My trip to Stanford to see Walker Evans was also timed so that I could catch the second part of the Monuments of Printing exhibition at Green Library. The first part was very good. It was more of an exhibition of the evolution of type and printing rather than design and I enjoyed it from a technology point of view. Part two picked up the final bit of type design but quickly got into the Arts and Crafts Movement.
Which is the portion I was really interested in. The older books are interesting—if not beautiful—to look at but they also all contain flaws since they’re still finding their way through the technology. While Stanford calls it the Book Arts Revival, this exhibition shows that it’s really a distillation of everything good from historic book design.
In the same way that I found myself wanting to handle the books on display in the Art of the Book Exhibition, I would love to leaf through the Kelmscott Chaucer or the Doves Bible. We don’t make books like that anymore and these books cry out to be both read and treasured. It’s fantastic to be able to see them in person and really see the craft which went into them. It’s also clear that these books are meant to be more than just for reading. These are books* as devotional objects.
*And by extension, their contents.
Which is a point of view that I’m okay with. It’s obvious in the exhibition is that there is a threshold of importance which must be reached for a text to be considered worthy of publication—Chaucer, Shakespeare, the Bible, and Milton are featured a lot. The books I covet from the Folio Society are all classics like these too.
This makes sense considering how expensive traditional publishing has been. It’ll be interesting to see what happens as publishing dies and books stop being commodities.