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Modern bindings on antiquarian books
by Jen Lindsay
Tomorrow's Past is the name for an exhibition of work by a small, international group of bookbinders who make modern conservation bindings for antiquarian books. Since 2003 they have exhibited their work at the annual Antiquarian Booksellers Association Book Fair in London.
The title of the exhibition comes from a statement by the doyen of twentieth century modern British bookbinding, Edgar Mansfield (1907-1996): "Surely it is better to create tomorrow's past than to repeat today's."
Tomorrow's Past believes that we must speak the 'language' of our own time: we cannot express a modern sensibility through the styles and conventions of another age.
We must cease to make facsimiles of inappropriate historical 'styles', and we should use modern conservation materials, methods and protocols to respond in a thoughtful and principled manner to the individual needs of a book. Only in this way will the integrity of the book, and of the bookbinder, be respected and sustained.
It is this ethos that Tomorrow's Past seeks to promote, and that the participants share in common. The book structures which are exhibited have been devised in response to that one particular book, and often display the stunning simplicity of true ingenuity - of tacit knowledge, combined with intelligent imagination and skill.
The idea for the Tomorrow's Past exhibition
by Tracey Rowledge
The idea for the Tomorrow's Past exhibition came from an article Sün Evrard wrote for volume nineteen of The New Bookbinder in 1999. In this article Sün talked about an exhibition she had tried to organize at the Historical Library in Paris. Sün wrote that the idea for the exhibition arose out of her dislike for the growing number of bindings she'd seen where bookbinders had put their 'style' of traditional binding on anything and
everything, rather than having carefully considered what structure may be the most appropriate to meet the physical needs of any given book. She also wrote about the separation she saw between creative bookbinders and binders undertaking restoration work, and how this was not aiding the development of ways to think about the rebinding of old books.
A chance conversation in 2002 with Marianne Harwood (then Secretary, now Events Organizer, of The Antiquarian Booksellers Association) re-ignited an interest in the idea of making and exhibiting modern conservation bindings on antiquarian books. This in turn led to the ABA offering a space to the exhibition in 2003 at the international ABA antiquarian book fair in London.
After getting Sün’s blessing to pick up the exhibition idea where she'd left off, she kindly helped with the selection of work for the first exhibition. The bookbinders in the list were mainly those who had made work for Sün’s non-exhibition with the addition of Kathy Abbott, Peter Jones and myself. So 2003 saw the first Tomorrow's Past exhibition and, pleasingly, it became an annual exhibition at the ABA antiquarian book fair in London until 2011.
Although the group of bookbinders who have shown their work over the years has not always remained constant, what has been constant is the integrity with which the work has been made. Each year, like-minded bookbinders show work that draws on their bookbinding knowledge and their experience of looking at and handling many different types of bookbinding structures. These books put the physical needs of the text-block uppermost.
Making is about thinking as much as it is about doing.
We believe it is essential to use intellect, lateral-thinking, sensitivity as well as sensibility to make the best decisions for the books in our care.
We employ all that we know to make each decision; we are responsible for the binding of any given book. It's our responsibility - to the client and to the book - to discuss various options and to give an honest opinion about the best course of action for a particular book.
Tomorrow's Past in Paris
by Sün Evrard
The world of antiquarian books has always been a beautiful though largely unknown place for me. Designer bookbinders in France usually work on recently published books. Though binding all sorts of books according to the techniques and taste of a given period has always been the way bookbinding evolved, for some strange reasons from the twentieth century the fashion turned to rebinding antiquarian books in copies of historic bindings. This is mainly a book restorer's job or made by specialised "pastiche" binders. Book restoration in France is a completely separate activity, so I, as a designer bookbinder have been working almost exclusively on twentieth century books.
Then, during a period when my personal interest took me to experiment with "conservation bindings in paper" - André Jammes happened to take one in his hands and liked it. His daughter, Isabelle, took interest in a wooden-board binding I made on the sixteenth century church register of my village. Thus started a now fifteen-year-old friendship and collaboration: I bound a number of wonderful books for that famous old bookshop of theirs, the Librairie Paul Jammes (founded in 1925). My hesitating steps at the beginning were kindly guided by André's improvised private lectures on books, typography, publishing and also on bindings - he collected some extra-ordinary ones over many years, not only "great" bindings but all sorts of bindings completely off the usual path. Isabelle and André Jammes were fully convinced that as soon as a book lost its original binding, or in case it never had one, it should be bound in a modern binding, respectful of the book, opening well and of an original but not too invasive design.
A few years ago, when I told them that apart from my friends Eva Szily and Carmencho Arregui, whom they knew already and whose work they appreciated, I had a whole group of friends from different countries who worked more or less in the same direction, the Librairie Jammes very kindly and generously offered to give to Tomorrow's Past a whole display case on their stand at the annual prestigious Book Fair, the Salon International du Livre Ancien, held in the great hall of the Grand Palais in Paris. In good company, these few days were most enjoyable so we repeated the experience and hopefully we shall continue for many years to come. Tomorrow's Past cheers and thanks the Librairie Jammes.