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.