from the bindery: the devil's bindery, or, if you were a book cover, which would you be?

as part of my quest to pay more attention to the 50-100 books that might pass through my hands per week, i've been keeping a list of bizarre and humorous book titles and setting bindings aside for scanning and photographing. below is an assortment of titles from the 1880s to the 1940s that came from a librarian for consideration to be commercially bound. this librarian is trying to aid me in my quest to keep my bindery prep students busy, but i looked at much of what he sent down and thought--what a loss to lose these original bindings. and all in the name of keeping me busy. i won't rebind most of the ones shown below because they are in too much disrepair to go to the commercial binder.

so. i love these covers and i love the titles. i wish you could see the tables of contents inside some of them or read these funny, mystifying stories. there is something charming and amusing and so odd about American and British culture at the turn of the last century and into those first decades. it is a quality that seems totally lacking in our world now. i don't know what it is. all i know is that i absorb a little bit of it each week at work as i dive back into the book culture of the time in search of sympathetic methods of repairing these little buddies. and in search of tidbits about book manufacturing of the time that fascinate me.

while the practical demands of my workplace cannot be met by approaching the zillions of books that come our way with a strict, conservation/restoration approach, it's a shame to me to lose these covers: these books in their whole, original form--and especially through their cover designs and materials--preserve and communicate so much about the world that created them.

so, take a look. thanks to the call number stickers, you can see the publication date on most these titles. any titles without a date in the call number are first editions. the last few titles come from the tale-end of the last awesome and ever-so-eclectic phase of the victorian publisher's binding-o-rama. i like these the best of the lot, but i'll wait to say which is my favorite until i hear from some of you which are your faves....

the following are identical editions but with very different covers.


from the lab: more than a ghost from my past

Rebecca, by Daphne du Maurier. this, i thought, would be a fine read for october. mysterious, romantic, eerie and full of suspense. a book i had read only once before about 14 years ago.

so i pull up the Lee Library catalog, jot down the call number on a scrap of paper, and take myself down the hall and up a couple flights of stairs to the southwest section of the 5th floor.

there are several copies to choose from. i begin to pull each one down from its place on the top shelf and flip through its pages and wiggle its covers, checking for overall structural soundness, seeing if i like the feel of the pages, the look of the type, the thickness of the book. (yeah, my usual ritual. nice to have so many copies to choose from).

oh, but what do we have here? one of the copies has been re-bound by book repair. you can always tell book repair books by their solid-colored cotton and rayon cloth cases and new labels (done on indesign and printed on moriki paper--for those of you binders interested in these details).

hmm. i wonder who repaired this? i'll just flip to the back and check.

lo and behold! there my initials were, staring right back at me, with the date 10/2002 written to the side. seven years ago, to this very October month, i had disbound this book, stab sewn on new endsheets, recased it in this teal green cloth, and lightly signed my initials in pencil on the bottom lefthand corner of the back cover!

naturally, i became the 19th person in 7 years to check this copy out. this 1941-er has held up quite well over the years, despite needing a little more tlc.

a missing or uber-damaged page i had photocopied and replaced. it's still stuck in there nice and tight. (the textblock is stab sewn all the way through, ps.)

hmm. some taped pages (among many) i chose to ignore. the tape doesn't appear to have evolved much, which is good. the paper overall is quite fragile. reminds me of the way a well-loved and used baby blanket feels over the years: thinning as it begins to fade.

i finished reading this book Sunday, on my flight home from the Guild of Book Worker's conference. tho it has withstood yet one more reading, there are numerous tears along edges of many pages, and some graffiti here and there, along with evidence of pencil marks i had erased in my former life as a book repair employee who didn't want to be a bookbinder. while reading it, i enjoyed not only the mystery in the words of the story, but the tactile story of the book object, itself. i reflected on the importance for me of working on circulating books--books that are used, books we are keeping functional and usable. i loved being able to feel how this book had been used and held and read by others. likely i am the only person to have returned to this 1941 Sun Dial Press copy of Rebecca more than once. it's come back to me: a ghostly remnant of my 2002 self going through the motions of a job, earning money meeting my solid 2009 self, striding with purpose through each day as a bookbinder and repairer of books.