Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Book Motif Illusion

When it came to selecting a design for the cover of my new book Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren't, I immediately thought of the graphic device in which a two-dimensional image of an iconic or substantial book is used to give a piece of ephemera psychological and aesthetic clout. This motif has been frequently used since the nineteenth century for the design of menus, needle books, advertisements, invitations, greeting cards and pamphlets. You will see some of them in my exhibition at the Grolier Club this winter. 

The 2-D (usually closed) book motif has been used to represent many genres of texts and bookbinding formats. There are those that represent account books, reference books, literary works and memory books. In all cases, the iconic image of a book contributes a sense of importance, permanence and beauty. For the objects made in this form, the book motif is essential to their message and commercial success. The image of the book alone instills confidence in the buyer and inspires people to collect and save the objects. The examples below illustrate the use of this charming motif.   

This die-cut Calument Baking Powder  advertisement shown represents a half-leather binding, the binding style most of us think of when we describe a "real book." This sturdy binding style was used internationally throughout the nineteenth and twentieth centuries by trade, edition and hand binders.

Sometimes, as seen on this Uncle Sam's Macaroni trade card, the book is represented as a portal. I've seen the book-as-portal device work both ways. Sometimes something is popping out of the book and other times, there is a portal into the book, that suggests you are entering into a special, transformative world of one kind or another.

There are many book-shaped trade cards, here are a few examples.

Trade card for Hood's Sarsparilla
Peter, Paul and Brothers Book and Stationary Store, Buffalo, NY.

From the 1920s through 1950s, the book motif was often used for the design of greeting cards on many subjects, including get well messages, birthdays, anniversaries, religious rites of passage, and more. Many include bookish messages and puns on book-talk. They often focus on the anthropomorphic nature of books, comparing our lives to books, with the pages being the days, years the chapters and so on. These can be very amusing. A Book of Conundrums card, is a faux riddle book. If you visit my exhibition, you will see an entire case of book cards.  

Occasionally, I come across the book motif used as a sales tag. This cardboard retail garment tag has an insert photograph of Shirley Temple wearing a "Shirley Temple Brand Cinderella Frock."  On the back of the tag is stamped "3628," 1930s.

I don't own all of the objects illustrated in this post, but I did just purchase the Edy's Character Study of Sweets ice cream parlor (California, and yes, the Edy's we now know for their ice cream) menu shown below. I'm sure that the College Ice soda, listed on the first page would make us smarter.

I hope to see many of you at my exhibition. I'd love to meet you. Please consider attending one of the free lunchtime tours, every Thursday from January 28 through March 10 or the panel on February 2. Please consider supporting my work on blooks by purchasing this book trhough this website. Warm regards for a Happy New Year!

Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Heckman Collection of Book-shaped Spruce Gum Boxes - Update

I wanted to let readers know that in October Bruce and Lynn Heckman published an extensive, illustrated article about their collection of North American spruce gum boxes. The article, "Spruce Gum Boxes: Folk Art for Sweethearts"  appears in the Maine Antique Digest (October 27, 2016) and includes numerous color photographs of the best examples from their collection of over one-hundred nineteenth and early twentieth century book-shaped boxes.

There are two other posts about Bruce and Lynn's extensive collection of blooks on this blog:

Bruce and Lynn will be panelists during the Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren't colloquium, sponsored by the Grolier Club and Columbia University on the evening of February 2. The colloquium is open to the public but requires an RSVP to Maev Brennan at

Thursday, October 29, 2015

The 2016 Blooks Wall Calendar

I just finished this limited edition wall calendar which is the reward for a $50 donation to the Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren't exhibition and catalog. Details on ordering are found on the Grolier Club exhibition page.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

A Sample of "Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren't"

Hello Readers, 

Since the New Year (2015) I've been doing all of the things necessary to raise the funds for, promote and prepare the exhibition and catalog Blooks: The Art of Books That Aren't (Grolier Club [NYC], January 28-March 12, 2016).  It's taken all of my skills and pointed out the ones I don't have. Now that the illustrated catalog is at the printer, I can come up for a breath of air. I look forward to getting back to posting about interesting blook trends, but have patience. 

Both the exhibition and its catalog follow a thematic arrangement that illustrates fourteen genres of book objects. In the exhibition, there will also be a miniature exhibit with a chronological arrangement of tiny blooks, to give visitors an impression of the developmental evolution of blooks in a nutshell. The exhibition illustrates about 250 years of blook history, from the eighteenth century to the present. There are 130 objects in the show that are also illustrated and described in the catalog. The exhibition will have additional objects, including in-depth looks into two blook genres and new acquisitions, including the 18th century Catholic portable book altar shown below. Here is a peek into the themes with an example from each: 


Catholic portable book altar, European. 18th century.


Stone memorial book. In Memory. American, 19th century.


Daguerrotype case. Friendships Offerining. American or English. Nineteenth century.

Travel Souvenirs

Stone books. Souvenir of the Soldier's Home. Hot Springs, South Dakota. American. 1916.

Stimulating substances

Table lighter. Book of Smoking Knowledge. Ross Electronics Corp. American, 1960s. 

Food and Candy

Chef-an-ette.   Terry's Originettes. American. Late 1930s.

Grooming and Fashion

Anya Hindemarch clutch bag. Chelsea Husbands. English. 1990s.


Yarn box. Knitting Volumes. American. 1940s-1950s.

Household Items

Alarm clock. Lava Time. Lava Simplex. American. 1976.

Books and Writing 

Book repair kit. The Care and Feeding of Books. American. 1947.


Snake book. What I Know About Women. Japan. 1950s-1960s.


TV or theatrical prop. Manon Lescaut and Les Chinois de Paris. American. Late 20th century. 

Games and Toys

Toy spy camera. Secret Sam Camera Book. Topper Toys. American. 1960s.

Safes and Banks

Coin bank. Book Bank. English. 1970s.

Please send this post to your book-loving friends, come to the exhibition and purchase the catalog. I will be at the Grolier Club giving public tours of the exhibition, every Thursday from January 28 through March 10. To keep up with exhibition events, check in with the Grolier exhibition page, or visit the Grolier Club website. The catalog is being finished now and will be ready in early January. To order copies, contact me at ($45 plus $6 s&h). 

First page, Introduction:

Saturday, April 25, 2015

New Grolier Club exhibition page

Dear Readers, 
Please support the blook exhibition catalog and programs. I need your donations to bring them to fruition! Thank you for your readership, over 29,000 since last June.

$30,000 needed. $17,850 raised so far.

To Contribute

The Art of Books That Aren't
January 28 - March 12, 2016
Grolier Club, 2nd floor member's exhibition gallery, 47 E. 60th St. NYC

2016 is the Year of the Blook! In January you are invited to the first blook exhibition ever to be held in the U. S. and only the second in the world. You will see over 100 objects of great diversity and ephemera which puts the objects into historical perspective. The exhibition is the result of  two decades of collecting and research. I'm so looking forward to sharing this with you. In order to produce (self-publish) the catalog and programs for your enjoyment, I need to raise $30,000. I would appreciate any donation you can make and there will be perks (see below).

Click on the payment payment button in this post and choose your option
Log into Paypal and make a Paypal payment to
Send a personal check or money order to: Mindell Dubansky
210 East 88th Street
New York, NY 10128

$10 Your name and website link on the Blook Club page of this blog and in the exhibition catalog.

$25 Your name and website link on the Blook Club page of this blog; your name in the exhibition catalog and two handmade greeting cards, made after vintage blook cards from my collection.  

$50 Your name and website link on the Blook Club page of this blog and the 2016 Year of the Blook wall calendar. 

$100 Your name and website link on the Blook Club page of this blog  and a personalized copy of The Art of Books That Aren't catalog.

$500 All of the above plus a choice of a copy of one of my books Guess Who Died? Memories of Baltimore with Recipes or The Proper Decoration of Book Covers: The Life and Work of Alice C. Morse; or an original felt flower pin by myself made to your specifications; or another perk that we can work out together. 

$1,000 A copy of The Art of Books That Aren't catalog and a unique book-lovers tours of the Metropolitan Museum of Art with me as your tour guide; or a private tour of the Grolier exhibition. Includes mentions on the Blook Club page and in the catalog. 

DONORS: to know more about the over 130 contributors to this project, see the Blook Club page of this blog.

To subscribe to the Art of Books That Aren't catalog, please send your name and contact information. I will post the final price and specs to the exhibition page and email you as soon as I have them. The Art of Books That Aren't will be a paperback book,  9 x 11 inches, about 100 pages with about 150 color illustrations. I am on schedule now to have the book ready by mid-January 2016.

There will be at least one symposium with speakers who are collectors, historians and makers of book objects. I am also planning a magic show with book effects and weekly public gallery talks. Please let me know if you would like to plan a private tour or lecture.

Daytime: 212-650-2890
Evening: 212-348-1674

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Blook Game Boards

I was surprised to come across this English book (1903) that depicts a book-shaped game board on its cover (see the lower left corner). While I haven't seen other titles from the Club Series and I don't know how many titles were included, I'm assuming that this was a popular game book series and that this binding design appears on all of its titles. It's the first time I've seen a blook as an illustration. Its prominent presence on the cover is obviously an indication of how familiar people must have been with book-like game boards at the turn of the twentieth century. 

Perhaps you have seen book boards in antique shops and flea markets. There are still quite a few about today, although many are worn and damaged from years of use and the degradation of materials. They often have catchy titles, I have one named Evening Pastimes, Vols. 1 and 2. Once again the book form is a perfect vehicle for a container, adding interest and style to whatever it is applied. 

Book game boards from this period (late 19th-early 20th centuries) are usually for the games of chess, checkers and backgammon. On the board above you can see what an example of a two-volume game boards for chess, checkers and backgammon look like. This is one of many different variations. With its gold-tooled leather binding, it could easily be mistaken for real books if it was placed on a bookshelf. I have also seen the boards covered in paper, printed in chromolithography and in rustic handmade versions carved from wood. 

This is a similar board, but a less expensive version, covered in printed paper (chromolithography), rather than leather. The title is  Life of Hoyle, in two volumes. It is most probably a play on the popular book Hoyle's Rules for Playing Fashionable Games, published in many editions since the late eighteenth century. 


The Games of Go Bang, Tivoli and Fox and Geese is another example of a book game board, less common than the chess/checkers/backgammon version. I have a copy in black but you can see here that it was also made in a dark red paper version. You can see it in person if you attend my exhibition next winter at the Grolier Club. 

I hope you will all send pictures and descriptions of similar boards or other titles from the Club Series that you may see or have. Many games and puzzle containers are still made in book form today, it's an abiding tradition that has lasted more than two centuries. For an example of an even older book game box, see this post about the Heckman collection.