The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 6, Number 3
Jul 1982

Book Reviews

The New Bookbinder, Vol. 1, 1981. Designer Bookbinders, 6 Queens Square, London WC1N 3AR. 74 pp., 8½ x 11".

Reviewed by Ellen McCrady

The first issue of this annual publication is a blockbuster, with a color photograph of Sandy Cockerell on the front cover and seven major articles and three departments on the inside, professionally printed, generously illustrated with black and white photographs and drawings, and bound in soft cover with sewn sections. As the successor to the twice-yearly DB Review (1973-79), it is the newest in a sparse series of English bookbinding periodicals, the history of which Bernard Middleton reviews in his two-page introduction.

Marianne Tidcombe, in "The Cockerell Tradition" (p. 6-10), reviews the 88 years of bookbinding by Douglas Cockerell (who apprenticed with Cobden-Sanderson), his son Sandy, and their associates and assistants. The Cockerell Bindery, established in 1924 and still in operation, was the source of a number of reforms and innovations, including greater use of alum-tawed skins and vellum (because the quality of available leather was so undependable), the pneumatic tooling ram shown in use on the front cover, and the Cockerell electric finishing stove.

Anthony Cains' Book Conservation Workshop Manual was originally used as a guide by the staff of the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale in Florence, 1966-71. In 1972 it was prepared by Cams and Barbara Giuffrida as a report to the Council on Library Resources (CLR 536). "Part One:

Preparation of the Book for Conservation and Repair" (p. 11-25 in The New Bookbinder) will be followed by

Laboratory and Wet Processing (A. Cains)

Paper Chemistry (M. McParland)

Specification and Observation (A. Cains)

Paper Repair (A. Cains)

Vellum Repair (B. Giuffrida)

Sewing and Binding (A. Cains)


in other issues. All will incorporate revisions and improvements in the light of the experience of the last 11 years in the Library of Trinity College Dublin.

Topics covered in this first part of the manual include the following:

Derek Beck applies elementary engineering concepts in "A New Look at Some Bookbinding Equipment" (p. 26-38), and explains these principles clearly enough to stimulate basic rethinking by other readers, some of whom will now undoubtedly contribute to the ongoing revolution in hand bookbinding equipment.

He praises the design of the traditional lying press with two wooden screws and explores the reasons why it is so hard to design a good modern equivalent with swuare metal threads. Seatings, clearance, alignment, areas of contact, and deformations are factors to consider in working out a new design.

Mr. Beck analyses forces in single-screw and double-screw presses (apparently the single-screw press is not the same as a job backer or guillotine clamp, because the deflections described are far larger than those in cast iron equipment), and hypothesizes a lightweight three-screw press whose cheeks will not bend under pressure.

By redesigning the standing press to handle real loads without any unnecessarily heavy parts, he made a light, portable wooden press, which he adapted to perform other functions as well, for the needs of the beginning student and occasional binder. The resulting kit or unit has a fundamentally improved plow, which gives superior control and results. The reviewer, who had never successfully used a plow before, used this one without difficulty. Because the blade is mounted to a carriage on two metal guide bars between the two blocks, its angle is less affected by chance factors and it does not tend to wander up or down through the book pages. It can also trim thick books more easily.

Harden Ballantine has made an agreement with Mr. Beck to manufacture and sell his new equipment. His address is 202 N. Walnut St., Yellow Springs, OH 45387.

Philip Smith has been binding books for over 30 years, having gotten into it obliquely by wanting merely to make a sketchbook for his drawings. One thing led to another and he wound op studying for three years at the Royal College of Art under Roger Powell and Bernard Middleton, with Peter Waters as a fellow student for part of the time. Since 1960 he has worked independently.

An important thread in his life has been the development of his holistic approach to binding, with regard both to the binder and to the book. In his own words, "It is not enough to feel the right emotions; intellect, or the ability to reason, plan and organize, should be discreetly present to discipline and guide the emotions; without it the artist would be unable to translate what he understood emotionally into his given medium; and further that however strongly he feels, or however keenly he thinks, he would still be impotent if he had no manual skill, and a skill which must be of such an order that it can accurately perform the tasks set it by the emotions and the intellect." (p. 41) "The influence of Roger Powell, Peter Waters and other analytic designers when I was a student, together with my later experience with Sydney Cockerell, convinced me that if one is working with books, whatever other aspects of art are involved, then one should construct them in such a way that they work, not only as art but as books, and that there should be no sloppy crudeness in 'making,' whatever the kind of work. I could not lose sight of the fact that the book--as well as a book--would not exist were it not for the fact that it contained the work of another--perhaps an artist--who had matters to communicate." (p. 43)

Mr. Smith has been on the scene long enough to see some important changes. Again, in his own words: "At that time 1959 binders were producing work much below the real cost of making. I felt that this state of affairs was scandalous, militating against the dignity of the work and discouraging others from taking it up. It prevented the individual making a living out of hand-bookbinding alone; almost every studio-binder was working more or less amateurishly and living by teaching or other means.... Later Roger Powell is said to have remarked that one of my most important contributions to bookbinding was to cause the prices to reach a higher and more realistic level, from which he said they have all benefitted." (p. 46) His chapter, by the way, is entitled "An Autobiography of Indebtedness."

James Brockman, in "A Case History--Beauty and Deformity" (p. 52-57), describes the design and construction of a "metal electronic binding." In this case, the binding did not follow from the text or contents, but the book was chosen for its suitability for this type of binding. The binding features a deformable mirror, activated by any one of eight buttons on the front cover, which are powered by three batteries and eight solar panels. "Beauty" is represented by a nude girl on the back cover, visible through louvers, and "deformity" by a silhouette of an ugly male head--a very conventional choice of symbols for such an unconventional book.

Malcolm Lamb, trained as a tanner, later served as managing director of a large tannery in Nigeria, and worked closely with native tanners for a quarter of a century. He contributed "The Hansa Tanners of Northern Nigeria and the Production of Sokoto Tanned Goatskins" (p. 58-62). (His new enterprise, Oakridge Leather Company, was announced by Bernard Middleton in the February issue of this Newsletter, p. 7.)

The news from Africa, source of the best bookbinding skins, has until now been nonexistent, despite widespread concern about the shortage of good bookbinding leathers. Mr. Lamb describes the history and culture of the area, and the methods used by Sokoto tanners, which so far he has been unable to replicate. His explanation for the shortage of good skins mentions thorn bushes and disease, but not tribal wars, or the encroachment of agriculture and industry. Mr. Lamb writes so well about what bookbinders need to know, that they will probably stand in line even years from now, to ask him questions.

Robert Stables, in "Stables' Braces: An Alternative to Trindles" (p. 63-66), describes how his innovative device makes it easier to trim the foredge of books at any stage before covering (as long as there is some sewing swell), in-board or out-of-boards, by plow or guillotine. If interest warrants it, he will consider making them available for purchase. He currently teaches at several schools, including Camberwell School of Art and Crafts, Department of Typographic Design and Printing, Peckham Road, London SE5 8UF.

The books reviewed on p. 67-70 are:

Bookbinding--A Beginner's Manual, by John Ashman. Reviewed by John Plummer.

Caring for Books and Documents, by A. D. Baynes-Cope. Reviewed by Bernard Middleton.

My World of Bibliophile Binding, by Kerstin Tini Miura. Reviewed by Philip Smith.

Islamic Bindings and Bookmaking, by C. Bosch, J. Carswell and C. Petherbridge. Reviewed by Mirjam Foot.

The Guild of Book Workers 75th Anniversary Exhibition Catalog. Reviewed by Bryan B. Maggs.

There is a section called "Recent Bindings" (p. 71-72) which is like two pages out of an exhibition catalog--except that there was no exhibition as such.

Biographical information on the 11 contributors to this volume is given on p. 74.

Members of Designer Bookbinders receive The New Bookbinder, the DB Newsletter and certain other publications free. Associate membership for people on this side of the Atlantic is £15, or about $28 (but you have to pay in pounds, which brings it up to about $38 when you add in the cost of an international bank draft). Subscriptions to The New Bookbinder alone are £13 for individuals and £15 for institutions. Write the Honorary Secretary, DB, 21 Gainsborough Court, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey KT12 1NH, England.

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