An Unusual Sewing Frame from the Roycroft Bindery

A very unusual sewing frame. Roycroft Campus, East Arora, New York.

I was excited to find a small display of bindery tools at the Roycroft Campus in East Aurora, New York.  Elbert Hubbard started Roycroft, was inspired by William Morris, and promoted the Arts and Crafts ethos in America during the first part of the 20th century. His press produced many books that today look aggressively “hand-made”.

The sewing frame from his bindery, however, is strikingly innovative and elegant.  The support attachments are similar to the Hickock blank book sewing frame, which I think was designed and produced at least by the 1920’s. I’m uncertain which came first. I use a similar idea for clamping supports in my Nokey Sewing Frame. The curved and cantilevered uprights allow for arm clearance and stability. The late 20th century Clarkson sewing frame uses a similar design.

The rod in the front might be to wrap tapes on, so they can be continually fed upwards.  It also looks like the rod itself can slide a bit in a recess, to the weight helps apply tension?  There are two hinged areas, the front one may also trap the supports, and the one towards the back may contain a storage area? There is some residue on the rod, suggesting something was adhered at some point. But what and why?

The uprights can be removed, and the frame stored in the wooden box it rests on, like the Clarkson design. Given the aesthetics and the use of oak which is common in arts and crafts furniture, but uncommon for bookbinding tools, I would guess  it was made at Roycroft.  But the bindery display contained many other pieces of equipment from other sources, including a very nice Leo Finishing Press, so it may come from another source. It is a clever and compact design.

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?