Ross' Appendix. (See below)
Jed Birmingham is the son of an old family friend, and we became friends through our shared interest in the works of Charles Olson. Jed is a lawyer in DC, I think. I see him every spring at the Washington Antiquarian Book Fair, and at other east coast shows. I know he reads and collects postmodern lit so I sent him my catalog Olson in Print, which he enjoyed mightily. When I talked to him at the recent Boston antiquarian book fair he gave me a copy of the journal he is editing.
It’s called Mimeo Mimeo and, though it claims on its masthead to be primarily concerned with artists’ books, typography and the mimeo revolution, it has a lot more going on than that. The issue he gave me, "No. 5," contained articles about Robert Creeley’s library, Bukowski’s ascent to fame, record albums of modern poets, and Chicago poet Alice Notley. There was a lovely piece about Ed Budowski’s ultimately tragic devotion to his Buffalo gallery and press, and an article by colleague Bill Stewart about how he and Vicky started Vamp & Tramp, foremost purveyors of artists’ books in the country today.
It was a lovely mag. I was proud of Jed and delighted to see how far he’d taken his dream. But there was something else about Mimeo Mimeo that fascinated me.
In its look and feel, its broad intelligence, and its paratactic approach to subject matter, it was surprisingly reminiscent of two other things I’ve been reading lately: Catalog 13 by Lorne Bair,
and Catalog 11 – Printed & Manuscript Americana by Ian Brabner.
Yes, I know. As old fashioned categories go, one is a literary magazine and the other two are booksellers’ catalogs. But based on the evidence of production values and intellectual range, they’re more alike than they are different.
This raises an interesting possibility.
Everyone can see the book business is changing. This is probably its most dynamic era since the days of Gutenberg. But no one has any idea what it will change into. Jed, Lorne, Ian, and colleagues like Brian Cassidy or Adam Davis (Division Leap Books - about whom I blogged last year) may be showing us a way into the future.
The article in Jed’s magazine about Alice Notley begins with a discussion of the difference between “editing” and “curating” – a word Notley cordially and charmingly detests. She says, “Curator is a pukey word suggesting someone in an expensive suit with a clunky amber necklace.” Her definition made me laugh, but it got me thinking.
The Internet diminishes the book’s traditional function as a transmitter of information. The book becomes increasingly a marker of cultural value, more and more an art object, like a painting or an antique vase. As this inevitable change occurs, we book dealers will cease to be purveyors of masses of informational text, and become artisinal consultants, assisting clients in the acquisition of books-as-art-objects. Think of it this way. When everyone had horses, every town had blacksmiths. When cars replaced horses mechanics replaced blacksmiths and blacksmiths, if they survived at all, survived as artisans.
So, whether we like the words or not, booksellers become more artisinal. Their catalogs are less edited and more curated – not in the sense of clunky amber necklaces, but as the selection and arrangement of works that are already complete in themselves.
Catalog 11 and Catalog 13 are as much statements of individual taste as Jed Birmingham’s Mimeo Mimeo.
I’d like to see this trend continue. The selection of objects to sell and the narrative description of these objects can be as artful as the composition of any avant garde magazine. As the book morphs from information container to art object and the bookseller from merchant to artisan, the bookseller’s catalog has the possibility to be more an expression of the bookseller’s individual taste and creativity. More like a collage.
More like a work of art.
And speaking of catalogs, our Maritime List 207 is now available on our website at Ten Pound Island Book Co. The illustration at the top of this page, "Ross' Appendix" is from item #48.
Ross, John. NARRATIVE OF A SECOND VOYAGE IN SEARCH OF A NORTH-WEST PASSAGE... (AND) APPENDIX TO THE NARRATIVE OF A SECOND VOYAGE IN SEARCH OF A NORTH-WEST PASSAGE... Lon. 1835. Color and b/w plates, charts, fldg map. 4to. 2 vols. xxxiii, (1), 740; xii, 120, cixiv, cii pp. “...and of a residence in the Arctic regions during the years 1829...1833.” During this expedition, which lasted through 4 Arctic winters, Ross discovered the magnetic north pole. First edition. With 31 plates and charts, several colored. The Appendix, though it styles itself as such, was published and issued separately from Ross’ narrative, and it is scarcer than that work. It concerns the Eskimos and natural history of the areas Ross explored, and features 12 color and 8 b/w plates of natives and animals. Also included are biographical sketches of expedition members. Abbey 636. Arctic Bib. 14866. Hill 1490. Both volumes are bound in original patterned cloth. The “Appendix” is in VG condition; the spine to the other volume has been laid down, and shows light wear. A corner has been cut from the frontispiece of the main volume, without affecting the image. The plates in both volumes are clean, showing some tanning and foxing, as usual. The color plates are rich and deep. A Very Good set overall, not often found together in original bindings. $1500