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Here are the engraver’s tools:

  • A: Graver
  • B: Glass (normally either 3x or 10x power
  • C: Etching point

It’s hard to imagine such detailed work being carried out with no more than these simple tools.

History educating Youth






As the caption at The Grolier Club’s exhibition, Images of Value: The Artwork Behind US Security Engraving 1830s – 1980s, tells us “In the US tradition, human flesh work and drapery (clothing) are cut with a graver; everything else is etched — buildings, animals, scenery, trains, everything other than human figures and their clothing.” Just why, we are not told. I wonder if it had anything to do with preventing forgery — the human figure was said to be the hardest to forge.

The exhibition runs till 29 April at The Grolier Club, 47 East 60th Street, New York.

See also Engraving a halftone block, and Die sinker.

I can’t manage to make this larger. Their embed link seems not to mean anything to WordPress. You can read it at its source though: My poetic side.

I hadn’t realized you could repeat as poet laureate: I’d assumed it was a once-in-a-lifetime deal. Notable that almost all the names are familiar to today’s poetry readers.


But Christmas, or should I say the holiday season, is coming.

The Digital Reader, run by Nate Hoffelder, is an invaluable resource. You may have noticed the frequency with which I link to it.

So it was with dismay that I got this rather panicked e-mail yesterday:

The Digital Reader blog is offline for the indefinite future.

This email includes our official statement as to why the site is down, and it is going out to everyone who signed up for the mailing list.

The Digital Reader experienced a minor technical snafu with its database Monday morning.

I tried to fix the problem by installing a backup copy of the site only to discover both of the most recent backups were corrupted.

The automated daily backups were performed by my web host, Mediatemple, and were my only set of backups. This problem is currently being worked on by Mediatemple, and if it turns out that all the backups are corrupted then my site is dead.

P.S. Expressions of sympathy are appreciated, but what I could use right now is an introduction to a lawyer who can help me get compensation from Mediatemple (experience with ToS contract law is a plus).

I did not think to include this until after I released the statement, but I also want to add that I am open to any job offers or business proposals, or even out and out insane ideas.

I may or may not relaunch the blog under new management, possibly with a corporate parent/partner.

I rather like that possibility, but it is just as likely that I might take my skills and 7 years of experience as a web publisher and go write for someone else. Or I might do something completely unrelated to blogging about digital publishing.

The sky is the limit at the moment.

P.S. My main source of income vanished with the blog, so I would also be grateful for any donations.

A few weeks ago The Digital Reader had a post about the importance of backing up your blog. Horrid irony that the messenger should be thus victimized. Note the importance of back-up. I’m almost up-to-date on my stone-age backup of Making Book. I must work harder.

Fortunately Mr Hoffelder’s blog has been restored, as today’s e-mail indicates (after the tell-tale arrival of today’s version of The Digital Reader in my in-box).

The following post was supposed to have been included in the newsletter this morning and explain that The Digital Reader survived its near death experience.

Not everyone got that post in their copy of the newsletter, so I find myself having to send it out again.

Reports of this blog’s demise were greatly exaggerated.

The adequate engineers at MediaTemple were able to recover the database in the backup from early Sunday. This has cost me all the posts from Sunday and Monday, but it looks like everything else has been restored.

Posting will continue as soon as I have run a few tests to make sure that everything works. (And of course beatings will continue until morale improves.)

Thank you, Kat and John, for giving me the names of a couple lawyers who could have helped me with the worst-case scenario (getting compensated for a destroyed blog).

And thank you to everyone else who expressed sympathy with my situation. I appreciate the moral (and in several cases, financial) support.

Welcome back.

UnknownThey weren’t a bookstore, though they’d sell the odd book, but Tekserve are about to succumb to bookstore-itis — their NYC rent (on 23rd Street, which must obviously be coming up in the world) is set to triple. So Tekserve will be closing. I did know about this already, but here’s a handy story from Atlas Obscura.

This is tragic, but of course all good things do always come to an end. Me, I’d never think of going anywhere else to buy a Mac. This is the only store I’ve ever been in where they’d actually take time to argue you out of spending too much — “No. No. From what your telling me about your usage, there’s no reason for you to buy Giant Apple — Medium Apple will do you just fine”. Their hearts were really in repair: they did sales because people kind of wanted it.

You can travel a lot further than 23rd Stret before you’ll find service like that. As we are unfortunately about to find out.

Not sure I really love the THEs in this inscription. The fact that a couple of them come aligned one below the other rather draws attention to their oddness.


But, on the other hand, it all kind of works. The THEs and the AND are the least important words, and although smashing the letters together like this risks the balance of space and line, I think that has been well preserved. There’s an pretty even color overall, though it does clot a bit around the AND.

The image comes as a tweet from The Postal Museum on 10 August marking Laurence Binyon’s 147th birthday.

Too old to enlist in World War I, Binyon volunteered as a hospital orderly at the front. He is best remembered for For the Fallen, the fourth, and sometimes also the third stanzas of which are recited at Remembrance Day ceremonies.

For the Fallen

With proud thanksgiving, a mother for her children, 
England mourns for her dead across the sea. 
Flesh of her flesh they were, spirit of her spirit, 
Fallen in the cause of the free.

Solemn the drums thrill: Death august and royal 
Sings sorrow up into immortal spheres. 
There is a music in the midst of desolation 
And a glory that shines upon our tears. 

They went with songs to the battle, they were young, 
Straight of limb, true of eye, steady and aglow. 
They were staunch to the end against odds uncounted: 
They fell with their faces to the foe. 

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old:
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn. 
At the going down of the sun and in the morning 
We will remember them. 

They mingle not with their laughing comrades again; 
They sit no more at familiar tables of home; 
They have no lot in our labour of the day-time; 
They sleep beyond England’s foam. 

But where our desires are and our hopes profound, 
Felt as a well-spring that is hidden from sight, 
To the innermost heart of their own land they are known 
As the stars are known to the Night; 

As the stars that shall be bright when we are dust, 
Moving in marches upon the heavenly plain; 
As the stars are starry in the time of our darkness, 
To the end, to the end, they remain.

In Lost books, a couple of days ago, I expressed an insane desire to keep a digital copy of every book ever written. What now to make of the Memory of Mankind project which aims to put all our information onto indestructible ceramic tiles which are being stored in a salt mine at Hallstatt in Austria? I’m not sure I altogether buy their initial justification for the project “We have used writing for over 5,000 years. Some of these writings are preserved, enabling us to create a reconstruction of our history. Unfortunately, we now live in an age which will leave hardly any written traces.” I have to ask myself — when was that fortunate age in which more than “hardly any written traces” were preserved? Preservation has always been a chancy business: remember the burning of the library at Alexandria. How many of the immortally fascinating letters I wrote home from boarding school have found their way into “the archive”? Mercifully, none; though I do have one letter to Santa which they can have. A cardboard box with many of the idiotic essays I wrote at university may still be lurking in the attic of a house I once owned, though more likely the intervening years have led to their well-deserved destruction. I have a couple of scraps of my mother’s handwriting: a diary for one year only with terse one-line entries on a few days — preserved no doubt because it includes her first date with my father. Hardly the stuff to get the future historian’s juices flowing — though taped inside an old suitcase, the list of items taken by sister on a summer holiday might be more interesting to posterity.

No doubt lots of important stuff is there in the salt mines, though the come-on makes one a little dubious. And don’t worry about future space travelers being unable to read English or German: there are helpful vocabulary tiles providing a key to all languages. (Oh, come on!) Serious readers will be inspired by the knowledge that in order to preserve our literary heritage Memory of Mankind plans to ceramify the best 1,000 books of all time! This bibliographic initiative is named Cassiodor 2016, because “Cassiodor, a south-italian senator, realized during the 6th century, that its high time to collect any antique codices he could get hold on, otherwise everything would have been lost.” (We’d recognize him more readily as Cassidorus.) “To achieve this we look for a bibliophilic sponsor, who himself will be regarded as the ‘Cassiodor of the 21st Century’. Please get into contact with us.” So now you know what to do with that million you couldn’t find any way to spend.

This hare was started by the BBC’s program, Click.

Photo: Science and Society Picture Library Prints

Photo: Science and Society Picture Library Prints













Sir Joshua Reynolds’ camera obscura was disguised as a book, probably so that people shouldn’t know that he used it in his paintings. It’s now in the Science Museum in London. Painters appear to have made use of optical devices pretty extensively from 1420 till the early 19th century, when the invention of chemical photography and subsequently film making set them off in another direction. It’s not that at the start of the 15th century people suddenly became better at drawing life-like representations: a much more convincing reason is that they discovered of a tool which enabled them to do so.

Here’s David Hockney telling us about the curved mirror, the camera obscura, and the camera lucida and their use in painting. His point that images were just too important back in the early modern period for artists not to have made use of optical technology seems completely convincing. The fact that he himself is an artist and draftsman is what enables him to put two and two together in a way which nobody previously had done. At one point a scientist, Charles Falco, says “Any physical scientist knows that a curved mirror is a lens, but David didn’t”. It’s this joining together of different knowledge bases which make Hockney’s discoveries so believable. There are two videos which has some slight overlap, but, to me at least, the story is so fascinating that watching both is worth the hour and a quarter it’ll take you.

There are other videos of David Hockney describing the process at my earlier post on Camera lucida.

The Académie française is at it again. Shady Characters, alias Keith Houston, writes in The New York Times about the latest threat to the circumflex. This is the actualization of a decision made in 1990 but kicked repeatedly into the long grass since then. It includes spelling simplifications which go beyond the narrow case of the circumflex. In the end Houston adjudges the danger as less than at first seems the case: it’s not all circumflexes that are being circumvented. But isn’t just losing î and û (when they don’t affect pronunciation, e.g. du and dû) nevertheless a loss? It also seems illogical — if you are forced to keep î and û in some instances, what’s wrong with just keeping them in all? And aren’t the French meant to be all about logic? I suspect this is actually a cunning plan— we’ve gotten used to criticizing the Académie as a crusty old conservative — now they propose some dramatic new move, and we all rise up to shout no, no, thus preserving the Académie’s true wishes. The Economist‘s new Johnson column on language matters suggests that this is exactly what’s happening.

Of course as Johnson suggests, complex spelling is a nice marker of superior education. The desire to keep it going is really a desire to assert your superiority. It also comes back to the impulse which makes so much of the dull routine in training lawyers and doctors unreformable: “I had to do it, so why shouldn’t these whipper-snappers have do it too?” So let these kids suffer and learn where to put their circonflexes.

If the Académie does manage to dump î, I wonder if Apple will feel they have to do something about the fact that their keyboard creates a circumflex by Option-i?

. . . or xylotheks as we love to call them apparently, though whether this term should be restricted only to collections of wooden books, or to wooden books themselves isn’t altogether clear to me. The OED provides no help, ignoring the word. The Passive Voice tells us Atlas Obscura has done a piece. The PV link doesn’t work, so here’s a link to Atlas Obscura. Part of the purpose of xylotheks was to illustrate the use of various woods: one of the illustrations at Atlas Obscura shows a bookcase full of different wood samples each representing a different tree. “In these constructions, each book in the xylothek was made out of a particular type of wood, the spine covered with the corresponding bark and decorated with associated moss and lichens. Once opened, the book would reveal samples of dried leaves, flowers, seedlings, roots, and branches, with a special compartment in the spine holding a written description of the species’ biology and use.”

a1-2-640x480Hyperallergic gives a nice review to Ms Dubinsky’s exhibition of blooks at the Grolier Club — till March 10th — several of which are wooden books of course.