Category Archives: bookbinding

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Dita Amory Madame Cezanne (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2014), 181.

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.

Christmas Gift Ideas for Bookbinders, 2014

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!

Disposable Scalpels

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.



feather blades

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.



delrin in hand

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.




phd target

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



Feeding Fingers

Appletons’ Modern Mechanism Supplement of 1895 contains an excellent bookbinding machinery section. The article mentions that machines haven’t changed significantly in the past decade, but performance and efficiency are improved. Chamber’s rotary board cutter is a particular beauty.  I find these hybrid cast iron and wood machines quite interesting since we usually think of machinery as consisting one of the other, not both. Note the automatic board advancement pins on the bed of the machine, which are called “feeding fingers”. OUCH!

Dividers; or, What Problem?

stevens dividers

Some of my dividers.  

Sara Bryant of Big Jump Press wrote a breathlessly enthusiastic ode to dividers last month on her blog. Apart from extolling the virtues of comparison measurement, she wondered aloud if she perhaps was becoming a hoarder beause she has six pairs, and if it might be a problem.

My dear Sara, rest assured, you do not have a problem.

stevens divider

My favorite dividers, a 19th century Stevens & Co. Note the unusual, and extremely elegant position of the adjustment screw above the pivot point.

“Feeling Small” While Paring Leather

There is a recent New York Times article which describes the difficulties of creating a robot with a sense of touch comparable to a human. One of the links in the article, “Feeling Small: Exploring the Tactile Perception Limits”, contains suprising results. It turns out our fingers are exponentially more sensitive than previous research has indicated. Earlier studies used abrasive paper, while this study used wave-like ridges, which may account for some of the difference in the new findings.

Human fingers, when using “dynamic touch” — sliding across a surface — can distinguish a ridge that is 13 nanometers, which is .013 microns, or about .0000005 of an inch. For comparison, the thickness of a sheet of standard copy paper is a mountainous .004 of an inch thick. The average particle size of green chromium oxide stropping compound is .5 micron, which produces a mirror finish on steel.

My mind is blown. Should I be able to feel the individual fibers on a Japanese tissue paper repair? Will I ever be able to pare leather smoothly enough?

Christopher Sower Junior Died While Beating Books

“He began the process of binding these books by the laborious employment of beating them, as is usual, and imprudently completed as much of this work in half a day as is usually done in a whole day. The weather was warm, and by this exertion he became overheated. He went out to a spring where he drank so freely of water as to produce a fit of apoplexy, which soon after terminated his moral existence.”

-Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America 2nd. Ed., Vol. 1. (Albany, N.Y.: : Joel Munsell, printer., 1874), 280.

Christopher Sower Jr. (1721-1784) a Pennsylvania German Anabaptist who, like his father, was a papermaker, bookbinder, printer and jack of all trades. He reportedly preferred walking to any other method of travel, and could maintain four miles an hour. Although bookbinding research is generally a somewhat impersonal activity, this story struck home with me. First, I come from an Anabaptist religious tradition. Secondly, I have been spending a lot of time looking at the Pennsylvania German wood board bindings that Sower made, as well as the Bibles he printed. Thirdly, I recently wrote an article about the beating of books.

I think I will take it easy the next time I beat a text block when making a model….

Louis-Sebastien Lenormand: Scientist, Professor, Daredevil, Author of a Bookbinding Manual.

One may safely assume that most of the authors of bookbinding manuals tend to be somewhere between mild-mannered and introvertedly geeky. There are some starteling exceptions to this rule, however. Witness one Louis-Sebastien Lenormand. In the image below, he is hanging from the wood framed parachute, which he invented and publicly demonstrated.

From the wikipedia entry for Louis-Sebastien Lenormand

He coined the name para-chute (Greek-against, French-fall) and intended it to save people that had to jump from tall burning buildings. He also was a professor of physics, chemistry, and technology. In his spare time he was an editor of 27 volumes of Dictionnaire Technologique (1822-1827). And he wrote one of the best bookbinding manuals of the 19th century.

His 1827 Manuel du Relier  (Nouvelle Edition, 1833) was in print for over one hundred years.  He credits Dudin and Lesne as predecessors.  It is comprehensive and is especially concerned with technique. In addition to bound books, it also covers cartonnage allemand, or Bradel binding. There is a tremendous amount of interchange between English and French technical descriptions of bookbinding throughout the 18th and 19th centuries. Hannett, in Bibliopegia, 1835, thought that Lenormand’s illustrations of the man ploughing and the disembodied beating hammer were good enough that he copied them. Even if you do not read French, the fold out plates are worth spending some time with, though unfortunately they were not opened when Google scanned Nouvelle Edition….

I won’t even attempt to speculate about the relationship between parachuting and bookbinding, other than that both fascinated Lenormand immensely. I can only applaud his life and work, like the cheering crowd in the image above.