Espresso Drippings

Jeff Altepeter, Bookbinding Instructor at North Benett Street School, gave me a copy of John J. Pledgers’ “Bookbinding and its Auxiliary Branches” which was printed on demand by the Espresso Book Machine.  For expensive, hard to find books, the Espresso is great for people like me who basically want the textual information, and have difficulty concentrating while screen reading.

The Espresso bills the books it makes as a “Library Quality” binding.  I’m not quite sure what this means, or even if this is a good thing, but the book  is similar in quality to a mass produced paperback, with slightly better quality paper.  The cover is lined up and it is well trimmed, but there is a suspiciously dark colored glue on the spine. If the grain of the paper ran head to tail, it might even open fairly well.  For $8, however, it is cheaper and easier to read than a photocopy, though the images are a bit worse in quality.  In many ways, the Espresso is getting close to the ultimate goal of  bookbinding machinery inventors– to print and bind a book without human intervention, relatively inexpensively and reasonably durably.

Below is the same image from three versions of this book for comparison.

Fig. 1. Screen shot from Google Books.

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Fig. 2. Image from the Espresso Book Machine Printing, using the Google Scan.

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Fig. 3.  From a photocopy I made in the 1990’s, from the Revised edition of 1924.

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Paper, Paper, Paper

Before Jacques Derrida died, he used to teach a yearly seminar for grad students at New York University, which I managed to sit in on in the late 90’s.  It was completely over my head, but it was an intellectual roller-coaster that I will never forget.  I could barely remember where I lived after listening to him for a while.  One of his later books, Paper Machine, deals largely with paper and  books.

Included in the book is an interview, where he was asked to what extent paper functions as multimedia, and how paper has influenced his work.  Derrida responds:

Seeing all these questions emerging on paper, I have the impression (the impression!–what a word, already) that I have never had any other subject:  basically paper, paper , paper.  It could be demonstrated, with supporting documentation and quotations, “on paper”: I have always written, and even spoken, on paper: on the subject of paper, an actual paper, and with paper in mind.  Support, subject, surface, mark, trace, written mark, inscription, fold–these were also themes that gripped me by a tenacious certainty, which goes back forever but has been more and more justified and confirmed, that the history of this “thing,” this thing that can be felt, seen and touched, and thus contingent, paper, will have been a brief one.  Paper is evidently the limited “subject ” of a domain circumscribed in the time and space of a hegemony that marks out a period in the history of a technology and in the history of humanity. (p. 41)

Although he wrote this in 2001, it is remarkable how prescient he was, given the recent revolution in ebook readers: the Sony reader, the Kindle and the Nook.

Derrida, Jacques. Paper Machine. Trans. Rachel Bowlby. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2005.

The Joiner and Cabinet Maker

AQ-1135XX


“A joiner’s or cabinet-maker’s apprentice would find some instructive reading in this [The Joiner and Cabinet Maker] little work. It contains, in addition to certain rudimentary information, some hints to apprentices of how to turn their leisure hours to permanently useful account. The book is a good shilling’s worth.”

-The Furniture Gazette, Sept. 29, 1883.


Christopher Schwarz, editor of Popular Woodworking, and Joel Moskowitz, founder  of Tools for Working Wood, have teamed up to reprint, expand and annotate the 1839 edition of The Joiner and Cabinet Maker.  I also contributed a chapter,  “Contextualizing ‘The Joiner and Cabinet Maker'”, so am unapologetically biased about this book!

The first section reproduces the complete 1839 edition, which consists of a fictional boy describing his apprenticeship, accompanied by a large amount of historical information about cabinet making in the mid to late 19th century.  The next section consists of Chris following the textual descriptions in the book and builds three projects; a packing box, a schoolbox and a chest of drawers.  In a conversational writing style, he adds his own knowledge of woodworking techniques, bits of history and documents building the projects photographically–the overall effect is like having a private tutor guide you through the project.

I examine three editions of this book (1839, 1841, 1883), relate them to the history of book structure, then investigate how their physicality influences our interpretation of the text.  I am very interested how craft based information gets transmitted through descriptions and manuals. The hands on explication of  historic texts, rather than just reading, is invaluable to a deep understanding, and often opens up new areas of inquiry.  Also, I attempt to make a case for the value of primary sources and their conservation, written for the general public, rather than preaching to the usual conservation and rare book choir.

For readers who haven’t attempted any woodworking, this book has enough general information, historical details and how-to information to serve as an wonderful introduction.

The book is available for sale from Tools for Working Wood. 373 pages, tons of photos, acid free paper, sewn signatures, hardcover. One shilling. $28.95

I should be getting copies in sheets later this month, that I will be selling, and well as providing it for students in the historically oriented Cloth Case Binding  class I am teaching at North Bennet Street School, Boston, February 19-21, 2010.

I also want to credit Matt Murphy for assisting me with some  research, especially concerning Charles Knight & Co. Thanks Matt, librarians rule!