LIVRE DE PRIÈRES tissé d'après les Enluminures des Manuscrits du XIVe au XVIe Siècle. LIVRE DE PRIÈRES.
LIVRE DE PRIÈRES tissé d'après les Enluminures des Manuscrits du XIVe au XVIe Siècle.
LIVRE DE PRIÈRES tissé d'après les Enluminures des Manuscrits du XIVe au XVIe Siècle.

The Finest Book “Printed” by Computer;

Woven Entirely in Silk

LIVRE DE PRIÈRES tissé d'après les Enluminures des Manuscrits du XIVe au XVIe Siècle.

Four full-page illus. & each page within a decorative border, all taken from early illuminated MSS. 50 pages. Small 4to, orig. Jansenist-style binding of morocco by J. Kauffmann-Petit & Maillard, doublures of blue morocco richly gilt & inlaid to a retrospective Renaissance motif consisting of green, brown, & blue morocco interlocking strap-work, five raised bands on spine, top & bottom edges gilt. Lyon: [A. Henry for A. Roux], 1886-88.

This is one of the true marvels of nineteenth-century technology in the service of the “Book Arts,” and absolutely must be seen to be fully appreciated. It is a spectacular neo-Gothic Book of Prayers, made of silvery-grey and black silk thread, woven together by means of the Jacquard automated loom method, the results being accurate to within one-tenth of a millimeter. There is a strange and wondrous dimensionality in these pages, which without exaggeration can be said to shimmer. The book also represents an important technical innovation: hundreds of thousands of punched cards were employed as automated weaving instructions, conveyed to an array of mechanized looms. It took two years of programming and weaving to create approximately 60 copies.

At the time of its invention, in 1801, the Jacquard loom was the most complex programmable machine in existence. The incredible potential of the “Operations / Variables” punched card system, with its binary data and modern “Input / Output / Storage” capabilities, was seized upon by English visionary Charles Babbage, who integrated the process into his theoretical “Analytical Engine.” James Essinger has argued convincingly that the Jacquard loom was pivotal in the in the development of computer science (see Jacquard’s Web: How a Hand-loom led to the Birth of the Information Age, 2004). With uncanny prescience, the data input mechanisms and intricate algorithms that created the present volume prefigure modern computer automation and computer programming: input consisting of complex instructions conveyed to the mechanical looms by means of punched cards; output in the form preconceived patterns; and memory in which the instructions can be stored and subsequently recovered.

Lillian Randall determined that the “illuminations” in the present Prayer Book actually came from a single source, namely a late 19th-century monograph published by Gruel and Engelmann: Imitation de Jésus-Christ, which contained reproductions of a variety of illuminated manuscripts from the 14th through the 16th-century.

Our copy is in a perfect state of preservation and in an unusually elaborate version of the standard binding. Preserved in the original velvet-lined box.

❧ For a detailed account of the technical intricacies see: Paul Marais, “Livre de Prières tissé” in the Bulletin du Bibliophile (1889), pp. 163-66. Bowden, Faster than Thought: The Invention of Perforated Cards by M. Jacquard (London: 1953), pp. 23, 350-51, & 379-80. Michael Laird in The World from Here. Treasures of the Great Libraries of Los Angeles (edited by C. Burlingham & B. Whiteman, 2001), 63–“Despite the fact that this rare volume is not a printed book, it is of singular interest in that it was completely woven with silver and black silk thread. It also represents an extremely early book production involving automation and programming...The book was manufactured on silk looms that were programmed using the punched-card system developed by Joseph-Marie Jacquard (1752-1834). Several hundred thousand cards were required to program this curious magnum opus (the actual figure is not known, but estimates range from 106,000 to 500,000). After fifty failed attempts, it took two years to weave approximately sixty copies…It will be observed that the weave in the present volume is almost microscopic (it is exactly four hundred weft threads for every 2.5 centimeters [approximately one inch])…The movement of the machine was limited to one tenth of a millimeter, the result being an extremely precise piece of bookmaking, which, on account of the material used, truly gleams. It is noteworthy that Jacquard’s looms, only slightly modified, are still in use today, producing some of the world’s finest fabric for furniture. The punched instructional cards utilized by Jacquard’s weaving machinery served as the primary inspiration for the famous ‘Analytical Engine’ conceived by Charles Babbage (1791-1871)…The present volume may represent the first, and probably the only, successful attempt at weaving a book.”.

Price: $55,000.00

Item ID: 5293

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