Friday, October 24, 2014

The Metropolitan Museum of Art Acquires the Morse Collection

I have wonderful news to report. Thanks to the vision and support of Chief Librarian, Ken Soehner, my collection of books, archival materials and artifacts pertaining to my work on Alice C. Morse has recently been acquired by the Thomas J. Watson Library of The Metropolitan Museum of Art. As many of you know, the collection is a collection of record, created over a fifteen year period, illustrating the life and work of one of the first and most notable artist-designers of American decorated bindings, stained glass and other decorative arts objects, throughout the last decade of the 19th century. The collection was created for the purpose of bringing Morse’s work to the public through my book The Proper Decoration of Book Covers: The Life and Work of Alice C. Morse (New York: Grolier Club, 2008) and to exhibit at the Grolier Club. It has grown substantially since then. 

My Morse collection was made to compliment a group of 58 of Morse's own dummy book covers in the Museum's Department of Drawings and Prints. To see these, see the Museum's Timeline of Art History essay on Morse and search the Museum's online collections catalog. 

Here is a link to the essay:
Here is a link to the Museum collections search page for Morse:
Through this blog and in blog posts on In Circulation, the Watson Library blog, I will continue to bring you updates on Morse's work and life. I will also continue searching for new designs by Morse and  add them to the Museum's collection. The Morse collection has several components, all of which will now accessible to researchers in the Thomas J. Watson Library. The collection is not yet processed. For future reference, it includes the following groups of materials:


185 contemporary book with covers and illustrations designed by Morse
These are books with covers and decorations known to have been designed by Morse. There are examples of books featuring the first use of the designs and later binding variants and adaptations.  

5 volumes that contain writings and designs by Morse in their contents, some with covers designed by Morse
There are 4 titles that have a Morse connection. They include Corticelli Home Needlework (1898), which includes needlework designs by Morse; a two-volume copy of House and Home (1894), that includes a chapter on “Occupations for Women” that is illustrated by binding designs by Morse and Margaret Armstrong; and the Official Handbook of the Woman’s Building from the World’s Columbian Exposition (1893), with a chapter on “Women Illustrators” written by Morse. 

18 books that may have been designed by Morse or closely relate to her designs
These are unsigned, unattributed bindings that have some connection to other books that Morse designed. Some are in the style of Morse, and others are part of series for which Morse is known to have designed covers.


The Proper Decoration of Book-Covers: The Life and Work of Alice C. Morse, New York: Grolier Club, 2008. (Blog readers can obtain their own copy of this book through this website.)

1 unique book advertising poster for “A Paying Guest”, Dodd Mead, 1895


Biographical materials on Alice C. Morse
This is a group of ephemera and photocopies of primary resource materials relating to Morse’s life and career. It includes legal documents, Scranton Public School Records, newspaper clippings, personal correspondence, post cards and notes.

Archive of materials relating to Morse exhibitions at the Grolier Club and the University of Scranton
Two exhibitions were held in conjunction with the publication of my book at the Grolier Club and after that, at the Hope Horn Gallery at the University of Scranton. This group includes documentation of the planning, funding, installation, social functions and programming for both exhibitions.   

Archive of materials relating to the book: The Proper Decoration of Book-Covers: The Life and Work of Alice C. Morse. New York: Grolier Club, 2008
This group contains a pre-publication book galley and records regarding the funding and development of this landmark publication on Alice C. Morse, which won the ALA Leab Award, Honorable Mention for books published in 2008.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Morse Blog Has an Updated Look

You may notice that the blog template has been changed. The old one was defunct and wouldn't allow me to enlarge the pictures. For that reason alone, I think readers will enjoy this template better. I liked the simplicity of the old template but also like the color potential of the newer one. I hope that you can see that I tried to be respectful of Morse's aesthetic and not interfere too much. Other than that, nothing has changed.

Land O' the Leal, Another Morse Design Identified

I'm so pleased to have found a beautiful, signed book cover design by Morse that I have never seen before. It is bound in a plain-weave cloth and has maroon and green-brown stamping. It was published by Dodd Mead and Company in 1896; signed AM, within the cartouche, at the bottom, one either side of the central flower blossom. 

This is one of Morse's original drawings for a book cover in the Cooper-Hewitt Museum. It shares many similarities to the published book and could possibly been its alternate design plan.

Monday, August 4, 2014

The Book Witch

This post is a departure from my normal approach, but I just have to share this with the Morse blog readers. I'm sometimes known as the 'book witch' to my colleagues at work. That's because I often have uncanny luck or experience a coincidental act that is surprising. Last week, such an event happened in relation to Alice C. Morse and thankfully, several of my colleges were with me to see it. It left us speechless.

Every third Saturday in July is Tivoli (NY) yard sale day. Tivoli is a little village on the Hudson River. There's not much there but houses, a post office, churches and a few restaurants. No school, no gas station, no grocery store. I usually prefer to be a participant and shop, but this year, several of my friends joined me in my front yard to sell stuff. One of my co-workers and her fiancĂ© drove up from Staten Island to go to the sale and stay over. With so much company I didn't get to go to the sale at all, but suggested that we go to the church thrift shop because they were having a big sale.  I went along to show them the way. There were a lot of cars near the church, so we parked quite far away. I got out of the car in front of a suburban home. Their yard sale was almost over, with only a few things left. Mark commented that there was a gaming chair (not that I knew what that was) so we walked over.

On a folding table in front of the house there were two objects -- a bee bee gun and three books. There was a two-volume set of The Woman's Book (designed by Alice C. Morse) in good condition and a 19th century cook book by Marion Harland. I was in disbelief. We all were. I told the woman I wanted them and asked how much she was asking. She said, "I have to call my son, they're his." I waited for the call, then received an answer. "Five dollars for all three" she said.

There are only two or three of Morse's books that I know of, but don't have in my collection and The Woman's Book was one of them. It is the one I discussed in a post on House and Home. The Woman's Book is  Morse's original design; House and Home is an adaptation of the design. For reasons unknown, was issued with two titles. Here is the post if you'd like to read more about it:

This experience reminded me of the day, over twenty years ago, that I found Alice Morse's book covers in a box in the Met's print department. I was just snooping around, as usual, looking for book-related treasures. It was a life-transforming experience which took me on a very long journey, and really, it's not over yet, as I'm still finding Morse designs, as this blog shows. Since then, I've always felt Alice by my side, and in a way she's become kind of a relative, a mentor and a friend (if that's possible). I feel as though I have helped her to be known again, as she was in her heyday, and she has helped me become a better scholar, historian, and writer. I've learned discipline and patience from Alice and to hold myself to a high bibliographic and artistic standard. So thank you Alice and thank you for sending me the books for my birthday!

Monday, June 23, 2014

My New Blog on Blooks (Things that look like books but aren't)

I digress from the subject of Alice C. Morse to let blog readers know that I have started a  new blog on the subject of BLOOKS, objects made in the emulation of books, either by hand or commercial manufacture. If you are interested in 19th century publisher's bindings, there are a number of blooks that have them and I'm very curious to find out more about their makers. This post comes from the first About Blooks post. Here is a link to the About Blooks blog:

All over the world, for hundreds of years, people have been making, collecting and presenting book-objects that reflect their devotion and respect for books and for each other. There are countless examples; they include bars, cameras, radios, banks, toys, memorials, food tins, desk accessories, book safes, musical instruments, magic tricks, furniture and jewelry. Blooks embody the same characteristics as books and many take the form of specific titles and book formats. They signify knowledge, education, taste, power, wealth and more. They have been treasured and passed down through the generations, and many thousands reside in private homes, public and private businesses and in museums and libraries around the world. Blooks have been used to celebrate and memorialize important occasions and personal losses and successes. They serve as reminders of memorable visits to important places, as receptacles to hold valuable and practical objects and are the source of great amusement.
The transformation of the book is an inescapable theme of contemporary life. As a result of the advancement of computer technology, the book as we have known it is experiencing a major cultural shift and many question the future of the physical book. Simultaneously, we know that there are many kinds of books for which there is no substitute and more than ever, artists, designers, collectors, and librarians are attracted to books for their physical beauty, historical significance, structural properties and emotional currency. Interest in rare books, the book arts, the use of the book in works of art, and book re-purposing is flourishing. Blook-objects have a prominent place in this reinvention of the role of the book, as you will see as the blog develops. If you ave an interest in blooks and enjoy writing, guest blog posts are welcome.
Why I Collect:
Many book lovers collect book-objects, either intentionally, or pick them up here and there. Book-objects are always amusing and often a bit kitschy. They are also perfect gifts for bookish people. For years I collected casually, until one day I found a book carved out of coal that was a memorial to a young person who died at the age of 21 in 1897. It is small and fits in the palm of the hand. It was an extremely powerful object; to me it seemed like a prayer book and a memorial book together, a relic of a life lost too soon. The book's maker used coal, a material that must have been essential to his life and through the making of it, imbued it with all of the love and sorrow they felt over the loss of their loved one. The little book retains those emotions today.
We know that reading books can be life transforming and the physical book plays a large part in our ability to absorb and be moved or inspired by information, but until I held the coal book object, I hadn’t experienced how an object made in a book’s image can be as transformational and as moving as a true book. I saw that book-objects lived in a parallel universe to real books and that they are also very close in purpose to contemporary artists’ books. I began to look closer at the subject and to research its scope and history.
There are other reasons why I collect book-objects. One is that an understanding of book-objects helps me to be more self-aware, at least professionally. Most bookbinders will tell you that the love of bookbinding is like getting shot with Cupid’s arrow. I was shot when I was 22, when I took my first class. My passion for making and living with books has never waned. It’s a wonderful way of life, but it’s hard to say why. For me, eliminating the text and studying objects that are made to look like books, tells me about what books mean to people. Book-objects are very fun to study and I also very much enjoy the real bookish attributes that the makers design in, leave out or interpret in unusual ways.
The book objects I like the most relate closely to particular subjects of books, book titles or binding styles, and also those that have contents that relate to the binding. I especially like those which have become heirlooms and were obviously treasured for a long time. So far, there has been no end to the variety of blook-objects I have seen and I am constantly amazed and entertained by them.

Monday, April 7, 2014

More on Morse's Larchmont Yacht Club Windows

These photographs of Morse's windows, as described in the previous posting, were sent by the Larchmont Yacht Club, which is still home to the windows. Unfortunately, the original transom window, shown in the New York Tribune article is no longer there.  Coincidentally, Club historian, Ed Padin wrote about the windows in Mainsheet: News Magazine of the Larchmont Yacht Club in the Spring 2013 issue:

 ...That Morse would have been commissioned to design these windows for the Club is certainly logical, as, infact, two members of that particular Haprer family -- Horatio and Henry -- were active members of the LYC during this time, with Horatio serving as the Chairman of the Art Committee for many years.... Although there is the clear connection between Ms. Morse and the Harper family, we do not know for a fact that one of them was the "generous" member referred to in the Tribune article. There is no recorded Turstees' "thank you," only the record of Horatio's appointment as Art Committee Chair...
I have noticed another possible connection that requires more research. One of Morse's window designs in the Cooper-Hewitt collection, in transom format, closely resembles the Larchmont windows and is annotated with a mention of the Harper name. (Cooper-Hewitt accession number 2009-6-57) See images below. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Morse's Stained Glass Windows at the Larchmont Yacht Club - 1897

Slowly but steadily, more information about Alice C. Morse's career as a stained-glass designer is being revealed. Browsing through the Metropolitan Museum of Art's online resources I found mention of windows I had never heard of before -- this article about a suite of stained-glass windows that Morse designed for the Larchmont Yacht Club's Women's Room, in 1897. A query has been made to determine if the windows still exist and I have been told that they do, so hopefully you will soon see actual photographs of the windows.

From the picture below, you can form an idea of what Morse's garland design windows might look like. Since the type is so small, I've transcribed the part of the article that describes the windows below.  

New-York Tribune, June 5, 1897, pg. 5

Windows Designed by a Woman. Some Gifts to the Larchmont Yacht Club- New Decorations in the Women’s Room

The women’s room in the Larchmont Yacht Club, through the generosity of one of its members, is being transformed into one of the most charming rooms of this artistic clubhouse. … The same club member has also put in four opalescent glass windows to add to the decoration of the room. These lights consist of three transoms over the main window and a transom over the door. They are the work of Miss Alice Morse, who has added to her distinction in the book-cover field a reputation for thoroughly artistic work in several lines of decoration-notably stained glass, embroideries and zinc etching.

Miss Morse spent four years designing for stained glass in the Tiffany Glass Company, and as a result has a thorough grasp of the practical necessities as well as the artistic possibilities of this art. There are several examples of her work in and about New-York. She not only makes the preliminary sketch herself, but she also executes the working, drawing and choosing every piece of glass.

The general color scheme of the above-mentioned window is a warm one, the background being of a purplish hue, with green opal tints. The jewels in the garlands are amber and are what tare technically known as “broken” jewels, as are also the green jewels in the border.

There is a touch here and there of strong blue, to accent the opalescent effect of the whole. Miss Morse’s color sense is sure and her work graceful in line, and well thought out. We give illustrations of the mantel and three of the windows-two of the group of three window transoms-and the door transom.  

Monday, January 13, 2014

A Puritan's Wife - Everything Now Makes Sense

Max Pemberton
A Puritan's Wife
New York: Dodd Mead & Co., 1896
Printer: University Press: John Wilson and Son, Cambridge, U.S.A.
Signed AM, under the blossom below the title on the front cover
Dimensions: 18.2 x 12.7 x 2.5 cm.

The binding for A Purtian's Wife (Dubansky entry 01-1), never made sense to me. I found two adaptations, but never the original cover. Recently, Richard Minsky sent me a photograph of it, but thankfully, I've just found a copy for my Morse collection. For more information see the previous post on this title.

Bound in golden-tan linen finish plain-weave cloth, possibly a reverse cloth. It is stamped in olive green and a dull red, with gold lettering. The endleaves are plain off-white laid paper. Top edge gilt, foredge and tail are untrimmed.

House and Home Illustrated

Morse’s book cover design for Stevenson’s Ballads was featured in two nearly identical woman’s guides, published by Scribner’s in 1894-1896. Both include chapters on occupations for women, principles of housekeeping, the art of travel, house building and decoration, and books and reading. The Woman's Book and its successor, seen here, The House and Home, introduced Morse as an excellent example of the successful woman designer. In P. G. Hubert Jr.’s chapter titled “Occupations for Women,” the field of book-cover design was recommended as a viable occupation for women. The author buttressed his point by printing color illustrations of two woman-produced book covers: Morse’s Stevenson’s Ballads (Dubansky, 90-8); and Songs About Life, Love and Death, designed by Margaret Armstrong.

The House and Home. A Practical Book (in 2 volumes)
Multiple authors (beginning with Dr. Lyman Abbot)
New York: Charles Scribner's Sons

The binding for The House and Home is an adaptation of The Woman's Book. In this cover, the border and probably some of the spine motifs are Morse's design. To see the design as originally intended and read more about this entry click here.

Buy a copy of The Proper Decoration of Book Covers: The Life and Work of Alice C. Morse