Introduction

I have a new obsession: designer bookbinding.

I want to know more about contemporary designer bookbinding in the Americas. Since these binders did not appear out of nowhere, I also want to know more about designer binding in the Americas in the 20th century. I’m beginning to do some research: buying reference books, collecting exhibition catalogs, and studying online exhibits and websites of contemporary designer binders currently working in the Americas.

There is a fundamental problem doing research this way. Books are tactile. I have to hold a book in my hands. Caress it. Study it up close. Spend some time with it. Examine the content (I have strong opinions about content, but more on that another time.) Just like shopping for clothing online, looking at pictures of three-dimensional objects in a print or online catalog is a frustrating experience. No matter how precise the description, no matter how good the picture, you just can’t tell. Does it really look like it does in the picture? What is the texture? How good is the craftsmanship? Will it FIT me?

Unlike most things these days, you can’t just order a designer binding, examine it, and send it back. Fortunately for me, I live in a city full of libraries and museums with collections of fine bindings, exhibition catalogs, and other research materials relating to designer bindings. I need to get out more.

My current frustration is inconsistent cataloging of designer bindings. The Morgan Library, The Metropolitan Museum of Art, The New York Public Library, and The Grolier Club have excellent collections, but searching their online catalogs is like using a blunt instrument. You can’t request a book without a call number; if you can’t find what you want, you have no call number. I used to be a librarian. I know that it shouldn’t be this difficult to find what you want. However, having been a librarian and archivist, I also know that the best way to do research is to skip the online catalog and talk to the curator of the collection. Fortunately, I know a few people…

This blog is the story of my research adventures.

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One Comment on “Introduction”

  1. Chris Arnison, bookbinder, Stroud, UK says:

    Yes, you can’t fully appreciate a designer binding (or any binding for that matter) without holding it, opening it and turning it over and round. Only your hands can tell if it is a good BINDING, -smooth/lumpy, stiff/flexible, and above all, readable: does it lie flat when open. In libraries books are never catalogued by binder, except in very rare cases where the binder’s name comes up as a keyword.
    I have found auction sales the best source of actual examination of finely-bound books, whether ‘designer’ or traditional. And the main book-auctioneers have been producing very well-illustrated catalogues for many years – I have fifty or so of the major sales of fine bindings on my shelves and find them a great source of ideas as well as information.
    I, too, have the Exhibition Catalogue you found in The Strand bookshop. Iy sits next to ‘Hand bookbinding today, an International Art’, 1978, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. It cost me £8 ($12) about 20 years ago.

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