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Saturday, August 31, 2013

Bone Folder Collection!

I was "playing" with some of my bookbinding toys last night, and thought to take a picture of actually what is a small portion of my bone & wooden folder & and paste brush collection! Everything is quite old, nothing new. The paste brushes where almost never used, and three of them I believe were never used.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Gutenberg Publishers of New York, New York

We've installed the Bookeye4/V1A book and document scanner at Gutenberg Publishers in New York City!

The Bookeye4/V1A is the latest cutting-edge technology in book and document scanners! Made in Germany, this new model (with all it's phenomenal bell & whistles) was just released this Spring 2013.

How does this machine relate to my "Journey" as a bookbinder?... Part of my journey has always been in recreating rare books ~ the TEXT + BINDING STYLE. This machine allows us to scan and reproduce any rare book or document up to 35.5 Inches X 25.5 Inches. Which means we can even scan  "Elephant Folio's!"

Here is a beauty shot of our new machine!  Isn't she pretty?? But we have to come up with a name yet! :-)

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Life Status:

I received an email from a bookbinder friend of mine asking about the semi-retirement announcement I made on my personal Facebook page earlier this Spring. It's simple really. Anyone who has followed the projects and works of myself and Bookbinders Workshop knows that we've been tirelessly at work over the past many years. Now the opportunity has come to slow down a bit, and enjoy life a little more, finishing up the publishing of my awaiting manuscripts, over-seeing the letterpress edition of the Gutenberg Bible, lecturing on my career and Gutenberg, and so on. It's a very liberating feeling. I've been involved in the craft of bookbinding for 34 years, this year, and have considered myself extremely fortunate to have had the beginning foundations that I had. FINE education is required in order to become a Fine bookbinder. In this day it seems as though many younger binders are so thirsty to be "famous" that they don't spend the time necessary to learn the [deep and genuine] techniques of the true fine art of hand bookbinding. I'm not aware one program in America that truly equips aspiring binders to go out into the world and make money binding and restoring books precisely according to historic standards. There's a lot of reasons for this, but I [do not] believe that it's the student's fault entirely. I learned from a completely different set of 'rules' in the craft (and life) and I know for a fact that this is not taught in these programs today.

Many thanks,


Monday, August 19, 2013

BLOG Title Photo:

A number of people have asked me today if the BLOG title photo at the top of this blog-site is an original ~ or one of my works.... it [is] in fact a photo of one of my Gutenberg Bible 15thC period-style bindings in alum~tawed pigskin over solid beechwood boards, with my own aging & treatment recipe.

Thanks for asking!!

~ Michael

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Historic 'Standard' Book Sizes:

Someone asked me this morning about book sizes. They said they were interested in making some blank books, but wanted the sizes they make to be as historically correct as possible. So, for the sake of those who may stumble upon this blog that have no "book" experience whatsoever, I'll provide some additional basic info, as well.

Having standard book sizes is something that goes back centuries, and while these standards have varied slightly, from country to country, the European standard was adhered to by most, and this includes America up until the formation of the standard book sizes created by the American Library Association.

For the benefit of the casual observer or rank amateur, I'll include a little more background information...

Historically speaking, the "standard" book sizes (standard being a somewhat relative term, as mentioned above) were based entirely on the prevailing sheet size of the day. For example, until the end of the eighteenth century, and less so [in a production sense] after 1820, paper was handmade via wooden frame with screens, called moulds, and most all paper mills typically made their paper on all the same sizes of moulds, as this was largely dictated by the printers and customers demands of the day. When the printer received the paper for printing, the layout of the printing of course most often dictated the number of times the sheet of paper was folded, which created one "section" or "signature" as they are called. The number of pages in these signatures would be 4, 8, 12, 16, 24, 32, and, rarely, so on. Remember, however, that these are the number of pages, [not] the number of leaves of paper! Every leaf is printed on both sides, which creates two pages on one leaf.

The actual 'page size' will vary at the end of day, because every book is edge-trimmed slightly.

This table of sizes, along with others, some being speculative, are on the internet. But this older, more antiquated scale is best to use when wanting to make [blank] historic-facsimiles of books. I suggest the Crown-Octavo in a Cambridge Panel Style!

The following table is in terms of a 20" x 25" parent sheet of paper.

Size NameTimes Sheet FoldedLeaves to SheetPages to SheetSize of Page in Inches
royal folio12420 x 12½
royal quarto24812½ x 10
royal octavo381610 x 6¼
royal sixteenmo416326¼ x 5
royal thirty-twomo532645 x 3 1/8
royal sixty-fourmo6641283 1/8 x 2½
medium folio12418 x 11½
medium quarto24811½ x 9
medium octavo38169 x 5¾
medium sixteenmo416325¾ x 4½
medium thirty-twomo532644½ x 2 7/8
medium sixty-fourmo6641282 7/8 x 2¼
crown folio12415 x 10
crown quarto24810 x 7½
crown octavo38167½ x 5
crown sixteenmo416325 x 3¾
crown thirty-twomo532643¾ x 2½
crown sixty-fourmo6641282½ x 1 7/8

Saturday, August 17, 2013

My First Mentor ~

Many have asked me already for more information on the mentoring I received from Bernard Middleton in England. Well, that association began when he invited me (while I was still a Mennonite) to attend the New Horizons In Bookbinding conference in Oxford in 1994. A day after the conference, we met at his home in Clapham. We had a nice chat for a few hours, he gave me a tour of his bindery downstairs, and explained some of the projects he was working on, etc. I naturally asked him if he'd be willing to share many more details with me on what made his restorations so unique and sought after. He said he'd consider that. The following Spring, Middleton faxed my bindery and asked about coming for a visit. I was more than happy, as you can imagine, and we readied up the bindery to welcome him. I laid out many books for him to "judge".... a thick, massive 1819 German Folio Bible [that I re-backed], a lovely, rare European printing of the Amish-Mennonite song book, and many others. For two hours we discussed various points, but he said he was very pleased with the work. He continued mentoring me via fax and telephone, though for three or four years we traded visits between our homes, and he guided me through a number of crucial steps in [his] restoration techniques. Some of these are not always welcomed by conservators, as they can be rather "home-spun" in their approach.

On one of my visits Bernard had held back a folio set of Gould's Birds that he had re-backed so that I could see them. They were lovely dark green Levant goatskin bindings that he re-backed with matching leather and elaborate full-gilt spines. That week he asked me to go along with him to deliver them to Henry Sotheran's Bookshop in London ( ). I watched as he 'penciled' his signature inside the back covers.

The private mentoring I received from Bernard Middleton was by no means all encompassing, but when reflecting on the many gifts he gave to me over those few years of knives, two sizes of tying-up boards, tools, papers, a period-style binding, etc., (in addition to the obvious guidance in historical authenticity) was obviously appreciated. On one visit, we re-backed a Cambridge-style 1720 Lucas' Sermons, a late 18thC Philadelphia printing of Barclay's Apology, a re-backing of a thin 19C. Offenbarung Johannes, a full-gilt back on L'Origine de la Gravure, and discussion and explanation of numerous other books.  On that same visit, I had taken along a 1777 Taylor & Skinners Maps of Ireland that I had rebound in historically authentic 'reverse calf' ~ which he liked so very well that he seemingly proudly handed the book to a very important guest/customer to the house that day and said "This is a lovely reverse-calf binding [Michael] made." That guest was no other than the 29th Earl of Crawford and Balcarres. Who immediately invited me to visit him, and Lady Crawford at Balcarres Castle in Scotland, on my next journey to the UK. And that, I did. And it was a splendid visit. I have photo's of the visit.

Like many things, friendships sometimes come and go. And while it would serve no good purpose to go into detail, the envious and jealous person that drove the wedge knows who they are, and that's all that really matters. And I can think of no better way to describe that person than with [un-related] words of Mr. Middleton himself in 1997, as he & I stood enjoying a chili-hot dog at the Amish community livestock auction.... "This is rather difficult to eat with any degree of dignity, isn't it?"

Shown here are two photos of books done by Middleton and myself. He did the full-gilt back in 27 minutes, not including the label.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Michael Chrisman at his workbench, 2011.

I received an email from someone asking for a photo of me at my workbench. So here you go!....

This photo was taken in 2011. I'm 'lighter' now :-)
The bench is over 8' long. My litho stone
is uncommonly large and thick.

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

My Gutenberg Bindings.

This is a photo of the top-right corner of one of my Gutenberg Bible bindings, taken in 2009.

The Top-Right corner of one of Gutenberg Bindings. Photo circa 2009

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Some photo's of my Gutenberg Bible binding work.

Some photo's of my Gutenberg Bible binding work....

All photo's are Copyright ©2008-2013.


Cutting & Filing the Solid Brass Clasps

A Landscape Photo of A Front Cover

Hand-filing of the Solid Wooden Boards

Dressing-out the Inside Hinge Area
of the Wooden Boards

Myself Signing The Opening of My Exhibition
at The Gutenberg  Museum

One of My Blind-tooled Alum-Tawed Pigskin Covers
NOTE*  The tooling on the pigskin is supposed to be 
un-mitered, and "free-style."

The "First Five" Sets (2008)

A Set On Display

The Handmade Sewing Cord

The Manners and Customs of The Romans, 1740.

The Manners and Customs of the Romans. Le Fevre de Morsan, 1st English Ed., London 1740. 

This book is in my personal library. I purchased it in deplorable condition (not even having a binding, but wrapped in wax paper) for $15.00 in 1989, from a bookseller. Today, it rests proudly, clad in one of my "Cambridge-Style" bindings I made for it in 1993.

Pulled, cleaned, washed, buffered, sized, 
and ready for mending.
Photo taken, 1993.

Hanji paper repair strips made and
 ready to apply.
Photo taken, 1993

Hanji repair strips applied to the folds
and ready for sewing on five raised bands
in mid-18thC Style.
Photo taken, 1993

I'll post some photos later of how this 1993 project turned out. 

Codice Exhausted-us......

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Another beautiful find in my stacks....

It was obviously badly re-backed by someone long ago. Researching the information on the inside, it appears to date from about 1485 A.D. It has both the front & back covers. Alas, what to do with such things, besides simply care for them in a box. I have considered making a lovely wall-hanging out it, though.

Making History ~ My Life in Recreating Historic Books. 

by Michael L. Chrisman

Many people have emailed me this year asking for details about my upcoming book, Making History ~ My Life in Recreating Historic Books [Copyright ©2013]. I have mentioned this upcoming book in a few places over the last many months, and I'm very excited about the official announcement that will be coming soon. I have written many books over the last seven years, but have held off bringing any of them to print because (like most authors) I fear I will forget something that should have been included! So while I have manuscripts ready to go for my restoration books [on the basics] for leather & cloth, plus somewhat of an auto-biography, its time to debut one of them, and I've chosen "Making History ~ My Life in Recreating Historic Books" as the first book to print and offer. Why, you might ask?, because this aspect of my work is what I've always held most dear, and have always been best known for.

"Making History"  is not an instruction manual. Rather, it outlines the amazing creation of seven (7) of the most enjoyable historic facsimile-replica books in my career, meaning, the interesting details that were involved in their making, plus many, many photos! These projects were intense, expensive. It's not an easy task to create small editions of facsimile~replicas of books. Especially when they involve custom made leathers, custom made papers, printing plates, etc, etc. See my website for my philosophy on what a successful facsimile~replica book actually is >>>

My Gutenberg Bible facsimile~replica project is also included in my book Making History. 

With all good wishes,

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Rare Cockerell Marbled "Step-by-Step" Sheets:

Discoveries abound....

Firstly, it should go without saying that these (and all BLOG images are ©2013 by Michael L. Chrisman, and may not under any circumstances be reprinted, shared, etc, without my permission! Thanks!)

Over the last few days I've been milling through my extensive collection of bookbinding things. This includes everything from books and ephemera about books and bookbinding, ancient binding tools, inatglio plates, and a vast number of rare "one-of-a-kind" things, etc. I even uncovered a two-foot thick stack of antique handmade paper, which included dozens of sheets of Wokey-Hole, Barcham-Green, Powell, and, yes, to my glad remembrance ~ "Dard Hunter" paper, made by Dard! And over two hundred antiquarian book covers that I rescued years ago from the trash heep of an old, old bindery. Unbelievable the covers there are in these boxes. So here is my point... to those who have not built up such collections, please do it now. This is the perfect time to bone-up on your collection. I have a young apprentice that will inherit all of these things one day, but for most other young binders today it's hard to acquire such items. But always look for these items, and even if you think you can't afford it, believe me, you can't afford [not] to.

Among the "third floor" discoveries was a archival tube with (8) sheets of [1976] Douglas Cockerell & Son marbled papers from the old collection of my departed friend, Master Binder Arno Werner (1899-1994).... BUT, these are very, very special Cockerell papers! They are full hand-marbled sheets of EACH step involved in making one of Cockerell's famous design patterns. The note illustrated reveals the date of these sheets as 26 January 1976. Now nearly 40 years ago!  Arno always said that this was the only such set like this, as they were made at his request, to use as a teaching aid. ~ Enjoy!

Step One

Step Two

Step Three

Step Four

Step Five

Step Six

Step Seven

Step Eight

AGAIN,  it should go without saying that these (and all BLOG images are ©2013 by Michael L. Chrisman, and may not under any circumstances be reprinted, shared, etc, without my permission! Thanks!)

Monday, August 5, 2013

Alright, I'll make you five of them, but not ten!

A rare book library called me this morning from Eastern Europe. They emailed the photo shown below while we were on the telephone, and asked me if I would make them (10) bindings of this mid-16thC style - on books from their collection that need historic-style bindings. I agreed to make them (5) and then if I have time, the remaining five next year. 

A bookbinders work is never done!

A bit about my beginning in bookbinding...

From the time as a young child, even before ten years old, I can remember being intrigued with how books “work” and the different ways in which they are made. I remember one day explaining to some fellow grade school classmates why the “Readers Digest” books never fall apart like other books! I think everyone who learns the answer to that question feels as though they’ve discovered a previously unknown phenomenon!

At 15 years old I had narrowed down what I felt were my three favorite career choices. 1. A Chef. 2. A Preacher. 3. A Bookmaker. And by “Bookmaker” I mean to say a “bookbinder” and not the trade that is involved in horse racing. For my 16th birthday, my grandmother, Olive, gave me a lovely scrapbook album as a present. I [still] have that album on my bookshelf. I remember her telling me that she felt my love for books had the ability to take me far in life. After all, I had just been professionally published a year earlier with a lovely history of my hometown. It sold throughout 15 states in America!

I took my grandmothers advice, and while working various odd jobs to earn spending money, as teenagers do, I studied books about bookbinding, and practiced repairing and binding books as time permitted. I found the work not only gratifying, but it also appeased my natural love for preserving history and my tendency to explore and learn how things work, and the different ways to re-create them. I progressed quickly with bookbinding, but did not make a regular income from it until I reached the age of nineteen, when a more steady stream of bibles, song books/hymnals, prayer books, etc. were flowing into my little shop in the Amish country of Ohio. I had joined the Amish community about this time, and held additional jobs of saw-mill worker, farmer, and Amish parochial school teacher. The school teaching position paid $535.00 per month (which was the going rate back then) but it was a truly wonderful experience. I think I might have learned more than my pupils in many ways. Those who have known me all my life always say that I am a 'natural born educator.' But my personal long-held belief is that in order to be a great teacher, you have to never stop being a great learner!

I have always loved history. The older and richer the better. All my life I’ve fantasized about living in different eras. And this can actually bring a person more in touch with the era in which they live. When you study historical figures or places enough that you can 'smell them in your mind'’re a true historian!

My deep love for history was a natural prelude to my career in bookbinding, which would follow a path that revolved around the very old and rare books. I was never content to only restore the old and rare books, but always wanted to know more about them. Committing to memory the names, places, dates and ephemeral data about the publishers, the paper, the bindings, etc. As tiring as this might sound, it is a quiz that I’ve matched against myself for thirty years, and, today, I can most often name the publisher and approximate date of a great many books before the cover is opened to reveal it. Provided the binding is original, of course. I’ve been told since I was very young that I have a photographic memory. I just hope it holds out long enough to write all the books that are in my head!

From the time I was 16, I made notes regarding binding structures when I examined them. A few years later, as I began to receive restoration projects for quite rare European bibles of the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries (mostly of wooden board structure) I always took extremely detailed notes of every single aspect of the structure. Right down to the caliper of the sewing thread and text paper. This study is what allowed me to begin re-creating period-bindings that had the same swell, board attachment, and cover action, etc. 

The story continues later.........

Below is a photo of myself in a famous [private] Mennonite library, for whom I restored a great many rare old tomes of European origin. This picture was taken over 20 years ago! The owner asked me to pencil-in my signature and some other interesting details. The book I’m signing is a 1548 Frocschauer Bible [quarto]. Very, very rare.

Michael L. Chrisman, Bookbinder
A Private Mennonite Library, ca. 1992
I'm writing the text in the old-fashioned
German long-hand! I used to teach my
Amish School children how to write this.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Bookbinder TV Home Page "Intro"

This is the new 'Intro' to the online teaching portal I created last year [www.Bookbinder.TV]. It was designed by my webmaster, not myself, so I cannot take any credit for its creation. It's different, but I think they did a nice job. Feel free to comment!

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Original Half-Leather Binding Style of the "Codice Atlantico" [Milan. Hopeli, 1894-1904].

This is a photo of one of the six volumes of 
"Codice Atlantico" [Milan. Hopeli, 1894-1904] 
in its' original half-leather binding. It was decided
to create new late-19thC style bindings for this 
massive sized set, as the strength and life of
 these original bindings has all but perished.

The title page of Vol.II of the "Atlantico."

More to come soon ~


A Beautiful & Passionate BLOG I've Discovered...

It is not all that often that we discover young, passionate, and highly skilled talent in the world of fine hand-bookbinding, but MHR has the right stuff! In over 34 years of working with rare books, I have only a few times found such a person as this. The evidence for which you will see on their BLOG.


~ Michael

Friday, August 2, 2013

Preparing for end-banding the Atlantico volumes.

Up at 5:30 this morning, as usual, and have prepared the end-banding cores for the six volumes of Atlantico. Once I select the colors of the end-banding thread, I'll sew them 'round the flat cores I've prepared of alum-tawed pigskin - lined with soft goat parchment to provide a small amount of rigidity, which provides better definition to the sewing/embroidery. The shoulders of the spines have been softened and properly enhanced, and the spines have been lined with two layers of thick Korean "Hanji" paper, using Korean rice starch paste, and allowed to completely dry. After sewing the end bands I will line the six spines with soft alum-tawed goatskin.

I'll post photo's after all of the above is complete.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

The Codice Atlantico ~ Leonardo Da Vinci. 
The Rare Edition by Hopeli in Milan, 1894-1904.

I've been having a splendid time working on the rare six volume "Da Vinci - Codice Atlantico" [Hopeli, Milan. 1894-1904]. I was asked by a New York area university to completely rebind these lovely volumes in some "spectacular" way. And what I am creating for these volumes will be just that. They will be a set of books that will awe the beholder, hopefully for some centuries ahead. For in my semi-retirement, I found what could be described as some of the most enjoyable days of my career, which this year [2013], numbers 34 years. Taking on the 'extra-special' and 'ancient' commission, and not being concerned as to economics allows me to employ the utterly finest leathers, gold and materials the world has to offer, and combine them into bindings that hopefully amaze.

These massive sized "Atlantico" volumes are simply a delight to behold.  They measure about 16 inches wide, 20 inches tall, and about 2 inches thick. I'm very accustomed to preserving books of this size, so its like second-nature in handling them about the studio. In fact, over-sized ancient folios have been a forte` of mine for over a quarter-century.

Notice the photo directly below. This displays the original sewing structure of of all six volumes of the "Atlantico." It is an "over-sewn" structure, wherein a small number of leaves are sewn around themselves and each gathering is then sewn the same way, and link-sewn to each other. This was procedure was very commonly employed on very large, heavy books, mostly in Victorian days, but not only. Its not necessarily always a bad structure ~ and as long as the leaves are huge and drape downward well, there can actually be very little resistance on the structure itself as the books are opened and used.

I've nearly cleaned all of the spines, but one more go will complete this step. Though a few dark lines are seen here and there along the length of the spines, these are merely where the paper is naturally proud from the sewing and old glue still rests there. I'm grateful that not in a single place is the heavy thread broken, and I have noted that the original thread is of great quality, and, just as importantly, of the correct weight for expecting it to hold these heavy books together.

This six volume set weighs just about 140 pounds, + or -, and this is without any bindings! This is due to the paper, of course. They were printed on the finest P.M. Fabriano Italian paper, of an average weight of 10 point. {Very} heavy paper indeed, and of pure linen, which is, of course, heavier than cotton.

Below, here, is a photo I took via raking light of a few of the text pages. I thought you might enjoy!

And, here is one of the {4} watermarks in the volumes....

I'll keep updating my blog here as to the progress of the "Atlantico" ~ as well as some other quite phenomenal bindings I'm completing.

Thanks for visiting!


Michael L. Chrisman
Rare Book & Paintings Conservator

My business location:
Gutenberg Publishers, LLC.
Manhattan / Rockefeller Center
New York, New York

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Every life has a journey.

As I've journeyed through my own long career as a bookbinder, I've often wished that the world had more diaries of bookbinders from long ago. What amazing stories they would have left us.

For many of us in the present day, we tend to feel our life experiences as inconsequential, and not necessary to chronicle. But this is far from the truth. Even sharing the smallest experiences that we ourselves might see as commonplace can have positive affects for others.   ~mlc