Thursday, April 11, 2019

Book Restoration Unveiled by Sophia S.W. Bogle

Sophia S.W. Bogle. Book Restoration Unveiled: An Essential Guide for Bibliophiles. Ashland, Oregon: First Editions Press, 2019. ISBN: 978-1-7324317-3-7. 273 pp. Order from https://www.saveyourbooks.com/product/pre-orders-for-book-restoration-unveiled/. Download, print, and bind as well as e-book options are also available. $26.99 (pre-order at $19.95 until June 2019).

Reviewed by  Peter D. Verheyen

In Book Restoration Unveiled, Sophia S.W. Bogle sets out “to provide the tools to spot restorations so that everyone can make more informed decisions when buying or selling books.” The second reason was her realization that “instead of a simple list of clear terminology, [there] was a distressing lack of agreement and even confusion about the most basic of book repair terms. It became apparent to me that the world of book collectors and the world of book workers were not in communication with one another.” Finally, there was her passionate desire to keep books out of landfills; while passionate, the author is also pragmatic.

The introduction presents the author and her experiences: how she entered the profession (beginning, as many seem to have, as a work-study student in preservation/binding at their college library), progressed to an apprenticeship with an antiquarian where started learning what makes books valuable, training with the book restorer David Weinstein as a binder, opened her own studio, and attended the American Academy of Bookbinding among numerous other experiences. In describing her studio she cracks open the door to the real text in the form of a dialog with a book on her bench. Bogle enumerates her professional associations and her efforts to share her knowledge with her audience. Although she never became the antiquarian she thought she might become, she did specialize in the repair of books for individuals and antiquarians who in many respects are the main audience for this book. This is not, however, a “how-to” manual. Rather, it is a “guide to help you understand the world of restoration, to recognize restorations, and to choose the right professional to do those restorations. Further, “this book [is] a bridge between the world of collecting, buying, and selling books, and that of book repair, restoration, and conservation.”

Book Restoration Unveiled is divided into eight chapters: A Brief History of Book Collecting and Restoration; Is It Worth It? The Value of Book Restoration; Book Lovers, Book Collectors, and Book Dealers; Bookbinders, Book Restorers, and Book Conservators; How to Identify Book Restorations; Book Damage and Treatment Options; Facsimiles, Sophistications, and Fraud; and Buying and Selling Restored Books. In addition to these main chapters, the book also features a broad and deep list of resources including a glossary and color plates for more richness than the black and white images found throughout the book.

These chapters work a reader, bibliophile, antiquarian, restorer, etc. through a logical progression. The brief "History" is broken into eight “eras,” defined by the author beginning in ancient Mesopotamia. For each, she shares information relating to production, the value of the object in its context, preservation, repair, and threats. Included are mentions of significant persons and works from that period such as de Bury, Cockerell, Diehl, Middleton, and many others.

“Is it Worth It” describes the various criteria one might use in deciding whether it is worth treating a book, leaving as is, or discarding it. These are considerations that are at the heart of conversations between the various sets of antiquarians, collectors, curators, and those being asked to treat a given item. Bogle describes some of her reasons for making a particular decision, but then demonstrates how these are applied sharing an appraiser’s insight and a case study.

Interviews in which “Book Lovers, Book Collectors, and Book Dealers” describe their connections to their books, why they select what they do, value considerations, condition, when and whether to treat. are featured in this chapter. While there are many similarities in their responses, there are also subtle differences making a closer reading very interesting. After defining “Bookbinders, Book Restorers, and Book Conservators,” the author discusses how these approach their work and provides the bibliophile with considerations and questions to ask in working to select someone to treat their books. Whether the practitioner has the necessary holistic skill, training, and background appropriate for the book in question is a particular concern. Questions include the types of materials and structures they might apply. This is informed by the author's experiences as a practitioner which is woven throughout the chapter and the book; as well as those of selected colleagues.

“How to Identify Book Restorations” is a deep yet very accessible dive into the physical properties of book structure and materials and how to identify repairs and other potential problems with them. Repairs when not well done are easy to discover. It can quickly get murkier if the repairs are skilled, and it is here that the author includes the “perpetual caveat:” when in doubt, go for the most conservative option – preservation. The question of whether a collectible item has been repaired or restored is increasingly becoming a criteria for collectors, not just of books. Repair, however, can be critical for ensuring the book can be used, nevermind fall apart. This chapter has descriptions of repairs and their impact, and is richly illustrated with very clear diagrams and photos of treatments, good/bad, before/after that provide valuable context.

“Book Damage and Treatment Options” takes the material from the previous chapter and builds on it by preparing the book's owner to speak to the practitioner, whether a skilled bookbinder who performs repairs or a conservator. Bogle defines what is meant by the different categories of repair, restoration, preservation, and conservation lab. To support the definitions, she compares and contrasts these, also citing the American Institute for Conservation’s definitions. Next, she defines many of the terms binders and conservators use to describe various treatment steps and techniques, again in very clear language. Because people want to help, to do something, the author includes the necessary “warning” to the "do it yourselfer" about dated and wrong information that can be found online and in print (even if such treatments were once state-of-the-art), also acknowledging that there is also good information to be found. After this, Bogle provides instruction for some very basic treatments such as freezing to kill insects, using soot sponges for surface cleaning, and drying wet books. Dust jackets are discussed before taking on structural repairs to the book, almost all with three options for a particular problem such as textblock that has come out of the cover. Again, the text is accompanied by clear photographs illustrating the problems and treatments. This and the previous chapter are well worth the price of the book and provide the bibliophile with sound and pragmatic information in clear language.

“Facsimiles, Sophistications, and Fraud” “includes tips to help you avoid inadvertently buying books that have been touched by the dark side,” i.e. those employing deceptive practices to increase perceived value. As in past chapters Bogle then proceeds to define many of the types of techniques that can be used for good when done well and documented or more nefarious purposes, all in clear and understandable language. The author also includes interviews with book sellers, binders, and restorers, as well as case studies of books where facsimiles, sophistications, and fraud come into play.

Finally, in “Buying and Selling Restored Books” the author comes back to antiquarians who will employ binders, restorers, or conservators when needed. Bogle asks: what are their criteria for acquiring books to resell, what options do they have, and why chose the option they did? This is done in interviews with booksellers through a series of case studies that make these questions come alive in language that collectors will find in for-sale announcements, catalog descriptions, and elsewhere. The chapter concludes with links to reputable bookselling associations and sales portals.

Appendices provide links to many of the resources mentioned in the book: bookselling portals, educational opportunities, individual book sellers, book restorers, commercial binders, conservation labs that accept work from the public, professional associations, and vendors for tools and archival supplies. There are also a well-done glossary of terms and bibliography, most mentioned in the text, but even more useful in this form. The appendices are rounded out by acknowledgements, notes, and color plates of problems and treatments that could not be included in-line in the main text due to book production processes.

To conclude, Book Restoration Unveiled fills a niche in the literature that “lifts the veil” on books, the repair trades including restoration and conservation, and bookselling in a way that is very clear and understandable. It pragmatically explains the nuances, provides many examples of why something might be treated, or not, and provides much needed context. Fears of effusive “every book is sacred” were quickly put to rest as the author systematically worked her way through the process, greatly enhancing it with interviews and case studies that are not often found in books of this nature. Some of these topics could quickly become contentious in discussions between the practitioners, but the author handles this deftly by providing context, caveats, and options, making this a book that collectors, practitioners, and sellers should have in their reference collections.



Peter D. Verheyen's career path began much the same as the author's, beginning as a work-study student in conservation and preservation, apprenticing in hand bookbinding, and working in private practice and research library conservation labs before establishing Syracuse University Library's lab. He continues to bind and exhibit book for pleasure, maintains the Book Arts Web and Book_Arts-L listserv, and blogs here and on his Pressbengel Project. He is also an excessively avid collector of bookbinding and related literature, especially early 20th century German, and translated Ernst Collin's Pressbengel in English as The Bone Folder, published 2017 in a fine press edition by the Boss Dog Press.

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

The Medieval Girdle Book by Margit J. Smith

Smith, Margit. The Medieval Girdle Book. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 2017.
384 pages, 7.375 x 10.5 inches, hardcover, dust jacket. ISBN: 1584563680 / 9781584563686. $95.00.

Reviewed by  Nicholas Yeager


Girdle books are mysterious, almost mythical structures, designed to allow the owner to “wear” the book, hanging from a long tail attached to one’s belt (girdle). That there are only 26 known survivors of this structure makes them a rare item even to binding historians. Margit J. Smith gives a thorough description of these known examples in The Medieval Girdle Book, having visited libraries in Europe and the United States to research them first hand.

By shedding light on the development and use of girdle books, Margit J. Smith focuses on their construction and materials employed. She isolates the girdle book from other structures and places it in the medieval world as a separate and short-lived use. One wonders why personal, portable books didn’t last and whether the advent of small, portable printed books had some influence in the demise of wearable bibliographic accessories.

Margit J. Smith was an academic cataloging and preservation librarian at the University of San Diego when she attended the Montefiasconi Library Project in 2003 where she took a class on the girdle book, igniting a fourteen year study of this structure.

The mechanical challenges of how to make girdle books have been elusive to most binders as there has been very little published. Pamela Spitzmueller gave a presentation discussing the girdle book at the Guild of Book Workers Standards conference in 2000. Her handout describes briefly the two versions of a girdle book binding that Ms. Smith calls primary and secondary covering styles. All but 2 books are laced onto wooden boards, making the basic structure of the girdle book the same as wooden board bindings of the 14th - 16th centuries. Forwarding a girdle book is no different than contemporary bindings. Even the 2 paper board bindings are forwarded in the same way.

The Medieval Girdle Book reviews the 26 bindings by dividing them into 4 chapters according to each book’s contents: Religious (19); legal (5); philosophical (2); and possible girdle books (8). The thirty-three page introduction gives a thorough description of the 2 types of coverings employed and where and when these bindings were made. Table 1 shows books by location and whether manuscript (20) or printed (6). Table 2 dates and places the the books and again indicates manuscript or print while Table 3 covers the possible girdle books examined. Tables 4 & 5 indicate books that have protective flaps in addition to the extension to hang the book from a belt. An overall survey describes each book in its historical context, the interior or the book, the construction and exterior of the book.

The photography is of a high quality and the overall information is well done, whetting one’s curiosity about each book. The design, typography and printing are well done, making for ease in reading. However there are no indicators within the book to aid the reader in knowing what section or chapter one is in. By sorting the books by subject, one has reason to flip between sections to look at images for comparison. The addition of headers would make for a better reading experience. Lacing-on patterns, paste-downs and images of all sides of a book would have been helpful to discern manufacturing clues.

The Medieval Girdle Book is a well-written book, for the interested binder that will further one’s understanding of the structural and covering solutions employed in making girdle books. While the specifics of all aspects of making a girdle book are hinted at, a conscientious practitioner can infer enough to make one’s own girdle book. Reading this after having read (or along side) of J.A. Szirmai’s The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding (1999) gives the serious binding student a lot of information to help navigate their education in the era of wooden-board binding structures.




Nicholas Yeager is a rare books librarian/historian of the book, scribe and motorcyclist. He is also the creator of Zorbix.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Meeting by Accident: Selected Historical Bindings by Julia Miller


Miller, Julia. Meeting by Accident: Selected Historical Bindings. The Legacy Press, Ann Arbor, MI, 2018. 707 pp., features 717 full-color images, with an accompanying DVD an additional 650 images and a short video. $125.00.

Reviewed by Barbara Adams Hebard

Julia Miller embarked on an ambitious journey when she set out to write Meeting by accident: selected historical bindings. Book conservators, indeed book lovers in general, should be grateful for her diligence. Miller could have rested on her laurels after producing the acclaimed Books Will Speak Plain, instead choosing to elaborate on books that previously had received brief mention in that publication. Readers should not be intimidated by the high page count—707 pages of densely packed text—not only because the text is rich with information, but also it is complemented by 717 full-color images. The colored illustrations clarify Miller’s detailed focus on the bindings’ characteristics in a way that black and white or gray scale images would fail to do. Legacy Press is to be commended for committing to include so many full-color images, a costly production. The six chapters within Meeting by accident: selected historical bindings each could each could have merited a separate book; making this $125.00 volume a bargain.

Miller’s chosen topics for the first four chapters are binding styles that have not always received ample attention in binding structure or book history publications, in part because they are not generally considered to be the most glamorous styles and/or are lacking exciting ownership associations, for example. In those chapters she looks at: bindings decorated by staining, canvas bindings, over-covers, and books made for scholars. Miller clearly is fascinated by the techniques used by bookbinders of the past and, indeed, in these pages the structure of those books has become more interesting because of the questions that she poses and answers about them. Add to that, likely many an institution has examples of these styles either incorrectly, incompletely, or not identified because of the lack of readily available language with which to describe them. Miller has changed that, Meeting by accident has given catalogers and conservators precise terms to use for records or reports. The footnotes offer a wealth of information and their tone is conversational. Miller, recognizing that other conservators and bookbinders are in her reading audience, uses the footnotes to: explain her reasons for choosing a particular descriptive word, assiduously credit others either for their workshops or publications that further illuminate the topics, and offer links to on-line data-bases with additional visual aids to educate the viewer.

Chapter five, “A Gift from the Desert: A Report on the Nag Hammadi Codices”, can be summarized by Miller’s own words, “The purpose of this chapter is to give the reader an idea of what the Nag Hammadi bindings look like and how they were put together, and what they represent to the history of the codex and the history of hand bookbinding”. She completely delivers on those words and, as with the four prior chapters, has packed the numerous footnotes with more information and with the same painstaking effort to honor the research of others.

In “A Model Approach”, the final chapter in this pithy volume, Miller is, “urging the reader to engage with historical bindings by creating models of structures interesting to you. The rewards are great: you gain a better understanding of historical binding developments and you soon comprehend the possibilities (and limitations) of modern materials”. The models, she points out, have value beyond that given to creating a bookbinding—when used in a teaching setting, they offer cultural and historical importance. Seeing and interacting with a physical object engages a student beyond the knowledge gained by merely reading about its existence.

Julia Miller’s Meeting by Accident: Selected Historical Bindings, can be interpreted as a quiet yet persuasive call to preservation action, within the volume she is: asking conservators and curators to look at under-appreciated structures with new eyes; teaching them in great detail how to study book structure, thereby tempering decisions regarding the care and custody of historic materials; and fostering an appreciation of the value of historic models both for instructing the professionals as well as students.




Barbara Adams Hebard was trained in bookbinding at the North Bennet Street School. She was Book Conservator at the Boston Athenaeum for 18 ½ years and became the Conservator of the John J. Burns Library at Boston College in 2009. Ms. Hebard writes book related articles and book reviews, gives talks and presentations, exhibits her bookbindings nationally and internationally, and teaches book history classes. She is a Fellow of IIC, a Professional Associate of AIC, a board member of the New England Conservation Association, and has served several terms as an Overseer of the North Bennet Street School.


Friday, December 8, 2017

Heroic Works, Designers Bookbinders International Competition 2017

Heroic Works, Designers Bookbinders International Competition 2017, edited by Jeanette Koch, photography by Greg Smolonski: Bodleian Library, University of Oxford, UK: available at the Designer Bookbinders Online Shop, £30.00 + s/h.

Reviewed by Barbara Adams Hebard

Heroic Works, Designers Bookbinders International Competition 2017 catalogue, was produced to accompany a travelling exhibition of the same title that first ran from July 18 through August 20, 2017, in Weston Library at the University of Oxford.  The exhibition could later be seen through September 28, 2017 at the Library of Birmingham, followed by a showing in London at St Bride Foundation until October 24, 2017, and then, in a final venue, at the North Bennet Street School in Boston, Massachusetts, November 3, 2017 through December 22, 2017. If you missed the show in the United Kingdom and will not be travelling to Boston to view the 28 prizewinners and a selection of American entries, do purchase this catalogue, which has completely captured the bookbindings exhibited in the four venues as well as all those entered in the competition.

The Designer Bookbinders and their impressive roster of supporters should be very proud of the ambitious travelling exhibition and catalogue. The catalogue, beginning with its cover, conveys excitement and motion through the dynamic dragon motif lunging toward the viewer. Played out against a rich red background highlighted by glittering gold-toned titling, it serves as a theatrical introduction to the international themed contents within.

Heroic Works at North Bennet Street School
Photo © The North Bennet Street School

Heroic Works at North Bennet Street School
Photo © The North Bennet Street School

Since not all bookbinders and other followers of the book arts will be able to see the exhibition in any of the venues, it is commendable that the catalogue begins with descriptions of the four hosting institutions. Instead of just listing the exhibition dates, this informative catalogue gives brief paragraphs about the locations and provides their contact addresses. Readers will note that three of the four venues recently underwent extensive renovations and, although not mentioned, the North Bennet Street School is in a newly acquired and renovated building. It is comforting to know that books and related crafts, and the buildings that house them, are well cared for on both sides of the Atlantic.

The competition judges, Harri Aaltonen, Sue Doggett, and Sophie Schneideman, must have had a challenging time selecting the 28 books for the Sir Paul Getty Bodleian Prizes. The catalogue is filled with some breathtakingly beautiful books, created with outstanding technical skills. This review will only highlight fourteen books, although there are many, many more worthy of attention. Bookbinders and bibliophiles need to see the catalogue for themselves and savor the styles that appeal to them. The bookbindings, made using multiple techniques and materials, with finely honed skills, and keenly developed design consciousness, reveal that members of Designer Bookbinders merit their international reputation.

This reviewer had the good fortune to see the exhibition at the Windgate Gallery in the North Bennet Street School (NBSS). This venue may have influenced the choice of several books discussed here. Full disclosure: I am an American, graduated from the Bookbinding Program at NBSS, was taught by Mark Esser, and have served as a NBSS overseer for some years. That being said, the binding by Mark Esser is mesmerizing, in part because of the boldly repetitive design.  It was courageous to undertake a regular and symmetrical pattern, since the eye tends to focus on any flaws or inconsistencies in this style. Mark, well known for his commitment to craftsmanship, has accomplished a work that stuns in its perfection.

All images of bindings © Designer Bookbinders. Photos by Greg Smolonski.

Mark Esser (USA): Blind Date

The gorgeously crafted, wooden-board book, designed by Fabrizio Bertolotti fit perfectly into the NBSS Windgate Gallery setting.  The school, with programs involving wooden structures, such as Cabinet & Furniture Making, Violin Making, Carpentry, and Piano Restoration, has an appreciative audience ready to admire the precise woodworking mastery that went into the making of Bertolotti’s Héraclès.

Fabrizio Bertolotti (Italy): Héraclès

Priscilla Spitler’s cover, arrayed with brayer-printed leaves so vibrantly accenting the goatskin, was a delight to view on a bright New England day—the sky was filled with similar multi-hued leaves. One regrets that in an exhibition of bindings, interior features such as Spitler’s pochoir page illustrations cannot always be on display.

Priscilla Spitler (USA): In the Garden

In contrast to the flamboyant covers of Esser and Spitler, the prize-winning bindings by Keiko Fujii and Gavin Dovey have subtle tones and ornaments.  Fujii’s book has a soothing appearance because of the soft hues; pale blue calf accented with white and cream-colored onlays and inlays. The continuous elliptical configurations of the decorative elements blend harmoniously with the curve-modeled boards.

Keiko Fujii (Japan): Légendes Japonaises

Gavin Dovey has elegantly airbrushed the surface of the goatskin cover in a manner that brings to mind surface gilding. The tooled organic lines on the covers suggest veined butterfly wings, with the onlays and gold leaf resembling ocellus: considering the movement of the boards in relation to the spine, this also could imply the fluttering of wings.

Gavin Dovey (USA): Metamorphoses

The Windgate Gallery, as indicated above, featured the 28 prizewinners and a selection of American entries. The catalogue includes all the bindings entered in the competition. Photographer Greg Smolonski did a fine job imaging the books, so those seen in the catalogue are eye-catching, as well.
Architectural designs benefitted several bookbinders well in portraying the “heroic” on a grand scale. For instance, Sylwester Pacura illuminated his black Morocco binding of The Golden Legend with multi-colored leather onlays fashioning a glowing rose window, very pleasing in proportion.

Sylwester Pacura (Poland): The Golden Legend

Eliška Čabalová deftly sculpted and cut out the boards of her binding, creating the illusion of the gothic-windowed St. Vitus Cathedral, a fittingly dramatic symbol for Prague in Legends. The book seems to be an actual edifice, because Čabalová cleverly created the impression of shadows by uncovering the decorated flyleaves inside the cut out windows.

Eliška Čabalová (Czech Republic): Prague in Legends

Elements from nature also figured in a number of bindings and helped to accentuate the timeless quality of “the heroic.” Alain Taral’s walnut wood binding, with its strong grain and burls, bears the gravity of an object that has survived centuries of trial and strife. The binder wisely chose to allow the wood alone to make a statement, the resulting cover embodying beauty, unadorned.

Alain Taral (France): La Nuit des Fantômes

Dace Pāže adeptly attached Icelandic stones to metallic-toned leather covered boards so to suitably bind the Codex Regius. The placement and quantity, five stones on the upper and one on the lower board, combined with the size and sheen of the stones attractively symbolize Iceland.

Dace Pāže (Latvia): Codex Regius

Mythical beings from different cultures take formation on the book covers as well. Maria Ruzaykina used two striking creatures, a dragon and a human-faced bird, as metaphoric elements for her chosen title, Epic. The creatures, themselves lavishly tooled, are backlit by wonderfully gilt concentric circles.

Maria Ruzaykina (Russia): Epic

Karol Wilczynska selected to show a cave painting design on the upper cover of The Boy and the Taniwha. The painting, of wheel-like and circular forms evoking Taniwha, the unseen being, stands out because of the blocks of contrasting color with which Wilczynska framed it.

Karol Wilczynska (New Zealand): The Boy and the Taniwha

The human heroes show-up in the cover designs, both in figurative examples as well as in subjects picked to represent them. Given the theme of this exhibition, not surprisingly, there are a plenty of lovely samples to touch upon; three such books are looked at here. Patricia Richmond took the opportunity to showcase her tooling skills by decorating her Folk Tales and Fairy Tales from India with nicely rendered images of people. The variety of tools used together with the abundance of gold add intensity to the visually complex cover.

Patricia Richmond (United Kingdom): Folk Tales and Fairy Tales from India

Jamie Kamph employed hunting motifs to represent the actions of humans in the book Sir Gawain and the Green Knight. The black silhouette hound and boar shaped onlays laid in a diagonal line balance out the red axe and holly sprig onlays. The binder cunningly avoided the use of the color green to stand for the mysterious knight.

Jamie Kamph (USA): Sir Gawain and the Green Knight

Ido Agassi focused on the chainmail traditionally worn by knights of old to embellish the cover of Don Quixote Visiting a Printing Shop, reminding viewers of Quixote’s vivid conviction to revive chivalry.  Tooling a circle more than 12,000 times on the cover mirrors Quixote’s multiple efforts in attempting to achieve his goal; heroic efforts on both the part of the binder and the protagonist!

Ido Agassi (Israel): Don Quixote Visiting a Printing Shop

Heroic Works, Designers Bookbinders International Competition 2017 catalogue provides a lasting record of the travelling exhibition by describing the venues, showing all the books entered in the competition, and by giving a contact list of the international group of bookbinders associated with their organization, highlighted by country. The foreword, preface, and introduction offer valuable background information and set the tone for the illustrations that follow. As Lori Sauer points out in her introduction, there remains a universal fascination with fine bindings, and people are collaborating on an international scale to preserve and foster the craft of bookbinding. Exhibitions, coupled with catalogues such as this, accentuate the effort exerted by groups like Designer Bookbinders, who heroically take on the herculean tasks of setting standards and acting as role models for the next generation of fine binders.



Barbara Adams Hebard was trained in bookbinding at the North Bennet Street School. She was Book Conservator at the Boston Athenaeum for 18 ½ years and became the Conservator of the John J. Burns Library at Boston College in 2009. Ms. Hebard writes book related articles and book reviews, gives talks and presentations, exhibits her bookbindings nationally and internationally, and teaches book history classes. She is a Fellow of IIC, a Professional Associate of AIC, a board member of the New England Conservation Association, and an Overseer of the North Bennet Street School.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

più da vicino (Closer) by Luigi Castiglioni

Castiglioni, Luigi. più da vicino. Rimini, Italie: Relié par Legatoria Anonima, 2014. 76 pp. Photographs by Alessandro Costa. €100 + s/h. For more information: www.luigicastiglioni.it and info@luigicastiglioni.it.

Reviewed by Barbara Adams Hebard

“Who could ever harbour doubts about bookbinding being a major art form once one discovers the art of Luigi Castiglioni?” asks French bookbinder, Morina Mongin, in the preface to this catalog showcasing the work of Luigi Castiglioni. When you see the books, gorgeously photographed by Alessandro Costa, you will immediately respond to Ms. Mongin’s question with an emphatic “No one.” The catalog, with introductory material shown in black and white, acquaints the reader with Castiglioni and his bindery and then, with a glowing burst of color, displays the stunning books made by him.


Luigi Castiglioni

A first glance through the catalog importantly reveals that Castiglioni has mastered the art of bookbinding. The bindings, rendered with an enviable precision and control of technique, leave no doubts regarding his skill as a binder. The artistic use of leather onlays and inlays and the tooling in his designs is enhanced by the sheer dexterity with which they were executed.

Detail, onlaid, inlaid, and tooled cover

The textured and color-toned leather seen on the pictorial-style covers has a unique painterly appearance, a result of a printing and stamping process developed by Castiglioni. The colors are more subtle and variegated than can usually be found in leather, giving a three-dimensional quality to the surface of the book covers. The texture adds an interest, absorbing and reflecting the light in a way that deepens the form of the illustration. Those books with covers depicting mountains, orchards, or seascapes are a pleasure to look at because of this rich detail.

Detail, pictorial-style cover

The decorative gauffering, featured in the catalog on the heads of some text blocks, beautifully produces a modern appearance while paying tribute to historic patterns of the past. Here Castiglioni uses elements that evoke Rococo, Art Deco, Art Nouveau, and Islamic design, all the while manifesting his own creative style. These patterns also draw the eye to the endbands, a playful motif in Castiglioni’s book art. The asymmetrical color configuration seen on some of his endbands is at odds with the traditionally sewn endband, yet is clearly an intentional component in his vision of the book’s composition.  

Gauffered head with asymmetrical colored endband

Luigi Castiglioni’s signature also is an integrated part of the overall book design. The three bold, unabashed examples seen in the catalog rightly declare pride in the fine work that he has accomplished while forming a complementary ingredient to the volumes.

Castiglioni signature

The catalog is wonderfully formatted to give the reader not only an introduction to the bookbinder, but also to lay out the details of his design sensitivity and to exhibit his technical skill. Other bookbinders could use this catalog as an inspirational resource for their own work, in addition to viewing it as a stellar example of how to promote design bookbindings to potential collectors.




Barbara Adams Hebard was trained in bookbinding at the North Bennet Street School. She was Book Conservator at the Boston Athenaeum for 18½ years and became the Conservator of the John J. Burns Library at Boston College in 2009. Ms. Hebard writes book related articles and book reviews, gives talks and presentations, exhibits her bookbindings nationally and internationally, and teaches book history classes. She is a Fellow of IIC, a Professional Associate of AIC, Board member of the New England Conservation Association, and an Overseer of the North Bennet Street School.

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Contemporary Paper Bindings - A Guide to Bookbinding Techniques, Tools, and Materials

Hanmer, Karen. Contemporary Paper Bindings: A Guide to Bookbinding Techniques, Tools, and Materials. Glenview, IL: Karen Hanmer Book Arts, 2016. 130 pages, 11 x 8.5". $55 + s/h from Lulu.

Reviewed by Abigail Bainbridge

I’d been watching Karen Hanmer post images online for some time: a square carefully lined up to mark sewing stations on a spine, each step of tying a weaver’s knot, folding paper for yapp edges. When she eventually started posting images of a book cover, and then links to the self-published book, I realized what they were for. Contemporary Paper Bindings: A Guide to Bookbinding Techniques, Tools, and Materials (self-published through Lulu) goes through bookbinding fundamentals before giving step-by-step instructions for ten paper case bindings. Photographs and occasional diagrams throughout the book illustrate the text. The cover’s white-on-green grid references the ubiquitous green cutting mat.

The first sections (“Parts of a Book,” “Studio Essentials,” “Sewing Fundamentals”) explain everything to the novice, so that someone with enough motivation and hand skills but no experience at all could understand the basics. In fact, although the introduction bills the book as appropriate for all range of experiences, I’d say that it’s mainly aimed at this inexperienced bookbinder given the vocabulary and how much of it focuses on concepts like the names of parts of the book, how to use tools and set up a work station, and so on. There are some nice tips here, like flattening a thread with a folder to make it easier to pierce when locking the thread onto a needle, or the use of a thick catalogue as a makeshift support when piercing sewing stations in gatherings.




Instructions for the ten bindings follow, beginning about halfway through the book. A sentence or two of introduction and a few finished photos provide context that I wish was a little more detailed in terms of history and use. It would be nice to have more images here that show the full character of each binding, although some of the in-progress images in the instructions help construct a picture of what the book would look like. Instructions for the binding follow, with step-by-step text and photos to guide the binder through making the book; I would imagine this would be really helpful particularly to beginners and easier to understand in many cases than diagrams.




The structures themselves are mainly based on the idea of a multi-section textblock with limp covers made of heavyweight handmade paper, although there are variations such as paper over very thin boards, or thin paper wrappers around a thin volume. Some are more appropriate for decorative or artists’ books, while others could be useful as conservation structures.

The book would appear to be drawn from a compilation of workshop handouts, expanded and fleshed out to form a coherent and cohesive text. With this context the book makes more sense (the US letter paper size, Word-style formatting, credits on the bottom of every page) and I have to say, as class notes, they’re the most amazing I’ve ever seen. Assuming it to be a standard bookbinding manual written and designed as a complete book, however, might lead to some confusion, as it misses some of the polish one might expect in editing and photo quality—generally they’re a little dark and low on contrast, and there are typographical errors throughout. Long lines of text the entire width of the page are difficult to follow in general but particular in a scenario like this and could have been broken up into columns or otherwise made more easy on the eye. In terms of content, I think it’s great; my one quibble is with the vocabulary, which I wish followed a standard lexicon such as A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology (Etherington & Roberts) or Ligatus’ Language of Bookbindings, particularly if beginners will use the book. Otherwise I find it a useful resource and would recommend it to my students.



Abigail Bainbridge is a book & paper conservator at Bainbridge Conservation in London. She is the conservation science lecturer for the MA Conservation program at Camberwell College of Arts and is Associate Tutor (Books) at West Dean College. She also teaches short courses at the London Center for Book Arts and Women's Studio Workshop (US). Abigail is a member of IADA and the treasurer of the Icon Book & Paper Group. She can be found online at http://www.bainbridgeconservation.com.

Monday, November 23, 2015

A Bookbinder’s Miscellany

Middleton, Bernard. A Bookbinder’s Miscellany. Alan Isaac Rare Books: Oxford, England, 2015. Octavo, 114 pp, 225 x 158mm, illustrated, colour plates and line drawings by the author, blue cloth, gilt. Edition of 500. Essays on Fine Binding, with an Introduction by Sam Ellenport. £27 + £9 s/h from Alan Isaac Rare Books.

Reviewed by Abigail Bainbridge

When A Bookbinder’s Miscellany by Bernard Middleton (Alan Isaac Rare Books: Oxford, England, 2015) came in the mail I was surprised to see that inside the little limited-edition blue cloth binding was a selection of articles that Middleton wrote between 1951 and 1976. I had assumed the “miscellany” in the title referred to a collection of recent reflections on his long and distinguished career as a bookbinder rather than a collection of articles mostly written in his mid-20s, just at the beginning.

One or two were familiar to me but for the most part these articles were new, and the overriding impression in reading the book is that of listening to a conversation that started without you. The themes are familiar—amateur vs. trade binders, English vs. French styles, the decline of skills and loss of the big bookbinding firms, worry over the future of the craft. But it’s quite interesting to hear them as they happened in the moment rather than, as I had assumed, in the form of present-day recollections. There’s no editing for hindsight nor, much to my delight, the youthful bravado and brashness of young Bernard compared to the unassuming politeness of present-day Bernard. I started writing down passages that made me laugh (from the page of the first article, on the subject of a badly-bound book: “If I had been so unwise as to exert myself in opening the book there is no doubt that I should have done it (or myself!) an injury…”) and in the end stopped because I was virtually copying down the whole book.

As I worked my way through the articles, fully intending to skim read but ending up lingering on each one, I kept an eye on the dates given at the beginning for when the article was first published. We were on 1951 for so long that I eventually went back to count up and saw that there were seven published that year – in Paper & Print and British Colonial Printer – and the pace doesn’t seem to slow in 1952; presumably there were others that didn’t make the cut for the book. Bernard was 27 then, and though they’re not generally very lengthy articles, one has the impression of a prolific early career in writing as well as bookbinding that set the stage for his later books, The Restoration of Leather Bindings (American Library Association: 1972), A History of English Craft Bookbinding Technique (Hafner: 1963), and Recollections: My Life in Bookbinding (Bird & Bull Press: 1995).

An introduction by Middleton and Alan Isaac gives an overview of the profession and the process of bookbinding, illustrated with a few pages of color photos taken by Isaac that do help illustrate the points despite sometimes unhelpful angles (eg. from the side when trying to show an unevenly rounded spine, so that the unevenness is not very apparent) and distracting backgrounds. The introduction was a helpful orientation to someone who hasn’t trained as a trade binder or has limited experience, although one would probably need to have a certain level of experience to get much out of this book as a base level of knowledge on the part of the reader is assumed. Some interesting changes in perspective are visible here; when describing squares 2015 Middleton indicates that “Taste has historically dictated the dimensions of the squares… they should be proportionate, neither excessively large or mincingly small,” (5) though 1954 Middleton cautions that “Small square are neat and impart an air of refinement, whereas large ones give the binding a heavy ledger-like appearance” (71).

The articles that follow are in no particular subject order but one can nevertheless group them into a few categories. There are, of course, notes on technique: “The Supported French Groove,” “The Art of Covering with Leather,” “Notes on the Hand Sewing of Books,” “Facsimile Printing.” These are practical but still filled with notes that help explain why things might be done a certain way, or that give context to the style of the times, often with a nod towards how things used to be done either in terms of fashion or to lament a loss of skill or market for such objects. There are quite a few that focus on the differences between binding in England and elsewhere: “Notes on Craft Bookbinding in Paris,” “Two Bookbinding Exhibitions: Abstract Motif in Irish Work,” “Book Review: American Bindings of the Finest Quality.” In these, and in parts of other articles, Middleton studiously compares technique, aesthetic, and practice, often to comedic effect as in this description of a French binder using their typical paring knife rather than a spokeshave to reduce a whole skin, “The girl I watched … was working on it when I arrived and was still prodding away at it when I left the bindery 20 minutes later. … [The spokeshave] has come into general use in England only during the last 30 years, or so, and there are still a few members of the old school who prefer French knives and look capable of slicing human skin if it is suggested that they are out-dated” (49).

In “Controversial Thoughts on the Decoration of Fine Binding” as well as throughout other articles, Middleton argues for book design to follow all other household objects in becoming sleek, smooth, and modern. I was interested to see him advocate for a smooth spine, because raised bands lead one to decorate in the old-fashioned styles. There is much lamenting throughout that those with the money to pay for fine bindings tend to be older, thus (understandably, he says) tend towards old-fashioned styles, and this combined with poor education in design leads to books made with little imagination. I would have quite liked to see images of his bindings from the time, compared to those he does not prefer, and I wonder what he thinks now about the ideal style for a binding.

Other articles give portraits of great names in bookbinding, such as Sydney Cockerell, Thomas Harrison, Roger Powell, and Arthur Johnson: “Fine Binding: A Craft and its Craftsmen,” and “He Was a Good Man and a Friend to All (Thomas Harrison)”. One name that appears quite a few times throughout with a lot of respect is William Matthews, who I knew only as the “Mr Matthews” who taught Maureen Duke, who in turn taught me. In the way that when I now teach, my students hear Maureen’s familiar refrains (“Give it a bit of lick!”), I heard Mr. Matthews’ through her, like stories of my parents’ grandparents that I never knew. An inevitable positive aspect to working in such a small field is the persistence of ghosts, the passing of not only knowledge from generation to generation, but of people.

The best way to experience this book must be to sit with it and Bernard at the same time, so that after every other sentence one could look up and pepper him with questions. One has the feeling, especially in the concluding piece written for the book by Bernard, that there are still so many stories there wasn’t room to print.



Abigail Bainbridge is a book & paper conservator. She is the conservation science lecturer for the MA in book & paper conservation program at Camberwell College of Arts (London) and is Associate Tutor in the book conservation department at West Dean College. She is also occasional short course tutor at the London Center for Book Arts and Women's Studio Workshop (US). Abigail is a member of ICON and the treasurer of its Book & Paper Group. She can be found online at http://www.bainbridgeconservation.com.