Museum Director Musings: Book Binding and Box Making

by Paul R. Spitzzeri

Colleague Melanie Tran, who has been our Collections Assistant since 2013, just got back from Telluride, Colorado, where she attended two intensive week-long sessions offered by the American Academy of Bookbinding.  The instructor, Peter Geraty, is the owner of Praxis Bindery of Easthampton, Massachusetts, and director of the Integrated Studies Program at the Academy.

Melanie enclosure demo
Here is an “in-process” photo by Melanie in Telluride as she made a four-flap box enclosure.

The first week was “An Introduction to Bookbinding,” which involved creating cloth-bound, hand-sewn boards (covers), which can be used at the Homestead to replace original cloth and leather boards that are beyond repair or to create new bindings for publications that came to us “disbound” or lacking covers.  See one of the photos for examples of what Melanie brought back.

The second week dealt with “Protective Box Making” in which Melanie learned how to make clamshell boxes and four-flap portfolios, examples of which are shown in the accompanying photos.  She also heard about variations, such as clamshells with rounded spines and certain types of slipcases.  Moreover, the principles in box making for books are the same as those for many other artifacts, be they magazines, photographs, or other types of artifacts such as those found in the Homestead’s collection.

Melanie book example
This is a nice example of binding that Melanie completed during her workshop and it proides an attractive aesthetic quality as well as a sturdy and durable product.

The coupling of the courses was intentional, because the idea was to first show students how to bind books and then to follow up with instruction on the boxes to enclose them.  Of course, books that have solid boards in good condition are usually excellent candidates for boxes if they are old, rare and have elements that can become damaged, such as gilt lettering.

As one of the course descriptions noted, “precision and exactitude are the keys which enable you to create a custom made box.”  That can be said about much of the work our staff in the Collections area of the museum do, including Melanie’s recent two-week training, as well as Robert Barron’s gilding workshop, which was highlighted in a recent post.

Melanie Farnham box
Here is an example of a clamshell box made for Farnham’s Pictorial Travels in California and Oregon (1850 edition), a book the Homestead had rebacked some years ago and which happens to contain a very interesting account of the route used by the Rowland and Workman expedition of 1841.

So, we look forward to Melanie applying her growing skill set in these areas to work with many Homestead objects and then sharing the results with the public.  So, stay in touch to see what remarkable work she, Robert and others on our staff continue to accomplish as we preserve and protect a growing collection of greater Los Angeles history!


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