Saturday, December 30, 2006

Book titles foreshadow the hangman's noose

Having just handled these books earlier in the week, oddly enough, their titles became rather topical sounding this morning. No digging in the leaves here--just some quick surface observations of the jacket titles in the wake of Saddam Hussein's execution last night. At a New Year's Eve-Eve-Eve party I attended, the host turned the tv onto a cable news channel, and about 9:00 p.m. C.S.T., somebody in the room alerted the rest of us that he was dead. We looked away (tv on the east wall, no less!) from our drinks and conversations, uttered a few comments--mostly about fears of the effect the news would have on our troops over there--then somebody changed the channel to one of the football bowl games, and life resumed at a cocktail party 7500 miles away. Barely a ripple in the rhythms of a festive evening. I hope for the same for all the troops in harm's way.

The day returns, but nevermore
Returns the traveler to the shore.
And the tide rises, the tide falls.

- Longfellow

Monday, December 25, 2006

Joyeaux Noel en Provence

Here’s one for Christmas: Little Saints of Christmas: The Santons of Provence, by Daniel J. Foley; Dresser, Chapman & Grimes; Boston, 1959. This book tells the story behind the handcrafted terracotta figurines that have decorated the countryside in Provence, France for centuries at Christmas time. In addition to the traditional manger scene figures, the folk of Provence have included figurines representing themselves--peasant in the field, tradesmen, and artisans--all bearing gifts and paying homage to the Saviour. These figurines have become quite collectible, the author being a collector himself. As has been the tradition for generations, families prepare the crèche, or manger, at Christmas. The santons, which are often handed down from generation to generation, are placed in the crèche. Below are some photos from the book that show the artistry and tradition behind these special figurines.

Merry Christmas!

Monday, December 04, 2006

Hunting a limner in South Africa, 1855

Here’s an intriguing, if not interesting, little book that’s come into my possession: Pen & Ink Sketches in Parliament, by Limner; published by the “Monitor” Office, Castle-Street, Capetown (South Africa) in 1855.

The more I dig into this slim, leather-bound volume, the more interesting it becomes. I wanted to find out who Limner was, and I believe I've discovered an early Victorian satirist named John Leighton, who published under the pseudonym of Luke Limner. Leighton [Limner] not only wrote social satire, he also designed books as well. Seems he came from a line of book people and was a respected designer in his own right. From the University of Rochester's Rare Books & Special Collections, a sample of Leighton's work:

His design skills and interests stretched beyond bookbinding into bookplates. Recently, I found another blog about book plates (see Bookplates with reference to Confessions of a Bookplate Junkie), and I wonder if Mr. Leighton is mentioned there or in links to related sites. Apparently, Leighton was one of the pioneers in bookplate study and collection. He helped found an Ex-Libris Society and published a journal for the society called the Book-Plate Annual.

But it’s his wit that shows through the writing in Pen & Ink Sketches, if he is indeed the author. There is little to the book's design to suggest an artistic undertaking, so it would appear he had little if anything to do with that area of publication. And Leighton certainly fits the time frame, having lived from 1822-1912. The publication date of Pen & Ink Sketches (1855) would have made him about 32 or 33—young and energetic enough to travel to South Africa and stay awhile. That couldn't have been an easy trip. In a section about the himself the author of Pen & Ink Sketches purports to be a much older gentleman, but that could be part of his efforts to remain anonymous.

Much of Leighton's known work seems to have occurred after the Pen & Ink Sketches book was published. As the Exhibition of 1862 approached, London-based Leighton, an illustrator and publisher of some growing reputation was in charge of the committee collecting designs for industrial art for the exhibition.

Back to the book itself, which started all this digging for the pseudonymous author, another intriguing aspect is the section of ads in the back. It offers a good look into the business community of Capetown, South Africa in the 1850s. The colored pages are fascinating to look through for the historian interested in that area. I am neither an historian or particularly interested in that area, but I enjoyed leafing through the ads as a general reader with a lay interest in history. Sample pages follow.