Texts are never static objects, but it is rare that readers’ interactions with them are as physically evident as they are in extra-illustrated books. The concept is simple: identify significant people, places, and things in a printed text, collect pictures of them, then insert the pictures as visual annotations to the text.
Extra-illustration came to prominence after the 1769 publication of James Granger’s Biographical history of England. Granger’s un-illustrated book combined thumbnail biographies with lists of portraits, and readers began to supplement their copies with actual examples of the portraits. The practice spread to other texts, and the great era of extra-illustration, or “grangerizing,” began. At its most extreme, a single volume could grow to dozens.
Shakespeare proved especially attractive to grangerizers thanks to the variety of editions available and the many portraits of historical figures, fictitious characters, and well-known actors that could be added. Many extra-illustrators went beyond portraiture to include playbills, scenic views, and even entire books; others inserted manuscript letters, original watercolors, and rare engravings, thus preserving a treasure-trove of unique material.
Finished volumes range from the skilled work of professional inlayers and binders hired by wealthy collectors to self-made books of inexpensive clippings pasted onto cheap inserts. Any book owner could be an extra-illustrator.
From the beginning, extra-illustrators had to defend their “exquisite handicraft” (in the words of an 1890 proponent) against accusations of “breaking up a good book to illustrate a worse one” (in the words of an 1892 critic). This exhibition examines the art and the practice of extra-illustration, from crudely altered books to beautiful new creations.
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