Monday, April 24, 2017

Mini-Catalogue 173 Announcement: Graphic Narratives and Related Items

I am finally getting around to posting another little list or catalogue; this one is only partially illustrated, but if you'd like to see an image of anything, please just email me! 

This list has a number of books or items signed by Art Spiegelman and Chris Ware, as well as important or unusual titles from many of the major figures in the field, as well as a few unusual items going back to around 1860 or so. There's also a signed first edition of Alison Bechdel's brilliant Fun Home

Most of the items here are first editions, of course, and I've been generous in a couple of instances in my definition of comics, but everything here juxtaposes word and image in some key or interesting way, and for me, at least, that's at the heart of comics.

And it wouldn't be a list from me if it didn't include an oddball item or two. 

I hope folks enjoy it.

Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Incunable initials

One leaf from Gratianus's Decretum (Strassburg: 
Grüninger, 1490). Recycled as binding
Of course my first love, in the realm of books, is medieval manuscript material, although the price range I am usually working in hasn't often given me opportunities to buy complete medieval books. And because I never wanted to contribute to the practice of dismembering books in the present, many of the least expensive manuscript leaves that one can find for sale are also something I have generally not been interested in buying. 

As a result, my buying (and, to a degree, selling) of medieval manuscript items has focused on recycled medieval material: usually leaves or fragments recycled as binding materials in later books.

Of course a similar fate often met early printed books, and in recent years, I've also begun looking for incunabula fragments recycled in bindings. One benefit of doing so, of course, is that it gives me a whole new area for learning about old books, which is a delight.

One of the things I have long known about incunabula (books printed before 1501) is that they were often manuscripts as well, or at least intended to be: very frequently, space was left for capital letters. The printers imagined or intended that these spaces be filled in by hand, usually with painted initials. Not only did many early printed books look like manuscripts, they were, in part, actual manuscripts, with at least some letters entered by hand.

Recently, I came across the pictured fragments from an incunabula edition of the Decretum of Gratianus, a standard legal text, with commentary.  

I was surprised, when I was looking these leaves over, to note that some of the red initial letters had been printed, while some had been inserted by hand.
Note in the left-hand column, the "O" and
"E" have been printed, while the "A" and
"P" were painted in by hand.

The printed red portions include not only these initials, but rubricated headings and even the running headings at the tops of the pages. There was enough material that the printer wanted to appear in red that it was worth the effort to set up a two-color printing process.

But even so, Grüninger apparently still felt the book would be best, if alternating initials were added in by hand, ideally in a contrasting color. In this copy, the contrast is not very strong: the hand-painted initials here might be in a purplish color, rather than red, but blue or green would certainly have provided a stronger and more effective contrast. 

I find details like this fascinating; perhaps those who work more closely and frequently with early printed books than I do will be thoroughly familiar with this sort of thing, but it seems to me to offer a wonderful insight into a late fifteenth-century idea of just how colorful a book ought to be. It has only been recently, after all, that we have begin to have a renewed appreciation for color in our texts.

Note that, beneath the capital "S" at the bottom of
the image here, there is a small printed lower-case
"s" (the tall form) to guide the scribe who added the painted letters. A printed "S" appears
at the upper right. 
[Bibliographic note: I attribute these fragments to Grüninger's 1490 edition with some, but not complete, confidence. The same printer printed the same text in 1489 and in 1490, and an electronic facsimile of the 1489 edition can be found online. In comparison with the facsimile, my edition seems to share the same types, the same text upon each page, and the same set of printed capital letters, but it is also a clearly different setting. My conclusion that these leaves come from the 1490 edition seems reasonable, but in the absence of an actual comparison to a complete copy of that edition, it must remain an attribution only.]