I Was Wrong. Ish.

In early December, I wrote a post that generated the most comment activity on this blog…so far.

I created a set of rules; guidelines for what a binder should bind if left to his or her own devices. I’ll reproduce the list below for easy reference, embarrassing though it is.

The Rules

  • Bind books in English if you live in an Anglophone country
  • Follow the flag: an axiom in the book trade with few exceptions. Ex. US author, book must be published in the US.
  • Is the author still in print? You’re on the right track.
  • Were you forced to read the book in school? This is a good sign.
  • Is the author or illustrator alive? Don’t risk it.
  • Do not bind books on books, collecting, reference books, or anything of the sort.
  • Avoid Franklin Library and Easton Press.
  • Is the book signed or inscribed by the author? Do not bind.
  • Does the book have the original dust jacket? Do not bind.
  • Is the book collectible in original condition?

I was wrong.

At the time, I had the collecting market in 20th and 21st century first editions on my brain. That’s been part of my day job for 14 years so far, so you’ll have to forgive me. It’s a kind of brainwashing. Forget first editions (not ALWAYS, but for the moment). I know design binders love fine press books. I am aware that binders love to sink a needle into fresh signatures of quality paper. Certainly, that is one reason to love fine press books. But what about the content? I’m fussy.

Lately, I’ve been writing a lot about the upcoming InsideOUT exhibit (thank you for changing the name!). In order to do that, I have spent quite a bit of time looking at fine press books, including a painfully brief visit to the Fine Press Book Fair. I have concluded that I should toss out most of the above. I still think Franklin Library and Easton Press should be shunned. I still believe you should not bind books on books, binding, printers, typographers, and the like, unless for your personal collection. I still think you should bind books in the language of the country where you practice. I’ll add that if any of you bind yet another copy of Fleurs de Mal, I’m going to puke. Binding that title isn’t a requirement for becoming a binder, is it? It sure seems like it. Please stop.

Anyway, contemporary fine press books; I think I’m starting to “get” them. I’m still pretty opinionated (stay tuned for the inevitable I Was Wrong, part 2 post). There still has to be a magical marriage of typography, layout, art, and text to make me care. If the binding is just right in design and craftsmanship, I’ll melt. One book in the InsideOUT catalog hit me just right. I’ve entered the lottery for purchase of the bindings, which occurs on May 14th.

I’m pretty excited about the lottery. I’ve commissioned bindings (which aren’t ready yet), but I’ve never purchased one. A lottery may seem like a weird way to make my first purchase, if I am so lucky as to have my request for that binding drawn before anyone else’s. I feel like I’m going about my entry into collecting backwards. Don’t most collectors start with buying bindings from a dealer? Maybe I’ll do that one day, too.



13 thoughts on “I Was Wrong. Ish.

  1. Don did do a binding for Heart of Darkness some time ago and that book is long gone. The new binding is for my edition of The Intruder by Robert Traver. I’ll get some pics of it on my blog before it finds a new home. It is quite nice in a full leather binding with on-lays of ostrich (I think) in fish shapes & blind tooling housed in a drop spine box. Fits the text perfectly, of course.


  2. Hi Chad!
    I don’t think we met at the book fair. I spent most of my time chatting with Graham. Was it Heart of Darkness that Don bound? Whatever it was, I’m sure it’s spectacular.


  3. Graham-
    I loved talking with you at the Fine Press Book Fair. You definitely helped me understand fine press books a bit better. One of your books is an example I can’t get out of my head. Steel Horizons is a beautiful book. The design, the linocuts, the binding are all just gorgeous. You probably noticed that I kept playing with it. My problem is that the poetry leaves me completely unmoved. Content is subjective, as Chad says.
    My crack about Fleurs de Mal is not about fine presses currently publishing that title, it was about bindings. It’s unbelievable. It seems like every binder, since Fleurs de Mal was published, has bound a copy of some edition of it at least once. I’d like to nominate it as the most frequently bound modern book. It might be a tie with Rubaiyat, but I don’t think so.


  4. Neale M. Albert

    Be very jealous. I just spent an hour and a half here with Gerard Charriere.

    Sent from my iPad



  5. I’m glad you’re starting to “get” fine press books. Like other publishers we have to make a judgement call on this (the binding stage) part of the production as well. For those of us who also bind our own editions this can sometimes be the most time consuming and costly part of the entire project, for others it’s a matter of what they can afford to hire out or rely on the skills and opinions of others to complete the “package”. Choice leathers and papers are quite expensive.

    Content is always going to be subjective to the buyer of course and I trust you know your business well but for many of us printer/publishers it is a fine line between producing something we are genuinely interested in (private press) and something we know will probably sell well, at least for those of us who make our precarious living doing so. Definitely putting it into a nicely presented and visually appealing binding is necessary. Leaving a portion of the edition as “specials” helps break the monotony and also setting aside some unbound sheets for binders opens up the element of play more. I’ve just received one of my books back as a presentation binding from Don Etherington, it will sell immediately merely because Don bound it but it is always a treat to see how other binders interpret the project.

    And I hope you win your lottery!


  6. How about coming at this from a different angle? I’m thinking that the rule I have as a private press printer might be useful – it’s simply to ask myself, before approaching reprinting a text that has been issued before, if I have anything to add that hasn’t been done before. What might help a reader come to a new understanding of the text? That opening question covers the paper and the type, the look of the opened pages, the illustration, as well as the design of the binding.

    So Fleurs de Mal would be unlikely, and likewise Omar, Reading Goal, and the Songs of Solomon, not because it’s impossible to do something new with them, but rather because, as a private press they seem to have hit that point where something new might in fact just be a gimmick; further of course, life is short and there are many new books to make, so many new challenges!


  7. Neale M. Albert

    Re books on books. How about my Grolier catalog, which George Kirkpatrick bound for me

    Sent from my iPad



  8. I haven’t done a head count, but I think that, while there are fewer than in the past, there are still plenty of designer bookbinders out there. It’s true that many make a living doing trade work or conservation and do design binding as a secondary line of work. Possibly just for competitions. On the other hand, I know several who actually make a decent living off private commissions. The problem is to increase the pool of customers.


  9. You are getting more right ish but I still have issues. I reckon that the number of bookbinders out there doing the designer bookbinding thang is vanishingly small and I think they might be doing the thang for competitions and for the amusement of other bookbinders.



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