A Painting of Eighteenth Century French Trade Bindings and Paper Wrappers

Bookbinder Colin Urbina recently posted a number of great images of books in art he noticed at the Art Institute of Chicago on his low_mountain instagram feed. In particular, the painting of Madame Francois Buron by Jean Louis-David caught my eye. It may give us some insight into how books were used in the eighteenth century, though there is always the possibility the books depicted were props.

Jean Louis-David, Madame François Buron, 1769. The Art Institute of Chicago.

If this is an actual depiction of reading, it adds to the mountain of evidence that full leather trade bindings and “temporary” marbled paper wrapper bindings were consumed simultaneously. This type of pictorial evidence, along with the evidence from bindings that book historians such as David Pearson have gathered, and the usual working method of bookbinders, are all closing the coffin lid on the longstanding idea that paper bindings were intended to be rebound into a proper leather binding before use. The wear on the paper bindings —deftly painted with a white line along the top edge of the book Mme. Buron is reading — suggests these books may have been read before. 

But it is a little strange to have four books so close at hand, since she doesn’t appear to be a scholar, and three of the books aren’t open to specific pages: evidence of cross-referencing. It could simply be her reading desk, though.

If the books are intended to be props, what can they tell us about the sitter, and how do they relate to the painting? Why has she interrupted her reading to look at us? And what could  she be reading?  Louis-David’s painting technique evokes the solidity of the leather bound books in contrast with the loose airiness of paper ones. The way the paper book is cradled in her hand is incredibly realistic. The brush work on the splayed page edges blend with the her blouse, and the triangular composition is anchored by the books. The books are a key aspect of the composition.

The details of the bindings are rendered exquisitely. The cat’s paw decoration on the full leather trade binding is instantly recognizable. The red over black title labels, full guilt spine, and single blind line on the boards is historically accurate. The paper bindings are covered in a common, or french snail marbled pattern. The pattern is rendered loosely, almost abstractly, in some areas. Or could it depict a spoiled sheet, not good enough for endsheets or other purposes?

Jean Louis-David, Madame François Buron, 1769. Detail. The Art Institute of Chicago.

The book she is holding, with its thick flatish spine apparent at the head, appears to have multiple signatures. Intriguingly, the paper covered book lying flat appears to be a single signature, which would be very unlikely for a letterpress book; could it be a blank book, notebook, or journal? Is it possible she is reading something private, like a diary?

She is shielding her eyes from the light source (truth?), but at the same time the page she is reading is in the shadows. She looks out at us with a concern, and possibly a bit of weary annoyance. The Hasty Book List also noticed she seems a little caught off guard or shy. A full size image is here.

Upcoming Workshop: 18th Century French Binding at The Georgia Archives, November 6-10, 2017

Eighteenth century French binding models made in Historic Book Structures for Conservators 2017 workshop.

 

Late 18th Century French Binding Structure
Date: November 6-10, 2017
Location: The Georgia Archives in Morrow, Georgia

This workshop will focus on reconstructing a typical 18th century full leather French binding by comparing and contrasting three 18th century technical descriptions, examining extant bindings and using historic tools.

In some respects, this structure is the end of 1,200 years of utilitarian leather binding; fifty years later, the cloth case becomes the dominant inexpensive rigid board structure. The making of the book is very organic and does not rely on numeric measuring. This class is a hands-on explication of historic written texts. We will try to understand how and why these books were made the way they were made — then model as many aspects as possible — all the while acknowledging our inaccuracies and incomplete understanding.

Techniques to be learned:
-Using a beating hammer to beat the textblock before sewing
-Sewing on thin raised single cords
-Lacing in slips into handmade pasteboards in a typical three hole pattern
-Beating the boards
-Trimming all three edges with a plough in-boards while using trindles for the foreedge
-Coloring the edges with vermillion
-Applying vellum transverse spine liners
-Sewing endbands on rolled paper cores
-Paring and covering in full calfskin
-Marbling, pastewashing, and burnishing the leather
-Applying simple blind tooled decoration

Reproductions of 18th century French tools, constructed from plates in Diderot’s Encylopedie (1751-1780) will be available for use. Participants will learn to use and maintain a plough and investigate the problems in translating written descriptions of bookbinding into the construction of a model. Extensive notations (in English) on Gauffecourt’s Traite de la Relieure des Livres (1763) and Dudin’s L’Art du Relieur-doreur de Livres (1772) will be provided.

Basic bookbinding skills are a prerequisite, but this class can serve as an introduction to leather paring. Discussions will include treatment decision making for this particular structure in relation to institutions and private clients. This class is open to all levels of experience: pre-program students, technicians, and mid-career conservators who desire a full week at the bench. Ideally, a variety of participant experience levels will result in an invigorating exchange of information on binding techniques, institutional protocols, and treatment approaches. Students should bring basic bookbinding tools.

A review of this workshop from 2016 by Constant Lem, Book Conservator at the National Library of the Netherlands: <https://jeffpeachey.com/2017/02/07/review-of-18th-century-french-bookbinding-workshop/&gt;

To apply, applicants must submit a resume and brief, one-paragraph statement of intent. Prospective students should outline educational hopes for this class, and review their background in book conservation, bookbinding, or other crafts.

Fee: $700 and a $100 materials fee

Application deadline: September 15, 2017

Send applications to: Kim Norman:  Kim <dot> Norman <at> usg <dot> edu
Include any questions about the facilities, hotels, or transportation (Morrow is close to Atlanta). For questions about the class: Jeff Peachey: jeffrey <dot> peachey <at> gmail <dot> com

Review of 18th Century French Bookbinding Workshop

Constant Lem, Book Conservator at the National Library of the Netherlands, reviewed my 18th century French Bookbinding Workshop from last summer, which I taught in the Netherlands. Constant studied Medieval History at the University of Amsterdam. In the 1980s and 1990s he worked as a bookbinder. Since 2004 he is a book conservator at the Koninklijke Bibliotheek in The Hague (The National Library of the Netherlands). Constant is very interested in historic bookbinding manuals and has long been intrigued by the peculiarities of the special French tradition of leather binding.

Translation by Herre de Vries.

***

The reconstruction of an eighteenth century leather ‘French’ binding with Jeff Peachey
Workshop organized by Restauratoren Nederland, May 2016
Constant Lem

Making models of historical binding structures is a source of knowledge about the old book. The best way to make such a model is by working from contemporary manuals. The oldest known sources have a Dutch origin: Beschrijvinghe des Boeckbinders Hantwerck [Description of the bookbinder’s handcraft] by Anshelmus Faust (1612) and Kort Onderweijs van het Boeckenbinden [A short instruction in the binding of books] by Dirc de Bray (1658). These manuals however are written in such a manner that they contain many unclarities to the modern reader. These can be somewhat clarified by repeated empathic reading and by studying the historical examples of the described bindings: historical bookbinding manuals are a wealthy source of knowledge about the old and rare book, but these bookbinding manuals only allow for a good and thorough understanding through the study of actual books.

The most fruitful recreation of an historical model from an historical manual can be done under the guidance of a tutor who has profound knowledge of the manual and who has come across many of its unclarities before, who has solved some, but is continuously open to solutions seen and understood by others, people who have also dug into the subject or people who are completely oblivious yet and can approach it in open-minded fashion.

This type of workshop is exactly what the American bookbinder, conservator and tool maker Jeff Peachey offered. The subject of the workshop was the type of tight-back full leather binding which has been employed so ubiquitously on books in eighteenth century France. The place of action was Wytze Fopma’s studio in the Frisian town of Wier, the Netherlands. It was fascinating and instructional from day 1 through to 5.

Working in the company of book conservators — professionals from library, archive or private practice,  and bookbinders  — to construct a tight-back full leather binding, with raised sewing supports and a flush joint was recreated following the eighteenth century French manuals by Dudin, de Gauffecourt, and the plates accompanying Diderot. During the course long forgotten, unused techniques were employed, like the beating of text block and boards with a 4 kilo hammer and trimming the edges using a plough. One not only understands the nature of the work of the bookbinders of let’s say 1750, but one also gains insight into how different materials and a different way of processing them results in a different book. The tactility of the book is remarkably different compared to the models made without the use of mock old materials and without resorting to those obsolete techniques. You understand why boards are being laced on prior to backing and trimming and what is the consequence of backing a book in-boards. You get to understand how the final result contains closely observable and for this binding type very characteristic, but detailed differences. Some of those are described explicitly in the manuals, others can be deduced from what can be seen manifold on the historical examples.

Jeff’s teaching method is different to what particularly modern bookbinders will be used to. A cover’s square for many a modern-day trained bookbinder should be exactly 3 and not 2.5 mm, and a 90 degree backing shoulder is 90 degrees, and that’s just the way it is. While Jeff knows his sources damn well and he knows what he is doing, he seldomly gave clear, complete and compulsory instructions. He was well aware of the incomplete, sometimes deficient descriptions in the manuals and invited us continuously to ask questions — without necessarily always being able to answer them — and to make remarks and attempt to clarify up to a point, unclear parts of the descriptions. This ‘open’ approach and the pre-final result — the bound and covered, but unfinished book — seemed to bewilder some of the participants,  probably used to clearer guidelines, more stringent instructions and straight lines. This bewilderment evaporated abruptly when the book underwent its final treatments and by applying a simple dotted-pattern surface decoration with iron gall ink and a finish of glaire and paste-wash it suddenly transformed into a historical binding quite convincingly. It suddenly looked all too familiar and many of its previous deficiencies seemed to have disappeared. In reality though they had contributed largely to the satisfying final result!

The point being that while making historical models you should avoid observing with the modern eye and from modern concepts. You should put aside — nearly impossible — all you know and can do, the result of two centuries of a bookbinding tradition constantly working more set and more straight, and to try and settle into the old knowledge, attitude and methods with an unencumbered mind and let it work from within you. With his experience and knowledge Jeff Peachey has given us access to that knowledge, learned how to interpret sources and to work according to methods of that period and as a result of that process has given us moments of great satisfaction.