My book is a book of shipping records: lines of names and payments and destinations and arrivals and departures. The pages are devoid of what art historians might consider “images”—things that could be studied for their method of production or clues to the artist’s identity. In this post, then, I will conceptualize my book as an image in and of itself and discuss some of the relationships between word and image that I have found within it.
A square piece of paper is pasted to the upper-left corner of the inside front cover. “Prior&Dunning, Stationers, No. 111 Water-street. New-York.” it reads, “Binding executed with neatness&despatch.” A border of triangles surrounds this combination of semantic elements. I cannot read it quite like the rebus that Boeckler finds in her printers mark: “Thomas Pavier shows a man paving, Christopher Barker a man barking logs, Thomas Woodcock a cock on a wood-pile” (4); but perhaps this is a different type of rebus. It symbolizes not Prior and Dunning, the [presumably] men, but their work: “executed with neatness&despatch.” After all, these equilateral shapes are literal representation of symmetry, a sort of geometrical perfection, the ideals for book binding (a profession that, since the codex, values the equality in a shape with four 90 degree corners). What strikes me about this mark, though, is that it was cute from another piece of paper and then pasted in. The square border of triangles reveals that the piece itself was not cut precisely: more negative space exists on the left side than the right, and the scissored- (knifed?) edge risks cutting off one of the triangles on the lower right. This imprecision seems at odds with a company that prides itself on neatness; and (as in my first post) I question, what is an Irish shipping company doing with a record book made from New York? Perhaps this square isn’t actually a mark of the business who created the codex in which it currently resides. Perhaps Abraham Graham cut it out of an advertisement in a newspaper in hopes of using their product for his next book of records. Perhaps he is dissatisfied with this book, whose twine bindings and cardboard cover may have even begun to show signs of decay in 1836.
Perhaps Graham is dreaming about the next record book, because there are signs that this book is not perfect for his purposes. On several pages, there are smaller slips of paper adhered to the main page by red sealing wax. They tend to read things like “when [someone or some ship] arrives, be sure to [do something, write someone, pay someone].” These notes represent messy human actions—reminders that do not quite fit into record-book format of horizontal lines split by columns for dates and dollar amounts. Perhaps Graham pastes these additional sheets in, to try to create negative space separate from the confines of the rigid linearity of the page design. Perhaps Graham’s record-book manipulation serves the same purpose as printers lace: it “turns the printed page into an aesthetic space that encourages projective—that is, subjective and imaginative—behaviour, and that in doing so it breaks the stranglehold, that the semantic function otherwise exerts over writing” (Fleming 171). Graham (or whoever else was keeping records) often used their pen to break through the provided lines on the paper: notes about recorded payments slant across the left-most column; and other times, vertical notes create crosshatching on the page. Brackets and squiggles provide visual heterogeneity, symbolizing relationships between passengers, or maybe notes that the record-keeper anticipated needing to find quickly later.
After thinking about the rich visual fields on most of the pages, the negative space of empty pages at the end of the book haunts me. What happened after 7 mo. 7 1836 that forced the end of the use of this book? I do not want to think that Abraham Graham and Co might have gone out of business. Instead, I want to imagine that the record-keeper received the new hoped-for book from Prior & Dunning—a book that might have been created with “dispatch,” but shipping schedules would have guaranteed a long wait for it to arrive in Ireland from New York.