You know what I’m really good at? Buying books about bookbinding. I bought my first catalog of a bookbinding exhibit in April of 2000 (I still have the receipt). This is where my money goes, instead of feeding my family. Fortunately, since I’m good at it, I didn’t pay much for most of these. The Tarlau book is a notable exception in more than one way. I paid a lot for it and it’s a novel. My excuse? It’s a very thinly disguised autobiography. I can’t speak for the very personal details, but it’s about her experiences within the bookbinding community in France. Names have been changed, but even I can identify many of the characters. It’s an education.
I started writing this blog to document my research into fine art bookbinding in the Americas. My research has naturally spread to England and France. Bookbinding in the New World came from the Old World. This is especially true of fine art bookbinding.
What I have found is that, on the East Coast of the US, fine art binding is largely influenced by English, and to a lesser extent Germanic, structures and aesthetic. In contrast, the West Coast is strongly, but not at all exclusively, French-influenced. These are sweeping generalizations. I am very aware of exceptions. I’m not planning on writing essays on immigration patterns or on specific binders, some of whose students went on to train many more binders, thereby (at least temporarily) perpetuating the East/West dichotomy. I’m just trying to explain why I keep buying catalogs and books from England and France.
These days, fine art binders are much more likely to be aware of the activities of their colleagues in other countries. Many travel, attend master classes, employ historic structures in non-traditional ways, and use all kinds of non-traditional structures, methods, and materials. It’s a very exciting time to be a fine art binding fan and bookseller. It gives me even more reason to buy catalogs and books on binding. I am building what is already an enviable reference collection. I should probably catalog it.
My reference collection will never be the bookbinding equivalent of the H.P. Kraus reference collection. When that venerable firm closed, not only the inventory, but also the reference collection was so rare and valuable that a major auction house had a sale of JUST THE REFERENCE BOOKS. That was one bad-ass library.
I have H.P. Kraus on my mind lately because a fellow bookseller recently commented, regarding his current odd-ball bookselling activities, how far he is from being H.P. Kraus.
Aren’t we all?