Grattoir

dudin scraper

Fig. 1: Two grattoirs from Dudin, Plate 10.

In 18th century French bookbinding, according to both Diderot and Dudin, these grattoirs (usually translated as scrapers) were used to aid in backing and smooth the spine linings. There were also frottoirs (versions with dents– pointed teeth) [*check comments for some discussion of these terms*] to scratch up the spine to get better adhesion, since book structures of this time period often had transverse vellum spine linings.  I made a wood copy of the tool above on the left, but the light weight and friction from the wood made it awkward and ineffective; the friction would tend to tear the spinefolds and dislodge spine linings. There is a contemporary version, available commercially, which is even more useless due to the extreme round on the ends.  I’m a little uncertain about these terms– so far the only reference I’ve found in English is in Diehl, where she refers to a wood frottoir ( burnisher?), that looks a lot like the one still available.

frottoir

Fig. 2: Two 19th century  frottoir/grattoirs, courtesy Ernst Rietzschel.

This summer,  I had a chance to test drive the combination frottoir/ grattoir tools pictured above. Ernst Rietzschel, from Holland, borrowed them from his bookbinding teacher in Belgium,  so it is likely they come from the French binding tradition.  Their weight, as well as the very slight curve,  made it easy to concentrate pressure on just a signature of two for accurate manipulation of the spine. As an unexpected benefit, it was wildly cathartic to punch and  scratch the spinefolds with the teeth, of course, only in the interests of historical research!

I used the smooth, slightly rounded ends of the original tool to back the book and to align the cords as well as to burnish the spine linings. Even with the damaged edges and paint, I was surprised how easy it was to gently control the backing process and tweak the cords into alignment.   I had much more control compared to using a hammer, and it was quicker (and potentially less damaging) than loading the spine with so much moisture that I could manipulate it with my fingers or a folder.

Originally, I was planning to reproduce the original, but I didn’t want to make it out of iron because it is prone to rust.  I wanted two smooth ends since I only scrape spines on specific historical models.  I considered stainless steel, but didn’t have any on hand, and it is very gummy and difficult to work by stock reduction.  Bronze was a good candidate, but brass is slightly harder.

So I made a modern interpretation out of  free machining, type 360 brass with a lignum vitae handles.  The quarter inch thick brass and heavy wood handles give it a weight similar to the original, although the aesthetics are quite different. My version is 1.5 inches wide, 8 inches long and weighs 9.4 oz. ( 4 cm wide, 20 long, and 266 grams) In practice it works just as well, in not better, than the original.  It can be grasped with a fist for extra pressure, or delicately held like a pencil for detailed manipulation.

I wonder why a tool this useful would become virtually extinct?

frottoir2

Fig. 3: A contemporary grattoir I designed and made.

18th c. French Bookbinding With Jeff Peachey

(Please welcome guest blogger Liz Dube, Conservator for the University of Notre Dame Libraries.  She kindly agreed to write up some impressions from the workshop and share some images.  Jeff)

I ventured to New York City in April to take part in a rare and enlightening reenactment of 18th c. French bookbinding. During this four-day workshop organized by the New York Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers, our group of about a dozen bookbinders tucked ourselves away in the Conservation Lab of the New York Academy of Medicine and under the direction of Jeff Peachey, determined to bind books in the style of 18th c. France. 

The effort was informed by two contemporaneous bookbinding manuals: Traite de la Relieure des Livres (1762/63) by Jean-Vincent Capronnier Gauffecort and L’art du Relieur de Livres (1772) by Rene Martin Dudin. Jeff provided the group with packets that included organized copies of the manuals, along with some of his own notes. Samples of period bindings were inspected and discussed

artifacts
FIGURE ONE.  Examining the 18th c. artifacts

and Jeff characterized the bookbinding industry of the time. We learned that in 1776, 75% of the bookbinders in Paris were located on just one block within the University community. Bookbinders and printers at that time were associated with guilds that regulated the trade, so they were no doubt a tight-knit and highly regulated community. Jeff underscored that this pre-industrial era period was the end of the hand-bound book era, and how fortunate we are to have two manuals documenting how the work was performed in France at this time.

The manuals had to be taken in context, however. Dudin’s book was not written for contemporary or would-be bookbinders but rather for the book-buying public, to educate readers on the details of a properly bound book so they could avoid being cheated by an unscrupulous bookbinder. That said, Dudin’s wasn’t just a casual survey of “what to look for” in a bound book. Jeff notes in our course packet that Dudin devotes “12 (!) pages and 7 plates” to folding, and that, even if Dudin exaggerated, the extent of paper beating that occurred in this period appears to have been, according to current bookbinding sensibilities, rather extreme: 

“…judging from these descriptions…they were beating these books a lot; beating the sheets before folding, pressing after folding, beating after pressing, and pressing a second time … The boards are beaten before they are attached, and after covering. And as a final step, before returning the book to its owner, Dudin has us beat the four inside corners!” 

With this in mind, we folded the paper into sections and wielded hammers, proceeding to pound paper and raise such a racket that other workers in the serene house of research were drawn follow the noise to find its source, and to inquire whether we had any aspirin. We beat until we were sore and could no longer pick up a hammer.

beating

 

FIGURE TWO:  Beating.

more beaters

 

FIGURE THREE: More Beating.

 Alas, in the end, we concluded that our best efforts still would not have satisfied Dudin! 

But we were there to make books, not to pulverize paper, so we had to move on. Lovely 18th c. marbled paper made by Iris Nevins was employed for the endsheets. Kerfs were sawn into the spine and our textblocks were sewn on cords.

sewing

FIGURE FOUR:  Sewing on cords. 

Various sewing frames and a variety of sewing keys were experimented with, including Jeff’s small/collapsible travel sewing frame. While not mentioned in Dudin or Gauffecort, some even went for the ultimate simplicity of using nails as sewing keys, as documented in several later bookbinding manuals.

nail

 

FIGURE FIVE: Nail as a sewing key.

Pretty neat trick, that! Once the books were sewn, the cord laces were frayed and pasted, and the boards were prepared (again with the beating!) and laced on. Textblocks and board edges were then ploughed in-boards, using a prototype Peachey custom travel-sized plough.

ploughing

FIGURE SIX:  Jeff working up a sweat speed-ploughing.

Our super smooth textblock edges were then colored (red, of course), paneling (aka, adhering paper or parchment transverse spine linings) was performed, and endbands were sewn on.

enbanding

FIGURE SEVEN:  Sewing endbands

The time had finally arrived for covering our books. Vegetable-tanned calf skin prepared by Richard E. Meyer & Sons was on hand for the task. But first, we were treated to a mini Peachey workshop on knives, spokeshaves, and knife honing, the completion of which found my knife was sharper than it’s ever been! For resharpening a knife, Jeff recommends pressure sensitive adhesive backed 3M microfinishing film mounted on a very smooth surface such as glass or marble, or—even better—strips of aluminum, the surface which was first hand lapped smooth. Jeff’s set was super light and travel friendly and worked really well—just add water and hone.

honing

FIGURE EIGHT:  Knife honing station, complete with bacon band-aids

To maintain his sharp edges, Jeff uses a strop made of horsebutt laminated to calf skin, both flesh side out.  The first stroping is on the horsebutt, which contains a .5 micron green honing compound, followed by a final polish on the naked calf skin. Jeff then demoed paring and covering-in (particularly impressing the group with his trick of paring all four edges of the leather in one swoop of the knife).

covering

FIGURE NINE: Jeff demonstrating leather covering

We then followed suit and tied up our books to dry a bit. They were then finished off with speckling (we passed on the traditional chemicals, instead opting for Golden Fluid Acrylics) followed by a couple of blind lines on the boards and spine. At the end of the four-day session, our group was very satisfied with the results of our labor! Thanks Jeff!

(Thanks back at you, Liz!)

There is another review of this workshop by Brenna Campbell on the NY Chapter of the Guild of Bookworkers website.

18th Century French Reading

Robert Darnton’s wonderful book, The Great Cat Massacre and Other Episodes in French Cultural History, is fascinating reading for anyone interested in the history of books.  In one section, he speculates on how people actually read a book in the 18th century.  Darnton is aware of the difficulties of moving from the what to the how of reading, but courageously proceeds.  He notes that “Books as physical objects were very different in the eighteenth century from what they are today, and their readers perceived them differently.”  Substitute “in various time periods” for “in the eighteenth century” and this statement is a concise raison d’etre for book conservation.

The following extended quotation is from the chapter titled “Readers Respond to Rousseau.”

“This typographical consciousness has disappeared now that books are mass-produced for a mass audience.  In the eighteenth century they were made by hand.  Every sheet of paper was produced individually by an elaborate procedure and differed from every other sheet in the same volume.  Every letter, word, and line was composed according to an art that gave the artisan a chance to express his individuality.  Books themselves were individuals, each copy possessing its own character.  The reader of the Old Regime approached them with care, for he paid attention to the stuff of literature as well as its message.  He would finger the paper in order to gauge its weight, translucence, and elasticity (a whole vocabulary existed to describe the esthetic qualities of paper, which usually represented at least half the manufacturing cost of a book before the nineteenth century.)  He would study the design of the type, examine the spacing, check the register, evaluate the layout, and scrutinize the evenness of the printing.  He would sample a book the way we might taste a glass of wine; for he looked at the impressions on the paper, not merely across them to their meaning.  And once he possessed himself fully of a book, in all its physicality, he would settle down to read it.” (pp. 223-224)