Jost Amman’s 1588 “Two of Books”: An Important 16th C. Image of a Bookbinder

Fig. 1. Jost Amman’s 1568 Bookbinder from the Book of Trades.  Credit: Incline Press.

Jost Amman’s 1568 image of a bookbinder from his “Book of Trades” is quite well known, and a rich source of information about 16th century bookbinding. Not so well known is his 1588 “Two of Books”, which depicts two bookbinders, one sewing and beating a textblock. The images are in a playing card iconography. They originally appeared in a book, along with a poem in Latin and German.

Amman used a variety of suits that may seem odd to us now:  books, printer’s ink balls, earthenware wine vessels, and metal drinking cups. Later, the French standardized the suits we now use: Hearts, Diamonds, Spades, and Clubs.

Fig. 4. Jost Amman’s 1588 “Two of Books”. Colored when?  By hand? Stencils are more common for playing cards.

The “two of books” is extraordinary visual evidence for binders and book historians, since it depicts a sewer and beater in action. They arrangement is similar to the binders from the Book of Trades (Fig. 1) with a muscular seated foreground binder, actively ploughing or beating, and a sewer with his back to us in the background.

The sewer is using a Northern European style frame with hooks and what appears to be some kind of gated front on the very thick base. He sits almost parallel to the frame, with his left hand inside the book, his right hand free to pull the length of thread.  A ball of thread or beeswax to his right. The shape of the nuts on the frame is typically German. A finishing press lies under the table, with the same typical nuts. In a bindery of the time, he would have likely been facing a window, to help aid needle placement when the signatures were partially open, so the fact that he is facing away from the viewer makes me think Amman possibly based his woodcut on a bindery he observed.

The beater is beating a partially folded textblock — two pages are clearly visible — likely to remove a previous folding crease when the book was transported from the printer to the binder. (1) It is a testament to his strength that he is able to do this strenuous activity while seated. The beating stone appears to be one solid piece. It is drawn distinctly different than the wood stumps in the Fig. 1. And of course they are not working in a bindery.

The books above them (Fig. 4) are all typical late Gothic, with thick wood boards, a heavy round to the spine and foreedge, typical panel tooling, and clasps. Accuracy in details that we know about lend credence to the validity of other aspects we know little about, like how the beater held the hammer and the fact he is seated rather than standing.

Each image in the book was originally accompanied by short verses in Latin and German. The two Peters (Zillig  and Verheyen) provided a translation:

Because I too serve the liberal arts

By binding various/diverse books

I hope you will appreciate me

As a small link in Phoebe’s realm

Look here and see the benefits

Phoebe’s realm? Verheyen found that Phoebe (aka. Endymion,  Diana, Cynthia) was an allegorical figure for spiritual ascent or apotheosis, which makes sense in the context cards in this deck, which generally represent the search for virtue in the material world. (3)  Mary Carol Koester (Azalea Bindery) left an very interesting comment on my previous post about the two of printer’s ink balls from the same deck, noting that the “two” in a Tarot deck of cards concerns the transfer of oral to written history, which is mirrored in both these images of the material production of written texts.

Image
Fig. 2. The “two of books”. The paper looks typical for a 16th c. German book.  Credit: https://daten.digitalesammlungen.de/~db/0002/bsb00024415/images/index.html?seite=49&fip=193.174.98.30

Was this book intended to be converted into playing cards? The evidence is contradictory.  Worldcat lists only three institutions holding it.  I haven’t discovered any of the 1588 cards cut out of books, though I would love to know if any exist!

It is difficult to believe that the owner would cut out the cards. How could they be cut regular enough by ordinary means — a scissors or knife and straightedge — to be shuffled and dealt? And wouldn’t they worry about decreasing the value of an expensive book? Perhaps a professional would have done this, using something like the plough. The earliest  table mounted playing card cutter  I am aware of is 18 c . French.

Additionally, why letterpress print the poem only to have it discarded when cutting out the cards? Playing cards are usually printed on a sheet, then laminated with a paper core and a back. This was done for rigidity and durability, and to prevent the image from showing through on the back. Laminating one card at a time, after cutting it out of a book, would be very time consuming. And again, something the general public would be unable to do. Without laminating, is is quite easy to see through the page, at least enough to identify the card if you were familiar with them.

Vergroesserung
Fig. 3. It is possible to identify the two of books from the verso. Not ideal when playing cards! Credit: https://daten.digitale-sammlungen.de/0002/bsb00024415/images/index.html?id=00024415&groesser=150%&fip=193.174.98.30&no=&seite=50

The images in the book certainly have all the standard iconography of playing cards, and they were printed only on the recto of the leaves, which is unusual, and does suggest they were meant to be cut out. The left over poems could have been cut out and used for other purposes, I suppose; hung on a wall or lining a coffer or small box.

Maybe there was a different dedicated card printing of his woodcuts on full size sheets for cutting into cards? I haven’t found one. This is where examining the originals might shed further light.

Fig. 5. Jost Amman’s 1588 “Five of Books”.

The image visually references the etymology of the word “book”, by portraying the books growing on a tree.

From Wikipedia: “The word book comes from Old English bōc, which in turn comes from the Germanic root *bōk-cognate to ‘beech‘.[4] Similarly, in Slavic languages (for example, RussianBulgarianMacedonianбуква (bukva—’letter’) is cognate with ‘beech’. In Russian, Serbian and Macedonian, the word букварь (bukvar’) or буквар (bukvar) refers specifically to a primary school textbook that helps young children master the techniques of reading and writing. It is thus conjectured that the earliest Indo-European writings may have been carved on beech wood.[5] Similarly, the Latin word codex, meaning a book in the modern sense (bound and with separate leaves), originally meant ‘block of wood’.”

An additional point of overlap: German books from this time often had beech boards.  Almost half the tools depicted in Fig. 1 are for working wood: files or rasps, a broad axe, gimlet, frame saw. Possibly the drawknife in the foreground on the floor could be used for wood or bookblock edges. Books and wood have a long and close history in many traditions.

The images on these cards reflect a high-octane Protestant work ethic. H.T. Morley, author of “Old and Curious Playing Cards”, mentions the cards in this deck were intended to promote “the advantages of Industry and Learning over Idleness and Drunkenness.” (2) The two of books exemplifies this, with blooming books growing out of the tree of knowledge.  An unclasped book is about to be opened on the left, while an open book with leaves fluttering on the right suggests the growth that learning can provide.

In Fig. 5, the “Five of Books”, a bookseller has fallen asleep or passed out, while monkeys steal books out of his basket, urinate or defecate on his head, and pick his pocket. The horn books that the monkey is stealing are usually made out of wood. Or is the monkey stealing only a codex book and leaving the horn book?

This deck of cards is a perfect example of proto-capitalist ideology: you can edify your moral fiber AND make a few bucks playing cards at the same time.

 


  1. More details at: Peachey, Jeffrey S. “Beating, Rolling and Pressing: The Compression of Signatures in Bookbinding Prior to Sewing” in Suave Mechanicals: Essays in the History of Bookbinding, Volume 1, edited by. Julia Miller. Ann Arbor: The Legacy Press, 2013. 316-381.
  2. Morley, H.T. Old and Curious Playing Cards, London: Bracken Books, 1989. 79.
  3. Personal email from Jun 5, 2020, 8:56 AM.

*****

A scan of the entire book:  https://daten.digitale-sammlungen.de/0002/bsb00024415/images/index.html?id=00024415&groesser=150%&fip=193.174.98.30&no=&seite=1

Amman, Jost / Schroeter, Johann Heinrich: Charta lusoria, Nürnberg, 1588 [VD16 S 4258]

I bought an inexpensive reproduction deck for $5 from MacGregor Games, which are quite nice for the price.

Printer’s Ink Balls: Before the Roller or Brayer

Jost Amman’s 1588 two of printer’s ink balls, from a deck of cards. Note the barefoot pressman!

Before brayers and rollers were standard in the mid-19th century, printers used a pair of ink balls (aka. inking balls, dabbers) to ink to the type. They appear in Jost Amman’s 1588 deck of playing cards as a suit. Another suit from the same deck, the “two of books” depicts binders, which I will blog next week. The shape, size, and material composition of historic ink balls varies considerably.

A recent commission from Bill Minter, Senior Conservator at Penn State University Conservation Lab, for a pair of printer’s ink balls turned into a lot of challenging fun to make. Although they are historically based and will be used with a ca. 1830s Washington Handpress for demonstrations, I was given some leeway to make them as I desired, and Minter provided an excellent starting point and a dimensioned drawing.

A finished ink ball. A stainless steel rod runs through the handle to attach it to the bowl.

Because it was tough to find any wood in the appropriate size to make it in one piece, I made it out of two pieces of mahogany which I had been saving for a special purpose. They are bolted together with a steel rod and epoxied.

This job ended up becoming a prolonged comedy of equipment failures. To begin, the drawers where I kept my turning tools slipped off the track in the back and became wedged shut. Lets just say a crowbar was involved to extract the tools. When I started turning the handles on a wood lathe, the motor burned out halfway through. I switched to my metal lather, which turned out too small for the bowl, so I had to convert my milling machine to a lathe by building a tool rest for it.  Then the drive belt broke on my milling machine, the factory was closed, etc, etc….  In the end, I was pleased with the results. And it reminded me — yet again — of the importance of perseverance.

Finished ink ball with chrome tanned sheep covering. Leather covering and photo by Bill Minter.

Minter decided not to finish the ink balls with the traditional untreated sheepskin or dogskin and wool or horsehair stuffing. Instead, he covered it with chrome tanned sheepskin by tying a cord into a groove near the bottom, rather than the traditional nailing, and stuffed it with polyester batting. Testing is still under way, but he thinks it has the right resistance, flexibility, and softness for applying the ink. Possibly other coatings may need to be applied to the leather to aid ink clean up. We will find out once the press is fired up.

 

Chip Fix: Seven Approaches to Repairing a Damaged Knife Edge

It is a sinking feeling when you take a look at the cutting edge of your knife, and see a chip in it. But it happens. Sometimes completely regrinding the bevel is the best solution, sometimes not. Below are some options to consider, depending on the nature, size and location of the chip, how the blade is used, and what your sharpening set-up is.

A small chip like this will work itself out after a few resharpenings.
1)  Live with it. This is often a good solution for small chips. It will make a weird little ridge in the leather (or other material), and you will have to go back over it with a different part of the knife, like removing the ridge between multiple passes of a double edge razor blade paring machine. As you resharpen the blade it will get smaller each time.
Hand forged Japanese gardening tool with the chip reground to function.
2)  For large chips, alter the cutting angle around the chip so the blade can still function.  The example above shows a huge chip, and fixing it by regrinding the bevel would have removed most of the knife. The previous owner cleverly fixed it by putting an edge on the large chip.  This blade still works quite well for hacking small branches. In fact, I kind of like having the notched higher bevel area. Of course, this depends on what type and size of blade you have and how you use it.
The bevel edge of a chisel in very poor shape from abuse. A good candidate to regrind.
3) Regrind to the original bevel using the coarsest diamond stone you can find, at least a 220 US grit.  Even though I have belt grinders, for a narrow chisel like this one, it is easier to control working by hand on a diamond stone. It really doesn’t take that long. And you can skip your HIIT tomorrow.
The bevel angle of this chisel was ground too shallow for how it was used, and the entire cutting edge rolled off on the left side. A good candidate to regrind.
4) Regrind to the original using a belt sander, belt grinder, Tormek, or a stone grinder.  If the blade is wide or thick, and the damage severe, a complete regrind might be the best option. Obviously, it is quicker to have a machine do the work, rather than your arms.  I highly recommend the Kalamazoo 1 x 42 belt sander if you are in the market for a new one. I’ve had one for over 20 years, and sometimes during workshops it has run almost continuously for a couple of days.
The width of this chisel was reduced (on the top) to get rid of a chip at the top corner.
5) To fix a chipped corner, if the width of the blade is not of that much importance to you, it is often easier to reduce the it rather than regrind the bevel, like on the chisel above. This can ruin a rare or important tool, though. Often the entire width does not need to be reground, as the image above shows, but it can be rounded towards the tip. This can be done by hand on a diamond stone or on a machine grinder. Sometimes only a small amount of the blade on the bevel needs to be ground, sometimes the entire length. In this case, it was an inexpensive Buck chisel that I use for crude chopping, and has little value otherwise.
A tip chip.
Solution: a new rounded tip.
6)  If the tip or corner is chipped (which is very common) it can be easier to round it. Some prefer to have rounded tips on leather paring knives and other knives anyway. Think carefully if you want to keep the original bevel angle, or raise it slightly as in the above example. The above chip could also be fixed by reducing the width of the knife on the left side of the image.
Regrinding a knife back to the original bevel angle.