Today, I kept seeking out images and things from the past. A picture from 1909 a block from where my studio sits today from the wonderful Free Library of Philadelphia archives...

... Those red bordered labels that I use as if they were made of gold.

And the map I scanned today, from the geography text book that belonged to one of my ancestors a long time ago.

The most pleasant surprise was to discover that a company, named Esselte, still makes beautiful, sewn, acid-free ledgers so that, as they say on their site, you can "Be certain that important records stay in tact for a long, long...time!"
Esselte Ledger

That makes me happy, deep down in the cockles of my bookbinding heart.

P.S. I also wanted to say thank you to Ellie of the Mint Design Blog for her lovely feature about Huldra Press, and say hello to some new readers too. Hope you enjoy.

Field Trip!

Last week, Mike and I decided to go to the Mercer Museum, a collection of pre-industrial revolution tools and objects, in Doylestown, PA. There are many things that make this museum a unique place, one being the building itself, which is best described as a spiraling, concrete castle.

It's also a charming time capsule of a long lost museum exhibition style. Each exhibit in its own little room, behind paned glass, with description...Is that peg board?

the wallpaper maker's room: handcarved wooden blocks

that tag says "obsolete objects circa 1991"

And there was a letterpress room! Complete with iron hand press, and lovely little cabinets.

Needless to say, we were filled with nerdy delight to see all these tools, Mike being a blacksmith, and I a fan of obsessive collections of obsolete objects (see Henry Ford). Great field trip day.

Girard's Farm

If I could have a super power, I've often said I would choose the ability to observe a place where I am standing in any point and time. This wish originated during hours of looking out the window of R2 train, which runs from Philadelphia to Wilmington. The train runs through Chester, then Marcus Hook, both port towns that have seen better days, and then along the Delaware River. I'd daydream about what it must have looked like before the Swedes settled this area. Then what did it look like as industry started to scatter along the river?

Below are a few pictures from xzmattzx's, well, really nice photo tour of Marcus Hook on Skyscraper City.

the beautiful American Viscose Company building

I want it.

But I digress. The title of this post refers to my new neighborhood, Girard Estate, defined as the area between Passyunk and Oregon and Broad and 22nd St. So I am living on Stephen Girard, once the richest man in America's, land. This whole neighborhood was once a 583 acre farm, named Gentilhommiere, full of exotic fruit trees and vegetables imported from Europe.

Now, the house sits alone, in the center of a small city park. I was really surprised the first time I saw it.
from pwbaker's excellent flickr set of the farmhouse

Around it is a shady, quiet, almost suburban, and not at all typical south philly neighborhood, that I walk through whenever I have the chance. If you're interested there's a guide on the architecture of the neighborhood here.

A Very Old Book: Les Commentaires De Cesar

You know how people say,
this is why we can't have nice things? Well this is my nice thing, and knock on wood, I haven't ruined it, and I'm good at ruining nice things. It's incredible, I'm very capable of delivering neat, precise work to others but terrible at caring for my own possessions. I don't know. It's weird.

I've had this book for a very long time. It belonged to my great-grandfather. My great-grandfather was an academic and historian in France. I remember standing in his library in Aix-en-Provence and being told I could pick out one book and I picked this, the oldest looking book on the shelf. It dates from 1658.

Now that I make books, it's become a much more interesting object to me and the damage that seemed so unfortunate fortunately reveals the structure of the binding. So although I am no expert, I will tell you what I know of how this book was made.

To bind this book, the pages were sewn onto double raised cords that were then threaded through the front and back covers which were then covered in leather. They are called raised because you can see them bulging through the leather on the spine.

On the top of the book are endbands sewn over top a paper core. Two alternating colored threads were wrapped over the core for a decorative effect. The back of the book is lined with used parchment. Parchment was a valuable material and old manuscripts, this one handwritten, were taken apart and used again when no longer useful.

This is truly one of my favorite things about books, seeing how materials were reused and how much character it adds to the object.

At this time, all paper was made in a manner that we consider 'handmade' today and such paper was made from linen or cotton rags, no longer usable as clothing but very valuable to the papermaker. The paper is full of textures and inclusions that could be considered imperfections, but it has lasted almost four hundred years. That's right copy paper, four hundred years.

the texture of laid mould handmade paper

This book also has beautiful printing, sprinkled with ornamentation and maps

My family is from France and the quantity of, well, very old things is so much greater there than here and these very old things are passed on or trashed with a nonchalance that is jarring to an American like me. They are just not that exceptional over there. But I guess that makes me lucky. My family thought this book made an acceptable gift to an 8 year old and that's pretty great for me. Vive la France.

Hi, I'm in Delaware.

Yes, that's right. Delaware. No, that's not in Pennsylvania or New England (I'm looking at you, Midwesterners). It's a Mid-Atlantic state, folks. It's natural resources are refineries, old money, and the Wawas.

When I'm in Delaware, I love to go on walks. I went for a walk in New Castle, a very old town next to the Delaware River. It's really beautiful and small, slightly worn looking. It has the feeling of the coast. I like it there.

Rab and His Friends

Rab and His Friends is a slim, 5.5" x 4.5" volume of stories by Dr. John Brown. It starts interestingly enough, "Four-and thirty years ago, Bob Ainslie and I were coming up Infirmary Street from the High School, or heads together, and our arms intertwisted, as only lovers and boys knows how, or why..." but really I haven't read further than that. The reason for this is I bought this book for it's cover. So it's a fact, people judge books by their covers. Take that, content.

It is a lovely cover, made of teal book cloth with a long, rectangular window and the title plainly gold-stamped in the lower right hand corner. What I found especially beautiful about this book was how the image in the window had been worn away to abstraction.

The first title page is so humble, just the title of the book printed crookedly in black ink. Rab and His Friends. That's it.

The second page is a more traditional decorative title page printed in red and green. These pages as well as the rest of the book were so obviously hand printed that I decided to try to research the book on the internet. Soon enough, I found an entire web page devoted to the work of the Henry Altemus Company, the publishers of this edition.

And get this, they are from Philadelphia, my dearly missed home. It was pretty fascinating to the read the history of the company and to recognize so many addresses. I like to imagine what Philadelphia was like when it was a more industrialized place, and so many more things were being made right there in the city. There are some great examples of advertising ephemera on the Henry Altemus Web Site. I recommend checking it out if you feel like geeking out on what it was like to be a publishing company in the 1800-1900's. I know I did!

And ladies. Do yourself a favor and pick this one up. It's witty, it's philosophical, it's full of sound sense in concentrated lozenges, need I say more? I don't think so.

It's July 4th people, let's celebrate The Boss and Drunk History

You know, I just realized it's July 4th. I'm not very patriotic, really. Well, that's not quite true. When I'm in France and three of my cousins are grilling me on what's wrong with Americans and why do they eat so much junk food, I defend this great land. I tell them, hey, hot dogs are delicious and if you don't like America, stop asking me to bring you Levi's and quit buying up all our sneakers when you come to visit.

So yes, I'm a little patriotic, and I do love hot dogs and by god, do I love Bruce Springsteen.
All kinds of Bruce Springsteen. E Street Shuffle Bruce, Tunnel of Love Bruce, Philadelphia Bruce, hell I'll even listen to Lucky Town. Friends, I did not go to my senior prom. Instead, I went to see The Boss...

and if that ain't enough, he refills all the ketchup bottles!

On this day, we reflect upon our hallowed history. Clearly, there is no better way to do this than after eight vodka cranberries. And that is Drunk History. Now, I know I am probably the last one to know about this, but in case I'm not, I feel the need to pass this on to you. Because it is very very funny.

I need to show the american people I'm a strong dude.

You go America. You go, girl.