A Dictionary's Worth... Like... 3 or 4 Pictures: A Provincial Glossary; with a Collection of Local Proverbs and Popular Superstitions - Francis Grose, 1790
I've got a soft spot for dictionaries, especially those that focus on some specific topical lexicon - lists of medical, artistic, archaic, slang, or spicy words, as examples. Language, as far as I'm concerned, is the basis for society as we know it, and the breadth and depth to which we develop and record the words we use reveal a great deal about how and why we communicate, the time and place we live in, and what elements of that existence are important to us.
Cheap books can be an incredibly dangerous delight. It's one thing to walk out of the Brattle parking lot with as many $1 grabs as you can carry, but in these isolatory times, the internet makes all sorts of 'deals' only a PayPal click away. It's all a collector can do to keep within their budget. That said, my most recent Craigslist purchase, at least in terms of historical insight and uniqueness, was worth every penny: two 18th-century farmer’s almanacks, from 1795 and 1797, with much more than meteorological projections packed between and across their covers.
A couple years ago in San Francisco, a friend and I stumbled across an antique storefront's going-out-of-business sale in a warehouse in SOMA. It always fascinates me to think about how all these strange objects from across huge swaths of time and space and culture can end up sitting side-by-side, to consider their converging histories. Maybe a thing is a new arrival to the shelves and crates, just recently pulled from circulation, or maybe it's been sitting there since the beginning, waiting to be recognized for something - usefulness, beauty, novelty, curiosity - once again. I found a couple of black cloth, gold-stamped photo albums in less than fair condition, pasted full of black and white images from the ~1900s-1930s. That potentially permanent recorded evidence of so many single moments in time, with all the context packed into those pieces of paper, is a time capsule, proof of existence, for whatever that's worth. The doers - the picture takers and takees - felt it valuable enough to record, and I have a strong reverence any figment of personal creativity actualized, for the inspiration potential of any publicized idea. I bought the albums, a few dozen memories of ancient strangers, with the intention of cleaning them up a bit and giving them a place to stay for a while.
While in DC, a friend put me onto this fascinating volume, the so-called 'Jefferson Bible'; Thomas' own re-interpretation of Jesus' teachings extracted from Greek, Latin, French, and English versions of the New Testament. Jefferson's Bible focuses on Jesus' moral lessons and almost entirely excludes passages regarding divinity or the supernatural, ie the philosophy rather than the dogma. With beautiful red leather boards, edge-gilding, and marbled endsheets, this will be a perfect candidate for a leather reback - reusing all the original elements - once I've settled into my new home in Boston and can retrieve my tools and materials from storage!
Every machine has a story and, in spite of it, deserves to serve its original function diligently until the steel itself turns to dust. Right up to that moment, it's a matter of respect to maintain its mechanics, keep it slicked and clean, give it the chance to do what it was built to do.
It seems only right to christen the inclusion of my typewriter collection and repair antics on this blog with the first machine I ever purchased, a 1919 Underwood Standard #3. This model features a 16" platen and an extended frame to support it... as such, it weighs about 60 lbs and is far from a 'portable' model. I received it in pretty decent shape, albeit with some dust, sticky keys, and a missing ribbon.
Even in the midst of a cross-country move, when I ought to be thinning out my collection for my back's sake, I can't help but be sucked in by book in need. This little volume is not only falling apart but appears to have been put back together incorrectly at some point: The accordion-fold of photos has cracked, yellowing tape across each seam, and based on the orientation of the first page, whoever did this 'restoration' refolded the photos in the opposite direction, causing several to crease and tear over time.
I'm fairly certain I'll be able to clean them up nicely and strengthen the insert from the back with strips of kozo paper. The acidic paper of the booklet may be more difficult to repair, but it's strong enough yet that bringing the book to a handleable state shouldn't be a problem.
'Carrots' came to me in decent shape from a $1 sale, but the joints were torn and the textblock was solid be separated from the covers.
Here's the completed reback. After the endbands, the spine was lined with another layer of kozo paper, then linen, then paper. A new spine piece was fitted into the boards, new spine cloth was toned to match the existing cloth, then everything was slid, glued, and pressed together.
After allowing this volume to passively grace my music stand for several years, I decided it would be better appreciated by a pianist friend of mine, and so restored it to a usable state. The textblock was coming loose at the signatures and was almost completely separated from its case. I repaired the signatures, resewed and lined the textblock, then refit the textblock into the original case after lightly treating the spine leather to quell disintegration at the head and heel.
In lieu of my latest restoration project (which should be completed in the next few weeks), I can't help but flaunt the newest (and, ironically, the oldest!) addition to my personal library: a second-edition printing of Samuel Johnson's first dictionary of the English language, published in two volumes in 1756. My copy is volume two, 'L-Z'.
It came to me in a very sorry state: most of the original cover is gone, with only the laced-in back board still attached to the textblock, although the sewing itself is in great shape. I also noticed a tiny knot of red and gold silk threads sticking out of spine edge, which might be a clue as to what the original sewn endbands looked like.