Sunday, March 24, 2013

Lincoln’s Devotional

My friend Cathy loves Civil War history. When I found a facsimile of Lincoln’s Devotional* at Wonder Book, it seemed a perfect gift if only I could make a special cover for it. However, I would be seeing her the next day at her home near the Gettysburg battlefield, so I couldn’t do a traditional binding. (I’m no good at all-nighters.) Then I envisioned a battle-weary soldier reading his Bible or devotional book by firelight, the book protected with a rustic scrap of leather. My leather stash had a piece with an untrimmed edge. After refining my design with a paper template, I cut the leather and adhered a paper liner with wheat paste. I wrapped the book first with plastic wrap to prevent moisture migration, then in the slightly-damp leather, and swaddled the whole thing with an elastic bandage overnight. The next morning, the leather had dried and fitted itself to the book. The book’s back cover slips under an inside paper strip and the natural flap slides through two parallel lines cut into the front. The simple binding complements her Civil War re-enactments, and the pages contain the same spiritual truths that Lincoln found.

*The Believer’s Daily Treasure, London: The Religious Tract Society, 1852

Monday, March 11, 2013

James Hayday’s Bible


This 1848 Bible appears to have been left open on a flat surface for years (decades?). The text block was completely broken in half lengthwise, held together only by the cracked leather spine glued directly to the backs of the signatures. As I began the repair process, I told my friend and bookbinding mentor, Linda, “Getting that spine off was like getting bark off a log!” I even emailed my client that the original binder must have intended his work to last for the ages and just didn’t know that his materials would fail.

            I felt I was getting to know the binder through his craftsmanship. During difficult portions of the repair, I assured him I was doing my best to honor his skill. (If you’ve read my previous entries, you know already that I talk out loud while I’m working.) Finally I paid attention to the small gold letters stamped along the bottom edge of the cover pastedown: “Bound by Hayday.” The binder’s biography on Wikipedia confirmed what I had already sensed about him.

            “HAYDAY, JAMES (1796–1872), book-binder, born in London in 1796…. To make the back tight he dispensed with the ordinary backing of paper, and fastened the leather cover down to the back. [Boy did he fasten it.]… Works bound by Hayday became famous, and his name attached to a book raised its value twenty-five per cent…. Unable to compete with other and cheaper binders, he was adjudicated a bankrupt on 10 June 1861.”

            So Mr. Hayday was a craftsman, not a businessman, and apparently didn’t charge enough for time and materials invested. How many of us can relate? You can read the complete entry on Wikipedia or in the Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900, Volume 25.

            I can imagine that Mr. Hayday fretted about his business failure. Did he have hope that his work would stand the test of time? All I know is that his craftsmanship remains a palpable presence that spans 165 years, from the time the book left his hands in the mid-19th century till my hands reverse-engineered parts of it in the 21st century.