Communion Of Dreams


Original 1480 binding.

Been a little while since I did a book conservation post. So let’s have some fun.

Recently I had this item come in for some minor work:  Summa contra gentiles by Thomas Aquinas, printed in Venice in 1480. That makes it an incunabula, one of the relatively rare books published before 1501 (in this case, just a quarter century or so after the Gutenberg Bible).  Even more noteworthy, this book is still in its original binding. And that binding is in remarkably good condition.

Here’s a pic of the outside of the binding:

Full front

Lovely. And an excellent example of bindings of that period. That’s the front cover, a nice very deep red (almost a dark brown to the eye) in goatskin. What I love is the way the binder used fairly simple tools to create an elaborate cover design. Here’s a detail:

Front detail

And the hardware is wonderful, too. Here’s a detail of the front clasp hardware:

Front hardware

That clasp was designed to receive a simple hook attached to a leather strap mounted on the back, here:

Rear hardware

Also, take note of the delightful small brass strip mounted on the corners:

Front corner

There’s a similar strip mounted to the bottom (called the “tail” in bookbinding) edge of the covers, near the spine of the book on both the front and rear. That protects the cover from excessive wear when the book would be resting in a lectern or something similar for reading (books in this time period were usually shelved on their side):

Rear bottom edge

Cool, eh? But the real treasure of this binding was revealed when I removed the (probably) 19th century endpapers which had been added. Under that was the original structure of the book, showing both the original boards (probably quarter-sawn oak) as well as the way the supporting strips of alum-tawed goatskin of the sewing structure was laced into those boards. Here’s an overview:

Interior full

And here’s a detail showing how the supporting strips were lain within a small channel carved into the wooden board covers, and then pinned in place using a softer wood or (in this case) other leather:

Interior mounting

But equally cool is a detail shot showing the simplicity of how the leather cover comes around the corner of the board:

Interior board detail

Lastly, here’s a little detail from one sheet inside:

Interior vellum

It’s a little hard to tell what it is you’re seeing there, so let me explain. The darker strip is the outside edge of a piece of vellum which has been adhered to the spine of the text block. This was added *before* the supporting strips of alum-tawed goatskin were laced into the wooden covers, and just serves to help protect the exposed sewing thread.

So, there you have it: a perfect example of late 15th century binding. Just like all the history books (and book conservation training) says it should be, but exposed by me today for the first time in probably 200 years or so.

Fun stuff. Have I mentioned recently how cool my job is?

 

Jim Downey

 



Latest developments …

For one reason and another, this past week has been a little rough, hence the paucity of posts. The rejection from the agent kinda took the wind out of my sails a bit, since I thought that the prospects were good. And continued news on the Ebola front* kept reminding me just how grim St Cybi’s Well is getting, in regards to the onset of the fire-flu (though I hope that other aspects of the novel more than balance that out for the reader).

But now the winds have shifted again, and things are looking up. We’ve gotten a bunch of bids in the auction to help my friend (though you can still pick up a hand-bound limited edition hardcopy of Communion of Dreams for a song). There’s a new review of CoD up on Amazon. And this morning I got word that a major new project I’ve been involved with helping to get organized is going to be implemented — more on that when there’s an official announcement in a couple of weeks. But it’s kinda a big deal and one which I am excited to be part of. Oh, and there’s a fun little item here about a recent book conservation job I did which might be of interest.

So, those are the latest developments. Watch for more to come. Oh, and go put a bid in on something on the auction site — there are a number of great items available! Thanks!

 

Jim Downey

*I do want to note that I don’t think that Ebola poses a significant risk to people in the US. We have the medical infrastructure to deal with isolated cases, which is likely all that we’ll see here. There’s no reason to get into a panic.  But that doesn’t change the horror of the disease itself, nor the impact that it is having on people in Guinea, Liberia, Nigeria, and Sierra Leone.



Validation is a good thing. Kinda.

Good news! This morning the bidding opened on the auction I mentioned the other day, and I understand that there’s already something of a bidding war on some of the “become immortal” options I offered:

Be Famous!  Have your name (or the name of a loved one, pet, etc) included in my next novel!  Can be a character, a named place (manor/restaurant/pub), a book title/author, et cetera.  Any sort of name you wish.

You have three choices:

  1. Passing mention.  Five available.

  2. Name and some description.  Three available.

  3. Tertiary character, who will have some dialog & interaction with other characters.  One available.

Yay! Thanks for the vote of confidence, and for helping out my friend!

* * *

I’ve seen several preliminary news items on this, and it’s … intriguing.

Nasa validates ‘impossible’ space drive

Nasa is a major player in space science, so when a team from the agency this week presents evidence that “impossible” microwave thrusters seem to work, something strange is definitely going on. Either the results are completely wrong, or Nasa has confirmed a major breakthrough in space propulsion.

Very intriguing. Basically, this is the third test conducted on a theoretical reactionless drive, with NASA (British publications consider it stylistically appropriate to just capitalize the first letter) doing the independent testing of previous claims. It’ll be interesting to see what comes out of this.

* * *

From three months back:

…but the other is far enough along that I’ll share: there’s a literary agent who is potentially interested in representing me, something which I have been thinking about for a while.

***

I’ll keep you posted as to any concrete developments.

Well, I just got a very nice note back from said agent, who complimented me in several ways but said that he wasn’t going to represent me after all.

Rejection is part of the game, and any writer or artist has to come to terms with that, or you might as well just give up. As I told a friend earlier:

He’s gotta do what he thinks makes business sense – when I ran the gallery, I had to turn down hundreds of artists who wanted us to represent them. And as I told them, just because I wasn’t going to rep them  didn’t in any way mean that their work wasn’t quality. So I understand the equation from both sides of the = sign …

Still … I think I might take the rest of the afternoon off.

Do something nice for my friend. Go place a bid on something which interests you.

 

Jim Downey

 

 

 



Psst … hey, wanna buy some bookbinding tools?

C’mon, admit it … you’ve always wanted to have your very own guillotine, right? Here’s a very nice one:

paper guillotine

paper guillotine

 

Yeah, that’s a bookbinding tool, not the kind designed for decapitations. With it, you can easily slice through a stack of paper about 6″ thick. I have one very much like it.

OK, so here’s the deal: another bookbinder I know is retiring. And she wants to find a good home for all her tools and equipment. Including that beauty above, a number of book presses of various sizes, hot foil stamping machines (and type) and a *bunch* of handtools. It’d be sort of like how I got some of my tools from another bookbinder who was retiring.

If you’d like to see more of the tools and equipment, go over to Facebook. Yes, I know that it’s evil, etc. But it won’t kill you to use it for this very specific purpose. Check out these two album sets on her Facebook Page: One, Two. And while I haven’t seen all the prices she is asking for the different items, the ones I have seen are *very* reasonable. You can contact her directly on Facebook, or if you need an email address, just contact me.

This equipment is fairly rare. And if you’ve ever had a desire to learn the craft of bookbinding, this is a great opportunity.

 

Jim Downey



Vast vision must improve our sight.*

Remember this from a post a couple months back?

Darnell shook his head, but peered closer where Eleazar pointed. He could see something faint on the rock, but couldn’t make the image resolve. So he took out his hand-held, removed the stylus. Pointing the stylus camera and the flash on the phone at the image, he tapped an icon on the screen. There were a series of quick flashes, and the screen filled with a close-up of the stone face. Eleazar looked on with some amusement as Darnell used a slider at the bottom of the screen to go up and down the spectrum, changing the image and bringing out details otherwise hidden in it. Darnell glanced up at Eleazar, saw his amusement, and explained “Multispectral imaging. Not nearly the resolution or range of real remote sensing equipment, but handy for some things.”

“Particularly when you’re going blind, eh?”

“Yeah. And until I can find my miracle, this helps.” Darnell smiled slightly, a wry, almost sad smile. “But the range of the image is well beyond what even good human sight can see – what even you can see.”

 

A cool article with some very fun interactive tools to see how the different ranges of animal eyes compare to ours:

Some animals, including your pets, may be partially colorblind, and yet certain aspects of their vision are superior to your own. Living creatures’ visual perception of the surrounding world depends on how their eyes process light. Humans are trichromats—meaning that our eyes have three types of the photoreceptors known as cone cells, which are sensitive to the colors red, green, and blue. A different type of photoreceptors, called rods, detect small amounts of light; this allows us to see in the dark. Animals process light differently—some creatures have only two types of photoreceptors, which renders them partially colorblind, some have four, which enables them to see ultraviolet light, and others can detect polarized light, meaning light waves that are oscillating in the same plane.

“None of us can resist thinking that we can imagine what another animal is thinking,” says Thomas Cronin, a professor at the University of Maryland who studies visual physiology. But while guessing animals’ thoughts is a fantasy, looking at the world through their eyes is possible.

 

Check it out.

 

Jim Downey

*Of course.



Revisiting a very old friend.

My profession of being a book conservator is fairly unusual, and since I write about it and post images occasionally, I tend to get questions about it fairly often. The other day I got a nice query from graduate student Aaron Hain at the University of North Texas about a research assignment which included this:

The assignment is to include “a general discussion of major theories and practices and the controversies” in relation to dealing with different historic bindings. As the paper is only about 4-5 pages long, it’s obviously only able to be either very general or to cover only a couple of binding types. Could you give maybe a brief coverage of how you would deal with the conservation/preservation of a couple of different binding types and possible issues that you can run into when dealing with those bindings? In particular, the 1518 Ovid in limp vellum on your projects page caught my attention and was the one that got me to e-mail you.

 

Since it’s been 5+ years since I last posted about that, I thought I would share my brief response here.

* * *

Current practice in book conservation is to respect both the original structure as well as the history of what the book has had done to it over time. Basically, that means that I seldom try to remove all traces of damage, or rebinding, or repairs, or notes from a book and try to turn it into some pristine example of what it was when first made. Usually I try to accommodate those changes, to preserve the character of the book insofar as possible. They are, after all, part of the book’s provenance, and can teach us a great deal.

But sometimes it is necessary and appropriate to remove previous bindings/repairs, if they themselves extensively damage or threaten the continued existence of the original book. When I encounter such a book I will confer with the client and discuss options. One such case about five years ago was a copy of Ovid’s Metamorphoses printed in Venice and dated 1518. I have documented the work performed here: 1518 copy of Ovid

As you can see, we decided to put the book into a limp vellum structure, which was fairly typical for a simple and relatively inexpensive binding at that time.

Why this choice? The 19th century binding the book had been in was completely breaking down. The sewing structure was failing. The leather was deteriorated. There was nothing particularly noteworthy to the style or type of binding, and the materials it was made of would continue to cause damage to the text block. So the client elected to remove that binding, though I believe that they have kept it (separately) as part of the book’s history.

But since we had no records of what the book would have looked like its binding originally, we decided to go with a very simple and neutral structure. A blank slate, as it were, so as not to suggest a false history to future readers/custodians/conservators. While the style and material of the limp vellum binding are fairly timeless in themselves, the archival endpapers I added would clearly date the era when that binding had been created, without imposing an early-21st century aesthetic on the book. And if need be, all or part of the structure and materials could be easily removed in the future.

* * *

Just thought I’d share that. And I do love how that binding turned out.

 

If you haven’t yet, be sure to take a few minutes to enjoy the full set of pictures and text about the project.

 

Jim Downey

 



I am a bad man.*

‘Cause I damned near laughed my butt off at this:

 

Jim Downey

*Obligatory.



The beauty of the old.

If you are at all interested in rare/old books and documents, particularly of the medieval period, you owe it to yourself to check out the Medieval Fragments blog occasionally. In particular, I always enjoy the posts by Erik Kwakkel, such as the recent one titled “The Beauty of the Injured Book“. Here’s a particular image and excerpt:

4. Touched by a human

Leiden, Universiteitsbibliotheek, BPL MS 191 A (12th century). Pic: the author.

 

Books are made for reading and thus for being handled by human hands. The margins facilitate an easy grip of the book without your fingers blocking the view on the text. However, if you hold a book with dirty hands, you may leave your mark behind as a reader. While such stains are often subtle, the person that handled this twelfth-century manuscript had inky fingers: he left a fingerprint behind. Judging from the colour – a shiny, deep kind of black – it concerns printing ink, which puts this manuscript in the hands of a printer. He did not bother to wash his hands. It was, after all, one of those old-fashioned handwritten manuscripts, which had been long overtaken by the modern and spiffy printed book.

 

As I noted on Facebook this morning when I linked to that blog post, often old books are beautiful entirely because of their age and use. Sometimes clients are surprised when I tell them to just leave the damned thing alone and enjoy it.  There’s no need to rob a book of the character which it has developed through centuries of sharing life with humans. I’ve touched on this before:

Much of my life is predicated on this idea. When someone brings me an antique book for conservation work, I don’t see the notes and scrawls, the fingerprints and food stains, as something to be eradicated: they are part and parcel of the history of that book. They are scars, a record, a trace of the hands which have handled it, the lives which have loved it. We all carry our own scars, our own patina, and as long as we respect it, respect ourselves, for the record of our accomplishments, they give our age dignity. And depth.

 

And then there’s this from the introduction to a wonderful series of images:

This body of work was born out of the opportunity I had to photograph a 101 year old woman who volunteered, on her own accord, to model nude for me. It was merely an exercise in documenting her form in a beautiful way. My only instructions from her were to make sure she was not identifiable in the images. She was willing to do anything I asked of her.

When I later reviewed the images on my computer, I knew I was looking at something very special.

 

Special, indeed.

 

Jim Downey

PS.  Full disclosure: Kwakkel has featured my work previously, and so I may be biased. Link to Pottinger’s site via MetaFilter.

 

 



Artists lead the way.

One of my favorite characters in Communion of Dreams is the artist Duc Ng. Here’s the description of him when he is introduced in Chapter 2:

Duc Ng was an artist. A holo sculptor, whose specialty was slow-progression transformations. The works were beautiful, inspired, and appreciated by almost anyone who saw them. Ng had jacked-up cyberware to heighten his sensitivity, and used psychotropic drugs tailored to cause neurotransmitter activity to increase dramatically. This created an artificial synesthesia for a short period of time, during which the usual senses became blurredand intermingled, adding layer upon layer of perception.

 

Note the phrase “jacked-up cyberware”.  While it plays a role in the plot, I put this in there because I’ve always admired the way that artists are constantly pushing to adapt new technologies in the creation of their art. Here’s a passage from the beginning of Chapter6 when we first get a look at Ng using his skills:

There was just one other person in the room, standing at the side of the holo platform, hands dancing over a control board only he could see. It was Ng, dressed fittingly in a jumpsuit of the same black material from which the drapes and carpet were made.

“Isn’t that stuff hot?” asked Jon, nodding toward Ng’s clothing.

“Nah, I’ve got a coolpack plugged into it. Not as efficient as a real military stealth suit, but it works. Reduces the problems I have with creating my sculptures.”

Jon looked to the dance Ng’s hands played in the air. “About ready?”

Ng said nothing, but his fingers tapped a command in the air. Instantly, there appeared an image above the holo projector.

 

Check this out:

“These beautiful gloves help me gesturally interact with my computer,” says Heap, explaining how the wearable technology allows her to perform without having to interact with keyboards or control panels.

Pushing buttons and twiddling dials “is not very exciting for me or the audience,” she says. “[Now] I can make music on the move, in the flow and more humanly, [and] more naturally engage with my computer software and technology.”

 

There’s a brilliant video which demonstrates the potential of her gloves:

 

And she has started a Kickstarter to help develop the technology to share with other performance artists:

 

Wonderful. I’m in to support it. And yeah, I think that’s another prediction from CoD coming true.

 

Jim Downey

Via BoingBoing.



Timescales.

One of the things which has always really interested me is how the perception/experience of time is so very … plastic. Partly that is because of curiosity about the nature of time itself, but partly it is also because the experience of time is so highly variable between species* and even individuals. Personally, I have been through experiences when subjective time dilation completely changed my perception of reality. There are some hints/references about this interest in Communion of Dreams, and there will be others in St Cybi’s Well, but I have yet to really get into dealing with the notion directly.

Anyway, that’s why things like this always fascinate me:

 

Jim Downey

*I went to college with one of Dr. Forward’s kids, and had the pleasure to hear him give guest lectures/chat with him prior to his first novel being published.




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