I’ve long been fond of what I call “accessorized books.” Not necessarily Grangerized (extra-illustrated), where additional plates and other material have been tipped-in or the book rebound to accommodate the additions, though I’m fascinated with those volumes as well. One example recently sold in our shop was a copy of the Fluxus Codex (Harry N. Abrams, 1988), documenting the work of the Fluxus art movement in the 1960s and ‘70s. An unusual copy of an already scarce volume, on the first free endpaper were three large labels with the book’s title and ISBN number—to our knowledge, no other copies on the market had these labels. Even more interesting was the original, unsigned Fluxus-style multi-media collage on the rear pastedown. Certainly a one-of-a-kind.
My focus, however, has been on books that are somehow housed with related—and often personalized—materials. I have a few examples of this on my shelves, one of which is my collection of bookseller labels. In 1986 Larry Dingman of Dinkytown Antiquarian Books in Minneapolis published the first and only book on American bookseller labels. Titled Booksellers Marks: An Illustrated Book, it resembles a stamp collectors’ album with images of various bookseller marks where you can paste the matching labels. Each volume of this limited edition came with at least three labels tipped in, and I have added dozens more to my copy. Of course, there are several thousand labels out there, so to accommodate my collection I had bookbinder Vernon Wiering create a matching volume with blank pages that I organized by state and country. Here I can mount my labels, adding pencil notations as I learn about the various bookshops. While booksellers from around the world are included, true antiquarian pieces (i.e. labels with independent value) are housed in a binder using Vario sheets. Vernon also made a matching slipcase to house both volumes.
Another example is a teaching aid I created from Bamber Gascoigne’s wonderful book How to Identify Prints (Thames and Hudson, 1995 hardcover). I read an article1 a couple of years ago about teaching kits based on Gasgoigne’s book that the Rare Book School put together, utilizing themed boxes of printing plates, tools, and prints. This is my home version of the game. The book is housed in a slipcase I built along with three portfolios of prints housed in Brodart document preservation binders. The prints, including several examples of copper and steel engravings, aquatints, wood engravings and cuts, lithographs, etc., are individually housed in archival sleeves and each correspond to numbers within Gascoigne’s text. I’ve learned a lot!
This brings me to my bookplate collection. In forming my collection, I decided to use William E. Butler’s American Bookplates as the guideline, collecting fine specimens of the 140+ designers featured. I wanted to house the collection in such a way that it protected the plates long-term, did justice to the designers, and looked good on the shelf. An accessorized book was the answer.
Of course, this project has been years in the making and remains incomplete. However, when I had examples from a good majority of the artists, I went back to Vernon Wiering for another album. Vernon specializes in historical bindings and repairs but does all varieties of binding work. Not only are his bindings historically accurate, they are often stunningly beautiful with exquisite detail. What I was asking of him was probably more pedestrian than his normal job, but he executed it with precision and flair. The album he created has the same height and width measurements as Butler’s book, and is nearly twice as thick. It has red paper-covered boards over a red cloth spine with “American Bookplates” stamped in black. There are enough archival leaves that I can feature one or two plates per page with nothing on the verso so no plates will rub against one another. Vernon devised a way to use additional paper bound into the gutters to act as spacers, so when the plates were added the binding wouldn’t splay open. The spacers are nearly imperceptible, even when your eyes are drawn to the beautiful endbands. The cover reads “American Bookplates – The Collection of G.L. Konrád” to add provenance and just enough snootiness to make it fun.
Both the album and Butler’s book are housed in a very strong slipcase. The case is covered with matching red cloth, and recessed into the closed end is an Ex Libris medallion that I picked up on eBay a few years ago for just a couple of dollars. The medallion came from Sweden with no hints at its origins.
Currently I have nearly 200 plates mounted in the album from over one hundred artists, all arranged alphabetically by designer. Most are mounted using archival stamp hinges, while some of the scarcer Items—Peter Rushton Maverick, Nathaniel Hurd, et al—are held in place by archival corner mounts, like the ones used for photographs. With only one or two plates per leaf, there is plenty of room for copious pencil notes on the designers, printing techniques and the owners of the plates. And the research is where the fun begins, adding a rich background to each little piece of custom art.
Gabe Konrád is the proprietor of Bay Leaf used & Rare Books. He is a member of the IOBA, ABAA and ILAB.
- Printing History: The Journal of the American Printing History Association, New Series Number 6 (July 2009), Barbara Heritage, “Collecting Litho Jam Jar Labels and Teaching Wood-Engraved Elephants: Rare Book School’s Printing Surfaces Collection.”