Thursday, October 10, 2013

A matter of honor

NOTE: I'd like you to know that this was bound / created over a decade ago by an amateur, - me. So please don't be critical about the workmanship. :-p
I think it was back in 1998~2000 when I somehow decided to make a miniature book out of scrap materials that were scattering around on my work bench. I used to spontaneously do those non-work related things just for fun or to regain focus on actual tasks I was assigned to do. I had a tiny bit of scrap leather that I dyed to antique for a job, and a small block of notepad that we made out of excess paper of blank journals that we had to bind previously. Out of those scrap materials, I bound a 2"x 3" (5cm x 7.5cm) miniature blank book with a small piece of an antique marble paper that was discarded from a book sometime ago. I still had a big enough piece of the leather left, so I also made a full leather slipcase with the same marble paper inner lining for the tiny book. I dusted the edges of the text block to make the book look older, too.. (Stupidly and meaninglessly meticulous? I know... haha..) Anyway, the bottom line is, this whole thing meant nothing other than me taking a break from work. I nonchalantly placed it on the corner of the display table the following day, behind the array of other normal-size books, and forgot about it, completely. 

I was writing a reply to an email from a bookbinder friend of mine, Mihai, in the backroom yesterday when my master gingerly approached me, and asked me how much I'd want for the small book I made years ago. What small book? It took me a moment to recall what it was, and it also took me as a surprise that anyone could find it on the table, let alone wanting to purchase it.. Well, because I'd never thought of selling it, I couldn't put a price on it, needless to say. So, I asked the man who wanted to buy the tiny book how much he'd pay for it. 

$25, he said. :-)

You see, I would have been more than happy to give it away because this tiny book really meant nothing to me, and it had been forgotten for over a decade in the first place. I would have given it to him because the workmanship on the tiny leather bound and slipcase isn't the greatest as it was a work of an amateur, after all, that I couldn't possibly charge him for. (I started an apprenticeship in 1997, by the way.). But, most importantly, because he liked the book. But, somehow, I got curious as to how much it would worth to him, and decided to ask him. I heard the number, 25 bucks, and he said he didn't know it was in leather, and because it was so tiny and he thought it was something like he'd find in a common gift shop or rather, he thought the price was adequate. I found myself saying no to him, then. It's totally understandable, really. In a modern world we live in, if I didn't know anything about this craft and/or the field of antiquarian books, et al, I would probably have said the same thing. It just looks like a tiny decorative object that a grandma would keep in a glass case shelf along with tiny miniature porcelain dogs and cats. But, something reflectively made me stop from giving this book to him, for free or not. 

I know it's definitely NOT because I was offended by the number, or anything like that. I'm not that sort of assertive or proud S.O.B. Then, what was it? This question has been occupying my mind since he left, and I came to a conclusion that I must have instinctively felt let down by the fact this age old craft with prestigious history was actually compared to some insignificant run-of-the-mill products. I guess I just simply wanted this tiny book, whether or not it was done by the master or the amateur, to be with someone who could appreciate this craft that I love and respect.

NOTE: This man was very nice, polite and amicable. This whole thing has nothing to do with his character.

UPDATE: 10/23/2013
**This miniature blank book has a new home!**

One of my binder friends through my blog told me she really liked it. So, I'm sending it to her. It'll be flying over the Pacific Ocean tonight~~. :-)


  1. Wow,I LOVE this book you made! I could feel the warmth of handcraft:)
    I totally understand you in this post. The only difference between small book and much larger book is the size of the material(leather,board and paper...),sometimes making a small book is more difficult than making a larger one.But the reality is that bookbinders could understand where the value of a handmade book come from but the most of the customers don't know and couln't understand.

    And you've mentioned:"age old craft with prestigious history was actually compared to some insignificant run-of-the-mill products" I have thought it before,when I found out that people would rather buy an expensive industrial made cloth than a handmade journal.,or they will prefer the handmade than a handmade journal.One reason is that we are living in a modern world.I think an other reason could be that:the market of handmade journal is much smaller than others(cloth,jewelry).Nowadays,few and few people choose to write in a journal or read a real book,but they will still need the outer decoration such as clothes and jewelry.(even handmade cloth,jewelry,bags,shoes).A classmate of my husband's in high school visited us in our workshop last month,he is a very very rich bussiness man now.I showed him a cloth cover journal with coptic binding,and he was so surprised to know that the price of the journal is 7 USD.He said to me: it is too expensive! I could only smile but said nothing.

    You should definately make more journals for sale online:)

    huhu(amateur amateur bookbinder)

    1. Yeah.. isn't that a sad truth! That is why someone is gonna have to keep old traditions alive for the future! But, you charge only $7 for a hand bound journal!?! That's crazy! It's as surprising as your friend thinking that it was too expensive! (〃゚O゚)

      By the way, there seem to be a lot of folks from your country traveling to the United States lately, and I heard my city has been one of the most popular cities for them to visit. Let me know if any of your friend is planning a trip here. Tell him/her to drop by my shop so that I can ask them to give this little book to you. Anyway, if you want this tiny book, it's yours.

    2. Thank you so much;)MHR ,I will find someone to get the tiny book for me.But if someone else love it,you should not keep it for me.Beacause I am really really very content to have you as a friend!!!
      BTW,that guy is not our friend,just a classmate of gogo,haven't contact for a long time.He just get curious about what we are doing for a living ,all his other friends are so called successful man in China(rich or work in the government office).He may want to show his rich life to us,compared to our humble living(happy indeed! He once said to gogo: "you will never find a girl who would like to marry you,because you don't have money" .It sounds so funny,and he never mentioned this part since he knew we have married:)

      We have a very very popular movie in China last year"Anchoring in Seattle",which is a love story based on Seattle.I guess that is one of the reasons why your city became one of the most popular cities among the Chinese:)

  2. Thanks for the shout-out, M! Very sneaky :D Honored to be called both a friend, and a bookbinder! The Book is simply adorable

  3. I love the story and its end, bookbinding is very much an art of reflection and I greatly enjoy the way the pensiveness of the craft is reflected in your blog - Many thanks for providing this lovely and inspiring source, I often visit. Regards - Peter