1.12.20

Binder Natasha Herman & Grolier's Griffo

 
 
Before we start, just a note that Ill be posting at the start of every week this month, with increasingly idiosyncratic and random content. Also, I've started putting images on HM's Instagram page; link at right.
 
 
 
I cant remember exactly how or when I first met Natasha Herman, but it must have been around 1996. At that time shed already been apprenticing with the binder Courtland Benson in Victoria, BC for several years, learning how to do period restoration work. I published my first proper book in 1998, a miniature titled El Autobus Azul, all 15 copies cased by Natasha in kangaroo hyde. I didnt know leather used for bindings was (or should be) different that what was sold at the local leather supplier, where I got the kangaroo hyde, but she made it work. 
 
 
In 1999 she agreed to bind the 26 lettered copies of the first version of Fragments & Glimpses, in a traditional tight-back, full calf binding with sewn endbands. (I was really into sewn endbands.) There also were six copies in limp vellum, bound by Hélène Francoeur. Shortly after that Natasha spent about a year working at Barbarian Press (which wasnt her first time in a print shop: in 1998 she worked with Alan Loney in New Zealand.) In 2001 she moved to the Netherlands, her new husbands homeland, and started Redbone Bindery, focusing primarily on conservation work (the distinction of conservation vs restoration is discussed below). We have remained in sporadic contact over the years, both of us wanting to do another project together. At one point she suggested that the right project would be one that involved just a handful of copies, and a binding that took advantage of her knowledge and skills for period binding styles and techniques. When I finally got around to doing the revised and expanded Griffo project Id been thinking about since 1999, it was an obvious reason to get the band together again. 

We started discussing it about a year ago. Our starting point was finding a binding from Griffos time that could serve as a model or inspiration. One of us probably Natasha found a binding from Jean Groliers library that seemed perfect: 

 
As Natasha developed the details, we had to make the decision to do much of the tooling in blind rather than gilt, just to contain the cost or what would already be an expensive binding. Beyond committing to a budget, I didnt give much direction, and didnt want to. The reason I was working with Natasha was to trust her to make all the right (or best) decisions involved in a project like this. 

 
We agreed that she would bind up to five copies, the number depending on how many subscribers appeared. Notice for the project, and these special bindings, when out in April, just as the first Covid lockdown was putting everyone everywhere on hold. For a while it looked like there might only be two copies, mine and a HM stalwart, but then suddenly we hit the maximum of five. The book was described as being in “full-morocco Aldine-style binding, with chemise and slipcase.” The text would be printed on Golden Hind laid (the rest of the edition is Arches wove), and would contain proofs of the illustrations on Saunders handmade paper, and a full-page calligraphic rendering of the only text known to have been written by Griffo, the foreword to the first of six books he published near the end of his life. An English translation of this foreword is printed in the book, but this manuscript leaf was the original Italian, in a period italic hand by HMs great friend Martin Jackson. 


After the subscribers had been secured, I had another idea for what had come to be called the “Dutch” copies. I had been doing research on an octavo from a friends library that she thought might have been an Aldine. It was a collection of Cicero, printed in an italic type on vellum, but lacking the title page. To date Ive been unable to identify it. For several reasons I dont think its an Aldine, but it could be one of the books published at that time copying Alduss format and type. Throughout it had interesting, and sometimes funny, annotations and doodles, the drawings reminding me of ones Ive seen in Barbara Hodgsons work. I came up with 30 annotations to Fragments & Glimpses corrections or additional information and references and had her add six to each copy, so every subscriber received a book with maginalia unique to their copy. (In payment for her efforts, Barbara received one of the eight hors commerce copies, in which she added all 30 of my annotations, plus some of her own!) 

After doing all that work, Natasha still had time and interest to answer some questions about the project...


 ❡

HM: Do you have any particular memories of binding the 1999 edition?

Natasha Herman: Oh yes! This was one of my first full leather binding projects after having started out on my own. One of the big challenges for me at that time was paring the calf. Leather paring is a difficult skill for a beginning bookbinder and good calf is expensive, especially when importing it from the UK into Canada. I did not have two pennies to rub together at the time so there was little financial room for mistakes. The leather paring knife has to be incredibly and consistently sharp which is achieved by a dance back and forth between sharpening tools and paring stone. Now I can sharpen and pare with my (figurative) eyes closed but back then I remember becoming so frustrated I (literally) cried over the work. And it turns out that vegetable tanned calf skin has a chemical reaction when it comes into contact with salt. There is one copy out there sporting this provenance in the form of a distinct discolouration to the leather on one of the boards. I believe Dolly Parton once wrote a song with a line appropriate to this moment!

HM: Shes not big in the ambient or drone scenes, so Im not well versed in her oeuvre...

Natasha: “The Salt in My Tears.”

HM: Do you remember what I paid per copy, for full calf with sewn endbands? My memory is that I paid $100 per copy, which when totaled up was a large bill for me to imagine in 1999, but also verging on worker abuse when one considers all the effort that went into each copy.

Natasha: This was also a large bill for me at the time. It paid my rent and food for a month!
 

HM: What has been your professional experience with books published by Aldus? 


Natasha: Early exposures to particulars of antiquarian books have really stuck with me. I remember Aldus’ iconic publishers device being pointed out to me by Courtland Benson around the time he was binding the Aldines for Simon Fraser University, in the mid-1990s. Since that time, every Aldine that has come through the bindery for treatment – and there have been a few has reminded me of those early days of book restoration in Victoria.

 
HM: How has the binding youve done for Griffo been informed by that?

Natasha: I remember Courtland doing quite a bit of research on those bindings and even with my undiscerning eye at the time, I realized how unusual the early Italian bindings were compared to the more typical 18th century English bindings that came through Courtland’s bindery. The research aspect of making a period binding has certainly stuck with me. The ever-growing selection of online databases complete with high resolution pictures coupled with bibliographical information makes the research particularly easy. For this Griffo, I was able to find a binding online to copy which had detailed images of endbands, board edges and spine as well as front and back boards.

HM: Pretty early in your career, you chose to focus on restoration and conservation binding, instead of edition binding. Why? 

Natasha: I can focus very intensely and for a long period of time on one thing but the thing has to progress in order for me to maintain that focus. Edition binding requires me to start from the beginning multiple times and I find that my mind starts to wander.  I also have a strange fear of the bindings within an edition not being exactly the same, which is inevitable for a human-made object in series. I end up fixating on the small differences rather than enjoying the lovely repetition. If I weren’t managing the job but rather just lending my labor to a job managed by someone else, I would definitely enjoy the work more in a meditative sort of way. For a job I manage myself, five seems to have been the sweet spot. I remained fully engaged in all five bindings for this edition, lucky for all of us.   

Truth be told though, I love working with old worn objects who’s creation was someone else’s responsibility. It is a bit like playing music with other people as opposed to playing solo. The challenge is not to be center stage but rather to blend in. I find this aspect of conservation work very relaxing and satisfying.


HM: What, for you, has been the coolest book youve ever worked on? (I know it wasnt Griffo...)

Natasha: Actually, from a reflective perspective, Griffo WAS a very interesting job for me. I will expound on that in the next question, though. As a book conservator, I get a lot of cool books and they are cool for different reasons. Sometimes their magic lies in their role as icons of real moments in Western history representing paradigm shifts in thought such as firsts of The Origin of Species or The Wealth of Nations.  The coolest titles never coincide with the coolest bindings – a strange and true fact of the book object and I mostly work on the bindings. The best bindings for me, therefore, are the early 16th century continental bindings because of the wonderfully durable materials.  

But I think the most striking book object for me has been Het Achterhuis, the first printed edition of Anne Frank’s diary. I’ve had five or six copies come through the bindery at this point. The bindings themselves are cheap and the paper is of very bad quality. I lived for many years not far from the house where she and her family hid. Imagining her father finding the strength and foresight so shortly after the horrible death of his family to have his daughter’s diary published, printed and bound is
an unbearable thing for a parent to contemplate. These very same books that I am handling now were neatly packed in a box 75 years ago as they were taken from the bindery to the bookshops where they went on to remind the whole world that thinking, feeling human beings, full of hope for the future were systematically murdered in the name of an ideology. That is the power of writing, printing and the book form.  

Ironically, I recently got a request to treat a copy of Mein Kampf. I struggled with the ethical implications of the request for a few days and after getting some further context and some outside advice, I turned the project down.

 
HM: How different, or not, has working on this project been for you? 

Natasha: I rarely do full bindings or rebinds these days, so I was looking forward to having the chance to build a binding from beginning to end. At the same time, I wondered if I could still pull it off. I always tell my kids that the difference between an expert and an amateur is that an expert knows how to quickly and effectively solve all the mistakes they inevitably make. Apparently, there has been some improvement in that area as compared to when I bound the first Griffo.

Comparing an edition binding project to my bread-and-butter conservation work, it struck me that I have been so used to working under strict conservation ethics, that it felt a bit like I was misbehaving while working on these bindings. There was a certain feeling of freedom in that, but also a slight fear of that very same freedom.

Most interestingly, every phase of these bindings brought back specific memories of 20 years ago. It was as though the body movements required of the project are deeply connected to memories of that time in my mind. I don’t often indulge in remembering. My life has changed so drastically and so often in the last 20 years, it is frankly hard to remember every house and country I have lived in. This project brought me right back to that very formative time in my life as a young adult in Victoria. It was a slightly melancholic trip but luckily no leather was stained in the process!

 
HM: If binding books from scratch isnt a big part of your work, what is? And whats the difference between restoration/rebinding and conservation?

Natasha: Continental booksellers and collectors have a strong tendency to value the book object in its most original manifestation. This taste preference aligns nicely with current conservation ethics which stresses the importance of retaining as much original material as possible when conserving/restoring an object. In the last 25 years the Internet quite seriously disturbed the antiquarian bookselling market by rendering it highly transparent. Booksellers had to look for ways of making their copy of a title more unique. One possible unique characteristic of an antiquarian book is that it still has its original binding with all of its acquired provenance. The internet has only served to re-enforce this trend, both in Europe and (more and more) in North America. 

A rebind entails removing any remaining part of the current binding and introducing new endpapers, boards and covering material/decoration. Conservation-restoration work would entail local repairs to any areas that are no longer functioning properly for intended use or consolidative work to material that is vulnerable to damage or loss. This work can range from paper or joint repair all the way to building custom preservation boxes to house the unadulterated book object.

This unadulterated book object instance has obtained an aesthetic in its own right. There is something to be said for the aesthetic of the archeological find, stored carefully in a container (in my case, a book box) that does justice to the historical importance of the thing. A ritual develops around opening and showing such a historical treasure. In fact, Stilt® was in part born of the need to not only store but also to showcase the antique book object in a safe, beautiful and ritualistic way.

I work in relatively equal amounts for institutions, private collectors and booksellers and there is also a small percentage of regular people who have a book that is dear to them that they would like to continue to use or pass on to family members. This last category has grown since the start of the pandemic, interestingly enough. Other conservation-restoration colleagues have noticed a similar trend of people shuffling around in their attics while on lock-down.

 
HM: Could you describe the binding youve done for Griffo? Not necessarily in tremendous technical detail, but in terms of the inspiration and elements.

Natasha: I work really well when I have something to copy so I just copied the images I found on the internet as closely as was reasonable to do for an edition. The big compromise was tooling the interlaced pattern in blind rather than in gold in order to control for costs. I also decided against having the decorative finishing tools cut to the exact pattern, choosing instead to use tools in my own collection that were close enough in style. The leather is French morocco, hand dyed. The text blocks are sewn on thick raised cords which are laced into very dense acid-free, buffered pulp board. The aesthetic challenge was to find the middle ground impression between a new binding and one of this period. I erred on the side of keeping it crisp so as to blend the pristine quality of the text block to the binding style.


HM: When I first saw my copy which I saw in person, I intentionally didnt want to see photos until Id held the actual book one of my immediate thoughts was It looks so new! Which it is. The gold tooling is still very bright, and the leather has a lustre that will fade with time. It took me a few minutes to figure out what I was thinking: I simply wasnt used to seeing this type of binding as it looked the day it was finished. Ive only ever seen ones that are a few hundred years old. And of course when a book was delivered to Grolier in his day, it also would have looked brand new. I wasnt smart enough to have anticipated this, and just going through that sequence of thoughts gave me an entirely new entry point to this book. Did you ever consider "aging" the binding, the way you would with a restoration binding?? If you had, Im glad to you didnt. As I said to one of the people who ordered a copy, Let it get there on its own. 

Natasha: Yes, this is the dance I am always dancing. It’s hard to get it right and it is even harder to render explicit what the “getting right” is. It is a bit of a gut feeling, combined with the experience of having seen and handled so many old books. It also has to do with what is actually technically possible to pull off. In conservation-restoration philosophy and theory, there is a tension between visually minimizing any physical intervention so as not to detract from the “reading” of the object (which in itself can be a complex thing to determine) and allowing the intervention to show in a bid for material and historical honesty. Of course, with the Griffo, there were no ethical considerations, only aesthetic ones, but that didn’t make these decisions any easier. It’s still really hard to make a period-style object aesthetically convincing. It’s sort of like painting with time. For the Griffo, I decided to “paint time” using structure (laced in boards, tightback binding, raised cord sewing etc…) and style (interlacing pattern, hand letters) rather than by distressing the binding by toning down the gold and wearing the materials. The truth is, the contrast between pristine white paper and distressed binding would have been discordant. I love the idea of waiting patiently for an honest patina. I wonder if Griffo will last 500 years?

 

Natasha mentioned her Stilt® display cradles. She included one, as a gift, to each of the Griffo subscribers. They are tremendously clever, elegant and well-made. All of the photos here were taken with the book displayed on a Stilt. It folds down flat, is easily stored or transported, and uses magnets inside the frame to lock into position.
 
 
I’ve never been a fan of different issues of a book where one is clearly more luxe, in materials and execution, than another. Just as with the original Griffo project, the calf bindings were not more or less lovely in material and execution than the vellum, they were simply different, and people could choose the one that appealed to them. Ive always tried to make different issues simply different, each using its materials to their best effect; not more or less luxe, but completely different things. One version usually is produced in smaller number, but thats primarily a function of time and cost. With this new edition of Fragments & Glimpses, I think the three versions succeed at least on this front. Claudias vellum copies look quite modern, which better suits the very white Arches paper theyre printed on. The cloth ones are attractive enough and functionally cased for a reference book. And Natashas copies are almost a different publication, not just because of the binding but the way it amplifies the content and production. Its an effect I had not anticipated, and probably will not be able to achieve again. Its fun to be surprised by ones own work. Doesnt happen often.  
 
 
 
For a more objective view of HMs Griffo project, and better photos, check out Robert Bolicks Books-on-Books blog

1.11.20

Francesco Griffo da Bologna - Fragments & Glimpses


This post is the first of two parts highlighting the (second) publication of Francesco Griffo da Bologna - Fragments & Glimpses. The book is being issued this month in an edition of 50 numbered copies, in three different states. Two of the editions are being shipped from the binders' studios, so even I haven't seen them yet. Images and some details of those two states will be featured in next month's post. For now, you get shots of a copy cased in quarter cloth and paper here at HM. 


A summary of the book, and details of the three states can be found on the HM site. Last month's post provided some details on the Aldine carcass that provided the leaves included in each copy. Sadly or not, the leaves that were truly orphan - the ones used in F&G - were the most weather-beaten. (The one shown above is among the worst, used here in a trial binding copy; most leaves in the edition have less drastic staining, if any at all.)  Aside from some basic surface cleaning, I left them alone. Griffo's type, and Aldus's design remain perfectly clear. The best leaf books provide a text that the leaf illustrates, and that was my goal here (and with all of HM's lead books), so whatever an individual leaf's imperfections, it offers a direct connection to the men and materials at the heart of this story. 


The copies bound (cased) at HM were sewn, rounded, and put into quarter cloth. The paper covering the boards is the HM Text Reg Lissel used to make. These sheets were printed on one side during Elements in Correlation (2009) but never backed up. 
 
 
The paper was too nice to just pulp, so I kept it around all these years. When I started playing around with painting and printing patterns, I pulled the Reg sheets out. The paper is beautiful and strong. These sheets were first dyed, then painted with two acrylic washes (silver over blue), and pressed to dry. The impression of the type in the paper creates very faint horizontal bands that can (almost) be seen when light hits at the right angle.  

 
That was a very long project. Getting the text finalized and set took 18 months working full time, printing took five months, binding another three. I can't see myself undertaking a book of this length again. It gets  b o r i n g  (& I've already found two typos; I'm sure there are more, don't feel the need to report them). This fall, just to cleanse the palate, I am going to print a chapbook of just eight pages, Griffo's brief preface to his 1516 edition of Petrarch in the original Italian and translated into English, set in Cancelleresca Bastarda, printed on some Richard de Bas paper of which I have enough for an edition of 30 copies. The English translation is included in Fragments & Glimpses (the page opposite the leaf, up above, and the original Italian is included in the five "Dutch" copies, written out in a beautiful italic by Martin Jackson (i.e. an original holograph copy in each of the five books, shown above).  


Next in the press will be the first publication from Barbara Hodgson's Byzantium imprint. It's another collaboration with Claudia Cohen, tentatively titled Paper Botanists. After that I'm thinking of a checklist for all HM publications 2000 - 2020. Then something new. 
 
 
ABOUT LEAF BOOKS
When discussing leaf books, questions of intellectual value and ethics sometimes are raised (not unreasonably). For what they're worth, my thoughts on those matters were summarized in this post from a few years ago. 

AND ANOTHER THING!
After four decades on Granville Island, and seven decades as a printer, David Clifford has shuttered Black Stone Press. About time too. We've been telling him he's working himself to the bone for years...
 

1.10.20

A Genuinely Unique Aldine Enchiridion

Binding of the three different issues of Francesco Griffo da Bologna – Fragments & Glimpses will proceed through October. Clarity, and copies of the book, will arrive in November. Meanwhile, a short story related to the project...

I had been pondering a second crack at Griffo almost since the first was completed, in 1999. I wanted to include the primary sources all the others were simply repeating, and samples of the types being discussed. I have always been interested in leaf books, I knew an Aldine leaf would be the best sample possible, but one doesn't find a pile of Aldine leaves often. When I did stumble across a broken, incomplete copy of Aldus's second Ovid volume (Heroidum epistolae), the Griffo project finally gained momentum. 

I found the leaves a few years ago, and just lived with them for some time. No part of the binding remained. A significant portion of them were intact bifolia and sections - it's a shame (if not a crime) to split them just for the sake of making a leaf book. Besides, there were enough separated leaves in the collection for whatever edition I would publish. Unfortunately these were somewhat stained, where the complete sections tended to be cleaner. 

 
The complete volume (the title page, shown above, was absent from the pile I found) included the Heroidum poems, plus seven other books. As I tucked into my collection of leaves, sorting them into their proper order, I realized that I had three of the volume's books complete - De arte amandi, De remedio amoris, and In ibin. (The remaining leaves were from parts of Heroidum.) 

The original F&G was issued in an edition of 26 lettered and six numbered copies, the former bound in full calf by Natasha Herman, the latter in limp vellum by Hélène Francoeur. Natasha lived on Vancouver Island at the time, and had apprenticed with the binder Courtland Benson. In the mid-1990s Simon Fraser University was given a collection of 16th century Aldines, and Benson was commissioned to restore some of the volumes' bindings, a project Natasha helped with. She went on to apprentice at Barbarian Press for a year or so in the early aughts, before marrying and relocating to the Netherlands, where she established Redbone Bindery and a reputation for skillful and well-informed restoration and conservation binding. We stayed in touch and occasionally discussed the idea of working together again. Her feeling was it needed to be a project that fit with her historical binding skills and knowledge (and probably not an entire edition, just a few copies). Voilà Griffo. 


When I was working on the George Wither emblem project a few years ago, I came into possession of several early emblem books. One was a 1663 edition of Quarles' Emblems bound in full calf, in very good condition save for the fact that the boards were no longer attached. I sent that to Natasha and she very neatly put things back together (given the materials and age, her solution was to use a strong Japanese paper, suitably colored, to make the join at the spine). 
 
 
Once I had fully realized exactly what I had in the pile of Aldine leaves I'd acquired, I sent the three complete books to Natasha and suggested maybe a simple limp vellum binding would be suitable. Just to give it some context, I printed a facsimile of the volume's title page (on some suitably matched 17th century paper), but with the absent books deleted. Natasha sent back the lovely little volume, with sewn endbands laced into a limp case and a simple spine label. It is the closest thing I have to an early Aldine, and probably always will be. 
 
 
I am slowly making my way through the 30 copies being cased in quarter cloth here. It takes forever to sew the 17 sections. Claudia is likewise into the 15 limp vellum copies, with each of the spines titled in a calligraphic hand by HM's old friend & collaborator, Francesca Lohmann. The five "Dutch" copies are with Natasha, and will be the focus of a future blog post.

AND ANOTHER THING!

Have you seen the new book from David R. Godine, A Grammar of Typography by Mark Argetsinger? I got my hands on a copy just yesterday, and have spent only a few minutes with it, but it looks fantastic in content and execution. 

 Watched How Writing Changed the World last night, it was fun.