No Late-Breaking Election News Here!

We are going to be strong and ignore tomorrow’s national championship game, and discuss an entirely unrelated matter: things that are not what they seem to be. (That’s the funniest line I’ve written all week, but it IS only Monday.)

See, I’m working on this estate, and one thing the lady collected is objects that LOOK like books but are not. It’s fascinating, really, besides being remarkably frustrating. You pick up what you think is an ancient leatherbound book and you find that it weighs a tenth what you expected because…surprise!

Now, books that have been hollowed out to make them into book safes are kind of fun, and good, clean fun to sell, too. (I try to write something like “See page 120” next to the price, so people know they’re not going to have to read the whole thing if they buy it.) Then there are the kind of book safes which never were books: instead of being a book hollowed out to make it into a box, you have box which has been built to look like a book.

Book bookends come in similar formats. There are plenty where real books have been glued shut and attached to a base to support their friends who still are useful as books (lots of room for metaphor here, but I’m leaving it alone because Santa Claus is watching). AND there are bookends which have been molded to look as if someone has taken old books and varnished them. The lady has both kinds, with the latter being available in wood, plaster, and bronze.

She also has candy boxes made to look like books (some of which still have the candy in them after twenty years: this is NOT a grand idea), hip flasks made to look like books (if you happen to read tin books), reading lights made to look like small books, and even a pencil sharpener made to look like a stack of small books.

There are document boxes made to look like books, complete with three ring binders inside. She had a pair of perfume bottles in the shape of locomotive engines sitting on books, which simulate a pair of bookends but are way too light to serve that way. I found small plastic books which are actually slide viewers (you hold them up to the light and peek through the hole at the base of the spine…another metaphor we’re just going to let sit). There is a footstool which looks like a stack of large books, a spy camera hidden in a book, three books which conceal decks of playing cards, and a book which really contains an assortment of Christmas cards.

Board games and jigsaw puzzles in boxes which look like books have been popular for a number of years, and many people reading this blog will have, somewhere in a drawer or desk cubbyhole, a tool kit or sewing kit which looks for all the world like a small leatherbound book. My favorite gimmick so far is a tiny zippered book, oh two inches square. I was expecting a New Testament, or the Psalms, but it turns out to be a shaving kit, containing one razor blade and a razor that comes apart into two small pieces to fit inside the cover. (This was probably for the man disguised as Mata Hari who was going to use that camera shaped like a book to take pictures of the documents hidden inside the document box shaped like a book. AND I found one of those little books which open into opera glasses. Coincidence? I don’t think so.)

When is a pop-up book not a book? Some of these open out into dollhouses or the Metropolitan Museum of Art or, in one case, a cow. (Collapsible Cow is the title of the book.) And I have run into one book that I cannot open at all, so I may never know what it was meant to be. I do intend to sell that one at a very high price to kids who have to do a book report but don’t have time to read.

To my amazement, the Newberry wants only a very few of these for the collection. I had suggested they could be used in an exhibit called “Books Not For Reading”, but I was told the collection has plenty of those without resorting to nonbooks. Well, it was worth a try, and it distracted me from this election tomorrow. Since I am ignoring it, of course, I cannot conclude this column with some joke about not judging a book by its cover. If you are truly grateful that I let this go by, notes of gratitude—in large denominations—may be sent to me in care of the institution named at the top of the page. Put them in a book safe.

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