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January 8, 2009

Thunderbox — 'Flush this book'


Here's Ian Mckay's recent "Sold@auction" blog post from finebooksmagazine.com:

    Flush This Book

    Using the form of a book to disguise an entirely different function, or to hide something away, is nothing new — think of money boxes, for example. But book as bathroom?

    It does not seem an obvious use for an old binding, but this traveling commode might have appealed to Apthorpe, the obsessive officer in Evelyn Waugh’s novel, "Men at Arms." Apthorpe, some readers may recall, owned an Edwardian field latrine, a so-called "thunderbox" that came to a comic and explosive end. The example seen in New York [top], by contrast, survived relatively unscathed since the 18th century. It sold for $1,800 in a Bloomsbury New York auction, September 17-18, 2008.

    Two of its supporting walls are the blind-tooled calf-over-oak-board covers of a large folio volume that advertises itself on the red morocco label to be an Historia Universalis. Closed, it looks just like any other large old folio, but in times of need oaken boards fold out to form a closed square, or lift up to provide a seat in which a chamber pot could be placed. The whole thunderbox, perhaps intended for use on a military campaign by someone of rank, rests on four small wooden pegs and the sides formed by the binding are further protected at the foot by small brass plates. The wooden seat is cracked, the chamber pot itself long gone, and the binding seen some restoration, but have you ever seen another thunderbox of this age and grandeur, let alone one with such literary reverberations?


In a word: no.

January 8, 2009 at 12:01 PM | Permalink


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I think that's a pretty good example of a perceptual organization kind of thing. I can stare at it long enough to turn it into not-monster and see the "mistake" I'm making, seeing how the diamond and rectangle shapes come into play, but I still see pointy-toothed creature plain as day on first glance.

Interesting. And it says something horrible about me, I'm sure.

Posted by: Flautist | Jan 8, 2009 7:02:57 PM

Thank you, dgjiv! That was most excellent.
I knew someone here could explain that.
Again -- thanks!

Posted by: Flautist | Jan 8, 2009 5:47:11 PM

That image is an example of the 'blind tooling' that was mentioned in the description. It's actually a diamond shaped pattern in the center with concentric rectangles leading outward to the edge of the cover. Here's a website that gives some detail: http://libweb5.princeton.edu/visual_materials/hb/cases/blindtooling/index.html

Posted by: dgjiv | Jan 8, 2009 5:20:04 PM

Maybe it's just me seeing things, finding an image where there is none, like seeing Jesus's face in a bar of soap, kind of thing -- but in that picture, there seems to be the faintest, barely discernible image of the head of a sort of cartoon-creature that someone drew on what would be the back cover of the book (looks like it's "Historia Universalis"). It has a completely spherical head, an open mouth with sharp, pointy teeth, sunglasses (or big, black, round eyes) and a shallow, conical "coolie" hat. (I'm not up-to-date on my cartoon monsters, so I don't know "who" that would be.) I swear. Examine that carefully and see if you don't see it.

All of which is okay, but also, what the hell?

Posted by: Flautist | Jan 8, 2009 5:02:50 PM

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