In her essay “The Psychometry of Books,” the writer and philosopher Jeanette Winterson describes book collecting as “an obsession, an occupation, a disease, an addiction, an absurdity, a fate.” Some of us treat our libraries like art collections, acquiring books that function equally as art objects as conveyors of the written word.
Kickstarter designated the month of February as a call-to-action for lovers of boutique book projects, drawing them together into a kind of conceptual cohort called Exquisite Objects. Kickstarter’s Margot Atwell describes Exquisite Objects as a “prompt” that invites creators of all stripes to interpret that idea, but book-makers seems to be the most engaged with the concept. The first Exquisite Objects series in 2016 yielded some eye-popping projects, including the first exact copy of Depero Futurista, Fortunato Depero’s 1927 iconic work of avant-garde graphic design and book-making, created by Steve Kroeter of Designers & Books.
“I first heard about the Bolted Book from a curator who oversees a collection that has an original copy,” said Kroeter in an email to Hyperallergic. “As I heard her talk about Depero and the book, and how the book was long out of print and not at all well known, it hit me immediately that this was a project perfect for Kickstarter.”
The first edition re-issue of Depero Futurista met its funding goal, and produced a beautiful facsimile of the original, along with an accompanying readers guide. The project was so successful that Kroeter has returned for the second iteration of Exquisite Objects, and the current campaign to continue to produce Depero Futurista will have additional features, including a custom display stand for this iconic work on design.
Another returning participant to Exquisite Objects is Beehive Books, which used the first campaign to launch a series of really stunning Illuminated Editions, inspired by the historic tradition of illustrated storybooks that have largely fallen out of fashion. Among the jaw-dropping editions were Fairy Tales of Oscar Wilde, illustrated by Yuko Shimizu; The Island of Doctor Moreau, illustrated by Bill Sienkiewicz; and a collection of Algernon Blackwood short stories, including the 1907 weird fiction classic “The Willows,” in The Willows & Other Nightmares, illustrated by Paul Pope. By pairing classic fiction with some powerhouses of contemporary illustration, these editions hearken the illustrious past of bookmaking, while also adding a tantalizing contemporary take. Each book includes a digital edition, in case you find them too beautiful to touch (I have never washed my hands so many times in a single day). For its second-round campaign, Beehive hopes to illustrate three more works: Peter Pan, Crime & Punishment, and The Blazing World.
For people into the material fetishism of books, there’s Thornwillow Press, which issues classic literature in an extensive array of paper, cardboard, and leather variations. Prices range from around $100 for an embossed, illustrated, and paper-bound edition of Dante’s Inferno to the four-figure range for embossed and leather-bound limited editions of epic poetry like The Waste Land by T.S. Eliot, which includes an original monograph by Sravani Sen-Das. Thornwillow’s current project is to create a letterpress and hand-bound limited edition of The Great Gatsby (which has already eclipsed its $10,000 funding goal by 10 times — good news, as proceeds from this edition will benefit the Thornwillow Institute and Makers Village, a nonprofit committed to teaching and perpetuating the arts and crafts of the written word).
For those looking to pay tribute to their literary heroes beyond the bookshelf, Obvious State is creating a series of illustrated letterpress imagery, with a special emphasis on female authors. She: A Visual Ode to Literary Women includes prints, postcards, and bookmarks commemorating the thoughts of female authors.
As with many things in the crowd-funding arena, the Exquisite Objects project has enabled makers with a particular obsession to connect with their community. Century Guild founder Thomas Negovan has dedicated this museum and gallery space to Art Nouveau and Cabaret art from 1880 to 1920, and his Kickstarter projects have facilitated a publishing arm that enables him to share these interests with a wider audience.
It makes sense to want to collect the most beautiful editions, especially when you consider that even the most avid readers spend more time adjacent to their books than reading them. There is also an argument to be made about the virtue of supporting small publishers in an evermore niche industry, though perhaps Jeanette Winterson articulates our devotion to books best: “For the lover, who collects in order to keep the beloved ever by her side, there is more than virtue, there is passion.”
You can search out Exquisite Objects campaigns, old and new, on Kickstarter.
As arts communities around the world experience a time of challenge and change, accessible, independent reporting on these developments is more important than ever.
Please consider supporting our journalism, and help keep our independent reporting free and accessible to all.