New(ish) Translation of Amman’s Book of Trades

The Bookbinder, 1568


“Both lay and sacred, big and small,

Give me books: I bind them all

In parchment or in boards of wood.

And my clasps and locks look good.

I shape and cut the books for size,

And a stamp that beautifies,

And gild some spines, but just a few.

My income is quite handsome, too.”


Rabb, Theodore K. A Sixteenth-Century Book of Trades: Das Standebuch. (Palo Alto, CA: The Society for the Promotion of Science and Scholarship, 2009) 43.

Rabb’s introduction is fascinating. Jost Amman (1539-1591) was the son of a professor, moved to Nurenburg, and produced thousands of individual prints.   There are ten woodcuts relating to the book trade: the typefounder (the first depiction of one), the draughtsman, the gold beater, the parchment maker,  the tanner, the etcher, the papermaker, the printer, the illuminator, and the bookbinder. This book was groundbreaking in its straightforward description of crafts. The introduction concludes with some observations on German identity, craftsmanship, and Weber’s Protestant Ethic. There are striking similarities between the depiction of the goldbeater’s hammer and the beating hammer that the bookbinder is using — perhaps another early metal working and book making connection?

7 Replies to “New(ish) Translation of Amman’s Book of Trades”

  1. If you count the tools up, a good half of them are woodworking tools for making the wooden boards. Its an impressive testimony to how much work went into the boards, as is the way that medieval binders would reverse boards and re-use them when rebinding. I’ve talked and demonstrated a couple of times on the tools in Amman’s woodcut.

  2. I’ve never understood the very long shanks and very short handles of the rolls on the back wall, but Dudin and Diderot also show long shanks on rolls (though their handles are a bit longer). It occurs to me now that perhaps the long shank was necessary if the early binders were using an open wood fire to heat their tools. The bindery must have been pretty cold in winter: notice the glassless open upper halves of the windows, above the lower sections with blown glass panes.

  3. Dudin makes reference to the shanks being longer or shorter as the workman desires, as does the curve of the forks. He also observes that the wood handle burns more easily if the shank is short. The shank on the leftmost tool hanging on the back wall (creaser? burnisher?) looks full tang- different than the rolls. At this time the finishing tools were heated in a charcoal stove (Dudin, Plate XI, Fig. 3, upper right corner of the Vignette). Diderot shows a similar benchtop stove, and little feet are visible:

    This must have been heated by charcoal from another stove, because at a couple of points drying the book in front of a fire is mentioned.

    Good point about the window- I hadn’t noticed this. What do you think is hanging above the broad axe? Tying up boards?

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