Some recent book arts acquisitions

Through the generosity of Susan and William Hogue, we have been able (for several years running now!) to acquire a number of interesting artists’ books, examples of contemporary book arts, or other “multiples” or “bookworks” to add to our collections. I deliberately do not want to classify these items into a particular category, as the boundaries of what constitutes an “artists’ book” versus a work of “fine printing,” a “multiple,” or something else are all fairly fluid, depending upon the work in question and how we try to understand its place in a growing body of experimental and innovative work being produced by authors, printers, illustrators and artists, who often collaborate to create projects such as these.

Suffice to say that we are presently building a very interesting collection of contemporary works that:

  • engages with and challenge the nature of the book itself, in all its constituent parts
  • further pushes the experimental boundaries of existing works and major authors in our collections, both visually and textually
  • often involves multiple artistic processes perfected in the 15th, 19th, 20th, and 21st centuries, oftentimes all combined in the same work

Here are a few examples of some recent acquisitions:

Above, Scott McCarney’s State of the Union: Live Evil Vile (2006) (on the lower right) is a meditation on state of the union addresses by George W. Bush and was created with a color photocopier, duct tape, Photoshopped tv screenshots and use of the Internet Anagram Server.

Above and left, the cardboard box contains a sampler of works created by members of the International Society of Copier Art (ISCA) from 1986-2003. There are at least 20 small works in it, all different, and comprising a number of different book structures. In the foreground is Maureen Cummins’s remarkable Anatomy of Insanity from 2008, where she took 19th century patient intake records from the McLean Hospital outside of Boston, sorted them by gender, and came to some very interesting conclusions in this book designed to resemble a set of patient medical charts.

We’ve just acquired Karen Kunc’s Fractured Terrain (Blue Heron Press, 2011), one of 25 copies of a beautiful work that combines excerpts of works from Umberto Eco and Denise Levertov on the natural and built environment with Kunc’s multiple illustration processes (woodcut, polymer plate, etching and aquatint) to memorialize the victims of natural disasters.

Allison Weiner’s Rabbitpox (SF Center for the Book, 2009) is a darkly humorous meditation, with great retro-style illustrations, on threats posed by the creation, distribution, and immoral use of new viruses by hostile governments.

Ellen Knudson’s Wild Girls Redux: An Operator’s Manual (Crooked Letter Press, 2009) has won a number of awards and been in several recent book arts shows and exhibits, including last year’s Southeast Association for Book Arts juried show here at USC’s McMaster Gallery.

And finally, Guillermo Gomez-Pena’s Codex Espangliensis: From Columbus to the Border Patrol is a seminal work of the 1990s that combines sixteenth- and seventeenth-century accounts and illustrations of some of the first encounters with indigenous peoples of the New World with contemporary pop culture and comics/comix imagery related to Mexico, corporate culture, and many other things to create an alternative history of Western exploration and settlement, one primary from an indigenous peoples’ perspective.

Brief descriptions and static photos such as these hardly do these works justice. They each have their greatest impact when they are explored and worked through individually. Each one can be requested and examined in the reading room any time we’re open.


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Edith Wharton and Sinclair Lewis: A New Gift

We’ve just received a gift of an Edith Wharton collection and several Sinclair Lewis first editions from Professor James Kibler of the University of Georgia. Professor Kibler is a USC alumnus and has been a good friend of our Libraries for many years, and we are very thankful to have this substantial addition to our Wharton holdings from his gift.

All of the books are in very good to fine condition, and several have dust jackets in equally good condition:

The Marriage Playground is the photoplay edition of Wharton’s The Children. Photoplay editions were brought out by publishers as early film tie-in books. They often included stills from the (silent) picture that is based on the book. Here’s the title page with a film still as a frontispiece:

Early 20th century dust jackets are scarce in general and always interesting. This one is printed on both sides and includes the full Grosset and Dunlap catalog for 1928:

The most spectacular book in this collection is this fine copy of a first edition, sixth printing of The Age of Innocence in a near-fine dust jacket:

And here is a group of Sinclair Lewis’s work. All are first editions; some are first printings and some are later printings. You can see the uniform corporate image of Harcourt, Brace and Company come through in their cloth stamped bindings. In the 20s, it was still commonplace to discard a jacket as mere “advertising” and to shelve the cloth-bound book without it, hence their relative scarcity today.


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Scanning cuneiform tablets

Update! The CDLI has uploaded our tablets to their database, and translated the first two. See:

We are often asked about the oldest books in our collection. While the earliest printed book dates to 1471, and our manuscripts date back to the 5th century, our Babylonian cuneiform tablets can be considered the oldest “books” in the collection.

We’ve just scanned all three of them, for the first time, in order to contribute complete images of them to the Cuneiform Digital Library Initiative at UCLA, a collaborative project to document all the surviving tablets in the world. All three were acquired in the 1960s as part of a suite of early examples of writing put together as a teaching collection by The Foliophiles. These groups of tablets and manuscript fragments were primarily sold to colleges and universities to round out their teaching collections in book and manuscript history.

We have two tablets and one cone. The tablets are generally recognized to have recorded the records of business transactions, debts, or contracts. The cone, which has been shorn off and is only partially intact, generally recorded a prayer. The cone was then added to a temple wall, preserving the prayer within the walls of a sacred space.

The CDLI require images of all sides of the object so an accurate reconstruction, including transcription and translation, can eventually take place. How does one scan an oblong or oddly-shaped 3000+ year old object? Carefully, and using foam supports! As you can see above, the resulting images came out quite well.



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Our new exhibition

On display now through February 28, 2012:

“A Quieter and Less Eventful Life”:

Ernest Hemingway on Writing and Other Pursuits

This exhibition has, as its heart, Ernest Hemingway’s thoughts on writing and the writing life. Especially in letters to his friends and literary colleagues, Hemingway could be extremely candid about his writing process, how the business of literature operated, and how he attempted to strike a balance between his writing and his personal life. In the documents on display here, one can see apparent contradictions emerge in Hemingway’s desire to have the contemplative life of a fiction writer – the “quieter and less eventful life” he alludes to, only somewhat ironically, in an Esquire article from 1935, and the other components of his extremely active life: his passions as a sportsman; his life as a husband and father; together with his interests in crafting a public persona for himself as war correspondent and literary lion.

It has been 10 years since our initial acquisition of the Hemingway collection assembled by the Speiser family, and made possible through the generosity of Edward S. Hallman (1930-2007) and Ellen Speiser Katz. Since then, thanks to continued support from the Donald C. Easterling-Edward S. Hallman Foundation, the University of South Carolina Libraries have been able to acquire a number of important Hemingway items, especially Hemingway letters that concern writing and the profession of authorship, and that are on display here, many for the first time.

The majority of items in this exhibition come from the Speiser and Easterling-Hallman Foundation Collection of Ernest Hemingway. Items from other collections in the Irvin Department of Rare Books and Special Collections are so noted.



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Our new catalog is here!


We’ve just received the first copies of our latest exhibition catalog, Beyond Domesticity, U.S. Women Writers, 1770-1915. The exhibition, mounted earlier this year, was curated by English faculty members Katherine Adams and Cynthia Davis, with assistance from Sarah Conlon from McKissick Museum and me. Here are couple of teaser images from it. We’re going to mount the entire catalog as a downloadable .pdf file shortly, and also bring up a website for the exhibition with the complete exhibit text and a greater number of images that couldn’t fit into the catalog proper. If you’d like a paper copy, please get in touch with me.


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Rediscovering Audubon’s Birds of America Prospectus

The Birds of America Prospectus

After recently reading about a prospectus for Audubon’s Birds of America that was discovered bound into a copy of his Ornithological Biography, I looked into our holdings to see if we had a copy.

The Ornithological Biography is a 5-volume text that was meant to accompany the double elephant folio plates of the Birds of America. It contains complete descriptions of the characteristics, markings, diet, and habits of each species, along with Audubon’s notes and narrative descriptions of how and where he observed and obtained his specimens. The Ornithological Biography was published in 5 volumes in Edinburgh between 1831 and 1839, and a Philadelphia edition also appeared at this time. We have both editions of the work, along with a manuscript of Audubon’s description of the California Partridge. And bound into the back of the first volume of both editions is a 16-page prospectus for the Birds of America proper!

The Prospectus is dated 1831 and outlines the scope of the project, its progress to date, including excerpts from favorable reviews, and also includes the current list of subscribers. This was printed just before the University of South Carolina became a subscriber to the project later that year. Ultimately, about 180 complete sets of the Birds of America were produced, and most are now in institutional collections.

List of plates, in order, from the first volume

The Prospectus itself exists in two editions: Edinburgh and Philadelphia, in different settings of type, and fortunately we have copies of each bound into our respective copies of the Ornithological Biography. It seems to be quite rare; there is only one holding library for each edition of the Prospectus listed on WorldCat, though I would suspect that numerous other copies of the Ornithological Biography in institutional collections will also have copies of the Prospectus bound into them.

The Philadelphia (left) and Edinburgh editions of the Prospectus, as bound into the Ornithological Biography

For more information on Audubon and our copy of the Birds of America, see our “Audubon and Others” online exhibit here. There is also a short essay on the acquisition of our set here.



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Cold Mountain screenplay archive

We’ve just purchased this small collection of scripts and film production memos relating to the 2002 filming of Charles Frazier’s Cold Mountain.

Frazier received his Ph.D. in English here at USC before his writing career took off, and Cold Mountain, as a sleeper best-seller, has an interesting publication history. This collection both supplements our existing Frazier collections and might also have some research value to Film and Media Studies students.

Shooting schedule in South Carolina

At least four drafts of the shooting screenplay, with revisions, are present, along with production notes, shooting schedules, and some production email printouts that document how the project evolved at its final, shooting, stage.

List of late changes to one version of the script


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Two (not unrelated) anniversaries this month

It’s certainly worth noting that June 14 marks the 200th anniversary of the birth of Harriet Beecher Stowe. Uncle Tom’s Cabin was the best selling novel of the 19th century and remains critical to anyone interested in 19th century America.

Our copy of the first edition, in two volumes

June is also the 75th anniversary of the publication of Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind, a different, but also unavoidable cultural reference point. We own two copies of the first edition of the work, along with a 1939 film tie-in large format paperback and the program to the 1939 Atlanta Film Festival where it had its premiere.

A fine copy, in jacket

Our second copy belonged to John Shaw Billings, the editor of Life and our first major benefactor. He notes inside his copy that his wife, Frederica, went to school with Margaret Mitchell, and has also pasted two clippings inside.



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L’Annee Hippique; Or, A Host of Sporting Books

Fores's Sporting Notes, "a quarterly magazine descriptive of British, Indian, Colonial and foreign sport," volume 10, 1893.

We’ve just received the second of two large gifts of books on horses, equestrianism, and field sports from a good friend of our library, Mrs. Janet Harkins of Aiken, SC. Her late husband, William D. “Billy” Haggard III, was an accomplished equestrian and a book collector, and this gift constitutes the bulk of his sporting book collection, comprising British and American works from the 19th and 20th centuries. Mr. Haggard was also a master player of court tennis, or “real tennis”, and his tennis book collection, one of the finest in the country, came to our library in 2004. More information on it, including an online exhibit of highlights from the collection, can be found here.

We will highlight additional books from the Haggard Sporting Books Collection in future posts, but for today I want to focus on the International Equestrian Annual, or L’Annee Hippique (or Das internationale Pferdesportjahr). This multilingual yearbook of the FEI, the Federation Equestre Internationale, is a record of the World Equestrian Games, national competitions, and interviews with major figures in the sport, in all its forms, is hardly representated in American libraries. There are less than 10 runs of it in America. Many of our copies from the 1940s and 50s are still in their original shipping boxes, and are in “as new” condition.

A copy from the late 1940s

"petits ennuis" from the mid-1950s



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A Burns gift book, in a Mauchline Ware binding

We’ve recently been given a small, handsome,  Scottish gift book by G. Ross Roy to add to his collection of Robert Burns, Burnsiana, and Scottish Literature. It’s a collection of Burns’s songs printed in Mauchline, Ayrshire (not far from the Burns birthplace at Alloway) in about 1854. The binding is an example of the cottage industry of wooden transferware, most often with a Burns connection, that developed in Mauchine, and known, appropriately enough, as Mauchline Ware.

Mauchline Ware flourished in the mid- to late-nineteenth century, though much earlier examples also exist. Book bindings were one use, though they were generally less common than keepsakes such as small desk accessories or vases. This binding has a full tartan pattern transferred onto it, with an inset Scottish landscape scene. Other binding examples in our collection have transfer portraits of Burns in the center of their wooden boards.

Common to many gift books, this copy has an engraved page with an oval center space for a gift inscription, in this case as a likely birthday gift: “Isabella Anne Ramsden from her affectionate Papa, Sept. 8, 1854 Edinburgh.”

Tom Keith, a friend of our Department and a great collector of Mauchine Ware, recently gave us some of his collection that especially relates to Burns. Here are two examples which show the range of Mauchline Ware items: a small lidded box and a vase. Each has an impression of the Burns cottage birthplace in Alloway and Alloway kirk, featured in Burns’s “Tam O’ Shanter.”





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