"Gold and Wood, Staples and Rods"
The New Bookbinder, Vol 21, 2001, p56-60
The idea of using solid gold inset in the covering leather came to me about 20 years ago when I met Fred Eripret, a young jeweler. Before
sitting down to write about the subject, I had never really asked myself why gold pieces interested me more than gold-tooling.
The first reason must be the tactile pleasure : the gold, though inset in the leather cover, creates a slight relief.
At the beginning the gold wire shapes were purely decorative elements of a design binding [Fig. 1 ] (" The Vanity of Human Wishes " by S.Johnson, split pigskin collage, 23 x 32 x 1cm, bound in 1989, collection of the Queensland State Library, Australia). The diameter of the gold wire is greater than the thickness of the covering leather. The slots are made by a scalpel blade, the circles are cut out with a screw punch. The gold pieces are inset with acrylate instant glue, their lower faces have been roughened beforehand. The colour showing in the circles is acrylic paint, applied to the boards before covering.
On this open-joint binding the sewing tapes are held to the boards by coloured linen threads which go through the boards and are recessed in a cavity cut out on the inner face of the boards [Fig. 2] (" A drawing for each month " 12 originals drawings by Anna Mark, parchment, 25 x 32,5 x 0,5 cm, bound in 1995, private collection, Paris). Metal staples can take over the thread's role. I choose brass, copper and tin staples for another open-joint binding [Fig. 3] ( " Les Poilus " by J.Delteil. The boards are covered with a collage of different black leathers. 17 x 22,5 x 1,5 cm, bound in 1997, collection of the Bibliothèque Municipale, Montpellier, France.). As decorative elements they suited the subject of the book ( the First World War) and I liked the idea of using structural elements as decoration. These staples are in fact stronger than thread and they are better for holding the sewing support to the boards.
For the above reason I continued using staples as functional elements, but I made them in gold wire [Fig. 4]. ("Theogonia" by Hesiodus, illustration by Braque. Detail of an open joint binding in dyed and patinated calf leathers, 35,5 x 44 x 3 cm, bound in 1999, private collection, Paris). Gold does not oxydise and is easy to bend ; with a little skill and pair of pliers I can make my own staples, while my jeweler friend continues to provide the complicated pieces .
The flexible binding of this seventeenth-century miniature book (4,5 x 7 cm) has a sort of a yapp edge, made of a wooden rod wrapped in the covering leather [ Fig. 5]( "De consolatione philosophiae " by Boethius, brown calf, 4,5 x 7 x 1,2 cm, bound in 1999, private collection, New York). A golden pin on its circular-shaped ends forms the Greek letter " theta ", mark of the death row prisoners in Roman times. The spike of the pin is about 5 mm long and is glued into a small hole drilled in the wood. Boards on tiny bindings tend to open because they are so light ; I added some weight to these boards (and some glittery beauty to them) with two long, 1 mm thick, gold bands fixed on the inside of the fore-edge rods.
The fore-edge rods have many advantages ; by their weight they let the covers lie flat, either in an open or closed position, they avoid the warping of the cover in limp bindings, and they protect the fore-edge as do yapp edges. They can even carry the title pieces [Fig. 6](Double-cover binding in handmade linen paper, decorated by Carmencho Arregui). In this example the spine and the exposed sewing are well protected, being in the bottom of the slipcase.
The first time I used a wooden rod, it was to suspend a crossed-structure 7]binding [Fig. 7] (Première rencontre avec le Soleil" by Marie-Hélène Clément, photographies by Pascal Hausherr. Crossed-structure binding in dyed parchment, 40 x 40 x 2 cm, bound in 1995, private collection, Paris). Then the wooden rods became involved in the experiments for the conservation bindings, as I was trying to find a way of keeping the covering material against the spine without using adhesives. The rods also push up the spine up into an arch [Fig. 8]. Two thongs put together have been used as sewing supports. The outside thong, turned around the rod and glued to it, holds it firmly [Fig. 9]. This rod can also be used to suspend a binding and I liked that idea very much. When I received a commmission to bind a series of 5 books I decided to put them in a wooden box, with the same method we use to suspend folders in a drawer [Fig. 10] (" En quelques lieux donnés perdus partagés " by Louis Dire, illustration by Frédéric Benrath. 14 x 22 x1 cm, bound in 2000. Private collection, Paris). However, precious books hanging by their sewing did not please my conservation-tuned mind. What if I suspended the bindings by the fore-edge rods ? Instead of straining the sewing the suspended bindings would make the book " cradle " into the covers. Hazard or serendipity ? For the exhibition " The suspended world of Gisèle Prassinos " I made two flexible bindings with wooden rods on their fore-edge with a hole drilled through each end. With a long thread pulled through these holes I attached the binding to the top of the display case. I discovered that this amusing exhibition form had a real practical advantage : by fixing the thread away from the vertical axis and by playing with the length of the thread, the book stays open so one can see the binding and inside the book at the same time [Fig. 11] ( " La vie la voix " by Gisèle Prassinos. Flexible double-cover binding in printed calf leather, 11,5 x 18,5 x 1,5 cm, bound in 1998, private collection, Paris)
. While following another line during my experiments of finding ways of maintaining the covering leather against the spine, in this case the field of secondary sewing systems, it occurred to me to use my gold staples instead of the secondary sewing [Fig. 12] ("Cabinet de curiosités - collections - collectionneurs" catalogue of the Librairie Jammes, split buffalo leather, 25 x 23 x 2 cm, bound in 1999, private collection, Paris), and even instead of a headband [Fig. 13]. The arms of the staples are bent on small pieces of parchment in the middle of the sections to avoid stress or damage to the paper of the book.
On this single-section binding white-gold staples passing through yellow-gold plates are holding the binding and the book together [ Fig. 14] ( " Poésie et Vérité 1942 " by Paul Eluard, dedicated to Dora Maar. Flexible binding in blue pigskin, 16 x 23 x 0,5 cm, bound in 2000, private collection, Paris) . On this other, multi-quire binding the white gold staples go through wooden plates and act as a secondary sewing - the signatures have been sewn together beforehand on thin ramie tapes [Fig. 15] ( "Le lointain foyer du jour " by Yves Peyré, illustration by Tal Coat, split calf leather, 20 x 18,5 x 1 cm, bound in 2000, collection of the Bibliothèque Municipale, Riom, France).
A seventeenth century book brings us back to my main subject, to gold [Fig. 16] (" Epistolium ex regno sinarum ad mathematicos europaeos missum : cum commentatiuncula Joannis Keppleri " by J.Terrentius. Flexible binding in patined calf. Circles cut out in the covering leather are inlaid with slightly smaller cercles of the same leather. 16,3 x 20,5 x 0,1 cm, bound in 2000, private collection, Paris.) . The book is so thin that no wooden rod was fine enough for the fore-edge, so the rod here is gold also. Its rounded ends extend over the cover at tail and head. The gold staples holding the book block and the cover together are sculpted in a half-moon shape.
The fascination for gold helping the design for old books ? Design ideas improving the structure itself ? A suspended book giving solutions for limp bindings ? Well, that is what bookbinding is about : fun, design ideas, coincidences and technique.
Sün Evrard, 22.III.2001.