Tag Archives: bookbinding

Miniature Bookbinding Tool Set


Miniature set of bookbinding tools, 1/6th Scale.

The Miniature Bookbinding Tool set is once again available for sale. I took a couple of years off to rest up my muscles. Ironically, it takes more strength to hold these while grinding and filing, than normal sized ones. The tools are made 1/6th scale, i.e. the Delrin sharpening plate on the left is two inches long, not twelve. They are made from the same materials the larger ones are, but please don’t expect to actually use them, they are much too small to hold comfortably. If you want a knife to use to make miniature books, I recommend my Flexible Mini Knives, and the cutting area can be made narrow if you desire, just let me know. The Miniature Bookbinding Tool Set is for the miniature book enthusiasts (you know who you are) or a gift for the binder who has everything. Seventeen tools are included, l-r: a Delrin sharpening plate, Peachey style French knife, Flexible paring knife, bone folder, small Powell shaped lifting knife, heart shaped finishing tool, brass triangle, engineers square, bookbinder’s hammer, swiss style paring knife, pallet, dissection scalpel, large Powell shaped lifting knife, French paring knife, cord wrapped paste brush, English style paring knife, and a strop. Supplied in a cherry box.

Miniature Bookbinding Tool Set: $800.00

Order here.


Elaine Nishizu, a bookbinder in Los Angles California, made this beautiful box to house a set of these tools. It is in the Guild of Book Workers California Chapter Member Exhibition, 2016. Elaine describes it: “The box structure has a reversible spine that folds back on itself like a Jacob’s ladder. It’s covered in Japanese paper and a French printed paper by Claude Braun. The box is lined with black ultra suede and has a magnetic closure.” Note: this box does not come with the tool set.


Elaine Nishizu’s box to house the miniature tool set.

Walker’s The Art of Bookbinding


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.


A Topper


Detail from: “Siding and Pasting Down” in The British Bookmaker, Vol. VI, No. 61., July 1892, 31. Cary Graphic Arts Collection, Bernard C. Middleton Collection, Rochester Institute of Technology.

Not only a clear illustration of traditional late 19th century pastedown trimming for half leather bindings, but an informative use of binders slang of the day:  “cobbs” (for cobb paper, common at this time) and wonderfully descriptive “topper”. I’ll have to use it in class the next time I see this problem! It is still a common impulse for students to want to cover a mistake in a pastedown. This article is part of a series, dealing with pasting down difficult materials, including moire (or watered silks) and leather doublures.

Tying the Future to a Thread


J. Howard Atkins, Tying the Future to a Thread. Medford, Mass: Oversewing Machine Co. of America, Inc., 1968. Front Cover. Middleton Z 269.5 .A8 1968. http://library.rit.edu/cary/

What appears to be a 1970’s post-apocalyptic novel concerning the dangers nuclear stockpiling is actually about a far more dangerous situation. OVERSEWING!

A gem from the Cary Graphic Arts Collection, Bernard C. Middleton Collection, Rochester Institute of Technology.


Could pass for an artist book installation. J. Howard Atkins, Tying the Future to a Thread. Medford, Mass: Oversewing Machine Co. of America, Inc., 1968. p. 18. Middleton Z 269.5 .A8 1968. http://library.rit.edu/cary/

But seriously, friends don’t let friends oversew.

Can Anyone Identify This Binder’s Stamp “REPAIRED BY……”


Binder’s Stamp. Private Collection.

This partially effaced stamp is unusual, in that it says repaired by, rather than bound by. But who repaired this book? “REPAIRED BY DE xxxxxxHSY” or maybe “REPAIRED BY DAVID  xxxxHSY”? The letters are .5mm high, and it is positioned in the bottom left corner of the front board pastedown.

retroReveal, which can sometimes aid in legibility of fragmentary marks didn’t help in this case.

Robert Milevski, author of “A Primer on Signed BIndings”, was not familiar with it. He did send a useful overall typology of binders stamps, however:

In research done in Princeton University Library about 15 years ago (before many 19th c books were transferred from the open stacks to offsite storage), my recording methods were necessarily primitive and thumbnail (because I had to get through half a million books rather quickly), lacking in detail, usually, other than a call number, binder’s name, and type of mark. When I went back to these records and books (a couple of years later after their going offsite), I ignored anything not obviously English. Some of the bindings represented by these ignored minimal records probably had some interesting stamped signatures, similar to yours. (A sad thing, however, is that in that interim, some of the books, because of condition, had been rebound, thereby losing their binder’s signature history.)

I did look at my main spreadsheet of English signed bindings (3600 records at present, with more than 1000 yet unrecorded) and found a couple categories of mark other than ‘bound by’ but nothing like your mark. These others include: 1. just the last name of the binder; 2. last name of binder and location; 3. name of binder, address and designation as binder, usually in a two or three-story stamp. Of course, there is 4., the category of ‘bound by x for y’, usually a department store. And 5., ‘bound by x, successor to y.’ And 6., name of binder with a month and year, or more fully, 7., name, address and year. And 8., there is also the rare upside down stamp, usually only the surname, probably from getting the front and rear boards mixed up. That’s all I can say.

Generally, before modern art conservation principals began to be applied to books in the mid-twentieth century, most restorations and repairs attempted to be as invisible as possible.  So why try and point it out by stamping the book? And then why did someone else try to crudely scrape it away?


Added 8 August 2016

Below is an image of the stamp Maria Fredericks mentions in the comments.




This Is Not an Ambidextrous Scissors


Boker V 88 Razor Steel Scissors

I purchased this scissors at a flea market last weekend, basically because it looked weird.

I thought it might be ambidextrous, but after playing with it a little, and doing a bit of research, I realized it is not a genuine ambidextrous scissors. But it is an interesting design.


Simply putting a thumb and finger ring on each side does not make an ambidextrous scissors. Otherwise any scissors with symmetrical ring holes would be ambidextrous. For a scissors to work properly, the top blade must be attached to the finger ring, so a scissors has to be right or left handed.  This arrangement accentuates the natural action of the hand as it closes, so the cutting edges are squeezed together. If a left hander tries to operate a right handed scissors, the natural action pulls the cutting edges apart, putting the action at a mechanical disadvantage. So a genuinely ambidextrous scissors is a mechanical impossibility, at least if it operates with thumb and finger rings.

Secondly, there is a discrepancy between the patent drawing and the actual product. The patent drawing shows the curved areas of the rings that could be used right or left handed. The actual product uses the same shape on each side, making it uncomfortable to use left handed. Would this difference invalidate the protection of the patent? Possibly this was done to save money when making the mold for casting.


Detail, before immersion in vinegar


Detail, after four hours in vinegar

Nevertheless, I decided to clean the scissors and sharpen them. These scissors are very comfortable and convenient to use by right handers since it doesn’t matter which way they are picked up.

After taking them apart, I immersed the scissors in white vinegar for four hours, occasionally removing surface rust with a Scotch Brite pad. I’m amazed at how well the vinegar works, and still surprised how satisfying it is to fix up a tool, returning it to useable condition. It just feels good.

If you are interested in the “proper” way to cut paper with scissors, check out this 1927 illustration from Palmer’s A Course in Bookbinding for Educational Trainning 

Miriam Schaer (see first comment) sent me this photo of a lefty scissors (note the top blade attaches to the finger rings), with even weirder placement. I can’t make sense of where you would put your fingers.


Photo: Miriam Schaer, http://miriamschaer.com/

Bill Minter on Cobden-Sanderson’s Bindings and the Taste of Leather. Additional Comments by Marianne Tidcombe

Bill Minter sent me some recollections about Cobden-Sanderson’s bindings, which raise several interesting questions.  Are bookbinders and book conservators—especially those in private practice—skewed in their appraisal of bindings since they generally deal with books that need to be fixed?  Could Cobden-Sanderson actually taste the quality of leather? Does Bill have a second wind since he took a straight job with a regular paycheck?

Before accepting the newly created position of Senior Book Conservator at The Pennsylvania State University Libraries (aka: Penn State), Bill was in private practice. While some may know of him as the developer of the ultrasonic welder for polyester film encapsulation, he has also dabbled with other ideas in book conservation. His email is: wdm14<at>psu<dot>edu

Bill is far too modest in this brief bio. Some of his “other ideas” include intact washing of water damaged books, a velcro based tying-up press, a video of how to maintain and adjust a board shear, the use of aluminum to lighten and make more rigid oversize drop spine boxes, and tips on how to quickly flatten rolled documents for digitizing. Most recently he has attempted to quantify some of the properties of teflon and bone folders. His poster should be in the poster area of the AIC website soon.




Bill writes (1):

I recently saw your blogpost about Cobden_Sanderson.

You wrote:  “…but his bindings are really beautiful. I’ve had the opportunity to see many of them and to work on a couple of them as well. They are quite refreshing from much of the trade work of the day. Unfortunately, many of the materials he used are often poor quality. The books I’ve been able to see the structure of have common late nineteenth century structural weaknesses: very thin slips, tissue thin leather jointed endsheets, and overly pared covering leather. Ironically…”

I would suggest that when you are in Chicago the next time that you try to see his bindings at the various libraries.

Many years ago, Marianne Tidcombe was to speak to The Caxton Club. She arrived days early to see C-S’s bindings, as well as research her next book on woman binders. I insisted that she stay with my family, so that I could be her chauffeur.

When she arrived on Saturday afternoon, I told her about my 3-volume set of signed C-S bindings in brown leather and blind tooled. After much discussion, she had me (almost) convinced that my books were not C-S, because “he never bound in brown leather”.  Upon going to my shop, indeed they were C-S. Until then, she had only seen rubbings of that particular binding.

(Teaser — the boards were detached as you might assume, but read on.)

Well, for two days we went to numerous libraries and, as I recall, every C-S binding was in excellent condition with the boards intact! AND, as I recall, there were no ‘brown’ leather bindings; most were either red, blue, green or other. After seeing maybe a dozen or more (20?) books, I asked the question, “you said that he did not bind in brown leather”. She explained that C-S knew that brown was not a good leather, for three specific reasons:  1) from working with the leather, 2) XXX?? (I do not recall the reason), and 3) (the best part) — that he could TASTE that the leather was TOO ACIDIC.

[Marianne Tidcombe writes:, “What I said in 1992 was not that C-S did not use brown leather for binding, but that he rarely used dyed pigskin – brown or any other colour – because it was acidic.  He had an instinct for judging leather, and could tell by handling, smelling, and (yes) tasting, if it was acid.  He chose goatskin, sealskin, and alum-tawed pigskin, all of exceptional quality, which is why his bindings have held up so remarkably well compared to many others bound in the same period. Your blind-tooled ‘Golden Legend’ bound at the Doves Bindery in about 1904(?) in brown dyed pigskin is an exception.  I suspect he risked using it in this case because it took the blind impressions rather better.”] (2)

Aside from him tasting that the leather was too acidic, how would he have known that that was a problem? At the same time: how did they test for acidity during that time — litmus paper?
ANYWAY:   To further enhance this story, the last stop was at the U Illinois — Chicago campus where there are approximately 19 bindings by Ellen Gates Starr of Hull House. Starr studied with C-S in the early 1900s. Her collection of bindings include, from my perspective:  one binding using C-S leather and tooled by C-S; one binding tooled by EGS on leather supplied by C-S, and the remainder were (shall I suggest) other leathers that have not survived as well as the C-S type —– again, from my perspective. The bindings using C-S leather were, as I recall, in much better condition than the others. At the same time, one would assume that all of the books have been held in the same, Chicago environment all these years.

I wish there were a way to determine whose leather C-S used and how that leather was tanned, especially compared to other tanners. AND, why is it that he rarely used brown leather? Perhaps a world-wide survey of the condition of all C-S bindings would be helpful? This story (information) is from the 1990s, though I did see the Starr bindings again in 2003.

Hope this raises some questions about the condition of Cobden-Sanderson bindings.

One other comment:   While you have done far more research than me, I would suggest that as conservators in private practice, we only see the failures and rarely get a chance to tour the stacks to examine a large number of bindings.

[Marianne Tidcombe writes: Re: Jeff Peachy, Cobden-Sanderson and leather, etc.  Some of what he says is of course true, but I’m afraid he generalizes, based on a couple of books bound at the Doves Bindery, which is rather unfair.  C-S had only a short period of training (with a trade binder), and his forwarder at the Doves Bindery was a tradesman.  However, C-S was a trailblazer in advocating sound methods and materials, and passed his ideas on to Douglas Cockerell, who in turn promoted conservation binding.  C-S had to find solutions to problems himself, and work out better methods as he went along.  See, for example, the structurally sound Kelmscott Chaucers he bound at the Doves Bindery, and the concertina sewing he devised for Doves Press books printed on vellum.”] (3)




Peachey responds: First, let me acknowledge I am basing my original observations on a handful of bindings brought to me for conservation work, so this may well be a self-selecting sample.  Secondly, Marianne Tidcombe, who is the world’s foremost expert on Cobden-Sanderson, and I am honored to have her comment here. She has written books on the The Doves Bindery, Cobden-Sanderson, and knows his bindings better than anyone. So in terms of the relative durability of his bindings to the general trade work of the day, I stand corrected. And I should have made it clear that I was only considering the books I have worked on, which were his tight-back tanned leather bindings.

However, another aspect to consider is the use or abuse that a book may have during its life. A high end signed Cobden-Sanderson binding likely was expensive, collected, used less, and therefore preserved better? Isn’t this also a self-selecting sample? And I would bet good money that any late nineteenth century tight-back tanned leather bindings (Cobden-Sanderson’s included) will not prove to be as durable as many other earlier bindings — both materially and structurally — though would like to learn what specifically Cobden-Sanderson did differently.

Are turn of the 20th century tight-back tanned leather bindings due a reappraisal?



  1. Email to Jeff Peachey from Bill Minter, 18 June 2016, 12:57 PM.
  2. Email to Bill Minter from Marianne Tidcombe, 22 June 2016, 2:05 PM.
  3. Email to Bill Minter from Marianne Tidcomve, 22 June 2016, 2:05 PM.