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[BKARTS] TOMORROW'S PAST ? Modern bindings for antiquarian books

Interesting and provocative article by Jen Lindsay from the ILAB Website at <http://www.ilab.org/newsletter.php?newsletterid=4>. While from 2007 I think the questions raised and ideas contained are intriguing...



TOMORROW'S PAST ? Modern bindings for antiquarian books

IMAGE LINK <http://www.ilab-lila.com/images/tomorrows_past_binding.jpg>

Tomorrow's Past Binding

Are your rebound books mere ?pastiches of pastiche, caricatures??- Jen Lindsay argues for bindings for NOW, rather than pale imitations of bindings from THEN.

The ABA Fair in London is, for four days in June every year, the centre of the world for international book dealers and collectors and it provides an unparalleled opportunity to see books which one would otherwise never see in a lifetime.

A small city of dealers? stands occupies the light, airy exhibition hall at Olympia in west London and with the constant background buzz of idle chatter, earnest conversation, gossip and sales talk, it occasionally feels (and to a certain extent functions) like the busy, trading floor of a commodities exchange: if, perhaps, of a more civilised kind.

Into this esoteric souk each year, for the last four years, has come a small group of bookbinders to show work under the collective name, Tomorrow?s Past. The group varies from year to year, but it usually consists of a nucleus of binders ? Kathy Abbott (UK), Sün Evrard (Hungary/France), Peter Jones (UK), Tracey Rowledge (UK) ? with additional binders invited to participate. In 2006 these were Emma Coll (France), Cristina Balbiano d?Aramengo (Italy), Charles Gledhill (UK) and Jen Lindsay (UK). In previous years, exhibitors have included Carmencho Arregui (Spain/Italy), Francoise Barnaud (France), Marilo Bereciartua (Spain/France), Jeff Clements (UK/Netherlands), Nesta Davies (UK), Katinka Keus (Netherlands) and Alain Taral (France).

The collective title derives from a statement by the doyen of twentieth century British bookbinding, Edgar Mansfield (1907-1996): ?Surely it is better to create tomorrow?s past than to repeat today?s.? Unravelled, this simply means: ?Why go on making books based on Then ? copying outdated methods and conventions, instead of making books based on Now ? applying current knowledge and practice with a modern sensibility?.

This is particularly apposite to the world of antiquarian books where, quite properly, original condition and rarity are the basic tenets of the trade; but as far as the binding of a book is concerned, ?original condition? is only its most recent binding, which is not necessarily its original binding. Nevertheless, it is an integral part of the history of any given book, and is usually left well alone. However, in the extremely rare case that a book needs substantial repair to the point of rebinding, bookbinders are often directed ? or take it upon themselves ? to bind the book in what is considered to be the appropriate historical ?style? ? a quasi Grolier binding perhaps, or a quasi ?pointilliste? or, on a Scottish book, a quasi ?herringbone? style.

The favourite ?style? of many dealers, collectors and, unfortunately, of many bookbinders is, of course, the five raised bands, full run-up gilt back, gilt edges, marbled sides and endpapers: a type honed to admirable, if sterile, perfection by the late nineteenth and early twentieth century British bookbinding trade. This is what many think of as ?fine binding? ? and it can be bought by the metre. Just as these bindings were a pastiche of what was perceived to be some sort of historical style, modern binders making these types of books are effectively making pastiches of pastiche, caricatures. This is not confined to the aesthetic aspects of making books, but to the very heart of the book ? to the integrity of its structure. Many methods, of sewing for example, that were devised for economy of production in that earlier, intensely competitive bookbinding trade are simply not defensible now.

This is not how we should be binding books now: conservation methods, materials and protocols have advanced immeasurably and it is incumbent upon the modern bookbinder to respond to the individual needs of a book in a thoughtful and principled manner and to apply their knowledge and skill in the context of the times in which we live. It is this ethos that Tomorrow?s Past seeks to promulgate, and that the participants share in common. The book structures which are exhibited have been devised in response to any one particular book, and often display the stunning simplicity of true ingenuity ? of tacit knowledge, combined with intelligent imagination and skill.

Book dealers from mainland Europe at the Fair have been quick to appreciate what Tomorrow?s Past is doing, indeed it seemed to them normal and unremarkable, whilst British dealers have melted more slowly, only this year some beginning to display unfeigned interest.

Antiquarian book dealing and collecting, book conservation and modern bookbinding are perceived, and to a large extent still function, as separate, even disparate, activities. Tomorrow?s Past prefers to emphasise what they have in common and that, rather than being constrained by tradition, we can build upon it ? we can re-shape the original stones for the new building.

Jen Lindsay
Bookbinder and Lecturer


Peter D. Verheyen
Bookbinder & Conservator, PA - AIC
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