Are Beating Hammers Important?

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Forging a beating hammer. Photo: Smederij Berndt.

Pictured above is a custom made beating hammer we will be using for my upcoming 18th C. French binding class in the Netherlands.

Using a historic tool, or a replica of one, is an invaluable exercise for book conservators. It increases the ability to interpret subtleties of how a book was made. Beating hammers, for example, once ubiquitous, have been obsolete for almost 200 years. Using one in this workshop is usually a new experience for participants. In addition to the cathartic thrill of beating a book with a gargantuan 14 pound hammer, it helps us to understand the complexities of leaf morphology and textblock undulations.

Thanks to Smederij Berndt, the blacksmith, for taking the time to make this great looking tool. I can’t wait to give it a swing, that is, if I can lift it!

 

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The finished hammer. Photo: Smederij Berndt.

 

 

 

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)

 

Christopher Sower Junior Died While Beating Books

“He began the process of binding these books by the laborious employment of beating them, as is usual, and imprudently completed as much of this work in half a day as is usually done in a whole day. The weather was warm, and by this exertion he became overheated. He went out to a spring where he drank so freely of water as to produce a fit of apoplexy, which soon after terminated his moral existence.”

-Isaiah Thomas, The History of Printing in America 2nd. Ed., Vol. 1. (Albany, N.Y.: : Joel Munsell, printer., 1874), 280.

Christopher Sower Jr. (1721-1784) a Pennsylvania German Anabaptist who, like his father, was a papermaker, bookbinder, printer and jack of all trades. He reportedly preferred walking to any other method of travel, and could maintain four miles an hour. Although bookbinding research is generally a somewhat impersonal activity, this story struck home with me. First, I come from an Anabaptist religious tradition. Secondly, I have been spending a lot of time looking at the Pennsylvania German wood board bindings that Sower made, as well as the Bibles he printed. Thirdly, I recently wrote an article about the beating of books.

I think I will take it easy the next time I beat a text block when making a model….