hand rendered

by Art Chantry (art@artchantry.com)

i have no idea who or what Jasper Goodykoontz was. all i know is that he was a classic victorian american male, was full of incredible amounts of arcane information, and that he must have possessed enormous patience and stamina. his book “goodykoontz’s perpetual calendar and general reference manual” (privately published and purchased/copyright, 1894-5) was not unlike many other similar books if general useful household info that were published during the victorian era. but, his has one rather extraordinary quirk that really makes it stand out from the rest – it’s completely hand rendered – every single letter!

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this spread i show you gives you a simple example that is more entertaining than many of the spreads. it’s a collection of popular epitaphs one can use when burying their loved ones and relatives. you can simply pick any of those suggested here and be in the most practical and tasteful levels of culture. it’s even organized by categories of dead folks – infants, parents, sisters, brothers, christians, miscellaneous. all very practical and useful. the bulk of the book is full of almanac-style astronomical information (the cycles of the moon, the tides, etc.) and endless dictionaries of popular phrases for business and the like. most of the pages are not as loose and empty as these two i show you. most of the pages are densely packed with tiny tiny TINY little lettering squishing into every available space allowed (or not). it’s a rather small book (6″x8″, about 3/4″ thick, 320 pages), but a very very crammed full book. it’s extraordinary to look at, almost impossible to read.

the thing that really boggles my mind is, that, even though in 1895, the full panoply of lithography, letterpress, etching, hot lead and cold foundry typography, etc. etc. etc was easily available (in fact the entire printing industry was at it’s zenith of craftsman skill and sophistication), jasper goodykoontz still sat down and drew this all with his own two hands. just the typographic endeavor must have taken him years. as far as i can tell, even though much of the book utilizes what appears to be stock dingbats and decorative devices available to the entire printing biz, he even hand drew those as well (example: the ‘in the cemetery’ cartouche at the top of the first page). even though he may use a similar design on many pages in a row, upon close examination you can see every one of them is tightly rendered and hand drawn uniquely. this book is an extraordinary achievement of diligence and skill and madness. and he claims at the front of the book to have personally drawn every square inch of it. it boggles my mind to look at it.

i think ol’ jasper may have been some sort of professional engraver or something. it’s the only thing i can imagine would give him the skill and technology to do this. old style engraving meant taking the fine cutting tools and hand chisels of the engraving trade directly to the surface of polished steel plates and carving (scratching, really) imagery into that surface (in reverse, no less. think of that lettering!) there are no errors, typos or sneezing allowed. everything is done directly to it’s one original and only size (there was no real technology for reproductions in other sizes – short of using a pan-o-graph device with a router on it.) so every square inch of this was done this teeny tiny. how on earth did he do it?

we’ve lost so many skills with the advent of advanced technology. one of the marvels of exploring history is the constant shock of encountering things like this little book of (otherwise really rather useless) knowledge. the idea that somebody actually COULD create something like this by hand is really something to think about. but, the thought somebody actually DID!?! well, it’s inconceivable today, especially to our spoiled lazy dull minds. i swear i’ll never whine about how difficult something is to do ever again.

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