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Manhole Covers [Hardcover]

Mimi Melnick , Robert A. Melnick

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Book Description

Oct. 7 1994

They lie underfoot, embellished and gleaming. They seal off and provide entry to an underground world of conduits, water mains, power lines, and sewers. They appear by the thousands in our cities, but very few people ever look at them or think about them as art. At once completely ordinary and totally unexpected, manhole covers present an infinite variety of design in the commonplace as well as a record of defunct utility companies, forgotten business firms, and obsolete foundries. Manhole Covers documents this singular form of urban industrial art and its place in American culture.Mimi and Robert Melnick first revealed their obsession with street hardware twenty years ago in a remarkable little book called Manhole Covers of Los Angeles (1974). Printed in a small format and a limited edition, it quickly went out of print and is now a scarce collector's item. But that was just an introduction to their larger project, which has come to fruition in this book of 200 photographs and an extended narrative documenting manhole covers throughout the United States and discussing the history of their use, manufacture, and function.A subject that at first seems straightforward and commonplace becomes redolent and poetic in the Melnicks' hands, for their hieroglyphic reading of manhole covers reveals a chapter of urban history that can only be recovered from the logos and markings of these early disks. There are square lids, convex lids, perforated lids. And the older ones wear an astonishingly diverse range of anything-but-blank faces expressed in raised crosses, waffle grids, cut-out diamonds, radial stars, floral patterns, and honeycomb treads. The diversity of design corresponds to an equally diverse typology of form and function, as indicated by their evocative labels: handholes, vents, coalholes, grates, lampholes, storm drains, steam covers, meter lids, traffic buttons.

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Product Description


"The Melnicks' work occupies a rather indeterminate genre category: part history of material culture, part exercise in obsessive photographic cataloguing of related objects, part crypto-Pop artist's book. There is a crisp and even elegant matter-of-factness to their writing and their pictures, a spare functionalist precision." Allan Sekula

About the Author

Mimi Melnick is an urban archaeologist who lives in Encino, California. Her late husband, Robert Melnick, was a photographer who devoted the last ten years of his life to documenting manhole covers all over the world. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  5 reviews
18 of 20 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars My Aunt and Uncle's Book Jan. 12 2000
By Todd G. E. Melnick - Published on Amazon.com
Mimi and Robert Melnick are my aunt and uncle. Uncle Bob is my father's brother. A lifelong non-smoker, Uncle Bob died of lung cancer in his late fifties. Uncle Bob and Aunt Mimi became objects of mild derision in my family when they first announced their project of documenting the manhole covers of Los Angeles and beyond. We found it a somewhat frivolous and Quixotic project; in a word, flakey. My wall-to-wall shag carpeted and formica topped parents thought Bob and Mimi were a little eccentric. Memory is fragile. My memory of them is fading and full of holes. I know that their house was full of antique farm implements. A large tangled mass of found wire hung above their mantle. Their fireplace screen was made of chains of old soda can pull tops. I know that I am wrong about this but I remember books in their library covered in yellow paper and shelved backwards. My parents were amused and puzzled that Bob and Mimi liked to vacation in Bakersfield but my aunt and uncle must have found something very rare there that my parents did not have the patience to see. I didn't really know what sort of incredible treasure Bob and Mimi were until Uncle Bob was dead and Mimi no longer attended our family gatherings and holiday dinners. I am very sorry that I didn't know them better but I loved them very much and their example inspired me to try to find a place for the whimsical or extraordinary in my life. You will find their book beautiful and strange. It is beautiful not least because Mimi and Bob found art and design, found humanity and dignity, in a gritty and ignored urban artifact. And this is pioneering work. Very few before them sought life in the abused quotidian. Now such books documenting the gorgeousness and variety of everyday or even debased objects are rather common.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Man Oh Manhole! Art, history and engineering under our feet! Aug. 14 2009
By David Ciaffardini - Published on Amazon.com
Very nicely designed book that documents a point in the urban planning process where aesthetic and utilitarian concerns were combined. More than 40 pages of text at front of book provide a solid history about manhole covers and similar utility covers, again, pointing out various aesthetic and utilitarian concerns regarding their purpose and design.

Further information, including locale and manufacturing dates and other details, accompany each of the hundreds of sharp and clear black and white photos depicting a dizzying array of covers spanning more than a century of United States history. Sadly, as the author points out, the current trend in manhole covers discards any artistic or aesthetic concerns leaving us with generic contemporary manhole covers. But that wasn't always the case as this book points out.

Besides the art of utility covers, this book provides insight into some of what is going on under the streets and sidewalks of America and what engineers had to confront in their task of making such things accessible. There's more here than you might imagine.
5.0 out of 5 stars Great book on manholes FINALLY May 31 2013
By Helen Britten - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Love this book. It has great photographs and is very informative. Some of the photos in the book would be great framed. I have long been fascinated by the art beneath our feet. Manholes are functional and artistic. Thanks to Mimi Melnick maybe more people will come to appreciate their beauty and history.
5 of 9 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Very Disappointing June 28 2008
By Dick - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
I put this book into our rummage-sale pile today. As a longtime fan of manhole covers, my high expectations for this book proved unwarranted. The author obviously knows a lot about manhole covers, but fails to share it with us. Instead, there is a minimal text and a great many repetitive pictures, some of which could only be loved by the photographer. If you want to read a model for what this book could have been, I would recommend "The Carriage Trade," or "Building the Nineteenth Century," or "The Baldwin Locomotive Works."
1 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Manhole covers March 27 2011
By Jacqueline Hofflander - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
This book was delivered in short time and was in good condition. I did not like the book. It was not what I expected. Rather than send the book back, I donated it to the library. Thanks for your good service.

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