The Persistence of Imposition

The signatures in this mass market paperback (Weapons of Math Destruction, Cathy O’Neil, a great read, BTW) continue to group together, even though the book is perfect bound, and the spinefolds are cut.

Paper memory. Not enough pressing or pressure during or after folding. We could reconstruct the imposition based on this visual evidence, even though there are no conjugate leaves or other signature markings.

Whatever glue was used on the spine (PUR?) grips the newsprint-like leaves solidly, with no throw-up and lots of drape, making the book easy to hold and read. I’m embarrassed to admit this, but the tactile qualities are very satisfying in this book, at least in the short term, better than many high-end hand bound books.

What Happens to the Manufacturers of Bookbinding Machinery?

Desk blotter advertising. Late 1940’s?

In the 21st century, bookbinders are understandably nervous concerning the continued availability of essential machinery and replacement parts. Many of the board shears and guillotines we use on a daily basis are more than a hundred years old. This equipment not only needs to be maintained, but periodically their blades need to be resharpened or replaced. The last New York City grinding service, Ace, moved to New Jersey a number of years ago, priced out of Soho.

I support Ace by using their services. I also collect and preserve bits of history associated with these types of industries, such as this desk blotter ephemera I scored over the past weekend. This is the second bookbinding related desk blotter I’ve found in the past month, a little unusual,  though synchronous finds are not uncommon in dedicated flea market and antique mall exploration.

The Wapakoneta Co. was sold in 2009, but is still making knives and industrial cutting products. But as the numbers of newspapers, books, and other paper based products continues to shrink, what will happen to these vital ancillary trades — like board shear blade making and resharpening — that hand binders and conservation labs rely on?

 

 

An Ornate 17th Century Bookbinding Press

Bookbinder’s Stretcher [sic]. Possibly French, Walnut, 1670-1700. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
This is the most ornate finishing (?) press I’ve ever seen, as well as being one of the earliest dated ones. It is inaccurately described by the V&A as a book stretcher in the catalog, because in the early images (above and below) the tightening nuts were on the wrong side of the cheek. Usually tightening nuts like these are found on German or Netherlandish presses.

It would be nice to have a book stretcher on occasion, though.  Need to turn an octavo into a quarto?  No problem!  But was this really a book press, or a press intended for some other purpose? The 29 inch long cheeks are very, very thin in profile, and I imagine would deflect quite a bit even with just hand tightening.

Bookbinder’s Stretcher [sic]. Possibly French, Walnut, 1670-1700. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
A later image shows the press assembled correctly, but it is still described as a book stretcher. Almost every non-functional inch of this remarkable press is covered with relief carvings. The tightening nuts are especially elegant.  It is made from walnut, a wood traditionally used for press boards in 18th century France.

Bookbinder’s Stretcher [sic] assembled correctly. Possibly French, Walnut, 1670-1700. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London
Many 17th century and earlier European woodworking tools, like planes, are encrusted with carving. Hand tools have became minimally decorated since the 20th century, all form deriving from efficient manufacture and use. The decorative deep carving must have taken a lot of extra time. Did the maker or consumer provide the agency? Was this a presentation piece, not intended to be used?  It seems to show very little wear, atypical of most presses. Or did the maker just want to make a beautiful tool? Do beautiful tools inspire binders to make beautiful books?

*****

Hats off to the V&A has a very progressive large image use policy.  You can download them instantly, share them widely, and even use them for publication. There are almost 750,000 searchable images on the V&A site. Let’s hope all institutions free their images.

V&A large image use form. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London