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Re: Edge Decoration by Mitchell

Since there seems to be some interest in the topic covered by Mitchell's
book here is a review of the book which I wrote in 1993 for the Guild of
Book Workers' newsletter:

John Mitchell. A Craftsman's Guide to Edge Decoration. The Standing
Press, Ltd., Five Oaks, Billingshurst, West Sussex RH14 9AR.  1993.
100pp. $60.00 (hardcover); $43.50 (softcover). ISBN 0-9521626-0-1.

The Standing Press is a collaborative effort by the author, John
Mitchell, and his colleague, Nolan Watts.  The book is available
from the author, or, in North America, from The Bookbinder's
Warehouse, Inc. 31 Division St., Keyport, NJ 07735.

In this volume, Mitchell gives us the benefit of what he has
learned about the decoration of book edges in more than 45 years of
experience. He was apprenticed as a gold finisher to the W.H. Smith
bindery in 1947. For eighteen years, he has acted as Chief Examiner
for the City & Guilds of London Institute and has earned a Silver
Medal there. In 1964, he began teaching at the London College of
Printing and was later appointed Senior Lecturer in charge of

In his preface, Mitchell states that the book was written "...as a
practical guide.... It is assumed that the reader has sufficient
knowledge and skills to bring a book forward to the point where the
edges may be decorated."  Mitchell is at his best when describing
gilding.  The units on technique begin with a short historical
survey, followed by a list of materials and equipment, and a step-
by-step working procedure. For the American reader, there is a
table giving metric, imperial, and American weights and measures.
The book is well illustrated with black and white photographs and
drawings. It is large enough, and the grain of the paper such that,
the book stays open at the pages to which it is opened, a useful
feature for those who use it at the bench.

The first two chapters are given over to the discussion of
equipment, techniques, and sizes.  Subsequent chapters lead the
student from simple edge coloring through gauffering and foredge
painting under gold.  The margins of the book are wide, and are
used for numerous marginal notes:  "When purchasing a pair of
[gilding] boards, make sure the grain on both runs in the same
direction when placed together, inside edge to inside edge;" "DO
NOT scrape the edges of India paper as they mark badly.  Use only
fine abrasive papers."

Mitchell rightly warns against the use of any starch to which
silicone has been added in order to make it pour better and to
reduce its tendency to pack down during storage.  Gold will not
stick to silicone.

There are some curious lacunae, however, and some things which are
wrong.  There is no bibliography, and no list of sources of supply.
Under edge marbling/colouring mediums, Mitchell states:  "In the
past, marbling colours were usually made up by marblers or
specialist suppliers.... This source of supply has long since
ended...."  It is my understanding, however, that Cockerell
marbling colors are still manufactured in England, and I know that
Colophon Book Arts Supply (3046 Hogum Bay Road, NE, Olympia, WA
98506) still manufactures them.  Mitchell discusses marbling sizes
and gives a recipe for cooking carrageen moss.  This works well
enough, but powdered carragheenan size is preferred by most North
American marblers since it can be prepared without cooking.
Mitchell recommends potassium aluminium sulphate; most marblers use
aluminum sulphate as it goes into solution easily, without cooking.

His information about ox gall is misleading.  Mitchell states that
ox gall purchased from art supply stores may be used, though
"...because it has been refined, [it] generally requires greater
quantities to be added." This is not true. Ox gall prepared for
watercolor painting has been purified by separating fresh gall into
two equal portions, adding powdered alum to one and salt to the
other (one ounce per pint) and letting both settle for some months.
Equal amounts of clear gall are then blended together for use with
watercolor.  Ox gall prepared for marbling needs only to have
alcohol (preferably reagent ethanol) added to it to settle out
undesirable matter.  Mitchell creates an additional hurdle for the
novice marbler by directing that each color used have five drops of
ox gall more than the previous color. There is, in fact, no set
recipe: each color must be balanced to the bath according to its
own requirement.

Mitchell lists three burnishing stones--bloodstone, agate, and
haematite--and states that bloodstone will take a better polish
than haematite.  But bloodstone and haematite are two names for the
same stone, a native iron ore.

Although the information contained in this volume is available from
many other sources (see below), they are not readily available to
binders who might wish to add edge gilding and decoration to their
complement of skills.  It is not a book which should be on every
binder's shelf, but it is a good book.  It assumes a certain skill
level on the part of the reader, and any reader sufficiently
skilled to benefit from this book should also be experienced enough
to realize when skepticism is required.

     One of the earliest English language texts about bookbinding
is entitled The Whole Art of Bookbinding, Containing Valuable
Recipes for Sprinkling, marbling, Colouring, &c. (Oswestry, 1811).
Other sources of advice on edge decoration are: Joseph W.
Zaehnsdorf, The Art of Bookbinding (London: George Bell and Sons,
1890); W.J.E. Crane, Bookbinding for Amateurs (London: L. Upcott
Gill, 1898); Douglas Cockerell, Bookbinding & the Care of Books
(London: Sir Isaac Pitman and Sons, Ltd.); Richard H. Barnes,
Gilding and the Making of Gold Leaf (1962); Carl J. Weber, Fore-
edge Painting (Irvington-on-Hudson, New York; Harvey House, Inc.,
1966); Robert La Vigne, "The Hidden Art of Fore-Edge Painting," NW
Book Arts (Seattle), vol. 1 no. 5.

Jack C. Thompson
Thompson Conservation Lab
7549 N. Fenwick
Portland, OR  97217

503/735-3942  (voice/fax)


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