books as objects, a fine arts exploration

as published in the Friends of the Staunton Library Newsletter, Summer 2015

"Some books were meant to be adored, venerated and treasured, kept in a sacred place in your home and stored in memory as well, relinquished only on your death. Upon your demise the children will divvy them up, sell them to a book dealer (most likely scenario) or take them to a thrift store. It doesn't matter, you are dead, but while you were alive they were objects of special beauty.  

"Books were meant to be read", cry the intellectual purists, as if mere words were the reason for a book's existence.  

Books are objects, in their very basic three dimensional form, but when they are bound in full Moroccan leather, or illustrated with tipped in colored plates, or protected in a hand made box, a new realm is entered.  

"Skilled Defense", is a book meant to be viewed face up, the gold embossed cover advertising the author's intent to garner converts to his school of instruction. Hundreds of photographs depicting police and civilians disarming gun, knife, and club wielding denizens of the underworld comprise the 175 page volume. Published in 1936, it has a laudatory dedication to J. Edgar Hoover of the FBI.  

"Samantha at the World's Fair", was published in 1893 at a time when the Chicago fair was a national attraction. The format of this popular book was designed as a gift book, printed on paper of quality, profusely illustrated, nicely bound with decorations in gilt and silver. It's appearance garnered attention and was likely displayed In book stores with cover to the buyer.  Thick, with a decorative spine, it would have also have been worthy of being shelved and still attract the eye of a parent, relative, or friend of the youthful recipient. The publishers note that this book is also available in a 'popular edition for reduced sum'. The hint that love required a certain amount of generosity is often suggested in the advertisements located in the back of books of this nature.  

Books bound in leather have always been popular, the volumes in the photo highlight the diversity of topics, mirroring the choices available in the construction of a personal library. Three of the books have gift inscriptions within, exhibiting the buyers choice in binding for a book that can last a lifetime. Leather bound books will require periodic care. Correspondence with the dresser of Queen Elizabeth's leather books (a designated occupation) might yield practical advice! The books on either end are attractive cloth bound American adventure books with tales of valor and glory within; another subset with thousands of titles issued during the waning days of the 'wild' West.  

And talking of subsets, invariably many of these volumes have hidden or subtle features not always readily apparent at first glance. Gilt edges, beveled covers, colored lithographs and a collectible on it's own - marbled interior boards, with some collectors buying books for just this aspect alone.  

The newsletter budget precludes a further thousand or so pages which is about what it would take to have a broader overview of the book as object, but more pictures worth a thousand words will follow in other issues. Oh, and please read any book however valuable, just don't open it more than forty five degrees, wear gloves and keep it in a climate controlled room!"