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Pressing Matter

Winter 2015

The Publication of the Delaware Valley Chapter of the Guild of Book Workers

Message from THE CHAPTER CHAIR

More Collaboration!

I

hope this newsletter finds you all enjoying the holidays and not too stressed out.
There have been plenty of fun activities since our last newsletter. I realize
that when we have a collaborative book project going on, there is a flurry of
emails that I send out only to the participants. It might seem like we have had a
few activities this past fall, when actually, it has been more of a whirlwind. We held
our collation party in September and
the 39 participant have either been
busily binding or boxing their set
of maps. Or, more likely, they have
been contemplating what they will
do with their maps! All this activity
will culminate in an exhibit at the
Athenaeum of Philadelphia opening
on April 10, 2015. Mark your calendars!
Ten members attended the Ethiopian Bookbinding workshop in
October. Bill Hanscom taught us
three different bindings and it was
an action packed weekend. Most of
us even had “homework” and had to
sew our books Saturday evening, in
my case missing some of the World
Series. Now, that’s devotion! See
the article in the this newsletter.
About a dozen members had a
Collation party for the Atlas project.
very stimulating tour at the Philadelphia Museum of Art of a small
exhibit titled “The Art of the Book in South Asia” with the curator, Neeraja Poddar.
She was impressed at questions we asked and the interest we took in the details of
these amazing books, or in many cases, pages from books. The books are on display
in gallery 227 through February 2015.
Jennifer Rosner
Chapter Chair

In this issue
Six Questions
Pages 2-3

Voynich Manuscript
Page 4

Ethiopian
Bookbinding
Page 5

Girdle Book Model
Page 7

Member News
Page 9

Delaware Valley
Chapter Officers
Jennifer Rosner
Chapter Chair
Alice Austin
Vice Chair, Treasurer
Rosae Reeder
Secretary

Denise Carbone
Programs Coordinator
Jon Snyder
Newsletter Designer

Jon Sweitzer-Lamme
Newsletter Coordinator
Valeria Kremser
Webmaster

Ruth Scott Blackson
Madeline Lambelet
Exhibitions Co-chairs

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Delaware Valley Guild of Bookworkers

Pressing Matters

Winter 2015

6 Questions - Madeline Lambalet

1

How long have you been a member
of the GBW?
I have been a member of the
GBW for a little under a year.

2

Where are you from originally?
I am originally from a small
town in Fauquier County, VA
(which is in Northern VA, about an
hour or two outside of DC).

3

When did you realize you wanted
to learn bookbinding?
I read a book when I was quite
young that had a book doctor as
one of the main characters. I loved
the idea, and when I was in college
I realized book restoration was a
viable career choice. When I moved
to Philadelphia two years ago I
found a studio and started learning. 

4

What is your favorite book structure these days?
At the moment I am intrigued by
the various bookbinding structures
used in Italy in the 15th century.
This is, in part, due to the wooden
boards, rampant clasp use, and the
intense focus on strong and durable
interior structures.

5

What are you working on right
now?
I am currently working on The
Book of the Dead. The book is approximately 2’ x 1 1/2’ (give or take)
and needed some restoration and a box. I can definitely say it is
the largest box I have ever made. 

6

Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.
I am a big Detroit Lions fan even though I have never
lived in, or even visited, Detroit.  P

Madeline
Lambalet

Delaware Valley Guild of Bookworkers

Pressing Matters

Winter 2015

Page 3

6 Questions - Ruth Scott Blackson

1
2

How long have you been a member of the GBW?
One year exactly.

Where are you from originally?
I am originally from a small city in the North East of England
called Durham. It is famous for its Norman cathedral and 11th century castle.

3

When did you
realize you
wanted to learn
bookbinding?
I made a few
books while I
was still living in
England and was
excited by the
possibilities of the
book form in my
art practice. I then
took a class in
Book Structures
at Tyler School of
Art once I arrived
in Philadelphia.
The class really
gave me a thirst
for learning more
about bookbinding - making books/ repairing books and immersing myself in books. 

4

What is your favorite book structure these days?
Hmm... I enjoy any type of Accordion, it is so versatile and the
sculptural quality of the structure that requires no sewing is a bonus.

5

What are you working on right now?
At work I am working on a few projects, most notably a 3/4 reback in calfskin leather of a ledger - the triple hinge system makes it
especially interesting. In my studio at home I am working on a photo
album for my husband’s 40th birthday. 

6

Tell us something about yourself that might surprise us.
I dabbled in tight wire walking in a past life. P

Ruth Scott
Blackson

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Delaware Valley Guild of Bookworkers

Pressing Matters

Winter 2015

The Voynich Manuscript
By Jon Sweitzer-Lamme
n July 10, the DVC GBW
and the Library Company
of Philadelphia co-hosted an
event at the Library Company, delving
deep into one of the most mysterious
books in the world. The Mysterious
Voynich Manuscript: Collaboration
Yields New Insights talk was given
by Paula Zyats, the Assistant Chief
Conservator at Yale University’s Special Collections. The Voynich Manuscript, donated to Yale in 1969, is a
book written in an unknown language,
illustrated with surreal drawings of
unknown plants, cavorting bathers and
obscure cosmological diagrams. Its
exact date and authorship is unknown,
although it is believed to be a product
of Northern Italy.
Zyats’ talk introduced us to the
manuscript itself, and walked us
through her process of conservation
and analysis, which was funded by a
team making a documentary on the
process. The textblock, made of vellum,
was minimally conserved—it was in
excellent condition.
Analysis—including the first carbon dating of this enigmatic document—dated the vellum as being from
between 1404 and 1438, and the pigments as consistent with that period.
This information allowed the elimination of some suspected creators—such
as Roger Bacon, a friar and polymath
from the 13th century, and John Dee,
an English mystic from the 16th century.
Without hard evidence, Zyats and
the audience speculated on its origins
in a long and entertaining question and
answer session. Zyats’ theory is of a
Renaissance Rain Man: that the book
was created by the severely autistic

O

Paula Zyats, right, talking to lecture attendees.

child of a wealthy family. The wealth of
theories was astounding: she said she
had been contacted by a person with
a book-length treatise on the production of the book by aliens from Orion.
As she said, much work remains to be
done, but this research adds the first
hard facts to the speculation around
the manuscript in some time.

Page from the Voynich
Manuscript. Photo
courtesy of The Beinecke
Library, Yale University.

Delaware Valley Guild of Bookworkers

Pressing Matters

Winter 2015

Page 5

Ethiopian Bookbinding
By Jennifer Rosner
ver the weekend of October
25th, the DVC held a workshop on Ethiopian bookbinding. Ten students attended the
workshop, taught by Bill Hanscom,
a conservation technician for special
collections at Harvard Library. Bill is
well-versed in Ethiopian bookbinding
and is currently writing an essay to be
published in the next volume of Suave
Mechanicals: Essays on the History of
Bookbinding.
At the beginning of the workshop,
Bill showed images of Ethiopian bindings and explained the typical features.
Amazingly, many of the features have
not changed for more than 1400 years.
He showed some videos of the books
being made in a marketplace in Ethiopia. In one, a man was working on
the ground, applying paste to leather
with his hand. Next, we examined
two Ethiopian bindings owned by the
Library Company, one rather large
and grand and the other very modest,
almost primitive. Now that we knew
more about how they were made and
could identify the various features, we
looked at them with new eyes! It was
very helpful for everyone to be able to
examine authentic examples.
Then we started working on our own
books. We shaped and pierced wooden
boards. We made sewing “thread” by
cutting a thin spiral out of a circle of
parchment, and then moistening and
twisting it into one long strand. Most
of us made three books with wooden
boards: one covered in leather, one
with a cloth wrapper called a “lebas,”
and one with a parchment spine.
Today, Ethiopian bindings are still
made with very few tools. Unlike the

O

Bill Hanscom
pointing out
tooling on the
Library
Company’s
Ethiopian
binding.

man in the video, we did work at a
table, but tried to follow his technique
otherwise. For me, it is always inspirational to make a historical model. I try
to imagine how various binding features evolved over time and to consider
their purpose. Was it structure, decoration, or tradition? Whichever
it is, having made my own model
helps me know what I am looking
at and what is important when I
approach a binding in my work as
a conservator.

Completed
Ethiopian
binding models
from the
workshop.

Disk of vellum being
made into sewing
thread.

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Delaware Valley Guild of Bookworkers

Pressing Matters

Winter 2015

Beutelbuch Bootcamp:
Constructing a Girdle Book Model
By Bruce Bumbarger
orking as a book conservator
in a college library, dealing
primarily with 18th–20th
century materials, I have never been
called on to create a medieval-style
wooden board binding. However,
when I saw the opportunity to attend a
three-day class in August at the Folger
Library covering the construction of
a model of a fifteenth-century girdle
book, curiosity led me to sign up for the
workshop. Sponsored by the Potomac
Chapter of the Guild, and taught by
Renate Mesmer, head of conservation
at the Folger and a bookbinder with
a reputation as an able instructor, the
course promised to be an informative
and fun way to spend a long weekend.
The girdle book, for those who are
unfamiliar with the term, is a book,
generally smallish in format, bound in
wooden boards and covered with leather that extends beyond the bottom edge
of the book to form a tail by which the
book can be carried, either in the user’s
hand or hung from their belt or girdle.
In some examples, the leather tail is
simply left loose or tied into a knot. It
may also be finished off with a woven
leather knot fashioned around a hard
core, known as a Turk’s head (probably after the turban worn by medieval
Muslims). Brass clasps were sometimes
used to keep the book closed while being carried.
The term beutelbuch (German for
bag or pouch book) is also used to refer
to this style of binding.
The limited number of examples

W

currently found in libraries date from
Books from the class —
almost finished!
the mid-fifteenth to mid-sixteenth
centuries. Much of what is known
about the variations in appearance and
structure of girdle books comes from
observation of contemporary paintings
and sculpture, as there are only some
twenty-three extant copies. The pictorial records show that when worn on the
girdle, the book hung head downward,
ready to be flipped upright and opened
for reading – like a fifteenth century
Kindle. The books are often pictured in
Continued on next page

Delaware Valley Guild of Bookworkers

Pressing Matters

Continued from previous page cover boards with rasps and plane so
the possession of clergy or saints; most that the inner spine edge of the board
fit nicely into the angle of the text
of the known bindings cover religious
block shoulder and the outer edge
works, with a few protecting legal
texts. It is generally assumed that they formed a curve that continued the arc
of the text block spine. We then drilled
were used as working texts by monks
holes to accommodate the laced-in
and scholars, or perhaps by the occasional noblewoman to protect a prized cords, used gouges and rasps to form
channels for the cords on the inner
breviary. Given the relatively large
sides of the boards, laced on the boards
number artworks picturing the books
and left the books to sit under pressure
it is somewhat mysterious as to why
overnight.
so few copies have survived, although
The following morning we applied
many may have been “restored” beyond
gelatin
to the cords and board chanrecognition by later generations of
nels, and pulling all up firmly, used
binders.
For our workshop, we were instruct- wooden pegs to aid in holding the
cords in place. It took a fine touch to
ed to prepare a somewhat chunky
little text block sewn on double-raised get the tension on the cords just right.
After sawing the pegs flush with the
cords. With this and a recommended
kit of binding, woodworking and met- boards, we cut, pared and affixed with
alworking tools in hand, five of us met paste a strip of leather to the bottom
with Renate at noon on a Friday after- edge of the boards and worked the
leather turn-in around the board and
noon and were escorted to the Folger
endband.
lab. It soon became apparent that this
We used cheap leather splits for
would be a fairly fast-paced weekend,
covering
that tore easily, so paras Renate directed us to quickly find a
ing called for a sharp knife and even
bench, set up our tools, and assemble
around her bench. It turned out that
previous workshops she had offered on
the structure had been five days long.
She told us that this time we were participants in a “girdle book bootcamp”
with much to cover in two and a half
days.
We began by making and sewing
on endsheets with leather hinges, after
which we pasted up our book’s spines.
When dry, we gently rounded the text
blocks and put them in a bench press.
Spines were glued up with gelatin
and lined using linen cloth and paste,
leaving the area at top and bottom
unlined. When the text blocks had
once again dried, we worked endbands,
and then added linings at the top and
bottom of the spine.
We next turned to shaping our oak

Continued on next page

Strip of leather attached to one edge.

Winter 2015

Page 7

Turk’s-head knot.

Clasp made from brass.

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Delaware Valley Guild of Bookworkers

Pressing Matters

Winter 2015

Continued from previous page
pressure. Making a paper pattern, we
cut our cover leather about two and a
half times as long as the book height
and wide enough to wrap around the
boards with an allowance for turn-ins.
Pasting up the leather in an area the
size of the book and applying paste
to the book spine, we then repasted
the leather before placing the front
board on the skin and rolling the book
over so that it was wrapped up in the
leather. Making cuts in the leather to
accommodate the endband, we worked
the turn-ins at the head of the book.
Smoothing the leather around the
foredges, we cut it at the corners to
form long tongues covering the inside
face of the wooden boards. We pasted
and folded over the leather down the
length of the tail and around the bottom, forming a finished edge.
At this point, late on Sunday afternoon, we realized that we’d “washed
out” as girdle book camp recruits. Our
books looked like proper girdle books
but lacked clasps and the all-important
Turk’s head knot. Renate graciously
offered to host those of us who could
return for another session, so we left
for home with instructions on forming
the Turk’s head knot core. Two weeks
later we once again convened, confident that we would finish up in the
long day allotted for the work.
The best laid plans… Despite
our efforts, the design and working of brass sheet to form clasps and
the weaving of the Turk’s head knot
proved to be more than we could accomplish in the single day. We did
leave with our clasp pieces cut, shaped,
drilled and in a state where we could
finish up in our own shops. We also
received enough instruction that with
quite a bit of frustration and several
false starts, I was able to eventually
form an acceptable Turk’s head knot.

Despite the seeming lack of almost
any practical application for my work
life, the workshop proved to be a very
enjoyable experience. Having been
trained in a German bookbinding
tradition, I was schooled to approach
every facet of a binding operation
with strict (perhaps overly so) attention to precision and detail. The girdle
book project, combining steps which
at times called for that same degree of
precision with others for which “good
enough” results sufficed, was a good
exercise in an intuitive approach to
bookbinding which I often miss in my
day-to-day work. Underlying structure
was all-important; board edges had
to be shaped just-so, the shaping and
fitting of the clasp took a great deal of
care, but having some variation in the
thickness of the cover leather didn’t
really matter. Observing Renate’s
approach to teaching was also instructive and I relearned lessons that are
useful as I work with students in my
shop. Many thanks to her and to Dan
Paterson of the Potomac Group, who
helped to organize the sessions.
Thanks also to Alice Austin for permission to use the photographs that accompany this article.

After pressing overnight.

MORE INFO

For a brief article covering
current research on girdle
books the reader can visit
http://www.artesdellibro.com/
pdf/medievalgirdlebook.pdf.
For more photos, go to http://
www.amaustin.com.

Pressing Matters

Delaware Valley Guild of Bookworkers

Winter 2015

Page 9

Member News
Please join the Book Arts + Printmaking
MFA department for a public reception with
the artist Alice Austin, for her exhibition,
Encircled by Water: Venice and Ireland.
The show is from January 20th to February
13th; the reception is on Jan. 23 from 5 - 7
p.m. in the 6th floor gallery of the Anderson
Building at the University of the Arts, 333
S. Broad St. Photos on Alice’s web site.

forty-five year period and it is comprised
of over 6,000 works of fiction – novels,
short stories, poetry and song – written
for adults,works by Native Americans, and
works for children. The Women in The
American Wilderness collection is at the
Van Pelt-Dietrich Library Center in the
Kislak Center for Special Collections, Rare
Books and Manuscripts.

Maria Pisano produced 2015 Callery Pear
Calendar: The Survivor Tree.
The only tree that survived the 9-11 attack
in 2001 at the WTC in NY was a Callery
pear tree. Rescued from the rubble, it was
nourished back to health and in 2010 was
replanted at the site of the 9-11 Memorial
Museum Plaza.
Colors of Memory was exhibited in the
San Diego Book Arts Fifth National Juried
Exhibition and at the Printmaking Center
of New Jersey. In December Maria is
teaching a tunnel book workshop at the
Center for Book Arts in NYC.

At the recent Book Paper Scissors event
(Philadelphia Center for the Book), Meg
Kennedy won the purchase prize and
now has two of her miniature artist's books
in the permanent collection of the Free
Library of Philadelphia.

Carolyn Schimmel has donated her
collection books — the Caroline F.
Schimmel Fiction Collection of Women in
the American Wilderness — to the Penn
Library. She collected the books over a

In November, Dee Collins taught a class
at the Banana Factory in Bethlehem on
sewing on bands and casing a hardcover
book.
In September Bexx Caswell started as
the Special Collections Conservator for the
Michigan State University Libraries. She
will continue to take private work on an adhoc basis. In October, she married fellow
librarian Patrick Olson in the German
Society of Pennsylvania's amazing library
(where else?!).

In May 2016, Ruth Scott Blackson will
create and installation at Eastern State
Penitentiary where she will be responding
to one of the cells.
Jamie Kamph has a book coming out:
Tricks of the Trade: Confessions of a
Bookbinder, will be published by Oak Knoll
early in 2015. The chapter on Gold Tooling
was in part inspired by the workshop she
taught for our chapter and refers to our
joint experiences.

NEW
MEMBERS:

Danny Evarts, Woolwich, ME
Bill Hanscom, Beverly, MA
Ansley Joe, New Haven, CT
Deborah Pendleton, Oley, PA
Jane Porter, Chadds Ford, PA
Robert Porter, Chads Ford, PA
Maryann Riker, Phillipsburg, NJ
Lisa Scarpello, Philadelphia, PA
Carolyn Schimmel, New York, NY
Arthur Seefahrt, New Britain, PA