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Dorothy Smith's comments on Philip's patents

Just in the interest of keeping the discussion regarding Philip Smith's
patents going, I am posting the following-- from Designer Bookbinders
Newsletter Winter 2000 No. 113 (letters to the editor).  I believe it is the
response to the comments upon which this discussion were based.  By the way,
I'm not taking sides-- I just think this is an interesting topic.

It was most enjoyable reading the four differing impressions of the
Rochester Conference, each of which got something of the flavour of a first
rate occasion. The most comprehensive, that of Dominic Riley, deserves
special mention and is an impressive showing of the consistency of his
attention, covering admirably as it does all the events. However, I have to
write to put some incorrect 'facts' right.
I remember with great clarity living through the weekend when Philip
discovered what he has since called 'maril'. It was one of great excitement
as more and more ways of revealing the more painterly aspects of leather
were experimented with and I can say with absolute certainty, at that time
there was no other person working in this way.  At that time I was lecturing
in the architecture department at North East London Polytechnic and it was
one of my colleagues, an architect, who on seeing Philip's new technique on
a book suggested that it was the sort of material that would make a
wonderful wall- covering for prestigious interiors and that he would take
examples round to various manufacturers with a view to commercial
production. This he did and it was Arrnstrong Cork who agreed to patent the
material for Philip. It would have provided a nice bit of additional income
for our growing family had it proved easy to manufacture on a commercial
scale- as it happened Arrnstrong Cork did their best to find adequate
'paring' machines but the compacted leather proved too hard for even heavy
duty veneering machines, chipping as it did the sharpest steel edges, and
thus failing. However the patent still in existence left Philip free to
experiment further, which was some compensation for the larger
It is interesting that as a direct result of this 'freeing' of the media, (I
don't think I am claiming too much), there has been a flowering of freer
techniques, some of which pay respect to their forebear maril.  This is the
great advantage of having a patent-- as it stimulates others to greater
ingenuity to attempt to produce something even more different. In any event
maril has brought more spontaneity to what was a rather rigid medium.
It also has to be said that Philip has put out many new ideas and
innovations, both in forwarding and in finishing and in gadgetry, for which
he has not taken out patents and which are in general use as others have
picked them up from his various writings.  But like so many things, the
origin of these can become obscured by people beginning to use them as they
hear about them from others-- fine, no problem-- this is the way things
develop.  Two patents in something like fifty years can't be seen as a
It is hard to understand that others had actually already created a
Lap-backbook when the Patents Office make really extensive searches to
ensure uniqueness of any idea or artefact to be patented.  In the field of
bookbinding no one had come forward with any physical evidence or
photographs that the lap-back existed. There are several open-spine
structures and indeed we were treated to a wonderful example of such by
Louise Genest, but the idea of protecting the spine with overlapping front
and back covers and so reducing the migration of acid from the leather to
the inner sections is based on a totally different principle and also, from
an artistic point of view, enables the production of a completely spine free
design across both boards.  Again in Philip's mind this had possibilities
for the commercial sector -- the ONLY reason for taking out a patent.
However, with all such innovations, it takes a manufacturer with imagination
and the finance to back a totally new idea and it would mean changing
existing machinery.  Sadly something reluctantly contemplated in the current
financial climate, although after the initial expense, costs could be cut.
Exploring new ground can be painful -people can infer all sorts of things
and even people who don't know one can say with conviction that they know
one's motives, although how this is possible leaves a big question mark over
their motives.   It's good to get facts straight before asserting things on
the basis of one or two comments heard after the presentation.   It is a
pity that the real meat ofPhilip's lecture was obscured by emphasis on
something not even mentioned within the lecture.
Kandinski used a good phrase in the title ofhis book _Concerning the
Spiritual in Art_ -- religion and the spiritual are not necessarily the same
thing, but it is interesting to see that both religion and art can be the
by-product of spiritual experience.

Dorothy M. W Smith

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