Category Archives: book conservation

Review of Suave Mechanicals Vols. 1 and 2

Both volumes of Suave Mechanicals received a strongly positive review by David Brock in The Book Club of California Quarterly News-Letter this month. In general, he “…marveled at how unique it [Suave Mechanicals] is. This is not a survey of the history of bookbinding, nor is it a manual, yet it has a foot in each camp.” (p. 19)  In particular, he mentioned my 2013 essay, “Beating, Pressing, and Rolling: The Compression of Signatures in Bookbinding Prior to Sewing”, in a complementary paragraph, reproduced below.

Both volumes are available at The Legacy Press. Get them before they are out of print!


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Source: David Brock “A Review of Suave Mechanicals: Essays in the History of Bookbinding” The Book Club of California Quarterly News-Letter, Vol. LXXXI, No. 1, Winter 2016. (pp.18-21)


Saw Blade for an Olfa

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Gyokucho Razorsaw No. S-1160.

This Japanese style pull saw fits into an 18 mm Olfa-style snap off knife handle. The Razorsaw is well made and cuts quickly. Bookbinders may find it useful to make small cuts while shaping wooden boards, trimming trenails, etc. There is another saw blade which I haven’t tried, the S-1162 serrated blade, designed for plastics, which might work on ethafoam.  An easy and inexpensive way to add a saw to your tool kit. And whose inner 13 year old boy can resist the appeal of a pocketable saw?

Virtual Reality in the Library

When I first read about the Alberto Manguel/ Robert Lepage collaboration “La bibliotheque, la nuit” at Bibliotheque et Archives Nationales du Quebec, in Montreal, Canada, it sounded nuts.  A virtual reality exhibition of the interiors of libraries?  Even for someone deeply involved with books, this sounded like a real bore. And it seemed desperate, libraries trying to reinvent themselves as entertainment? But I was curious enough to check it out.

Once I experienced the exhibition, I was floored.  Ten libraries from around the world were virtually presented, with a short 2-3 minute narrative describing them. Paper-based books formed the background to many of the scenes and there was a constant subtext alluding to their importance.  Overall, it was an oddly reflective and poetic. When experiencing a library, you were generally located in the center of a reading room, and could look in every direction. The Oculus Rift VR simulators were very impressive. The experience felt so real it was disconcerting to look down and not see my own body in the virtual space.

If one of the goals of this exhibition was to establish libraries as a third space, I left doubtful. But I can imagine some kind of “stack view” using virtual reality to help visually find books of interest on the shelves, which would be incredibly useful to those of us researching bindings (except for all the books in boxes…). Or, much like books are now digitized, will libraries themselves be “preserved” using virtual reality in the future, and this will be how we remember and experience this once culturally powerful dinosaur?

If you are attending the joint 2017 AIC/CAC Conference this May in Montreal, this exhibition will still be on. It is within walking distance of the conference site, reservations required.



You enter the exhibition through a reproduction of Manguel’s personal library. A gentle rains falls outside the stone framed windows. My Photo.

Shaker Press

“The Shakers: America’s Quiet Revolutionaries”  is a fantastic temporary exhibition at the New York State Museum, located in Albany, New York. In addition to shaker artifacts, there are a number of gorgeous WPA-era photographs of shaker communities. Another part of the exhibition focuses on inventions, which include a flat broom, washing machine, water turbine, folding steroscope, swivel foot for chair legs, and many others.

I particularly liked their very simple method to turn a press screw, pictured below. Usually this is one of the most complicated areas of a press.  By simply offsetting the holes ninety degrees, a tommy bar (called a press pin in bookbinding) can be alternately inserted to complete full rotations from one side of the press. Genius! Also note the simple two part platen holder, which looks a little rinky-dink but apparently has functioned for many years.



Detail of double cheese press. My Photo.

Miniature Fake Litho Stone Advertising Paperweight


Miniature Fake Lithography Stone Advertising Paperweight. Award Lithographers, Los Angeles. My Collection


A Behemoth

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Monster press. Evergreen Brickworks, Toronto, Canada.

I initially thought this was the most massive two rod screw press I had ever seen.

The center screw was six inches in diameter diameter with a very low thread pitch. The rods were almost four inches in diameter. The upper and lower platens were doubled, one completely encircles the rod and the other runs along it, which I’ve never seen before. It could squeeze the ink out of a book.

But looking closer, the wheel troubled me: it was oddly placed, way too high to be easily accessible, and delicate looking when compared to the rest of the press.

Upon reading the nameplate, it turned out this was a scales and not a press. Likely the machine which did the measurement fit inside the platens, and the screw was a way to calibrate it. I also think this machine was connected to the inside of the brick making kiln behind it.

The W & T Avery Ltd. Co., who made this machine is still in business, and one branch of the business is Avery-Denison. They make sheets of PSA stickers to run through a computer printer, very much the opposite end of the weight spectrum from this monster.


Detail of nameplate. Evergreen Brickworks, Toronto, Canada.


Books as Tools and Owner Repairs

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Machinery’s Handbook.  My Collection.

This is not the way I would ever repair a book. On the other hand, this is my book, and I bought it because of this repair; the massive amount of masking tape. I can appreciate that the owner—likely a machinist—did anything possible to keep this book functioning. This book was as important to a working machinist in pre-internet days as any of his other tools.

Machinery’s Handbook contains charts, reference information and formulas, and was so useful that Gerstner, a wood machinist chests manufacturer,  incorporated a special drawer in some of their machinist’s chest to store this book.

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The book fits into the middle drawer, spine up. Source:

All books are tools for reading, but in many ways this book is even more of a tool than other books. So should it be repaired, conserved or restored differently? Nineteenth century owner repairs, which are often sewn, are becoming increasingly valued as part of the history of a book’s circulation, value, and usage. Could a masking tape repair be similarly prized a hundred years from now? But what would be left? Could the “patina” of cross-linked deteriorating adhesives someday be valued?

Mindy Dubansky recently posted other cool examples of owner repairs at ” It Seemed like a Good Idea at the Time: Crazy Book Repairs, Part One” In general, I don’t consider these types of repairs crazy, though. They are expedient. practical and reflective of the bookbinding knowledge of the owner, which is understandably low. Just don’t expect them to last too long.