Extra-Illustrated stuff, part 1

> I may have mentioned in a previous post that we have some fine extra-illustrated books sprinkled through the collection, many of them given by Mrs. Jesse H. Metcalf (the wife of a Rhode Island senator) in the 1940s. What, you ask, is an extra-illustrated book?

A century ago it was a common practice among bibliophiles to take a favorite book (a literary classic, a biography, a Bible—anything that an enthusiast would embrace), and personalize it. That is, you would find images (engravings, maps, pictures, etc.) or letters or other works on paper, mount them to standard sized sheets, and rebind them with the original work near appropriate parts of the text. An extra-illustrated edition of the Bible, for instance, might have an image of St. John at the beginning of that gospel. These are fascinating and almost entirely undocumented cultural artifacts—indeed, some librarians break them apart on principle (a real shame, though they mean well in their narrow way).

To some collectors it became a contest as to how much one could swell the original—in the Huntington Library there is a Bible that was issued in three royal octavo volumes, and was expanded to sixty elephant folios (about 30,000 extra items were used to create the set).

A lively literature opposing and championing the practice appeared in the late 1890s and ended by the late 1930s—not coincidentally the period in which bibliographic pursuits achieved the status of high (i.e. professional or scientific, not amateur) scholarship.

The book I found was a speech by the famous Boston historian Henry Cabot Lodge (1850-1924), entitled The Pilgrims of Plymouth, delivered in that town in 1920, on the occasion of the 300th anniversary of the Mayflower’s landing (December 21, 1620). One biographer called the speech a “masterpiece of sophistication and disillusionment,” which sounds rather like the feverish debunking of national myths that academics still favor today.

Our copy, published in January 1921 in 575 copies, is beautifully rebound in blue leather, and signed by Lodge himself (he signed five hundred of them when they were issued). Among the 40 illustrations of historical figures there is a SIGNED portrait of Calvin Coolidge, dated December 1919, “to Henry Havelock Pierce” (most likely the first owner of the book). What the heck?? Unfortunately it is impossible to scan on a flatbed (it would break this very beautiful binding), so I have scanned the spine. The text, I discovered, refers to Coolidge, but not by name:

“Liberty,” said Georges Clemenceau, a great man of our own time, “liberty is the power to discipline one’s self,” and this was the spirit which inspired the Englishmen who signed the Mayflower compact. No greater principle than this could have been established, for it is the cornerstone of democracy and civilization. They knew that there could be no organized society unless laws made by the state were obeyed by all, and this mighty principle they planted definitely in the soil of their new country, where it has found its latest champion in a successor of Bradford and Winslow, the present Governor of Massachusetts [i.e., Calvin Coolidge, who was about to become the Vice President of the U.S. under Warren G. Harding].

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