Marking Time is the first exhibition held during the second century of the Guild of Book Workers. The Guild was founded on November 14, 1906, when forty-two individuals met in Emily Preston’s bindery at 223 E. 17th Street in New York City. Those attending the first meeting came from all of the book trades, including illuminating, printing, calligraphy, papermaking, and bookbinding; as well as designers of type, finishing tools, book covers, and bookplates. Even at the beginning, the Guild was dominated by bookbinders. During the first year, our membership numbered over 100, and by 1907 we had members from many states and from France, England, and Russia.

The Guild was founded primarily to stage exhibitions of members’ work. In April 1907 the Guild held its first exhibition at the “old Tiffany Studios” in New York City. The Guild mounted yearly exhibitions until the 1920s, in New York and around the country. Some of the early New York-based exhibitions may have traveled, and some exhibitions were organized locally in major printing centers such as San Francisco. The early exhibitions had checklists available, although few survive in the Guild’s archive. Our first illustrated catalog appeared in 1912, its costs underwritten by a board member. Members could acquire a copy of the catalog for a total cost of only thirty cents postage. This extravagance wasn’t repeated for almost fifty years. We did not publish another illustrated catalog until 1959.

By 1916, a decision was made restricting members to submitting only four books per show, although this limitation didn’t dissuade San Francisco master binder Peter Franck from submitting thirty bindings in 1949! In 1948 it was decided that all exhibitions should be juried, to ensure a high level of craftsmanship in our exhibits. Published standards for exhibition entries were first drawn up around 1950. By the 1960s, all Guild exhibitions featured illustrated catalogs.

Thirty years ago most of the books in a Guild show would have been artistic fine bindings executed in leather, with gold and blind tooling and decorative onlays and inlays. The current exhibition illustrates the central change in Guild membership during the last three decades with the rise of book art, where artists use the book format as a vehicle for artistic expression. Many of the works in this exhibition were created by a single individual responsible for the content of the book and the creation of the physical artifact. Bookbinders and book artists now coexist in the Guild in a mutually stimulating way. The evocative objects in Marking Time are the result of the interplay of the craft traditions of trained bookbinders with the book artists’ freer notion of what constitutes a book.

The Guild currently has 850 members, amateur and professional, from all areas of the country and is the only national organization for practitioners of the arts of the book. During the last century, we have seen the change from bookbinding as a working-class trade to a greater focus on fine craftsmanship, on conservation as opposed to restoration, on books and bindings increasingly viewed as works of art, and on the increasing dominance of digital media. The Guild of Book Workers was at the forefront of these developments.

We owe the delights of Marking Time to Karen Hanmer, the GBW exhibitions chair, who, along with jurors Jeffrey Altepeter, Melissa Jay Craig, and Peter Verheyen, created this exhibition and its attendant catalog. This exhibition is Karen’s achievement as much as that of the exhibitors. We cannot thank her enough.