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.
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.
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!
After allowing this volume to passively grace my music stand for several years, I decided it would be better appreciated by a pianist friend of mine, and so restored it to a usable state. The textblock was coming loose at the signatures and was almost completely separated from its case. I repaired the signatures, resewed and lined the textblock, then refit the textblock into the original case after lightly treating the spine leather to quell disintegration at the head and heel.
In lieu of my latest restoration project (which should be completed in the next few weeks), I can't help but flaunt the newest (and, ironically, the oldest!) addition to my personal library: a second-edition printing of Samuel Johnson's first dictionary of the English language, published in two volumes in 1756. My copy is volume two, 'L-Z'.
It came to me in a very sorry state: most of the original cover is gone, with only the laced-in back board still attached to the textblock, although the sewing itself is in great shape. I also noticed a tiny knot of red and gold silk threads sticking out of spine edge, which might be a clue as to what the original sewn endbands looked like.