Do-It-Yourself Collectibles

Looking over my life’s work, which involves some time and a distressing amount of dusting, I find that I have never paused to talk about Extra-Illustration. You will not often, nowadays, find a book advertised as Extra-Illustrated, but it does crop up once in a great while in a rare book catalog. An Extra-Illustrated book is one with extra illustrations. Now what shall we talk about?

No, it isn’t that deluxe edition which comes with an extra print signed by the artist, nor is it that copy of Exciting History Lessons where you used the margins to draw hot rods or airplanes in combat or a portrait of your teacher with a wart on her nose and a cigarette behind her ear. Extra-Illustration was an art form all its own, which flourished, by fits and starts, in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.

What you need to do to extra-illustrate a book is take a book, illustrated or not, pull it apart, and then put it back together, adding prints or photographs or documents or anything else that seems to you to fit the text. Anybody who owns a book can do this, and people have been doing it for as long as there have been books.

The first great fad for it is blamed on James Granger, writer and print collector, who published a biographical history of England in 1769. This came completely unillustrated, but as a man who knew about prints, he published a list of good portraits of the people covered in his book. People ran around buying up the prints, or, even better, buying up cheap copies of other books which had illustrations, cutting out the pictures, and binding them into their copy of Granger’s book. Publishers jumped at the craze, publishing books which were nothing but collections of prints to be taken out and inserted into your copy of Granger. (The process rapidly became known as “grangerizing”.)

Adding so many pictures necessitated a bit of special binding. The Folger Library boasts a copy of the original 2 volume edition which has been expanded to 29 volumes. Every grangerized book is, of course, unique, and they can now sell for a goodly amount to people who hope to find a rare or otherwise unknown print hiding inside.

People who got the taste for grangerizing could not be contented with just Granger’s book, of course. Any volume or set of history or biography was fair game (book buyers complained that the prices of illustrated history books were shooting up because of the demand from people who wanted to cut them up to illustrate other history books.) These books allowed for a variety of portraits and landscapes, but once the craze moved to literature, the possibilities were endless. Small pamphlets could be augmented, vast sets could be made vaster.

A few publishers took sets of books they were already publishing and prepared special collectible editions by extra-illustrating them. In one of my previous book-piling jobs, I got to handle a set of Nicolay and Hay’s Abraham Lincoln, which runs to ten volumes anyhow, which had been expanded to thirty volumes by the publisher, who had extra-illustrated it with, among other things, an encapsulated Confederate twenty dollar bill and a document signed by Lincoln named Mr. Thusandsuch to be Postmaster of Thenandthere. No one has donated a similar set to the Book Fair so far, but that’s why I leave the light on at night.

It was a way of personalizing your books, if you had the time and the money. I suspect a lot of people ran out of one or the other, or just steam, and that some of these old books I get with pictures stuffed in the back were GOING to be extra-illustrated when the owner got around to it. Then, too, people decided the prints could be framed and stand out on their own, after all the work that had gone into finding them. People turned to collecting matchbooks or stamps, and grangerizing fell out of the spotlight somewhere around World War I.

But these things never do quite go away, as I once noted about flower language. Scrapbooking moved into the public eye a dozen years ago, and that’s not so far removed from the idea. In fact, I see there’s a how to guide on how to extra-illustrate your books available on Amazon even as we speak. So we may be in for another round of artificially-fattened texts.

Anyway, it’s one more thing you just can’t do on a Kindle, Nook, or Noodle.

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