The past year I got the chance to get to know two old books. One book I even „met in person“ by visiting it in the Library of the ETH. This was a quite easy and organized meeting and I was suprised how well the librarians took care of my friend and made sure I handle the book properly.
When first seeing my book with its long title „Vera et accurata delineatio omnium templorum et coenobiorum“ from 1720, I was overwhelmed by the great craftsmanship and material it was composed of. Nowadays books are mainly machine made and therefore we often underestimate and undervalue a book. The fine stitching of the book is only a hint to what amount of labour went into making this book. The sketches are not copied thousands of times but were specifically made for this book. There is no later cropping or adjusting of the layout but it is all done very thoughtfully.
This does not mean there is put less work into the making of todays books but the fast production and the ability to change everything just before printing may suggest to put less thought into the content in the first place. A manually created book must be well thought out and deliberated from the beginning to the end.
This is was I really learned and also appreciated when I was looking at this old book.
What surprised me or what catches my eye was the size the books. Unlike today, these books where not meant to be carried around and have in your backpack but to be presented in your home or stored in a big library. The size also suggests to spend some time when looking at the drawings. You are not supposed to quickly take it from the shelf and put it back but to really embrace the book and take a moment to sit down and study it.
I enjoyed to get friends with my book and experience such an old example of knowledge and craftsmanship. Even though this friendship did not come without problems. We had some communication issues when I was trying to read the descriptions of the beautiful drawings. Although it was writing in German, the handwriting and very old grammar was hard to understand and decipher.
Nevertheless the experience to hold such an old book in my hands and be confronted with it was nice – I think very few of us would have seen such an old book in person had it not been for this exercise. Also as these books are very fragile and thus transient it is important to embrace them as long as possible before an event could destroy them or as long we have access to such precision peaces of time.