As much as posts about bookbinding already over-populate this populous muddle of a blog, allow me to carry on into kind obscurity with yet more progress, and the tale of my new (old) book-press.
Book-presses are a fundamental tool dating back to the early days of book binding, and I’ve been using a makeshift press made from perspex held together with a range of clamps for the last few years – time to get something proper. Just before Christmas I’d found a press on that wonderful emporium of everything – ebay. Even though it was described as in working order, when I picked it up from the seller it was clearly smashed to pieces by a century of neglect, and I’ve spent the last two months stripping it down, making up bits that were missing, and putting the thing back together.
My new press is a veteran of Victorian England, and dates from about 1870. It’s definitely been through its own share of history – most of the brass parts of it, including the handles, had been hacked off with a chisel at some point; the Victorian paint was largely chipped away, and a thick coat of rust had generally enveloped the cast iron frame.
Some things were fixable. Iron can be stripped down, new brass can be recut, paintwork can be redone. Since it’s cast iron, welding or attempting to reshape any of the damaged ironwork was out of the question, and sadly when the brass handles had been hacked off the iron spurs inside them had gone too, so the press will have to work with the iron stumps rather than regaining any new pieces of metal there.
As I was cleaning off the years of encrusted oil and dirt I discovered, still pinned resolutely to the A-frame of the press, the original owner’s plaque engraved with ‘E Fisher Stationer 50 Lombard St’. Rather fascinatingly this name traced the press to Eden Fisher, an incredibly successful stationer to the great and the good of Victorian England, who set up a small shop in Lombard Street in 1873 that made him a multi-millionaire and was in fact the start of a company that lasted 100 years.
This press, though, had definitely suffered as industry moved on and grand pieces of Victorian engineering became obsolete. At some point someone has tried to remove all the brass on the press, certainly to sell it for scrap, and the years have left it in a battered, rusty, and pretty much unusable state.
Firstly, I had to take the press apart so I could look at each individual piece, these were then each in turn stripped down with a wire brush and sand paper. The few remaining brass pieces needed cleaning up and then the cast iron frame needed repainting. A black base coat went over the whole thing before I added gold details with masking-taped out lines.
The brass guides that hold the press straight while it is being moved up and down were missing so they had to be remade. I ended up cutting them out of a thick brass sheet, before measuring and shaping them to create guides relatively similar to the originals.
Then it was just a matter of bringing all the parts together, and I had myself a new (old) book press!
Some final work just needs tidying up – the gold detailing needs doing around the new brass guides, since I couldn’t do that before they were attached. But, for just a couple of hours work each weekend for the last two months, I am pretty pleased to have such a nice little press in very good working order!
Until next time, remarkable reader!