Early 18th Century English Binding

Anyone who does any amount of repair work has seen something like this many times but I am always pleased to see one again because much can be learned from its success and failures.
The spine leather and paste have completely disintegrated leaving what might be called an early prototype (though not nearly so elegant) for Chris Clarkson’s adhesiveless binding.
The sewing thread and sewing supports are intact, the book remains fully functional, and while the owner had initially wanted it rebacked and everything glued back in place instead it will be allowed to just be old and beautiful and boxed as is.

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Mid - 18th Century Binding Anyone who does any amount of repair work has seen something like this many times but I am always pleased to see one again. So much can be learned from its success and failures. The spine leather and paste have completely deteriorated leaving what might be called an early prototype (though not nearly so elegant) for Chris Clarkson's adhesiveless binding. The sewing thread and sewing supports are intact and the book remains fully functional. The owner had wanted it rebacked and everything pasted back in place but instead it will be boxed as is. Though the text is neither rare nor valuable I still think it good to save these simple but complex machines whenever possible.

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Now That New Years Is Safely Past

I really am going to work at maintaining this blog.
My problem is that I never much like my work and even more rarely think I have anything of import or interest to say.
Blame that on Soetsu Yanagi whose The Unknown Craftsman: A Japanese Insight into Beauty taught me not to sign my work and should have added not to talk about it. But here we are.
So let’s get back to glaire, kick the tires, and try to get this junker off and running again.

By glaire I simply mean the adhesive used to attach a color, usually in the form of a metal leaf, to a book. For example in gilding an edge by adhering gold leaf. The word of course comes from Latin via French and means “white of egg” which reflects the ages old use of egg glaire though the earliest gilding on book bindings appears to have been small gold dots executed on Arabic bindings using a peculiar glue (made from snails) to adhere the gold. Our own hide glue (or at least the gelatin it is), in various forms, continues to have a role along with shellac and other adhesives as glaire in modern binding.
But egg glaire still has pride of place I think and in the West the methods for gilding books developed using it.

I remember that Carolyn Horton in her shop never used foils for tooling, even for the titles on cloth boxes, and used what I believe was a Renaissance recipe for glaire along with gold leaf. Her glaire was made using the white of an egg beaten to froth with a teaspoon of water, a scant pinch of sugar, and a pinch of salt. After settling overnight it was strained and then ready for use.
The water thins the egg white enough to flow smoothly while the salt acts as a preservative and the sugar acts to retain the bit of moisture necessary to good tooling. I’ve used it and it works beautifully.
Nonetheless anyone familiar with bookbinding literature knows that there are seemingly innumerable formulas for egg glaire which require everything from vinegar and oil to putrefied egg white.

The truth is that a perfectly good egg glaire for tooling most non-waterproof materials only needs the white of an egg beaten to peaks and then strained after being allowed to settle for 12 to 24 hours with the addition of just enough water to let the glaire flow smoothly from your brush or pen or sponge. Of course for laying leaf on book edges you add considerably more water. But that’s it.

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And again.

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I just wanted to make something pretty.

I just wanted to make something pretty.

Gilt Harmatan goatskin spine with boards of eggshell, 24k gold leaf, and Japanese lacquer colored with Kremer Pigments’ Maya Blue over Swiss blue board.
I hope that everyone knows of them but in case you don’t Kremer is the McMaster Carr of artists’ colors.

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Jeweled Binding

Jewelled Binding

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Perfection

I think this figure drawing, the work of the Colmar Painter and dated to 510 BC, is absolutely perfect.  The tondo is from the interior of an Archaic Greek kylix, a drinking cup, which is in the care of the Walters Art Gallery. As the cup was drained the painting would be revealed and was meant to amuse the drinker. An accompanying inscription (not shown) reads “The boy is beautiful”.

This drawing shows the sort of style, elegance, and “rightness of purpose” I try for in my own work and I don’t think I could find  a better model.

 

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Colmar_Painter_-_Running_Warrior_-_Walters_481920_-_Detail(1)

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I have been asked why I reference Kinder’s FORMULAS FOR BOOKBINDERS of 1904 rather than his THE WHISPER of 1901-02, in which Kinder first published many of his formulas, and the answer is simple: FORMULAS is available free as a Google Books download whereas THE WHISPER is not.

For a time Kirtas Books made available a digital download of THE WHISPER from the set held by the Rochester Institute of Technology in their Bernard Middleton Collection but alas no more.

Unfortunately  THE WHISPER is rather rare and a good set will likely set you back by at least $1000 from any dealer who knows what they have. Given their rarity it seems needlessly perverse to reference them when FORMULAS is so readily available.

One further note: I have become distracted by an attempt to trace all early references to Shellac Glaire. It has become such a staple in craft binderies that I was surprised by how little information on its origins is available. Most modern references date its introduction to the early 20th century while largely ignoring Kinder’s contribution.

I want to propose that Kinder should be credited with the invention or rather adaptation of a water based solution of shellac as a glaire for tooling and stamping and to argue that his adaptation arose from Kinder’s recognition that some recently made book cloths could be successfully gold stamped without the use of an applied glaire.

How I arrived there will be detailed in future posts.

Next up the three basic glaires preferred by Kinder and my promotion of a fourth.

 

 

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The Higher Naivete

Yale University’s Prof. Donald Kagan, in his Introduction to Ancient Greek History (available here   http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9FrHGAd_yto ), also introduced me to the concept of the Higher Naivete.

In brief Prof. Kagan explains that a scholar, when beginning a discipline and knowing little, naively accepts whatever his sources say. Later, when the scholar has learned a bit, he becomes more cynical and believes little or nothing of what the sources say.

But then, after accumulating knowledge, the scholar attains the Higher Naivete in which state he again accepts as true what the sources say (excepting cases of physical impossibility i.e. Jupiter hurling thunderbolts).

A good example of the Higher Naivete is Heinrich Schliemann’s discovery of Troy through his reliance on the writings of Homer at a time when most of the scholarly world considered the Iliad and Odyssey as nothing more than fairytales.

It is in the spirit of the Higher Naivete that I approach Louis Kinder’s THE WHISPER and FORMULAS FOR BOOKBINDERS.

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