Judging a Book by its Cover: An Enchanting Introduction to The Ocean World

For my pet book project, I chose to study The Ocean World: Being a Description of The Sea and some of its Inhabitants. I was initially drawn to this book because I am interested in marine biology, and I love looking at old scientific sketches. The book is primarily a reference guide of marine organisms, but begins with a short introduction to the ocean and methods for conducting marine research. This work is a revised edition of the original French version written by Louis Figuier and published in 1872. The new edition was revised by E. Perceval Wright, M.D. I couldn’t find a specific print date for my copy of the book.

The book is in great condition. It is small, but dense–676 pages. The cover is a vibrant, well-preserved green and has a small gold stamped vignette of a jellyfish centered on the front.

Hello, beautiful! The eye-catching cover of The Ocean World. 

The book has a simple gilt publisher’s binding, as well as a few faint stains from what may be pen ink. On the spine is the abbreviated title The Ocean World, the author, and the publishing information. Overall, the cover is attractive but not ornate or overly showy. The cover is separating from the spine a bit, and the binding between towards the back of the book is fairly fragile. Interestingly, it looks like paper from another book or newspaper was used to reinforce the binding structure! However, the spine is not well broken in throughout the rest of the book, and the binding is for the most part in good condition. This contrast in condition indicates that the book may have been opened and closed many times but not read all the way through, which would make sense since it is a reference guide.

The broken binding at the back of the book, with the intriguing addition of another book’s paper to support it! 

The inside cover has a book plate of the Worcester District Medical Society, but this is partially covered up by another bookplate that says, “Library of Colby University, received by Exchange”. On top of this bookplate is a bright red Colby College library stamp. The word “withdrawn” probably indicates that it was taken out of circulation. There is some handwriting on the top portion of the stamp that describes where the book was located in the medical society library.

The double book plates on the opening page of The Ocean World, featuring a “withdrawn” stamp.

The first page is blank, but has a faint rectangular-shaped stain that suggests another bookplate used to be there. The next page contains a frontispiece of a swarm of jellyfish. Across from that is the title page, which states the title, editor, original author, publishing company, place of publication, and the phrase “with 435 illustrations”. This description was one of the book’s biggest surprises for me because I was not expecting there to be so many illustrations. In the top right corner of the title page is a small Colby University stamp, amusingly covered up by another bright red Colby College “withdrawn” stamp.

After the title page is a two page long preface and then a table of contents. There is also a separate table of contents for the illustrations. Both tables of contents are in a slightly smaller font than the rest of the text. The book is organized by types of marine organisms, with each chapter addressing a different family or group. At the beginning of each chapter is an epigraph. As indicated by the description on the title page, there are plentiful illustrations throughout, depicting not only animals and plants, but also science apparatuses, maps, landscapes, graphs, and fishing methods in different parts of the world. As I flipped through, I was amazed by how many drawings there are. Some of them are small and tucked in between paragraphs, and others take up entire pages, but they are all beautifully detailed and precise. Under each illustration is always a figure number and sometimes a caption.

An example of the many unique and captivating illustrations present throughout the book. This particular page is talking about mollusks. 

Aside from the captivating illustrations, the book is relatively plain looking. The pages are  clean with very few stains or signs of wear, and are cut straight. The serif font is easily readable and is probably 11 or 12 pt. There are 1/2 inch margins on all sides of each page.

One interesting feature is the broken off wax paper that once protected the frontispiece from rubbing against the title page. Although it is completely separated from the spine, it hasn’t fallen out of the book. If the book was not read all the way through, as I mentioned earlier, the presence of the wax paper makes sense since the book wasn’t being opened and closed as much. Also, there is a pencil doodle that was probably done by a college student on a page in the introduction. The doodle appears to be a head wearing a long, droopy hat–perhaps an elf? The head is resting on a circular diagram.

The book ends fairly abruptly; there is no conclusion or bibliography. There is, however, an index at the very end. The back cover is plain green and has a few stains. The Ocean World so far appears to be a relatively well-used, but also well-preserved reference guide that is meticulously and beautifully detailed. I look forward to exploring its history and meaning further in later posts!