Pet Book #2: Print

My pet book, Arctic Explorations, makes a good bridge between last week’s discussion of manuscripts and this week’s discussion of printing. Though it’s not clear in any documents about the book and its author Elisha Kent Kane, it’s likely that the book is based on journals that Kane kept while on his expedition (the engravings come from his sketches, so I think that’s a reasonable extension).

I think the semantics of the word manuscript are very interesting. In the introduction to the History of Illuminated Manuscripts, de Hamel says, “the word ‘manuscript’ literally means ‘written by hand.’” So in terms of manuscripts created before the print era, manuscripts were made to be sold and used and finished as complete things, despite being simply handwritten. In class, we’ve also expanded these to journals and letters like we’ve looked at especially in the Boston Public Library. Journals/diaries are still written by hand, but tend to have been for personal use rather than being shared like a Bible or a book of hours. Still, they are manuscripts by definition. But one thing we haven’t really talked about (I think we touched on it really briefly one day, but we didn’t talk at length) is how drafts that are sent to publishers are still called manuscripts even though they may not necessarily be written out by hand anymore. Now when someone types up their novel and prints it out and sends it to a publisher, they’re still sending in a manuscript even though they didn’t really write it out by hand. Clearly, that’s an extension that’s been made within last 100 years since typewriters were widely used to create first drafts.

In this case, my pet book came from the era before anything type could have possibly also been a manuscript. It’s kind of hard for me to imagine a book being taken straight from a manuscript draft when I feel like I can barely comprehend the handwriting to a page of type going through a press. So it’s interesting to imagine the process that this book probably took from a journal Kane kept into the book in the Northeastern Special Collections.

As I said, however, the book includes many engravings that are based on sketches that Kane did in the Arctic. I wonder how much say Kane had as the sketches were sent to an artist who rendered them into steel plates and woodcuts to then have them printed on the page. I would be very interested to see the original sketches in comparison with the book itself.

Finally, now that we’ve actually learned about the different fonts and how much trouble it is to set type, I definitely have a new appreciation for all the different fonts I noticed in my initial look at the book. Just to make the two-page “Glossary of Arctic Terms” in the beginning of Volume 1, the printer had to pull out a completely different type case to get the right, smaller size to print those two pages and then put it away again and go back to the standard size. So I definitely really appreciated that part of class this week.

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