Monday, 1 August 2016

Beautiful Books, by Pippa Goodhart


There have always been beautiful books, right back to the days of hand written illuminated manuscripts.  Illustration - picture books - are perhaps the most obvious source of beauty in books.  But the binding of a book can also be a lovely thing to see and touch and smell.  It's a treat to see gilded page edges, silken book mark ribbons, imaginative endpapers and handsome bindings being used to make current children's books particularly beautiful.

You may wonder why there are no pictures in this blog.  That's because I'm not going to talk about modern examples of beautifully produced picture books.  I'd love you to tell of examples you admire in the comments.  But I want to share with you a treasure I have just discovered that takes me right back to what first tuned me in to how beautiful books could be.

In our village was a big house where a man called Sandy Cockerell and his wife Mary.  He was a bookbinder.  My brother Dick was keen on printing.  Dick had his own little Adana printing press with which he printed things such as book plates for me to label my books with.  Because of his interest in printing and books, he was invited to visit the Cockerells, and, lucky me, I was invited to go with him.  He was probably about eleven and I was about nine.

We were left at the Cockerell's by our Mum, and we had the most magical time, being shown how to make marbled paper by the best paper marbler in the world.  I was mightily impressed with his eyebrows, and with the fresh bread and honey that his wife gave us, but, best of all, we were allowed to try marbling for ourselves.  For months afterwards I tried to get the same effect with poster paints on water, using combs and sticks to drag patterns, and it did sort of work.  I also stitched crude bookbinding, making book covers with roughly embroidered pictures and bits of card board and tape and leather and all sorts.  I thought I'd like to be a bookbinder one day ... but ended up making up the stories and ordering the words that go inside them instead.

Anyway, here is the treasure that I found on Youtube ...

Art of the Marbler, filmed in 1970, probably just a couple of years after my visit, here is Cockerell paper being made.  You need to make a cup of something, sit back, and enjoy the slow pace of the film that eventually shows you a sort of magical book beauty in action.


14 comments:

  1. Thanks for sharing this Pippa...what a lovely interlude between the rush and bustle of the rest of the day.
    Fascinating the way the patterns are created....and how lucky you were to be invited around to the Cockerell house . A look at a time gone bywhich seems much further back in this quaint film . 1970.... The Isle of Wight festival...Jimi Hendrix et Al...so cool, so vibrant, yet this film could have been made the late 50s couldn't it?

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    1. I've just seen the 1970s film Akenfield, set in Suffolk, and that similarly took me back to that time that now looks so quaint and old fashioned. But, yes, those patterns are wonderful ... and we used to buy 'seconds' of Cockerell paper at the village jumble sale, and use them as wrapping paper!

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  2. Thank you so much for this story, Pippa. I now live in Australia, but was brought up in Letchworth and Hitchin until I was 30, and in the 1960s and 70s I purchased many Cockerell papers from Russell's Tannery/Book Binding Supplies in Hitchin. The shop was managed then by Chips Strange who encouraged my amateur binding efforts, and on his retirement he lived near me and taught the craft in Brisbane. How wonderful to have had the Cockerells as tutors in marbling. One of my father's best friends was Val Mitchell who regularly created decorative silver clasps and corner protectors for books designed by Douglas and Sandy Cockerell.

    I believe all children should experience and handle well-bound books with gorgeous papers, covers and perfect printing to help them develop a love of books of all kinds ...which may lead to reading widely.

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    1. How wonderful to hear from a bookbinder who worked with those papers! Grantchester was, until quite recently, full of people who worked at Cambridge University Press, some in packing and printing and delivery, but some in their specialist bookbinding section for top quality Bibles and the like. That's all gone now. When I was a Saturday girl working in Heffers Bookshop I had the job of going around the Grays who bound books and theses as well as stringing tennis rackets! All in the past. But there do seem to be imaginative bookbinding craftspeople emerging once again. Hooray!

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  3. Beautifully made books are so ...delicious.

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    1. Exactly! It's that same thing that makes people say they want to eat a beautiful baby! They really do make one salivate!

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  4. What a wonderful link, Pippa. I recall making splodgy marbling patterns in class but this film opens up a whole and probably past world of craft & art. Loved your story too - how lucky to have such welcoming and encouraging neighbours!

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  5. Yes, they were wonderfully generous with their time, and to children they didn't know well. Those sorts of experiences make me want to be generous with time and talk (and bread and honey!) with children who live around here now.

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  6. I've just found some VERY tempting bookbinding classes for anyone in the Cambridgeshire region. See here - http://www.edel.uk.net

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  7. I've just watched the video and I never realised the equipment and precision - so interesting. As a child I remember having a go with my dad at simple marbling and when dry the marbled paper was used to make an origami peacock. It's a memory that hasn't vanished, albeit not as amazing as your visit to Cockerells. I'm now off to take another look at the marbling on some of my old books.

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  8. Paeony, I think I'm right in remembering that Sandy had made the equipment himself. And I had a go at making the equivalent with drawing pins through cardboard to make those rakes that blobbed colours evenly spaced!

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    1. Drawing pins and cardboard - clever idea!

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  9. Fantastic! I know a lady who restores historic old books - If we like we could probs get her to blog. I recently went to an exhibition and saw another technique of book decoration I haven't seen before. Patterns had been pressed, using heat I guess, into the paper of the book edge opposite the spine. The books were old - very beautiful.

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  10. How lovely, I'm going to try some simple marbling with my granddaughter!

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