Tag Archives: Field Observation

Field Observation & Transcription: Gustave Doré. Circa 1880.


*To see Transcription Part I, See An Antiquarian Collection

Perched in the bleachers overlooking the baseball field at Bennett’s Crossing, I watched as the batter up swung hard, sending the baseball soaring over the fence, high up into the air. The ball came arching down, headed into the parking lot. I grimaced as it looked to be coming down near my car. I paused from my current engagement with Robert’s antique books long enough to watch the ball drop, gaining full assurance that no harm was about to befall my windshield before I resumed.

I notice that the sky is looking heavier than when I first arrived and some dark clouds have begun to roll in. They look like rain clouds not thunderheads, thankfully.

I turn around to hear Robert’s wife, Lynne loudly rooting, “Come on Jon! Let’s go Jon!”

I feel somewhat guilty that I have not paid attention to the team or rooted for Robert and Lynne’s son, Jon–but that was not what I came to the field for.

No harm done.

I take a sigh of relief.

As I turn around, I see Robert reaching down toward the bench, and with extreme care, as if he were cradling a newborn, he lifts an ancient-looking copy of the Bible Gallery Illustrated by Gustave Doré.

Throughout the course of my research on books, I have not seen such a long-preserved, incredible work. The cover of the Bible Gallery is a dark gold hue and has tiny round bumps that texture it throughout. On the corners, where the book has taken over one hundred years of wear, I notice that the little raised portion of the bumps have lost their color and are now are yellow-white. I love the way that this distressing creates a sense of texture around the edges.

The title is gold (metallic) and outlined in black. The “B” and the “G” are highly stylized, with golden rays coming behind the “G“.  The portion of the title, Illustrated by Gustave Doré is done entirely in black.

The illustrated portion portrays a golden Adam and Eve, afoot towards a rocky terrain, with foliage to the left, presumably the Garden of Eden.

There is a golden angel behind them, pointing ahead, and another golden angel in the upper right corner.

“Ok, Bible Gallery… yeah, you could say this has been around,” Robert says laughingly.

Lynne helps me take some photos of the book, as the job takes two people. This copy of Bible Gallery is much too fragile to risk an ill-timed mishandle.

I have not had extensive experience in handling antique books, but from the looks of this one must watch every move, considering the weight of the book and how one movement might shift the materials or put weight on a weakened part, adding stress the book cannot handle.   

Already, there are “crumbs” on the bleachers from the  book’s aged spine and cover.

It appears I can not pick it up or touch it without a leaving a tiny trail of wood grain, fibers or bits of paper from the edges of the book’s fragile pages.  

“Ok, now can you see the date?” Robert asks.

His tone is rich in emphasis–obviously he is saying this to show how old the book actually is than pose a question to me.

“1880,” Lynne states.

1880–that would make the book 140 years old. Robert goes on to give me some background on its history.

“This is a book that came down through the family. It was given to me by my dad. the copyright here says 1880. This really shows you how the books were put together as I mentioned before, in the other book about the Titanic, here you can see the actual thread.”

Looking at the part of the book where the spine *used* to be, I can see the page groupings. The book is quite large, and being able to see the page groupings reminds me for a moment of the interview I had with ACCC student Jennifer Horberg as she was the first one to show me how page groupings worked for a book-maker.

The noise of the people around us, combined with that of the baseball coaches, seeps into my stream of consciousness and yanks me back to my physical locale and out of the mental flow I am in.  Apparently, the baseball game seems to be really taking off as parents are yelling and cheering.

I tune back in and try to focus on what Robert is saying but I got lost.

Too much commotion.

I notice the degree of trepidation that feel towards handling the book, and although I want to treat it with as much respect possible, I can’t help but wonder if it mishandled and something happened to it, how much would it decrease in value. I glance over at Lynne; she seems to be tuned into the game  rooting for Jon.

Robert is panning the field, observing the players.

“Robert, how much is a book like this worth?” I ask.

“Oh, I’d say…this book is not really going to get a lot of money outside of, I guess, say an antique dealer–who wanted to get the prints. It’s really about Gustave Doré. Now, it has the story of Doré right here.”

Robert points to the inside of the book.

“Doré was one of the best illustrators in the 19th century and he’s very well-known for this Bible Gallery book which a runaway success, and anything else he illustrated.

For us, we know of his drawings but mostly through his illustrations of Dante’s Divine Comedy. Most notably, the Inferno.”

While Robert is giving me backstory on Doré, I hear the coach boom orders to the players, “Let’s go! Let’s go! Hustle in, hustle out!”

Ok, I can relate. I’ve heard of Dante’s Inferno since I was around ten or so.

“Doré illustrated that?” I ask, both eyebrows up.

“Yes, he illustrated that. The Divine Comedy, um…was three sections as everyone knows, the Inferno, Purgatorio and Paradiso.”

And Robert continues bringing it full circle with Doré. “And, this is how Gustave Doré draws…”

And he points to an incredibly detailed illustration.

At this point Lynne motions to the illustration and interjects, “Now what’s that? A lady laying down there with no shirt on?”

“Noooo, that’s the Murder of Abel,” Robert answers, a mock smile, teasing.

Lynne seems to be in a playful, bantering mood but  Robert is serious.

“No, no, it’s a man,” Robert replies with almost no affect.

And almost without missing a beat he continues.

“And um, he [Doré] did everything in pencil. That I know of, which reads as charcoal. And, if you were to rub your hand over this, you would see an inky residue from the drawing. Because that’s how they did it back then.”

I glance over at Lynne to see if she looks interested or if she is tuned into the game. She is squinting, looking to our left.

“Hey, isnt that Randy DeMarko over there?” she asks.

From her tone, she  seems to have spotted him and thinks it’s him.  Randy is the husband of a good friend of hers.

Robert looks over and shrugs, “Yeah, hmm. Can’t really tell. Maybe…”

Holding the book, he seems to be drinking in the illustrations on the pages. He glances up at me, looks quizzical and quickly smiles, lips inward, as if to say, “Ready to resume?” and I draw my attention to the page he is relishing.

“This was quite an event to buy this book and have it in your family. Now, the Bible Gallery is just that. For instance, this is the Tower of Babel,” he says remarkably.

“An antique dealer would like to buy this because they would take the pages out, and of course frame them. And…whew, make a lotta money. This was given to me in 1961 by my father when I was really on the young side. Um, I think I was just over, or about eleven years old. My dad was not one to get into books.   I don’t know why, but the first book he ever gave me was The Outline of History by H.G. Wells. And, to tell you the truth, I don’t know where he got this. Except to say that, he said it was in the family….”

More hooting and cheering for the teams.

“Go! Good boy! Good boy!” I hear a man’s voice cheer on.

“…and I’ve held onto them ever since,” Robert asserts.

Brushing his finger over the side of the book, he says, “That’s uh, that’s not hair, that’s wood. That is wood. Anyway, the pictures are in pretty good shape, they’re highly defined. And, if there was such a thing as “paper patina,” ha, it’s got it here.”

Turning a page, Robert says nostalgically, as if longing to be there,”Jacob Tending the Flocks of Laben.”

I am taken with the artwork. The sheer amount of as shown in the lines which comprise the illustration are incredibly complex. The remind me of fingerprints in a way, all swirling and whirling different directions. It’s almost mind-boggling to take even one illustration in, there is so much work put forth into it.

“Nice guys! Way to play that out. good job!” Lynne yells, cheering the kids on.


Followed up with an enthusiastic,”Awesome pitching buddy!”

Despite the noise and excitement, Robert is in another world with the book.

“Oh, this’ll just blow your mind…Ohhooo, is this good?” he says with utter delight.

“The only thing is, when you turn these, you really have to be careful, you almost have to treat it like tissue, because it rips, (snaps fingers) like that. But the bond of the paper is very good.”

Lynne is helping me by snapping a few photos while I

“Hon, can we get another one?” she asks Robert.       “For a lot of people, such a book as this, taught them so much because the book made it very real. They were so expensive And if you bought the Bible Gallery, you know, you had a family heirloom,” he says, looking over his glasses at me.

“Ruth and Boaz,” here we go.

Perfection. Just exquisite mastery.

“If you have this, hang onto it,” he says.

“Ohhhh. This one always got me. When I was an eleven-year-old boy, this was the first one I opened the page to. This was the first thing that I saw, and I really related to this little guy here,” Robert says, gesturing to David. 

“Ping!” I hear the metallic sound of a bat. Ooooh. That sounds like a hit.

“Alright!!!” I hear someone scream.

We are still on David. Whew!

“Here is David sparing Saul, great contrast,” Robert remarks and shakes his head with sincere admiration.

Here’s “The Death of Absalom.”

“I don’t know if you can see Absalom but that’s him here, in the trees, in shadow. Can you see him? He’s dark.” Robert says to me.

Meanwhile, amidst enjoying these possibly more than I can handle, between jottings, I have been trying to get my camera to cooperate with the lighting. I’m trying to determine when to use the flash, as in some of the photos I need the extra light, but I also want to be careful to get the texture of the paper and nuances in hue.

“Whoah, good shot! Nice! He got it! He got it!”

I’ve been hearing Lynne most of the time but this one surprised me, because it came from Robert.

While he might be cheering the guys on, he seamlessly picks up where he left off and says,”And I got it [the book] in this condition pretty much, the condition you see in now, and not knowing what I was doing as a young boy, I taped it and I tried to save it.” Robert shakes his in disgrace.

Wrong move.

Flipping the book over, I am surprised to see that on the back is a gorgeous, ornate design, accompanied by a couple of large stains of some sort. 

Referring to the black splotch sandwiched between the two pieces of tape, Robert comments, “And that’s actual ink by the way, like India ink.”

I rather like it. To me, it’s like a perfect ink splotch.

Lynne whispers over to Robert, “Jon got taken out…”

“Well, maybe they’re gonna have him pitch.”

“Maybe…,” Lynne whispers, her voice full of empathy for her son.

I  notice my camera is low on memory and start deleting photos to make room.

“Great throw! Great throw!” Robert yells to the pitcher.

Adding a final comment though now that things are winding down, Robert says, “Lossing was the first one to illustrate history books, and to have a Doré was the equivalent of having a Lossing. Just to have a book from one of those guys was really special. Lossing’s history, Doré’s illustrations.”

*Editor’s Note: You will notice in my field notes that another book is included in my observation, entitled, My Four Years In Germany by James W. Gerard (of which I also have several accompanying photos.) I plan to include the details about this book as a follow-up post, which I will complete at a later date. Please check back soon!


Field Observation & Transcription: An Antiquarian Collection

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Robert McGinty, who I met through a mutual friend, is a collector of classic books pertaining to poetry, literature, the arts and history.  He teaches English at a local high school and has a background in theater and the creative arts, holding a Master’s from Rutgers University in Creative Arts Education.

During one of our conversations about life as a grad student and my topic of creative research, Robert mentioned jokingly that he was in possession of a 99 year-old book and a 140 year-old-book.

Fast-forwarding to my field observation, I could hardly believe that the 140 year-old book was still in one piece, let alone that he would actually bring it out of the house. It’s not every day I come across someone who offers to set up a mobile, antiquarian book shop.

Robert agreed to bring the books out of the house as part of  a special field observation for me to include in my graduate research project.We made plans to meet up together at his son’s baseball game, along with his wife, Lynne.


For Transcription Part II, See Doré Circa 1880

Still somewhat in shock that Robert has agreed to bring his books out of the house and to a baseball game nonetheless, I hurry myself not wanting to be a minute late, but also not wanting to forget any of my field observation essentials–such as my notebook, camera, digital recorder and extra batteries and extra pens.

Stepping outside, the time is about ten minutes to five in the evening. The sky looks grayish-white; the air feels heavy and humid. My palms and fingers feel clammy just from walking from the front door to my car. Jumping into the driver’s seat, a wave of excitement rushes over me, but from the looks of the sky, the thought crosses my mind that it looks like rain.

I quickly glance around inside my car in search of an umbrella, but just as soon decide that it if rains, any chance of meeting a 99 year-old book will be out the window.  No need.

In under ten minutes, I have arrived at Bennett’s Crossing where the baseball field is, and I notice that there are hardly any cars in the lot. This is actually a relief because it means that I am not late, and have not kept anyone waiting. (Not that they would be “waiting” but it just felt better to be early.)

Ah. Off to a good start!

I decide to get a head start on things and proceed over to the bleachers to get myself situated and collected. No sooner have I climbed onto a bench and am unzipping the case for my camera when Robert, Lynne and the kids have arrived. Jon is suited up to play ball. He looks sharp in his blue and white uniform. He’s 13 and going through a growth spurt.

The two younger boys, Sam with strawberry-blonde hair and Michael with dark hair like Lynne, race out of the car and are almost on the jungle gym before Lynne has a chance to tell them to stay in sight.

“Michael and Sam, go play but you better stay in sight!” she yells, with both hands around her mouth like a megaphone.

We are seated to the right of the batter/pitcher/umpire. I am seated on the uppermost bleacher, Lynne sits on the bleacher just below mine, to my left. Robert has gone back to the car to get the books. As he approaches our bench, his rimless glasses glint in the hazy sunlight and he’s wearing his faded-green military jacket. Settling down with the precious cargo he carried over, he ever-so-gently sits the books down on the bleachers right below me.

There are parents and bystanders randomly scattered about, a few within earshot and close enough to see the literary exhibition just about to go on. I don’t mind, but I can’t help but feel rude as I have no intention of watching the game.

The first book the Robert sets center-stage is medium-sized. The cover, spine and pages are gorgeously worn with age. The word Titanic in red, echoing the embellished frame, around a black and white picture of the majestic ship.

At the top, the title reads, The Sinking of the Titanic and Great Sea Disasters and Thrilling Stories Of Survivors With Photographs & Sketches is just below.

The book Robert holds is now 99 years old.

After I shoot the photo, he offers it to me with both hands.

As I touch the front cover, I can literally feel a slight raise of the red paint. It still has a sheen to it after all these years, albeit barely there, but there. (*See detail in the photo below.)

The picture of the Titanic on the front cover also has a slight raise to it; it sits just a hair higher than the stained, golden fibers of the material which stretch across the cover. (*See detail in photo below)

Looking closer, I can see that each letter, each character and embellishment colored black on the cover is impressed into the surface.

I smile slowly and take a breath.

Running my index finger over the letters I can feel the subtle depth of recession–a marvelous feeling!

You see, to me, each sensation of texture on the face of the cover is like savoring a gourmet dessert. I have only read about books this old, I have never met one.

“Is this the kind of old you wanted?” Robert says, laughingly.

Gesturing to the book, he says,”This is a reprint, the Memorial Edition has blue on its cover, I have it at home. It has the same picture of the boat on the front as this one, but silver inlay for the lettering. This copy came out the same year. But because the publisher didn’t have rights to the photographs the people who printed this copy made drawing on the inside. However, the story is the same. It’s a decent edition, a little bit worn on the binding.”

“Where did you find the Memorial copy?” I ask.

“That, I purchased for twenty dollars out of the Nor’easter bookstore in Ocean City–which is long gone. Umm, bought that for twenty dollars, which is good money at the time. It was in decent shape. And that was around 1987.”

I notice that Robert takes his breaks in between words long enough for me to make quick jots, in between looking through the antique book. I am slowly turning the pages with great care, two hands for each page.

I am huddled over the book, guarding it from the elements, protective.

The visible levels of wear are beautiful. I am amazed at the layers of material underneath the topmost layer of fabric upon which the title and illustrations rest. Without peeling anything back, I spy the “under-workings” of the spine. These layers are the strength of the book and they boast a superior quality of workmanship–giving glimpses here and there of the skeleton underneath.

I peer for an even closer look.

Observing  me inspect the book with intense interest, Robert says, “Looking at the spine, on the bottom, and it still has some banding of the cover over it, but down here, you’ll see like in sections the book was put together and then it was threaded together in order to bind it and glue could be used but that wasn’t the major thing at that time. So it was basically kept together by the thread and this as an overlay. These are the best books that possibly could be made. Around the 1900’s books were still relatively expensive even though industrially produced.

I overhear Lynne exclaim, “Who takes twelve hours to get ready for a prom?! That’s ridiculous.”

It must be prom season.

But back to the book.

I look up and nod my head, acknowledging Robert’s commentary on book-binding methods of the early 1900’s.

I am caught between guarding the book, relishing every second viewing it and holding it, trying to make sure that I get photos, and writing down what Robert is sharing on the “tour.”

I don’t want to miss a thing.

I am also aware of the man and woman in their fifties or so, standing about 12 feet away, eavesdropping on our conversation, taking in our dramatics. I feel like we should be in a museum or a classroom, but we are gathered on bleachers at a community ball game for junior-high age boys–the irony of it suddenly strikes me funny.

As I continue to look through the book, trying to take in the fullness of its age, the history for which it stands, the technical processes that created it, Robert says, “It could be reconstructed.”

I look at the layers of materials and bindings that are still going strong, still held together, and I wonder what this would require, if not replacing a great portion of the materials. “wouldn’t that be like taking away from the beauty of an old book?” I think to myself.

“How?” I ask.

“Book specialists. I’m not sure exactly how much could be maintained but it could be done.”

Book specialists.

Robert purchased The Sinking Titanic and Great Sea Disasters many years ago, he is not sure of the exact date, but tells me he discovered it in a bookstore in the Village (NYC).

“It was in a pile underneath a bunch of other books.”

“Why do you think someone else didn’t snatch it up? This is amazing,” I say.

“Oh, probably because they didn’t know what they were looking for. The drawings probably dissuaded people from buying it because they weren’t real, live photographs. That’s my guess. Is that accurate? I don’t know. ”

People clap and cheer the teams and I try to stay focused on the precious information Robert is giving me. It’s difficult because I don’t want to appear as rude or intrusive, as it is obvious that I am disengaged from the games, but I need my full attention on the matter at hand. I also sense people close to us very aware of what we are talking about. They have gotten a couple of feet closer since Robert and I have talking and I’ve been taking photos.

The gnats are bad. I pull my hood on. I can still feel them under my white hoodie itching.

I savor one last look at The Sinking of the Titanic and the Great Sea Disasters, and hand the book back to Robert with both hands, careful to assure a safe passing of the book back to its owner.