Category Archives: bookbinding

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.

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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.

 

Images from Zaehnsdorf’s “A Short History of Bookbinding”

Zaehnsdorf’s A Short History of Bookbinding, originally produced as promotional material, contains some nice images of his premises and details of several steps in binding. Even in these low-res google scans, interesting details can be observed: the headbander using an upside-down plough, the massive finishing press with wood top (replaceable, to protect the press from glue?) used for spine lining and finishing, the sewer working inside the frame, etc….

Notably, some of the steps are described as a generic action — “backing” — while some have the specific names for positions — “collater, cutter-out and coverer”. Small clues like this can help to understand the divisions of labor in Zaehnsdorf’s large nineteenth century bindery.

 

The folder also has a slitting knife to her right.

Interesting a man is doing this, usually I see women doing it. Maybe his great beard got him the job!

Look how long the lay cords are, both to save money on the sewing supports and an indication that only one book at a time was sewn.

Press pin still stuck in the press, indication of the speed of work? It also looks like it either does not go through a hole, or new holes had to be drilled? Usually the holes are drilled completely through at 90 degrees to each other.

Upside down plough. Likely worn out, since the brass holder on many English ploughs would get in the way even if the blade was removed. The women seem to be wearing different aprons, while the mens all look the same.

The rectangular guide rails are on the end of the cheeks of this finishing press, much like Tim Moore does for his modern lying presses. Love the massive cheeks. I want this press! And we know he is using hot animal protein glue, note the pot with a gas line hooked up.

I wonder if he is cutting on a tin, or cutting board. The knife has a handle. In shoemaking, the cutter-out (called the “clicker”) is one of the most skilled and highly paid positions, since they have to decide how to make best use of flaws in the skin. He does have primo bench position, right in front of a window.

I would guess they are covering on litho stones. The man in the foreground is using a sharply angled bone folder to turn in the leather in the cap area, and I suspect supporting the opposite end of the book with his stomach. Are there band nippers also on the stone?

A better view of the same press used earlier. It looks like three sides are covered with extra pieces of wood. I really, really need this press.

 

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I also noticed that Zaehnsdorf’s The Art of Bookbinding is available as a 6 hour audio book.  It would be an interesting experiment to listen to his instruction, while following along. I doubt I will do this, but if you do, let me know how it works!

Historic Book Structures for Conservators, 2017

Historic Book Structures for Conservators
The Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library. June 1-30, 2017.

For the third time, I will be teaching Historic Book Structures for Conservators. For the second time, it will be held on the grounds of the Winterthur. The Winterthur is a museum, garden and library consisting of 1,000 acres of rolling meadows, gardens and woodlands. It is also home to the Winterthur-University of Delaware Program in Art Conservation (WUDPAC). The Winterthur is a perfect setting for this class: excellent workshop facilities, a first-class conservation literature library, supportive colleagues, and an atmosphere conducive to sustained and productive learning.

This month long course is designed for conservators to refine bookbinding bench skills in order to understand the craft techniques used to make historic book structures. We will focus on books bound in-boards from the 16th through 19th centuries. The binding of historic models are the basis of the course, although an independent research project will also be required, as well as other assignments. There will be 24/7 studio and library access. There will be field trips; in 2015 this included the Mercer Museum and some tool related flea market exploration. Expect to work at least six days a week. This course is open to anyone passionate about book conservation and intending to make it a career, though I’m hoping there will be a mix of experience levels, from pre-program to mid-career. If a disproportionate amount of your time is spent on administrative duties, this might be an excellent chance to tone your bookbinding muscles.

To apply, please send me the four application requirements listed below. Please submit all of these together in an email attachment, via dropbox, or through a link to your site.

1) A one page personal statement on your interest in book history/ book conservation and how this class will help you in your career.
2) Your resume or cv.
3) A portfolio of bookbinding, book conservation treatments, or other craft activities that exhibit hand skills and attention to detail. You should submit images of two or three books: no more than one or two overall shots and one or two details. Please include no more than a one paragraph description of the book or treatment. Information can include when you did it, how it was made, before and after condition, a treatment summary, materials, techniques, or other information.
4) A letter of recommendation from a professional in the conservation or preservation field, or a teacher who is familiar with your work.

Only complete applications will be considered. After reviewing the above material, finalists will be interviewed by telephone or skype.

The deadline for application is February 15, 2017.

Finalists will be notified March 1, 2017.

Decisions regarding acceptance will be made by March 15, 2017.

The class will be held June 1-30, 2017. You can arrive May 31, and the class will officially begin June 1. The last day of class is June 30, and you will need to vacate the housing on July 1.

Accepted students will receive a full scholarship for tuition costs and be able to live on the grounds of the Winterthur for $550. It is a very beautiful place! Housing includes private bedrooms, wifi, shared kitchen and shared bathrooms. Students will need to pay for their own travel, food, bring a computer, and supply their own basic bookbinding hand tools. Historic equipment and specialized tools — including a paring knife, spokeshave blade — will be provided. There is a materials fee of $425.

This class is a unique and intensive opportunity to geek-out, discuss, explore, and immerse yourself historic bookbinding structures and conservation for an uninterrupted month. If it is anything like previous classes, it will prove to be energizing, exhausting, and unforgettable.

Blog post about the class of 2015.

For questions about applying or the content of the class please contact me.

For other questions please contact Melissa Tedone: mtedone <at> winterthur <dot> org.

 

Jeff Peachey Het Belang Van Goed Gereedschap

According to Google translate, the title of this article roughly translates as; “Jeff Peachey The Importance of Good Tool”.

It is vaguely unnerving to have a multi-page article written about you in a language you can’t understand.

But I’m not complaining!  The author of this piece, Henk Francino and I talked for quite some time (in English) about how tools — specifically hand tools — seem to be increasingly under-appreciated, and under-valued by contemporary society.

Isn’t knowing “how-it-was-made” a key component in understanding an object, and the tools used an important aspect? Are only materials to be conserved? Is it even possible to conserve technique? If so, aren’t the tools a critical aspect?

 

Read it all: Hank Francino, “Jeff Peachey Het Belang Van Goed Gereedschap” in Handboekbinden,  Vol. 9, No. 4, 2016. (pp. 112-117).

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“Jeff Peachey Het Belang Van Goed Gereedschap” in Handboekbinden, Vol. 9, No. 4., 2016. (pp. 112-117)

 

The Financial Benefits of Buying What You Love

As a retailer of bookbinding tools, I cannot recommend too highly the fantastically excellent advice of Carl Richards. In his NY Times article, “The Financial Benefits of Buying What You Love“, he lays out a strong case for buying what you really want, rather than settling for a cheaper option. It is not too much different than the old adage, “Buy the best tools you can afford”.

Seriously, though, I think almost every time I have not heeded this advice for a variety of rationalizations — the tool is too expensive, I’m not going to use it that much, I don’t need something that good, etc… — I have regretted it.

As his napkin illustration summarizes: you buy it, you love it, and you keep it. And even if you fall out of love, you still have something of value to resell, rather than more garbage.

 

 

New Store for Peachey Bookbinding Tools!

I’ve set up an online store at peacheytools.com for all the tools I make and sell.  There is  a used tool section (which also includes some experimental unique tools I’ve made) with some great deals to kick things off.

https://www.peacheytools.com

https://www.peacheytools.com

Tying the Future to a Thread

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J. Howard Atkins, Tying the Future to a Thread. Medford, Mass: Oversewing Machine Co. of America, Inc., 1968. Front Cover. Middleton Z 269.5 .A8 1968. http://library.rit.edu/cary/

What appears to be a 1970’s post-apocalyptic novel concerning the dangers nuclear stockpiling is actually about a far more dangerous situation. OVERSEWING!

A gem from the Cary Graphic Arts Collection, Bernard C. Middleton Collection, Rochester Institute of Technology.

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Could pass for an artist book installation. J. Howard Atkins, Tying the Future to a Thread. Medford, Mass: Oversewing Machine Co. of America, Inc., 1968. p. 18. Middleton Z 269.5 .A8 1968. http://library.rit.edu/cary/

But seriously, friends don’t let friends oversew.