Tag 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.

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)

Smuggler’s Bible

For reasons unknown to me, there are a number of these late 18th C. French bindings that have been converted into smuggler’s bibles.  The stamping on the front cover was done at a later date, and the inside of the textblock seems to have been edge glued, and the back flyleaf used to line the edges.  The bottom is the back board pastedown.  I always wonder what happened to the bulk of the text– thrown away or burned, most likely.  

So if I am “reading” this book correctly, with little or no text, it is the materials and the structure of the binding that give it meaning.  In a way, this book is a eloquent example of how a conservator approaches a book.   Firstly, through the lens of the history of technology, it is the physical substrates that support and protect the text that are documented, analyzed and conserved.   Secondly, we have not time, interest  or are unable to read the language of most of the books we work on.  Do we even need the text?

But this book also demonstrates how the brutal alteration of an artifact can distort our understanding of history.   I’m very interested in late 18th C. French bookbinding, and even though there are many extant examples, each one that is lost  distorts our understanding of the total production and subtle workshop variations. It is that it is very difficult to determine when this book was altered, so it gives the unscrupulous an easy excuse of saying they bought the book in this condition.  The market currently values destroyed or altered books such as this more than an intact volume. 

There is even a company called “Secret Storage Books” that currently makes new versions.  If I were being more stringent with my own ethics, I guess I shouldn’t have purchased this book, since it encourages more of them to be made.  

Octave Uzanne, writing in 1904, in The French Bookbinders of the Eighteenth Century writes: “‘Sham books’, simple wooden boxes, and sometimes mere mouldings, covered with gauffered and gold-tool leathers, with which they filled the empty shelves of a pretentious library, or with which they garnished the doors.”  The books below, however are real books that have been made to resemble the sham books he talks about.

 

18th-french-cover                  

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

french-safe

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Jane Eagan kindly sent this image of a similar book she owns.

eagan2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 
eagen-book2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

On the 24th of March, 2009 I was watching Looney Tunes historic Chuck Jones animation, and from 1939 an 8 minute short titled “Sniffles and the Bookworm” featured a smuggler’s bible.  Watch the book on the bottom right.  I barely had time to grab my camera, so I missed a better shot earlier in the movie.

jones

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

jones2

Old Books Stink!

Many of my clients talk about the smell of old books as being one of the aspects that attracts them to collecting. 

In the 18th Century, M. Dudin in The Art of the Bookbinder and Gilder ends his treatise by recommending that the completed binding be perfumed.  “Very few people seek this refinement for their books but there is nothing simpler than perfuming a book.” (86) He explains two methods, one by sponging the pages with perfume, the other leaving the book in a cupboard for a long period of time with an open bottle.  Keep those noses going, fellow conservators, I would love to find an example of this.  

Now Christopher Brosius, and his store CB I Hate Perfume, has bottled the smell.  The scent is named “In The Library”, and here is part of his description.

“I love books, particularly old ones. I cannot pass a second hand bookshop and rarely come away without at least one additional volume. I now have quite a collection!  Whenever I read, the start of the journey is always opening the book and breathing deeply. Don’t you find there are few things more wonderful than the smell of a much-loved book? Newly printed books certainly smell very different from older ones. The ink is so crisp. I’ve also noticed that books from different periods & different countries also have very different smells. And then there are the scents of different bindings: leather is marvelous of course but I find a peculiar pleasure in musty worn clothbound books as well. Perhaps just a hint of mildew!  The main note in this scent was copied from one of my favorite books – I happened to find a signed first edition of this novel a few years ago in London. I was more than a little excited because there were only ever a hundred in the first place.” (From the CB I Hate Perfume Website)

I purchased a tiny, 2ml vial of this scent for about $12.  

I’m not much of a perfume guy– it didn’t smell bad, but it didn’t smell like an old book either.

French Leather: 1755 vs. 1810

Godfrey Smith’s The Laboratory or School of Arts is an important, and popular 18th  C.  description of bookbinding.  It was published in at least 7 editions over some 70 years.  Reproduced below are two paragraphs, dealing with “French leather”, which is a method of sprinkling leather. It is extremely prevalent during that time period, and Dudin mentions that “…our eyes are so used to seeing it there that the work would seem unfinished if it was absent.  Moreover, it is, to a certain extent, necessary to hide the minor defects…in calfskin.” (Dudin, 52)  He later notes that it is too expensive to use Natural Calf, since one would have to use leather without holes in it.  Patching holes in a leather binding– almost unthinkable today, given the reversal in the price of labor vs. materials– was considered standard practice. In this time period a pencil means a brush.  Note that hog bristles have yet to be replaced by a synthetic for bookbinding brushes.  This was an English book, commenting on a French tradition, and it appears the author colors the leather (“strain it on a frame;”) before covering, although the French generally applied color after covering.

But what I find most interesting, about the two passages reproduced below, one from the fourth edition, 1755, and one from the seventh, 1810, is how much closer to our own times the 1810 edition is.  Even apart from the long ‘s’, the whole look of it is different in ways that relate to the change in binding structure at this time–from a bound book to a cased one, which I have discussed in another post.  Still, there are some interesting similarities, such as the eccentric italicization in the title.

Although the text is virtually unchanged, the change in typography and the standardization of the printing is dramatic. The letter spacing is more open, even and controlled in the seventh edition contrasted to the fourth.  Visually, all the lines are much more even in the seventh, making the fourth look crude or charming, depending on your viewpoint. Just looking at the differences in these examples highlights the tremendous influence of the beginning of the industrial revolution, and the radical changes that occurred in book structure, machinery, tools, typography and in the world.

Fig. 1The Laboratory or School of Arts. Fourth edition, 1755.

Fig. 2.  The Laboratory or School of Arts. Seventh edition, 1810.

Dudin, M. 1977. The Art of the Bookbinder and Gilder. Trans. R. Atkinson.  Leeds, England:The Elmente Press.