Wednesday, February 27, 2008

A Slice of the Book

A correspondent asked the following, concerning a previous essay of mine: "A comment about the woodcuts. What if... the fully intact book was worth $100... and if the book was taken apart... that each woodcut was worth $1000, mounted and framed . Would the perception of those woodcuts change?" This is a question directed at a previous piece I herewith attach a bit of that old review which contains the ancient pronouncement on some blotchy wood cuts included in an otherwise admirable book, contemporary with the review: "This is an excellent treatise, by an author we have been long familiar with. It embraces a great variety of topics calculated to interest those pursuing natural science. But we doubt whether it can be extremely 'popular', in its present dress; the wood cuts are anything but tolerable, and might have been better executed on a stump with a blacking brush. At page 45, erroneously referred to as on p. 46, there is a black spot, presumed to represent an animal, but we have been at some pains to find out which is the head and which is the tail. It looks like an old cannon bent with age! After the Boston editions we may, perhaps, be fastidious, but it must be admitted that the present publication is unworthy of the arts in America. There is not one wood cut in the book for which any man living, would give one hundredth fraction of a farthing. The time has gone by when such things could be overlooked." In polite answer, I say - that for the ancient reviewer quotedthusly - There was no collectible market for things like that then. The reviewer was commenting strictly on an aesthetic level ... condemning the publisher for offering illustrations not up to snuff and certainly, not in keeping with the quality of the writing. His critical umbrage seems to have arisen from an inner stronghold of justly firm aesthetic principles. From my own perspective, I say that what was a shapeless splotch in 1833 remains just exactly such a shapeless splotch in 2008 and any hapless collector who spends their good money on such surely deserves the raised eyebrows of his fellow collectors. Of course the modern collector is a different sort of chap, and often bereft of an aesthetically critical eye. Quite a few modern dealers, recognizing this, have taken to a practice more in keeping with an old Vincent Price / Peter Lorre vehicle than a polite antiquarian shop. The modern dealer is is often a dissector of what are perceived (by some) as dead bodies ... better to be interred with the worms and earthy humous ... until the dissector's magic hand produces ... voila! ... produces a slice of the body, which then suitably framed is transformed into exorbitantly priced objets d'art for the buyers of such corporeal plundering. Slicing up healthy books (butchering) for the plates within is frowned upon by all who maintain a polite decorum. However, it is allowed that some volumes have become so decrepit - so close to being as dust to dust ... or, as we have it to day .... pulp to pulp - and so dealers are allowed (and forgiven for such action) to take the dissectors scalpel and salvage what may be from the decaying corpus. I may have more to say about butchering (harrumph!) at some later date. View BOOKS FOR SALE

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