Category Archives: 18th C. French bookbinding

Useful Phases for Insulting Bookbinders in French from 1729. Cette relieure n’est pas bonne!

Abel Boyer, The Compleat French-master, For Ladies and Gentlemen, Tenth edition,

London: Printed for Samual Ballard, 1729

There are two particularly interesting phrases in this text.  “Will you have them bound in sheeps, calves or Turkey leather” indicates that the bookseller was selling unbound sheets or books in a temporary binding. “This binding is not good.” suggests the purchaser was considering the purchase of a bound book. Together they seem to indicate there was not a set standard regarding the purchase of books bound or in sheets in early eighteenth century France. There is also a clear distinction between the items for sale by the stationer— paper, pens, etc.—and bookseller.

Upcoming Lecture at Rare Book School, University of Virginia

Reconstructing Diderot: Eighteenth Century French Bookbinding

Monday, June 4, 5:30

 Auditorium of the Albert and Shirley Small Special Collections Library

Rare Book School

University of Virginia, Charlottesville, VA

This is an image driven (150+), fast-paced, terse overview of the research I have been doing on eighteenth century French bookbinding. The extensive documentation concerning eighteenth century French bookbinding, as found in Diderot, Dudin, and other sources, form a unique starting point in the examination of the larger questions associated with the history of craft and material culture, the transmission of textual information, and, of course, the history of bookbinding. Book structures of the late eighteenth century stand at the cusp of one of the most radical transformations since the invention of the multi-section codex: by the mid nineteenth century, the machine made cloth case binding begins to dominate book structures. In this talk, I will illustrate the historical context of how these books were made and compare this with physical evidence of books from this time. Particular attention will be given to the tools and techniques used to produce these bindings.

This lecture is free and open to the public.

Possible Origins of the Board Shear

Tom Conroy  speculated in an informative comment on my post about millboard shears, that the basic principals underlying the board shear may have originated from playing card shears of the 1760′s. I thank him for bringing this to my attention, and I’ve commented on some of his points, and added some visuals for clarity. The images below are from ARTFL, an on-line project that reproduces  the first printing of the Paris edition of Diderot’s Encyclopedie, a wonderful resource with over 21 million words and 2,569 plates — over 75,000 objects identified. Incroyable!


Fig. A.  Detail of two types of playing card shears, from Diderot’s Cartier (Plate III)


Pictured above are the playing card shears as depicted in Diderot’s cartier. I’m puzzled by the top piece (rod? screw?) in Fig. 12, No. 2, the text mentions it forms a blade stop– to keep the upper blade rigid, and move it in and out?  It almost appears this same piece is stuck into part 12, in Fig. 12, No. 3? The pins (number ’3′) are identified in the text to guide the card, in order to keep it from bending to achieve accurate alignment?  The wing nut under the shear could be loosened to move the shear, or wedge under the board, to alter the width of the cut, which presumably would not be done very often, if the playing cards were a standard size.  It is an appealing idea that playing card makers adapted a guillotine type cutter from the type more suited for aristocratic neck trimming; alas, no evidence supports this. Supposedly, in 1789, French physician J. I. Guillotin thought a blade falling more compassionate than the traditional use of an axe, and created the guillotine.  The guillotine paper cutter seems to be a mid 19th century, English invention, however this is another topic which needs more investigation.

Fig. B. Detail of Diderot’s Cartier (Plate I) Carton shears in action.

 

The shears themselves look like large gardening loppers, and must have been capable of cutting through playing cards, which at this time were made from four layers of paste-board: a double layer of brown paper in the middle (to prevent show through of the printing)  sandwiched between playing-card paper  and pot paper on the outside. It is hard to imagine they could cut through a thicker material like the boards binders used, however.

French bookbinders at this time would have used a thicker pasteboard which would be cut to the desired size with a large pointe. A little later, English binders would have used a millboard shears to rough out board to size.  Afterwards, the boards were trimmed more precisely with a plough. The board shear combined both of these functions in one machine– cutting down large sheets of thick board with precision, which was perfect for later, out-of-boards binding styles.

In Salamon’s Dictionary of leather-working tools, there is an illustration of what is labeled a “bench knife (Card shears)” (p. 9) Regretably, the source of and date of this illustration is not recorded, but it seems to date between the French card cutter and the early board shears.  The upper blade is curved, and it has a class two lever, an integral handle, a 12-25 inch blade and this one clamps onto holes in a bench.  Salamon mentions some of them have their own base– an early version of what we now call a paper cutter.  Many of us have fond memories of these green, gridded, dangerous machines from grade school art projects.

Fig. C. ‘Card Shears’ image,  reproduced in Salaman’s Dictionary of Leather-Working Tools. Early 19th Century?

 

If playing card shears served as a precursor to board shears, the question might be how and when did playing card shears evolve from a class one lever to a class two lever occur?  One tiny clue might be the handle of some of the early shears — they often look small and stuck on, as it they are an afterthought.   It also looks like the length might be adjustable, yet any advantage in leverage would seem to be negated by the additional deflection of the thin supporting arm. Of course, there are other important, as yet untraced defining characteristics of board shear:  its curved upper blade, fairly obtuse cutting angle,  the lower blade mounted flush to the table, a bottom gauge fixed at 90 degrees, and the foot clamp.

Fig. D. From Knight’s  A Day at the Bookbinders, 1842. ( p. 341) Later used in Dodd’s Days at the Factories (1843), and Walker’s The Art of Book-Binding (1850).

 

 

 

 

Unusual Leather Decoration

Kristen St. John, a book conservator at UCLA, has an intriguing post on their Preservation blog.  She has found an unusual method of leather decoration.  The book is French, from 1753.  It appears to be some kind of block print, although it she mentions it might be a stencil.  There are many more pictures on the blog, including some close ups. I haven’t seen any decoration like this before, and there is no reference in either Diderot, Dudin or Gauffecourt about the use of stencils in leather decoration, in eighteenth century bookbinding. ?

____________

J-V Capronnier de Gauffencourt, Traite de la Relieure des Livres, W. Thomas Taylor, Austin, 1987.

Diderot & d’Alembert, Encyclopedie, Neufchatel [Paris], 1765.

Dudin, M. The Art of the Bookbinder and Gilder, The Elemente Press, Leeds, 1977.

Grattoir

dudin scraper

Fig. 1: Two grattoirs from Dudin, Plate 10.

In 18th century French bookbinding, according to both Diderot and Dudin, these grattoirs (usually translated as scrapers) were used to aid in backing and smooth the spine linings. There were also frottoirs (versions with dents- pointed teeth) [*check comments for some discussion of these terms*] to scratch up the spine to get better adhesion, since book structures of this time period often had transverse vellum spine linings.  I made a wood copy of the tool above on the left, but the light weight and friction from the wood made it awkward and ineffective; the friction would tend to tear the spinefolds and dislodge spine linings. There is a contemporary version, available commercially, which is even more useless due to the extreme round on the ends.  I’m a little uncertain about these terms– so far the only reference I’ve found in English is in Diehl, where she refers to a wood frottoir ( burnisher?), that looks a lot like the one still available.

frottoir

Fig. 2: Two 19th century  frottoir/grattoirs, courtesy Ernst Rietzschel.

This summer,  I had a chance to test drive the combination frottoir/ grattoir tools pictured above. Ernst Rietzschel, from Holland, borrowed them from his bookbinding teacher in Belgium,  so it is likely they come from the French binding tradition.  Their weight, as well as the very slight curve,  made it easy to concentrate pressure on just a signature of two for accurate manipulation of the spine. As an unexpected benefit, it was wildly cathartic to punch and  scratch the spinefolds with the teeth, of course, only in the interests of historical research!

I used the smooth, slightly rounded ends of the original tool to back the book and to align the cords as well as to burnish the spine linings. Even with the damaged edges and paint, I was surprised how easy it was to gently control the backing process and tweak the cords into alignment.   I had much more control compared to using a hammer, and it was quicker (and potentially less damaging) than loading the spine with so much moisture that I could manipulate it with my fingers or a folder.

Originally, I was planning to reproduce the original, but I didn’t want to make it out of iron because it is prone to rust.  I wanted two smooth ends since I only scrape spines on specific historical models.  I considered stainless steel, but didn’t have any on hand, and it is very gummy and difficult to work by stock reduction.  Bronze was a good candidate, but brass is slightly harder.

So I made a modern interpretation out of  free machining, type 360 brass with a lignum vitae handles.  The quarter inch thick brass and heavy wood handles give it a weight similar to the original, although the aesthetics are quite different. My version is 1.5 inches wide, 8 inches long and weighs 9.4 oz. ( 4 cm wide, 20 long, and 266 grams) In practice it works just as well, in not better, than the original.  It can be grasped with a fist for extra pressure, or delicately held like a pencil for detailed manipulation.

I wonder why a tool this useful would become virtually extinct?

frottoir2

Fig. 3: A contemporary grattoir I designed and made.

18th c. French Bookbinding With Jeff Peachey

(Please welcome guest blogger Liz Dube, Conservator for the University of Notre Dame Libraries.  She kindly agreed to write up some impressions from the workshop and share some images.  Jeff)

I ventured to New York City in April to take part in a rare and enlightening reenactment of 18th c. French bookbinding. During this four-day workshop organized by the New York Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers, our group of about a dozen bookbinders tucked ourselves away in the Conservation Lab of the New York Academy of Medicine and under the direction of Jeff Peachey, determined to bind books in the style of 18th c. France. 

The effort was informed by two contemporaneous bookbinding manuals: Traite de la Relieure des Livres (1762/63) by Jean-Vincent Capronnier Gauffecort and L’art du Relieur de Livres (1772) by Rene Martin Dudin. Jeff provided the group with packets that included organized copies of the manuals, along with some of his own notes. Samples of period bindings were inspected and discussed

artifacts
FIGURE ONE.  Examining the 18th c. artifacts

and Jeff characterized the bookbinding industry of the time. We learned that in 1776, 75% of the bookbinders in Paris were located on just one block within the University community. Bookbinders and printers at that time were associated with guilds that regulated the trade, so they were no doubt a tight-knit and highly regulated community. Jeff underscored that this pre-industrial era period was the end of the hand-bound book era, and how fortunate we are to have two manuals documenting how the work was performed in France at this time.

The manuals had to be taken in context, however. Dudin’s book was not written for contemporary or would-be bookbinders but rather for the book-buying public, to educate readers on the details of a properly bound book so they could avoid being cheated by an unscrupulous bookbinder. That said, Dudin’s wasn’t just a casual survey of “what to look for” in a bound book. Jeff notes in our course packet that Dudin devotes “12 (!) pages and 7 plates” to folding, and that, even if Dudin exaggerated, the extent of paper beating that occurred in this period appears to have been, according to current bookbinding sensibilities, rather extreme: 

“…judging from these descriptions…they were beating these books a lot; beating the sheets before folding, pressing after folding, beating after pressing, and pressing a second time … The boards are beaten before they are attached, and after covering. And as a final step, before returning the book to its owner, Dudin has us beat the four inside corners!” 

With this in mind, we folded the paper into sections and wielded hammers, proceeding to pound paper and raise such a racket that other workers in the serene house of research were drawn follow the noise to find its source, and to inquire whether we had any aspirin. We beat until we were sore and could no longer pick up a hammer.

beating

 

FIGURE TWO:  Beating.

more beaters

 

FIGURE THREE: More Beating.

 Alas, in the end, we concluded that our best efforts still would not have satisfied Dudin! 

But we were there to make books, not to pulverize paper, so we had to move on. Lovely 18th c. marbled paper made by Iris Nevins was employed for the endsheets. Kerfs were sawn into the spine and our textblocks were sewn on cords.

sewing

FIGURE FOUR:  Sewing on cords. 

Various sewing frames and a variety of sewing keys were experimented with, including Jeff’s small/collapsible travel sewing frame. While not mentioned in Dudin or Gauffecort, some even went for the ultimate simplicity of using nails as sewing keys, as documented in several later bookbinding manuals.

nail

 

FIGURE FIVE: Nail as a sewing key.

Pretty neat trick, that! Once the books were sewn, the cord laces were frayed and pasted, and the boards were prepared (again with the beating!) and laced on. Textblocks and board edges were then ploughed in-boards, using a prototype Peachey custom travel-sized plough.

ploughing

FIGURE SIX:  Jeff working up a sweat speed-ploughing.

Our super smooth textblock edges were then colored (red, of course), paneling (aka, adhering paper or parchment transverse spine linings) was performed, and endbands were sewn on.

enbanding

FIGURE SEVEN:  Sewing endbands

The time had finally arrived for covering our books. Vegetable-tanned calf skin prepared by Richard E. Meyer & Sons was on hand for the task. But first, we were treated to a mini Peachey workshop on knives, spokeshaves, and knife honing, the completion of which found my knife was sharper than it’s ever been! For resharpening a knife, Jeff recommends pressure sensitive adhesive backed 3M microfinishing film mounted on a very smooth surface such as glass or marble, or—even better—strips of aluminum, the surface which was first hand lapped smooth. Jeff’s set was super light and travel friendly and worked really well—just add water and hone.

honing

FIGURE EIGHT:  Knife honing station, complete with bacon band-aids

To maintain his sharp edges, Jeff uses a strop made of horsebutt laminated to calf skin, both flesh side out.  The first stroping is on the horsebutt, which contains a .5 micron green honing compound, followed by a final polish on the naked calf skin. Jeff then demoed paring and covering-in (particularly impressing the group with his trick of paring all four edges of the leather in one swoop of the knife).

covering

FIGURE NINE: Jeff demonstrating leather covering

We then followed suit and tied up our books to dry a bit. They were then finished off with speckling (we passed on the traditional chemicals, instead opting for Golden Fluid Acrylics) followed by a couple of blind lines on the boards and spine. At the end of the four-day session, our group was very satisfied with the results of our labor! Thanks Jeff!

(Thanks back at you, Liz!)

There is another review of this workshop by Brenna Campbell on the NY Chapter of the Guild of Bookworkers website.

18th Century French Reading

Robert Darnton’s wonderful book, The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, is fascinating reading for anyone interested in the history of books.  In one section, he speculates on how people actually read a book in the 18th century.  Darnton is aware of the difficulties of moving from the what to the how of reading, but courageously proceeds.  He notes that “Books as physical objects were very different in the eighteenth century from what they are today, and their readers perceived them differently.”  Substitute “in various time periods” for “in the eighteenth century” and this statement is a concise raison d’etre for book conservation.

The following extended quotation is from the chapter titled “Readers Respond to Rousseau.”

“This typographical consciousness has disappeared now that books are mass-produced for a mass audience.  In the eighteenth century they were made by hand.  Every sheet of paper was produced individually by an elaborate procedure and differed from every other sheet in the same volume.  Every letter, word, and line was composed according to an art that gave the artisan a chance to express his individuality.  Books themselves were individuals, each copy possessing its own character.  The reader of the Old Regime approached them with care, for he paid attention to the stuff of literature as well as its message.  He would finger the paper in order to gauge its weight, translucence, and elasticity (a whole vocabulary existed to describe the esthetic qualities of paper, which usually represented at least half the manufacturing cost of a book before the nineteenth century.)  He would study the design of the type, examine the spacing, check the register, evaluate the layout, and scrutinize the evenness of the printing.  He would sample a book the way we might taste a glass of wine; for he looked at the impressions on the paper, not merely across them to their meaning.  And once he possessed himself fully of a book, in all its physicality, he would settle down to read it.” (pp. 223-224)

Smuggler’s Bible

For reasons unknown to me, there are a number of these late 18th C. French bindings that have been converted into smuggler’s bibles.  The stamping on the front cover was done at a later date, and the inside of the textblock seems to have been edge glued, and the back flyleaf used to line the edges.  The bottom is the back board pastedown.  I always wonder what happened to the bulk of the text– thrown away or burned, most likely.  

So if I am “reading” this book correctly, with little or no text, it is the materials and the structure of the binding that give it meaning.  In a way, this book is a eloquent example of how a conservator approaches a book.   Firstly, through the lens of the history of technology, it is the physical substrates that support and protect the text that are documented, analyzed and conserved.   Secondly, we have not time, interest  or are unable to read the language of most of the books we work on.  Do we even need the text?

But this book also demonstrates how the brutal alteration of an artifact can distort our understanding of history.   I’m very interested in late 18th C. French bookbinding, and even though there are many extant examples, each one that is lost  distorts our understanding of the total production and subtle workshop variations. It is that it is very difficult to determine when this book was altered, so it gives the unscrupulous an easy excuse of saying they bought the book in this condition.  The market currently values destroyed or altered books such as this more than an intact volume. 

There is even a company called “Secret Storage Books” that currently makes new versions.  If I were being more stringent with my own ethics, I guess I shouldn’t have purchased this book, since it encourages more of them to be made.  

Octave Uzanne, writing in 1904, in The French Bookbinders of the Eighteenth Century writes: “‘Sham books’, simple wooden boxes, and sometimes mere mouldings, covered with gauffered and gold-tool leathers, with which they filled the empty shelves of a pretentious library, or with which they garnished the doors.”  The books below, however are real books that have been made to resemble the sham books he talks about.

 

18th-french-cover                  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

french-safe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jane Eagan kindly sent this image of a similar book she owns.

eagan2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
eagen-book2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the 24th of March, 2009 I was watching Looney Tunes historic Chuck Jones animation, and from 1939 an 8 minute short titled “Sniffles and the Bookworm” featured a smuggler’s bible.  Watch the book on the bottom right.  I barely had time to grab my camera, so I missed a better shot earlier in the movie.

jones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jones2

Montefiascone Project 2009

Yours truly is teaching Week 3, Aug. 10-14.
Flights are fairly reasonable right now....
Hope to see you there!

MONTEFIASCONE PROJECT
SUMMER 2009

Montefiascone is a small medieval walled city about 100 k (80 miles)
north of Rome, on Lake Bolsena. Since 1988 conservators and others
interested in books and their history have come together to work, to
learn and to enjoy this special place. The summer 2009 programme is as
follows:

Week 1:  July 27th-31st
Re-creating the medieval Palette
Through illustrated lectures, participants will examine the story of
colour in medieval times. The class will address the history, geography,
chemistry and iconographic importance, and the actual techniques of
colour manufacture, with special reference to manuscript painting. Using
original recipes, participants will make and paint out the colours. No
previous experience is necessary.
Course tutor: Cheryl Porter

Week 2: August 3rd-7th
Multi-quire, wooden boarded codex from Egypt
The multi-quire, wooden boarded codex from Egypt is a small family of
bindings that structurally predate the familiar sewn through the fold,
laced on wooden board, leather covered binding of later eras. The model
made in this class is based on a reconstruction by Charles Lamacraft,
restorer at the British Museum in the early decades of the 20th c. In
1925, a ceramic jar was uncovered in Egypt containing 5 parchment
codices dating to the 6th c. AD.  Two of the five had bare wood boards,
stamped leather spines and multiple leather slips laced through the
boards (with no connection to the unsupported  sewing) leather wrapping
bands terminating in large, decorated bone slips to secure the bands and
a large decorative bookmarker.
Charles Lamacraft studied these early bindings and published an early
analysis and photographs of them.  He made at least 2 models of the book
structure based on the fairly complete but fragmented pieces of the
bindings.  One was for Chester Beatty, who purchased 3 of the ancient
books, and now resides in the Chester Beatty Library and another for
Prof. Kelsey of the University of Michigan who
purchased the other 2 remaining manuscripts in the jar. Kelsey's model
resides in the Rare Book Room of the University of Michigan Library.
Course tutor: Pamela Spitzmueller

Week 3: August 10th-14th
Late 18th century French Binding Structures
Apart from the French Revolution, one of the most exciting aspects of
late 18th C. French culture is the existence of two full-length
bookbinding manuals. This workshop will focus on reconstructing a
typical full calf French structure of this time period, by comparing and
contrasting the descriptions in these manuals and examining extant
bindings.  In some respects, this structure is the end of 1,200 years of
utilitarian leather binding- 50 years later the cloth case begins to
predominate. Some of the interesting features of this style include:
sewing on thin double cords; edges trimmed with a plough in-boards and
colored; double core endbands, vellum “comb” spine liners and
sprinkled cover decoration. Special emphasis will be placed on using
reproductions of period tools, constructed from Dudin and  Diderot’s
Encylopedie (1751-1780).  Participants will learn to use and maintain a
plough, and become fluent in translating written descriptions of
bookbinding into the construction of a model.  Extensive notations (in
English) on Gauffecourt’s Traite de la Relieure des Livres (1763) and
Dudin’s L’Art du Relieur-doreur de Livres (1772) will be provided.
Basic bookbinding skills are a prerequisite and materials will be
supplied at a nominal cost.
Course tutor: Jeff Peachey

Week 4: August 17th-21st
Ethiopian Bindings Workshop
This five day course is aimed at conservators interested in the history
of the book. The course will give an introduction to the history of
Ethiopian Bindings. Through a series of practical demonstrations and
exercises, participants will gain an understanding of the construction
of an Ethiopian binding within a cultural and historical context.
There will be an introductory lecture on Ethiopian Bindings, placing
them in the context of the history and development of book structures.
This will be followed by practical workshops focusing on:
Preparation of text block and wooden boards.
Sewing the text block and boards.
Endband construction and covering in leather.
Embossing leather with replica tools
The making of a traditional leather carrying pouch with camel skin
Participants will be required to bring some hand tools, a list will be
provided following registration. All materials will be supplied at a
nominal cost. Some knowledge of the history of bookbinding would be
desirable but is not essential.
Tutors: John Mumford / Caroline Checkley-Scott

Cheryl Porter is Manager of Conservation and Preservation at the
Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation and Deputy Director of the Project.  She
has been Director of the Montefiascone Project since its inception in
1988. After graduating from Camberwell College of Arts and Crafts, she
worked with the Paintings Analysis Unit at University College London
analysing the use of pigments in manuscripts. From 1992 to 2007 she
worked as a freelance conservator. She has published many articles
concerning colour in manuscripts and has lectured in the USA, Australia
and throughout Europe. 

Pamela Spitzmueller is Needham Chief Conservator for Special
Collections at the Weissman Preservation Center in the Harvard
University Libraries.  Pam previously headed Rare Book Conservation at
the University of Iowa Libraries, worked as Book Conservator at the
Library of Congress, and the Newberry Library in Chicago.   She
specializes in historical book structures and book sewing techniques,
and incorporates what she learns into conservation treatments of rare
books and creation of one of a kind artists' books. She has taught many
workshops on these topics.

Jeffrey S. Peachey is the owner of a New York City-based studio for the
conservation of books the maker of conservation tools and machines. He
is a Professional Associate in the American Institute for Conservation
and chair emeritus of the Conservators In Private Practice. For more
than 15 years, he has specialized in the conservation of books and paper
artifacts for institutions and individuals. A consultant to major
libraries and university collections in the New York City region and
nationally, he has been the recipient of numerous grants to support his
work. A well-known teacher, Peachey also provides conservation-focused
guidance to students in art, archives, and bookbinding programs.  

John Mumford is the currently head of Manuscript Conservation at the
Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation. He was formally Head of Book
Conservation at the British Library.  John served a five year
apprenticeship at the British Museum and subsequently helped establish
the Rare and Early Book Conservation Studio at the British Library. In
1992 he was appointed manager of the Oriental and India Office Book
Conservation Studio, furthering his study of early Oriental and Eastern
binding structures. In 1998 he became manager of the Oriental and
Eastern Book Conservation Studio at the new British Library at St
Pancras. He has taught frequently in Montefiascone and lectured and run
workshops throughout the UK, Argentina, Patmos and many other European
locations.

Caroline Checkley-Scott is currently head of Collection Care at the
John Ryland’s Library. Caroline, studied printing and bookbinding in
Dublin, Ireland. She was appointed trainee book conservator at the
British Library, London in 1991, where she worked at the House of Lords
in the Palace of Westminster, and the Oriental and India Office Library
and Records. Here she specialised in the conservation of early Christian
manuscripts from the Middle East. Caroline was formally head of
Conservation at the Wellcome Library and organised the planning and
design of the new Wellcome Conservation Studios. She is an accredited
member of the Institute of Paper Conservation. She has lectured both
nationally and internationally in Italy, Slovenia, Argentina and
Brazil.

The cost of the classes is: 445 British pounds  ($640 US, 500 Euro) per
week and includes all tuition(which is in English) and (most) materials.
The Montefiascone Project is a not-for-profit organization, and all
extra monies are used to finance the cataloguing and the conservation
and preservation of the collection.
For further information or to register for one week or more, please
contact Cheryl Porter: chezzaporter(at)yahoo(dot)com . More information is on
the website: www.monteproject.com

Old Books Stink!

Many of my clients talk about the smell of old books as being one of the aspects that attracts them to collecting. 

In the 18th Century, M. Dudin in The Art of the Bookbinder and Gilder ends his treatise by recommending that the completed binding be perfumed.  “Very few people seek this refinement for their books but there is nothing simpler than perfuming a book.” (86) He explains two methods, one by sponging the pages with perfume, the other leaving the book in a cupboard for a long period of time with an open bottle.  Keep those noses going, fellow conservators, I would love to find an example of this.  

Now Christopher Brosius, and his store CB I Hate Perfume, has bottled the smell.  The scent is named “In The Library”, and here is part of his description.

“I love books, particularly old ones. I cannot pass a second hand bookshop and rarely come away without at least one additional volume. I now have quite a collection!  Whenever I read, the start of the journey is always opening the book and breathing deeply. Don’t you find there are few things more wonderful than the smell of a much-loved book? Newly printed books certainly smell very different from older ones. The ink is so crisp. I’ve also noticed that books from different periods & different countries also have very different smells. And then there are the scents of different bindings: leather is marvelous of course but I find a peculiar pleasure in musty worn clothbound books as well. Perhaps just a hint of mildew!  The main note in this scent was copied from one of my favorite books – I happened to find a signed first edition of this novel a few years ago in London. I was more than a little excited because there were only ever a hundred in the first place.” (From the CB I Hate Perfume Website)

I purchased a tiny, 2ml vial of this scent for about $12.  

I’m not much of a perfume guy– it didn’t smell bad, but it didn’t smell like an old book either.

French Leather: 1755 vs. 1810

Godfrey Smith’s The Laboratory or School of Arts is an important, and popular 18th  C.  description of bookbinding.  It was published in at least 7 editions over some 70 years.  Reproduced below are two paragraphs, dealing with “French leather”, which is a method of sprinkling leather. It is extremely prevalent during that time period, and Dudin mentions that “…our eyes are so used to seeing it there that the work would seem unfinished if it was absent.  Moreover, it is, to a certain extent, necessary to hide the minor defects…in calfskin.” (Dudin, 52)  He later notes that it is too expensive to use Natural Calf, since one would have to use leather without holes in it.  Patching holes in a leather binding– almost unthinkable today, given the reversal in the price of labor vs. materials– was considered standard practice. In this time period a pencil means a brush.  Note that hog bristles have yet to be replaced by a synthetic for bookbinding brushes.  This was an English book, commenting on a French tradition, and it appears the author colors the leather (“strain it on a frame;”) before covering, although the French generally applied color after covering.

But what I find most interesting, about the two passages reproduced below, one from the fourth edition, 1755, and one from the seventh, 1810, is how much closer to our own times the 1810 edition is.  Even apart from the long ‘s’, the whole look of it is different in ways that relate to the change in binding structure at this time–from a bound book to a cased one, which I have discussed in another post.  Still, there are some interesting similarities, such as the eccentric italicization in the title.

Although the text is virtually unchanged, the change in typography and the standardization of the printing is dramatic. The letter spacing is more open, even and controlled in the seventh edition contrasted to the fourth.  Visually, all the lines are much more even in the seventh, making the fourth look crude or charming, depending on your viewpoint. Just looking at the differences in these examples highlights the tremendous influence of the beginning of the industrial revolution, and the radical changes that occurred in book structure, machinery, tools, typography and in the world.

Fig. 1The Laboratory or School of Arts. Fourth edition, 1755.

Fig. 2.  The Laboratory or School of Arts. Seventh edition, 1810.

Dudin, M. 1977. The Art of the Bookbinder and Gilder. Trans. R. Atkinson.  Leeds, England:The Elmente Press.