Books on Books Collection – Mark Van Stone

The Evolution of the Medieval Decorated Letter (1985)

The Evolution of the Medieval Decorated Letter (1985)
Mark Van Stone
Leporello attached to black boards with ribbon tie and pocket for folded information sheet. Leporello: H65 x W68 mm closed; W1630 mm (including board) open. Sheet: H280 x W215 mm. 25 panels. Acquired from Lorson’s, 5 December 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Mark Van Stone is a professor of art history at Southwestern College in California. Scholarly books and a documentary attest to his expertise in his academic specialty: the interpretation of Mayan hieroglyphs and calligraphy. He also teaches workshops in versals and white vine decoration. His workshop qualification needs no endorsement beyond this miniaturized history of medieval illuminated letters: a calligraphic, bookmaking and scholarly tour de force.

In the spirit of medieval illuminators, Van Stone has imitated the hand of twenty-three of what he calls the “semi-precious jewels” of “‘minor’ illumination that usually receives little attention in the Art-History books”. Because of their medieval humor, two initials were copied outright rather than imitated. Below, you will find eight of these semi-precious jewels along with Van Stone’s commentary on each. Use the WorldCat link to find your way to the closest institution holding a copy of this work to revel in the rest.

The folded onionskin of text contained in the binding pocket is like a miniature poster. On it, Van Stone documents each of the 25 styles of illumination that he reproduces in the leporello between the soft black boards stiffened by folding. The black-on-white parchment-like appearance of the “poster” complements beautifully what unfolds between those boards, and each of its 25 notes begins with the calligraphic bookhand that would be appropriate to the period of its initial. Correspondence with the artist reveals a possible origin story for the poster-like nature of the insert.

The project began life as a portfolio of individual letters of six inches square. For each letterform, Van Stone “drew the color-separations individually in black ink, rather than making finished illuminated initials in color and photographically color-separating”. After specifying the colors for the four plates and learning that the project would require eight dozen separate screens far outstripping the budget, Van Stone — without a Renaissance patron to come to the rescue — transformed the project into a poster. This involved finding another printer and photographing the separations in a ganged and reduced size. “An unfortunate accident in the pressroom resulted in the printing of 1000 copies with a marred title-line, but with the body of the sheet undamaged.”

After the poster was reprinted, Van Stone turned his attention to the 1000 posters he couldn’t use:

… we cut them all into strips, I folded and pasted them all by hand (with archival polyvinyl acetate), designed and folded the black covers to slip on the stubs at each end, and threaded the ribbon through the hand-cut slits. Like a 15th-century publisher, much of the work was performed by hand.

So if you find your closest institution holding a copy of The Evolution of the Medieval Decorated Letter, keep in mind the work’s real-life evolution and that you might have been looking at individual letter prints or a poster ready for framing rather than this red-ribboned treasure ready to unfold and display gem after gem.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Lisa Merkin“. 24 February. 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Pat Sweet“. 19 January 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Dave Wood“. 31 May 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Demeude, Hugues. 1996. The Animated Alphabet. London: Thames and Hudson.

Shaw, Henry. 1845. Alphabets, Numerals and Devices of the Middle Ages. London: W. Pickering.

From Henry Shaw’s Alphabets, Numerals and Devices of the Middle Ages.

Books On Books Collection – Rose Sanderson

An Unusual Animal Alphabet (2021)

An Unusual Animal Alphabet (2021)
Rose Sanderson
Casebound with illustrated paper over boards and patterned doublures, perfect bound. H155 x W215 mm 54pages. Edition of 100, of which this is #89. Acquired from the artist, 17 April 2023.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with artist’s permission.

Written and illustrated by Rose Sanderson, this abecedary introduces children to the alphabet with humorous clashes of colors and animals (a pink bear or blue and white impala?) as well as odd combinations of concepts (topiaries and mammals, skyscapes and kangaroos). It all tips over into the surreal, which, with the vocabulary (spirograph, topiary, uakari), implies an audience of older children and adults.

Adding to the humor are other incongruities such as a paisley-patterned dingo and a camouflaged goat. The many half- or near-rhymes also enhance the humor: “Elephant Etta looks good in a sweater” and “Impala Ivar is as fragile as china”).

The production is of high quality. The text is printed on 170gsm silk paper and in full color. The cover comes from a scan of linen/canvas overlayed with a color layer with a balanced transparency that softly merges the two together. Whether or not inspired by the book’s half-rhymes, the designer (Emrys Plant) contributes an effective visual “half rhyme” of Arca Majora for the text type with Futura for the display type. Along with Sanderson’s conceptualization, imagination and craft, such touches nudge this work toward the category of artist’s book or, at least, sophisticated alphabet book.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Leslie Haines“. 4 November 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Rudolf Kur“. Books On Books Collection. In progress.

Judy Pelikan“. Books On Books Collection. In progress.

Annie Newnham“. Books On Books Collection. In progress.

P.K. Page“. Books On Books Collection. In progress.

Books On Books Collection – Merrill Shatzman

Calligrafitti #3 (2011)

Calligrafitti #3 (2011)
Merrill Shatzman
Leporello. Closed: 235 x235 mm. Open: W282 cm. 10 panels.Unique. Acquired from the artist, 6 October 2017.
Photos: Courtesy of the artist.

An extraordinarily fragile and rich work of print and sculpture, Calligrafitti #3 displays the inspiration that alphabets can provide for artists’ books. There are, of course, more inspirations or influence at work here.

One artist mentioned by Merrill Shatzman as an influence on her art is Friedensreich Hundertwasser. The book’s three dimensionality, its colors throughout and the background striations echo the Hundertwasser House as well as the pattern of striations in several of the Hundertwasser paintings that can be found here. Certainly like Hundertwasser, Schatzman fuses the static and dynamic. In Calligrafitti #3, there’s something vegetative, almost animistic, and still architectural as carved letters can be.

Hundertwasser House, Greece

The fluidity and structure in Calligrafitti #3 recall another influence: Zaha Hadid.

Total Fluidity: Studio Zaha Hadid, Projects 2000 – 2010 University of Applied Arts Vienna
Studio Zaha Hadid Institute of Architecture and Patrik Schumacher (editors). Vienna: Springer, 2011

Two other visual influences that shine through — although disparate in time and dimensionality — are Rachid Koraïchi and Stuart Davis. The influences are more visual and formal than substantive, and the works below are emblematic selections.

Rachid Koraichi, Les sept dormants. Paris: Actes Sud, 2004.

Stuart Davis, Swing Landscape. 1938. Sidney and Lois Eskenazi Museum of Art, Indiana University. 863.75 x 173.125 inches (224.8 × 443.9 × 8.9 cm).

Further Reading

Reflections Within the Transitioning Grid: An exhibition by Merrill Shatzman and libi rose“. 15 September 15 – 22 November 2017. Power Plant Gallery. Accessed 6 October 2017.

Books On Books Collection – Carton Moore Park

An Alphabet of Animals (1899)

An Alphabet of Animals (1899)
Carton Moore Park
Casebound, illustrated paper over boards. H335 x W265 mm. 54 pages. Acquired from Books & Things, 23 March 2023.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Scots-Canadian illustrator and painter Carton Moore Park (1877-1956) would have been 22 when Blackie & Son published An Alphabet of Animals. Like William Nicholson with An Alphabet (1898), Moore Park was responding to a publisher’s commission (for Nicholson it was W.H. Heinemann); like Nicholson, he aimed for an audience of adults as well as children; like Nicholson, who followed up his alphabet with similarly successful and applauded works, Moore Park did the same with In Doors and Out (1899) and A Book of Birds (1899); and like Nicholson’s, his preferred career path was painting, particularly portraits. But unlike Nicholson, Moore Park did not find any prolonged acclaim for his work.

Recent efforts to revive interest in his work are an extended bio-bibliographical essay in Studies in Illustration, a thesis from the University of Delaware and a reissue of An Alphabet of Animals and A Book of Elfin Rhymes (see below). Marvelous as Moore Park’s grisaille technique is, it must have been a hard sell for children more used to colorful alphabet books. The grisaille and influence of Japanese wood engraving — especially with the unusual framing of the subjects — likely make this work appeal more to adults interested in artists’ books and the history of children’s books.

Anyone interested in whether there is a subgenre in the overlap of artists’ books and alphabet books might consider trim size as a telltale sign here. Moore Park’s and Nicholson’s books were oversized. By choosing a trim size far too large for small hands and short arms, Blackie and Son and W.H. Heinemann may have simply been hedging their bets on the two alphabet books by aiming to appeal to adults and children and as a way to test the art book market. By 1917 in France, Louis Dorbon must have seen the success of Ambroise Vollard in the art book market and felt no need to hedge with Edmond (“Miarko”) Bouchard. Even though Bouchard was primarily a caricaturist, Dorbon published ABC d’Art in portfolio format at 380 x 280 mm and with gold ink. If that is not a clear sign of aiming for adults and the art book market, the carnage in Miarko’s plates is sign enough that it was not catering to kiddies. Likewise Miarko abandons the traditional alphabet book’s usual purpose and method of fostering literacy by associating each letter with an object on the page. Instead, each letter is merely the initial letter of the plate’s caption.

From ABC d’Art (1917)
Miarko (Edmond Bouchard), colored by J. Saudé.
Portfolio, corner closures with ribbon, Portfolio: H385 x W285 mm. Prints: H380 x W280 mm. 27 plates. Acquired from ADER Nordmann & Dominique, 16 March 2023.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

From An Alphabet of Animals (1899)

The Japonisme in Moore Park’s pages and Miarko’s plates would also have been another feature appealing more to adults than children. Whether it is the mice scampering on to and off the page or the bulk of the porcupine’s quills bristling just off the upper left of the page, the influence of Japanese wood engraving leaps off Moore Park’s pages. So, too, does his humor with the near tailless armadillo pursuing another armadillo’s tail or, more likely, its own in the lower right corner of the page. In Miarko’s case, the images break the frame of the large gold letters rather than the frame of the images.

The Art Nouveau period (1880s to 1920s) can be thanked not only for the advent of the artist’s book but also for drawing the alphabet book into its palette of material with which to make art.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Miarko“. Books On Books Collection. In progress.

William Nicholson“. 26 May 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Blamires, David. 1990. Adults’ Alphabets : Examples of English Press Alphabet Books from the Last Hundred Years with an Alphabetical Description Copious Illustrations and a Checklist of Press Alphabet Books. Standard ed. Church Hanborough Oxford: Hanborough Parrot Press.

Hiatt, Charles. December 1900. “The Work of Carton Moore Park“. The Studio, Vol. 93, pp. 172-76. Accessed 20 May 2023.

Martin, Claire. 2018. “The ABCs of Carton Moore-Park“. University of Delaware. Thesis. Accessed 20 May 2023.

Park, Carton Moore. 2019. An Alphabet of Animals. London: Art/Books Publishing Ltd.

Steenson, Martin.Spring 2015. “Bibliography: Carton Moore Park. ” Studies in Illustration, No. 59.

Books On Books Collection – Christopher Wormell

An Alphabet of Animals (1990)

An Alphabet of Animals (1990)
Christopher Wormell
Casebound in cloth, sewn, title label on front cover. 272 x 272 mm. 64 pages. Acquired from MacKellar Art & Books, 14 March 2023.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

An Alphabet of Animals has several distinguishing features. Its art and lettering come from handcut lino block prints. Each picture would require multiple blocks. To produce the images and color, each block would be inked and printed separately by hand.

Another distinguishing feature is how Wormell’s art and lettering recall that of William Nicholson’s The Square Book of Animals (1899), Carton Moore Park’s Alphabet of Animals (1899) and C.B. Falls’ ABC Book (1923).

A century after the heyday of Nicholson, Park and Falls, Wormell found himself in an entirely different tradition of alphabet books and style of art: the world of The Sesame Street Storybook Alphabet (1980), the Little Golden Books (1970s/80s) and the Ladybird alphabet of the 1960s.

Alphabets from Sesame Street, Golden Books and Ladybird.

Wormell’s range of color across the animals is also a distinguishing feature as is the color gradient technique. The alligator’s colors are almost murky, the lobster’s electric, and the xenops’ soft in comparison.

Lino printing a color gradient is tricky. More than one color of ink has to be applied to the same block. The gradients achieved by Wormell are genius. In some of the images, the gradation benefits from the texture of the paper showing through, captured in the color separation by scanner and offset printing of the book and demonstrating Wormell’s touch.

Note how the grain of the paper on which the print was made peeks through.

Another distinction — unintentional and for this particular copy only — is the endpaper treatment. The front endpapers — a doublure, one leaf of the end paper pasted to the board and one leaf free — present vintage images of animals, and the back doublure presents the same of birds. The free leaf is not actually free though.

At the front and back, these wallpaper-like leaves are glued to an original separate plain flyleaf in each case, which is detectable at the edges where one slightly overlaps the other.

The style of the decorated endpapers harks back to works like The Child’s Picture Book of Alphabets, published by Thomas Nelson & Sons in 1880 (see below). While the previous owner may have had good reason for adding these endpapers (and did or received a pretty good job of it), the contrast with Wormell’s book block is jarring.

From A Child’s Picture Book of Alphabets (1880), in the Osborne Collection of Early Children’s Books, Toronto Public Library.

The upside is that this copy inadvertently provides the student of alphabet books and illustration with a handy juxtaposition of the style of illustration against which Nicholson, Moore Park and Falls were reacting with Wormell’s distinctive revival of their approach, which in turn set his book apart from the late 20th century’s crowd.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

C.B. Falls“. 14 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Enid Marx“. 1 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Miarko“. Books On Books Collection. In progress.

Carton Moore Park“. 28 May 2023. Books On Books Collection.

William Nicholson“. 26 May 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Nick Wonham“. 24 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Books On Books Collection – William Nicholson

William Nicholson’s An Alphabet: An Introduction to the Reprint from the Original Woodblocks (1978)

William Nicholson’s An Alphabet: An Introduction to the Reprint from the Original Woodblocks (1978)
William Nicholson and Edward Craig
Boxed portfolio of prints and a booklet. Box: HxWxD mm. Booklet: HxW mm; pages. Prints: HxW mm; prints (including ). Edition of 150, of which this is #5. Acquired from Blackwell’s Antiquarian & Rare Books, 2 December 2022. Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with the publisher’s permission.

William Nicholson’s An Alphabet appeared in 1898. Eighty years later, with access to the original woodblocks (thanks to William Heinemann Ltd, which subsequently placed them with the Victoria & Albert Museum), Whittington Press and Edward Craig found themselves in a position to reproduce this famous alphabet. Craig, the son of Edward (Ted) Gordon Craig, who learned wood engraving from Nicholson, also had his father’s diaries as well as his own memories on which to draw for the booklet that accompanies the prints in this folio box. It provides a rich and diverse background that adds to their enjoyment. Craig brings to life the context and ties of friendship in which Nicholson’s art came on the scene. He even includes prints from three blocks cut by Joseph Crawhall (he of Old Aunt Elspa’s ABC fame) to show the affinities between Nicholson’s lettering and images and those of Crawhall.

The booklet’s inclusion of 28 thumbnails of the reproduced prints is a helpful quick guide to the portfolio, but this particular edition contains 38 prints. Among them are some unused prints — a Quakeress, an Usher replaced by the Urchin, and alternative versions of the Jockey, Lady, Sportsman and Zoologist. Also included is a photo of the woodblock for the Quaker. Alongside Craig’s description of Nicholson’s two preferred courses of design and drawing, the discards and the photo offer a very real sense of Nicholson at work when placed side by side with the final designs:

After some preliminary scribbling … he would convey what he wanted from that scribble to a piece of very thin paper, or tracing paper, by inserting a black transfer paper between the two layers, then, peering into the maze of lines, he would select just those that he fancied and trace them through. …. His other method … was to draw direct onto the block with a brush heavily loaded with India ink, then, when it was dry, to refine the design by drawing over it with great care, using a softish pencil. The lead pencil shone like silver on the Indian ink and added to the excitement when the next process, that of cutting, revealed the beautiful honey-coloured boxwood below.

Discarded vs final

Discarded vs final

Discarded vs final

Discarded vs final

Discarded vs final

Discarded vs final

Photo of discarded block, final design

Craig’s booklet draws on Marguerite Steen’s 1943 biography as well as his father’s diaries, both sources rich in anecdotes and observations about Nicholson, James Pryde (his colorful partner in their J&W Beggarstaff Brothers venture), moments of time and place and the social circles in which they moved. Steen must have had access to Ted’s diaries or heard the tales directly from him. Here are Steen and Craig on a scene at the Denham “Eight Bells”, a defunct pub where William Nicholson, his wife Mabel and her brother James lived (Jimmy came to visit for two days and stayed two years):

Steen: The floor was littered with scraps of brown paper, black paper, red paper, William and Jimmy argued for hours about spacing–for which Jimmy had a great eye. Oddly enough, he was impatient and clumsy-handed when it came to execution…. With the scissors he was completely outclassed by William–who used a knife on glass, and on whom fell most of the execution of the schemes they planned together. … From all accounts, William did the lion’s share of the Beggarstaff work, so it is amusing to find in a published interview of the period Jimmy taking the lead, “telling the tale,” with only an occasional, rather lordly, reference to his partner. (p. 56)

Craig from Ted’s diary: One visit to Denham found Nicholson on the floor pinning out rolls of brown paper. With a brief ‘Hello Ted’, he carried on working at great speed with a penknife, cutting up pieces of black paper on which were scribbled a few guide lines in chalk and arranging the shapes to resemble a huge figure in a cloak. A face and hands from some buff-coloured paper were being produced by Jimmy, who was draped over a chair in the corner; these were ‘floated’ into position, then pinned. They stood on chairs to look down on their work, then added a few extra shapes in coloured paper here and there. Suddenly a figure like one of the Three Musketeers materialised. They seemed pleased enough, and Jimmy remarked that ‘it would be good for something’. (p. 3)

Several sources identify “A was an Artist” as Nicholson’s self-portrait, but might that three-quarters portrait of the Xylographer also be a self-portrait? Or is it his partner James Pryde in a portrait additional to the one of him in “B for Beggar”? Such is the speculation to which the warm color of Craig’s text and the vibrant reproductions created with Whittington Press would lead anyone exploring this portfolio.

The Square Book of Animals (1900/1979)

The Square Book of Animals (1900/1979)
William Nicholson
Softcover, leporello. 290 x 290 mm. 12 panels. 2nd edition. Acquired from M.G. Manwaring, 2 April 2023.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Scolar Press redesigned and re-originated the 1900 edition and brilliantly chose this leporello format, which makes one wish that Nicholson had added the book as artistic medium to his toolkit, which besides woodcuts and wood engraving included lithographs, oils, watercolors, tempera, frescos, painting on glass and photography. Given his poster work for the theater and exposure to the stage (the actor Henry Irving was a family friend and source of free tickets, and actress Ellen Terry was the mother of his friend Ted Craig) and given his facility with paper as a medium, Nicholson could have made pop-up and tunnel books of genius. But portraits, landscapes and still life beckoned as Colin Campbell tracks and explores so well in his two books (see below).

In the Books On Books collection, several works provide enjoyable comparison with Nicholson’s art: Carton Moore Park’s Alphabet of Animals (1899), C.B. Falls’ ABC Book (1923), Christopher Wormell’s An Alphabet of Animals (1990), Enid Marx’s Marco’s Animal Alphabet (2000) and Nick Wonham’s A Charm of Magpies (2018).

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

C.B. Falls“. 14 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Enid Marx“. 1 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Miarko“. Books On Books Collection. In progress.

Carton Moore Park“. 28 May 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Nick Wonham“. 24 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Christopher Wormell“. Books On Books Collection.

Campbell, Colin. 1992. William Nicholson : The Graphic Work. London: Barrie & Jenkins.

Campbell, Colin; James, Merlin; Reed, Patricia; and Schwarz, Sanford. 2004. The Art of William Nicholson. London; New York: Royal Academy of Arts ; Distributed in the U.S. and Canada by H.N. Abrams.

Nicholson, Andrew. 1996. William Nicholson Painter : Paintings Woodcuts Writings Photographs. London: Giles de la Mare.

Maclean Gallery. 1981. William Nicholson Woodcuts and Lithographs : 29 April to 22 May 1981. London: Maclean Gallery.

Steen, Marguerite. 1943. William Nicholson. London: Collins.

Books On Books Collection – Helen Hajnoczky

alpha seltzer (2023)

alpha seltzer (2023)
Helen Hajnoczky
Canada balsa wood, hinged and clasped box, double-sided accordion structure attached to multicolored ribbons for vertical display. Box: H240 x W155 x D80 mm. Leporello panel: H178 x W126 mm. Open: 1041 cm. 56 panels. Acquired from the artist, 10 April 2023.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Letters and punctuation marks fall and rise and tumble in alpha seltzer like so many tablets of Alka-Seltzer. With her use of color, technique and orientation of the images, Hajnoczky holds to and takes the concept far beyond a one-trick visual metaphor. Anyone who has observed those dissolving heart-burn relief tablets closely will recognize how the colorless effervescing bubbles spin off each tablet in upwards and downwards directions. So, on the box cover’s title plate and on the first panel, colored drips surrounded by spatters rise from the title and fall from the artist’s name.

But what is it that the characters are dissolving in, and what are they dissolving into? Of course it’s just paper, but the Kodak Moment matte photo paper has a glossy shine suggesting a solution of water. As the accordion emerges from the box, a spattered and dripping red column made of overlapping characters (brackets, question mark, exclamation mark and ampersand) appears on the first panel; then with a shift to the left, the red column widens into one made of all the lowercase letters of the alphabet; then shifting back to the center, the column widens and comes closer; and then shifting to the right, it becomes a column of all the uppercase vowels overlapping. What is going on?

Now, the originally vertical column of brackets, question mark, exclamation point and ampersand goes horizontal and black, dripping pink and gray into the next panel of horizontal uppercase vowels in black, dripping gray, pink and black into a horizontal jumble of lowercase letters.

Then the characters bend into a deep red curve spattered and dripping in gray, eventually morphing into a ball of red vowels. Beneath that, the palette goes entirely black and gray, and the characters begin to angle down the panel into a heap of letters sliding downwards from right to left across the panel and squeezed at the bottom …

… until they have to cascade down from left to right, which is when a riot of color breaks out. At the end of the accordion, you realize there’s another loop; which side is up, which is down?

On the other side of the accordion, the riot of colors continues, but each panel presents a single-color uppercase letter that seems to be dissolving like an Alka-Seltzer tablet into multicolor lowercase versions of itself.

With layout, color, technique and metaphor, Hajnockzky has coaxed an element of abstraction from the alphabet that differs from the semiotic abstraction by which letters have come to be what they are. But in the end, it’s not a confusion from which relief is wanted. Rather it’s one in which to fall, be immersed and enjoy. And to have a laugh at the expense of the Dr. Miles Medicine Company of Elkhart, Indiana and its subsequent owner Bayer AG for missing a marketing trick for Alka-Seltzer tablets.

Magyarázni (2016)

Magyarázni (2016)
Helen Hajnoczky
Perfect bound paperback. H210 x W140 mm. 104 pages. Acquired from the author, 14 December 2021. Photos: Books On Books Collection.

With all those diacritics and dipthongs, if there is an alphabet song in Hungarian, it must be operatic in length. It is fortunate, though, that it is as long as it is; otherwise we would have fewer poems in this volume by Helen Hajnoczky.

Hajnoczky is second-generation Hungarian-Canadian. These poems use the two languages to reflect on her dual roots of culture and the roots of memory. And for both, what better vehicle than an alphabet book. Even though there are 44 letters in Hungarian compared to 26 in English, Hajnoczky is a greedy poet, and taking her title literally — Magyarázni means “make it Hungarian” — she includes poems for the letters Q, W, X and Y even though Hungarian has no need of the phonemes behind them.

Hajnoczky does not shy away from growing up in the English-language poetic tradition. In the poem below, she appropriates Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken”, turning and twisting its metaphor into one for her experience of growing up with two languages, making the letter Y and Robert Frost Hungarian.

Some of the poems might remind readers of Seamus Heaney. For the letter í (for Írástudatlanság/”ignorance, illiteracy”), Hajnoczky delves into the metaphor of the pen in a way that surely would have brought a smile to Heaney as a nod to his “Digging”; or he might have heard an echo of “Clearances” in Lyuk/”hole”) for the dipthong Ly when she hears a relative commenting on her needle-wielding: “you are/ Never going to sew anything/ as good as your grandmother”.

Hajnoczky calls the images facing the text “visual poems”. To create them, she has drawn from a difficult-to-find spiral bound book put together by Péter Czink and Lorraine Weideman. As with Alphaseltzer, the results are visually striking. Coach House Books has nicely complemented the images and type with vegetable-based ink and Zephyr Antique Laid paper.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Hajnoczky, Helen. 2021. Frost & Pollen. Halifax: Invisible.

Books On Books Collection – Peter and Donna Thomas

Alphabet People (1989)

Alphabet People (1989)
Peter and Donna Thomas
Miniature codex with illustrated paper over boards, endband, sewn. H60.5 x W47.5 mm. 64 pages. Edition of 200, of which this is an artist’s proof. Acquired from Bromer’s Books, 16 February 2023.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Peter and Donna Thomas have made several alphabet artists’ books. One made in the shape of an Apple MAC, one in the shape of mushrooms, one celebrating views of Yosemite, one for musical instruments (accordion to zither, of course), one for spring wildflowers and one, of course, just for the letters themselves.

This one may be their earliest. Handset in Greeting Monotone and letterpress printed by Peter Thomas on peach-colored handmade paper. The same paper is used for covering the boards. As with all the initials in the book, the alphabet on the cover and pastedown title card is inked in red. The illustrations are reproductions of twenty-seven line drawings by their daughter Tanya Thomas.

Seen end-on, the book shows some of its fine press features, especially the two-color sewn endbands and tight turn-ends of the cover paper. Handmade paper characterizes much of the Thomases’ output, and their interest in papermaking has extended as far as Africa, the Philippines and Totnes, Devon, England.

They Made the Paper at Tuckenhay Mill (2016)

They Made the Paper at Tuckenhay Mill (2016)
Peter and Donna Thomas, ed.
Paperback, perfect bound. H280 x W220 mm. 120 pages. Acquired from the artists, 22 June 2022.
Photo of cover: Books On Books Collection.

From the publisher’s description of the second edition:

A self-taught hand papermaker, Peter Thomas became interested in knowing how apprentice-trained hand papermakers working in production hand papermills made paper. He especially wanted to learn the “vatman’s shake,” the series of motions that papermakers used to form their sheets of paper. This desire circuitously led him and Donna to Tuckenhay, near Totnes, Devon, in England, where beginning in 1988, they recorded several hand papermakers, returning to make others in 1990 and 1994. The book begins with a short history of Tuckenhay Mill and the story about meeting the papermakers and recording their interviews. This is followed by eight interviews of men and women, some of whom worked in the Mill from between the World Wars until it closed in 1970. All of the papermakers are now deceased, but the stories – in their own words – remain an extraordinary, entertaining, and timeless record of their lives and work. In the 1830s, Richard Turner started manufacturing paper by hand in the Tuckenhay Mill, and paper was continuously made by hand there until 1962. From then until 1970, the Mill produced pulp (half-stuff) until the business went bankrupt….

The Thomases’ works are well represented at in University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Special Collections. Some of the several particularly related to papermaking — as well as other paper-related ones from the Books On Books Collection — are listed below. Any study of the intersection of book art and paper could not help but include Peter and Donna Thomas.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“, Books On Books Collection, 31 March 2020.

The First Seven Years of the Rijswijk Paper Biennial“. 10 October 2019. Books On Books Collection.

Looking Back and Forward from the Paper Biennial 2018“. 24 June 2018. Books On Books Collection.

Helen Hiebert“. 18 June 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Maureen Richardson“. 28 September 2019. Books On Books Collection.

Fred Siegenthaler“. 10 January 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Hunter, Dard. 1978. Papermaking: The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft, 2nd ed. New York: Dover. Republication of the second, revised and enlarged 1947 edition.

Hiebert, Helen. 2000. The papermaker’s companion: the ultimate guide to making and using handmade paper. North Adams, MA: Storey Pub.

Hiebert, Helen. “Strange Papers“, Helen Hiebert Studio, 12 August 2014. Accessed 3 November 2020.

Hiebert, Helen, and Melissa Potter. 2016. The secret life of paper: 25 years of works in paper. Kalamazoo, MI: Kalamazoo Book Arts Center.

Kurlansky, Mark. 2017. Paper: Paging through History. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.

Müller, Lothar. 2016. White Magic: The Age of Paper. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Sansom, Ian. 2012. Paper: an elegy. New York, NY: Wm. Morrow.

Thomas, Donna. 2001. A Mushroom ABC. Santa Cruz, CA: Peter & Donna Thomas.

Thomas, Peter. 1988. Shakespeare on Papermills. Santa Cruz, CA: The Good Book Press.

Thomas, Peter. 1990. Papermaking in Seventeenth Century England. Santa Cruz, CA: Peter & Donna Thomas.

Thomas, Peter and Donna, eds. 1994. A Collection of Paper Samples from Hand Paper Mills in the United States of America. Santa Cruz, CA: Peter & Donna Thomas.

Thomas, Peter and Donna. 1996. MAC’s ABCs. Santa Cruz, CA: Peter & Donna Thomas.

Thomas, Peter and Donna, compilers. 1999. Paper From Plants. Santa Cruz, CA: Peter & Donna Thomas.

Thomas, Peter and Donna. 2001. Yosemite ABC. Santa Cruz, CA: Peter & Donna Thomas.

Thomas, Peter and Donna. 2002. Accordion to Zither. Santa Cruz, CA: Peter & Donna Thomas.

Thomas, Peter and Donna. 2006. Spring Wildflower ABC. Santa Cruz, CA: Peter & Donna Thomas.

Thomas, Peter and Donna. 2015. Letters. Santa Cruz, CA: Peter & Donna Thomas.

Vincent, Jessica. Indigenous Women Are Publishing the First Maya Works in Over 400 Years, Atlas Obscura, 08 August 2019. Accessed 27 October 2020.

Weber, Therese. 2008. The language of paper: a history of 2000 years. Bangkok, Thailand: Orchid Press.

Books On Books Collection – Sam Winston

One and Everything (2022)

One and Everything (2022)
Sam Winston
Casebound with illustrated paper over boards. H265 x W255 mm. 48 unnumbered pages. Acquired 23 November 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with artist’s permission.

Sometimes you just know that you have read a classic. This is one of those times. Winston and Candlewick Press (Walker Books in the UK) have worked a fresh tale, tone and meaning together with image, color, design and production values to an extraordinary level. Inspired by Tim Brookes’ “Endangered Alphabets Project“, Winston uses the striking shapes of letters and scripts from the Latin, Ogham, Cherokee, Armenian, Hebrew, Tibetan and dozens more alphabets and syllabaries to create the characters in his fable about the story that decides one day that it is the One and Only story.

Shapes like single-celled creatures (each filled with a different alphabet) represent the many stories existing before “The One” arrives.

“The One” is made of the English (i.e., Latin or Roman) alphabet. Will it listen to and make sense of all these other stories?

The fable of One and Everything does more than support the notion that alphabets and languages can be endangered. Implicit in the fate of the “One and Everything” story” is the message that Babel was more of a blessing than a curse.

Readers familiar with Winston’s A Dictionary Story and his collaboration with Oliver Jeffers in A Child of Books (both below) will recognize a growing refinement and, now, breadth and depth in Winston’s storytelling. The youngest audience and beginning readers will be held by the shapes, colors and simplicity of the story. Older readers will easily grasp its underlying meanings and be intrigued by the variety of letters and scripts and the idea that languages and alphabets can die. Still older readers and teachers will appreciate the helpful resources following the story’s ending invitation. At all levels, the audience will delight in Winston’s creation of his characterful abstractions with letters from the alphabets and scripts identified in those resources. Those with an eye for such artistry will appreciate Winston’s extension of a tradition embraced by Paul Cox, Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich, Sharon Forss and Nicolas McDowall.

A Child of Books (2019)

A forest made of fore-edges. A raft made of spines and its sail a book page. A wave and a path made of excerpts from books. In this fabulous world made from the features of books, the simpatico imaginations of Oliver Jeffers and Sam Winston deliver a heroine and an invitation that are hard to resist.

Promotional poster. Displayed with permission of Sam Winston.

In addition to the poster above and the trade book it promotes, Winston created an artist’s book edition celebrated by this hallway gallery below mounted by the British Library shortly after its appearance.

A Child of Books prints displayed at the British Library, 9 August – 27 September 2019.

Winston’s abiding love of letters, words and stories shines through in A Child of Books. Arguably, it has its origins in an earlier work whose story is told by his invention of a very different “child of books”.

A Dictionary Story (2001 – 2020)

Since its origin as a student project in 2001, A Dictionary Story has appeared in an accordion book form as a fine press edition and two trade editions and as single-sheet prints. The Books On Books Collection holds the fine press edition and the second trade edition, both of which have in common a vertical flush-right single-word column that tells the story and the immediately adjacent vertical flush-left column of definitions of the words in the story. In the fine press edition, the two columns meet at each mountain peaks of the accordion fold.

A Dictionary Story (2006)

A Dictionary Story (2006)
Sam Winston
Slipcased leporello between cloth-covered boards.H360 x W140 mm, 25 panels. Story text set in 9 point Times Roman by Sam Winston. Book designed by Richard Bonner-Morgan and Sam Winston. Printed by David Holyday at Trichrom Limited. Bound at Quality Art Reproductions, England. Published by Circle Press. Edition of 100, of which this is #68. Acquired from the artist, 30 May 2018.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with artist’s permission.

“Once there was a time when all the books knew what they were about. But there was one book that was never sure of itself.”

Panels 2-5 from the fine press edition; detail of panels 2-3.

So begins Winston’s tale about this uncertain book. The book never sure of itself is the Dictionary, which of course it must be, otherwise the tale would not be called “A Dictionary Story”. The Dictionary is jealous of all the other books because they are “properly read”, whereas she is just flicked through from time to time. A bit like the “One” in One and Everything, the Dictionary seems to think she contains all the stories imaginable, because she contain all the words — just not in the right order. So she decides to bring her words to life as characters to see what will happen. Words and letters fly about, enacting the story as if in a concrete poem. A meaningful tussle between text and image is a frequent feature for artists’ books as well as visual poetry.

Another defining aspect of book art is its self-referential nature. In an interview with Typeroom, Winston captures this in his response to the question “What is Dictionary Story all about?”:

Dictionary Story is a playful way of exploring some of our presumptions around the printed word. Or you could say that it looks towards a tool we are given at a very young age – the Dictionary – and invites us to actually think about how that works. Here’s a device that is designed to explain a word’s meaning by offering further words in its place – to me that is remarkable. This is a type of knowledge that can only explain itself through referencing itself. As a visual person the image that comes to mind is a giant, never ending, Möbius strip of language twisting back on itself.

Of course for less visual persons, the Dictionary’s whim engenders chaos, which Winston, a dyslexic, can appreciate. So he brings onstage (or “onpage”) the Books, of whom the Dictionary was jealous, to remonstrate that if words become disconnected from their definitions, how will they the Books know what they are about? Insisting that she tame her words, they have the Dictionary’s Introduction introduce her bewildered words to the character “Alphabet”.

Making the journey over the hills and valleys of A Dictionary Story is satisfying, and re-making it is even more satisfying and delightful each time. The making and re-making of A Dictionary Story must also have been satisfying and delightful for Sam Winston; he has done it so many times.

A Dictionary Story (2013)

A Dictionary Story (2013)
Sam Winston
Three five-panel accordion folded sections in a plastic sleeve cover. Second trade edition. Sleeve: H205 x W160 mm. Sections: H200 x W150 mm, 15 panels. Acquired from the artist, 13 December 2020.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Watching the artist adjust the typography of A Dictionary Story to changing dimensions is like watching a star tennis player who is also a star basketball player and star soccer (football) player. There’s always a ball, there’s always a net, there’s always genius.

The trade edition splits the fine press edition into three less narrow leporellos and nudges some of the two columns (story/definition) into the valley fold. Below, in the trade edition across panels 3 and 4 is where the Dictionary decides to bring her words to life, and on the right side of the fourth panel, the words begin to slip away from the fold.

The same part of the story in the fine press edition occurs on the fourth panel below, and the words tilt against the fold.

These variations create subtly different narrative paces and visual impressions in the two editions. Not one better than the other, just different. The poster variations, however, subordinate narrative pace entirely to visual impression. At present, the posters are not in the collection, but the images below help to make the point. As with movie goers, some will like the prints more than the books, others the books more than the prints, and still others will marvel at the genius in all of them.

Further Reading

“‘Darkness Visible’, Sam Winston’s performative installation”. Books On Books, 30 December 2017.

Sam Winston”. Bookmarking Book Art. 22 June 2013.

Howard, Alex. 16 February 2015. “Sam Winston – Art as a Spiritual Practice“. Conscious Life. Interview.

Lambert, Léopold. 9 February 2011. # Fine Arts /// Dictionary Story by Sam Winston“. The Funambulist. Accessed 20 April 2018. Brief note.

Perkins, Stephen. 11 March 2021. “Sam Winston, A Dictionary Story, Arc Artist Editions, London, 2005/2013“. Accordion Publications. Accessed 26 March 2023.

Russell, Lindsay Rose. “Dictionary, Shaped: Artists’ Books and Lexicography”. Dictionaries: Journal of the Dictionary Society of North America, Volume 41, Issue 2, 2020, pp. 115-146

Sant’Ana Pereira, Felipe. 27 August 2020. “The World’s 5 Most Beautiful Alphabets You’ll Never Learn To Read“. Matador Network. Accessed 26 March 2023. Re One and Everything.

Sperling, Matthew. 28 November 2013. “Open Book“. Apollo Magazine. Mention of Folded Dictionary. Accessed 20 April 2018. Re Folded Dictionary.

Valentino, Andrea. 21 January 2020. “The alphabets at risk of extinction“. BBC Future. Accessed 26 March 2023. Re One and Everything.

Typeroom. 15 July 2016. “An interview with Sam Winston“. Typeroom. Accessed 17 September 2017. Accessed 20 April 2018.

Typeroom. 25 November 2020. “Dictionary Story: Sam Winston’s letterpress classic typographic tale just got upgraded“. Typeroom. Accessed 1 December 2020.

Wood, Heloise. 15 February 2017. “A Child of Books wins Bologna Ragazzi Award for fiction“. The Bookseller. Accessed 2o April 2018.

Yin, Maryann. 26 May 2016. “Book Trailer Unveiled for ‘A Child of Books”. GalleyCat, Adweek. Accessed 20 April 2018.

Images: Courtesy of the artist.

Books On Books Collection – Global Afrikan Congress

R is for Reparations (2019)

R is for Reparations (2019)
Global Afrikan Congress (Nova Scotia Chapter)
Denise Gillard, ed.
Paperback saddlestitched with staples. H260 x W210 mm. 40 pages. Acquired from the Book Depository, 1 March 2023.
Photos of the book: Books On Books Collection.

If all alphabets have a world view, can an alphabet be bent and arranged into a new world view? In 2018, the Nova Scotia Chapter of the Global Afrikan Congress facilitated a “book-in-a-day” event to help the children of Halifax create an alphabet book that answers that question. Bending and arranging the human body to make letters has a long tradition in book illustration. Drawing on that tradition, the participating children gave voice and body to create R is for Reparations, an alphabet book calling for a new world view on reparations for the damage and legacy of the Atlantic Slave Trade.

The Reparations Movement has a long history, and Halifax, Nova Scotia has played a part. In 2010, the City of Halifax issued a formal apology and $5 million in general compensation for the razing of the Black community Africville in the 1960s (see Further Reading).

Anticipating it final report in July 2023 to the state legislature, the Californian Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans called for significant financial compensation. The governor issued a tepid if not cool response, which may be unsurprising even in the wake of his earlier signing and endorsing of legislation returning Bruce’s Beach to the Black family from whom the government appropriated it in 1924 (see Further Reading). It is an emotionally and politically complicated issue for some.

The foreword by Denise Gillard takes a less complicated view as might be expected in a children’s book, and as R is for Reparations addresses primarily Afrikans and Afrikan Descendants both on the Afrikan Continent and in the Diaspora, that view is strong and forceful. It is the sort of children’s book that would be banned in some US school libraries, but as the voices and bodies of its multi-racial cast of participants imply, it is the sort of book that those schools’ children could fearlessly manage.

Not every page is as strong as the next, but the influence of Amos Paul Kennedy Jr., Master Printer, who attended to support the children in making posters for the book launch, is evident in the colors, collage and overprinting. The book deserves comparison and contrast with the Books On Books Collection’s related holdings (see Further Reading).

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Tia Blassingame“. 17 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Wendy Ewald“. 15 May 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Tupoka Ogette“. 15 May 2023. Books On Books Collection. For an alphabet addressed primarily to White Europeans.

Arial Robinson“. 15 May 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Clarissa Sligh“. 2 September 2020. Books On Books Collection.

McRae, Matthew. Posted 23 February 2017, Updated 26 April 2023. “The Story of Africville“. Canadian Museum for Human Rights. Accessed 1 May 2023.

Lockhart, P.R. 26 December 2021. “Calls for reparations are as old as emancipation. Will global powers finally listen?NBC News. Accessed 1 May 2023.

Smith, Erika. 8 January 2023. “Bruce’s Beach was a win for reparations. Why it matters that Black people lost it“. Los Angeles Times. Accessed 1 May 2023.

Task Force to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans. 1 June 2022. Reparations Report. State of California Department of Justice. Accessed 1 May 2023.

Books On Books Collection – Tupoka Ogette

Ein rassismuskritisches Alphabet (2022)

Ein rassismuskritisches Alphabet
Tupoka Ogette
Softcover, perfect bound with endbands. H215 x W160 mm. 124 pages. Acquired from Great Book Prices, 1 March 2023.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The title of Tupoka Ogette’s book translates literally as “A Racism-critical Alphabet”, but “An Anti-Racist Alphabet” seems more idiomatic. More than an alphabet book, it is a workbook arising from her consultancy for companies, organizations and associations wanting to understand how racism manifests itself and how to address it. Given the consultancy’s focus on German-speaking countries, the book relates tightly to the firm’s workshops, podcasts, etc., so it is not too surprising that it hasn’t been translated into English yet.

The depth of the problem in English-speaking countries, however, results in most of the terms’ being in the English language: terms like “Ally”, “Blackfacing”, “Colorism”, “Derailing”, “Emotional Tax”, “Gaslighting”, “Happyland”, “Jim Crow”, “Liberation”, “Othering”, “Queer”, “Race-based Traumatic Stress”, “Tokenism”, “White Gaze” and “Yellowfacing”. Add to those terms such cognates as Kolonialismus, N-wort and Xenophobie and it is almost a shock that the text is not in English.

Zurück zum Anfang (“Back to the Beginning”).
“The anti-racist alphabet ends here, but the anti-racist journey, and especially your conscious decision to be an Ally, begins anew every day. Every morning you face the choice: Am I looking? Do I stand up as an ally against a racist system? Do I continue to learn? Or do I stay in good old Happyland today? If you are White, you have that choice, but you also have a responsibility.
Reminder: A person who actively and continuously stands up against a discriminatory system of which he himself is privileged and therefore not negatively affected.” P. 115.

The book’s interior display pages are striking and reminiscent of Ursula Hochuli-Gamma’s 26 farbige Buchstaben (1986) / “26 Colored Letters“, but the cover and text design are very much in the vein of professional trade books for the German market. Adapting the design for the English-language market might present more of a challenge than adapting the text.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Tia Blassingame“. 17 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Wendy Ewald“. 15 May 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Ursula Hochuli-Gamma“. 18 November 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Arial Robinson“. 15 May 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Clarissa Sligh“. 2 September 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Kendi, Ibram X. 2019. How to Be an Antiracist. London: Bodley Head.

Books On Books Collection – Wendy Ewald

Wendy Ewald: American Alphabets (2005)

American Alphabets (2005)
Wendy Ewald
Casebound with white headbands and colored doublures. H305 x W260 mm. 168 pages. Acquired from Judd Books, 17 September 2022.
Photos of book: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with artist’s permission.

As seen throughout the Books On Books Collection, book art is more often than not a collaborative effort — even if only in the final stages of printing and binding. Ewald’s works, however, depend from the start on collaboration with her subjects — the children. Another recurrent aspect — perhaps the core aspect — in book art is the interaction of the visual and verbal. So, too, in Ewald’s art. In American Alphabets, she brings the collaborative and visual/verbal aspects of book art together at the elemental level of the alphabet. It is the children who pick the letters, words and their illustrative objects to be photographed. In the book’s “Afterword”, Ewald writes:

Like most everyone I know, I first encountered written language in children’s alphabet primers. Looking back, I now see that the words and visual examples used to represent letters reinforced the world view of the middle-class white girl I happened to be. … Putting together these various alphabets — each of them at once American and foreign — taught me a lot about written language, especially about how we have come to take this sophisticated and fundamental medium for granted. … The shape of letters mimicked the objects for which they were named. The letter R, for example, came from the Egyptian hieroglyphic for head or chief: resh. … When Woroud, one of my students from Queens, chose the word raas, or “head,” to represent the letter R, it seemed natural enough. I was startled, though, when she insisted that her head be photographed in profile, just as in the drawing of the ancient letter.

An abiding aim of Ewald’s art is to elicit or allow her collaborators’ voices and world views to create communities that overcome differences by celebrating differences. The reduced, screen-bound images here do not do justice to her four alphabets in one volume or her portraiture and photographic artistry. They may, however, convey the breadth and racial inclusivity of her vision. Arab-American, Latinx-American, White American and Black American are the American alphabets that Ewald aims to capture in this volume.

Another of Ewald’s projects ripe for an artist’s book — or rather artists’ book — is Black Self/White Self (1994-1997). Imagine the book she might create from her young collaborators’ efforts if they were brought to Penland, Women’s Studio Workshop or Art Metropole. Here is the North Carolina-based project in her own words:

When I began working in Durham’s inner city, more and more of the white population had moved to the suburbs and the public schools became segregated along city-county lines. Proposals to merge the school systems were stymied by objections from both sides.

In 1994, after the Durham school systems were finally merged, I designed a collaborative project that looked directly at the issue of race. I asked children to write about themselves, then to write another version, this time imagining themselves as members of another race.

This was greeted first with silence, then laughter, and finally with an enthusiastic barrage of questions.

Once the children had completed their written portraits, I photographed them posing as their “black” and “white” selves, using props they had brought from home. I gave them the large-format negatives to alter or write on, in keeping with ideas from their written portraits, so they could further describe the characters they had imagined themselves to be.


Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Tia Blassingame“. 17 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Global Afrikan Congress“. 15 May 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Tupoka Ogette“. 15 May 2023. Books On Books Collection

Arial Robinson“. 15 May 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Ewald, Wendy. 2002. The Best Part of Me : Children Talk About Their Bodies in Pictures and Words.Boston: Little Brown. Fifteen subjects decide what part of their bodies will be photographed and then described in their own words.

Ewald, Wendy, Adam D Weinberg and Urs Stahel. 2000. Secret Games : Collaborative Works with Children 1969-1999. Zurich: Scalo.

Books On Books Collection – Arial Robinson

The Modern Day Black Alphabet (2020)

The Modern Day Black Alphabet (2020)
Arial Robinson
Casebound. Paper over boards. H290 x W220 mm. 64 pages. Acquired from Amazon, 24 June 2021.
Photos of the book: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with artist’s permission.

Arial Robinson is a multidisciplinary artist based in North Carolina. Her photography captures the air, sky, suburban streets and heat of the state, and her book captures its Black community in a way that pushes through any “White gaze” that it encounters.

Letter A’s pair of looks — one coolly appraising its viewer and the other warmly smiling but outlined off center in white ink — begins the push with subtlety. The dual images of “Z is for safe Zone”– addressing the viewer with a Stop sign graffitied “Black Kids Only” and a young girl forming a letter Z with her bike, occupying the whole street under a Carolina blue sky — end it more directly.

Between A and Z, The Modern Day Black Alphabet primarily addresses young Black readers, celebrates them eating a popsicle, studying, cooking or drinking from a spigot and takes pride in taking care of appearances — especially hair and dress. Throughout, most of the double-page spreads have an edginess. Sometimes it’s an edgy, out-loud humor, as in “O is for Outside” with its can of “air freshener” labeled “You Smell like Outside”. Sometimes it’s the loud-quiet edginess of “X is for eXcellence” which juxtaposes a pile of certificates of accomplishment with a black-jacketed self-portrait and lapel pin that reads “We Call BS”. Always it’s the edginess of an artist in control of technique, material and vision directing her gaze on herself and her world.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Tia Blassingame“. 17 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Wendy Ewald“. 15 May 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Ursula Hochuli-Gamma“. 18 November 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Tupoka Ogette“. 15 May 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Clarissa Sligh“. 2 September 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Allah, Saladin. 21 February 2021. “Animation Series: The Modern Day Black Alphabet“. Accessed 1 April 2023.

Books On Books Collection – ABC in Dixie

ABC in Dixie: A Plantation Alphabet (ca. 1900)

We see the world through our letters. Horn-books with their Christian catechisms. Moralizing Victorian alphabet books.

George Willard Bonte from Cincinnati, Ohio and Marie Louise Quarles from Richmond, Virginia were both born in 1873. When they were four years old, Republican Rutherford B. Hayes cut a deal with southern Democrats to remove federal troops from the Reconstruction South, which tipped the balance in the Electoral College, made him president and ushered in the Jim Crow Era that would see the Civil Rights Act of 1875 declared unconstitutional, new state-level constitutions and voting laws designed to disenfranchise Blacks, the Plessy v. Ferguson decision establishing the “separate but equal” doctrine as constitutional and Woodrow Wilson’s institutionalizing of segregation in the federal civil service. Fifteen Blacks were lynched in Ohio between 1877 and 1950; eighty-four in Virginia for the same period (Equal Justice Initiative). Sometime between 1900 and before 1908, the Bontes, who were married in 1902, published ABC in Dixie: A Plantation Alphabet with the firm Ernest Nister.

Ernest Nister had established his eponymous printing company in Nuremburg, Germany in 1877 and launched his London-based publishing company under the management of Robert Ellice Mack in 1888. Nister ranks with other German innovators of movable books such as Lothar Meggendorfer and Raphael Tuck. He came up with multiple versions of the dissolving-picture book in which the pull of a tab would transform one image into another. He also excelled at applying chromolithography to his books. Nister’s and Mack’s world view would seem mostly reflected in their titles: A Rabbit’s Tale, The Dandy Lion, The Animals’ Trip to Sea, Peeps into Fairyland, Surprising Pictures, Playtime Surprises and More Pleasant Surprises.

ABC in Dixie might seem surprising for a publisher with such a world view. Of course not so surprising for White Americans raised in the Jim Crow era. To whom this copy of the book belonged is unknown. Its cover’s colored-in letter C suggests that it reached at least one child — most likely White. Why was the page opposite “N is fer Noah …” violently torn out? Did a child named Olive take offense at the lines on its reverse?

“O is fer Olive
who looks like she’s white.
She brushes de
missus’ hair
mo’nin’ en night”.

The illustrator’s “light-skinned” caricature speaks volumes to the engrained racism laughingly passed along to young readers. But they were v0lumes no one at Nister’s firm read. Nister’s must have thought it was on to a winner and followed up with a series of postcards based on the book. The one for Valentine’s Day drew on the publisher’s movable book devices and included rolling eyes. Following in the footsteps of W.H. Heinemann with William Nicholson’s Alphabet (1897) and An Almanac of Twelve Sports (1897), Nister’s also signed up George Bonte for The Coon Calendar for 1905.

Why have a work like this in the Books On Books Collection? For its chromolithography? Yes. For its connection with Ernest Nister? And yes. But the full answer is to be found in another collector’s viewpoint. In 2012, now retired professor of sociology David Pilgrim established the Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia at Ferris State University in Michigan. The museum presents over 10,000 objects of hate that were part of growing up Black in the Jim Crow era. It exists to “use items of intolerance to teach tolerance”. Pilgrim’s 2005 essay explaining how the museum came to be and how it works is powerful. It needs to be. Jim Crow 2.0 is with us. The museum’s voice is still needed against ongoing violence, book-banning, voter suppression driven by legislatures and Supreme Court decisions and anti-immigrant measures taken around the world.

ABC in Dixie is here for its representation of how alphabets construct a world view. It is also here to be confronted with other world views. Rather than being coddled among rosy-cheeked children’s books — as it once was in Ernest Nister’s catalogue — ABC in Dixie sits here to be discomfited by American Alphabets (2005) by Wendy Ewald, Mourning/Warning (2015) by Tia Blassingame, Transforming Hate (2016) by Clarissa Sligh, R is for Reparations (2019) by the Global Afrikan Congress, The Modern Day Black Alphabet (2020) by Arial Robinson and Ein rassismuskritisches Alphabet (An Anti-Racist Alphabet) (2022) by Tupoka Ogette. By way of apology, if these other world views are seen alongside that of ABC in Dixie, maybe the arc of history can be bent a bit further toward justice a bit sooner.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Tia Blassingame“. 17 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Wendy Ewald“. Books On Books Collection.

Global Afrikan Congress“. Books On Books Collection.

Tupoka Ogette“. Books On Books Collection.

Arial Robinson“. Books On Books Collection.

Clarissa Sligh“. Books On Books Collection.

Lester, Neal. 14 March 2022. “Black Children’s Lives Matter: Representational Violence against Black Children“. Humanities11(2), 41; 

Pilgrim, David. 20o5. “The Garbage Man: Why I Collect Racist Objects“. Jim Crow Museum of Racist Memorabilia.Ferris State University, Big Rapids, Michigan. Accessed 1 May 2023.

University of North Texas Libraries. 2000. “Ernest Nister” in Pop-up and Movable Books Exhibit. University of North Texas. Accessed 1 May 2023.

Books On Books Collection – Yevhen Berdnikov

While working on the “Alphabets Alive!” exhibition with the Bodleian to open in July 2023, I came across this project site page by Yevhen Berdnikov, a calligrapher based in Kyiv, Ukraine.

Since “Alphabets Alive!” would primarily concern the creative relationship of artists’ books with alphabets and other writing systems, an AI-generated rendition of the alphabet (humankind’s second-greatest invention, language being the first) was a natural for inclusion. Given the short notice, the artist’s lack of bookmaking experience and — oh yes — the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine and attacks on Kyiv, a book was out of the question. Still, with one of the exhibition’s display cases being devoted to artists’ books driven by calligraphy and another to ones driven by color, some way of including these letter images prompted by Yevhen Berdnikov and generated by the text-to-image AI Midjourney from the company of the same name begged to be found.

Paper Cut Alphabet (2023)

Paper Cut Alphabet (2023)
Yevhen Berdnikov
Poster. H x W. Acquired from Yevhen Berdnikov, 8 March 2023.
Images courtesy of Yevhen Berdnikov and reproduced with permission.

When the digital file for the poster first arrived, the treatment of letter Z was a surprise. Even without its current caption, the implication of the treatment was obvious to anyone who knew Berdnikov’s nationality and had seen news images of Russian tanks and military vehicles with Z painted on them. An AI-generated letter Z exists in the Paper Cut Alphabet Project’s files, but, in preparing the poster for a public exhibition, Berdnikov could not bring himself to prompt the AI to generate a symbol that had become intolerable and particularly loathsome on the anniversary of the invasion.

Chance is a well-known muse to many artists. Midjourney, the application, requires an extensive amount of “prompting” — detailed text describing the image it will create. As Berdnikov notes above, the same text can generate different results, which implies an element of randomization at work in the application. But how could a randomizing function yield a meaningful absence of image in response to prompting text? How could machine learning enable Midjourney on its own to compile this version of the alphabet without that particular and human creative intervention?

Even while acknowledging his intervention in Paper Cut Alphabet, Berdnikov insists that he is not the artist, but isn’t his use of Midjourney analogous to Vermeer’s presumed use of a camera obscura to achieve the detail and perspective we see in his paintings? If he did use that technology, does it warrant calling his paintings “device-generated”? Even so, this viewer “feels” the human artists behind View of Houses in Delft (c. 1658) and Paper Cut Alphabet (2023).

Berdnikov’s comments above and his demurrer at being named the “artist” of Paper Cut Alphabet reflect an inquisitive, open and thoughtful mind. Whatever its undetermined implications, the result of his wielding this new artist’s tool is decidedly art.

Further Reading

Du Sautoy, Marcus. 2019. The Creativity Code : Art and Innovation in the Age of AI. Cambridge Massachusetts: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press.

Miller, Arthur I. 2019. The Artist in the Machine : Inside the New World of Machine-Created Art , Literature and Music. Cambridge Massachusetts: MIT Press.

Tarasenko, Oleg, and Saulė Tolstych. 14 March 2023. “Widespread Anger Ensues Online Over This Viral Instagram Account Whose Photo Portraits Are Discovered To Be Generated By Midjourney“. Bored Panda. Accessed 18 April 2023.

Whiddingdon, Richard.  17 April 2023. “A Photographer Submitted an A.I.-Generated Image to a Prestigious Art Competition to Be ‘Cheeky.’ It Won a Top Prize Anyway“. Artnet News. Accessed 17 April 2023..

Books On Books Collection – David McLimans

Gone Wild (2016)

Gone Wild: An Endangered Animal Alphabet (2016)
David McLimans
Casebound, illustrated paper over boards, illustrated doublures, sewn book block. Illustrated, debossed glossy paper dustjacket. H255 x W285 mm. 36 unnumbered pages. Acquired from Gargoyle Books, 25 August 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

In the history of children’s books, the alphabet looms large, and among alphabet books, animal alphabets make up the largest category. But why animals?

For learning and teaching letters, they are easily recognized and mnemonically effective. Illustrators can wrap them around letters, make them twist themselves into letters or hide them behind letters. Designers can hide them on tabs behind letters, make them pop out, parade them across leporellos (accordion books), let them lurk in tunnel books or put them on a paper disk to appear and disappear in a volvelle’s window. Writers can weave stories with animals and letters, put animals and letters together in puns and surprising scenarios or use alliteration and rhyme with them to reinforce letter recognition and reading. For authors more paleographically and philosophically inclined, the answer to “Why animals?” might be sought in the origins of the alphabet’s first letter as James Rumford does in There’s a Monster in the Alphabet (2002) and Don Robb and Anne Smith do in Ox, House, Stick (2007).

A Methode or Comfortable Beginning for All Vnlearned Whereby They May Be Taught to Read English : In a Very Short Time Vvith Pleasure: So Profitable As Straunge Put in Light by I.h. Chester Heralt (1750)
John Hart
Image from Folger Shakespeare Library

Whatever the cause, ever since John Hart’s A Methode, or Comfortable Beginning for All Unlearned (1570), which appears to be the first example of teaching the English alphabet with illustrations, we have had an explosion of imagination and wit choosing, finding or making up animals, birds, fish, insects and reptiles with which to decorate the letters, to make from letters (or make letters with), to be disguised with abstractions or to be hidden, revealed or popped out from behind letters. Now, in reverse over four centuries later, the alphabet has been mustered for teaching the endangered state of those creatures.

While E.N. Ellis, Bert Kitchen, the team of Alan Robinson and Suzanne Moore all allot only one letter and the dodo to make the point, Dick King-Smith and Quentin Blake together devote almost all of their Alphabeasts (1990) to examples of extinction, as do Jerry Pallotta and Ralph Masiello in The Extinction Alphabet Book (1993).

Left to right: from E.N. Ellis’s An Alphabet; Bert Kitchen’s Animal Alphabet; Alan Robinson and Suzanne Moore’s A Fowl Alphabet.

Quentin Blake’s page-by-page visual narrative married to Dick King-Smith’s opening verses in Alphabeasts.

With Gone Wild, David McLimans adds a complex and subtle device to the explosion. The book is not so much about learning the alphabet with animals as learning about animals with the alphabet — or rather with “alphabetic art”. Wielding computer, pencil, pen, brush and India ink on bristol board, David McLimans redraws the alphabet’s capital letters to look like animals not yet extinct but on the Red List of the International Union for Conservation of Nature. Even traditional alphabet book design subtly serves as a teaching tool about these animals. Notice how McLimans and John Candell, the book’s designer, turn the traditional presentation of uppercase and lowercase letters into a kind of running head that underscores the common and scientific names of each animal. Even the list of facts on each species — their habitats, geographic ranges, threats to survival and statuses — receives meaningful thematic design touches from the use of two-color printing — blood red and extinction black.

After the brief red-on-black thumbnails and descriptions following Grevy’s Zebra, McLimans provides further reading (online and in print). You have to go beyond a quick dive into the address he provides for the IUCN to find the Red List (see address above). There you will learn how up to the minute this book was in 2016 — and, unfortunately, still is.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Marie Angel“. 18 June 2021. Books On Books Collection. For letters decorated with animals.

Paul Cox“. 18 October 2021. Books On Books Collection. For an abstract animal alphabet.

E.N. Ellis“. 30 October 2022. Books On Books Collection. For letters decorated with animals other than the dodo.

Dick King-Smith and Quentin Blake“. In progress. Books On Books Collection. For letters in aid of animals rather than vice versa.

Miarko“. In progress. Books On Books Collection. For letters decorated with animals.

Suzanne Moore“. 14 January 2020. Books On Books Collection. For letters associated with other birds besides the dodo.

Don Robb and Anne Smith“. 26 March 2023. Books On Books Collection. For the animal-related origin of the alphabet.

James Rumford“. 21 November 2022. Books On Books Collection. For the animal-related origin of the alphabet.

Sharon Werner and Sharon Forss“. 30 December 2022. Books On Books Collection. For animals made from letters.

Chinese Alligator (Alligator sinensis Fauvel 1879)“. Encyclopedia of Life. Accessed 17 February 2023.

Grevy’s Zebra Equus grevyi Oustalet 1882“. Encyclopedia of Life. Accessed 17 February 2023.

Cossins, Jennifer. 2017. A-Z of Endangered Animals. Sydney N.S.W: Lothian Children’s Books. For letters in aid of animals rather than vice versa.

Haines, Mike. 2010. Wild Alphabet : An A to Zoo Pop-Up Book. New York NY: Kingfisher Books. For animals popping out from behind letters.

Hunt, Peter, and Butts, Dennis. 1995. Children’s Literature : An Illustrated History. Oxford: Oxford University Press. See, in particular, pp. 6-7.

Kitchen, Bert. 1991. Animal Alphabet. London: Walker Books. For letters decorated with animals other than the dodo.

Mackey, Bonnie and Hedy Schiller Watson. 2017. Alphabet Books : The K-12 Educators’ Power Tool. Santa Barbara California: Libraries Unlimited. For a brief history and extended categorization of alphabet books.

Markle, Sandra; Markle, William; and Dávalos, Felipe. 1998. Gone Forever! : An Alphabet of Extinct Animals. 1st ed. New York N.Y: Atheneum Books for Young Readers. For letters in aid of animals rather than vice versa.

Mullins, Patricia. 1995/1993. V For Vanishing : An Alphabet of Endangered Animals. Sydney N.S.W: Margaret Hamilton Books. For letters in aid of animals rather than vice versa.

Pallotta, Jerry, and Masiello, Ralph. 1993. The Extinct Alphabet Book. Watertown Mass: Charlesbridge. For letters in aid of animals rather than vice versa.

Wakefield, D. R. 2009. An Alphabet of Extinct Mammals. Goole: Chevington Press. For letters in aid of animals rather than vice versa.

Wakefield D. R. 2010. Alphabet of Endangered Mammals : A Collection of Etchings Depicting Animals Considered Extinct in the Wild 2050. Goole: Chevington Press. For letters in aid of animals rather than vice versa.

Books On Books Collection – Gerald Lange

The Neolithic Adventures of Taffi-Mai Metallu-Mai (1997)

The Neolithic Adventures of Taffi-Mai Metallu-Mai (1997)
Gerald Lange and Rudyard Kipling
H216 x W260 mm. 55 pages with 17 additional illustrated page inserts. Edition of 150, of which this is #149. Acquired from the artist, 11 Febuary 2023.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with the artist’s permission.

Gerald Lange’s choice of “How the First Letter Was Written” and “How the Alphabet Was Made” from Rudyard Kipling’s Just So Stories (1902) for this elaborate, delicate but robust edition was fitting. By 1997, he had founded the Bieler Press (1975), co-founded the Alliance for Contemporary Book Arts (1987) and edited its journal AbraCadaBrA for seven years, had been the Master Printer at USC Fine Arts Press and selected as the first recipient of the prestigious Carl Hertzog Award for Excellence in Book Design (1991) and was about to publish the first edition of his Printing Digital Type on the Hand-Operated Flatbed Cylinder Press (now in its fifth edition, 2018). In keeping with his interests leading up to this work, Lange letterpress-printed it from handset Monotype Pastonchi and a digitally altered version of Berthold Post Antiqua. More to the point, as he noted on the Bieler Press site, he chose the stories for “their affinity with subjects related to the lettering arts”. If that affinity is not clear enough from the text, Lange’s treatment underscores it in subtly ingenious ways.

Kipling attributes the drawings throughout to his heroine, Taffi and her father. Where others like Macmillan Children’s Books have rendered them boldly, Lange prints the primitive petroglyph-like images on separate Gampi sheets inserted between the folded Kitakata text leaves of the tortoise shell edge-sewn binding. Those text leaves are individually water colored on their reverse sides (urazaiki manner based on nihonga painting) so that the pictographs beneath reveal themselves through a striated layer. The color and striations are reminiscent of cave paintings. Additional Asian papers (Kasuiri and Chirizome for end sheets, Cogan Grass for covers) increase the work’s tactility — simultaneously soft and rough, flimsy and tough — and contribute a grassy smell redolent of the stories’ physical setting.

The quality and rightness of choices in structure, material and process have placed several of Lange’s works in The British Library, University of California (various), Columbia University, Harvard University, University of Minnesota, New York Public Library, Princeton University, Stanford University, Victoria and Albert Museum, Yale University and others. The initial reason bringing this particular work into the Books On Books collection was its representation of book art inspired by the alphabet. That Robin Price, several of whose works are also in the Books On Books collection, assisted with the design came as a bonus. That this is one of the last bound copies of The Neolithic Adventures of Taffi-Mai Metallu-Mai makes it a treasure.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Lyn Davies“. 7 August 2022. Books On Books Collection. Reference and fine print.

Timothy Donaldson“. 1 February 2023. Books On Books Collection. Reference.

Cari Ferraro“. Books On Books Collection. Artist’s book.

David J. Goldman“. Books On Books Collection. Reference.

Rudyard Kipling and Chloë Cheese“. 15 February 2023. Books On Books Collection. Illustrated children’s book.

James Rumford. 21 November 2022. Books On Books Collection. Illustrated children’s books.

Tommy Thompson“. 21 August 2022. Books On Books Collection. Reference.

Drucker, Johanna. 1999. The alphabetic labyrinth: the letters in history and imagination. New York, N.Y.: Thames and Hudson. Reference.

Ege, Otto. 1921/1998. The Story of the Alphabet, Its Evolution and Development… Embellished Typographically with Printer’s Flowers Arranged by Richard J. Hoffman. Van Nuys, CA: Richard J. Hoffman. A miniature. The type ornaments chosen by Hoffman are arranged chronologically by designer (Garamond, Granjon, Rogers) and printed in color.

Firmage, Richard A. 2001. The alphabet. London: Bloomsbury. Reference.

Fischer, Steven Roger. 2008. A history of writing. London: Reaktion Books. Reference.

Jackson, Donald. 1997. The story of writing. Monmouth, England: Calligraphy Centre. Reference.

Lange Gerald. 2018. Printing Digital Type on the Hand-Operated Flatbed Cylinder Press. Fifth edition, revised, updated & expanded ed. Seattle: Chatwin Books.

Robb, Don, and Anne Smith. 2010. Ox, house, stick: the history of our alphabet. Watertown, MA: Charlesbridge. Children’s book.

Robinson, Andrew. 1995. The story of writing. London: Thames and Hudson. Reference.

Rosen, Michael. 2014. Alphabetical: how every letter tells a story. London: John Murray. Reference.

Sacks, David. 2003. Language visible unraveling the mystery of the alphabet from A to Z. New York: Broadway Books. Reference.

Samoyault, Tiphaine. 1996, 1998 trans. Alphabetical order: how the alphabet began. New York: Viking. Reference and illustrated children’s book.

Books On Books Collection – Don Robb and Anne Smith

Ox, House, Stick (2007)

Ox, House, Stick: The History of Our Alphabet (2007)
Don Robb (text) and Anne Smith (ills)
Casebound, illustrated paper over boards. H280 x W217 mm. 48 pages.Acquired from The Saint Bookstore, 14 August 2022. Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Text copyright © 2007 by Donald Robb. Illustrations copyright © 2007 by Anne Smith/Lilla Rogers Studio.
Used with permission by Charlesbridge Publishing, Inc. 9 Galen Street, Suite 220, Watertown, MA 02472. (617)-926 0329  

A fair number of fiction and non-fiction children’s books on the history of the alphabet have made their way into the Books On Books Collection.

Of the fiction variety, there is Rudyard Kipling’s “Just So Story” of the alphabet’s invention: How the Alphabet Was Made (1983), illustrated by Chloe Cheese. Another fiction entry is James Rumford’s retelling of Cadmus’ visit to Crete in There’s a Monster in the Alphabet (2002) and William Joyce’s inventive The Numberlys (2014).

In the non-fiction category are William Dugan’s How Our Alphabet Grew (1972), Tiphaine Samoyault’s Alphabetical Order (1998), Renzo Rossi’s The Revolution of the Alphabet (2009) and the entry here: Don Robb’s and Anne Smith’s Ox, House, Stick.

Ox, House, Stick is scheduled to appear as part of an exhibition at the Bodleian Libraries in Oxford (opening 15 July 2023). “A is for Ox” designates the display case devoted to the question: Where did the alphabet come from? It’s not just a question for archaeologists, historians, linguists and paleographers — or children’s book authors and illustrators. It’s one generating repeated inspiration for book artists as shown by Abe Kuipers’ Letters (1971), Lanore Cady’s Houses & Letters (1977), another rendition of the Kipling tale by Gerald Lange in The Neolithic Adventures of Taffi-Mai Metallu-Mai (1997), designed by Gerald Lange and produced with Robin Price, Dave Wood’s Alphabetica (2002), Cari Ferraro’s The First Writing (2004), and Helen Malone’s Alphabetic Codes (2005).

Artists’ books share much with children’s books in general. They both play with form and structure. They play with words and images, sometimes images without words and sometimes just shapes. Almost always an attention to all the senses. Children’s alphabet books in particular display features that appeal to book artists: play with animals, the Babel of languages, bodies, calligraphy, colors, design (of letters, page and book) and, as above, alphabet origin stories. Viewing and exploring alphabet books and artist’s books side by side heightens the enjoyment and appreciation of both.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Lanore Cady“. 16 December 2022. Books On Books Collection. Artist’s book.

William Dugan“. Books On Books Collection. [In progress]

Cari Ferraro“. 1 February 2023. Books On Books Collection. Artist’s book.

William Joyce“. 18 June 2021. Books On Books Collection.Illustrated children’s book.

Rudyard Kipling and Chloë Cheese“. 15 February 2023. Books On Books Collection. Illustrated children’s book.

Rudyard Kipling and Gerald Lange“. Artist’s book. [In progress]

Abe Kuipers“. 15 February 2023. Books On Books Collection. Artist’s book.

Helen Malone“. 23 July 2020. Books On Books Collection. Artist’s book.

Renzo Rossi“. Books On Books Collection. Illustrated children’s book. [In progress]

James Rumford. 21 November 2022. Books On Books Collection. Illustrated children’s book.

Tiphaine Samoyault“. Books On Books Collection. Illustrated children’s book. [In progress]

Animal alphabets & artists books

Marie Angel, An Animated Alphabet (1996)

Leonard Baskin, Hosie’s Alphabet (1972)

Paul Cox, Abstract Alphabet: A Book of Animals (2001)

E.N. Ellis, An Alphabet (1985)

C.B. Falls, ABC Book (1957)

David L. Kulhavy & Charles D. Jones, A Forest Insect Alphabet (2013)

Enid Marx, Marco’s Animal Alphabet (2000)

Carol Schwartzott, ABC of Birds (2020)

John Norris Wood, An Alphabet in Praise of Toads & Frogs (2002)

Babel (languages), alphabets & artists’ books

Golnar Adili, Father Gave Water/Baabaa Aab Daad (2022)

Islam Aly, 28 Letters (2013)

Brynja Baldursdottír, Fuþark (1992)

Ellen Heck, A is for Bee (2022)

Tatyana Mavrina, Сказочная Азбука / Skazochnaia Azbuka / A Fairy Tale Alphabet (1969)

Claire Jeanine Satin, Alphabook (1998/99)

Ben Shahn, The Alphabet of Creation (1954)

Jana Sim, Both but between (2021)

Sam Winston, One and Everything (2022)

Bodies & artists’ books

Anthon Beeke, Alphabet (1970)

Anthon Beeke & René Knip, Body Type (2011)

Toshifumi Kawahara, Dancing Alphabet (1991)

Françoise and Douglas Kirkland, Physical Poetry Alphabet (2018)

Marie Lancelin, Gestes Alphabétiques (2014)

Lisa Merkin, Bodies of Language (2021)

Annette Messager, Mes Enluminaires (1988) [In progress]

Vítězslav Nezval, Abeceda/Alphabet (1926/2001)

Rowland Scherman, Love Letters (1975) [In progress]

Calligraphy, alphabets and artists’ books

Mari Angel, Marie Angel’s Exotic Alphabet (1992)

Tauba Auerbach, How to Spell the Alphabet (2007)

Rebecca Bingham, Lady Letters (1986)

Rebecca Bingham, Alphabet Salmagundi (1988)

Carol DuBosch, Alphabet of Calligraphic Tricks (2014)

Carol DuBosch, Embossed Alphabet Gallery (2019)

Francesca Lohmann, An Alphabetical Accumulation (2017)

Suzanne Moore, A Blind Alphabet (1986)

Edward Andrew Zega & Bernd H. Dams, An Architectural Alphabet : ABC (2008)

Colors, alphabets and artists’ books

Rebecca Bingham, Golden Alphabet (1986)

Rebecca Bingham, Defining the Rainbow (2018)

Sonia Delaunay, Alphabet (1972)

Carol DuBosch, Rainbow Alphabet Snowflake (2013)

Ursula Hochuli-Gamma, 26 farbige Buchstaben (1986)

Karen Hanmer, The Spectrum (2003)

Amy Lapidow, Spiralbet (1998)

Lisa McGarry, Be Amazed (and other words to live by) (2013)

Kveta Pacovská, A l’infini (2007) [In progress]

Design (of letters, page and book), alphabets & artists’ books

Anne Bertier, Anne Dessine-moi une lettre(2004)

Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich, Bembo’s Zoo: An Animal ABC Book (2000)

Felice Feliciano & Jason Dewinetz, Alphabetum Romanum: The Letterforms of Felice Feliciano (c. 1460, 2010)

Jeff Morin & Steven Ferlauto, Sacred Space (2003)

Andrew Morrison, Two Wood Press A-Z (2020

David Pelletier, The Graphic Alphabet (1996)

Bruce Rogers, Champ rosé(1933)

Kevin Steele, The Movable Book of Letterforms(2009) [In progress]

Sharon Werner & Sharon Forss, Alphabeasties (2009)

Books On Books Collection – John Norris Wood

An Alphabet in Praise of Frogs and Toads (2002)

 An Alphabet in Praise of Frogs and Toads (2002)
John Norris Wood
Quarter red morocco over illustrated paper boards, lettered in gilt to spine, housed in black cloth and brown paper slipcase. Slipcase: H245 x W217 x D 20 mm. Book: H235 x W215 mm. 40 pages. Edition of 360, of which this is No. XXI of XXXVI, hand colored by Sylvia Stokeld under the artist’s supervision. Acquired from Sophie Schneideman Rare Books & Prints, 30 March 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

A passionate lover of animals, [John Norris Wood] opened his home to them (literally: he converted a bedroom to ‘jungle’ conditions, to support tree frogs and snakes, and housed something approaching a private zoo in his extended garden) and maintained an unexpected aviary on the the top floor of the 1960s Brutalist Royal College of Art building. He also undertook natural history expeditions around the world. Writing and broadcasting for television on a number of natural history subjects, he acted as a consultant to the iconic 1979 BBC television series presented by David Attenborough, Life on Earth. Also a committed conservationist, he supported environmental campaigners including Friends of the Earth, the World Land Trust, Fauna and Flora International, the Programme for Belize, the Egyptian Tortoise Appeal and the Environmental Investigation Agency. [Royal College of Art]

Among the subgenres of alphabet books, the animal abecedary reigns. From the animal kingdom, though, frogs and toads are not the highest ranking of the sub-subgenres. Among artists’ books from fine presses, however, this counts among the finest in the Books On Books Collection. Norris Wood drew from life, but it is hard to credit that all 26 of these creatures inhabited his bedroom!

Further Reading and Viewing

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Pick, Xavier. 25 July 2021. “In Conversation with the late John Norris Wood (2012)“. Video.

Books On Books Collection – Serena Smith

Ekphrasis (2020)

Ekphrasis (2020)
Serena Smith
Case bound with letterpress printed cloth cover H700 x W460 x D20 mm. 23 folios: 2 end leaves, 1 title, 10 hand-colored images printed on to 225gsm Simili Japon, 10 bronzed text printed onto translucent paper. Edition of 5, of which this is #5. Acquired from the artist, 5 January 2023.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Photos and videos: Courtesy of the artist. Displayed with permission of the artist.

The word ekphrasis refers to the literary practice of verbally representing a visual representation. Think of the poets Keats, Auden and Jarrell using words to “recreate”, re-present, evoke or respond to works of art — an antique urn, a painting by Brueghel, or Donatello’s sculpture of David. Novelists, too. Think of Henry James’ The Ambassadors in which the narrator Lambert Strether describes an imagined stroll through a landscape painting he’s viewing.

Serena Smith has a different point of departure for Ekphrasis. Her dwelling and studio back onto a Leicestershire country park — “part arboretum and part community”. Highlighted with maple, Tibetan cherry and Himalayan birch, the planted woodland of ash and beech with its defined paths offers up “artefact of living trees” as much a constructed work of visual art as any urn, painting or sculpture.

In this bookwork, ten pages of text printed on translucent paper overlay ten images printed from stone. The text reflects on the “wandering, watching and thinking that happens in the parkland”, but then it turns internally to the studio, the ephemera collected from the woodland, and the stage before the images come into being. The process of making becomes an object of the ekphrastic text: smoothing the stone, using a tool to guide the pencil, sharpening the pencil. And gradually the work reveals itself as a self-reflexive meditation on natural and artificial creation, on word and image, and on trace lines of growth and decay.

The translucent pages of text create a palimpsest-like effect over the folios of images. Until the translucent folio turns, the text is indecipherable. As the pages turn, the textual and pictorial play off one another.

Close-up of text

Single-page view of first lithograph

The lithographic image divides into three parts. The jigsaw-like lines around the image of bark come from a stencil tool, and the result chimes with planning lines of landscape architecture, feeding insects’ tracks in the bast, the shape of lichen and ultimately the Ogham runes mentioned in the text and depicted at the end.

First of three-part close-up of the first lithograph

Second of three-part close-up of the first lithograph

Third of three-part close-up of the first lithograph


The following ekphrastic words bring the lithographic process to life. Taken together, the glossary, Smith’s descriptive text and its ekphrastic focus on the lithographic process transform her stone into a kind of Ogham stone itself.

As the drawing progresses I wonder if the hands of Celtic scribes also tired, whilst scoring the lines of Ogham script into fragments of wood. Cutting short repeated grooves against the grain an effort would have been felt, different to that which allowed the tool to willingly travel along the pathways of growth. Perhaps they too made use of a device to control the errant gesture, and aid inscription of measured lines of written text. This can only be speculated.

What the remaining Ogham stones do tacitly share are ciphered incisions that scale their lichen clad faces with a purposeful regularity that resists embellishment. Contouring the edges, the cut lines navigate uneven corners without detour, and prompt me to ask if these scribes, flesh pressed into stone, also briefly held their breath while negotiating the changes in direction prescribed by the matrix.

A version of the text and all of the images can be found in Smith’s brief essay published by IMPACT Printmaking Journal (Spring 2020) and in the following slide show (courtesy of the artist).

Ekphrasis pp. 34,35 detail

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Brynja Baldursdottír“. 10 March 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Notes on “Inverse Ekphrasis” as a way into book art“. 16 June 2022. Bookmarking Book Art.

Ager, Simon. “Ogham“. Omniglot: The Online Encyclopedia of Writing Systems and Languages. Accessed 10 February 2023.

Tompkins, Willis W. 1960. Ogham : A Brief Account of the Language and Its Alphabets, Usages by the Druids, and Some Applications in Cryptology ; the Whole Compiled from Various Sources, Edited, Arranged and Furnished with Examples of Alphabets Engraved on Wood. New York: Ogham.

Graves, Robert, and Eileen Hogan. 1978. Ogham : Each Letter of the Alphabet Is Presented with a Colour and Bird All Three Beginning with the Same Initial ; the Whole Alphabet Forms a Calendar of Seasonal Bardic Lore Based on an Interpretation by Robert Graves of the Cyphers Used in the Book of Ballymote. London: Burnt Wood Press.

Books On Books Collection – Brynja Baldursdottír

Fuþorc (1992)

Fuþorc (1992)
Brynja Baldursdottír
Casebound in brushed and inked 1.6 mm zinc plate cover. Decorated doublures. Closed: H290 x W160 mm. Open: 320 mm. 32 folios. Edition of 144, of which this is #98. Acquired from the artist, 15 November 2021.
Photos of the work: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Fuþorc, the name of Brynja Baldursdottír’s artist’s book, is the word made from the first six runes of the Runic alphabet, much as alphabet derives from the first two Greek letters alpha and beta. The shield-like covers, laid face down, display all twenty-four runes of the fuþorc. Over time and geography, the runes have changed in number, spelling and meaning, reflected in the explanatory and interpretive Norwegian, Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon versions of the “Rune Poem”. Baldursdottír’s version is “The Old English Rune Poem”, translated by Marijane Osborn and Stella Longland, which is we have the Old English fuþorc rather than the Scandinavian fuþark.

The Runic alphabet divides into three equal parts or ættir (pl. of ætt). In Fuþorc, Baldursdottír signals the beginning of each ætt with a double-page spread in which the eight runes of the ætt arc over a central image containing the ætt’s first letter. Different attributes attach to the ættir and each of the runes they embrace. Using layout of the text and imagery embedded in or surrounding the rune, Baldursdottír has evoked these attributes.

So, for the Ætt of Feoh, figures dance around the Maypole-like rune feoh, which is the first letter of Freyr and Freya who rule over this ætt associating it with agriculture, fertility and sexuality. Although Baldursdottír has Thor ruling over the Ætt of Haegl, it is the Watcher god and goddess Heimdall and Mordgud who rule over it. The seacliff-dwelling goat refers to Heimdall’s usual watch post. The snake to the left of the goat may be Jörmungandr, for which Thor goes fishing in the Prose Edda, which explains the presence of Thor’s hammer in the upper right of the image. Haegl means “hail”, and Heimdall is associated with the kind of disruptive weather threatening the ship at the foot of the image. For the Ætt of Tir, the arrowhead or spear shape of the rune evokes Tyr, the god of war, who rules over this ætt. By shaping each ætt with one of the fundamental geometric shapes of square, circle and triangle, Baldursdottír highlights the elemental nature of the Runic alphabet.

Ætt of Feoh, Ætt of Haegl, Ætt of Tir

In displaying each rune, it is as if Baldursdottír invites the viewer to peer through a rune-shaped stencil to that other world of associated attributes, but as with most divination, the images are partial and ambiguous. Is that a horse or a dragon behind feoh? Hail descending and melting behind haegl? A warship’s prow behind tir?

The runes feoh, haegl and tir

No doubt, more familiarity with the lore of runes would increase the reward of close attention to each image. But many are easily accessible. The image of horses shows well enough through the rune eh (or ehwaz), which means horse, horses or transport, but if there is any doubt, the explanatory text is laid out like reins and a bridle.

The book closes with the Valknut, sometimes called Odin’s knot, at the center of the Acknowledgments. Although runes and symbols such as this may be susceptible to misappropriation, the Acknowlegments themselves serve the Books On Books Collection as a welcome reminder that Fuþorc was first seen among other treasures at Ron King’s home.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Ron King“. 1 March 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Serena Smith“. 10 March 2023. Books On Books Collection.

King, Bernard. 2000. Runes : An Introductory Guide to Interpreting the Ancient Wisdom of the Runes. Rev. ed. Shaftesbury: Element, 2000. New Perspectives (Element).

Looijenga, Tineke. 2003. Texts & Contexts of the Oldest Runic Inscriptions. Leiden: BRILL, 2003.

Osborn Marijane and Stella Longland. 1982. Rune Games. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Books On Books Collection – Peter Criddle

Commend Me to the Ampersand (2018)

Commend Me to the Ampersand (2018)
Peter Criddle
Booklet, sewn saddle-stitch, untrimmed at the head. H110 x W154 mm. 10 folios, untrimmed at the head. Acquired 8 September 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Like Andrew Morrison’s Ampersand& (2007), also in the Books On Books Collection, Peter Criddle’s booklet is a design festival of ampersands. In his celebration, Criddle uses metal & wood ampersands (whereas Morrison’s are all wooden) , but his effort’s chief distinction is the revival of an extended piece of doggerel, first presented in Punch Magazine (1869).

He’s never bothered, like A.B.C.
In Index, Guide, and Directorie:
He’s never stuck on a Peeler’s coat,
Nor hung to show where the folks must vote.
No, my nice little Amperzand,
My plump and curly Amperzand,
When I’ve a pen in a listless hand,
I’m always making an Ampersand!

Nothing for him that’s starch or stiff,
Never he’s used in scold or tiff,
State epistles, so dull and grand,
Mustn’t contain the shortened and.
No, my nice little Amperzand,
You’re good for those who’re jolly and bland,
In days when letters were dried with sand
Old frumps wouldn’t use my Amperzand!

But he is dear in old friendship’s call,
Or when love is laughing through lady-scrawl:
‘Come & dine, & have bachelor’s fare.’
‘Come & I’ll keep you a Round & Square.’
Yes my nice little Amperzand
Never must into a word expand,
Gentle sign of affection stand,
My kind, familiar Amperzand.

‘Letters Five do form his name:’
His, who Millions doth teach and tame:
If I could not be in that Sacred Band,
I’d be the affable Amperzand.
Yes, my nice little Amperzand,
And when PUNCH is driving his five-in-hand,
I’ll have a velocipede, neatly planned
In the shape of a fly-away Amperzand.

For now, Criddle’s may be “the last word on the ampersand”.

Further Reading

The Last Word on the Ampersand“. 27 June 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Andrew Morrison“. 15 September 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Books On Books Collection – Marie Dern

William Caslon’s Typographic ABC (1991)

William Caslon’s Typographic ABC (1991)
Marie Dern
Double-sided leporello. H11 x W14 mm. 28 panels. Edition of 55, of which this is #1. Acquired from Bromer’s, 5 February 2023.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

One of the most common precursors to the codex, the leporello, accordion or concertina structure suits this celebration of what is considered the first original English typeface, designed by William Caslon (1692–1766), used to set both the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution, and so dominant a font since the 18th century that it prompted its own dicta: “When in doubt, use Caslon”. In Marie Dern’s hands, though, the accordion structure is anything but common. Rather than zigzag folding a long strip of paper, she has attached her panels to two parallel strips of linen tape and left just enough space between the pairs of panels to have the hinged leporello fold down into a precise oblong shape.

Caslon has featured in such outstanding books as Oliver Byrne’s The First Six Books of the Elements of Euclid: In Which Coloured Diagrams and Symbols Are Used Instead of Letters (1847), nearly an artist’s book in its own right. Dern might have been more immediately inspired, however, by Chris Van Allsburg’s whimsical children’s book The Z was Zapped: A Play in Twenty-six Acts, Performed by the Caslon Players (1987). From the start, bending the alphabet full circle to the ampersand, Dern’s own whimsy extends beyond the letters themselves.

L: from Byrne’s The First Six Books. Typeroom, 23 January 2020. Accessed 8 March 2023.
R: from Van Allsburg’s The Z was Zapped. Photo: Books On Books Collection.

Given its age and dignity, Caslon attracted a fair amount of rock throwing from designers (especially in the 20th century). While Dern may have her own whimsical fun with Caslon, she doesn’t let the rock-throwers off scot free. Her Caslon’s G puts Frederic Goudy on notice that size does matter, and the Caslon S reminds Eric Gill of the emperor’s new clothes.

Other alphabetical typeface celebrations in the Books On Books Collection include Nicolas McDowall’s A Bodoni Charade (1995), Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich’s Bembo’s Zoo (2000) and Sharon Werner & Sharon Forss’ Alphabeasties and Other Amazing Types (2009).

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Roberto de Vicq de Cumptich“. 12 February 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Sharon Werner & Sharon Forss“. 20 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Nicolas McDowall”. 10 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Nicholas Rougeux“. 19 November 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Chris Van Allsburg“. 12 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Byrne, Oliver, and William Pickering. 1847. The First Six Books of the Elements of Euclid: In Which Coloured Diagrams and Symbols Are Used Instead of Letters. London: W. Pickering.

Morison Stanley. 1997. Letter Forms : Typographic and Scriptorial : Two Essays on Their Classification History and Bibliography. Point Roberts WA: Hartley & Marks. See pp. 27-28 for the first stones cast in 1937.

Morison, Stanley. 1999. A Tally of Types New ed. [3rd ed.] ed. Boston: D.R. Godine. Caslon is not even included in Morison’s “tally” of seventeen typefaces. It appears on pages 24-27 in his introduction “revised & amplified” by Phyllis M. Handover. Even there they enlist Bruce Rogers, Emery Walker and William Morris to chuck additional rocks in Caslon’s direction on pages 37-38.

Books On Books Collection – Lisa McGuirk

If Rocks Could Sing: A Discovered Alphabet (2011)

If Rocks Could Sing: A Discovered Alphabet (2011)
Leslie McGuirk
Casebound, glossy paper over board, illustrated doublures. H21 x W24 mm. 48 pages. Acquired from Paper Cavalier, 2023.
Photos of the book: Books On Books Collection, displayed with permission of artist. © 2011 by Leslie McGuirk. Photos in the book by Denise Ritchie.

Along the Victor Hugo-esque theme of “alphabets all around”, here is a beachcomber’s eye for rock shapes with which to construct not only a complete alphabet but also the images necessary for an abecedary.

Not only a b-shaped stone, but also one shaped like a bird. Likewise a c-shaped stone, but this time a miniature sofa to accommodate the resident stone with a shape to complete the phrase.

McGuirk has spotted stones for verbs as well as adjectives and nouns — all equally astonishing in their serendipity, humor and insight. Perhaps the last is best: the match of the z-shaped stone with a word beginning with z that matches a numeral-shaped stone that, arguably, reproduces the concept at its eroded center.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Robert Beretta“. 18 February 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Kenneth Hardacre“. 18 February 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Elliott Kaufman“. 21 January 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Ellen Sollod“. 29 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

De Looze, Laurence. 2018. The Letter and the Cosmos: How the Alphabet Has Shaped the Western View of the World. Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

Hugo, Victor, and Nathan Haskell Dole, trans. 1890 (1895). Victor Hugo’s Letters to His Wife and Others (The Alps and the Pyrenees). Boston, MA: Estes and Lauriat.

Books On Books Collection – Maywan Shen Krach and Hongbin Zhang

D is for Doufu: An Alphabet Book of Chinese Culture (1997)
Maywan Shen Krach and Hongbin Zhang
Dustjacket, cased and perfect bound with decorative doublures. H305 x W 258 mm. 32 pages. Acquired from Ultimate Treasures, 9 November 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.
Text copyright © 1997 by Maywan Shen Krach. Illustrations copyright © 1997 by Hongbin Zhang. Permission arranged with Shen’s Books, an imprint of LEE & LOW BOOKS Inc., New York, NY 10016. All rights reserved.
Learn more at

Shen’s Books, founded as a retailer in San Francisco by Maywan Shen in 1985, published D is for Doufu in 1997 as one of its first books in a line of works introducing children to the cultures of Asia and emphasizing cultural diversity and tolerance. That Chinese is, of course, a non-alphabetic writing system presents a challenge and artistic opportunity. D is for Doufu imaginatively and colorfully seized them. Transliteration into Pinyin gave the author Maywan Shen Krach the alphabetic opening, and Hongbin Zhang exploited it by illustrating her twenty-three (no I, U or V in Chinese) words and phrases with their calligraphic representation and his distinctive artwork in handmade papers, brocades and mineral paints.

With its text and art for “Z for zhōng guó” (China), this late 20th century book now has an unintended wistfulness in the context of the minority Uighurs’ plight and the economic and welfare devastation of Covid.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Tsu, Jing. 2023. Kingdom of Characters: A Tale of Language Obsession and Genius in Modern China. London: Penguin Books.

Books On Books Collection – Corinne Ringel Bailey

Alphabet Book No. 2108 (1934)

Alphabet Book No. 2108 (1934)
Corinne Ringel Bailey
Linen book. Saddle-stitch, staples, H305 x w255 mm. 8 linen leaves including cover. Acquired 19 January 2023.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Known now primarily for its Raggedy Ann books, The Saalfield Publishing Company (1900-77) published a wide range of linen books for children, naturally including numerous alphabet books with different themes. This last of four editions over 1928-34 — an alphabet of games, toys and entertainments — is one of Corinne Ringel Bailey’s more popular illustrated works. Based on library holdings, the most popular was The Adventures of Tom Sawyer published in 1931.

Although spanning the Great Depression, this abecedary depicts a world untouched by hardship. The “Jack & Jill” who come down this hill have a pail overflowing with letters. While the illustrations range back to inexpensive childhood activities (playing catch, hoop rolling, ice sliding and leapfrog), they also include a toy airplane, an electric train set, and a large radio cabinet for bedtime tales. Albeit not technologically advanced, both the pony cart for children under P and the tricycle under V (paying attention?) would have been luxuries — as would the replica steam-driven fire engine as well.

The booklet contains other peculiar leaps. While many of the activities have rural or suburban settings, the organ grinder was and remains an urban phenomenon. Words such as “aeroplane” and “quoits” have a British or European flavor to them (as do some of the dolls’ clothing), but a “yard” is where American children play while British children play in the “back garden”. The children’s clothing looks more American, and although animal crackers (biscuits) originated in England, the box depicted under Z (still paying attention?) looks suspiciously like the one created by Nabisco for its version of animal crackers.

Given the simplicity of most words in the book, “velocipede” seems a rather large one to include — even though it had been used since the mid-19th century on both sides of the Atlantic to cover bicycles and tricycles. Since other alphabet books of the period selected velocipede for V, the choice does not set Bailey’s apart from the crowd pedagogically. The absence of a more considered treatment of uppercase vs lowercase letters, however, does. From hornbooks onwards, most abecedaries present the uppercase and lowercase. In this respect and others, Bailey’s work is more picture book than alphabet book.

Illustration choices seem to have the upper hand. Echoing the animals in the image for Noah’s ark, there’s the clever illustration for “zoo” presenting a box of animal crackers with cookies shaped like those of Nabisco’s “Barnum’s Animals” escaping the box. Although the string attached to the box copies Nabisco’s that it introduced in 1902 for hanging the box as a treat on Christmas trees, the box is labeled “Kiddie Krackers” and does not look like the Nabisco brand box — probably to avoid trademark issues.

In fact, the intensity of colors — in the letters themselves, the bamboo umbrella’s pattern, the children’s ruddy cheeks and knees, and every image — delivers the overriding effect of this abecedary and looks back to the chromolithography of the 19th century, the woodcuts and posters of C.B. Falls and forward to such later 20th century abecedarians as Marie Angel, Sonia Delaunay, Carol DuBosch, Jean Holabird and many others in this collection.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Marie Angel“. 18 June 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Eulalie Minfred Banks“. 27 February 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Graeme Base“. [In progress]. Books On Books Collection.

Sonia Delaunay“. [In progress]. Books On Books Collection.

Carol DuBosch“. 6 January 2023. Books On Books Collection.

C.B. Falls“. 14 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

David Hockney“. [In progress]. Books On Books Collection.

Jean Holabird“. 8 February 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Andrew White Tuer“. 26 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Arne Nixon Center. 2015. “The History of Cloth and ‘Cloth-like’ Books“. Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. 2015. Accessed 6 February 2023.

Kirsch, Colin. n.d. “The Evolution of Children’s Tricycles: 1800s-1920s“. Online Bicycle Museum. Accessed 6 February 2023.

Books On Books Collection – Eulalie Minfred Banks

The ABC Book No. 764 (1927-29)

The ABC Book No. 764 (1927-29)
Eulalie Minfred Banks
Linen book. Saddle-stitch, staples. H307 x w255 mm. 8 linen leaves including cover. Acquired 19 January 2023.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The cloth alphabet book is the successor to the hornbook and battledore in the aim to provide learning material able to withstand sticky fingers, tantrums and other hard usage. The publisher Platt & Munk, eventually acquired by Grosset & Dunlap, had a strong line of cloth books for children and an equally strong host of competitors on both sides of the Atlantic: Dean’s Rag Books, Samuel Gabriel & Sons, McLoughlin Brothers, Routledge & Warne, Saalfield, Raphael Tuck & Sons, and many others.

Creating a competitive edge for one alphabet book over another was a challenge. The pedagogical features, choice of images, style of drawing, the colors, the quality of printing as well as the sturdiness of the material all played a role. For decades and numerous works for Platt & Munk, illustrator Eulalie Minfred Banks provided an edge. For this alphabet book, she served as author as well as illustrator, signing every page with her distinctive signature — “Eulalie”. She will probably be better remembered for her illustration of Watty Piper’s The Three Little Pigs, The Gingerbread Boy, The Little Engine that Could and The Story of Little Black Sambo (authored by Helen Bannerman, edited by Piper).

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Corinne Ringel Bailey”. 27 February 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Andrew White Tuer“. 26 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Arne, Nixon Center. 2015. “The History of Cloth and ‘Cloth-like’ Books“. Arne Nixon Center for the Study of Children’s Literature. 2015. Accessed 6 February 2023.

Barton, Phyllis Settecase. 1992. An Annotated Bibliography Honoring Eulalie Banks Children’s Book Illustrator in Celebration of Her 97th Birthday June 12 1992. Old Town Temecula, CA: Pictus Orbis.

Books On Books Collection – Lisa McGarry

Be Amazed (and other words to live by) (2013)

Be Amazed (and other words to live by) (2013)
Lisa McGarry
Nine cards cut and glued to be formed into cubes. 70 mm. Acquired from the artist, 18 February 2023.
Photos: Books On Books Collection and courtesy of the artist.

A frequent activity in book art is the thematic challenge. In 2010 from her studio in Maleny, Queensland, Australia, Fiona Dempster initiated an annual global challenge to calligraphers to create a letter a week reflecting a particular set theme. The challenge ran through 2014 and generated not only outstanding works of calligraphy but artists’ books and installations as well. Here are the rules and theme for 2012:

Welcome to A Letter a Week 2012, a project that began in 2010 and is primarily about having fun, experimenting and having a regular, small project to focus on each week.

The aim is simply to:

  • Write/create a letter a week
  • Creating 52 letters
  • Which must form 2 x alphabets (that is not 52 x the letter ‘A’)
  • By the end of 2012

The main rule is that the letter must be presented on a piece of material measuring 7cm x 7cm

– this helps keep a sense of uniformity amongst the pieces which helps with exhibition coherence.

The other criterion for 2012 is that ONE alphabet has to meet the criteria of “Going dotty – polka dots and pixels”

– that means the alphabet uses dots or circles in some form, but is still presented on the square. It could mean dotted letters, dotted backgrounds, pixelated letters, nail heads into timber or letters within circles or…your imagination can have fun going dotty.

Each alphabet must be turned into a final piece which could be used for possible publication or exhibition.

– that is, you must put all the letters together into a final piece of art.

Apparently, Lisa McGarry’s studio and kitchen in Florence, Italy, enjoy a certain overlap, which led to her inspiration in answer to the dotty part of the challenge. In her own words:

As I was making polenta one day, the formation of circles when oil was added to the water caught my attention. I quickly photographed the pan of spotted water with the idea of indulging in some play time with Photoshop. By using the “Selective Color” sliders, I was able to introduce some vibrant colors into the rather bland photograph. I  further varied the colors, and ended up with a whole rainbow of “dotty” designs.

Dotty as the source of the image (or its result) may be, the effect is more of marbling than of boiling polenta. More stone than water. Of course, since Trajan’s Column and before, stone and alphabet go together in Italy. But for the challenge, what arrangement of letters, how many cubes? A minimum of five cubes (30 sides) would be needed for all the letters. Two simple sets of children’s alphabet blocks would then meet the basic requirement. But what about that phrase “still presented on the square” so open to multiple interpretations? Five cubes together would not make up a square, but nine cubes stacked 3×3 would.

Next I spent some time considering words of nine letters or less, with the idea that the letters of the various color could form a word.  Each letter of the alphabet is included at least once, for a complete “alphabet,” though there are multiples of several letters. I wanted to include each letter of the alphabet at least once, for a complete ‘alphabet’. Despite the flexibility gained from the availability of 54 faces, finding words that used all of the letters was much more difficult than I expected (perhaps because I limited myself to words that I associated with living a creative life).

Many words had to be eliminated because their letters were too ‘common’. After filling several journal pages with various letter/word combos, I got out the Scrabble tiles (which were immensely helpful).

These are the words I chose:

be amazed
create joy

After the flatpack of cubes arrived and had been constructed, the pleasure of letting them tumble from hand to hand and inspecting each panel had to yield to documenting them for the collection. The alphabetic order asserted itself over a grouping by colors. Failing to sort itself into the rhythm of the ABC song (certain pairs of letters appear on one block only), it slowly became obvious that the blocks would need to be paired for their photos (although WXYZ managed to slip by).

To spell out and display the words for those six words/phrases required letterless faces with just the right color on some of the cubes, which is apparent in the artist’s presentation of the first phrase: BE AMAZED.

Alternative displays (collector’s prerogative, of course) are possible. To see the unified color presentation for the other five words/phrases, the Books On Books Collection visitor should go to the artist’s site and be to prepared to …

Be Amazed was not McGarry’s only response to Fiona Dempster’s “A Letter a Week (ALaW)” challenge.

Twenty-six/Fragments (2012)

Twenty-six/Fragments (2012)
Lisa McGarry
Single sheet, collage, meander cut and fold. Closed: 70 x 70 x D15 mm. Open: 490 x 490 mm. Acquired from the artist, 20 March 2023.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

How much of a letter still makes it a letter?

Looking at Lisa McGarry’s Twenty-six/Fragments might prompt thoughts of paleographers and philologists like Jacques-Joseph Champollion-Figeac, Flinders Petrie, Yu Xingwu or Ada Yardeni deciphering markings on bone, bamboo, papyrus, clay and stone …

or psychologists and linguists like Max Coltheart, Matthew Finkbeiner, James J. and Eleanor Gibson or Shimon Ullman pondering the data of visual experiments or the workings of algorithms …

or ancient poets like Anacreon, Archilochos or Sappho known primarily from their fragments.

Why not? Eyes, hands and mind cannot help but wander. Twenty-six/Fragments is a “meander” book. Against a 7 x 7 cm, purple-brown, creased and cut background, its tomato red shapes (inspired by the documentary Helvetica) take irregular but alphabetic steps that lead any viewer’s hands to fold, unfold and fold, shape and reshape the work to extract its signals and enjoyment over and over. The font size of 450 yields the right combination of abstraction vs figure. The texture of the 160 gsm Canson Mi-Teintes paper gives a firm tactility that contrasts with the plum color’s fluctuation between purple and brown. A simple but complex work of art.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Carol DuBosch“. 25 February 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Dempster, Fiona. 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013 and 2014. A Letter a Week.

Books On Books Collection – Experimental Jetset

Automatically Arranged Alphabets (2015)

Automatically Arranged Alphabets (2015)
Experimental Jetset
Staple-stitched “zine” with screenprinted silver cover. H180 x W160 mm. 24 pages. Acquired from the Newbridge Project, 18 September 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

On their website, the studio posted an automated gif of this typographic experiment involving software-generated compositions (archived here).

Beautiful typography meets beautiful calligraphy at the other end of the spectrum of technique in the Books On Books Collection with Francesca Lohmann’s later calligraphic work An Accumulated Alphabet (2017).

Experimental Jetset (a phrase excerpted from the title of a 1994 Sonic Youth album) is an Amsterdam-based design collective founded by Danny van den Dungen, Marieke Stolk and Erwin Brinker in 1997. New York’s MoMA, clearly a fan of the studio’s work, holds a significant collection of their work. From the studio’s description of it here, their participation in MoMA’s 2012 exhibition Ecstatic Alphabets/Heaps of Language clearly influenced Automatically Arranged Alphabets, whose series of automated sketches were made in 2014-15.

Further Reading

Abecedaries I (in progress)“. Books On Books Collection.

Francesca Lohmann“. 25 June 2021. Books On Books Collection.

Experimental Jetset. 2017. Statement and Counter-Statement: Notes on Experimental Jetset. Volume 1. Second ed. Arnhem, NL: Roma Publications.

Experimental Jetset. 2021. Superstructures: (Notes on Experimental Jetset. Volume 2. Amsterdam, NL: Roma Publications.

Hoptman, Laura, et al. 2012. Ecstatic Alphabets/ Heaps of Language. New York NY: Museum of Modern Art New York.