Author Archives: Jeff Peachey

W. O. Hickok Box

W.O.Hickock box. My Collection.

How much can we tease out of this nicely made wooden box with a sliding lid? Someone once told me that with enough rigor, knowledge and time, the whole history of the world could be found in any object. Mmmmm.

The Hickok company is still in business, and has made bookbinding and paper ruling tools for over 150 years. On this box, the shipping label also keeps the lid from sliding open in transit. The addressee, “News Bookbindery” must have been associated with the Goshen News, which was the newspaper in Goshen, Indiana. The wood is Southern yellow pine and has finger joints which are machine made using circular cutting heads. The bottom has saw marks from a 12 inch diameter circular saw.

Given the size, and very sturdy packaging, my guess it that it contained fragile Hickock ruling pens. The end of the box not visible in this image has written in pencil “17 point”, which would also support the ruling pen hypothesis, and could indicate the box was also used for storage. There is a Hickok order number, which I haven’t identified yet.

1910 Gane Brothers Catalog. Specific mention of mailing a small package. Apparently this is novel at the time? Source: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nyp.33433057476958;view=1up;seq=44

In a 1910 Hickok catalog, there is special mention that smaller packages can be sent through the mail, and this occurs on the page that lists the styles of ruling pens.  The 3 cent purple Thomas Jefferson 1801-1809 stamp on the outside of the was issued in 1938.  I’m a little suprised a ruling machine was still in use at this late date, even in a small midwestern town. This must have been near the end of ruling machines.

Hickok is still in Harrisburg Pa, and still has lots of spare parts for ruling machines, and they still sell bookbinding equipment, such as my favorite book press, the Hickok 001/2. I visited in 1998 and wrote a short piece, “The W.O. Hickok Mfg. Co.: 150 Years of Bookbinding Equipment” for the Guild of Book Workers Newsletter #121.

 

Prices of Hickock ruling pens from a 1910 Gane Bros Catalog. They cost .015 cents per point. Source: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nyp.33433057476958;view=1up;seq=44

The history of the world in this little box? Physically, it is evidence of the timber industry and industrial manufacture, as well as transportation and storage. The label is record of printing technology and the postal system. If the box contained ruling pens, these were used to make the pages for record keeping by clerks and accountants. This spins out into record keeping, finance, written marks, memory, foundations of civilization….

Samson Paper Press

The Robert C. Williams Museum of Papermaking in Atlanta has one of the largest — and oldest — papermaking presses I’ve ever seen. Look at the size of the top beam, which is about two feet square!

The entire museum is fantastic. It started at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1939, consisting primarily of Dard Hunter’s papermaking books and artifacts. Then it moved to the Institute of Paper Chemistry in 1954, was added to over the years, and finally landed at Georgia Tech in 2003.

The “Samson Paper Press”, constructed in 1790, was used by Hodgkinson and Co. in Wookey Hole England until the early twentieth century, according to the label. I’m not sure if the name refers to this press in particular, or is a generic term for any massive press.

It has an iron thread which generates much more power than a wooden one, due to the reduction of friction. I’m starting to think that all images of early nineteenth century presses with a ball above the platen also have iron thread.  Samson has a ratchet wheel and pawl mechanism to prevent the platen from backing off when fully tightened.

The tommy bar, or press pin, is lying on the black plinth in front of the press and is about six feet long! Not visible is the iron renforcement on the end of the bar which fits into the four holed iron ball. I imagine Samson securely attached to the ceiling or wall, and three or four men working together to fully tighten it. The daylight is roughly 3.5 feet, which would be about the height of a typical post (a stack of the newly formed sheets and felts). Possibly a century of use might account for the deterioration on the lower wooden platen, or it may have been sunk into the earth under the floor. The uprights are iron faced on the two short sides. A few decades later, by the 1830’s, most presses were made completely or iron or steel, making Samson an interesting transitional press, incorporating both wood and iron.

Around the same time, the French papermaking press depicted in Diderot’s Encyclopédie appears to have wooden threads, but a similar iron ratchet mechanism to prevent it from backing off. I have a hard time believing a small wood pawl could withstand the compression.

Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, etc., eds. Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert. University of Chicago: ARTFL Encyclopédie Project (Autumn 2017 Edition), Robert Morrissey and Glenn Roe (eds), http://encyclopedie.uchicago.edu/.

 

Leerdunmessen

My blog post “An Overview of Leather Paring Knives, Tools and Machines” was translated into Dutch and appears in the current issue of Handboekbinden (Jaargang 10, Nummer 3, 2017): 92-95.  According to Google translate, Leerdunmessen means “Learning Lessons”. Kind of cool!

Added 31 Oct 2017: A dutch friend let me know that Google translation is wrong, and Leerdunmessen actually means “Leather Paring”. Thanks Edith!

Phive Star Light

The Phive CL-1 illuminating a book being sewn on a Nokey sewing frame.

My first workbench light was a twin tube florescent I found on the street.  The long tubes illuminated very evenly, without casting shadows from my own hands while I was working. Eventually the buzz from the ballast became intolerable, and I switched to a 100 watt round swing-arm adjustable style, which most people use.

Recently, I decided to try out the Phive CL-1 LED lamp. So far it is a great light. It looks high-tech, the arm is easy to position, and more importantly stays in position. The 5000k color temperature is pretty close to daylight. The area where the LED’s are mounted is very small, so you can position it close to yourself or to your work.

The bulb does not seem to be replaceable, but the lifespan is estimated to be 50,000 hours, which is 17 years at 8 hours a day — very close to my own working lifespan.

Just Looking

Once a year I teach a knife sharpening and tool making workshop in the bookbinding department at North Bennett Street School (NBSS) in Boston.  NBSS has the finest bench oriented two year bookbinding program in the world. If you have the passion, drive, commitment, dedication — and are crazy enough to pursue this antiquated profession in the 21st century — this is the place to do it. You will find many kindred spirits in your cohort.

I cover all aspects of sharpening related to bookbinding: blade angles, bevel angles, types of steel, types knives, types of grits, grit progression, hand grinding using power tools, free hand sharpening, and stropping. These techniques can be adapted to virtually any type of sharpening system: oil stones, diamond stones, waterstones, lapping powders and finishing films. Free hand sharpening throws many students into the deep end, for a while, but ultimately equips them to sharpen most types of edge tools. Most bookbinding knives have complex shapes and handles  which preclude the use of jigs or honing guides.

The foundation of this class is critical looking. Critical looking is not only closely watching the instructor demonstrate a technique, but it is looking at what you have done. Often when sighting or aligning, one eye is better than two.

Once you can visually analyze what your hands have done, then you can correct, alter, adjust, repeat your hand technique. Critical thinking is taught via writing in undergraduate curriculums. Could critical looking be linked to drawing?  Taking a photo or shooting a video can be a useful shortcut for note taking that may gloss over important aspects, such as processing and replicating. Drawing really forces you to look closer, again and again and again.

Critical looking is different from just looking. In a narrow sense it means learning to interpret what you are looking at, what the scratch patterns, reflections, divots, rounded bevels mean in relation to how you were holding the knife. In a broader sense it means understanding  what the effect of your actions are. Critical looking is the basis of all sharpening, maybe all craft skills?

 

Below are some images of the 2017 workshop shot by Brian Burnett.

 

All Photos Copyright 2017 Brian Burnett. And he was critically looking.

 

Using a Modified 151 Spokeshave to Bevel Binder’s Board

Designer binders, conservators who replicate wooden boards with laminated museum board, and others sometimes have to create a bevel or chamfer in book board. Often this is accomplished by sanding, which is at best a very slow process, and at worst an easy way to create a disgusting amount of dust.  A downdraft table and PPE is recommended.

Beveled book boards were very common in the nineteenth century. Various contraptions were invented to do this, including a specialized board shear that cut at 45, rather than a 90 degrees, a jigged foot clamp and large chefs knife, and a machine that used a woodworkers jack plane running in a track. Large production shops sometimes had a board beveling machine with a rotary blade, but most of us are not so lucky.

As the video below illustrates, it is also possible to bevel binder’s board quite efficiently with a modified 151 spokeshave, a tool which is usually used to thin leather over large areas. Note how much I skew the spokeshave, and how it is in motion when I start the cut. Also listen to the sound: this is what a properly adjusted sharp blade sounds like. Even after spokeshaving, it may still may be necessary to refine the board edge a bit with some coarse sandpaper.

If you are laminating your own boards (de rigueur for high end work), it is a good idea to paste a few layers of colored paper to the level you intend to bevel, in order to judge how deep you are spokeshaving. Since binder’s board is quite abrasive, an A2 or PM-V11 blade is a necessity. And the blades do wear more quickly than when shaving leather. It would be smart to dedicate one blade just for board.

 

Upcoming Live Stream Lecture. Cabinetmakers of German Origin in Eighteenth-Century Paris: A Chapter in European History of Migration and Transfer of Knowledge and Craft in the Age of Enlightenment

Dr. Ulrich Leben’s upcoming lecture, “Cabinetmakers of German Origin in Eighteenth-Century Paris: A Chapter in European History of Migration and Transfer of Knowledge and Craft in the Age of Enlightenment” sounds fascinating. He apprenticed as a cabinetmaker then received a PhD. A very full quiver for a scholar interested in craft.

The blurb: “The fact that a large number of cabinetmakers working in Paris during the eighteenth century were of German origin is well known. It is therefore surprising that there has never been research on the lives and work of these more than one hundred craftsmen. This talk will present various aspects of a project currently being undertaken by Dr. Ulrich Leben and Miriam Schefzyk on these craftsmen and provide insight into archive-based research in France and abroad exploring questions regarding social, economic, and cultural circumstances. A major goal of this project is the publication of a dictionary of these craftsmen that will be a tool for further work in the field.”

If you are in the New York City area, you can attend a brown bag lunch Monday October 9, 12:15 – 1:15 at Bard Graduate Center, located at 38 West 86th St. You need to preregister. I’ll be there, say hi!

If you are not in New York City, the event will be livestreamed on youtube: <https://www.youtube.com/user/bardgradcenter&gt;