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Reading Decorative Papers: From the Legal to the Forbidden

A book historian has said: “Printers print sheets, but binders make books.” That dictum is well shown by close examination of the bindings on these two books.

The first example is from the library of John Witherspoon, signer of the Declaration, and President of College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). It is volume 29 of his collection of sixty bound volumes of pamphlets. Most are bound with boards covered with decorative papers, usually marble paper. Some have remarkable tan paste paper covers which, because of age and wear, reveal printing beneath the decorative pigment. In this case, we can see page 331 of the 1784 edition of the Acts of the Council and General Assembly of the State of New-Jersey printed in Trenton by state printer Isaac Collins. In an age of scarcity, paper had value even after its original use. The trade in printer’s waste paper, for example, included a number of after-market uses, such as linings for hat boxes. Here we see printer’s waste as substratum for a decorative paste paper, tan in color, patterned in a wavy manner (done by comb while paste and pigment are still wet.)


The second example keeps us still in the world of reused printer’s waste but takes us far from the rectitude of the Reverend Doctor. This is the binding on a recently acquired copy the Scholar’s Arithmetic, or, Federal Accountant, a textbook published in 1814 at Keene, N.H. by John Prentiss “proprietor of the copy right.” [(Ex) Item 547834] The book is still in its original binding as issued. In this case the decorative paper is marbled paper, whose color and pattern results from laying the paper over oil pigments floating on water. Again, wear and age allow us to see what was once hidden by blue pigment. There are blocks of print separated by wide margins, signaling this sheet to be several pages of text imposed for book printing. There are 31 lines per page with a page number centered in brackets over the middle of line one. Layout is the same on both front and back covers.

What is this text? Closely reading one portion reveals a surprise.

Transcription:

                              [18]

[service] under these good people; and after 
[supper] being showed to bed, Miss Phoebe, 
[who ob]served a kind of reluctance in me to 
[strip and go] to bed, in my shift before her, now 
[the maid] was withdrawn, came up to me, and 
[beginnin]g with unpinning my handkerchief 
[and gow]n, soon encouraged me to go on with 
[undressi]ng myself; and, still blushing at now see
[ing mys]elf naked to my shift, I hurried to get 
[under th]e bed-cloaths out of sight.  Phoebe 
[laugh'd] and was not long before she placed

Racy stuff, indeed. One library describes books with comparable decorative papers as “Bound in boards covered with a marbled sheet from a suppressed edition of John Cleland’s Memoirs of a Woman of Pleasure. [Boston?, ca. 1810]” How did this happen? [More later.]

Comments (1)

Marcus McCorison:

Steve: David Warrington just called to my attention your posting on Fanny Hill. If you will look at my note in "Am. Book Collector" May-June 1980, pp.29-30 and in Dick Wolfe's "Marbled Paper" Univ.Pa.Press, pp.93-8, you'll learn more. I have an article forthcoming in PBSA that deals with Fanny Hill in early Am. Mark

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