The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 8, Number 3
Jun 1984


Bookbinding in America 1680-1910. From the Collection of Frederick E. Maser. With an Essay by Willman Spawn. Available from: Publications, Canaday Library, Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010. 1983. 122 pp. $27.50 hardbound.

Reviewed by Gary Frost
Assistant Professor, School of Library Service, Columbia University

An achievement of descriptive bibliographical study is the growing knowledge and appreciation of American bookbinding. The effects of this work are great, compelling the conservation of the collections and providing an interpretation of historical American fashion and character, trades and commerce based on a relatively large artifactual and documentary record.

The results of historical binding study, involving slow, quantitative recordings of bindings and documentation, and subsequent data control, are revealed to general view at exhibitions, in catalog publications and seminars. If the study of historical bindings is a rather quiet and methodical discipline, it is interesting that the practitioners should produce major public presentations. Luckily the practitioners are energetic people anxious to promote an appreciation for our artifactual heritage.

For example, Sue Allen, Willman Spawn and Chris Clarkson provided a fascinating discussion of their discoveries and future directions for study during a 1983 Summer Rare Book School seminar at Columbia University. This occasion echoed the "First Seminar on the History of Bookbinding" produced by Willman Spawn in 1973 at the Free Library of Philadelphia. That 1973 seminar also included presentations by Sue Allen, Willman Spawn and Chris Clarkson as well as contributions by G. Thomas Tanselle, Michael Papantonio and Hanna French. The Philadelphia seminar was also coincident with the Princeton opening of the Michael Papantonio collection of American binding. That exhibit, with 61 binding examples dating from 1668 to 1864, was then the most comprehensive presentation of American binding.

The Michael Papantonio exhibition and its catalog1 were such a step toward the recognition of the study and appreciation of American binding that it has been interesting to imagine what could be done next. Now the Michael Papantonio exhibit has been extended and further developed by the Frederick Maser exhibition in the fall of 1983 at the Canaday Library at Bryn Mawr College.

The lasting benefits from the Maser exhibition are the gift of the collection to Bryn Mawr "where students and other scholars can readily profit by their availability" and a curatorial program for the preservation and development of an American binding collection by James Tanis, Director of Libraries.

Another accomplishment of the exhibit effort is its well bound and well designed catalog. The catalog opens with a fascinating Introduction by Frederick Maser in which Dr. Maser interprets from the evidence of books and their bindings their interplay of fashion and necessity in the lives of early American readers. In its descriptive text the catalog features illustrations of all 62 bindings including six magnificent full color plates. The descriptive entries follow the Papantonio catalog format exactly and many of the Maser binding selections were specifically intended to extend, and not to duplicate, the Papantonio selections. For example, the Maser selections extend Papantonio with eight Pennsylvania German bindings. Both catalogs also use a strict chronological sequence. The Maser catalog editing is certainly a fine example of an intent to build a coherent published record of American binding descriptions and attributions. Almost all bindings have an attribution to the binder, while all are attributed to their city or shop. Slightly discouraging is the verbalized description of exterior detail fully visible in the illustrations while, at the same time, there is a lack of any description of the structural features which are, generally, not visible in the plates. For example, a description entry,

Pigskin on beveled wooden boards; blind-tooled boards and spine fillets; two brass clasps on leather straps from back board; leather strapwork with nailhead bosses at head and tail of spine, as well as brass corner and center bosses, added later,

is all redundant, with information visible in the plates. On the other hand, structural features of the same example such as the stitch pattern in the fold, sewing support types, board lacing paths and cover-to-text attachment detail, endpaper construction and details of covering technique such as corner miter type, are unmentioned and not visible in the plates. It just seems that plates and words should be better utilized to provide a more complete physical description.

Beyond the binding descriptions, plates and attributions, which will greatly assist curatorial understanding and preservation of American bound collections, there is another crucial contribution in this catalog. It is Willman Spawn's essay, "The Evolution of American Binding Styles in the Eighteenth Century." This essay is so clear, informative and gracefully written that it is a model for the whole discipline of historical binding study. It is also a perfect counterpart to Graham Pollard's classic essay, "Changes in the Style of Book- bindings, 1550-l830." 2 In his essay Willman Spawn carefully describes the methods of historical binding study, the social and trade circumstances of the binder, the technology of the work and the pressures of fashion and convention that made the binders' work conform with expectations of the readers. If you have ever had an early American binding in hand and wondered what evidence of the place and time of its origin it could reveal, then this essay will provide you with very exciting reading.

Perhaps the next effort, building on the Papantonio and Maser exhibition and catalog accomplishments, would be a major exhibition and publication on the American role in the evolution of the industrially produced book with a detailing of the development of the American contribution to the technology and design of publishers' binding. Such an ambitious objective is no more than has already been accomplished. The Frederick Maser collection, the Maser/ Bryn Mawr exhibit catalog and Willman Spawn's essay have already motivated the study and appreciation of our earlier American bookbindings.

1. Early American Bookbindings from the Collection of Michael Papantonio. New York, 1972.

2. The Library, 5th Series, Vol. 11 #2, 1956, p. 71-94.

Susan Garretson Swartzburg, ed. Conservation in the Library: A Handbook of Use and Care of Traditional and Nontraditional Materials. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1983. 234 p. $35.

Reviewed by Carla J. Montori
Mellon Intern for Preservation Administration, Yale.

Conservation in the Library was compiled to provide information on the care of materials found in libraries. Subtitled A Handbook of Use and Care of Traditional and Nontraditional Materials, the volume covers books, paper and several film formats, as well as new technologies applied to information storage. It is intended for use by the archivist, curator, or librarian responsible for collection maintenance and preservation.

With the exception of an introductory essay on general care, handling, and storage techniques, each chapter of the book covers a specific medium; each is written by a materials conservator or a preservation specialist. The introductory chapter, written by editor Susan Swartzburg, establishes the format followed in subsequent chapters and provides a general view of the concerns explored in more detail in the work on specific media. In addition, Ms. Swartzburg includes a history of the preservation movement, a discussion of the effect the construction of a library building has on the materials housed therein, and makes a strong argument for the necessity of establishing a plan for disaster prevention and preparedness.

Swartzburg's introduction also sets the book's tone and level. Information given is soundly based in current conservation theory and technique, clearly presented in a manner that the librarian who is not a conservator or preservation specialist can understand, and is intended to educate the reader in the principles of preservation and collection maintenance. This is not a book of instruction in conservation procedures. Although the contributing conservators do describe some simple repair techniques, they also caution the reader against attempting anything beyond the most basic procedures.

The specific library materials covered include paper, books and bindings; photographs, slides, microforms, motion picture film, videotape, videodiscs, sound recordings, and information stored on computer. The introductory chapter and the chapters on the three traditional print media--paper, books and microform--comprise nearly half the book. The emphasis on the traditional media may be attributed to the fact that these media have been collected and generated by libraries for a longer time, and that more research has been conducted into their physical properties and the associated problems of conservation.

The traditional formats are more easily thought of as library materials. Staff and users alike are familiar and comfortable with paper, books and microforms, even though there may still be some resistance to working with micro-forms. The authors of these chapters consistently discuss these media in the context of working collections.

The chapters on photographs, slides, motion picture film, and sound recordings concern materials that have been collected by libraries for a number of years but are not traditional material. There is a greater emphasis in these chapters on the technology of the formats. The section on photographs, f or instance, goes into considerable detail about photographic processes, different kinds of chemical deterioration, and optimal storage conditions. This is very helpful to the librarian who is not a conservator but who has administrative responsibility for collection maintenance. There is, however, little discussion of the use of a collection of photographs. The photograph is presented as a museum object rather than as library material.

Slides and motion picture film are discussed in less technical detail than are photographs, and with greater emphasis on their use in a library. Slides have an important application as part of a teaching program, and are found in the circulating collections of public and school libraries as well as in the slide libraries of specialized institutions. The authors discuss slides as circulating items in a school's media center and as part of course instruction in an academic department. Slides are considered a storage medium for visual information and images, but are also viewed as items to be used in a library setting.

Motion picture film is treated in much the same way. Motion picture film and slides must be projected to be used, and projection inevitably wears out these film formats. Since projection equipment is an important element in the life and use of these formats, it must also be considered. The special care and handling needs of these materials are covered in detail.

The new technologies--videotape, videodisc, and computers--are still viewed as having their main applications outside libraries. The initial application of videodisc and videotape has been for entertainment and instruction, and libraries have acquired these media as extensions of audiovisual services. As the variety of programming available in these formats increases, wider library applications may develop. As videotapes, discs, and computers become more available and affordable to the individual consumer, and as the individual becomes familiar and comfortable with their use, there will be in- creased demand for them in the library.

These media can be exploited as means of information storage, much as microfilm is. Optical videodiscs are already being used for the storage of information. They are extremely durable, can hold up to 108,000 frames of text, permit rapid access to the information, and are quickly duplicated. Computers already have many applications in the library, and it is likely that these will broaden. As a preservation medium, they can now be used for full-text storage in machine-readable format. They can, moreover, produce an output of the information stored in some other machine-readable format, or in paper copy or microform. These formats are in turn vulnerable to their own kinds of deterioration through improper handling and storage.

Conservation in the Library is a good introduction to the various materials and formats found in libraries. It is especially useful to the traditional, print-oriented librarian, whose knowledge of nonprint media and of emerging technologies may be limited. The photographs, charts and graphs are helpful, as are the reading lists appended to each section. The editor includes a list of supplies and suppliers as well as a short directory of assistance and information. The index is thorough.

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