Tuesday, October 7, 2008

An Amateur Bookmaker - Twice Told Tuesday

Twice Told Tuesday features a photography related article reprinted from
my collection of old photography books, magazines, and newspapers.

In a recent Friday From The Collectors we were introduced to Kim O'Neill Screen of Good Stock, a modern day custom bookmaker. In this Twice Told Tuesday we look at a young woman who was a custom bookmaker in 1897. There are some good ideas to be found in this article.

By Grace MacGowan Coohe
Godey's Magazine
By Louis Antoine Godey, Sarah Josepha Buell Hale
Published by The Godey company, 1897

STUDENTIA is not literary. In this day and time, when everybody — particularly every young woman body — writes, she says that the really distinguished thing to do is not to write, and she does not.

She is, for all that, a maker of books, and has produced some of the most quaint and interesting volumes I have ever seen.

There is never any question of the entire edition of any book she gets out being "taken," for it is limited strictly to one, and that adorns her own bookshelves.

Not a profitable pursuit ? Well, no; not in dollars and cents perhaps; but most improving and elevating, so far as the young person herself is concerned, and, as she is in a position to spend, without regret, a little money and a great deal of time upon this, her pet fancy, why, perhaps it is better than germans, or even golf — who knows?

I was looking over her collection the other day (it now includes some twenty volumes, and is growing steadily) and I was particularly struck with a fat book of "Falstaffiana."

Studentia got a few hints from a practical binder, purchased a secondhand "press," and she can put on a cover with the best of them. She has, for this volume, cut to pieces a paper backed Shakespeare, and taken from it all that the Master makes this favorite among his creatures say for himself, in the various plays in which he appears. She has added all that she cares for of that which others have said of him. Taine, Knight, Kichard Grant White, and other Shakespeare commentators are represented, and there are nearly a dozen magazine articles beside, for the subject has long interested her, and she has been collecting for it.

The magazine pages, and the pages of her demolished Shakespeare are the same size — of course, she looked out for that; but when she wanted to use William Crane's recent newspaper article on the subject, and the biography of an actor once the most famous Falstaff on the boards, she had to resort to making scrap-book pages and pasting them in.

The illustrations of this book are reproductions of paintings which artists of all times, since the days of good Queen Bess, have delighted to make of scenes in the life of that Knight who had "more flesh than another, and, therefore, more frailty," with the portraits of actors in the part.

The rollicking music of Stedman's "Falstaff s Song" is there, and the touching music of "When Falstaff Died," and she has bound the whole in rough, flexible yellow leather, such as might once have formed part of that doughty warrior's jerkin, and put title and adornments on with her pyro-graphic needle, so that you think, as he sat snoring by some tap-room fire, the bit might have been so scorched.

Studentia is the owner of the finest collection of Madonnas it has ever been my fortune to see. It includes everything, ancient or modern, which is to be had in photograph or print, from the inanities of the old Masters and the monstrosities of the Dutch School, down to the works of those modern Frenchmen who have dared to paint the mother of Christ as only the sweetest of mortal women.

These she does not keep in a portfolio; the making of books is her fancy, and into a book she has made them. They are mounted on heavy Bristol board, classified somewhat into schools, and come about in the chronological order of their production. Studentia says the mounting and binding were such a job as she would not like to undertake again; but she has succeeded in it, and attained a professional smoothness of finish in every case. Each picture in the book is marked with the name of its painter, the date of its production, and the name of its present owner, or of the gallery in which it now hangs.

Scattered through the volume, adding interest to the pictures, and borrowing beauty from them, are all the verses that poets have been moved to address to the Divine Mother ; the organ roll of Milton's majestic, sonorous lines close beside the exquisite lyrics of the
transceudentalists. The binding is carved white wood — holly I suppose. Each cover is a large sheet a quarter of an inch thick, the front one cut in a Gothic design, like a chapel door, with the words, "Our Blessed Lady " upon the centre of the portal.

The carving is in very slight relief, finished as smooth as emery paper and files can make it, and then oiled till it looks like precious, yellow old ivory. It is touched, here and there, in the capitals of its fairy pilasters, or the outlines of a lace-like grille, with gold.

This is the maker's magnum opus — her largest and most valuable book — and it is indeed a sumptuous volume. Everybody knows that children make the prettiest photographs, and that children's sayings are most irresistibly funny; but nobody, so far as I know, except Studentia, has thought of combining these two superlatives. She has a very attractive volume, "Juvenilia," containing beautiful pictures of the children of her friends and relatives, to which she has added, page by page, a selection of quaint sayings, sometimes those of the originals of the portraits, sometimes matter from the newspapers or magazines, and again a verse or two of James Whitcomb Riley's, who is an especial favorite of hers, and a saying of the little man opposite whose picture it is placed.

There is an album, too; a simple combination of two rather obsolete forms, which makes something surprisingly new and pleasing. It is sacred to Studentia's most intimate circle of friends. The binding has been enriched by fastening over the leather cover of the large photograph album, which furnished most of the material for its construction, two plates of hammered brass, secured there, as the maker informed me, with "oceans of glue."

The front plate bears the legend, all intertwined with the squirming dragons which always infest repousae work, "How They Look, and What They Say — Faces and Fancies;" and the dragons have the back cover all to themselves.

The inside of the volume is arranged by simply clipping apart the leaves of the album, and interleaving a sheet of heavy-tinted paper between each. This brings a blank sheet opposite every portrait, and upon it the original has been asked to express himself. This expression has taken, where the friend was artistic, the form of a sketch. From literary people there are original verses or mottoes, and bookish people have written favorite quotations.

Some people say that nobody writes an autograph without giving, to him who can read it, a perfect delineation of his character, and so — since physiognomists profess to read the same thing from the face — this amounts to a collection of twice-told tales. It is certain, however, that the portrait gains interest from the autograph, and the autograph from the portrait.

Studentia's bright, eager young mind has been attracted, as have so many others of late, to the study of the occult. The volume containing the results of her reading and experiments in this direction is the size of a magazine page, that it may contain a half dozen able articles from the reviews on various branches of this subject, and a subtile story of Mrs. Oliphant's, "A Guest from the Unknown."

Arnold's "He Who Died at Azau," stands in this volume opposite an article on Hindoo mysticism. Quiller-Couch's wonderful verses, " The White Moth," are here; "Evelyn Hope," and "The Silent Chariot Standeth at the Door."

The book is most quaintly bound in metal, with a lock and tiny key upon the clasp. Studentia had this binding made for her, and she explains her reason for desiring this extra security by saying: There's nothing in the book now that all the world and his wife mayn't see ; but each article which proposes experiments, and directs how they shall be made, has a number of blank leaves bound after it. These are for memoranda, when I shall experiment or in any way learu more along the line of inquiry started by the article. I haven't exactly solved the secret and written it down as yet : but suppose I should some day — I wouldn't want the 'vulgar general' reading and laughing, and setting me down a lunatic."

Now all this— and some more — is what my friend Studentia has done with her pet pursuit — one sought out or invented for herself. What some other bright girl, with a pretty taste for literature, who may read this, will do with the plan remains to be seen; but that it will be a pleasure to her who engages in it, and a source of intellectual profit I am sure.


Coohe, Grace MacGowan. "An Amateur Bookmaker". Godey's Magazine, 1897. p. 496-498.

All illustrations from above referenced article.


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