Rare Book Monthly

Book Catalogue Reviews - May - 2021 Issue

Handmade Cuban Books from Downtown Brown Books

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Handmade Cuban Books.

Sometimes we encounter catalogues that are most unusual. We don't mean that in the sense of strange, but rather as different from the typical catalogue. Catalog 15: Handmade Cuban Books from Downtown Brown Books certainly fits that description. Like the items it offers, this catalogue is a handmade book, though an American one. Some serious work went into this, and if you collect the book arts, you will want to collect this catalogue as much as the material offered within. I doubt you will see another like it.

 

The books come from three publishers, Ediciones Vigia, Ediciones El Fortin, and Cuadernos Papiro. The first thing to note about these publishers is they are of relatively recent vintage, beginning business between 1985 and 2014. Small publishers operating in Cuba prior to the Revolution in 1959 would likely have been highly influenced by the West. By 1985, Cuba was 25 years into its brand of socialism with western contacts replaced by those from East. The result is something different.

 

In many ways, Cuba is a place frozen in time. It was born in the midst of the Cold War. Cuba quickly chose which side it was on, and that was not the same one as the United States. Consequently, most contacts were closed off and Cuba developed in its own direction. Today, the Soviet Union is history and the Cold War has long since disappeared from the world. Except... in Cuba. It is the last satellite of a nation that no longer exists. Its cold war with America lives on. A combination of history and location has made its fate to continue as a last survivor of a different era, like the old cars on the streets of Havana.

 

Naturally, freedom of expression is not the same in Cuba as the West. However, that does not mean there is no originality or creativity in Cuba, that everything looks like it was designed by the Central Committee. In the height of the Stalin era there were still avant-garde books and art being produced in the Soviet Union. Even Nazi Germany produced some artistically interesting books, even if the text was thoroughly offensive. Perhaps the text had to conform to “socialist reality,” or at least not offend it, but creative books were still being published. The human spirit finds a way. It does in Cuba.

 

However, the old cars symbolize another reality about Cuba. They did not survive because someone thought old cars are chic (though they are). They survived because of necessity. Shut off from America and the West, Cuba could not buy new cars. They had to make do with their old ones, for years, decades, now over half a century. Cubans had to survive by tinkering with what they had.

 

These same shortages face book publishers too, meaning they have to make do with what they can find. For example, they use handmade paper, but rather than this being some exclusive import or product of a high-end paper mill, Downtown Brown explains they are made up of recycled materials, using an old blender or washing machine to make pulp. It's cheaper than trying to buy new paper. For some of the earlier books, the private press technology was the mimeograph. As Scott Brown explains, “They did not choose inexpensive and found materials like the arte povera (poor art) artists did (while surrounded by the best materials in the world in Italy). These Cuban book artists work with the only materials available to them and have explored their artistic possibilities for decades.” He continues, quoting Rolando Estévez of Ediciones Vigia, “We are advocating for the appreciation of poor, ugly, and cheap things.”

 

Brown, who admits that his primary interest is not in the cultural and ideological aspects of the books, notes that customers in his shop, unaware of the politics all things from Cuba bear, “are immediately enchanted and absorbed.” He continues, “the books are free of guile, artifice, and cynicism. They are not intellectual, they are emotional. They radiate passion and invention.”

 

The three book makers whose works are offered are:

 

Ediciones Vigia – formed in 1985 by Alfredo Zaldivar and Rolando Estévez. Typical print runs are 100-200 copies. It publishes both the works of local writers and well-known American and European writers. Located in Matanzas. It is “the best known inside and outside of Cuba.”

 

Ediciones El Fortin – Also located in Matanzas, it is a spin-off from Ediciones Vigia. It was formed in 2014 by Rolando Estévez who left the other publisher that year. Print runs are usually under 50 copies.

 

Cuadernos Papiro – started in 1994 as a papermaking collective, it began publishing books in 2001. Makes its own papers from recycled materials and uses a linotype machine for which they need to fabricate their own replacement parts when it breaks down (like with those old cars). Located in Holguin.

 

These are examples of what you can find in this catalogue:

 

Cuerda Del Aire (air rope) by mother and daughter Barbara Cruz Lopez and Patricia Rodriguez Cruz. One of 200 copies published by Ediciones Vigia. The cover displays a stylized image of a caterpillar emerging to become a butterfly. The covers use elements of a collage, various types of hand-colored paper, yarn and coarse fibers as a metaphor for a caterpillar becoming a butterfly. A pocket on the back cover holds a small chapbook entitled Secretos de Jardin (secrets of the garden). Priced at $200.

 

Two Homelands by 19th century Mexican writer José Marti. This is from Cuadernos Papiro and is a rare title in English only. The translator is unknown. The book was printed on three types of handmade recycled paper. The covers are recycled paper with fibers added. $200.

 

To love a Country: A Triptych of Poems / Amar un Pais. Un Triptico de Poemas published by Editiones El Fortin. Author Richard Blanco is an American of Cuban heritage. Includes the poem One Today which Blanco read at Barack Obama's second inauguration. There are two hand-colored fold-out illustrations, a hand-colored title page, and paper collages on the covers. Designed and illustrated by Rolando Estévez. $500.

 

One major difference between Cuban handmade books and those from western nations is the price. Presumably, American dollars go much farther in Cuba, so for a few hundred dollars I am seeing books I would expect to see in the thousands. Some of it relates to not using expensive papers and such, though I imagine much of it is explained by lower financial expectations of Cuban artists. Collectors are the beneficiary. Anyone who collects the book arts should have something from these selections. I don't know what the availability of the catalogue itself is, it being a work of art requiring much handwork. There were only 100 copies created. If you can get one put it in your collection. It won't hurt to ask.

 

Downtown Brown Books can be reached at 503-719-5200 or scott@downtownbrown.com.

Rare Book Monthly

  • <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>12/13 May<br>Printed Books, Maps & Prints, Numismatic Books from the Milne-Henderson Collection</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Mariette (Pierre-Jean). <i>Traité des pierres gravées / Recueil des pierres gravées...,</i> 2 vols., 1750. £1,000 to £1,500.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> [Bryant, Jacob & William Cole]. <i>Gemmarum Antiquarum Delectus, [Marlborough Gems],</i> 2 volumes, [privately printed, 1780-83], £800 to £1,200.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Caylus (Anne Claude Philippe, Comte de). <i>Recueil d'Antiquités Egyptiennes, Estrusques, Grecques et Romaines,</i> 7 volumes, Paris, 1756-67, £700 to £1,000.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>12/13 May<br>Printed Books, Maps & Prints, Numismatic Books from the Milne-Henderson Collection</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Devonshire Gems. <i>Duke of Devonshire's Collection of Gems,</i> privately printed, c. 1790, [one of 8 copies], £1,500 to £2,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Goltz (Hubert). <i>Le Vive Imagini di tutti quasi gl'Imperatori,</i> Antwerp, 1557, £500 to £800.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Manuscript. <i>An Explanation of Dassier's Medals, by Charlotte Hanbury,</i> c. 1795-1800, £700 to £1,000.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>12/13 May<br>Printed Books, Maps & Prints, Numismatic Books from the Milne-Henderson Collection</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Paoletti (Bartolomeo and Pietro). A collection of 300 plaster cameos presented in 7 leather-bound double-sided faux book boxes, Rome, c. 1820, £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Mayer (Luigi). <i>Views in Egypt, from the Original Drawings, in the Possession of Sir Robert Ainslie,</i> London: Thomas Bensley for R. Bowyer, 1805, £2,000 to £3,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Blaeu (Willem Janszoon & Johannes). <i>Theatrum orbis terrarum, sive Atlas novus, pars quarta</i> [England and Wales], Amsterdam: Johannem Blaeu, 1648, £6,000 to £8,000.
    <center><b>Dominic Winter Auctioneers<br>12/13 May<br>Printed Books, Maps & Prints, Numismatic Books from the Milne-Henderson Collection</b>
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Reuter (O.M. & Mela, A.J.). <i>Finlands Fiskar. The Fishes of Finland,</i> 12 parts (complete), Helsingfors: G.W. Edlund, 1883-93, £500 to £800.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> Lunardi (Vincenzo). <i>An Account of the First Aerial Voyage in England,</i> 2nd edition, London: Printed for the Author, 1784, £700 to £1,000.
    <b>Dominic Winter, 12/13 May:</b> North America. Jansson (Jan). <i>Virginiae partis Australis et Floridae partis Orientalis,</i> circa 1641. £400 to £600.
  • <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>May 12, 2021</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> CURRIER and IVES, publishers -- After Frances F. Palmer. The Rocky Mountains. Emigrants Crossing the Plains, 1866. $10,000 to $15,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [BIBLE, in English]. <i>The New Testament of Jesus Christ, translated faithfully into English.</i> Rheims, 1582. $6,000 to $8,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [BIBLE, in Latin]. <i>Biblia latina.</i> Venice: Franz Renner of Hailbrun [Heilbrunn], 1483. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>May 12, 2021</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> SHELLEY, Percy Bysshe (1792-1822). Autograph letter signed ("P. B. S."), to Charles Ollier. Florence, Italy, 15 December 1819. “MY PROMETHEUS IS THE BEST THING I EVER WROTE.” $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> RAMSAY, David (1749-1815). <i>The History of the Revolution of South-Carolina…</i> Trenton: Isaac Collins, 1785. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [BINDINGS]. MUIR, John (1838-1914). <i>The Writings of John Muir.</i> Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1916-1924. 10 vols. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>May 12, 2021</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [CHICAGO] -- <i>Park & Guide Map of Chicago.</i> Chicago: Jas. Van Vechten, 1873. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> CURRIER and IVES, publishers -- After Frances F. Palmer. $2,000 to $3,000.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [ALLEN PRESS]. SHAKESPEARE, William (1564-1616). <i>Romeo and Juliet.</i> Greenbrae: Allen Press, 1988. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <center><b>Hindman Auctions<br>Fine Books & Manuscripts,<br>Including Americana<br>Live and Online<br>May 12, 2021</b>
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> BEMELMANS, Ludwig (1898-1962). Pencil drawing on paper. 247 x 198 mm, sight, matted and framed. Showing a child shooting at a baby's balloon. $1,000 to $1,500.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> [LOGAN ELM PRESS]. HARVEY, Rebecca. <i>Any Number of Things.</i> Ohio State University, 2013. Single sheet paper scroll. $800 to $1,200.
    <b>Hindman Auctions, May 12:</b> BINYON, Laurence (1869-1943). A small archive of letters and pamphlets. $200 to $300.
  • <b><center>Sotheby’s<br>Bibliothèque littéraire<br>Hubert Heilbronn<br>11 May 2021</b>
    <b>Sotheby’s May 11:</b> Breton, André. <i>Nadja.</i> Paris, N.R.F., Gallimard, 1928. €15,000 to €20,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s May 11:</b> [Stendhal, Henri Beyle dit]. <i>Le Rouge et le Noir,</i> chronique du XIXe siècle. Paris, Levavasseur, 1831. €20,000 to €30,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s May 11:</b> Dumas, Alexandre. <i>Les Trois mousquetaires.</i> 1844. 8 vols. In 4. Paris, Baudry, 1844. €30,000 to €50,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s May 11:</b> Mallarmé, Stéphane -- Edgar Allan Poe. <i>Les Poèmes d’Edgar Poe.</i> Bruxelles, Edmond Deman, 1888. €18,000 to €25,000.
    <b>Sotheby’s May 11:</b> Proust, Marcel. <i>Le côté de Guermantes II. Sodome et Gomorrhe I. [and] Sodome et Gomorrhe II.</i> Paris, N.R.F., 1921 et 1922. €20,000 to €30,000.
  • <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> <i>Westvaco–Inspirations for Printers,</i> 3 volumes, 1938-61. $200 to $300.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Proef van Letteren, <i>Welk gegooten worden in de Nieuwe Haerlemsche Lettergietery,</i> 1768. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Paul Klee, <i>Bauhaus Ausstellung Juli – Sept.,</i> Weimar, 1923. $4,000 to $6,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Michel Seuphor & Jozef Peeters, <i>Het Overzicht Nos.</i> 22-23-24, Antwerp, 1922. $3,000 to $4,000.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> Wolfrum & Co., <i>Modern Graphik, Serie I…,</i> complete portfolio, 1909. $1,200 to $1,800.
    <b>Swann Auction Galleries, May 12:</b> <i>Gravure et Fonderie deC. Derriey: Specimen-Album,</i> Paris, 1862. $5,000 to $7,500.

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