Sue Allen

B-90: Publishers' Bookbindings, 1830-1910

3-7 August 2009


1) How useful were the pre-course readings?


2: The pre-course readings were very useful, and I will keep them on hand as a mini reference library. 3: They were very helpful in setting the stage. 4: While all the pre-course readings were well chosen, it might have been helpful to divide them into essential, less essential and suggested readings. 5: Helpful, although I did not get around to reading all of them. Some seemed unnecessary. 6: Very. 7: In general, the pre-course readings were helpful and relevant. Locating some titles, however, took some time—particularly the periodical articles. 8: The pre-course readings were very helpful. I intend to read them again with my new and greater understanding of the subject matter. 9: Fine. 10: Some were more useful than others. Douglas Ball's look on Victorian Bookbindings was mostly about British books, and therefore didn't seem particularly relevant to SA's course. The other readings were very helpful. 11: Very—a lot of in-depth information that we were unable to talk about in class due to time constraints; allowed for a much greater understanding of material that was touched on in class. 12: Some readings seemed more like personal narrative than scholarly work, but all helped provide good background to the problems and tools for researching these bindings.


2) Were the course syllabus and other materials distributed in class appropriate and useful (or will they be so in the future, after you return home)?


1: No syllabus distributed—however the class was clearly organized and materials, reference books were readily available and discussed. Generous gift of materials by SA. 2: Some of the photo copies might be useful, and I am glad to have her "American Bookcovers" poster. But the printed manual will probably be only minimally useful, particularly the bad photo copy of the book on the making of bookbinding fabrics. 3: I didn't find the bound packet particularly useful. I would have liked less images, more content. 4: Yes, the class materials were all useful and I'm sure I will refer to them again. The ability to physically examine such a fine collection of rare materials is invaluable. 5: Yes. 6: Extremely useful. 7: Yes. The bibliography and details list of the artist/designers will be particularly helpful after the course. 8: Yes. In particular—the extensive bibliography and the wonderful American book cover brochure that SA did for the Library of Congress. 9: Yes—guides are helpful resource. 10: The workbook was never used, but the handouts distributed through the week were wonderful. I'll probably consult them all the time. 11: Yes. 12: A syllabus would have been nice! The additional materials all seem exceedingly useful, though.


3) What aspects of the course content were of the greatest interest or relevance for your purposes? Was the intellectual level of the course appropriate?


1: From start to finish—chronologically organized to encourage hands-on engagement with the books of each decade. Really being made to see, look and delve more deeply into the processes of book manufacture as developed mechanically. Level fine. 2: I was hoping for more information on the processes of the publishing industry as it progressed through the c19 and also more discussion of binding process and papermaking shift to more mechanized processes. 3: The exercises/test on identifying books by decade were very helpful. 4: Before taking the course I had only the most cursory knowledge of the development of bookbinding styles in the U.S. Now I believe I have a much firmer grasp of the subject and a much more precise vocabulary to use to discuss these materials intelligently. 5: Yes. SA's comments on the development of the styles, supported by examples. 6: The entire class was relevant, interesting, and informative, as well as intellectually stimulating. 7: Yes. The opportunity to see multiple examples of a specific binding (e.g. striped cloth) was extremely useful. It would take years of book fairs to replicate what I saw in a short period of time. 8: The intellectual level of the course was very appropriate. SA covered the broad spectrum of topics and time periods quite effectively for a classroom of students with varied backgrounds. Like many, I particularly was interested in the artist/designer bindings of the 1890s. 9: All of it was useful—book examples passed around, slides illustrating the periods and visit to Special Collections. 10: Basically everything was relevant to my purpose; I loved the model books particularly. The intellectual level was fine. 11: Intellectual level appropriate. This whole era of North American book publishing is of relevance, as it includes a majority of my institution's library. 12: Loved the art historical approach and focus on dating/localizing the bindings. Great to discuss avenues for researching individual bindings/binders.


4) If your course left its classroom to visit Special Collections (SC) or to make other field trips away from your classroom, was the time devoted to this purpose well spent?


1: Trip to RBS collection enriching—amazing depth of book examples. SC good—but less opportunity to spend time. 2: The trip to SC was useful as an opportunity to see materials beyond the RBS collections. It would have been better if we could have sat at a table instead of trying to balance trays on our laps while taking notes and photographs. 3: It was almost too full—it was a whirlwind of bindings. 4: Absolutely worthwhile. I'm sure I'll never have the chance to view so many fine and important books at one sitting again. 5: Yes. 6: Absolutely. 7: Yes. 8: We had one session and it was fine. Classroom experiences more useful, however. 9: Yes. 10: The SC and McGregor trips were magnificent. The trip to Lower Tibet was perhaps unnecessary—SA had us pick out Margaret Armstrong books and describe them, but I didn't see the point of that exercise (as opposed to the McGregor descriptions, which I found very helpful). 11: Yes. 12: The field trips helped to reinforced the "lecture" material; time well spent.


5) What did you like best about the course?


1: SA's great generosity of spirit, knowledge (extraordinary!), passion, enthusiasm—about the history of the books/bindings. Her opinions—her absolute love of the subject. A treasure. I will treasure this class. Vincent Golden was a remarkable "assistant"—thoughtful, generous, knowledgeable and so perfectly able to interact with SA and the class—fine person. 2: The opportunity to scrutinize so many examples next to each other to get a sense of what distinguished each decade. 3: Learning how to identify bindings by decade. 4: SA's love of the material shines through and is absolutely infectious. It's wonderful that SA is such a champion of American culture and aesthetics when the general tendency in the arts is to defer to European standards in most things. 5: Seeing the various examples. 6: How SA brings the material to life, opens your eyes to new and unseen details, and inspires you to go out and study the material in greater detail. 7: SA and VG did an excellent job. Their enthusiasm for the subject really helped in absorbing the concepts and materials. 8: SA, of course. I have rarely encountered a person with her generosity, enthusiasm, great knowledge, and wonderful kindness and humor. I feel honored to have been able to take this class with her. I liked what she described as learning how to see what you didn't know to look for before. Good balance of slides, lecture, looking at actual books, and access to reference sources. 9: The instructor—knowledgeable, kind, humorous, enthusiasm is contagious. 10: SA and the books. It was a perfect mixture: plentiful examples, and someone to explain the trends for us. 11: The instructor's knowledge and passion for the subject. 12: See No. 3.


6) How could the course have been improved?


1: With no peer! 3: Less "downtime"—there was a lot of sitting and waiting. 4: No suggestions. 5: I was a little surprised that there seemed to be so little participation on the part of the other attendees. Particularly when it was mentioned on the reading list. Perhaps it was because of SA's hearing problems. But I think that it is VERY hard on an instructor to teach for five days straight with so little (NONE) interaction with the participants. I finally gave up—as I felt uncomfortable. 6: Having more examples so that groups could study the same book at the same time (as in Print Processes class) and not have down time while books were passed around. 7: Perhaps a little more time spent on cloth grains would be useful. 8: It could not be improved. Not new, but I hope that the Artists' Books class will be offered in the future. It was a wonderful class led by the wonderful Johanna Drucker. 9: Can't think of improvements. I can't imagine a different or better teacher. 10: I think the handouts we got during the week could have been put in the workbook. I also think the brochure SA did for LC could be scanned and put in the workbook, although it is nice to have the original! 12: Would have liked inclusion of discussion of cloth grains—still feel lacking in knowledge of this area.


7) We are always concerned about the physical well-being both of the RBS teaching collections and of materials owned by UVa's Special Collections. If relevant, what suggestions do you have for the improved classroom handling of such materials used in your course this week?


2: See comment on SC. 3: VG gave great instructions, but one particular student repeatedly mishandled the books throughout the week. 4: I observed most people trying to be as careful and as respectful as possible handling the materials. 5: Ask and make sure that people have washed their hands, freshly, before each session starts. Then don't worry so much about troubling them. A little too precious. 6: No. 8: RBS does an excellent job of ensuring the well-being of its materials. The staff instructors convey their importance and need to handle appropriately. That being said, it is still a little weird for conservators, rare book librarians &c. being forbidden to touch items (in the classroom, not SC). 9: Handled very well. 10: The TA could keep a closer eye on the way students handle the materials. 11: Maybe have instructor rather than assistant set the ground rules up front (might carry more weight). 12: Trust the students! We handle these materials far more intimately at our home institutions.


8) If you attended the Sunday and/or other evening lectures, were they worth attending?


1: I particularly felt the study nights in the library—the Paper museum—&c. were a good opportunity to learn independently. 2: I attended printing museum night which was interesting especially seeing the mold used to make individual pieces of type. 3: Absolutely. 4: The Paper Museum and Printing Museum were worthwhile. It would have been nice to get a copy of the handout for the exhibits at orientation on Day 1. 5: Yes, they were all interesting. I particularly enjoyed Terry Belanger's comments and written notes on the two Museum nights. Interesting and delightful. 6: Yes. 8: Didn't attend. 9: I attended lecture—good, thought provoking. 10-11: Yes.


9) Did you get your money's worth? Any final or summary thoughts, or advice for other persons considering taking this course in a future year?


1: Yes—certainly. I feel lucky to have at last been able to take SA's course. Long may she thrive and share her learning and passion for books. 3: I think so. It gives a comprehensive overview of binding characteristics from that period. 4: I'm grateful for the tuition scholarship from RBS; without that, it would have been extremely difficult to attend. 5: Oh yes. You can't get this information anywhere else. I hope SA gets her work written up in a book. There is a real need for it that nothing else seems to fill. Thanks for letting me attend. 6: Absolutely. Do the reading; come early to class; stay late; go to breaks and get to know your teacher and colleagues. 7: Absolutely. 8: Absolutely!! I would recommend this class, and would urge in particular that someone take it while SA is still teaching it. She will be a very hard person to follow. 9: Yes. I learned a great deal which I plan to take back to put to use for staff and researches at my library, also start my own collecting. 10: I did get my money's worth. SA's knowledge is impressive and well communicated. Come prepared to spend money on booksellers' night! 11: Absolutely! An enjoyable—though tiring!—week with a leader in this field. 12: I learned a lot in this course, and generally got out of it what I wanted to learn: money well spent.


Number of respondents: 12





Institution gave me leave: 58%

I took vacation time: 0%

N/A: self-employed, retired, or had summers off: 42%



Institution paid tuition: 17%

I paid tuition myself: 50%

N/A: self-employed, retired, or scholarship: 33%



Instution paid housing: 17%

I paid for my own housing: 58%

N/A: stayed with friends or lived at home: 25%



Institution paid travel: 17%

I paid my own travel: 58%

N/A: lived nearby: 25%


There were 3 rare book librarians (25%), 1 teacher/professor (8%), 2 antiquarian booksellers (17%), 1 book collector (8%), 1 general librarian with no rare book duties (8%), 2 conservator/binder/preservation librarians (17%), 1 library manager (8%), 1 full-time student (8%).