Guild of Book Workers Newsletter
Number 108
October 1996


Exhibition Catalogues

Plat Dessus, Plat Dessous

Color photographs of forty-four bookbindings based on the new Cross-Structure Binding technique highlight the bi-lingual catalogue from the exhibition, "Plat dessus, plat dessous", held in the windows and display cases of Librairie August Blaizot, 164, faubourg Saint-Honoré, 75008 Paris, from June 6 to 29, 1996. This catalogue is a great deal more than just a record of the exhibition, however, for it also contains instructions, not only for the basic structure and six variations, but also for variations devised by some of the exhibitors.

The first exhibition of cross-structure bindings was part of the New Horizons Bookbinding Conference at Oxford in the late summer of 1994. Instructions for the structure and a few of its variations were published in English in The New Bookbinder (Volume 14, 1994) and in French in Art & Métiers du Livre (No. 189, Janvier-Février 1995). Bookbinders world-wide were invited to participate in this exhibition, and the responding bindings came from Belgium, Canada, France, Great Britain, Greece, Holland, Italy, Japan, Spain, and the United States.

A preface by Jean Toulet, along with texts by Carmencho Arregui (who devised the structure) and Sün Evrard, help to place this structure as a new step in the development of bookbinding/restoration/conservation.

Copies of the catalogue are available from Librairie Blaizot at the address above, or by Fax at, at FF270 (approximately $55), postage included, for the United States and other countries outside the CEE (FF255 for CEE countries). Visa accepted.

Joanne Sonnichsen, 18 June 1996

Bernard Middleton. You Can Judge a Book by Its Cover: A Brief Survey of Materials. [Kater-Crafts Bookbinders], 1994. 4860 Gregg Road, Pico Rivera, CA 90660-2199. 162pp. $295.00. Deluxe edition $1500.00.

Reviewed by Sidney E. Berger, University of California, Riverside.

Bernard Middleton has been binding books for more than half a century. As arestorer he has had to study the history and materials of his trade. As a designer bookbinder he has been an artist, whose knowledge of the history of and the various materials used in binding has been invaluable. This is the subject of the present volume: materials used in bookbinding. The book is a delightful read. Middleton not only knows his subject thoroughly - from head to foot, so to speak - but he writes with ease and familiarity.

The volume opens with a foreword by Mel Kavin (the book's publisher) explaining the origin of the volume, the history of his interest in bookbinding, and his relationship with his collaborators on this project. This is followed by Middleton's delightful text, with chapters on The Book, Animal Skins, Textiles, Paper, Miscellaneous materials, and Boards. Each chapter lists many things under its own rubric, but these listings - in the prose of the chapters - of the many materials used in bindings do not become tedious thanks to Middleton's interspersed comments, his humor, and his extensive knowledge. There is good information, for example, on animal skins─-the great variety used in binding, their preparation, and their quality. His explanation of the preparation of russia is excellent, for example, and the information he offers on its quality is valuable (the skins from Russia are the best quality; a similar attempt to produce russia in England and France yielded skins of inferior quality). The story he tells of the loss of a 1786 brigantine is fascinating: the ship, carrying a load of russia, sank. The cargo was recently recovered; it was "lightly treated, and subsequently many of [the skins] were used for custom-made shoes for the well-heeled, so to speak, but some found their way on to [sic] books" (p. 35), some of which he himself bound.

Middleton lists and comments on a great variety of miscellaneous materials used in binding: ivory, metals, plastics, wood, rubber, papier-mâché (spelled two different ways in the text), nylon, Tyvek, slate, ceramics, porcelain, and so on. He recounts the now legendary story of the "greatest of them all" (p. 97)─-the Sangorski & Sutcliffe binding of the "Great Omar," a large cover in levant morocco, heavily tooled, with leather doublures, leather flyleaves, and 1050 jewels. The book went down with the Titanic. A second version was bombed during World War II, and a third, taking Stanley Bray (George Sutcliffe's nephew) four years to produce, is now in the British Library. Middleton's comment: "We must keep our fingers crossed!" (p. 101).

This text is a delight, and so is the book itself, a miniature with pages measuring 2 3/4" x 2 3/16". It has six excellent (though not very informative) wood engravings by John De Pol and a smashing decorator binding designed by Tini Miura (who also bound the deluxe copies), with lovely endpapers by Einen Miura. The cover is Chieftain goatskin, with five onlays, top edge gilt and further decorated, and housed in a beautiful clamshell box with a leather spine with gold-stamped leather onlay. This sumptuous volume was bound by Kater-Krafts Bookbinders. The text was designed by the late Ward Ritchie, it was printed on Zerkall Ingres paper by Henry Morris of the Bird & Bull Press, and it was edited by David Pankow from the Rochester Institute of Technology.

The book is not perfect. There are several typographic errors (e.g., "Englnad" on page 124, line 8; extra, wanting, or erroneous commas; the first letter in line 7 on page 57, the letter "l," is upside-down), a couple of sentences seemingly lack words, and uneven inking at a few places produces facing pages that seem to wink at the reader. It is, nonetheless, a lovely art object, handsomely designed and finely made. It is also a wonderful text and a true collectible.