Sometimes a new tool comes along that causes a paradigm shift; the older ones are almost instantly obsolete. The Japanese screw punch is one such example. I can’t recall the last time I used or saw someone use another tool to make small holes in paper, vellum and leather. Yet the hole punch above, which a “J.J. THATCHER” thought enough of to mark his name on, works perfectly. Stylistically, we can see much more elaborate decoration than on the more modern Japanese screw punch. Functionally, it does not have the interchangeable bits or the automatic twist action that the Japanese screw punch has. This tool is extremely well made, comfortable to use, elegant, perhaps even a little decadent with the amount of hand finishing that went into it. Aren’t these the elements we want imbued in our hand-bound books? Can a tool help to do this? Can beautiful tools increase the users pleasure while working which then is reflected in the product?
Zombie Attacks: Is Book Conservation Doomed?
A zombie idea is one that we are not quite sure where it came from, keeps popping up, and stubbornly refuses to die. The latest undead idea I’ve been hearing more and more of is that book conservators do not need to know all that much about the craft of bookbinding.
I’ve asked Cathy Baker, Chela Metzger, and Maria Fredericks to respond to this question: Do book conservators need training in the craft of bookbinding?
Cathy Baker is a paper conservator, educator, editor, printer, proprietor of The Legacy Press, and an inspiration to many of us. There is a great interview with her on The FIne Books Blog. I often consult her book From the Hand to the Machine: Nineteenth Century American Paper and Mediums: Technologies, Materials, and Conservation. For more of her thoughts related to this topic, see pages xii-xiii, 3-5, and 236.
Baker writes: I feel it is essential to the development of conservation sensitivities to have extensive practical experience in the craft(s) that was/were involved in the creation of artifacts if one is to make informed decisions about their preservation/conservation, and this holds true for any conservation speciality. Thus conservators of art on paper should practice traditional hand papermaking, all of the major printing techniques–relief, intaglio, and lithography–and drawing mediums–pen and ink, watercolors, dry-medium drawing, etc. And for example, how anyone can expect a book conservator to understand the best way to preserve/conserve any book while having little/no practical bookbinding experience (both one off AND edition binding) is beyond me. If that should ever be the case, I think the conservation profession is doomed: either conservators will routinely make serious treatment mistakes or treatment will cease altogether because of the (unconscious?) discomfort the conservator feels about her/his lack of understanding about artifacts. Neither situation is good for the preservation of our cultural heritage.
A few of my own thoughts: Possibly this idea was born when book conservation was founded in the US in the 1980′s. More specifically, the integration of book conservation into the larger arena of art conservation, the concept of minimal intervention, and the concept of collections conservation likely had influence. Most other art conservation specialities, while encouraging and requiring students to learn about the materials, techniques and history of the art form, are no where as closely related as book conservation is to the craft that produced them. So it is understandable why someone from an art conservation background might question the uncomfortably close relationship between bookbinding and book conservation. It is likely not a good idea to project too much on the abstract idea of minimal intervention which will mean different things to different people. The concept of collections conservation unintendedly reinforced the idea that the head and the hand were separate entities and the head (the conservator) could direct and abstract hand (the technician) to perform repetitive or mundane tasks, or work on material not considered valuable enough for a conservator. The beginnings of separating out craft from a conservators skill set?
Since bookbinding craft skills are still transmitted in the traditional manner of close contact with skilled practitioners, I would posit that book conservation, as a field, has an additional responsibility to preserve not only the bookbindings, but the craft skills and techniques that produced them. And the intimate knowledge of these craft skills not only manifests itself in treatments such as rebinding (traditionally almost the only treatment?), rebacking, resewing, but in the ability to determine what should not be treated, which are sometimes the hardest and most time consuming decisions. With objects as numerous, international, and subtle as bookbindings, it can take a long time to understand what might be unique or rare and what is oridinary.
As Baker mentions, lack of skill in performing more advanced or invasive treatments could lead to fewer of them being done, possibly to the detriment of the object. Then again, a cruel irony is that once an object is treated it tends to be re-treated in alarmingly short periods of time.
Everyone—hand bookbinders, book restorers, conservators, technicians and repairers—should know something about edition binding, but I have found it to be almost a completely different field: possibly more akin to music or some type of athletic performance. It takes very long repetitive training and constant practice to gain and retain the hand skills and speed to make it profitable. I wonder it it is even possible to expect a modern conservator to be able to learn this in a three or four year program? Bookbinding training programs like North Bennet Street School give a solid foundation, but even old-timers have confided that skills can deteriorate in frighteningly short periods of time; things that once were easy had become hard again.
So I guess another question is what kind of hand skills can a book conservator possibly have, given the lack of practice and repitition, and the fact that all materials present unique challenges and circumstances?
Maria Fredericks is the Drue Heinz Conservator at The Thaw Conservation Center of The Morgan Library and Museum. She has been a leader in the field of book conservation for decades and teaches widely.
Fredericks writes: In my opinion, book conservators should continue to learn as much as possible about the technical history of craft binding, in exactly the same manner that conservators in every other specialty devote years of study to the technologies and materials used to make the objects under their care. Understanding the structural and material evolution of the codex form over time is essential to recognizing what is significant and authentic about bound objects in their cultural context(s), which in turn informs the conservator’s judgment in the selection of appropriate preservation options. In more practical terms, a deep understanding of binding mechanics is required so that books may be repaired or re-bound in ways that prevent further deterioration, while preserving historically significant features. A profound knowledge of how bindings work can only be gained through a combination of observation and hands-on practice, including patient exploration of a vast number of structural and material variations, and repetition of core skills. Even in a culture of minimal intervention, re-binding or significant structural intervention is required often enough that a book conservator must possess the skills to re-sew and re-bind text blocks with a broad range of requirements for safe handling and display (e.g. manuscripts on parchment, printed books on fragile or brittle paper, photo albums, ledger and stationer’s bindings, amateur bindings, Islamic bindings, East Asian bindings, to name a few).
An important question is how to acquire these diverse binding skills, and keep them fresh enough to be used with assurance when they are needed. We are far removed from the kind of fast-paced repetitive production work carried out by trade binders and restorers of the last several centuries, that honed certain skills but perhaps discouraged creative thinking. Conservators, by contrast, must consider each item or group of items individually, and because library collections are often quite diverse, the opportunity to repeat a complex repair technique or re-binding structure with any frequency can be rare. In addition book conservators must be educated in the conservation of paper, parchment, leather, and other materials that tend to appear in books. A strong, early foundation in bookbinding would seem ideal, creating a repertoire of basic operations (variations on sewing, forwarding, covering) that becomes instinctive and is always ‘on tap’. In recognition of this need, the North American conservation training programs, with funding from the Mellon Foundation, offer both intensives and semester courses focused on practical bookbinding in their curricula for library and archive conservators; the European programs with which I’m familiar also have this type of course work. Some new post-graduate fellowship opportunities for rare book conservators, which will allow important additional training and research time for recent program graduates and other emerging book conservators, are encouraging, and I hope mark a new trend. In summary, the acquisition and use of binding skills continue to be central, in both the training and the ongoing work of book conservators.
One last thought on minimal intervention. In spite of criticism from proponents of more traditional restoration, minimal intervention in conservation treatment now feels right in step with the seeming explosion of academic programs of study in the ‘material book’, and the growing number of opportunities for interdisciplinary discussion of books and manuscripts as physical objects. Conservators may have been ahead of that curve for a few years, but it now seems universally recognized that over-restored books, like other similarly abused artifacts, are stripped of a significant percentage of their meaning. The excellent news is that conservators, curators, bibliographers and humanities scholars are increasingly working together to interpret material evidence found in books and bindings. Hurray!
Chela Metzger is Conservator of Library Collections and Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Winterthur/ University of Delaware. Quite likely she has more experience teaching book conservation than anyone in the US, and her research interests include blank books.
Metzger writes: In 2006 the consdist list, a conservation list serve, had a several month long back and forth discussion that is relevant to the intersections of craft skills, minimal intervention, and ethics in conservation.
Here is the first post. “From: Frank Hassard <f.hassard> Date: Thursday, June 15, 2006 A very well respected and senior member of the international conservation community recently stated the following: “It is my belief that ‘minimum-intervention’ is an institutional ploy to save money and to cover up a lack of skills.” This fundamental tenet of professional conservation, which functions with “reversibility”, is related directly to the ethical acceptance of “non-like” restoration. This is reflected in a wide variety of material applications in conservation education and training today; for example, the use of synthetic resins (commonly known as car-body filler in the UK) to replace wood-carvings and as a general wood-substitute in loss-compensation, the use of Paraloid B72 as a surface-coating in place of oil, wax or shellac, the use of digital photography to replace missing veneers and so on. Therefore, can anyone disprove this assertion by providing me with examples of “non-like” restoration (such as those listed above) that require greater practical expertise to apply? Also, comments on the following is welcome: Are “minimum intervention” and “reversibility” conservation”s big cover-up–as the citation above suggests? -Frank Hassard PhD Research, Faculty of Design Buckinghamshire Chilterns University c/o Brunel University, United Kingdom”
(Scroll down to “conservation principals”)
Mr. Hassard never revealed the senior conservator who made the quote that starts the post, and he also noted in later posts in the thread that he was mainly interested in furniture and decorative arts conservation. The entire thread is archived under the subject heading “conservation principles” in the COOL site. I enjoy thinking about the issues of craft in book conservation. I must entertain the idea that minimal intervention is a possible curtain to hide lack if skill, since it is not uncommon to hear that critique of conservators.
I see conservation as an an approach and as a problem solving activity. I think it is better described as a thought process and a set if relationships than as a list of techniques. That said, a book conservator should be very clear about when an agreed upon best treatment is beyond their skill level. Conservation treatment, which is not the only thing many conservators do all day as a general rule, must be done with unalterable respect for and curiosity about the materials and those who made them. I would argue that we are not the last hands that will touch these objects, and should not put our treatment hand skills above the actual book in question. It’s an interesting professional disappearing act sometimes.
Personally, I find the decision to rebind agonizing most of the time. But once that decision has been made, rebinding can be very straight forward compared to a “minimal intervention” treatment. Engineering an appropriate minimal intervention can be very time consuming and tricky. It can also involve skills and materials not typical in one-off or edition binding. Bookbinding skills are necessary, but not sufficient to the book conservation decision-making process in my opinion. We have lots to learn from object and paper conservators.
Should anyone be especially interested in my further opinions on book conservation, especially educational issues, feel free to watch my lecture:
The following is a reposting of Derek Cohen’s “Stropping with green compound verses diamond paste”, which originally appeared on his website, In The Woodshop in January 2009. I thought it was quite well done (and not just because he likes my horsebutt strop) and since I often get questions about how to apply the compound, or what compound to use, he kindly granted permission for me to repost. I collected some of my own thoughts on stropping here. Although he discusses a woodworkers chisel, the basic principals are the same for paring knives, spokeshave blades, etc. He has a number of other tutorials about sharpening on his website. At the bottom of this post is an update after using the horsebutt strop for five years.
COMPARISON OF GREEN COMPOUND AND DIAMOND PASTES
I have been using a horsebutt strop with green buffing compound (.5 microns) for about two years. The strop is excellent with a hard and resilient surface, but I would recommend glueing it to hardwood for certain flatness. Used on their own they have a tendency to curl slightly, and this can lead to dubbing if one is not careful.
With the green compound I add a dribble of baby oil (which is just scented mineral oil). This turns the wax into a soft paste and allows the leather to soak it up. Used as a “crayon” alone it can become thick and collect on the surface (although it must be noted that the act of dragging a blade across this will remove – scrape away – the excess wax). Lee Valley also notes, “Frequent, light applications are better than less frequent, heavy applications”.
This is my strop with green compound applied.
For the purposes of comparison I set up another (unused) horse butt strop. There were two points of departure, but I did not think that these would interfere with the results. The first was that I used the rough (flesh) side of the strop since I wanted to save the smooth (hair) side for future use if this experiment failed. And second, I did not glue the strop to hardwood (but instead held it flat on ply) for the same reason.
To prepare the strop for the diamond paste I first moistened the surface with the baby oil.
The diamond paste was part of a batch I bought on eBay about 2 years ago (.5, 1, 10 and 40 microns). This is oil-based.
LV (Lee Valley) and TFWW (Tools for Working Wood) both sell water-based diamond paste. I generally use waterstones and, that this is oil-based, is not a concern since the two mediums are not used together.
So, dribble a little diamond paste onto the strop…
… and massage it in …
One observation about paste is that the excess sits on the surface of the strop in exactly the same way as the green paste. I would say that the criticism levied at the green rouge should equally apply to other pastes. Still, as I pointed out earlier, the excess is scraped off as one drags the blade across the leather.
I used 1/2″ and 3/4″ Blue Spruce chisels on Radiata Pine end grain. The chisels could cut but really needed work.
The chisel was stropped both back and bevel. Note that this involved drawing the blade towards oneself, with the sharp end trailing. Otherwise the blade will slice up the leather.
The result – the chisel was now several orders of magnitude sharper and had no difficulty taking fine shavings in this horrible wood:
Below is the result with the diamond paste – the chisel was now capable of excellent work:
Having gone back-and-forth between the two pastes, I concluded that they appeared to produce a cut that was almost identical. With he green compound, however, the chisel did appear to cut a tad more easily and leave a slightly smoother surface. When stropping it felt smooth, while the diamond paste felt “gritty” – but this may have been due to the rougher leather (still, it was not a “roughness” that I experienced).
Bottom line – I think that either system would work well. I shall continue using the diamond paste strop as I think that this should improve as the leather builds up more diamond within it.
USING A STROP
For those new to this, I have a few images of the stropping technique I use. Others may do this differently and, if so, I hope that you will post here.
Stropping the back of a chisel (or substitute a BD [Bevel Down] plane blade here):
Note that the blade is angled at 45 degrees, held flat, and pulled towards oneself (i.e. sharp end trailing). Do not push the blade bevel first – it will slice up the leather.
This chisel, like my BD blades, is hollow ground. Find the point of contact, then drag the blade back (as outline above).
Stropping a BU blade:
My BU [Bevel Up] blades typically have a 25 degree primary bevel and a high secondary/micro bevel (e.g. 50 degrees, to create a 62 degree included angle). The microbevel makes it difficult, if not impossible, to freehand strop accurately (that is, maintaining the secondary bevel angle). Consequently I only strop the back of the blade. This works well enough to give the blade a second lease on life.
Update: It is now 5 years on, and I continue to use the same strop with the green compound. It looks the same – the horse butt leather has lasted extremely well. What of the diamond paste? Well I did not like the feel – the subjective sense of grittiness remained. I learned that others experienced something similar. The strop with green compound is less used since there is a sharpening bench alongside the work bench, and it is just as easy to use a 13000 Sigma ceramic waterstone, and in some cases this is better since there is no chance of dubbing the edge. I have continued to use the strop with green compound to “refresh” mortice chisels since these are honed with a rounded bevel.
I glued the undressed strop was to hardwood with the smooth (hair) side facing up. I have kept it that way, and it is used after honing blades to ensure that the wire edge on plane and chisel blades has been removed.
Nuremberg, 1454-1455. 2 vols. 1,272pp. This is the first book printed with moveable type in the Western World, only 48 copies known to exist, and only 21 are complete. This is the only one currently available for sale.
BACKGROUND. Detailed records of Gutenberg’s life and work are scant. He was born around 1400 in Mainz, where he trained as a gemstone cutter, goldsmith and door to door Bible salesman. In 1438, after moving to Strasbourg, Gutenberg entered into a partnership with Andreas Dritzehn, which enabled him to conduct experiments in printing with moveable metal type. It worked. He decided to release three collectable versions: the Gutenberg Bible, the Mazarin Bible, and the B-42. Gutenberg is credited with being the father of modern printing. There is much speculation who the mother is.
PROVENANCE. Although completely undocumented, this copy most certainly belonged to King Villhelmzholt of Strasbourg. For many centuries this volume must have languished in a remote castle in the Alsace-Lorrane. Then a little bird asked someone to ask a friend to ask me to sell it for them.
Inscription below Psalms XL:9 to XLII:8 which reads “COMPLIMENTS OF THE AUTHOR/ P.S. HAVE YOU SEEN MY NEW TOP TEN COMMANDMENTS”
DESCRIPTION. To date, this is the only know copy with the author’s signature “in the beginning”, an inscription from the author in Psalms XXX, containing a mysterious reference to “new top ten commandments”, and the original professionally unrestored dust jacket. Except for a few gaping holes at the foreedge, the dust jacket is is superb condition and has the only known photograph of the author. The lower margin of the text has intermittent light soil, some faint offsetting, a lingering odor of dog breath and tobacco smoke, and other trivial imperfections, but quite well preserved considering this grand old dame is over 500 years old! The binding is broken, the corners have cracked, the flyleaves have flown, the clasps no longer clasp, the foreedge is fricasseed, bosses are broken, head caps are decapitated, and the spine suffers from scoliosis. Else fine.
This exquisite volume speaks eloquently of an antiquated age; of a time when skilled artists and craftsmen honored their Creator by creating churches, paintings, and books which combined spiritual contents with material beauty. A very handsome and proper copy with a flawless, professionally unrestored dust jacket. Without a doubt the centerpiece of any book collection. $175,000,000.00 OBO. Buy now! Won’t last! Shipping within continental US $4.14 USPS Media Mail.
1. DIRECT. If at all possible, I prefer to measure directly, as this is often the most accurate, easiest and quickest. For example, you are measuring a book for a box. Put the book on a squared corner of binders board and mark the height and width directly on the board.
2. COMPARATIVE. This involves two steps. For example, you want to measure the width of a spine. You could take a piece of paper and fold it around the spine, marking the width with a fold, pencil mark, or thumbnail indentation, then this can be used comparatively to transfer the measurement to a spine piece. An additional benefit of this method is repeatability. Dividers (technically called divider calipers) also measure comparatively, and they are often used in bookbinding to space sewing holes or holes. A jig (aka. template or guide) would also fall into this category, since they are a separate materials set at a desired measurement. Examples of this include using the width of a ruler to trim turn-ins after the boards are adhered to the covering material, or a corner jig to cut a precise 45 degree corner. Also, the inner and outer gauges on a board shear (which can be set comparatively or numerically) are technically fixtures, not jigs, since the hold the workpiece and don’t guide a cutting tool.
3. NUMERIC. This is often what people think of as measuring. It involves taking a comparative measure, then transferring it to numbers, then transferring the numbers back to a comparative length. This gives you three chances to make a mistake. But for large projects, or ones with multiple workers, this is often the best method. Vernier, Dial or Digital Calipers can be used comparativly or numerically, in fact if they have Statistical Process Control (SPC) they allow a third party to track and record the accuracy, possibly placing them in a different category altogether. Digital box measuring machines, such as the KASEMAKE Book Measure, also convert physical dimensions to numbers.
There is not one best way of measuring for every circumstance, but it is good to evaluate options depending on the task.
“He began the process of binding these books by the laborious employment of beating them, as is usual, and imprudently completed as much of this work in half a day as is usually done in a whole day. The weather was warm, and by this exertion he became overheated. He went out to a spring where he drank so freely of water as to produce a fit of apoplexy, which soon after terminated his moral existence.”
-Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America 2nd. Ed., Vol. 1. (Albany, N.Y.: : Joel Munsell, printer., 1874), 280.
Christopher Sower Jr. (1721-1784) a Pennsylvania German Anabaptist who, like his father, was a papermaker, bookbinder, printer and jack of all trades. He reportedly preferred walking to any other method of travel, and could maintain four miles an hour. Although bookbinding research is generally a somewhat impersonal activity, this story struck home with me. First, I come from an Anabaptist religious tradition. Secondly, I have been spending a lot of time looking at the Pennsylvania German wood board bindings that Sower made, as well as the Bibles he printed. Thirdly, I recently wrote an article about the beating of books.
I think I will take it easy the next time I beat a text block when making a model….
Charles Tomas Jacobi The Printers’ Handbook of Trade Recipes, Hints & Suggestions (London: Chiswick Press, 1891), 256.
Quite possibly too good to be true, but nevertheless a delicious conceit: “fashionable people” are unknowingly hanging reconstituted stinky old boots and shoes on their walls to imagine themselves “going away back to mediaeval times”. Note this embossed leather is also sold to carriage-top makers and bookbinders. Because this type of leather is actually made of leather, it can be very difficult, sometimes, to tell it from the real thing, or an artificially grained split.