A current exhibit at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, titled “Bibliomania; or Book Madness: A Bibliographical Romance,” uses four contrasting case studies to explore the often unconventional and sometimes even fanatical relationships between books and those who write, view, collect and read them.
“Bibliomania; or Book Madness: A Bibliographical Romance,” takes its title from 19th-century English writer Thomas Dibdin’s book on the history of bibliomaniacs. The exhibit opened on Jan. 18 and will remain on view until April 21. Its four case studies are titled “Every Book in the World!,” “Collated & Perfect,” “Habits Ancient and Modern: Surface and Depth in the Pillone Library Volumes” and “The Whole Art of Marbling.” The exhibits, which line the ground and mezzanine levels of the library, show four different ways through which an observer could appreciate books as both art and literature.
“It’s important to remember that the book as an object also has things to tell us about how people view books and about what they treasure and what was important to them,” said Diane Ducharme, an archivist at the Beinecke and co-curator of the exhibit “All the Books in the World!”
Each of the six curators organized a segment of the exhibit, starting with Kathryn James, the curator of the Early Modern and Osborn Collections. Inspired by James’s ideas, other curators joined in and created portions of the exhibit featuring objects in their purviews.
“I have never seen anything like this before,” said exhibition visitor Ana Florence, a postgraduate fellow in the psychiatry department. “Everything looks so precious, handmade and special.”
Ducharme is specifically interested in the work of 19th-century English collector Thomas Phillipps, who obtained numerous medieval manuscripts and early printed books and inspired Ducharme’s portion of the exhibition. Along with Raymond Clemens, the curator of Early Books and Manuscripts, Ducharme chose items that illuminated Phillipps’ role both as a collector of antique works and objects from his lifetime and as a publisher.
“I wanted to… demonstrate the range of his interests and to show some of the very special items that Phillipps collected,” said Ducharme.
The Phillipps exhibit focuses on collecting works and the history of the books in question. The “Collated and Perfect” and “Habits Ancient and Modern: Surface and Depth in the Pillone Library Volumes” exhibits occupy the upper level of the Beinecke.
The “Collated and Perfect” section focuses heavily on text — “to the point at which the actual item you are looking at is seen only as an exemplar of a more perfect text,” according to Ducharme.
The Pillone Collection, which was originally owned by the Pillone family, is a recent Beinecke acquisition including paintings by Cesare Vecellio across the pages of closed books that provides a look into appreciating books through observation, divorced from their textual content.
“I was inspired by the simple experience of viewing the books themselves, which I wanted to replicate for visitors to the Beinecke,” said Andrew Brown GRD ’19, curator of the Pillone section of the exhibit. “Although painting the fore-edges of books was not uncommon during this period, it was definitely unusual for one family to own 172 books decorated in this style.”
On the east and west sides of the Beinecke, displays of marbled paper mirror the sunlight filtering through the marbled panels on the walls. The fourth and final collection delves into paper marbling — a common technique used to adorn books. Elizabeth Frengel, curator of rare books at the University of Chicago Library, who curated “The Whole Art of Marbling,” said that marbling is “an art that is often overlooked, because it is usually hidden beneath covers of books, or not considered an art in the first place.”
“I hope a [visitor] will take away an appreciation for the many ways in which collectors and scholars of the past have loved books and made a collection like that of the Beinecke possible,” said Ducharme.
Phoebe Liu | firstname.lastname@example.org