Here at the Rosenbach we celebrate all things bookish. Our latest exhibition, The Art of Ownership: Bookplates and Book Collectors from 1480 to the Present, celebrates the many wonderful bookplates throughout our collections and uses them to delve into the biographies of book collectors/owners. I happened to stumble upon another curiously self-referential book about books in our collection in recent days. In fact it’s bibliopegistical (relating to the art of binding books). The volume is The Poetical Vagaries of a Knight of the Folding-Stick of Paste-Castle…Translated from the hieroglyphics of the Society by a Member of the Order of the Blue-String. Printed by the author, presumably John Bradford, a New York binder who entered the book’s copyright in “Gotham” in 1815. The book itself is full of sprightly poems about books and bindings, like “This World’s a Huge Bindery,” and the frontispiece features an unusual “knight” made of bookbinder’s materials. Part of its body is made up of a saw and small hammer, one of its arms appears to be an awl for stitching, and the “plume” of its helmet is a paste brush.
One of the poems is a curse upon all book-binders who seek to undermine each other’s prices, and is worth quoting in part:
“May rats and mice devour your paste,
Your paper and your leather,
May your hand letters be defac’d,
Your types all mix’d together…
May your lying presses all get broke,
Your books be wrong colated,
And may you with foul charcoal smoke,
Be almost suffocated.
May your apprentices run away,
Your business be diminish’d,
And may booksellers never pay
You when your work is finish’d.
God grant that you distress’d may be,
From Constable to beadles,
And live till you can’t feel or see,
Your presspins from your needles.
Perhaps not surprisingly, contemporary binders have had a lot of fun creating playful modern bindings for this book, for which you can see two examples here and here.
Even more curious, a second part of this book by the same author is a tongue-in-cheek history of The Garret, to which the Knight of the Folding-Stick’s creator supposedly belongs. This fictitious society’s constitution was translated out of “heiroglyphics,” which look like 19th-century QR codes. Here are a couple of interest: