Category Archives: Illustrated books

illustrated books

Unfolding Digital Images

Folding plates are trouble in an all-digital world. The brief joy of finding a title through temporary access to Hathi Trust can be tempered when you get blank pages staring back at you instead of unfolded plates.


Princeton University’s library catalog offers 18 digital versions and/or editions of: A journey to Jerusalem, or, A relation of the travels of fourteen English-men in the year 1669 : from Scanderoon, to Tripoly, Joppa, Ramah, Jerusalem, Bethlem, Jericho, the River Jordan, the Dead Sea, and back again to Aleppo … London : Printed by T.M. for N. Crouch …, 1672, with its wonderful series of fold-out plates.Unfortunately, I was not able to find one copy that offered the plates unfolded, looking in google books, hathi trust, or several other platforms. While it is possible to access the engravings from museums that have removed them from the books, then you have the image without the text.


A class favorite is William Hogarth’s Analysis of Beauty with two plates, usually front and back, folded multiple times to fit with the rest of the pages. Again, many museums have removed the plates and provide excellent digital access without the text but most online books either do not have the plates at all, or like ECCO, demand you look at the book at 10% of the original size, to see the entire print.The exception in this case is at Hathi Trust where you see the folded package and then, the opened image. Download this quickly before your one hour window is up.


There are a number of 19th-century journals that begin with a folded frontispiece, fun to teach with when you have the physical object. Finding a frontispiece in the all-digital world can itself be too daunting for most people. I had to look through a dozen or so issues before I found a few frontispieces in ProQuest., list under a title and interspersed with the articles/chapters.

The complete title of George Cruikshank’s satirical print seen above is Princely piety, or the worshippers at Wanstead. Here is the complete hand colored print in the British Museum:

One other option is offer, below, but is no better than the first.


So as not to only complain, here is a success story:

One example of beautifully handled folding plates comes from Princeton’s digital imaging studio, managed by Roel Munoz, whose staff captured this French costume book for the Graphic Arts Collection with great success:

Arcola Pettway’s “Lazy Gals Variation”

Princeton University President Christopher L. Eisgruber recently announced that our 2020 “pre-read” is This America: The Case for the Nation by historian Jill Lepore. Each year Princeton’s incoming class collectively explores one text, this year focusing on the concept of the nation, American civil ideals, and historical truth-seeking.

Published by W.W. Norton & Company in 2019, the book’s cover features the image of a quilt in the shape of an American flag. The work was created in 1976 by Arcola Pettway (1934-1994), titled Lazy Gals Variation, as a Bicentennial quilt composed of brightly colored strips of corduroy fabric. “Lazy Gal” refers to the quilting pattern of irregular bars, one of a variety of traditional patterns used by Pettway and other quilters who are part of the Gee’s Bend collective. The quilt pictured above is owned by the High Museum, a purchase and gift of the Souls Grown Deep Foundation from the William S. Arnett Collection.

Pettway and the other quilters are the descendants of enslaved people from rural Gee’s Bend, Alabama. They first came to national attention with the Freedom Quilting Bee, a cooperative arising from the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s, and their quilts were sold in New York City at Bloomingdale’s and Sak’s, providing income for the women.

In the 1990s, art collector William Arnett and his family, rediscovered them and, together with curators, patrons and others with a large respect for African-American culture, a touring exhibition was organized by the Museum of Fine Art, Houston.

According to the Souls Grown Deep Foundation, “Arcola Young was raised by her mother, Deborah Young, and her grandfather, Reverend Paul S. Pettway. Her mother also raised Young’s cousin, Leola Pettway. Leola described their childhood as being full of play and adventure, like fishing, singing in church choirs, and inventing games. Young married Joseph Pettway, brother of Lucy T. Pettway, and together they had 12 children. They farmed together and Young was a part of a gospel singing group, the Golden Angels.”– For more information on the women of Gee’s Bend, see

In 2017, three etchings after the quilts of Loretta Pettway and Mary Lee Bendolph, members of the Gee’s Bend quilters, were acquired by the Graphic Arts Collection and installed in Firestone Library’s African American Studies Room (B floor) thanks to a joint initiative between the Princeton University Art Museum, Princeton University Library, and the Department of African American Studies.


Glad Syttende Mai

To honor the Norwegian Constitution Day, May 17th, or Syttende mai, here is a post for my favorite Norwegian author Kjersti A. Skomsvold. Seen above is her first and perhaps, still most compelling novel The Faster I Walk, The Smaller I Am (Firestone Library PT8952.29.K65 J613 2011).

Happily last summer “Two Month Review” chose to feature Skomsvold’s Monsterhuman, translated from the Norwegian by Becky L. Crook, for their discussion and deep read. Note in this episode the discussion on the book does not begin until about 23.40.

“Marius Hjeldnes from Cappelen Damm joins Chad and Brian to provide a bit of background on Skomsvold, on trends in Norwegian literature, on that whole “dice” thing, and much more. They cover the first three sections of the book, laying out the main themes and ideas that set-up this novel about a young woman suffering from Chronic Fatigue Syndrome, trying to rebuild her sense of self by becoming a writer. An incredibly interesting, episodic novel that you should be able to dive into, even if you don’t read every page.”

Other podcasts of the Two Month Review can be found online. “Each “season” they highlight a new work of world literature, reading it slowly over the course of eight to nine episodes. Featuring a rotating set of literary guests—from authors to booksellers, critics, and translators—each episode recaps a short section of the book and uses that as a springboard for a fun (and often irreverent) discussion about literature in a general sense, pop culture, reading approaches, and much more.”

The English language edition of Jo fortere jeg går, jo mindre er jeg (The Faster I Walk, the Smaller I Am) has a cover designed by the American artist Richard McGuire. In 2014, the Morgan Library and Museum mounted an exhibition of the artist’s work titled From Here to Here: Richard McGuire Makes a Book; . Many of us got to know him originally through RAW magazine, the comics journal edited by Art Spiegelman and Françoise Mouly, and then the book of Here strips. (

Luc Sante, writing for the New York Times in 2015, commented, “No one who saw that story ever forgot it: a chronicle of a life, running from 1957 to 2027, as situated in one room, with kaleidoscopic intrusions from various pasts and a wisp of a future — the house burns in 2029 and is torn down in 2030…”

See more of McGuire here and get other Skomsvold novels at your local bookshop.

Antoine Le Pautre

Robert Nanteuil (1623-1678), Antoine Le Pautre, architecte et ingenieur, 1652. Engraving. Graphic Arts Collection 2005.01080. Dumesnil no. 127. Gift of John Douglas Gordon, Class of 1905. Permanent Link:


Princeton University Library does not hold a copy of Antoine Le Pautre’s Desseins de plusieurs palais plans & éléuations en perspective géometrique, ensemble les profiles éleuez sur les plans, le tout dessiné et inventez par Anthoine le Pautre architecte, et ingenieur ordinaire des bastimens du Roy, first published in Paris, 1652 (=Drawings of several palaces, plans, and elevations in geometric perspective, together with the high profiles on the plans, all drawn and invented by Antoine Lepautre, architect and engineer of the King’s buildings).

A complete copy can be seen at:

The Graphic Arts Collection does have a beautiful impression of the title page engraved by Robert Nanteuil (1623-1678), with a putti designer and architect on either side of the title frame. The print also appears in the later Les Œuvres d’architecture d’Anthoine Le Paultre, Architecte ordinaire du Roy (Paris: Lombert, 1653)


The younger brother of Jean Lepautre 1618-1682), Antoine grew up in a family of architects and designers. He was appointed architect of the king’s buildings in 1644 and in 1654 designed the Hôtel de Beauvais in Paris for Pierre de Beauvais, which is noted for “his ingenious irregular construction, with an original and interesting planimetric distribution, where no side of the building is parallel to the other.”

Here is a view of the courtyard, showing its unusual oval shape:

To distinguish the members of this prolific family, see Stéphane Loire, “Antoine Lepautre, Jacques Lepautre et Jean Lepautre,” in The Burlington Magazine 138, no. 1116 (1996): 198.

See also: Robert W. Berger, Antoine Le Pautre: A French Architect of the Era of Louis XIV. New York: New York University Press. OCLC 121942.




The Zamorano 80

The Zamorano 80: a selection of distinguished California books made by members of the Zamorano Club (Los Angeles: Zamorano Club, 1945). Copy 215 of 500. Former owner Elmer Adler. Graphic Arts Collection 2004-2534N


The question was asked today whether the Graphic Arts Collection had the complete Zamorano 80? …What is the Zamorano 80?

The Zamorano Club was formed in 1928 by a small group of Los Angeles bibliophiles–men only–who were interested in books and fine printing (women were finally invited to be members in 1990). They named the club after Agustin Vicente Zamorano (1798-1842), who imported the first printing press to be set up west of the Rocky Mountains in 1826.

From 1826 to 1831, Zamorano created letterheads from woodblocks and type, pounding proofs without a press. With the acquisition of a press in 1834, Zamorano issued eleven broadsides, six books, and six miscellaneous works before departing California in 1838. His first book was included in the list of 80: José Figueroa (1792-1835), Manifiesto a la República Mejicana: que hace el General de brigada, José Figueroa, Comandante general y cefe politico de la alta California sobre su conducta y la de los señores D. José María de Hijar y D. José María Padrés, como directores de colonizacion en 1834 y 1835 (Monterrey: Impr. del C. Agustin V. Zamorano, 1835).

Princeton has access to a digital copy but not Zamorano’s original edition answering the question: we don’t have a complete Zamorano 80. However, we do have quite a few.

“The seeds of what was to become the Zamorano Club of Los Angeles were first planted at a dinner held on 19 October 1927, in the University Club, then located at 614 South Hope Street. The minutes of that pioneer gathering listed the following attendees: A. Gaylord Beaman (insurance), Garner A. Beckett (cement manufacturer), William W. Clary (attorney), Arthur M. Ellis (attorney), and W. Irving Way (bookman). The latter was the catalytic agent, a fact which has been well established.”

A longer history of the club can be found at their website:


The majority of the Zamorano 80 are available in full texts online. A complete list can be found on the club’s website, but here are the first 20 with links:

    1. Gertrude Atherton, THE SPLENDID IDLE FORTIES: STORIES OF OLD CALIFORNIA. New York: Macmillan, 1902. Digital text.
    2. Mary Austin, THE LAND OF LITTLE RAIN. Boston: Houghton, Mifflin, 1903. Digital texts 1, 2, 3.
    3. Hubert Howe Bancroft, WORKS. San Francisco: A.L. Bancroft & Co., 1882-1890.
    4. Frederick William Beechey, NARRATIVE OF A VOYAGE TO THE PACIFIC AND BEERING’S STRAIT. London: Henry Colburn & Richard Bentley, 1831. Digital texts 1, 2.
    5. Horace Bell, REMINISCENCES OF A RANGER. Los Angeles: Yarnell, Caystile & Mathes, 1881. Digital texts 1, 2.
    6. Anthony J. Bledsoe, INDIAN WARS OF THE NORTHWEST: A CALIFORNIA BOOK. San Francisco: Bacon & Company, 1885. Digital text.
    7. Herbert Eugene Bolton, ANZA’S CALIFORNIA EXPEDITIONS. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1930. Digital text.
    8. John David Borthwick, THREE YEARS IN CALIFORNIA. Edinburgh: W. Blackwood & Sons, 1857. Digital texts 1, 2.
    9. William Henry Brewer, UP AND DOWN CALIFORNIA IN 1860-1864: THE JOURNAL OF WILLIAM H. BREWER. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1930. Digital text.
    10. John Henry Brown, REMINISCENCES AND INCIDENTS OF EARLY DAYS OF SAN FRANCISCO (1845-1850). San Francisco: Mission Journal Publishing Company, [1886]. Digital text.
    11. John Ross Brown, REPORT OF THE DEBATES IN THE CONVENTION OF CALIFORNIA. Washington, DC: John T. Towers, 1850. Digital text.
    12. Edwin Bryant, WHAT I SAW IN CALIFORNIA. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1849. Digital texts 1, 2.
    13. Peter Hardeman Burnett, RECOLLECTIONS AND OPINIONS OF AN OLD PIONEER. New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1880. Digital texts 1, 2.
    15. Carlos Antonio Carrillo, EXPOSICIÓN DIRIGIDA A LA CÁMARA DE DIPUTADOS DEL CONGRESSO … Mexico: Imprenta del C. Alejandro Valdés, 1831.
    16. James H. Carson, EARLY RECOLLECTIONS OF THE MINES, AND A DESCRIPTION OF THE GREAT TULARE VALLEY. Stockton: San Joaquin Republican, 1852. Digital text.
    17. Samuel Clemens [Mark Twain], THE CELEBRATED JUMPING FROG OF CALAVERAS COUNTY AND OTHER SKETCHES. New York: C.H. Webb, 1867. Digital text (one among many).
    18. Samuel Clemens [Mark Twain], ROUGHING IT. Hartford: American Publishing Company, 1872. Digital texts 1, 2, 3 et al.
    20. Walter Colton, THREE YEARS IN CALIFORNIA. New York: A.S. Barnes & Co., 1850. Digital texts 1, 2.



“May-Day in London” by William Blake

William Blake (1757-1827) after Samuel Collings (active 1784-1795), May-Day in London. Folding frontispiece to the v.1, May 1, 1784 issue of Wit’s Magazine (London, 1784). Etching. Also published as an individual print dated June 1, 1784 by Harrison and Company, London.

Happy May Day.

One of the best-loved prints to celebrate this festive day is William Blake’s etching “May-Day in London” commissioned for the frontispiece in the May 1, 1784 issue of The Wit’s Magazine; or, Library of Momus. Being a compleat repository of mirth, humour, and entertainment… , edited by Thomas Holcroft (London, Printed for Harrison and Co., 1784-84). Rare Books 0901.981 v.1-2.

There are numerous folding plates throughout the magazine’s run, five etched by Blake; one after a design by Thomas Stothard and four after designs by Samuel Collings. The print is announced on the title page: “with a large quarto engraving representing a curious description of May-Day in London, as mentioned in Sammy Sarcasm’s Epistle to his Aunt; designed by Mr S. Collings and engraved by Mr. W. Blake purposely for this work.

While Princeton University Library has a beautiful set of Wit’s Magazine with all the original Blakes bound in, there is no access to the paper issue this week. Several digital surrogates are offered by our online catalogue but they present the reader with this unfortunate image [below], not much good for study or entertainment. The digital image at the top is from the National Gallery of Art.

Blake’s prints appear in successive issues from February to May 1784 and show an uncharacteristic side of the artist’s talent. In the study “Puzzling the Reader,” Gregg Hecimovich points out that,

The Wit’s Magazine represents the first known contact between [Thomas] Holcroft and Blake, and it was from about this time that Blake began to move in the circle of radicals, including Godwin, Wollstonecraft, and Horne Tooke, in which Holcroft figured so prominently. Although Blake had been employed to engrave illustrations for publications such as the Novelist’s Magazine, it seems clear that his connection with the Wit’s Magazine was through Holcroft. Blake’s friend Thomas Stothard designed the illustration for the first issue but, despite the replacement of Stothard with Samuel Collings, Blake stayed on as engraver until just after Holcroft resigned as editor in May 1784. For Blake, who had recently married and established a household independent of his father, such commissions provided much-needed income, but he probably also felt the attraction of working with the dynamic and provocative Holcroft.” –Gregg A. Hecimovich, Puzzling the Reader: Riddles in Nineteenth-century British Literature (2008): 32.

This frontispiece (often rebound next to the poem in section two) presents a busy London street on May-Day with milkmaids, chimney sweepers, a violinist, and others. Notice that the violinist has a wooden leg. Unlike many pastoral scenes, Collings’ design and Blake’s rendering feature an underprivileged population of London rather than the beautiful people.

Hecimovich calls this the most powerful of all Blake’s contributions to Wit’s Magazine. He writes, “…the traditional May-Day festivities are inverted into a sordid anti-pastoral. Beneath a maypole hung not with flowers but with dirty pots and pans, a crippled one-eyed fiddler plays for drunken clergymen, lascivious milkmaids, child-age chimney sweeps, and assorted other street people.”

He goes on to question whether or not there was a direct influence on later Blake poems such as The Chimney Sweep and London, commenting that this is “perhaps the earliest instance of Blake’s exploring and depicting through the new verbal and pictorial mediums the degeneracy of urban London life.”


Blake aside, Samuel Collings was a interesting amateur draughtsman, caricaturist, and genre painter who remains understudied by art historians. He  mainly worked in London, exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1784-89. He received commissions from The Bon-Ton Magazine in the 1790s as well as The Wit’s Magazine and others. Collings may have used the pseudonym Annibal Scratch and others, leaving good work without attribution. Princeton holds a unique portfolio of Thomas Rowlandson etchings after drawings by Collings, commissioned by the Marylebone publisher E. Jackson to illustrate Boswell’s Tour to the Hebrides. See more:

Bard of the Barges, Garbageman Poet

John Herman Kepecs (May 20, 1897-December 21, 1981) arrived in the United States in 1922 from Pécs, Hungary. The trained sailor found work with the New York City Department of Sanitation first as a Captain on a garbage scow and eventually Deputy Inspector of the entire fleet. He also wrote poetry under the pen name John Cabbage, chosen because his Hungarian name sounded like ‘cabbage’ when New Yorkers tried to pronounce it.


“Garbage Scow Sailor Bursts Out Into Verse” announced the New York Sun March 13, 1932:

Meet John Cabbage, garbage scow sailor and poet, author of more than 1,000 verses and of a new volume, just published called “8 Bells.” Mr. Cabbage goes down to the sea in the scows that bury New York’s waste beneath the clean waters of the Atlantic. When that task is accomplished, Mr. Cabbage sits on the stern with ruled notepaper and a pencil, and meditates upon life. One of his effusions goes like this: Mr. Cabbage’s most persistent resolution is to save enough money to fit out a schooner and go to the south seas where he can sit on a beach instead of a scow, and listen to the wild waves. The sailor-poet’s latest book is dedicated “to ships and shipmates who rest in the deep, and woman whose love I could not keep.”

Three volumes of Cabbage’s poetry were printed and published by the Greenwich Village bohemian Lew Ney (Luther E. Widen, 1886-1963) at his Parnassus press on 15th Street (later Brooklyn Heights) including 8 Bells (1932); Down the Dock (1937); and Time and Tide (1938). Lew Ney was the first to draw national attention to Cabbage in 1927 through his weekly column “Greenwich Village As IZ” in Variety, proclaiming that Cabbage would be internationally famous in twenty years.

Cabbage was an original member of the Raven Poetry Circle when it was formed in May 1933 (see the film Joe Gould’s Secret for a typical meeting). The group is remembered for their annual spring exhibition of handwritten poems mounted to the fence around Washington Square Park and Cabbage was often highlighted because of his unusual occupation. “Mere rhymers, wise-cracking doggereleers and other nuts are positively not welcome, and our only word to them is ‘Scram!'”

On the left, we see Cabbage with his work against the Judson Church building across from the park. His poems also appeared in the Raven Anthology 1933-1947, a quarterly magazine of members. “Poets of Village Get Day in the Sun,” announced the New York Times May 22, 1933:

Beneath a benign, approving sun the poets of Greenwich village flooded into a half-block of Washington square south yesterday, tacked their work upon a board fence and invited the passing public to read and buy. A good deal of reading and some buying was in progress until the sun disappeared. It was the beginning of poetry week, and it probably will go down in the village’s history, if and when written, as the first sidewalk poetry show.

From its beggining, Chumley’s restaurant, a Greenwich Village icon, featured book jackets for publications by local authors. They describe the series: “The authors ranged from Theodore Dreiser to John Cabbage, the poet of the garbage scow.”

In 1937, possibly inspired by Francis Alexander Durivage’s novel Mike Martin or, The last of the highwaymen. A romance of reality (1845), Cabbage traveled to California to sell his novel, also titled “Mike Martin” to Hollywood. The press loved the story of a garbage poet hoping for fame in the movies and the story appeared in newspapers across the country.

“John Cabbage the ‘Bard of the Barges’ today offered to sell the movies a story that reaches its climax with the boy and girl honeymooning on a garbage scow. Cabbage, deputy inspector of the department of sanitation dumps in New York, is on 90 days leave from his job of supervising the loading of the garbage fleet.

“Mike Martin” that’s the novel he is peddling to movie producers –is his third volume. He published two books of verse. Let the other poets write of lilies of the valley. Cabbage born John Koppecs 38 years ago in Hungary, take his themes from a discarded top hat, banana peels, coffee ground, an old dance slipper. He imagines perhaps the hat and slipper danced together. ‘Go’ he says ‘go get your song where life and love are cheap. I shall wait till they reach the heap.”


“You may not believe it, but his name is John Cabbage. He works on a garbage scow—and writes poetry. John is ‘captain’ of Scow F of the Street Cleaning department of the city of New York He likes his unlovely but necessary job because it provides him with more leisure and privacy to write than he used to experience on freighters. Every afternoon at a time which varies according to the tide John makes his scow shipshape at the city dump in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. …The trip is a long, slow one. When darkness comes a blog of light appears on the end of each scow and three highpoints glow in the shape of a cross on the tug ahead. If the water is rough when the open ocean is reached there may be hard work in keeping the tow intact. Otherwise there is little to do but watch the receding harbor “with a thousand little stars abreast” as John puts it.– “Men, Things, and Places: In the Mud and Scum of Things” The New York Sun, February 21, 1930.


Sequestered in 1767
The History of the Holy Jesus … Being a pleasant and profitable Companion for Children : composed on Purpose for their Use. By a Lover of their precious Souls. 15th edition (Boston: Printed by I. Thomas, for Z. Fowle, [1767?]). Graphic Arts Collection Sinclair Hamilton 68 (2) s

The History of the Holy Jesus: containing a brief and plain account of his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascention into heaven : and his coming again at the great and last Day of Judgment : being a pleasant and profitable companion for children : compos’d on purpose for their use / by a lover of their precious souls. Sixth edition (Boston: Printed by J. Bushell and J. Green, 1749). Graphic Arts Collection Hamilton 28s


The Sinclair Hamilton Collection has six editions of The History of the Holy Jesus, 1749: Hamilton 28s; 1749: Hamilton 1311(1)s; 1767: Hamilton 68(2)s; 1774: Hamilton 68(1)s; 1779: Hamilton 88s; and 1958 (1746): Hamilton 1311(2)s. According to Hamilton, the 4th edition, published by D. Gookin in Boston in 1747 was the earliest American edition of this book, with similar plates in the 4th, 5th, and 6th editions attributed to James Turner (1721-1759?). Turner is best known for “Join or Die” the snake representing the early American states commissioned by Benjamin Franklin (See: Karen Severud Cook, “Benjamin Franklin and the Snake That Would Not Die,” The British Library Journal 22, no. 1 (spring 1996)).

Later on the Boston printer Zechariah Fowle (1724-1776) published several editions of this book with illustrations recut by young Isaiah Thomas (1749-1831). Hamilton notes “Certain of the cuts in these two edition of 1766 and 1767 appear to have been re-engraved from those which James Turner may have made for the earlier edition…. All of these are in reverse form the earlier cuts and are of poorer workmanship than the originals. Some changes have been introduced such as … in the cut of the prodigal son the number of swine has been reduced from two to one. There is also a small cut of a three-masted square rigger, presumably representing the ship which figured in the miraculous draught of fishes, which may have been copied but not in reverse, from the more elaborate cut of a ship, proudly flying what looks very much like the English flag, in the earlier editions.”

Besides the changes in cuts, Princeton’s 1767? volume has a unique hand painted paper wrapper with the design continued on the back. This copy is missing pages 1-10 and 41-45 but the rest is usable and a great comparison with the earlier cuts.

Left: 15th edition 1767?  Right: 6th edition 1749


15 edition, 1767? above

6th edition 1749 below

6th edition 1749, not in later editions

6th edition 1749 above

15th edition 1767? below

15th edition 1767? not in earlier editions


15th edition 1767? above

6th edition 1749 below



Above: 15th edition 1767?    Below: 6th edition 1749

See another copy:



The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Are you following the Ancient Mariner Big Read presented by The Arts Institute at the University of Plymouth; an inclusive, immersive work of audio and visual art, commissioned by @theaiplym @plymuni #marinerbigread Readers include Simon Armitage, the 2019 Holmes Visiting Professor and Poet at Princeton University.

The readers and artists:

No.1, Reader Jeremy Irons, Artist Glenn Brown “The Shallow End,” Oil on panel (oval)

No.2, Reader Jeanette Winterson, Artist Lisa Wright “Lucent Blue,” Oil on canvas

No.3, Reader Samuel West, Artist Ackroyd + Harvey, “Storm Drawings” Luminescent paint on card

No.4, Reader Peter Wilson, Artist Peter Wilson, “Polar guide” Filmed + recorded by Eric Wehrmeister, Point Wild, Antarctica

No.5, Reader Willem Dafoe, Artist Gordon Cheung, “Albatross Glitch”

No.6, Reader Hilary Mantel, Artist Linder “Post-Mortem: Yura” Photomontage

No.7, Reader Simon Armitage, Artist Sarah Chapman “Immersion” Photograph, oil + ceramic on aluminium

It is an ancient Mariner,
And he stoppeth one of three.
‘By thy long grey beard and glittering eye,
Now wherefore stopp’st thou me?
The Bridegroom’s doors are opened wide,
And I am next of kin;
The guests are met, the feast is set:
May’st hear the merry din.’
He holds him with his skinny hand,
‘There was a ship,’ quoth he.
‘Hold off! unhand me, grey-beard loon!’
Eftsoons his hand dropt he.
He holds him with his glittering eye—
The Wedding-Guest stood still,
And listens like a three years’ child:
The Mariner hath his will.

The Plymouth students write: “Samuel Taylor Coleridge was born 21 October 1772, at Ottery St Mary, Devon, where his father was the vicar. As a young man at Jesus College, Cambridge, he won a prize for his poem protesting the slave trade, and briefly absconded to enlist in the dragoons under the alias, Silas Tomkyn Comberbache; he spent most of his time falling off his horse and was officially discharged for being ‘insane’. After leaving Cambridge he and Robert Southey tried to set up a utopian settlement in Pennsylvania, but this faltered. He married Sara Fricker in Bristol in 1795, and became close friends with William and Dorothy Wordsworth.”



First published in 1798 – we [University of Plymouth] use Coleridge’s revised version of 1817 – but still vitally relevant today, it is no coincidence, perhaps, that this poem is the first great work of English literature to speak to isolation and loneliness – and the possibility of redemption if we mend our ways. Three years in the making, drawing on the talents of actors, artists, performers, poets, and writers, The Ancient Mariner Big Read is a brand-new digital work of art in its own right – a wild and tempestuous voyage into the unknown.


See also the short silent film by Abishek Daniel Chawla:

See also this version using images from Samuel Taylor Coleridge (1772-1834), The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, illustrated by Gustave Doré (London: Doré Gallery, 1876). Graphic Arts Collection GAX Over 2006-0220F; more about that edition here:

Ricky Jay’s Magic Magic Book

Ricky Jay (1946-2018), The Magic Magic Book: an inquiry into the venerable history & operation of the oldest trick conjuring volumes, designated ‘blow books’… / adorned with original renderings from the ateliers of these esteemed delineators of artistic impression, Vija Celmins, Jane Hammond, Glenn Ligon, Justen Ladda, Philip Taaffe, William Wegman ; embellished with ancient iconography from the collection of the author of this curious compendium, Ricky Jay (New York: Library Fellows of the Whitney Museum of American Art, 1994). Copy 247 of 300. 2 volumes. Special Collections GAX GV1559 .J39

“The edition is three hundred copies, numbered one to three hundred. Ninety copies are reserved for the collaborators and sixty are reserved for the members of the Library Fellows. The first eighty copies are accompanied by an additional suite of prints.”–colophon

“The text volume was designed by Patrick Reagh and Ricky Jay and edited by Susan Green; the blow book was designed by Patrick Reagh, Ricky Jay, and Leslie Miller, with May Castleberry.”–colophon



Beginning in 1990, Jay spent four years working with May Castleberry, then at the Whitney Museum of American Art, on a two-volume set called The Magic Magic Book. One volume presents Jay’s historical essay on the magician’s conjuring book known as a “blow book,” and the second volume is a blow book using images from contemporary American artists including Vija Celmins, Jane Hammond, Glenn Ligon, Philip Taaffe, and William Wegman.

Blow books have special manipulatable tabs that make the content of the book appear to change. Each time the magician flips through the book the contents appear different. “With a flick of the finger, the performer can make a range of images appear and then disappear.” Here is a twitter video of Brandon Sheffield flipping through the Magic Magic Book:


Some sources list the earliest known mention of the blow book as by Gerolamo Cardano in 1550, who described the trick by mentioning “conjurors show different and always unlike pictures in one and the same book.” Another early mention is by Reginald Scot in his book The Discoverie of Witchcraft, published in 1584.

In 2014, Ricky Jay appear at the New York Public Library’s “Live at the NYPL” series to talk about The Magic Magic Book. Although a video of the 1 ½ hour conversation is not available, there is an audio recording and a complete transcription: Jay comments,

“I had been researching for some years the history of something called the blow book, which was the oldest trick book in the world. It’s more of a prop than an actual book and there had never been a history of it. And if you can see this this is just the title page announcing that this is a history of The Magic Magic Book and it was called the blow book, because whoever blew on the pages was able to make the images on the pages change I think the quote was “many several ways.” And this particular book was a collaboration with a number of well-known modern artists, Vija Celmins, Jane Hammond, Glenn Ligon, Justen Ladda, who made this beautiful case, Philip Taaffe, and William Wegman.

And so I visited the studios of these artists with May Castleberry to talk about images they had that might have to do with magic, but basically this first volume was a history of how these blow books had been made and used going back to the sixteenth century and the two major sixteenth-century books on magic, Scot’s Discoverie of Witchcraft in England and Jean Prévost’s wonderful working book of magic in French, both published in 1584, both have explanations of the making and presentation of this thing called a blow book, and they’re completely different, which is interesting, and then the blow book that we have from the New York Public Library that I’ll show you in a minute is also slightly different, and so we decided to re-create a blow book, and we literally made this. I daresay this was the greatest miscalculation of time in my life because this took an enormous amount of time to do as a pro bono job, but I’m incredibly proud of it.

…And it was performed—in this history of the blow book, I talk about it being performed by magicians for years. At times it was an incredibly cherished, very expensive item in their repertoire. Certainly that was true in the sixteenth and seventeenth century. By the early nineteenth century, magicians often sold them after their shows, as a prop and also as a trick to garner money for the magicians and a little bit of publicity. But when I wrote the book, the earliest blow book extant was a seventeenth-century book probably printed in Belgium, completely manuscript. And, if you recall, the last thing I flipped through were a series of devils. They came from that book….”

See also: Reginald Scot (1538?-1599), The Discouerie of Witchcraft, Wherein the Lewde Dealing of Witches and Witchmongers is Notablie Detected…Heerevnto is Added a Treatise Vpon the Nature and Substance of Spirits and Diuels, etc.: all latelie written by Reginald Scot ([London, William Brome] 1584). Rare Books GR535.S41

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