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Grolier Club Exhibitions

Bookbinding Tools, Stamps, Dies, Leather, and Cloth

A rich variety of materials and equipment make bookbinding possible, including different covering materials as well as decorative tools, stamps, and dies.

“Diced Russia” [full 18th-century reindeer skin]. 

“Diced Russia” [full 18th-century reindeer skin].

This reindeer skin was recovered among other cargo in 1973, when divers from the British Sub Aqua Club discovered the shipwreck of the Danish brigantine Die Frau Metta Catharina von Flensburg, which sank more than 200 years ago in 1786. The cargo was documented specifically as “hemp and reindeer hide” being shipped to Genoa from Saint Petersburg. There was a trade in Russian reindeer skin at the time—particularly among the indigenous Sámi peoples of the Nordic countries and northwestern Russia, who were probably the source of this particular skin. 

The Boston Almanac and Directory.

The Boston Almanac and Directory. Boston: Sampson, Davenport and Co, [1876], with its brass stamping die, ca. 1877.

Gift of Todd Pattison.

This brass stamping die was used to decorate the covers of the Boston Almanac. In the late 1820s and early 1830s, bookbinders in England adapted iron printing presses to decorate bindings in a way that allowed flat cloth and leather binding cases to be stamped or embossed in only a single impression. The first gold-stamped cloth cases were produced in England in 1832, and the technology was adopted in the United States by 1834. Soon afterward, steam-powered, cloth-stamping presses were introduced in the 1850s.  

Art and Criticism: Monographs and Studies.

Theodore Child. Art and Criticism: Monographs and Studies. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1892, with its brass stamping die, ca. 1892. 

Creating stamping dies was in itself a labor-intensive process. Stamping dies were cut in brass entirely by hand until first half of the 19th century. Even though powered cutting tools were introduced later in the century, intricate details still had to be cut by hand. As Todd Pattison points out in his RBS course on American publishers’ bookbindings, most covers were decorated with a combination of separate dies assembled for stamping. The cover for Art and Criticism was produced using two dies: one for the floral border, and one, shown here, that was used to stamp the cover title and illustration. 

Book Cloth by the Winterbottom Book Cloth Co., Ltd.

Book Cloth by the Winterbottom Book Cloth Co., Ltd. Manchester: Winterbottom Book Cloth Co., ca. 1935.

Gift of Dorothy Tomlinson.

The Winterbottom Book Cloth Company, founded in 1891, dominated the bookcloth trade in the United Kingdom and United States, as well as Germany, for much of the 20th century before closing in 1980. This 1935 pattern book provides samples of the different shades, qualities, and designs (or “grains”) of bookcloth available through Winterbottom. The pattern books are now very scarce, because Winterbottom required that clients return them to the firm before being issued a new one. 

Three brass decorative tools and three brass rolls with wooden handles, Three brass decorative tools and three brass rolls with wooden handles,

Three brass decorative tools and three brass rolls with wooden handles, ca. 1865.

Gift of Anne De LaTour Hopper and Duane Hopper.

After her studies in bookbinding and finishing at the Ecole de l’Union Centrale des Arts Decoratifs, Anne De LaTour Hopper (b. 1941) purchased a large collection of several hundred brass binding tools, rolls, pallets, and alphabets from a Parisian bookbinder who was leaving the trade. Some of the rolls from the collection bear the mark of Baerel, one of the major Parisian engravers of binding tools in the 19th century. Several of Hopper’s tools, including these, are now used in bookbinding demonstrations and tooling exercises in RBS courses.

Marbled paper specimen made by Karli Frigge.

Marbled paper specimen made by Karli Frigge, ca. 1990.

Gift of Jan Storm van Leeuwen.

“Marbling belongs to bookbinding, and in the old days all young bookbinders had to learn it.” So writes the world-renowned Dutch artist Karli Frigge, who was apprenticed to the craft at the age of 16. An innovator, Frigge has experimented with traditional methods, creating new genres of marbling. Her papers have been displayed as works of art in themselves as frequently as they have been used for bookbinding. The marbled specimens shown here has, of course, been cut down from a larger marbled sheet.

Bookbinding Tools, Stamps, Dies, Leather, and Cloth