Everything you never wanted to know about bookbinding and cooking.
Well not really cooking, more that the young and scared-looking Masterchef contestants will, at the first opportunity, tell us that they are "passionate about cooking". I suppose there are people, maybe even some of our readers, who are passionate about bookbinding and might be anticipating something intelligent about their favourite subject. Well, don't get your hopes up.
To begin I must confess that I am, was, a Bookbinder. Did the whole six years apprenticeship in England and came out to New Zealand and learned the trade properly. Now in the printing trade Bookbinders were not regarded highly. They called us "glue brushes". They, being the Readers, the Typesetters, the Compositors, and the Printers. They were known for their devastating wit and they called us "glue brushes" because we used glue brushes - this was the best they could do and they thought themselves hilarious. So did we as first the Readers, then Typesetters and the "Comps" as we so fondly called them, their skills all compressed into a couple of computer programmes run by people who do not speak English very well but wear glasses. So, holding our brushes high, we saluted them as we waved them goodbye. To a life driving buses.
Strictly speaking we didn't all use glue brushes, some of us ran machines and thought of ourselves as "Print Finishers". I was a print finisher. "Hand binders" made books by hand (see - we could be devastatingly witty too). The Hand binders I knew were old people with round shoulders. They wore waistcoats and had varicose veins and scratched their legs a lot. Working to their full capacity they could make about one book every couple of weeks which they would proudly show to each other as no one else was the slightest bit interested. As they got older they turned mouldy.
Print finishers didn't get mouldy. Eternally young, we produced thousands of things a day, hard covers, soft covered books, magazines - give us an oil can and we were away. But one thing we simply didn't have was history. And the oldy mouldys did.
Incidentally I am now going to go on with some very interesting facts but if you are bored with this stuff and wished you had never started reading, stop now.
See all this trade thing went back to when? Twelfth Century? probably earlier? It was all to do with the Monasteries and Monks and their monkeying about in the Library.
They wrote things. Holy things on large sheets of thick parchment or Vellum (Calf Skin) then copied these sheets out over and over with much frowning and scratching of the scrotums. These were the first bookbinders and there were no readers or comps or printers. The binders decorated or illuminated these large pages, the rubricaters did the red ink bits, the gilder's did gold leaf things and the illustrators did the written passages and each page was a work of art. As the collated pages piled up one on top of the other they had to do something with them, one book could take up half a table. Someone, probably Asian, thought up a way round this and they cut wooden boards to suit and wrapped the whole thing up with string and stuck the 'book' lying flat on a shelf so it could be eaten by rats.
Each of these volumes could take years to make and when each Monk finished his book he would proudly show it to the others. No one else was interested as no one else could read anyway.
Incidentally there is a wonderful novel about all this and a bit of a murder too. Well, more than one murder actually. Its title The Name of the Rose and yes, by a strange coincidence, Russell Library does have a copy.
Anyway these “Binder Monks" had to do something about the situation as the shelves holding the rat-chewed prototype books were getting piled up so they decided to sew these loose sheets together in sections along one edge and sew on the boards. And then stuck a bit of leather along the spine and stood the books upright. And because insects and termites loved the glue the Monks had made by killing horses and chopping their feet off and boiling them up and sewing up the books with sheep's guts, it goes without saying it was like, termite heaven. Sort of early "Hells Kitchen".
The gilders gilded the book edges by brushing on egg white and laying on beaten gold and hoping it would stick - it kept the bugs out. It does stick, tried it myself once, took me three days to do one edge. They did gold lettering and other spine decorations the same way, make a blind impression, paint in egg white then quickly lay on the gold leaf. Bit of headband top and bottom so the creepies couldn't get down the spines.
You can get a good impression of all of this if you visit Pompallier Mission in Russell. They have many of these old tools of the trade which have never changed over the years. In their bindery they have old leather books to show you and secret things like genuine gold leaf locked away in hidden places. They can make you a print from a wooden block showing the old binders binding away using leather from innocent cows who just came in to say hello and ended up in the pit of - I won't say, let them tell you - and they will explain why in modern libraries the title on the spine runs down the spine and that's because the old Bookbinders stood the books up. The library was organised so you look for books by moving along from left to right but occasionally you will see a book printed so the spine runs up the book. It will probably be an American publisher and be a Coffee Table type thing and going back all that time to when books were laid flat on tables and the title running up made it easy to read. Try it and see what I mean.