Tag Archives: history of bookbinding

Boards Bindings, Temporary?

A collection of boards bindings from a circulating library is being sold by Antiquates. Considered together, it forms pretty strong evidence against the traditional view boards bindings are entirely temporary structures, since the books contain circulation records.

Bookbinders might be interest in several other items in this catalog, particularly a run of The Bookbinding Trades Journal, or a fascinating book (I have a reprint) that details the murder of a bookbinder’s finishing tool maker by a bookbinder: Cook, the murderer, or the Leicester tragedy: Being a Full and Faithful Account of the horrible assassination of Mr. John Paas, of London, On the 30th of May, 1832, perpetrated by James Cook, of Leicester; with an authentic detail of the cruel means adopted by the murderer to accomplish the bloody deed….  A short summary of the incident is on the British Library Blog.

Lurid scenes of the murder, dismemberment and burning of Pass by Cook. This is also one of the earliest English images of an actual bindery. Source: https://www.antiquates.co.uk/images/ListBbPrintFinalCompressed.pdf

And if a reader of this blog is feeling the holiday spirit particularly strong this year, I confidently recommend that any of these items would make a wonderful Christmas gift for me. Thanks in advance!

A collection of publishers’ boards bindings for sale. Source: https://www.antiquates.co.uk/images/ListBbPrintFinalCompressed.pdf

Boards bindings are traditionally regarded by bibliophiles as rude, drab, ugly, and temporary. This disparagement alone perks my interest.

“Unfit for a gentleman’s library!”  I imagine a Victorian barrister exclaiming, hurtling the ugly blue paper volume towards the marble fireplace, in the process tearing the spine and detaching the front board. “See, see,” he triumphantly states, pointing with his fat forefinger at the vile, dirty, weak and damaged paper covered binding.

Reading list of Clitheroe Ladies’ Book Society Source: https://www.antiquates.co.uk/images/ListBbPrintFinalCompressed.pdf

Although there are a number of differing definitions of what temporary means, a common one regards them as a weak and non-permanent. This was a book meant to be rebound once a purchased — preferably into a “real” leather binding — so the traditional bibliophiles say.

What makes this collection fantastic is that it documents the use of each book, though likely this is somewhat less than the actual use. Twenty times, at least for this volume, as well as an unknown history since the documentation. These books are not in great shape, as the first image illustrates. But they are still functional.

This and other evidence of boards bindings being used many times, refutes traditional assumptions concerning their temporary status, which may have roots in elitism and classism, rather than physical properties.

 

 

Repurposed Leather

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John Newbery. A Spelling Dictionary of the English Language…. 12th Ed. London: T. Carnan and F. Newbery, 1770. Source: http://www.biblio.com/book/spelling-dictionary-english-language-new-plan/d/639514784

Jeff Altepeter, Head of the Bookbinding Department at North Bennet Street School (NBSS) in Boston, recently acquired this book for their historic binding collection.  Do you notice something interesting about the tooling?

The covering leather has been reused from the board of another book. I don’t think this is the first binding for this book for a number of reasons that aren’t visible: the lack of headbands, the dislocation of signatures which seems to indicate an aggressive spine cleaning, and the fact that the leather is too thick and not properly adhered to the spine and the paper label. I think is was done by an amateur or novice. But the selection of the repurposed leather is extraordinary.

Observe that the lines of the board panel neatly mimic four evenly spaces panel divisions. The numbers on the paper label above the title label make me think this was done in a bookshop or for a bookseller. Primarily judging from the lettering on the paper label, I’d guess this rebinding is likely from the nineteenth century.

In the past decade or so, books that were likely not made (or repaired) by professional bookbinders have become a hot topic. The scholarly trend of considering the book as a democratic multiple started with Artist Books in the 1970’s, and now encompasses vernacular examples?

nbss

Title page.

 

 

Forty Bookbinding Reference Books

Florian asked, in a comment, what my most commonly used bookbinding reference books are. Below is a list, which is heavily weighted to my current interests in early nineteenth century American bookbinding.  The books below serve a variety of purposes for me. Some contain a quick review of structural history and others are key primary references. Some are a basic starting point for more in-depth research and others are a handy source of images to show clients. Anyone else have some favorites?

Appleton’s Dictionary of Machines, Mechanics, Engine-Work and Engineering. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1852. 

Baker, Cathleen A. From the Hand to the Machine: Nineteenth-Century American Paper and Mediums: Technologies, Materials and Conservation. Ann-Arbor, Michigan: The Legacy Press, 2010. 

Bearman, Frederick, Nati H. Krivatsy, and J. Franklin Mowery. Fine and Historic Bookbindings from the Folger Shakespeare Library. Washington, DC: The Folger Shakespeare Library, 1992.

Bennett, Stuart. Trade Bookbinding in the British Isles, 1660-1800. New Castle, Deleware and London: Oak Knoll Press and The British Library, 2004.

Bloom, Jonathan M. Paper before Print. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2001. 

Blumenthal, Joseph. The Printed Book in America. Hanover, New Hampshire: Dartmouth College Library, 1989.

Bookbinding in America, 1680-1910. From the Collection of Frederick E. Maser. Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania: Bryn Mawr College Library, 1983. 

Bosch, Gulnar, John Carswell, and Guy Petherbridge. Islamic Bindings & Bookmaking. Chicago: The Oriental Institute, 1981. 

Carter, John. ABC for Book Collectors, 7th ed. Revised by Nicholas Barker. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 1995.

Comparato, Frank E. Books for the Millions: A History of the Men Whose Methods and Machines Packaged the Printed Word. Harrisburg, PA: The Stackpole Co., 1971.

Darley, Lionel. Bookbinding Then and Now. London: Faber and Faber, 1959. 

De Hamel, Christopher. The Book: A History of the Bible. London: Phaidon Press Limited, 2001.

Edlin, Herbert L. What Wood is That? A Manual for Wood Identification. New York: Viking, 1969.

Foot, Mirjam M. Bookbinders at Work: Their Roles and Methods. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2006. 

French, Hannah D. Bookbinding in Early America. Seven Essays on Masters and Methods. Worchester: American Antiquarian Society, 1986.

Gaskell, Philip. A New Introduction to Bibliography. New Castle, Delaware and Winchester, UK: Oak Knoll Press and St. Paul’s Bibliographies, 1995.

Gascoigne, Bamber. How To Identify Prints: A Complete Guide to Manual and Mechanical Processes from Woodcut to Ink-Jet. New York: Thames and Hudson, 1995.

Gould, F.C. The Mechanization of Bookbinding. London: Master Bookbinders’ Association, 1937. 

Harrison, Thomas. “The Bookbinding Craft and Industry” London: Pitman, [1926] Facsimile in “The History of Bookbinding Technique and Design”. Ed. Sidney F. Huttner. New York: Garland, 1990. 

Herbert, Luke. The Engineer’s and Mechanic’s Encyclopedia. London: Thomas Kelly, 1841. 

The History of Bookbinding 525-1950 A.D. Baltimore, Maryland: The Trustees of The Walters Art Gallery, 1957.

Hoadley, R. Bruce. Identifying Wood: Accurate Results with Simple Tools. Newtown, Connecticut: Taunton Press, 1990.

Knight, Edward. American Mechanical Dictionary. New York: J.B. Ford and Co., 1874. 

Krupp, Andrea. Bookcloth in England and America, 1823-50. New Castle, Deleware and London and New York: Oak Knoll Press, The British Library, The Bibliographical Society of America, 2008.

Lehmann-Haupt. The Book in America: A History of the Making and Selling of Books in the United States. New York: R.R. Bowker Co., 1952.

Lehmann-Haupt, Hellmut, Ed. Bookbinding in America: Three Essays. New York: R.R. Bower Co., 1967.

Mayer, Ralph. The Artist’s Handbook of Materials and Techniques, 5th Ed., Revised and Updated. New York: Viking, 1985.

Middleton, Bernard C. A History of English Craft Bookbinding Technique. London: Hafner, 1963. 

Pearson, David. English Bookbinding Styles, 1450-1800. London and New Castle: The British Library and Oak Knoll Press, 2005.

Pollard, Graham and Esther Potter. Early Bookbinding Manuals: An Annotated List of Technical Accounts of Bookbinding to 1840. Oxford: Oxford Bibliographical Society, 1984. 

Posner, Raphael and Israel Ta-Shema. The Hebrew Book: An Historical Survey. Jerusalem: Keter House Publishing, 1975.

Ramsden, Charles. London Bookbinders 1780-1840. London: Batsford Ltd., (reprint), 1987.

Ramsden, Charles. Bookbinders of the United Kingdom (Outside London) 1780-1840. London: Batsford Ltd., (reprint), 1987.

Ramsden, Charles. French Bookbinders, 1789-1848. London: Batsford Ltd., (reprint), 1989.

Spawn, Willman and Thomas E. Kinsella. Ticketed Bookbindings from Nineteenth-Century Britain. Bryn Mawr and Deleware: Bryn Mawr College Library and Oak Knoll Press, 1999.

Szirmai, J.A. The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1999. 

Thomlinson, William and Richard Masters. Bookcloth: 1823-1980. Cheshire: Dorthy Tomlinson, 1996.

Tomlinson, Charles. Cyclopaedia of Useful Arts, Mechanical and Chemical…. London: Virtue & Co., 1868. 

Ure, Andrew. Dictionary of Arts, Manufactures, and Mines: Containing a Clear Exposition of their Principles and Practice. 2nd. Ed. London: Longman, Orme, Brown, Green & Longmans, 1840.

Wolf, Richard. Marbled Paper: Its History, Techniques and Patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990. 

Soon to be Published! Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding, Volume 1

UPDATE 2/13/2013: This book is now available for purchase from The Legacy Press

I’m quite excited about this forthcoming book for two reasons: my essay on the beating of signatures is included and I’m really looking forward to reading the other essays. Julia Miller is the editor as well as the author of an essay on scaleboard bindings. This is the first of a volume of a planned series on the history of bookbinding.  Binders take note, there will be copies in sheets available. This book is scheduled to be published in early 2013 and if you want to know when it is published email: thelegacypress (at) comcast.net

Cathy Baker, founder of The Legacy Press,  also publishes a number of other award winning books on book and paper history. I wrote a review of her own excellent book, From the Hand to the Machine: Nineteenth-Century American Paper and Mediums, Technologies, Materials and Conservation, in the The Bonefolder, Volume 7, 2011. Books from her press are thoughtfully designed, well made, and most importantly contain valuable, original content.

My essay, “Beating, Rolling and Pressing: The Compression of Signatures in Bookbinding Prior to Sewing”  is a comprehensive examination of the tools, techniques and effects of beating. It is difficult to overestimate the importance of beating in the forming the appearance and function of virtually all textblocks from the handpress era. Prior to the 1830’s, all bound book were beaten by hand with hundreds—likely many hundreds—of hammer blows. Records indicate it could account for up to 25% of the cost of a binding.  Today beating is virtually ignored or barely mentioned, even in most book histories and in specialized workshops on historical bindings. Beating hammers are very rare and I’ve only located about a dozen of them, though I suspect there are many more as yet unidentified. The study of the history of tools is often divorced from the study of the history of the objects they were used to make: here, I attempt to integrate the two. I trace the history of beating, the evolution of beating tools and machines, and interpret the results of beating in an essay of over 21,000 words with 42 illustrations.

Abstract for “Beating, Rolling and Pressing: The Compression of Signatures in Bookbinding Prior to Sewing”

The tools and techniques of bookbinding have received little attention within the study of book history, bibliography and book conservation. From the fifteenth century until the beginning of the nineteenth, the compression of book signatures prior to sewing was accomplished by hand beating with a large hammer. Signatures were beaten for various reasons at different times, but generally to meet expectations of solidity, smoothness, and openability. In 1827 the introduction of the rolling machine replaced hand beating in large binderies in England, and quickly spread to other countries. Both literally and figuratively, the transition from hand beating to the rolling press demarcates the end of bookbinding as a vernacular hand craft and the beginning of machine bookbinding. Papermaking, printing and book structures also changed radically around this time. The rolling press and descriptions of other presses are well documented in early bookbinding manuals, trade records, nineteenth century encyclopedias and other accounts of which together provide an unusually rich and detailed insight into this time period. This study will follow one technique of bookbinding—the compression of signatures prior to sewing—and investigate how it was done, how the tools changed, what the technique meant to the bookbinders, and how it affects the bookbindings themselves.

The Best One Paragraph Summary of Nineteenth Century Bookmaking?

The entire nineteenth century history can be seen as a continuous struggle against bottlenecks, many of them caused by the sudden speeding up of a single operation previously performed by hand in a more or less leisurely manner.  Thus, the invention of the papermaking machine, which produces a continuous web of paper, calls for the rotary press into which this web can be fed; then there was need for the stereotyping process which allows the production of curved printing plates; and last but not least, composing machines which can produce a sufficient amount of set type to feed hungry presses.  And of what good to anyone would have been the accumulation of printed paper if there had not been machines developed which would cut, fold, sew and bind the sheets?

Lehmann-Haupt, Hellmut.  The Book in America, Second Edition. New York: R.R. Bowker Co., 1952. (p. 147)

The Integument is an Integral Part of the Book-Brander Matthews

In 2008 there were two major exhibitions of 19th century publishers’ bindings; The Well Dressed Booat the University of Maryland,  and The Proper Decoration of Book Covers: The Life and Work of Alice C. Morse at the Grolier club in NYC.  One day symposiums accompanied both, and the speakers rallied around the cause of celebrating the presumably unknown, or at least undervalued work of 19th century publishers’ binding designers, often only identified by microscopic initials hidden within the stamping on the front cover.  

Last weekend, I purchased and read Brander Matthews’ book, Bookbindings Old and New, (Strand Bookstore, ex-library copy, $20!) published in 1895, expecting to find the typical remarks of a pedantic 19th century bibliophile, but instead found an opinionated, yet breezily written assessment of mainly French bookbinders from the 16th through the 18th centuries, a chapter on publishers’ bindings and a short history of the Grolier Club.  I found Matthews to be passionate about defending the high quality of work by many book designers of the day– including Margaret N. Armstrong, Mrs. Henry Whitman, Stanford White, Harold B. Sherwin, Hugh Thomson, Edwin A. Abbey, D.S. Maccoll, and more. “The beauty of the modern book is not that of the book of yore” (172), he writes, “Just how excellent some modern commercial bindings are, scarcely any of us have taken time to discover; for we are prone to overlook not a few of the best expressions of contemporary art, natural outgrowths of modern conditions, in our persistent seeking for some great manifestation which we fail to find. ” (174)  He later continues, “It is a fact that commercial bookbinding , often ignorantly looked down on, is now at a most interesting stage of its history; and it seems to me very worth while to consider some of its recent successes.” (175)  

He even is an early advocate for preservation of paper wrappers, “One word of warning, and I have done:  never destroy the paper cover of a book, even of the least important pamphlet.  The integument is an integral part of the book…” (283) The page opposite this quote is an illustration of the Dickens The Mystery of Edwin Drood, which today is worth much, much more if in original wrappers. He obviously recognizes and values the unique physical character of books, and  quotes Hawthorne’s admonishment to collectors who rebind their publishers’ cloth books in leather, those who “strip off the real skin of a book to put it into fine clothes.” (If anyone knows where this quote appears in Hawthorne’s Oeuvre, please let me know, a citation is not included in Matthew’s book)

But at the same time, he complains about the state of hand bookbinding, and is particularly disparaging of the use of the roll in tooling. “The use of the roll, repeating the same motive indefinitely as it is rolled over the leather, is indefensible; it is the negation of art; it destroys the free play of hand which is the very essence of handicraft.” (69)  For Matthews, Cobden-Sanderson is the height of modern bookbinding genius–there are 8 large plates of his bindings– and is critical of the “artistic sterility” of Zaehnsdorf.  “The most original figure among English binders of this century–in fact, the only original figure since Roger Payne–is Mr. Cobden-Sanderson.” (129) “Believing in handicraft as the salvation of humanity, and that a man should labor with his hands, he abandoned the bar, and studied the trade of the binder.” (132)

He ends up adopting a somewhat black and white position:  all hand bookbinding should be done by hand, preferably both the forwarding and the finishing by the same man, but commercial binding is the execution of of design. “So a book-cover stamped by steam may be a thing of beauty if it is designed by Mrs. Whitman or by Mr. Stanford White.” (175)  He ends his essay by claiming the Americans superior to the English in modern book design, and concludes that books are “…one of the most important forms of houshold art–of decorative art.  Properly understood, and intelligently practiced, it is capable of educating the taste even of the thoughtless, and giving keen enjoyment to those love books for their own sake.”(228)  

I am a bit reluctant to include this link to his book online, since it seems somewhat disrespectful to his wonderful phrase “the integument is an integral part of the book.”

_____

Matthews, Brander.  Bookbindings Old and New: Notes of a Book Lover: With an Account of the Grolier Club of New York.  New York: Macmillan, 1895.

Comments on Clarkson, Conservation and Craft

Book conservation, possibly more than any other conservation discipline, consists of a skill set that is closely linked to its craft roots. Conservators must not only be able to intellectually understand the mechanics, chemistry and history of book structure, but also need the hand skills to actually do bookbinding: performing, for example, a full treatment where a text needs to be rebound in a style sensitive and sympathetic to its structural requirements and time period. So what prompted Christopher Clarkson to write,  “European hand bookbinding practice does not form the best foundation on which to build or even graft the principles of book conservation.” (Clarkson, 1978)

 Although written 30 years ago, these words are still extremely provocative. In a very narrow interpretation, the phrase “ European hand bookbinding practice” could mean typical trade bookbinding practice, and the statement is entirely uncontroversial— not every book should be rebound and of course a 10th century manuscript should not be stuffed into a typical late 19th century trade binding! (1) But what if Clarkson is pointing towards a broader reading, establishing a dichotomy between bookbinding and book conservation, potentially even between a craft and a profession?  Given the close relationship of the two, how could they be separated?

 A few clues can be found elsewhere in the same volume of The Paper Conservator.  This issue begins with a policy statement, noting four basic purposes of publication:

“1.  To conserve the traditional crafts of conservation… .  2.  To stimulate the craftsmen to develop a methodology with which to record their techniques and experience… . 3. …extending knowledge about craft techniques in closely related fields… . 4. To assemble a reference source of craft techniques for trainee conservators.” (My italics) (McAusland, 1978)

 These multiple references to craft are perhaps even more shocking that Clarkson’s original quote, and somewhat explain his need to propose a break with the past, at least in a philosophical context.  It appears that in 1978 that book conservation was considered a craft, or at least craft was a large part of it. But professionalism was on the rise at the same time; Paul Banks was elected President of AIC in 1978 (a first for a book conservator) and his The Preservation of Library Materials was published the same year.  Did a rise in professionalism necessitate a break with craft tradition in order to escape habits, both in thought and praxis, built up over centuries?

 I am certain that if I mentioned “the craft of conservation” in 2008, I would be greeted by suspicion, jeers and critical blog posts from my peers. Today, conservators have, to a large degree, distanced themselves from that dirty little word—craft– at least in their own minds.(2)  This distancing seems to be the core message in Clarkson’s statement, as a necessary first step. In order to rationally and objectively approach a conservation treatment, it was necessary to step outside of the preconceptions of a craft tradition, and attempt to examine the book and the goals of the treatment from the outside.  Sometimes a conservation treatment might closely resemble how a bookbinder might repair a volume; sometimes it might be radically different.

 How can the craft of the bookbinding be preserved in a professional context that has struggled to escape its craft based roots? Are there dangers, however, of completely refuting the craft of bookbinding while formulating a new theory of conservation?  Almost 1,700 years of mostly unwritten craft skills have been passed on during the history of bookbinding.  Many structures and techniques have been abbreviated, forgotten and lost. Some have been rediscovered later, existing as primary evidence in book structure, or extrapolated through praxis.  A conservator could start a treatment, with no knowledge of bookbinding technique, but if the treatment was at all complex, it seems the conservator, even if ignorant of craft technique, would end up reinventing it. Maybe this is how the craft will survive.

 As books cease to be viewed as primarily a vehicle for transmitting textual information, and move closer to object-type status, I predict the physical information their materials and construction contain, and their visual appeal will become increasingly valued. (3) Paradoxically, we may have to wait until books no longer fulfill their original function (to be read) before we fully value the craft skills that created them, and then will have to rediscover those skills. 

 In another 30 years, perhaps, the field of book conservation will be mature enough to reexamine its relationship to craft. Hopefully some of the craft skills will still be present or rediscovered, and might be reincorporated into some future conception of conservation.

NOTES:

1.  Ironically, this style of binding, with all of its structural faults, remains the ideal of fine hand bookbinding in most of the public’s imagination. 

2. Most of the public, unfortunately, uses the terms bookbinder, master restorer and conservator interchangeably. A paramount task for conservation is to educate the public on these differences.

3.  In the past year or two, I have noticed more private collectors wanting a cradle for their book so that it can be safely displayed in their home.  

 

REFERENCES

Clarkson, Christopher. “The Conservation of Early Books in Codex From: A Personal Approach: Part 1.” The Paper Conservator Vol. 3 (1978): 49.

McAusland, Jane. “Manual Techniques of Paper Repair” The Paper Conservator Vol. 3 (1978): 3