A Mysterious Press

Jennifer Evers sent me this description and images of a mysterious press.  I’m baffled. At first glance it appeared to be some type of foreedge painting jig, but this doesn’t seem right. It also looked a bit like a double fan adhesive press, but not quite. Possibly some type of tooling jig?  The metal edge on the top platen might be for cutting against? The whole press looks owner made.  NB: I would like to buy some handles like these:  they seem great for applying a lot of pressure with one hand, look easy to spin with one finger, and have an attached freely rotating collar to protect the platen surface. Reward offered.

Jennifer writes:

“I recently acquired an unknown piece of bookbinding equipment, and am trying to determine a) what it is, and b) how to use it.  The piece consists of a stationary wooden base with footings on each side. Two long threaded rods are counter-sunk into the base just inside the footings. Each of these rods has a handle that can be cranked down to apply pressure on the platens.

The interior platen is the same size as the base. A small rectangular piece of wood is hinged to the underside on both sides. These hinged pieces can either be flipped down to allow the platen to rest a set distance from the base, or flipped up, to serve an as yet unknown purpose. Two small pieces of wood are adhered to the top of this platen and run parallel to its shorter edge, possibly to serve as jigs.

The exterior platen is the same length as both the interior platen and the base, but only half the width. It is angled at approximately 70 degrees on both of the shorter edges, and has a metal edge recessed into the middle of one of the longer edges. This metal edge does not extend down over the edge of the platen like the edge on a brass-edged board, but lies flush with the board edge.”


Mystery Solved!:  This is an early version of the “Digby Stuart Press”.  New versions are still available from Russels. “This is an ideal piece of equipment for the student bookbinder or a person working at home. The Digby Stuart has two main functions:
1. As a nipping press: when the folding flaps are turned down onto the base the lower platen is supported, leaving both hands free to arrange the material to be pressed.
2. Thin books and boards can be trimmed by running a sharp blade along the built-in metal straight edge on the upper platen. A metal plate should be placed beneath the work to protect the surface of the Digby Stuart Press.” Page 10 of their catalogue.

Thanks to Keith Stuckless for this info. Unfortunately, the new handles are much more pedestrian looking….




Bookbinding tool maybe

Bookbinding tool maybe - detail

Ursula Mitra, fellow conservator in private practice here in NYC, and an old friend (remember making phase boxes together at Teachers College in 1990?!?) sent me these images of a possible bookbinding tool.  She acquired it from a bookbinder who didn’t know what it was.

She describes it as follows:

“I discovered a tool, possibly used in bookbinding, but I do not know what it is used for. It is a wooden frame,  8″ x 10″, not glued, so it can be taken apart.  The wood is smooth and not porous (not Oak and not Beech).  There are two pointed blocks that slide freely on each of the short sides of the frame (four total).  The wooden rail that they slide on has a trapezoidal cross section.  Each block has a nail driven into it to facing into the frame it and a string tied to it which connects to the block on the opposite rail (two strings total).  There is no way to lock the blocks and prevent them from moving.  The threads are longer than the frame is wide (10″) and they are approximately 12 gauge or slightly thicker.  The tool may have been taken apart and reassembled in a way not consistent with its use.”

I think she might be right that the blocks make more sense reversed, but  I have no clue what this tool might be.  Any thoughts?

Whatsit #2

I picked up this odd tool for $1.00.  I have no clue at all what it is for.  It feels very sturdy, and the metal that the shaft is made from is six sided like an allen key, and looks a bit like that metal as well, with a black coating.  The shaft runs through the handle and is attached to a washer at the end.  The regularity in manufacture suggests it was modified or pieced together from a manufactured tool and not owner made.  The dealer I bought it from thought the end was hammered flat from the tool, like a fishtail chisel, but to me it looks like there is almost too much metal on the flattened area for this to have happened. There are a few faint file marks on the sides of the flattened area, and the shape is a smooth curve.  I might use it as a back scratcher or fireplace poker, but would be very interested to find out what it really was for.

After looking at this some more, and playing around with it, I wonder if it is for stuffing a sofa or bed or something.

On 2 September 2008 Thomas Conroy added:

Looks like a stuffer to me too. My first thought was “golf ball,” then “horse collar.” It took a bushel of feathers to make one golf ball in the days before gutta-percha replaced “featheries.” Stuffing kits are sometimes shown in books on golf antiques, I think. For horse collar stuffers, I would start by trying Salaman’s “Encyclopedia of Leatherworking Tools.”

I looked, and there is a page of stuffers, mostly for horse collars.  There are some similar shapes, but all of the ones pictured have serrated tips, not smooth like this one.  I imagine the serrated tips would be important if you were trying to manipulate stuffing material.