Nelson’s School Series Book Slate for Home and Student Use (London & Edinburgh: T. Nelson and Sons, [1900?]) is an odd structure, a diptych in a case binding. The exterior looks like a standard quarter cloth case binding with printed paper sides. The interior, however, is made from a painted slate-like material. It can be written on and erased. The earliest known diptych is from 14th-century BCE, making the codex seem like a newbie. Is the laptop a 20th century iteration? Long live the diptych!
“I pity those who call themselves cultured and with fine art taste who cannot take from their shelves some few specimens of first-class modern extra binding … giving to their possessors every time they handle them finer feelings and sweeter ecstasy of pleasure than many more costly objects of art they possess.”
-William Matthews Modern Bookbinding Practically Considered. New York: The Grolier Club, 1889. (pp. 94-95)
Modified 151 spokeshaves are used by bookbinders and leather workers for reducing large areas of the thickness of leather and are especially good at creating a long gradual bevel. They are also indispensable for working calf, which is difficult to pare using a Scharf-Fix machine. I’ve been experimenting with the somewhat new Lee Valley PM-V11 spokeshave blade. PM-V11 is a proprietary steel designed for woodworkers, and reportedly has the ease of sharpening of 01 steel and the durability of A2.
I’m glad they did some testing of O1, A2 and PM-V111 metals, but have some problems with their methodologies. Most importantly, the assigning of a 0-10 rating for wear based on subjective visual examination, rather than the industry standard CATRA testing machine. Then a deceptive XYZ plotting of wear testing, impact resistance, and ease of sharpening all together creating a three-dimensional triangle. Where is Edwin Tufte when you need him? They have developed a clever method of quantifying ease of sharpening, however. Oddly, at the bottom of The PM-V11 story page, they negate the need for testing, and lay on some aw-shucks folk wisdom, claiming that woodworkers don’t need an advanced degree in metallurgy or a scanning electron microscope to realize PM-V11 is a better blade.
In any event, I was still curious. In order to work effectively on leather, first I reground the blade to 20 degrees using a 2 x 72″ belt grinder. Then I hand sharpened an A2 and PM-V11 blade side-by-side. There wasn’t much difference in the time it took. The PM-V11 blade did feel a little gummy, which some woodworkers speculate may be due to vanadium in the blade. Edge retention seemed quite similar, though possibly the PM-V11 lasted a bit longer. PM-V11 did seem to have slightly better initial cutting performance (sharpness), however. Most importantly, PM-V11 was quicker to strop back into action than A2; it felt more like an M3 steel.
Even though PM-V11 and A2 don’t seem to be massively different, I will continue to experiment. Both of these steels are excellent. Yet, concentrating on subtle differences can reinvigorate interest in repetitive handwork, helping to stave off the inevitable boredom which looms at the edges of all professional craft work. Or, put another way, buy more tools.
The Cloisters is a branch of the Metropolitan Museum of Art, located in upper Manhattan, quite near my studio. In fact, I think I might be able to see it, if I climbed up on my bench and peeked out the upper left corner of my window. Northern Manhattan is quite different from the rest of the city. It is where the Dutch purchased the island from the Native Americans and there is still even a farmhouse located on Broadway dating to 1784, which is now a museum.
The Cloisters was built (assembled?) in 1938, and consists of four medieval buildings imported from Europe. It is located inside the 66 acres of Fort Tryon park. There are also beautiful gardens, including a nice garden featuring plants used for making dyes and paints. Looking across the Hudson River, there is a stunning view of the Palisades of New Jersey which John D. Rockefeller so admired he purchased 12 miles of shoreline to preserve the naturalistic view from the park.
The Cloisters is not only my favorite museum, but it has my favorite painting, The Merode Alterpiece. Note to the impecunious: although the Met recommends a $25 entrance fee, you can pay whatever you wish.
In April of 2015, I decided to photograph 34 actual books and works of art which contain representations of books which were on display. This was also a great chance to try a lot of handheld, low light photography with my new Panasonic Lumix DMC-GX7, which is proving to be the second best camera I’ve ever owned. There are higher resolution images for most of these on the Met site, searchable by accession number.
If anyone would like to visit my studio, we could take a short detour to the Cloisters and look at the works, discussing what we can — and can’t — learn from looking at representations of books in art. Or you can can use this as a virtual or self guided tour.
BOOKS AND REPRESENTATIONS OF BOOKS ON DISPLAY IN APRIL, 2015,
AT THE CLOISTERS MUSEUM, NYC
This virtual tour starts on the main level in the Late Gothic Hall, and follows a counterclockwise path around the Cuxa Cloister, then jumps to the Gothic chapel, Glass Gallery and the Treasury on the lower level.
LATE GOTHIC HALL
UNICORN TAPESTRIES ROOM
EARLY GOTHIC HALL
SAINT GUILHEM CLOISTER
LOWER LEVEL, GOTHIC CHAPEL
In Dita Amory’s recent book on Cezanne, one section discusses the sketchbooks he used and includes a footnote referencing my claim that the early nineteenth century publishers three piece cloth case is the most radical innovation in book structure in centuries. This reminds me that I should be supporting this claim by working on my book about early nineteenth century bookbinding rather than writing this blog post.
Below are four inexpensive and useful items that I imagine any bookbinder or book conservator would love to get.
If, perchance, you are thinking of getting me a gift, I really, really, want the new Panasonic Lumix DMC-GM5. Black, please. Thanks in advance!
1. The Southmedic disposable plastic handled scalpel. The blades are not removable, which makes them feel quite solid. The blade cover easily slides back and forth, protecting them while traveling. I stop mine (with a small horsebutt strop) to keep it sharp and they last for quite some time. They come in two of my two favorite shapes, #11 and #15. There is a useful metric scale at the end of the handle for determining the depth of puncture wounds. Great fun for kids! McMaster-Carr sells them. About $3.
2. Japanese Feather brand double edge razor blades. Apart from vintage, NOS blades, these are the best I have found for Scharfix and Brockman paring machines. The Feather company may be familiar to some, since they also make scalpel blades. Hipsters love them for use in vintage double edge razor blade handles. Many vendors on Amazon sell them at various prices, around 30 cents each.
3. Delrin Folder. Delrin folders are new, and to my knowledge far I am the only one making them. They combine many advantages of bone and teflon. I know who has them if you are buying a gift, just ask! But get one for yourself as well. These are designed to perform a number of common scoring, folding and smoothing tasks bookbinders need when working with paper, cloth and leather. The big boy pictured above is $65, smaller ones are also available starting at a mere $35.
4. Small AIC PhD Target. It is awesome to finally have a small, affordable color bar to use for documentation. It used to drive me crazy fitting in a larger bar, which would almost be equal to the size of the book in some cases, resulting in the loss of detail, messing up framing, etc. Robin Meyers Imaging produces and sells them. Excellent! $75