Peter Harrington Bookseller Blog

Behind the books: an interview with bookbinders Rosemary and Jasmin


Peter Harrington’s in-house bindery, The Chelsea Bindery, is one of only a handful of traditional binderies left in London. In 2020, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of the bindery’s founding, we produced a catalogue to showcase the beautiful bespoke work carried out by their expert bookbinders.

Bookbinding is a highly skilled craft, taking years to master. Many of the tools, processes, and materials used in traditional binderies have remained largely unaltered for centuries. It requires time, skill, and dedication to train as a master bookbinder, and only a few make this their chosen profession. Lauren Hepburn spoke to Jasmin and Rosemary, two bookbinders working at The Chelsea Bindery, about their roles.

How long have you worked for The Chelsea Bindery and what is your role?

Rosemary: Since 2017. I work mainly with text blocks; preparing books for binding.

Jasmin: I have been working at the Chelsea Bindery for six years, making cloth and leather boxes, which are used to house valuable books, and leather book cases – headbanding and decorating books with leather onlays. I am currently in training to do finishing (gold tooling), so that I will also be able to add decorative details to spines and covers in gold leaf.

What led you to this profession?

R: I love books and have always enjoyed making things with my hands. I took a two week bookbinding course, which led to me completing an Foundation Degree in Book Conservation.

J: My love for bookbinding started with my chance acquisition of a small Adana letterpress machine. I used it to make small artists’ books, and soon became especially interested in how books are bound. This led me to study Bookbinding and Book Restoration at the London College of Communication, and the discipline has been my passion ever since.

How long does it take to learn the skills of the craft?

R: A lifetime. I’m still learning!

 J: You never really stop learning, as there are endless unique and challenging projects. It’s what makes it so interesting.

What does your typical day at the bindery look like?

R: I have quite a variety of jobs, so there is no set routine. I start with whichever task I am currently working on. That could be paper repairs, headbanding, making endpapers, onlays, sewing text blocks, and more.

J: I typically work on a number of projects at the same time, such as different boxes at various stages in the crafting process, or spokeshaving leather while waiting for glue to dry. The nature of the work I am doing depends on what needs to be finished most urgently.

What tools and materials do you work with; are they the same as would have been used historically or has technology changed the process?

R: There are a lot of tools which would have been used historically – form follows function, after all – but there are quite a few modern tools as well, such as Teflon bone folders or using the guillotine instead of a plough [a wooden hand tool used by bookbinders to produce even edges].

J: Things haven’t changed much! All of our work is still done by hand and we use bone folders, shears, animal glue, spring dividers, sewing frames, nipping presses, and many other traditional tools. Some key modernisations include the addition of PVA glue, and we use a Linotype machine for type casting, rather than single-letter hand tools for gold finishing. Overall, the work is still done as it has been for centuries.

Why do you think traditionally bound books continue to hold such an appeal with people?

R: People love books for many reasons, and even those who don’t generally have a fundamental respect for them. Books have been regarded as holy; mystifying in an age when few were literate; gifts; they have been bought for display, education, reference, and can be considered furniture or forms of art. When a book is decorated, beautified, it can increase its artistic, historical and monetary value.

When an evolving range of fiction became available to a literate society, more people wanted to read. The affection of a story’s readers often transfers to the books that contain them.

People cling to ideas of what constitutes a book; it took centuries for the use of papyrus to be substituted with other materials. The casual look of the codex has changed very little since it was invented. But the structure, materials and decorative styles have. Written records have been part of nearly every known culture on earth. All of today’s societies have a history full of book lovers.

J: I believe it is due to the difference between handmade and machine-manufactured books. There is a quality and individuality about handbound books; the skill and passion involved in making bespoke books speaks of human touch, and ensures that each one is distinct and special.

Roughly how many hours are spent working on each item?

R: It varies, depending on the size and the condition of the book, as well as what is required and wanted for it.

J: This is a difficult question to answer, as every job is different. The boxes that I make can vary between taking 3.5 hours and 10 hours – or more. It depends on the materials used, such as whether it is made with cloth or leather, its size, and whether other extra details are required, like padding, wells, ribbons, frames, and so on.

Where do you source materials?

J: There are still a few companies that trade in specialised bookbinding materials. We purchase our bookbinding tools, binding cloths and some leather from Ratchford Ltd and Hewit & Sons Ltd; the leather we use to cover the books and boxes is mainly supplied by Harmatan and Oakridge Leathers 2008 Ltd; some binding cloths are sourced from Winter & Company; millboard and paper come from John Purcell Paper.

The Chelsea Bindery – 20th Anniversary

Our anniversary catalogue features first, limited, and
special illustrated editions, showcasing the Chelsea Bindery’s mastery of artisanal techniques, with each binding complementing the book it encases.

View the catalogue

The post Behind the books: an interview with bookbinders Rosemary and Jasmin appeared first on Peter Harrington Blog.

Adam Smith: The Morality of Nations and the Making of America


Tom Elliott introduces the first edition of Smith’s magnum opus, The Wealth of Nations.

Before Adam Smith was the father of economics, he was known in the 18th century as the author of a philosophical treatise called the Theory of Moral Sentiments (1759), a study which examined why people become interested in the affairs and struggles of others. It described how a man might develop his sense of morality by trying to put himself in another man’s shoes, by trying to “enter, as it were, into his body and become in some measure the same person with him.” Seemingly a long way from the Smith of self-interest that is usually associated with the Wealth of Nations (1776), the Theory of Moral Sentiments stressed the importance of sympathy for others.

First edition of Smith’s Theory of Moral Sentiments. 1759. A crisp copy in a splendid and unrestored contemporary binding. £85,000.

Nevertheless, the seeds of the Wealth of Nations are visible in Moral Sentiments. Towards the end of the earlier work, Smith considers the economic implications of man’s ability to imagine the lives of other people. He describes what happens when a “poor man’s son… begins to look around him” and “admires the condition of the rich.” Inspired to acquire more wealth, the poor man approaches the rich man in search of work. By employing the poor man, the rich man finds that he can produce more than he needs to survive. As a result, Smith argues, the rich man will feel “obliged to distribute among those who prepare, in the nicest manner, that little which he himself makes use of.” This supposedly natural moral sentiment brings Smith to his most famous economic idea: that the rich “are led by an invisible hand” to distribute wealth equally among their workers. Not just an ideal of laissez-faire economics, in other words, the “invisible hand” originally described man’s natural obligation to give as much as he gains.

The first, second, and third editions of the Wealth of Nations.

What links the nascent economic theory of Moral Sentiments with the more fully developed version in the Wealth of Nations is precisely this emphasis on the “naturalness” of economic activity. In the opening pages of the later work, Smith famously argues that his object of study, the division of labour in society, is the result of a “certain propensity in human nature”: “the propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another.” This emphasis informs Smith’s account of man’s “natural liberty” to improve himself. He describes how man’s “study of his own advantage naturally, or rather necessarily leads him to prefer that employment which is most advantageous to the society.”

First edition of Smith’s Wealth of Nations. 1776. Superb in its first binding, a beautiful and highly finished gilt contemporary calf, with an excellent association. £300,000.

Perhaps this explains the influence that the Wealth of Nations had on the ideals of early America. Smith’s depiction of the American colonies in the Wealth of Nations is hardly favourable. He calls them “countries which contribute neither revenue nor military force towards the support of the empire,” dismissing them as a “sort of splendid and showy equipage.” But if he insists on this, then it is only to disabuse Britain of its imperial fantasy. “The rulers of Great Britain,” Smith argues, have “amused the people with the imagination that they possessed a great empire on the west side of the Atlantic.” That fantasy, Smith felt, was groundless. It had merely obstructed the natural liberty of Americans to enter the free market of economic exchange.

Given Smith’s critique of empire, it is especially fitting that the above first edition of the Wealth of Nations was purchased within a few weeks of publication by Dr Thomas Moffatt, a Scottish customs officer on his way from London to America. This potentially places Smith’s text on American shores on the eve of revolution, during the political maelstrom of the Second Continental Congress in Philadelphia and the drafting of the Declaration of Independence. While this founding document of American nationhood borrows from John Locke’s philosophy in its insistence on the “inalienable rights” of “life” and “liberty,” it is arguably Smith’s economics that gives it its most American of dreams: “the pursuit of happiness,” the poor man’s longing to become rich.

First edition of Smith’s Wealth of Nations. 1776. Inscribed within a month of publication by Scottish customs official Thomas Moffatt shortly before emigrating to America. £300,000.

America’s ensuing struggle for independence shows just how easily “man’s study of his own advantage” can lead to war as much as to peace, to disharmony between former brethren rather than to the sympathy that Smith originally wrote about when he conceived of the “invisible hand.” The journey of the Wealth of Nations to America at the outbreak of war ironically marked the moment when a Briton could no longer imagine what it was like to be an American in the colonies, when he could no longer “enter, as it were, into his body and become in some measure the same person with him.”

The Wealth of Nations making its way across the Atlantic in time to witness the founding of America is indicative of its rapid circulation across continents. A second, corrected edition in English was published in 1778; a third followed in 1784. In the ensuing decades, the Wealth of Nations circulated in multiple translations, coinciding with the emergence of the modern nation states and signalling the arrival of a new age of global economics.

Translations of the Wealth of Nations in German, French, Italian, Swedish, and Portuguese.

The post Adam Smith: The Morality of Nations and the Making of America appeared first on Peter Harrington Blog.

Elizabeth Anscombe: More Than Wittgenstein’s “Old Man”


Tomas Elliott examines how Elizabeth Anscombe helped to establish the English-language reputation of Ludwig Wittgenstein and highlights her own status as a philosopher.

Ludwig Wittgenstein was an imposing figure in twentieth-century Anglo-American philosophy. If Bertrand Russell was reserved about him when they first met in Cambridge (calling him “obstinate and perverse, but I think not stupid”), he was later effusive in his praise:

He was perhaps the most perfect example I have ever known of genius as traditionally conceived, passionate, profound, intense, and dominating.

This passage is often repeated in praise of Wittgenstein, but its last adjective, “dominating,” is certainly a curious one. It speaks, first of all, to Wittgenstein’s reputation as an analytical philosopher, a reputation largely cemented by the publication of his Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus in 1922. This seventy-five-page work was the only philosophical book that Wittgenstein published during his lifetime. Perhaps this was only fitting, though, given that circumspection in the pronouncement of philosophical ideas was a principle of the Tractatus itself, as evidenced by its famous final line:

Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.

WITTGENSTEIN, Ludwig. Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus. With an introduction by Bertrand Russell, F.R.S. 1922. £7,500.00.

As this statement suggests, one of the central claims of the Tractatus is that there are precise limits to speech and thought. For Wittgenstein, anything that can be thought can also be said. Therefore, anything that cannot be said is meaningless; it is beyond philosophy’s concern. Near the beginning of the Tractatus, Wittgenstein insists on the same idea, stating: “what can be said at all can be said clearly, and what we cannot talk about we must consign to silence.

According to the biographer Edward Kanterian, despite the early success of the Tractatus, when Wittgenstein died in 1951, most of “his later ideas were known only to a small circle of devotees.” Chief among these was a young woman named Elizabeth Anscombe, who had first met Wittgenstein in Cambridge in 1942. Anscombe was a lifelong student and friend of Wittgenstein. As Ray Monk notes, she was even

an exception to his general dislike of academic women and especially of female philosophers. She became, in fact, an honorary male, addressed by him affectionately as ‘old man’.

After Wittgenstein’s death, Anscombe began translating the 20,000 pages of notes that he left behind, eventually compiling some of them into the Philosophical Investigations, published in 1953. This text appeared as a parallel text English and German edition, with the name of Wittgenstein and his translator appearing side-by-side (perhaps tellingly, though, the latter was given not as “Elizabeth Anscombe” but as the rather more gender ambiguous “G. E. M. Anscombe”).

WITTGENSTEIN, Ludwig. Philosophical Investigations. Translated by G. E. M. Anscombe. £3,250.00.

Anscombe’s “skillful and sensitive translation” has rightly garnered considerable praise over the years. Editors of a recently revised version state that “Anscombe’s translation was an impressive achievement,” and contemporary reviewers were right in “rejoicing that she will translate the material for subsequent volumes of Wittgenstein’s work.” In total, Anscombe would go on to translate and publish five more volumes in Wittgenstein’s name: Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics (1956), Notebooks, 1914-16 (1961), Zettel (1967), On Certainty (1969), and Remarks on the Philosophy of Psychology (1980).

This shows that Wittgenstein was—to use Russell’s term again—a “dominating” presence in Anscombe’s life and career, even after his death. But she also made extensive philosophical contributions of her own, arguably in fields much more diverse than Wittgenstein. Her book, Intention (1957), for example, was called the “most important treatment of action since Aristotle.” It tried to understand how we make sense of the actions we take and what that means for our sense of self. Alongside this, she also published close to a hundred papers on logic, philosophy of mind, metaphysics, and more. In moral philosophy, she actively questioned her former teacher, going against Wittgenstein’s claim in the Tractatus that “there can be no ethical propositions.” In her 1958 paper, “On Brute Facts,” for instance, she argued that there are certain circumstances where a person’s actions (her example is someone delivering potatoes) can produce the “brute fact” that someone owes them (and so must pay for the delivery). Therefore, a claim like “I ought to do this for you” can, in certain circumstances, be logically derived as an ethical proposition.

ANSCOMBE, G. E. M. Intention. 1957. £250.

More broadly, Anscombe’s challenge to Wittgenstein also demonstrates the limits of his own attempt to define the contours of speech and thought. The closing proposition of the Tractatus tries to establish that there are certain things that philosophy should be about, and certain things that it should not be about. By challenging this dictate (by insisting, for example, that there are ethical considerations to logical propositions), Anscombe encourages us to question exactly who decides what philosophy is or should be: who gets to speak, and who must stay silent?

In this regard, it seems telling that a 2019 book by A. C. Grayling, self-styled as “the first authoritative and accessible single-volume” History of Philosophy since Bertrand Russell’s own, should include, in six hundred pages, just five sentences discussing Anscombe’s ideas and no mention of her work as Wittgenstein’s translator (she is listed simply as the editor of On Certainty). Of course, this isn’t surprising for a work whose contents page features seventy-three individual chapters about male philosophers and not a single one about a woman (Wittgenstein, incidentally, gets two). Though “old man” enough for Wittgenstein, in other words, Anscombe clearly wasn’t “old man” enough to make the headlines of this history, despite Grayling admitting that she is a “major name.” The same seems to have been true for all her fellow female philosophers, from Mary Wollstonecraft to Hannah Arendt and Simone de Beauvoir.

Of course, what this shows is not that these women were not consummate thinkers, but that the efforts to define the limits of philosophy, to define whereof one can and cannot speak, has often depended on consigning women’s thoughts to silence. Recovering their ideas and work goes a small way towards bringing that silence to an end.

ANSCOMBE, G. E. M. An Introduction to Wittgenstein’s Tractatus. 1959. £300.

The post Elizabeth Anscombe: More Than Wittgenstein’s “Old Man” appeared first on Peter Harrington Blog.

The Hobbit: A play for children and adults


One spring morning in 1967, twenty-one-year old Humphrey Carpenter—a native resident of Oxford as well as a recent graduate of the university—made use of his local and family connections in order to pay a visit to one of Oxford’s literary giants, J.R.R. Tolkien.

Despite his growing fame and success, Tolkien was living at the time in a modest house in the “respectable but dull” suburb of Headington.  The house was not, as W. H. Auden once called it, “hideous;” according to Carpenter it was “simply ordinary”.  After a brief encounter with his wife Edith, Tolkien led his visitor outside to his garage, which had been converted into a temporary storage space for the author’s papers and is not—he is careful to stress—the room where he writes (although it is the room where he received visitors at this time—he was fiercely protective of his and Edith’s privacy).

Carpenter describes this visit in intimate detail as a preface to his 1977 biography of Tolkien—the book that launched Carpenter’s career as an author and, thanks to his unprecedented access to a great deal of Tolkien’s unpublished archives, became the gold standard for biographies of the author.  It still is, thanks to the fact that the primary biographical sources of Tolkien’s life are still difficult to access and verify: one critic grudgingly describes Carpenter’s influence as “so pervasive as to be almost invisible”.

What Carpenter fails to mention in this brief preface is the reason for his visit: at the time, he was adapting (or planning to adapt) The Hobbit into a “play for children and adults” to be performed at the local New College School, and he was hoping to get Tolkien’s approval of the adaptation.

Tolkien gave his permission in a letter dated 21 March 1967, but not before cutting Carpenter’s visit short in order to attend to a matter that he considered urgent:

He says that he has to clear up an apparent contradiction in a passage of The Lord of the Rings that has been pointed out in a letter from a reader…He explains it all in great detail, talking about his book not as a work of fiction but as a chronicle of actual events; he seems to see himself not as an author…but as a historian who must cast light on an obscurity in a historical document (Carpenter 4).

This addiction to accuracy—Tolkien described himself as “a pedant devoted to accuracy, even in what may appear to others unimportant matters”—would be enough to make any aspiring adapter nervous.  But it is especially daunting when faced with a world as intricate and beloved as Tolkien’s Middle Earth.

Tolkien had his own academic reasons for mistrusting adaptation.  In his 1937 lecture “On Fairy-Stories,” published in 1947, he wrote particularly on the inadequacy of visual representation when it comes to fantasy.  This mistrust of the visual encompassed both the illustrative and the dramatic arts:

Drama is naturally hostile to Fantasy. Fantasy, even of the simplest kind, hardly ever succeeds in Drama, when that is presented as it should be, visibly and audibly acted. Fantastic forms are not to be counterfeited. Men dressed up as talking animals may achieve buffoonery or mimicry, but they do not achieve Fantasy.

Writing in 1938, Tolkien could not have known that his Hobbit, published the year before, would spawn decades of diverse visual representation.  Perhaps nowhere is this paradox more apparent than in Peter Jackson’s  transformation of The Hobbit into a lengthy and overly-epic trilogy: Jackson used innovative CGI technology and doubled the frame rate of traditional film production in order to provide, as film critic A.O. Scott writes, “an almost hallucinatory level of clarity.”

It’s hard to imagine that Tolkien would have enjoyed this kind of visual assault—one that leaves nothing to the imagination, or to the mind of the reader.  But his grandson Simon, in an interview in 2012, imagined that Tolkien would have seen any film adaptation of his work as “a limiting process:” “I think he would have known what an elf would have looked like, and I don’t think it would have looked like Orlando Bloom.”

Despite this consistent distaste for adaptation, Tolkien was generous to Humphrey Carpenter in 1967.  Not only did he enthusiastically give his permission to adapt the play, he also signed several books to be auctioned off each night of the performance, signed each cast member’s script, and attended the production on the final night.

We don’t know exactly whether Tolkien found the visual aspects of this particular drama to be “naturally hostile” to his fantasy world, but we do have Carpenter’s recollection of the final night’s performance.  Playing oboe in the orchestra, he was able to watch Tolkien’s reactions in the front row: “He had a broad smile on his face whenever the narration and dialogue stuck to his own words, which was replaced by a frown the moment there was the slightest departure from the book.”

TOLKIEN, J. R. R.
Handmade script for the New College School, Oxford, production of The Hobbit. A play for children and adults adapted by Humphrey Carpenter from the book by J. R. R. Tolkien, with music by Paul Drayton.
Oxford: New College School, 14-17 December 1967.

Notes:
A student’s illustrated copy of the script for the second theatrical adaptation of Tolkien’s The Hobbit, performed at the New College School in December 1967. This is the copy of Andrew J. A. Sharp, the First Goblin, with his lines marked in red. Together with this copy is the scarce printed programme, signed by ten of Sharp’s fellow student actors.

This production was the second such to have been performed since the book’s publication in 1937, the first being staged at St. Margaret’s School, Edinburgh, for teachers and parents in 1953. The present production was a larger affair, performed over four nights, with signed copies of the book raffled at each performance. Tolkien himself attended the final night, and Carpenter, who adapted the work, had a clear view of Tolkien’s reactions to his interpretation. Carpenter, an Oxford undergraduate at the time, played double-bass in the orchestra for the show, and would go on to write the official authorised biography of Tolkien in 1977.

Sharp has profusely illustrated his copy of the script with endearing captions, noting that his version of the Arkenstone was “impossible to colour”. Pasted into the front is a ticket for a performance and two newspaper reviews of the show, a third of which is loosely inserted.

Description:
Folio (340 x 254 mm), 42 pp. typescript, printed on rectos only. Original card boards tied with treasury ties, titles and illustrations to front board in various coloured pens. [Together with:] Single leaf of blue thick stock paper, folded to form 4pp. (total size 279 x 430 mm). Front cover printed in black, rear cover featuring a map entitled Bilbo’s Journey printed in black. Numerous manuscript illustrations and doodles depicting scenes from the play and crude representations of fellow performers.  Wear to board edges, light foxing and minor soiling to boards, small patch of early tape repair to rear board, contents and programme remarkably clean and bright, first page loose; in very good overall condition.

£3,000

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Christmas Shipping

We are pleased to announce our Christmas 2020 shipping upgrade offer for overseas orders. All orders of £200 and above placed between now and Christmas will be sent by UPS or Fed Ex express services free of charge.

We offer free next day delivery on all UK orders.

*Please note that, while we will do our best to get orders to you in timeframes outlined, the ongoing situation means that some delays might be unavoidable. Please place your order for Christmas as soon as possible, to avoid disappointment*

Last recommended Christmas shipping dates (order by 1pm):UK: Wednesday 23rd December
USA, Canada & Western Europe: Monday 21st December
Eastern Europe & Russia: Monday 21st December
Middle East, Asia, Central & South America: Thursday 17th December
Australia & New Zealand: Thursday 17th December

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