Don’t Try This at Home

At first glance this looks like a typical recased book.  But on closer inspection, it looks like a first attempt at a recase, maybe learned from a bookbinding manuel without the benefit of a teacher. The squares aren’t even, the grain of the buckram isn’t aligned properly, there is a blob of PVA on the upper board, the joints are too wide, the spine piece on the case is too wide  and the case is not correctly aligned.  The cloth isn’t stuck evenly to the edges of the board, giving them a rounded, heavy and crude appearance. 

The corners are about four times too large and the turnins are at a weird angle.  Not visible in these images, but half title page is skinned where the previous endsheets were removed, the new endsheets aren’t trimmed even with the textblock, the spine lining is uneven and extends past the edge of the textblock at the head.

The sewing holes go through the textblock instead of the spinefold, most of them miss or encircle the tapes and there are several places where they are loose. 

Apparently, this book exhibits almost every possible mistake when recasing.

But I recased this book in 1991, while working as a Technician at at an institution.  I recased about 5 books a day for more than a year–over 1,000 books.  And I did this one blindfolded.  I couldn’t see anything, and had to rely solely on my sense of touch, and the habits I had build up.  A coworker bet me lunch that I couldn’t do it, and it was a steak au poivre he treated me to that day. Nothing was precut- I cut the cloth from the roll, folded the endsheets and cut the boards on the board shear.  The only step I cheated at was to have a pre-threaded needle.  I doubt I could do this again, the muscle memory performing these repetitive tasks is long gone since I now specialize in single item treatments. It took about 2 hours, and I had several witnesses standing by with Band-Aids, a tourniquet and 911 on speed dial.  

It is interesting how our perception of this book radically shifts, given the above contextual information.  For me, it goes from “this book looks terrible” to “wow, not too bad”.  And it serves as a reminder for conservators to gather as much contextual information about the object being treated, because the “mistakes” in this book are not “mistakes”, they are a record of the unusual circumstances of how it was created.

DISCLAIMER:  BLINDFOLDED BOOKBINDING IS AN INHERENTLY DANGEROUS ACTIVITY, AND THIS AUTHOR NEITHER ENCOURAGES OR ASSUMES ANY LIABILITY FOR ANYONE ATTEMPTING IT.

Window Dressing

This is not an image of water damage, an art project or a disaster recovery workshop.  Instead, it is the current window dressing of the Anthropologie store located at 5th Ave. and 16th St. in New York City.  At least a couple of thousand books appear to have been opened 180 degrees, wetted, then rolled into these large cylinders, as if the books were returning to the trees from which they came.  This display could be interpreted as an incisive a comment on the relationship between advertising and narrative structure– even a non-functioning narrative (the destroyed book) is powerful enough to be co-opted by advertising. Maybe this display is a political statement on the torturing of physical objects, denying them of their own meaning, forcing them to deliver another message, in this case to sell items in the store. Most likely, however, the relationship between this display and the overpriced crap luxury consumer goods that this store retails wasn’t even considered.

I’m always a bit uneasy when I see books that have been mutilated, whether it is done in the name of art, censorship, vandalism, or commerce.  I would have given no pause to this window if it were filled with broken laptop computers or ebook readers, which indicates some fundamental differences between our relationship to virtual and “real” books.  It is a sign that book arts have entered the mainstream when designers adopt their techniques– part of the filtering of ideas from “high” art to popular culture.  I noticed  Brooklyn Public Library and Appleton Public Library (Wisconsin) stamps on some of the tail edges, but all libraries have to deaccession books. Is it better to do a surreptitious run to the landfill or recycling center, or should they “live a second life” as some might argue this display illustrates? 

Many librarians subscribe to the broken windows theory — books that are poorly shelved and messy tend to encourage more disorder and damage.  And many conservators bemoan the thoughtless handling that many patrons (and sometimes curators!) display when handling a fragile, rare book with the careless aplomb more commonly observed at telephone booths–holding the telephone book precariously in one hand while inserting the change and dialing with the other, for example.  

Although this display sets a horrifying example about how books can be handled and stored, what concerns me more is that it represents an insidious cultural trend — specifically a disregard for the physical substrates used to transmit and store information, and generally a de-privileging  (perhaps denial?) of human interaction with the physical world.

Some New Tools, Possibly of Interest to Book Conservators

I have some new tools to sell, listed on the “New Tools, 9/2008” page to the right.  They include a bradawl, small backing boards, a tiger maple sewing compression stick and a thin lifting knife.

Also of interest to book conservators, Lee Valley now sells A2 upgrade spokeshave blades for 151 style spokeshaves, for the very reasonable price of $18.50.  Looking at the photo in their catalog, it looks like the slots where the rim of the adjustment knob fits is rounded, which makes adjusting the blade much smoother than the current Hock blades, which have a flat area.

They also are selling spoon bits.  If you need to drill complex lacing patterns in wood boards, spoon bits were historically used, and have the advantage over normal twist bits that they can start holes at extreme angles without “walking”.  The smallest size they carry is 3/8″, so the cords would have to be quite beefy. I would love to find some smaller ones.