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Invisible animals in your books – watermarks

Since I had a little time on my hands today, I thought I’d publish some animal watermarks. These images will be from the upcoming publication, The Secret Life of Watermarks, due in March 2017.

If you don’t know what a watermark is, it is a wire design that is stitched onto the paper mold. The stuff (yes that’s its actual name) or paper pulp is then gathered and smooched about on the mold and couched in piles, pressed and dried. This is a very basic explanation. Further and more complex details can be found all over the internet and in books such as Dard Hunter’s Papermaking (Dover Press).

So where the stuff touches the wires, less pulp is deposited and when the sheet dries there is a space, not really an impression, but more a lack; an image appears when you hold the sheet up to the light.

Why animals? i don’t know. Who actually knows. There are no papermaking tales about why watermarks began, or why certain symbols were chosen. However the watermarks exist. The tête de boeuf or Bull’s head is one of the more ancient marks as it represents resilience and calm strength. In the 15th and 16th centuries printers had allied themselves with painters, whose patron saint was St Luke. St Luke’s symbol was the bull; so this may be one reason why the tête de boeuf was a popular mark for so long.

The big difference in the bull’s heads can be seen in the eyes, the ears and the nostrils, all changing shape.  There are blank bull’s heads, heads with a variety of eyes, heads with nostrils or a strip for a nose, and the ears can change shape. The horns remain the same, however above the head there can be a variety of sticks with crosses, stars or snakes.

Snakes: are found in Italian, French and German papers. While they may have been associated with Italian families, the snake denoted a type of thin paper called “serpente” (Briquet VolIV). These were usually high quality papers. Paper from Milan, home of the Visconti family, usually had the snake devouring a child or saracen. Sometimes the prey is just a little round ball.
Snakes found on edges of paper generally come from the South West of France, from towns such as Toulouse, Pau, La Rochelle and Narbonne.

Birds in various shapes can also be found hiding inside books from the 16th and 17th centuries. Let me show you a peacock:

Some watermarks are hard to make out. I asked my son Max to photoshop some colour and printing off some hard to see watermarks. another way for me to better visualise the image was to print out the photos and use a white marker to trace the lines; only the lines I could see. I had to stop myself from assuming where lines might be.

The stag is seen as often as the bull’s head. While it originated in Italy, there are many variants of this image all over Europe. Most common are the head and antlers, with the antlers as double lines.

Maybe that’s enough for today. I need to get back to finding out more about the watermarks!

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London Day 3: all about European bindings in 1460 in one week…

Day 3 and I’m onto my fourth fire alarm. Not a drill, but fire scare. One at the V & A, just as I had left my stuff in the cloakroom, 2 at Senate House and one at Waterloo Station, just as I got off the train.

I am here to study. And my head is exploding – yes information overload. We have three sessions a day in the dark, listening to the Prof. Actually it really seemed more like he was downloading his knowledge, or part thereof, because I am sure his brain has so much more information stored away.

The Prof warned us that he spoke fast, and boy did he! None of us could keep up. His enthusiasm was catching; I understood every word he said, but will I remember it? I have notes and hope I can decipher them.

Day 1 started with introduction to the booktrade; how the binder fitted into the book trade, what pressures the new printing press brought onto bookbinders. This whole period really was make do and mend kind of mentality. Trying to get the most out of everything; not wasting any material. Session 2 covered illustrations about binderies and bookbinders. It is from these images that we can compose a history of what workshops looked like, and how they worked.

The first day ended with drinkies and a mixer. A great way to continue cementing ties.

Day 2 started with the session on stitching. There is sewing and there is stitching. There is a difference between text block and bookblock. There is primary and secondary stitching. I learned all about greek style binding and the kapitalbund, which is particular to southern german binders.

The next session was about non-greek bindings. I should have started country pages on this day. I waited until the third day to classify the information according to country of origin. This might make the rewriting of my notes a little difficult.

We also looked at deceptive techniques, ie false raised bands on less sewing supports, why edges weren’t cut and the different types of spine linings. In the afternoon we sat in a small room in Lambeth Palace looking over a variety of bindings.

Me with Morgan and Dianne

Day 3 was devoted to temporary bindings. You could say that the majority of bindings were in some way purposefully temporary: either the bindings were sold as text blocks to be taken to the binder later, or bound cheaply in order to reduce transport cost, and sometimes never actually got to the binder’s and were therefore left in that temporary state. We studied the usefulness of longstitch bindings and how flexible and durable they are.

After that it was onto laced-case bindings in parchment and vellum, with different types of boards before moving into the world of adhesive case binding.

Are your eyes going cross eyed already? We haven’t even gotten to session 6 yet!

Session 6 was the visit to Senate House library. All this meant was that books from the rare stack were brought to our room and we were able to get a close look at the different binding and sewing structures; we did not handle the books. The Prof had made some displays for us to touch:

I want to make some when I get home.

Day 4 was devoted to boards. It appears the Germans liked wooden boards that warped concave because it was more pleasing to the eye. We talked about sca’boards, laminated boards and pulp boards.  Of course from there we needed to visit board attachments, and I was very glad I was a bookbinder at this stage. Even though my experience is very limited, it was absolutely fascinating to see the different methods of lacing in boards, and the different kinds of slips you could use.

The session on endbands was fascinating; if only I could have taken photos of the slides and written at the same time. (No we were not allowed to record him in any fashion – I asked!) It was at this point that I started taking photos of the slides. I hope that when I rewrite my notes I will be able to find the correct photos to insert. To get back to endbands; who would have thought they had already invented stuck on endbands! I just thought it was a product of modern manufacturing. They usually used alum tawed animal skin with a core, which they then glued on and sewed over.

That day’s library visit was devoted to the Wellcome library

Sculpture at the Wellcome Institute

Actually, we went to the Wellcome Institute rooms, which were next to the Library. I must say that the library visits were not what I expected. We basically swapped our hot dark room for another hot room. I thought we’d actually get to walk around these libraries we were visiting as well as looking at their collection items.

By day 5: I was tired of sandwiches and bought soup at the canteen. Our bunch developed a nice rapport, and we talked a lot in the breaks. This day’s sessions centered on covering materials and covering techniques. We were able to physically experience goat skin, hair sheep, parchment, calf, russia calf. We looked at books with paper covers; wrappers that had ink tooling. In the 3rd quarter of the 17th century, for example, purple paper as a cover was very popular. It is interesting to note that different cultures cut their corners in different manners.

Now is your head a bit weary. At the end of this day I went to tango, and it was a relief.  I will be giving a few talks on my trip as part of my fellowship acquittal. I hope that I can remember interesting anecdotes the Prof told us.

This course certainly was a challenge and an eye opener. It’s given me, yet again, renewed interest in bookbindings, and I am hoping to spend some time in our secure stacks trying to apply some of this knowledge to items in the National collection. Phew!

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