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Grolier Club Exhibitions

The Changing Form of the Book

Books have existed for millennia—and the technologies for making them have varied across cultures and time. Many of the inventions associated with bookmaking originated in East Asia, which gave birth not only to paper, but also to the world’s earliest printed books and documents. The book has continued to transform in step with technological innovation and cultural change. The following artifacts, which are part of Rare Book School’s teaching collections, offer a sense of how the book as a physical object has developed among various societies around the world over the course of more than two thousand years.

Three fengni (封泥) clay discs, Eastern Han dynasty, ca. 200 CE.

Gift of Xia Wei and Soren Edgren. Wooden display stand on loan.

These three fengni come from the Eastern Han dynasty. They are seal impressions bearing the names of institutions and officials: the Seal of the Cai State (蔡國之印), Tai Granary (泰倉), and Seal of the Governor of Wuyuan (五原太守章). Used to secure and authenticate documents, they offer a glimpse into China’s ancient culture of text-bearing objects.

Great Dhāraṇī Sūtra of Immaculate Pure Light (Mugu chŏnggwang tae tarani kyŏng, Wugou jingguang da tuoluoni jing, 無垢淨光大陁羅尼經). Facsimile. Seoul: Dongguk University, [1986].

Gift of Xia Wei and Soren Edgren.

Likely the earliest extant printed work in the world, the Great Dhāraṇī Sūtra of Immaculate Pure Light was discovered inside the Sŏkkat’ap (Śākyamuni Pagoda) at Pulguksa Temple, Kyŏngju, in 1966. The scroll contains sacred Buddhist recitations intended to promote purification and protection. Almost certainly printed before 751, it was not intended for reading, but for incorporation within the sanctified structure of the stone pagoda. Circumambulating the pagoda would have conferred merit—a practice continued in Buddhist temples today.

Hyakumantō darani (百萬塔陀羅尼). A photo-facsimile of the 764–770 Jishin’in (自心印) text of the Muku jōkō dai daranikyō (無垢淨光大陀羅尼經), plus a replica of the wooden pagoda in which it was enclosed. Produced by Hōryūji Temple (Nara) in the mid-20th century.

Gift of Xia Wei and Soren Edgren.

Among the oldest surviving examples of printing, the hyakumantō darani were commissioned by Empress Shōtoku from 764 to 770. The sacred texts were stored within small wooden pagodas, almost certainly placed on altars, that served as East Asian versions of Indian stūpas—monuments to Śākyamuni Buddha. Printed in Japan, this particular text is a Chinese phonetic transliteration of the Great Dhāraṇī Sūtra of Immaculate Pure Light. A million copies were said to have been commissioned, and thousands are still extant at Hōryūji Temple in Nara.

Ink-squeeze rubbing album. Zhouyi, juan 4 (周易卷四). Kaicheng Stone Classic edition (唐開成石經). Single volume containing 18th-century rubbings from the Chinese classic Yijing (易經), or Book of Changes, as engraved on stone between 833 and 837.

Gift of Xia Wei and Soren Edgren.

This album contains an ink-squeeze rubbing from a stone engraved between 833 and 837 during the Tang dynasty. The stele is part of a group known as the Kaicheng Stone Classics—twelve classic works carved into 114 large, vertical tablets that were erected in the courtyard of the Imperial Academy in Chang’an, where they served as an accurate and accessible reference for students. The text featured here is from the Chinese classic Yijing, or Book of Changes, popularly referred to as the I Ching.

20th-century high-quality photo-facsimile of The Diamond Sūtra (金剛般若波羅蜜經). Beijing: National Library of China Press, n.d.

Gift of Xia Wei and Soren Edgren. The original surviving scroll is in the British Library.

A copy of The Diamond Sūtra was discovered in 1900 in the Mogao Caves of Dunhuang, China. The text’s Sanskrit title, Vajracchedikā-prajñāpāramitā-sūtra, is more accurately translated as the “Diamond-Cutter Perfection of Wisdom Sūtra” or “The Perfection of Wisdom that Cuts Like a Diamond/Thunderbolt.” The printing of this Chinese translation was commissioned in 868 CE. The block-printed scroll is the earliest known printed book with a dated colophon—and it stretches more than 17 feet long.

Tangshi sanbaishou (唐詩三百首). Produced by the Yangzhou Guangling Guji Keyinshe. 2 vols. Nanjing: Jiangsu guji chubanshe, 1998. No. 243 of 300 copies.

Gift of Xia Wei and Soren Edgren.

These replicas of clay, ceramic, wooden, tin, and bronze sorts of movable type help illustrate its early invention in East Asia. According to Shen Kuo’s Dream Pool Essays, in the mid-11th century, Bi Sheng carved individual characters into pieces of clay that were fired to hardness. Inspired by this history, Wang Zhen later created a font of more than 30,000 sorts of hand-carved wood type at the end of the 13th century. From the late 15th century, the Chinese cast types from bronze, tin, and lead.

Sijŏn taejŏn (Ch. Shizhuan daquan, 詩傳大全). Seoul, ca. 1675.

Gift of Xia Wei and Soren Edgren.

This large-format copy of Sijŏn taejŏn consists of a collection of commentaries on the Chinese classic Book of Odes as compiled at the early Ming Court by Hu Guang (1370–1418) and others. It was printed by the Korean government circa 1675 from the 1668 musinja bronze movable type font, which was modeled after the kabinja font of 1434. The first volume is illustrated with woodcuts. The book’s unusually large format indicates its non-commercial origin.

Antiphonal leaf. Italy, ca. 1450. Featuring text from Vulgate Psalms 86:1 and 88:2.

This manuscript leaf comes from an Italian antiphonal, a liturgical book that takes its name from the antiphons—short sacred verses sung before or after a chanted psalm or canticle. The text and music notes were written large enough to be used by several choristers at once. Although the provenance of this particular leaf is unknown, its decorative elements, four-lined red staves, and other physical characteristics point to a mid-15th century Italian origin—a period contemporary with Gutenberg’s printing activities in Germany. 11_Chapter1_Alphabetum Aureum 2.jpg

[Alphabetum aureum and other prayers]. Italy, ca. 1500. Purchased with funds donated by the Breslauer Foundation.

This compilation of Christian liturgical and devotional texts exemplifies how books acquire layers of interventions from different readers as they move through time and space. The main text, written on parchment, rubricated, and featuring decorated initials, was produced in Italy. The final leaves of the book, likely added later, are written on paper and inscribed in several different hands in both Latin and Polish. The Polish-language supplications were probably written by Stanislaus Golian, a wine dealer based in Krakow whose name is inscribed on the final leaves of the text with the date of 1616.

Fragment of folio 126r [Psalterium]. Mainz: Fust and Schöffer, 1459 (left). Manuscript fragment. Germany, ca. 1450–1475 (right).

This 1459 Mainz psalter fragment comes from the second dated work printed with moveable type in the West. (Only 13 copies are known to survive.) Printed on vellum by Johann Fust and Peter Schöffer, its elaborate two-color initials and rubrics were created by a method known as “jigsaw printing.” Paired with a 15th-century manuscript fragment, the differences between the two can be difficult to distinguish. 15th-century printed books and manuscripts closely resemble one another, largely owing to economic factors and the bookmaking technologies available at the time.

[Book of Hours; Use of Rome]. Ghent, ca. 1470.

Gift of Hans and Eva-Maria Tausig.

Books continued to be made in manuscript after the advent of printing in the West. This late medieval Book of Hours is a Roman Catholic devotional book centered on the Hours of the Virgin. It is written in a Gothic bookhand, also known as textualis or textura, and it contains six large initials on burnished gold facing six full- page miniature paintings made by Willem Vrelant (d. 1481) or by an assistant or collaborator in his circle.

Qur’anic Manuscript. [Damascus]: [n.p.], ca. 1800.

The full-page illumination in gold and color inks with which this book begins contains the Qur’an’s first sura, al-faitha. The manuscript does not contain a full text of the Qur’an, and it is also lacking a colophon, making it harder to date. It was probably produced at the turn of the 19th century. In addition to its beautiful and delicate script and illuminations, the book exhibits many features that help teach students about scribal and binding practices in the Islamic world.

Friendship album. Fremont, Nebraska: [n.p.], ca. 1892.

The book is a repurposed commercial notebook, trimmed to a triangular shape. Its ruled leaves have been folded and sealed with ribbons, buttons, thread, and even a toothpick. Each page includes handwritten instructions to open it on a specific day of the year 1892, or when the recipient is feeling a certain way (“Open when feeling down hearted”) or after specific events (“Open when you get to California”).

Training Division of the Kingsport Press. The Addresses of Abraham Lincoln; Extracts from the Autobiography of Calvin Coolidge. Tennessee: The Kingsport Press, 1929, 1930.

These miniature books were produced as training exercises by two cohorts of students at the Kingsport Press. Experiments in striking and casting two-point type had been successfully accomplished in the 19th century. The Kingsport students, however, first composed and printed their texts in regular-sized (e.g., 10- or 12-point) type, and then they photographically reduced the appearance of the printed sheets—a process that enabled them to print the resulting miniature text via offset lithography.

“The Little Girl Called Krista.” Redbridge, Ontario, Canada, ca. 1987.

Gift of Ruth-Ellen St. Onge.

This one-page short story was composed by a six-year-old girl on a Commodore 64C home computer in about 1987. The computer came bundled with GEOS (Graphical Environment Operating System), a third-party system that included a paint program, geoPaint, and a graphical word processor, geoWrite. The child used geoWrite to create the story, which was set in the digital font “Cory,” and then printed on a dot-matrix printer.

NuvoMedia, Inc. Rocket E-Book, 2000.

Gift of Jennifer Burek Pierce.

The Rocket E-Book, or Rocketbook, was one of the first portable e-readers, along with the SoftBook. It was developed in 1997 by Martin Eberhard and Marc Tarpenning, founders of NuvoMedia, Inc. The device had enough storage for 4,000 pages of text, and it allowed users to annotate and mark their favorite passages.

The Changing Form of the Book