Friday, 22 April 2011

Covers 0, Wine 1

I really like labels. You can print them out and cut them out and then when they're absolutely perfect glue them onto your book and there's really very little chance of ruining an entire cover in the process.

But, sadly, this post isn't about labels. It's about stamping directly onto the cover - which I find nerve-wracking. I'm lousy at it and it's the most expensive way to ruin a cover. If you don't have the money to buy endless supplies of bookcloth and board, or the time to make cover after cover to replace the wrecked ones, stamping can ruin your bottom line faster than anything else. Because one wrong stamp and you're hooped. If you're doing goldwork on leather you might be able to take it out and re-do it once, but with the modern foils on standard bookcloth, even if you have the right chemicals to dissolve the glue, a mis-stamp is still going to show.

The past two days I've been trying to make 2 covers at 6 stamps per cover.
The current score is:
Covers wrecked with first stamp: 3
Covers wrecked with second stamp: 2
Successful covers: 0
Bottles of wine drunk to recover: 1 
Cocktails drunk because ran out of wine: 2

Now I've run out of cloth and as it is Good Friday I won't be able to get more cloth until next week. I don't know why I'm having a particularly bad time with these - I did the same book a couple of months ago and it went fine. My New Age friends assure me it's all about Mercury Retrograde, which will end tomorrow, so maybe it's a good thing I've run out of cloth.

I suspect it's my legendary lack of strategic planning skills, but a planet seeming to reverse in the night sky works too.

So what's this post about? Beyond bookbinder tribulations, I think it's about a big problem with two solutions. Depending on who you are and what your bookbinding problem is, you could go at it in different directions. First - what's so bad about a label? I make you nice book with label inset. Happy label. Happy book. No drinking. Then, if you *must* have the title stamped directly on the book, why not just make it one stamp? A modest little title on the spine. That's what you want.

Wednesday, 20 April 2011

Social History and Librarians

Internet research - I loves it.

Yesterday's post didn't show all of the book's cover, but you could see a comparatively new piece of tape on the bottom panel of the spine, which carried, handwritten in white, the library call numbers of the book when it was at the University of Waterloo (Ontario), whose card sleeve adorns the inside front pastedown. But they got it from somebody else - I know because on the front cover there is a ticket, about 3" x 3":
I love the peek into past lives I get from reading old advertising, tickets, trade mail, and so on. I can't tell, of course, whether this book was bound specifically for Brotherhead's Library in Philadelphia, or acquired by them sometime after the binding, which could not have been earlier than 1853. I might suspect that the rather grand binding meant it wasn't originally bound for the library, because they would have known the ticket would cover it up. But maybe originally the library didn't use tickets - this may have been the original library book, and the ticket was pasted on decades later.

Just a bit of trivia:

A quick trip to Google brought up Trubner's American and Oriental Literary Record for August 1869, which include a letter from Mr. W. Brotherhead himself. Stung by a previous reference to Brotherhead's library in New York containing a mere 3,000 volumes, he listed the (much larger) number of volumes contained in each one of their major libraries - including the Philadelphia one, with 20,000 volumes, and listing their lending policy, which is the same as on the ticket we have here.

It interests me that on the ticket they spell out a policy for dealing with multi-volume novels (all in the same title count as one) because it shows that the "three volume novel" of fifty years before were still normal to find in a library collection. And I'm sure a lover of business, economics, or social history would make a lot out of the various fees involved - such as, that if you expect to have more than 165 book-days per year you might as well take out the whole year's subscription, and if you have to leave the price of the book as a deposit at the library to take the book out, then the really poor people were essentially barred.

The point of this post? Well, nothing really, except I thought the ticket was a historical artefact worth noting. 

You find all sorts of these things in old books. One time I took the spine off a mid-19th century Bible and discovered the mull reinforcing the spine was a piece of cloth from a woman's dress. It was lovely - a pale green flowered lawn - and I realized that if your wife discarded just one dress you had enough mull for dozens of thick Bibles, as dresses back then used a lot of fabric. Another time the spine of a 17th-century book had been reinforced with paper left over from printing a play. I only got a few lines, but it does make me wonder what's inside other books whose spines haven't fallen away.

Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Hand Made, Imperfect, and Proud

Machines ruined it for the hand craftsman. Don't get me wrong - I can see the beauty in the utter regularity of machine decoration. It is wonderful. About a hundred years ago it also became normal, and that is where the problem started.

Look at hand craftsmanship throughout the ages and you will see imperfection. The hand simply cannot work with the same precision as a machine, and everybody used to know and understand that. Now almost everybody expects work done by hand to be as exact as work done by machine - or else it is wrongly done. It is bad. It should not be paid for.

One woman came in to the bindery to pick up her rebind. She took a cursory glance at the binding, whipped out a micrometer and started measuring the squares under magnification. She was able to show that one of the squares was different from another by 1/64th of an inch - less than half a millimeter. She tried to refuse to pay for what she called shoddy work. Happily for her she was dealing with a nice polite man who tried to humour her. If she had complained to me I would have asked her to write her name twice on a piece of paper and prove to me that each signature is an exact copy of the other.

Honestly, folks, can we get real here? I present this handsome cover from a series of issues of Harper's Magazine, 1852/1853.
This is handwork from when handwork gained respect. Let's look at what went into the decoration of this cover.

First, rolls were applied to put the gold on the outside frame and the inside turn-ins. This is gold done the old-fashioned way, with glaire and leaf and expert knowledge of  the appropriate temperature and humidity required.

Now to figure out how many different brass hand tools were used to create the cover design. Today that complicated design would be made by submitting detailed graphics to the diemakers and having a deep-etched die made. It's expensive, but - one stamp and you're done. In this example, though, they selected from their large collection of finishing tools, applying them individually to make up the whole design.  You can tell because of the imperfections. Hand placement simply can't be done with machine accuracy - individual stamps are slightly askew or one will be made more deeply than another - examine the photo with that in mind and you can see the tools quite plainly. 

I find a minimum of seven tools: 

2 large scroll corners - one a mirror of the other. 
1 urn shape found at centre of the top, bottom, and sides. 
1 rounded ornament centred top and bottom. 
1 star shape. 
1 leafy scroll filling in the distance from corner scroll to the centre urn shape. 
1 lozenge shape at centre sides. 
plus possibly 2 more: the little flowers on either side of the lozenge at side centre, and the pattern of four dots at the end of the leafy scroll.

Whew! Seven tools and twenty individual stamps plus two rolls for each side of the book (and yes, the cover design was repeated on the other side). Today that would be a lot of chances for the thing to go horribly wrong. But back in the day, this was acceptable - probably even beautiful, and nobody flourishing a micrometer would have been listened to at all.

Another thing that isn't acceptable now and was then - look at the bottom left of the photo, where the rolled frame on the outside cover meets itself at a 90-degree angle. Today you are expected to make every effort to butt those lines perfectly, or to use some kind of special corner stamp to avoid having to make them butt together. Now, given the wavy line feature, butting it so the line continues is possible, but not likely. To have the wave continue around the corner without a break, you have to not only be very careful, very expert, very willing to sit with a needle and scrape off the gold that goes in the wrong places - you also have to have made the line exactly the right length so that it can butt perpendicularly at 90 degrees with your other perfect line. In the 1850s, though, it was perfectly acceptable to just run those lines across one another. 

I guess what I'm on about here is that the modern consumer, influenced by what is possible using machines, has forgotten that 'made by hand' means 'made by humans'. When we look at something made by a human and the first thing we notice is that a line doesn't connect exactly, or one thing isn't directly lined up with another - then the problem isn't with the object - it's with us.

Thursday, 14 April 2011

Opening New Horizons - Typography

I am luxuriating in a new book about books - "The Well-Made Book: Essays & Lectures by Daniel Berkeley Updike" William S. Peterson, ed.

Updike died in 1941, so this dates from the era of compositors and typesetters and all manner of printing professionals whose jobs, like mine, are well on their way out. In that way it is a history book, and when you read an essay like "Gutenberg and His Relation to Printers Today" you have to remember that today was more than 70 years ago. But these essays and lectures are perhaps all the more valuable for being part of history. The knowledge that was second nature to a printer, book designer, or typographer seventy years ago is rarely learned today, when art school students with computers can design their own book, print it out, congratulate themselves and never quite understand why their book doesn't quite work.

The cover of this book is embellished with a quote:
"The practice of typography, if it be followed faithfully, is hard work - full of detail, full of petty restrictions, full of drudgery, and not greatly rewarded as men now count rewards. There are times when we need to bring to it all the history and art and feeling that we can, to make it bearable. But in the light of history, and of art, and of knowledge and of man's achievement, it is as interesting a work as exists - a broad and humanizing employment which can indeed be followed merely as a trade, but which if perfected into an art, or even broadened into a profession, will perpetually open new horizons to our eyes and new opportunities to our hands." - Daniel Berkeley Updike
(and  before I get snarky comments - no, I don't know how to make an m-dash in this text editor)

When I first became interested in typography, I set myself the challenge to recreate on my computer the exact typography of a few publications (printed covers, title pages, advertisements) from the fifties and earlier. It was a lot harder than I thought it was going to be, but later, when I need to set book titling on a Ludlow (typecasting machine) I understood so much more, right away, because of all the spacing and attention to space detail that I had gone through on those self-imposed exercises.

Just for fun, and because many readers won't have access to this sort of thing, I'm putting up a title page from a late-18th century book.

This isn't a typographer's dream; it's just a normal kind of a title page from the era. Look at how many different sizes of type there are, the switching from all caps to upper/lower case, and the use of italics. And yet somehow it is quite readable, even though there is a lot more information here than you would find on a modern book's title page.

Now, looking at a modern magazine page:

You know, I get it that I'm comparing apples to tangerines. And I totally get it that they're packing five different blasts of information onto the same page, but in real life, where this page is four times the size it is here, I find it quite hard to concentrate enough to read anything on this page. The 1792 Richardson book, well-leaded in quiet and regular lines, is for quiet and careful reading, while the modern magazine isn't really set up for reading at all, just for capturing the odd bit of information that a restless brain seizes upon on the page.

And I totally get it that each headline gets its own font - you wouldn't want readers mistaking one article for another - but I still find it a bit much. I wonder where magazine styles will go in the future, assuming they survive.

Monday, 4 April 2011

Don't Shoot Him, He's Only The Bookbinder

When I look at any handcraft, I can't help thinking about the person who made it. Look at the sewing on the left, for example. Pretty ugly, I thought as I prepared to disbind the book. But after seeing what he had to contend with, I can't blame the guy.

This book, by the way, was published in 1872, and this is the binding that was originally put on by the publisher.

If you haven't seen a lot of older sewings, you might not know - this is an example of hand oversewing. Rather than sew up and down along each fold of the textblock, several folds of paper were gathered into one chunk, and that was sewn by stabbing through the chunk, front to back, moving up a bit and repeating. In this case, there were three stitches taken to sew together the whole chunk up the whole length of the spine (page height is 11-1/4" or 28.5 cm). The shortcomings are obvious, I think - the pages can't open flat unless you press them open to the point where the thread either breaks or tears through the paper to the spine. It's flimsy, and it looks horrible.

But I can just see the binder. He'd be working for the publisher, who had loads of books he wanted put into boards quickly and cheaply. Publisher's boards were intended to last just long enough to get the book safely into the customer's hands - after which the customer would theoretically take the book to his binder to have it rebound to match his library.

So the binder had to do it fast, not well. The book was presumably going on to another binder who would "fix" this temporary sewing.  And he had an extra problem. This book is more than 600 pages long, and the normal size of one section is two folds - ie, 8 pages. But here and there throughout the book are twenty or thirty pages that were published in folios - ie, single folds of 4 pages. Single folds are hard to sew because the thread tends to cut right them, so the binder gathered up three or four of them and oversewed the lot at one go.

He also had swell to think about - how much the 75 or so layers of thread needed to sew 600 pages in 8-page sections would swell the width of the spine. The fewer layers of thread you have, the less swell there is, and oversewing changes many layers of thread to only one. The double-fold sections, which were not oversewn, were sewn "two on" - meaning one sewing pass sewed on two sections rather than one - again, to reduce the amount of thread used and to reduce the swell.

So yes, it's ugly. It's bad bookbinding. But in the circumstances, totally understandable.