Boards Bindings, Temporary?

A collection of boards bindings from a circulating library is being sold by Antiquates. Considered together, it forms pretty strong evidence against the traditional view boards bindings are entirely temporary structures, since the books contain circulation records.

Bookbinders might be interest in several other items in this catalog, particularly a run of The Bookbinding Trades Journal, or a fascinating book (I have a reprint) that details the murder of a bookbinder’s finishing tool maker by a bookbinder: Cook, the murderer, or the Leicester tragedy: Being a Full and Faithful Account of the horrible assassination of Mr. John Paas, of London, On the 30th of May, 1832, perpetrated by James Cook, of Leicester; with an authentic detail of the cruel means adopted by the murderer to accomplish the bloody deed….  A short summary of the incident is on the British Library Blog.

Lurid scenes of the murder, dismemberment and burning of Pass by Cook. This is also one of the earliest English images of an actual bindery. Source: https://www.antiquates.co.uk/images/ListBbPrintFinalCompressed.pdf

And if a reader of this blog is feeling the holiday spirit particularly strong this year, I confidently recommend that any of these items would make a wonderful Christmas gift for me. Thanks in advance!

A collection of publishers’ boards bindings for sale. Source: https://www.antiquates.co.uk/images/ListBbPrintFinalCompressed.pdf

Boards bindings are traditionally regarded by bibliophiles as rude, drab, ugly, and temporary. This disparagement alone perks my interest.

“Unfit for a gentleman’s library!”  I imagine a Victorian barrister exclaiming, hurtling the ugly blue paper volume towards the marble fireplace, in the process tearing the spine and detaching the front board. “See, see,” he triumphantly states, pointing with his fat forefinger at the vile, dirty, weak and damaged paper covered binding.

Reading list of Clitheroe Ladies’ Book Society Source: https://www.antiquates.co.uk/images/ListBbPrintFinalCompressed.pdf

Although there are a number of differing definitions of what temporary means, a common one regards them as a weak and non-permanent. This was a book meant to be rebound once a purchased — preferably into a “real” leather binding — so the traditional bibliophiles say.

What makes this collection fantastic is that it documents the use of each book, though likely this is somewhat less than the actual use. Twenty times, at least for this volume, as well as an unknown history since the documentation. These books are not in great shape, as the first image illustrates. But they are still functional.

This and other evidence of boards bindings being used many times, refutes traditional assumptions concerning their temporary status, which may have roots in elitism and classism, rather than physical properties.

 

 

Walker’s The Art of Bookbinding

leighton
Letter from Douglas Leighton to John Carter dated 17 March 1939. Tipped onto the front flyleaf of The Art of Bookbinding (New York: E. Walker & Sons, 1850) Middleton Z 270 .U5 N7 1850, c. 1. Cary Graphic Arts Collection, Rochester Institute of Technology.

One of the coolest things about the Middleton Collection in the Cary Graphic Arts Collection of the University of Rochester are the extra items housed in the books. Walker’s The Art of Bookbinding, Its rise and Progress is a very rare book on its own. But Copy 1 from the Cary tops the charts, with this fascinating tipped-in letter from Douglas Leighton, bookbinder, binding historian, and author of Modern Bookbinding, to John Carter, author of ABC for Book Collectors, who owned the book. It’s not rational, but I’m thrilled to be reading the same book that Leighton read and Carter owned.

 

The End of Rolling. Sort of.

My 2013 essay, “Beating, Rolling, and Pressing: The Compression of Book Signatures Before Sewing” in Suave Mechanicals, Vol. 1, ended with many questions concerning when bookbinders generally stopped using the rolling machine. Endings are much messier and imprecise than beginnings. We know that the rolling machine was introduced to the trade in 1827. But when did binders stop using it? Many tools and machines in bookbinding are used for centuries.

rolling
Rolling Machine from Joseph W. Zahnsdorf, The Art of Bookbinding, 6th ed., London: George Bell and Sons, 1903. (11) My Collection. Bonus question: what is missing in this illustration?

We know that the use of the rolling machine gradually declined at some point during the nineteenth century. Yet It is still referenced in several 20th century bookbinding manuals, including Zaehnsdorf’s 1903 edition of Bookbinding. Zaehnsdorf had a deeply personal connection to the machine: his father’s right hand got trapped  between the rollers, and even after many months in the hospital, he never regained complete use of it. It had an impact on him, so to speak.

A couple of weeks ago, while looking through the Richard M. Hoe and Company records, 1824-1953 (MS#0599) at Columbia University’s Rare Book and Manuscript Library, I read a fascinating typescript, written by Steven D. Tucker, who began working for Hoe in 1834 as an apprentice mechanic. It is filled with recollections of mechanical details of machines, the evolution of the factory, and the types of machines they were making.

In particular, he writes that in 1856,  “There was also brought out (sic) a Book rolling or pressing machine, but few of these were ever built, bookbinders seeming to prefer the large embossing press for that purpose.” (43)  To me at least, this seems a good indication of the transition time. Hoe thought the rolling press was still in demand, at least enough to  warrant the development and manufacture of one, but he was slightly behind the curve, as many binders moved on to using an embossing press to compress signatures before sewing, ending the era of rolling and beginning the era of smashing.

R.I.P. the Rolling Press, 1827-1856 ish.