The Shift From Mechanical to Adhesive and Beyond

19th-c

                                          Clark, Adam.  Christian Theology. New York: T. Mason and G. Lane, 1837.

I always enjoy examining these 19th C. (or early 20th C.) book repairs where the board is sewn to the spine.  This example is fairly crude, but some can actually function fairly well.  This book is in my collection– I will preserve it as evidence of the history of book repair.  We might find this repair laughable, but it is fairly easily reversed, there is no glue to remove and it kept the boards from getting lost.  When the holes in the spine are staggered through a number of signatures, these repairs hold up fairly well, and if the paper drapes well and the spine is fairly flat, as in this example, all of the text is easily readable.  

 

sewn-board

 

sewn-board-2

 

This example is missing the title page and first 14 pages, but I think it is some kind of  Catholic devotional book. It is bound in typical early to mid 19th C. style and is quite small– 84 x 57 x 34 mm.   Of course, I am not advocating this as a type of repair a conservator would do today, but to me it represents a 19th C. common sense approach to the most common failure in book structure– detached boards.  This type of repair, fairly common in the US, might have served as impetus for joint tacketing or a literal “sewn-boards” binding. The upper board and lower board are sewn differently, the lower board like the previous example, but in the case of the upper board, the stitch runs into the edge of the board, which results in a decent opening.  The brown thread which matches the calf covering is doubled like sewing thread is.  Could this this have been done by a woman, and the previous “heavy duty” example done by a man?   

board-edge-drilling 

I have hypothesized elsewhere that there might be some kind of connection between early board attachments such as in the Book or Armagh, Romanesque lacing paths, and board slotting. The spine edge of a book board is a very tempting entry point in establishing mechanical attachment.  The strength, and relative noninvasiveness of board edge attachments make it an appealing treatment option, alleviating  the need for disruptive lifting of covering materials.  I have been experimenting with a new jig, pictured above, which holds a foredom drill at a precise angle, and has a depth stop, to accurately drill with wire gage drill bits, in order to drill a hole exactly the size of the thread used to reattach the board.  

 

                                            Advertisement from  Science and Mechanics, Vol. XVII, No. 6, 1946, p. 38.

By the mid 20th C., detached boards and other types of damage are more commonly fixed by tapes and adhesives, as the advertisement above suggests.   Unfortunately, I think I have seen this used on books. It ends up looking like a thick, completely inflexible amber mass of goop.  I think this glue is the kind I used to use as a kid when assembling plastic or balsa wood models.  The cap of this tube is unusual- it looks like a twisted loop of wire, perhaps used to pierce the top when opening?  Often the spine edge of the detached board is glued to the flyleaf to “fix” a detached board.

By the early 21st C.,in the general public, most ideas of repairing an object mechanically are gone, and most ideas of repairing an object by using adhesives are gone.  In fact, the idea of repair is almost gone.  We simply buy a new one, unless the book has some kind of exceptional value.  

The idea of a world where nothing is worn, nothing is fixed and everything is new frightens me.  How would one conserve an ebook reader? I’m sure books will exist for a very long time, but more as symbolic representations of learning and knowledge, not primarily as a source for  accessing a text.  This is why these primitive, vernacular repairs are so important for understanding a previous culture’s relationship to the books they used, treasured, repaired and read.

 

Thoughts About Board Shears

Depictions of standing and lying presses tend to be very popular logos for bookbinders and conservators, but an image of a  board shear might more accurately symbolize current hand bookbinding practice.  More than any other tool or machine in a bindery, the board shear demarcates the difference between in-boards binding and case binding, it highlights the difference between the late 18th and early 19th centuries binding styles, it marks a major shift in the role of bookbinders from artisan to worker, and often today it reflects difference between an amateur and professional binder.

A board shear does one thing, it cuts a piece of cloth, board or paper at 90 degrees quickly and accurately. Physically, the board shear is often  the largest machine in a hand bindery. My relatively small 19th C. 30″ Jacques takes up about 20 square feet. It quite heavy and expensive as well.  For these reasons most amateur binders do not have one. It’s imposing presence, however, garners many comments from clients.  Although the large blades appear dangerous, most accidents I’ve witnessed involve pinching one’s finger under the fence, then jumping away from the machine, and in the process stepping down harder with the foot clamp, which squeezes one’s finger even more.  A torn off fingernail is often the result.  And I have seen the counterweight fall off the end, which could have been deadly.

The earliest publishers case bindings appear around 1810, and the board shear around 1840.  There are types of earlier case bindings, wrappers and related structures, but I am just considering publishers case bindings here. It is difficult to imagine a 19th C. publishers bindery without one, since it is made for dealing with the relatively new invention of book cloth and machine made binders board. Machine made binders board, with an even thickness, is perfect for cutting on the board shear.  Earlier water leaf or paste board usually vary considerably in thickness (possibly explaining the remarkable amount of beating prescribed in historic bookbinding manuels) and make it a poor canidate for use in a board shear- the fence must hold the material being cut evenly and firmly, otherwise it will tear rather than cut.  With a bound book, a plough is the most necessary piece of specialized equipment, not the board shear.  

19th C. case binding, consisting of two boards, a spine piece and covered before gluing to the text block, requires much more accurate, repeatable cutting that a bound book.  Late in the 19th C., after case bindings became prevalent, I hypothesize that their movement influenced bound books. In earlier binding structures, when the boards are opened, the spine also begins to move. When a cased book is opened, the front cover, for example, can be opened  more than 180 degrees without any motion being transfered to the text block.  Late 19th C. bound books move the same way.  At this time, if the board of a bound book was opened fully, it was considered shoddy workmanship if the flyleaf moved at all.  I I wonder if it was the public, bibliophiles or the binders who desired this new type of movement from a book.    

The late 18th C. marked the end of the leather bound book as vernacular culture, and the cased book radically changed the nature of bookbinders work.  Mechanization, repeatability, perfect 90 degree angles, reliance on adhesives rather than mechanical strength, interchangeability of a text and cover and the speed at which the binder had to work all came to the fore at this time. When making an in-boards binding, the craftsman has a sense of constructing or building the book, rather than simply gluing it together.  Since the text and boards are ploughed at the same time, slight deviations from 90 degrees are much more acceptable that in a case binding, where difference would be diasterous if the turnins aren’t even with the boards.  The bookbinder, previously an artisan was increasingly becoming a worker.   And he was forced to emulate machine made standards.

In a roundabout way, all of this points to the importance of studying the tools and machines that made books, in order to better understand small, specific historic details and larger picture- how books have informed the human experience.

 

On Sept 2, 2008 Thomas Conroy added:

I’ve been looking at early binding equipment, and some of the six or eight 1824-1836 patents for “paper cutters” listed in my write-up on the guillotine may have been for board shears rather than guillotines. It isn’t easy to find out, since the Patent Office and all its records burned in 1836. 

Click here

But the rotary board cutter was already in use by 1856, since an engraving of one appears in the edition of Pilkington’s “Artist’s Guide and Mechanic’s Own Book” that also has an early engraving of the roller backer:

Click here

The rotary board cutter would satisfy the edition binder’s need for squareness better than the board shear, so perhaps the board shear’s ability to cut square was less important than you suggest. In any case, do we know when board shears were first equipped with gauges? I don’t think early guillotines had them, and there were still guillotines being sold with only one side gauge into the 1890s.

 

March 20, 2009

I noticed that in Nicholson’s Art  of Bookbinding, both the 1874 and 1856 editions have a picture of a man at a “Table Shears” on page 175.  It doesn’t have gauges, as you mention, but it is in the section of the book that deals with cloth work, not in the section on bound books.

The O’Riva Corner

I found this interesting corner, US Patent # 562,649, issued to John B. O’Riva in 1896.  It is long out of protection, so anyone can make it.  O’Riva states, “The object of this invention is to provide a binding for books which will be strong and durable without necessitating the destruction of the grain in the leather used for the binding.”  It seems intended to be used for bibles with flexible covers. I appreciate O’Rivas sensitivity to preserving the beauty of the grain, which makes me think he came out of an arts and crafts background, rather than from the trade, who favored a very highly polished leather surface which made tooling easier.  

This invention created a very smooth looking corner while preserving the natural grain and covered the puckering of the leather when it was pleated over the rounded edge.  Possibly the leather could be left a bit thicker than a standard rounded corner.  The overlapping layers of flexible board would also add some strength at this critical place.

It would be very interesting to find an example of this corner, I’ve never noticed one. Flexible board bibles like these tended to get carried back and forth to church every Sunday, and even if they were not read a lot, 19th C. ones are not as common as the ubiquitous large, illustrated Victorian Bible, for example. It seems it would be very difficult to enforce this kind of patent, especially if another binder had seen one of these and tried to copy it.  But perhaps the patent was to protect the inventors idea against more large scale publishing house infringement. In this drawing, the grain pattern of the leather makes it seem like some kind of reptile skin, or other exotic such as shagreen.  These types of leather are difficult to turn in neatly, let alone mold around a rounded corner.

 

Given the 1500 year history of the codex structure, to come up with something new, for something as basic as a corner, is genius.  Except for hand held bibles, rounded corners are rather out of fashion these days, as are large squares, but if someone makes one of these, please send me a photo.  I imagine this could also work with cloth, although I haven’t tried it.  The cut edge of cloth along the curve could be vulnerable to wear, fraying and delamination.  It might work better with paper. Hats off to O’Riva!