Pet Book 6: Format

I thought it was interesting that an article on ephemera was included in our readings for this week. In my previous experience with ephemera, I’ve definitely thought of them as fascinating artifacts of how people interact with books, but I hadn’t really thought of them in the context of printing. At the book store I work at (and I’m sure many other book stores), we would save postcards we find in books used as bookmarks and sell them, file bookmarks from other bookstores that we find to give to a loyal customer who collects them, peel out bookseller’s labels if they came away easy and with little residue to give to the owner’s mother. For me, they were always just little bits that were fun to find; I really enjoyed learning more about why they’re important in the context of print history. (I just wanted to add this section before those readings were forgotten to time.)

As far as Arctic Explorations goes, it’s format is pretty typical of the mid-19th century. I’m very disappointed that it was made in the post-chain-lines period so I didn’t get to use our great techniques for figuring out what size it is based on that. It also doesn’t use signatures for the order, so I couldn’t have fun counting pages for size either. Most likely, it’s an octavo based on general dimensions and time period, as well as the genre—it’s more or less travel writing. I want to learn more about why certain genres were produced in different formats. I definitely understand how different books have different amounts of information that are easier to produce in different sizes, but I wish I could know how that became a traditional process. I’m also interested in knowing what exactly made the process easier that caused histories to be produced as quartos and novels as octavos—as in, what in the actual printing process made them choose different ones for each?

One special format feature of Arctic Explorations, however, is that it was released in two volumes. As far as I can surmise, that was indeed how it was originally released—the second volume wasn’t released after the first one, at any rate. I maybe have said volume two was released later if it were just more of the technical documents about things like temperature and distance during the trip, which most of the second volume is, but it also includes the end of the expedition. In addition, since the volumes are more expensively designed, I think it makes sense that maybe the two volumes would have looked nicer in the rich owner’s home or something along those lines. Plus, it would be a really huge book if it were one volume, so it would probably have been easier to produce to last if it were two volumes instead of one (although it was probably more expensive to produce two volumes). As a side note about formatting and expense, it’s interesting that despite the high cost of this book, it has struggled against the test of time: three of its boards have become completely detached from the binding.

Finally, I want to return to the idea of ephemera in reference to Arctic Explorations. I mentioned in my introductory post that there seem to have been something pasted into the back cover of both volumes that was later torn partially out. My guess is that they were library catalog card holders or at least they seem to be small pouches that would have held maybe some more information about the book. When I see the remains holding on, I wonder about who made the decision to try to tear them out and at what point they realized the glue would tear up the marbled paper and decided not to try to get it all out. Did they regret that they had tried to take part of it out because they couldn’t glue it back in either? The torn edges look quite sad. Another bit of ephemera in the book is the Northeastern University book plates at the beginning. I’m not entirely sure why, but those book plates always make me a bit anxious when I see them in the books in the special collections because it seems like a bad thing to mix new paper and glue with these old texts. I suppose, however, that they must ensure that they’re using archival paper and glue that’s specially made for this sort of thing, but my gut reaction is always a bit of a cringe. I think book plates themselves are really interesting because of how personal they can be. Some people get their book plates designed specifically for them if they really care about that sort of thing, or they’re like Northeastern where it makes sense to have book plates that necessarily declare that the book belongs to the university. I would be interested to learn more about the process of archiving a book in the Special Collections at Northeastern or the BPL from when it is acquired by the collection to when it gets shelved ready for people to view.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *