Books On Books Collection – Mark Cockram

The Trial of the Letter ϒ alias Y (1753)

The Trial of the Letter ϒ alias Y:
An Account of the Trial of the Letter ϒ [upsilo
n] alias Y (1753)
Thomas Edwards
Bound and boxed (2021) by Mark Cockram
Box: H220 x W138; Book: H202 x W120 mm, 16 pages.
Photos: Books On Books Collection.

Like the Hebrew fable in which the letters of the alphabet argue their cases for the position of first letter, this short eighteenth century fantasy has the English Commonwealth of Letters rounding on the letter y as a Greek interloper, usurping their brother i’s rightful position at the end and even middle and beginning of words. Why the letters choose Apollo to judge the case is an irony lost on all the characters. But this is no surprise. After Apollo rules in y’s favor, their witless lack of self-awareness explodes into the internecine warfare of a roomful of Brexiteers. The letters d and th come to blows over murder and murther; the letters ugh demand reinstatement at the end of tho and thro; the letters s and c row over defense/defence and pretense/pretence; and so on.

Thomas Edwards (1699-1757) was an English critic and poet. According to the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, his friend the printer and novelist Samuel Richardson encouraged him to write a book on spelling, which resulted in An Account of the Trial of the Letter ϒ [Upsilon], alias Y. The silliness first appeared in 1753 in two forms: one in the fifth edition of Edwards’ Canons of Criticism printed for the bookseller C. Bathurst (over-against St. Dunstan’s Church in Fleetstreet) and the other as a pamphlet for the bookseller W. Owen (at Homer’s Head, in Fleet-Street, near Temple-Bar).

The quarrelsomeness among the letters reflects the same among the not-so-gentlemanly scholars of the period. Edwards’ Canons of Criticism sets out principles for editing in the guise of a stiff critique of William Warburton’s edition of Shakespeare’s plays. Priest and later bishop of Gloucester, Warburton replied ad hominem, and the feud was on. Even the pompous bully Samuel Johnson joined in, disparaging both (presumably with an eye on elevating his own judgement if not his future edition of Shakespeare):

Soon after Edwards’s ‘Canons of Criticism’ <1748> came out, Johnson was dining at Tonson the Bookseller’s, with Hayman the Painter and some more company. Hayman related to Sir Joshua Reynolds, that the conversation having turned upon Edwards’s book, the gentleman praised it much, and Johnson allowed its merit. But when they went farther, and appeared to put that authour upon a level with Warburton, ‘Nay, (said Johnson,) he has given him some smart hits to be sure; but there is no proportion between the two men; they must not be named together. A fly, Sir, may sting a stately horse and make him wince; but one is but an insect, and the other is a horse still.'” (Dussinger, “Johnson’s unacknowledged debt”)

The version in the Books On Books Collection is the pamphlet: ”First and only edition, vii, [1], 23, [1]pp., with half-title, disbound”, as it is described in the British Library’s English Short Title Catalogue. Human petulance aside, the letters’ speechifying and Edwards’ observations about the alphabet’s history place The Trial squarely in the collection between letterpress works and the more trade-oriented alphabet books. As can be seen in the “before” pictures, though, the pamphlet required some attention before joining. That attention, however, would have to suit the nature of the collection.

Before

From a coincidental meeting at a Maggs Brothers exhibition in London, Mark Cockram sprang to mind, and his words here confirmed him as the right choice:

This brings us to the world of book arts. As I progress with my work and life I have begun to engage with this genre in the book making world. I admit that in the past I was a bit of a book snob. Though I produced a number of book works I was unable to cut free of the shackles of the finely bound book, working towards the mastering the complexity of the book… dare I say I was blinkered? In retrospect it is only over the last 15 or so years that I have been able to bring together the various disciplines of the book with the art of the book (though I am sure many who will argue I have neither) It has taken time for me to be able to engage and combine. However I feel that working in this way I am able to be honest with my work, to reflect the now as opposed to rebinding the past. It is a personal journey.
Please note there are other ways of doing things and opinions….. spelling and grammar. Please further note, the opinion of the author may change at any moment. This is due to having an open mind… of sorts.
(Mark Cockram, Studio 5 Book Arts, 30 December 2019. Accessed 4 January 2020.)

After

The paper-labelled cloth box has an unusual heft, implying weighty content but opening to reveal the humorously modest-sized pamphlet.

The artist’s binding solution involves two paper-covered boards. These additional “before and after” pictures show further how the artist’s “lay flat” binding solution preserves as full a view as possible of the original’s gutter.

Before

After

Note also how, inside and out, the front and back boards comment on the contents. The pamphlet’s title is echoed by the enlarged letters Y and ϒ. The faint palimpsest-like printing on the front and back covers (see above and below) and the overprinted inside covers echo the sourcing, disbound from an original binding.

And there is no missing Cockram’s fine press touch in the handling of the end papers and the spine’s red inner backing echoing the interior of the storage box.

Further Reading

Special thanks to William Laywood of Forest Books ABA-ILAB for explaining the notation from the English Short Title Catalogue pointing me down the road to discovering the Canons of Criticism and Professor Dussinger’s insights.

Dussinger, John A. 23 September 2004. “Thomas Edwards“, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Accessed 9 October 2021.

Dussinger, John A. 1 January 2016. “Johnson’s unacknowledged debt to Thomas Edwards in the 1765 edition of Shakespeare.” Philological Quarterly. In The Free Library, University of Iowa.  Accessed 9 October 2021. Dussinger is quoting James Boswell’s Life of Johnson, ed. G. B. Hill, rev. L. F. Powell, 6 vols. (Oxford U. Press, 1934-1964), l:263n3.

Bookmarking Book Art – Kintsugi

Photo: Agnieszka Czeblakow, University of Texas at San Antonio Special Collections

Staff in Special Collections at the University of San Antonio libraries caught this sudden slant of sunlight on insect-damaged pages. It makes a good start for a serendipitous trek across conservation, book history and book art.

Those dry tunneled pages tear easily with turning, compounding the loss with further damage. To forestall such damage, the areas of loss could be filled page by page with Japanese paper (kozo or gampi) or with paper pulp. The Smithsonian’s book conservation lab illustrates the former method here:

Before
After
Katie Wagner, “The Fix — Manuscript Conservation“, Unbound, 21 April 2016. Smithsonian Libraries. Accessed 31 December 2018.

and the latter here:

John M. Keeling, “The Fix — Flawless Fills with Paper Pulp“, Unbound, 23 September 2015. Smithsonian Libraries. Accessed 31 December 2018.

The mending with Japanese paper reminds me of passages in A Degree of Mastery, where the author describes mending rare books with kozo paper under the eagle eye of the late Bill Anthony. The mending with paper pulp though recalls the painstaking art of Pat Gentenaar-Torley.

Working on pulp painting from the front to the back
Photo credit: courtesy of Pat Gentenaar-Torley

Three centuries before the paper in the San Antonio book was printed, bound and readied for damage in the centuries to follow, parchment — sturdier as it was — had its inherent flaws and elicited peculiar remedies for tears and loss. Erik Kwakkel’s site and books illustrate and celebrate several examples of what he calls “the beauty of the injured book”:

Tears repaired with thread
Loss repaired with thread.
Augusta Strand, “A medieval book mended with silk thread“, 17 October 2013. Uppsala University Library. Accessed 31 December 2018.

Dreamcatchers spring to mind. What were the thoughts caught in words now missing on these pages, words slipped from the dreamcatching pages? Our medieval “dreamcatcher” conservator seems to have in mind more than the principles of modern conservation — perhaps something more akin to kintsugi.

Kintsugi (or kintsukuroi) is a Japanese method for repairing broken ceramics with a special lacquer mixed with gold, silver, or platinum. The philosophy behind the technique is to recognize the history of the object and to incorporate the repair visibly into the new piece instead of disguising it.

Several centuries later, confronted with an 18th century volume of Horace, UK bookbinder Kathy Abbott was similarly inspired. Her story is recounted in Flash of the Hand (13 December 2015) and Skin Deep (Spring 2017).

Q. Horatii Flacci Carmina Expurgata (1784)
Conserved binding ‘Kintsugi’ style, 2011
Hand-dyed alum tawed thongs, hand-gilded hand-made paper
Kathy Abbott
Photo from Skin Deep (Spring 2017). Accessed 31 December 2018.

Whether this is “conservation binding” is a debated point. According to Jeff Peachey, it is “very creative repurposing of existing binding elements that
add a new layer of meaning to old books, which is, I submit, more properly
considered book arts” [Correspondence with Books On Books, 13 August 2018].

The extensive and well-documented work of Mark Cockram, book artist, master bookbinder and founder of Studio 5 Book Arts in London, bridges the debate. Cockram’s first venture with kintsugi occurred by accident, falling out of a separate, deliberate experiment to collaborate with nature — by burying books with the help of friends around the world and by submitting them to tanks of insects with the help of forensic entomologist Amoret Whitaker. Marc Webb (Park Light Pictures) captures Cockram’s original intent and results in this video created to accompany Cockram’s and nature’s works of art displayed at Pestival (2010). Cockram’s first kintsugi work, entitled Kintsugi (2013), came as a response to cracks appearing after freeze-drying the cover of one of sketchbooks buried in a garden in Bangkok.

Kintsugi (2013)
Mark Cockram
Unique. Buried book with 23.5 ct gold leaf inclusions. 15cm x 20cm.
Courtesy of Maggs Brothers Ltd

So pleased with the outcome of the accident, Cockram produced Kintsugi 2 (2018).

Another work of kintsugi-by-accident is Michele Emerick Brown‘s Miscellany, which began as an entry to the 2016 Guild of Book Workers’ binding exhibition. Sewn with a link stitch and of German paper case construction, it consists of printing examples from the bookbinding and restoration program at the Camberwell School of Art and Crafts, as it was known back in the 70s. Of more interest, its boards are made of Rockite (a concrete mix) and marble dust.

Miscellany (2018)
Before breakage
Michele Emerick Brown

After its not being accepted to the GBW exhibition, Brown writes,

I decided to enter it in the Artistree exhibit. I have a cottage in NH and thought I’d drop it off the same week-end I was meeting some friends. I took it out of the bag to show them, turned, tripped and dropped the book. Each board broke in several pieces. Very traumatic. It seemed like this book wasn’t meant to be exhibited.

After a couple of weeks I decided to glue it back together using construction adhesive and thought I would use gold leaf to highlight the cracks. While I was thinking about how to do it (what kind of glaire to use etc), someone told me about kintsugi. I ended up using gold acrylic (Golden). I went ahead and submitted it and it was accepted.[Correspondence with Books On Books, ]

Miscellany (2018)
After breakage and “kintsugi” repair
Michele Emerick Brown
Miscellany (2018)
Inside view of concrete boards “before” breakage
Michele Emerick Brown
Miscellany (2018)
Inside front cover after breakage and “kintsugi” repair
Michele Emerick Brown

Another “kintsugi book artist” is Lorenzo Perrone. Much like Werner Pfeiffer, Perrone has focused on the book as unreadable object and, as his site called “Libribianchi” implies, almost completely white.

Kintsugi (2018)
Lorenzo Perrone
Mixed media: book, plaster, white and gold pigments
42x26x16cm

Evident from this video about Perrone and this one about Pfeiffer, Perrone’s work is more romantic in a literary sense. His recent adoption of bronze and installations adds an elemental, alchemical, even phenomenological feel to his oeuvre. As he puts it, “Before, water was enough to make paper malleable, now I need fire to make bronze compliant.” Despite the disappearance of text in Perrone’s works, they still perform that ekphrastic act of book art and send me back to re-read — this time Bachelard’s Water and Dreams and Fragments of a Poetics of Fire.

Like the pleasure of kintsugi, an increase of enjoyment in something elemental, something fusing the past with the present, the broken with the re-created and the head with the heart.