Saturday, March 11, 2017

Bookbinding and Ideology

On the Print blog (3/10/17), Steven Heller wrote a piece titled "Normalized Letterheads":
By 1936 the Nazis were firmly in place in all aspects of government, society and culture. Gleichschaltung was the term for standardizing or normalizing the Nazi aberration. It meant that every aspect of the Third Reich followed the dictates of the ideological wing of the state and party. These innocent-looking letterheads, void of political references, were examples of that Gleichschaltung imposed on the design and printing industries.
This Gleichschaltung was applied uniformly across all media, trades, social organizations, ..., aligning and subordinating all to the dictates of the state in all regards. Indoctrination started in the schools, youth organizations, and trade schools that all apprentices attended. Der Buchbinderlehrling (The Bookbinding Apprentice) was the journal for apprentices with subjects included social studies, math, and science as they related to binding. This also included paper making, leather tanning and parchment making, cloth, and in-depth engineering of bookbinding machines. During its run from 1927-1943 one is struck by how insidiously this Gleichschaltung progressed in the years after 1933, with the apprentices thoroughly indoctrinated so that there was no longer any difference between the trade and ideology. In the same vein the teachers at the trade schools/art academies were  required to be party members, especially if civil servants, joining either out of conviction or expedience in some sort of Faustian bargain...

Typography for book titles from Der Buchbinderlehrling, Vol. 9, Nr. 7, 1935.

While some of title designs may seem "innocent looking," this ideological aesthetic was applied not only to bindings, but also presentation materials, desk accessories, just about everything bookbinders made forcefully, with many examples in the trade literature of the time. Prominent among these was Hitler's Mein Kampf.

Under the pseudonym “Nicolli,” Ernst Collin wrote in Der Buchbinderlehrling what can best be described as a tragic review of 1933’s national bookbinding competition on Hitler’s Mein Kampf. He wrote that in binding this book the German bookbinding trade could demonstrate its commitment to Hitler and to taking on the challenges and demands that lay ahead. The trades, publishing, social organizations, and just about every other aspect of life were quickly brought to reflect the party line under “Gleichschaltung.” As a “servant” of the arts and crafts, bookbinding was given a special standing, and binding Mein Kampf in a dignified and appropriate manner was a way to demonstrate this standing. To demonstrate the new collective mindset, the names of none of the participants or winners were mentioned. Stating that this was not the place to describe individual bindings, he went on to write that given the nature and importance of the book it was clear that many of the bindings would include the black, white, and red of Imperial Germany and the Third Reich, with the swastika a key element. However, Ernst noted also that including these elements did not make for good design that would inspire and demonstrate respect. He concluded that the book could not become a playground for overwrought designs and gimmicks, challenging binders to think about and prepare themselves for increasing amounts of this kind of work. ([Nicolli]. “Ein Zeitgemäßer Wettbewerb.” Der Buchbinderlehrling, Vol. 7, Nr. 12, 1933. (167-168))

While no images from the 1933 bookbinding competition were found in Der Buchbinderlehrling, below two, one by an Martin Lehmann, an apprentice/student of Franz Weiße, and one by a master and one of the leading teachers of the day (Professors at art academies and trade schools), Hugo Wagner.

Martin Lehmann's apprentice/student binding on Mein Kampf.
From Der Buchbinderlehrling. Vol. 10, Nr. 6, 1937.
In the article the image accompanied he described his motivations and design choices a "flag red" leather for the  binding, white type, and black for the eagle, all based on the Nazi flag. About the eagle he wrote that it was based on the Luftwaffe insignia because it was more "dainty," yet aggressive and full of life, ready to take up the fight against all that is false...

Martin Lehmann with Franz Weiße
From Der Buchbinderlehrling. Vol. 11, Nr.11, 1938.

Binding by Hugo F. Wagner, Breslau, on the occasion of his 25th anniversary as a teacher.
From Der Buchbinderlehrling. Vol. 10, Nr. 12, 1937.

Bindings by Hugo Wagner from Vom Buchbinderlehrling zum Buchbindemeister (1941)


Otto Dorfner, Weimar, was another one of the leading teachers during this time, and will be featured in due time, also because he remained in the Soviet occupation zone (the DDR) after the war and continued working. One of Germany's greatest design binders, he studied under Paul Kersten, founded his school in Weimar, taught at the Bauhaus, and elsewhere, helped found the Meister der Einbandkunst... Below another binding on Mein Kampf by one of his students, Willi Fischer.

Binding by Dorfner student Willi Fischer on Mein Kampf.
From the Allgemeiner Anzeiger für Buchbindereien, Nr. 27, 1936.

Another teacher was Heinrich Lüers, Magdeburg, best known for Das Fachwissen des Buchbinders that appeared in several editions, including one postwar with a new introduction by his Gustav Moessner. It is very interesting to compare the editions, especially as the politically charged ones have been scrubbed out. Lüers also edited Vom Buchbinderlehrling zum Buchbindemeister (1941) for the Reichsinnungsverband des Buchbinderhandwerks (the national bookbinding guild), a pamphlet produced by the BDBI describing the trade and requirements designed to attract new apprentices and others. Like Lüer's book, this too was republished after the war in a sanitized edition. After all, why waste an otherwise significant text, and Das Fachwissen is one of the best of its genre and incredibly comprehensive.

Lüers concluded his pamphlet by stating that during the (still rather young) war, bookbinding had proven itself to a secure trade, and able to withstand any crisis and serve the German people. He ended with a quote by Hitler praising the German trades...

Below, Franz Weiße (Wiemeler's teacher), Erhard Klette, Otto Dorfner, and Hugo Wagner jurying the 1938 apprentice competition. Dorfner and Wagner appear to be wearing party insignia on cravat and lapel, and Klette was an influential publisher in the field, including the Archiv für Buchbinderei and the Jahrbuch der Einbandkunst.

Franz Weiße, Erhard Klette, Otto Dorfner, and Hugo Wagner jurying the 1938 apprentice competition.
From Der Buchbinderlehrling, Vol. 12, Nr. 5,1938.

See also this post about Frieda Thiersch's similar work during this period, "Hitler's Bookbinder." Her biography, Frieda Thiersch und ihre Handbuchbinderei (1968), by Fritz Krinitz mentions little and illustrates even less of her work from this period.

So, imagine if this scenario were to return... No, let's not go there.

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