The Abbey Newsletter

Volume 7, Number 1
Mar 1983


More Survey Results: From the Abbey Newsletter Reader Survey

In October a four-question survey was sent out to 530 of the 639 names on the mailing list. The first asked about willingness to review books in foreign languages; about 15 people answered this one and gave a total of 10 different languages: Catalan, French, Gaelic, German, Japanese, Lithuanian, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, and Spanish. Esperanto was mentioned, but was eliminated because nobody writes about binding and conservation in Esperanto. The next step is to find any really excellent articles or books that exist in these languages. Two translations from the German have been made for the Newsletter, on tanning and dyeing of leather, but they cannot be printed until the author is located so his permission can be asked.

The third question asked about chemicals used, and was intended as a guide for coverage of safety issues in the future.

The second question, concerning bookbinding manuals the respondent had found most useful, was reported in the December issue, on the basis of the 64 survey forms returned by that time. The fourth had not yet been tabulated; it asked for nominations of the best binders in the U.S. and Canada. That question is discussed further on in this report.

Seventeen more replies have come in since December, making a total of 81, which may amount to about 30% of the binders and conservators who received a survey form. (About a third of all subscriptions go to libraries, suppliers and people in neighboring fields.)

The new replies did not change the picture very much with the second question, which asked for five bookbinding manuals the reader had found most useful for reference. Three new books were added, and three books changed position with their neighbors. The new lineup of books that were mentioned two or more times, along with the number of times they were mentioned, is:

Middleton (restoration) - 43
Burdett - 39
Arthur Johnson - 29
Diehl - 25
Douglas Cockerell - 24
Young - 17
Middleton (history) - 16
Lewis - 9
Smith - 9
Town - 9
Horton - 7
Banister - 4
Watson - 4
Cunha - 3
Corderoy - 3
P. Johnson - 3
Vaughan - 3
Fahey - 2
Roberts & Etherington - 2

The fourth question asked, "In your opinion, who are the best binders in the U.S. and Canada? List one or more who you feel are among the first ten. List only those whose work you have seen and/or handled."

I included this question, knowing it lay in a sensitive area, because recently I have become aware of how many excellent binders there are on this continent, and how many people, otherwise totally committed to binding, who could not name one of them. I have been concerned for a long while about how hard it is for a binder to establish a reputation, even if they dc designer binding and belong to an active local organization like the Hand Bookbinders of California. On the other hand, I did not went to provide opportunities for ill-informed, invidious comparisons between binders, because any list can be wrong and can be misinterpreted, especially if non-binders use it for irrelevant purposes; but it seems to me that this danger is less likely and less threatening than it was five or ten years ago when hand binders were less well organized.

The respondents' comments revealed misgivings and showed a desire for more specificity. Probably the question could have been improved if it had asked also for the strong points of each person recommended, or for categories under which the nominations could have been listed. Wine people volunteered this information:

  1. Most innovative [in construction]
  2. Good design and finishing
  3. Best Canadian binders
  4. Trade binding [edition binding]
  5. Binders Binders/Restorers
  6. Design bindings Restoration and conservation
  7. Design binding Restoration binding
    Conservation binding
  8. Fine binding Conservation binding
    Restoration binding
  9. Best technical binder (forwarding and finishing)
    Best gilder
    Most productive
    Best conservation structures
    Best lightweight/artist structures
    Be at restoration/Reproduction binding
    Best editions
    Best printer-binder
    Best designer-binder
    Most innovative designer
    Be at conservation/repair

Six had objections or comments about the question itself:

  1. I would not presume to know enough about the binders or bindings in the world to make such a judgement. However, I do respect the work of_____
  2. What a question: If I had a sample of everyone's work in front of me, I might be persuaded to grade it according to technical excellence, then according to whether I like the designs, etc. Is there anyone who has seen and handled so much of the work done in North America that they can list the "best" binders? I doubt it. I will, however, mention ________, who would easily fit into my classification of "best."
  3. Criteria? Best at what? Plain binding? Decorative binding? Repairing bindings? Making Colonial Williamsburg imitation 17th C. bindings? Technique? Design? What? [Note: No survey forms were intentionally sent to foreign subscribers, but this one was received back from England.]
  4. Sorry--This seems unfair: I know a great many but not enough & this is a kind of popularity contest with many competitors who are closely matched.
  5. What kind of binder? The one who is given a budget of $10,000 and unlimited time to create a masterpiece? Or the binder who is given a thrashed book, a budget of $10.00 and working time limit of 10 minutes? The one is a curiosity and the others are almost all acceptable after 5-10 years' experience. Your question as asked is unanswerable.
  6. Excellent question Not one comes to my mind immediately--I immediately think of the English and European binders (I am including Tini Miura in this category).

Seventy-one names were put forward, five for library binders and 66 for hand binders. Since most respondents did not expect library binders to be considered, the five nominations in this category are probably not representative and will not be included in the report. Another opportunity will be sought to ask readers for nominations for best library binders.

Binders who teach and exhibit may he more likely than others to appear on the list, and binders who have administrative positions that keep them away from the bench may be less likely to be mentioned. Thirty-nine of the 66 hand binders, including several who are widely respected, were mentioned by only one person. This means that other names must have been overlooked entirely.

In the end, I decided not to publish the list of names, in view of the fact that the survey was not announced and discussed by the readership before it was sent out. Anything like this with a large potential impact should be well planned and carried out with care before it can be considered complete or successful. Even then, perhaps publication would not be the best use to make of it.

Is there a fair and democratic way to give recognition to binders whose work we admire?

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