Books-as-objects may be a bridge between the pre-digital and the digital. Major publishers presume that while books—and particularly art or picture books—are in future flux, the more interactive the special printing and binding effects are, the better for keeping readers from firing up their Kindles. Monumental or extra-large coffee-table books, the kind that cannot fit in any average bookshelf, have been in vogue for a couple of decades, although they are more prevalent today, as are seemingly handmade, limited editions. If it looks special, it has a better chance of selling.
The most interesting current “artifact book” is produced by the risk-taking Booth-Clibborn Editions (published in 2011 but so far available only in England) titled “The Lost Album: A Visual History of 1950s Britain” by Basil Hyman, who captured the “innocence” of postwar England on grainy photographs. What makes this essentially classic-looking book of historical photos by Hyman distinct are a number of tip-ins, including booklets, brochures, ration books, theater programs, etc., that complement the gritty documentary photos of London and elsewhere printed on uncoated rag paper. Also, the cover is totally unique, with its own artifacts—including a luggage tag, coronation souvenir, postcard, Albert Hall ticket, fuel ration book, and a couple of snapshots. Readers can take off the acetate cover to access the individual plastic pockets (see above and below).
Hyman notes: “I had forgotten all about these photographs until recently when on my 70th birthday my wife presented me with an album she had treasured all through the years. This lost album of photographs contains the very essence of the 1950s for me.” While for me, it is everything a book should be—a wellspring of new information in a pleasing package, with engaging typography and lots of fun stuff thrown in to keep the restless occupied.