An exhibit of extra-illustrated books is currently running at The Huntington. I visited the exhibit, “Illuminated Palaces,” last week and it was wonderful as well as a little frightening.

The process these books have undergone is called “grangerizing,” a method through which prints and other desirable portions of books are extracted and pasted into other books for collection.

The frightening part is that many books were destroyed or at least vandalized, their pages ripped, cut, and torn in order to yield the prints and images so sought after by collectors.

Some collectors added prints to extra-illustrate their books, while others added postage stamps, playbills, postcards, or handwritten letters of correspondence. In the end, many of these books resembled something of an academic scrapbook, with hidden links and connections between the pasted-in objects only the book’s creator could acknowledge.

Once many prints were pasted into the extra-illustrated book it could be difficult to close, forcing the book to be rebound. A single extra-illustrated book could suddenly divide itself into two volumes, akin to the cellular process of meiosis.

Although the desecration of possibly valuable books makes modern scholars cringe, I have to admit that I found the whole process fascinating. It became something of an obsession to find “heads” or portrait prints of famous individuals, and autographs were pasted alongside printed text. The urge to collect, collate, and organize printed materials was necessarily one of destruction, but it was also accompanied by a new creation, a remixing of knowledge and information.

“Illuminated Palaces” exhibit webpage at The Huntington:

The video below shows the process of extra-illumination, which is definitely not a practice any scholar or conservator would engage in these days. Without the panels cut into each page, the pasted-in images would cause the book to bulge in the middle: