Feb 19, 2011

Title Pages, Just Title Pages

Titles Pages are very special places in any book. Printers used them to advertise their goods (literally, they were displayed in the window), their design emphasizes the selling points on the product, and the book historian of today can use them to better understand the history of books, the book-trade of the past, and the development of  typography. Just think about the way in which a title page differs from a normal page of text, and imagine what a book would be like if it only contained title pages. 
Well, luck will have it that we find ourselves in the possession of a book (recte: a collection) of engraved title-pages from the from the 16th and 17th century. Early on these engravings were valued as prints, and were sold separately through the specialist trade of prints. We are now selling a few of these on ebay, in case you are interested in a Rubens item, the title page of a 1680 Hollandsche Mercurius, or the title of a Dutch book on legal language which is entitled Parrot, or rather, Papegaey ofte Formulier-Boek, we would be happy to oblige. (more to come)

Quintilian, Oratoriarum Institutionum, Cologne: Cervicornus 1527 

Here is a title-page for a famous rhetorical handbook by Quintilian. This edition was published in Cologne in 1527. It features Cleopatra holding two snakes to her breasts, just as Shakespeare described it, an American Indian (?) with the name tag "Dionysius", and another guy, chained (literally) by the force of words that the art of rhetoric controls. But the curious and sweet thing is how type size is employed purely graphically here, without a semantic emphasis. Big letters for the first words, never mind that they only refer to the first name of the author. 

Feb 3, 2011

Boekenhal: A Visitor's Report

This is the report from a Dutch visitor who came to our warehouse a few weeks ago on a dark and rainy night. The post has been published in Dutch on the site for a Poetry Magazine, and we are here offering a rough translation and  the beautiful photos. Thanks, Joep, call again soon!  

Joep Eijkens: Plurabelle Books, a book-hall in Cambridge

Plurabelle by Night

A Circular Revolving Door Frame.

Books, More Books and Boxes

View from the stairs leading to the office space

Packing Area: Here your books are being carefully packed and prepared for shipment

...a Bicycle!

"It's cold today"

Anna Livia Plurabelle

"Anyone who say they have only one life to live must not know how to read a book"

One of the best ways into a new city is the antiquarian itinerary. It may not work in all cities, but when it comes to larger towns, it is certainly worth a try. Even if you do not find good books, you will get to see parts of the city which otherwise would have remained invisible, and often it leads you to the more interesting locations.
Once I spent three days in Berlin going from one bookcase to the next along the secondhand book route.
Cambridge is not blessed in that respect, as I noted recently during a brief visit to the famous English university town. Fortunately, we found a local source, and someone pointed us - father and son - to an enormous hall full of books somewhere on an industrial estate behind the railway station.
And so we walked into the evening rain, directing our steps out of town, turn right, past the sports center, this does not look right, but suddenly a large building in front of us, clearly lettered Plurabelle Books. 
Fortunately, the inside was brightly illuminated, the door was open, and suddenly we found ourselves in a large hall full of books. No less. Nobody in sight. What immediately struck me was the area which seemed designed as a small antique store.
We were already looking around for a while when we heard some noise coming from the office space above. Someone came down a staircase, a woman. She introduced herself as Laura and explained that all this was the fault of a person who currently lives in California. And that she and a few others ran the ship in his absence. Yes, we were welcome to look at the books on the wooden shelves, in the antique area, but the internet stock was not shelved for browsing, - "for that you have to use the website."
Ignoring her advice, I took a stroll along the hundreds of meters of  shelves filled in the most disorderly manner with catalogued stock. Almost exclusively scientific literature. Medical reference books full of nasty diseases, books on philosophy, language studies, sociological theses.
Eventually I found a nice book on the wooden shelves set up for visitors: "Portrait of New York" by Cecil Beaton, one of the most famous British photographers of the twentieth century. "One pound," said Laura. You cannot beat these prices. Moments later my eyes fall on a showcase in which - well placed  between Leukoplast cans and a box of syringes - I spot the  booklet that gave the name to this remarkable book-hall. It reads: "Anna Livia Plurabelle" by James Joyce ("only one shilling"). Moving closer, I was able to read a little label displayed in the same case:
Anyone who says they have only one life to live 
must not know how to read a book

This is the deep and natural beauty of books, that they allow us to lead more than one life, and to engage in the experience of others, and learn from their lives and their thoughts by comparing it with ours.