Friday, October 15, 2010

A Jug of Wine and Thou

A photograph of an elaborate cover book featuring a peacock surrounded by a border of grapevines. The binding appears to be set mostly in gold with pearls in the peacock's feathers.This time it's not about the content, it's all about the presentation.  Bound by Sangorski and Sutcliffe, this bookbinding masterpiece is one of a number the pair produced in the early-twentieth century.  Like many similar examples, Rauner's copy was designed for the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám. However, as the cliché states, you can't judge a book by its cover, and the sumptuous exterior stands in contrast to the fairly standard text block, which is from the 3rd edition (London: Bernard Quaritch, 1872). 

A photograph of the book's back cover, featuring a snake wound around a gold chalice, surrounded by a border of grapevines and a floral backdrop. The snake itself is set with snakeskin and the majority of the binding is gold.The most famous of these Rubáiyát bindings was lost on the Titanic and has been dubbed the "Great Omar."  Though not nearly as complex a binding as the "Great Omar" which featured several thousand individual jewels and leather onlays, our copy does include precious and semi-precious materials and a similar peacock motif on the front cover.  The serpent twined around the gold-leaf chalice on the back cover is made from real snake skin, naturally.

Ask for Bindings 210 to see this favorite.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

As Nature Shows Them

An image of a yellow and black butterfly.At first glance, Sherman Denton's As Nature Shows Them: Moths and Butterflies of the United States (Boston, J. B. Millett, 1908) appears to be just another field guide for butterfly enthusiasts. But a closer look shows something extraordinary: the illustrations seem to shimmer like the flash of a butterfly wing in the sun. That is because the color plates are, in the words of the maniacally obsessed author:

Direct transfers from the insects themselves; that is to say, the scales of the wings of the insects are transferred to the paper while the bodies are printed from engravings and afterward colored by hand. The making of such transfers is not original with me, but it took a good deal of experimenting to so perfect the process as to make the transfers, on account of their fidelity to detail and their durability, fit for use as illustrations in such a work. And what magnificent illustrations they are, embodying all the beauty and perfection of the specimens themselves!

The edition of 500 copies, each with three volumes containing hundred of plates, required tremendous effort by Denton. He continues:

As I have had to make over fifty thousand of these transfers for the entire edition, not being able to get any one to help me who would do the work as I desired it done, and as more than half the specimens from which they were made were collected by myself, I having made many trips to different parts of the country for their capture, some idea of the labor in connection with preparing the material for the publication may be obtained.

To see the wonders of his "labor of love" ask for Rare Book QL549 .D42.