Friendship (The Miniature Series)

I have just finished two bindings for the Designer Bookbinders ‘Unique’ exhibition that will be taking place at The Benjamin Spademan Gallery in London from the 5th – 13th July 2024. Both are very different in size, design and appearance but I have enjoyed working on them both simultaneously.

This blog post will feature the smaller of the two bindings, a miniature book in fact. This miniature book contains the poetic essay on ‘Friendship’ by Ralph Waldo Emerson. The original book was bound with suede and had gilt lettering on the spine.

~ The original binding bound in brown suede with gilt lettering on the spine

Emerson, who went by his middle name Waldo, was a New England preacher, essayist, lecturer, poet, and philosopher. He was one of the most influential writers and thinkers of the 19th century in the United States. Emerson was also the first major American literary and intellectual figure to widely explore, write seriously about, and seek to broaden the domestic audience for classical Asian and Middle Eastern works. He not only gave countless readers their first exposure to non-Western modes of thinking, metaphysical concepts, and sacred mythologies; he also shaped the way subsequent generations of American writers and thinkers approached the vast cultural resources of Asia and the Middle East.

‘Friendship’ is an essay of his that was first published in 1841 and is considered one of his most important works, being widely regarded as a seminal text on the topic of friendship. In this book, he reflects on the nature of friendship and its role in human life. He argues that true friendship is based on mutual respect and understanding, and is characterised by a deep and genuine affection between individuals. He also notes that friendship is not just a matter of finding someone with similar interests, but rather it involves a spiritual connection and a recognition of the other person’s essential qualities. Emerson goes on to argue that friendship can be a source of profound joy and fulfillment, and can provide individuals with a sense of meaning and purpose. He concludes by stating that, while it is difficult to find true friends, the effort is well worth it, as friendship is one of the most valuable and enriching experiences of life.

~ The title page and frontispiece of ‘Friendship’ published by W.P. Nimmo, Hay & Mitchell, Ltd.

The book was published by W.P. Nimmo, Hay & Mitchell, Ltd. (Edinburgh, London, UK). There’s an interesting write up on the company on a website called, “A Series of Series: 20th Century Book Series”. The company seems to have been established in the 1850s and published books until about 1970. The firm is sometimes listed as William P. Nimmo. The peak publishing years for the firm were from the 1860s through the 1920s.

Nimmo shared addresses in Edinburgh and London with publisher Sampson Low in the late 1800s, at least through the 1920s, suggesting some kind of connection between those two publishers. There are also co-publications with the publisher Gowans and Gray. Nimmo’s Miniatures, or which ‘Friendship’ was one, were an unusually small series of over 60 titles. Nimmo had offered their Miniature Library in the 1880s, and the Nimmo’s Miniatures probably replaced that older series around or a bit after 1900 with the series publication dates falling between 1902-1922. The size of the original book was under 65mm wide by 90mm tall (2.5″ x 3.5″).

When looking online for miniature books I might purchase, I was drawn to this book due to the patterned frontispiece and title page. The leather of the original binding was in bad condition and the cover was easy to remove.

Due to the tiny size of the book, I chose to rebind it on folded paper stubs to allow for better opening once it was rebound. I decided to keep the original gilt edge on the pages as I liked it, plus there was little margin available for trimming the text block further. There were only five sections, with each being sewn to its own stub with a few extras worked in to make them up to the same thickness as the text block. I had selected a small piece of goatskin for the spine and some lovely semi-transparent goat vellum for the boards and doublures. The colour theme for the book overall was going to be purples, yellows and pinks and I therefore chose to sew the sections to pink paper stubs using yellow thread so that a dash of colour would be seen whilst flicking through the book.

~ Sewing the book sections onto pink paper stubs

The stubs were then sewn onto three thin tapes, along with some leather-jointed endpapers each side. The text block was then glued up at the spine and rounded and backed. I then sewed on some small silk endbands, lined the spine and applied the hollow before lacing the boards on. At this same time as working on this miniature book I was also working on a book about ten times as large as it is format as you can see in the below right image!

I had decided that I wanted to use contrasting colours on the spine of this book to the boards. This was partly a visual design choice and partly for practical reasons. The vellum I had chosen to cover the boards with would have been challenging to use across the whole book as it is much less supple than goatskin and therefore more difficult to mould at the endcaps and stiffer at the joint area. This would have been magnified on the small scale of this book as miniature bindings tend to open and close differently to large books as there’s not as much weight to the boards.

I wanted to title the spine piece and chose to do so by sewing the letters in the same font used in the text block. I increased the size and pricked through a template to get the shape of the letters. They were then embroidered using a fine silk thread and whipped to consolidate the stitches.

I wanted to further pattern the spine and chose to do so using little flowers to compliment the printed vintage floral paper I had used on the endpapers. Initially I masked out an area around the title using a long thread and then I punched little circles of thinly pared leather using my Japanese hole punch. These were stuck down to the spine piece within the masked border using PVA glue. In the image below you see two title pieces, one was for the sample board and the other for the book itself.

~ Adding circular leather onlays onto the spine leather

Over the top of these coloured onlays I applied lots of different stitches in different colours to build up the density of the design around the embroidered title.

For the board areas of the book I asked my close friends and family to select quotes or sayings about friendship that they liked or had a personal connection to. I requested they write the quote in their own handwriting and send it to me. Handwriting is a very personal form of communication and it was really interesting to hear why different quotes had been selected. I printed them all out and resized them so that they would work well as a group.

~ The handwritten quotes

Initially I worked on the sample board, trying to work out how best to place the quotes in the space. The sentences were going to be too long to have spanning the book in one so they were definitely going to have to be split in some way. The title of the book was going to run in the direction of head to tail, so I felt that the quotes should do so too. I therefore decided to split the quotes in half and have half on the cover running around to the other half on the doublure, either across one line of text or two lines for the longer quotes.

~ Template for the placement of the quotes on the sample board

Once I had decided on the placement, I created a tracing paper template. I pricked the reference holes through this into the vellum so I knew where I needed to place my stitches. The great thing about the vellum being quite stiff is that the holes were really clear to see. When doing the same through leather then holes have a tendency to close up and it can ben more tricky to find them again.

The vellum was semi-transparent, so I knew that any thread ends would be really visible through it on the reverse when it was stuck down to the board. I therefore was really careful to either tuck the thread ends behind the wording that had been sewn to conceal it, or fray out the ends and glue them down. I also chose to use quiet pale coloured threads for the board embroidery to help with this. The below right image shows the ends of the threads on the back of the vellum before I had ‘concealed’ them.

The sample board was covered with the vellum, using paste. I tested the edge-paring of the doublure so that the join would be as seamless as possible on the binding.

~ Trying out edge-to-edge vellum doublures on the sample board

I was really pleased with the sample board, below you can see the completed piece which is now number 73 in my sample boards collection.

It was then time to cover the spine of the book with the decorated leather. I had two spines ready to cover at the same time so made up a batch of paste and applied the leather to the text block before leaving it to dry overnight between blotting papers and boards with a light weight on top.

The leather was left overlong on the boards, and trimmed close to the sewn border I had applied near the joint of the book once it was dry. I then further lined the blank board with a piece of Zerkall paper to smooth it out, and also bring up that area to the correct height for the vellum to be flush with the leather once it had been stuck on. The vellum was thinner than the goatskin I used on the spine so that was necessary, and it also ensured that there would be an even colour behind the semi-transparent vellum.

~ The spine leather applied and endcaps formed

All of the quotes supplied were in English with the exception of one German phrase on the front cover and doublure:

  • „Bleib so, wie Du bist!“, meaning “Stay just as you are.”, or “You’re perfect just as you are, don’t change.”
~ A template of the placement of the quotes on the book covers

The others were arranged and placed as follows, the front cover:

  • “I would rather walk with a friend in the dark than alone in the light.”
  • “Good friends are like stars, you don’t have to see them to know they are there.”
  • “It is when we are most lost that we sometimes find our truest friends.”
  • “A friend is someone who makes it easy to believe in yourself.”

The back cover:

  • “Friendship is another word for love.”
  • “Words are easy, like the wind; faithful friends are hard to find.”
  • “You have been my friend. That in itself in a TREMENDOUS thing!”
  • “Friendship is a sheltering tree.”
  • “Friendship is the only flower that blooms in all seasons.”

Once the embroidery was complete, I applied the vellum to the front and back boards using paste without turning-in the edges and let them dry.

I worked the turn-ins around the boards during a second process, trimming he corners at a 45 degree angle and leaving a little tab to tuck around the edge of the board so as not to have board exposed in the corners. This left a satisfyingly crisp point at the four corners.

Once dry, the capping and the waste sheets were removed from the text block. I was then able to stick down the leather joints onto the inside of the boards.

The centre of the boards was infilled with paper to level it out. I was aware that the colour difference between the orange leather joints and the white of the surround would be really visible under the semi-transparent vellum I was going to use for the doublure so I wanted to try and mask it. I painted white paint on top of the orange leather to take away the colour. A final layer of Zerkall was then stuck down to the doublure and sanded and the leather joint wast then barely visible.

Below shows a working shot of my studio during the making of this book with stuff everywhere!

~ The studio in mid-production of the Friendship miniature

The vellum doublures were carefully edge-pared before being embroidered. I held them up to a light source before sticking them down to check that the threads on the back were suitable hidden.

~ Testing out the semi-transparent leather against a lit backdrop for thread ends

The final quotes that I didn’t have space for on the binding I decided to apply to the box. I purchased a lovely little box with a sliding lid, into which I planned to make a little tray that the book would sit in. In the interior of this tray I laid out the following quotes:

  • “Love is like the wild rose-briar, Friendship like the holly-tree—, The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms, But which will bloom most constantly?”
  • “No friendship is an accident.”
  • “The only way to have a friend is to be one.”

I used a tracing paper template like I had done so on the covers and sewed these quotes onto some lovely pink suede.

The tray had a little pink ribbon lifter added into it to help get the book out and then it was mounted into the box.

To see more images of the completed binding and box please visit my website here.

Here are some images taken at The Benjamin Spademan Gallery where my book is currently on display, along with 32 other books by Fellows and Licentiates of Designer Bookbinders.

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