Sunday, July 17, 2016

A 1984 Look At Books Past, Present, & Future

The Grolier Club, America’s oldest association of book and print collectors, marked its centennial with a convocation in New York on 26, 27, and 28 April 1984. Several members issued and presented papers at the Grolier Club Centennial Convocation. Below are selected excerpts that I found to be most relevant from a 1984 book that was put out by the club, Books and Prints, Past and Future.

The best collectors have understood – sometimes consciously, sometimes not – that they are engaged in preserving historical evidence.  A generation before The Grolier Club was founded, John Hill Burton, in The Book-Hunter (1862), remarked that ‘the collector and the scholar are so closely connected with each other that it is difficult to draw the line of separation between them. The statement still stands, but with an added meaning.  Burton was thinking of the knowledge that comes from reading the contents of old books; but as a result of bibliographical study in the English-speaking world during the past century, we also see the scholarship of collectors in their reading of the physical forms of books, in their reconstructing of the printing and publishing histories of particular works, and in their understanding of the relations among various texts of those works.  Bibliography, in linking physical form with intellectual content, has shown the basis unity of all study of the history of books. The connoisseurship of collecting – or what John Carter called ‘taste and technique’ – is, we now see, a recognition of the immense significance of the physical characteristics of books. The achievement of Anglo-American bibliography is effectively to have begun the exploration of this truth; it remains for the future to pursue it in such a way as to draw together the efforts of all who wish to understand the ideas that have been conveyed through books.

Technology Impact
“What effect will the electronics revolution and the new communications technology have on the book? They have already begun to bring change, and are bound to bring more change, yet I see these developments not as a threat but an opportunity to book publishing. For example, it is quite possible that books in the future may be produced as bubble-wrapped packages containing an electronic chip, a so-called ‘mini-marvel’ silicon flake, from which the purchaser can obtain a screen projection on his personal computer. Of course, the plastic bubble will have to include a dust jacket, identifying the book’s title and contents, probably in the form of a printed card. I would certainly feel personal regret at the replacement of traditional books and would hope that the production of well-designed and well-printed books will continue as an art for those readers who, in spite of the new technology, will always want them. The purely aesthetic and tactile pleasure of holding a well-made book is one that many of us will never relinquish. The advent of the electronic-circuitry chip method of production would, it seems to me, pose a greater threat to the traditional printer than to the book publisher, for this method will introduce – the phrase is already in circulation – publishing without paper.

“In my view the electronic media, including television, are not the enemy of books.  If to some extent they are competitors, they can also be a stimulus to book sales.  Think of Scribner’s experience with John Galsworthy’s The Forsythe Saga, when it appeared on public television.  This group of novels, so popular in the 1920s, had practically sunk out of sight when the well-produced dramatic series revived Galsworthy all over again as a best-seller. Viking Penguin had the same experience, after so many years, with Robert Graves’s I, Claudius.  Television dramatizations even of classic novels, like Anna Karenina or Balzac, can create a new demand and a new audience for an old book. Apparently viewers who have never read such a book find the characters and story so vivid and interesting that they want to preserve the experience in the more permanent form of a book. Even though they have been the dramatization, some viewers want to relive it again, or one might say, possess it, by owning the book. Reading allows a slower pace and provides verbal subtleties and pleasures that are beyond the powers of the necessarily simplified visual version.  Good television is definitely a stimulus to the reading of books.

“Will the new forms that books take in the age of electronics attract or appeal to readers?  A text projected on, or printed by a computer would either appear on a screen – an unpleasant way to read.”

Books In the House
“For some time now, houses built by developers have rarely included bookshelves. The buyer is, however, always free to install a wall unit wherever he can manage it.  The wall unit can provide space for books and other printed material along with space for electronic gear.  That wall unit is, I think, a useful emblem for us to keep in mind. It is flexibly responsive to our needs and wishes.  It can be given over mostly to books or mostly to electronics. It has now (let us suppose) a fair number of books in it. What will it be like in the future? Will it still have a fair number of books in it? Or more?  Or less?  Or none?”

Libraries of the Future
“I can imagine many libraries giving up collecting certain classes of books: light entertainment, for example, or other types of books that could made available to consumers at their local supermarket on cassettes or microchips; or books that consist essentially of factual information that can be stored as data for ready retrieval; or books that are highly specialized in nature, for which the predicted long-range frequency of consultation might be no more than once in five years to begin with, and less later.  I can imagine libraries making an effort to phase out books in any collecting areas for which some reasonably satisfactory alternative can be found.  If some of these changes were to take place, they might well lead publishers to alter the form of publication of some of their products from printed books to an electronic form for on-demand publishing, on-line use, or personal computer use through disks or chips.  These may be the books of the future, but the future of the book is a larger question, including (as it must) all the books of the past and the continuing tradition of the printed book, perhaps in a more limited form. These imaginings are, I think, not very far-fetched.  Indeed, I believe that these matters – or something like them – are very likely to happen in this country in the relatively near future.”

For more information about The Grolier Club, see some of the information listed on their Wikipedia page:

“On the evening of January 23, 1884, New York printing press manufacturer and book collector Robert Hoe invited to his home eight fellow bibliophiles to discuss the formation of a club devoted to the book arts.

“The object of the Grolier Club (to quote from its Constitution) is “to foster the study, collecting, and appreciation of books and works on paper, their art, history, production and commerce.  It shall pursue this mission through the maintenance of a library devoted to all aspects of the book and graphic arts and especially bibliography; through the occasional publication of books designed to illustrate, promote and encourage the book and graphic arts; through exhibitions and educational programs for its members and the general public; and through the maintenance of a Club building for the safekeeping of its property and otherwise suitable for the purposes of the Club.”

“Breaking that description down into its constituent parts, the Grolier Club is, first of all, a fellowship of men and women devoted to books and the graphic arts. The Club currently numbers nearly 800 members, mostly American, but including a number of English, European, and Asian bibliophiles as well.  Membership is by nomination, and recommendations for membership are made on the basis of a candidate’s passion for books, as demonstrated by his or her outstanding activity as a collector, scholar, librarian, printer, or participation in some other bookish pursuit. 

“Another central focus is the Grolier Club Library.  The theme of this 100,000-volume collection is books about books – author and subject bibliographies (including many rare and early examples), histories of printing, publishing and collecting, and exhibition catalogues – coupled with a modest-sized but quite fine teaching collection of examples, from illuminated manuscripts and leaves from the 42-Line Gutenberg Bible to modern private press books.

“The Grolier has always been more than a private bibliophile society, but in recent years the Club has taken on the responsibilities of a cultural institution of national, even international stature.  The Grolier Club sponsors an increasing number of book-related lectures these days, often in partnership with other bibliophilic organizations.

“The Grolier Club of New York was one of the first organizations in America to treat books and prints as objects worthy of display, on a par with painting and sculpture.  In its 125-year history the Club has organize more than five hundred such exhibitions.

“Since its founding in 1884 the Grolier Club has published or sponsored almost 500 books and exhibition catalogues – some of them now the standard references in their fields – on such subjects as photography, William Blake, Mayan writing, Albrecht Durer’s alphabet book, and the well-known “Grolier hundred” selections in literature, science, and medicine.

“Generally, orders from non-members should be made through Oak Knoll Books, a bookseller and publisher specializing in the art and history of the book, and the exclusive distributors of Grolier Club publications. A full list of Grolier Club titles in print, including issues of The Gazette of the Grolier Club, is available on their website.  Trade discounts are offered to booksellers.”

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Brian Feinblum’s views, opinions, and ideas expressed in this blog are his alone and not that of his employer. You can follow him on Twitter @theprexpert and email him at He feels more important when discussed in the third-person. This is copyrighted by BookMarketingBuzzBlog © 2016

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