slideshow

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Hornbook Publication Part 2: The "Latten Frame".

This is a continuation from my last entry.  In this installment, we deal with the brass batten, or what was called the "Latten" frame.  It is essentially four strips of brass which are nailed over the horn covering which was intended to protect the "slip sheet", or printed paper sheet upon which was printed the Alphabet, Vowel Phonetic listings, the "Exorcism" ("in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost..."), and the Lord's Prayer.  This was what was used to teach kids how to read, and to an extent, to write.

The Latten Frame held the horn covering in place over the slip sheet.  For better or for worse, it provided at least some immediate protection for the paper slip sheet, enough to see it's owner through the first couple years of school.  However, nice as horn is, and yes, these days a bit costy,  they have not seemed to endure the test of time well.  In all fairness, the horn used was a boiled and delaminated piece, probably not from the best horn stock.  They were very thin, which I believe was relatively weak and prone, as the organic substances of animal horn changes with age, to both warp and discolour.  I have seen 250 year old specimens with remnant horn still attached, which looked like it had cigarette burns and large areas of amber discolouration.  The sheet beneath was unidentifiable. In all cases, the wood was untreated, and suffered accordingly.  But then, these were never intended to last more than a couple seasons, certainly not centuries!!

I wanted mine to last several generations, intact. I have been impressed with the longevity and general survival of 18th century lacquer decoupage techniques with furniture, and opted to use this technique on my Hornbooks, seeing as this method of sealing is at least about as old as the latter era Hornbooks themselves.  I would not expect that the time and attention needed for decoupaging would ever have been invested in a Hornbook . . . but it should have.  I don't believe that the kids, parents, and makers of Hornbooks in the 1690s would have ever had a clue that we would be reproducing them, examining them, commenting or critiquing them.  If they would have, you best be sure, we would have excellent examples today!  The craftsmen of the 18th century were brilliant, and very precise.  And they would be amused at us, with our obsession with antiques and early Americana.

Ahh, but enough with the waxing historic: on this day we cut, size, and install our frame.  We also apply and cure what will serve as our "horn": layers of finely sanded lacquer.  

In this process, I use several layers of masking tape to build up a "pour area" over the slip sheet once it's glued and dried to the finished Battledore Paddle.  Now, the paddle itself has several layers of finely sanded Shellac.  After it's final sanding, the slip sheet is glued in place.  Then tape is applied around the slip sheet, and one layer of lacquer is applied.  It dries, bounded by the tape surrounding it.  It dries, is sanded, then another coating is applied.  This process occurs over again, each layer wet-sanded.  Soon, sufficient layers are built up, and the sheet begins to look like Isinglass, which was an alternative to Horn in the 18th century.

The tape is removed, with a remarkably authentic covering over the slip-sheet, as seen in the photo below:


The layer of my "horn" cover is about 0.25 mm.  Layering lacquer within a custom confinement area, waiting for each layer to be dry enough to wet sand, takes better part of a day.


Another close-up, this time at the top of the board.

This part is done, or is at least in the latter phases of being done as we prepare to cut the brass lattens.

This is the device used to cut the 3/8 inch strips of brass to size.  Letterpress Printers will immediately recognise this as a table-top slug cutter.  Mine is from the 1870s or 1880s, manufactured by Golding, who made the Pearl presses.

There is an adjustable back stop on the slug cutter.  Set once for each side of the frame, and run the brass through.  When the lattens are sized, it may be found that they need to be filed for a precision corner fitting.

Here is the guillotine-like cutting blade.


The frame lattens are being sized and Cut.



The lattens are laid out atop the "horn" cover and checked for size and balance.  Inevitably a small portion of edge margin of the slip sheet comes near, or touches the brass frame.  Looks like a pretty good fit.  Let's run with it.'



A top-left and bottom right view.  Not a bad fitting, but the cut side edges need a bit of treatment to make them smoother.  


 
These are the tools of the trade for hammering brass lattens.  


Once sized, each latten is marked for position and drilled using a hand drill.  These will be the brass nail holes.  After drilling, the burs are removed.  Notice that each latten has a marking.  "B" means "Bottom".


Now the right and left side lattens are nailed into place.  The top and bottom lattens must be trimmed a bit on the ceramic stone.


The top and bottom lattens are finely trimmed to a precision fit.


The top and bottom lattens are installed, and there you have it: the completed Hornbook!



A close-up of the finished Latten Frame Hornbook.

The wood used for this particular Hornbook is Poplar.  I opted not to stain this one, so it would retain the natural "honey" look.  I also have two walnut and one cherry wood stained.  These will be featured in future blog installments.  

That's it for now, folks!  Prices for these Latten Frame hornbooks TBA.  Look for both the Latten Framed and Non Framed Hornbooks appearing on our Etsy Shop.

And as always, Good Providence in all your Endeavors!

-gary

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Another Publication of Hornbooks!


Making Hornbooks is a sideline for Paper Wren Press.  We make them  because we love History, and we love and appreciate historical processes.

I have already posted several articles about the Hornbook on the "G. Johanson, Printer" blog, it's background, how ours are made, why we choose the materials we do, &c., and as you read this, if you wish to delve into these articles, click here

What I am doing here is sharing photos of our latest "publication".  These are real books in every sense of the word.  They are just, well, one page books.  They are bound a little differently than multiple page books.  And I guess by strict definition, they are not multipage sewn and bound books - but "Book" is what they are called, and "Books" is how we treat them at the Paper Wren.  Thus, when we make them, we "publish" them.

The above Hornbook is our most recent, going out to Mr. Blewster.  It's our most recent, and one of the very few we have ever done as an individual order.  It has about eight sanded coats of Shellac, the wood is stained Walnut, and the page sports real copper nails.  It has taken about two weeks for the coatings to cure.  

Following some photos I posted on Instagram (you are following us on Instagram, right?), I began to receive an above normal number of inquires regarding these items, and as such, I decided it's time to release another publication of our Hornbooks.  Perhaps we will make these available via our Etsy shop.  We'll know come Thanksgiving.

James Moore, 18th Century Bookbinder Extraordinaire, has asked me to share some of my most recent Instagram photos with his FB group "18th Century Bibles".  I wanted to share better quality shots of the process as we undergo this most recent publication, hence this blog entry.  I have not been successful doing direct share with the 18th Century Bibles FB group from the Paper Wren page, and have been unable to create an album on that group's page, so I am providing there a link to this article instead.  James, let me know if there is anything I need to know or do regarding sharing with your group.  I am not the brightest bulb in the bunch when it comes to FaceBook, I'm afraid.

So, here are some shots of the beginning phases of the making, or "publishing" of our latest round of HBs.

Hornbooks start life as a board : I try to use Hardwoods as I can, or at very least, clear pine.  Sometimes I can get great vintage salvage, but this set of books will come from a finish cut length of Tulip Poplar, a standard "inside" furniture wood used for drawer boxes.  Poplar is an interesting wood. You really never know quite what the finished product will look because it never takes stain or sealant quite the same way twice.  It is a dense wood.  

I use a Chop Saw at first to make the individual squares that will be cut, in turn, into the traditional "Battledore" paddle shaped blanks.

Squares are cut by hand.  At this part of the process, I use power tools just to speed things along.  The handle cut-outs are marked in pencil, and cut with a hand held jig saw.  An old one.  I would prefer to use a glider saw, but I seem not to be able to locate a new blade for mine.  So my old jig saw will have to do.  It's only a rough cut, anyway.

Next comes the sanding of the faces, sides, top, bottom, and cut outs around the handles.  For this I use my hand crank rotary sander which I normally use to true up miters on picture frames. (yes, I make frame moulding and finish frames as well.  Forgot to mention that.)  I prefer whenever possible to use hand tools for two reasons: FAR more control, and MUCH less sawdust.  Power tools are a noisy mess.  Long Live the Yankee Woodshop.  I'd have one, but I already have a Dixie Letterpress Shop!

Here's a little bit closer look at a blank on the sander.  Not much really to say that you cannot see by the photo.  I will have to change out that sandpaper, however.  It's 110 grit, and must be cut with scissors and adhered to the heavy iron wheel with either rubber cement or two-way framing tape.  I use the latter.  Takes about half an hour to change the paper.  Takes about twenty minutes to sand each blank properly, plus another ten to fifteen minutes to fine sand by hand after this "rough" sanding by the wheel.

Poplar sands to an almost white colour.  What is amazing is that if you use 220 grit on it, you can actually fine a polish on this wood.  I take advantage of this phenom later in the process.

Another shot of the finish "rough" sand.  The end-grain is pretty unpredictable as to how it will take stain when staining process begins.  Some parts of the grain will totally resist, some parts of grain suck stain like pine.

And here we go with what we were able to sand up to this point.  There are still five more blanks awaiting sanding.  I have the letterpress printed "slip sheet" laying atop the uppermost paddle as you can see.  I wanted to get an idea of proportions at this point because for the first time since we started making Hornbooks some nineteen years ago, we are going to use a brass latten frame on two of these, and there will be a faux-horn covering . . . we hope.  It will be an experiment.  If successful, we will re-set type and print a new series using a different Printer's Cross for the "cross-row", and a different 18th century border.  It is the border type which we use to distinguish one series from another.  We are on our second series, the "Scottish Thistle" series.  We have been running the Thistle for about seven years.  Prior to that, we were on our first series, the English Rose.

This photo is from day two.  We have eight sanded blanks, two more awaiting sanding, and we have started the finishing of the paddle blanks.  From left to right: Honey, Cherry, Walnut, Dark Walnut.  When set side by side, it's amazing the colour differences.  This all gets modified during the shellac process, owing to the tendency for shellac to add a bit of an amber cast.

As the stained wood dries, the short fibres on the surface will raise.  We call this the "hackle".  The Hackle is sanded and the wood re-stained.  Then re-sanded until no more Hackle is raised.  After this, the layering of shellac.  We may try spar-varnish on  two of these books in this publication.

This is the "Honey" blank, which in actually, does not receive stain at all.  This one goes direct to shellac, which in itself creates an amber colour against the natural white of the Poplar, creating a pleasingly soft amber tone.  Some folks like the look of the paper on this colour wood.  Others like the higher contrast provided by the darker stains, which is why we make a variety of colours.  Just a bit of trivia: we began using only Honey and Cherry.  Walnut was introduced by a client who needed to match his American Colonial room decor. We liked it so much we decided to keep it in our line-up.  I myself happen to like blonde woods, so now we have four colours, and we may add more, like Jacobean.

For the last photo, I thought I might include a close-up of the Blewster Hornbook.  This one is going to Arkansas.  It is "frame-less", using copper nails to hold the page (the slip sheets are also glued on to the wood using PVA bookbinder's glue before the sealing process.)  The copper nail-heads are sanded bare, and level to the layered coatings of shellac.  This is a form of the 18th century "Decoupage" process.  Decoupage was not used on the original Hornbooks, I wish it was.  More would be alive today.  As it is, the originals were totally untreated, and the slip sheets were covered with transparent horn, which warps and rots with the years, unless you take care of it. These were dispensable "children's'; books", and were not meant to last a life-time.  And they sure didn't.   One day, I may make one with real horn, just to say I have one.

A brief word about the slip-sheets we print: the type used is a latter-era variety although still authentic: Caslon.  It is the original face, with tall "s" and "below the rule" figures.  Our founders also supply Colonial Williamsburg with this very same font.  Indeed, Caslon O.S. 337 is the house-"fount" of the Colonial Williamsburg Printery.  Each letter is handset, and printed in as close to the authentic black ink as I can find.  It is linseed oil based, and I am informed that the pigments are very close to it's 18th century counterparts.  That would be Lampblack.  Paper is a vintage faux vellum, chosen for it's authentic tinge.  Originals used Book sheet, a "laid" paper.  I have used it as well.  Under sealant, you cannot tell the difference, and honestly, my vintage supply of Vellum behaves much better. We have no idea how old this paper is: it was vintage when I lucked into the unopened ream over ten years ago.  Having worked with calf skin vellum as a calligrapher, I can attest to it's impressive replication of the weight and feel of the real thing.  Oh, and it's "flesh-side" . . . on both sides!

Prices are listed in detail on former blog entries, but I can say here that the unframed versions such as the Blewster Hornbook sells for $35.00, plus $5.35 for boxing and shipping.  We do not know at this time how much the brass latten framed versions will sell for.  That would be "TBA". If you find that you cannot live without an Early American Hornbook, or at least, our interpretation of one (which we think are pretty nice!), you can order one by contacting the Paper Wren at: paperwrenpress@gmail.com.   You can also contact me through our website listed below.

Thanks for reading, y'all!   Comments invited, and don't forget to visit our site at www.paperwrenpress.com, and also our educational blog at www.gjohanson.blogspot.com. As the process continues, there will be more blog entries.  Stay Tuned!













Saturday, October 25, 2014

Mama's Sauce and the Paper Wren Celebrates Seven-Or-So-Years.

Seven (or so . . . I was just notified by Linkedin that it's been seven) years ago, Nick Sambrato, of Mama's Sauce, asked me to meet him down at his shop in Winter Park, FL., to help him install his first Letterpress.  We first met via email, through a Letterpress mail group.  Since we were in close proximity to each other, and since I was probably at that time the only guy in Central Florida doing anything with Letterpress, it was only natural that we get together and have some Letterpress fun.  At this time I printed under the impress:  "G. Johanson, Printer".

Nick was installing a 1950s era 12 x 18 Kluge Automatic, a stunning example of 1940s era "robotics".  Chase Heavner was, I believe, Nick's first Letterpress client.  Chase owns a production company ("Fiction"), so as we set up to print his card, he brought in his crewe to shoot the process.  This video was the result.   It's been around for a while, now, but I am still getting responses from it, largely from the UK, every now and again.
So, to celebrate, what, seven years now? - Nick, Joey, and the Gang,  here's to you and the guys.  I have always valued our association and friendship.  Long live  "die Schwarze Kunst!" 


video


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Printer and His Devil.

Some time ago, I made this video.  Of all the Educational Videos I made, this one has the most viewership.  I thought I might revisit it, and describe a bit of the background behind it.

This video shows the lay up and positioning of the second colour run of a two colour business card, a job I was running for a local Optometrist.  I wanted a sound track, and at the time I already had a video out that used a classical sound track piece, Michael Praetorius "Terpsichore Dance of the Seasons."

Germany placed a ban on it!  Ach, was ist loss mit ihnen?  Ahh....SEASAC!"

Yup.  The Euro version of BMI and ASCAP didn't like my use of a 320 year old piece.

So, we decided to do our OWN sound track. I wrote a song, a sort of Historical ballad that has as it's goal the celebration of the American Printer and his/ her role in American History.  Yes, there were printers and print shop owners who were women.  In this song "The Printer And His Devil", I make mention of certain activities that took place during certain episodes of American History, and the corresponding role of the  Printer, who was the village and community  "News Gateway".  The idea of the ballad runs something like this: the listener picks up on the cues in the verse, and deduces the episode in history being described.  For instance, I say "Gettysburg", you think "Civil War".   I say "A Texas Assassination", and you think, hopefully, John F. Kennedy. I promise I didn't go beyond High School American History AH0101.

We recorded this piece using Josh Rustin's digital work studio, Josh at the slides and pan controls doing production. I myself am doing all the instrument tracks, guitars, harmonica, and (pitchy) vocals.  I really don't like my voice, gang.  Never did.  But I didn't have access to a nicer sounding vocal, so you're stuck with me.  Sorry.

Now, one challenge we had from the get go was that this song is only three minutes, but the video is almost eight!  How do we stretch a three minute score to cover this video?  Cheap and dirty solution: a very long intro.  So, actually, this video has essentially two scores behind it: a Musical involving two guitars and a harmonica, then the vocal piece that begins about three minutes into the video.

Whew!  Well, at least we don't have SEASAC breathing down our neck and cutting off my videos from the place I spent so many years as a kid.  Oh, btw, they lifted that ban, finally.  I guess they figured out that the good Herr Praetorius really doesn't care these days just WHO is playing his stuff.

So, here we go.  I might suggest you use earbuds or a head set for the audio, as the recording was actually made for high fidelity, with a wide tonal range, most of which doesn't come through with cheap computer speakers. The lyrics are posted below.





The Printer and His Devil © 2009, G. Johanson

The Printer and his Devil – Are working late tonight
Word came not so very long ago
borne on ships by men in red, a’coming to our shores
. . . the Printer thought that you would like to know . . .

The Printer and his Devil – Are working late tonight
News had come not very long ago
That Washington is burned, but Dolly saved a memory
. . . the Printer thought that you would like to know . . .


So plane the Forme and cut the Frisket –
Pull the Devil’s Tail
For a Towne without a Printer
is like a ship without a sail
The Midnight Oil is burning in
the Printer’s Shop tonight
. . . the Printer thought that you would like to know . . .


The Printer and his Devil – Are working late tonight
A packet came not very long ago
A cannon shot in Charleston took Old Glory from the sky
. . . the Printer thought that you would like to know . . .

The Printer and his Devil – Are working late tonight
A dispatch had arrived not long ago
A pistol shot, a frantic chase – had brought the curtain down
. . . the Printer thought that you would like to know . . .


So plane the Forme and cut the Frisket –
Pull the Devil’s Tail
For a Towne without a Printer
is like a ship without a sail
The Midnight Oil is burning in
the Printer’s Shop tonight
. . . the Printer thought that you would like to know . . .


The Printer and his Devil – Are working late tonight
For a cable came not long ago
The S-O-S that went unheard and ice upon the sea
. . . the Printer thought that you would like to know

The Printer and his Devil – Are working late tonight
The Teleprinter spoke not long ago
A sudden shock, a sudden war, a Harbor known as Pearl
. . . the Printer thought that you would like to know


So plane the Forme and cut the Frisket –
Pull the Devil’s Tail
For a Towne without a Printer
is like a ship without a sail
The Midnight Oil is burning in
the Printer’s Shop tonight
. . . the Printer thought that you would like to know . . .


Wednesday, June 25, 2014

Resurrecting A 328 Year Old Classic

Paper Wren Press Loves Letterpress.

Paper Wren Press also loves Antiquities.  In especially, antique and classic books.  Well, after all, books are the whole reason for Letterpress.  Letterpress was not developed for Polymer plates or Zinc cuts.  Actually, long before Gutenberg, Europe was printing woodcuts, so illustration was not the driving force behind Letterpress.

It is the Art of the Book only - and singularly - that drove Gutenberg.

*          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *          *       

In my dreams, I am Indiana Jones, investigating leads to a long lost treasure.  In my case, the treasure is the Printed Word: Books.

Have you ever wanted to Time Travel?  I believe the closest you will ever find reality to this whimsy is through the written word.  Especially if that "word" was written two or three centuries ago.  Imagine, here you are in the Year of Our Lord 2014 (yes, at the Paper Wren, we recognize Anno Domini!), and you are holding a Bible, or a Novel, or a Treatise written and published in 1776.  Say, maybe printed in Philadelphia.  By W. Young, late of Market Street.  You are connected to the very same umbilical of thought and information as the Citizen of the Province of Pennsylvania who was the original owner of that book!  You are taking into the inner most crevasses of your grey matter the very same thing as your counterpart of 238 years ago.  You are engaging first hand, the thoughts that generated the pen that wrote the manuscript that was labouriously set into formes of moveable type, which took months, maybe years to print, bind, and make available to your original counterpart of 1776.

You may draw entirely different conclusions, but you are taking in the same "data stream".  Do you realize that this would be all you would do, in essence, should you be magically transported back to 1776 physically?  Only, your brain would be processing not only communication, but physical aspects, your eyegate, your eargate, your smell and taste.  But above all, you would be in communication with the people.  And in that, to some degree, when you read a book that was also held in the hands and read with the eyes and mind of your Revolutionary War era counterpart, you are engaging in a similar form of communication.

I see a bond with the past here, solid and real.

That's why I love old books.  They transport me.  I hear them speak, and I speak back.  I carry with me the first-hand knowledge...regardless of the veracity of the Speaker...of another human being that lived in another world.  Unfortunately, they cannot hear me.  It's a broadcast.  I will settle for that.





About two weeks ago I purchased a book at the Brandywine Book Seller in Winter Park, Florida.  It was a 1685 edition of Edward Pettit's "Visions of Government", written by a Royalist for Royalists, opponents to the late Cromwell Regime, opponents to the late Republic, to Republican thought, opponents to any such "villainous" concepts such as a Government deriving its just powers by the consent of the Governed.  It was originally written for the perusal of King Charles II, but between the first and my second edition, His Majesty died, and King James II assumed the Throne.  Thus, this book has a Dedication to James, the Noble Prince.

Reading two chapters of this book was all it took to help me understand in a new way why there was a Massachusetts Bay Colony, why Congregationalist Separatists fled, and why they were happy to be on this side of the Atlantic, and the sycophant Loyalists over there on the other. These people fled for their very lives, their fortunes, and yes, their posterity.  The official government railings against these people was not unlike the NAZI party railings against the Jews!  Unbelievable rhetoric. Unimaginable torture. You can read about it in the book "Fair Sunshine".

As such when this book was spied on the book shelf, without attached covers, I immediately recognized a Treasure. Portions of this book was actually quoted by our Founding Fathers, as the very thing we strove to distance ourselves from.  The King, the Star Courts, a truncated government, and the Government Church.

I asked the selling price.  It was missing the spine covering and both covers, (hence referred to as "boards") were detached.  It had a marvellous marbleized covering, with calf skin hinges, corner protectors, and at one time, spine.  The book was available for the cash I had in my pocket.  I purchased it, more pleased than I have been in a long time.

The state of the Marble Paper was admittedly rough, but I love the look of something well used, and that classic comb pattern could still be plainly seen.  I knew I had to retain that look, so from the beginning, the decision was made not to "restore" this volume, but to "repair" it.  I would merely seek to re-hinge the book.

Generally speaking, the book was in nice shape.  It was pretty easy to see through the broken hinges and somewhat "iffy" end sheets to see a marvelously preserved book such as this specimen.  Very little foxing on the pages, the above photo shows the worst of the printed pages.

Its really hard to resist the frontispiece, which is an engraving, executed upon the same paper type as the letterpress printed pages, which is not usual.  Obviously the publisher was cutting some corners.  The image is that of Bonnie King Charlie, the same King that hunted down and rounded up the Scottish Covenanters and hauled them before the Star Courts of Bishop Waud, who pronounced unspeakable death sentences upon them.  The same Charles for which the King Charles Spaniel was named.  The Charles that took over after the decline of the "Crummel" regime.  Here he is seen with his Royal Foote upon the insidious Monster of the Turk, the French, and.......the Protestant Reformer.  Britania looks on while an angel delivers this cool wavy sword via Divine Air Mail Delivery.  Apparently, the Bonnie King was waiting for it.

Since the text block is comprised of 100% linen rag, with no vegetable matter, no wood component, only pure emulsified linen fabric, the pages are not only bright, but supple.  All these books printed before 1800 tend to be this way.  The text block commonly outlives the binding. Many of these ancient volumes enjoyed  several rebindings over the centuries.
 

The repair begins!  The first thing I had to do was figure out how to go about re-attaching the hinges.  I have made case bound books, but I have never repaired one!  Visiting several conservators sites, I arrived at a game plan.  I would use Kuzugami Paper (Hosho Student, courtesy of Sam Flax, Orlando FL), a Japanese long fiber paper used by many conservators to re-enforce and supplement both leather and cloth bound covers.  The technique involves "lifting".  In my case, that meant to somehow separate the leather hinge cover from it's board for a space of about 3/8th, to permit the insertion of the "Japanese Paper" (purchased at Sam Flax, Orlando FL.)

I used a razor blade to do this.  Actually, I used a box cutter!  Using a stab-and-drag motion, I managed to lift the leather from the board.  To establish a space in which to apply the PVA glue, I ran an old Credit Card through the slit, which was actually a great tool to use!  A thick guitar pick would have even been better.  Note to self: get some thicker gauge guitar picks!

Having "lifted" the hinge side of each board, a piece of Kuzugami paper is inserted.  The width of this paper has been premeasured by placing each board on their respective positions, and measuring with either a tape or a piece of string the distance between the two hinges, including the arc of the wrap around the spine and the 3/8 or so inches lifted between the leather of the hinges and the board.

Next is measured another piece of Kuzugami, which will also wrap around the spine under the piece we just measured for the lifted hinges.  This piece will be glued to the inside portion of each board, so a generous amount of overlap will be required.  About two to three inches of overlap on each side of the spine.  As such, the boards will be hinged both by the spliced insert and the piece inside.  You can correctly assume that there will be two sheets being glued over the spine.  The inner hinge paper, and the outer, spliced into the lifted leather hinges.

The spine has glue applied.  A word about this spine.  Part of my research for this project uncovered a bit of interesting trivia.  You know how we love those big leather books with those big bulging cords wrapped around the spine?  Some call this "Medieval Binding".  I call it "Cord Binding".  The "pink of the mode" (the 17th and 18th century expression for "in-fashion" or "in-style") in the latter 17th and prevailing to greater and greater degrees as the 18th century progressed - was to avoid such anachronisms.  They actually did not really like that look!  These people were very modern oriented, and saw no value in hanging on to ancient modes and methods simply because they were old.  Age was not the litmus test of value. Practicality and functionality was.  As such, what became increasingly popular was a smooth, tight wrapped "modern" looking spine.  The cords became less and less prevalent, in the main.  This book actually has paper mâché covering the spine, hardened almost to a plaster.  It absorbs glue, giving a great grip to whatever you glue it to!  The original spine had faux horizontal lines suggesting the position of the cords, but the spine was smoothe and straight.  So, I wasn't about to alter what the original artisans wished to produce.  This spine covering, by the way, is in almost perfect shape!


The interior sheet is glued to the spine.  I left the Japanese Paper and book on the vise for about two hours to insure adhesion. 

While that is drying, I painted the strip to be inserted into the hinges with brown acrylic paint.  This was to minimise any chance of a blaring white piece to be visible in case any part of it should be exposed.  As it was, no part would be exposed, but at this point I wasn't sure exactly how things were going to turn out, never having done this sort of repair before.  I figured that it was a safety precaution.

Taking my trusty expired credit card and going over the lifted 'slit' a few more times, I created a thin channel into which to apply the PVA glue, and then insert the paper.

The painted Japanese paper is inserted, the excess glue wiped off, and then placed in the nipping press in a sort of hard foam sandwich to make sure the leather and board presses against the paper to create a firm bond.  After the boards were removed from the press after a couple hours, I noted a certain discolouraton of the edges of the calf skin.  It had absorbed the glue through to the hide side.  That's what I call thin paring, brother!

Here you can see the boards with the paper glued between the hinges.  Resting atop is the text block with the interior paper waiting to be glued in.  Note the wax paper between the paper and the block itself.  Kuzugami, aside from being as resilient as pared leather, is very absorbant.  I did not want the glue to affect the paper of the text block.  The interior hinge paper is pasted, the board closed atop, making contact with it.  The book is then flipped, the spine glued (atop the first hinge sheet), and the process repeated on the other side of the text block, the interior hinge being pasted to the back board, also with wax paper protecting that side of the text block.  So, we glue both the inner hinge sheet and the outer hinge sheets at the same time.  Then close the book, making sure the boards are straight and the text block aligned within . . . as best as is possible. The original book actually was not perfectly centered if one measures with a millimetre rule.  But you could never tell by eye!


After this, the book is wrapped tightly in wax paper, which is taped into place.  This is to ensure a positive and firm contact with the papers to the spine.

The wrapped book is now placed into the nipping press with a fair amount - not a lot - of pressure.  Enough to make sure the boards do not warp, and positive contact is made between the interior sheets and their respective boards.

The book is pulled out after about two hours, and inspected.  I open the boards to make sure the interior hinge sheets adhered firmly, and without buckles.  This is important, because there will be end sheets pasted over the interior of each board, and we want that covering to be smooth and flat.


Next, I inspect the outer hinges and paper to make sure they also dried properly.  I also double check the alignment of the boards.



You can see by these close ups of the front and back boards that the leather edges have a good, solid adhesion.  I really am impressed by the robustness of Kuzugami paper!  Structurally, this book is even at this stage, structurally sound.  See how in the thinnest spots of the leather hinge, the glue had absorbed through and discoloured the leather.  Make a mental note of this, dear reader, in case you wish to do this yourself.  In my case, I knew this would be covered, so it wasn't an issue.

Now, for the calf skin hinge and spine cover!  Leather is expensive, and usually comes far too thick to use for book binding as a matter of course.  It must be reduced in thickness to fold, splice, taper, and any other of a number of manipulations required for case binding a book.  As such, the edges that I required was less than 0.3-0.5 mm, or roughly the size of the thickness of 60 lb text paper stock.  I had to do more research.  I discovered that special paring knives are used, there is an English style knife, a German style knife, and these knives are expensive.  You need a proper surface to pare leather.  You have to pare at an angle.  You have to develop a touch, you have to feel the leather as you pare.  You pare differently with the grain than you do against the grain.  All this I had to learn, practice, and accomplish in one day.  And I had to somehow come up with tools, too!  Oh, and the leather, too!

Jesus, the Master Book Binder (according to none other than Benjamin Franklin - who am I to refute?) once advised that we never sew a new patch on an old wine skin,  The patch would eventually contract, and a worse tear would result.  Here I was, applying leather to leather, 300 year old leather at that!  

I had an idea!  I had this old leather wallet.  I think it was seventy years old, but in great shape.  It was calf skin, and very nearly the same colour as these hinges.  So, I cut out the back of the wallet and measured it against the hinges.  Perfect!  Exactly the length and width needed!  And . . . I would be applying old, stretched leather onto, well, old stretched leather!

For a paring knife, I found I had an Exacto Knife with a large blade handle that was the same shape as a German style paring knife.  Maybe it would work?  For a surface, I used the chase bed of a 9x13 Kelsey Letterpress, which acts as a portable heavy graded iron surface.

Here is the Kelsey Chase Bed.  Let me tell you how handy this bed has been here at the Paper Wren!  For some years it was my imposing stone for my 8x12 C&P.  It was a surface for linoleum and wood carving, and also served as a brace for at least one engraving.

This is the Exacto Knife blade.  I would not want to try to pare three feet of leather with this, but for a six or seven inch book?  Well, it worked out fine for me.  I pared from the flesh side, and discovered that you can pare through all the flesh, to the point that you think you are about to pare a hole.  I was always stopping and checking.  At one point the "flesh" clears, and you get to the back side of the hide surface.  It's actually kind of white-ish in colour.  It also poses more resistance to the blade than the fleshy membranous matter, so you can actually "feel" the point at which you have pared thin enough.  Eventually, paring became faster as I developed the 'feel'.  I was able to produce longer and longer strokes when paring one direction, but in the direction 90 degrees away, the resistance of the leather was much less, and paring strokes became very short because the leather would buckle.  Mental note: orient your leather so you can do long strokes corresponding to the longest edge.

Here is the calf skin that used to be a wallet (see the fold?), with edges pared.  I am lining it up with the hinge that will be covered.  The edge of the leather must glue flush to the marble paper, align perfectly, and taper smoothly with no lip.  In other words, it needs to look like the original leather.  Not just a piece of leather glued on top on another piece.   Once I had one side aligned and I saw that no extra trimming and paring was needed, I pasted one side down.

It was then placed into the nipping press with a stiff foam sheet placed between the leather and the platen.  This is a stiffer foam, the purpose of which was to help spread the downward pressure of the platen evenly. If I did not do this, all the pressure would come to bear on the thicker part of the leather, the tapered, pared edge would get almost no pressure.  We don't need a lot of pressure, just enough to make sure there is no buckling or warping, and firm contact is made.
After a couple hours, I pull the book from the press, and inspect the hinge so far.  Satisfied, I then paste the rest of the leather over the spine.  The reason why I glued one board first was to provide an anchor from which to stretch the rest of the leather tight.  Once tight, I had to make a way for the spine to dry tight.  This involved a bit of creativity on my part. (I'm sure I got this idea elsewhere. . . I'm not all that creative.)

I happened to have some spare cowhide laying around. (?)  Yeah, don't even ask.  Anyway, having pulled the leather tight, I then tightly wrapped the cowhide leather over the edges of the book, and held it in place with several very long rubber bands that I use for the gripper bars on my press.  I wrapped the leather all the way around the book, two layers thick, to make sure that (A), the bands wouldn't make a depression in the leather of the spine, and (B), the bands wouldn't damage the open end of the boards.

After a couple hours, I unwrapped the book, and being satisfied with the way the leather set on the spine, I wrapped the rest of the leather around the back board, and aligned the edge to the edge of the original hinge, and pasted. Then placed the book once again in the nipping press for a couple hours.  By the end of the day, here is what I had (above).  A very, very nice bind.  Oh, and look at that fold in the leather, where the colour is a bit ligher?  That was the original wallet fold.  Notice that it isn't so pronounced now?  Interesting . . . 

I purposely left the ends to overlap.  There will be two cuts made to separate the front, back and side "flaps".  The front and back flaps will be folded over the board and glued down, the spine flap will be trimmed off to just above the headband.

The flaps, top and bottom on each board, looks like this.  Ideally, this should be a bit longer, but I have enough overlap to provide a good adhesion.  Take a look at that flap.  Can you see how the outer edges are almost white, while the "flesh" membrane away from the edges is sort of beige?  That's the backside of the "hide side" dermis.  That is a 0.1-0.2mm paring.  Razor thin!

Pretty obvious photo of pasting the flap, but what is not shown, and what I should explain, is an unexpected step I had to perform before I got to this point.  After the flaps were cut, I found that before I could fold the flaps over, I had to first glue the flaps to the actual edge of the board!  I couldn't just past and tug, it wouldn't stay put.  So I pasted the very edges of the boards, placed the leather flaps over those edges, and stood the book upright, to apply pressure on the tops and bottoms of each board.  I then placed the book, upright, in the nipping press with foam above and below, and let the book stand in the press for about two hours.  THEN I came to the point where I could to the complete fold-over.  Can you see by the photo that the leather flap is already glused to the edge of the board?  So, the folding of these little flap became a two step process.  At this point I had about 48 hours spaced over one week into this book.

Now, to hold these flaps down so they could adhere firmly, I had to get creative again.  This time I enlisted the services of my padding press, which also served as the vise when I glued the hinge paper on the spine. Now, here I decided to use foam again, placing on board flat on the press table, laying the foam atop the glued flap, the platen being screwed down, exerting pressure to hold the flaps in place.

Here is the set-up.  You can see that I had to do one board at a time.  I used metal "furniture" from the print shop to brace the back of the book.

 After the flaps dried in place, I trimmed the spine flap, and applied a dark, almost cordovan polish to the leather, in order to darken it to match the corner protectors.  I also treated the leather on the bottom and top of the spine where the flap was cut.  This area was both polished and buffed.

This shot was taken after the first polishing of the leather.  Can you see that the lighter area where the original wallet folded is now blended into the rest of the leather?  The nice thing is that this is used and stretched leather, which retains a 'used' look.


The edges of the hinge lines up perfectly with the edge of the marble paper, and perfectly covers the original hinge leather, tapering nicely.  Don't you love that marble paper?  That's something else the Paper Wren will be taking on.


Here is the spine after the third polishing and buffing.  Now, the leather actually matches the corner covers.  This actually looks like a three hundred year old book.  With another three hundred years of life ahead for it.

Here is where the flaps folded in.  The headbands are not obscured, and the trimmed leather of the top and bottom spine edges buffed to a mat polish.

The last phase was installing the end sheets.  For this, I used a faux vellum.  The paper is almost the consistency of tympan paper, and actually looks and behaves like vellum.  It is a vintage stock, long discontinued.  These were installed in the normal manner: the paper is folded, and in this case, trimmed to the size needed.  The edge of the fold is glued in a thin strip, then placed, or some might say "tipped" into the text block.  Technically, tipping in means actually sewing into a signature, but again, I won't argue.  Whatever one calls it, the folded end sheet is glued in.  Then, the side facing the board is pasted, and the book closed with wax paper between the fold to protect the other side of the folded endsheet.  This is done to both sides, and the book placed, once again, into the nipping press for a couple hours.  Upon removal, I found that a little buckling was beginning to happen over the Kuzugami paper, owing to the porous nature of this paper, which allowed trapped air to bubble under the endsheet.  Using a bone folder, I smoothed out all these air pockets, and re-closed the book, and put it back into the press with wax paper between the end sheet folds.  An hour later, I pulled the book again, and the pasted-in endsheet lay nice and flat.

Of course, I sign all my work!  This is done in pencil.  I really wish I had a nice bookplate to put in this book.  Hmm . . . that may be my next project: Ex Libris plates.


Here is the backside of the book.  I love the vellum.  I would have rather have used marble paper, but all in good time.  As I mentioned earlier, that is yet another of the 17th and 18th century book arts that we at the Paper Wren will eventually add to our repertoire of in-house productions.

The repair is now complete.  About fifty two hours spread over a period of about one week.  The book hinges are re-enforced by two layers of Kuzugami paper, a leather covering, and two end papers.  Talk about strong!  The book repair also passed the "Cindy Test".  My sweet wife has a sixth sense about something done well.  Part of that Alabama Cattle Farming lineage.  Boy, those guys do it up tight, and do it up right!  You don't slip in the saddle of a Bama-bread cuttin' horse.  No-sir!
Epilog:
When I purchased this book, the lady who owned the shop asked me to bring it back when I repaired it, she would like to see it.  I plan to do this on the Monday next.  What I am hoping is that perhaps, just maybe, they may have a few more cover-less 17th and 18th century books they may want repaired.  The more I do, the more the skills develop, and Paper Wren Press may actually offer antiquarian book reparation and restoration services.

After all, the Bookbinder was the traditional adjunct to the Print Shop!  The two practices have been shaking hands for over five hundred years!
That's it for now, folks.  Stay tuned for next months installment!