Happy Fourth of July; I’m on Instagram Now!

Hey everyone! A few days ago I decided to take the plunge and join some form of social media. Why? I’m still not sure. But I did it. So, if any of you who are following me on this humble WordPress site are interested in seeing a combination of works in progress, new bindings, quirky historic books that don’t quite deserve a full post, and the occasional picture of my dog, feel free to follow me @bhbeidler. Below is just a taste of what the Gram can offer:


Simple decorative pallet for gold tooling book spines, with highlights of the process along the bottom.

Happy Birthday America!

Book Curses: Implicit and Explicit

In case your not familiar with them, book curses* are my favorite and perhaps the only non-physical way outside of basic human decency to protect your books from theft. I’ve recently acquired (through honest means) two books** that employ book curses, one blatant but rife with grammatical complications, and the other a bit more subtle but all the more menacing:

Book Curse2

My as-is transcription: “Dont Steel This Book My Onest Frends for fear the gals Will be En(?)d”  – ‘gals’ I think is short for gallows, though originally I thought it was ‘gods’ – see below.


Book Curse4

I had a really hard time transcribing the first and more overt of the two, but I believe it to be poorly spelled and abbreviated variation of the somewhat popular medieval book curse:

Steal not this book my honest friend

For fear the gallows should be your end,

And when you die the Lord will say

And where’s the book you stole away?[1]

The second of the two, though more of a borrowing limit than a curse, by employing a patchwork of bible verses at the very least hints at an unspoken ‘OR ELSE’  should the borrower not respect the heaven-ordained limit.

So, if you’re feeling adventurous, just let me know and I can lend it to you for 15 days and we’ll see what happens.


[1] Murray, Stuart (2009). The Library: An Illustrated History. Skyhorse Publishing. p. 41.

*Here’s a nice article article I dug up that discusses book curses: https://medievalbooks.nl/2015/07/10/chain-chest-curse-combating-book-theft-in-medieval-times/

**Also, my two books containing the above-mentioned curses, in order of their photographs:

J. N. Select Lessons in Prose and Verse, from Various Authors, Designed for the Improvement of Youth. 11th ed. London: Howard & Evans, 1807. Print.

Hort, W. Jillard. The New Pantheon or an Introduction to the Mythology of the Ancients for the Use of Young Persons to Which Are Added an Accentuated Index. London: Longmans, Green, 1867. Print.

Early Bookbinding in Charleston

Sometime last fall, the Library Society’s Curator and Historian Debbie Fenn showed me a letter from October of 1960 written by Hannah French and addressed to Virginia Rugheimer, then a librarian at the Library Society. In her letter, Hannah requested information ‘concerning binders at work in Charleston up to the year 1820,’* with the intent of eventually including this information in her 1986 publication Bookbinding in Early America (this is confirmed in a letter from 1976 that Debbie came across about a month ago).  From what I’ve been able to gather, and from the fact that no Charleston binders are featured in her book, Hannah’s inquiries did not result in anything substantial enough to include.

Inspired by this correspondence, and the fact that the Charleston Library Society is the second oldest circulating library in the country with some decent colonial holdings (it’s not all the Civil War here), sometime last fall I began searching through our card catalog for early South Carolina imprints in the hopes of digging up some early South Carolina bindings. Well, needless to say things got off to a promising start, with a ticketed binding[1]:

And on the inside of the front cover, a glorious, though far from golden, binder’s ticket:


Ticket Measures 6.7(W) x 4.6 (H) cm

Despite its significance as one of the only pre-1800 ticketed Charleston bindings currently known, and the fact that the ticket even tells us where David Bailey is originally from, there are so many things I love about this binding. Here is a short list:

  1. As the identity of the binder is made plain, many of the structural and decorative elements of the binding provide a baseline that will hopefully allow me (or other researchers) to identify other Bailey bindings.
  2. The funky bubble-feather helix roll used to tool the panels on the front and back cover. Who came up with that design?
  3. The little ‘palmetto tool’ impression on the spine, which served as the inspiration for this year’s Standards of Excellence Seminar logo.

This book, along with the short but steadily growing list of other pre-1820 Charleston bindings I’ve located thus far, will be featured in an article on early bookbinding in Charleston that I’m working on for a future volume of Suave Mechanicals (If you haven’t already checked them out, the first and second volumes, along with pretty much everything the Legacy Press publishes, are incredible). I’m sure I’ll be posting a lot more about this project as it progresses – apologies in advance!


*1820, though seemingly an arbitrary cutoff, represents the a huge nail in the coffin of the small craft binderies in the days of yore where every step of the process was done by hand, because shortly thereafter in 1827 William Burn invented the first true machine used in bookbinding: the rolling press. Over the next 80 years or so following this invention, virtually every aspect of bookbinding was mechanized and the once-small workshops replaced by large-scale factories.

[1] Mills, Thomas. A Compendium of Latin Grammar. Charleston: Timothy & Mason, 1795. Print.

GBW Standards Registration Now Open!


As of May 1st, registration for the Guild of Book Workers’ annual Standards of Excellence Seminar, to take place September 15-17, is officially open. I am particularly excited because it is to take place in my home town of Charleston, South Carolina, and I am the Local Host for the event. Aside from an all-star list of presenters, there is also a great assortment of vendors and a Mentor-Mentee Happy Hour to help facilitate meaningful relationships between some of the top practitioners and those just entering the field. If you can swing it, I really hope to see you there!

Also, in case you are wondering, the inspiration for the logo (pictured above) came from a tool used on a 1795 Charleston binding, which is unique because it also happens to be the only pre-1820 ticketed Charleston binding I’ve come across so far (and believe me, I’ve been searching). I like the tool because it looks like a abstracted hybrid of a Palmetto tree, fountain, and pineapple, all of which are quintessential icons of Charleston. Here is a picture of it on the original binding:PalmettoTool (1)

‘Mouse-ear’ Corners

In general, historic trade bindings tend to stick to fairly consistent design aesthetics, so when you come across an anomaly it really sticks out. Look at the whacky corners on this little guy, which to me resemble little mouse ears:


Look how cute those corners are

This little odd volume is part of a larger set of military-themed publications (23 volumes total) that span about a decade across the turn of the 19th century. Interestingly however, the corners of all the bindings exhibit a fair amount of variation:


Corner variation clockwise from the top left: mouse-ear leather, straight leather, hidden parchment, straight parchment. The binding in the bottom right is a rebinding executed later in the 19th century.

I came across this eclectic series of bindings last summer while working with the great people* at the Boston Athenaeum under the FAIC’s Carolyn Horton Scholarship (more on her soon), and ever since have wondered at the variation exhibited by this set. From what I can tell, the volumes were all (barring the later 19th C. rebindings) bound within a short span of time as, in addition to the structural and overall visual consistency of the original bindings, all the different types of corners appear at different points throughout the set (for example the mouse ear corners appear on volumes 6,8, 19, 21, and 29).

Despite the fact that I’ve had almost a year to ponder these bindings, I am still no closer to explaining the corner variation, and my tiny brain reels when I think about the many, many possible explanations. At the very least I suppose it is a testament to the human need for variety, especially when one is faced with binding a bunch of two dozen volume sets…


*A HUGE thank you to Dawn Walus and Mary Warnement of the Boston Athenaeum for their help in re-gathering the stats on the set. I somehow lost my notes when I returned home, but thanks to their efforts and ability to decipher my vague descriptions all was not lost! THANKS

Atlantic Monthly Part II

In light of my past success in replying to the Atlantic’s ‘Big Question’ column, I’ve continued submitting my responses to the prompts, albeit under clever pseudonyms such as my wife’s maiden name (for fear they wouldn’t accept the responses from the same entity twice – bear with me here). And lo! it appears my efforts have again paid off, this time in more of a book capacity:


Here’s a picture of it in context:


Needless to say, I was floored. Not only was I really pumped that another of my responses got printed on that glossy page, but it also provided me with an avenue to express my great love for what is undoubtedly one of the most influential bodies of work in my life. I’ve always dreamed of writing the creator Bill Watterson some fan mail to this point, but I’ve never done so for fear of infringing on his much publicized value of privacy.

And so, aside from submitting responses to obscure columns in a less-than-comical political and social magazine, I plan to express my gratitude in one of the only other ways I know how: by binding the Complete Calvin and Hobbes, which I have somehow miraculously acquired in sheets*.


I had to keep from crying all over these when I first opened the package, and the first thing that came to mind while unwrapping the glorious contents of the box was the last line in the last published strip: ‘Its a magical world Hobbes, ol’ buddy…Let’s go exploring!’ But while the ‘Let’s go exploring!’ part is slightly less applicable here, I suppose one could argue I’ll be exploring the limitless structural and possibilities for a while before getting to work. But in the mean time and for some time to come, that ‘something under the bed’ that is drooling will be me.


*A huge thanks to the person who was responsible for passing these along to me, and don’t worry – I will keep you anonymous for your own safety. But for real, THANK YOU.