London Rare Books School 2013

London Rare Books School 2013
Longstitch, tacketing, transverse spine linings, laced-case bindings, drawn-on covers – these were part of the terminology (new to me) that was used in Nicholas Pickwoad’s course on European Bookbindings 1450-1820, one of the classes on offer in the second week of the London Rare Books School. In an extremely intense schedule of up to six hours a day over five days, Professor Pickwoad gave an introduction to the methods and structures of European bookbinding, a departure from the decorations that have traditionally dominated bindings studies. A world expert, he showed how bindings can be effectively placed and dated by studying how (and with what) they were put together.

There were national and regional trends in binding methods, and the craftsmen themselves also had a great variety of styles and tricks, such that any humdrum volume that might sit on our shelves can effectively carry a signature of an individual worker or workshop. One aspect of the study of binding methods and structures that is very interesting is that it uncovers how a volume can pass through several different workshops. A calf-bound book might have been sewn in one place before shipping, then boards attached elsewhere before sale, and then finally it could have been put into leather on a purchaser’s instructions. This is all part of the history of the book. And one aspect of these analytical methods that is very useful is that it helps us better understand when a volume might have been tampered with (endpapers removed, remboîtage, etc.)

So far, so (extremely) good. One fear with this type of intense tuition concerns what someone who is a neophyte to binding methods can take away after just a week. This fear is especially close to me as I since had a briefcase snatched abroad, that contained my notes on the course, which I was going to take the opportunity to re-read, as part of writing this report. But even with my notes, I would (understandably) not now in any way be able to describe and analyse a book’s binding like Nicholas Pickwoad can. I think my eye has definitely improved and it was a useful and stimulating introduction to a subject that can be pursued. The course offers a printed handbook with diagrams, there is a long reading list (the “essential” part, for reading before the course, consisted of two books and three articles), and it is an ongoing subject of study with articles and lectures. In due course Professor Pickwoad will, with a colleague, be producing a thesaurus of terms that will take this scholarship more mainstream and which will make it easier to improve one’s descriptive terms.

A number of ABA dealers taught at the school. In my week, Angus O’Neill and Laurence Worms, with help from Rick Gekoski and Carl Williams, gave a course on the market in modern firsts. In the week before there was teaching from Jean Hedger (Children’s Books, 1470-1980), and Ashley Baynton-Williams and again Laurence Worms (Mapping Land and Sea before 1900). The school may not yet be widely perceived though as a tool for booksellers to improve their knowledge. I found myself the only ABA member attending in the second week as a student (although there was a young PBFA member in my class, and an ex-employee of a prominent ABA firm in another one). Other rare books professionals do attend the school. At my class were a library director, and trainee and working librarians and conservators. It may of course be easier for them to come, with their larger organizations and training budgets. But there are definite benefits to booksellers sitting at the same table with other book-workers, as I am sure the ABA members who were teachers would agree. Besides giving others the opportunity to understand that we are not thieves and gangsters, I found myself for example in interesting conversations with fellow-students about questions in the library world regarding the digital preservation of books, which have considerable bearing on what we as booksellers can sell. Ours is an interconnected world, and we do well to learn from each other.
Leo Cadogan (Leo Cadogan Rare Books Ltd.) -