A crusher panel is what we called the die used for blind stamping. Blind stamping is a stamping hit made without any gold or colored foil between the die and the cloth. Foil stamping involves the application of heat and pressure, transferring the foil from its carrier onto the case. A crusher panel might be used to create a sort of pseudo-three-color effect. You can see the effect of the crusher panel behind the title, Novels 1959-1965, of this Library of America book. In a toothy cloth like the Brillianta LOA use, a crusher panel will smooth out the surface of the cloth a bit, so that detail in the stamping will look clearer.

Behind the author’s name you can see that there’s a foil panel of dark blue. After that panel has been stamped onto the cloth, the rules + author + title is stamped in gold foil. Three dies (brasses or Chemacs in UK) may have been used, one for the crusher panel, one for the dark blue foil panel, and one for the gold foil. I say “may” have been used because it would be possible to make ready the stamping machine to do both flat panels, the dark blue one and the crusher panel, at the same time. The dark blue foil would be fed in from left to right on a thin strip, aligned so that it didn’t overlap the blind panel. A little bit fiddly to make ready, but probably worth while in a run as long as this one no doubt was. In that case the foil panel and the crusher panel could be carried on a single metal die, made with a little space between the two panels.

Here’s a picture showing how we used to manage to get our dies to fit the spine width. These two volumes are dummies, produced to check on the width of the stamping dies, as well as the fit of the slip case. Normally dummies would be made from blank sheets of the same paper you were going to use to print the book. These dummies were made later: they contain the printed text and illustrations. Dummies are expensive: you are binding a single copy, by hand, after all. So why waste your money?

Bear in mind that paper is sold by weight. Weight here means basically how much fiber there is per square inch. Nowadays paper machines are sufficiently well monitored that we can be confident that a 50# paper advertised as having 384ppi (pages per inch) will hit 384 pretty closely over the run. To go to the other extreme, imagine a hand papermaker’ vatman trying to keep his basis weight steady and maintain a consistent thickness just by dipping the mold into a bath of pulp and water: the better you are at it, the better you’ll get at approaching the target. But it has to be a wide target; total consistent is obviously unattainable. (The fascinating video at Paper making by hand 4 is well worth looking at to see the craft involved.) In the 1960s and 70s we lived somewhere between these extremes: thickness was fairly consistent, but not sufficiently accurate to hang your hat on. Thus we’d produce a dummy book on most projects where the width was critical. The majority of these were blank paper dummies and lived on to contain the artwork of many a little scion of the production department tree. I use the one from Alastair Fowler’s Triumphal Forms as a commonplace book.

The two-volume set illustrated, of Martin Robertson’s A History of Greek Art, was printed by letterpress and bound at The University Press Cambridge, with six 32-page signatures of plates printed offset by Westerham Press, Kent, in volume 2. It’s perhaps odd that despite the mixture of two papers in Volume 2 that’s the one we managed to guess right when we had dies made for the spine stamping. I suppose the dies made for volume one would just have been thrown away — many a production worker had nice brass as a paper weight on their desk — and new ones produced for the run. Presumably we managed to delete VOL before 1 before the final run. The books are in excellent condition, but the slipcase has endured some of life’s knocks, which is of course it’s function. I wouldn’t be utterly amazed to be told that the cloth used on this set was also the Dutch-made Brillianta, like the backcloth used on the Library of America volumes.