The Art of Making Old-Fashioned, Hand-Printed Books

Reports of tra­di­tion­al books’ death are great­ly exag­ger­at­ed, thanks in part to the suc­cess of print-on-demand pub­lish­ing and oth­er dig­i­tal inno­va­tions.

As thrilled as we are about the sur­vival of the print­ed page—it’s a relief to have some­thing to read after Wi-Fi fails dur­ing the zom­bie invasion—the crafts­man­ship that goes into hand-print­ed, hand-bound vol­umes is an almost-lost art.

The Vic­to­ria and Albert Museum’s video, above, doc­u­ments the painstak­ing process, begin­ning with the arrang­ing of met­al type that will result in an octa­vo, the most com­mon type of book.

It’s a qui­et endeav­or, though sure­ly a bit loud­er than the V&A’s silent doc­u­men­ta­tion, an unusu­al choice giv­en a cer­tain seg­ment of the mil­len­ni­al pop­u­lace’s appetite for well-edit­ed arti­sanal craft videos in which music plays a big part.

A well-deployed tune could ele­vate these love­ly visu­als to the realms of the advanced ele­gy.

YouTube user, Krafts­man Sheng, attempts to rem­e­dy the sit­u­a­tion by repro­duc­ing the video (sans attri­bu­tion) with a sound­track of his own choos­ing—pianist Roger Williams’ syrupy 1965 ren­di­tion of “Soft­ly As I Leave You,” below.

An uncon­ven­tion­al choice, to be sure. I should think some­thing baroque would go bet­ter with all of this metic­u­lous fold­ing, cut­ting, and bind­ing.

Though per­haps some­thing a lit­tle more robust could high­light the hard­core hero­ism of the arti­sans toil­ing to keep this ancient art alive. Elec­tric Lit has a round up of great book-inspired punk songs, of which “Time” by Richard Hell and the Voidoids seems par­tic­u­lar­ly apt.

Print­’s not dead!

via Atlas Obscu­ra

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Brazil Gives Out Books That Dou­ble as Sub­way Tick­ets, Pro­mot­ing Lit­er­a­cy & Mass Tran­sit at Once

The Art of Col­lo­type: See a Near Extinct Print­ing Tech­nique, as Lov­ing­ly Prac­ticed by a Japan­ese Mas­ter Crafts­man

Oxford Uni­ver­si­ty Presents the 550-Year-Old Guten­berg Bible in Spec­tac­u­lar, High-Res Detail

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Her play Zam­boni Godot is open­ing in New York City in March 2017. Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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Comments (3)
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  • Camilla says:

    As a for­mer hand book­binder, I thank you! Makes me miss it so much!

  • Dianne says:

    I have been want­ed to learn how to bind books, but do not know how to start. What equip­ment is need­ed to start!! I loved watch­ing this video and see­ing the book come togeth­er.

  • Sandy says:

    This is a very infor­ma­tive arti­cle. It is very fas­ci­nat­ing to know more about the old ways of book print­ing. I do own a small book print­ing and bind­ing com­pa­ny and I can real­ly appre­ci­ate the old ways. Nowa­days, most­ly the machines are already auto­mat­ic and doing these jobs with ease, but we can­not just for­get the way how they do it before. Our machines from PHE Print Fin­ish­ing real­ly helps our job to be fin­ished in time.

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