Category Archives: historic bookbinding equipment

Samson Paper Press

The Robert C. Williams Museum of Papermaking in Atlanta has one of the largest — and oldest — papermaking presses I’ve ever seen. Look at the size of the top beam, which is about two feet square!

The entire museum is fantastic. It started at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1939, consisting primarily of Dard Hunter’s papermaking books and artifacts. Then it moved to the Institute of Paper Chemistry in 1954, was added to over the years, and finally landed at Georgia Tech in 2003.

The “Samson Paper Press”, constructed in 1790, was used by Hodgkinson and Co. in Wookey Hole England until the early twentieth century, according to the label. I’m not sure if the name refers to this press in particular, or is a generic term for any massive press.

It has an iron thread which generates much more power than a wooden one, due to the reduction of friction. I’m starting to think that all images of early nineteenth century presses with a ball above the platen also have iron thread.  Samson has a ratchet wheel and pawl mechanism to prevent the platen from backing off when fully tightened.

The tommy bar, or press pin, is lying on the black plinth in front of the press and is about six feet long! Not visible is the iron renforcement on the end of the bar which fits into the four holed iron ball. I imagine Samson securely attached to the ceiling or wall, and three or four men working together to fully tighten it. The daylight is roughly 3.5 feet, which would be about the height of a typical post (a stack of the newly formed sheets and felts). Possibly a century of use might account for the deterioration on the lower wooden platen, or it may have been sunk into the earth under the floor. The uprights are iron faced on the two short sides. A few decades later, by the 1830’s, most presses were made completely or iron or steel, making Samson an interesting transitional press, incorporating both wood and iron.

Around the same time, the French papermaking press depicted in Diderot’s Encyclopédie appears to have wooden threads, but a similar iron ratchet mechanism to prevent it from backing off. I have a hard time believing a small wood pawl could withstand the compression.

Encyclopédie, ou dictionnaire raisonné des sciences, des arts et des métiers, etc., eds. Denis Diderot and Jean le Rond d’Alembert. University of Chicago: ARTFL Encyclopédie Project (Autumn 2017 Edition), Robert Morrissey and Glenn Roe (eds), http://encyclopedie.uchicago.edu/.

 

If You Desire Perfect Fitting Covers; or, the Joint Groove

The International Bookbinder, Vol. 2, No. 4 April 1901.  p. 14

This is an odd looking machine. The stand it is on resembles a typewriter or sewing machine table, which suggests to me it was used while the operator was seated. The foot clamp must open or close the jaws, which were also heated, if it is a gas line coming in from the back. The heat and pressure would soften the animal glue to define the cloth case on the bookblock. I’m not sure if 32 machines in use is impressive, or just a good start, or if any still exist. The cabinets under the table might contain different thickness of jaws for defining the joint groove.

The joint groove is the term Nicholas Pickwoad uses in his Language of Bindings dictionary of bookbinding terminology, and one that I especially like.  It is succinctly descriptive, yet comprehensible to users of older terminology (the French joint, the American groove) without attributing it to a specific nationality or time. It would sound odd to refer to a 17th century Dutch stiffboard parchment binding as having an “American groove”, for example. Reportedly a book based on the Language of Bindings website is forthcoming from Oak Knoll Press.

I recall from a college linguistics class that prescriptive language changes have a poor track record, since language tends to change transactionally and dictionaries usually record usage. Possibly it is different for a very small group of book people using specialized terminology. Will fuzzy language searches and the ease of sharing images negate some of the need for a very strict terminology?  Time will tell.

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.

 

The Scratches Don’t Lie and The Big Board: Impressions from Teaching in the Netherlands.

Earlier this summer, I spent a couple of throughly enjoyable weeks in the Netherlands, teaching two workshops through the auspices of Restauratoren Nederland, at the beautiful bindery of Wytze Fopma in Friesland. First there was a 3-day sharpening/ spokeshave modification class, a wadlopen and tour of Mennonite sites, then a 5-day 18th c. French binding class. It was all very, very good.

Each time I teach, I keep adding current research. I’ve taught versions of the sharpening class over thirty times, and the French at least a dozen. It sounds cliche, but I do learn something new each time.

This class, Constant Lem, book conservator at Koninklijke Bibliotheek, convinced me of the importance of the 180 degree shoulder that the French bindings often have.  I’d considered and worked on this, however working together we made progress on this historically unique(?) structural feature.

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The steel folder, which Ben Elbel calls “score!”.

Before the workshop, I visited Ben Elbel, of Elbel Libro, in Amsterdam. He has a large studio, is doing some very nice work, and has a board beveling machine that I plan to steal at some point. Ben gave me a nifty steel folder which he sells. It is a nice size for detailed work, fitting comfortably in the hand, well made, and is also useful for blind lines. It comes in an attractive die cut storage folder. Metal folders keep popping up every now and then in the history of bookbinding: the earliest I’ve seen was patented in 1889.

Below are images from the workshop.

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Examining a spokeshave blade while sharpening.  Photo copyright Anke van der Schaaf, 2015. All rights reserved. http://www.fopmawier.nl

One of the most important aspects in freehand sharpening involves looking at reflections and scratch patterns in the blade, in order to understand what you are doing and what needs to be done. The visual feedback lets you know how to alter your hand pressure or technique. The scratches don’t lie.

 

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Tallying up The Big Board.  Photo copyright Anke van der Schaaf, 2015. All rights reserved. http://www.fopmawier.nl

The Big Board is a learning tool I use in the French class to keep track of questions, deviations from historic practice, instructor mistakes, material differences, etc.  Whoever has the most observations wins a prize, in this case a small lifting knife. Often there are over 150 observations. This helps keep us aware of inaccuracies generalized from our modern craft training that can creep into the historic style we are trying to understand.

As invasive treatments continue to become more infrequent in book conservation, the type of knowledge gained from making historic models will help keep book conservators relevant (I hope!), by increasing our knowledge of how these books were originally made.  Conservation as interpretation?

 

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Beating a textblock before sewing. Photo copyright Anke van der Schaaf, 2015. All rights reserved. http://www.fopmawier.nl

Not only did we have a custom made beating hammer, but we borrowed an anvil from the Blacksmith. A wonderfully solid substitute for a beating stone!

 

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Wytze’s large standing press. He said it took nine people to tilt it back upright after it was brought in through the door. A huge blocking press is on the left.  Come to think of it, EVERYTHING in the bindery was super heavy duty. My photo.

Wytze has the most massive operational standing press I’ve ever seen. He mentioned that it is the largest in Holland. He is operating the worm drive. Once the center screw is tightened as much as possible, to generate even more pressure, the drive can crank the main press screw another turn or so. The drive can be easily disengaged to quickly raise or lower the press. As a demonstration, he pressed some of our textblock paper so hard it sunk into the MDF pressing boards, creating a clamshell. It had little to do with the class, but was too impressive not to mention.

 

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Some of the class at work. Photo copyright Natasha Herman. http://www.redbonebindery.com

 

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The finished books. Photo copyright Anke van der Schaaf, 2015. All rights reserved. http://www.fopmawier.nl

On the left is an 18th century skull the Wytze found, the finished books, an 18th century (?) French (Dutch?) beating hammer on the right, and in the back, the printed handouts for the workshop bound en-broche by Wytze and Herre. We started with the same tan calfskin; the color variations on the finished books resulted from varying applications of glair, paste wash, and warm burnishing. These are powerful and inert ways to control the color and surface sheen of leather without dyeing.

The skull and beating hammer literally and symbolically bookend this workshop: we were working with the head and the hand, using theory and praxis, to learn more about the nature of 18th c. French binding.

 

 

Upcoming Workshops in the Netherlands, 25 May — 4 June 2016

I’m really looking forward to these upcoming workshops.  The organizers are making a beating hammer so I don’t have to carry mine! Dutch hospitality! If you are considering traveling from North America, Iceland Air has reasonably priced flights to Amsterdam and you can arrange a layover Iceland if desired.

 

Two workshops by Jeff Peachey – 25 May – 4 June 2016

organised by Restauratoren Nederland, the Netherlands

Two specialized bookbinding and conservation workshops lead by American bookbinder, conservator and toolmaker Jeff Peachey. Jeff combines his research of eighteenth-century French leather bindings with his practical knowledge of conservation, bookbinding and toolmaking. He will be teaching these workshops at Boekbinderij FopmaWier, a professional bookbinding studio in the Frisian countryside. Surrounded by an enthusiastic group of international colleagues and hopefully bathed in a warm spring sun, these workshops promise to be the perfect working holiday!

Making and sharpening knives: a rational approach, and modifying a spokeshave

https://www.restauratoren.nl/agenda/workshop-jeff-peachey-1/

This workshop is an intensive three day introduction to one of the most basic human tool making activities – making and keeping an edge tool sharp without the use of jigs. This workshop will use 3M micro-finishing film, but the freehand techniques learned are applicable to water, oil, or diamond stones. Participants will be provided the materials, instruction and equipment to make several knives by stock reduction of their choosing, and to resharpen any type of edge tool they bring with them as time permits. The specific tools of bookbinders will be examined: paring knives, lifting knives, scissors, hole punches, spokeshaves and board shear blades. Tool steel, edge geometry and grit progression will be discussed. A Stanley 151 spokeshave will be modified for leather paring, and there will be time to learn how to use it. The goal of this workshop is to free participants from the plethora of misinformation and mystique that surrounds sharpening and to instill confidence in sharpening, maintaining and resharpening bookbinding knives and other edge tools.

Course: €375, Materials: €175 Dates: 25-27 May 2016

 

Late eighteenth century French binding structure

https://www.restauratoren.nl/agenda/workshop-jeff-peachey-2/

Apart from the French Revolution, one of the most exciting aspects of late 18th C. French culture is the existence of two full-length bookbinding manuals. This five-day workshop will focus on reconstructing a typical full calf French structure of this time period, by comparing and contrasting the descriptions in these manuals and examining extant bindings. In some respects, this structure is the end of 1,200 years of utilitarian leather binding —50 years later the cloth case begins to predominate. This class is a hands-on explication of a written text. Some of the interesting features of this book include: beating the paper, sewing 2-on on raised cords, beating pasteboards, trimming edges a plough in-boards, edge coloring with vermillion, sewn front-bead single paper core endbands, parchment transverse spine liners, edge paring calf, “marbling” the leather, and achieving various shades of brown without using leather dyes. Reproductions of 18th C. French tools, constructed from plates in Diderot’s Encylopedie (1751-1780) will be available for experimentation. Participants will learn to use and maintain a plough, and gain experience in translating written descriptions of bookbinding into the construction of a model. Extensive notations (in English) on Gauffecourt’s Traite de la Relieure des Livres (1763) and Dudin’s L’Art du Relieur-doreur de Livres (1772) will be provided. An overriding theme in this class is to interpret historic bookbinder’s techniques by reconstruction. Basic bookbinding skills are a prerequisite.

Course: €540 Materials: €100 Dates: 30 May — 3 June

Excursion

On Friday afternoon, June 3, the eighteenth-century French binding structure course will be followed by an excursion to the local archives and rare books library: Tresoar, Frysk Histoarysk en Letterkundich Sintrum. We will look at several examples of eighteenth-century bindings from this collection using our freshly gained knowledge.

Adress: Tresoar: Boterhoek 1, 8911 DH Leeuwarden. We will travel together in available cars.

How to get there: https://www.tresoar.nl/over/Pages/Route.aspx

The tutor, Jeff Peachey

Jeffrey S. Peachey is an independent book conservator and toolmaker. For more than 25 years, he has specialized in the conservation of books and paper artifacts for institutions and individuals as the owner of a New York City-based studio. He is Professional Associate in the American Institute for Conservation, has taught bookbinding workshops internationally, and was recently awarded a fellowship at the Rockefeller Foundation Bellagio Center, Italy. He is the inventor of the Peachey Board Slotting Machine, used in conservation labs around the world. His most recent publication is “Beating, Rolling and Pressing: The Compression of Signatures in Bookbinding Prior to Sewing” published in Suave Mechanicals: Essays in the History of Bookbinding, Volume 1. More information at: http://jeffpeachey.com

Registration

Please register by emailing: herre66@gmx.net

Please indicate which workshops you would like to register for.

The location

The picturesque village of Wier is situated in the north-west of the northern province of Friesland. In 2009, FopmaWier bookbindery was established in this village of 200 inhabitants. Wytze Fopma, owner and director, specializes in unique graphic productions, mostly in limited editions, for designers, artists, printers, editors, photographers and collectors. Wytze welcomes you into his studio to experience the quiet and space of the Frisian countryside during the most beautiful time of year. What better way to welcome in the spring of 2016?

Boekbinderij FopmaWier, Tjerkepaed 16, 9043 VM Wier, www.fopmawier.nl. Contact person is Wytze Fopma: info@fopmawier.nl

The nearest train station is Leeuwarden. From here, bus 71 leaves for Wier 1-2 times per hour. You can also be collected at the train station if you inform us in advance of your arrival.

Accommodation

The small campsite “De Brinkhoeve” is located within a two-minute walk from FopmaWier bookbindery. Here you can pitch your tent on an open field with view of the village’s historic church. Two recently renovated trailer homes and a cabin are also available at very affordable prices (€10-25,- per person, per night). Booking can be done directly: http://www.debrinkhoeve.com/ or by phone: 0031 (0)518-462287. We strongly advise you not wait too long and please tell the owners you are coming for the workshops at Wytze’s studio. If you would like to share a cabin or trailer with other participants, please advise us and we will get you in touch with other interested participants.

If the campsite is not what you are looking for and you don’t mind missing out the evening social contact with colleagues, please contact us for further information on alternative accommodation in the vicinity of Wier.

Meals

During the day, coffee, tea and lunch (Dutch bread with a variety of toppings) will be provided. This is included in the course costs. Breakfast, dinner and lunch during the excursion are at the participants’ own expense. We are happily to recommend good restaurants, supermarkets and grocery shops in the neighbourhood. It is also possible to cook at De Brinkhoeve, a good occasion to enjoy the end of an inspiring course day together with colleagues.


Organisers

Herre de Vries, contact person: herre66@gmx.net

Natasha Herman,

Wytze Fopma.

Review of Suave Mechanicals Vols. 1 and 2

Both volumes of Suave Mechanicals received a strongly positive review by David Brock in The Book Club of California Quarterly News-Letter this month. In general, he “…marveled at how unique it [Suave Mechanicals] is. This is not a survey of the history of bookbinding, nor is it a manual, yet it has a foot in each camp.” (p. 19)  In particular, he mentioned my 2013 essay, “Beating, Pressing, and Rolling: The Compression of Signatures in Bookbinding Prior to Sewing”, in a complementary paragraph, reproduced below.

Both volumes are available at The Legacy Press. Get them before they are out of print!

 

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Source: David Brock “A Review of Suave Mechanicals: Essays in the History of Bookbinding” The Book Club of California Quarterly News-Letter, Vol. LXXXI, No. 1, Winter 2016. (pp.18-21)