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Grolier Club Exhibitions


How are the substrates of a book put together to make a whole? How are they assembled? From scrolls to zip disks, and from miniature codices to double-elephant folios, the structures of books not only provide evidence of how, where, and when they were made, but also a sense of their intended use. The following items from RBS’s teaching collection convey the many ways that book formats have changed over time in various regions around the globe. But their physical structures also reflect how the forms of books themselves are shaped by communities and societies, even as books effect their own meanings in the world.

Michael Gullick. “No. 1: Catch-all bifolium” and “No. 4: Ink ruling (calfskin).” RBS Manuscript Quires Showing Basic Medieval Pricking and Ruling Techniques. Commissioned by RBS in 2002.

Medieval scribes employed pricking and ruling marks that served as guides for copying out texts in a neat and legible manner. This teaching set illustrates some common techniques. No. 1 is a “catch-all” bifolium whose fore-edges are each pricked with an awl in a vertical row to demarcate horizontal rulings made in blind with a sharp point—a technique characteristic of 11th- and 12th-century manuscripts. No. 4 is ruled in ink, a common 13th- and 14th-century technique.

03_Chapter3Format Esther Scrolls b.jpg

Megillat Ester (מְגִלַּת אֶסְתֵּר). Central Europe, ca. 1850.

The Book of Esther from the Hebrew Torah is traditionally copied on and read from a parchment scroll wound onto a single rod. Megillat Esther is read annually at the festival of Purim. RBS's scrolls and fragments have a varied provenance attesting to the rich diversity of communities in the Jewish diaspora. The scroll below is a complete 19th-century scroll from Central Europe.

Diamond-Cutter Sūtra. [Mongolia], ca. 1920.

Pechas are Tibetan texts whose oblong-shaped, loose paper leaves are housed between unattached wooden boards, stiffened paper (or some other firm material), and then wrapped within a cloth and secured with a cord. The format was influenced by the loose-leaf palm manuscripts, or pothi, of ancient India. This manuscript of the Diamond Sūtra, written in Tibetan, appears to have been made in Mongolia. It is a luxurious production, copied out in colored inks likely made from silver, gold, coral, pearl, turquoise, and lapis lazuli in keeping with Mongolian practice.

Quarto sheet from Hymne, louanges et prières, prononcés par le Révérend Grand-Rabbin des Israélites Portugais à Amsterdam. Amsterdam: Belinfante et Comp., 1811.

Gift of Jon Lindseth.

This quarto sheet features a hymn printed in Hebrew and French. The term “quarto” refers to the number of times that a full sheet of parchment or paper is folded to create a gathering for a codex-format book. A sheet folded in half once creates a folio of two leaves; a quarto, folded twice, results in four leaves. Other formats include octavos, duodecimos, sextodecimos (16mos), tricesimo-secundos (32mos), and sexagesimo-quartos (64mos)—the smallest known being a 128mo printed by the Plantins in the 16th century.

Folio: Joao da Silveira. Commentariorum in Apocalypsim. Venice: Domenico Louisa, 1728.

Gift of the University of Kansas.

Quarto: Horace. Hekeldichten Brieven en Dichtkunst. Amsterdam: d’Erven J. Ratelband en Compagnie, Hermanus Uitwerf, 1737.

Octavo: Jean Racine. Oeuvres diverses de Jean Racine, enrichies de notes et de préfaces.Vol. 7. London [false imprint]: [n.p.], 1768.

Duodecimo: Charles Rollin. Storia Romana. Naples: A. Cervone, 1761.

Gift of Olga Ragusa.

Officium Beatiae Mariae Virginis. Antwerp: Plantin, 1677.

Imposition schemes of miniature books are notoriously complex, and it is challenging to decipher their format via chain lines, watermarks, and signatures. The unopened, untrimmed leaves of this Plantin Press Book of Hours allow us to see the book’s large original margins, thus offering a clue as to the dimensions of the sheets of paper on which it was printed. In many cases, full margins, such as these, would have been cut down when the book was bound.

John James Audubon. Canada Goose. London; New York: Editions Alecto; New York Museum of Natural History, 1985. No. 67 of 125 printed.

Gift of Robert and Nancy Braun.

One of the largest books ever published in multiple copies, the plates for Audubon’s The Birds of America were printed on sheets of handmade paper measuring about 40 by 30 inches. Although the book is referred to as a “double elephant folio,” its sheets were not folded and sewn through the fold. Instead, whole unfolded sheets were sewn together by overcasting their left edges. This illustration of Canada Goose is a restrike from the original aquatint copper plate engraved by Robert Havell Jr. in 1834. One of 125 copies, it was printed directly from the original plate in color á la poupée.

Reconstructed sheet from Six Months in a Convent, or the Narrative of Rebecca Theresa Reed. . . . Boston: Russell, Odiorne & Metcalf, 1835.

Rebecca Reed’s narrative Six Months in a Convent was an American bestseller in 1835. The publishers anticipated its popularity and had the text stereotyped to allow for additional copies to be printed with speed and ease. RBS faculty member Todd Pattison reconstructed a sheet of the book to teach students about format and gatherings in American 19th-century publishers’ bindings and specifically about the bindery of Benjamin Bradley, in which hundreds of women workers folded and bound the printed sheets of Reed’s memoir.

Rhein-Panorama von Mainz bis Cöln. Eisenach: Wilhelm Scütz, Grossherzogl. S. Hofbuchbinderei, Prägeanstalt, Photo-Lithogr. Kunstanstalt, [1883].

This book, made in leporello format, presents a panoramic view of the Rhine. (The terms “accordion book” or “concertina” are often used interchangeably for this style of book structure, given its pleat-like folds.) Opening the book’s covers reveals a continuous 92-inch strip that traces the flowing path of the great European river. Rhein-Panorama is used in RBS courses as an example of books that resist traditional bibliographical description.

Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons. Watchmen. New York: DC Comics Inc., 1987.

Gift of Paul Romaine.

The outer right-hand corner of one of the leaves of the mass-market paperback edition of the 1987 graphic novel Watchmen features a témoin (French for “witness”)—an accidentally folded corner of a bookblock leaf that survives uncut and untrimmed. Here the témoin shows the extent to which the bound leaves were trimmed during the manufacturing process—thus helping to indicate the leaf’s original size.

Clark Coolidge. On the Slates. New York: Flockophobic Press, 1992.

Designed by A. S. C. Rower and issued in an edition of 250, On the Slates is a book that immediately announces itself as something apart from a typical codex. Reminiscent of Dadaist works from the early half of the 20th century, Clark Coolidge’s experimental language poem is printed on loose paper leaves the same size as U.S. paper currency, wrapped with an actual U.S. dollar bill overprinted with the address of the Flockophobic Press, and tied with a shoestring—this nestled within one smelly, used men’s shoe.

Edward Bateman. Gutenberg. Salt Lake City: Book Arts Studio, University of Utah, 2002. No. 13 from an edition of 34.

Edward Bateman’s artist’s book contains thousands of pages of electronic texts, accompanied by eight pages of letterpress text. Four printed leaves are encased in a binding of two zip disks on which are stored electronic versions of the following canonical texts in the following order: The Odyssey, The New Testament, Tao Te Ching, The Canterbury Tales, Huckleberry Finn, A Tale of Two Cities, The Tempest, Pride and Prejudice, and Hamlet.