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November 17, 2011 / jmeuropeana

Fantastic Book Night at Museum Meermanno

The book museum in The Hague, The Museum Meermanno, organized a special evening for the Friends of the Museum Meermanno yesterday: an opportunity to look at some of the highlights of the collection up close and personal. Surprisingly only about 7 people showed up, so it was a very exclusive event indeed.
Museum librarian and collection manager Ricky Tax and museum director Maartje de Haan made us feel really welcome. If museums are about ‘experience’, this was a great example. I have tried to keep a list of the works we were shown, and tried to find digitized copies of them in Europeana. The Meermanno museum collection so far has not been digitized, with a few exceptions, most notably form the watermarks collection that came in to Europeana through the Bernstein Project.

We started with Ratdolt’s 1482 edition of Euclid’s Elements. This is the Editio Princeps, and the Meermanno copy is one of the seven known copies with the dedication letter printed in gold. So is the BSB copy below:
Elementa
We also ‘have’ (= link to, know where to find :-)) two other digitized copies, in Spain and in Czech Republic. Just search for ‘Ratdolt Euclid’ in Europeana.eu.
What is very special about this edition is that it has figures, illustrations that were printed not in woodcuts or copper engravings, but in letterpress, most likely lead or possibly copper strips bent into the correct shapes. It must have been very hard to ink those with a tampon (cushion shaped ink applicator), as opposed to the later invented ink roller.

Then we saw the 1481 Dante Divina Comedia edition with the commentary by Landini, printed by Nicolaus Laurentii. Again ‘we’ have a digitized copy in the BSB:
La Commedia : mit Kommentar, Einführung und Vorreden von Christophorus Landinus. Mit Würdigung Dantes in lat. und ital. Sprache von Marsilius Ficinus. Mit 19 Kupferstichen von Baccio Baldini nach Zeichnungen von Sandro Botticelli. [1-3]
The Meermanno copy showed some of the problems of combining different print techniques (letterpress and copper engraving) in one edition: if you can only produce say 200 sheets for your edition, as was the norm in those days, and you then loose some of the sheets in failed prints for the copper engravings (as will always happen, as anyone who has printed anything will know) you end up with far fewer ‘perfect’, or at least sellable copies. Many of the known copies of this edition therefore lack some of the engravings – it seems that the printer/publisher just gave up at some point.

Then we saw a 1498 book of hours by Simon Rothre (?) Probably spelled the name wrong, anyway couldn’t find it in Europeana.

Jumping from the incunabilae to more modern printing, we moved to a 1930 private press edition by the Verona Society, London: The book of the knight of La Tour Landry. A beautiful work in a modernized mediaeval style, much the fashion in private presses of the time.
Unfortunately no copies in Europeana. We do however have a German translation of the work from (again!) the BSB from the year 1493 with woodcuts by Albrecht Dürer:
Der Ritter vom Turn von den Exempeln der gotsforcht und erberkait

Next we saw a 1784 edition of the Guirlande de Julie, a series of madrigals that Charles de Sainte-Maure (1610–1690), had commissioned with the leading French poems of the 17th century to win the heart of Julie d’Angennes (1606–1671), the daughter of the marquis and marquise de Rambouillet. He then had them calligraphed by the leading writing-master of the time, Nicolas Jarry. In Europeana you can find the BnF copy of the 1784 edition. The original is as far as I kow, not yet digitized.
La guirlande de Julie : offerte à Mlle de Rambouillet, Julie-Lucine d'Angenes / par M. le marquis de Montausier ; [notice par M. de Gaignières]

Then Ricky showed us an original manuscript written by Nicolas Jarry. It contains a series of liturgies for benedictions, with the spoken text written in black and the ‘stage directions’ (kiss the chalice, touch your mitre, that sort of thing) in red. All in a large, very regular roman letter. Interesting to see how calligraphy now imitates printing types that started out as imitation of manuscripts. As this is an original manuscript, only one copy exists, and that has not yet been digitized. Also none of Jarry’s other manuscripts have made it into Europeana yet.

Next up was a 16th century comical manuscript in a Chancery hand, most likely from a circle of ‘Rederijkers’ (Chamber of Rhetoric). It has the flourishing style of a legal address, but it addresses fictional dukes and dignitaries. It is bound together with a collection of fake coats of arms. Somebody clearly had a lot of fun putting these together – and a lot of time to spare. Again, a not yet digitized unique copy.

We then saw a leaves book by the Whittington Press, called ‘Pages from Presses’. It is dedicated to the history of the first six Private Presses in Britain: Kelmscott Press, Ashendene Press, Doves Press, Vale Press, Eragny Press and Essex House Press.
Not in Europeana, the only inage I could find is from an antiquarian catalogue. Personally I am not a great fan of leaves books: I think they encourage the practice of ripping apart good copies of fine printing for a profit. A bit like the 19th century practice to use ground mummies as a basis for medcines and ointments.
This was a very nice edition in the genre, however.

We then moved on to some artist’s books. We saw two exceptional publications by Veronika Schäpers, ‘Do’ by Heiko Michael Hartmann, and 26°57,3’N, 142°16,8’E, by Durs Grünbein.
No scanned copies of these books in Euopeana of course – too new, rights protected etc. But there are some images on her own website: www.veronikaschaepers.net.

We also saw ‘Mexico‘, a two-volume publication by CTL Presse. Photographs printed on light-sensitive translucent rice-paper stock create a strange effect as they show both images and their mirror images
when you turn a page. Well worth a second look. A smaller size facsimile of this work is planned, I hope it will be within my budget 🙂

We ended where we started, with Ratdolt’s edition of Euclid – or rather with a pop-up book by Sjoerd Hofstra inspired by the Ratdolt edition. This book was also featured in the Pop-up books exhibition that was recently held in Meermanno, and there it was presented with a video showing the mechanics of opening and closing the book. You can get an idea from this online video, featuring a different book:

Seeing it work for real was even better!

This inventory clearly shows – again – the 20th century black hole in European digitization projects. Both rights issues and the perceived urgency of digitizing oder material first have led to an underrepresentation of 20th century stuff.

All in all we had a wonderful evening! Thanks again to Ricky Tax and Maartje de Haan. Meermanno is planning to organize more of these evenings, also inviting some experts on book history or bookbinding to show their collection favourites. Great initiative.

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