Tag Archives: bookbinding

Calf, sheep, goat, or pig. And deerskin?

deer

An advertisement on the back cover of  “A Treatise on internal navigation.” Ballston Spa [N.Y.]: : Printed by U.F. Doubleday., 1817. Image courtesy The Library Company of Philadelphia.

Calf, sheep, goat or pig. It seems 99.9% of leather books are made with one of these these. But other types of leather are always a possibility. For example, deerskin was commercially available for bookbinders in the early 19th century North America. The above advertisement, from D.K. Van Veghten, implies it is a new innovation he is introducing to the market. Given the large numbers of deer — even now — I wonder if this it was all that new. After all,  muskrat or beaver are  not unheard of in the 18th century. It is best not to become blasé with leather identification.

Below is a vegetable tanned deerskin, with two bullet holes. It was shot by my Grandfather between 1946 – 1954, and he had it vegetable tanned. He also had a couple of heads mounted on the wall of his living room.  Deerskin is softer and stretchier than sheepskin, and the grain is more pronounced in this example. Because of the stretch, it is difficult to pare, even with the best paring knife in the world. Possibly different vegetable tanning methods would have made it look more like calf. Most of the examples I’ve seen on books are very similar to calf, and a delaminating grain layer is often a clue that it is in fact sheep. D.K. Van Veghten’s advertisment also mentions it is quite similar to calf, but 25% cheaper.

I don’t think of the deer when I look at the deerskin below, but of my Grandfather. The bond between things and memories is strong. I can’t bring myself to use this partial skin. The familiar curse of a precious material; it’s too nice to use. So it languishes, only to be written about.

Sample of tanned deerskin shot by my Grandfather. Note the two bullet holes.

 

Microfiber. Horsebutt. Bluefin Tuna. Poinsettia.

 

Nothing quite sums up the Holiday season for me like a poinsettia and hunks of raw blue fin tuna. Stressed? Too much to do before the end of the year? Feeling overwhelmed? Me too. I coped yesterday by playing hooky and indulging in arguably the best chirashi deal in Manhattan at Yuba for $15. Yuba was founded by a couple of ex-Masa employees: $15 there would get you exactly 11 grains of rice.

Other coping mechanisms include buying stuff.

 

The Peachey Branded Microfiber Towels are in stock! A great stocking stuffer, or you could even make a stocking out of it. I made to logo by having a steel stamp made from my handwriting, then stamped it onto a piece of horsebutt, then had it dye sublimation printed onto the towel. Genuine Horsebutt Strops are always popular.

To be safe, order soon, although the post office estimates December 17 as the deadline.

Payne, Pots, and Bills

Portrait of Roger Payne.  Source: Recent Antiquarian Acquisitions, The Lewis Walpole Library, Yale University. A huge version of this is image is available at: https://lewiswalpole.wordpress.com/2013/11/14/rogerus-payne-2/

I suppose most bookbinders are familiar with this depiction of Roger Payne.  I first encountered it as Plate 59 in Edith Diehl’s Bookbinding: Its Background and Technique, which was the second book on bookbinding I read in 1988. The scene is often referred to as a “dingy garret”,  though to be fair, many slightly later depictions of binderies, ca. 1830’s, are in a similar state, with cracked plaster, dirty looking walls, etc….

There is something appealing about the scene, a locus of honest, if impecunious, craft. His timid, almost mouselike  glance conveys an earnestness. He seems weak, leaning on a book in press to support his thin frame. The press tub itself is so dinky I can’t imagine using it to back a book — how would the press itself stay stable on it? The book on the press is also in an  odd position. It is difficult to believe a binder would press down on the spine like this, when the book is only supported by the foreedge boards. There are other oddities. Why are there books lying on the floor? Why is he wearing slippers and torn pants? Should we chalk it up to the artistic imagination of the artist who drew him?

And what are in the three pots that have spoons or brush handles sticking out of them? Are they barley broth pots as one theory advances, which he was supposedly fond of? Or are they glue pots?  The one in the brightly burning fire would likely be too hot and ruin the glue. The one on the mantle might be a good temperature to actually use. Could the one in the window be kept cool for storage? Or, again, are we back to speculating about an artist’s imagination.

We do have actual evidence of Payne and his work, found in the books he bound, and his invoices, written in his own hand, and very detailed for the time.

Handwritten bill from Roger Payne, The Morgan Library and Museum. # MA 3889.

There is a collection of 35 of them bound together at the Morgan Library and Museum. Accession Number: MA 3889, Unfortunately, they are separated from the books that he bound.  What a loss! There are a number of Payne’s bindings in the Morgan’s collection.

While they do not reveal the mystery of his pots, they do reveal a kind and conscientious bookbinder, as in the above bill.  He mentions reducing the price by one days work because he wasn’t happy with the quality of the result.

His bindings are beautiful, with his often lauded tooling, carefully handled straight grain morocco, and often exceedingly thin boards that are invariably dead flat even today. He is still a role model!

Upcoming Public Lecture at Emory University, Atlanta. The Conservation of Dante’s La Commedia

Please join us at Emory University for this event, free and open to the public—

The Conservation of Dante’s 1477 La Commedia:  an illustrated talk by Jeffrey S. Peachey
Tuesday, November 6, 2018
4:00pm Talk and Q&A
5:00pm Reception

Jones Room
Robert W. Woodruff Library
540 Asbury Circle  Atlanta, GA 30322

Registration available here:  http://emorylib.info/peachey
Please feel free to share this information with others.

An Ornate 17th Century Bookbinding Press

Bookbinder’s Stretcher [sic]. Possibly French, Walnut, 1670-1700. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

This is the most ornate finishing (?) press I’ve ever seen, as well as being one of the earliest dated ones. It is inaccurately described by the V&A as a book stretcher in the catalog, because in the early images (above and below) the tightening nuts were on the wrong side of the cheek. Usually tightening nuts like these are found on German or Netherlandish presses.

It would be nice to have a book stretcher on occasion, though.  Need to turn an octavo into a quarto?  No problem!  But was this really a book press, or a press intended for some other purpose? The 29 inch long cheeks are very, very thin in profile, and I imagine would deflect quite a bit even with just hand tightening.

Bookbinder’s Stretcher [sic]. Possibly French, Walnut, 1670-1700. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

A later image shows the press assembled correctly, but it is still described as a book stretcher. Almost every non-functional inch of this remarkable press is covered with relief carvings. The tightening nuts are especially elegant.  It is made from walnut, a wood traditionally used for press boards in 18th century France.

Bookbinder’s Stretcher [sic] assembled correctly. Possibly French, Walnut, 1670-1700. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Many 17th century and earlier European woodworking tools, like planes, are encrusted with carving. Hand tools have became minimally decorated since the 20th century, all form deriving from efficient manufacture and use. The decorative deep carving must have taken a lot of extra time. Did the maker or consumer provide the agency? Was this a presentation piece, not intended to be used?  It seems to show very little wear, atypical of most presses. Or did the maker just want to make a beautiful tool? Do beautiful tools inspire binders to make beautiful books?

*****

Hats off to the V&A has a very progressive large image use policy.  You can download them instantly, share them widely, and even use them for publication. There are almost 750,000 searchable images on the V&A site. Let’s hope all institutions free their images.

V&A large image use form. © Victoria and Albert Museum, London

 

August Eickhoff French Style Paring Knives

A pair of August Eickhoff french style paring knives, made in New York, 19th century.

A side benefit of my regrinding and knife sharpening service is that I get to see some interesting antique knives. These August Eickhoff knives are beautifully made, have a wonderful balance, a lovely patina, and given the amount of distal taper (both on the blade and the tang) must have been forged. Eickhoff also made round knives (aka. head knives) for leatherworkers which occasionally show up for sale today. In the late 19th century, Eickhoff was located at 381 Broome St, NYC, making scissors, woodworking tools, and resharpening knives. He served on the NY Board of Education, and advertised his wares in a Teachers College Educational Monograph. It may be time to make a few reproduction Eickhoff knives.

The New Glue Pot from Lee Valley is Excellent. Gelatin and Paste for Lining Spines

Lee Valley Glue Pot

Lee Valley, perhaps the most innovative large woodworking tool company, recently introduced a one ounce cast stainless steel double boiler glue pot, which is perfectly sized for book conservators.

It works great with gelatin in conservation work or with hide glues for historic models. The heavy cast steel double boiler gives a very gentle and even heat.  It is based on a Landers, Frary & Clark glue pot from the 1870’s. There is an image of the original, which was cast iron, in Stephen Shepherd’s hide glue book. (1)

The cup-warmer is cheaply made, but it only costs a dollar when purchased with the gluepot. If the interior of the pot was finished a little smoother to make cleaning easier, it would be perfect. A steal at $35.00.

Arthur Green described his investigations using gelatin on the spines of books in the blog post, “Revisiting Animal Glue: Gluing-up with Gelatin” Traditionally bound books used animal glue on the spines, and paste for the covering and paste-downs: there must have been a reason. He tested starch paste and gelatin separately, and primarily for adhesion.

I find the real magic happens when gelatin and paste are used in sequential layers, or mixed together. Dudin, in the 18th century, described the “marriage” that happens between animal glue and paste. (2) A mix gives the book better resistance to torquing than paste alone, makes it feel more solid, and gives a more secure — yet still easily reversible — bond with a Japanese tissue for the first spine lining in conservation work.

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  1. Stephen A. Shepherd. Hide Glue: Historical and Practical Applications (Salt Lake CIty: Full Chisel, 2009)
  2. R.M. Dudin. The Art of the Bookbinder and Gilder, Trans. by Richard Macintyre Atkinson (Leeds: The Elmete Press, 1977)