Friday, October 12, 2012

La Merope Tragedia, 1818

Wow,, it's been over a month since my last post!?! I've been juggling too many things at once lately, and have totally forgotten about my blog. Well, I suck at multitasking, so when there's more than one thing I must do with a deadline, I get confused, overwhelmed and start making the stupidest mistakes that lead to further mistakes if I keep working in the same atmosphere. This book here I just finished is a perfect example of that. My master handed this job to me a couple of months ago, requiring me to finish it by the Seattle Antiquarian Book Fair. The client, Mr. Collins of Louis Collins Books asked for a binding that's super rich in gold tooling, like the ones of 17th~18th century's. No problem, I thought at first. But no sooner had I started tooling the leather than I realized the shiny new gold made the cover look rather like a cheap souvenir from Asia or something. ( I can say it without sounding like an ass because I'm Asian!) I designed, redesigned and re-redesigned the cover to meet Mr. Collins inquiry, but to me, the cover that's totally covered with new shiny gold still look rather cheapish no matter what. So I decided to simplify the design, yet with enough gold to satisfy Mr. Collins' vision. By this time, I'd discarded a few leather cases for my experiments and had only about a month till the deadline. I felt pushed, so I knew I'd make the usual "stupidest mistakes" if I wasn't careful. Well, guess what. I ended up redoing the binding a couple of times again. First stupid mistake: After finishing the tooling, the OCD side of me started telling me to refine some parts of gold tooling. I screwed it up! Second stupid mistake: I knocked over a bottle of leather dye and ruined the case. The third binding is shown on this post. I can't say I personally like the design as a whole, so if I had a few more days, I'd probably redo it. But If I say it, master would think I'm crazier than he previously thought, so I keep my mouth shut. Well, tomorrow is the book fair, and my master will go there to deliver this book to Mr. Collins first thing in the morning. Sigh... I hope he approves my work.. Am nervous..

This book is La Merope Tragedia by Scipione Maffei, published in Livorno (New Edition. 1818) The leather is custom dyed to create a faint texture and depth for a slight antiqued effect. (though the picture doesn't really show it.) A headband is sewn only on the top as the bottom of the book is rugged. The end paper is blue Italian marble, was hand-marbled by Galen Berry.


  1. I think we all suffer from this problem, from time to time. I certainly share - and sympathise with - your multitasking / error problem. Interesting though, that us perfectionists always seem to get there in the end - and produce a good piece of work.
    You may not personally love the results of all your hard effort (what a lot of work you have put in, to be sure!); however, it's obvious that you did work very hard on this and I am certain the customer will be happy with it.
    It is a lovely piece of work. Like you, I may not have gone for the "loads of shiny gold" approach, as I prefer the more simple designs. However, it does fit in well with original bindings of this period and will fade a little, to give a more "natural" appearance.
    The binding is obviously not a cheap and tacky "souvenir", done by machine. It shows that you have done this work by hand and I'm sure the feel and quality of the book makes it very obvious to anyone touching it (wish I could pick it up and look for real!), that it's a hand-bound, craftsman (woman!)-made piece of work.
    I think "Well Done" is an appropriate thing for you to say to yourself, you know? However many mistakes you made, you will have learned from them and can put them down to "experience". Meanwhile, you have created a lovely, one-off piece, for Mr Collins to enjoy very much. Well Done!

    1. Ahh, Lizzie. Thank you. I feel a lot better after reading your comment. My master told me Mr. Collins was happy with it. But I'm not the most confident person in the world, so I kept thinking how "happy" he was. I wasn't there to witness his expression, so I don't know if what my master calls "happy" was just "OK", or "I like it!" or "glad-you-made-the deadline" sort of happy. Anyway, this book sure brought out the extremity of my "dog like personality" that eager to please others and my obsession to perfection.

  2. It looks so beautiful *^*
    I love the work of bookbinders.

  3. Really beautiful work. Nicely done. :-)

  4. As I'm sure about its higher structural qualities I'll just compliment its looks (please read using Oxford accent!); that is one quite visually pleasing binding if you ask me!
    I think I get what you say about the gold and simplifying the design. The rich decorations from 17th-18th century tend to have a lot of elaborate motives confined within a certain space, which looks really silly, or cheapish as you mention, if the gold is not warm colored/textured or if foil is used (done that a couple of times, deeply regretting it). So I think it was for the best you simplified the design, it looks classic (especially the spine) but with a personal twist involved. And I absolutely love the interior, the marbled paper is one of the most beautiful I've ever seen plus I'm a sucker for tooled margins.

    Don't feel bad about "stupid mistakes", a few days ago I had to start over the most important binding I've made so far after I ruined forwarding because of stress, and the deadline is incredibly close. We have a saying here, "enos kaku mirya eponde", which means after one thing goes wrong there's no stopping it. Most of us do the silliest mistakes under extreme pressure.

    Because your blog posts revolve mostly around conservation undertakings I really liked this one as I felt it demonstrates a bit more your personal touch. I would really love to see how you'd bind some books if there was total absence of limits/constraints, if you were to bind them for you.

    1. Hi Dimitris,
      Ah, thanks guy.. It's nice to know you always can see what I go through as a bookbinder! I love the gilded margins as well. The marble is certainly exquisite. Mr. Berry is one of the best marblers in the States.

      Oh, how I wish I could just bind books without someone else telling me what to do! Though extremely rare, I have bound books for friends. I always enjoyed it very much. There is one binding I did several years ago that was thoroughly based on my artistic sense. I bound it to release some stress at that time. I didn't intend to sell it, so I just put it behind other books on the display shelf. When a publisher from San Fransisco was visiting my master, he found it and bought it immediately. Well, that was the only binding in the world that I could put my name on without hesitation, (though I stamped the company name on the back just for the sake of my dedication to my master.)It was indeed one of a kind binding that was totally unusual. I kinda liked it, so I wouldn't have sold it if he didn't say "money is no object". :-)