Calf, sheep, goat, or pig. And deerskin?

deer
An advertisement on the back cover of  “A Treatise on internal navigation.” Ballston Spa [N.Y.]: : Printed by U.F. Doubleday., 1817. Image courtesy The Library Company of Philadelphia.
Calf, sheep, goat or pig. It seems 99.9% of leather books are made with one of these these. But other types of leather are always a possibility. For example, deerskin was commercially available for bookbinders in the early 19th century North America. The above advertisement, from D.K. Van Veghten, implies it is a new innovation he is introducing to the market. Given the large numbers of deer — even now — I wonder if this it was all that new. After all,  muskrat or beaver are  not unheard of in the 18th century. It is best not to become blasé with leather identification.

Below is a vegetable tanned deerskin, with two bullet holes. It was shot by my Grandfather between 1946 – 1954, and he had it vegetable tanned. He also had a couple of heads mounted on the wall of his living room.  Deerskin is softer and stretchier than sheepskin, and the grain is more pronounced in this example. Because of the stretch, it is difficult to pare, even with the best paring knife in the world. Possibly different vegetable tanning methods would have made it look more like calf. Most of the examples I’ve seen on books are very similar to calf, and a delaminating grain layer is often a clue that it is in fact sheep. D.K. Van Veghten’s advertisment also mentions it is quite similar to calf, but 25% cheaper.

I don’t think of the deer when I look at the deerskin below, but of my Grandfather. The bond between things and memories is strong. I can’t bring myself to use this partial skin. The familiar curse of a precious material; it’s too nice to use. So it languishes, only to be written about.

Sample of tanned deerskin shot by my Grandfather. Note the two bullet holes.

 

A Copy Press With Two Threads

Mark Anderson, Furniture Conservator at the WInterthur/ University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation, is fixing up a copy press for their Book Conservation Lab.  At first glance, it is a large but typical press, though with a nice hand-wheel with spokes extending beyond the rim, useful for extra leverage or pretending to be a captain steering a ship.

Copy press usually have a steep thread pitch, which is great to move up and down rapidly, but they generate a lot of friction when tightening, therefore can’t generate as much pressure as a real book press. This is compounded by a common tendency of not attaching them to the bench. There is a reason almost all presses — like the one below — have four holes cast into the base, in order to screw into the bench! I guess that by having to hold a press with one hand, and tighten it with the other, the total compressional force is reduced by 25% or more.

Large copy press. Photo: Mark Anderson

Once Mark took apart the press to clean it, he noticed an unusual aspect: the central screw had two different screw pitches and diameters on it. Apparently the finer thread is internally threaded into the larger one, though it is currently frozen.

Two different thread pitches and diameters. Photo: Mark Anderson.

A similar style of screw is mentioned in the 1843 Practical Mechanic and Engineer’s Magazine. There  may be earlier examples. Even today, external threads are sometimes referred to as male, and internal threads as female. In a surprisingly contemporary note, the writer in 1843 recommends that this coarse language should be abolished.

Source: The Practical Mechanic and Engineer’s Magazine, Volume 2, p. 204.

Although Mark’s example is inoperable at the moment, presumably the larger external coarse thread raises and lowers the platen quickly, and at the same time the internal thread moves more slowly, due to the finer pitch. But when the press firmly tightened, the smaller internal thread kicks in to apply more pressure. Fast operation and lots of pressure would be ideal for a copy or book press.

Source: The Practical Mechanic and Engineer’s Magazine, Volume 2, p. 204.

For this to work, the finer thread needs to be affixed to the platen, as in the image from The Practical Mechanic and Engineer’s Magazine. In the press Mark is working on, it looks like it spins in the top of the platen, like most copy presses. An alternative explanation might be that the finer threads were left over from a different project, or cut wrong? But if this mechanism works as advertised, why wasn’t this a more popular mechanism for copy and book presses? Hopefully he can get the screw unfrozen and we can find out.

 

 

 

Why the Present High Costs of Bookbinding? Bindery Wages in 1920

It is often claimed that the most skilled, and highest paid position in a bookbindery was the finisher. However, in 1920, the J.F. Tapley Co. paid the head stamper $50 a week, while an extra finisher earned a bit less, $47. Even the casing-in machine operator earned $2 more than the hand casing-in position, at $44 a week. Wages varied between $37 and $50 for skilled male work. At least for this company, machine operation was apparently valued more highly than hand work, likely because it was more profitable.  All the workers are referred to as “operatives”, whether engaged in machine or hand work.

The argumentative title of this company produced pamphlet, “Why the present high costs of bookbinding?” indicates some defensiveness and weariness when asked this question. I can totally relate. And since I work alone I can’t blame it on rising employee wages. The pamphlet cites increases in other costs, such as materials, as additional factors. The rise in wages between 1917 and 1920 is startling, but apparently there were no increases between 1911 – 1917.

Why the present high costs in bookbinding? J.F. Tapley Co.: New York, 1920. Bernard C. Middleton Collection of Books on Bookbinding, Cary Collection, Rochester Institute of Technology.

Below is the breakdown for the women operatives. Women’s positions in trade binderies were very stable at least since the eighteenth century. This is a surprising to me, given how much books changed during this time. They primarily did the folding, gathering, sewing, and laying-on of gold. The highest paid woman’s position was the head gold layer, at $27.50.

Women also operated the machine that replaced their traditional hand work. I can’t quite understand why the work itself was more gendered than operating a machine. Usually men operated the machines in factories at this time.

Why the present high costs in bookbinding? J.F. Tapley Co.: New York, 1920. Bernard C. Middleton Collection of Books on Bookbinding, Cary Collection, Rochester Institute of Technology.

Of course there were many women hand bookbinders making fantastic books around this time. One of my favorites is Sybil Pye, and her hallucinatory take on traditional book design still looks fresh today. She was an aunt of David Pye, the wood carver, turner, and craft philosopher. David Pye’s “Nature and Art of Workmanship” is a common entry text for bookbinding students interested in exploring larger questions of Craft. The circle grows smaller.