Monthly Archives: December 2008

Wood Book With Drawer



I picked this up at a second hand antique store in upstate NY. The bottom of the drawer says “FLEMISH / 725 / ..ART..” Perhaps it is tourist art? I’m not sure what the title “BANDS” refers to, or why there is a well executed monk on the front cover. The foreedge has a nice curve to it, and the burned and incised decoration covers the back cover as well. Looks like it might hold cigarettes? It is an odd little thing.

The Most Endangered Book Species

Jessica Helfand was interviewed on the Leonard Lopate show , WNYC. She recently wrote, “Scrapbooks: An American History”  An art critic and graphic designer, she investigates scrapbooks through the lenses of social history, graphic design, folk art, personal narrative and assemblage.  She explores the  public/ private nature of scrapbooks as well as the big questions– why are scrapbooks so important to their maker, how do these “countless pieces of ephemera … collectively frame a life?” (xvi) In the 19th C. men as well as women were avid  scrapbookers and in  1873, Mark Twain patented a “self-pasting” scrapbook (#140,245) that became very popular and profitable since it dispensed with the need for glue.  Helfand’s book includes many gorgeous photos of scrapbooks from famous and unknown people, presented straightforwardly in all their acid burned glory.   It is also an impressive example of bookmaking– many of the images of scrapbook pages are laid out on the recto and verso pages, requiring very careful registration when printing and binding. The blurb reads:

“Combining pictures, words, and a wealth of personal ephemera, scrapbook makers preserve on the pages of their books a moment, a day, or a lifetime. Highly subjective and rich in emotional content, the scrapbook is a unique and often quirky form of expression in which a person gathers and arranges meaningful materials to create a personal narrative. This lavishly illustrated book is the first to focus attention on the history of American scrapbooks—their origins, their makers, their diverse forms, the reasons for their popularity, and their place in American culture.”

Scrapbooks are perhaps the most endangered of all book species.  Even today, they are routinely dismantled, mainly because of the serious challenges for conservators (and the costs that these entail) because of the wide variety of media, adhesives and ephemera contained in them.  This book will help conservators convince clients of the importance of preserving scrapbooks in their entirety, that they are more than the individual items contained within them.  It is precisely because of the wide variety of materials that scrapbooks contain that give us a unique insight into the mind and time period of the maker. Vernacular culture rules!

She relates the scrapbook to current digital technologies, “The scrapbook was the original open-source technology, a unique form of self expression that celebrated visual sampling, culture mixing, and the appropriation and redistribution of existing media.” (xvii)  and is exploring the idea in a blog post called “Facebook:  The Global Scrapbook”  Her insightful, critical blog post about the current scrapbooking movement, is well worth reading, as well as the comments, some of which verge on the hostile.

Below are two images from the book.




The Library of Alcatraz












These are the bookshelves in the prison library at alcatraz. Notice that they are  above the radiator, below the steam pipe and under a window. Trifecta!

Sony and Stony



I am struck by how closely the dimensions of  the 7th century Stonyhurst Gospel (now renamed as St. Cuthbert’s Gospel of St. John) match the screen size of the Sony Portable Reader System PRS-505.  On the left is a model of the Gospel, which is described in the literature as being 134-138mm high, and 90-95mm wide (1:1.49).  The screen of the Sony Reader is 124mm high and 92mm wide (1:1.35).   Coincidence? Perhaps. But might their dimensions relate to our hand size or comfortable handheld viewing range?  These books are separated by 13 centuries!

I played with the Sony last weekend at the Small Press Fair in NYC. I was impressed by the resolution of the eink at any viewing angle, but page turns were agonizingly slow, and accompanied by an epeliptic inducing flash of background reversal– the text would go white, and the “page” black for a split second.  I also tried out a prototype of the next version, which has a touch screen interface, but doubt this would be a great advantage when reading.There is a promotion on now at Sony—  enter promo code:  10sonyclassic    You can get 10 free ebooks to read on your computer or ebook reader  from the “classics” collection– think 19th C. standard DWM’s.  

I think the Stonyhurst needs a tagline too.  How about “The Stonyhurst: Carry the Gospel of St. John in one hand.”

The Book is Like a Hammer

James Gleick wrote a op-ed about books, physicality  and publishing in the New York Times.   He writes, “As a technology, the book is like a hammer. That is to say, it is perfect: a tool ideally suited to its task. Hammers can be tweaked and varied but will never go obsolete.”  This succinctly sums up the relationship between two of my passions- books and tools.  He ends with a charge to those who make books, “Go back to an old-fashioned idea: that a book, printed in ink on durable paper, acid-free for longevity, is a thing of beauty. Make it as well as you can. People want to cherish it.”

Shoulder Plane



I made this shoulder plane a couple of years ago because I was too cheap to purchase a lee valley shoulder plane as an experiment.  I ended up making a set of different sizes, partly due to the thrill of rapid learning when you step out of your area of expertise.  Although it looks complex, it is only marginally more difficult than making a knife, since a plane is basically a jigged knife.  According to Salamon’s Dictionary of Woodworking Tools, shoulder planes appeared in the 19th century, and were only made of metal.  “Their purpose is to clean rebates, shoulders of tenons, etc. across the grain.”

This one is made up of a rosewood core, brass sides and a dovetailed steel sole and has a three quarter inch cutting width. The blade is advanced by tapping on it’s end, which is hidden under the handle in this image, and released by tapping on the back of the plane.  I made this only using hand tools- hacksaw, files, jeweler’s saw, tap and a drill.  The sides were tapped then threaded with 8/32 stainless steel rod.  I find metal dovetails almost easier to make than wood ones- the angle of the dovetail is 60 degrees, which is the same as a three sided file.  If you leave the pins and tails slightly proud, they can be hammered slightly to fill small gaps.  Since the bed of the plane can be easily filed, the fine tuning can take place after the sides are assembled.  I was trying to give it a streamlined Deco look, and it works great.