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An Extra-Illustrated Life

Pages from Unique, Extra-Illustrated Book Depicting Andrew Jackson's Life

Imagine you hold in your hands a copy of the 1831 campaign biography, A Brief and Impartial History of the Life and Actions of Andrew Jackson. Now imagine yourself carefully razoring out each individual leaf of the entire text—all 210 pages (i.e., 105 two-sided leaves). Why on earth would anyone do such a thing? 

One nineteenth-century individual did just this in order to create his own personalized book crafted around the skeleton of the original biography’s printed text. The compiler of this particular extra-illustrated book is believed to be an autograph collector named Ferdinand J. Dreer. (The vast majority of his collection ended up at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and their guide to the Ferdinand J. Dreer Collection provides an excellent biographical summary.) He carefully inlaid the cut-out printed pages from the original book’s octavo volume (roughly the size of a small paperback today) into folio sheets of paper (roughly the size of a current coffee-table book). The effect is such that the text appears as a window centered within wide margins on the oversized page.

missingA copy of the original octavo edition atop the unique extra-illustrated copy that is now folio-sized

This volume's compiler (or book-destroyer, depending on how you look at it) was not satisfied with first cutting apart and then beefing up the size of A Brief and Impartial History of the Life and Actions of Andrew Jackson. Interspersed between every few leaves of text we also find extra illustrations. Plates, or separately printed sheets of illustrations, have been taken from other publications and bound into our new folio-sized volume, interleaved between the pages of cut-out text in a beautifully tooled and gilt binding with blue silk paste-downs.

Among the images added to the extra-illustrated Life of Jackson are portraits of Rachel Jackson and Cherokee and Choctaw chiefs, views of Nashville and Washington, D.C., and just about every portrait of Jackson you can imagine. Most relate to, or comment on, the pages of text they now neighbor. The most disturbing of these juxtapositions is a racist caricature that appears opposite a description of Andrew Jackson selling slaves.

A few words might be in order here about the printed text this book is built around. A Brief and Impartial History of the Life and Actions of Andrew Jackson is described on the title page as written “by a free man” but has been attributed to William Joseph Snelling. The title claims to be “impartial,” but while it is less vitriolic than others campaign biographies at the time, the text is still decidedly anti-Jacksonian. The book’s penultimate paragraph concludes: “The rest of Mr. Jackson’s statement does not agree with the record.” Though many people would have had access to Snelling’s original publication, this particular volume now at AAS has essentially become a unique item of much more value to researchers.


More about Extra-Illustrated Books

An extra-illustrated book is, perhaps not surprisingly, one in which extra illustrations have been added that were not originally issued with it. A book that has undergone this process is sometimes referred to as having been Grangerized, named for the Brit who popularized the practice in the eighteenth century. Such a book begins its life published in the usual manner, but at some point its owner looks at the book and thinks something to the effect of: Plenty of words here, but I like my books with more pictures. So the text is supplemented with plates (separately printed sheets of illustrations) from other sources. These extras are often cut out of other publications in dramatic acts of destruction and recreation. 

The physical process of adding material to a book can be done a number of ways. Extra illustrations can be pasted in, in which the new material is simply adhered to an existing leaf of the book. This is fine for a couple additions, but once you start getting into dozens of additions, the books structure itself usually has to be physically modified in order not to bust the binding. 

One way to keep the volume from getting too fat is to tip in the new illustration; usually an existing leaf of the book is excised, leaving only a stub in the inner margin, and then the new material is adhered to that stub. Still, those stubs could add bulk to the book in a sensitive area near the binding structure. The most precise method is to inlay new material by taking a leaf in the original book and carefully cutting out a space in the middle of it that is exactly the size of the new material, and then pasting the new piece into the window frame of the original leaf. This was the technique used in the extra-illustrated Jacksonian biography from the William C. Cook Jacksonian Era Collection. 

Curious to see how this inlay work was done? The Huntington Library did an excellent time-lapse one-minute video showing the process as part of its 2013 exhibitionIlluminated Palaces: Extra-Illustrated Books from the Huntington Library. 

To see more examples of extra-illustrated books, search in the AAS catalog using the genre term Extra-illustrated copies (Provenance).