the pathos of a library card

An encore post, with updates:
I have a small unintentional collection of library cards.
Each card, long after its obsolescence, remained tucked
like a little secret note in a book I borrowed or bought. But they're far from billets doux— rather they give off a blustery officiousness with their "do not remove"-s and their all-caps penalties.

They document a nice range of data-recording technology--from hand-written to type-written, rubber stamp to various arcane punch card configurations. That seems kind of interesting as a tiny piece of Historical Record. But mostly I just like them formally, graphically. The red-edged card at top right is positively bristling with overly involved methodology and procedure. The "Alluring Problem" with its red accent and bold star has an obvious beauty but I think my favorite is the small printed and punched ticket at lower left. The holes give a delicate visual syncopation to the printed statements which, although they are emphatically not, remind me of a haiku.

Library cards are extremely mundane but have a subtle intricacy that's poignant. There's something quietly affecting about the card on the bottom, right. Each month and year stamped and noted, each entry a remnant of a long-ago reader whose path crossed at that exact point with that very book. Had that card lain dormant in the back of Fashions in American Typography, in the basement of the Brooklyn Library, since June 29 or so, 1950—the last date recorded? Had it not seen the light of day until I requested it be retrieved after 60 years?

Am I waxing too precious to think of each of these little pieces of paper as superannuated governesses, each as an attempt to safeguard their charge when released out in the world?


Calling all Invalid Ladies

Burdock Blood Bitters
"There are thousands of females in America who suffer untold miseries from
chronic diseases common to their sex. This is due largely to the peculiar
habits of life and fashion, and the improper training of girlhood...
All Invalid Ladies
should send for our Special Circular addressed to
Ladies Only, which treats on a subject of vital importance."

"This 'safe' remedy contains over 19 percent of alcohol, with only 4.85 percent of solids (nearly half of which is sugar), and alkaloids possibly derived from hydrastis. The amount of vegetable extractives is small, certainly not enough to give the results claimed. "From the composition reported, and also from the name of the stuff, it appears to be one of the nostrums of the old 'blood purifier' type. Such products, as you know, are useless, as they do not purify the blood.'"–  the CANADIAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION Journal, 1937
It will positively cure deafness in 2 days.
Dr. Thomas' Eclectric Oil was first produced by Dr. S.N. Thomas of Phelps, New York in the late 1840s and reportedly contained “Spirits of Turpentine, Camphor, Oil of Tar, Red Thyme and Fish Oil specially processed.” It was marketed until the 1950s.
"GRODER'S DYSPEPSIA SYRUP Cures the System. A BROKEN DOWN ENGINE is like the human system, stricken with disease. Nine tenths of all our diseases arise from the stomach, because the stomach is Nature's Boiler Room where the steam (the blood) that moves the human machinery is really made. Keep the stomach in good order by the use of GRODER'S DYSPEPSIA SYRUP, and the machinery will run smoothly.”


The letters of Voices

The title page, even with its centered typography, betrays more than a little Artistic Printing influence
this credit line and address is from another publication.
The 150 Nassau Street building is now a landmarked condominium!

Voices is a small booklet of inspirational religious excerpts “arranged by Helen P. Strong” and published by the American Tract Society in 1886. I picked it up in Maine on a recent trip because, even though the subject matter doesn’t speak to me, I thought the hand lettering was exquisite. (By the way, the term for this sort of embellished, decorative hand lettering is called “engrossing” and it was. I was fascinated enough to plunk down $20 for it!) I love the text's quirky inventiveness— an almost hectic play of size, embellishment and composition. Tails sprout and tendrils meander over its Gothic/Medieval/calligraphic letterforms.

Although it’s hand lettered and chromolithographed (in brownish black, taupe gray, red, blue and metallic gold) it has an Artistic feel to it. “Artistic Printing” you may or may not know is an elaborate style of commercial letterpress printing extremely popular in the later 19th century. Doug and I wrote a book about it; read more about it here. Whether hand done, lithographed or letterpress printed, this sort of spikey, spidery decorative layering was all the rage.

The American Tract Society, an evangelical organization that dates back to 1825, was one of the first entities to mass produce and distribute printed illustrated materials (I dont remember where I read this but it seems plausible and significant). ATS appears to have used many talented illustrators, letterers, printers and engravers, including the great Alexander Anderson (See my post about Anderson, one of America’s finest engravers). Although this booklet doesnt explicitly state it, from my bit of research it seems Helen P. Strong did both the illustrations and the lettering, as well as edit the excerpts. I came across another illustrated publication of hers for sale on etsy, Memory's Sketchbook, from 1891, and noted her credit on a few other titles. I want to know more about Helen!


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