A Visit to the San Francisco Public Library

Field trip! Took my CCA class to the top floor of the San Francisco Public Library to taste the Book Arts & Special Collections department. Special Collections Librarian Andrea Grimes was our guide through a few books from each: Robert Grabhorn Collection on the History of Printing and the Development of the Book; Richard Harrison Collection of Calligraphy and Lettering; Schmulowitz Collection of Wit and Humor; and the Little Maga/Zine Collection. A few highlights…

Aldus Manutius and the Hypnerotomachia Poliphili (1499—and reprinted in 1545 by his son Paulus Manutius). A controversial book, for its time, with a few sexually themed illustrations made from extremely fine lined woodcuts. Even the shape of the text is suggestive in some places. Books printed before 1501 are called "incunables." The plot of the bestselling 2004 novel Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason revolves around the Hypnerotomachia.

Cosmographia is a printed book from 1574 with volvelles and a Renaissance map. Vellum covers.

The 20th century letterpress printed book Manhattan, by Amy Clampitt, woodcuts by Margaret Sunday, printed by Kim Merker of Windhover Press at the University of Iowa, 1990. Lovely poems with minimalist abstract images in several colors that evoke movement, maps, jazz, and the city.

Calligraphy and exquisite illustrations on vellum by Marie Angel. Word has it that she never used a magnifying glass, even in her 80s. This is the original that was reproduced in the book Fables de Lafontaine, 1981. Her details are brilliant. Her book Painting for Calligraphers shows her process beautifully and makes you understand how composition and circular movement is so important when pairing text and images.

Lettering for Alchimie Du Verbe (Alchemy of the Word) by Arthur Rimbaud, written out in 1988 by master calligrapher Thomas Ingmire, who is also working on the St. John's Bible. A major show of his works is at Columbia College Chicago Center for Paper and Book Arts until early December. You can view the exhibition brochure here.

Andrea wrote later, "Author and artist Carl Maria Seyppel called his works 'Aegyptische Humoreske' and 'Mummiendruck' (mummy prints)." She speculates that they were printed as a parody, to mock the idea of what a book should be. They looked like they were aged and made of papyrus, including a seal on the cover. He was certainly interested in his materials. Seyppel lived 1847-1913. More info at the end of this essay.

And a treat: signs painted for the library by the artist Margaret Kilgallen, when she worked as a page and book repairer in the Preservation Department, now part of Book Arts & Special Collections Center. They have preserved these originals (painted on doorskin and reused wood signs); and made facsimiles that  are still posted in the Technical Services Department.

note: this post was corrected and revised 10/30/13


Wonderful, wonderful, wonderful!!! And this brings back sweet memories of Kevin Starr, when he ran the SF Public Library decades ago, and Starr's attempts (some successes) to get folks in the small press movement to donate publications and some correspondence.

Red Shuttleworth
I'm just becoming interested in hand-made books, so I'm glad to have discovered your bog. Looking forward to future posts! Your Around the World links are fabulous, what a great idea!
Alisa said…
Thanks, Red, and Welcome, Valorie!
Velma Bolyard said…
alisa, may i please be in your class? how wonderful, i love hanging out in slu's special collections, but oh, such treasures you're showing here!