Books On Books Collection – Alan Robinson

A Fowl Alphabet (1986)

A Fowl Alphabet (1986)
Alan James Robinson (etchings), Suzanne Moore (calligraphy)
Casebound. Marbled paper over boards. Doublures and flyleaves. H218 x W145 mm. 26 Folios untrimmed at head. Four-page prospectus loose. Acquired from Bromers Bookseller, 16 August 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artists.

Under his Cheloniidae Press imprint, Alan James Robinson created three artist’s alphabets: A Fowl Alphabet with Suzanne Moore; An Odd Bestiary (1982) and The Birds and Beasts of Shakespeare (1990), arranged as a double abecedary, first the birds and then the beasts. Although this copy of A Fowl Alphabet comes from the regular edition and does not have the color of the deluxe editions of all three abecedaries, it does demonstrate the extraordinary fineness of Robinson’s wood engraving as well as his compositional talent, which also informs the book’s design. The positioning of the birds’ heads in their printed black frames conveys a sense of movement and three dimensionality on the individual page, but notice how Robinson varies the positioning from page to page and across double-page spreads to enhance the sense of movement.

With its core thick strokes shadowed and entwined with thinner flourishes, Suzanne Moore’s calligraphy creatively complements the way that the heft of Robinson’s engraved heads plays against those compositional features.

“Cheloniidae” is the scientific term for the family of sea turtles, and much of Robinson’s art is marine related. But the dominant and consistent impression conveyed by the ouput of Cheloniidae Press is that of Robinson’s artistic skill as an impresario and conductor of artistic talents. Added to the background of his duet with Moore are Master Printer Harold Patrick McGrath, Faith Harrison and her hand marbled paper, Arthur Larson and his hand typesetting and the binding skills of Claudia Cohen.

Further Reading

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

Gerard Brender à Brandis.” 29 November 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Brian D. Cohen“. 28 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Suzanne Moore“. 6 June 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Shelli Ogilvy“. 28 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Gaylord Schanilec“. 16 September 2019. Books On Books Collection.

Carol Schwartzott“. 28 December 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Books On Books Collection – William Rueter

The Triumph of the Alphabet (2017)

The Triumph of the Alphabet (2017)
William Rueter
Accordion fold extending from the back page. Bound in paper-covered boards with printed paper title on spine. Twine tie closure. 82.6 x 82.6 mm. 27 panels. Acquired from Vamp&Tramp Booksellers, 7 October 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

From the colophon: “This nameless wood type alphabet was made c. 1900 by the Hamilton Mfg. Co. Here at The Aliquando Press it is affectionately called ‘Ali-oops!'”

The full quotation from Audin is “The triumph of the alphabet gave true impetus to our Western civilization … The alphabet made it possible to transmit all-embracing concepts and truths to humanity”. There was more than one Audin interested in letters. Marius was father to Maurice and Amable, and the three of them produced a multi-volume history of printing called Somme Typographique. Amable contributed the section on the birth of the alphabet, and Maurice wrote the section on the discovery of typography. A scan of this volume does not yield the pronouncement in the Aliquando Press miniature. Luc Devroye‘s entry on Marius Audin cites him as a major influence on the French typographical world, and his number of books exceeds those by his sons combined. Given his livelier style, it seems more likely that the quotation in The Triumph of the Alphabet belongs to Marius. If so, “Ali-oops” might deserve an erratum slip. Slip or no, the panels with their tripartite texture and dual contrast of colors and font make The Triumph of the Alphabet a triumph of printing pleasure.

Further Reading

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

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

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

Books On Books Collection – Suzanne Moore

Rescuing Q (2023)

Rescuing Q (2023)
Suzanne Moore
Box enclosing softcover book. Box: H400 x W300 x D30 mm. Book: H380 x W285 mm. 32 pages. Printing by Sandy Tilcock (and Phoebe) at Lone Goose Press and Jessica Spring, Springtide Press. Unique copy of variant edition of 26. Acquired from the artist, 25 April 2023.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

Rescuing Q is a manuscript book, consisting of original paintings, monoprints, collage, pigmented prints, embossing, debossing, gilding and handwork complementing the letterpress printing. It is one of several such works designed and created by Suzanne Moore after more than 20 years of experimentation.

Q is not normal. Q is quirky. Q floats away. Q comes in too many shapes and sizes and colors. So attractive, Q was bound to be hijacked by Q-Anon, political operatives and social anarchists.

But Q will not remain captive for long because it is always asking questions. And, if we want answers, then as Rilke says, we must “live the questions now”.

For most readers though, the question that will be uppermost is “How did she do that?” Moore is quick in her generosity and would insist on amending that question to “How did they do that?” Consider the selection of paper. More than Arches (a laid paper with visible mesh and watermark) had to be considered for these interactions of ink, gouache, gold leaf, palladium, debossing/embossing by etching press and hand, cuts and overlays.

What notes, movements and rhythms were playing when these colors and the sequences were chosen?

How do they think of paper and ink in three dimensions?

Who saw Q and questions in a bird’s nest?

And someone’s memory called up Cave Alphabet paper for the endpapers.

The fact that Moore and her colleagues can do all that (and more) and the fact that their gentle and pointed questions fuse with the art ensure that Rescuing Q does and will succeed.

A Musings (2015)

A Musings (2015)
Suzanne Moore
Tab-insert portfolio around softcover book. H370 x W230 mm, 24 pages. Edition of 26 variants, of which this is N. Acquired from Abecedarian Gallery, 13 February 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of Suzanne Moore.

Title page

Another manuscript book, A Musings is an encounter between Suzanne Moore and the letter A, one of her 26 muses. As with any artist and muse, this naturally leads to portrayals of A in such varied positions, with such varied tools and techniques and such varied materials that the boxed and bound portfolio must take the amusing title A Musings. The muse finds itself posed across Magnani Aquaforte, Arches Text Wove, transparent kozo and other handmade papers enveloped by a stiffened, painted handmade paper. Moore’s musings fall on the historical, symbolic and spiritual aspects of the letter A with acrylic paint, pencil, freehand foil tooling, gold and palladium leaf, collage, debossing and embossing, sumi ink and gouache, sizing and varnish, monoprint, letterpress, folds and cutouts.

A separately provided copy of the artist’s plan for the pagination, structure and treatment per page offers a useful insight into the questions of how such a work is thought through and made. Page layout and the type of paper, in particular, play together sometimes like a clockwork mechanism and sometimes organically.

Painted cover

Left: Half-title. Right: Half-title turned to show translucency of kozo; note on the facing recto how the stroke from the debossed A on the title peeks through.

After the title page (see further above), the next double-page spread shows the title page’s debossed A in reverse on the verso page. Facing it is a square cutout through which multicolored lines forming overlapping As appear. Because the cutout page is translucent paper, we can see that the multicolored lines extend into a larger A on the next recto page. Turning the cutout page reveals that the cutout is actually a flap folded up and secured with white thread sewn in the shape of an A. This three-dimensionality of the flap is echoed by the way the crossbar swashes of the facing A seem to swirl around its two legs implying a spinning A.

From the single A interacting with a cutout, we move to a dozen evocations of the historic forms that the lowercase and uppercase A have taken. The lowercase “closed a” from the semi-uncial hand starting in the 5th century appears second down in the lefthand column, and the “perfected” Roman uppercase A appears at the bottom of the right column. Amusingly, some evocations blend periods of history. In the lower left, the drawing of a lowercase “open a”, which comes from the 8th century Carolingian miniscule hand, takes on the stylization of the 15th century’s bianchi girari (white-vine stem decoration). Just across from it, the stylized version of the Proto-Sinaitic (1700 BCE) form of aleph, meaning “ox”, has a burnt umber background that suggests markings in early cave dwellings.

Using a translucent leaf with set type shaping half an A, the next two double-page spreads play (or muse) on uppercase A’s bilateral symmetry poised between geometric and freehand approaches to lettering, between typography and calligraphy and between inking and debossing.

When the recto page above with its debossed line and angle is turned, another extraordinary integration of composition, paper, printing (inking, debossing and “embossing”) and, now, cutting occurs. Notice how the ink of the first and third As overlaps the now “embossed” angle, how the now “embossed” line becomes debossed as it crosses the gutter, how the previous double-page spread’s themes of geometry/freehand, printing/drawing and lowercase/uppercase likewise cross over, and how the cutout triangle uses the yellow ink showing through to form the crossbar of an A and the gutter to form the A’s lefthand stem.

There is much else to muse upon in the spreads above, but it’s in the last two spreads where Moore builds and unfolds a fantasia of calligraphy, color, debossing, cutting, gilding and painting. Notice how the gilt crossbar slots through the page and helps secure the debossed piece behind the cutout to the page.

And when the page turns, notice how its gilt crossbar reveals its red paper beneath and becomes the spot of red completing the crossbar for the cutout A. The red spot against white seems to set off the explosion of color and calligraphy on the black final page, printed by Jessica Spring from polymer. The different shapes for A here come from African alphabets. The images are unique monoprints, done on an etching press. With the letters placed to block out the black and overlap one another, a sense of depth and texture arises. Contributing to that sense of texture, the white letters are hand-painted in gouache — sometimes layered, sometimes blended.

Books are inherently collaborative affairs, and for artists’ books, collaboration can become almost another tool for the artist. Jessica Spring, mentioned above, also debossed the opening A, hand-set the half-A composition and contributed to Rescuing Q. Now a fine binder in her own right, Gabby Cooksey, a studio assistant to Moore and Don Glaister, was essential to A Musing‘s hand work, binding and wrapper. Part of Moore’s creative progression from contributing to overseeing to orchestrating can be traced from here across three other works in the Books On Books Collection.

A Blind Alphabet (1986)

A Blind Alphabet (1986)
Suzanne Moore
Accordion-fold. Closed H128 x W93 D28 (spine) D22 (fore-edge) mm; open 3200 mm. 34 pages. Edition of 200 of which this is #91.
Calligraphic letters designed and drawn by Suzanne Moore, printed by Harold McGrath on T.H. Saunders cold-pressed watercolour paper, bound by Claudia Cohen in marbled paper by Faith Harrison. 
Acquired from Veatchs, 1 May 2018.

Here, as noted in the colophon to A Blind Alphabet, Moore has the creative role of originating artist, designing and drawing the alphabet — soloist, as it were, in the Cheloniidae Press reportory orchestrated by Alan James Robinson.

In Robinson’s wood engravings of birds, Moore plays a creative contributing role with much the same repertory company.

A Fowl Alphabet (1986)

A Fowl Alphabet (1986)
Alan James Robinson (etchings), Suzanne Moore(calligraphy)
Casebound. Marbled paper over boards. Doublures and flyleaves. H218 x W145 mm. 26 Folios untrimmed at head. Four-page prospectus loose. Acquired from Bromers Bookseller, 16 August 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with Suzanne Moore’s permission.

Again, Cheloniidae Press’ master printer Harold Patrick McGrath and “usual suspects” Arthur Larson (hand typesetting), Faith Harrison (hand marbling) and Claudia Cohen (binding) played their roles in this book. Here, Moore has the creative contributing role of designing the alphabet and, for the deluxe and full vellum editions (not shown), hand lettering.

In book art, an artist’s progression from contributor to orchestrator is not necessarily linear as can be seen in this subsequent work.

Bartleby, The Scrivener: A Story of Wall Street (1995)

Herman Melville, Bartleby the Scrivener: A Tale of Wall Street, 1853. Indulgence Press, 1995.
Typeetting, printing and binding by Wilber Schilling; Calligraphy by Suzanne Moore. Text paper by Janus Press. Endpapers by MacGregor & Vinzani.
Edition of 100 of which this is #71. H320 x W158 x D14 mm. Acquired from Indulgence Press, 17 December 2015.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the publisher.

Wilber Schilling (Indulgence Press) orchestrated this edition of Herman Melville’s well-known story. Part of Schilling’s genius was to invite Moore to provide the calligraphy for Bartleby’s hallmark (his only) words “I prefer not to”. Another part was to print Moore’s calligraphy in ever-increasing size in ghostly ochre and in descending position across the pages of the book.

For more of Suzanne Moore’s works and artistic roles as well as others’ insight into them, see below.

Further Reading and Viewing

ABCs“. 29 November 2015. Bookmarking Book Art.

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

Alan James Robinson“. Books On Books Collection. In progress.

Wilber Schilling“. 23 November 2015. Books On Books Collection.

Gwinn, Mary Ann. “Vashon artist among those who worked on handmade St. John’s Bible”. Seattle Times, 24 December 2014. Accessed 13 January 2020.

Hayden, Danielle. “Meet the Vashon Island Artist Keeping Lettering Alive”. Seattle Magazine, July 2018. Accessed 13 January 2020.

Moore, Suzanne. 2016. Studies in Love the Question. Handlettered pages in book bound by the artist. 34 images available at Letterform Archives.
______________. 2014. Zero – Cypher of Infinity. 24-page handlettered pages in book bound by the artist. Letterpress pages by Jessica Spring. 20 images available at Letterform Archives.

______________. 2014. Origins and Spectrum. Process portfolio for Zero — Cypher of Infinity. Includes notes from the artist. 28 images available at Letterform Archives.

Yin, Joyce. “From the Collection: Thomas Ingmire, Susan Skarsgard, Suzanne Moore“. Letterforms Archive, 29 March 2018. Accessed 13 January 2020.

Books On Books Collection – Dave Wood

Alphabetica (2002)

Alphabetica (2002)
Dave Wood
Bound in vellum; open-spine binding sewn on vellum strips. H210 x W290 x D30 mm. 54 pages. Loosely inserted colophon. Edition of 26. Acquired from the artist, 27 July 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

From Alphabetica‘s description as an exploration of the alphabet’s “diverse development from historic shapes to the infinite variations we see today in typefaces and calligraphic forms of the Western alphabet”, the reader might expect an academic work. The deeply embossed and debossed royal purple cover presenting the title in landscape format suggests otherwise as do the marbled endpapers and embossed gold foil title page. The cover is built up with a very strong paper made in Nepal, painted with acrylic then sprayed with semi-matte varnish. Inside, the reader finds a portfolio of twenty-five distinct “canvases” in which Wood demonstrates both historical sensitivity and artistic inspiration.

Across the twenty-six spreads, Dave Wood has captured each letter’s distinct story with multiple styles of calligraphy in Sumi ink and gouache paints as well as varying textures and techniques (Canson and Arches paper, glassine, foil, embossing, stamping, feathering and cutting), colors and layouts.

The letters’ developing shapes and periods are labeled. Starting with the letter B, Wood adds names of typefaces, structural terms for type, palaeographical terms and terms from the crafts of calligraphy, typesetting and printing — all beginning with /b/. Similar labeling occurs for the letter C but with a different layout. Across the twenty-five canvases, Wood excels at this balancing of difference and similarity. Notice, for example, how letters B and C incorporate the Renaissance style of illumination called bianchi girari (white vine stem decoration).

The ways in which uppercase-to-lowercase movements interact with the layout’s variations make for a dynamic experience. Sometime it’s subtle, sometimes vigorous. Note, for example, how the letter D de-emphasizes the gutter whereas the letter E emphasizes it.

With letters H through Q, a shift from Arches white to Canson black paper and back adds to the overall dynamic movement. Yet Wood is attentive to elements of unity; for example, his playful handling of the gutter in the transition from letter H to letters I/J echoes that from letters D to E.

Only six letters perform the trick of extending across the gutter — lowercase H and uppercase K, M, O, U and X. While O, U and X take the similar approach of almost evenly straddling the gutter, each of the other three succeed differently. M is perhaps the most striking and interesting of them all. M derives from the Semitic word for “water” mem. As Wood points out in the loose insert colophon, the watery blue that fills the letter is intentional — as must be the precise alignment of the inner peaks of the letter with the gutter. Such attention to detail in the midst of so much activity on the page demands a similar attentiveness from the reader.

For example, the long tail of the Q does not show up until the bottom of the spread. And the reader may need to pick out the the word “or” in the text to spot the lowercase r in the textured, oversized written word “or” directly below the text.

Visual puns abound. Celtic knots in a capital L (for the Lindisfarne gospels). An S formed of stones. Leaves falling from a lowercase t (for tree or tea, of course). A U growing underground.

Fortunately, the accordion-fold colophon loosely inserted in the book offers pointers to some (not all) allusions. For example, the beginning of the third line for the letter V pays homage to Titivillus, the 13th-century patron demon of scribes’ mistakes. The illustrated W is an homage to Ben Shahn’s letter design. The highly contrasting thicks and thins in the letter X allude, in calligraphic terms, to the thick mark’s determining the number of pen widths making up the x height (the body of the miniscule).

And while the colophon may be necessary to know that the typefaces written in color below were created by Hermann Zapf, any viewer can enjoy Wood’s incorporating the entire alphabet in the Sumi ink design culminating in the letter Z as a fitting self-referential conclusion to Alphabetica.

Further Reading and Viewing

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

Lyn Davies“. 7 August 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Timothy Donaldson“. Books On Books Collection.

Cari Ferraro“. Books On Books Collection.

David J. Goldman“. Books On Books Collection.

Rudyard Kipling and Chloë Cheese“. Books On Books Collection.

Abe Kuipers“. Books On Books Collection.

Don Robb and Anne Smith“. Books On Books Collection.

James Rumford. 21 November 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Tiphaine Samoyault“. Books On Books Collection.

Ben Shahn“. 20 July 2022. Books On Books Collection.

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

Mark Van Stone“. 1 June 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.

Books On Books Collection – Bruno Riboulot and Marjon Mudde

ABC d’Air (2005)

ABC d’Air (2005)
Bruno Riboulot and Marjon Mudde
Greyboard covers on four-flap paper case, handsewn booklet. Case: H212 x W153 mm; Booklet H210 x W145 mm. 26 folios. Edition of 60, of which this is #30. Acquired from Abecedarian Gallery, 10 March 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The shape of a letter depends on the “air” — the space — within and around it. Bruno Riboulot’s concept, executed here by Marjon Mudde, demonstrates how those spaces can be formed by cuts, tears, folds, “reveals” and contrasting colors. Truly an abecedary of space. (Thanks to Colin Cohen of Missing Portraits for the reminder of the title’s pun on abécédaire.)

A revealing B revealing C

The book consists of thirteen leaves sewn together with linen thread. Each leaf is divided in half, and each half is dedicated to a letter of the alphabet.

Standing, the open book takes on the air of an abstract sculpture.

W revealing X revealing Y revealing Z.

The “reveals” evoke the harlequinade (“flap-book”, “turn-up”, “metamorphosis” or “lift-the-flap”) structure invented in 17th century, in which the book’s narrative unfolds as each flap is lifted. To appreciate how differently this structure can be used with the alphabet, compare it with Scott McCarney’s Alphabook 10 (2015) and Thomas Ockerse’s The A-Z Book (1969/2014).

About the artists:

French calligrapher Bruno Riboulot works with traditional watercolors, pen and ink but also experiments widely with paper (as above), stone, stop motion animation, light and calligraphy performed to music. Visual artist Marjon Mudde currently works as an engraver, printmaker, ceramicist, book artist and editor of handmade artists’ books.

Further Reading

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

Scott McCarney“. 26 February 2020. Books On Books Collection.

Thomas Ockerse“. Books On Books Collection. In progress.

Livres d’artistes : « ABCD’Air »“. 8 August 2019. Accessed 10 March 2022.

Books On Books Collection – Judy Pelikan

All Around the Block: An Alphabet (2008)

All Around the Block: An Alphabet (2008)
Judy Pelikan
Hardcover H168 x W145 mm. 56 pages. Acquired from Amazon, 24 September 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection. Displayed with permission of the artist.

From the cover to the last letter, Judy Pelikan’s book is an extended visual pun with more puns in between. Some of the resulting images (like that for the letter A) are deeply clever; others (like that for the letter Z) are surreal. Obviously A is for a box of apples, but the uppercase serif A on yellowed grid paper with drawn guidelines recalls the early designers of geometrically created letters such as Feliciano, Pacioli, Durer, Tory and others. Driving home the recollection, the artist has laid out the tools for such typographical design: compass, straightline and pen. Here, “all around the block” is all about the square.

Most of the visual puns are simple like B for books and blocks; others are straightforward but dense like C for crate, cloud, curl, cup, coffee and castle (that’s six for all sides of the block!); others are strange. For the letter Z, we have the surreality of a zebra and her foal grazing on top of the block on whose front panel a zebra moth or butterfly hovers by a ziggurat behind an old-fashioned console (Zenith?) with a third zebra peering from its screen.

All Around the Block warrants a closer look on each page as well as favorable comparison and contrast with any of the works noted below.

Further Reading

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

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

Leonard Brett“. Books On Books Collection. In progress.

Leslie Haines 4 November 2022. Books On Books Collection.

Rose Sanderson“. 30 May 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Pat Sweet“. 18 January 2023. Books On Books Collection.

Katie Viggers“. Books On Books Collection. In progress.

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.