Thursday, May 31, 2012

What’s Your Type?

Centennial Cabinet, Eureka Press, Empire Press Co., N.Y.

 Recently the Print Department acquired three Centennial Cabinets, sets of quirky souvenir cards printed in color on site at the Centennial Exhibition of 1876. Manufacturers Empire Press Co., Degener & Weiller, and Greenwood & Batley used the promotional “post cards” to promote their platen printing presses, presses geared toward job work, such as cards and handbills.

Interior of Machinery Hall

Although produced to showcase the superiority of the press on display, most of the cards, which primarily depict exhibition building exteriors, are not fine specimens. Captions are missing letters, names of buildings are misspelled, and layers of colors are misaligned for the sake of unmonitored mass production.

New Hampshire State Building
English Government Building
Ironically, the prints are most engaging to the modern-day viewer for just these reasons. Despite the flaws, the cards surely also brought a smile to the fair visitors who purchased them, as they did me.

Erika Piola
Associate Curator, Prints and Photographs

Friday, May 25, 2012

“Inlaid Papier-mache” on The Iris: An Illuminated Souvenir for 1851. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co., 1851.(Gift of Michael Zinman.)

Full calf, “sunk panel” on The Iris: An Illuminated Souvenir for 1851. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo & Co., 1851. 
Lippincott, Grambo & Co. offered The Iris, An Illuminated Annual for 1851 in six different binding styles, two of which are shown above. At the top is what they advertised as “Turkey Morocco beveled, inlaid with Papier Maché and below is “Calf…sunk panel and beveled.” These bindings show how bookbinders, in the competitive era of gift book publishing, bound books with ingenuity and efficiency.  The bookbinder made a sunken impression in the leather cover that would accommodate the shape of the papier-mâché panel and also made an arrangement of brass ornaments that stamped a lacy gold pattern around it. Setting up the brass ornaments and creating the die that made the deep impression in the leather would have been costly and time consuming. It is not surprising, then, that the same brass ornaments and die were used on another version of the same book, with the title stamped in the sunken area.

The inlaid papier-mâché panel may have been manufactured for another purpose. With its undulating contour, it resembles other papier-mâché products from the same period. Attached to an ivory handle, it could have been a hand screen, or mounted with hinges, it could also have been a box lid. Papier-mâché manufacturers used punches and forms to create various shapes, and the bookbinders had the ingenuity to use the papier-mâché in interesting ways.

Jennifer W. Rosner
Chief of Conservation