I few months ago I sat down and wrote my own book. I typed. I clicked. I dragged and I dropped…then I clicked some more. Magically, two to three weeks later: presto! There was a book on my door step. "Oh, book gods, you’ve really out done yourselves.“, I thought as I took in my glossy image on the cover and all those words so neatly bound into one, pocket (or really, purse) sized tome.
Not too long after, I toured the halls of Cushing Memorial Library and Archives on the campus of Texas A&M. My guide, Dr. Todd Samuelson (Curator, Rare Books and Manuscripts), took me on a journey from ancient Sumerian tablet receipts to an original page, straight from Ezekiel in Gutenberg’s Bible. The tablets amazed me most – a tiny two inch by two inch block of clay. Imagine a piece of charcoal, but red and with characters. The receipt accounted for the transaction of sheep sale. I considered the labor intensive document, and how I account for the cost of my time in a career as a photographer. Finally, I traversed, in my mind, to an ancient civilization. One man in a skirt says to another, "Sure Phil, I’ll sell you the sheep, but I’m going to have to charge you a Siku if not a full Ku dependent on how long it takes me to chisel out this receipt.”
We moved on to the real treat; a fully functioning replica of a 15th century printing press – one of only a few in the United States. Todd fired it up, which involved arranging the type, tacking the paper on the tympan and cranking a large arm to lower the frisket onto the paper. Dave tried his hand at it. We discovered that if this were a current livelihood there would be no need for a gym membership.
Papers hung all around like clothes from a clothes line. All of them were the excerpts from the same book. Some of them had varying “logos” emblazoned on the cover sheet. Dr. Samuelson explained that these were the remnants of the Book History Workshop that the library conducts annually. At the end of the workshop participants gather into teams and make their own pamphlets. They designed their own “team logo” by hand carving an image into a wooden block that is then pressed into the title page of their book.
Before we left we took notice of the Game of Thrones paraphernalia amidst all the books from various ages. Our inquiry led us to the discovery and ultimate disappointment that George R.R. Martin would be gracing the library with his presence shortly after our visit. However, we did get first glimpse at the items on display and in nerd glory mulled over maps of Kings Landing and family trees.
On my journey from ancient tablet to printing press and, finally, pop culture notoriety I could see that Cushing Library offers something for every connoisseur of the printed word.