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


Thursday, December 25, 2014

Merry Christmas Blook-Style

I almost let Christmas pass, but the spirit (as far as blooks go) entered and I'd thought I'd take a moment to show you some of the classic Christmas blooks. First Noma lights. This is one of a number of brightly colored Noma Christmas lights in book-style boxes. Noma was an American company best known for making Christmas lights. It was once the largest manufacturer of holiday lighting in the world, but since 1967 has existed only as a licensed trademark. 

Who doesn't remember or still know the wonder of Life Savers Sweet Story Books? This ad represents the very first Sweet Story box, marketed over a number of years, before the design changed and was modernized. This box from around 1947, is designed in the style of a silver fine binding with strap-work. Later boxes were more graphic and less historically-inspired. What is so amazing is that the Story Books are still being made today by a number of candy manufactures. They are much less bookish than the original faux fine binding.  

There are many, many Christmas cards in book form, mostly made in the 1940s and 1950s. I have at least thirty of them and they are very imaginative, and often use book puns in their messages.
And of course, there are ornaments. Often, they are made as teacher's gifts or just for booklovers in general. There are book string lights too and animated Christmas props. This is just the tip of the Christmas blook iceberg. I can't say that I've seen any Chanukah blooks, but I do have a plush stuffed Torah. 

Warm regards to everyone and a very happy New Year! 

Friday, December 12, 2014

Bible Book Blocks

Educational Device. Book of Books. Sixty-six books of the Bible, wood block set, missing book-shaped slip-case.

I wonder if any of you have seen book Bible block sets before. After collecting book objects for many years, I'm just starting to see Bible blocks emerge as a genre of book object. To date, I've seen approximately five variations. The sets I have seen are both handmade and manufactured (and patented). All are wood, some with printed paper covers and are stored in wood boxes that double for bookshelves. They are part of the tradition of teaching children to memorize the sixty-six books of the Bible. I don't know why it is important to memorize the books, especially if the book themselves are at hand, but I can see that it is a traditional tool  for Christian education. Faux books of the Bible are still ingrained in our culture. For example, I saw a website that shows Bible book covers that can  be attached to cereal boxes and used in Bible book memorization games. 

The Block Book Library seen below is a commercial set from the collection of the Museum of Play (Strong Museum) in Rochester, New York.

Evidence of an ongoing tradition of Bible blocks, repurposing cereal boxes.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

When Books Birth Blooks: Forever Amber

In the post on how patents are useful in understanding book objects we saw how patent research can deepen our understanding of book objects. This post illustrates how magazine advertisements can do the same. Forever Amber is a 972-page romance novel set in 17th century England; written by Kathleen Winsor and published in 1944.  The book was made into an extremely popular film in 1947 by 20th Century Fox, starring the beautiful Linda Darnell (pictured on the dust jacket) and the dashing Cornell Wilde.

Above: Forever Amber in the second version of it dust jacket, in which Linda Darnell's portrait replaced another (see below).
This is stye original dust jacket design from which Forever Amber perfume was  copied. 

Forever Amber is the story of orphaned Amber St. Clare, who works her way upwards through the ranks of English society by sleeping and marrying successively richer and more important men, all the while harboring a love for a man she could never have. While there was much praise for the book at the time of publication, it was also banned in fourteen states for its blatant sexual references. Despite the banning, Forever Amber was the best-selling novel of the 1940s, selling over 100,000 copies in the first week of release and 3 million overall. The popularity of Forever Amber spun off this Forever Amber perfume in two binding variants.

Above: Forever Amber perfume, 'gift edition in fabulous gold plate.' 
Kay Daumit, 1947.

Both the gold gift edition and the Lucite gift book box can be see in the Woodward & Lothrop advertisement below. If it weren't for this ad, I may never have known that these perfume book boxes were made or who made them, nor would I know any other of the manufacturer's specifications such as their size, names, or outer packaging.
Above: Advertisement for Forever Amber perfume in two 'binding' variants. From Woodward & Lothrop, 1947.

There is more research to be done on Forever Amber, but I thought you might enjoy reading about it in process. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Happy Halloween!

We had our monthly book conservation open house today and decided to make it a Halloween party and drag some of my Halloween book props. Here are only a few.
This is a tableau we made with another book prop to correspond to a Museum painting. It and the painting will be on the In Circulation Facebook site tomorrow:
Happy Blookoween!

Monday, October 20, 2014

An Alarming Hybrid. An Exploding Publishers' Binding

Exploding book. Kelco Loud Book: A Great Warning to You on Preparedness. Wake Up. An Alarming Report. Designed and sold by John J. Reinhold, Marietta, Pa. American. c. 1912.
Stamped cloth publisher's binding, binders waste, metal trap
14.7 x 9.2 x 1.5 cm

Unlike later gag exploding or shooting books which were made from altered books, those seen from the first decade of the 20th century are custom-made, probably by commercial bookbinders. This book has a wonderful publisher’s binding of cream plain-weave cloth, stamped in red and blue. The book lists two US patents (1041095; 1166053) which are for the shooting mechanism.
If you are a blog follower, you might remember this example of an 1930s exploding book in this post I showed awhile back.

In that post I alluded to an earlier group of exploding books from the beginnng of the 20th century. I've found two recently, both by Kelco. I'm very excited about this one for several reasons: First it is a link between the bindery trade and the gag books trade. It is a publisher's binding, custom designed for this object. It is a glorious binding in great condition. It is not an altered book; but has a text block made up of pages from binder's waste. The last great thing about it is that the patented exploding mechanism (aka mousetrap) is different from any I have previously seen. For the record, it's also the second exploding book I have seen that makes a pun of the word 'report', the other being one I saw an ad for, titled Teddy's Report. While rare today, these books were once published by the thousands in numerous design variations and titles.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Guest Post: Bookish Bookends from Bob and Donna Seecof

I'd like to thank Eve Kahn for her intrepid scouting of blooks. Ever since I met this ebullient N. Y. Times columnist, she has faithfully kept me in the loop on bookish matters and has scouted out numerous blooks online, at fairs and in the press. Most recently she introduced me to Bob and Donna Seecof, authors of a fascinating blog and definitive book on the history of bookends Eve's column (Sept. 19, NY Times) and a link to the Seecofs' Bookend blog are below:

Bob Seecof has put together this post on a selection of blookish bookends for your enjoyment:

We have no Blooks, but we have some bookends that incorporate books, and we will call them Blookends here.  These are not as exciting as Blooks, perhaps, but they are infectious to Blookend collectors. so beware:

1.  Nude on Book. These would be blooks if the nude were concealed within the book, but she is proudly perched on the Blookend because she is a nineteen twenties girl, newly liberated by the feminist movement of her day.

2. Elephant and Books. It is not possible to conceal an elephant in a book, but these are metal replicas of very small books from the Little Leather Library which was sold in the nineteen twenties and  elephants weight the Blookends.

3. Cherub and Butterfly. There is a book in the cherubs left hand.  The red book behind the cherub is meant to support books on a shelf.

4.  Devoted Monk. Monks are a favorite subject for Arts and Crafts style bookends.  This monk reads a book, probably the Bible.  He must be of a mendicant order because he has no shoes.

5.  Mission Padre. These Biookends commemorate the California Spanish Missions that were founded by members of the Dominican and Franciscan orders in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.  The book below each padre is open to facing pages showing California woodlands and a California mission.

6.  Scopes Monkey. In 1925 John Thomas Scopes was convicted of teaching evolution to High School students in a trial given national publicity.  This forlorn chimpanzee is reading a book inscribed Essays in Evolution.

7.  Darwin’s Ancestor. This ape sits on three books, labeled from top to bottom:  History, New Testament, and Old Testament.  His book is inscribed Origin of Species by Ch. Darwin.

8.  Hiawatha. Arts and Crafts-style bookends sometimes displayed titles or passages from classic books.  Here we have passages from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s epic poem-Hiawatha with accompanying pine boughs and pine cones.  

9.  Gerdago Girl. This  lady is dressed for reading deco literature.

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Halloween is Coming So Stock Up on Book Props

I can't resist a Halloween post even though it's early. But, blook lovers will have to get going if you are thinking of making a haunted library this Halloween. You might have seen an earlier post on how to make an animated bookshelf. Click here if you want to see it again. The impetus for today's post came from a late night blook repair binge. I had ordered a talking, spinning skull with flashing eyes on a stack of books and it came broken! Well, today it's up and about so all's well with the world. My collection includes a number of Halloween and other props. Book props commemorate  all of the larger holidays, but it is my subjective opinion that those made for Halloween are the best, or most engaging, and possibly the largest category (only to be outdone by Christmas in scale). 

Spirit Halloween is an online store, but they also have pop-up stores during the season and the carry a nice array of animated blook props. They have three at this time, all represented below. 

Here is the Spider Spell Book, an animated prop that sounds like the Psycho shower scene:

Here is a new prop for this year, a ghost writing open book with two feather pens. It's terrifying and magical:

And the last is the animated Dark Magic Spell Book. So save up your pennies and start collecting:

A lot of people make their own book props.  You can see any number of them by performing an online search. If you make some, send pictures! 

Please make your book props from scratch and don't alter real books. If you choose to do so, be very careful what you select to destroy ---- or it might come back from beyond and destroy youooooo! LOVE YOUR BOOKS and have a Happy Halloween. I'm sure you'll be hearing from me again with another Halloween post.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

New to the Collection: A Box With Arabic Writing.

This week I had a visit from an old friend, artist book publisher, Gunnar Kaldewey. I haven't seen Gunnar for about a year, as he is now living abroad. To my surprise he arrived with this beautiful wood book box which he purchased in a Paris antiques market. He told me that he thought it dated from the early 20th century. His colleague told him that the lettering said "Images." The box is inlaid with various tpes of wood and metal. Other than that, we don't know anything about it at this time and more resarch is required to have a better understanding of it's purpose and origin. Be sure to comment if it has meaning for you. If you'd like to know about Gunnar's work, you might want to see this book.


Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Miniature Mysteries of R. Vernon Cook, or, How I Began Collecting Magic Blooks

I came late to the category of magic, simply because I didn't know it existed. After I finished the draft of my collection catalog and could see the scope of my collection, I asked myself if I had overlooked any particular genres of blooks and I thought about magic, among other topics. Now, I can't remember what made me think of it. I think I saw a 'hot book' or 'book test' and it got me started.  I looked around on the Internet for someone to talk to and the first person I contacted was Larry Kahlow owner of Eagle Magic and Joke Store, the oldest magic store in the country. Larry later sent me a wonderful personal story about another prop, the Dove Book, but that's for a later time. In any case, after several forays into the world of magic I began to understand bookish magic props and to put them into context.

It's rare to find a blook that is an 'association copy' or one whose owner or maker is known. If you find one, there's likely to be a story behind it. That's the case for Miniature Mysteries of R. Vernon Cook

Vernon Cook (1908-1988)

Vernon Cook was a 20th century magician born in Kansas and raised in Wyoming. He moved to Portland, Oregon, in the late 1950s where he worked in a tire factory, while his passion was magic. In the 1940s, during the height of his performing career, he was known as "the Montana Montebank".  He developed a couple of tricks that he marketed through magic dealers including the "Hot-Spot", a clever effect in which the magician's want goes into a block of wood but does not come out the other side. Surprisingly , the wand is absolutely solid. Cook was an avid collector of magic books and tricks, as well as a science-fiction enthusiast; he was a member of numerous magic societies, including the IBM (International Brotherhood of Magicians), of which he was a member for 25 years.

I don't know who made the box for Miniature Mysteries. It's possible that there was a binder or box maker who made these for magicians and may have advertised in magic periodicals. I haven't found that yet. Or, perhaps Vernon commissioned a binder specifically, which might account for the custom aspect of the box. The tricks inside are common table-top magic tricks involving trick thumbs, coin tricks, etc.

By the way, I'm looking for an amateur magician to perform book-related magic tricks at the opening of the exhibition of my collection at the Grolier Club. More details coming soon.

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.