Category Archives: history of bookbinding

Replicating Early Nineteenth Century Book Cloth: XSL Pigments to Stain Muslin

Fig.1. Left: The Beauties of Lord Byron. 2nd Ed. Philadelphia: T Desilver & Towar & Hogan, 1827. Right: XSL pigment stained muslin being prepared for rebacking.

OVERVIEW

I’ve been investigating ways to create a sympathetic replica of early nineteenth century book cloth using Kremer XSL pigments and unbleached muslin. This technique also involves suspension staining and resizing the cloth with starch paste. Uses for this cloth include rebacking, recasing, in-situ repairs of damaged bindings, board slotting, and the making of early nineteenth century historic models. Preliminary results are quite promising, though there are a few caveats. Future experiments will investigate XSL pigments for staining leather.

 

EARLY BOOK CLOTH

Publishers’ book cloth started in the 1820s.  Originally it was undecorated, faded quickly, attracted dirt, and over time became brittle. The book structures it was used on were traditionally considered “temporary”, were cheap and insubstantial, and as a result many examples have been rebound. Most studies of nineteenth century bookbinding focus on attractive and visually interesting aspects of book cloth that begin in the 1840, such as gold stamping and cloth grain patterns. Until recently, these early cloths have been overlooked by historians. It is doubtful that three piece adhesive case binding (aka. the hardcover) would have become the dominate rigid board book structure without book cloth.

Many examples of early cloth, searchable by year, can be found at The Library Company of Philadelphia’s wonderful online database of nineteenth century cloth bindings.  Another easy to use visual resource is The Publishers’ Binding Online, where you can browse by the decade. But the best thing is to get to the nearest library and examine some actual books. Images cannot substitute for this.

John Carter, in his classic essay, “Origins of Cloth Bindings” recounts the moment of the innovation: a conversation in the 1820s between Mr. Pickering (the publisher) and Mr. Sully (the binder), with Mr. Pickering expressing a desire to cover a boards binding with something a little “neater”, like a blue calico window curtain that was hanging in the room. Since this event was recalled and recorded first in the 1850s, some leeway should be ascribed as to the details of this encounter. But it’s a good read.

English use the term “calico” for a cloth that in America we call it “muslin”, though some claim calico has a lower thread count. Confusingly, in America “calico” can also refer to a floral printed muslin. Floral printed muslin is ocassionally found on early American imprints, though these are invariably an owner’s repair, not something issued by a publisher.

In any event, there is nothing currently commercially available that reproduces the look and feel of early book cloth. And many books from this time period have been insensitively rebound, are damaged, and are now quite valuable historically and monetarily. Like the 1833 first American edition of Frankenstein in “muslin backed boards” for $35,000.00.  Once books reach this kind of value, collectors, dealers, and institutions become more interested in having them conserved. Good news indeed, for independent book conservators like myself!

 

WHY XSL PIGMENTS?

The original impetus for investigating Kremer XSL pigments arose from problems with existing methods of dying and staining cloth. I ran across an informative pdf from Kremer Pigments, which described using them as wood stains. If it worked for wood, I thought, maybe textiles and possibly even leather?

Then I found a series of excellent blog posts from an American Museum of Natural History Conservation project, called In Their True Colors. Conservators investigated Orasol and XSL pigments.  For their project, which involved recoloring faded fur on taxidermy specimens, they chose Orasol. It dissolves in alcohol, which facilitated introducing as little moisture as possible, in order to airbrush the fur in-situ. But the consideration of XSL pigments in a conservation context piqued my interest.

 

FIG. 2. Proportions for various concentrations of XSL pigments for staining wood. Seeing this his made me curious about possibilities for fabric and possibly leather. Source: http://shop.kremerpigments.com/media/pdf/26000-26600e.pdf

I’ve had difficulty with the usual methods of dying cloth, and some require extensive set up and clean up. Fiber reactive dyes, such as Procion MX reactive dyes, can be difficult to control and mix, and as the name implies, they react with all nearby fibers. Consider yourself warned.  Direct dyes, such as Ciba-Geigy direct dye Solophenyl are also difficult to control, requiring heat and pH monitoring to apply. Traditional leather dyes, like Feibings, are very fugitive and not used in modern conservation. Aniline leather dyes can also be quite fugitive. Currently it is impossible to import the common dye used in book conservation labs, Selladerm dyes into America from the Leather Conservation Center in England due to customs regulations. Thinned Golden airbrush paints can change the surface and feel of cloth to an unacceptable degree, though for later nineteenth century heavily sized and textured cloths this works quite well. Book restorer Vernon Wiering is doing some interesting graining of cloth  — I would guess with acrylic? — but he doesn’t detail the techniques or materials in his blog posts. Watercolor, gouache, and raw pigments generally don’t penetrate well into fabric. What to do?

 

Fig. 3. Rock solid lightfastness according to the manufacturer. This should probably be tested: any grad students looking for a technical analysis project?  Source: http://shop.kremerpigments.com/media/pdf/26000-26600e.pdf

Kremer XSL pigments are a relatively new pigment treated with a dispersing agent so that they solubilize almost instantly in water. They also remain in suspension once mixed. The unidentified dispersing agent, which coats the pigment, is possibly the only conservation concern. Anecdotally, I have heard these pigments are used in color field painting conservation. The earliest citation concerning them on the web I’ve found is 2006. I emailed Kremer asking for information about their history and received no reply.

They are extremely lightfast, as seen in Fig. 3. They are relatively inexpensive with a complete set selling for about $90.00 from Kremer Pigments.  Since they easily disperse in water, there are no solvent fumes to deal with. Because of their high tinctorial strength, a little bit goes a very long way. Clean up is easy since there is no binder.

I find it easier to mix a specific color with them, because I am more used of dealing with pigments and paint, rather than dyes.

 

Fig. 4. Enlarged image of XSL Cobalt Blue (#26400). You can see the coated pigments which look like little airgun pellets, though some other colors are more spherical. A side benefit is that they are quite large and heavy, therefore less prone to become airborne.

MUSLIN

Since the earliest publishers’ cloth bindings were covered with a thin cotton, it made sense to start with modern muslin. It is sometimes called “airplane cotton” since it was used to cover wings on early planes, notably the 1903 Wright Flier. Unbleached muslin is available from a number of sources online, I ordered from Online Fabric Store, and it cost about $3.00 a yard. The coarsest thread weave I’ve found is 60 x 60. A better match for older cloths would be something coarser and more irregular weaving pattern.

Modern muslin contains sizing or other additives that can interfere with the staining. It is best to machine wash the cloth. Wrinkling and folds can also interfere with even staining, so I dry it on a sheet of plexiglass. This way the warp and weft can be aligned or intentionally misaligned to match an irregularly woven older cloth. If necessary, iron it after removing from the plexiglass to make sure it is as flat as possible before staining.

 

Fig. 5. Drying the washed muslin on a sheet of plexiglass.

SUSPENSION STAINING

For the toning and drying I used a technique based on one from the polymath Elissa O’Loughlin, a retired Walters Art Museum paper conservator, owner of Wren Haven Tools, maker of brass triangles and remoistenable tissue, a pressure sensitive tape historian, a pocket knife aficionado, &c., &c. She uses suspension staining to airbrush pigments on Japanese tissue. I highly recommended this workshop.

In this case, the wedges are folded corrugated board with a small weight inside to keep them in place, as seen in Fig. 6. I suppose taller wedges would dry more quickly. The ends of the fabric are clamped between pieces of binders board using binder clips. I tried applying the pigments by brushing and by immersion: there wasn’t much difference between the two. At some point I will also try to using an airbrush to apply the pigments. I suspect the method of application is less important than having a clean substrate.

 

Fig. 6. Suspension staining. This is a great way to stain tissue and fabric. Using an airbrush might give even more control when building color to a desired result. I also immersed a few samples, then dried them as pictured above. There didn’t seem to be much of a difference in the final product.

Drying the cloth flat on a piece of plexiglass can result in extremely uneven coloring, as seen in Fig. 7. I think this is because some of the pigments move more than others in the cloth while drying. Also, if there are folds or wrinkles pigments can collect unevenly in these areas.  If the cloth is not adequately washed, additives can affect color absorption. Then again, some variation might be desirable if the intent is to simulate an older cloth.

Even with suspension staining, there is some unevenness in the final color, so if you need a dead even surface, use a different material or method of dying.  If color matching is not critical, nineteen very evenly dyed colors of thin 100% cotton is available from Creation Baumann, though the weave is exceedingly fine.

 

Fig. 7. Without suspension staining, the pigments pool and dry very unevenly. This may be useful if you are an artist trying to replicate a cloudy sky scene!

Suspension staining facilitates an even application of the XSL pigment/water mix, since there is no pooling, and creases don’t develop when the muslin expands or shrinks. If the muslin expands slightly, the weight of the binders board and clips keeps the fabric moderately taut. Muslin shrinks back quite a bit when drying — which is why it was a good material for airplane wings — and the light weights let it move a little, while maintaining slight tension so it doesn’t pool. The color intensity is stronger with this method than with hang drying, as well as being more economical, since the color doesn’t drip off the end.

Ideally the weight of the binders board and binder clips should be matched to the wet strength of the suspended cloth or tissue, though maybe I’m overthinking this aspect.  To suspend tissue a much lighter weight should be used. The top edge of the corrugated board wedge was covered with packing tape so the fabric could move and not wick away the pigment. Suspension staining allows the material to dry fairly quickly without additional handling, since both sides are exposed to air.

 

Fig. 8. I think the muslin wasn’t adequately washed, which created this uneven absorption, in addition to the Dioxazine Violet which moves quite easily in the fabric.

I haven’t rigorously tested all eleven XSL pigments, but some are more prone to move while drying than others.  The Dioxazine Violet (#26410) as seen in Fig. 8 is especially volatile. Too thin a pigment/water solution also absorbs less evenly. Adequately washing the muslin in the beginning is the most important factor. There is less wrinkling and distortion if you wash the whole piece of cloth before cutting it into smaller pieces. Still, for reasons I can’t always explain at this point, occasionally the absorption is shockingly uneven, which is most irritating. Staining a much larger piece than you need would be smart, so you can cut the heart out of it. I haven’t been this smart, yet.

 

Fig. 9. Building up layers of paste. Three layers seem suffice to build a substantial coat, letting it dry between layers.

After the cloth is dry, I size it with wheat starch paste on a piece of plexiglass covered with some mylar to make clean-up easier. First, I put a thick layer on what is the back and adhere this to the plexiglass. Then I build up two or more thin layers on the front, letting it dry in between. Fewer layers makes a more natural surface, if this is what you want. Even more layers fill the space between the treads, eventually making the cloth look like a modern “linen finish” buckram.

It is easier to mix up a batch of fairly thin paste — somewhere between heavy cream and Greek yogurt — than thin down a thicker paste. Slightly warm paste penetrates into the cloth better. Too many many layers, or too thick paste, can cause the cloth to crack when folded, as seen in the middle of FIg. 10. If you don’t want this to happen to the hinge of your book, stay thin.

 

Fig. 10. If the starch paste is too thick, or there are too many layers, it will cause the cloth to crack when folded. I put seven layers on this sample to exaggerate the effect..

Somewhat surprisingly, the pigment didn’t seem to rub off much even before sealing with paste, unless it was colored with a very dark pigment. I even washed one sample after staining, and although the color became more dilute, but it didn’t wash out completely. The paste gives the cloth enough body when applied to a book.  If the pigment does move when applying the paste, I suppose a few drops of Golden airbrush acrylic medium in the water/ pigment slurry would help seal it in place.

The weak bond between the XSL pigment and muslin can be easily removed by slightly dampening and/or lightly scraping the surface to achieve visual integration. Colored pencils or other pigments could also be used to achieve visual integration.

 

Fig. 11. Once the paste on the back of the cloth dries on the plexiglass, glass, or mylar, it forms a barrier that makes the cloth much easier to handle when applying adhesive for covering. The small swatch shows the color and appearance on the front of the cloth.

COVERING

Animal protein glue is traditionally used to adhere the cloth to the book or the boards. The cloth often stretches a little bit when gluing it to the boards or book,  and this distortion is seen in historic examples, especially on the turnins where it is pulled tight. The muslin shrinks while drying it also molds itself to the board edges, making them look quite crisp. The combination of glue and paste make for a stronger bond than paste alone. Hide glue creates a wonderfully stiff feel to a book, even with thin boards.

One problem — which is also mentioned historically — is that the glue can strike through and leaves a permanent stain, as seen in FIg. 11. To prevent, or minimize this, the glue needs to be at the right temperature, and applied by stippling, so that it absorbs as evenly as possible into the fabric. The strike through is often more noticeable on lighter colors. It doesn’t happen all of the time. I still can’t predict it, which is frustrating.

 

Fig. 12. This is an example of the animal glue striking on a tightback cloth binding model. For some reason, the glue struck through much less on the spine reinforcement strip, where a sheet of paper extends on the bottom fifth of the image, than on the board itself. I’m not sure why, since I glued the cloth for both.

I wonder why early nineteenth century bookbinding manuals always mention using glue. I should test more actual samples, but testing for starch is destructive, and it can be impossible to differentiate when the starch was applied; cloth, boards, or surface size. Since historic cloths were often a looser and coarser weave, any strike through must have been even more problematic. This needs more investigation.

One practical way around this problem is to use paste instead of glue. Although not historically accurate, if the paste does strike through, when it dries it will blend with the paste filled cloth. Paste is easier to use, and traditional when covering with leather and paper. Paste makes the muslin more stretchy and difficult to handle, which also could be a reason it wasn’t used. Glue seems to dry a bit quicker, but there are many variables in hygroscopy. But if a little paste squeezes out when covering, it doesn’t stain the surface. The XSL stain itself may be the culprit. This is a good example of how recreating a historic technique with modern materials can raise questions, as well as solve them.

 

Fig. 13. An assortment of finished book cloth. All of these had three layers of paste applied.

Another way around this strike through would be to back the cloth with tissue. Again, this is not historically accurate, but it makes the cloth much easier to handle. I do this when rebacking or when rebinding an actual book. If backed, XSL stained cloth is as easy to handle as any commercial product. There is a very entertaining description of backing cloth with tissue from Big Jump Press.

 

Fig. 13. On the left, an unfinished model of an 1830s three piece cloth case using XSL stained muslin. On the right, a model of an 1820s era adhered-board tightback cloth binding using XSL stained muslin.

CONCLUSION

Book conservators may find XSL pigmented muslin a useful addition to their treatment options when rebacking, recasing, board slotting, performing other types of board attachment, and while making historic models.

The main difficulty is achieving an even surface coloring, so if this is not critical to the success of the project, the technique is straightforward, cost effective, and relatively easy. I find the slight unevenness in coloring using this technique is sympathetic when matching an older cloth, or when recasing a book.

I plan to experiment with a coarser, more loosely woven cloth as well as using pigmented  paste, which may be a traditional method. I also intend to investigate using XSL pigments to stain leather. Three goals include:

  • Developing techniques to stain the leather evenly and without bronzing
  • Working on methods to easily achieve and reproduce specific colors
  • Preserving the functional aspects of leather, so that the stain does not leach excessively during covering, penetrates to a sufficient depth, and the leather flexes without cracking

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS

Thanks to the Cathleen A. Baker Fellowship in Conservation, Shannon Zachary, and all of the staff at the University of Michigan Department of Preservation and Conservation Lab who supported my current research into early nineteenth century bookbinding. It is a luxury to have some time to escape from the pecuniary pressures of private practice and follow my interests.

What a Joint Groove does on an Adhered-Boards Binding

The opening of an uncovered adhered-boards binding without a joint groove. Notice where the board naturally rests under its own weight.

The opening of an uncovered adhered-boards binding with a joint groove. Here, the board opens more than 180 degrees.

The traditional reason given for using a joint groove is to allow the covering material to bend backwards in a more gentle manor, so that the board swings opens more widely without bunching up on itself. This was part of the reason the joint groove made a comeback in the early years of the twentieth century on leather bound books, along with the split-board structure, as a way to use thicker leather in order to make books more durable.

This, however, is only part of the story. Adhered-boards structures are very common in early nineteenth century American leather, paper and cloth bindings. Instead of laced boards, the slips are pasted to the outermost endleaf.  Then the boards are adhered to this for about an inch or so. After this is dry, the unpasted area of the endleaf is torn off, and the boards can be trimmed to size.

As you can see in these images, the joint groove significantly affects the opening, even without any covering material. Note that it is the same book in both images, with the front board placed tight, and the back board with a joint groove.The difference surprised me. There is always something new to learn: this is what keeps me interested in the history and practice of bookbinding.

The Earliest Description of Paper Splitting?

The Official Descriptive and Illustrated Catalogue of the Great Exhibition, Vol. 2, 1851 (p. 538)

This is the earliest description of paper splitting I’ve seen. It is also the earliest mention of splitting as a means preservation that I have found, though it does not specify why splitting a piece of paper into two might aid in its preservation. It suggests it can double your paper money, though.

An early attempt to monetize paper splitting comes from a bookbinder in England in the late nineteenth century. Kennington’s secret of paper splitting must have been quite simple since he required a non-disclosure agreement. This broadside is not dated, but looks ca. 1870-1880.

As recently as 15 years ago, machine paper splitting was still being actively researched, practiced, and machines developed. It is quite likely the last mass attempt to preserve brittle paper. Now we digitize.

splitting-paper

Splitting Paper Broadside, n.d. Cary Graphic Arts Collection, Bernard C. Middleton Collection, Rochester Institute of Technology.

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.

 

***

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.

 

Can Anyone Identify This Binder’s Stamp “REPAIRED BY……”

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Binder’s Stamp. Private Collection.

This partially effaced stamp is unusual, in that it says repaired by, rather than bound by. But who repaired this book? “REPAIRED BY DE xxxxxxHSY” or maybe “REPAIRED BY DAVID  xxxxHSY”? The letters are .5mm high, and it is positioned in the bottom left corner of the front board pastedown.

retroReveal, which can sometimes aid in legibility of fragmentary marks didn’t help in this case.

Robert Milevski, author of “A Primer on Signed BIndings”, was not familiar with it. He did send a useful overall typology of binders stamps, however:

In research done in Princeton University Library about 15 years ago (before many 19th c books were transferred from the open stacks to offsite storage), my recording methods were necessarily primitive and thumbnail (because I had to get through half a million books rather quickly), lacking in detail, usually, other than a call number, binder’s name, and type of mark. When I went back to these records and books (a couple of years later after their going offsite), I ignored anything not obviously English. Some of the bindings represented by these ignored minimal records probably had some interesting stamped signatures, similar to yours. (A sad thing, however, is that in that interim, some of the books, because of condition, had been rebound, thereby losing their binder’s signature history.)

I did look at my main spreadsheet of English signed bindings (3600 records at present, with more than 1000 yet unrecorded) and found a couple categories of mark other than ‘bound by’ but nothing like your mark. These others include: 1. just the last name of the binder; 2. last name of binder and location; 3. name of binder, address and designation as binder, usually in a two or three-story stamp. Of course, there is 4., the category of ‘bound by x for y’, usually a department store. And 5., ‘bound by x, successor to y.’ And 6., name of binder with a month and year, or more fully, 7., name, address and year. And 8., there is also the rare upside down stamp, usually only the surname, probably from getting the front and rear boards mixed up. That’s all I can say.

Generally, before modern art conservation principals began to be applied to books in the mid-twentieth century, most restorations and repairs attempted to be as invisible as possible.  So why try and point it out by stamping the book? And then why did someone else try to crudely scrape it away?

***

Added 8 August 2016

Below is an image of the stamp Maria Fredericks mentions in the comments.

FullSizeRender

 

 

Peter Verheyen’s Research on Ernst Collin. A Forthcoming Letterpress Edition

Peter Verheyen recently announced his translation of Ernst Collin’s Pressbengel will soon be published in a letterpress limited edition. If you have not encountered his omnipresent online presence, you are the last. Start here: philobiblon.com.

Peter answered three questions about this project:
1. Why did you call this “The Bonefolder”?
2. What do you see as the role of tools in this work?
3. Why should someone purchase this limited edition when you have already released a version online for free?

 

Bone Folder title-2

Title page of “The Bone Folder”

 

Peter writes:

I’ve actually received questions about the choice of title since I first started with this project back in 2008/9. Collin was writing from the perspective of one for whom the German bookbinding tradition was their DNA, despite the anglophilic predilections of the firm of his family – the court bookbinders of W. Collin in Berlin. All binding traditions have their own unique tools or techniques, and in the German tradition the pressbengel seems to be one of those. The image below from Paul Adam’s Lehrbücher der Buchbinderei: Die einfachen handwerksmässigen Buchbinderarbeiten ohne Zuhilfenahme von Maschinen (1924), a very basic introduction to binding without the use of „machines“ shows the binder tightening the screws of a German backing press using a pressbengel.

The Pressbengel had been translated into Czech (1925) and Italian (1996)  before I started with my mine. In Czech the title translates as “Wrench” and in the Italian it was given as the “About the Art of Bookbinding,” so there was precedent for a retitling. Collin’s text is iconic in the German bookbinding literature and was meant to introduce the bookbinding trade and its traditions to a lay audience. What tool could be more iconic in bookbinding than the bone folder and recognizeable to todays book workers and bibliophiles.

Collin’s iconic Pressbengel focuses on the core set of German binding techniques that a bibliophile would encounter, describing these in a fair level of detail including describing differences with other national traditions, largely French. Throughout, as he describes these techniques he discusses tools and how they are used, but not with much detail given to the tools themselves. What he does do in this dialog is to juxtapose the quality of the hand-bound book with that produced by machines. In an example from the last day on tooling and finishing, the Bibliophile insists that the Master do all his tooling by hand – no machines…

BOOKBINDER: Well, even then it might not be possible to avoid using a blocking press to form some larger, more complex designs, for example a coat of arms or some specialized text elements.

BIBLIOPHILE: No, Master, under no circumstances. In a work whose distinguishing character is determined by the work of the hands, there is no place for machines. If binders are so quick to switch back and forth between handwork and that of machines, they shouldn’t be surprised if their work becomes devalued. The masters of old were able to put large seals or coats of arms on their bindings, too, without resorting to a blocking press.

There are two things that set this new edition apart from the past one. The first are the photographs of John (Hans) Schiff depicting the bookbinding process and taken after the publication of the Bremer Presse’s Faust being bound in 1925 and the emigration of Schiff to the US in the latter half of the 1930s. The photographs are also part of never published series of 34 original negatives, so publishing a selection of them is significant, especially as they are very rich tonally with a great detail.

In selecting the images, Don Rash and I felt that it was important to show the hands of the binder at work in order to personalize the process. The images selected, one for each “day” in the text, depict: Sewing by hand over raised cords on the sewing frame; Sewing by hand over raised cords on the sewing frame; Attaching the boards to the textblock using the frayed ends of the raised cords; Sewing the headbands; Shaping the headcap on a leather binding; Gold tooling the board utilizing gold leaf and a decorative roll. The image of the bone folder working the leather over the cords is exclusive to the prospectus and not used in the text.

 

Schiff, Hans John - Bremer Press Series - 24

Photo courtesy Peter Verheyen, http://pressbengel.blogspot.com

 

The other thing that sets this new edition apart from the past edition, that yes was published open access online, is the completely new and greatly expanded introduction that provides much greater familial context to Ernst Collin and his background as the grandson and son of the last German court bookbinders describing their origins beginning with the early Jewish migration to Berlin in the first half of the 1800s, their growth as a significant trade bindery with close ties to the court and leading advocates for a new German bookbinding trade and tradition. Wrapped up in all this was the creation of the German empire, World War I, to the rise of Nazi Germany.

The introduction also corrects several errors in Collin’s biography that were introduced in national bibliographies, edited correspondences, and elsewhere, disambiguating him from “the other Ernst” that lived in Berlin at the same time, and his fate of being murdered in the Shoah. It also gives a much better sense of the broad range of Collins writings, including describing the other translations and editions of The Pressbengel. In addition it provides a description of the life and work of John (Hans) Schiff, the photographer.

This project became deeply personal to me when I was contacted by a geneologist who believed she was related to the Collins by marriage, and whose questions made me dig deeper into the history of the family and the writings of Ernst Collin. It was only appropriate that these findings be included in a new edition. Pairing this edition with the exquisite photographs of Schiff (who was able to escape Collin’s fate) makes the Don Rash’s Boss Dog Press edition even more special, and builds on the other titles he has issued on the topic of the German bookbinding tradition that to date have focused on the writings of his mentor Fritz Eberhardt who trained with Ignatz Wiemeler, among others.

The prospectus provides more details on the edition of 100 copies that will be available in quarter leather, full paper, and sheets for binding – an edition that is seeing interest (and orders) from libraries, bibliophiles, and binders. I would love to see an exhibit of the bindings that our peers create with the sheets, something more than the successful Bind-O-Rama on the downloadable sheets that have been available since the publication of the first translation in 2009. Ultimately, what is more attractive than a fine hand-bound book paired with original illustrations – no online/”e” text can duplicate that haptic experience.

 

Schiff, Hans John - Bremer Press Series - 18

Photo courtesy Peter Verheyen, http://pressbengel.blogspot.com

 

This has been one of the longest research projects I have undertaken, and the findings have been shared “in real time” via my Pressbengel Project blog under “Colliniana” and more formally in the The Collins: W. Collin, Court Bookbinders & Ernst Collin, the Author of the Pressbengel that I published online open access in English and German. Though I grew up bilingual, lived and worked in Germany for several years, and converse in German quite a bit verbally and in writing, doing this project bilingually was a real and significant challenge.

In the end I am quite happy with the outcome as these texts include much more of Ernst Collin’s familial context, images of bindings and other items that W. Collin produced, and a “history of the life” with description of Ernst Collin’s writings that describe the German bookbinding trade, its practitioners, and the economic and political context of a dynamic yet turbulent time in Germany. The texts also include a title-level bibliography with chronological and subject lists of Ernst Collin’s known writings. None of this would have been possible without the digital collections that have come online, so the bibliography is also online on the Pressbengel Project blog along with links to a spreadsheet that includes links to the digital content where available.

Together I hope that these contribute to closing the dearth of information on German bookbinding traditions lamented by Tom Conroy in his section on the “German Influence on American Hand Binding” that was published as part of his “Teaching Genealogies of American Hand Bookbinders” in the Guild of Book Workers’ Journal, Vol. 28, 1990.