Vintage Book Crafts and the Atlanta Maker Faire

By Josh Niesse

“Do you take books?” asked the caller, one of 5 or more we field a day.

“Yes, but we are very picky about what we buy, we only want –“

“No I’m not looking to sell them,” the caller cut me off, “I’m just wanting to get rid of them.”

book avalanche

How it feels when I show up to the store Monday morning and someone has piled boxes of books against the door.

Anyone dealing in used books these days is likely faced with staggering multitudes of books that no one wants. At our little shop we see as many as 1,000 books a week, of which only about 10% (or less) are ones we really want for our shelves. Half of our time is spent sifting through the biblio-debris looking for decent “store stock” (popular & desirable, if common, titles) while finding the occasional interesting or scarce gem we can sell online for $100 or more. Sometimes people bring in really good books, and for them we offer cash or store credit, but more often people are just dropping off unwanted books.

Why are there so many books flowing into the second-hand/donation stream? I’m sure there are lots of answers to this, but to name a few: the proliferation of e-books making bulky libraries less necessary, massive online sellers like Amazon driving used book prices into the ground, a decline in sincere book collecting, etc. to name a few. But there have also just been tens of millions of books printed over the last hundred years that are no longer relevant. The 1970’s sociology textbook in the back with coffee stains on it, or the 1983 stock market guide, or this 1991 travel guide to Belize, or the children’s “Golden Book” title with the first 4 pages ripped out and crayon scribbling on the rest of the pages.


Vintage Book Journal -- Using Words We Need

Vintage Book Journal — Using Words We Need

After opening the bookstore in 2011, I realized how overwhelming the volume of unwanted books was turning out to be. Most of the unwanted material I donate to Goodwill. I would sometimes take it to the local Friends of the Library, but realized how overwhelmed they were with unwanted books, and didn’t want to burden them. The staff at the local Goodwill said they took unsellable books to a pulp mill for recycling, which seemed better than the landfill at least. Influenced by green business authors such as Paul Hawken and William McDonough I started thinking about how to turn this abundant unwanted resource into something useful. It turns out the internet is insanely overflowing with ideas for projects using unwanted old books. Some customers showed us ideas they had. We carried some other folks work for awhile, before starting to make our own. One of Underground Books’ best-selling items now are the vintage book journals, in which we take broken, damaged, or otherwise unsellable old books and rebind them with blank pages. We also turn spines into bookmarks, and pages into buttons and magnets. These are just a few easily commercialized projects, but we also made a book arch for Josh & Megan’s wedding, and have started experimenting with original art-collages, among others.




One a week or so, someone in the shop sees the book arch and gasps “oh I can’t believe you did that to those books!” I always patiently explain that the books used were completely unsellable, damaged, etc. and they usually understand. When they are persistently negative about I still remain polite, but what I would like to say is “hold on” and go get the 10 boxes of crap books from the back and ask them to go through and pick out the ones they want to buy to save from destruction.

Josh & Megan under the fantastic book archway courtesy of ForrestWorks. May 2014

Josh & Megan under the fantastic book archway courtesy of ForrestWorks. May 2014



For the last year we’ve been improving our book crafting operation, especially with the help of book journal wizardess Miranda McMillan. We recently quietly opened a second location from which we are managing the online portion of the bookstore and warehousing the substantial volume of books we are processing, giving us even greater access to unwanted books for crafting.

We are excited to be showing off our book crafting operation this weekend in Decatur at the 2014 Atlanta Maker Faire where you’ll also be able to see 200 booths showing off 3D printers, drones, lock-picking, fighting robots, honey-bees, art-bikes, home-brewing and much more! Mention this blog post at the Maker Faire and get a free button or magnet! Hope to see you there!



19th Century Beauty For Sale

understanding-women-giant-bookBy Megan Bell

The above meme is one that’s popped up frequently this year in social media, and we finally got a volume in the shop! The truth is—well, the truth is, women are humans, not some kind of mysterious humanoid species from another planet, and understanding them merely requires communicating with and listening to them, not a multi-volume academic text. That said, man’s quest to pin and pen woman down is a long, long tradition, and the book the meme depicts would be more accurately titled Misunderstanding Women, Volume One.

Beautifully bound 1846 second edition of Walker's Beauty: Illustrated Chiefly by an Analysis and Classification of Beauty in Woman.

Lovely leatherbound 1846 second edition of Walker’s Beauty: Illustrated Chiefly by an Analysis and Classification of Beauty in Woman.



The subject became particularly popular, if not obsessively so, in the latter half of the eighteenth century, incited by a Molotov cocktail of Enlightenment and French Revolution ideals and the political, economic, and social impact of industrial capitalism. As scholar Robyn Cooper notes, “Vast quantities of mental effort and textual toil were expended by philosophers, clergymen, men of science, and men of letters generally on the subject of woman—her nature, her role, her body, mind, and soul, as well as her relationship with her other half, man” (341). This phenomenon is easily beheld in the oeuvre of Scottish physiologist Alexander Walker: 1836’s Beauty: Illustrated Chiefly by an Analysis and Classification of Beauty in Woman, 1838’sIntermariage: or, The Mode in Which, and the Causes Why, Beauty, Health, and Intellect Result from Certain Unions, and Deformity, Disease, and Insanity from Others, and 1839’sWoman Physiologically Considered as to Mind, Morals, Marriage, Matrimonial Slaver, Infidelity, and Divorce. Walker was well aided in his studies, drawing on the voices of heavy-weights Hume, Hogarth, Burke, Knight, and Alison and the art of masters Da Vinci, Winckelmann, Mengs, and Bossi in his “analysis and classification of beauty in woman.”


Though not a well-known title today, Alexander Walker’s Beauty was a well-received, well-reviewed, and well-published treatise in its own time, and certainly holds value for multiple areas of study, most interestingly the impact of the Enlightenment and naturalism on ideas of beauty and women’s bodies, minds, and social place.Walker drew on an exhaustive range of material in the pursuit of his analysis of beauty and of women, from art and aesthetics to philosophy and the classics, from biomedical science and sexual selection to the psuedosciences of phrenology and physiognomy, a personal favorite of Walker’s (342).



Readers both today and at the time of its publication would be familiar with the Victorian ideal of woman as “the angel in the house,” a pure, moral, and sexless domestic being happily charged by God with the care of husband and children. Walker’s beautiful woman stands in stark opposition, identified heavily with her body, sexuality, and reproductive ability. In Beauty, we see woman as crafted by Nature, rather than God. Though Walker’s counterview was not wholly favorable to women(to say the least), new, more affirming outlooks on women’s sexuality, pleasure, and menstruation found expression in Walker’s works.

beauty 8 beauty 9                beauty 11




This edition of Beauty truly lives up to its name, with luxurious burgundy leather and lavish gilt decoration.Beauty’s endpapers alone are worth awing over, not to mention the gilt floral designs immodestly peeking out over the book’s fore-edges. The spine, with its five bands, their compartments like flowerboxes full of gilt leaves and sun designs, would be the glory of any shelf. Lovely plates by Henry Howard, a professor of painting at the Royal Academy, accompany the text, and depict many nude studies of the female form, as well as several illustrations of those that Walker reveres as the ideal of female beauty, the triumvirate goddesses of “mental,”“locomotive,” and “nutritive beauty,” Minerva, Artemis, and Venus, respectively. The concluding plates are intended to depict imperfections like “excessive breadth of trunk” or “aridness or want of plumpness,” yet they portray women as lovely to look upon as the Venus de Medici of the frontispiece, showing that even before the age of television and tabloids, the sheer arbitrariness of standards of beauty was alive and well.Beauty is one of the most beautiful books we’ve handled, as well as one of the most thought-provoking.

Work cited and for further reading:

Cooper, Robyn. “Definition and Control: Alexander Walker’s Trilogy on Woman.” Journal of the History of Sexuality 2.3 (1992): 341-64. Web. 9 Sept. 2014.

beauty 5 beauty 3

Walker, Alexander. Beauty: Illustrated Chiefly by an Analysis and Classification of Beauty in Woman. Preceded by a Critical View of the General Hypotheses Respecting Beauty, by Hume, Hogarth, Burke, Knight, Alison, Etc. And Followed by a Similar View of the Hypotheses of Beauty in Sculpture and Painting, by Leonardo Da Vinci, Winckelmann, Mengs, Bossi, Etc. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1846. Second Edition, Revised.9 ¾ x 6 3/8. 395pp. Handsomely bound in burgundy leather, with covers, spine, and all edges of front and back boards lavishly decorated with floral dentelles in gilt, continuing onto the versos. Five raised bands to spine, with stunning decorations accompanied by lettering, also in gilt. Edgewear to boards and spine, with rubbing through leather and bumping to corners of boards and edges of spine. Two inch strip diagonally from bottom left corner of back board, where leather has been torn or rubbed bare. All page edges gilt. Ornate red and gold endpapers.Previous bookseller’s pencil notations on first blank page.Some foxing to pages, and water stain to bottom of frontispiece, not extending to plate.Illustrated in 22 lovely plates plus frontispiece by Henry Howard, drawn on stone by M. Gauci and R.J. Lane.Tightly bound, sound copy.

No American library holdings of this edition on WorldCat. There is one holding in France and one in the United Kingdom.

beauty 4This book is available for purchase on our website here.

Underground Books Blog — Meet Your Booksellers!

This month (September 2014) marks 3.5 years since we opened Underground Books, just off of Adamson Square in downtown Carrollton, Georgia. To celebrate, we’re launching a blog to share our experiences as booksellers and highlight some of our favorite books and materials as they pass through the shop.  To begin with, we’ll share a little about the folks you’ll encounter when you come to our store.

Josh & Megan under the fantastic book archway at their wedding, made by local craftspersonForrestWorks. May 2014

Josh & Megan under the fantastic book archway courtesy of ForrestWorks. May 2014

Josh & Megan

Underground Books opened in March 2011 and was originally the creation of Josh Niesse. Josh graduated from Western Kentucky University with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy (and a minor in religion). He moved to Douglasville, Georgia to join an AmeriCorps volunteer program (sort of like the domestic Peace Corps) tutoring youth-at-risk in literacy and GED prep, a program which he eventually managed for several years. After experiencing burnout in the nonprofit world, Josh moved to Carrollton, where his interest in urban planning and traditional neighborhood design caused him to fall in love with the charming Adamson Square area.While bartending for several years at Alley Cat, he started selling books found at yard sales online through outlets such as amazon and ebay. Eventually this hobby, combined with a lifelong passion for books, morphed into a dream of full-time bookselling. Not long after opening, Josh met Megan Bell, who was then an English major at UWG, minoring in creative writing, with a focus on poetry. In May 2014, they were married. Megan just began her MBA at UWG and contributes her professional writing skills and creative research finesse to the bookstore by aiding in the cataloguing of inventory for online sale.




Miranda uses her winning smile to sell all the books to West Georgia's bibliophile community.

Miranda uses her winning smile to sell all the books to West Georgia’s bibliophile community.

Miranda McMillan

Miranda met Josh when they both bartended at the Alley Cat for a time. She started helping at Underground Books before the doors were even opened, volunteering to help clean and paint the disastrous basement space that would eventually become a charming little bookshop. Officially hired in the fall of 2012, Miranda has become an essential part of Underground Books, working at least 2 days a week, and covering longer stretches so Josh and Megan can do things like go on their honeymoon and visit family out-of-state. Miranda is also a rockstar barista at Bella Coffee and an off-and-on again psychology student currently on the 8 year degree plan. Fans of Underground Books’ biblio-crafts such as the popular vintage book journals have Miranda to thank for taking this crafting operation to the next level.




Maria pinch-hits occasional hours at the shop (usually Sundays) and is sometimes aided by her partner Sebastienne.

Maria pinch-hits occasional hours at the shop (usually Sundays) and is sometimes aided by her partner Sebastienne.


Maria & Sebastienne

You might recognize Maria & Sebastienne from their work at Farmers Fresh CSA across the square from Underground Books, where they usually work, supplying West Georgians with fresh, locally-sourced and delicious food. You might also have seen this pair in local media lately due to their amazing tiny house they just finished building, and their blog about it, Tiny House, Big Dream.  Maria also teaches yoga classes at Carrollton Community Yoga and is incredibly well read  in modern philosophy, as is Sebastienne, who is currently working on a PhD in Psychology, Consciousness, and Society at UWG.