Bookplate Beauty & the Naxi

J F Rock Bookplate

This gorgeous bookplate (with embossed Chinese characters) decorates the inside cover of a copy of The Mikirs, a 1908 book by Edward Stack, held at the University of Washington Libraries. Was the original owner of this book the fascinating and famed geographer, linguist, and botanist Joseph F. Rock? Seems likely.

Rock, born in Austria in 1884, emigrated to Hawaii to work at the university there; he was the territory of Hawaii’s first official botanist. Later, he traveled extensively in western China southeast Asia, making significant contributions to scholarship on the flora and languages of those areas (interesting sites on this here and here). He also published several articles on his expeditions in National Geographic.

EDIT: Reading more about Joseph Rock, I see he spent more than 2 decades among the Naxi people in Yunnan, documenting their customs and learning their language. The written language looks fascinating and complex–mostly pictographic. What I took for personal drawings in the bookplate above are actually elements of that language. The Library of Congress site has an interesting article, Living Pictographs, that talks about the state of the Nakhi language and manuscripts (LC holds some that belonged to Rock) and  scholars’ efforts to further document and preserve it.

The Mikirs

Beedi for the People

The University of Washington Libraries has been bequeathed some wonderful books, magazines, and newspapers from late 19th and early to mid-20th century India in the past few years. One of the delights of going through these items and shepherding them into the collection has been discovering the ads printed in them, and their quick (if superficial) access to other times and places.

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Tinkering with Typewriters

On Presidents Day, I found a disused typewriter—more than 100 years old, fuzzy with dust and grime, but still functional—behind the counter of a local thrift store. For a relative pittance, I purchased it and have been delighted daily by the methodical, andante process of cleaning and restoring it. Bringing out its simple beauty and exploring how its simple machinery works—what a simple joy.

It is a Smith Premier No. 4. From what I’ve gathered from online information, it was introduced in the 1890s, in the era when typewriting machines became accessible and very popular. It evidently was sold in the hundreds of thousands. This model was also said to have been the kind used by the writer Herman Hesse (credit to the Classic Typewriter Page site for this charming bit of arcana and also its rich trove of practical information about typewriters of old).

The machine predates the shift function and has separate sets of keys for upper- and lower-case letters. With so many keys, the related parts create a thicket of movable metal visible from the outside of the machine. The type bars move from vertical to horizontal so that the type strikes the paper on the underside of the platen.

The Premier No. 4 joins a beautiful red Smith-Corona dating from the 1930s in my home.