Welcome to Part 2 of our historical rebinding of Johnson's Dictionary Improved by Todd, published in Boston in 1828. Last week, at the close of Part 1, our dictionary had been removed from its original decrepit covers, washed, guarded, mended, and reassembled into the neat little textblock pictured above. This week, we finally moved our project from loose leaves back into a bound state, and what a pleasure it is to be back in one piece!
Just as the leaves began to change here in Boston, swashing an already beautiful skyline with a whole new set of colors, our studies at NBSS transitioned from the millimeter bindings of the early 20th century to the full calf bindings of the 18th. Sewn on raised or recessed cords, trimmed in boards, covered with undyed skin and stained with mild acids after covering, the structure was as foreign as it was satisfying to complete. After a few models to get a hang of the processes, I decided to dive into my own collection and rebind a sorry volume of my own from the early 19th century in this style, repeating many of the binding processes that it had first undergone nearly 200 years ago.
Anyone who handles old books knows the above images well: the spine lining, glue, or endsheets on that 20th-century case binding have finally given out, and the textblock has all but ripped itself out of its covering. If the cloth case is also in tatters, a cloth re-back is often the surest course of action to get the book back into working order. Oftentimes, however, when it's only the cheap mull or excessive hide glue that have loosed the book from its place, the case itself is in more or less perfect order, and it seems a shame to carve it up to complete a full re-back.
Enter the Cloth Re-casing, a sort of modified reback procedure that offers the strengths of a full reback while maintaining even more of the original case materials, resulting in an almost invisible repair.
A Dictionary's Worth... Like... 3 or 4 Pictures: A Provincial Glossary; with a Collection of Local Proverbs and Popular Superstitions - Francis Grose, 1790
I've got a soft spot for dictionaries, especially those that focus on some specific topical lexicon - lists of medical, artistic, archaic, slang, or spicy words, as examples. Language, as far as I'm concerned, is the basis for society as we know it, and the breadth and depth to which we develop and record the words we use reveal a great deal about how and why we communicate, the time and place we live in, and what elements of that existence are important to us.
Cheap books can be an incredibly dangerous delight. It's one thing to walk out of the Brattle parking lot with as many $1 grabs as you can carry, but in these isolatory times, the internet makes all sorts of 'deals' only a PayPal click away. It's all a collector can do to keep within their budget. That said, my most recent Craigslist purchase, at least in terms of historical insight and uniqueness, was worth every penny: two 18th-century farmer’s almanacks, from 1795 and 1797, with much more than meteorological projections packed between and across their covers.
Brattle Book Shop, Boston. Anyone who's been know it's simply impossible to visit and leave empty-handed. From my perusal of the $5 carts in the parking lot outside the shop yesterday comes this luscious volume from Samuel Johnson's The Lives of the Most Eminent English Poets with Critical Observations on their Works, printed and published in London in 1781.
Reproduced from a paper I wrote for Michael Greer's 'Technology of the Book' course at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock in Fall 2018.
Consider yourself standing in a library - you’re sure to have little trouble visualizing the scene. The organization of the shelves, the volumes lined up all the way down the rows, titled along their spines for fingers and eyes to pass over… this setting is nearly as iconic as the book itself. In the infancy of the book as we know it, however, libraries were not nearly so orderly. Massive vellum tomes bore metal knobs and latches to keep them closed and protected as they lay flat across their faces, chained to their shelves, oftentimes too heavy to move. The Renaissance poet Petrarch is known to have nearly lost his legs after dropping a volume of his own inscription on them as he pulled it from the shelf (Brassington 94, Cundall 9). From its birth in the 4th century, the flat-form book endured 1200 years of bondage before finally assuming the noble, upright stance we take for granted today.
This past summer I had the privilege of working as an archivist intern at the National Archives in Washington DC. In between scanning, digitally-editing, and transcribing handwritten documents from the four years of Lincoln's presidency, I was allowed to pursue a personal research project with the tools and materials at Archives 1 and 2 at my disposal. With an interest in the history of conservation practices at the Archives as my starting point, my research eventually led me to focus specifically on the origins of the Archives as a organization for the safekeeping of government documents and the adoption of one particular preservation technique which didn't age well at all: cellulose acetate film lamination.
You'll have to excuse the awful pun headline, but I just can't start writing out a post without having one down. I groaned audibly at this one myself; hopefully, now that it's out there, the content it introduces will justify it somewhat.
After the initial demo and exploratory class period, I've spent a number of evenings trying my hand at paste paper production. Wheat paste has strong associations with the street art movement as a means of 'permanently' attaching posters and flyers to walls and street posts. In the 18th and 19th century Europe, however, it maintained a more 'respectable' status as style of paper decoration and book covering — a somewhat 'folkier' alternative to the Turkish and Italian marbled papers popular at the time.
At long last, a classic dust jacket is freed of its pressure-tape mummification and returns to its corner store display a little more lively than it was a month ago.