Pine Tree Scholars: The next generation of readers for paper and ink books

This summer I am putting together a new program that we are excited to offer for the coming academic year. The Pine Tree program will expose students to craft as well as (light) industrial book-making processes, often with hands-on exercises. It allows us to go beyond what we can offer on campus without a Center for the Book, and taps into the many resources of New York’s book-making communities. Paper is still being made by hand in Manhattan!

The students admitted to this program will be Pine Tree Scholars, named after the foundation that is funding the workshops. We did a test-run last year by bringing a group of ten Columbia and Barnard students to the New York Antiquarian Book Fair. The Antiquarian Booksellers' Association of America puts on this fair each April and for the last many years in the Park Avenue Armory, which you can see set up for the fair in this photograph from the ABAA site below. I was brought around my first antiquarian book fair in 1999 by a rare book librarian so it's fun to have become the inductor, especially with a group of students as curious, bright, and enthusiastic as these were.

The Fair provides opportunities for learning about book history, printing, cartography, collecting– not just for buying–which suited our group because several books for sale cost 10,000 times the student ticket price of $10. Some of the students walked around the vast exhibition hall together or with me. Others sought out dealers whose interests matched theirs. One student focused on Early Modern science and managed to find a book on chicken embryology from the sixteenth century that recalled research she is doing in a biology lab on campus.

Many reported being most impressed by a samizdat Russian translation of Frank Herbert’s Dune on offer from Simon Beattie, a young British book dealer. Simon made a great impression on the students because he sells not only “proper books” but books about which he can tell an interesting story, and he does indeed. Thank you to Simon for being so generous with your time and to Julianne Caldarera for the photograph of the book below.

After the fair, we walked down Park Avenue the Grolier Club for lunch with Szilvia Tanenbaum, Director of the Pine Tree foundation and our generous benefactress for this new program. The Grolier Club’s members are book collectors, librarians, and rare book dealers: people with a serious bookish inclination. Szilvia described how the club works and we received a quick tour from Grolier Club librarian, Meghan Constantinou, before taking in the exhibition on little magazines that was on display there (NB: the rotating exhibits at the Grolier Club are open to the public). I snapped a photograph of the group with Szilvia at the Club..

Next month we will be announcing a full program of Pine Tree events for the coming academic year. It will include visits to Dieu Donne to make paper, to Studio on the Square to set type and print, as well as visit to the Woodside Press, a printing studio, to see not only monotype letterpress printing demos, but also linotype and typecasting machines in operation. We’ll close with another visit to the New York Antiquarian Book Fair next April. Stay tuned or message me directly if you’re interested at kn2300@columbia.edu.

Update! (2/24/14) One of the Pine Tree scholars, Columbia Ph.D. candidate in English Arden Hegele, has written a blog post for the North American Society for the Study of Romanticism about her experience in the program and the pedagogical value of these hands-on activities, which she terms the "analog humanities."