Checklist of Writings by Thomas Harrison

Tom Conroy has sent me this checklist of Thomas Harrison writings. Tom Conroy is a book restorer, fine binder, binding historian, and toolmaker living in Berkeley, California. He occasionally comments on this blog; they are always worth reading, and I would like to publicly thank him for his generosity in sharing his expertise.


Tom Conroy

The following list includes all of Thomas Harrison’s writings which are known to me. Some years ago I took an opportunity to run through most of a file of PAPER AND PRINT looking for more articles by Harrison, but found only the non-instructional articles listed here.

“On Planning A Geometrical Design.” BOOKBINDING TRADES JOURNAL Vol.I No.23 (1909) p. 354-356.

“On Planning A Geometrical Design. The Back.” BOOKBINDING TRADES JOURNAL Vol.I No.24 (1909) p. 371-373.

[Note: I have no access to BBTJ  Vol.II Nos.1-5, for 1910, but presume that Harrison’s series continued in them.]

“The Principals of Design as applied to book decoration.” BOOKBINDING TRADES JOURNAL Vol.II No.6 (1911) p. 88-90.

“The Principals of Design as applied to book decoration.” BOOKBINDING TRADES JOURNAL Vol.II No.7 (1911) p. 104-105.

“The Geometrical Element In Design.” BOOKBINDING TRADES JOURNAL Vol.II No.9 (1912) p. 133-135.

“The Organic Element In Design.” BOOKBINDING TRADES JOURNAL Vol.II No.10 (1912) p. 154-156.

“The Organic Element In Design.” BOOKBINDING TRADES JOURNAL Vol.II No.11 (1912) p. 163-165.

“Artistic Tendancies of Modern Book Decoration.” BOOKBINDING TRADES JOURNAL Vol.II No.12 (1912) p. 180-182. [A report of a slide lecture by Harrison, and taking the place of his usual contribution to BBTJ, though written in the third person and apparently not by Harrison himself.]

“The Organic Element In Design.” BOOKBINDING TRADES JOURNAL Vol.II No.13 (1912) p. 196-198.

“The Organic Element In Design.” BOOKBINDING TRADES JOURNAL Vol.II No. 14 (1912) p.213-215.

“The Historic Element In Design.” BOOKBINDING TRADES JOURNAL Vol.II No. 15 (1912) p.235-237.

THE BOOKBINDING CRAFT AND INDUSTRY. “Pitman’s Common Commodities and Industries Series.” London: Pitman, n.d. [1926.]. 2nd ed. n.d. [1930]. [Some years ago I collated my copy of the second edition against a copy of the first, and found no substantial changes except one changed plate and the addition of a ten-page Appendix on “Fire Hazards of Prnting and Binding Wroks” by Robert Taylor, F.C.I.I.]

“Modern Book Decoration.” CRAFT LECTURES OF THE STATIONERS’ COMPANY, “Second Lecture of the Seventh Session, delivered 1928, p. 41-61. [Important. Known to me only in a photocopy.]

“The Care of Books.” THE BOOK-COLLECTORS’ QUARTERLY No. III (June-August 1931) p. 1-14.

“What to Look for in a Modern Binding.” THE BOOK-COLLECTORS’ QUARTERLY No. XIII (January-March 1934) p. 31-41.

“Book Review: The Art of the French Book from early manuscript to the present time. Edited by Andre Lejard.” PAPER & PRINT (Summer 1947) p. 104,106,108.

“A method of Binding A Book in one section.” PAPER & PRINT (Summer 1947) p. 122, 124, 126. [Reprinted in “Fragments of Bookbinding Technique.”]

“A Case for the Single-Section Book.” BOOKBINDING AND BOOK PRODUCTION (October 1947) p. 50-51. [Reprinted from the above item in PAPER & PRINT.]

“Vellum for Letterpress Printing.” PAPER & PRINT (Autumn 1947) p. 182, 184, 186. [Reprinted in “Fragments of Bookbinding Technique.”]

“Making a Moulded, Fire Resisting, Pull-Off Case for very valuable books.” PAPER & PRINT (Winter, 1947) p. 266, 268, 270. [Reprinted in “Fragments of Bookbinding Technique.”]

“The Solander Book Box Portfolio and its affinities.” PAPER & PRINT (Spring 1948) p. 26, 30. [Reprinted in “Fragments of Bookbinding Technique.”]

FRAGMENTS OF BOOKBINDING TECHNIQUE. London?: n.p., n.d. [Pamphlet of [6], 7-31, [32] p. containing the four Paper & Print instructional articles. I have seen what are clearly several different printings. Mine has blue thick paper covers and says “Printed by Walter Pearce & Co., London & Brentford” on p. [32].]

“Early European and Persian Bindings: An Analytical Comparison.” PAPER & PRINT (Summer 1948) p. 130, 132, 134.

“French Mass Production Case Bindings.” Exhibition review. PAPER & PRINT (Autumn 1948) p. 246, 248.

BOOKBINDING FOR PRINTERS. “A*T*P*A*S Handbooks for Teachers No. 2.” London: Association of Teachers of Printing and Allied Subjects, 1949. [Pamphlet of ii, 16, iii-[iv] p.]

CONSTRUCTION IN BOOKBINDING. London: London School of Printing, n.d. [Disappointing pamphlet of [2], 7, [3] p., mostly about sewing. The London School of Printing had that name from 1922 to 1949.]

“Contemporary Bindings: a commentary.” PENROSE ANNUAL 44 (1950) p. 71-74 & 4 plates.

Added 23 Feb. 2013

I found another one, Tom.

“A Persian Binding of the Fifteenth Century” in The Burlington Magazine for Connoisseurs, Vol. 44, No. 250 (Jan., 1924), pp. 31-32+34-35. .

Wood of London

Fig. 1: Thomas E. Harrison. The Bookbinding Craft and Industry, 2nd. ed. (London: Sir I. Pitman & Sons, Ltd, nd [1930’s]) PML 195761. Bound by Wood of London, possibly by Harrison, since he worked there around this time. Photo Credit: The Pierpont Morgan Library, New York.

Although I tend to be primarily interested in the structural aspects of utilitarian or vernacular bookbindings, I have to confess an almost secret admiration for the craft skills and occasionally the design of highly decorated bindings. The firm Henry T. Wood of London, est. 1875, though not as well known as Sangorski & Sutcliffe or Zaehnsdorf, executed a number of specular bindings. In the twentieth century, Thomas Harrison and W. Topping were partners in the firm.  Harrison’s text is an important record of early 20th century machine bookbinding; useful in the way it pairs the hand actions with machine counterparts. It is also an important document of early 20th century English machine binding practice, though not as comprehensive as Pleger’s 1914 Bookbinding and its Auxiliary Branches, which concentrates on American machine binding. Parts of Pleger are on (in?) the internet archive.

In 1950 Harrison also wrote a series of four articles in Paper and Print which were reprinted as Fragments of Bookbinding Technique: the articles concern a stiff-board vellum binding, his “reverse-guard” for binding single sections, a fire resistant pull-off box, and a Solander box. As a demonstration of the fire resistant nature of the pull-off box (when properly constructed), Zaehnsdorf  once threw one into a fire, where it burned for four hours.  The book, valued at 400 pounds, was unharmed.  The Solander boxes were not only dust proof, but waterproof: when the Thames flooded the Tate Gallery in 1928, a number of boxes floated for “a considerable amount of time.” [1] Harrison was an original thinker, a rarity in bookbinding literature.

The binding above is quite possibly my all time favorite pictorial binding. An advertisement for Wood in the beginning of the first edition of this book gives their business slogan is “Sound Technique/ Superb Finish/ Distinctive Design.” [2] All true for this binding. Even the turn-ins are tooled with sewing keys in the corners, hiding the head, tail and fore-edge mitered joins.  The center of the binding features a pallet symmetrically flanked by two fillets, above the three backing hammers, on an upside down knocking down iron.  Some of the tools depicted are non-traditional, however: the wooden rulers, the carpenter’s try-squares and the protractor and not commonly considered bookbinding tools. Was this designed by a non-bookbinder?  Is it evidence of Harrison’s free thinking appropriation of tools from outside of the craft?

 Fig. 2:  James Edward Frank Willis, The Next Volume… (London, 1933) Observe the subtle asymmetry of the design. Bound by Wood of London. British Library Database of Bookbindings.


Fig. 3: Detail. Note the laurel leaf flanked fist and bee like alien creatures flying up into a highly stylized sun. Technically, this is known as awesome.  British Library Database of Bookbindings.

Wood of London apparently executed more progressive designs than other major firms from this time. This binding is an especially great combination of traditional techniques and innovative, slightly odd, perhaps even subversive designs.  It is also interesting because it came out of a trade background, rather than the art or craft school background, like most later twentieth century designer bookbinders. How would the above design be described? Baroque sci-fi? Proto-steampunk? Twentieth century Rococo?


[1] T. Harrison. “The Solander Book-Box Portfolio and Its Affinities” in Fragments of Bookbinding Technique (np, nd), 27.

[2] Thomas E. Harrison. The Bookbinding Craft and Industry, (London: Sir I. Pitman & Sons, Ltd, 1926, Preliminary Advertisements) Facsimile in the series The History of Bookbinding Technique and Design, ed. Sidney F. Huttner (New York & London: Garland Publishing, Inc., 1989).

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