Volume 18 - Autumn 2004


L-4-Leather - One Viewpoint

by Rodney Fry

Royal Agricultural College, Cirencester

Once again a large group congregated at the Royal Agricultural College for an excellent weekend, the weather was perfect as the last time, but we only saw it at meal times! The audience is growing - twice the number we had in 2002.

J. Hewit & Sons Ltd. supported the occasion with a display of many items from their catalogue and much leather as a background to the demonstrations. Most of the participants took the opportunity of purchasing items before the remainder disappeared to the Miniature Book Convention in Bath on the Sunday.

David Lanning took us through the processes required to produce the leathers that we all use at some time. This was illustrated by slides. Clearly it needs old clothes! Looking at the old Victorian machines, so well built, was a pleasure for an engineer. This was followed by Lester Capon describing the techniques of leather preparation and giving a masterful display of selecting the best part of the skin. Lester went on to show cutting out, paring, pasting and covering a previously prepared book bound on cords, which happily just appeared to be to hand! It never seems that easy when I do it at home. For me there was an interesting demonstration of a leather-jointed endpaper, which had only been visualised in manuals.

John Jameson gave an excellent demonstration of the various methods of keeping our various types of knives sharp - it requires diamonds, so they are not only a "girl's best friend", but a bookbinder's as well! We shall all be saving our pennies for the new tool, particularly if one buys more than one grit size. Perhaps the cheaper way is to use the slow, water-wheel grindstone (on show but not used) to get a reasonable bevel and then the 400-600 diamond grit to achieve that very keen edge that seemed to pas through the leather like butter when wielded by John.

The evening closed with the Q&A session. A number of the participants had brought books to illustrate their queries and the session could have continued a while longer, except the chairman did mention the bar a couple of times!

The next day Chris Arnison introduced us to a sample selection of the College's Library books in order to illustrate on the screen some the smaller, interesting detail that may be lost in a cursory look. The earliest book was bound in vellum on husbandry with wood engravings, but as it was in Latin most of us would have found it difficult!

Lester continued with his leather joints demonstration, followed by John and the ways of staining leather (and your fingers!) We are still waiting for that demonstration of tree calf production - perhaps next time?

Stuart Brockman completed the demonstrations with the production of inlays and overlays. I decided to try a simple overlay when I got home on a book that had just been half bound. All I can say is, it is not as easy as it looks and I need more practice!

The afternoon was completed by the auction of over seventy items of the tools, types, handle letters, leathers, etc. Many of the lots were offered as single items in a number of cases with the tools which was more helpful to those of us who only wanted one tool, board cutter, a few skins or one press rather than seeing a large number of items in each lot as in the recent public auctions. Definitely something that could be well repeated in future.

The well-satisfied participants departed about 6.00PM into the warm summer evening.

John Jameson demonstrating dyeing techniques

Lester Capon preparing leather prior to covering

The evening question and answer session

Stuart Brockman showing inlays and onlays

Our grateful thanks go to Rodney Fry for writing this report on a very successful weekend, and to Ann Corkett for providing us with these wonderful photographs.


Skin Deep - Volume 18 - Autumn 2004

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