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The First Leaf-Book Created for American University Libraries: Otto F. Ege’s “Original Leaves from Famous Books, Eight Centuries”

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THE IMPORTANT DESIGN PROTOTYPE OF EGE’S FIFTY ORIGINAL LEAVES FROM MEDIEVAL MANUSCRIPTS

Otto F. Ege, Original Leaves from Famous Books, Eight Centuries 1240 A.D.-1923 A.D., Cleveland, OH, ca.  1947: 25 representative fragments, three from manuscripts and twenty-two from printed books; housed in an original and handsome portfolio of sienna buckram with brown ties and gilt black title block. Our set is numbered 104 of 110. It lacks the Table of Contents leaf but is otherwise complete. Contents: includes manuscript leaves from a Pocket Bible with a fine illuminated initial, Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics in an Erfurt copy dated 1365 and Livy’s Ab urbe condita in a copy dated 1456; incunable leaves come from the Golden Legend (Venice, 1480), Dante’s Divine Comedy (Venice, 1491) and the Nuremberg Chronicle (Nuremberg, 1493). There are eight sixteenth-century leaves, five seventeenth-century ones, two eighteenth-century items, and the remaining four from fine press publishers of the early twentieth century. Each folio is hinged to Ege’s post-1940 mats, which measure 470 mm x 332 mm, and each has a letterpress printed cartouche with Ege’s commentary on the contents of the leaf and its relevance to the history of “famous books.” It is important to realize that not only are the texts “famous,” but the editions themselves also represent publication milestones. Text: This first edition leaf-book represents the prototype of Otto Ege’s posthumous Fifty Original Leaves from Medieval Manuscripts portfolio (FOL). Famous Books, Eight Centuries (FBEC) was produced around 1947, in response to a request from the Lima Public Library (Lima, OH), one of Ege’s retail outlets, for a portfolio aimed at the university market. While such a project was apparently planned in the late 1930s, WWII delayed its execution. Ege acquired the sources of the manuscript leaves in 1940 and 1941, but he did not produce the collection until after the war, and almost certainly after mentioning such a project to the Lima staff in January 1946. Conspicuously emphasizing university production or ownership, Ege’s descriptions of the manuscript leaves reveal his targeted clientele. The Livy, for example, was popular at “the universities of Italy and the court schools,” while “Dominican” Pocket Bibles were produced for use at the Sorbonne, “the newly established school of theology of the University of Paris.” Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics was similarly contextualized in a university setting: “The University of Erfurt was the first in Germany to introduce into its curriculum the study of classic literature and the humanities.” In his Table of Contents Ege wrote, “written by a secular monk, probably for the University of Erfurt.” The portfolio sold so well that a second edition was released around 1949. Although there is a question whether the second edition of Famous Books, Nine Centuries represents a “deluxe edition,” the publication probably reflects that of the Famous Bibles series. The first edition of Famous Bibles, Nine Centuries appeared in October 1936, and the expanded edition followed in 1938. The reason is perfectly understandable: Ege was cautious and waited for the first issue to sell out before launching a second. Notably, both Famous Books portfolios incorporate the trademark design of FOL, and along with a collection of fifteen “oriental” leaves, form a group of four portfolios planned around the same time. It seems likely that the ambitious FOL was fully planned in 1951 (the year of Ege’s death) but only published in 1954, while the “oriental” collection was released around 1952. Condition: excellent. The paper on the first item is slightly toned, but the others remain immaculate. The single-page Table of Contents is missing.

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