Showing posts with label Book Review. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Book Review. Show all posts

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: and

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

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

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Society of Bookbinders International Bookbinding Competition 2015

The Society of Bookbinders International Bookbinding Competition 2015, Edited by Arthur Green and Hannah Brown, Dorchester, UK: printed by Henry Ling, Ltd.; published by The Society of Bookbinders, 2015. GBP 22.50, available from the Society of Bookbinders.

Reviewed by Barbara Adams Hebard

In the age of electronic devices, on-line exhibitions have frequently become the chosen venue for displays of bookbindings. While I completely understand the usefulness of this mode – wider audience, less cost, global curators and exhibitors, possibility of showing large numbers and multiple views of books, running the exhibit for an extended period of time, and so forth – I still appreciate seeing images of books in print form. The Society of Bookbinders International Bookbinding Competition 2015 catalogue, printed to accompany a physical exhibit of the same title which ran from August 20-23, 2015, is a lasting legacy of that show held at Keele University. The award-winning books could later be seen through November 5, 2015 at George Bayntun, Fine Bindings and Rare Books, Bath, and then, in a final venue, at Shepherds, London, November 14, 2015 through January 8, 2016. If you missed the show in August and will not be travelling to London in the near future, all is not lost; this catalogue beautifully captured the eighty-five bookbindings in the exhibit. [Publisher's note: The online version of the catalog linked to above only shows the competition's award winners]

Since I am a bookbinder, I immediately began my investigation of the catalogue by poring over the pages containing the book images. Right off, I was delighted to find that prize-winning entries in all five entrance categories were shown with good-sized whole book images and a second, closer view of a detail of the book. At least one book in each of the entrance categories was given two images as well. The fact that there were five categories is marvelous, including fine binding, complete book, case binding, restoration, and historical binding. The judges must have had a challenging time choosing the prize-winning entries; the catalogue is filled with fantastic bindings. I have to say, though, that Andrew Sims’s sumptuous Harleian-style binding in Morocco covering the Book of Common Prayer stands out as a masterful example of hand-tooling, and so expertly resembles 18th century style that it is not surprising as the selection for the Fine Cut International Award for Finishing. This is the sort of binding that inspires the admiration of fellow bookbinders as well as book collectors.

The Book of Common Prayer by Andrew Sims

Visite au Petit Matin by Ingela Dierick

Sims’s binding featured a number of floral decorative motifs; several other books also had floral themes, albeit very different in style. Ingela Dierick created a lovely, delicate bouquet of onlaid leather flowers in a design that charmingly sweeps from the front board to the back, suggestive of a guest handing flowers to a hostess, as in the theme of the book, Visite au Petit Matin. Abigail Bainbridge’s journal, Herbarium, covered in a vellum binding entrapping pressed flowers and foliage, dramatically evokes lavishly illuminated 15th century manuscript leaves or early embroidered bindings.

Herbarium by Abigail Bainbridge

Pan by Peter D. Verheyen

Bainbridge was not the only one who imaginatively used vellum to convey a theme in deceptively simple-appearing binding style. Peter Verheyen, whom I have long considered a master of subtle, elegant bindings, has achieved this with the natural-toned vellum covering Eight Wood Engravings on a Theme of Pan. The variation of color on the surface of the vellum reveals the markings of the fur originally attached to that skin, quickly reminding an observer that Pan, the subject of the engravings, has the hindquarters, legs, and horns of a goat. Additionally, the use of snakeskin with a pattern boldly resembling vertebrae on the spine of the binding, and the placement of the sewing supports, make this a pleasingly proportioned design. Karen Hanmer, too, exploits the character of vellum in a limp binding used to encase The Anatomical Exercises of Doctor William Harvey: Concerning the Motion of the Heart and Blood. While she used only four illustrations from the text to embellish the cover (arms with accentuated veins), the prominent veining on the vellum surface completes the message.

The Anatomical Exercises of Doctor William Harvey by Karen Hanmer

A Midsommer Nights Dreame by Dominic Riley

In bright contrast to the vellum bindings, books in variegated hues are represented in this catalogue as well. Using black goatskin with multicolor onlays and gold tooling for the cover of A Midsommer Nights Dreame, Dominic Riley skillfully put together a bookbinding which is both eye-catching and displays admirable control of technique. The gold-tooled lines forming the shape of the palace arches introduce depth to the flat plane of the boards, causing the bright colors of the trees and banner to appear to hover dreamily over the surface. Erin Fletcher, the only North Bennet Street School Bookbinding Program graduate whose work was in the exhibit, did her school proud with a nicely executed binding for The Nightingale and the Rose. An inlaid scarlet goatskin line visually pierces the book’s spine, and the embroidered feathers of the bird onlaid to the upper board add dimension to the cover. You can read about it being bound here.

The Nightingale and the Rose by Erin Fletcher

One could go on describing other excellent books, but the truth is, bookbinders need to see the catalogue for themselves. The bookbindings, made using multiple techniques and materials, signal that this is not a dying craft and that binders are still experimenting/experiencing new ways to use their skills and design arts to create unique books.

Once I had savored the books, I returned to the beginning of the catalogue to discover that, in addition to the beautiful images of books, there are other enjoyable features to this catalogue. The warm-hearted tone of the introduction draws the reader in, and the brief history of the society will be useful to those who are not bookbinders. Listing sponsors up front is a good move and having the entrance categories spelled out is very helpful. The images of the tools of the trade tucked in the gutters and margins of the introductory pages nicely balance out the text. I had a couple of minor quibbles: the Contents page repeats the case binding category and the names of the bookbinders in that category, which is confusing; and the countries of origin of the binders are printed in faint grey tone—since it was an international exhibit, I thought that should be emphasized more.

The Society of Bookbinders has produced a great catalogue to accompany their 2015 international bookbinding competition. It will remain a record of that show and those who enjoy bookbindings or books about bookbinding should consider adding this volume to their collection.

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, and an Overseer of the North Bennet Street School.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

The Bindings of Trevor Jones

Jones, Trevor, Angela James and Colin Hamilton (editors). The Bindings of Trevor Jones. Foss: Duval & Hamilton, 2015. 9.5 x 11 inches. ISBN 9780950135519. 160 pages. Hardcover, dust jacket, $75.00. For orders outside of the Americas, cost is £45+ postage outside of UK. Please contact the publisher, to order.

Reviewed by Amy Borezo

“I consistently design beyond what I know I am capable of doing, and have to discover or invent the means as I go along.” – Trevor Jones (1931-2012)

The Bindings of Trevor Jones catalogs over 140 works by this eclectic bookbinder who sought experimentation with materials and a connection with fine art in his designs. In this impressive collection spanning nearly fifty years, his legacy in the history of bookbinding is made more than apparent. As one of the founding members of Designer Bookbinders, he and his colleagues helped revive the art and craft of bookbinding in Britain during the second half of the 20th century. The images in the catalog are supplemented by detailed sketches and notes from the binder, as well as articles he wrote in the 1980s and 90s that are as informative and enlightening today as they undoubtedly were then.

Cat 49, Ivor Bannet, The Amazons

The full color images of the bindings are arranged in chronological order, from Jones' first experiments as a student to the fully formed, complex and expertly executed designs of later years. His early work was influenced by his first binding instructor, Arthur Johnson, who displayed a modern design aesthetic that echoed the fine art of the middle of the 20th century. Jones' early bindings, in their asymmetrical compositions, amorphous color onlays and fluid black tooled lines, call to mind the bindings of Johnson and Edgar Mansfield, as well as painters like Miro and Picasso. At that time and in the years to come, Jones was inspired by the work of his peers and teachers rather than the purely decorative or overly restrained bindings of the past.

This forward looking approach to binding led to a great sense of experimentation. The catalog contains an informative essay on the use of spirit dyes, which is one of the many inventive techniques Jones utilized in his work. The freedom which the use of these dyes gave him was essential to his artistic development and allowed him to incorporate his training as an illustrator into his bindings. Jones often used the cover of a book as a painter would a canvas, filling it completely with pictorial, painterly representations, frequently of the human form. In his design of James Joyce's Pomes Penyeach, the binder made an innovative structural decision based on the need to have a long horizontal surface on which to depict a reclining nude. He doubled the amount of board surface by hinging another board to both the front and back covers. These inner covers are hidden when the book is fully closed, revealing only a portion of the female nude figure on the exterior. He used this cover structure many times throughout his work to increase the surface area on which to construct a design while simultaneously creating a cinematic effect of a long horizontal image fully revealed only through manipulation by a reader/viewer.

Cat 64, James Joyce, Pomes Penyeach

During the 1970s, many binders responded to new movements in visual art and architecture that exposed the function of an object and incorporated it into its design. During the same time period, the massive flooding of libraries in Italy brought to light many examples of historical binding structures which complimented the new functionalist art movements. Jones took note of these developments and made use of the sewing support as a design element in several of his best bindings. Dark cords and lacings snake across covers showing themselves in unexpected places. In the description for his binding of Edgar Mansfield's 11.2.80 On Creation he reveals that he used a method of chance to determine the composition of the cover, lifting the long cords up and letting them drop repeatedly, tracing the results. This method of discovery and openness to process is indicative of much of his work. The design for this same binding continues on the inside of the covers where the laces from the exterior appear again, embedded in the doublures of grey goatskin, having emerged through eyelet holes or wrapped around edges.

Cat. 80, Edgar Mansfield, 11.2.80 On Creation

One of Jones' most ambitious projects is his first binding of George Orwell's Nineteen Eighty-Four. The structure of the book and its casing is artfully complex and captures the ominous mood of the text. The binder uses old leather gloves to create onlays in dark browns and reds, cutting and spreading single gloves out to construct seemingly monstrous hands that appear to be reaching, flailing, or grasping. Three sewing tapes are exposed on the spine and ten dark leather thongs trail across the front and back covers, gathering at each corner and spilling over the covers as loose ties. The closed book sits in the chest area of a large straight-jacketed, simplified human form sewn from canvas in muted colors. The human form wraps around the book, snapping closed, revealing the roughly stenciled title of the book. The whole is contained in a hinged, wooden box. Every detail of this work, including the custom paste paper flyleaves, evokes a powerful and haunting image of the human soul, psychologically bound and oppressed.

Cat. 75, George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

Cat. 75, George Orwell, Nineteen Eighty-Four

In Nineteen Eighty-Four and other work, Jones incorporated found materials in his designs, such as leather gloves, scraps of clothing, fur, handbags, wallets, and lacings. The found materials seem to share a connection to the human body, with the marks of time and use celebrated and highlighted by the binder. Jones also integrated into his designs the raw edges of the animal skins he worked with and would reinforce the grain of the leather and purposefully pucker and manipulate the skins, creating texture and dimension.

Cat.118, Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

Cat.118, Arthur Miller, Death of a Salesman

Jones had a deep connection with much of the work he chose to bind. He states in one of the catalog's essays that “[E]ven when I am binding a book for someone else I am at the time making it for myself.” The texts he worked with have a distinctly modern character, including those by James Joyce (of which there are many examples), George Mackay Brown, George Orwell, Arthur Miller, and David Jones. For the binding of Arthur Miller's, Death of a Salesman, Jones used onlays, inlays, cracquelle work, and stenciled spirit dyes to create two gripping, large scale self-portraits on front and back covers. The perspective and scale of the faces allow the viewer to connect with the deeply flawed everyman at the center of Miller's story. The tone and color of the portraits is dark and beautiful, ranging from a warm honeyed brown, like an aged photograph, where the cracks and fissures of the cracquelle work are most apparent, to the deep complimentary blue and purple-blacks. These are not just book covers, they are compelling paintings as well.

Trevor Jones created deeply personal work, unique in the history of bookbinding. The craftsmanship and art-making on display in this collection is informative and inspiring for anyone interested in the art of design binding, while the essays and historical context for the work advance and enrich the field of bookbinding on an international scale.

An excerpt from the introduction can be read on Oak Knoll Books' site.

Amy Borezo Amy is an artist, bookbinder, and the proprietor of Shelter Bookworks, a bookbinding studio in Western Massachusetts.

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Tricks of the Trade, Confessions of a Bookbinder

Jamie Kamph. Tricks of the Trade: Confessions of a Bookbinder. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 2015. 6 x 9 inches. ISBN 9781584563341. 144 pages. Hardcover $39.95, softcover $24.95.

Reviewed by Karen Hanmer*

Cherish each step along the way and perform it as completely and gracefully as possible.

Jamie Kamph’s Tricks of the Trade: Confessions of a Bookbinder is part memoir, part how-to, and part a collection of essays on the engineering aspects of binding, all gleaned from this design binder/conservator’s forty years of experience.

Kamph clearly and generously shares her process, though this is not intended to be a step-by-step manual, and the book is written with the experienced practitioner in mind. Binding, repair, design, and finishing are all addressed. Well-illustrated with diagrams and in-process photos, plus images of forty of her completed design bindings, the book also serves as a catalog of Kamph’s work.

An introduction provides Kamph’s philosophy of binding. Her process is one of both prudence and decisiveness: “At each step of a binding or rebinding I evaluate my work and decide if it is good enough to continue.” Throughout the book she echoes a sensible rule-of-thumb to bind by and to live by: “Don’t do anything you can’t undo.” She ends with a reading list of her go-to sources for binding history and technique.

M.F.K. Fischer, Deux Cuisines en Provence

The book proceeds with Kamph’s career transition from publishing to bookbinding after writing an article on hand bookbinding in New York City. Kamph had an ulterior motive in accepting the assignment: a book collector since her college days, she hoped to find a local source for repair of her own collection. Interviews with numerous binders led to an invitation to a one-evening “try-out” class with Deborah Evetts to determine if she had potential as a binder, then weekly lessons with Hope Weil, and finally establishment of her own Stonehouse Bindery.

Kamph continued her study independently, offering to examine every binding in nearby Princeton University’s rare book collections, and to report to the curator on bindings of note. The objective of her survey was twofold: research not only historical finishing design but also how various binding methods had withstood centuries of use. Kamph was seeking a structure that would support the designs that have become her trademark: elaborate tooling and onlays on the spine extending across the joints and onto the boards. A tight back spine might not be smooth enough to take gold tooling well, and the flexing from opening could cause the gold to flake off. The opening of a hollow back can exert enough pressure on the joints to cause the boards to detach over time. She found the engineering solution she was seeking in a 16th century Swiss binding: a tight back with a leather spine lining. With further refinements, this is the structure she still uses today.

Giorgio Vasari, Lives of the Most Eminent Painters, vol. 1

Kamph next address her signature design style, illustrated by photographs of her completed bindings, sometimes shown alongside the period works she used for reference or inspiration. Her broad design vocabulary draws on a variety of mediums: visual and decorative arts, maps, architecture, and garden and textile design. Typography and decorative elements from the text often inspire a pattern which might be repeated, rotated, reversed, exploded. She also draws on historical book decoration, fragmenting or exaggerating elements to provide a more contemporary, often playful feel.

Thornton Wilder, The Bridge of San Luis Rey

She gives us a window into her design process, whether searching for just the right antiquarian image of an angel, finding an astrological map for the night Captain Ahab’s ship left Nantucket, or borrowing watercolor techniques to capture the play of light on a tableau of fruit.

This introduction to Kamph and her work is followed by twenty-some brief chapters, arranged roughly in the order a book is bound or by complexity of repair, followed by finishing techniques and tips on developing a design. Though Tricks of the Trade is not a step-by-step manual, much how-to information is provided in the narrative. Each chapter is a stand-alone essay on one step in the binding process, peppered with tips and anecdotes. The feel is that of the conversations binders have following a lecture or demonstration: colleagues swapping their personal techniques and the tribulations that got them there.

Topics covered include humidity in the studio, useful bindery items borrowed from the medicine cabinet and toolbox, adhesives, paper repair, board attachment, zig-zag endsheets, backing, spine lining, the inseparable actions of sharpening and paring, headbanding, headcaps, and corners. Later chapters address repair: inner and outer joints, cloth cases, rebacking. A chapter is devoted to the repair of a set of three nineteenth century novels in their original but very damaged paper bindings. Before and after photos show new bindings that retain the spirit of the modestly elegant originals.

Throughout, Kamph shares her preferred materials and suppliers, and describes equipment of her own design: a brass-edged recasing press, her tool-polishing set-up, a holder for rolls of gold leaf. I found numerous tips I may or may not have ever arrived at on my own: using tweezers when I might have reached for a thin folder, substituting thin Reemay where I would have used Japanese tissue, using book cloth matching the case for a hollow where I would have used paper, application of glair with a refillable water brush when I would have used a brush or the much more difficult to maintain technical pan, silicone release paper when I would have used Mylar.

 She offers a multitude of possibilities for altering new plain or decorated paper to match old. She addresses making endband cores and reveals a clever method for anchoring the core to the text block to ease the awkward initial wraps before the first tie-downs.

Particularly welcome are chapters addressing the dual nemesis of many fine binders: headcaps and corners. She notes that a well-formed headcap is in fact the convergence of numerous steps properly executed: not just covering but also spine lining, leather paring, headbanding, and attention to the appropriate historical style for that particular book. Kamph provides three options for forming corners, all illustrated with step-by-step diagrams. The most interesting, borrowed from Swiss binder Gerard Charrière, oddly resembles the historical tongue corner but with a shorter tongue pared very thin and folded beneath the two side flaps, which meet seamlessly above it.

A chapter on repair of the brawny, brittle family bible acknowledges this quotidian mission that binders love to hate. Kamph describes her method of washing and drying the text pages in “clumps,” repairing pages, and resewing to control swell, followed by backing to fit the old boards, or if new boards must be selected, the luxury of selecting a thicker pair to comfortably fit a generous shoulder.

Another chapter is devoted to a case study of Kamph’s treatment of a dilapidated first edition of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language. The two volumes bought at auction by a long-time client came with detached boards, some missing pages, and no leather remaining on the spines. However, the sewing was mostly intact, and rubbings of the spine reveled that the old glue still held impressions of the original tooling. Scans of the missing pages were acquired, printed onto paper toned to match the text and sewn on, new cords were attached to the old and the boards reattached, the books were rebacked. Using the spine rubbings as her guide, Kamph drew a design for a decorative tool to be made to match the original and purchased the 24-point Times Roman Condensed that was a reasonable match for the original titling font.

First edition of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, before treatment

First edition of Samuel Johnson’s Dictionary of the English Language, after treatment

The greatest strength of Tricks of the Trade may lie in the final chapters on finishing techniques and generating design ideas. First Kamph describes the process of transferring the design of onlays, gold lines and titling to the binding by tooling through a pattern on translucent graph paper. This process is illustrated with photographs of a full pattern, a close-up of the pattern showing the numerous line segments marked to designate each tools that makes up each segment of the design, and the completed binding. Further instructions are given for cutting onlays to the precise size and shape required and setting them in place.

In just fourteen, highly-efficient pages, Kamph presents design possibilities, tools, and techniques for gold tooling. She discusses the optimal binding structure and choice of leather to lay the foundation for tooling, how to form an intricate design using just a few tools, how to modify tools to build the desired pattern, and when blind tooling might be a better design choice than gold. She outlines each step of the process: blinding-in, applying glair, polishing the tool, applying the gold, cleaning the impression, applying additional gold as needed and troubleshooting. Kamph uses ribbon gold, a roll of gold wound on a spool, interleaved with thin tissue. Ribbon gold is not applied directly to the book like leaf; instead it is picked up with a greased, heated tool which is then applied to the blind impression. The chapter concludes with a very useful matrix laying out methods for managing the interactions of leather, gold, glair, heat and pressure, tools, patterns, humidity and boards when conditions are “bad,” better,” or “best.”

H.G. Wells, The Time Machine

In “How to Cheat at Gold Tooling,” Kamph offers suggestions for replacing missing tooling or refreshing damaged tooling on the fragile leather of antiquarian bindings, or adding tooling to a reback that will be a reasonable match to that on the remnants of the original spine.

The final chapter addresses generating design ideas. First, look to the book itself: read the text, look at the images. What is it about, where and when does it take place, what are the larger themes, and what items might be associated with any of this? A quick Web search will yield numerous possibilities, which can spur many additional ideas.

Kamph presents multiple techniques for onlays, some unconventional. She often repeats an onlay shape as a frieze extending across the spine from foredge to foredge. Instead of using these leather shapes themselves as onlays, she sometimes applies the strip of thinned leather they were cut from to the book, with the negative space making shapes appear in the leather the book is bound in. Kamph ends with a reminder to include the title in the design process. Freedom from traditional placement and content can reinforce themes in the text while enhancing the design.

Walt Whitman, The Half-Breed and Other Stories

A photograph of Kamph’s Stonehouse Bindery wraps from the back to front cover of Tricks of the Trade. Her New Jersey farm is visible through bench-to-ceiling windows on two sides of the studio. This scene completes the profile of the binder, her methods, and her work.

* Karen Hanmer was an early reader of this book.

Karen Hanmer’s artist-made books are physical manifestations of personal essays intertwining history, culture, politics, technology and arid wit. Her work is included in collections ranging from The Getty Museum and the Library of Congress to Yale University and Graceland. She is winner of the Jury Prize for Binding in the 2009 Helen Warren DeGolyer American Bookbinding Competition and is one of only eight graduates of the American Academy of Bookbinding’s Fine Binding program. Hanmer is a leader in the book arts community, having served on the editorial board of The Bonefolder, as Exhibitions Chair for the Guild of Book Workers, and as frequent exhibition curator and juror. She offers workshops and private instruction focusing on a solid foundation in basic binding skills.

Saturday, June 27, 2015

Upcoming Posts and Other Musings

It's summer and things have been rather slow. While we wait for some excellent reviews of The Bindings of Trevor Jones, Tricks of the Trade by Jamie Kamph, and the catalog to Hello Hedi at 23 Sandy Gallery I offer this diversion.

It's summer, and what can be more seasonal than enjoying an excellent fermented beverage, in this case beer, especially when the label is designed by a well known graphic artist whose work some of us have had the honor to bind.

The beer, Bell's Two Hearted Ale, a nice play on the short story be Hemingway... The artist...? Ladislav Hanka, a friend of Jan Sobota and many others. His books Corn, County Survey, Scripta Naturae, and Opus Salvelinus were all bound for the 50 x 25 exhibit held at Southern Methodist University's Bridwell Library. Most recently Hanka published a memorial book, Remembering Jan Bohuslav Sobota, about his friend Jan Sobota that was bound by many of the same binders as in 50 x 25. You can see some of the bindings here. Hanka's archive is housed at Western Michigan University, also home to half of the 50 bindings in 50 x 25 - each binder bound two of the same title, with one going back to the artist...

Fishing is a large part of Hanka's life, often featured in his prints, and beautifully bound. So, open a Bell's Two Hearted Ale (if available in your area), crank up À la Poupée & the Chine-Collé's music, and take a look at this man's etchings.

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Spirit Books of Susan K. Gaylord

Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord. The Spirit Books. Newburyport, MA: Self-published, 2014. Available at Etsy for $20.

Reviewed by Velma Bolyard

The rich world of artists’ books encompasses so much work, from peculiar and fascinating ‘zines to amazing unique books, and all sorts of work in between. Each book made has purpose, each book is read in some way, each maker presents something to experience. As a maker and reader, I revel in the current variety and am always curious about seeing work that is new to me. Last April at the University of Southern Maine, Portland’s Book Arts Bazaar I had the pleasure of meeting Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord and spending a tiny bit of time looking a Spirit Book that she was showing. What I saw was stunning and made me want to spend more time with these pieces. Nothing had prepared me for the impact of “meeting” a Spirit Book. And this is why her new book The Spirit Books about this series is so generous, it gets you very close to these books the way you need to actually experience them. She’s added text that explains more about the making of each piece.

The Spirit Books begins with a sensitive and reflective introduction by Rosemary Noon. Noon writes, “The series claims mastery of a whole realm of knowledge outside language.” This rings true to me. Gaylord, a calligrapher, seems at ease with making wordless books, or rather books without words to frame experience while “reading” the piece. Marks on the pages are etched or sewn in a variety of ways, still missing are words. But the presence of many sorts of markings evokes meaning, feeling, contemplation, examination. The Spirit Books give the reader an insight into Gaylord’s thinking and process answering some questions while stimulating more.

Spirit Book #13: Hope Offering

In a brief and cogent artists statement about the body of work Gaylord writes: “Each page is a meditation that echoes nature with both repetition and variety.” I think she is completely correct here. Each book is intended to be a contemplative experience. I was surprised by the complex and at times subtle layers of meaning in the Spirit Books. Each Spirit Book is made from textural and earthy papers, with marks evolving from a variety of means; sewn beads, bits of twigs, seeds, plants, threads, wires, and patterns carefully composed for careful looking. They are meant to be displayed opened for viewing each in its own cradle or nest. This supporting structure is designed to fully compliment the book it supports. Further, the books appear as small alters of contemplation, meditations in fact. Gaylord achieves this by presenting each book as an important artifact, elevated to viewing by each one’s unique stage. The Spirit Books serves as a catalog of the series and is the next best thing to seeing a piece, you can get very close. The photography is clear and intimate, one sees the fibers lifting off the edges of pages, the gleam of an amber bead, the carefully placed stitches, or trimmed twigs delineating pages.

This modest book cataloging The Spirit Books series presents a grouping of 35 from the total of at least 73 books. Gaylord explains that the series remains fluid, sometimes she disbinds a book and re-composes it into another piece. Each Spirit Book is presented as a discrete contemplation placed in its own unique cradle, or nest, or one might even say alter built specifically to present and contain its book. On the verso page Gaylord names the book photographed on the recto. She describes the book including a few words about the making and naming of it. Gaylord wisely lets the photos present the books as singular objects. Her descriptions are sparse, but there is enough information to prompt thinking. Book number 1 is called Sewn Prayer and “it was named for the act of sewing which is considered a symbol of life and its temporal nature.” What The Spirit Books does so well is present a hint of the breadth of the series. It suggests how rich the visual and emotive experience of the Spirit Books series must be. In that busy, energetic marketplace of the Book Arts Bazaar, I wanted to stop and think about what was being offered. This book reminds me of stopping and looking.

SpiritBook #43: RenewedWisdom

I can imagine hiking in my own northern woods and coming upon a granite ridge face with a naturally occurring mossy niche, surprisingly holding a Spirit Book. I can imagine pausing, looking carefully, reading, and thinking this most appropriate. I can see that each page, each leaf, might echo the experience Gaylord is seeking to prompt. Alternatively, I can see an installation of many Spirit Books, in a space that is conducive to contemplation, with the books elevated and accessible so that you could look deeply into the architectural environments of each one while moving around them. Lacking the opportunity to see these books in person, or to act as a memento of this singular series, The Spirit Books by Susan Kapuscinski Gaylord is a fine alternative.

[Note: to view more of the Spirit Books online visit Susan K. Gaylord's site online]

Velma Bolyard teaches emotionally disturbed children in Potsdam, NY. She also teaches papermaking, book arts, and fiber arts workshops, often at her mill, Wake Robin Papers. She holds a BS Design, MS Teaching, with elementary, art, and special education certifications, and has studied fiber, paper and book arts in the US and Canada. In 2000 she received the Nell Mendell Scholarship for PBI (Paper and Book Intensive). She has shown her work in fiber, paper, and books for many years.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Émigrés, The Transformation of Art Publishing in Britain

Anna Nyburg. Émigrés: The Transformation of Art Publishing in Britain. London: Phaidon Press, 2014. ISBN 0714867020. 288 pages.

Reviewed by Elizabeth Morris

Drawing upon her previous publication, From Leipzig to London: The Life and Work of the Émigré Artist Hellmuth Weissenborn, Anna Nyburg presents a broader view of the impact of émigré publishers, artists, and art historians upon the cultural landscape of Britain in Émigrés: The Transformation of Art Publishing in Britain. Although Émigrés contains a good deal of interesting information about the cultural background of émigrés, as well as deeply personal characterizations of these important figures, it should not be viewed as a thorough and scholarly publication.

The main purpose of the text serves to highlight the role of three publishing houses with Viennese roots, Phaidon, Adprint, and Thames & Hudson, and the paths of their founders through personal accounts and portrayals, with a heavy emphasis on the personal lives of Phaidon’s Béla Horovitz and Ludwig Goldscheider. While the first half of the text focuses on providing biographical information of noteworthy individuals in publishing from the first half of the 20th century, the latter half explores the outcome of publishing houses Phaidon and Thames & Hudson post-1950, with a brief chapter on Adprint, founded by Wolfgang Foges, and the concept of ‘book packaging.’

Interspersed within the first chapter of character ‘portraits’, the reader will find fundamental  information about the developmental elements and genius of émigré book design and production; however, the sparseness and organization of this material is such that it might easily be missed. Even when Nyburg makes key points about book design, the reader is left without an image to illustrate an example of these transformative interior layouts. For example, Nyburg writes “He was particularly skilled at choosing details: selecting and highlighting a corner from a painting or sculpture and cropping the photograph, producing a fresh and different image with a technique that was unusual at the time” (p.15), but fails to provide an example and does not give a date or time-frame for when this ‘new’ approach was employed.

Moving onwards, Nyburg provides some cultural background for the émigrés of Mitteleurope, and how their education and immersion in the Classics, Literature, and Art aided in their natural abilities for design and publishing; the emphasis is again placed on Phaidon’s Horovitz and Goldscheider, along with Walter and Eva Neurath of Thames & Hudson. Additionally, there is more contextual information of what life as a Jewish person in Nazi Germany was like through personal accounts of the countless difficult decisions and hardships that were encountered during the late 1930s.

Chapters 4 and 5, ‘Arrival and War: Publishing Émigrés in Britain’ and ‘A New Start: Phaidon and Art Publishing after the War’ add value and necessary context as the book becomes more descriptive and focused on the specific elements for the arrival of émigrés in Britain: how they were able to assimilate into British culture, the processes in place for registering as aliens and the tribunals, and the creative relationships that arose from being placed within internment camps, such as the Isle of Man. There were also personal anecdotes from émigrés on the discrimination they encountered from British citizens who were unemployed or unsure of their alliance to Germany, but also how they were able to assist in war efforts from creating ‘black’ propaganda to fire-watching duties.

Nyburg also discusses the influence and guidance that was provided by Zwemmer’s Bookshop and Gallery in London to both émigré and British publishers and citizens, as they created a physical and intellectual place for art education and connoisseurship. She also discusses the role of Teddy Schüller, who moved to London in 1932 and was a lifelong Anglophile, and his work in creating the Oxford Companion to Art, published by Oxford University Press. He relied on his network of German-speaking art historians, including E.H. Gombrich (The Story of Art published by Phaidon), to complete this work that was realized in the 1930s and finally published by 1970. The text, however, begins to take a more negative approach to discussing the difficulties in the relationship between Phaidon’s Horovitz and Sir Stanley Unwin, when Phaidon moved to independent ownership, resulting in severed ties between the two parties. Continuous personal instances of uncited and biased information detract greatly from the main mission of the book in providing a narrative of this much underrepresented topic.

Moving on to Chapter 6, ‘Between the Pages: Typography, Design and Illustration’, the reader is able to find the necessary and much-needed historical context of the publishing and book arts landscape pre-WWI that illuminates the cooperative and collaborative relationships between English and German publishers and artists. Nyburg describes the influential relationships of great artists and typographers such as William Morris, Eric Gill, Stanley Morison and Thomas James Cobden-Sanderson on key German artists and publishers like Anton Kippenberg, Rudolf Koch, and Karl Ernst Poeschel. Although this chapter illustrates key elements in the transformation of British publishing, Nyburg writes with a biased voice about how German contributions to the book arts outweigh those of the British. In doing so, Nyburg presents contradictory information, as British publishers did in fact work for and employ German typographers and designers before WWII, and continued to do so throughout the 20th century (p.109). She also notes several British publishers that were knowledgeable and trained in German book production and design, such as Oliver Simon, Sir Francis Meynell, Stanley Morison and Abram Games, despite also noting the lack of professional training in publishing and exposure to fine art for British culture; additionally, British publishing giant Penguin Books, headed by Allen Lane, is briefly discussed.

Nyburg writes that typography and overall book design became ever increasingly important and ‘essential’ for all German publishers and book designers throughout the first three decades of the 20th century, but that it was only bibliophiles and collectors who were concerned with these aspects in Britain; however, earlier in the same chapter (Chapter 6) Nyburg discusses the start and influence of art nouveau movements in each country at the end of the 19th century that led into the early 20th century, which drew upon the exchange of education and influence between key British figures with German counterparts, such as Anton Kippenberg, owner of Insel Verlag. In 1905, Kippenberg “was so determined to keep his books free from the over-the-top Germanic style that he employed English book designers and typographers such as Eric Gill” (p.102). Such contradictory statements, confused further by jumping continuously across periods of time, create an unclear narrative that leaves the reader with more questions than answers.

One of the more interesting portions of the book comes from Chapter 8, ‘The Rise and Fall of Adprint’ since it discusses the extremely innovative practice of ‘book packaging’ as it transformed the practice of art book publishing in Europe. Further, it explores advances in publishing with color images, collaborative work with Penguin Books, the significant Britain in Picture series, the diminishing power of Adprint, and in particular on the personal career of Wolfgang Foges and the bitter rivalry between Foges and Neurath. The final chapters move on to discuss the Neuraths of Thames & Hudson and touches upon many others of importance for image reproduction such as Jarrold of Norwich Printers. However, there is some confusion to be found within the personal narratives of second, third, and even fourth generational émigré family members from publishing giants on their cultural background and training. While some individuals, including Eva Neurath, believe that the advancements of the émigré publishers would have achieved notoriety regardless of geographical location, Nyburg argues that the success of Phaidon and Thames & Hudson in the latter half of the 20th century is due largely to the cultural values passed on from the émigrés as second, third and fourth generations acquired, operated and continued in the world of art book publishing in Britain. Richard Schlagman, who acquired Phaidon books, is described as saying, “…he questioned any notion of Phaidon’s Jewishness, saying that the tradition of culture often attributed to the Jews of ‘Mitteleuropa’ was more likely a product of central Europe itself’ (p. 187).

The most confusing aspects of the book lie within Nyburg’s negative stance on British culture, education and artistic efforts, as well as with the complete lack of design elements that are noted as being the transformational elements of art publishing (note: this book is published by Phaidon). Nyburg makes a series of criticisms of British culture and art, such as on p. 37, “In the visual arts, the only modernists who made their mark were Henry Moore and Ben Nicholson, in sculpture and painting respectively,” and education on p.211, ‘…the English working-class teenagers. Not only were they technically incompetent, unable to use a pencil or a brush correctly, but they were also embarrassed by the very notion of art other than as a form of technical reproduction.” Furthermore, she gives a disparaging portrayal of Sir Stanley Unwin throughout the latter portion of the book, who assisted Horovitz and Goldscheider in their personal and professional migration to England, despite Unwin taking on the responsibility for the personal safety and well-being of the émigrés for at least a decade (p.61-62).

What's more, the book is written in a manner that suggests the reader should have some prior knowledge of the subject, as well as with key figures of émigré publishing, writing and book design. Herman Ullstein, Jan Tschichold, Dr. Franz Leppmann, Ruth Rosenberg, Fritz Landshoff, Walter Landauer, Henrich Hauser, Bermann Fischer, and Peter Suhrkamp… are all mentioned within two pages (p.52-53) without any clarification as to how these individuals fit within the overall narrative, a common approach found throughout the text.  Although they may provide singular, tangible examples of a point Nyburg is trying to convey, it only adds further confusion as to whom they are and the role they played within the transformation of British art publishing. Short biographical information as an added appendix would have been particularly helpful for readers to refer to as they navigate and conceptualize the turbulence of these times and events.

In terms of book design, the text is extremely limited in images and illustrative examples of the transformation of art publishing; the majority of color images included are of book covers and very few page spreads. Other images interspersed within the text are black and white photographic reproductions of the émigrés and their family members, serving more as an archival exploration of the families instead of art publishing. Nyburg ironically groups together the core color illustrations of art books in the middle of the text using color plates, a common practice in art books before the evolutionary practices of Phaidon, Adprint, and Thames and Hudson (p.151). What Nyburg praises for the transformation of art book publishing by the émigrés is completely contradicted by the design and layout of this text, which is meant to detail and explore this specific topic. One highlight of the text is the appendices, which provide published books by Phaidon by year from 1932-55 and a list of books published by Thames & Hudson from 1950-1959. Additionally, the book boasts a rich bibliography of resources that will aid anyone in further research on this topic.

Ultimately, there is not enough information on the actual transformation of publishing in technical terms, particularly for image and photographic reproduction which played an immense role in the art publishing landscape, and an overabundance of information about the personal lives of the émigrés, including that of second and third generational émigré family members. The book would have been a richer resource had the technical processes and design elements been described in greater detail, and if Nyburg would have defined what constitutes an ‘art book’ in the transformation of the publishing landscape from the onset, the overall goal of the text may have been more clearly elucidated to the reader.

It could be argued that rather than the émigré publishers transforming the landscape of British publishing for art books, that the transformation lies within the collaborative relationships and exchanges between émigré and British art historians, publishers, artists and designers that were in place pre-WWI, and continue to the present day. Due to the Anschluss, many citizens of Central Europe were forced to leave their homes and find refuge in other countries, Britain being one of the most central. It was these circumstances which have led to the creation and foundation of British art publishing in the 20th century, and the ability for these relationships to prosper for over a century should be applauded.

Beth Morris is Assistant Librarian at the Yale Center for British Art, Reference Library and Archives, where she started a preservation program with in-house book repairs for the collection. She holds an MLIS from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill where she completed her thesis on artists' book collections. Additionally she holds a BA in Fine Art from Elon University.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Finishing in Hand Bookbinding, a new edition

Herbert and Peter Fahey. Finishing in Hand Bookbinding: A reprint in facsimile of the 1951 edition with a new Introduction by Alan Isaac and Foreword by Maureen Duke. Oxford: Published by Alan Isaac Rare Books with Maureen Duke, 2014.

Edition limited to 500 copies. Hardbound, purple cloth, gilt. 227 x 152mm, portraits frontis, xviii, 82p, vi.5  mono. plates. 2 additional color plates.  £29. To order go to Alan Isaac Rare Books, or for those outside the UK via email at

Reviewed by Samuel Feinstein

Those interested in the book arts, especially bookbinders, will be grateful for the reprinting of Finishing in Hand Bookbinding this new edition, and each time at a different stage in my development of finishing skills. I was fortunate that this book was available to me for two years during my training at the North Bennet Street School in Boston. Now, with an affordable edition available, the knowledge contained within is much more accessible to those interested in learning, those wanting to review, and those wanting to further broaden their finishing practices. Regardless, these writings are useful for almost all levels of finishing. I would love to see this reprinting be the catalyst of a renewed conversation about hand-tooling, or, more than that, a rallying call inspiring enthusiasm for the use of this decorative technique.

The Faheys make an argument, carried throughout the book, as to why hand tooling is best in finishing. Unlike flat stamping, usually by machine, or even foil tooling, hand tooling using gold leaf is the most reflective and lively type of decoration; this is quintessential to everything that follows. Hand tooling imparts “life”, as the Faheys say, “by various tools reflecting the light and gold at slightly different angles and planes,” as opposed to the monotonous effect given by plate-stamped designs (Fahey 19). To those that see and handle them, hand-tooled bindings have an inherent allure created not only by the sumptuousness of the materials, but by the play of light reflecting off of the gold and the wonder it provokes. Dr. Marianne Tidcombe in the introduction to Twenty-Five Gold-Tooled Bindings wrote, “Gold-tooling is the most visible and striking of all the traditional techniques, but it has been less in evidence with each passing decade” (Tidcombe 5). Although written in 1997, it is hard to deny that gold-tooled bindings are much less prevalent than they once were.

The reprinted edition is a flat back case binding in full purple cloth, sewn, with plain endpapers. “FINISHING” appears on the front cover in gold foil stamping, a subtle tip of the hat to the Faheys’ belief that the covers should have a conceptual correlation to the title page. There is also an image of a hand holding a decorative finishing tool, while the spine has the name of the name of the book and authors’ last name foil-stamped in a sans-serif type-face. This facsimile of the 1951 edition is slightly smaller than the original printing. There is a new frontispiece showing Herbert and Peter Fahey at work, two new color plates and, best of all, a new Introduction and Foreword.

Alan Isaac’s Introduction to the new edition acquaints one with a brief background of the Faheys. For me, having only known about the Faheys from the first edition of this book, Isaac really brings them to life: their beginnings, their first forays into the world of bookbinding, their development of skills, the many places they studied in and people they studied with, and their legacy.

Maureen Duke’s Foreword focuses on updating some of the aspects of the processes the Faheys used. She says it beautifully: “Our knowledge concerning the deterioration of bindings has been advanced by those studying book conservation, and which has added considerately to the breadth of our understanding and affected the way in which certain procedures are done” (Duke xv). A few of the items she addresses are the advantages of brass type, the use of toxic solvents in neutralizing the oil used to hold the gold leaf in place on the leather, and the use of asbestos in tool handles. She also notes the development of shellac-based glaire, which is better suited to beginners than egg glaire.

The Faheys’ manual of 1951 is, in part, a response to what they felt to be a lack of more “modern” style finishing instruction the English manuals of the time, which had sections on finishing. The manuals in use focused mainly on period style tooling, and many were superficial in their instructions. The Faheys’ manual not only is much clearer about the process, but also incorporates their personal styles in design and concept.

The act of finishing is meditative. Losing a sense of self while tooling for days, weeks, or months, when all that exists is the design, the gold, the book, and the tool, is such a difficult thing to describe. This book articulates well many of the “feelings” experienced with finishing that are not easily translatable into words. The Faheys take their time in explaining the processes in depth, and will sometimes come back to an idea another place in the book to further expound upon it.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention their first instructor, Ignatz Wiemeler of Germany (1895 – 1952). Wiemeler helped in the development of their own philosophy, in both appearance and concept. His influence on the Faheys’ style is readily apparent, especially in the use of line. Wiemeler was in harmony with the Arts and Crafts Movement, the belief in using the best materials, sewing on raised cords when the paper suited that technique, having the binding’s decoration harmonize with the content, and taking the best of centuries-old techniques to improve the bookbinding of his time. This excerpt from his article Bookbinding, Old and New gives a general feeling of his philosophy:
A well-made book must be beautiful, in each stage of its development, if the finished book should be convincing. The natural beauty of the whole and of each single part cannot be premeditated and executed, but must be borne in mind along with the work. It cannot be seen alone, but more than that, it must be felt by touch of hand. It is the sum total of exactitude and care for every detail, of the harmony of the size of the book and the thickness of its covers with the width of its edges; in short, it is the result of inspired work (Wiemeler 159).

Weimeler had an ardent belief that the use of lettering was not simply for identification of the book, but an integral part of the design. This is something that the Faheys incorporated into their own philosophy, and it is easily noted when looking at their bindings.

The Faheys explain what is meant by “finishing” in their Introduction: “The term “finishing” is applied to all work done after the book has been forwarded. The finisher must decide what lettering and decoration are to be put on the book. This includes tooling of the patterns in blind or with metal, onlay and inlay work, polishing and varnishing” (Fahey 7). They prefer simple designs rather than complex. Not necessarily “less is more”, as is seen in some of their designs with large amounts of tooling, but rather using finishing tools in a way that is not exceedingly complex. They are practical about this, both from a design standpoint and craftsman standpoint. As they say, "A finisher must make things easy for himself" (Fahey 12).

The Faheys describe at length the tools used in finishing. I can only speak from my own standpoint, but some of the terminology when referring to the different types of tools may be a product of the book being, as Maureen Duke says it in the Foreword, “of its time” (Duke xv). One such possible example would be the use of the term “straight line tool” (Fahey 40) when referring to a line tool for tooling on a spine. The difficulty with that term is that there is a distinction between straight line tools (or pallets) used across the spine, what I would call a “flat-faced pallet”, and straight line tools used on the boards, which have a slight curve to it, to ensure even pressure throughout the impression. I would suggest John Mitchell’s An Introduction to Gold Finishing, pages 77-91, as a wonderful source explaining the different kinds of tools and their usage. One other marvelous source on finishing tools is Tom Conroy’s Bookbinders’ Finishing Tool Makers 1780-1965, which, in addition to the wealth of information on finishing tool makers, has an in depth Introduction that identifies the different parts of finishing tools and discusses how they were made.

The Faheys’ finishing process is straightforward and explained clearly. In addition to the order of operations, they write at length about the “why” for each step. The basic procedure involves the following steps: making up a template on strong, thin paper using tools and a stamp pad; securing the template in place on the leather and tooling through it; removing the template and tooling again; building up a blind impression with several strikes of the tool until the impression has been tooled with a heated tool and moisture in the leather (but surface-dry). The leather is then given a vinegar wash, and tooled with a warm tool when surface-dry; the impressions are penciled in with vinegar, then given a first coat of glaire before the vinegar has completely dried, and a second coat of glaire is applied after the first has dried. While the glaire is drying, the leaf is made ready, cut to the size necessary for the given tool; the tool is heated to the correct temperature, is given a slight amount of oil with which the gold is picked up, and the impression is tooled with the leaf. “In the finest bindings, gold is put on several times to be sure it is solid and brilliant” (Fahey 51). This order of operations can be applied to most gold/leaf tooling, with the exception of water impervious leathers. Variants for different kinds of leather, such as calf, are explained.

Although their preference in transferring the leaf into the impression is to pick it up on the tool, they also explain the process of all-over tooling: glairing the entire area to be tooled, laying leaf onto the leather with grease or oil on the leather to keep the gold in place, tooling through the gold, and removing the excess gold with a solvent. There should be no extraneous movements, as these lead to mistakes. Every time the tool is picked up, it should with intention and with purpose. “Tooling should be done firmly and decisively—any additional pressure and prolonged dwelling beyond the first impression does not help and may harm through too much depth, twisting of tool, and breaking the gold” (Fahey 51).

The gilding size the Faheys use is egg glaire. In 1951 Fixor was already being used in France, and shellac-based glaire was being developed and used in England during and after the Second World War, when eggs were a limited resource. But the Faheys are writing about their particular practice. Nowadays there are proponents of each: shellac-glaire for its ease of use and convenience (especially helpful on water-impervious leathers, as well as in developing skills since it eliminates the complications of “open-time” with egg glaire), egg glaire for its brilliance and ease in cleaning impressions. In addition to blind tooling and tooling with leaf, they also have a chapter on inlay and onlay, and give several different onlaying practices other than their preferred method. Tooling on different materials is also discussed, including parchment and cloth.

Five black-and-white plates of Fahey bindings are included at the back of the book along with a small description of each; these were present in the original printing. The unifying concept between book and binding is explained, revealing more of their philosophy. Their use of line is prevalent in each plate, as is their use of the book’s title, but both in different ways. The two new color plates in the front do not have descriptions from the authors, but are higher quality printings and showcase the beauty of gold on leather, and the effect of Fahey bindings.

The Faheys wrote this book to help enrich the binding community by contributing their particular finishing processes. No doubt, other finishing manuals and books describe more modern designs from the time period. One is Jules Fache’s La Dorure et la Decoration des Reliures, published in 1954. He was an absolute master, and though many might not know his name, almost everyone knows one of the designers for whom he worked: Paul Bonet. And there are others, such as Emilio Brugalla’s Tres Ensayos sobre el Arte de la Encuadernacion (1945), that talk about tooling in a more modern manner, in addition to traditional designs. The problem with these other texts for us is often the language barrier.

The use of hand-tooling in bookbinding captures and illustrates the magnificence of the materials. The Faheys continued to explore such tooling, which became an expression of their own artistry. They, here, have written a manual based on their extensive knowledge attained through fastidious work and discipline. When practiced, it provides an excellent framework for one’s finishing methods. It also is a great fount from which from which one can apply certain aspects of the Faheys’ process. This book stands as a treatise of utilizing hand-tooling to make beautiful and creative bindings.

  • Brugalla, Emilio. Tres Ensayos Sobre el Arte de la Ecuadernacion. Madrid: Ollero & Ramos, 2000. (Originally published: 1945)
  • Conroy, Tom. Bookbinders’ Finishing Tool Makers 1780-1965. New Castle, DE: The Oak Knoll Press, The Plough Press, 2002.
  • Duke, Maureen. Foreward to Finishing in Hand Bookbinding.
  • Fache, Jules. La Dorure et la Decoration des Reliures. Paris: Chez L’Auteur,1954.
  • Fahey, Herbert and Peter. Finishing In Hand Bookbinding. Alan Isaac Rare Books with Maureen Duke. Oxford, 2014
  • Isaac, Alan. Introduction to Finishing in Hand Bookbinding.
  • Mitchell, John. An Introduction to Gold Finishing. Edited and Designed by Nolan Watts. Worthing, Sussex, UK: The Standing Press 1995 and 2005.
  • Tidcombe, Marianne. Introduction to Twenty-Five Gold-Tooled Bindings, An International Tribute to Bernard Middleton’s Recollections. Edited by Marianne Tidcombe, with an essay on “The Use of Gold in Bookbinding” by Bernard C. Middleton. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press 1997.
  • Wiemeler, Ignatz. “Bookbinding, Old and New”. Translated from the German by Peter Mueller-Munk and Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt. The Dolphin, A Journal of the Making of Books. New York: Limited Editions Club, 1933: 146-160.

Samuel Feinstein trained formally at the North Bennet Street School program where he studied under Jeff Altepeter and Martha Kearsley. Since graduating in 2012 he has been in private practice creating fine bindings, luxury clamshell boxes, new bindings in period style, and gold finishing for other binders. He is an avid proponent of tooled-bookbindings, and he teaches occasionally. His work can be seen on his website or in more detail on his blog: