Tuesday, February 8, 2022

A Crafted Typology of the Codex: Book Modelmaking as an Approach to Material Book Study by Gary Frost

Frost, Gary. A Crafted Typology of the Codex: Book Modelmaking as an Approach to Material Book Study. Ann Arbor, Michigan: The Legacy Press, 2021. 97 pages, 10 x 7 inches, paperback, ISBN 9781953421067. $17.50.

Reviewed by Chela Metzger

I started bookbinding seriously in 1991, and I now have over 100 bookbinding models on my shelf. How many do you have? Do you have complex feelings about them? Pride? Frustration? Weariness? Curiosity about what to DO with them all as they accumulate? Gary Frost, bookbinder, conservator, and codex philosopher, has given us a whole book about bookbinding models. At ninety-six well-illustrated pages, the book is not long, but it brings together a lifetime of thinking about books and making book models. After reading Frost’s Crafted Typology of the Codex: Book Modelmaking as an Approach to Material Book Study, you may look at your own bookbinding models with new eyes.

Frost covers the book modeling territory in seven chapters. He moves from history, artisanal intuition, and typology, to the uses of model collections, several case studies involving model making, models that generate more models, and finally, not surprisingly, models during the current pandemic. This book is enriched by quotes from practitioners like Craig Jensen (Book Lab), and Karen Hanmer (Karen Hanmer Book Arts) who have their own take on models and the teaching of model making. The book includes an introduction by Julia Miller, a glossary, and a bibliography that does not include enough of Gary’s writings.

My own background, as I approach Frost’s book, is multi-layered. I am a librarian, I am a North Bennet Street School bookbinding program graduate, I am a book conservator, and I taught book conservation at the graduate level for almost 15 years. I even taught in the book lab classroom at University of Texas that was filled with many book models Gary left when he went to the University of Iowa. I have made many book models, I have taught model making, and I have graded other people’s models in an academic setting. I still love making models, and I certainly believe in them for practical reasons, and enjoy them for aesthetic reasons.

Why write a book about bookbinding model making? Why read such a book? As I counted my over 100 book models, I tried to imagine an archeologist scratching their head in one thousand years, wondering what in the world this activity was about. Hopefully that archeologist will have read Gary’s book. We need someone to write about book modelmaking because tens of thousands of book models exist. They exist because we somehow believe in them. Let’s meditate for one minute on some things most bookbinding models have in common. They have no words, nor were they really created for the purpose of filling them with words. They can be based on bookbinding styles from all over the world, from any time period, but they are always made in a particular cultural context—a context rarely discussed or encoded into the final product. No matter how old the bookbinding method you are following, most bookbinding models are made from modern materials and modern adhesives for arguably modern reasons. How in the world to classify these objects?

Frost’s typology of models is clear and sensible: edition dummies; historical book prototypes; comparative performance testing models; Conservation treatment models; instructional and workshop aids; weird or erratic models. Save for the last category, these are all arguably self-evident reasons to make book models.

Since I am not an edition binder, I am not going to address this avenue of model making. Craig Jenson addresses this type of model beautifully in Chapter 3. I am also not going to discuss the comparative performance testing model, though I could not help but notice Gary focused his comparative testing section on library binding issues, and like many if you I recently attended the American Library Association sponsored “Future of Library Binding” event, so who know the future of testing related to library binding will bring. I will discuss models made as historical prototypes, instructional aids, conservation treatment models, and of course weird or erratic models.

As a graduate of North Bennet street school I immediately started making models to put bookbinding principles into action. We always cut all our own materials for the models, with the instruction to not waste materials. The few book arts type workshops I had taken before North Bennet did not really discuss the products of our half day endeavors as models. My very first workshops focused on using the results of our time as journals, or scrapbooks, or creation for artistic effect. When my North Bennet Street School instructor Mark Esser called our work products models, I understood that each would exist on its own, and like my airplane models as kid, it should bear close inspection and hopefully activate admiration, not give rise to negative comments about errant glue spots and ignorant placements of the parts.

At North Bennet we started with the Ethiopic Model, then made two Japanese style models, then focused on case bindings of various complexities while learning to work with paper, cloth, and leather. We made a split-board binding as well, while exploring various sewing structures throughout the year. The second year we worked on in-boards structures, wooded-boarded bindings, parchment laced-case structures, and ironically, several of Gary’s sewn board explorations. We also made plaquettes to practice tooling and leather decoration. I never questioned model making as a way to practice and build the bookbinding skills we were learning. We also did rebinding and other conservation intervention work on “real books”, as well as a small edition project. These projects all felt related to me at the time, though I have never really sat down and thought about why. I graduated with two drop-spine boxes full of quite small identically sized book models, and went out to try and become a book conservator.

At my conservation internship at Library of Congress I was surrounded by bookbinding models. Many were very interesting non-adhesive binding conservation prototypes. It was 1993 and Clarkson and others had made it clear the animal glue and spine linings I sometimes had to chisel off the spine of textblocks in my work had not always been a great thing for the health of books. In my attempts to keep all adhesive off the textblock spine AND to avoid a concertina guard AND to avoid a hollow tube, I occasionally performed incredible, even silly bookbinding contortions. I will be forever grateful for a supervisor after I left the Library of Congress who finally said, “Chela — this rebinding is just weird. Bind this like a normal book.” With my North Bennet Street training, I knew how to do normal books well, and since the weird binding I made was non-adhesive, it was a snap to start over. Most likely any of us of a certain age who work as book conservators have complex feelings about adhesive on the spine of a text we rebind. Resewing in particular brings out my own non-adhesive odd-ball conservation solution demons. I very rarely rebind as a conservation treatment these days. However, I do enjoy thinking through all the interesting ways I could solve a book problem, and I may even make a model of my solution, which is a model-making category Gary addresses well.

Quite reasonably, the section on conservation binding models focuses on Chris Clarkson and his work on Italian limp-vellum bindings, as well as referencing Roger Powell with his rebinding work on the early Irish manuscripts like the Book of Kells. Clarkson was really moving toward exploring the larger theme of book conservation in his influential limp parchment study. Powell was solving very specific parchment manuscript problems in his conservation work, and did not spend a lot of time claiming his solutions went beyond the needs of his particular projects. Clarkson was careful, as Frost notes, not to call any of his ideas a blueprint for “conservation bindings”. There are conservation principles in his work, not conservation bindings. It’s an important distinction, and I have an indelible memory of an incredulous curator indulging in a long outburst at a lecture I attended in 1992 on the stupidity (as he saw it) of all these limp vellum bindings in the 80’s and early 90’s being placed on special collections materials inappropriately. He did not claim they were hurting anything, just that they were wrong. I see his point.

Gary Frost is a teacher, and has been so a long time. Thus, the section of book models as instructional and workshop aids is especially accurate. When I bring a pile of book models as well as some “real” books to introduce library science students to book conservation, I know it is vastly more effective than a slide show. Bringing in books people can manipulate by hand is also a boon in the special collections classroom, where students are generally not allowed to touch the special collections material outside the reading room. Of course purchasing sacrificial books off of eBay also works very well for teaching. But Gary is right, touch matters, moving books in your hands is instructive in a way no other activity can provide. Frost’s investigations of “haptics”, which is learning through touch, is essential to so much of his work.

Gary spends a significant amount of time in his “Models in the Pandemic” chapter investigating teaching book model making remotely. His particular focus here is on “kits” which provide students with pre-prepared materials for creating a particular model. Gary has taught with kits, as have many others in the field. He includes a fascinating set of correspondence with Book Artist and teacher Karen Hanmer about teaching with kits, and teaching using remote learning tools during the pandemic. Just like the moccasin kit I received as a child from Tandy Leather, there is no doubt kits are ubiquitous in helping introduce people to a new craft. As a teacher, I know I have felt the tension between the task of teaching people foundational bookbinding skills aimed at creating bookbinders who can solve bookbinding problems at multiple levels, and the task of helping students complete a functional and pleasing model in a short-term workshop setting. This is a tension I am sure many of us have felt as teachers and as students in book binding and book arts workshops. The field has long casually used the terms “apprentice trained”, “workshop trained”, “self-taught”, “formally trained”, “university trained”, and I am sure there are other categories. By including conversations with a binder and book artist like Karen Hanmer in this book, the work of teaching with models before, and during the COVID pandemic, comes alive.

Finally the weird or erratic model category bears mentioning. I have a model given as a gift in which the creators tried to make a book with every possible bookbinding mistake. It actually is amazing, if difficult, to handle. Heidi Kyle’s flag book is mentioned as a weird or erratic model, though perhaps models of artist books should have their own category. Frost ends this section by mentioning Keith Smith’s many books, and the great unending abstract life of book action Smith’s publications represents. Frost is clear that more book model categories may need to be added to the typology.

After creating his typology and describing it, Frost spends the rest of the book interspersing case studies with philosophical jumps into the future of books and reading. Those familiar with Frosts writings and drawing will not be surprised to find a focus on sewn-boards bindings, tight joint wooden-boarded bindings, and German and American case bindings. His section on creating “Silk Road” models based on the books found in the Dunhuang Project is beneficial new territory. Another fascinating section involves using models as part of a study of bookbinding practice at the Inspirationist Amana colony in Iowa.

Frost’s case study involving industrial, commercial, and library binding structure is unique. I know of no other writer in bookbinding practice who is currently and competently addressing the industrial side of bookbinding. Certainly it is hard to find voices applying ideas from the book arts in intriguing ways to industrial practices. I wish there had been a diagram with labels in this section. I may understand what a “fold bound flange end” is, but I may not. I particularly appreciate discussion of the “provocation” of paperback failure and I admit to being “haunted by fractured opening” in these materials. As he notes, current use of polyurethane adhesives is likely changing the old paperback problems to new ones. I remain grateful and amazed that Frost happily moves from papyrus book action to modern industrialized bookmaking adhesives.

The fluid, interdisciplinary curiosity, humor, and smarts about books and reading Gary Frost shares here are part of a lifetime of publishing, lecturing, teaching, and making. Julia Miller’s short introduction to the book gives an excellent summary of Gary Frost’s influence and ongoing work. Do yourself a favor, read Frost, make models, enjoy yourself, and pass it on. Agree or disagree with his categories and conclusion, just remember, when you make book models you are part of a particular stream of book thought, and Gary’s thinking has likely been part of that stream you swim in.

Further Reading:

Gary has done a great deal of publishing. I am not aware of any one place to find his complete bibliography, but starting with his recent essay in Suave Mechanicals is not a bad way to go.

Frost, Gary. “Book Interventions: Books Remade by Use.” In Suave Mechanicals: Essays on the History of Bookbinding. Vol. 4. Ed Julia Miller, 156-180. Ann Arbor, Mich.: The Legacy Press, 2017.
[Note: This volume is out of print and will not be reprinted]

Chela Metzger started her official association with books by working as a library assistant at the age of 9. She graduated from Simmons College as a card-carrying librarian in 1990, and began her more intimate association with the craft of bookbinding at the North Bennet Street School in 1991, working 2 years with Mark Esser. She followed that with an internship in rare-book conservation at the Library of Congress in 1993, and began her paid conservation career as a project conservator at the Huntington Library in 1994. She began teaching book conservation to visiting Latin American interns in 1999, and moved into full-time lecturer work in 2001 at the University of Texas at Austin. From 2011 until 2014 she was Conservator of Library Collections at the Winterthur Museum, Garden and Library in Winterthur,  DE. Since 2014 she has been at the University of California Los Angeles Libraries, first as Head of the Library Conservation Center, and since 2020, Head of Preservation & Conservation. Having been the recipient of amazingly generous teaching in the past, she hopes to help carry on the tradition, integrity and discipline of bookwork in all its facets. On-going bookish research interests include: history of the book, binding in Spain and Latin America, future of books and libraries, the binding of archival materials historically, how books are depicted in art, social life of books. She was also a member of the Editorial Board of The Bonefolder.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Making Fish Parchment at St. Lawrence University

Shared by Velma Bolyard

On October 5th, 2021, a beautiful mild autumn day, St Lawrence University’s Sustainable Papermaking class taught by Melissa Schulenberg and Velma Bolyard met with an eager group of 12 students. They met at the Sustainability Farm, home base for that program, to experiment with parchment making. 

Melissa who is an avid fisher was given the skins of fish that did not survive from a catch and release competition, the skins were waste after the flesh  was removed for eating by the organizers. Velma froze the skins until she could thaw and  process 20 skins.  When discussing the history of papermaking and writing materials including  parchment and describing what parchment is, and the thought of those fish skins sparked, and they decided to teach making fish parchment. Velma had made three haddock parchment skins prior to this, and with that “expertise”, a big table, spoons for scraping and lots of soapy  water, students scraped scales, flensed skins, and pinned them to dry on plastic covered foam  core. 

The group was quite engaged in the process despite the yuck factor, and each went  away with one or two skins for future use. Our class was rewarded with fish skin badges from Peter Verheyen's Fish Skin Bind-O-Rama 2020.

The frozen skins.

Scraping scales and remaining meat off.

Scraping scales and remaining meat off.

Scraping off the scales.

Pinning the skins out to dry under tension.

Pinning the skins out to dry under tension.

The skins drying and soon to be parchment that can be used to cover books...

Monday, December 7, 2020

A Brief History of the Book by Steven K. Galbraith

Galbraith, Steven K. A Brief History of the Book: From Tablet to Tablet. Santa Barbara, California : Libraries Unlimited, 2020. 164 pages,  6 x 9 inches, paperback. ISBN 978-1440869396. $50.00.

Reviewed by Sebastian Modrow

Steven Galbraith, Curator of the Melbert B. Cary, Jr. Graphic Arts Collection, has a new book. After various publications on particular holdings of the Rochester Institute of Technology’s Cary Graphic Arts Collection as well as his Rare Book Librarianship: An Introduction and Guide (together with Geoffrey D. Smith; Libraries Unlimited, 2012) he is now out with another introductory text. Reflecting the latest trends in book history, it is the ambitious agenda of Galbraith’s libellum to extend the field beyond the focus on the Western codex perceiving “the term ‘book’ […] in its most inclusive way, expanding its definition to a variety of technologies that present texts and images to readers” [p. xi] and all that in a short and accessible introduction/textbook format. “Five thousand years in one brief book? How is this possible? It is not” [xii] to quote the author himself. And yet the same dictum might still apply to much lengthier edited volumes on the topic such as Simon Eliot and Jonathan Rose’s A Companion to the History of the Book (Blackwell, 2009) or even Michael F. Suarez and H. H. Woudhuysen’s two volume edition The Oxford Companion to the Book  (Oxford University Press, 2010). 

Named closely after the course he is teaching at the Rochester Institute of Technology, Galbraith’s A Brief History of the Book is drawing almost exclusively on the holdings of his home institution for its historic examples and is explicitly “written for courses in fields such as library science, English literature, and history” [xii]. It is an educational tool in the fullest sense featuring informational, recapitulation, and activity segments. One segment recurring in every chapter is what Galbraith calls “Modern Ads for Early Technology” which in their visual appearance recall the style and design of early magazine ads. Due to their fixed sub-categories, these ‘ads’ not only recapitulate the most important information covered in a chapter in a quick and digestible form (ad!) but also connect the four chapters of the book as common threads and  thereby “help in analyzing important themes, as well as similarities in technologies from ancient to modern” [p. xiii]. These sub-categories are called memory (information storage capacity), readable/writable (writing properties of the medium), recyclability and durability (of the material), security (of the encoded information), access (how information can be accessed) and costs (of the book technology). The book’s four chapters are titled “The Ancient World,” “Early Printing and Medieval Manuscripts,” “Printing with Movable Type,” and “Digital Books.” 

“The Ancient World” covers the major text media used in ancient Mesopotamia and all around the ancient Mediterranean before the rise of the parchment codex while also paying a short tribute to the palm leaf manuscript traditions of Southeast Asia. The reader is introduced to the writing techniques and various properties of the clay tablet, of the papyrus and leather scroll as well as of the wax tablet, properties, as Galbraith can show, that will have a come back in later centuries or millennia in other types of text media. Random (clay tablet, wax tablet) vs. linear access (scroll) is one of the great themes running through the entire book, as is the mutual impact of user and medium: “On the one hand, part of this evolution is owed to humans adapting the technology. On the other hand, part is owed to humans adapting to the technology” [p. 3]. One of his earliest examples of such a mutual impact is that of the evolution of cuneiform script from linear to ever more wedged and abstract shapes as a direct response to the writing properties of a stylus on clay, which he demonstrates with the case of the symbol for barley. In the framework of his thoughtful didactic design Galbraith will use this example again in Activity 1 of the first chapter in which students are asked to form their own writing tablets from clay and reproduce the evolution of that symbol hands-on, a form of experiential learning that repeats important information covered earlier in the chapter and will leave, I am sure, a lasting impression (pun fully intended!) with the students. It is this hands-on and special collections-supported textbook approach that clearly distinguishes Galbraith’s take from traditional introductions to the history of the book. 

The title of the second chapter, may cause some initial confusion in the chronological mindset of the western reader who will soon discover, however, that this chapter does not start with Gutenberg in some sort of chronological inversion but rather with the true firsts of this technique – the woodblock printers of China. We will also learn about China’s invention of paper in the early 2nd century CE, about the first truly mass-produced book, the Buddhist Hyakumanto Darani produced c. 770 CE in Japan, and much more. 

Before diving into the production of medieval manuscripts, Galbraith spends some time on the transition from the scroll (the dominant text medium of Egypt and Classical Antiquity) to the codex (the dominant format from the 4th to the 20th century in the West) stressing the latter’s greater capacity and practicability over the former. The comparison of this transition to that from the linear access of the VHS to the random one of CD and DVD [p. 42] is another great example how Galbraith manages to ‘translate’ his rather unfamiliar subject matter for a modern student audience.  

The great majority of “Early Printing and Medieval Manuscripts” is then devoted to the European medieval manuscript tradition providing a clearly written introduction to most aspects of this book format. It provides a great overview of the whole production process from parchment production to illumination, from writing styles to medieval binding techniques and from palimpsests and other forms of parchment recycling, to the evolution of book storage.

Chapter three covers “Printing with Movable Type” from its earliest beginnings (again not in Europe but in 11th century China and later in Korea!) all the way up to modern phototypesetting – though it pays its due respect to Gutenberg and the Incunabula Period as a whole. It is again remarkable how Galbraith manages to squeeze into a few pages a plethora of information amply illustrated with images of historic typefounding equipment and modern depictions of historic printing and papermaking workshops. Besides typefounding, the chapter also covers the process of papermaking, book formats, bindings and provenance as well as developments in storage.

The last part of the chapter focuses on the book in the industrial age, covering developments such as the transition from the wooden hand press to the iron press and from there to mechanized printing presses as well as the transition from laid paper to wove paper (both made from linen rags) and then ultimately to industrially produced wood pulp paper. An overview of the advances in typesetting (Stereotype, Linotype, Monotype, Phototype), the Fine Press Movement (as part of the Arts and Crafts Movement’s reaction to industrial production), and the rise of the typewriter are closing out Galbraith’s third chapter.

Making good on the second part of its title, From Tablet to Tablet, Galbraith’s Brief History of the Book devotes its last chapter to “Digital Books.” Galbraith can show how in the same way as early printed books continued certain features of their manuscript predecessors, so, too, did digital devices with respect to the printed book, with other forms of digital reading and writing exhibiting features of even older ancestors: Early websites were literally a page “and resembled a [clay] tablet or perhaps a parchment or paper leaf” [p. 136] before the reader was able to ‘scroll’ through them. The e-book flipped virtual pages just like a physical codex and apart from its general handheld book-like shape, users are even given the option to purchase a leather cover to round out the book feel. In order to tell this (for now) last chapter of the book’s history, the author takes the necessary detour through the rise of the computer and the short life of the PDA (personal digital assistant) such as the Apple Newton MessagePad or the Palm Pilot (operated with a ‘pen’ functioning as a digital stylus!) all of which were put to use in ways that were later absorbed by tablets and smartphones tapping also into the seemingly endless information storage and access possibilities of the World Wide Web. Hypertext as well as augmented and virtual reality are now beginning to write a new chapter of the history of the book, according to Galbraith, pushing its capabilities and information access realities beyond those of the book’s traditional formats.  

To sum up: Steven Galbraith’s is a concise, insightful, and well written introduction to the millennia-old evolution of mankind’s ways to store and access textual information. Written by a special collections curator, it makes extensive use of the primary sources at his disposal from highlights in the Cary collections to contemporary texts which he analyses and from which he distills the information relevant for his book history. A second edition could benefit, however, from more consistency in the shortened footnotes which appear sometimes as ‘last name author, shortened title, page number’ and sometimes just as ‘author, page number’ (e.g. chapter 1, fn. 40 “Roemer, 86” vs. fn. 48 “Roemer, ‘Papyrus Roll,’ 86” or fn. 46 “Bülow-Jacobsen, ‘Writing Materials,’ 3” vs. fn. 66 “Bülow-Jacobsen, 12” et passim). I would also like to note that sillyboi (title label on a papyrus scroll) is a masculine plural which is why p. 23 should probably read “Hanging from the ends of the roll is a sillybos…” (or a sillybon if one were to use the better attested neuter form). These minutiae should not distract us, however, from Galbraith’s achievement of having written a book that can be put to great instructional use in all kinds of humanities and special collections settings. I, for my part, intend to assign A Brief History of the Book: From Tablet to Tablet as the required textbook for my upcoming one-week intensive book history class.

Sebastian Modrow

Sebastian Modrow is Curator of Rare Books and Manuscripts in the Special Collections Research Center at Syracuse University Libraries. He received his Masters level degree in Latin and History from the University of Greifswald (Germany), a doctorate in Ancient History from the University of Rostock, and a Master of Library and Information Science from Syracuse University. His main focus is on primary source teaching as well as on collection development. In the last few years he published in book and article length on ancient and indigenous collective memory matters as well as on ancient record keeping. His current research focuses on the history of classical libraries and archives. In addition to frequent presentations to classes coming to the Special Collections Research center, he also teaches "The History of Libraries and Archives in the Western World" at Syracuse University's iSchool. He also teaches "Introduction to Cultural Heritage Preservation" in the Museum Studies Program.

Saturday, July 4, 2020

Fish Skin Bind-O-Rama 2020 - Piscatorial bindings of a different kind


Click image to view the Bind-O-Rama.

I've been sharing my love (some may call it an obsession worthy of an intervention) with fish skin, specifically parchment, in bookbinding since 2014, making my own since 2017. The result, curiosity, fascination, but also disgust and revulsion. I get it, sort of, but bookbinders and students of the same, including conservators love to learn about new materials, including making their own. 

Back in early April I was challenged by two colleagues, one asking will I ever host another Bind-O-Rama. Sure, why not. Fish skin it is and the call for entries was posted. I had been sharing the historical literature, and my experiments and uses ad nauseam for years using the "fish leather" tag, also publishing an article on the process in Book Arts arts du livre Canada (Vol 10., Nr. 2, 2019). The other colleague challenged me to host a webinar on the process of making parchment. Due to COVID we were all working from home, looking to keep our skills sharp, and also for things we could do at home. So, 2 weeks later there was the webinar. The rest is history.

I'm deeply impressed by the number of people who rose to my bait of trying to make their own parchment or tanned leather from fish, and then make something using the material. The 21 participants (including one avatar in this Bind-O-Rama come from Australia, Canada, Sweden, the United Kingdom, and the United States. Their backgrounds vary and include bookbinders, artists, and conservators with lots of overlap between them. Not content to leave it with one skin, many dove in to make more and from a variety of species, and/or tried other methods of processing their skins. These experiments were widely shared by most on social media, even encouraging others to jump in.

"Fips" and his eels

Selected Resources

Historical Overview:

Tanning workshops:
  • Janey Chang in Vancouver has also been offering terrific online tanning workshops.
  • Fish Leather: Tanning + Sewing by Lotta Rahme and Dag Hartman. Available in North American from Janey Change and elsewhere.
  • Amber Sandy's Instagram feed: several wonderful posts about tanning fish (among other species). In the Toronto area and happy to give workshops.

Sunday, April 12, 2020

A New, Fishy, Bind-O-Rama

With everyone on lockdown, going stir crazy, worried, and looking for something positive to do, I am inviting all to participate in this rebirth of the Bind-O-Ramas, a regular feature here from 2004 until 2015. View the galleries from all on the Book Arts Web. Below a webinar introduction I recorded to help demystify.

Steps to getting started:
  1. Get some nice fresh fish. Skin it yourself, or ask at your better fish counter or sushi restaurant. Salmon is very forgiving. NO commercially tanned/prepared skins will be accepted. I can smell those a mile away, even if beautiful.
  2. Clean the skin and make parchment or tan some other way. ALWAYS use COLD water otherwise the skin turns gelatinous.
    For more information. watch the video above, see "Fips" and His Eels: Fish Skin in Bookbinding in Book Arts arts du livre Canada (Vol 10., Nr. 2, 2019), and under the “fish leather” tag at the Pressbengel Project blog (23 posts worth at this point). My bindings using fish parchment (and commercial leathers) can be found among my other work here.
  3. When done, use as the primary material on a binding (not just for onlays…), a box, other objet d’art. "Limp" structures are great - parchment is parchment.

Complete the entry form below. You'll also need to upload 1 skin preparation image, 1 of the finished product, and a detail of either. Images should be taken with good lighting, a neutralish background, in focus, and sent at full size (not reduced). Name files with your name and number..., e.g. verheyen1.jpg, verheyen2.jpg, verheyen3.jpg.

In the form you'll be asked to provide name, where you are, species of fish, technique to prepare, impressions, a description of your finished book or object, and a few sentences about yourself.

After submitting the form, email images to verheyen@philobiblon.com. Alternatively, request a link to upload to my Google Drive.

"Fips" and his Eels

I can't wait to see all the entries. Thank you to all those who have been sharing their experiences on social media and elsewhere.

So, what do you all say. Let's have some fun! Questions, just ask. 

Also, check out Amber Sandy's Instagram feed where she has several wonderful posts about tanning fish (among other species). She's in the Toronto area and would be happy to give workshops. Janey Chang in Vancouver has also been offering terrific online tanning workshops. (CBBAG, are you listening 😀 )

Fritz Otto with a box he made from salmon parchment.

Samples of various parchments made from fish.
A sampler of all the fish I've made parchment from.
From top: mackerel, sea bass, lane snapper, haddock, Arctic char, Atlantic salmon.
Underbellies are lighter than tops.
Note: except for the mackerel, the skins are highly translucent.

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.

[Note: This review was subsequently republished in Book Arts Arts du Livre Canada, 10 (1) and in abridged form in the Guild of Book Workers Newsletter, 244.]

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.