Books on demand

November 18, 2009

Books appeared from bags, parcels and some from tiny envelopes last Thursday. Books had been taken from their library shelves, and brought in an astonishing variety to be laid out on tables where all of us could see them. Richard Hodgson, our Forest of Galtres Society speaker last Thursday, had also brought a crate of books with him on one of his own favourite themes, that of animals in books. There were books about paintings, books on old farm vehicles, books about animal husbandry, books in old bindings, modern jacketed books; a huge variety.

Richard explained how he had always been interested in books, and how that interest changed from part-time to full-time when dairy farming ceased to offer adequate reward. Good bookdealer friends instructed him in how to become a bookdealer, and he took up that new line of business. Careful not to compete with his friends in his chosen speciality, he now takes stands at particular book fairs in widely dispersed parts of the country.

Our table of trophies came under his careful scrutiny. The beautiful quality of the illustrations, often coloured by hand in the more expensive editions – cheaper editions being left uncoloured – was explained. The bindings were discussed. The bookplates stuck by some collectors into their books. The pretty little prize labels personalised for young children and pasted into Sunday School ‘improving’ texts. The very fancy Victorian book cover decorations. The glorious handmade paper, often with uncut folds and deckle edges remaining. The spectacular printed images of specialist publishing houses working to provide beautiful books to niche markets. The lovely soft leather on the tiny pocket book. The question whether to rebind or leave the broken spine un-mended. The issue as to whether value is in the book, or the actual pages because of the illustrations which they carry.

Tooling work on leather binding is skilled work, but these days no-one has time to just do lettering or only fancy scrolls; the bindery worker must practice every skill and produce the whole finished binding with little ancillary skill provided by other people. Good work is still done, but of course, the modern book will have a paper book jacket with pretty pictures. This is a different element of modern books, for the dustwrapper, if in pristine condition and unfaded, adds considerable value to a good first edition of something produced in a smallish print run.

Lots of questions popped up. Richard Hodgson answered them genially, resolved curiosities and opened our eyes to the quality of books. Afterwards, looking through his books and with a carefully held cup of tea, we exchanged thoughts about books and realised that so many of us in this computer age really do get so much enjoyment out of books. There is a good future in books, for they will always work, even when the power is switched off.

 
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