Monday, January 27, 2014

From manuscript to print

Have you seen this article about the book?    When looking at the page from this first printed book in Italy, we see examples from the manuscript tradition including a factotum (a letter in the blank spot at top left) that tells the illuminator or rubricator what letter to insert. In this case a C.

The blog post focuses on typography, that is typefaces, specifically those designed and created by Erhard Ratdolt (1442–1528), a Renaissance Typographer. He flourished in Venice where printing was an active and lucrative trade. The Heilbrunn Timeline of Art has an article about Ratdolt's printed work
  And you can find an example here

Careful examination of layout and design provide clues for how the page was composed and illustrations added. In Ratdolt's work, illustrations were either printed at the same type as the page using woodcuts that were colored later, or painted by hand afterward.

Ratdolt is most famous for printed work of Euclid There are not only beautiful borders framing three sides of the text, but also mathematical diagrams in the fore-edge margin, all printed at the same time.

Here's an example of his printing where the illustrations have been colored in by hand. The caption from reads "Schema zur Mondfinsternis. Holzschnitt, in drei Farben gedruckt, aus: Johannes de Sacro Bosco, Sphaericum opusculum, gedruckt von Erhard Ratdolt, Venedig 1485. Diagram, showing eclipse of the moon; woodcut, printed in three colours, from Sphaericum opusculum by Johannes de Sacro Bosco, printed by Erhard Ratdolt, Venice 1485." [To see a full size image of the page go to ]

For more information on Renaissance printers, check out "Typography & Graphic Design — Renaissance to Rococo Era" (History of Graphic Arts by Paula DiMarco, Ph.D., California State U Northridge course on typography) :

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

On overview of the history of books

Do you want to read more about the history of books? We will be reading some during the course of the semester. The main text by Chappell will provide an historical overview of texts and printing.

Martyn Lyons Books: A Living History (Los Angeles: The J.Paul Getty Museum, 2011) is an illustrated overview of the history of books from the earliest written texts (about 2000 BCE) to the present. Although he says he's covering the world, most of his examples are from the Western World. There are some examples from Asia and Arab countries which provide context for developments of movable type in Europe and for woodblock prints that prevalent in Asia. The photographs are lovely and set the book in context.

David Pearson's  Books as History: The Importance of Books Beyond Their Text (London & New Castle, DE: British Library & Oak Knoll Press, 2008, 2012) discusses how books fit in our lives and in the lives of our ancestors. Pearson takes readers beyond the text to consider why books are important.

If you are more interested in how the book changes over time, you should consult Frederick G. Kilgour   The Evolution of the Book (NY: Oxford University Press, 1998). Kilgour, of OCLC fame, describes how books evolve from the prehistoric period to the electronic book. Lacking color illustration, and indeed almost all illustration, this text focuses on the physical construction of books, their content, and markets.

To complement Chappell, you might look at S.H. Steinberg's  Five Hundred Years of Printing (London & New Castle, DE: British Library & Oak Knoll Press, 1955, 1996). Steinberg's expertise is printing, so he focuses on changes in type faces, layout, and design.

The newest book on the history of the book is a one volume work by Michael F. Suarez S.J. and H. R. Woudhuysen entitled The Book: A Global History (Oxford University Press, 2014). This work is a series of essays by scholars of the book covering every imaginable topic. Arranged chronologically and geographically, this book is perfect for the student and scholar who wants a thorough overview of scholarship of the field in the early 21st century.

There are many more books available on the history of the book from every imaginable perspective. I've selected a few from my favorites and my personal library. Let me know what your favorites are.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Project & Time Management

We are all busy. We have our own lives, jobs, school, and too many projects to let them all slide to the bottom of the pile or to the last minute. As an information profession, you will be expected to manage your time and projects. In addition to reference, cataloging, and bibliographic instruction, rare book and special collection librarians are expected to mount exhibitions of their materials. 

Exhibitions showcase special, rare, and unusual items within collections. In many cases, these exhibits market special collections and the wide range of materials, often hidden within the walls of the storage areas.  After selecting the subject of your exhibit, in the case of this course a specific author and work, you need to organize your project. Start with the date the finished project is due and work backward. For class, I've designed the project and have you delivering parts according to the schedule I've set. That's the project management aspect of the assignment. Your job is to budget your time accordingly so that the project gets finished on time and according to specifications. 

Managing a project is an important skill for all librarians and information scientists to master. In fact, it's an important skill for any job at any stage in your career. As a manager, you oversee your employees and direct reports to make certain the project has goals, objectives, and deadlines. Depending upon your management style, you may check on staff regularly to discuss problems that arise or just confirm that the project is on track. Master project management skills for yourself by setting short achievable deadlines that build upon one another. The key is time management. Set a time to do the work, remove all distractions, and complete that task. Check it off and set the next goal and deadline.  Before you know it, the project will be finished with time to spare.

Durer - the most amazing printer

There's a BBC radio program that discussesAlbrecht Dürer (1471–1528)
and his prints.  The narrative is fascinating. If only the program included images of his work.  

The Metropolitan Museum of Art has a series of pages dedicated to his life and work 

There's a house museum in Nurnberg dedicated to the artist

The prints are so fine, fluid, and realistic. It seems as though the images could just walk off the page.  My favorites are the rabbit  and the rhinoceros. 

If you want to more about Durer, check out his website 

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Examining the minutiae

Studying texts involves examining the way books look and feel, how pages are designed and laid out, the arrangement of the text, collation of pages, and many other aspects, including book plates, signatures, and provenance. Now and again, researchers stumble upon books that look authentic but aren't. These cleverly created forgeries force librarians and scholars to scratch their heads and examine very carefully all the clues embedded in the book. The same is true for works of art that are later deemed forgeries.

This week, two articles crossed my desk that deal with forgeries. The first is Galileo's Sidereus  which a professor at Georgia State University studied and determined was a forgery.    A longer article was published in the New Yorker (Dec 16, 2013) [Note, KSU provides access to the article through their catalog.] The scholars worked with Owen Gingrich, author of The Book Nobody Read: Chasing the Revolutions of Nicolaus Copernicus who studied most copies of Copernicus' work, examining marginalia. In the case of this Galileo forgery, they looked at library property marks, bibliographies, and other textual clues.

The second article is about the Oath of the Freedman. There's a short article about the forgery here:

Rare Book Crime Capers: Forgery, Theft, Murder and the Holy Grail of American Printing

These article discussion the study of type, layout, and typography to determine the forgery. 

Bibliography is all about the book. Look for clues as to their construction and pay attention to how they differ. This skill takes practice and requires attention to detail. Can you spot a reprint amongst the books you are studying?

Tuesday, January 07, 2014

Rothschild Prayerbook Set to Break Record - The Fine Books Blog

As we start to explore the world of rare and special books, it's important to read widely. There are a number of blogs that include information about rare books. Fine Books & Collections Magazine is one of those blogs. Today (January 7th, 2014), they posted this article about a Book of Hours that's to be sold at auction. 
Rothschild Prayerbook Set to Break Record - The Fine Books Blog
What's a Book of Hours you ask? It's a Christian devotional, a book for meditation and prayer that is mostly psalms  that was read by individuals throughout the day and week as the hours chimed in clock towers or prayers were chanted in monasteries and cathedrals. The finest Books of Hours were decorated with illuminated boarders and decorated capitals. We'll see examples of all of these in the Rare Books / History of the Book course this semester.

Two questions that may come to mind are "Why is this called the Rothschild Prayerbook?" and "Wasn't the family Jewish?" The answer to both questions is that the prayer book comes from the collection of the Rothschild Family and even if it wasn't most recently owned by them, they were the famous owner. Naming manuscripts and books is like naming archaeological artifacts, the object is given the name of the owner, the museum, the location, or the discoverer.

If you want to read more about Books of Hours, here's a link to an exhibit at the Houghton Library, Harvard entitled "Picturing Prayer" with beautiful examples of these prayer books.