Welcome to this, the third and final installment of our historical rebinding of Johnson's Dictionary Improved by Todd, Boston, 1828. At the end of Part 2, we had just finished covering the fully disbound, washed, mended, and resewn textblock in new full calfskin. This post will walk through the traditional leather staining, gold-tooling, and final touches undertaken to bring the binding to completion.
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.
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.
A couple years ago in San Francisco, a friend and I stumbled across an antique storefront's going-out-of-business sale in a warehouse in SOMA. It always fascinates me to think about how all these strange objects from across huge swaths of time and space and culture can end up sitting side-by-side, to consider their converging histories. Maybe a thing is a new arrival to the shelves and crates, just recently pulled from circulation, or maybe it's been sitting there since the beginning, waiting to be recognized for something - usefulness, beauty, novelty, curiosity - once again. I found a couple of black cloth, gold-stamped photo albums in less than fair condition, pasted full of black and white images from the ~1900s-1930s. That potentially permanent recorded evidence of so many single moments in time, with all the context packed into those pieces of paper, is a time capsule, proof of existence, for whatever that's worth. The doers - the picture takers and takees - felt it valuable enough to record, and I have a strong reverence any figment of personal creativity actualized, for the inspiration potential of any publicized idea. I bought the albums, a few dozen memories of ancient strangers, with the intention of cleaning them up a bit and giving them a place to stay for a while.
While in DC, a friend put me onto this fascinating volume, the so-called 'Jefferson Bible'; Thomas' own re-interpretation of Jesus' teachings extracted from Greek, Latin, French, and English versions of the New Testament. Jefferson's Bible focuses on Jesus' moral lessons and almost entirely excludes passages regarding divinity or the supernatural, ie the philosophy rather than the dogma. With beautiful red leather boards, edge-gilding, and marbled endsheets, this will be a perfect candidate for a leather reback - reusing all the original elements - once I've settled into my new home in Boston and can retrieve my tools and materials from storage!
Every machine has a story and, in spite of it, deserves to serve its original function diligently until the steel itself turns to dust. Right up to that moment, it's a matter of respect to maintain its mechanics, keep it slicked and clean, give it the chance to do what it was built to do.
It seems only right to christen the inclusion of my typewriter collection and repair antics on this blog with the first machine I ever purchased, a 1919 Underwood Standard #3. This model features a 16" platen and an extended frame to support it... as such, it weighs about 60 lbs and is far from a 'portable' model. I received it in pretty decent shape, albeit with some dust, sticky keys, and a missing ribbon.
Even in the midst of a cross-country move, when I ought to be thinning out my collection for my back's sake, I can't help but be sucked in by book in need. This little volume is not only falling apart but appears to have been put back together incorrectly at some point: The accordion-fold of photos has cracked, yellowing tape across each seam, and based on the orientation of the first page, whoever did this 'restoration' refolded the photos in the opposite direction, causing several to crease and tear over time.
I'm fairly certain I'll be able to clean them up nicely and strengthen the insert from the back with strips of kozo paper. The acidic paper of the booklet may be more difficult to repair, but it's strong enough yet that bringing the book to a handleable state shouldn't be a problem.