In the Studio with Bob Muens

In the Studio with Bob Muens


KWLS board member Bob Muens is a bookbinder and conservator who has worked in the Conservation Office of the Library of Congress, and lectured at venues including the Smithsonian Institution and El Archivo Nacional de Cuba in Havana. In 1996, he moved to Key West and opened Bookbinding and Conservation, his private studio. Rare documents and books from all over the world, some of them centuries old, are brought to Muens here, who works to restore and preserve them. His clients are universities, cultural institutions, and private collectors. Of Key West’s many pockets of literary interest, Muens’s quiet studio is perhaps the most active and vital. Unlike our seasonal literati, Muens is a year-round local presence, performing the meticulous and culturally important labor of preservation week in and week out. Every now and then I have a chance to drop in on Bob and see what he’s up to.

This week, Bob is working on the 1693 second edition of Cotton Mather’s account of the Salem Witch Trials, titled, with the charming verbosity of the age: The Wonders of the Invisible World: Being an Account of the TRYALS of Several Witches Lately Executed in NEW-ENGLAND And of several Remarkable Curiosities therein Occurring.
You can read a digital version of the 1862 edition through Google Books here .

On the table beside Mather’s historic work, lay a Florida history text published in Madrid in 1722, covering the years after Juan Ponce de Leon’s discovery of Florida in 1512. This beautifully printed, vellum-bound book, known as the Ensayo Cronologico, para la Historia General de la Florida, belongs to the University of Miami. After Muens’s work is complete, the book will join the rare book collection of the university’s library. You can see a digitized version of the book, produced by the Florida Collection of the Jacksonville Public Library here.

This post is the first of an occasional series about what I think of as “the other literature.” It will concern not those stories and poems produced by the imaginative leaps and intellectual rigor of our great writers, but the hardworking professionals and simple instruments —books, paper, inks&mdash by which that literature has historically been disseminated, as well as the humbler literatures of posters, brochures, and printed ephemera of all kinds. For related selections from the Seminar’s promotional literature, click on the blog category Among the Archives.

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