Tag Archives: bookbinding

In the studio

Unfortunately I haven’t been able to update this blog too much over the past year, but I wanted to share a few of the things I’ve been working on. I wish I had more time for blogging, but there has been no rest for the wicked (bookbinder), as I’ve been teaching or doing private work nonstop. I’d like to use this space to catch up a bit with some of the exciting projects I’ve been very lucky to have worked on over the past year. I hope my sharing something about them will make others feel inspired.

Custom box for memorial cards

One of my dearest repeat clients, a photographer who specializes in family portraits, came into my studio one day with a small paper bag filled with remembrance cards, other mementos, and a beautiful glass framed portrait that all needed to go into a box for a local family. This was a challenging project, since all the items were of widely varying sizes and shapes. I made a drop spine box with two separate compartments, a four-flap, and created a new frame out of contrasting book cloth for the portrait.

Remembrance Box Compartments

I created two side-by-side compartments to house most of the cards and letters. They were in honor of a woman who had a deep connection to the area’s redwood forests, so I felt a bit of a connection to her, too.

Remembrance Box Inside View

This is how the inside of the box would be viewed when opened.

Remembrance Box Front

This was the front of the box, with the woman’s name stamped in gold.

Working large

Last year I ended up doing a series of three oversize repairs for completely unrelated clients. At the outset, the complexity and challenging nature of each one seemed overwhelming, not to mention three at once. Here are some anecdotal photos of them, with brief explanations, though I might like to post an entire entry at some point, just on these projects.

Illustrated Atlas of Alameda County

This was an illustrated atlas of Alameda County from the 1800s. There were foldouts, text folios, single sheets and even a few double foldouts. The inside of each foldout had a map, and the outer sides of the map had charming illustrations depicting farms or other points of interest in the area of that map. Each page was a slightly different width, calling for the complicated series of stubs, hinges, and guards you see in this detail photo.

Big Book Board

This picture shows the mind-bending immensity of the largest book I have ever repaired (one cover board of it, anyway). I weighed the cover and a single board alone weighed over 6.5 pounds. The main challenge in repairing this particular book was to handle it throughout the repair process with the care it needed in spite of its heft. Good thing I exercise!

Monograph of the Ramphastidae before

This was the initial state of the third of these large books I repaired. All three books also presented challenges simply in the documentation I do for my internal record keeping. I had to move the camera so far away that I couldn’t get very clear photos at times. I took a lot of detail shots to fill in the gaps.

Monograph of the Ramphastidae After

This is the previous book after treatment. Two of the three books required a technique known as a leather reback; the Atlas got a brand new set of covers, since its original covers were severely water damaged.

Prelinger Treasure

Some of the first book conservation I did after moving out to the bay area was for the Prelinger Library, and last year, I was able to do some more work for this innovative collection. They house certain volumes of government publications discarded by other libraries for lack of space, and have happened on some interesting books. One of these that happened into my studio for a time was a record of a US military expedition from Missouri to San Diego conducted in 1841, passing through and reporting heavily on the region now known as New Mexico and Arizona. A researcher at the Prelinger felt the book was important enough to donate the funds to have it repaired, and so I did my best.

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This was the initial condition of this book, with ragged folds at the spine, broken sewing in several places, an odd section of stubs with no pages deforming the rest of the textblock, and many tipped-in illustrations in various stages of attachment.

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I carefully took apart the entire textblock page by page, then applied paper made from kozo fibers with wheat paste to give the folios a stable footing to be resewn and rebound. Note that only about two thirds of the signatures are in this photo-there were over 40 that all needed extensive guarding.

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Typical illustration from the text, one of many. Old Santa Fe. If you think the illustration is interesting, you should read the text! For a military report, it is a real page turner, filled with encounters with Native Americans of several different tribes as well as investigations of plants, geological formations, and animals that were completely foreign to the group of topographical engineers authoring the report. This book is available to see, read, and handle at the Prelinger Library. No academic credentials required.

Prelinger After

This is the spine after treatment.

Prelinger After Cover

This is the cover after treatment.

New bookbinding class at SFCB

I have been teaching classes in bookbinding at the San Francisco Center for the Book since 2011, and have most often focused on offering a foundational series of classes to give students a slice of what I got at the North Bennet Street School. I don’t see any use in hoarding what I know. I have met so many fascinating people while teaching, some becoming clients, friends, or both! So last year, I decided I wanted to push things a step further and offer an additional advanced class in leatherwork for bookbinding. This would be an idealized (for me anyway), traditional style of binding in many ways, though the class would be limited to two or three days of in-class time, depending on which option the Board of the SFCB voted to approve. Lucky for me, they approved the longer three-day version, and the class was held two weekends ago, over the holiday weekend to allow those who travel from long distances to take the class in three successive days.

lacedonboards2

This binding included lining the boards, sewing on four raised cords, using loose guards, ploughing, sprinking the edges, sewing silk endbands, lacing the boards through twice, and of course covering the spine in specially-pared leather. We also did some blind tooling around the raised bands for a traditional look.

Quarter Leather Binding x6

These were all of our books at the end of the class! Everyone survived, and I think we all had a good time, too.

Life has been full; I look forward to more fun on Book Island!

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Filed under Classes I've taught, My projects

Books Are Round; and, My PSA on PSA

Many of the materials that go into the making of a book are flat: paper, board, bookcloth. Of course, all of these things, including the finished book, are at least three dimensional. But have you ever heard of a book being round? A-round, sure… for some of us more than others. But really, truly, round? In my work repairing old books, I have seen many a round book, meaning the book is no longer a book per se–it has become a receptacle. This is most often the case with family Bibles, but it happens to other books as well.

I recently had the opportunity to repair one such book for a class I taught in book repair. I usually shop for books for students to repair at Friends of the Library sales, and that was where I found The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar. I wanted to write about my work on this book for several reasons, the primary one being that people are often surprised at what I do for a living, and don’t believe that books can in fact be repaired. As you will see here, even when a book has so many problems that they can’t all be repaired at once, the book’s condition can be so vastly improved as to make a huge difference to the future of it. I also wanted to write about this book because my work on it brought up some interesting issues in conservation I thought worth discussing. Finally, there were some things I learned while repairing this book that I wanted to share.

The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar front cover

front cover

Inside front cover

front pastedown: some gummed kraft tape, early cloth medical tape, acid migration…

inside rear cover

rear pastedown…early pressure sensitive adhesive worthy of further study

title page and photogravure portrait of Dunbar

title page and photogravure portrait of Dunbar

These informal photos taken prior to treatment may begin to give you an idea of what I mean when I say this book is a receptacle. In these four photos, we already see six newspaper clippings. And as I continued to observe the book’s condition, I came across many more clippings, pamphlets, three small pages of handwritten notes for a radio address, a church directory, and so on.

Post-treatment: the book plus all the inclusions that weren't glued, taped, or nailed down

Post-treatment: the book plus all the inclusions that weren’t glued, taped, or nailed down

Paul Laurence Dunbar was born only seven years after the end of the Civil War. His parents had been slaves, so he was the first generation of free African-Americans in his family. He wrote poems, novels, and plays, some in dialect, some not. He died young of tuberculosis, dying well before the Harlem Renaissance gained steam. However, many writers from the Harlem Renaissance onward have cited Dunbar as an inspiration, and many feel that he was America’s earliest great African-American literary figure. It makes sense to me, in view of all this, that someone chose to place all their most important notes, desires for self-betterment, news articles on Wendell Willkie, and even Christmas greetings within this volume.

Something I happened to learn while I was repairing this book, through an unrelated string of concurrent events, was how a photogravure is made. Though common in image output generation in book production, I guess I never had the reason to study the making of photogravures before. Someone I know told me he had made some, and when I said I didn’t know what they were, he described them. At that point, I realized that the book I was working on contained one. A pretty nice one, I thought.

Photogravure Portrait of Paul Laurence Dunbar

A photogravure is basically a way of using a film positive to burn an image into a copper plate suitable for use in printing with ink, combining photography with intaglio printing.

http://photogravure.com/

I’m happy with how my repair of this book came out–the book opens well, and all the pages have been stabilized. I’m even more pleased with the repairs completed by my students in the class. The students did so well we even had time to create protective four-flap enclosures for our books, so in my case, all the inclusions now have a contained place to reside that does not compromise the opening and closing of the book’s covers. However, there is one topic that is not addressed in the limited time available in that particular class: tape removal. Tape removal often requires the use of toxic solvents, requiring a vacuum table, a fume hood, and/or a fitted respirator: equipment and materials we do not have at SFCB. The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar has several kinds of very old tape that are all causing various kinds of damage to the paper. The worst instance of this is on the reverse side of the lovely photogravure portrait.

There are many types of tape, and they all age in different ways and at different rates, causing different effects to the paper they’re stuck to. Some of the adhesives dry out and flake off or can be gently scraped off, as was the case with the opaque white tape on the inner front pastedown. Others melt into the fibers of the paper they’re stuck to and create an inextricable bond, and an irreversible stain. This process can take decades, but once it happens, there is not much to be done about it. Holding this page up to the light shows where the tape on the reverse side of this page is located, and where the stain might be headed.

Tape StainLet this be, then, my one and only Public Service Announcement on Pressure-Sensitive Adhesive. Just say no, okay? It does not matter if the product says it’s archival. ‘Archival’ is an even vaguer marketing term than ‘organic’. Believe me, I understand the challenges of possessing an item in need of repair. The temptation to use a quick fix is strong. There are many book repair manuals out there that instruct on the use of tape–unfathomably. But, as common sense dictates, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.

Books are really amazing. The more I repair and make them, the more respect and awe I have for the ones that stick around. I have seen and repaired many fine and treasured books, but the ones that amaze me most are the ones that seem the least likely to succeed. The Complete Poems of Paul Laurence Dunbar, despite all appearances, has “good bones”: it was sewn through folds and was printed on decent paper. And despite the copious use of tape by one of its previous owners, I was able to put it back together and give it a gentle push down the road. When things slow down, I may be able to give it some attempts at removing the tape, but for now, the tape will have to stay where it is, unfortunately.

New beginning

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Filed under Around, About, and Through, My projects