Soon to be Published! Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding, Volume 1

UPDATE 2/13/2013: This book is now available for purchase from The Legacy Press

I’m quite excited about this forthcoming book for two reasons: my essay on the beating of signatures is included and I’m really looking forward to reading the other essays. Julia Miller is the editor as well as the author of an essay on scaleboard bindings. This is the first of a volume of a planned series on the history of bookbinding.  Binders take note, there will be copies in sheets available. This book is scheduled to be published in early 2013 and if you want to know when it is published email: thelegacypress (at) comcast.net

Cathy Baker, founder of The Legacy Press,  also publishes a number of other award winning books on book and paper history. I wrote a review of her own excellent book, From the Hand to the Machine: Nineteenth-Century American Paper and Mediums, Technologies, Materials and Conservation, in the The Bonefolder, Volume 7, 2011. Books from her press are thoughtfully designed, well made, and most importantly contain valuable, original content.

My essay, “Beating, Rolling and Pressing: The Compression of Signatures in Bookbinding Prior to Sewing”  is a comprehensive examination of the tools, techniques and effects of beating. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of beating in the forming the appearance and function of virtually all textblocks from the handpress era. Prior to the 1830′s, all bound book were beaten by hand with hundreds—likely many hundreds—of hammer blows. Records indicate it could account for up to 25% of the cost of a binding.  Today beating is virtually ignored or barely mentioned, even in most book histories and in specialized workshops on historical bindings. Beating hammers are very rare and I’ve only located about a dozen of them, though I suspect there are many more as yet unidentified. The study of the history of tools is often divorced from the study of the history of the objects they were used to make: here, I attempt to integrate the two. I trace the history of beating, the evolution of beating tools and machines, and interpret the results of beating in an essay of over 21,000 words with 42 illustrations.

Abstract for “Beating, Rolling and Pressing: The Compression of Signatures in Bookbinding Prior to Sewing”

The tools and techniques of bookbinding have received little attention within the study of book history, bibliography and book conservation. From the fifteenth century until the beginning of the nineteenth, the compression of book signatures prior to sewing was accomplished by hand beating with a large hammer. Signatures were beaten for various reasons at different times, but generally to meet expectations of solidity, smoothness, and openability. In 1827 the introduction of the rolling machine replaced hand beating in large binderies in England, and quickly spread to other countries. Both literally and figuratively, the transition from hand beating to the rolling press demarcates the end of bookbinding as a vernacular hand craft and the beginning of machine bookbinding. Papermaking, printing and book structures also changed radically around this time. The rolling press and descriptions of other presses are well documented in early bookbinding manuals, trade records, nineteenth century encyclopedias and other accounts of which together provide an unusually rich and detailed insight into this time period. This study will follow one technique of bookbinding—the compression of signatures prior to sewing—and investigate how it was done, how the tools changed, what the technique meant to the bookbinders, and how it affects the bookbindings themselves.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s