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Video: Ancient art of book dummies
2023 Author: Seth Attwood | [email protected]. Last modified: 2023-11-26 22:42
The creation of book hiding places has been practiced for several centuries. We present the most interesting facts and examples.
Books have long kept intimate and valuable things, hid prohibited items and hid stolen goods. Losing its original purpose, the book became a guarantor of confidentiality and security.
The Baroque era, with its pretense game, spawned a fashion for imitation book safes known as fake books, fiction books (Scheinbücher), book attractions (Buchattrappensind Objekte) and even "book traps" (German. Buchattrappen - from fr. Attraper, catch). These are masterfully executed hollow copies of volumes, inside which were placed secret items. From the same row - secret doors behind bookcases and trompe l'oeil still lifes. Some false books were made solely for the purpose of conspiracy, others - on the contrary, to attract attention, to demonstrate virtuoso techniques and artistic skill.
At a time when illusion became the main aesthetic category, deception was a special kind of art, and secret conspiracies were a popular instrument of political struggle, storage disguised as a Bible or a prayer book were especially popular. They hid money and jewelry, weapons and poisons, drugs and alcohol, scientific samples and collectibles.
One of these artifacts is captured in an early Baroque engraving by Jacques de Gein, depicting Abraham van Goorle, a Dutch antiquarian, collector of antique coins and precious stones. The case for coins is stylized as a laconic tome with massive clasps.
And here is the sleek librarian, consisting of 16 sliding compartments with malachite handles. In the center is an inlaid tray depicting a skull, a traditional Baroque reminder of the inevitability of death. On the inside of the cover is the coat of arms of the Duke von Leuchtenberg.
Two dozen skillful dummies are presented in the collection of the Historical Library of the Duchess Anne Amalia. Admire an exquisite cache of poisons and medicines 10 miniature boxes with the inscriptions "Tobacco", "Wormwood", "Datura", "Hemlock", "Belladonna" are built into the false binding made of pigskin …
In the central recess behind the glass there are images of a human skull and a stag beetle as symbols of the transience of life. The second compartment of the cache, decorated with a copper engraved portrait of the Holy Roman Emperor Leopold I, was intended for storing medicinal herbs: celandine, milkweed, buttercup, adonis, bird cherry …
Caches in the form of books also served as memorials: memorabilia and personal letters were kept in them. And already in the Baroque era, such items became collectors' items. So, the secret first-aid kit belonged to some Schmid brothers from Switzerland, collectors of false books.
The art of book dummies continues to develop in the Rococo era with its bizarre creative forms and fanciful stylizations. Here is a stack of gold-embossed leather tomes, inside of which is a liquor bar with two damask and four glasses. Fictitious religious names are read on the spines.
Another curiosity - a book-like case with optical instruments - is known only from an engraved illustration by John Pass and a two-page description in the English magazine Universal for April 1753. Scientific instrument maker and dealer James Eiskow proposed a "universal microscope" that could be assembled from a set of parts shown in the engraving.
Instead of reading - gut
Some of the library safes were made from real books. In English-language sources they are called hollowed out book - a book with a cache; literally "hollow, emasculated." A support recess (lodgement) was cut inside the binding in the form of an object that had to be hidden. To fix it, they used ropes, elastic bands and glue, and later - hidden magnets and complex locks.
A famous example of the 17th century is a pharmaceutical box made of tightly glued parchment pages, forming a single box. Pull-out sections are designed to store toxic substances or medicines. The handwritten labels bear Latin names: valerian, belladonna, castor oil, opium poppy … On a glass bottle, there is an instructive quote from the epistle of the Apostle Paul to the Jews: Statutum est hominibus semel mori ("And how are people supposed to die one day …"). On the inside of the cover is an engraving depicting a skeleton from the treatise "The Human Body" by the famous 16th century anatomist Andreas Vesalius.
An impressive pistol-Bible, made by order of the Venetian doge Francesco Morosini. The trigger is hidden in a silk thread that might be mistaken for a bookmark. This is one of the exhibits in the collection of the British writer Edward Brook-Hitching, described in his book "The Library of the Madman".
And here is a pair of flintlock pistols in the 1727 Psalter, originally addressed to Benedictine monks. The bed was covered with marble paper, which was fashionable at that time. The inscriptions on the receiver indicate the manufacturer - the famous London gunsmith Israel Segalas, whose products were widely copied by Belgian craftsmen.
Book safes from the 19th century are much simpler in design. Here, for example, is an unpretentious cache from Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs and Other Saints in a free French translation by Abbot Godeskar from the English original by Alban Butler.
At the end of the last century, the American librarian and collector of objects in the form of books Mindel Dubanski gave them a generalized name for bloki (English looks like a book - to look like a book). In a special group, she singled out Book Cameras - cameras hidden in volumes, viewfinders, containers for photographs, etc. This arsenal of a detective, spy, secret agent has been widespread since the 1880s.
One of the very first hidden cameras was made in the form of a collection of religious hymns - "Taschenbuch" (lit. German "paperback") by Rudolf Krugener, a German entrepreneur in the photography industry.
Rudolf Kruegener's Camera, Germany, 1888. Source: Wikimedia Commons
“I don’t think that book cameras really could deceive anyone, because the uncomfortable posture of the photographer was very different from the movements of the scientist rushing to the library,” Dubanski says. "However, in most cases, the manufacturers went to great lengths to create a realistic impression." You can verify this with the example of the "Scovill book" camera. Lightweight and compact, it is disguised as a parcel of three leather-bound books.
Equally elegant is the Revolver Photogénique spy camera from the collection of the Swiss Camera Museum, which created its own light source to better capture the movement of an object, and presumably also served as a pistol!
During World War II, residents of the occupied territories hid crystal-detector radios in books that did not need electricity. All such devices were requisitioned from the civilian population; their use was threatened with execution. The sacrificed books saved lives.
The image of a book-cache is actively exploited in literature and cinema. In one of the James Bond films, a pistol is hidden in a copy of War and Peace. The heroes of the films "Escape from Alcatraz", "The Shawshank Redemption", the television series "Escape" hide in the Bible the tools for escape from prison. In Disney's The Three Musketeers, Aramis rescues D'Artagnan with a pistol retrieved from the Bible. In The Simpsons, the Bible becomes the secret hideout for a bottle of alcohol.
The contents of a book safe are often symbolically associated with the item hidden in it. So, in the famous "Matrix" the storage for computer disks is the philosophical treatise by Jean Baudrillard "Simulacra and Simulations". In the action movie National Treasure, money is hidden in Thomas Paine's pamphlet Common Sense. In the psychological thriller The Game, the gun is kept in a gutted copy of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird.
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