The Journeyman Bookbinder

Just a Journeyman Binder of Books

Working from town to town

A craftsman old, of an ancient guild

With graying hair and wrinkled frown.


He binds the books in leather and cloth,

Tools them in letters of gold

Some printed thoughts that come to naught,

Others of priceless mould.


Once in a while he’ll glance inside

And note what lies within

Gleaning a little from such aside

Of wisdom, knowledge, and sin.


Sage and philosopher, braggart and knave

Spill out their thoughts in a wordy pool,

The Journeyman binder sees them all

And absorbs a little from saint and fool.


He compares their words with what he’s seen

Of mountain, plain and seaport’s view,

The way his fellow men behave

In the marts of trade and home life too.


He takes his tools and hits the road

For another job — more books to bind,

Seldom knowing when night comes on

What resting place his head will find.


Just a Journeyman Binder of Books

As all in the trade may see,

If we could know why he wanders so

His life a book would be.


By Eric Widdas, International Brotherhood of Bookbinders Local No. 11, Miami, Florida.

Published in The International Bookbinder, Volume XLVI, No. 3

Color Our Collections 2017

It’s that time again! It’s Color Our Collections week, a project hosted by the New York Academy of Medicine, in which museums, libraries, and archives around the world create coloring pages inspired by items in their collections. Officially it runs February 6-10, 2017, but really, you can print our pages and share them whenever you want. We’ll be happy to see your creative work!

This year we’re sharing most of the pages we made last year, and adding in some new ones. Feel free to print them, share them with your kids and your friends, and color them in however you want – all we ask is that you share a picture with us on social media. Tag us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, and share your pictures with the hashtag #ColorOurCollections!

Find our coloring pages here: bookbindersmuseum_coloringpages2017

Floods and Disasters: 1966 and 2016

Fifty years ago last night, the Arno River in Florence burst its banks and flooded the city, reaching depths of 18-22 feet. Water raged through the streets at some 30-40 miles per hour, tumbling cars and even newsstands as easily as if they were children’s toys. Shops on the famous bridges of the Arno looked as though they had been hit by bombs. Basement furnaces leaked and exploded, and the pressure of the water blew out the sewers. When the waters receded after a few days, the city was covered in a thick, foul slime of mud, sewage, oil, and waterlogged detritus. 

Our exhibit, BOOKS AND MUD: THE DROWNED LIBRARIES OF FLORENCE looks at the damage and recovery effort in a single library in Florence, the Biblioteca Nazionale Centrale di Firenze, in which nearly 100,000 precious early modern volumes were left waterlogged and mud-caked. It has been up for two weeks, and many of the visitors who have come to see it have some memory to share of the 1966 flood. Some remember hearing about it and wishing they had gone to help, while others tell us a bit about being on the scene. 

The technical achievement of the restoration workers is, of course, vitally important and interesting to study. The methods the skilled men and women who saved the books developed informs much of the way water-damaged books are managed even today. 

That said, the part of the story that seems to lie at the heart of everyone’s memory of the Florence flood of 1966 is the part where thousands of young people came from all over Italy, Europe, and many parts of the world to volunteer their time and labor as angeli del tango: mud angels. They formed lines to the basements of museums, libraries, and palaces, passing books, artwork, and other treasures one at a time to the fresh air and the hands of the professional restorers. They took shovels and buckets and dug mud out of stores, homes, and streets. 

The raw film footage and photographs of these mud angels, most of whom remain unidentified in these visual records, is moving and heartwarming. It is beautiful to see the way they move through the streets, filthy and tired, doing what they can to restore the everyday life and priceless treasures of Florence. In the well-worn phrase, it gives one faith in humanity.

As I write this, Italy is once again dealing with the aftermath of natural disasters. In the past few months, nearly 250 medium-strength or greater earthquakes have rocked the country. Nearly 300 people died as a result of the August 24 earthquake around the town of Amatrice. The town of Arquata del Tronto has been more or less destroyed. Those wishing to aid the relief efforts can donate here. The Italian Cultural Institute here in San Francisco is also offering the chance to donate via an artist’s exhibit and auction. The auction will take place at the Institute on December 8, 2016, from 6-9pm. 

We have also kept track of floods in 2016 as part of the exhibit, or at least, as many floods as we’ve been able to track down. We have a world map on display with color-coded pins indicating flood frequency and severity, and it is updated daily. 

Recent major flooding in the United States has of course caught our attention. West Virginia, Louisiana, and the Carolinas have been particularly affected recently, and all have put out appeals for help in rebuilding the public library collections and those of the public schools. Baton Rouge school librarian Trey Veazey’s blog post on the subject spread around social media, but aid is needed all over the affected areas. Most have lost most or all of their collections, and rebuilding is expensive and necessary. Veazey writes:

We are relocating. We’ve been ushered over to a building that was built in 1937. That means my new school is the same age as And to Think That I Saw it on Mulberry Street. It also means that, in my first year as a librarian, I have a library without any books. 

Access to books is the key to educational success. Our library doesn’t have books. Our classrooms don’t have books. Many of the homes of our students don’t have books. Like the tears that rolled down our faces both in silent & violent measures, they became a part of the flood before being swept away as we looked toward rebuilding & recovery.

Most of us can’t go dig these places out of the mud and sweep away the flood waters, but other ways you can help may be found here:

Rebuilding School & Classroom Libraries in Louisiana

Flood-damaged West Virginia Libraries seeking help to rebuild

West Virginia Libraries Pick Up the Pieces

Book collection underway for libraries destroyed by Hurricane Matthew flooding

Floods in 2016

Floods in 2016

Penguin Bindings: A Short History

I love merchandise, and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Especially if it’s book-related. Lately, I’ve found myself drawn to the plethora of items sold by Penguin that recall the nostalgia of their classic binding. You know which one I mean – the three horizontal stripes, famously orange, with the title stamped boldly in the middle. I have the coffee mug (Wuthering Heights, thank you very much). I have the box of post cards (one hundred book covers!). And of course, I have plenty of the books. Penguin has done a remarkable job over the years using their distinctive designs as a marketing tool. They have evolved from the original three-stripe cover, but their systematic method of different bindings for different editions is still effective, and the original design is now imbued with enough nostalgia to have produced a whole line of products sporting those orange stripes. (more…)

A Short History of America’s Oldest Private Press

The Private Press movement suffered a sharp decline during the 1930s, with many presses closing down due to Depression-era costs. A few, however, managed to keep going. One of those intrepid presses was the Trovillion Private Press at the sign of the Silver Horse, which at one point was the oldest operating private press in America. The press was founded by Hal W. Trovillion and operated with his wife, Violet, and together they issued over fifty items from 1908–1960. (more…)

The Private Press Movement in Britain and America

The Private Press movement, an offshoot of the Arts and Crafts movement that began in Britain and then spread to America, is a fascinating period in the history of the book, and one of my favorites. At the heart of the private press is the core ideal of the owner printing for his own pleasure, and not for profit or for other people, and the Private Press movement that began in the late 19th century exemplified that ideal. (more…)

A Day at the London International Antiquarian Book Fair : Starting a Book Collection on a Budget

A few weeks ago, I had the good fortune to be able to attend the London International Antiquarian Book Fair. My friend and fellow library student (Jill, for future reference) managed to secure tickets through her workplace. She and I are both rare books people, and I think it is safe to say that we have more-than-vague aspirations of someday having Splendid Collections Of Our Very Own, so this was a prime opportunity to see some lovely books, learn about collecting, and possibly make a purchase. (more…)