Thursday, 3 March 2011

Faded Books - Intriguing Tomes and Tasteful Titles

One of the joys of being  a charity shop book-scourer is the thrill of coming across a book that you've never heard of, is long out of print, which only costs a few quid and is right up your (proverbial) street. As the precedent for mentioning relevant books has already been set on Faded London when I reviewed Gillian Cooksey's excellent field-guide to London coalhole covers, Artistry & History Underfoot  I thought I'd share a couple of other gems with you and look at an intriguing new publication that blends art, coal-hole covers and excellent photography in a single volume!

 First up is the most fascinating, absorbing and altogether envy-inducing of the trio

LONDON IN DETAIL (ed. Ian Messenberg 1986)

'Nothing new under the sun.' Faded London's 70s precursor.
 This seems to have been the result of a project to capture and record a representative example of London street furniture, with a special focus on the quirky and intriguing.  A number of photographers were commissioned to rove specific parts of London with a brief to snap anything of note that caught their eye. The results were assembled, sorted and arranged by general photographic themes that blend into each other. The pictures for the most part speak for themselves, apart for some general explanatory text and historical scene-setting In the days before digital photography and the internet this must have been a painstaking and long-term undertaking but it does provide a fascinating visual record of London in the 80s. I recognise many of the statues, monuments and other unique items, but twenty five years on you can't help but wonder how many of the lesser items, such as the bollards, ghost signs, coalhole covers, door knockers and ornate hinges (to name but a fraction of the themes covered) are still in situ.

The pictures are in black and white, with about fifteen to a page and the locations given are of the most general nature (Putney SW15, Wimbledon SW19 etc.). My prized capture and a quality read. Although long out of print there are some Amazon-based dealers selling copies starting at about £5.

Second up is a book with a more specific subject in mind, the history and development of signwriting
SIGNWRITTEN ART (A. J. Lewery 1989)
Celebrating a great folk-art
Don't worry, this isn't a technical manual, more an exploration of the art of signwritting and it's many applications from shop-fronts, pub signs, Punch and Judy, gravestones and commercial vehicles. I do enjoy coming across a nice bit of lettering when out with the camera so I was interested to spend a while reading up on historical and developmental aspects of what is pretty much a dying craft these days.

The book was republished a couple of years ago and with the magic of Amazon's 'Look inside!' feature you can have a peek for yourself at the contents.

PAVEMENT POETRY (Maria Voltides 2010)
If the first two books were vintage charity-shop treasures, the last book featured is brand spanking new and decidedly modern. The author, Maria Voltides, is an artist behind a project in Notting Hill where commissioned authors had a 20 word phrase describing an aspect of the area  transcribed to coal-hole inspired plaques which were then set in the pavement. A project not unlike the historically-inspired one around Brick Lane I'd guess. There's a nice article online which explains the concept in greater detail and an article in The Guardian as well.

PAVEMENT POETRY - Maria Voltides 2011
This is, in essence, the book to accompany the project but what makes it interesting from my point of view is that it is a book of two halves. The first half concentrates on the project as it developed over time, but the second half looks at London coalholes themselves and provides a fine photographic record of some of the remaining examples in the area. A bit of a niche art market production maybe (it's a limited edition of 500) but anything that celebrates coalholes is fine with me!


London Archaeologist and the Windowless Consultant said...

A nice shot of Tottenham Court Road's Rising Sun on the cover of the Hesenberg, which I'd love to have come upon myself - certainly a physical browse well outdoes an electronic trawl for the pleasurable surprise - the independent bookshop a chapel on the routeless pilgrimage of the flaneur. The sign art is, for sure, in the relative doldrums, but it's by no means dead, and one does come across plenty of creative contemporary examples, too.

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