Siberia in Chapel Hill: A Blad for the Blog

It’s forecast to feel like Siberia here in the Southern part of heaven. So we’re dressing for it in our Northern sweaters. And turning to our Travel Book Collection for tales of frosty lands.

J.W. Buel, Russian Nihilism and Exile Life in Siberia (Hartford, Conn., 1883) / Travel DK26 B93 1883

J.W. Buel, Russian Nihilism and Exile Life in Siberia (Hartford, Conn., 1883) / Travel DK26 B93 1883

This volume has to have one of the most evocative of 19th-century decorated bindings—with its images of an angel, chaos, a shackled prisoner, and icicled letters. However, looking for the story inside, one is disappointed. The book is a salesman’s sample, a dummy book, or “blad,” and has only a hundred of the title’s 545 pages. Blads were used by traveling salesmen as samples of books that could be purchased by subscription. On the inside front cover, specimen spines of alternative binding styles were customarily mounted, as shown below.

SpineThe back of this book features a notice on “Conditions of Subscription,” which lists the price in a cloth binding at $2.50 and a leather one at $3.00. It stipulates that the book is for sale by subscription only “and will never be for sale in book stores or on railroad trains, and persons desiring to purchase must do so from the canvassing agent.”

subscrThe terms further state that “Persons signing their names in this Prospectus as subscribers, will be expected to receive and pay for the book when delivered by the Agent, only on condition that the complete book is as here represented.” Of the twenty-two individuals subsequently signing, seventeen requested that the book be bound in leather, a decision that mystifies us, enamored as we are of the pictorial binding.

To view this book’s cloth covering—and the decoratively patterned coverings of the RBC’s stewards—come out of the Chapel Hill cold and get warm inside Wilson Library’s North Carolina Collection / Rare Book Collection Reading Room.

 

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