Elmira, NY or Auburn NY: 1900. Wooden blook (4.75 x 6.25"). A hand-made wooden box in the shape of a 12mo book with a compartment carved from the interior and lined with blue velvet. In very good condition with a 1" x 3" section of varnish removed on the front board; scattered scratches to the surface that seem to be heavier on the rear board where the box was laid; wear and oxidation to the metallic gold used on the fore edges. Item #3415
AN EXCELLENT WOODEN BOOK WITH A SECRET COMPARTMENT, the gift of one male prison guard to another, featuring many qualities of American Folk Art.
The term "Blook" was coined by Mindell Dubansky of the Metropolitan Museum of Art; it is the contraction of the words "Book Look," and refers to an everyday object that looks like a book. Our blook is decorated with Tole paintings in green, white, gold, orange and burgundy. The front of the blook has a decorative shield with "To | Walter Long | 1900" in script within a central cross; the shield is surrounded by wreath of flowers and leaves on a burgundy field with a green border that extends around the spine to the rear cover of the blook. The "spine" has a central green panel bordered in orange and decorated with arabesques in gold with the word "Friendship" in script written on a diagonal. The rear of the blook has a central shield with three horizontal panels with the words "Compliments | of | Elvey D. Ridley" in script on the first two horizontal panels; the shield is formed by an arabesque border and is superimposed on top of a foliate branch. The edges of the "text block" of the blook are painted metallic gold.
The secret compartment is accessed by sliding the spine of the blook downward and then outward to remove it, and the compartment is revealed when a small sliding door on the front "cover" of the blook is pulled toward the spine.
Our blook is a token of friendship between two men who worked at the Elmira Reformatory. According to U.S. Census records, Walter Long was a guard ("officer") and Elvey D. Ridley (1872-1950) was a "keeper." Both were born to Irish immigrants. Ridley transferred from Elmira Reformatory to Auburn Prison in 1900. It is likely that Ridley's move to Auburn prompted this gift of "friendship." U.S. Census records show that Ridley held a variety of jobs and moved frequently around upstate New York for the rest of his life.
A unique blook offering, and a well-preserved piece of early 20th century folk art.
For records of the two men, see: State of New York Civil Service Commission. Seventeenth Report of the State Civil Service Commission. March 13, 1900, p. 793, and February 28, 1901, p. 116 (Albany: James B. Lyon, State Printer).