infectious pleasures


hantsMy friend Milly Cockayne recently picked up a second-hand book with this quaint library bookplate in it. The Hampshire authorities asked readers to ‘report to the Local Librarian any case of infectious disease occurring in the house while a Library Book is in their possession’.

The idea of the book as a vector of disease goes back a long way. Leah Price’s How to do Things with Books in Victorian Britain (2012) includes illustrations of book fumigating machines that could purge away any pestilential traces deposited by one’s fellow readers. Price sees such machines as a symptom of anxieties about the sheer size of the book-reading, book-circulating public in the nineteenth century.

Google Patents will take you to a fumigator designed in1918 by one Robert Oldham of Salt Lake City, which ‘provide[d] the means to turn the leaves of a book and supply a gaseous disinfectant to each and every leaf and portion of the book’. Oldham claims that the efforts of health boards to prevent contagious diseases have led to the destruction of ‘many large libraries and thousands of school books’.

The machine itself is an impressive assemblage of clamps and sprockets–part of the prehistory of the modern photocopier, perhaps, or something that Google itself might want to raid in its effort to digitize all of the world’s books?

One Response to “infectious pleasures”

  1. Milly Cockayne Says:
    March 11th, 2013 at 20:07

    … and the book it is attached to is entitled ‘Anonymous Letters’.

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