Tag Archives: bookbinding

The find of the week – January

It is saturday and I am writing this quickly before I start making the custard for the ice cream…

When I first started the search for watermarks every little grape and heart and crown was exciting. Now I have the “oh that’s only a heart” attitude. When there are no watermark, there is a little sense of outrage. Anyhoo…this week, this is what I found:

A unicorn, well at least two parts of him. His op half was in the flyleaf of volume 1 and the bottom part was in the back fly of volume 3 of

Historia theologico-critica de vita, scriptis, atque doctrina sanctorum patrum : aliorumque scriptorum ecclesiasticorum trium primorum saeculorum ex virorum doctissimorum literariis monumentis collecta (RB JES 4979) at the National Library, printed in Augsburg in 1783
Unicorn on edge of cross grain paper, with belt and ornament

Unicorn on edge of cross grain paper, with belt and ornament

bottom quarter of the unicorn in vol3

bottom quarter of the unicorn in vol3


Just as with the Virgin Mary in a previous post, I have searched online databases and all the books I can get my hands on, to no avail. So if anyone can tell me if they have seen this same unicorn, I would be most grateful.

Dos a dos binding

Dos a dos binding

This is my project book of the research I am currently undertaking. It is easy to carry around: 150 bindings and 260 watermarks! I’ll be giving this to my friend Fabienne when she visits from Montevideo….

Next…I found two jokers in the same book. This has happened to me before in The History of the Plot. These two came from :

The primitive origination of mankind, considered and examined according to the light of nature / written by the honourable Sir Matthew Hale (RBfCLI 4016) printed in London 1677.

I am getting my son Max to photoshop all my watermarks so that they are clearer. This is hard to see. But once your eye is trained you can see any number of details.

And lastly, please find below a man on a horse. They are also sometimes called picadors. I found him in:

Mellificium theologicum ad dispatandum et concionandum proficuum… : Colligente & producente m. Johanne Binchio (RB De vesci 920)

man on horseThis was printed in Amsterdam in 1658.

I  am currently just collecting data and putting them in a book. This really has made my week!





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The Virgin Mary’s book

I have been collecting binding data ever since 2013, and in July’s post I showed you a watermark of the Virgin holding Baby Jesus. Since then I have scoured online databases and books, without being able to find an exact match. They are not very common, but this particular image remains a mystery.

This is RB MISC 3181 – Ignatii Coutino … : mariale, sive conciones super evangelia festivitatum sacratissimae Virginis Mariae / quas ex idiomate Hispanico in Latinum transtulit Henricus Hechtermans in the National Library of Australia catalogue.

Last year I enrolled in 4 units of Harvard’s online course, The Book: Histories through time and space. One course I particularly liked was Print and Manuscript in Western Europe, Asia and the Middle East (1450-1650). Since the beginning of the year I have ramped up my research, and because of the course I now pay much closer attention to the content. And I am finding frontispieces, layouts and vignettes much more fascinating.

I am in the process of writing a bindings catalogue of the rare book stack, and a watermark compendium. As I find interesting and wonderful items I will keep you posted.

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What’s wrong with this book, part secundus.

Two versions

Two versions

“It’s alright like that; it’ll look handmade.”

How many times have I heard these words uttered by students, and even occasionally by myself?

The point that many people don’t make is that to make it handmade means that one wants to make it better than a machine.

I used to spin wool. I left irregular lumps in it because I couldn’t control the tension. My excuse was same as above: it would look earthy, handmade, natural. As I watched the old women around me spin fine wool, and as my control became better I realised where the challenge lay.

From a distance those two books in the picture above don’t look too bad. However  they are disappointing. I’m onto a third version now. All three are hand painted. I recently sent the last version to a competition so I can’t show it to you. It wasn’t too bad; still looked handpainted. I’ll post photos when it comes back.

I suppose it’s all about the expectations in my own head; my skills are a lot better in my own mind than in reality. I’m always flicking through fine bookbinding books; I want to do something like that one day, sooner rather than later. I am still in the practising phase, even though I learned bookbinding many years ago. However I probably haven’t even reached a thousand hours of (design) binding; I muck about in the evenings and on week ends.

I recently covered a paperback in leather. Why would I bother you may well ask; because I wanted the practise. Until recently I only used cloth and paper. So in order to practise I bought some cheap leather. I figured I would hone my skills on cheaper material before using the good stuff.

Wrong! It is not enjoyable to try to pare crap leather. I have persevered; I am putting a split board onto the paperback, but it is still not sufficiently pared at the turn ins, and looks ugly. And yet still I will continue to the completion for two reasons: firstly for the exercise. I’ll try leather mosaic. Secondly because I want to finish it. The effort I am now putting into making templates and planning the design will hopefully translate itself into better skills for the next book.

It is one of my favourite children’s books, and I’ll give it away to the Little Free Library once it is built. It isn’t as ugly as all that hopefully no other binder will see it. It’ll look handmade. Haha.

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A year of teaching

The end of the school year is looming; this week is my last class at CIT (Canberra Institute of Technology). I inherited a class of my very own at the beginning of the year. How lucky am I?

Neale had actually thrown me in the deep end last year when he suggested to the vocational course co-ordinator from tech that I could so some casual replacements. Neale, colleague and mentor, was my first teacher in 2006. I’m still a newbie myself and so it was with some trepidation that I did a few replacements for Sally, and when she decided to hang up her bonefolder, the college offered me the job.

My inheritance included messy cupboards full of half finished work from bygone students, some sad looking brushes and glue pots and a jumble of papers and book cloth. This space is shared with the screen printers, and more often than not there is ink left on the tables.


Cleaned out cupboards

Every Thursday Bookcraft services experienced binders who come in to do their own projects and beginners who come bright eyed to discover how a book is made. It’s been going for years, and has more or less remained in the same format. Unfortunately we are now in separate rooms and the newcomers don’t get the benefit of watching the more experienced binders at work.

I’m new, keen and have a plan. Actually, it’s Neale’s plan; I basically devised an eight week course that mirrored what he taught me. I had found his teaching schedule useful and great because it took me slowly from the basics, like finding theIMG_0548 grain of cloth and paper to making a book of my very own, like a bought one.

In my first class I inherited 2 new students. I simply continued from where they had started; the next term I had a full class of 7 plus more return students. My class plans aimed to get the students to go home with a finished product at the end of every week. The tasks get progressively harder, building on skills learned the previous week.

I love teaching beginners; I love showing them basics ways of making a book, of sewing a few folios together and getting something worthwhile.


Throughout the year I get a different bunch of students; I teach them a bunch of stuff from my plan; I hone down the teaching palaber until I find the correct words, the words that they will understand, that will make them do the task more easily. Teaching makes me better understand what I am doing.

Mostly I enjoy meeting new and different personalities. I try to remember their names; I think the more new people you meet, the easier it becomes. Bookbinding attracts a certain type of person: not so much fussy as patient and who pays attention to detail. Some people have more hand dexterity than others; some are more artistically inclined.

I’ve learned that I can’t push the students too fast; they will work at their own pace and the class plan seems to grow organically. IMG_0550

Alf waiting for his book

Historically bookbinding was a man’s trade. Now it seems this art is, in this country at least and in my classes, dominated by women. We’d like to have more men, I think it changes the dynamic. Ultimately though, the tasks at hand make us silent. There’ll be a brief flurry of conversation, and before concentration takes over once more. Cheese is de rigueur at teatime. Here we gather with the more experienced clan: Peter and Helen reminisce over the good old days with Neale, and I talk about the future. Over cheese and a cup of tea we find out how each of us came to binding, what makes us tick.

I have further plans for this course. I’d like to start a continuing class on another day, where I would have the occasional guest teacher showing them something wonderful. I would like to make an excursion to the Canberra Bookbinders Guild (who meet on Thursdays!). I don’t want to keep just teaching beginners because I know I will reach a saturation point; if I see that they are heading in a direction, that there is a better goal for them to achieve, then we will have more and better skilled bookbinders and the art won’t die. The powers that be just need to give me a classroom.


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Boxes: I gave up wood for paper

There is something delicious about small boxes. I became a woodworker because I wanted my father to teach me how to make chairs.

He and I shared a workshop, and he taught me a lot. He is a tool maker,  and made a lot of the machinery and jigs we used.

Those were great times, making frames and then discovering the joys of boxes. I love small things, small places in which you can hide stuff. I taught myself with books, my very first one being Andrew Crawford’s “Book of boxes”.

I have always had wild ideas about spaces; I like to find hidey holes, and crazy but useful shapes. After all, the boxes needed to be useful.  But I digress. As the years moved on, and I had a little shop of my own, my life changed, as life does, I found myself without a workshop, without inspiration.

A course was on offer at the local technical college. It was during the day, which suited me, and I met Neale Wootton, who has become a mentor to me over the years. I think upon those classes with fond memories; he had a great plan and dry sense of humour. He was a bit scary, in that very knowledgeable kind of way.

That course opened a magical door. It was very exciting to be able to make REAL books; books with cloth cases, not just sewn pamphlets. Since those early days I haven’t made as many books as I would have liked. I haven’t learnt many techniques either; as a bookbinder in a large institution, I now repair books.

However, I’ve just inherited the class at tech, and I will endeavour to instill in my students the inspiration that Neale instilled in me, and on the way I also hope to become a more imaginative binder.  And I still make boxes.


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