Books On Books Collection – Tabula Rasa Press

The Uffizi ABC (1905/1992)

The Uffizi ABC (1905/1992)
Arthur Maquarie & Buona Fortuna (i.e, Lindsay D. Symington)
First published by Giulio Giannini & Son in Florence. Reissued in miniature facsimile by Tabula Rasa Press.
Casebound in patterned cloth with matching paper doublures, headbands. H80 x W62 mm. 64 pages. Edition of 300, this copy unnumbered. Acquired from Rebecca Bingham, 23 November 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Based in Seattle, WA, Tabula Rasa Press was the imprint of John Lathourakis, who printed most of his books by letterpress as well as setting the type by hand and on his linotype machine. His wife, Gizella, sewed and bound the books by hand. In their preface to this miniature facsimile, they note that they do not recall how the original 6×8 inch book came into their possession and they had not been able to find anything about the author or illustrator who signed off as “Buona Fortuna”.

A bit of digging online and at the Bodleian yields a 1908 reprint of the 1905 original, which reveals Buona Fortuna to have been Lindsay D. Symington, an English artist and book illustrator. Good friends together in Florence, Arthur Maquarie and Lindsay Symington were fringe literati in London. An emigrant to London from Australia, Maquarie, who had changed his name from Macquarie by deed poll, wrote verse and plays and even had some of his lyrics adapted by Edward Elgar and Roger Quilter. Symington’s artistic heights seemed to have peaked with the Royal Academy Summer Exhibition’s admission of his oil paintings — “The Potato Garden” (1902) and “Jolly Lot” (1903). His name can be more readily found as an illustrator of several books, some of which unlike The Uffizi ABC are still in print.

Title page from 1905 edition printed by Giulio Giannini & Son and reprinted here in miniature by Tabula Rasa Press.

Title page from the 1908 edition printed by Simpkin Marshall and held in the Bodleian. The title-page illustrations distinguish the two editions.

From A for Angelico to Z for Zucchero, Maquarie indulged his penchant for doggerel, irreverence and showing off his education.

Without the Internet, though, even a degree from the University of Sydney was insufficient to find artists to complete the alphabet between da Vinci and Zucchero. If the two Edwardian tourists had looked beyond the late Renaissance, they might have included Antoine Watteau, François-Xavier Fabre (a Frenchman popular enough in Florence in the early 19th century to be welcomed into the Florentine Academy) or Francisco José de Goya y Lucientes — all of whom have works in the Uffizi.

Symington’s prints, drawn from portraits and self-portraits of the artists, are the best thing about The Uffizi ABC. What he would have made of Watteau’s, Fabre’s and and Goya’s likenesses will have to be left to the imagination. Looking out over the Duomo and enjoying the morning papers and a smoke, Maquarie and Symington must have felt they’d come far enough, so best to leave a blank page for other tourists to fill with such quibbles. And if more space is required, today’s tourists can cross the Ponte Vecchio and visit Giulio Giannini e Figlio, opposite the Pitti Palace, where Maria Giannini continues the family business of artistic bookbinding and hand decorated paper and stocks plenty of notebooks.

The Divine Alphabet (1509/1993)

The Divine Alphabet (1993)
Fra Luca Bartolomeo de Pacioli 
Miniature facsimile. Casebound in cloth, spine debossed and gold-stamped with title, A & E debossed and gold-stamped on the front and back covers, respectively; with doublures illustrated with a typesetter’s case; and headbands. H68 x W57 mm. 64 pages. Edition of 200, of which this is #26. Acquired from Lorson’s Books & Prints, 5 December 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

In its preface to this miniature, Tabula Rasa Press notes, “The following are reproductions of Pacioli’s alphabet and diagrams together with translations of his instructions. The only change from the original is in scale. Since the translation of De Divina Proportione (1509) appears to be that by George Ives for inclusion in the Grolier Club’s 1933 publication Fra Luca de Pacioli of Borgo San Sepolcro: some consideration of his life and works, designed by Bruce Rogers and written by Stanley Morison, the diagrams reduced in scale must have come from there as well. Photographic comparison casts some doubt on that conclusion though. In the letter B, for instance, note the absence of the compass-point marks in the miniature and their presence in the Grolier Club edition, and the “two circles together” in the miniature are more ovals than the circles they are in the Grolier Club edition.

For the letters, E and F, however, that distortion isn’t present. Without other tell-tale signs like the compass points in the letter B, direct photographic comparison does not confirm or rule out the source for the diagrams to be reduced.

E and F from the Tabula Rasa Press edition.

E and F from the Grolier Club edition at the Bodleian.

More than likely, the text, reset in Berkeley Old Style, comes from the Grolier Club edition because Tabula Rasa found a partner for their Pacioli in another Grolier Club edition with a translation ready made. Better yet, the partner complemented Pacioli’s treatise on the uppercase with one on the lowercase, and the approach was every bit as geometric.

Directions for the Construction of the Text or Quadrate Letters (1535/1993)

Directions for the Construction of the Text or Quadrate Letters (1535/1993)
Albrecht Dürer
Casebound in cloth, spine debossed and ink-stamped with title, a & z debossed and ink-stamped on the front and back covers, respectively; with doublures illustrated with a typesetter’s case; and headbands. H68 x W57 mm. 80 pages. Edition of 150, of which this is #26. Acquired from Lorson’s Books & Prints, 5 December 2022.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Pacioli begins with the letter A and the circle and square to demonstrate divine proportion in his uppercase letters.

Dürer, too, takes a geometric approach, but as if in a neo-Platonic game of oneupmanship (or onelessmanship?), he extrapolates from a single letter and single shape (the i and the square):

Tabula Rasa is off early on the wrong foot here with a typo: “but needlessly” should be “not needlessly”. As with the Pacioli volume, the translation for this miniature comes from another Grolier Club edition. Designed by Bruce Rogers and published in 1917, its translator was R.T. Nichols.

Coincidentally (?), the uppercase letter I figures in an alphabet origin allegory concocted by Geofroy Tory in Champ fleury (1529), which Dürer might well have known. Relying on Giovanni Boccaccio’s telling of the fable in his De Genealogia Deorum (The Genealogy of the Gods), Tory finds his Ionic alphabet allegory in how the river-god Inachus recognizes his lost daughter Io, who had been turned into a heifer by Juno. Tory is almost algebraic in his allegory: Jupiter = the soft air of Ionia; Io = knowledge, which is given by Juno, who = riches; Mercury = all who seek to liberate knowledge from Argus, the many-eyed beast set by Juno to watch over Io and who = barbarism; therefore, I and O are the source of all letters because Inachus recognizes Io from the marks combined in her hoofprint: IΩ. Is this any less complex than Dürer’s instructions? For a bedtime fable, it is at least as entertaining and nonsensical as a cow jumping over the moon.

In any event, for Tabula Rasa, Dürer’s geometric approach to the lowercase made it a natural companion to Pacioli’s geometric approach to the uppercase. But Tabula Rasa must have felt something was missing. Pacioli’s attribution of divinity to the proportions in his alphabet may have led to the third work to join Pacioli’s and Dürer’s in a slipcase. That third work, currently missing in its miniature form from the Books On Books Collection, was Ben Shahn’s The Alphabet of Creation (1954). Fortunately, the original Pantheon edition is in the collection.

The Alphabet of Creation: An ancient legend from the Zohar (1954)
Ben Shahn
Hardcover, tan linen boards with red and gold decorations on cover and spine labels. H275 x 170 mm, 48 pages. Edition of 550, of which this is #497. Acquired from Midway Used and Rare Books, 7 August 2021.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

The Alphabet of Creation has a certain rightness for inclusion in the three-volume set even though (or because) it deals with the Hebrew alphabet and is a narrative (the story of why the alphabet begins with alef) with each letter having a voice and character. With Shahn’s work springing from a non-rational interpretation of the letters, Tabula Rasa Press prompts a three-way comparison that makes us think about the alphabet and its relation to the rational and the mystical, about the alphabet and its relation to art, and about alphabets as source.

As good an excuse as any to lay out these works side by side.

Further Reading

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

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

Benson, Robert; Hugh, Reginald; Balfour, Charles Ritchie; and Symington, Lindsay D. An Alphabet of Saints. London: Burns and Oates, 1906.

Bibliotheca Thurkowiana Minor in the Meermanno Museum, The Hague.

Bradbury, Robert C. 2000. Twentieth Century United States Miniature Books : With Bibliographic Descriptions of Each Book Arranged by Publisher. North Clarendon Vt: Microbibliophile.

Dürer, Albrecht, and Nichols, R.T, trans. 1917. Of the Just Shaping of Letters: From the Applied Geometry of Albrecht Dürer Book III. New York: Grolier Club.

Morison, Stanley, and Hofer, Philip. 1933. Fra Luca De Pacioli of Borgo San Sepolcro : Some Consideration of His Life and Works. New York: Grolier Club.

Phillips, Elizabeth M., and Friedman, Deborah. Guide to the Miniature Fine Press and Artists’ Book Collection. Special Collections and University Archives, Rutgers University Libraries.

Shpilko, Olga. 2012. A geometrical approach to letter design:Renaissance and Modernism. Diss. University of Reading.

Southey, Robert Francis Aidan Gasquet John GEDY and Lindsay D SYMINGTON. 1907. The Inchcape Rock … with a Note on the Abbot of Aberbrothok [John Gedy] by Abbot Gasquet and Twenty-One Drawings by Mr. Symington. London: Burns & Oates.

Books On Books Collection – Serena Smith

Ekphrasis (2020)

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

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

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

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

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

Close-up of text

Single-page view of first lithograph

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

Ekphrasis pp. 34,35 detail

Further Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books On Books Collection – Brynja Baldursdottír

Fuþorc (1992)

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

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

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

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

Ætt of Feoh, Ætt of Haegl, Ætt of Tir

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

The runes feoh, haegl and tir

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

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

Further Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books On Books Collection – Peter Criddle

Commend Me to the Ampersand (2018)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading

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

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

Books On Books Collection – Marie Dern

William Caslon’s Typographic ABC (1991)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books On Books Collection – Lisa McGuirk

If Rocks Could Sing: A Discovered Alphabet (2011)

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

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

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

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

Further Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books On Books Collection – Maywan Shen Krach and Hongbin Zhang

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

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

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

Further Reading

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

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

Books On Books Collection – Corinne Ringel Bailey

Alphabet Book No. 2108 (1934)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Further Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Books On Books Collection – Eulalie Minfred Banks

The ABC Book No. 764 (1927-29)

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

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

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

Further Reading

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

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

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

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

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

Books On Books Collection – Lisa McGarry

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

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

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

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

The aim is simply to:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

These are the words I chose:

be amazed
create joy

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

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

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

Further Reading

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

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

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