First Do No Harm

Hand Made Books

I belong to a local group of writers, and the last time we met, I told them that they might consider giving friends and relatives handmade books for Christmas.
 
“First off,” I started, “they’re freaking handmade books!
 
Duh.
 
If you know me, you’ll know that my background consists of research and writing, and when something grabs my attention, I go out and try to find everything I can on the subject. (Knowing, of course, that if it’s on the internet, it might be a bucket of crap.)
 
My first search was at AbeBooks dot com. I know of them because while researching Louis Pasteur, I required two somewhat rare books written in French.
 
So I did a search on “handmade” and listed out the results according to price, highest to lowest. This is the one that was at the top of the list: Ulysses, by James Joyce. It was a first edition that had been split into three printings. The first 100 were printed on Dutch "handmade paper," numbered and signed by the master himself. 
 
If you go there, you will find it has been sold. I had asked all my friends to get me this for Christmas, and so when I saw it had been purchased there was a twinge of hope that one of them bought it for me, though reality quickly set in when I remembered that I don’t have any friends who have over $300,000.00 to spare right now, so, sadly, it’s gone to someone else.
 
Yes, rare books sell for that much and more.
 
My search online came across some handmade books from India that have no text in them, but were made with beautiful materials as works of art. They sold for $200.00 up to $600.00. Even blank books for writing notes or with special paper for drawing or water color sell for $30 to $70 because they're handmade. However, the more creative the cover, depending on the art work, the more expensive the book. 
 
While I was in the Twin Cities, I went to a bookstore I’ve often browsed but rarely have I bought anything because everything is so damn expensive. I remember buying a gift of a first edition there for a friend years ago. The shop owner sells his books around the world and mainly to collectors. Many are sold on consignment from one collector to another.
 
I have made up 20 copies of my book, Reprieve and Other Shorts, each signed and dedicated (on the dedication page) to the person I gifted.
 
I brought in one for him to inspect. He was duly impressed. He thought it was beautiful, sturdily made, and a real treasure.
 
We talked about handmade books and he said, he rarely gets them, but he had a couple. His least expensive was $1,200.00. I asked him what it was about and he said he didn’t know; it was written in French, just prior to WWII.
 
I asked him what my book would be worth.
 
He said, “Well, they’re a one of a kind item, made out to a different person in each book, signed, and made by the author.” He looked up at me and said, “If someone you gave one to came to me in January crazy enough to sell it, I’d give him two hundred bucks.”
 
“That much?”
 
“And then I’d turn around and sell it for anywhere from $300 to $500.”
 
“That much?”
 
“Authors don’t make their own books. This just doesn’t happen. This is a first edition, unique, made by the author. Hell, in two years it could be worth a thousand bucks. If Hemmingway had made a few copies of any of his books, today they’d sell for millions.
 
“Authors just don’t make their own books. These are to be treasured. And if you ever promote yourself, they’re definitely going to rise in price. And if you drop dead they could quadruple overnight.”
 
“I’ll remember that.” (I’ve now decided that my friends are all going to die broke because I plan on outliving them.)
 
We spent the next 15 minutes looking at the handmade books he did have in stock. Most were art books, picture books. They were all very beautiful and very much out of my price range.  

Before I left, he warned me that, "just because a book is worth $500.00 or $1,000.00 doesn't necessarily mean you can sell it for that. It's only worth that much to a collector. You have to go out and find that person."

I thanked him and left to deliver the copy I’d brought to the person for whom it had been made.
 
Yes, everyone I’ve given them to so far was in shock when they realized exactly what I'd given them. They just could not believe I'd spent six months putting them all together. I started back in June searching for a class, then I took the class, then I purchased all the equipment and materials to make them, I’ve even invented a tool that will be very useful (might even patent it), then I purchased special paper, printed them on my printer, hand folded each page, sat down to sew and glue, then took them to the Book Arts Center in Minneapolis to cut them to size, where I also cut the cover stock,  and then took them all back home, and one by one put covers on them.
 
I have finally finished, and all in all, I’ve brought a lot of smiles to friends and family because they each own a very rare treasure.
 
Here are some photos of the books I’ve created.


This was my first (and last) all leather book. Working with leather is insanely difficult.


These are drying, thus the wax paper to keep the pages from wrinkling due to the moisture from the glue in the covers. I was also experimenting with a thin and wide spine and decided the thin spine to be much more aesthetically pleasing.


Two more drying. Over night we covered them with huge books to keep the covers from curling from the moisture of the glue. This was one of my favorite papers, the blue, but we soon discovered that the aluminum hairs were not very well embedded and they all started to fall off. We will continue using the blue, but will not be paying extra for the aluminum hairs.


This turned out to be the favorite cover. The material was called Crocodile and we've also found it in a deep reddish brown. We used two colors for the spine, both a textured, fake leather (much easier to work with): black and silver.


Just one of our choices for the paper inside the cover. This was the most exotic. Most of the time, we kept it subdued.

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO PURCHASE A HANDMADE BOOK
(all proceeds go toward building our new foundation, FACT)
you may go to the following link:

Buy a Handmade Book


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