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Grolier Club Exhibitions

Alexander Westphal

I am interested in books which, metaphorically speaking, are covered in fingerprints. I came into this when I found a book on the French monarchy used by Opal Whiteley to construct her fictitious persona as the daughter of a French royal. So I am interested in the stories told by marginalia, and the detective work it takes to uncover those stories.  But I am also very interested in self-published books, which I see as related. They also have the interesting characteristic of being completely untethered from the constraints of commercial viability.

Both marginalia and self-published books (other than those which serve an agenda, or are for a specific audience, e.g., a club) provide a privileged conduit into someone’s mind. They have the potential to be pure expressions of the author, published by raw force (e.g., Opal Whiteley’s “The Fairyland Around Us”) or because of access to unusual resources (e.g., Vanderbilt’s travel books.)

The mere existence of these book tells you something substantial about the psychology of the author. The book I am submitting, “WEST MADE EAST WITH THE LOSS OF A DAY” by William Kissim Vanderbilt, is an example of this.

The book marries two very disparate things: it is monumentally beautiful (folio, half levant, Rives paper, William Belanske plates) but the text reads very much like a free flowing journal. There are completely prosaic descriptions along the lines of “we did nothing but loaf all day,” and also evocative and detailed descriptions. There are logs of moorings, schematics of the ship, photos of all sorts of things.

The overall effect is an intimate, beautiful hodgepodge - whatever Vanderbilt wanted in the book went in the book. Above all, it seems to be a pure expression of Vanderbilt himself – covered in his fingerprints, so to speak. In summary, I am interested in books that share aspects of either their reader or author that you wouldn’t find in careful, civilized books.