Category Archives: history of bookbinding

Upcoming Event: Time and the Book, Yale University, September 12 and 13, 2014

Next week, on September 12 and 13, 2014, I will be participating in a symposium sponsored by the Yale Program in the History of the Book.  Registration for the symposium is full; however, Kathryn James’s lecture, “Time in Place” is open to the public.  It is great that academics are becoming interested in the book as a material object; I suspect there will be some fascinating discussions.

symposium

 

The Excelsior Metal Folder

Using bone to make tools is likely very early in human history, maybe just after the rock and the stick.  Bone folders are still very common today in several trades, mainly because a better synthetic substitute has not been found, much to the dismay of hard-core vegetarians. Wood, bamboo, teflon, carbon fiber, steel, and a few other plastics are useful for specific tasks, however are not as useful overall.  Bone as a material is so ancient, traditional, simple and perfect it is hard to imagine any way to improve it.

Around 1889, J.C. Forman of Cleveland, Ohio, wanted a harder, less breakable bone folder and thought an aluminum alloy might be the answer.

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Forman’s Patent #398,825. I find the shape quite elegant and useful.

The patent specifies that the tool is made from “aluminum metal in alloy thereof, having the required degree of weight, strength, hardness, and as best adapted to resist the oxidating influence to which it is subjected in its use. These essential properties are required in the article for the purpose above mentioned, to prevent the paper and binding of books from being discolored and injured by a metallic oxide.”  The patent later mentions the tool is useful for rubbing signatures down between bands, tapping down band-points (?) and creating an even swell.  It is touted as especially useful for blank account-books because of the strength of the material and its hardness. Although the patent drawing has a complex tapered shape, the image of the folder in the advertisement below seems to be simpler, with an essentially flat surface along the length. The semicircular shape of the rounded end is similar to a modern tongue depressor. According to an unverified wikipedia link, both wood and metal tongue depressors were available in 1865, though I haven’t seen an image of one.

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The American Bookmaker, Vol. 8, May, 1889, p. 124.

Since I was unable to find an example of this tool, I decided to make a replica. I first used 6061 aluminum and copied the dimensions mentioned in the Bookmaker article. Forman variously refers to the metal as aluminum, aluminum bronze, or “aluminum metal in alloy”. 6061 aluminum alloy, however, caused black skid marks on the paper when rubbed.  It also was much lighter than described.  This is a case where a description of the color of the metal would give us a much clearer idea of the metal. I also thought aluminum might have had a certain luxury appeal at the time, since it recently become a “non-precious” metal, plumenting in price from over $500 a pound in the mid nineteenth century (it was used for jewelry) to $2.00 a pound at the end.  In 1884, an once of aluminum cost $1, about the same as an average day laborer’s salary. It was Andrew Mellon (the Mellon foundation is well know today for its generous funding of conservation activities) who founded the aluminum monopoly which later became Alcoa, beginning in 1888.

The American Bookmaker, Vol. 8, May, 1889. p. xi. Forman implies there were already knock-offs of his design being made and sold. Note the dubious claim “Less effort with greater results”. Note the puzzling claim “The most complete Blank Book Folder ever made.” 

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Next, I experimented with some aluminum bronze alloys, specifically types 954, 655 and 642. All these alloys are basically brass with around 10% aluminum, 3% iron, and varying trace amounts of manganese, nickel and cobalt. They were surprisingly difficult to work by stock reduction, which made me curious about the edge retention of an axe or cutting tool made from one of these alloys. I’ll put it on my list…. The 642 seemed closest to the “aluminum bronze” mentioned in Forman’s advertisement in terms of composition, weight and the fact that it barely marked the paper when rubbed vigorously. Forman, however, claims his metal alloy did not make a mark. Did I have the wrong alloy or was Forman exaggerating the qualities of his folder? I wonder if this small amount of offsetting might have been unnoticed or acceptable to late nineteenth century stationary binders. Possibly there are marks to look for along the spine edge of account books from around this time, if the folder was in fact adopted by some binders?

The American Bookmaker, Vol. 8, May, 1889, p. 124. This image seems to indicate a flat, rather than tapered shape for the majority of the folder, unlike the patent drawing.

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Some kind of surface coating might mitigate this to an acceptable degree, but Forman doesn’t mention any. A thin coating of wax virtually eliminated the offset, though wears off quickly and itself offsets onto the paper. Possibly the heaviness of the folder was unpopular, it is roughly 2-3 times heavier than teflon or bone— 8.25 ounces (234 grams) for the replica I made, which is consistant what Forman reports.  Forman also mentions using this folder to tap, rather than rub, which solves the offset problem.

In the end, I really couldn’t find many advantages, besides the touted durability and unbreakability. Foreman’s patent is referenced by a 1965 claim by Hunt Manufacturing, but the base of this baren is made of teflon or similar material.  Bookmakers does sell a stainless steel folder, which they market as a “creaser”, and I think it is meant for scoring paper, not the traditional meaning of a “creaser” which is used to make blind lines on leather.

Here the trail runs cold. Did Forman discover an aluminum alloy—or coating—that didn’t mark paper when used, as he claims?   Were these folders used by binders?  Are there any examples of these folders around? Moving forward, might there be other materials used to create a better bone folder? What would need improving?

Three copies of Forman’s folder I’ve made: On the top 360 Brass, in the middle 6061 Aluminum, and on the bottom aluminum bronze.

 

A Very Brief Account of Beating Textblocks

The compression of signatures before sewing is an interesting, important, and poorly understood aspect of bookbinding.  Many people immediately assume beating flattens the pages. Although this is partially true, the situation is more complex. Below is a brief introduction.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA unbeaten page

Both images, page 126 of John Marshall The Life of George Washington  Philadelphia: C. P. Wayne, 1804. On the top: beaten, edges cut and bound in full calf. On the bottom: unbeaten, uncut and boarded. Courtesy The Library Company of Philadelphia.

These two images, shot in raking light with a flashlight, demonstrate some of the effects of beating. The book in the bottom image is from a boards binding and is unbeaten, but has been pressed. The book in the top image has been beaten: it clearly demonstrates increased textblock undulations as compared to the bottom image, where the undulations are much looser. Baxter, in 1809, mentions that beating makes the leaves “smooth and lie close together.”[1]  Beating compresses the pages, smooths their surface texture, decreases the punch from the type, but it does not generally flatten the page overall. It usually does the opposite for the text area.

Pressing complicates all of this, but generally compresses the thickest parts of a textblock composed of handmade paper. Depending on the structure, time period, and nationality, bound books could be pressed up to six times: before sewing, when sawing in, during backing, while ploughing the edges, when applying spine linings, during edge decoration, and after pasting down the end sheets.

Depending on the techniques employed while beating, the margins of the page can get flatter, if beaten more, while the printed portions of the page simultaneously become more undulated. A useful food analogy is is to imagine pounding a veal cutlet.  The meat moves outward in all directions from the blows of a hammer, as well as getting thinner. Careful control can direct the movement, however. Beating hammers usually have some “belly”, so depending on how much force they are used, impact a smaller or larger area of the page.

Beating causes the textblock undulations to become more pronounced, and the pages to lie in closer contact with one another. This has the effect of helping to lock together the leaves, much like inserting egg crates into one another.  Much more information is available in my article, “Beating, Rolling and Pressing: The Compression of Signatures in Bookbinding Prior to Sewing” in Suave Mechanicals: Essays in the History of Bookbinding, Volume 1. Ed. Julia Miller. Ann Arbor: The Legacy Press, 2013. (pp. 316-381)

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1. John Baxter The Sister Arts (Lews: Printed and Published by J. Baxter) 95

Forty Bookbinding Reference Books

Florian asked, in a comment, what my most commonly used bookbinding reference books are. Below is a list, which is heavily weighted to my current interests in early nineteenth century American bookbinding.  The books below serve a variety of purposes for me. Some contain a quick review of structural history and others are key primary references. Some are a basic starting point for more in-depth research and others are a handy source of images to show clients. Anyone else have some favorites?

Appleton’s Dictionary of Machines, Mechanics, Engine-Work and Engineering. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1852. 

Baker, Cathleen A. From the Hand to the Machine: Nineteenth-Century American Paper and Mediums: Technologies, Materials and Conservation. Ann-Arbor, Michigan: The Legacy Press, 2010. 

Bearman, Frederick, Nati H. Krivatsy, and J. Franklin Mowery. Fine and Historic Bookbindings from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Washington, DC: The Folger Shakespeare Library, 1992.

Bennett, Stuart. Trade Bookbinding in the British Isles, 1660-1800. New Castle, Deleware and London: Oak Knoll Press and The British Library, 2004.

Bloom, Jonathan M. Paper before Print. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001. 

Blumenthal, Joseph. The Printed Book in America. Hanover, New Hampshire: Dartmouth College Library, 1989.

Bookbinding in America, 1680-1910. From the Collection of Frederick E. Maser. Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania: Bryn Mawr College Library, 1983. 

Bosch, Gulnar, John Carswell, and Guy Petherbridge. Islamic Bindings & Bookmaking. Chicago: The Oriental Institute, 1981. 

Carter, John. ABC for Book Collectors, 7th ed. Revised by Nicholas Barker. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 1995.

Comparato, Frank E. Books for the Millions: A History of the Men Whose Methods and Machines Packaged the Printed Word. Harrisburg, PA: The Stackpole Co., 1971.

Darley, Lionel. Bookbinding Then and Now. London: Faber and Faber, 1959. 

De Hamel, Christopher. The Book: A History of the Bible. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2001.

Edlin, Herbert L. What Wood is That? A Manual for Wood Identification. New York: Viking, 1969.

Foot, Mirjam M. Bookbinders at Work: Their Roles and Methods. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2006. 

French, Hannah D. Bookbinding in Early America. Seven Essays on Masters and Methods. Worchester: American Antiquarian Society, 1986.

Gaskell, Philip. A New Introduction to Bibliography. New Castle, Delaware and Winchester, UK: Oak Knoll Press and St. Paul’s Bibliographies, 1995.

Gascoigne, Bamber. How To Identify Prints: A Complete Guide to Manual and Mechanical Processes from Woodcut to Ink-Jet. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1995.

Gould, F.C. The Mechanization of Bookbinding. London: Master Bookbinders’ Association, 1937. 

Harrison, Thomas. “The Bookbinding Craft and Industry” London: Pitman, [1926] Facsimile in “The History of Bookbinding Technique and Design”. Ed. Sidney F. Huttner. New York: Garland, 1990. 

Herbert, Luke. The Engineer’s and Mechanic’s Encyclopedia. London: Thomas Kelly, 1841. 

The History of Bookbinding 525-1950 A.D. Baltimore, Maryland: The Trustees of The Walters Art Gallery, 1957.

Hoadley, R. Bruce. Identifying Wood: Accurate Results with Simple Tools. Newtown, Connecticut: Taunton Press, 1990.

Knight, Edward. American Mechanical Dictionary. New York: J.B. Ford and Co., 1874. 

Krupp, Andrea. Bookcloth in England and America, 1823-50. New Castle, Deleware and London and New York: Oak Knoll Press, The British Library, The Bibliographical Society of America, 2008.

Lehmann-Haupt. The Book in America: A History of the Making and Selling of Books in the United States. New York: R.R. Bowker Co., 1952.

Lehmann-Haupt, Hellmut, Ed. Bookbinding in America: Three Essays. New York: R.R. Bower Co., 1967.

Mayer, Ralph. The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques, 5th Ed., Revised and Updated. New York: Viking, 1985.

Middleton, Bernard C. A History of English Craft Bookbinding Technique. London: Hafner, 1963. 

Pearson, David. English Bookbinding Styles, 1450-1800. London and New Castle: The British Library and Oak Knoll Press, 2005.

Pollard, Graham and Esther Potter. Early Bookbinding Manuals: An Annotated List of Technical Accounts of Bookbinding to 1840. Oxford: Oxford Bibliographical Society, 1984. 

Posner, Raphael and Israel Ta-Shema. The Hebrew Book: An Historical Survey. Jerusalem: Keter House Publishing, 1975.

Ramsden, Charles. London Bookbinders 1780-1840. London: Batsford Ltd., (reprint), 1987.

Ramsden, Charles. Bookbinders of the United Kingdom (Outside London) 1780-1840. London: Batsford Ltd., (reprint), 1987.

Ramsden, Charles. French Bookbinders, 1789-1848. London: Batsford Ltd., (reprint), 1989.

Spawn, Willman and Thomas E. Kinsella. Ticketed Bookbindings from Nineteenth-Century Britain. Bryn Mawr and Deleware: Bryn Mawr College Library and Oak Knoll Press, 1999.

Szirmai, J.A. The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999. 

Thomlinson, William and Richard Masters. Bookcloth: 1823-1980. Cheshire: Dorthy Tomlinson, 1996.

Tomlinson, Charles. Cyclopaedia of Useful Arts, Mechanical and Chemical…. London: Virtue & Co., 1868. 

Ure, Andrew. Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures, and Mines: Containing a Clear Exposition of their Principles and Practice. 2nd. Ed. London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1840.

Wolf, Richard. Marbled Paper: Its History, Techniques and Patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990. 

Soon to be Published! Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding, Volume 1

UPDATE 2/13/2013: This book is now available for purchase from The Legacy Press

I’m quite excited about this forthcoming book for two reasons: my essay on the beating of signatures is included and I’m really looking forward to reading the other essays. Julia Miller is the editor as well as the author of an essay on scaleboard bindings. This is the first of a volume of a planned series on the history of bookbinding.  Binders take note, there will be copies in sheets available. This book is scheduled to be published in early 2013 and if you want to know when it is published email: thelegacypress (at) comcast.net

Cathy Baker, founder of The Legacy Press,  also publishes a number of other award winning books on book and paper history. I wrote a review of her own excellent book, From the Hand to the Machine: Nineteenth-Century American Paper and Mediums, Technologies, Materials and Conservation, in the The Bonefolder, Volume 7, 2011. Books from her press are thoughtfully designed, well made, and most importantly contain valuable, original content.

My essay, “Beating, Rolling and Pressing: The Compression of Signatures in Bookbinding Prior to Sewing”  is a comprehensive examination of the tools, techniques and effects of beating. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of beating in the forming the appearance and function of virtually all textblocks from the handpress era. Prior to the 1830′s, all bound book were beaten by hand with hundreds—likely many hundreds—of hammer blows. Records indicate it could account for up to 25% of the cost of a binding.  Today beating is virtually ignored or barely mentioned, even in most book histories and in specialized workshops on historical bindings. Beating hammers are very rare and I’ve only located about a dozen of them, though I suspect there are many more as yet unidentified. The study of the history of tools is often divorced from the study of the history of the objects they were used to make: here, I attempt to integrate the two. I trace the history of beating, the evolution of beating tools and machines, and interpret the results of beating in an essay of over 21,000 words with 42 illustrations.

Abstract for “Beating, Rolling and Pressing: The Compression of Signatures in Bookbinding Prior to Sewing”

The tools and techniques of bookbinding have received little attention within the study of book history, bibliography and book conservation. From the fifteenth century until the beginning of the nineteenth, the compression of book signatures prior to sewing was accomplished by hand beating with a large hammer. Signatures were beaten for various reasons at different times, but generally to meet expectations of solidity, smoothness, and openability. In 1827 the introduction of the rolling machine replaced hand beating in large binderies in England, and quickly spread to other countries. Both literally and figuratively, the transition from hand beating to the rolling press demarcates the end of bookbinding as a vernacular hand craft and the beginning of machine bookbinding. Papermaking, printing and book structures also changed radically around this time. The rolling press and descriptions of other presses are well documented in early bookbinding manuals, trade records, nineteenth century encyclopedias and other accounts of which together provide an unusually rich and detailed insight into this time period. This study will follow one technique of bookbinding—the compression of signatures prior to sewing—and investigate how it was done, how the tools changed, what the technique meant to the bookbinders, and how it affects the bookbindings themselves.

Sewing a Book: 1902 and 1946

Above: Douglas Cockerell,  Bookbinding, and the Care of Books

(New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1902), 104.

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Above: Edith Diehl, Bookbinding: Its Background and Technique

(New York: Rinehart & Co., Inc., 1946), 123.

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It is interesting how much bookbinding has changed in the 50 odd years from 1900 to 1950. The skirts and hairstyles are much shorter. The stool you sit on also looks to be metal, rather than wood. Thanks to the sharp eyes of the John Townsend (aka. Anonymous Bookbinder) for bringing this to my attention and supplying these images. John has noticed that 23 illustrations originally done by Noel Rooke (Cockerell’s illustrator)  are highly likely to be redrawn by Mrs. Edna Kaula (Diehl’s illustrator).

A Bookbinding is not a Picture Frame

“In point of fact, a stack of printed or handwritten sheets of paper does not become a book until it is bound. For this reason the binding cannot be seen apart from the book and differs therefore from the picture frame, with which it is sometimes compared but in which there is seldom any structural parallel with painting.” Jan Storm van Leeuwen [1]

Thinking of a book’s binding as something independent from “the book” as an entirety is a serious misconception. This raises some practical concerns:  if a book has been disbound, and perhaps remains disbound for the purposes of display, is it no longer a book? Does it now belong in a special category of the book; a disbound book? [2]   Much descriptive terminology adds similar qualifiers; an unbound book, a rebound book, etc…. A work of art remains a work of art if it is in its frame or not.  A textblock cannot just be taken out of its binding without radically altering its ontological status as a book.

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[1] Jan Storm van Leeuwen. Dutch Decorated Bookbinding in the Eighteenth Century, Volume 1: General Historical Introduction. Den Haag: Hes & De Graff, 2006. p. 41.

[2] The extreme of this might be the leaf book, a new book made  to highlight a single leaf from another book. There are a number of excellent essays, including one by a lawyer/ leaf book collector who considers ethics and international law in the catalog to the exhibition Disbound and Dispersed: The Leaf Book Considered. Chicago: The Caxton Club, 2005.