In the 21st century, bookbinders are understandably nervous concerning the continued availability of essential machinery and replacement parts. Many of the board shears and guillotines we use on a daily basis are more than a hundred years old. This equipment not only needs to be maintained, but periodically their blades need to be resharpened or replaced. The last New York City grinding service, Ace, moved to New Jersey a number of years ago, priced out of Soho.
I support Ace by using their services. I also collect and preserve bits of history associated with these types of industries, such as this desk blotter ephemera I scored over the past weekend. This is the second bookbinding related desk blotter I’ve found in the past month, a little unusual, though synchronous finds are not uncommon in dedicated flea market and antique mall exploration.
The Wapakoneta Co. was sold in 2009, but is still making knives and industrial cutting products. But as the numbers of newspapers, books, and other paper based products continues to shrink, what will happen to these vital ancillary trades — like board shear blade making and resharpening — that hand binders and conservation labs rely on?
How much can we tease out of this nicely made wooden box with a sliding lid? Someone once told me that with enough rigor, knowledge and time, the whole history of the world could be found in any object. Mmmmm.
The Hickok company is still in business, and has made bookbinding and paper ruling tools for over 150 years. On this box, the shipping label also keeps the lid from sliding open in transit. The addressee, “News Bookbindery” must have been associated with the Goshen News, which was the newspaper in Goshen, Indiana. The wood is Southern yellow pine and has finger joints which are machine made using circular cutting heads. The bottom has saw marks from a 12 inch diameter circular saw.
Given the size, and very sturdy packaging, my guess it that it contained fragile Hickock ruling pens. The end of the box not visible in this image has written in pencil “17 point”, which would also support the ruling pen hypothesis, and could indicate the box was also used for storage. There is a Hickok order number, which I haven’t identified yet.
In a 1910 Hickok catalog, there is special mention that smaller packages can be sent through the mail, and this occurs on the page that lists the styles of ruling pens. The 3 cent purple Thomas Jefferson 1801-1809 stamp on the outside of the was issued in 1938. I’m a little suprised a ruling machine was still in use at this late date, even in a small midwestern town. This must have been near the end of ruling machines.
Hickok is still in Harrisburg Pa, and still has lots of spare parts for ruling machines, and they still sell bookbinding equipment, such as my favorite book press, the Hickok 001/2. I visited in 1998 and wrote a short piece, “The W.O. Hickok Mfg. Co.: 150 Years of Bookbinding Equipment” for the Guild of Book Workers Newsletter #121.
The history of the world in this little box? Physically, it is evidence of the timber industry and industrial manufacture, as well as transportation and storage. The label is record of printing technology and the postal system. If the box contained ruling pens, these were used to make the pages for record keeping by clerks and accountants. This spins out into record keeping, finance, written marks, memory, foundations of civilization….
Appletons’ Modern Mechanism Supplement of 1895 contains an excellent bookbinding machinery section. The article mentions that machines haven’t changed significantly in the past decade, but performance and efficiency are improved. Chamber’s rotary board cutter is a particular beauty. I find these hybrid cast iron and wood machines quite interesting since we usually think of machinery as consisting one of the other, not both. Note the automatic board advancement pins on the bed of the machine, which are called “feeding fingers”. OUCH!