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.
What appears to be a 1970’s post-apocalyptic novel concerning the dangers nuclear stockpiling is actually about a far more dangerous situation. OVERSEWING!
But seriously, friends don’t let friends oversew.
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.
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.
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.
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?
- Email to Jeff Peachey from Bill Minter, 18 June 2016, 12:57 PM.
- Email to Bill Minter from Marianne Tidcombe, 22 June 2016, 2:05 PM.
- Email to Bill Minter from Marianne Tidcomve, 22 June 2016, 2:05 PM.
Earlier this summer, I spent a couple of throughly enjoyable weeks in the Netherlands, teaching two workshops through the auspices of Restauratoren Nederland, at the beautiful bindery of Wytze Fopma in Friesland. First there was a 3-day sharpening/ spokeshave modification class, a wadlopen and tour of Mennonite sites, then a 5-day 18th c. French binding class. It was all very, very good.
Each time I teach, I keep adding current research. I’ve taught versions of the sharpening class over thirty times, and the French at least a dozen. It sounds cliche, but I do learn something new each time.
This class, Constant Lem, book conservator at Koninklijke Bibliotheek, convinced me of the importance of the 180 degree shoulder that the French bindings often have. I’d considered and worked on this, however working together we made progress on this historically unique(?) structural feature.
Before the workshop, I visited Ben Elbel, of Elbel Libro, in Amsterdam. He has a large studio, is doing some very nice work, and has a board beveling machine that I plan to steal at some point. Ben gave me a nifty steel folder which he sells. It is a nice size for detailed work, fitting comfortably in the hand, well made, and is also useful for blind lines. It comes in an attractive die cut storage folder. Metal folders keep popping up every now and then in the history of bookbinding: the earliest I’ve seen was patented in 1889.
Below are images from the workshop.
One of the most important aspects in freehand sharpening involves looking at reflections and scratch patterns in the blade, in order to understand what you are doing and what needs to be done. The visual feedback lets you know how to alter your hand pressure or technique. The scratches don’t lie.
The Big Board is a learning tool I use in the French class to keep track of questions, deviations from historic practice, instructor mistakes, material differences, etc. Whoever has the most observations wins a prize, in this case a small lifting knife. Often there are over 150 observations. This helps keep us aware of inaccuracies generalized from our modern craft training that can creep into the historic style we are trying to understand.
As invasive treatments continue to become more infrequent in book conservation, the type of knowledge gained from making historic models will help keep book conservators relevant (I hope!), by increasing our knowledge of how these books were originally made. Conservation as interpretation?
Not only did we have a custom made beating hammer, but we borrowed an anvil from the Blacksmith. A wonderfully solid substitute for a beating stone!
Wytze has the most massive operational standing press I’ve ever seen. He mentioned that it is the largest in Holland. He is operating the worm drive. Once the center screw is tightened as much as possible, to generate even more pressure, the drive can crank the main press screw another turn or so. The drive can be easily disengaged to quickly raise or lower the press. As a demonstration, he pressed some of our textblock paper so hard it sunk into the MDF pressing boards, creating a clamshell. It had little to do with the class, but was too impressive not to mention.
On the left is an 18th century skull the Wytze found, the finished books, an 18th century (?) French (Dutch?) beating hammer on the right, and in the back, the printed handouts for the workshop bound en-broche by Wytze and Herre. We started with the same tan calfskin; the color variations on the finished books resulted from varying applications of glair, paste wash, and warm burnishing. These are powerful and inert ways to control the color and surface sheen of leather without dyeing.
The skull and beating hammer literally and symbolically bookend this workshop: we were working with the head and the hand, using theory and praxis, to learn more about the nature of 18th c. French binding.
A client of mine, who is a rare book dealer, pulled a paperback out of his coat pocket. It had the covers torn off and a number of pages removed. Slightly puzzled, and before I could start my “This is going to be very expensive” speech, he explained.
“When I’m finished reading a page, I tear it off and throw it away. The book is much lighter and easier to carry. I just do it with worthless paperbacks. Look, it is already half the size!”
I doubt any of us would have a problem with discarding an unwanted section of a newspaper. Or a notebook page.
But a book! Symbol of permanence, order, fixed sequence and immutable fact. His action was as strong of a comment on the nature of books as many destructive and altered artist books I’ve seen. Or is it a manifestation of our single use, disposable, throw-away culture?
I couldn’t do this to a book. Could you?