On February 5, 2016, I donated Addendum, Edition 36 to the New York Public Library.
But two years before (February 12, 2014), in preparation for crafting what was to become my Addendum, I visited Kyle Triplett of NYPL Rare Books Division to research the dimensions, text block, ink, and paper of the NYPL’s Gutenberg Bible. Frankly, I was amazed I was going to be able to obtain the dimensions, the how hadn’t quite hit me until I entered the space of the Schwarzman Building.
To give some sense of how incredible our public library is, I’m going to travel back in time before we had public libraries. Someone had to conceive of, design for, and fund public libraries (in fact, the site of the NYPL -formerly the Croton reservoir- fed the city water before it fed the city words.).
Libraries were mostly private collections. So for example, Lenox brought the first copy of Gutenberg’s Bible to the US in 1847. According to the NYPL website, “Its arrival is the stuff of romantic national folklore. James Lenox’s European agent issued instructions for New York that the officers at the Customs House were to remove their hats on seeing it: the privilege of viewing a Gutenberg Bible is vouchsafed to few.”
The idea of a public library where everyone has the privilege of viewing a Gutenberg Bible was just beginning to be conceived. Governor Samuel J. Tilden (1814-1886), donated $2.4 million — to “establish and maintain a free library and reading room in the city of New York.” By 1895, the Tilden, Lenox, and Astor efforts were combined to form the New York Public Library.
The two lions outside the main entrance were originally named Leo Lenox & Leo Astor.
In 2014, when I had an appointment to gather the dimensions of the B42 text block, Kyle let me experience a fragment of the Gutenberg that had also been donated to the library. It came in this sweet folio, which informed my delivery folio.
Kyle had a fabric ruler I used to measure the text block and the distance between the 2 columns. I felt the paper, looked at the ink, and saw this fragment backlit.
It was an incredible experience. I hadn’t created this blog yet, but am posting the comment I made on FB about my visit in 2014.
Today, I touched a leaf of the Gutenberg. I actually cried. Did you know, many people who worked on it were illiterate and were just crafting symbols. All reason that has followed, has followed because books gave general society access to a kind of memory so we didn’t have to re-invent the wheel. I know what is written can be contentious and rife with power dynamics (from access to position), but in creating and sharing an idea, the world breathes. Ideas are free. Once they are in your head, you own them. Today, I saw the light; it filtered through the windows of NYPL. Xx
On February 5, 2016, I returned with my friend Ginger to donate the results of my research –Addendum, Edition 36.
The Gutenberg (Hubay #42) is centrally located in the McGraw Rotunda, with murals painted by Edward Laning. The paintings were commissioned under the WPA, painted between 1938-1942, and tell the Story of the Recorded Word. The ceiling is painted with Prometheus Bringing the Gift of Fire, the mythological spark to human invention and knowledge.
Then there are 4 large wall murals. The first is Moses with the Tablets of Law.
The next is The Medieval Scribe, constructing hand-written manuscripts recording ideas in a time of destruction.
The next is Gutenberg Showing a Proof, illustrating his methodology of printing with moveable type.
And the final is The Linotype – illustrating Ottmar Mergenthaler at his linotype machine as Whitelaw Reid of the New York Tribute reviews a printed page of his newspaper.
I am happy to report, in our era of internet word, my Addendum has been accepted. I look forward to learning of its call number. While I acknowledged Kyle in the colophon, I wish I had also acknowledged NYPL.
So NYPL, on this St. Valentine’s Day, please receive my digital valentine. You Will Always Be Mine! And more importantly, You Will Always Be Ours.