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When state fairs go international

Title page of volume 1

In 1862, the British Royal Society of Arts, Manufactures, and Trades sponsored an international exposition in London. Exhibitors brought wares from 36 countries, and a publishing house chose 300 of the items in the exhibit to publish via tinted lithographs.



Cover of volume 1.

Which they did, in a 3-volume set with the substantial title of: Masterpieces of Industrial Art and Sculpture at the International Exhibition 1862.


The Rare Books collection at the Consortium Library has the first two volumes of this set. And they’re very beautiful, despite being in fairly rough shape. The edges of the pages–gilt-edged, no less–are worn and brittle, and the covers of the volumes are quite worn too, as you can see from the image on the left.

But the lithographs, well, the lithographs are really quite spectacular. Many very colorful and samples of a wide array of manufactured goods, from paisley shawls from India, to fireproof safes from Berlin, to Milanese glasswork, to British ironwork. The books lean a little toward the British manufacture side of things, but the publishers were very cognizant of the audience for these volumes and made sure to put the description pages in both French and English, so as to broaden the potential purchasing appeal.  And even the descriptions have momentary flights of fancy with insets of poetry. You start to wonder if even the author was occasionally challenged to find enough to say about a floorcloth to fill up an entire page. He occasionally got whimsical as well, as evidenced by the warning to any neophyte attempting to drink alcohol from a Danish carved drinking horn, which was to get instructions first to avoid splashing liquor on yourself (that page is on exhibit. Who could resist?)

Every so often, when I need a bit of graphical inspiration, I go and fetch the two volumes and very carefully page through them and see what there is to see. I usually come away with something. So recently, when I was doing this, Mariecris walked up and wanted to know what I was doing. And I explained that visually, this was one of my favorite books from the Rare Books collection and it was really a pity that more people weren’t aware of the treasures within it. Well, yes. Obviously it was time to take it to exhibit. Which is where it went this morning: into the cases in the Library’s Great Room. Not all: just some selected pages along with the second volume (which is in much better shape than the first).

And before you worry about any tendency I might have to destroy books in the process of exhibiting them, I should tell you that the volumes came to the Consortium Library almost completely disbound. No books were harmed during the making of this exhibit. The pages on display were already completely removed from the spine of the books and from other pages.

Exhibit cases

If you need to practice your French reading skills or want some design inspiration, whether it be ironwork, or web design flourishes, or maybe just looking for your next bit of ink, you might want to take a look.

And after we take it off exhibit, the books will be carefully put back together, wrapped up for their protection, and placed back with the other oversize rare books in our archival storage area. And once again be available for your viewing pleasure. Call # NK510.L7 1862. (actually that should be 1863: the exposition was in 1862, the volume was published in 1863. Projects like this take a little bit of time.) I hope you find it as inspirational as I do.


Oh, and if you’re interested in seeing it but can’t make it in, you might just want to go look at an online version.  Go to the Consortium Library’s main page, click on WorldCat (new) under Find Books, click on advanced search, type in “masterpieces of industrial art” in the title field and 1862 in the keyword field, and click search. You’ll pull up 47 hits, so look at the left-hand-sidebar, and under format, click on the “internet resource.” You’ll pull up one hit, click on the title, and you’ll be given a link to the Ruprecht Karls Universitat Heidelberg online edition of the volumes. You’ll see the three volumes listed there, and as you click on the links to them, you can go looking at individual pages.

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