Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Calligraphié par Jean-Marie Guignard

Illuminated manuscript on vellum; text
from Villon; paginated xvi.
As long as I keep doing this, I find myself constantly amazed at how often I must learn something about items that I purchase. Often I am surprised at how difficult it is to learn it, or to discover what I need to discover about an item. 

Of course, I have long been fascinated with medieval manuscripts, and (to a lesser degree) with what might be called medievalist (from 'medievalism') manuscripts: leaves or books from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries (even the twenty-first, now) that use some of the tools and look of medieval manuscripts for new art, new texts, new books. 

Among my academic acquaintances, medievalism is a kind of hot and timely topic, an area of scholarship in which some of the expertise of medieval scholars is mobilized to write and think about more contemporary phenomena. And while I have my own anxieties about whether such scholarship can ever make medievalists seem relevant in the current academic climate (that is, sufficiently relevant to non-medievalists to keep medievalists employed in the shrinking world of humanities staffing), there seems no doubt that some sort of understanding of real medieval productions is necessary to really understand how the modern fascination with the medieval structures itself. 

Regardless, this week's little puzzle has concerned a fascinating  manuscript page on vellum that came with a printed covering portfolio, presenting the central clues about the manuscript material it contained.

The text on the outside of the portfolio
As the image to the right shows, the portfolio is clearly labeled with a description of its contents: "Parchment Illuminated and Calligraphed by Jean-Marie Guignard." Unfortunately, there is nothing else printed on the portfolio: no publisher's or seller's information, no date, no real additional clue, except for the fact that the French language has been used.

In such circumstances, I am not embarrassed to say that my first recourse is often to Google and WorldCat. Unfortunately, Jean-Marie Guignard does not seem to be a sufficiently unique name to make a simple Google search pay off. Perhaps someone more dedicated to surfing past or through irrelevant search results could find something on our illuminator and calligrapher, but this approach seemed to be a bust to me. Nor does WorldCat seem to show any holdings of any similar portfolio, though my leaf is paginated xv/ xvi, and one imagines that the printed portfolio means that a number of similar leaves were marketed in such covers.

But a search for the text of my manuscript leaf suggested it derives from the poems of François Villon, a well known late medieval French poet. Through a roundabout way, this eventually led me to a 1974 French "Club de Livre" edition of Les Escripts de Françoys Villon, Enluminés et Calligraphiés par Guignard. Of course, I don't own that book, and I haven't been able to check it out, but none of my internet searches have been able to pin down for certain that the Guignard of the printed book and the Jean-Marie Guignard of my leaf are the same, nor have I been able to check whether pages 15 and 16 of the printed book correspond to my leaf. (If any readers feel inclined--and able--to make the comparison, I'd be eager to hear the results!)

But it seems likely to me that, for the moment, I've probably pinned down the source of my leaf here, as a leaf written for this 1974 edition of Villon's works, and later sold or otherwise distributed. It is handsome leaf (some 13 inches tall), and delightful in its own way. 

And, of course, it has been fun to try to trace it.

The recto of the leaf, showing two miniatures
and wide margins.

Wednesday, October 12, 2016


2 1806 history books, bound
in 17th-c. vellum French legal
I've been working this week to put together a little paper for the Texts and Contexts conference in Columbus, Ohio, late next week, where I'll be talking about a handful of early nineteenth-century French schoolbooks I've picked up here and there over the last year or two, bound in various scraps of vellum manuscripts. I've collected manuscript binding fragments and books that use them for some time, and I am always looking out for more.

But as I was working on my paper, looking at this matched pair of 1806 juvenile histories, I noted that at the end of the Histoire Ancienne, there was a little note to the buyer: "Nota. On prévient que tout exemplaire, soit de l'Histoire Ancienne, soit de l'Histoire Romaine, qui ne porteroit pas la signature, à la main, de l'Auteur, est contrefait." 

Leçons Élémentaires sur L'Histoire 
Ancienne (Reims: Le Batard, 1806), 
p. 136

I suppose Google Translate makes such passages easy to manage these days; I'll offer my own version here: "Note: Be warned that every copy, be it of the Histoire Ancienne, be it of the Histoire Romaine, which does not bear the signature, in handwriting, of the Author, is counterfeit."

This warning, indeed, is followed in my copy by the manuscript signature, "Engrand," whose name is otherwise quite difficult to find in the book, as it does not appear on the title page. It can, however, be found buried in the publisher's catalogue printed on pages [ii-iv]. Fascinatingly, the copy of the Histoire Romaine, which was bound to match, has no similar statement of authenticity, and no signature by M. Engrand. Both books indicate that they are third editions, printed by the same printer, "Chez LE BATARD," in 1806, and it is hard to imagine that one of these books is counterfeit while the other is not. Both books, I should note, include publisher's catalogues, which seems unlikely if one were a counterfeit.

And this is just why I find working with old books so fascinating: here we have a claim that may or may not be true. The evidence is right in my hands, and even so, I am not really certain what to make of it. 

For the bibliographically curious, the two books are:

[Henri Engrand]. Leçons Élémentaires sur L'Histoire Ancienne À L'Usage de la Jeunesse. Troisième Édition. Reims: Le Batard, 1806. viii, 136.

[Henri Engrand]. Leçons Élémentaires sur L'Histoire Romaine À L'Usage de la Jeunesse. Troisième Édition, revue et soigneusement corrigée. Reims: Le Batard, 1806. 240.

WorldCat does not appear to record a single institutional library holding either of these third editions, though earlier and later editions of both books are represented there. 

Monday, September 26, 2016

A tiny little catalogue of complete manuscripts: 4 codices and a booklet.

Hermann Ulner Hirsfeld’s
Copiosa Supellex
Elegantissimarum Germanicae
et Latinae Linguae Phrasium

I suppose it will remain a long-term goal of mine to one day produce a catalogue offering nothing but complete medieval manuscripts for sale. In the meantime, this little catalogue of five Renaissance and post-Renaissance manuscript codices (and one booklet) will have to do.

I was delighted to find all of these items in the last several months. The most exciting may well be the 1615 copy of Hermann Ulner Hirsfeld's Phrases, interleaved and turned into a massive (mostly Latin) commonplace book by a Swedish scholar in the 1600s or 1700s. Few books, I think, can give such a fascinating glimpse into a scholar's mind--and his reading--in this period than a commonplace book like this; this scholar (and he does seem to have been a him), living on what some might think were the margins of Europe, nevertheless seems to have been at least trilingual and very active in compiling this book. It's a remarkable thing.

The left page is an inter-leaf; the right is also heavily annotated.
And the 22" tall choir book antiphonary for the Office of the Dead is pretty cool, too.

Beginning of the Office of the Dead, Italian,
early seventeenth-century manuscript
on paper.

Here's a link to the whole catalogue:

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Pocahontas Coal Comics, 1942

Pocahontas comics #2, 1942
In my last post, I talked about sometimes getting hold of collectible comics; this past week, I attended my regular (nearly monthly) antique auction, where I was able to get a few dozen older comic books, mostly from the 1950s and 60s, but with a couple older ones mixed in.

Among the older ones was this "Exciting True Adventures of Pocahontas" comic book from 1942, which I really couldn't resist. Comics from the 40s are always a bit hard to find, and ones from the war years even more so. When people think about valuable old comic books, it's almost always the superhero books from the war years (or earlier) that are really valuable. This book is scarce but not especially valuable, and it was thrown into a box lot with some other old magazines, and I was literally the only bidder on the box. 

As it says on the front cover of the book, "You have visited one of the most interesting spots in the South--the Exhibition Mine at Pocahontas Virginia." The book, then, was a kind of souvenir or give-away for visitors at the mine, and as the rear cover shows, it was produced by the Pocahontas Fuel Company.

Back cover

Pocahontas, Virginia, is practically on the border of West Virginia, and in these parts the coal industry remains a kind of specter that haunts the region: no longer employing nearly as many Appalachian workers as it once did, the coal industry nevertheless seems to have the people of the region convinced it is still the most important resource in the state. 

I wish I could say that Pocahontas, in this book, acts as a kind of superhero, but unfortunately, she doesn't. And the stories she is in are surrounded by others, including "many pages of startling true coal facts and Indian oddities." More interesting perhaps is the book's insistence (at the top of every right-hand page) that "Coal is the Master Key to Production of All Weapons of War." 

Books like this one will hardly ever keep me in business: if I can sell it at all, I doubt I'll make 20 bucks in profit on it. But in the way this comic book brings together the comic book format (still only a few years old in 1942) with the war effort, the coal industry, and a Native American figure such as Pocahontas, it's a fascinating reminder of how complexly intertwined various strands of American culture can be. 

Here's a few of the startling true coal facts

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Spiegelman's Falling Man

Signed First Edition of Shadow, with
a sketch by Spiegleman.
For a long time, I’ve been fascinated with graphic narratives. I was never really a comics reader, when I was a kid, and my interest in the form really dates from after I was thirty. In part, as I suggested in my 2014 book, The Visible Text, comics and graphic narratives stand as a response to the print paradigm that is as powerful, in its way, as the digital response.

But, of course, I’ve also become a collector of graphic novels (and I’ve bought and sold more than a few traditional comic books over the years, too). In traditional fiction, first editions are (sometimes) good, and signed first editions are (usually) better. But in the world of graphic narrative, there are first editions, signed first editions, and signed copies with sketches by the artist.

Today, I want to share an interesting graphic book with a sketch that I managed to find recently. As the image shows, the book is a copy of Art Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers, broadly signed across the bottom of the front cover by Spiegelman.

The book, of course, is Spiegelman’s fascinatingly complex response to the events of 9-11, in which he juxtaposes his own story of the day with other stories, including a wide range of New York City comics, going back at least to Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo.  

One reason I am fascinated with artist-sketched copies of graphic narratives is that in The Visible Text, I suggested that comics works are not reproductions: a comics book does not function as a representation of a text, as a printed novel does, as a rule, because print is a medium. The comics novel (or non-fiction work) is the work of art, and we encounter it directly, immediately. And when an artist sketches on the work of art, it is, in a very real sense, a new work of art.

Interestingly, the sketch on this copy of Spiegelman’s In the Shadow of No Towers was probably done during the signing tour for his later re-issue of Breakdowns, because the autobiographical preface of the re-issued Breakdowns includes a kind of personal history of the little curlicue squiggle he has drawn here at the top of the towers here. In Breakdowns, the squiggle is part of a game Art plays with his mother, in which one of them draws a squiggle and the other uses it as part of a completed drawing. Here Spiegelman has used the squiggle to introduce an image of the “falling man” onto his stark black-on-black image of the twin towers.

Perhaps it is going too far to suggest that Spiegelman is also invoking Don DeLillo’s own 9-11 book, Falling Man, but even if not, the addition of the falling stick-man figure here transforms the front cover of this copy of In the Shadow of No Towers, and makes it, quite literally, into a unique piece of Spiegleman art.

Spiegelman, it seems, has signed a lot of copies of Maus over the years, often with a quick sketch of Artie, his alter ego in the book. The examples I’ve had have been little treasures, especially as I don’t expect to ever have occasion to purchase a real Spiegelman original. Yet it is important, I think, to see a sketch such as this one on In The Shadow of No Towers as a “real Spiegelman orginal,” even if he drew it more than once.

It couldn’t have taken Art Spiegelman more than a couple of seconds to draw an upside-down stick-man and a pig-tail curlicue, but in the way that this almost comically crude drawing overlays the somber black-on-black towers, I think the drawing has a strangely gripping power, as well as oddly referencing what has come to be seen as one of the most memorable images from 9-11. It literally changes the way I think about the whole book. I think, to put it in other terms, it changes the book.