I have stumbled into an unusual object – well, a set of three, actually.

This is a set of the first edition German printing of Alexander Speltz’ Colored Ornament, printed in 1914, with text in English. It’s a three portfolio collection of full color plates, with an accompanying index/survey write-up for each portfolio. The thing is divided into Antiquities – mostly Greek and Roman, with a smattering of Pre-Columbian, plus some plates showing eastern Mediterranean art and decoration; Middle Ages – mostly Romanesque through Gothic, with some from Byzantium; and Modern – not particularly modern, it appears to cover early Renaissance up to pre-Empire.

Now before you hyperventilate and begin looking the thing up on the used book market, note that it is in extremely rough shape, and plates are missing. The Antiquities and Modern folios are each missing 4 or so, and the Middle Ages folio is missing about 10. The folio covers are crumbling, and the heavy paper to which each image is affixed is well on the march to being dust. It’s clear that someone cherry-picked pages to frame separately. In fact, the person I got this from said he was doing exactly that. Still, there’s plenty of good material here, and I do have the companion about/index volumes. And it was free.

Here’s a small sample of the roughly 150 plates that remain:

This is a very “hard artisan” focused work. There are just a couple of plates featuring textiles. Only one with embroidery. It’s mostly architectural ornament, ceramics, jewelry and other metal work, calligraphy and early printing, some furniture, glass, mosaics, and interior ornamentation. Not sculpture, not weapons, not hanging paintings. Still there’s a wealth of inspiration here.

I intend to keep these survivors together and ward them as well as I can given that I’m not an archival museum. I see folk selling individual plates from the thing, but even at the prices they are asking I’m not tempted in the least to break it up further. Local pals, if you are interested, drop me a note. A gentle viewing and photography session would not be out of question.

8 responses

  1. Wow! What a find!! These are the kinds of illustrations I can (and have) lingered over in appreciation and delight. Thankfully, many museums have their collections posted on line so I don’t have to deny myself. Thanks for sharing!

  2. OH WOW!!! What a wonderful acquisition! Love the detail and the colors! So glad that you are keeping them together and wish I lived closer so that I could drool over them in person! I tell those accursed dealers at shows who sell the individual plates torn out of book that I would rather buy the complete book, and they tell me that no one is interested in books anymore!
    Thanks for sharing!

  3. Wow!!!

    What an amazing find… 😁😁😁😍 Emily

  4. Oh, well found! Not only is it preserved from further gross violations, it is in the hands of someone who will use it as a source of inspiration as the author intended.

  5. What an awesome score. It may be in poor shape, but will probably survive longer in your care.

    1. forgot to finish that thought… it will survive longer in your care than with those who’d want it for separating it. If you don’t have full archive materials, wrapping them in a sheet and putting in a nice dark spot is probably the best thing you could do. But I’m fairly sure you already know that.

  6. I had no idea people cut apart books 😲 How awful!

    1. Yes. Sadly it’s pretty common. Sometimes a book is so damaged that little else can be done with it, but more often people buy these folios (unbound books) or even volumes in solid bindings, then separate out the illustrations to sell them framed or unframed. Etsy is full of them.

      And there have been quite a few scandals in which people have gone into libraries, and either took books out and then razored out choice pages, or sat with them in the stacks, surreptitiously removing the visual material. Some research libraries now have internal surveillance or use other user-registration and materials inspection procedures to combat the problem.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: