Friday, June 11, 2010

Report from the Field: RBS Days 4-6

[Note: For the first installment, see this post.]

The quick pace and great content of RBS continues - in this post I'll cover the goings-on for Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, and then will add later dispatches as time permits.

Tuesday morning's class sessions were on illustration during the hand-press period, so we got to examine examples of various types of relief (woodcut, metalcut, wood-engraving) and intaglio (engraving, etching, mezzotint, &c.) illustration processes, and at how illustrations could be integrated into the book. As usual, the scope of the RBS teaching collection continued to astound - one of the items on display was a German Nuremberg Chronicle, with which we could compare some loose leaves from a copy in Latin to see the differences in layout and design.

On Tuesday afternoon right after lunch we had the great fun of getting to print on RBS's replica colonial common press, testing our inking skills and paper alignment. Our finished product is currently hanging on lines all over the RBS pressroom, waiting for the ink to dry. I'll share some images soon. And for our final session on Tuesday we got our first dip into imposition and format, the most complicated part of the course. Thankfully we were in good hands, as David Whitesell explained it much better than anyone else I've ever heard.

In the evening on Tuesdays RBS hosts a movie night, and we watched a very interesting and well-made short documentary on the Lindisfarne Gospels.

Wednesday morning's two class sessions were on bookbindings, and (not to sound like a broken record) the selection and range of materials available for display and teaching examples continued to amaze). Calf, goat, sheep, vellum, cloth, wood; plain, blind-stamped, gilt-stamped, gauffered edges, sprinkled edges, marbled edges; books in sheets, books sans spines so we could see the binding structure ... simply impressive.

The sessions on Wednesday afternoon we spent delving into the foreign language of bibliographical notation, and once again David showed just how important it is to have a good teacher for this stuff. It's tough going, and there are all sorts of little traps and pitfalls (and it really is a little bit like learning a new language). But we made it, and in a final late-evening session we got to practice our method and see how it was working by testing our skills on a selection of books. The room during that two hours was just about totally silent, except for the riffle of pages and the occasional "aha!" It made for a long day, but it was well worth it for what I got out of it.

Between our afternoon and evening sessions we had the first RBS forum, featuring Dan Raff from Penn talking about the Google Books Settlement and what it means for book folks. Ironically, the discussion was held literally ten feet away from the large room where the books sent from UVa for scanning are staged for shipment.

Yesterday's morning sessions were on provenance, and what that can tell us about books. David first discussed an element of provenance that I think falls out of most discussions - that is, the physical transformation of a book over time as it's used by various owners, and what those changes do to the book (rebindings, rebackings, trimming, wear and marks of use, staining, &c.). Then we got into the marks themselves: ownership inscriptions, book labels/stamps/plates/brands, institutional markings, bookseller notations, armorial bindings, auction catalog evidence, all that fun stuff. Because of my own personal interests this was one of my favorite parts of the course, and not surprisingly it was of as high a caliber as the rest of the week has been.

In the afternoon yesterday we split into groups, each going to Special Collections for a bindings and provenance display (more fascinating examples of fine bindings and cool provenance from the period), and then at the next period to the classroom for a bit more practice with collation and format, which we'll be discussing later today.

Last evening we went downtown for Bookseller night - we actually only managed one shop visit since we stayed there longer than expected: Franklin Gilliam Rare Books (which not only provided lots of neat books to look at, but also some really tasty ham biscuits). I found a particularly fascinating look book provenance-wise (more about which later if I decide I must have it). After that visit we headed for the other shops, but it was too late in the evening for them, so that'll be the next trip downtown. We headed out for supper instead, and enjoyed a lovely meal at Tastings, which I understand is sort of the unofficial RBS restaurant. That reputation is certainly well-earned; I had a very delicious duck breast with cherry sauce, and spent the evening in delightfully bibliophilic conversation.

Today (hard to believe) we'll have the last of our class sessions, followed by the RBS reception and then a staff gathering which promises all sorts of bibliographic hilarity. And then we start all over tomorrow to prepare for next week's classes!

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