The Hang Fire Books Blog

The rantings of a bookdealer in Brooklyn, New York.

Friday, August 31, 2007

Altered Books

Usually any changes an owner makes to a book are cringe-inducing: inane inscriptions scrawled with a sharpie, underlining every sentence on a page, "yes!!!" declaimed in the margins...

I could do a whole series of posts on egregious sins committed against a book (in fact I think I will. Like the Gatsby 1st I sold with a modern phone number inked on the flyleaf. Grrr).

But this post is about those rare occasions when a book is altered in a good way: Interesting clippings (or ephemera) layed-in, evocative and revealing inscriptions (in pencil), helpful corrections to a plan or recipe. Additions that increase your appreciation or the usefulness of a book.

I saw a term for this once. "Babbittism", I think? It ain't Googling so I probably have it wrong. It was definitely taken from the name of a character in an American fiction classic, likely by Sinclair Lewis....(little help?).

Anyway here are a couple of my favorite examples:

First, a nice 1896 edition of Thackery's History of Henry Esmond in which all of the plates (by artist T. H. Robinson) have been neatly and skillfully hand painted in what looks like water color or some kind of ink wash:

Nice, right? A well-chosen color palette, texture highlights in the clothing, subtle tone variation. This person could "colorize" all my books.

Next a plain and anonymously written pseudo-Victorian sex memoir entitled: Amorous Adventures of a Gentleman of Quality altered by a co-worker to make a bawdy bachelor party or going-away present.

I hope you had a fun night Mr. Frank Martino.

Anyone have any other examples of books artfully altered?


June said...

Oh my goodness. I don't know if I should even show you this link or not ... I belong to a community of people who considered themselves altered book artists. We alter book in what we consider artistically pleasing and whimsical ways ..... The Altered Book

William Smith said...

Interesting stuff. I used to own a copy of A Humument and I loved it. I'll add your site to my book arts links. I hope before you alter though that you check that the book isn't rare or unique (use

Anonymous said...

The term you were thinking of is "bowdlerised"

William Smith said...

to "bowdlerise / bowdlerize" only covers destructive changes. I think there's another term for changes that add something to a work or text. hmmm