Engelbrecht's 18th Century Peepshow

By | Friday, September 02, 2022 Leave a Comment
The image at the right here is from a post yesterday from Alfred Pasternack, who works as a bookseller at Bernard Quaritch Ltd, who specialize in rare books and manuscripts. It's an 18th century, engraved "peepshow" -- six sheets each about the size of an index card with a portion of the center cut out of them so you can see through from the first one to the last if they're held up in order like this. It was published by Martin Engelbrecht in Augsburg, Germany and each sheet shows one step in their bookbinding process. Pasternack described each scene...
Our first friend beats the sheets of printed paper with a hammer, to make them more supple (in contrast to the modern fetish for 'crisp' new leaves)
Next sheets are carried in a basket to be sewn on a sewing frame - which should, strictly speaking, come after...
...the sheets being folded to make sewable sections
Next we have a rather leisurely group, carrying books and presses around while one person trims the edges of the book to be even, using a plough on a press resting on his knee
We then skip from forwarding straight over covering to finishing, with a binder roll-tooling the boards of one of many covered books awaiting tooling (and with a small table-top stove, complete with puff of smoke)
Finally we reach the back of the room, which shows the very first stage and a process peculiar to German binderies - sizing the sheets (i.e. soaking them in gelatin to give a less absorbent surface) after they have been printed
Viewed altogether, they look like this...
It's a clever bit of printing and undoubtedly was made to showcase their skill. If I put my marketing hat on, this is actually really progressive and would be a stand-out piece of promotional material well into the 20th century at least.

But let's look at what you have here: seven separate images, each showcasing a discrete moment in time, together showing a sequence of events in the bookbinding process. Juxtaposed pictoral images in a deliberate sequence, intended to convey information. Comics. Even though, when viewed "properly" it looks like a single image, they are multiple images showing the depiction of time via the use of space. It certainly wouldn't have been called a comic back in the mid-1700s but, by modern definitions (not just McCloud's, despite my use of it here) it is.

Peepshows -- alternately called raree shows -- actually date back to the 15th century, but became a not uncommon attraction at street fairs and the like, sometimes accompanied by a narration to explain what was going on. The sheets were often housed in wooden cases with a magnifying lens that A) allowed the images to be enlarged to the viewer and B) forced a single perspective so they couldn't be seen from the sides. Later ones might use painted glass and other materials to provide different effects, but the premise was the same.

These eventually gave way to stereoscope viewers (basically the original ViewMasters) and motion picture viewers like the kinetoscope. But the originals like Engelbrecht's one here? Comics.
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