Leszek Knyrek’s 2022 Nipping Press Calendar

Some of Knyrek’s nipping press collection. Photo from his Kickstarter page.

Leszek Knyrek, a Polish bookbinder for 25 years and currently a student in Book and Paper conservation at West Dean (England), has a kickstarter for his really beautiful calendar featuring some of his 60+ nipping press collection. He calls it his “a bit late” calendar. The photography is really well done, and his collection amazing. I’m mainly familiar with US and UK models, there are some really elaborate European ones in the images. Full disclosure: he sent me a free copy of the calendar. But I’m looking forward to purchasing it for the next four years, maybe more if his collection keeps expanding!

Knyrek’s Kickstarter

I couldn’t find a number of presses the William Streeter collected for his book on the right.
Barbara Rhodes and William Wells Streeter. Before Photocopying: The Art and History of Mechanical Copying 1780 – 1938 (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press and Northampton, Massachusetts: Heraldry Bindery, 1999) 

Montefiascone, Italy. 2022 Summer Workshops

I am thrilled to be teaching at Monte again this summer. I’ve only taught once in person for the past two years. I really miss it. Zoom workshops are better than nothing, but still…. If you haven’t been to Monte, I can vouch for what a great experience it is. In addition to the classroom syllabi, a ton of learning happens in more informal surroundings, like cafes and outdoor bars on the main square. Spending time with a passionate and knowledgeable international cohort has resulted in lifelong friends for me. Montefiascone is a special place — too beautiful — a quintessential small Tuscan hilltop town. And Italy as a whole ain’t too shabby either. I suspect many others are hungry to learn in person again, so contact Cheryl (info below) soon to reserve your place! Jeff

Montefiascone is a small medieval walled city about 100 k (80 miles) north of Rome, on Lake Bolsena. Since 1988, conservators, curators, art historians, book artists, and others interested in books and their history have come together to work, to learn and to enjoy this special place. Participants come to enjoy the medieval architecture, friendly people, a clean accessible lake, books, and scholarship. The Montefiascone Project is a non-profit making organisation, set up to fund the restoration of the Library of the Seminario Barbarigo in Montefiascone. Participants may attend one, two, three or all four weeks.

Costs are £550 (or euro equivalent [about $750 USD]) for each week and include all lectures (which are in English). For more information and to enroll, contact Cheryl Porter:  chezzaporter (AT) yahoo (DOT) com

For the sake of the local community and everyone associated with the program, we must maintain health and safety standards. We will need to be assured that all course participants comply with Italian regulations concerning vaccinations and other travel requirements. 

Current Italian government regulations are available through the Italian Ministry of Health website at: https://www.salute.gov.it/portale/nuovocoronavirus/dettaglioContenutiNuovoCoronavirus.jsp?lingua=english&id=5412&area=nuovoCoronavirus&menu=vuoto

The Italia COVID-19 for visitors page:  https://www.italia.it/en/covid19

25th-29th July

Recreating the Colours of the Medieval Palette: Western, Hebrew, and Islamic

Course Tutor: Cheryl Porter 

This class will study the colours (made from rocks, minerals, metals, insects, and plants) that were processed to produce the colours used by artists throughout the medieval era. The focus will be on manuscript art – Islamic, Hebrew, and European. Participants will re-create the colours using original recipes. Illustrated lectures will address history, geography, chemistry, iconography. And conservation issues. Practical making and painting sessions will follow these lectures. No previous experience is necessary.

Cheryl Porter is the director of the Montefiascone Conservation Project at the Seminario Barbarigo in Montefiascone, Italy, which she founded in 1988. She graduated from Camberwell College of Arts in 1989 and has subsequently worked in many museums and Learned Societies in the UK and many other countries. She teaches workshops on the history of the uses, and methods of application of colour in manuscripts – Islamic, Western and Hebrew. From 2007-2009 she was Head of Conservation and Preservation for the Thesaurus Islamicus and Dar al-Kutub (National Library) of Egypt Manuscript Project and Deputy Head of the Project from 2009-11. She is a consultant to the Library of Alexandria in Egypt and is currently writing a book based on her manuscript colour workshops.

Early nineteenth century structures. Note the XSL dyed reproduction cloth in the middle, and textured cloth on the right.

1st-5th August

Early nineteenth century American and English Bookbinding: Machines, Materials, Structures, and Tools

Course Tutors: Jeff Peachy & Nicole Alvarado

In England and America, common book structures changed significantly during the early nineteenth century. A typical common calf binding was supplanted by even cheaper, new binding styles, such as paper boards bindings and the three-piece adhesive cloth case. We will examine this time period through PowerPoints, readings, discussions, and the hands-on construction of four models: an English common-boards binding, an American extra-boards binding, an American tight-back cloth binding, and an English cloth case. We will explore methods of replicating plain and textured nineteenth century bookcloth, starting with undyed muslin, which will be useful for conserving and sympathetically rebinding books from this time. Close readings from bookbinding manuals, analysis of bindery images, and the use of historic tools will enhance our understanding of this important and under-appreciated time period.

Jeff Peachey is the owner of Peachey Conservation LLC, which specializes in preserving the intrinsic, artifactual, aesthetic and historic values of books. With more than 30 years’ experience. He has taught book conservation workshops internationally and has been awarded numerous fellowships to support his book history research, including at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center (Italy). He invented the Peachey Board Slotting Machine, which is used in book conservation labs internationally, and designs and manufactures specialized tools for other book conservators. He is a Visiting Instructor for the Library and Archives Conservation Education Consortium graduate consortium. His forthcoming publication in Suave Mechanicals 8 details the bookbinding poetry of John Bradford in the broader context of early 19th century binding practice.

Nicole Alvarado received a B.A. in fine arts with a minor in chemistry from Mount St. Mary’s University in Los Angeles before going on to earn her MA, CAS in Art Conservation at SUNY Buffalo State College.  Nicole is currently the Andrew W. Mellon Fellow in Paper Conservation at Los Angeles County Museum of Art. She has previously worked at the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences’ Margaret Herrick Library, UCLA Library, University of Michigan Library, and Huntington Library.

8th to 12th August 

 A Chinese Qur’an

Course Tutors: Kristine Rose-Beers & Cécilia Duminuco, with a lecture from Alison Ohta

During this class, participants will make a model of Chester Beatty Is 1602, a 17th or 18th century Chinese Qur’an with its original binding. This small manuscript is distinctly Chinese. It is covered with fine patterned silk, and the pages are made of soft, fibrous paper. In keeping with many Islamic bindings, it has an envelope flap, but this is squared off, similar to those seen in some south-east Asian Islamic manuscripts. This Qur’an is an example of how aspects of the Islamic book were combined with local decorative traditions influencing ornament, calligraphy and illumination.

Muslim communities have been established in China since the 7th century. According to the historical accounts of Chinese Muslims, Islam was first brought to China by Sa’d ibn abi Waqqas, who came to China for the third time at the head of an embassy sent by Uthman, the third caliph, in 651. Emperor Gaozong, the Tang emperor, then ordered the construction of the Memorial Mosque in Guangzhou/Canton, the first mosque in the country. Although scholars have not found any historical evidence that Sa`d ibn Abi Waqqas visited China, they agree that the first Muslims must have arrived in China in the 7th century, and that the major trading cities, such as Guangzhou, Quanzhou probably already had their first mosques built during the Tang Dynasty although no reliable sources attest to their actual existence. 

Muslims in China have continued to practice their faith sometimes under very difficult circumstances since the 7th century. Today, the Muslim population of China is estimated as representing 0.45% to 2.85% of the total population with 39,000 mosques serving this congregation.  This Qur’an represents the Islamic legacy in China and is a unique opportunity to examine this combination of traditions which were carried along the Silk Roads over the centuries.  

Kristine Rose-Beers is Head of Conservation at the Chester Beatty in Dublin and an accredited member of the Institute of Conservation. Her research interests include the conservation of Islamic manuscript material, early binding structures and the use of pigments and dyes in medieval manuscripts. 

Before moving to Ireland, Kristine worked at the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge as Assistant Keeper (Conservator of Manuscripts and Printed Books); at the Chester Beatty Library with a particular focus on the Turkish manuscript collection; and at Cambridge University Library. She graduated from the Conservation programme at Camberwell College of Arts in 2002 and is a member of the Board of Directors of The Islamic Manuscript Association, and the Kairouan Manuscript Project.

Cécilia Duminuco is a book and paper conservator. She graduated from the École Supérieure des Arts Saint-Luc of Liège with a Masters in Painting Conservation in 2013, before completing a Masters in the Conservation of Books and Library Materials at West Dean College in the UK in 2015. Cécilia joined the Chester Beatty in Dublin as Heritage Council Intern in Conservation 2015-16, before moving to Cambridge University Library to work on Charles Darwin’s Library digitisation project. She then worked at the University of Manchester, before returning to Cambridge University Library in 2019 to work on the digitisation of Greek Manuscripts. Cécilia has now relocated to Belgium where she continues to follow her passion for early bookbinding, non-Western book structures, pigments in illuminated manuscripts and painted surfaces.

Alison Ohta is currently Director of the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland.  She completed her doctoral thesis at SOAS (London University) on Mamluk bindings and has published and lectured extensively on the subject.

15th-19th August

Recreating a late sixteenth-century Cambridge bookbinding

Course tutors: Jim Bloxam & Shaun Thompson, with lectures from David Pearson

Cambridge, heavily influenced by its university, has always been a place with books at the heart of its activities; a place where they have for many centuries been printed, sold, bound, owned, stored, read, and used. Our Montefiascone course, a few years ago, was devoted to making a model of a late 15th century Cambridge binding; this year we will analyse a binding style from a century later and construct a model of a typical late 16th century Cambridge binding.  At the end of the 15th century, leather-covered bindings usually had wooden boards and clasps and decoration depended on labour-intensive repetitive tooling using small hand-held tools.  A century later, wood had given way to pasteboard or pulpboard, clasps had been replaced by cloth ties and decoration looked very different; gilt tooling, unknown in English binding work before about 1520, had become common.

The tutors will enable the course participants to make a model binding.  Processes will include sewing the text-block, sewing the endbands, shaping and attaching the boards and covering with calf-skin.  The covered books will be tooled and have cloth ties attached.  The course will be led by a team bringing together the hands-on binding expertise of Jim Bloxam and Shaun Thompson, from Cambridge University Library, and the historical knowledge of David Pearson.  David, a binding historian, is currently working on a project to map the development of Cambridge binding between the 15th and 18th centuries, so that Cambridge work can be better recognised and dated.  He teaches the evolution of binding styles at the Rare Book Schools in London and Virginia. During the week David will give presentations on ways in which Cambridge binding changed during the 16th century and how it fits into the wider context of British and European binding of the time. He will also consider the value of studying historic bindings, highlighting the questions we should ask.

David Pearson retired in 2017 as Director of Culture, Heritage and Libraries for the City of London Corporation, after a professional career of 35 years or so working in various major research libraries in London and elsewhere. He is now a Research Fellow at the Institute of English Studies in the University of London, and a member of the teaching staff of the London Rare Books School there. He has published extensively on aspects of book history, with a particular interest in aspects of the book as an owned and designed object; his books include Provenance Research in Book History (1994), Oxford Bookbinding 1500-1640 (2000), English Bookbinding Styles 1450-1800 (2005), and Books as History (2008). He has taught and lectured in these fields for numerous audiences and is a Past President of the Bibliographical Society. He is currently working on a project on early modern Cambridge bookbinding, to become a book published by the Legacy Press, and the basis of the Sandars Lectures in Cambridge in 2023.

Jim Bloxam is Head of Conservation and Collection Care at Cambridge University Library. Jim is an Accredited Conservator of the Institute of Conservation. His particular research interests lie mainly in the history of books, their structural qualities and their cultural context. He has taught historical book structures in the UK, Europe, and the US, focusing mainly on European book structures.

Shaun Thompson is a traditionally trained bookbinder with over thirty years’ experience and a passionate advocate for the importance of hand bookbinding skills in book conservation. He has worked for Cambridge University Library for the past 19 years and presently holds the position of Conservation and Collection Care Manager. Shaun’s research interests are in early northern European book structures and he has made good use of the Library’s collections to examine the physical aspects and historical techniques used in medieval bindings. He is also an experienced and highly skilled practical teacher, having taught hand bookbinding to conservation students in the UK, at both West Dean College and City and Guilds of London Art School. He has taught courses at Montefiascone since 2013 and is looking forward to returning to share his ever-widening knowledge and experience.

For additional information, please see The Montefiascone Conservation Project web page and follow us on Facebook for program updates and more.

A Medieval Bookbinder’s Knife?

Actual medieval bookbinding tools are almost nonexistent. Apart from a few finishing tools, there really aren’t many documented, extant examples. That’s why a knife that John Nove brought to my attention is extraordinary. Could it really be a medieval bookbinder’s knife? A note associated with this knife claimed it might be.

Medieval Bookbinder’s Knife? Private collection. Photo: John Nove.

At first glance it looks similar to a typical “gift set” carving knife given to newlyweds in the 20th century. The tip looks to be slightly serrated, or perhaps just extremely pitted. The handle has the tonality of antler, but it is actually a carved, lightweight wood according to John. This strikes me as odd: historically, the handles of most knives tend to be a dense exotic woods, bone, horn, or antler. The blade is extremely rusted, while the handle is relatively intact. Is this a red flag?

The ferrule is very odd, one piece of metal hammered around the blade tang hole. Photo John Nove.

Is it a knife that maybe belonged to a bookbinder or bibliophile, hence the very cool handle decoration? Or is it an assemblage of some older and newer parts? Or something else?

The handle is what makes this knife so special. These intricately carved books are convincingly realistic. To me, the books look Gothic, and possibly Germanic, given the overall morphology. The sewing supports appear to be double cords or split tawed thongs, both appropriate to a Medieval book. The pronounced endbands, with the cores lying on the spine are also consistent with this. The clasps look like split thongs, possibly there is a pin attachment? The very rounded spine with pronounced supports extending onto the face of the board is typically Gothic. The carved representation of panels is also typical, though a little odd with the carved triangles, though this might be a limitation of the size of the original and the carver. After all, it only about an inch wide.

The curved, almost spiral grip in the center of the handle is similar to Medieval carved columns I have seen in the Cloisters at the MET. The traces of red (paint ?) on the page edges is somewhat unusual, yellow or a blue would be more common, if in fact it is a German binding represented. The overall length of the knife is 9 inches, with 5 inches for the blade. The blade is quite flexible, with the back measuring only .012 inch.

The elaborate handle seems out of place with a functional tool used by a craftsman, but there are many examples of very elaborate Medieval tools with zoomorphic designs carved into them. The ferrule is also strange with its scalloped collar. John Nove wondered if the blade might have been stuck into an older handle. Book-themed ornamentation on a knife like this might indicate a 19th c. page opening knife? The size is right for that as well.

If this is a medieval bookbinder’s knife in the German tradition, are there modern styles we can compare it to? And how would it have been used? I’d guess that all knives were originally undifferentiated for different trades. Knife-makers would make their knives for a variety of purposes. When did the specific needs for specific trades start? Even today, shoemakers and bookbinders, in the English tradition, use a the same Barnsley paring knife, older examples having an image of a shoe stamped on them.

Top: My Henckel 8 inch Chef’s knife. Bottom: Modern German style bookbinder’s leather paring knife.

I’ve noticed the similarities between German style chef’s and bookbinder’s knifes for a while. The primary one is the taper of the blade from the back to the cutting edge, parallel to the length of the knife. It doesn’t make sense functionally to make a paring knife like this, so German binders wrap the handle with leather, cord or thread to hold it more comfortably. The thin metal around the cutting edge is quick to resharpen, though. There are also the three cutlery rivets on the handles; these are technically called scales on a full tang knife.

Bauer and Franke, Handbuch der Buchbinderei, 1903. Thanks to Peter Verheyen for this reference

The text mentions that the Offenbacher shape is good for weaker leathers, and the Parisian shape is good for thicker leathers. For the leather to be held in the hand position depicted with the Parisian knife, the leather would have to be very thick, almost more of a tanned cowhide, rather than a typical bookbinding calf, sheep, or goat.


Detail p. 91. Zaehnsdorf, Joseph. The Art of Bookbinding. 2nd. ed. London: George Bell and Sons, 1890. <https://archive.org/details/artofbookbinding00zaehrich&gt;

The paring knife in Zaehnsdorf’s manual has a similar shape to the medieval knife and moddern chef’s knifes, as do the ones in Peter’s 1928 Braunwarth & Luthke catalog, below. Most seem to have a taper towards the edge of the blade on the left, as indicated by the thicker black line indicating the back of the blade.

Braunwarth and Lüthke catalog from 1928. Collection: Peter Verheyen

To return to the central question. Is this knife a medieval bookbinder’s knife? Without having any scientific analysis of the materials (XRF? FCIR? Carbon dating on the handle?), or more information on province, and examining it in person, I can’t say for sure.

But I can say it is an intriguing object, worthy of further research, preservation, and hopefully clarification in the future.

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