Update: Mark Twain, Eugene Field, and a Skeptical Odyssey in the Stacks

Back in March, I shared something we had recently discovered in the Special Collections vault: an 1835 edition of Cruikshank at Home, inscribed by noted authors Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) and Eugene Field.  We were excited to find the autographs of these two 19th century literary giants, especially because no mention of the inscriptions was made in our library catalog.  However, our excitement began to sour somewhat when we discovered an additional inscription in the back of the book: a note from Eugene Field II, son of the famous poet.

Inscriptions in our copy of copy of Cruikshank at Home, Vol. I (XX PN6173.C75 1845)

Inscriptions in our copy of copy of Cruikshank at Home, Vol. I (XX PN6173.C75 1845)

At face value, the note seemed to corroborate the authenticity of the signatures, claiming that the volume had come from the library of Field Sr. — but a little research cast doubt on this assertion.  It turns out that the younger Field was a notorious forger of literary autographs, including his father’s and Twain’s.  Lacking the requisite expertise to tell a well-faked Twain signature from the real deal, we exhibited the book as a curiosity, but could say nothing more on the matter.

While we are still unable to take a confident position on the authenticity of the signatures, just recently we’ve made some additional (re)discoveries that have thrust our questionable Cruikshank back into the limelight.

Our new Special Collections Librarian Pat Olson was thumbing through old copies of the MSU Friends of the Library newsletter, when one article in particular caught his eye.  The article details the donation of a private library to Michigan State in the fall of 1952:

On September 29th, 1952, Mr. Charles G. Munn of the Reynolds Spring Company of Jackson, Michigan, very kindly donated his private library of 700 volumes to Michigan State College.  Mr. Munn’s books were officially appraised by the Manufacturers’ Appraisal Company at $4,000.  Standard authors… were represented by exceptionally well bound sets, and among these were some first editions, some books with outstanding illustrations, and no less than ten autographed volumes and sets.

The article goes on to list several of the “more outstanding rarities” from the Munn library.  Lo and behold, among the thirteen enumerated books is our now infamous Cruikshank (with an appraiser’s valuation):

Field5

Now, at least, we knew where we had acquired the volume.  Interestingly, the Clemens and Field autographs were not only known, but were a highlight of the collection.  It’s amazing what knowledge can be lost when you don’t keep meticulous historical records (this acquisition, remember, came a full decade before Special Collections existed as a separate library).  As an institution, we had forgotten all about the inscriptions over the course of the last 60 years.

Reading on, we discovered a connection among several volumes in the Munn collection.  Six other books on the list were stated to have come from the Field family library, with inscriptions to prove it:

Byron, George Gordon.
Works… With His Letters and Journals, and His Life, by Thomas Moore, Esq. London, Murray, 1832.
14 vols.; bound in green leather, gold tooled.  Autograph of Eugene Field on title page.  Appraisal $119.
Chesterfield, Earl of.
Letters to His Son… on the Fine Art of Becoming a Man of the World and a Gentleman… With Topical Headings and a Special Introduction by Oliver H. G. Leigh.  New York, Dingwall-Rock, c 1901.
2 vols.; bound in red leather, gold tooled.  “Of the Beau Brummel Edition of the Earl of Chesterfield’s Letters to His Son, 1999 sets have been printed of which this is set No. 1111.”  On back page: “Added after his Death.  This book comes from the library of my father, Eugene Field.  Eugene Field II.  Sept. 11, 1921.”  Appraised at $100.
Field, Eugene.
The Writings in Prose and Verse…  N. Y., Scribners, 1896.
12 vols.; bound in blue leather, gold tooled.  Autographed on fore page of Vol. 1 by Julia S. Field (Mrs. Eugene Field).  Appraised at $96.
 Irving, Washington.
A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus.  London, Murray, 1828.
4 vols.  Penciled notation “First Edition” on fore page.  Eugene Field’s autograph on inside cover.  Appraised at $100.
Shakespeare, William.
The Plays and Poems… according to the Improved Text of Edmund Malone… ed. by A. J. Valpy.  London, Bohn, 1853.
15 vols.; illustrated with steel engravings.  Vol. 1 contains autograph of Eugene Field at top of title page and autograph of S. L. Clemens (Mark Twain) on fore page.  Appraised $225.
Tarkington, Booth.
Works.  New York, Doubleday, 1922.
16 vols.  Seawood Edition “…strictly limited to 1075 numbered and registered copies, each with a portrait signed by the author in volume one.”  Mr. Munn’s set was No. 2.  Vol. 1 is signed by “Doubleday Page and Co.” and undersigned by Booth Tarkington and each of the remaining volumes is autographed by Tarkington on the title page between title and publishers’ data.  Vol. 1 also contains autograph of Julia S. Field (Mrs. Eugene Field) on a fore page.  The set appraised at $128.

We had struck a Eugene Field gold mine: three additional volumes supposedly bearing Field’s inscription, one of which also featured another Clemens/Twain autograph.  Two featuring the autograph of Field’s wife, Julia, and one with a note from Field’s son, matching almost exactly the note in the back of the Cruikshank volume.

Naturally, we went on a hunt to find these other books on our stacks.

The Byron we were unable to locate.  Special Collections does have an 1832 set of Byron’s Works, but it is in 17 volumes, not 14, and in a green library cloth binding, not gold tooled green leather.  None of the volumes bears the autograph of Eugene Field on the title page.  Interestingly, the first 12 or so of the volumes indicate that they are “volume __ out of 14” whereas the final volumes are “out of 17″.  Whether the publishers changed their minds about the size of the set mid-run, or we have two partial sets put together, I don’t know.

Chesterfield

Inscription from Eugene Field II, on a rear flyleaf of the Earl of Chesterfield’s Letters to His Son (BJ1671.C52 1925 v.1)

We were eventually able to find the inscribed copy of Chesterfield’s Letters to His Son, but it was being kept in the general stacks, not in Special Collections!  After verifying that this copy was the same one mentioned in the library newsletter, we rescued the two volume set and transferred it to our rare book collection.  However, there are some odd things going on with this inscription from Eugene Field II.

This particular edition of Chesterfield (the Beau Brummel edition) was printed in 1925, although the note in the back from Field’s son is dated 1921.  The copyright for this version of the text goes back as far as 1901, but even that is a full six years after Field’s death in 1895.  Needless to say, these facts cast some serious doubt on his son’s claim that the book came from his father’s library.

Field

Julia S. Field’s inscription (?), in The Writings in Prose and Verse of Eugene Field (PS1665.A2 1896 v.1)

We were also successful in finding the listed copy of Field’s Writings in Prose and Verse.  Sure enough, the half-title of the first volume seems to bear an inscription from Julia Field.  Again, there is something odd about this inscription.  Maybe I’m being too cynical, but the parenthetical addition of “Mrs. Eugene Field” after the name seems a little too on-the-nose, don’t you think?  Also strange is the fact that the signature only appears on the first volume of the 12 volume set.

Ah well, perhaps Mrs. Field was merely autographing the work for someone else, to add value to the set — the world may never know!

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Eugene Field autograph.  A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, Washington Irving (XX PS2072.H67 1828 v.1)

The Washington Irving set was right where it should be on the shelf.  Eugene Field’s (supposed) autograph, matching the one in our Cruikshank, was indeed penned on the inside cover.

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Note in the back of the 1828 Irving.

Interestingly, however, we found another note from Field’s son, on a rear flyleaf of the first volume.  This note was not included in the set’s description in the 1952 newsletter.

As with the other six books with supposed Field provenance, I have my doubts that the Eugene Field autograph in our Irving volume is authentic.  If it is supposed to be an ownership inscription, which it certainly looks like, why is only the first volume signed?  There is another, older ownership inscription in this same book (on the title page), and that signature appears consistently across all four volumes (which is much more common, in my experience).  What if Field had loaned or lost volumes 2, 3, or 4?  Am I being too cynical again?

Unfortunately, we were unable to locate the Shakespeare or the Tarkington sets among our collections.  There is no trace whatsoever of the Shakespeare volumes, and no record of sale or deaccession.  The Tarkington, however, is another (stranger) matter: we do have a 16 volume Tarkington set matching the newsletter description almost exactly… except that it’s No. 315 in the limited set of 1075, not Mr. Munn’s copy No. 2.  As such, no Julia Field autograph — real or not — is present in our Vol. 1 (or any of our volumes, for that matter).  How did we come to acquire Munn’s set No. 2 in 1952, only to have it replaced with a nearly identical, but differently numbered set in the intervening 62 years?

Our doubts about the Cruikshank Twain/Field autographs were only compounded by the discovery of these other volumes with similar inscriptions.  By finding this donation record in an old newsletter, we were able to move one link back in the chain of provenance, but many questions still remain about the authenticity of these signatures.

However, the somewhat ironic fact is that the notoriety of Eugene Field II has ended up adding some value to these works after all, even if the autographs are fakes.  A set of forged signatures would make an interesting collection in its own right!

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Hand-Coloring in Books: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

One of the lessons we learn through the study of rare book provenance is that no two copies of an old book are truly identical.  Every volume lives its own life, and receives its own marks, scars, and brands as it moves from owner to owner through time and space.  Some marks of provenance are accidental, or at least incidental to the core content of a work, while others are the result of printers, booksellers, and owners making a concerted effort to add value to their books, to distinguish one particular copy from another.

If a book featured printed image plates, most often created from woodcut blocks, one common way to enhance the appeal and uniqueness of the work was to add color to the images.  In the early days of printing, this process would need to be done by hand, applying color to an already printed black and white woodcut plate.  The results could be quite stunning:

Uncolored woodcut of Albrecht Dürer’s famous Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, ca. 1497–98. Image from the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

A hand-colored

A colored copy of the same print, thought to have been colored by Dürer himself.  Image from Harvard’s Houghton Library Tumblr.

The example above is a special case — most early colored plates were not done by the artists themselves, but rather were colored according to a printer’s orders, at the time of a book’s publication, or later at a bookseller’s discretion.  In both cases the aim was to add to the value of a work, to increase its appeal.  Book owners also sometimes colored items in their collections, much for the same reasons.

Books became cheaper and more widely available after the invention of the printing press, and in the process they lost some of their uniqueness and their charm.  In the print era many copies of a work could be churned out quickly with little variation between them, but hand-colored plates gave printers and booksellers a way to recapture some of the vibrancy and individuality of illuminated manuscripts from ages past.

Note

Hand-colored illustrations from our copy of Origine des Ornemens des Armoiries (XX CR151.M38 1680 c.2), a 17th century French work on heraldry.

It’s easy to find images of well executed book colorization online, and we have a few more here at MSU Special Collections (although nothing rivaling that Dürer print).  Most rare book libraries, however, don’t seem as keen to show off their less impressive examples.  Looking at the early hand-coloring usually featured on blogs or in library exhibits, one might come away with the impression that all colored plates are great works of art, or at least that they demonstrate a certain level of expertise or proficiency.  As in any endeavor, however, there are failures — examples of mismanagement, unfinished work, or all-around shoddy craftsmanship.

Take our 1530 copy of Georg Rüxner’s Anfang, Ursprung und Herkomen des Thurniers inn Teutscher Nation (XX folio CR4533.R8 1532), also called simply Thurnier Buch, or the Tournament Book.  The work presents a historical sketch of medieval tournaments in Germany from the 10th century to the tournament at Worms in 1487, providing information on the origin of the tournament and descriptions of the participants.  The book features a number of woodcut plates, including 41 images of various tournament activities and an additional 246 cuts of heraldic imagery.

Most of the plates are at least partially colored, although some of them, seemingly chosen at random, are not.  The book includes a number of duplicate images (appearing on different pages), and in each of these cases, only one of the pairs is colored.  This, at least, has a kind of logic to it — and for the most part, the color on these early plates isn’t awful, but it’s clear that the colorist was working with a somewhat limited palette:

HCW12

Click to enlarge.

HCW13

Click to enlarge.

The hand-coloring of these plates actually displays some level of competency, when compared to others in the same book.  Note that green and red crop up in odd places, though.  Was this an artistic choice, or the result of a limited color selection?  Some woodcuts from this volume take this preference for reds and greens to an absurd level, and demonstrate a general unwillingness to stay inside the lines, as well:

Note

There’s another issue plaguing some of the woodcut plates in our Thurnier Buch — a surprising number of images are only partially colored, and again it is difficult to understand the reasoning behind the colorist’s choices.  Often only one or two figures in the image will be colored, and it isn’t entirely clear whether the colorist ran out of time, got bored, or simply forgot to go back and finish the job.

n

In this particular woodcut, figures are colored seemingly at random.  The trumpets and the robes of the trumpeters received color, as did the gowns of two women in the foreground.  Three hairstyles are colored (brown), and a stick (or sword) in the background got a touch of red.  Most notably, perhaps, is that only the scene out of one window is colored.

Note

There is only one instance of color in this image, a touch of yellow applied to one man’s robe.  Why did the colorist stop here?

In many ways, our copy of the Thurnier Buch is like a 16th century coloring book — it’s as if a child was using this work to practice, clumsily applying what colors he had as the mood struck him.

When we dig a little deeper into the history of early hand-colored books, the clumsiness of this work become understandable.  Book collectors might be surprised to learn that printers and booksellers often employed children to complete the coloring process, meaning that essentially these early works were coloring books, of a sort — although they weren’t intended to be fun.  As this blog article from librarian and bibliophile L. D. Mitchell of explains,

[M]ost hand-colored plates were in fact not colored by the illustrators who drew or engraved the printed images, but rather were usually the work of an anonymous watercolorist who, more often than not, was a woman or child working in what was an early assembly-line process.

It’s unclear whether our Thurnier Buch was colored at the printer’s shop or in the collection of the book’s owner.  It’s certainly possible that the coloring is the work of a child, whether a young employee of the printer or the child of an early owner, but it’s also possible that it merely represents the unfinished work of an untrained adult book owner, someone who got bored partway through the coloring process.

It’s understandable that most libraries and book collectors aren’t keen to highlight these less-than-exceptional pieces, but I would argue that many of these botched coloring jobs are appealing because of their ineptitude.  They can be humorous, yes, but they can also teach us something, potentially giving us insight into the hand-coloring process, or connecting us to the past — serving to humanize those who contributed to this aspect of book history, and to remind us that pobody’s nerfect.

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Found in the Vault: A Presentation Inscription from Mark Twain — Or is it?

“And thou, homely little brown thing with worn leaves, yet more precious to me than all jewels of the earth—come, let me take thee from thy shelf and hold thee lovingly in my hands and press thee tenderly to this aged and slow-pulsing heart of mine… soon must we part forever; when I am gone say unto him who next shall have thee to his own that with his latest breath an old man blessed thee!”

- Eugene Field, Love Affairs of a Bibliomaniac

Okay, okay.  Last week I know I said we’d be talking about hand-colored plates this time — and that post is coming soon, I promise!  But in the meantime I wanted to highlight an interesting item we discovered (rediscovered?) in the vault just the other day:

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MSU’s copy of Cruikshank at Home, Vol. I (XX PN6173.C75 1845)

This 1845 edition of Cruikshank at Home (Vol.  I), a collection of humorous short stories selected and illustrated by famed English caricature artist Robert Cruikshank, may seem at first glance to be rather unremarkable.

While it is beautifully half-bound in red Morocco leather, it stands at a modest six-and-a-half inches tall and tends to blend in with the books around it on the vault shelves, many of which are similarly bound and just as beautiful.

As the study of rare book provenance has shown again and again, however, often some the most interesting features of books can be found on flyleaves and endsheets — and our copy of Cruikshank at Home is no different in this regard.

sdf

Presentation inscription from Samuel Clemens/Mark Twain.

As you can see, the book bears a terse presentation inscription with a noteworthy signature on the front flyleaf:

Y[ou]r[s] Truly,
              S. L. Clemens
                     (Mark Twain)
 

Search on the Web for Mark Twain’s (Samuel Langhorne Clemens) autograph and you’ll likely conclude that this is the real deal.  And why shouldn’t it be?

As in many institutions, our rare books contain signatures from a number of famous individuals, in the form of ownership inscriptions, presentation inscriptions, and the like.

But what else can we potentially learn about the provenance of this volume?

Close-up of the Clemens/Twain signature.

Close-up of the Clemens/Twain signature.

The book features another interesting signature on the half-title:  that of late 19th century American author and poet Eugene Field.  Based on the location and the appearance of the signature, it appears to be an ownership inscription, meaning that this book was likely in Field’s collection at some point.

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Signature of Eugene Field, Sr.

It seems probable that the two signatures are related, and that the book was either given to Field by Twain, or that Field merely had Twain sign it (although since it’s not a work by Twain, the latter seems less likely).  The two authors were friends, or at least acquaintances, and it’s hardly a stretch of the imagination to picture such a presentation taking place.

dsfsdf

Note from Eugene Field, Jr.

Another piece of evidence in the book seems to corroborate this theory.  On a rear flyleaf is the following note:

This book came
from the library
of my father Eugene
Field.
          Eugene Field II
Oct 20 – 1920
 

So, everything seems to be peachy — we have a fine example of a presentation inscription from one of the most influential American authors of all time, in a book from the personal collection of another famous author, all supported by the testimony of the latter’s son.

But there’s another story to tell.  Do a little digging on Eugene Field II, and you’ll find a number of articles about him, including one from the website Crime Librarywhich is certainly enlightening:

The American poet Eugene Field passed down his unique gift of writing to his son and namesake, Eugene Field II, whom he affectionately nicknamed “Pinny.” However, unlike his father, little Eugene’s gift was less conventional. His skill was not in composing poetry but actually in reproducing the writing style of other people…

Yes, it turns out that Eugene Field, Jr. was a notorious forger, especially infamous for rather masterfully faking the signature of Abraham Lincoln, and making quite a tidy sum in the process.  In addition to selling a number of books and documents with false Lincoln signatures, “Pinny” dabbled in other forgeries.  An article from the Internet Antique Gazette explains:

[Eugene Field, Jr.] had grown up with a comfortable life in the suburbs of Chicago, and upon his father’s death, began casting about for ways to make money without doing much work. Eugene Sr. left… a sizeable library, filled with some rare editions and beautiful bindings, and Pinny began selling them off piecemeal for profit.  

As Pinny was quickly running through his father’s library, he began to dabble in forgeries, and sometime in the 1920s or early 1930s, he met up with forger Harry Dayton Sickles. The two quickly struck upon a plan to ‘increase’ Eugene Sr.’s library. They reproduced Eugene Sr.’s original bookplate, and then set about buying up books, forging signatures and inscriptions, and ‘authenticating’ them with the addition of the reproduced bookplates.

Uh oh.  Our volume may not have a bookplate, but things are certainly starting to look suspicious.  This next line — from the Crime Library article — may put the final nail in the coffin:

[Field and Sickles] were also known to have forged numerous documents and signatures of other famous figures such as, Rudyard Kipling, Theodore Roosevelt and Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain), as well as several others.

While it’s possible that our Twain inscription is authentic, it also seems as though we have good reason to question it.  Could it be that the young Field falsified the signature early in his forgery career, or that he or Sickles, partners in crime, faked it in the late ’20s or ’30s and simply back-dated the “authenticating” note on the rear flyleaf?

Was the book presented to Eugene Field, Sr. by his friend and colleague Mark Twain, or is the signature a forgery?  We don’t know — and we may never know.  The irony is that if this volume did not feature the note from Field’s son we likely would have never seriously questioned the autograph’s authenticity.

It just goes to show that often it’s better to have no one on your side at all than to have a liar’s endorsement — or, as William Caxton put it, “men bileve not lyghtly hym whiche is knowen for a lyer.”

What do you think?  Can anyone out there offer any insight into the validity of these signatures?

Credit for the excerpts from the Crime Library and Internet Antique Gazette articles goes to Hollie Davis and Rachael Bell, respectively.  Here are the two links again:
Crime Library:  Abraham Lincoln’s Most Notorious Forgers
Internet Antique Gazette:  Field, Eugene Sr. & Eugene Field, Jr. & Harry Dayton Sickles
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MSU Provenance Project Social Media Update

In the past couple of weeks you may have noticed two new links added to the blog:  Special Collections Provenance Project Twitter and Flickr accounts.  If you haven’t already followed us on Twitter or checked out our photos on Flickr, I encourage you to do so.  Here’s what we’ll be doing with each of these social media platforms (click each icon to go to the appropriate page):

 

  On Twitter: @MSUProvenance

Our Twitter account is a great way for us to share material from other people and institutions related to provenance (and the study of rare books in general), and to showcase interesting discoveries at MSU — finds we may not have the time to write an entire blog post about.

Moreover, the Provenance Project account is currently the only presence that MSU Special Collections has on Twitter, so we’ll also be tweeting things that aren’t directly related to provenance: highlights from our collections, notices of upcoming events, and glimpses behind-the-scenes at our rare books & special collections library.

  On Flickr: photos/msuprovenance

Like Twitter, our Flickr account allows us to show you content related to the Provenance Project at MSU Special Collections that might not been featured on this blog (or elsewhere).  Currently, a lot of the photos on our Flickr are re-hosted images from our tweets or from past blog posts, but we’ll be adding more and more.  And as with the Twitter account, we’ll be using Flickr to showcase material from MSU Special Collections that isn’t provenance-related as well.

 

Of course, the WordPress blog will still be updated from time to time — and we also have plans to update our Facebook page.  I’m stretched a bit thin at the moment keeping up with all of these different social media outlets, but I promise more posts are on the way soon!  And if you just can’t wait for the next Adversaria update, here’s a preview of what I’ll be talking about next time:  Hand-colored woodcut plates in early printed books at MSU — the good, the bad, and the downright ugly.

Stay tuned!

Andrew

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An Artistic Edge: Selected Fore-Edge Paintings at MSU Special Collections

As we have seen time and time again, one can learn a great deal by examining the various marks in books.  However, this study of rare book provenance often focuses on the primitive, mundane, or even ugly facets of book ownership.  Libraries and personal collectors do not generally stamp or inscribe their books to beautify them or to add value, but to mark the items as their property.  And many people, having been born into a centuries-old print culture, see handwritten annotations and marginalia as imperfect human elements marring the otherwise mechanical orderliness of a printed text.

I do not share this worldview, but of course I am biased by my interest in the potential value of these additions as provenance evidence.  However, there are some marks in books to which I suspect even the most ardent biblio-purist would not object — marks interesting not only for their historical value, but also for their artistic merit.

Throughout the long and varied history of the book, writers, binders, printers and publishers have embellished the products of their craft in a myriad of ways.  Early Medieval manuscripts were often meticulously illustrated, and bookmakers have been tooling, stamping, or painting designs onto book covers for centuries.  Even in the modern age of machine printing and mass production, there is a great demand for artisan books bound, decorated or illustrated by hand.

One of the most interesting and uncommon forms of book art, the form I will be exploring below, is the practice of fore-edge painting.  These rare instances of book adornment are the result of painting a design or a scene on the front edge of a book’s text block (the edge opposite the spine).

Fore-edge painting showing Norwich Cathedral. Found on MSU’s 1849 copy of Proper Lessons to be Read at Morning and Evening Prayer (XX BX5147.L4 1849).

Fore-edge painting showing Norwich Cathedral. Found on MSU’s 1849 copy of Proper Lessons to be Read at Morning and Evening Prayer (XX BX5147.L4 1849).

Fore-edge painting remains relatively obscure, despite a recent revival in the practice, largely because the artwork is usually visible only when the book’s pages are fanned out.  In addition, most of these paintings (especially those from the 18th century onward) are hidden by gilded page edges.  Since fore-edge paintings typically remain invisible until the text block of the book is examined closely, and since each painting takes so much care and skill to produce, most people are unaware of this artistic tradition — even many bibliophiles and book dealers have never come across examples of these secret paintings.

Alternate view of Norwich Cathedral, from an 1848 copy of The Book of Common Prayer boxed with the book above.

Alternate view of Norwich Cathedral, from an 1848 copy of The Book of Common Prayer boxed with the book above.

Prior to the development of this art form, titles, shelf codes, or other identifying marks were often inked onto the fore-edges of books, so that the volumes could be easily identified when they were stacked on top of one another.  It is difficult to determine exactly when or where the practice of painting these edges began, although most scholars agree that the simplest form of “flat” fore-edge illustration likely became popular in late-15th or early-16th century Italy.

Regardless of the precise date the practice was invented, by the mid-17th century fore-edge painting had arrived in England, where bookmakers developed the technique of applying paint to fanned pages, so that the artwork would be hidden when the book was closed.  The practice continued to enjoy moderate popularity among England’s elite bookmakers and their patrons for a number of years, but by the end of the 17th century interest in fore-edge painting had waned, and few new works were created until the art’s revival nearly one hundred years later.

Fore-edge painting adorning MSU's 1847 copy of The Seasons by James Thomson (XX PR3732.S4 1847)

Fore-edge painting adorning MSU’s 1847 copy of The Seasons by James Thomson (XX PR3732.S4 1847)

The re-emergence of fore-edge painting as a popular art form in the late 18th century was largely due to the efforts of one English bookbinding and publishing company, Edwards of Halifax.  Although there were other fore-edge painters operating throughout the late 18th and early 19th centuries, a surprising number of these artists did not sign their work, and it remains difficult to identify the creators of many paintings from this era.  Due to the sheer number of works that are traceable back to the Edwards firm, however, a great many unsigned pieces of fore-edge painting end up being attributed to them as well.

After the revival of fore-edge painting by Edwards of Halifax, the trade remained relatively popular throughout the 19th century and into the 20th.  A number of artists and bookbinders made their names creating beautiful fore-edge paintings, most often in the English style of “hidden” painting on fanned pages.  As the art form grew in popularity it evolved into more complex forms, and by the early 20th century paintings were even being done on both sides of the fore-edge (so that one painting would be visible if you fanned the pages one direction, and another if you fanned them the other way), on all three edges of the book (head, tail, and for-edge), or both.  Even in these elaborate cases the book’s edges were usually gilded, hiding all artwork from casual inspection.

This fore-edge painting is hidden beneath gilt and gauffered edges -- completely invisible until the text block is fanned out. From MSU's 1823 copy of The World Before the Flood by James Montgomery (XX PR5032.W6 1823). Click to enlarge.

This fore-edge painting is hidden beneath gilt and gauffered edges — completely invisible until the text block is fanned out. From MSU’s 1823 copy of The World Before the Flood by James Montgomery (XX PR5032.W6 1823). Click to enlarge.

The range of subject matter for these paintings also grew as the art form evolved.   Early fore-edge paintings were of mostly pastoral scenes, but by the 20th century artists were producing paintings for a much wider audience, and had to adapt to the current Zeitgeist and the ever-changing demands of collectors.  Vignettes included depictions of historical or mythical events, sports scenes, cityscapes, and more.  Of course, some fore-edge paintings were added by collectors themselves, and the themes of many paintings often matched the subject matter of the host books.

Crude fore-edge painting of a man on horseback and an early railway train.  On MSU's copy of The Principles of Mechanics by James Woods (XX QA807.W6 1824).

Crude fore-edge painting of a man on horseback and an early railway train. On MSU’s copy of The Principles of Mechanics by James Woods (XX QA807.W6 1824).

A fore-edge painting depicting Regent Street, London.  From MSU's 1862 copy of Poems of Felicia Hemans (XX PR4780.A1 1862).

A fore-edge painting depicting Regent Street, London. From MSU’s 1862 copy of Poems of Felicia Hemans (XX PR4780.A1 1862).

Fore-edge painting of London Bridge, with the Houses of Parliament and St. Paul's Cathedral behind.  On MSU's 1816 copy of The Constitution of England; or, An Account of the English Government by Jean Louis de Lolme (XX JN117.L7 1816).

Fore-edge painting of London Bridge, with the Houses of Parliament and St. Paul’s Cathedral behind. On MSU’s 1816 copy of The Constitution of England; or, An Account of the English Government by Jean Louis de Lolme (XX JN117.L7 1816).

The renaissance of fore-edge painting in the 18th century by Edwards of Halifax pales in comparison to the latest, 20th century revival of the art.  Most modern artists, however, rather than adding their art to contemporary works, instead paint on the fore-edges of old books — often from the 18th or 19th century.  This can make it difficult to date a fore-edge painting through a cursory visual examination alone, and many unsigned and undated paintings can fool even a trained eye.  Worse still, this ambiguity is often deliberate, perpetrated with the intent to defraud collectors.

Thankfully the reputable modern artists seem to outnumber the fraudulent, and it is these known artists who are largely responsible for making the practice popular again in the 20th century.  Chief among these, at least in the first half of the century, was the prolific fore-edge painter Miss C. B. Currie, who produced a series of signed and dated paintings for Sotheran’s of London.  Martin Frost, another modern day fore-edge artist, produced a great deal of signed and dated work in the latter half of the 20th century and still creates fore-edge paintings today.

Fore-edge painting of Stirling Castle, from MSU's 1815 second edition of Sir Walter Scott's The Lord of the Isles (XX PR5310.A1 1815).  Artist unknown.

Fore-edge painting of Stirling Castle, from MSU’s 1815 second edition of Sir Walter Scott’s The Lord of the Isles (XX PR5310.A1 1815). Artist unknown.

Even with the recent “second renaissance” of fore-edge painting, the art form remains relatively unknown and misunderstood.  However, a number of institutions, such as the Boston Public Library, maintain large, beautiful collections of fore-edge painted books from every era, and several artisan bookbinders working today still produce their own fore-edge paintings.

With the help of some outspoken rare book dealers and special collections libraries, this centuries-old trade is finally, slowly working its way back into the public’s awareness.  And I think nearly everyone — even those who would normally cringe at the sight of a marked-up book — can admire the products of this unique craft, tragically under-appreciated in the history of book arts.

Two scenes on a single fore-edge.  This painting only takes up half of the text block -- up to page 248 or so.  Another fore-edge painting can be found on the remainder of the text block if the pages are fanned in the opposite direction.  From MSU's Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (XX PR1181.S4 1839).

Two scenes on a single fore-edge. This painting only takes up half of the text block — up to page 248 or so. Another fore-edge painting can be found on the remainder of the text block if the pages are fanned in the opposite direction. From MSU’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (XX PR1181.S4 1839).

A pair of scenes from the other half of the text block, on the fore-edge of pages 249 to 559.  All together, MSU's copy of Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border features four scenes painted across two faces of the fore-edge.

A pair of scenes from the other half of the text block, on the fore-edge of pages 249 to 559. All in all, MSU’s copy of Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border features four scenes painted across two faces of the fore-edge.

For more information on the art of fore-edge painting, see the Boston Public Library’s articles on fore-edge painting and the website of modern fore-edge artist Martin Frost.  Also be sure to check out these previously undocumented fore-edge paintings recently discovered by Special Collections & Archives staff at the University of Iowa!  (original UI Special Collections Tumblr post here)

Does anyone out there recognize the artists of any of our fore-edge paintings?  Has anyone had a chance to see a work like this in person?  Leave a comment below!

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The Secret Lives of Books: Uncovering the Hidden (and not so Hidden) Clues

“In a good book the best is between the lines.”

- Swedish proverb

Remember this quote we left you with last time?  Ostensibly the saying is a Swedish proverb (I’m skeptical), but whatever the origin, it’s been on my mind quite a bit lately.  While I’m sure the intent behind the proverb is to extol the merits of interpretive analysis (“reading between the lines,” as it were), I’m happy to take the quote at face value and apply it to the study of provenance.

Cataloging the unique traits of rare books at MSU, I’m reminded again and again that often the most interesting things about a book are incidental to its original, printed content.  As Peter Berg, Head of MSU Special Collections, put it:

“If every picture tells a story, as the saying goes, then it can be said that almost every book tells two stories.”

One story is obvious, of course, but in order to uncover a book’s second story we sometimes have to literally read between the lines — or look in the margins, on the flyleaves, etc.  Here are revealed the secret lives of books: not just the stuff of bibliographies, but of biblio-biographies, life histories told through copy-specific features such as annotations, marks of ownership, or peculiarities in the way books were bound.

It is this last category, in particular, that has been on my mind a lot this week.

Hand-bound books, like any truly artisanal product, occasionally have some idiosyncratic features.  For example, throughout history bookbinders have often repurposed leftover materials — scraps of wastepaper or pages from discarded books — to shore up new binding projects.  As a result, many old books have fragments of other, even older books or manuscripts hidden within their spines or pasted under their endleaves.  When they form part of a book’s pastedown endpaper, these pieces of “binding waste” are often plainly visible, and can be a valuable and easily decipherable piece of provenance evidence.

Here at MSU I have run across several instances of this repurposed binding waste.  Below is one example I found just the other day:

Front pastedown of John Selden's 1631 Titles of honor (XX folio CR3501.S4 1631).

Front pastedown of John Selden’s 1631 Titles of honor (XX folio CR3501.S4 1631).

Rear pastedown of John Selden's 1631 Titles of honor

Rear pastedown of John Selden’s 1631 Titles of honor (XX folio CR3501.S4 1631).

These images show both the front and rear pastedowns of MSU’s copy of Titles of honor, printed in 1631.  Although the work is a treatise on peerage and heraldry, a little bit of research shows that the pages used for its pastedown endsheets come from Book V of the Decretals of Gregory IX, a series of 13th-century papal letters on canonical Catholic law.  I have not yet been able to identify the particular edition represented here, but given the date of the binding and the fact that the text is printed (and not manuscript), its date must fall within a range of 150 years or so.  The appearance of the paper (comparable to that in the text block) and the fact that these pages were on-hand for use as binding waste makes it likely that they come from a printing roughly contemporary with that of the larger work.

Rear pastedown of MSU's 1695 copy of De arte graphica by C. A. Du Fresnoy (XX ND1130.D8 1695).

Rear pastedown of MSU’s 1695 copy of De arte graphica by Charles Alphonse Du Fresnoy (XX ND1130.D8 1695).

Above is another example of discarded pages being used anew.  The work is John Dryden’s 1695 English translation of De arte graphica, or The art of painting, by French painter C. A. Du Fresnoy (originally published in 1668).  The page used in the pastedown is a fragment of John Speed’s geographical study and atlas The Theatre of the Empire of Great Britaine, first published in 1611.  As with the first example, this binding waste has nothing in common with the content of the volume into which it is bound, and was likely just the first piece of scrap paper the binder happened to grab.  This page is hidden a little better than the two used in the previous example, and features less printed text, but most of the words are still visible through the sheet pasted on top.

But scraps of binding waste aren’t the only pieces of provenance evidence that can be found on a book’s pastedown endpapers.  As we have seen before, the inside of the front cover was often the go-to place for ownership inscriptions, bookplates, library stamps, and other marks of provenance.  Like binding waste, these other pieces of evidence can occasionally be hidden in plain sight.  Such was the case of the Phytobasanos:

MSU's copy of

MSU’s 1744 copy of Fabio Colonna’s Phytobasanos (XX folio QK41.C65 1744).

The title page of MSU's copy of Phytobasanos by Fabio Colonna (XX folio QK41.C65 1744).

The title page of MSU’s copy of Phytobasanos by Fabio Colonna (XX folio QK41.C65 1744).

Fabio Colonna’s botanical study ΦΥΤΟΒΑΣΑΝΟΣ, or Phytobasanos (The Torture of Plants, or possibly Botanical Touchstone), was originally published in Naples in 1592, although MSU’s copy of the work is a modestly-bound 1744 edition.  This particular copy is interesting for a number of reasons.  On the title page, the place of publication for this volume is listed as Milan (“Mediolani”) although several other surviving copies of this 1744 edition indicate that they were published — apparently concurrently — in Florence (see for example the copies at UT Dallas or the Lyon Public Library).

In addition, the book features a couple of fascinating and potentially telling inscriptions.  On the title page (shown above) is an ownership inscription from “Georgius Mauritius Lowitz”, dated 1751 (MDCCLI).  As it turns out, this is the Latinized name of a certain Georg Moriz Lowitz, who happens to have an entry in the CERL Thesaurus (a database of historical names maintained by the Consortium of European Research Libraries).  According to the Thesaurus, Lowitz died in 1774, and in 1776 his library was sold at auction.

Inscription on the front pastedown

Inscription on the front pastedown of MSU’s Phytobasanos (XX folio QK41.C65 1744).

Another interesting inscription, useful for establishing part of this volume’s ownership history, can be found at the top of the front pastedown:

Norimbergam
Jo: Gabrieli Doppelmair Viro Sapientissimo
                                                  Janus [?]anny offert

If we Anglicanize the names and translate the Latin, the text reads as follows:

Nuremberg
[To] Johann Gabriel Doppelmair, the wisest man
                                         Presented [by] Janus [?]anny 

This presentation inscription records the gift of the book to Johann Gabriel Doppelmair, a notable late 17th/early 18th century German mathematician and scientist (who even has a crater on the moon named after him).  While this inscription is undated, it must fall within the relatively small window between 1744 (when the book was published) and 1750 (when Doppelmair died).

Both of these inscriptions are crucial to our understanding of this book’s provenance, and the Doppelmair inscription in particular is interesting in its own right (and it gives the work some added value through association with a noteworthy historical figure) — but surprisingly, none of this information is included in the book’s current catalog record.

But I digress.

Front pastedown endpaper

Front pastedown endpaper of MSU’s Phytobasanos (XX folio QK41.C65 1744).

The reason I brought up the Phytobasanos in the first place is not because of its ownership inscriptions.  Take a look at the entire front pastedown — what else do you see?  There is a Dewey Decimal call number penciled near the Doppelmair inscription, as well as a library stamp…  There’s a price (and $5 no less!), and a curious red mark (possibly wax).  But what’s going on near the bottom of the page?  This is where things really get interesting.  It appears as though some sort of bookworm has eaten through part of the endpaper — and through the hole it created, there are markings visible underneath the pastedown:

Close-up

Close-up of the front pastedown of MSU’s Phytobasanos (XX folio QK41.C65 1744).

Not only are there markings showing through from beneath the pastedown, but the markings appear to be manuscript writing!  Wanting to investigate further, but not wanting to damage the book any more than the insect already had, I was able to carefully pry up some of the loose page (the glue had failed just below the worm-line), and get a better view of the text written there:

Close-up

Extreme close-up, underneath the pastedown of MSU’s Phytobasanos (XX folio QK41.C65 1744).

“Vicaria” — in ink, in manuscript, under the pastedown endpaper.  It may be difficult to see in these photographs, but there appeared to be even more writing underneath the pastedown, above the text visible through the wormhole (so to speak).  That portion of the page, however, was still firmly glued to the inner surface of the cover.  I called in Eric Alstrom, Head of Conservation and Preservation at MSU, and we discussed possible methods of reading this additional text without causing irreparable damage to the book.  We ultimately decided to spray a fine mist of ethyl alcohol over the area in question, which rendered the pastedown translucent enough to read what was written underneath.

Close-up

The secret revealed: close-up of the front pastedown of MSU’s Phytobasanos (XX folio QK41.C65 1744), sprayed with ethanol.

As we sprayed the page with ethanol, the text slowly began to reveal itself.  However, discoloration of the paper, combined with some old bubbling between the pastedown and the cover board, made it somewhat difficult to read the entire inscription.

Photoshop

Close-up of the hidden text in MSU’s Phytobasanos (XX folio QK41.C65 1744), computer enhanced.

As far as we could tell given our limited success, the full text of the inscription reads as follows:

   M Rev°: Prē [???]
Vicaria

The text following Prē is difficult to make out, but it appears to be either a “G” or a “6” followed by two smaller, round characters.  I hypothesized that Prē might be short for “pretium” and that the text which follows could represent a price, such as “6.00” — but it is difficult to know for sure.  A little research into the other marks produced some additional (speculative) results.  M Rev° seems to be an abbreviation for “Monsignor Reverend” or “Monsignor Reverendissimo” (official forms of address for certain members of the Roman Catholic clergy), while Vicaria can either refer to a specific neighborhood of Naples or to an Italian vicarage more generally (the residence of a vicar or vice-regent).  Putting all of these clues together, could this be a note from the binder, indicating his client, price, and location?

A little learning is a dangerous thing, as the saying goes, and I am hardly an expert on mid-18th century binding marks.  Have any of our readers encountered similar inscriptions?  If you have some insight into the meaning of this text, please post a comment below and help us identify this mysterious piece of provenance evidence.

It’s amazing to think that were it not for the destructive dietary habits of a library pest, this hidden message might never have been revealed.  How many other books in the Special Collections vault bear similar secret marks of provenance, which will never see the light of day?  What else is out there?

Every day there are new surprises here at MSU Special Collections, and the work of a biblio-detective is never done!

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Found in the Vault: Dryden’s Poems with Manuscript Additions

Happy belated New Year to our readers!

This week we’re going to look at one of the most heavily annotated books we’ve come across so far during the course of the Provenance Project here at MSU Special Collections: a collection of poems by 17th century English Poet Laureate John Dryden.  This 1688 anthology, entitled Dryden’s Poems, is a collection of eight individual pamphlets of Dryden’s poetry (ranging in date from 1681 to 1688), bound together in contemporary calfskin.  What’s particularly interesting about this volume is that bound into the work are over 100 additional leaves of late 17th century paper, approximately 30 of which contain manuscript notes, poems, and letters identified as being “by Dryden and others” (see the MSU online catalog entry for this item).

Dryden Manuscript Page 1The manuscript additions begin on the earliest pages of the volume, before any printed material.  The first few pages are devoted to a poetic quotation, attributed to Milton, by an unknown annotator.  The first page of this quote is included here.

Directly following this is a manuscript copy of “A Pathetic Farewell” from Richard Glover’s 1737 epic poem Leonidas, seemingly in the same handwriting.  It should be noted that Dryden died in 1700, ruling out the possibility that these annotations are his.

Dryden Manuscript Page 2

Excerpt from Glover’s Leonidas. In MSU’s copy of Dryden’s Poems (XX PR3412.D7).

Throughout the collection of poetry are a number of other provenance markers, including many more inserted manuscript pages.  Also of interest are the notes written in the margins of Dryden’s allegorical “Absalom and Achitophel,” a poem couching references to political events in contemporary England in language ostensibly about a biblical story.

Dryden Manuscript Page 3These marginal notes reveal the true identities behind most of the allegorical names in the poem.  David is revealed to symbolize King Charles (Charles II), Absalom to be James Scott, Duke of Monmouth, Israel to be England, Jerusalem or Sion [Zion] to be London, and so on.  It is not clear who is responsible for these illuminating marginalia, but they seem to more or less reflect scholarly consensus on the poem’s allegories.  The notes appear to be more or less contemporary with the printing of the volume.

Dryden Manuscript Page 4

Descriptive marginalia accompanying “Absalom and Achitophel” in Dryden’s Poems.  Only the first few pages are reproduced here.

Dryden Manuscript Page 5Directly following the Absalom marginalia is another inserted manuscript sheet, this one a series of excerpts from a published series of sermons (originally given by Samuel Clarke in 1704-1705) awkwardly titled A Discourse Concerning the Being and Attributes of God, the Obligations of Natural Religion, and the Truth and Certainty of the Christian Revelation.  The abridged quotation begins:  “Atheism arises from stupid ignorance, gross corruption of manners or false philosophy…”  The recto page is shown here.

Do you see any similarities between the handwriting on this page and that on the previous manuscript pages?  It’s difficult to tell whether a majority of the passages were written by the same hand, but that remains a distinct possibility.  As with the excerpt from Leonidas above, the date of the quoted material excludes Dryden as the possible annotator.

The next major addition to the printed book comes in the section containing Dryden’s poem The Hind and the Panther.  It appears that the first four printed pages of this particular copy of the poem were lost, and someone has replaced the missing pages with meticulous handwritten text.  The unnamed annotator even went as far as replicating the appearance of the page numbers and title.  Compare the handwritten title page of Part I of the poem (on the left) to the printed title page of Part II (on the right):

Dryden Manuscript Page 6

The final twelve printed pages of this poem were also apparently damaged or lost, and manuscript substitutions for those pages were also bound into the volume in their proper place.  Below you can see where the manuscript copy picks up again, as well as the final (handwritten) page of the poem.  Note that aside from the faux print look of the manuscript title page, the handwriting on these pages is again similar to the earlier annotations in this book.  Perhaps they all belong to the same author?

Dryden Manuscript Page 7

Transition from printed page to manuscript page in “The Hind and the Panther,” Dryden’s Poems.

Dryden Manuscript Page 8

Final page of “The Hind and the Panther,” in manuscript. Also note the large ink blot on the following printed page.  The characteristics of the paper also change — this is the beginning of a new pamphlet bound into this volume.

The final few manuscript pages are where things start to get really interesting.  In the nearly 100 pages added to the back of the volume, there are a number of excerpted poems, transcribed letters, and other annotations, in what appear to be at least four different hands.  The first of these is a passage from Lucretius, signed J. Dryden.  Could it actually be from the Poet Laureate?  The handwriting does appear to differ from that in the beginning of the book, in those annotations we have already shown cannot be from Dryden.  Does the handwriting look similar to that in the marginal notes on “Absalom and Achitophel” or in “The Hind and the Panther”?

Dryden Manuscript Page 9

Dryden Manuscript Page 10Following this passage from Lucretius is a manuscript copy of a poem addressed to Dryden by Wentworth Dillon, the 4th Earl of Roscomon, on the former’s “Religio Laici” (a poem also included in this collection).  The handwriting is nearly identical to that in the Lucretius excerpt, making it possible that this poetic commentary on Dryden’s work could have been written into the back of this volume by Dryden himself.  The first page of this poem is shown on the right.  Can you see the similarity in the handwriting between this page and the previous two?

This has only been a sample of the many manuscript pages bound into this collection of Dryden’s poems.  Most of the images included in this post only represent the first page or two of their respective manuscript sections, and there are additional essays, letters, and other handwritten pages bound into this volume – too many to realistically include in this singular content update.  The selection given above, however, is representative of the general form taken by these manuscript additions, and also includes the most unique or interesting instances.

Quite a few of the rare books here in MSU Special Collections have at least some markers of provenance, but only a handful have such a depth of supplementary material that it takes nearly an entire day or more to read and catalog it all.  Understanding the origin of many of the annotations in Dryden’s Poems is an ongoing process, and the provenance of these passages is still being investigated.  At times it can seem like the work of a provenance detective is never done!  We’ll post an update if we uncover anything else interesting in the manuscript additions to MSU’s copy of Dryden’s Poems.

Until next time, contemplate the double meaning of this lovely quote we stumbled upon the other day:  In a good book the best is between the lines.”  

Hope to see you back soon!

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