“Tree Down!”   Jeff Peachey, 2013.

“Start with the leaves, the small twigs, and the nests that have been shaken, ripped, or broken off by the fall; these must be gathered and attached once again to their respective places. It is not arduous work, unless major limbs have been smashed or mutilated. If the fall was carefully and correctly planned, the chances of anything of the kind happening will have been reduced. Again, much depends upon the size, age, shape, and species of the tree. Still, you will be lucky if you can get through this stages without having to use machinery. Even in the best of circumstances it is a labor that will make you wish often that you had won the favor of the universe of ants, the empire of mice, … .” (the rest of the poem)

W. S. Merwin’s “Unchopping a Tree” is a wonderfully meditative poem/essay that will resonate with anyone in craft, conservation, technology, or environmentalism. It articulates the hubris of humans when working with natural materials by emphasizing the complex and one-directional time-bound nature of growth and craft.

There is not a backspace key for craft. Only starting over, or more rarely, working around a mistake. A second of inattention can create hours or days of extra work when dealing with physical materials. Possibly even failure. Chopping is quick. Unchopping takes a long time.

We can all appreciate the section on the structural inappropriateness of trying to glue back the severed fibers of the tree, which will never function as the original. It is as futile as gluing a spinal cord nerve.

The poem ends by zeroing in on the insecurity at the heart of all art and craft. How can any human construct even begin to compare to Nature?

Repurposed Leather


John Newbery. A Spelling Dictionary of the English Language…. 12th Ed. London: T. Carnan and F. Newbery, 1770. Source: http://www.biblio.com/book/spelling-dictionary-english-language-new-plan/d/639514784

Jeff Altepeter, Head of the Bookbinding Department at North Bennet Street School (NBSS) in Boston, recently acquired this book for their historic binding collection.  Do you notice something interesting about the tooling?

The covering leather has been reused from the board of another book. I don’t think this is the first binding for this book for a number of reasons that aren’t visible: the lack of headbands, the dislocation of signatures which seems to indicate an aggressive spine cleaning, and the fact that the leather is too thick and not properly adhered to the spine and the paper label. I think is was done by an amateur or novice. But the selection of the repurposed leather is extraordinary.

Observe that the lines of the board panel neatly mimic four evenly spaces panel divisions. The numbers on the paper label above the title label make me think this was done in a bookshop or for a bookseller. Primarily judging from the lettering on the paper label, I’d guess this rebinding is likely from the nineteenth century.

In the past decade or so, books that were likely not made (or repaired) by professional bookbinders have become a hot topic. The scholarly trend of considering the book as a democratic multiple started with Artist Books in the 1970’s, and now encompasses vernacular examples?


Title page.



A Hollow Question

Adding a hollow (aka. Oxford hollow, tube) is often used to repair books that originally had a hollow, which makes sense. What makes less sense is using it on books that originally had a natural hollow, like case bindings. It adds at least three layers of paper, and only adds the strength of one thickness of paper. Admittedly, a strong sheet of handmade paper can be incredibly strong. Adding a hollow can dramatically change the opening, sometimes in unexpected ways. Often other hinging options with airplane cotton, linen or stout tissue are preferable. Adding a hollow is best suited to a quick and fast repair of circulating collections, or on relatively recent bindings with strong covering cloth. There are times when it should not be used.


The movement of the spine would not be significantly changed by the addition of a hollow, since the textblock hinges from the tip of the shoulder. Remember that he significant stiffing caused by the adhesive and paper of the hollow is not addressed here, it also changes the movement, and can be damaging to a fragile covering material or spine linings..



The movement of the spine would be significantly changed by the addition of a hollow, since the textblock hinges from the base of the shoulder. The changes in movement can cause severe stresses to the covering material and spine lining, possibly resulting in creasing, tearing or even failure. Remember that the stiffing resulting from the hollow can also cause damage by significantly changing the movement. Because of the interaction of the case, spine linings and hinging points, cloth case bindings are sometimes more complex to successfully conserve than leather bindings.



This was one of the complexities we investigated in the recent workshop I taught at the Georgia Archives in Atlanta October 24-28, “Cloth Case Bindings: Their History and Repair.”


Georgia Archives Conservation Lab. Photo Kim Norman.

Click on the links to see a slide show of images from each day. Images courtesy Kim Norman, Preservation Manager and Conservator, Georgia Archives. Thanks for hosting, Kim!

Day 1: https://quik.gopro.com/v/PNwC9SDNeW/

Day 2: https://quik.gopro.com/v/5v0ARgYFEo/

Day 3: https://quik.gopro.com/v/0Akz24qveU/

Day 4: https://quik.gopro.com/v/1EWV9WiqcD/

Day 5: https://quik.gopro.com/v/hPB5y1FonH/

There is talk of scheduling a complementary workshop in October 2017 at the same venue, dealing with rebacking, board attachment and repair of 19th century leather bindings. This would include leather paring with English and French knives, spokeshaves and the Scharffix paring machine, as well as methods of consolidating and dying leather. Check this blog for more info as it becomes available.

Craft Knowledge

“Artisanal ways of knowing, in contrast, are revealed in objects, not books, and so have largely escaped the historian’s scrutiny. This kind of knowledge was transmitted through practice, a combination of talking about and showing techniques that were learned by observation and imitation.”

James Richard Farr, “The Disappearance of the Traditional Artisan”, in A Companion to Nineteenth Century Europe, 1789-1914. ed. Sefan Berger (Malden, Mass: Blackwell Pub., 2006), 100.

The Right to Repair


Fire hydrant on the corner of Broadway and Nagle Avenue, New York CIty.

As a conservator, broadly speaking, I “repair” old books. I’ve always been interested in old things and being a conservator is a great way to spend a lot of time with them. It is an essential need, I think, for humans to have a tangible, material link to the past. History is sometimes defined as anything that happened before you were born.

The fire hydrant in the above photo has a patent date of “2-05-02”. Some might read this as another sign of New York City’s aging infrastructure, but I’m impressed it is still functioning after around 100 years. At least I hope it is still functioning.

I’ll never forget tearing apart a 1973 VW bug engine in high school, rebuilding it, reassembling it — and amazingly! —  it worked. Many objects can’t be fixed now, however.  Our throw-away culture, the cheapness of manufacturing of new parts, and patent law are all reasons.

The newish looking nut on top of the fire hydrant fits a special wrench that firemen have, to keep kids from opening them up and playing in the spray during hot summer days.  This special wrench is analogous to security screws many companies now use to keep the average consumer from doing any repair on their phones. Or to lock down the software that controls mechanisms.

General Motors and John Deere are arguing that you don’t own the software in your car. And without access to the software, there is no way you can fix anything automotive. In the coming internet of things this issue will only grow larger. Do you want to own something you are not “allowed” to fix, hack, repair, alter, improve, or conserve?

Thats why groups such as Right to Repair  and The Electronic Frontier Foundation are important.  They advocate on a wide range of issues concerning security, surveillance, tinkering and repair. More info.

There is pending legislation concerning the Digital Millennium Copyright Act, and anyone can comment online until October 27, or in writing until November 16.  1201 Study: Request for Additional Comments. Check it out, it is a complex, important issue that I need to do more research on it.


Miniature Bookbinding Tool Set


Miniature set of bookbinding tools, 1/6th Scale.

The Miniature Bookbinding Tool set is once again available for sale. I took a couple of years off to rest up my muscles. Ironically, it takes more strength to hold these while grinding and filing, than normal sized ones. The tools are made 1/6th scale, i.e. the Delrin sharpening plate on the left is two inches long, not twelve. They are made from the same materials the larger ones are, but please don’t expect to actually use them, they are much too small to hold comfortably. If you want a knife to use to make miniature books, I recommend my Flexible Mini Knives, and the cutting area can be made narrow if you desire, just let me know. The Miniature Bookbinding Tool Set is for the miniature book enthusiasts (you know who you are) or a gift for the binder who has everything. Seventeen tools are included, l-r: a Delrin sharpening plate, Peachey style French knife, Flexible paring knife, bone folder, small Powell shaped lifting knife, heart shaped finishing tool, brass triangle, engineers square, bookbinder’s hammer, swiss style paring knife, pallet, dissection scalpel, large Powell shaped lifting knife, French paring knife, cord wrapped paste brush, English style paring knife, and a strop. Supplied in a cherry box.

Miniature Bookbinding Tool Set: $800.00

Order here.


Elaine Nishizu, a bookbinder in Los Angles California, made this beautiful box to house a set of these tools. It is in the Guild of Book Workers California Chapter Member Exhibition, 2016. Elaine describes it: “The box structure has a reversible spine that folds back on itself like a Jacob’s ladder. It’s covered in Japanese paper and a French printed paper by Claude Braun. The box is lined with black ultra suede and has a magnetic closure.” Note: this box does not come with the tool set.


Elaine Nishizu’s box to house the miniature tool set.

Suave Mechanicals 3 and Yours Respectfully, William Bewick

Since “retiring”, it appears Cathy Baker, publisher of The Legacy Press, has doubled down on her publishing ventures.  No lounging in the Florida sun for her! Two books will be available very soon and there are five more in the works.   The essays in Suave Mechanicals 3 look spectacular. Congrats to all the authors for contributing to the permanent literature of our field:  It’s a lot of work with few rewards. The distribution website mentions the books are available to ship on October 16,  I’ve pre-ordered mine.



Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding, Volume 3. ed. Julia Miller. Ann Arbor, MI: The Legacy Press, 2016.

This is the third volume in the series Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding, edited by Julia Miller. Nine essays – many coauthored – are featured and not only are American scholars represented, but also ones from Spain, Ireland, and Italy. One significant connection between a number of the essays is the flap binding, spanning nearly fifteen hundred years of codex history from fourth-century Coptic bindings to nineteenth-century diaries. The eclectic nature of this volume mirrors that of the previous two, in that the authors have taken a look at historical exemplars and archival materials that have always been, if you will, “hidden in plain sight.” Many assumptions and stereotypical descriptions surround some of the structures described in these essays; the authors both add to the scholarly record and refine what is already known or thought about these bindings. 517 pages, 584 illustrations in full color, Cloth, sewn. DVD. ISBN 9781940965024.  $85.00

The essays:

Erin Albritton and Christina Amato, “A Study of Two Semi-Limp Parchment Binding Styles in the Rare Book Collection at The New York Academy of Medicine Library”

Ruth Bardenstein, “Historical Bindings of the Chamberlain-Warren Samaritan Collection”

Ana Beny and Kristine Rose Beers, “An Inspiration for Conservation: An Historic Andalusi Binding Structure”

Ashley Cataldo, “‘A Swarm of Binders’: Isaiah Thomas’s Bookbinding Network, 1782–1818”

Marco di Bella, “From Box Binding to Envelope-Flap Binding: The Missing Link in Transitional Islamic Bookbinding”

Louise L. Foster, “The Nineteenth-Century American Pocket Diary”

Bill Hanscom, “Towards a Morphology of the Ethiopian Book Satchel”

Hedi Kyle, “The Fold: Evolution, Function, and Inspiration”

Arielle Middleman and Todd Pattison, “Benjamin Bradley and the ‘Profitable Stroke’: Binding Six Months in a Convent and the Need for Copy-Specific Cataloging of Nineteenth-Century Publishers’ Bindings”




Christine A. Smith.  Yours Respectfully, William Berwick: Paper Conservation in the United States and Western Europe, 1800 to 1935. Ann Arbor, MI: The Legacy Press, 2016.

This book is the first to provide both a broad and detailed exploration of all aspects of paper-conservation activities during the period and is a major reference for those interested in Western paper-based artifacts. The development and character of the profession unfolds in descriptions of materials and processes used in libraries, archives, and fine-arts museums; related scientific advances; differing approaches to treatment; the impact of broad cultural shifts; and sketches of people active in the field. The associated issues of architecture, dirt and pollution, vermin, lighting, temperature and humidity, heating and ventilation, and fire also are explored. In order to contextualize the main focus of the book, practices extending back to the late-18th century and forward to the mid-20th are outlined. Laid into this account is the biography of acclaimed manuscript restorer William Berwick (1848–1920), who was a proponent of silking to preserve severely damaged documents. A glossary, bibliography, appendices, and endnotes accompany the text. Numerous period illustrations – before- and after-treatment photographs, portraits, cartoons, conservation diagrams, advertisements, postcards, and other images – are included. 696 pages, 112 color/black & white images, Hardcover, ISBN: 9781940965017.  $90.00


Order from The Legacy Press