Category Archives: history of bookbinding

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.

Upcoming Workshop. Cloth Case Bindings: Their History and Repair. October 24-28, 2016. Georgia Archives, Morrow, Georgia

CLOTH CASE BINDINGS: THEIR HISTORY AND REPAIR

October 24-28, 2016

Instructor: Jeff Peachey

Georgia Archives, Morrow, Georgia.

For almost 200 years, the cloth case binding has been the standard way publishers issue books. Throughout the nineteenth century, and even into the twentieth, it was often derided by bibliophiles as a temporary structure, not a ‘real’ book. However, it has proved to be a remarkably durable structure, now commonly used by conservators when rebinding books, by fine small press publications, and in library binding.  Quite likely, there are more cloth cased books than any other rigid board book structure on earth. 

This 5-day workshop will investigate the history of the cloth case binding, concentrating on the early years, 1825-1850. We will parse historic texts that describe this structure, while paying close attention to the introduction of four key pieces of machinery: the rolling press, the board shear, the guillotine, and the stamping press. Boards bindings will be considered as an industrial precursor to the cloth case, and we will make a structural model following a technical description from Cowie’s 1828 The Bookbinder’s Manual. By focusing on historic techniques, this workshop will also serve as introduction or refresher to the essential bookbinding hand-skills. Additionally, we will explore options for conserving and repairing cloth cased books by working on actual books provided by participants. Treatment options presented will include recasing, cloth rebacking, tissue repairs, hinge repairs, and boxing. Basic paper repairs, techniques of toning tissue and cloth, spine lining considerations, and the lifting of fragile material will be addressed. Discussions will include treatment decision making in relationship to specific institutional needs or the desires of private clients.

This workshop is open to all levels of experience: pre-program students, technicians, and mid-career conservators who desire a full time week at the bench. Ideally, a variety of participant experience levels will result in an invigorating exchange of information on binding techniques, institutional protocols, and treatment approaches.  Students should bring 5-10 non-valuable cloth cased books that can be sacrificed or repaired, and basic bookbinding tools.

Students should submit a resume and a brief one paragraph application statement, reviewing their background in bookbinding, book conservation, or other crafts, and stating what they hope to learn.

Workshop Fee: $650 which includes materials.

Application deadline: July 15, 2016.

The application, or questions about the facilities/ housing options/ transportation (Morrow is close to Atlanta) should be sent to Kim Norman: Kim <dot> Norman <at> usg <dot> edu

Other questions about the class should be sent to me.

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)

 

Ellic Howe, Google Books, and a Bookplate

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Ellie Howe’s Bookplate. From the front pastedown of The Book-finishers’ Friendly Circular on Google books: https://books.google.com/books?id=LlwEAAAAQAAJ&pg=PAcontents.

When I worked as a book clerk at the late Gotham Book Mart in 1980’s, provenance, especially on modern books, mattered little to me.  So what if someone famous touched, looked at, owned, or read this particular book, I reasoned. What meaning could possibly be transferred from this?

But recently, while doing some research, I stumbled across the bookplate of Ellic Howe, from the digitized version of The Book-Finishers’ Friendly Circular, 1845-51. (BTW, this copy is much easier to read than the Garland reprint) Howe is a well known book historian and I consider his The Society of London Bookbinders, 1780-1951 the best book yet concerning the London Bookbinding trade.

The Book-Finishers’ Friendly Circular is a wonderful slice-of-life, filled with humor, history, poetry, practical information, and reports on meetings. There is endless arguing about who it making more money, quite similar to what binders often talk about now. The primary evidence in this book informed much of Howe’s publications.

Howe’s stunning bookplate made me realize this book once belonged to him. It illustrates a dramatic one point perspective view a private study. It establishes books as a transactional space between the past and the future: a storehouse of knowledge on the right side of the room, which are being used in this scholars library to create more books, his own writings spread out on the table. Howe’s name is projected on what could be mistaken for a movie screen on one wall, which illuminates the room along with the windows. Is this possibly an allusion to the power of the scholarly interlocutor?

More surprisingly, I felt a bit star-struck: even though I knew I was reading this book virtually, it thrilled me to know I was reading Howe’s copy.

Upcoming Event: Time and the Book, Yale University, September 12 and 13, 2014

Next week, on September 12 and 13, 2014, I will be participating in a symposium sponsored by the Yale Program in the History of the Book.  Registration for the symposium is full; however, Kathryn James’s lecture, “Time in Place” is open to the public.  It is great that academics are becoming interested in the book as a material object; I suspect there will be some fascinating discussions.

symposium

 

The Excelsior Metal Folder

Using bone to make tools is likely very early in human history, maybe just after the rock and the stick.  Bone folders are still very common today in several trades, mainly because a better synthetic substitute has not been found, much to the dismay of hard-core vegetarians. Wood, bamboo, teflon, carbon fiber, steel, and a few other plastics are useful for specific tasks, however are not as useful overall.  Bone as a material is so ancient, traditional, simple and perfect it is hard to imagine any way to improve it.

Around 1889, J.C. Forman of Cleveland, Ohio, wanted a harder, less breakable bone folder and thought an aluminum alloy might be the answer.

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Forman’s Patent #398,825. I find the shape quite elegant and useful.

The patent specifies that the tool is made from “aluminum metal in alloy thereof, having the required degree of weight, strength, hardness, and as best adapted to resist the oxidating influence to which it is subjected in its use. These essential properties are required in the article for the purpose above mentioned, to prevent the paper and binding of books from being discolored and injured by a metallic oxide.”  The patent later mentions the tool is useful for rubbing signatures down between bands, tapping down band-points (?) and creating an even swell.  It is touted as especially useful for blank account-books because of the strength of the material and its hardness. Although the patent drawing has a complex tapered shape, the image of the folder in the advertisement below seems to be simpler, with an essentially flat surface along the length. The semicircular shape of the rounded end is similar to a modern tongue depressor. According to an unverified wikipedia link, both wood and metal tongue depressors were available in 1865, though I haven’t seen an image of one.

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The American Bookmaker, Vol. 8, May, 1889, p. 124.

Since I was unable to find an example of this tool, I decided to make a replica. I first used 6061 aluminum and copied the dimensions mentioned in the Bookmaker article. Forman variously refers to the metal as aluminum, aluminum bronze, or “aluminum metal in alloy”. 6061 aluminum alloy, however, caused black skid marks on the paper when rubbed.  It also was much lighter than described.  This is a case where a description of the color of the metal would give us a much clearer idea of the metal. I also thought aluminum might have had a certain luxury appeal at the time, since it recently become a “non-precious” metal, plumenting in price from over $500 a pound in the mid nineteenth century (it was used for jewelry) to $2.00 a pound at the end.  In 1884, an once of aluminum cost $1, about the same as an average day laborer’s salary. It was Andrew Mellon (the Mellon foundation is well know today for its generous funding of conservation activities) who founded the aluminum monopoly which later became Alcoa, beginning in 1888.

The American Bookmaker, Vol. 8, May, 1889. p. xi. Forman implies there were already knock-offs of his design being made and sold. Note the dubious claim “Less effort with greater results”. Note the puzzling claim “The most complete Blank Book Folder ever made.” 

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Next, I experimented with some aluminum bronze alloys, specifically types 954, 655 and 642. All these alloys are basically brass with around 10% aluminum, 3% iron, and varying trace amounts of manganese, nickel and cobalt. They were surprisingly difficult to work by stock reduction, which made me curious about the edge retention of an axe or cutting tool made from one of these alloys. I’ll put it on my list…. The 642 seemed closest to the “aluminum bronze” mentioned in Forman’s advertisement in terms of composition, weight and the fact that it barely marked the paper when rubbed vigorously. Forman, however, claims his metal alloy did not make a mark. Did I have the wrong alloy or was Forman exaggerating the qualities of his folder? I wonder if this small amount of offsetting might have been unnoticed or acceptable to late nineteenth century stationary binders. Possibly there are marks to look for along the spine edge of account books from around this time, if the folder was in fact adopted by some binders?

The American Bookmaker, Vol. 8, May, 1889, p. 124. This image seems to indicate a flat, rather than tapered shape for the majority of the folder, unlike the patent drawing.

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Some kind of surface coating might mitigate this to an acceptable degree, but Forman doesn’t mention any. A thin coating of wax virtually eliminated the offset, though wears off quickly and itself offsets onto the paper. Possibly the heaviness of the folder was unpopular, it is roughly 2-3 times heavier than teflon or bone— 8.25 ounces (234 grams) for the replica I made, which is consistant what Forman reports.  Forman also mentions using this folder to tap, rather than rub, which solves the offset problem.

In the end, I really couldn’t find many advantages, besides the touted durability and unbreakability. Foreman’s patent is referenced by a 1965 claim by Hunt Manufacturing, but the base of this baren is made of teflon or similar material.  Bookmakers does sell a stainless steel folder, which they market as a “creaser”, and I think it is meant for scoring paper, not the traditional meaning of a “creaser” which is used to make blind lines on leather.

Here the trail runs cold. Did Forman discover an aluminum alloy—or coating—that didn’t mark paper when used, as he claims?   Were these folders used by binders?  Are there any examples of these folders around? Moving forward, might there be other materials used to create a better bone folder? What would need improving?

Three copies of Forman’s folder I’ve made: On the top 360 Brass, in the middle 6061 Aluminum, and on the bottom aluminum bronze.

 

A Very Brief Account of Beating Textblocks

The compression of signatures before sewing is an interesting, important, and poorly understood aspect of bookbinding.  Many people immediately assume beating flattens the pages. Although this is partially true, the situation is more complex. Below is a brief introduction.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA unbeaten page

Both images, page 126 of John Marshall The Life of George Washington  Philadelphia: C. P. Wayne, 1804. On the top: beaten, edges cut and bound in full calf. On the bottom: unbeaten, uncut and boarded. Courtesy The Library Company of Philadelphia.

These two images, shot in raking light with a flashlight, demonstrate some of the effects of beating. The book in the bottom image is from a boards binding and is unbeaten, but has been pressed. The book in the top image has been beaten: it clearly demonstrates increased textblock undulations as compared to the bottom image, where the undulations are much looser. Baxter, in 1809, mentions that beating makes the leaves “smooth and lie close together.”[1]  Beating compresses the pages, smooths their surface texture, decreases the punch from the type, but it does not generally flatten the page overall. It usually does the opposite for the text area.

Pressing complicates all of this, but generally compresses the thickest parts of a textblock composed of handmade paper. Depending on the structure, time period, and nationality, bound books could be pressed up to six times: before sewing, when sawing in, during backing, while ploughing the edges, when applying spine linings, during edge decoration, and after pasting down the end sheets.

Depending on the techniques employed while beating, the margins of the page can get flatter, if beaten more, while the printed portions of the page simultaneously become more undulated. A useful food analogy is is to imagine pounding a veal cutlet.  The meat moves outward in all directions from the blows of a hammer, as well as getting thinner. Careful control can direct the movement, however. Beating hammers usually have some “belly”, so depending on how much force they are used, impact a smaller or larger area of the page.

Beating causes the textblock undulations to become more pronounced, and the pages to lie in closer contact with one another. This has the effect of helping to lock together the leaves, much like inserting egg crates into one another.  Much more information is available in my article, “Beating, Rolling and Pressing: The Compression of Signatures in Bookbinding Prior to Sewing” in Suave Mechanicals: Essays in the History of Bookbinding, Volume 1. Ed. Julia Miller. Ann Arbor: The Legacy Press, 2013. (pp. 316-381)

*****

1. John Baxter The Sister Arts (Lews: Printed and Published by J. Baxter) 95