Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Rolling Reader

Those who enjoy a Lazy-Boy recliner as their favorite reading chair yet wish it were more mobile, stylish, and even more thrilling than usual, will be pleased to learn that Russian industrial designer Irina Zhdanova has dreamed up a solution so that comfy reading on the move, with zero fuel costs, avant-garde looks, AND built-in thrills and bookshelf is now a reality.

6a00d8341c630a53ef01116896b077970c-800wi.jpgClearly the photographer who imagined the reader seated in the photo didn't capture the essence of the Rolling Reader, which is essentially an amusement park ride as envisioned for the thrill-seeking text-junkie unwilling to engage motor neurons in pursuit of sensation. As depicted, however, the reader is seated in a very uncomfortable position: Slouched, with no back support, this person is headed for Sciatica City.

No, the optimal way to use the Rolling Reader is to drape one's length along the cushioned inside rim in lazy, languorous, louche, decadent bum mode (I may be projecting personal behavior here, but you get the idea). While all the big, heavy books are shelved at the bottom for low center of gravity and ballast, a little body English will be all that is necessary to get you moving.

How many times has this happened to you: You're reading on the couch and so comfortable that you dare not move a muscle lest the spell be broken but if you don't have a handful of popcorn Right Now! you may spontaneously combust? Yes, it's only twenty steps to the kitchen but for the seriously sedentary ambulation is overrated.

Problem now solved: Just roll yourself from the living room to the kitchen and back again (don't forget to bring the bag of popcorn back with you).

A few basic necessities are conspicuously absent: Brakes, and for those who wish to read al fresco on city streets, seat belts. It'd probably be a good idea to stuff the bookshelf tight with tomes before putting the rolling reader into gear; flying first editions are not a pretty sight. Use the bike/reading lane. Don't forget to use hand signals when turning, a quick thrust of the glutes to one side or another all that's necessary for left-right maneuvers.

And while it should go without saying, please have reader's insurance should you be involved in an accident.

Sunday, February 1, 2009

The Man With The Bookplate Jones

One reason, of many, to collect rare books is that you will often find a prior owner’s bookplate that in its provenance and design capture art and history in a small visual medium that tells an compelling story.

We recently acquired a volume that possessed the bookplate of William Hartmann Woodin. It was designed and engraved by E. B. Bird for Tiffany & Co.

Of Tiffany & Co. nothing need be added here. The very name conjures lush visions of the decorative arts, particularly of the Art Nouveau and Art Deco movements.

Elisha Brown Bird was an extremely active graphic artist, illustrating sheet music, posters, etc. He designed the cover and endpapers for Oliver Herford’s An Alphabet of Celebrities (1899); co-illustrated Eediotic / Idiotic Etiquette: An Up to Date Manual of the Manners of Men and Women for Men and Women of Manners, and a Complete Catalogue of Social Dues and Most of the Don’ts for All Disciples of Deportment: Distilled Directly from the Raw Material (1906); The Foolish Dictionary (1904); and many more.

Bird had a particular fondness, talent and success with bookplate design. In 1904, Winfred Porter Truesdale wrote a survey and catalogue raisonné in collaboration with the artist: E.B. Bird: His Bookplates (Boston: Troutsdale Press).

And who was William Hartmann Woodin?

William Hartmann Woodin (1868-1934) was one of the foremost book collectors of his era, and a major American industrialist.

“In 1933 William H. Woodin was appointed Secretary of the Treasury by his close personal friend President Franklin D. Roosevelt at one of the most critical moments in the nation’s history. The financial system of the country had been weakened by the effects of the Depression, including increasing lack of confidence in the banking system and huge withdrawals of deposits. The crisis of 1933 saw massive bank failures, which made the situation worse. Woodin’s task was to restore public confidence in the government and to carry out Roosevelt’s New Deal policies of fiscal and monetary expansion, which deviated sharply from those of his predecessor.

“To deal with the crisis of 1933, Roosevelt created the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation, an independent agency that insured bank deposits and was designed to increase public confidence in the banks. Woodin devised regulations permitting banks to resume operations and took measures to prevent the hoarding of gold. He resigned after less than a year due to ill health” (U.S. Treasury website).

And so here, in this small Ex Libris, is quite a story indeed.

Bookplates have always had an avid group of collectors who go to great lengths to find material. A good place to begin exploring the world of bookplates is The Bookplate Society website. Founded in 1972, The Bookplate Society is the direct descendant of the world’s first such organization, the Ex Libris Society, 1891-1908.

The interest in collecting them seems to have lately picked up steam, to wit: A relative newcomer (as far as I can tell) to the bookplate passion is a fellow named Lew Jaffe whose ardent interest in bookplates borders on the raptuous.

Many bookplate collectors confine themselves to a particular genre or artist. I have a friend in the Bay Area who focuses his interest on erotica-themed bookplates, a genre tumescent with ripe, quite artful specimens guaranteed to arouse interest.

Jaffe, however, is catholic in his consuming passion for bookplates. He must have them all! He writes an ongoing, wildly enthusiastic and richly illustrated blog with a title that pretty much sums up his mania: Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie.

The man has a bookplate on his back.

And, you, too, once exposed to the art of the bookplate, may pick up the addiction as well. It produces euphoria. It may lead to compulsive behavior. Scoring good stuff is fun. But it won’t turn into a nightmare, is completely legal and won’t cost you your future and a fortune.

  1. Comment by Lew Jaffe 
    Dear Stephen,
    Thank you for the kind words. Since one good turn deserves another I am sending you a copy of The Ex Libris Chronicle fresh off the presses from The American Society of Bookplate Collectors and Designers.
  2. Comment by 
    And thank, you, Lew. (Note to readers: no quid pro quo here).
    If you find a bookplate that tells a particularly compelling story, let me know. I’d enjoy writing about it, if you haven’t done so already.

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