The N-Files

Nature Bound: Day 1

Hi library fans,

Yesterday was the first installation day for Nature Bound: Illustrated Botanical Books, an exhibition featuring a who's who list of great illustrated botanical works from the collections of the Amon Carter and the Botanical Research Institute of Texas research libraries. You all have probably learned from reading the various Amon Carter blogs that exhibition planning starts months, even years, before an exhibition opens to the public, so yesterday's install of the first book/case was reason for cheering. I must say, as co-curator for the exhibition, I feel like this is going to be a handsome and informative one, so mark your calendars for opening day, January 29. Here are a few behind-the-scenes shots of the day's activities. Forgive the quality of these, but it's best I could do with my mobile phone.

2011-01-18 Case 2 Book 1.jpg

2011-01-18 Case 2.jpg

2011-01-18 Room View.jpg

New Books for August and Making KODAK Film Book

Hi readers,

Today the library added the newest "new" book report to the site. This report details everything the library cataloged in August 2010. Find the report here:

I want to call your attention to a standout title:

TR283 .S53 (Main Stacks)
Shanebrook, Robert L.
Making KODAK film : the illustrated story of state-of-the-art photographic film manufacturing / Robert L. Shanebrook.
Rochester, NY : R.L. Shanebrook, Robert Shanebrook Photography, c2010.


As the preface states, "this book documents how Eastman Kodak Company made film during time period 2007-2010 when the technology had reached its height." Mr. Shanebrook lifts the "silver curtain," an appropriate term which refers to the shroud of secrecy protecting Kodak "silver-based" technologies, to take us on a rare and fascinating behind-the-scenes journey into the technical film manufacturing and research environment at Kodak. The author also provides us with a useful primer on how traditional film photography works. As the imaging industry continues to speed toward digital photography, it's a great time to learn about the important contributions that Kodak has made to film-based photography.

As of today, reports that the Amon Carter and George Eastman House in Rochester, NY, hold the only institutional copies of this book.

Photo of the Week: The Real Deal

If you’re reading this blog, then there is no doubt you’ve also heard about the recent Ansel Adams attribution "scandal". Not surprisingly, the evidence is piling up against the California man who bought the negatives in question at a garage sale.

We at the Carter are lucky to have over 60 authentic Ansel Adams prints in the permanent collection, many of which are on view in the exhibition Ansel Adams: Eloquent Light through November 7.

Our Photo of the Week is comes from this exhibition. It’s one of Adams’s images of my favorite place in Texas, Big Bend National Park.
Ansel Adams, Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas, 1947, gelatin silver print, 1975
Ansel Adams (1902-1984), Santa Elena Canyon, Big Bend National Park, Texas, 1947, printed 1975, gelatin silver print, ©2010 The Ansel Adams Publishing Rights Trust

Diderot's Encyclopédie

Sam Duncan, the library director at the Carter, recently asked me to tackle cataloging one of the libraryʼs hidden gems: the thirty-five volume Encyclopédie, edited mostly by Denis Diderot. Cataloging a work of this magnitude requires some bibliographical research, and I would like to share with you the interesting knowledge I gained about this wonderful publication. The full title is Encyclopédie, ou Dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, par une société de gens de lettres, mis en ordre par M. Diderot de l'Académie des Sciences et Belles-Lettres de Prusse, et quant à la partie mathématique, par M. d'Alembert de l'Académie royale des Sciences de Paris, de celle de Prusse et de la Société royale de Loners, but it is commonly referred to as the Encyclopédie. The Encyclopédie is truly a marvel to behold, for many reasons. Most impressive is the great condition of the Carterʼs example - all thirty-five volumes are in exceptional condition, as they were published between 1751 and 1772, making the most recent volume approximately 238 years old. The illustrations are absolutely stunning in both their quality, as well as their variety. Finally, the impact of the publication itself is fascinating. The Carter library's copy also includes a copy of the original bill of sale, a rarity itself.

Encyclopedie Spines

Bill of Sale

The Encyclopédie, as I mentioned above, is comprised of thirty-five volumes. These thirty-five volumes are broken down into seventeen textual volumes, eleven volumes of plates, four supplemental volumes, two index volumes, and a final supplemental volume of plates. These volumes, all told, hold seventy-five thousand entries, made up of twenty million words, the collaborative work of 150 authors. It is humbling to think of all the effort that went into the production of these large, leather-bound volumes. Many scholars believe the Encyclopédie to be significant because it was one of the best representations of the ideas and rhetoric of the enlightenment, as well as being the first general encyclopedia to pay special attention to the mechanical arts. The enlightenment ideas are well represented in the classification of human knowledge presented in the Encyclopédieʼs table: theology is placed under theology, and the knowledge of God is only a few points above black magic. As one can imagine, this caused a great deal of criticism in 18th century Catholic France, so much so that in 1759, the king suspended the publication rights for the work. However, work continued in secret - and the Carterʼs Encyclopédie represents this, as the later volumes state that they were published in Amsterdam. Scholars also highlight that the publication of the Encyclopédie was a catalyst for the French Revolution, and a prime example of the democratization and popularization of knowledge associated with the enlightenment. Indeed, M. Diderot himself acknowledged this in the entry for “Encyclopédie,” stating that the purpose of the publication was “to change the way people think.” This publication truly had a significant impact on the development of modern Western Civilization.

The classification scheme I mentioned above is of specific interest to me as a librarian. The table represents an earlier effort to classify knowledge - which is one of the specialties of our profession. The scheme of the Encyclopédie was inspired by Francis Baconʼs Advancement of Knowledge, and classified all knowledge into three major categories: memory, reason, and imagination. Of course, todayʼs schemes take the form of Library of Congress Classification Numbers, and Dewey Decimal Classification numbers, and have changed in size, but the purpose remains the same - to classify knowledge, or their containers - books, music, et cetera.

As a library dedicated to the study, scholarship, and preservation of art, the volumes of plates are of particular interest. They cover a wide variety of topics, but focus especially on the mechanical and manual arts--how to create and make “things.” It was these very illustrations that provided the impetus for the Carter to acquire this publication, as they were to support study for a series of planned exhibitions about the mechanical arts. The exhibitions never came to fruition. The engravings themselves are copper engravings, and seem nearly to be as crisp as the day they were printed, nearly three hundred years ago. As a matter of fact, Sam blogged about another publication with beautiful engravings in it, The Feel of Steel. (

Encyclopedie Open

For me, cataloging the Encyclopédie represents many of the reasons I chose librarianship as a career. The technical work and research that precedes the final catalog record is both challenging and fascinating. Having an opportunity to interact with, and deepen my appreciation for significant cultural artifacts is exhilarating. Finally, on behalf of the library staff, I would like to invite you to the library reading room to enjoy these wonderful volumes of the Encyclopédie for yourself, as it is truly a beautiful and awesome thing to behold.

Source for information: Wikipedia entries for the Encyclopédie, Francis Bacon, and Denis Diderot.

Guest blogger: Jason Dean, Library Volunteer

New Books!

Last month the library cataloged (as always) an interesting array of material. Note that there are several early imprints that have come to the collection that are early painting and watercolor technical manuals and other titles on color theory. As I scan the list, I want to draw attention to several titles that captured my attention:

  • Diffusion -- a new periodical in the collection that focuses on alternative photographic processes
  • Fort Worth's Fairmount District -- new book, with lots of photographs, on the Fort Worth neighborhood from library friend Mike McDermott (Mike did some of his research here in the library)
  • San Francisco Museum of Modern Art: 75 Years of Looking Forward -- ravishing publication observing SFMOMA's 75th year (thanks to the SFMOMA library for sending us a copy)
  • For All the World to See: Visual Culture and the Struggle for Civil Rights -- catalog of the exhibition currently at ICP New York
  • Planting the World's Garden -- CD-ROM publication providing a fascinating look at early farm implement advertising in the U.S.
  • Poplar Forest -- sensitive and beautiful limited edition photobook looking at Jefferson's country retreat

And so much more!

Full Report

Library New Books!

Each month the library posts a report listing all the books we have cataloged in the previous month. These reports constitute mainly new items entering the library’s collection. The report for May 2010 is now available, and you can access it <a href=">here. This collection of new books is featured in the library reading room, and visitors may stop in during our public hours to view the material:

Wednesday: 11 a.m.–4 p.m.
Thursday: 11 a.m.–7 p.m.
Friday: 11 a.m.–4 p.m.

Open House for Smithsonian American Art Resource Centers

After reading about the upcoming open house event hosted by the Smithsonian art research centers for the American Library Association meeting in June, I couldn't help but think how strongly our own library and archives collections hold up in comparison to the Smithsonian pantheon. In fact, we're directly tied to the Smithsonian's Archives of American Art: as an affiliated research center, the library at the Carter is the only site in mid-America offering a complete collection of the unrestricted material from the the archives. Comprising over 15 million original documents, this collection offers an incredible depth of material to scholars working on American art research topics. Hats off to Doug Litts, a colleague of mine who works at the Smithsonian American Art Museum and National Portrait Gallery Library, for his work on the following event page:

Library New Books!

Each month the library posts a report listing all the books we have cataloged in the previous month. These reports constitute mainly new items entering the library’s collection. The report for February 2010 went out today, and you can access it here.

Library New Books!

Each month the library posts a report listing all the books we have cataloged in the previous month. These reports constitute mainly new items entering the library's collection. The report for January 2010 went out today, and you can access it here.

The Feel of Steel

Yesterday the library received a new exquisite publication, The Feel of Steel. Published in a small print run of 150 copies, this limited edition book focuses on the history of steel-engraved banknotes in the United States. Engraving is a form of intaglio printing whereby a design is carved into a metal plate. The carved lines are forced full of ink, then the plate is pressed onto a sheet of paper under high pressure, and the inked designed is transferred to the sheet. The "feel of steel" in the title refers to the tactile quality of the ink as it rests on the printed sheet. Our current paper currency still exhibits this quality.

The book notes the difference between letterpress, or relief, printing and intaglio:

The creation of high-quality intaglio work is a far more demanding discipline than letterpress printing ... The training of picture engravers was a long process. Intaglio was a much slower and more costly process, but it produced magnificent images that could be achieved in no other way.

Banknote engraving employed some of the most accomplished artists in the country, and the author considers the art the "pinnacle of printing and the graphic arts" in America. While providing a detailed history of banknote printing, including technical discussion, it also includes some fine examples of engraved prints. Many of these original prints were printed from original banknote plates. The attached prospectus provides an overview of the book.

The museum has many examples of engravings in its collections, both in the fine prints and library book collections. Make plans to view this book and other books with engraved illustrations by visiting the library during public hours.