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)