Wednesday, June 19, 2019

Modern Scrolls: A Crankie and an Album

A "crankie," dated 2017.
One of the things I love about the work I do now is the ongoing realization of just how much I get to learn in the doing of it. When I was a working academic, I was interested, of course, in material text, in the ways and forms of writing and writing supports. But in the work I do now, pretty much by just keeping my eyes open, I find—surprisingly often—things that I never expected to find, things I never knew existed.

Although this crankie seems to be titled "Fall,"
I can't help seeing this page as an echo of
"Sumer is I-cumen In"

So today, I’m sharing two such things, from among my more-or-less recent purchases. One is an item I bought last fall, when Rosemary and I went to the craft sale that’s held every year during “Mountaineer Week.” A local artist who makes prints was selling what he called “crankies.” I’d never heard of a crankie, but I knew what I was looking at: a book in the form of  a scroll, held in a box with two handles, for advancing and reversing the pages.

Title/colophon page, with pencil signature and date
(neither of which shows well in my image)

 As I found out (and as you might find, with some internet searching), there seems to be a whole kind of folk-festival crankie world, and—rightly or wrongly—there seems to be some claim or perception that crankie panoramas were a feature of nineteenth-century American folk performance, perhaps especially in places like Appalachia. 

I had known, of course, that large-scale painted panoramas had had a vogue in nineteenth-century America (and elsewhere), but somehow it had never occurred to me that smaller ones might have been made and used. Presumably they were. 

The back of the crankie, showing its cigar-box origins.

This crankie is made, as it turns out, from a wooden cigar box: it is an example of recycling in itself, as much as it is a scroll. Of course I bought it. I am sorry now that I didn't also buy one of the tiny examples made from a matchbox. Next year, perhaps.

Then, at an antique auction a couple of weeks ago, I was lucky enough to purchase an actual nineteenth-century example of a book in the form of a scroll. 

Robinson's Patent Photograph Album scroll (note:
this example lacks its original lid, which
had two windows, allowing two photos
to be displayed at a time).

The Robinson's Patent Photograph Album was probably always an unusual thing, and I think it's safe to say examples are scarce today. Some have turned
Title Page
up before
this is not the first one known—but I think they are usually collected as parts of photography collections, rather than as books (I couldn't find an example on WorldCat, for one). Yet the title page distinctly calls this item an album, even if the language of patenting and manufacturing used there also suggests that the original makers weren’t really thinking of it in book-like terms.

The photos that have been placed into this particular album, it may be worth noting, include both albumen prints (such as one might find on cartes de visit) and tintypes.

And while I am not certain that I am correct, I think that patents at this period extended for fourteen years, with a possible extension of seven more: so, given the cited patent date in 1865, this particular album must probably date from between 1865 and 1886.

Two tintype photos.

Scrolls, I guess I have learned, are a physical format for books that is not limited to the distant past. 

Monday, June 3, 2019

Golden Dragons: some recycled manuscript fragments?

I have long been interested in the recycling of manuscripts and early printed books. In truth, I'm also interested in the recycling of more recent books and textual materials, but I can't help being fascinated with those items that have survived the longest, even when they survive only as fragments.

"REGLE": pasted-in cut-outs? (Note how
the G appears to be inverted)
As a rule, recycled items were valued for something other than the words they contained: binding fragments were generally used as strengtheners, their vellum more substantial than paper. Sometimes paper incunabula pages were pasted together to make boards (pasteboards, I'd call them). 

When I get such items, however, I generally do my best to attend once more to the textual component: I try to read these fragments, and in the case of manuscript items, I often use what I know of paleography to date and localize the fragments and texts. 

In a recent purchase, however, I've come across some bits that look to me like recycled fragments of medieval manuscripts, but most of my tools for reading them and dating them fail: where there is a textual component, it is made up only of capital letters--which are not well treated in the paleographical resources I use most often. And other bits are pure decoration: gold dragons. 

And yet it seems likely that these can be dated: my best guess from what I see here is a date perhaps in the 1300s, perhaps from France (or Germany?). But I'd be happy to be corrected, or guided to a better sense of them.

All of these pieces, both letters and dragons, stand a bit above the surface of the paper pages they appear on: I think they are cut from another book and mounted here. But the nature of gold manuscript additions has sometimes involved a palpably thick buildup of material upon the page surface as preparation for receiving the gold: so I'm not 100% certain these are recycled at all. But I'm pretty.

Whatever these are, they are such fun! 

Note that the decorative blue dots and red tongues have been added at the time of remounting these pieces, and they are not part of the original dragons. Also, the dragons may originally have been oriented vertically, in the side margin, though in their current use, they are horizontal, as I've shown them.