“Grangerized” Books Take Center Stage at Upcoming Huntington Exhibition, Illuminated Palaces

SAN MARINO, Calif.—The eccentric art of customizing printed books by adding illustrations is the focus of a new exhibition going on view at The Huntington Library, Art Collections, and Botanical Gardens in July. “Illuminated Palaces: Extra-Illustrated Books from The Huntington Library” runs from July 27 to Oct. 28, 2013, in the West Hall of the Library. 

The exhibition features more than 40 works dating from the late 1700s to the early 1900s, when the practice was most popular. Extra-illustration is often referred to as “Grangerizing,” after a British clergyman named James Granger, but he did not invent the practice. In fact, extra-illustration has probably been practiced since the beginning of the printed book, says Stephen Tabor, the Huntington’s curator of early printed books and co-curator of the exhibition with Lori Anne Ferrell, English and history professor at Claremont Graduate University. But the practice did not soar in popularity until Granger published his Biographical History of England, from Egbert the Great to the Revolution in 1769. Granger’s book was essentially a catalog of portrait prints of famous English people, arranged by class—from otherwise ordinary commoners “remarkable from only one circumstance in their lives” to scientists, politicians, noblemen, kings, and queens. By creating an organized list of desiderata, Granger unwittingly motivated some collectors to illustrate copies of his own book with the portraits, setting off what one later critic called “a general rummage after, and plunder of, old prints.”

“Without intending to, he began a craze that lasted well into the 1900s, in which people would purchase a book, dismantle it, customize it with inserted illustrations, manuscripts, even other whole printed books, and reconstitute everything in a new form,” says Tabor. The practice gathered popularity at a time when wealthy Englishmen began collecting large numbers of engravings; it then caught on in America. “It’s at once fascinating and horrifying—the idea that someone would purposefully destroy a book, raid other books for illustrations, trim fine prints to size, and clip signatures of famous people in order to build their own custom creation.”


But, in fact, The Huntington has more than a thousand extra-illustrated books. Henry E. Huntington purchased most of them as part of the rare books and manuscripts he assembled in the early 20th century. Perhaps most surprisingly, says Tabor, “extra-illustrated books in the Library are home to more than 90 percent of the artwork at The Huntington. Truthfully, we’re still being surprised by what we find in these books because we’ve never had the resources to catalog them completely. That would take somebody expert in art history, manuscripts, and bibliography, and funds to keep the person on staff for many years.”


In fact, while working on the exhibition, Tabor and Ferrell discovered a pre-Revolutionary letter from George Washington to his brother Samuel. A prominent collector of American autographs bought it in 1886 and had it bound in an extra-illustrated book that Henry Huntington acquired in 1922. Soon after its rediscovery Tabor was able to bring it to the attention of a visiting editor of the ongoing Papers of George Washington project, who was delighted to have traced the missing original.


When important original works of art are found in extra-illustrated books, they are sometimes transferred from the Library to The Huntington’s art collections for cataloging and storage. A watercolor by William Blake, studies by Parmigianino, and numerous drawings by famous illustrators have turned up in the Library’s grangerized books.


Grangerizing became a matter of great intrigue for co-curator Ferrell when she was curating The Huntington’s exhibition “The Bible and the People,” in 2005. “It turns out that some of the most compelling of the Bibles are those that are extra-illustrated, and for obvious reasons,” she says. The blockbuster object of the Bible exhibition, she says, was the Huntington’s Kitto Bible, probably the largest Bible in the world. A 60-volume set, the Kitto was created in the mid 1800s by James Gibbs, who set out to “extra-illustrate” a regular two-volume Bible. By the time Gibbs finished his project, the Kitto Bible had expanded to hold more than 30,000 prints, engravings, and drawings, and a variety of other inserted materials. The entire Bible was displayed in the exhibition. “It’s an incredible work, absolutely astonishing,” says Ferrell. One volume of the Kitto—a massive tome containing just the books of Romans and I Corinthians—will be included in the “Illuminated Palaces” exhibition.


There was nothing simple or typical about how people went about the process of extra-illustration. Hobbyists went beyond illustrations to add other materials, including maps, pamphlets, original drawings, manuscripts, and news clippings. To create tidy volumes with leaves all the same size they mounted the added material, and often the leaves of the original book itself, in paper frames. But the process involved cutting and permanently altering the original material, “and for today’s book lovers and book conservators,” says Ferrell, “it’s considered a very questionable practice.” Extra-illustration, popular through the early 1900s, eventually vanished because collecting habits changed, the market for prints dropped, and the Great Depression made it impossible for most collectors to indulge this very expensive hobby.


Shakespeare has a particular appeal to grangerizers. On view in the exhibition will be one grangerized project of nine volumes of Shakespeare’s works expanded to 45. Other examples will include a rare pre-Granger example of extra-illustration, a copy of Virgil’s works from 1492, augmented 200 years later by a suite of German prints keyed to specific passages. “Faced with illustrations that were larger than the book,” says Ferrell, “the owner simply folded them to fit.”


The first and most famous of the grangerizers was a member of parliament, Richard Bull (1725-1806); he produced some 70 extra-illustrated volumes. After Granger published his Biographical History, Bull wrote to congratulate him: “I shall have pleasure in shewing you that I am endeavoring to follow your plan as near as I can.” He then went on to amass more than 14,000 prints and created, from Granger’s original work, 36 “giant bound volumes, using cuttings from the original book as the fragile thread running through the whole,” says Ferrell.


Two short videos produced by The Huntington will accompany the exhibition to help visitors get a richer sense of the “internal workings” of grangerized books.

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