June 14, 2012

Folding Stick

One of the simplest pieces of a bookbinder's kit is a folding stick.[1] Used to fold signatures and press paper, a folding stick is basically just a rounded stick made out of any hard material.  I've seen modern folding sticks made of bone, wood, and plastic.  Some are shaped like pencils, others are more rounded.  To stay within my theme of an 18th-century bookbinder, I did a little research on what was used at the time.

It looks like ivory was the preferred material for folding sticks:

"The leaves are first folded with a thin piece of ivory called a folding-stick, and laid over each other in the order of the signatures..."[2]

"For any number of folds, however, a bone or ivory folder—a thin, smooth blade—was essential for rapid and accurate work."[3]

For the correct shape of a period bone folder, the website of Jeff Peachy offers some measurements taken from period sources for French folding sticks.  Basically the sticks were roughly 5 to 7 inches long, and sort of oval-shaped, tapering at the ends.

Using a sort of reverse description, this fits with other documentation that I found:

"Sepia, or the Scuttle-Fish, is found upon our Sea-Coasts plentiful enough: It is almost of the Form of a Spider, and so large, that the Bone taken out of its Body will sometimes measure six or seven Inches in Length.
    This Bone which is the Part we use is flat, white and thin, much in the Shape of what the Stationers call a Folding-Stick." [4]

Looking up the shape of a cuttle fish bone does indeed show a long bone, roughly half a foot long, with rounded ends.

To make my own bone folding stick, I started with a dog bone purchased from the pet store.  Using a hacksaw, I sawed off the flattest portion of the bone, then used the saw and some heavy-grit sandpaper to shape the piece into a rough rectangle.  I then used sandpaper to flatten the top and bottom so that I could draw the shape of the folding stick.  Again using the hacksaw, I rough cut a blank, then finished shaping with sandpaper, using finer and finer grits to get a nice smooth folder.  My folder isn't quite as nice as a professionally-built one, but it feels nice in my hand, and should work for it's intended purpose.

One suggestion for anyone who may also attempt to built something out of bone: wear a mask.  The bone dust is incredibly fine, and can get into your lungs easily.

[1] The Bookbinder in Eighteenth-century Williamsburg: An Account of His Life & Times, & of His Craft, (Williamsburg, VA: Colonial Williamsburg, 1959), 28.

[2] Temple H. Croker, Thomas Williams, and Samual Clarke, The complete dictionary of arts and sciences, Volume 1, (London: 1766)http://books.google.com/ (accessed June 11, 2012).

[3] The Bookbinder in Eighteenth-century Williamsburg, 29.

[4] R. Bradley, A Course of Lectures Upon The Materia Medica, Antient and Modern, (London: 1730)http://books.google.com/ (accessed June 8, 2012), 145.

June 10, 2012

"Words, words, words."

Over the past week or more, I've sort of overloaded myself on words.  In addition to reading Arithmetic made familiar and easy, I've also been locating and reading what I can about the craft of bookbinding, and trying to relate it back to 1776.  Fortunately the art hasn't changed much, so even modern books are useful in learning how to bind books.  I've done a few simple bindings in the past, but I'd really like to document the trade for my target time period.

For reading material, I've dug up two books that I had purchased several years ago.  The Craft of Bookbinding by Manly Banister, though written in modern times, is a good overview of how to make your own binding equipment, and the process of either repairing or binding books.  The second book, Hand Bookbinding: A Manual of Instruction by Aldren A. Watson, published in 1996, is also a modern book, but it illustrates a more traditional look at the tools of the trade.  I actually used the Watson book to begin building my own tools a few years ago.  Sadly, those tools are now lost.  Happily, that means I get to build them again.

Supplementing the above books, I also downloaded from Google Books The Art of Bookbinding: Containing A Description of The Tools, Forwarding, Gilding and Finishing, Stationary Binding, Edge-Colouring, Marbling, Sprinkling, &tc., &tc. by A. Parry, published in London in 1818.  While out of my time-period, it's far closer to my target than the first two books.  I've only had a chance to skim the contents, but it seems very comprehensive.

To help me document the Colonial period more, I purchased two other books.  The first, The Bookbinder in Eighteenth-century Williamsburg: An Account of His Life & Times, & of His Craft, published by Colonial Williamsburg in 1959, is a good overview of a period bookbinder, though the booklet itself runs only 36 pages.  The second book is more detailed.  Bookbinding in Colonial Virginia, also published by Colonial Williamsburg, details an in-depth study of several binders, their businesses, tools, and examples of their work.  The most exciting portion of the book for me, so far, is a transcription of an estate inventory, listing tools, equipment, and supplies of a late eighteenth-century bookbinder.  This will be incredibly useful in recreating a bookbinder of that time.

In between reading, and searching, and the usual tasks of working and raising children, I've also started building my bookbinding tools, starting with a simple folding stick.  I'll document that process in a later post.