Tuesday, April 23, 2013

The Lost and Found Art: Reviving the Pictorial Webster

The Pictorial Webster's, as arranged, printed and bound by John M. Carrera
I love books with pictures. So I now find myself asking why it is that I never knew about the pictorial Webster's dictionaries being printed in the 19th century. These large books with thousands of thin pages displayed pictorial definitions rather than traditional verbal definitions. Several years ago, John Carrera discovered a copy of a pictorial Webster's under his late grandfather's favorite reading chair. After falling in love with the beautifully detailed images, he set about finding where the original typeset blocks for these images ended up. Covered with dust in drawers in Yale's library, Carrera discovered the tens of thousands of engravings that the Merriam-Webster company had gifted the institution. Over the course of the next ten years, Carrera cleaned, restored, and used the engravings to create by hand his own recreation of the pictorial Webster's. The result of his work is absolutely astonishing.
"Polypheme" to "Peach" in John Carrera's pictorial Webster's
"Acute Angle" to "Adelphia" in John Carrera's pictorial Webster's
"Rat" to "Rattlesnake" in John Carrera's pictorial Webster's
The following video shows the incredible process he uses to create these masterpieces, of which he created 4,000 by hand. Using a 1938 Model A Linotype machine, he cast the engravings on large sheets of paper, hand cut the pages, sewed the bindings, decorated the fore-edges, and added a stamp and gold leaf to the leather binding.

What an intense labor of love! I absolutely adore book arts and John Carrera's project is truly a masterpiece. It serves as a great reminder of the importance of paper-based reading materials, even though we all love our e-readers.

In that spirit, I'd like to leave you with this hilarious commercial that also extols the virtues of paper... Enjoy, my rustlers of petticoats! Until next time!

1 comment:

  1. hahaha...I love both videos, the incredible labor of love to reproduce and in such gorgeous fashion the pictorial dictionary and the proof of paper's worth! I was reminded though of a more modern, child friendly version of the pictorial dictionary in the old Richard Scarry books for children -- where every image is labeled and identified for young readers. I don't think we shall ever tire of having such texts.