Archives for the month of: March, 2017

Reassuringly for technophobes Mr Mnuchin, our new Treasury Secretary, has just assured us, via The Verge, that we’ve nothing to worry about, AI is 50 to 100 years away. On the other hand David Smith, writing at The Scholarly Kitchen wants us to be on our toes because AI’s creeping up on us and is about to eat our lunch. Maybe yes, maybe no. I guess in one way or another robots are eventually going to do pretty much everything for us (we hope). But automated peer review and archiving, while doubtless “good things”, would hardly seem a reason to start panicking, even if they were widely available today.

Mr Smith ends up informing us that he’s “still having conversations with people who genuinely think that publishers aren’t and shouldn’t be software companies”. I confess to such genuine thoughts. Getting books published, while not in any of its individual steps a tremendously difficult operation, is time- and attention-consuming. Over 70% of book sales (through the traditional publishing industry) are still in print form. However excited you may be about some putative future with robots, AI, telepathy, and whatever the flavor of next month turns out to be, there’s still a lot of work to be done getting those damn books out. Stick to your last.

It’s no doubt important that the eyes of publishing visionaries are constantly scanning the horizon, or their Alexas. We definitely do need to be thinking about what might happen. But what might happen, is just that: what might happen. What happens today, and tomorrow is what we deal with day to day, and there’s plenty of that to keep us busy. Sandy Thatcher asks ironically, in a comment at The Scholarly Kitchen post, whether Alexa will be doing our copyediting for us. So much of what we do in publishing is so simply done by low-paid labor that there’s little incentive to invest in programming to get a machine to take it over. Copyediting will no doubt survive (in so far as it is still being done by ever more cost-conscious publishers) until some military AI development comes along which as a side-effect turns out to carry out similar functions to those executed by the brain of a copyeditor.


We spec endpapers almost without thought: “80# plain, matching text” covers the vast majority of cases — maybe instances would be a better choice of word here. Thus if the book is printed on a white paper the binder will use a white endsheet  — and if the book is on cream stock you won’t, we all hope, get a clashing white end. Almost all endpapers are 80 pound basis weight, heavier than the text stock, and thus stronger because nowadays the endpaper is, when all’s said and done, just about the only thing holding the book block into the case.

Of course every now and then, when the budget permits a bit of a flutter, we get a call for fancy ends. The least fancy would be a colored endpaper — Multicolor® is the one that sticks in everyone’s mind. It’s made by FiberMark in 90 shades and various textures (finishes which are embossed into the paper). Personally, though I do quite like many of the colored endpapers, I can’t really see a justification for the expense. I doubt if anyone’s buying decision was ever tipped from “Maybe” to “Yes” by contemplating the colored endpaper. I suppose it might be said to add to the impression that “this is a good book which the publisher cares about”. (If you have to save money, you’ll be looking at self ends.)

Printing something on the endpapers is often the next level of extravagance. Printing a pretty design can look nice, but always seems an indulgence to me, cheapskate that I am. Endpapers often carry maps, genealogical tables, mathematical formulae and other sorts of information which is “needed” in the book. I always think that if it’s really needed in the book it’s better that is should be printed in the book. Covers do fall off after all. Caveat: if you put something meaningful on the endpapers, you will encounter problems when you come to do the paperback, especially if you have to do a strip and rebind.

Marbled endpapers would be reserved for the most lavish of productions: I mean here properly marbled endpapers, where each one is unique rather than a printed version of a single marbled original. Atlas Obscura has an article about decorated endpapers with some nice examples.

The colors shown above are Multicolor® 70#, used for boxes etc. The 80# endsheet colors can be seen by using your mouse to scroll through the range at the FiberMark website. Of course screen color will never match the color of the paper itself (which of course will also change depending on the light source) so the only way to match colors, if you are wanting to pick up at the dominant color in the jacket say, is to look at a Multicolor® sample book.


Originating during the Restoration Cambridge style (so called because in the early years of the 18th century the Cambridge binders loved to do it and did it enough to get the appellation) is a calf binding with paneled sides, with the center panel and the border mottled or sprinkled. The style was also, more descriptively, called Cambridge panel.

This video, with appropriate musical accompaniment shows exactly how this was/is done. The craftsman makes it all look so easy. Maybe in the 18th century a toothbrush was not the favored tool for sprinkling!

I think that you inevitably assume that the frame of lighter colored leather is a separate piece, let into the main covering. The tooling by pallet and roller encourages this illusion.

If you get this post via e-mail and cannot see the video, please click on the title of the post in order to view it in your browser.












We might refer to it as cancelling, but according to John Carter in ABC for book collectors bisquing means “obliterating passages in a printed book by painting them out with black ink or paint or overprinting with a black block.” The Oxford English Dictionary ignores this usage, focussing on the alternative spelling “bisking”: their definition of “bisk” as a verb in our sense, however, they attribute to a spelling error on the part of their earliest quoted source!

Bisk as a noun they define as “a rich soup made by boiling down birds, etc.” or “a crayfish soup”. (You have to love that “etc.”.) Bisque they tell us grandly means either an extra turn allowed a weaker player in real tennis or croquet; a variety of unglazed pottery; or a light brown color. Given that most of us non-potters will have encountered the word mainly as “lobster bisque” we might feel the OED is letting us down a bit here. Fascinatingly their second source quotation for bisk, from Volume V of Robert Southey’s The Doctor (described by as “a ponderous romance”) reads “The chapter. . . has been not bisked, but semiramised”. Fascinatingly and frustratingly, as they fail to say anything more about semiramise. I’m struggling to come up with anything in the bisking world which might be derived from Semiramis, wife of Nimrod and later Queen of Assyria in her own right. Herodotus attributes the levees containing the Euphrates to her, and tells us there was a gate of Babylon named for her. She was alleged to have been raised by doves. Ammianus Marcellinus credits her with being the first person to castrate youths in order to create eunuchs. Armenian legend portrays her as a harlot, and Dante consigns her to the Second Circle of Hell among the lustful. Maybe Southey is working in the eunuch mode in his comment: i.e. not cancelled by overprinting but excised.

Can’t remember the author and title of that book that fascinated you as a child, or even just a couple of years ago? Stump the bookseller to the rescue. Tell them what you can remember and, with any luck, they’ll get the answer back to you courtesy of a crowdsourced readership. The New York Times Magazine had a little write-up in their 19 March 2017 issue.

This is almost the opposite of algorithm-based recommendation systems: here you crowdsource the dark corners of readers’ memories in order to identify a book about which you’ve forgotten everything except for the couple of niggling incidents or characters you can’t get out of your mind. Pay your $4 and Loganberry Book’s site, Stump the bookseller will list your query where the multitudes can add precision.

I suppose this sort of thing isn’t worth programming up as an AI app. If only we were blessed with memory systems of the sort of precision that such an app might need to work with (though then of course we’d probably remember the title). Unfortunately the nature of human memory is such that what we remember is often actually wrong in some slight but critical detail buried within its cloudy vagueness. Computer programs like precision: human minds deal in cloudy nuance much better.

PMS 342

The one book whose title I might like to be reminded of is one of which I can remember nothing except that it had a cloth case in a dark green, sort of like PMS 342, was printed in black & white, had a few line illustrations, was in a smallish format, about 5″ x 7″ maybe, and also contained disfiguring drawings added by its youthful, and doubtless slightly bored, owner. Unfortunately that’d stump any crowd of bookseller’s friends. And besides, if I did know the title, what’d I do about it? Maybe check whether the book really was all that boring. I think that in the post-WWII period, when luxuries were less common, one would feel guilty for not enjoying a book on which someone had spent money.

The men’s room in the basement of the Grolier Club on East 60th Street contains this platen press. All pressing needs dealt with here.

It carries a little label which explains the machine, but not its storage location:

And here’s one in operation (a platen press, not a men’s room). The video is less than a minute and half long, so just click that arrow. If you are getting this via e-mail the YouTube video may not show, so click on the title at the top of the post to view it in your browser.

A nice symmetry can be seen in the background, behind the operator’s head.

The disk shaped part is not the platen. In the video you can see the ink rollers running over the disk in order to spread the ink evenly across the image area (this is the function of the disk) before running below to ink the type. The platen is the plate onto which the operator is putting the paper, and when it moves down it presses the paper firmly against the inked type.

More history can be found at Letterpress Commons.

I’d never heard of this till I went to the Images of Value: The Artwork Behind US Security Engraving 1830s – 1980s exhibition at The Grolier Club. Siderography is a steel-based transfer method used in the engraving of bank-notes.

The U. S. Bureau of Engraving and Printing (unsurprisingly) has a definition of siderography and they also reveal to us the existence of the exciting word siderographer. The Oxford English Dictionary, trusty guide, informs us that sidero- is a prefix meaning “relating to or containing iron”.*

One of their quotes, from 1900, informs us that “This system of siderography continued in use for bank-note printing in the bank of England till 1855, when electrotype-printing was introduced.” It would seem from the Bureau of Engraving site that in America this “iron writing” still continues. The Grolier Club caption also refers to the process as the transfer process. Siderography was perfected in the early nineteenth century by Yankee inventor Jacob Perkins who developed a special soft steel that could be hardened.

The process works thus: the vignette (as the artwork for bank-notes, stock certificates etc. was called) would be engraved in reverse into a flat piece of soft steel called a die. The finished die is then hardened and put onto a transfer press. A wheel-like disk of soft steel is rolled slowly over it at high pressure so that the soft steel is forced into the recessed image on the die. This results in a raised positive impression around the edge of the wheel. This wheel is then hardened at high temperature, and is then put into the transfer press where it presses the image and text into the soft metal of the printing plate. That appears to be what’s going on in the picture at the US Bureau of Engraving site. This plate, having the image recessed into its surface must thus be being used for an intalio form of printing. The Bureau refers to it as offset printing (click on the tab “How Money Is Made” at the left of the page) so I assume we are in the realm of offset gravure.

(For gravure, see A la poupée printing.)


* They also give us the word siderographist, but not -pher, and tell us that a siderograph is “A steel engraving, esp. one produced by siderography”. Incidentally — and one wonders how one has got this far through life without having to call on this impressive word — siderodromophobia is an irrational fear of railways or railway travel. I guess if you have it you’d know it. There are several other sidero- words of course. And just to keep us hopping we are also told that the prefix sidero- also covers a small number of words meaning star shaped.

Here are the engraver’s tools:

  • A: Graver
  • B: Glass (normally either 3x or 10x power
  • C: Etching point

It’s hard to imagine such detailed work being carried out with no more than these simple tools.

History educating Youth






As the caption at The Grolier Club’s exhibition, Images of Value: The Artwork Behind US Security Engraving 1830s – 1980s, tells us “In the US tradition, human flesh work and drapery (clothing) are cut with a graver; everything else is etched — buildings, animals, scenery, trains, everything other than human figures and their clothing.” Just why, we are not told. I wonder if it had anything to do with preventing forgery — the human figure was said to be the hardest to forge.

The exhibition runs till 29 April at The Grolier Club, 47 East 60th Street, New York.

See also Engraving a halftone block, and Die sinker.

Hans Holbein

Literary Hub brings us this handy ready reckoner so you can figure out how many books you’ll be able to read between now and your actuarially forecasted death. I was actually quite encouraged by my result, especially as they seem to make no adjustment for the obvious fact that after you stop working you have a lot more time available for reading.




25 and female: 86 (61 years left)
Average reader: 732
Voracious reader: 3,050
Super reader: 4,880

25 and male: 82 (57 years left)
Average reader: 684
Voracious reader: 2,850
Super reader: 4,560

30 and female: 86 (56 years left)
Average reader: 672
Voracious reader: 2,800
Super reader: 4,480

30 and male: 82 (52 years left)
Average reader: 624
Voracious reader: 2,600
Super reader: 4,160

35 and female: 86 (51 years left)
Average reader: 612
Voracious reader: 2,550
Super reader: 4,080

35 and male: 82 (47 years left)
Average reader: 564
Voracious reader: 2,350
Super reader: 3,670

40 and female: 85.5 (45.5 years left)
Average reader: 546
Voracious reader: 2,275
Super reader: 3,640

40 and male: 82 (42 years left)
Average reader: 504
Voracious reader: 2,100
Super reader: 3,260

45 and female: 85.5 (40.5 years left)
Average reader: 486
Voracious reader: 2,025
Super reader: 3,240

45 and male: 82 (37 years left)
Average reader: 444
Voracious reader: 1,850
Super reader: 2,960

50 and female: 85.5 (35.5 years left)
Average reader: 426
Voracious reader: 1,775
Super reader: 2,840

50 and male: 82 (32 years left)
Average reader: 384
Voracious reader: 1,600
Super reader: 2,560

55 and female: 86 (31 years left)
Average reader: 372
Voracious reader: 1,550
Super reader: 2,480

55 and male: 83 (28 years left)
Average reader: 336
Voracious reader: 1,400
Super reader: 2,240

60 and female: 86 (26 years left)
Average reader: 312
Voracious reader: 1,300
Super reader: 2,080

60 and male: 83 (23 years left)
Average reader: 276
Voracious reader: 1,150
Super reader: 1,840

65 and female: 87 (22 years left)
Average reader: 264
Voracious reader: 1,100
Super reader: 1,760

65 and male: 84 (19 years left)
Average reader: 228
Voracious reader: 950
Super reader: 1,520

70 and female: 87.5 (17.5 years left)
Average reader: 210
Voracious reader: 875
Super reader: 1,400

70 and male: 85 (15 years left)
Average reader: 180
Voracious reader: 750
Super reader: 1,200

75 and female: 89 (14 years left)
Average reader: 168
Voracious reader: 700
Super reader: 1,120

75 and male: 87 (12 years left)
Average reader: 144
Voracious reader: 600
Super reader: 960

80 and female: 90 (10 years left)
Average reader: 120
Voracious reader: 500
Super reader: 800

80 and male: 89 (9 years left)
Average reader: 108
Voracious reader: 450
Super reader: 720

Saucy for the 16th century I guess. Atlas Obscura has the story. If you wear floor-length dresses the temptation for the height-challenged to wear platform shoes must be irresistible. How did men get to enhance their height?

The flap books discussed appear in an exhibition at the New York Public Library’s 5th & 42nd main building, Love in Venice.

See also Book plus, where there’s link to yet more flap examples shown by Atlas Obscura.