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Posts from ‘Nick Cotoulas’


This Past Month in Book History/Rare Book Open House

I apologize for not posting earlier, this past month has been very hectic for me. There was also a lot going on in terms book history and bibliography in the Worcester and Boston area in November. Also you all should check out the upcoming Rare Book Open House in  the Rare Book Room in Clark’s Archives and Special Collections, hosted by Professor Neuman, Fordyce, and all of the students in ENG 227 Intro to Archival Research this Monday from 3-6 pm.

Rare Book Open House 2013 small


Early in November my Dad and I ended up going to a lecture at the American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, on Nicholas Basbanes’ new book On Paper. I found the lecture to be extremely fascinating, Basbanes talked about how he traveled to China and Japan with other scholars to learn about the ancient craft of paper-making. In Japan there still exist national master paper-craftsmen who received the title from previous generations. Basbanes also talked about the different functions of paper, ranging from book printing to toilet paper, and how he believes that paper will continue to survive for a great deal of time in the digital age, because of the so many uses of paper embedded in global culture, and its practicality.

On Saturday, November 16th, Professor Neuman, Fordyce, Rose, Olivia, Andy, and I all went to the annual Boston International Antiquarian Book Fair, which was so cool. The Fair consisted of all of the major international book-dealers, and international and local associations that deal with book collecting, conservation, and bibliography courses, such as the Rare Book School. I found this experience to be a great networking event for me, considering the fact that I am interested in pursuing archival research and conservation work. I was able to meet Harvard’s book conservator, along with several other good contacts.  One of the book-dealers, Garrett Scott showed us a book which had a marbled paper cover, which had been made using pages from Fanny Hill. Garrett explained to us how the book had been banned because of its erotic content, and was then recycled and used for marbled covers, however the book he showed us was poorly marbled and you can see the pages’ content through the marbling. I just found this to be very fascinating, considering the fact that when the marbling was done poorly it completely defeats the purpose of trying to ban the book’s content, and reflects how book production included an element of the reusing and re-purposing of materials.  As someone who is truly passionate about archives, book collecting, and has started selling used books on the side, I truly enjoyed going to the Boston Antiquarian Book Fair.

The following Monday for class we took a trip to the American Antiquarian Society, and looked at Isaiah Thomas’ printing press, which was really cool. Then we went to the Goddard house next door to listen to  Professor Sean Moore present a paper on the Redwood Library in Newport, Rhode Island. The Redwood Library was essentially funded by the Atlantic slave-trade, and it was an exclusive lending library, in which one had to pay to become a member and to take out books. Professor Moore in his research is looking at the library’s surviving receipt books, which have the name of the books that were checked out, how much was paid, and the name of the borrower listed; and seeing if he can gain any insight into the library’s patrons by looking at what they took out of the library. I found this lecture to be extremely fascinating and enjoyable.

These past few weeks of class, we have just been preparing for the Rare Book Open House, and discussing our final projects. You all should come check out the Open House tomorrow and check out the many student-run stations, such as  Jeremy Levine and I’s station about Authority and the Bible.


Edition Bindings

This week in class we went over edition bindings, and looked at some example books with these type of bindings.

Edition binding came about around the mid-18th century, and is when an entire edition of a book has all of the same binding, which is how commercial book binding is still mostly done today.

We then went on to look at many books that have edition bindings, and tried to identify in pairs the different materials and styles for each of the books. Professor Neuman talked about how embossed leather tends to be made out of a very cheap type of leather, and books bounded this way tend to have many different textures on the binding because of the embossing. We also talked about how leather books in the machine press period are harder to identify; however leather tends to get pretty worn at the spine, corners, and edges of the book, which can be used to identify the binding as leather. Professor Neuman discussed how embossing replaces tooling, and uses wood-blocks that are pressed on the cover to create the impression of stylistic designs that reflect ones similar to those that were achieved by tooling during the hand-press period. She also mentioned how book design changes at a much faster rate than the structure, materials, and design during the machine-press period.

We looked at a volume from a two volume set of John Dryden plays, which had slipped in the back of the book a playbill for Edwin Booth’s performance in Richard III from the late 1800s. I found this to be very interesting, considering the fact that the playbill suggests something about the book’s provenance, and raises the issue of how this is to be noted in the descriptive bibliography, and whether or not it would be cataloged separately. Professor Neuman ultimately reached the conclusion that this something that would be cataloged separate.





Paper During the Machine Press Period


The Odyssey of Homer Frontispiece

In this week’s class we discussed the machine press period (1800-1950) of printing and book-production, and how there are great increases in paper production during this time, along with the changes in book production that arise in this period.

We first talked about paper, and how there is an increase in the amount and availability of paper during this time, because of advance made in paper making, and how this subsequently led to advancements being made in book production. Professor Neuman talked about how the increases in the amount of the paper available made books cheaper to produce, assisted in the speeding up of production, and allowed for more risks to be taken. Also, we talked about how the increases in paper production impacted the role of the stationer, who was the person that people went to acquire their paper when they wanted something printed during the hand-press period. During the machine press period, the stationer is still used by small presses as a middle man between the press and the paper manufacturer, however the larger presses often had a distribution deal with the paper manufacturer. People also still used hand-made, laid-paper during this period for writing letters and correspondence, which results in stationers becoming more specialized.

We went on to look at several machine-press books and examined the chain-lines, watermarks, and paper. One of the books we examined was a 2nd ed. of John Hill Burton’s The Book Hunter. The book’s marbled cover and paper of the binding suggests that it is from the late 19th c., and the text-block at first appeared to be earlier then the binding because of it has chain-lines, deckle edges, and watermarks. However, Professor Neuman pointed out that a lot of the aspects of book making that were characteristic to the hand-press period were often faked during the machine-press period, and the chain-lines for this particular book are too straight and clean to be from the hand-press period, which supports the theory that the book’s text-block is in fact from the same period as the binding. Presses and printers started faking chain-lines and watermarks during the machine press period, because it gave the books a fake higher sense of value and quality to the book seller and book collector. We discerned that the main reason why these fake aspects of book production were included for this particular book, was because it is a book about book collecting and what makes books valuable, and therefore these aspects although they are faked are self-reflective of the book’s context. Also, these fake aspects pay homage to the hand-press period as being a time in which there was a great deal of emphasis placed upon the time and effort that was put into guaranteeing the high quality of the book.

The Book Hunter also has only the top edge of the paper gilded, while the fore-edge and bottom edge of the paper is left rough and uncut.  Professor Neuman said that most books that were gilded only had the top edge gilded, because it is more practical in that it makes it easier to dust the top of the book.

In this week’s lab, I work on doing descriptive bibliography work for a five volume set of Alexander Pope’s translation of Homer’s Odyssey, which includes a comment chapter following each book in the epic poem, printed in 1725. I was able to get through three of the volumes, and they are all formatted in quarto gathered in fours. I have included a few pictures from the first volume. The photo at the beginning of my post is the frontispiece for the first volume printed in black and red ink, and the second photo below is a plate of a bust of Homer.

Plate from Homer's Odyssey




Intro to the ESTC

In our class last week before October break, we discussed the mid-term lab, the English Short Title Catalog (ESTC), and discussed our ideas for our final research projects.

For most of the first half of class, we looked at the book Contemplations and Meditations, by James Hervey printed in 1764, which was on our mid-term lab. This particular book was actually purchased at the Friends of Goddard Library’s Annual Book Sale by Fordyce, after Bob Bradbury, who helps run the sale, pointed out its age, and his suspicions about it possibly being a counterfeit or pirated edition. We talked about how the book is gathered in sixes, however the I gathering is gathered in eights, and leaf Y2 is signed as X2. Then we looked up the book on the ESTC’s database through the British Library, and found several copies of the book from 1764, however they were all listed as being formatted in octavo. This is very interesting, considering the fact that the copy of the book that we analyzed for the mid-term lab, was gathered in duodecimo, which supports Bob’s theory that this was in fact a pirated copy. Also, there is no listed printer or publisher in the copy we looked at in class, which further supports the possibility of it having been a counterfeit.

The second book we looked up in class on the ESTC is Burton’s Anatomy of Melancholy. The collation formula listed in the database was extremely complex, and included at least one or two notations of leafs that had a minus sign before them. Professor Neuman went on to discuss how a minus sign before a particular leaf in collation formula is used to express that the leaf has been canceled or rather removed from the book. If there is a plus and minus sign before the leaf’s signature, then it means that the original leaf was taken out and replaced by singleton (an extra single leaf that has been placed in the book after it having been printed). Professor Neuman then went on to say that the only way you can look for cancels or replaced leafs, is by looking in the gutter of the book and seeing if there are any remnants of the original leaf or signs of the leaf having been removed or replaced. However, Professor also said that, “It is better that we don’t really know if the leaf was cancelled, if looking at the gutter could potentially harm the book.” A cancelan is the leaf that has been cancelled and a cancelandum is the leaf that replaces the cancel.

Professor Neuman briefly talked about democratized digitization, and how it is paradoxical in that it has allowed in greater accessibility to rare sources (antiquarian books), there is also this element of exclusivity because certain databases are very expensive, and therefore limited to those that can afford access to these databases and rare sources.

We briefly talked about my final research project, which is more than likely going to involve me working with our 1611 King James Bible, and several Bibles in Clark’s Archives which are part of the Jonas Clark Collection that have yet to be identified and cataloged.


Collation Formula and Book-Binding Part II

Last week was a pretty hectic week, since it was the annual Friends of  the Robert H. Goddard Library Book Sale. I had to help set up the book sale for my work-study job. I found some really awesome books to add to my collection, including a two volume directory of the Union Volunteers for Massachusetts for the Civil War, a German newspaper with a very simple binding, and The Psalms, Hymns, and Spiritual songs of Reverend Isaac Watts from 1839. I was also was able to meet Bob Bradbury who used to teach a course at Clark, and has written about Clark’s miniature book collection in the Archives. He was really excited when I told him that I started selling antique books this summer to decorators, and have a great passion for book collecting.

This week in class, we ended up presenting the collation formulas we worked on last week, and looked at the bindings of a plethora of off-white books. Also, just to clarify last week’s post, the book Andy Doig and I collated was not Book 10 of the Jonas Clark Collection, but rather Book 100.

One of my classmates asked the question, “Why does studying bibliography matter?” Professor Neuman went on to explain that descriptive bibliography originated from book collecting, and book collector’s wanting to be able to identify first editions. I found it very interesting that this question was asked in class, because I’ve realized that archiving and the study of bibliography is something that I’ve become very passionate about and interested in. Also, I aspire to be an archivist, librarian, bibliographer, or Professor someday, and I had reached the conclusion that my main goal as an academic is to do everything in my power to prolong the existence of the physical book. I’ve been thinking about libraries for most of the semester in terms of their books as being so important.However I talked with the reference librarian Rachael Shea last week, and realized that its not the medium within libraries that is the most important aspect, but rather the librarians and patrons, and their interactions and relationships, and how they create an academic community based around helping each other out.

The book we spent the most time discussing in class, when we went over collation formula, was a Hebrew New-Testament printed in a hybrid of German and Hebrew. The pages had evidence of them having been repaired, and the book reads from right to left. We reached the conclusion that this particular book was printed to assist in converting German Jews. We also looked at a copy of The Anatomy of Melancholy from 1632 that had a cannibalized frontispiece (illustration before the title page) from 1633.

The second half of class, we looked at several books with off-white bindings, including two books with limp-vellum bindings. Limp-vellum bindings are treated animal-skin bindings that are not supported by any boards on the front and back covers. We also looked at several books with pig-skin bindings, which tend to be a darker tone of white and have follicle structures that are more prominent than vellum. Pig-skin bindings are probably my favorite type of bindings, because they are so unique looking, I studied several pig-skin bindings for last week’s lab. Pig-skin bindings were very popular in Germany during the 16th century and was used to bind Bibles and other theological books. Professor Neuman said that the reason why pig-skin was popular in German for book-binding, because countries tended to bind books with the skin from the animals that they eat the most.

These past two weeks have been really wonderfully bookish.



Today in ENG 227 we focused mostly on looking at different type of book-bindings and collation formula.

We started out class by talking about last week’s lab, in which we had to transcribe old hand-written documents written in cursive. Despite the lab’s tediousness I found it to be quite rewarding and gratifying at times. I had to do a similar assignment for HIST 120 Writing History with Professor Greenwood, in which we had to transcribe a letter written by an ex-slave Union soldier named Isaiah Allen. What I found to be extremely fascinating was that I found some similarities in the hand-writing style of Princess Elizabeth of England in her letter to her sister Queen Mary I from 1554, which I transcribed for the lab,  and that of Mr. Isaiah Allen.

I would be curious to see if any scholars have done studies on hand-writing from different decades and centuries and have compared trends that have reoccurred in hand-writing styles in which the researchers have attempted to ask and answer questions such as: Why is Princess Elizabeth’s hand-writing style similar to that of an ex-slave Union soldier with very little education? What potential socioeconomic and ideological issues and contradictions do these similarities raise?   Also, I’ve had to look through hand-written documents for my work-study job with Fordyce at Clark’s Archives.

We looked at three books today when we discussed different book binding techniques. All three of them had tooling on the covers, which means that a small hand-tool was used to make ornate borders on the covers. The first book we looked at was printed in black and red ink, and we examined a few pages of sheet music. The bars were printed first in red, and then the notes were printed second in black, so that way the lines of the bars would not go through the middle of the notes. We also looked at the imprint left by the press on the pagination, and determined which sheet was printed first. Several of the books had buses, which are metal pieces placed on the cover of books to protect them. Also, the books had clasps, which tend to be made out of metal and do not serve the purpose of keeping the book shut, but are rather just meant to help support the binding. Two of the books we looked at also had registers, which are on the last page and serve the purpose of guiding the binder in putting the gatherings of leaves in order.

The second half of class we discussed how to determine a books collation formula, which essentially tells a reader the format of the book and how many leaves are in each gathering. My fellow classmate Andy and I worked together, and eventually go the hang of the process which can be very tedious, since you have to go through the whole book page by page and determine the number of leaves per gathering for each gathering.  The book we looked at is cataloged as book “10” in Jonas Clark’s collection of rare books which fill the shelves along the walls of the rare book room in Clark’s Archives. We found an inscription in the inside cover of the book that stated that the book was in fact a counterfeit, which was pretty interesting.

After class, I showed Professor Neuman, my newly acquired antiquarian book, that I bought when I went antiquing with my parents in Sturbridge this weekend. The book is, The Youth’s Book on Natural Theology, by Reverend T. H. Gallaudet, printed in 1832. Professor Neuman said, that this would be a good book to examine when we get into the machine-press period. Professor Neuman and I also talked about how I’m thinking about doing my research project fro the class on curating a small collection of old Bibles that are part of the Jonas Clark collection, and how I would like to eventually do a project or thesis down the road that focuses on creating a genealogy for a portion of Jonas Clark’s collection. By genealogy I mean a family tree of books that identifies each book and traces them back to their original owners and book-dealers, and categorizes them based on year and physical features. Professor Neuman was very receptive and excited about these ideas, which has given me a lot to look forward to with my future research pursuits.




1611 King James Bible

In this week’s class for ENG 227 Intro to Archival Research, we mostly discussed the importance of determining the format of a book and last week’s lab. The format of book refers to the number of times the original sheet of paper is folder it has been printed, and determines the numbers of pages per gathering. Professor Neuman said that determining the format of a book is important, because it allows us to think of a book as material object printed during a specific time. Also, Professor Neuman said that format matters because; it “is an element of a book that is part of a disambiguated identifier of book.” So basically format is important because it allows archivists and descriptive bibliographers to describe and identify physical elements and information about a particular book. We went on to discuss that it is important to identify books in this manner, because it provides book collectors and dealers with the knowledge they need to know in order to place an accurate and fair monetary value upon the book.

Also, this disambiguated description of books allows English students and scholars, such as myself with a framework upon which they can use to make inferences when examining multiple drafts of an author’s work to gain insight into their though process. This particular point raised by one of my fellow classmates, reminded me of research I had done last year for ENG 109 Heart of Poet, Heat of a Poem, in which I examined drafts of Stanley Kunitz’ poem, “My Mother’s Pears”, to gain insight into his creative process and thinking.

After discussing last week’s lab, Professor Neuman brought out a First Edition King James Bible printed in 1611 in black and red ink. We examined in detail ornamental lettering, a wood-cut illustration of the Biblical genealogy of David,  and a Biblical calendar of “Red Letter Days” printed in black and red ink within the Bible. I found this portion of class to be the most fascinating, since it was easily the oldest and most beautifully printed Bible I have ever seen in such great condition. Also, by looking at the black and red ink we were able to learn about the origin of the word of “Red-Letter Day” which goes back to saint-days being printed in red-ink. The wood-cut illustration we examined was extremely intricate and printed using both wood and movable type, which must have been a very tedious process. Black and red ink printing was also a very laborious process, considering the fact that they had to print twice, and put in spacers to block the areas that are to be printed in the opposite color. Overall this week’s class was very interesting, and I really enjoyed having the opportunity to look closely at a King’s James Bible from 1611.

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