Andres O'Hara-Plotnik


Books By Their Covers

When I worked in midtown Manhattan, a loud, busy area choked with office workers, I would sometimes take a break from work and walk to Bauman Rare Books, a small, quiet place filled with floor to ceiling bookshelves. One day, one of the staff must have seen me staring at the books for a little too long. We struck up a conversation, and she began explaining about the different types of bindings in these books, and soon she began talking about history of printing and publishing. I asked if I could come back in a few days with my camera, and she agreed.

Bauman Books

When you enter Bauman, you are greeted by an enormous, floor to ceiling bookshelf on the far wall, and a large heavy wooden table in the middle.

The books seemed bound in sets, and I was drawn to the way these sets create bold lines and blocks of colors across the shelves. Binding and printing originally began separately. People used to buy books as a stack of pages, bringing it to their book binder, who would create custom bindings for their homes.

Bauman Books

While the sets were impressive, at times they detracted from the originality and variety of the spines. I made sure to get some shots where the books were not stacked uniformly.

Bauman Books

Bauman Books

But one of the most surprising parts of these books were the front cover pages, which produced an arresting image of colors, shapes, and patterns. I was told that book binders immersed these front pages in dyes and acids, and dragging a stylus around the liquid to produce these patterns. She said that it was something for the eye to contemplate upon opening the book.

I love this visual sentiment.

Bauman Books

Bauman Books

Here is a book from France, bound in Morocco leather, named after the dye used, found only in Morocco. It’s bound in goatskin, a porous material, much like human skin.

Bauman Books

Here is a book created in the United States around the same time, as printing was in its infancy.



I’d like to heartily thank the staff at Bauman’s for their generosity with their time, their knowledge, and access to their books. I found myself in the company of true bibliophiles. Our talk turned from book binding to 18th century publishing in general, which brought out fascinating topics that I’d like to touch on in further posts.

See more pictures here.


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This entry was posted on April 17, 2013 by in Uncategorized and tagged , , , .
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