Thursday, January 25, 2007

Rare Books

Rarity is the sense that a book is difficult to procure. Rarity is not the only factor collectors use to decide what books to add to their collection; they may simply be interested in a particular book.

The anticipation that a book will always be easily procurable is often unfounded, but, so long as the anticipation exists, it restrains collecting. An example of this: horn-books are much rarer than First Folio Shakespeares. It has been suggested that the ultimate rarity of books varies in the inverse ratio of the number of copies originally printed.

Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Yale University's Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library was a 1963 gift of the Beinecke family. The building, designed by architect Gordon Bunshaft, of the firm of Skidmore, Owings, and Merrill, is the largest building in the world reserved exclusively for the preservation of rare books and manuscripts. It is built at the center of the University, in Hewitt Quadrangle, which is more commonly referred to as "Beinecke Plaza". A six-story above-ground tower of book stacks is surrounded by a windowless rectangular building with walls made of a translucent Danby marble, which transmit subdued lighting and provide protection from direct light. Three floors of stacks extend under Hewitt Quadrangle. The sculptures in the sunken courtyard are by Isamu Noguchi and are said to represent time (the pyramid), sun (the circle), and chance (the cube). The library also contains an exhibition hall that, among other things, displays one of the 48 existent copies of the Gutenberg Bible, study areas, reading rooms, the catalogue room, microfilm room, offices, and the book storage areas. The two books of the Gutenberg Bible are left open in a display case, and the librarians at Beinecke are said to turn one page of each book daily.

The display of the original core of the British Library, the original gift of King George III, as found in the new British Library building at Euston in London, is designed as a silent tribute to the elegance of the Beinecke.

During the 1960s, Claes Oldenburg's sculpture "Lipstick on a Caterpillar Track" was displayed in Hewitt Quadrangle. The sculpture has since been moved to the courtyard of Morse College, one of the university's residential dormitories.

Edward Forbes Smiley III, an antiques dealer, was caught slicing maps from rare books with an X-acto blade. He had dropped it on the floor and it was spotted by a diligent worker.

Friday, January 19, 2007

History of the book

The history of the book is the story of a suite of technological innovations that improved the quality of text conservation, the access to information, portability, and the cost of production. This history is strongly linked to political and economical contingencies and the history of ideas and religions.

Origins and antiquity

Writing is a system of linguistic symbols which permit one to transmit and conserve information. Writing appears to have developed between the 7th millennium BC and the 4th millennium BC, first in the form of early mnemonic symbols which became a system of ideograms or pictographs through simplification. The oldest known forms of writing were thus primarily logographic in nature. Later syllabic and alphabetic (or segmental) writing emerged.

Silk, in China, was also a base for writing. Writing was done with brushes. Many other materials were used as bases: bone, bronze, pottery, shell, etc. In India, for example, dried palm tree leaves were used; in Mesoamerica another type of plant,Amate . Any material which will hold and transmit text is a candidate for books. Given this, the human body could be seen as a book, with tattooing, and if we consider that human memory develops and transforms with the appearance of writing, it is perhaps not absurd to consider that this ability makes humans into living books (this idea is illustrated by Ray Bradbury in Fahrenheit 451, Peter Greenaway in The Pillow Book).

The book is also linked to the desire of humans to create lasting records. Stones could be the most ancient form of writing, but wood would be the first medium to take the guise of a book. The words biblos and liber first meant "fibre inside of a tree". In Chinese, the character that means book is an image of a tablet of bamboo. Wood tablets have also been found on Easter Island.


A book is a collection of paper, parchment or other material with text, pictures, or both written on them, bound together along one edge, usually within covers. Each side of a sheet is called a page and a single sheet within a book may be called a leaf. A book is also a literary work or a main division of such a work. A book produced in electronic format is known as an e-book. In library and information science, a book is called a monograph to distinguish it from serial periodicals such as magazines, journals or newspapers.

Publishers may produce low-cost, pre-publication copies known as galleys or 'bound proofs' for promotional purposes, such as generating reviews in advance of publication. Galleys are usually made as cheaply as possible, since they are not intended for sale. A lover of books is usually referred to as a bibliophile, a bibliophilist, or a philobiblist, or, more informally, a bookworm. A book may be studied by students in the form of a book report. It may also be covered by a professional writer as a book review to introduce a new book. Some belong to a book club.