Bookbinding is a difficult profession. It costs a lot of time and money to attain the level of craftsmanship necessary to do anything well. Being an obsessive perfectionist is not an absolute requirement, but it helps.
Then there are the artists who have chosen bookbinding as their preferred medium. It is a bit perverse of them. The level of craftsmanship, the depth and breadth of the knowledge of structures and materials that they must achieve before they can begin to create art in codex form is astounding. Combining all of that knowledge to imagine and create new tools, new structures, new techniques, and use unusual materials with which to express themselves is something few can do. Even then, not every binding is a success. This is true of art in any other medium.
The San Francisco Bay Area is a hotbed of book arts with a long-standing tradition of French-style binding. Historically, binding in the Northeast US owes more to the English and Germans. I’m not going to discuss dates, patterns of immigration and migration, or happenstance. The research has been done and written about by actual binder-scholars. I refer you to the index to the journal of the Guild of Bookworkers. These days, in San Francisco, you can get excellent training in both French and English binding methods from the many binders who reside and teach in the area.
The point is that in San Francisco there is an especially appreciative audience for exquisitely crafted fine art bindings such as the ones I brought to CODEX.
Last week (March 31-April 6) was Rare Book Week in Manhattan.
New York is always the greatest book city in the world (I’m biased), but Rare Book Week is really something special. Living in Manhattan, and working for a local antiquarian bookseller, I have advantages and disadvantages during this time:
I’ve already seen some of the exhibits at NYPL, Morgan, and Grolier Club, but if I haven’t yet, I’m still here and so are they
I get paid to go to the book fairs, look at the books, and read as many dealer catalogs as I can get my hands on in advance
I already know many of the dealers and they are a fun bunch
I get to set up our booth at the ABAA fair the day before it opens, which means that I have extra time to see the goodies
I can sleep in my own bed and sometimes see my family
I’m working, not playing, so I have to keep to an agenda and timetable
I work a six day week (lucky it wasn’t 7 this year), and some of those days are 12 hours or more
I staff the store some days during the week, limiting my ability to chase after bookish novelties
I have to squeeze in personal book interests after my professional duties are fulfilled
I don’t get to spend nearly enough time hanging out with my dealer friends who I see only 2-4 times per year
The week was awesome, if exhausting. There was one event I wish I hadn’t bothered to go to (title of event withheld to protect the well-intentioned), and another, the Fine Press Book Fair, which deserved way more time than I had.
But what about the bindings, you may ask? The ABAA fair was full of them. I barely scratched the surface.
The award for Best in Show was independently awarded, both by me and Richard Minsky. We kept going back to visit it. I showed it to whomever I thought might care. Those guys at Chez Les Libraires Associés (Paris) were bemused, baffled, and finally, resigned to the attention. It’s a first edition, first issue of Camus’ L’etranger bound by Pierre-Lucien Martin, who was widely considered to be the successor to Bonet, in the 1950s. It stole the show.
I also saw some great North American bindings.
Robert Wu‘s miniature “On a Favorite Cat” by Thomas Gray is a jewel. It really wanted to come home with me, but my bank balance forbade it. Bromer’s had that Wu, as well as a full size Michael Wilcox with a matching mini. Take a look at Bromer’s Facebook page for images of their booth. The Wilcox is on the upper left. That’s a Silvia Rennie on the bottom shelf in the middle. The collection of miniatures the Bromers commissioned for the book fair is arrayed in the front case. I’d like to point out that, as far as I could tell, all but one book in this group was bound by either a fellow or licentiate of Designer Bookbinders (UK). Robert Wu is a Canadian practicing in Canada (yay Americas!) and therefore not eligible for DB.
I saw a pair of Tini Miura quartos (Barbier, George and Georges LePape–Louys, Pierre. Aphrodite. Paris: Les Bibliophiles de L’Amerique Latine, 1954) at Sims-Reed which were not on display because they had already been sold. They were very nice and showed them to me twice. I suppose it helps that I have known them for more than a decade. Priscilla Juvelis had a new Donald Glaister that I didn’t have a chance to get a close look at, but she promised me some pictures. I’m so grateful to Priscilla. I finally got a chance to sit down with her and talk about design binding and other book arts. She is so kind and generous. I can’t wait to speak with her again.
At the Fine Press Association fair, I saw some of the books that have been bound for the Contemporary Bindings of Fine Press Books exhibit and had a great conversation with Graham Moss of Incline Press. Nine binders chose books from his press to bind for the exhibit. I can’t wait to see the results. Also at the Fine Press fair, I met and spoke briefly with Coleen Curry who is not only beautiful and delightful, but also a fantastic binder. She has lots of pictures on her website which is a must see. I also met the elusive Lang Ingalls, binder and fine printer. Erin Fletcher recently wrote a month-long feature on Lang on her blog A Flash of the Hand, which shows more of Lang’s bindings in one place than I have ever managed to ferret out (that’s why I said elusive — I’m sure I could have simply asked for pictures). Definitely take a look.