us smarter.



I hope to see many of you at my exhibition. I'd love to meet you. Please consider attending one of the free lunchtime tours, every Thursday from January 28 through March 10 or the panel on February 2. Please consider supporting my work on blooks by purchasing this book trhough this website. Warm regards for a Happy New Year!





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