Jan 16, 2009

In Praise of the Big, Big Book

Here is Volume One in the pride of my own book collection, a two-volume set from Thomas Garner and Aurthur Stratton, entitled The Domestic Architecture of England During the Tudor Period. I think I picked these up about twelve years ago from Zubal in Cleveland; if you love this style of architecture, then having one of these books in your lap is an indescribable experience. And they are definitely lap books...at 12" x 16" inches, these big folios books weigh in at about 6-7 lbs each, I would estimate.

This was a Second Edition, plublished in 1929. The two volumes are a superb reference, featuring excellent written descriptions as well as a number of beautiful measured drawings of some of England's best known Tudor houses. There are a lot of gorgeous photographs as well; though they are, of course, in black and white and not in color, they are wonderful to look at. In many cases, I actually prefer gazing at these old B&W photos, since they seem to convey the appropriate feeling of "Olde England." The printing is wonderful as well, and the graphic richness these books display--even with two-color printing--is quite remarkable.

Books like these are one of the reasons you see so many "stockbroker" tudors on the streets of our older neighborhoods. Nostalgia was a big draw early in the last century, and a host of revival style homes were being built all over America, with builders and architects inspired by books such as these. So was I, when I built my own home. Sadly, most builders today clumsily try to ape these historical styles with very unfortunate results.

It's also interesting to note that these books were published in 1929. While they were being prepared for print, I doubt that anyone would have seen the Great Depression coming, and that the period of building these great, expensive and majestic piles was pretty much over. During the coming years, the moderne age would gradually take over. Not only was there less money to build, but let's face it--the smooth, spare styles of the 30's and 40's, with their comparable lack of detail--was cheaper to build. In today's economy, the effect we will see on design overall will be interesting to contemplate.

By the way, I believe Zubal has another set of these. Even if you are not into architecture, they are superb examples of the bookmaker's art. I'd love to be able to do something like them at some point.

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