Monday, February 09, 2009

Decay and Divine

I find an interesting juxtaposition of decay and divine in illuminated books of hours or pieces like this from one of Dante's early works. The ideas and the pictures that illuminate them raise us to new heights. We ponder lofty thoughts and look on works of art, all on the same page.

Yet these hundreds of years later we find decay amidst the beauty. Yellowed edges crack and fall off. Places touched by human hands have marks where body oil met paper. Bindings leave flakes in the laps that hold them.

A used book store is full of such fading finds. A new store smells of fresh ink; an old one reeks of mildew. New books have perfect, white pages; old books have watermarks, dog-eared pages, underlining, and yellow paper. But what treasures one can find amidst the decaying edges.

Check it out: This site includes photos from old books as well as engravings of initials.

What is the oldest book you own? Does it show signs of decay?


Erin said...

I love this topic, San!

The oldest book I own is a copy of "Hopkins and Underwood's New Arithmetic: Mental" published in 1903.

I bought it from Half Price Books in Dallas, because I loved it's "palm-sizedness" and it's green fabric cover. But since mathematics are not easy for me, I find it strange I would buy a math book. Then again, the title does say "Mental"...

The back cover lists the contract price as 22 cents. And, get this, the listed exchange price is 11 cents! I have never resold a book back to the university bookstore for HALF of it's original price!! It's usually been something like 1/5th the cover price. What a racket those college bookstores run.

I used to have a copy of "The Land That Time Forgot" I got from my mom's antique store. I was so intent on reading it that I let the page crumbles fall into my lap every night. And the smell of those decaying book pages... well, it's a very memorable smell. Now I'm wondering what happened to that book.

rhon said...

You can see my post about our old books here. Our oldest is 1856/57.

We also bought an old math book: "Durell's Advance Arithmetic", 1912, by Fletcher Durell, PhD, head of the Mathematical Department, The Lawrenceville School. The owner of the book was one Joseph Harris Tarver (Tarve?) of 3801 Beverly Drive, Hiland Park, Dallas, Texas who wrote in the front of the book "He who steals this book shall go to hell."

Erin said...

I wonder if Joseph Harris Tarver grew up to be a hell-fire and brimstone preacher.