Published: June 25, 2002
BOSTON, MASS. – A new shop has opened at 234 Clarendon Street, just a stone’s throw from Newbury Street. The shop is Thomas G. Boss Fine Books and Art and is not an ordinary bookshop or art gallery, but proposes to be a most uncommon mixture of both.
There is a close knit relationship between books and art in this new shop, which affords an opportunity for collectors to look at material that is not commonly seen elsewhere relating to the design movements of the last 100 years or so — beginning with the Arts and Crafts Movement, and including Art Nouveau, Art Deco, Wiener Werkstatte and Bauhaus.
On one side of the shop’s fourth floor, unusual books containing rich artistry of the past spill out from brightly lit shelves. There are livres d’artiste (artist’s books that contain original graphics and are produced in limited editions), books in fine bindings and books in which all aspects of the design seem uniquely and expressively integrated.
Adjacent offices are brimming with reference books and books waiting to be researched and catalogued. Across the hall the art gallery has the atmosphere of a painter’s studio with its many tall windows overlooking the First Baptist Church and old Back Bay roofs. There one can see and buy real works of art, from the high powered to the more affordable, that display the rich explosion in creativity, innovative design and fine craftsmanship that characterizes the last 100 years or so of global art culture.
There are prints, posters, watercolors, drawings, paintings, pochoir prints (a French technique, invented in the 1890s, of hand coloring through stencils, color by color, producing exquisitely bright, defined colors, making illustrations look as if they were original watercolors), black and white prints, commercial art and photography.
Visitors may find, among other things, an American Modernist print, an 1890s Arts and Crafts poster, a painter’s sketchbook, or a hand painted menu from a French bistro. And in the near future there will be launched a regular series of exhibitions of contemporary artists.
Particular highlights include a collection of Copeland & Day books, (the short-lived Boston publishing firm of Copeland & Day, 1893-1898, whose cofounder was the notable Boston Secessionist photographer F. Holland Day, produced wonderful Arts and Crafts books in an effort to bring fine bookmaking and interesting turn-of-the-century design to trade publications), posters by Ethel Reed (the first American woman to achieve national prominence in the graphic arts), D.B. Updike’s and Bertram Grosvenor Goodhue’s The Alter Book (the most ambitious Arts and Crafts book of the 1890s, Boss calls it “The American Kelmscott Chaucer”), and shadow box caricatures of FDR and Einstein by renowned cartoonist Will Eisner. Also available is an early book of Yeats’ poetry, hand printed by his sister “in the year of the big wind 1903,” and with fanciful letterpress designs of Bruce Rogers and Carl Purington Rollins.
The shop also carries a large group of bookplates, bookplates being the marks of ownership that book owners have traditionally placed in the fronts of their books to identify them. They are small works of art. Twenty-five thousand bookplates of different countries, sizes and mediums (engraving, lithography, letterpress, etc) make for a wide open field in terms of artist, subject, price range and time frame from the late 1400s to the present.
The shop reflects the interests of its proprietor, Tom Boss, who has been collecting and dealing in rare books since 1974, and formerly ran a bookshop on Boylston Street in Boston for a dozen years. It was in 1974 that Boss first became interested in Copeland & Day, at a time when there was one slim pamphlet on the subject. Now there is an entire shelf.
As part of his own ongoing publishing program (he has already published the only substantial bibliographies of Aubrey Beardsley and Will Bradley), Boss is currently at work on the most comprehensive bibliographical treatment of Copeland & Day yet attempted. In September 2003 he will be curating a show at the Grolier Club in New York, called “Bound To Be The Best,” of bindings done by the Club Bindery, founded in 1895 to produce the best bindings possible in America regardless of cost.
Boss is a member of the Grolier Club as well as of the Club of Odd Volumes, the oldest book collecting club in Boston, whose constitution and by-laws of 1887 set a limit at 31 members (there are 134 today).
For information, www.bossbooks.com or 617-421-1700. Hours are Monday through Saturday, 11 am to 7 pm.
5 Church Hill Road / Newtown, CT 06470
Mon - Fri / 8:00 am - 5:01 pm