Friday, April 20, 2012

Self-Help by Samuel Smiles, 1897

You know a guy named Bear Grylls, who eats bugs and dirt in the wilderness to survive? (yuck... am shivering.. brrrrr...) Looks like his great-great-grandfather was a bit of a public figure himself. He, Samuel Smiles authored a bunch of books but his most famous book was Self-Help. Well, growing up in the middle of the Industrial Revolution, and being in a family of Cameronian, I kinda see why he wrote a book like this. (Just to remind you that I have neither political nor religious affiliations what-so-ever. I just happened to take before-after pictures of this book and it's such a pretty binding, so I featured it here.) Anyway, this is one of the earlier editions of Self-Help with illustrations of conduct and perseverance, published by John Murray in 1897. (Popular Edition, Third print) In terms of restoration, it just required an external and internal re-hinging. As you might know, some books have first and last signatures sewn in a stab manner, and those stab sewn signatures have tendency to get broken as the thread creates too much stress on the pages, as you can imagine. I don't like stab sewn books mainly because of that. (The other reason is because stab sewn signatures don't open flat.) I took a picture of the fate of stab sewn signatures, so that you can see it yourself. I know stab sewing seems to be popular amongst bookbinding hobbyists, but be aware! They won't last long. You might say, "But the traditional Japanese books are stab sewn, and last hundreds of years!" Well, the paper they used is different. They used a paper that is extremely flexible and has no grain, thus it could withstand the stress created by the thread. (But of course, the thread gets broken because of the stress like any other stab bindings.) Anyhow, if you want your book to last long, just sew it by the European method. :-) Oh, by the way, I was just gonna use a bookcloth for the internal hinge, but somehow, I took a trouble to use leather.. Hummm, I think I had one too many beers that night. The thing is, leather's better, so the client got a better deal!


  1. If there wasn't a snack-bug squashed somewhere inbetween the pages we can't be sure it's Gryll's ancestor!

    Jokes aside stab binding is indeed awful and really harmful for the books, it makes my eyes roll whenever they bring me one. Torn off hinges is the least this kind of sewing can cause, when combined with bad paper and bad use the thread can completely tear its way out at the back. The horror...

    So moral teaching is;
    A few drinks more while bookbinding lead to happier clients? Doesn't sound bad, I'll give it a "shot"!

    1. Hi Dimitris!
      I didn't see any smashed dead bugs in this book. (He had eaten them all already!!)

      Yeah, isn't it always depressing to handle stab bindings? The paper is torn, threads are broken. And like you said, very often the paper's shitty so that the damages to the book block is horrendous. I've seen previously restored books that's been partially "re-sewn" with stab method by former bookbinders, and needless to say, fixing it is a nightmare. I do remember learning this partial re-sewing restoration technique, but I personally think it's such a stupid "cheapen-it" sort of patch-up thing that no one should perform in terms of restoration. So, I have never actually done it to my client's books! Of course it takes a minute to connect broken parts of a book if you stab sew them, but I cannot possibly do this horrible thing to any book, let alone my clients'!

      (and you can bribe me with beer anytime! )