The Wise Bone Folder – A fairy tale for bookbinding apprenticesBy Schlaghammer [Franz Weiße*, 1878-1952].
Originally published as "Das kluge Falzbein" in Der Buchbinderlehrling, Vol 16, Nr 2, 1942 (12-14).
Translation by Peter D. Verheyen, 2/2019
|Meister and apprentice (They started very young)|
Vom Buchbinderlehrling zum Buchbindermeister: Eine Einführung in das Buchbinderhandwerk,
Berlin: Reichsinnungsverb. d. Buchbinderhandwerks. 1941.
Once upon a time, at the beginning of his apprenticeship, Franz was given a very common bone folder by his Meister. Franz didn’t think much of this bone folder. For a tool that was never to leave his hands when folding, it felt hard and unfamiliar. Over time, Franz became accustomed to the Bone Folder, and grew so attached to it that he didn’t ever want to lose it. This pleased the Bone Folder immensely, and they became close friends, conversing regularly. It was then that the Bone Folder began to realize how foolish Franz really was, and how much it could help him grow as a binder. Once Franz said to the Bone Folder, “what will become of me if don’t want to become a bookbinder, but rather a book seller? And then, what would I do with you my dear Bone Folder?” Upon this the Bone Folder answered, “don’t start talking nonsense, you will become a bookbinder!” Two years later, Franz asked a similar question. “What is to become of us? I mean, I can bind books now, but maybe I shouldn’t have become a bookbinder?” “Enough,” responded the Bone Folder, “you’re just at the beginning of your life in this wonderful profession of bookbinding! We will leave this place and move on to other cities and Meisters. It is then that you will discover what you really know, and what you still need to learn. Now!” … But, Franz still hesitated. “What do you know already about being a bookbinder?” the Bone Folder continued. “Get away from here, and I’m coming with you! I will take good care of you, and make sure that you will become a real, competent bookbinder. You will even become famous!” This made Franz break out in laughter, “what is that, a famous bookbinder…?
|The bindery and book cover factory Hübel & Denck, 1895.|
Weisse worked there in their extra-binding department.
Hübel & Denck also published the Monatsblätter für Bucheinbände und Handbindekunst (1924-28),
a monthly newsletter with articles by and for bibliophiles that Ernst Collin wrote for as well.
Each issue had its own distinctive typographical design and often included samples of materials
After completing their apprenticeship, Franz and the Bone Folder began their Journeyman years wandering from bindery to bindery throughout the land. Franz depended on the Bone Folder to help put food on the table, and that was just fine with the Bone Folder. Franz, however, liked heartier fare, so the Bone Folder had to work hard to earn its keep. In doing so, both came to the realization that one really needed to make beautiful bindings to put that fare on the table. They had already worked for three Meisters where they had the opportunity to work on so-called better bindings that they referred to as quarter-leather extra-bindings. But, from these alone one would not be able to “live in luxury” the Meister said. Next they went to a “factory,” a large trade bindery where only new books were bound. These were blank except for the words “My Diary” on the first leaf. This was nothing for them. There were also far too many people working in this factory, and way too much noise that came from the wire binding machines. At this, the Bone Folder suggested attending an arts & crafts school where bookbinding was taught to students who were working towards their Meister’s certificate, and where one could learn the finer points of the trade such as gold tooling and finishing. They would certainly be able to offer guidance on the best path to binding beautiful books. These schools existed in many cities like Berlin, Breslau (Now Wrocław), Hamburg, Munich, Weimar, … And so, Franz and the Bone Folder enrolled and completed their studies, knowing far more about making beautiful books than they did before, and they were proud of their work. Franz now wanted to use his Bone Folder on full-leather extra-bindings! But, life is often unfair, and they were unable to gain entry in binderies where they could apply what they had learned. Everywhere they went they were turned away with a laugh when they brought up their desire to work on these full-leather extra-bindings. Journeymen were never given those creative fine bindings to work on – that was something the Meister reserved for themselves. And, if there happened to be only one Meister in the shop, especially one who wasn’t up to snuff but still bragged about themselves, they might have kept their own journeyman who could complete that kind of work. But, a Meister like that was nowhere to be found. Eventually, in a “factory” for hymnals, they were able to see how the many books received their shiny gilt edges. They stayed there for a while, surreptitiously looking over their colleagues shoulders and working as hard as they could until there was nothing left to learn there. Even if the work was not what one was interested in, there were always things (even little things) to learn, and just as importantly, what not to do.
|Schematic for an attaché case, something bookbinders made in leather goods factories.|
From Der Buchbinderlehrling, Vol 11, Nr 6, 1937
Franz always kept the Bone Folder in top left pocket of his white lab coat. When it was not working, the Bone Folder had an ideal perch from which to observe what was happening around it, and to learn. This made it even wiser than it was already. Next, they came to a workshop that specialized in stamping and blocking, and where all they did was stamp gilt ribbons with the words “rest in peace” on both sides. This was very boring work, especially in the long term. Leaving there, they went to another town where the Meister was rude, Franz did nothing but marble, and the Bone Folder had nothing to do… That just wouldn’t do. Finally, they came to a Meister finisher who worked on leather goods such as portfolios, purses, and wallets. Franz worked like a dog in the finishing department there, becoming regarded as an artist among the skilled leather workers. Finally, satisfying work, and the Bone Folder got to mark the lines that France would gild. Both were very happy working there together, and Franz even thought he might want to become a leather goods “baron.” Even the Bone Folder became so excited at that prospect that it imagined itself in a frame hanging over Franz’s desk, admired by all of his friends.
However, things turned out very differently. Because the Bone Folder was there with Franz when he visited the art schools to learn drawing and study art, it realized that there was a much better future ahead for Franz than playing the leather goods “baron.” The thought of resting in a frame ultimately did not interest the Bone Folder, either. Work, that was what it was meant to do. They ended up in THE city of books, Leipzig where Franz was able to establish himself as a fine binder, and where they created many fine bindings of his own design together, just for the joy of it. Briefly, they even considered emigrating to England because they could find real bibliophiles there. The Bone Folder was able to talk Franz out of emigrating, telling him that he never liked the English anyway, and why would he want to be among them… “Well” said dear Bone Folder, “we’ll stay in Germany and do well here.”
After a while, the two of them became restless again, and no one knows who put the bug in their ears – “Franz, you must become a teacher at one of these vocational schools!” “Yes” said the Bone Folder, “of course!” and Franz chuckled. “And…,” continued the Bone Folder, “you can even become a professor.” “A professor of bookbinding?” No said Franz, there is no such thing anywhere in the world.” But it did happen and Franz was appointed “professor” of bookbinding at one of the leading arts & crafts schools.
|Workshop of the Staatl. Kunstgewerbeschule Hamburg where Weiße taught 1907-1942.|
More at Kunstgewerbeschule Hamburg.
Many years passed for them there as they taught and fussed over each other, and the next generation of bookbinders. Everywhere, at each bench, and to each student, the Bone Folder dispensed wise words when it demonstrated a turn-in, a well-formed headcap, “if you don’t pay attention to how your professor did it, you will never make it out in the real world. You do want to become teachers some day, don’t you? Don’t make me laugh, you think you can call it done with a little bit of gold tooling? Anyone can learn how to do that if they have the tools, and you seem very pleased with yourselves, and how you use them.” The Bone Folder went on, “there’s so much more to it including how to maintain your tools in top condition and use them safely. The Meister knows all of you, and can make you the best that you can be. The lazy ones among you he will let fall behind... That’s why he is the teacher and Meister, and was appointed as professor!” Oh, this Bone Folder… What it had once prophesied had come to be. But, the Meister students thought Franz had them to thank for his position and honors. They were the best among the best! The foolish ones among them didn’t understand what was going on...”
|Franz Weisse, Ernst Klette (publisher), Otto Dorfner, Hugo Wagner|
The jury for the annual Buchbinderlehrling binding competition for apprentices
From Der Buchbinderlehrling, Vol 12, Nr 5,1938.
Again, years went by teaching and binding, giving lectures about art and technical nuances, all things that go along with being a professor in one’s métier. On the side, Franz and the Bone Folder created more than two-hundred fine bindings together, each unique, valuable, and highly regarded.
|Binding by Franz Weiße, on Jesus und Johannes, 1930.|
From Otto Fröde, Franz Weisse, 1956.
During those sessions in the workshop, there were many occasions when the students used the Meister’s tools, thinking they would be able to create better work than if they used their own. The Meister let them believe that, and even let them use his bone folders so that these became used to the hands of others. This scared the wise Bone Folder. “If you keep on like this you won’t have any tools soon. Don’t ever let me leave your hands!” Franz replied, “oh, let them think my tools are theirs and that they can create better work with them than with their own tools. Everyone strives to improve...” “Well said,” said the Bone Folder, “but not with your tools…” “My dear Bone Folder,” said Franz, “that’s true, but apparently my tools can bring rewards to others. That’s why I let them go like that, just as they once came to me.”
|Professor Franz Weiße observing his student Martin Lehmann gold tooling by hand.|
Der Buchbinderlehrling, Vol 11, Nr 11, 1938.
Soon after, the wise Bone Folder itself disappeared without a trace. This made the Meister very sad and depressed, so much so that he never wanted to create another masterpiece. He didn’t even want to teach anymore. His treasure had gotten away from him, and with it his love of his fine craft. The Meister had become old and even superstitious. His hair grayed, his vision deteriorated so that he saw his gilt lines double, and his hands shook when he held the type-holder over the stove.. He rubbed his hands over his eyes and dreamt that the wise Bone Folder was still in his pocket where it had always rested. In his dream it spoke to his heart, “don’t be sad great Meister. You shared your talents before they could leave you, and your generosity was so great that you even let me go. Now, I still shape beautiful headcaps, but in someone else’s gentle hands. You still live though. Rise up, and continue to tell all the stories you told me. Then I will be with you in spirit and can help you. Your pen is your new tool now.”
This made the Meister perk up. Once again, the wise Bone Folder was right. Everyone has something to share and pass on. Meister Franz’s gifts will enable others to sustain themselves. He will keep nothing to himself until he closes his eyes for the last time, and then he will go, satisfied to have lived for his art and craft, and those that practice it.
[Do you still have your first bone folder? Did it help guide you in your career? Was it as wise and snarky?]
|My first bone folders: The top given to me when I started in this field as a|
work-study student at Conservation and Preservation at Johns Hopkins University Library in 1981.
The bottom when I began my apprenticeship at the Kunstbuchbinderei Dietmar Klein in Gelsenkirchen, Germany in 1985.
Franz Weiße (1878-1952) was one of the most noted German binders of the first half of the 20th century. He grew up as the son of a policeman and began his apprenticeship at age 14 as was traditional. According to Fröde (Franz Weisse, 1952) and the obituary that appeared in Das Falzbein (Vol 5, Nr. 3, 1952), his apprenticeship took place in a trade bindery in which boxes of all sorts and picture framing were part of the daily flow of work in addition to binding of hymnals, notebooks, and the like. When not working on what needed to be done, he was encouraged to follow his own interests including working on his own designs, drawing, binding, where he was described as willful. Following his apprenticeship he spent his journeyman years wandering throughout Germany to work in a wide variety of binderies, many of them referenced in his "fairy tale." His first attempt at enrolling in an arts & crafts school did not go well as they pushed a curriculum based on technical proficiency and traditional design, whereas he was more innovative, also described as willful. His relationship with Hans Dannhorn who taught finishing there grew into a friendship over the years and opened doors for him, at Hübel & Denck in Leipzig where he worked as a fine binder in their extra-binding division. During this time, he was drawn to the ideals of the English arts & crafts movement as exemplified by William Morris. In 1903, he became teacher at the school in [Wuppertal] Elberfeld where he taught all levels of binding, but also himself took classes in drawing to further develop his skills. His favorite students were those more "mature" ones working towards their Meister, something that had again become required in order to open one's own bindery and train apprentices. Weiße it is revealed never formally completed his apprenticeship or journeyman certificates...
In 1905, he followed the director of the school in Elberfeld to Hamburg that was in the process of reorganizing its arts & crafts school, and Weiße became the chair of the bookbinding program. He was to remain their until 1942 when he retired... During his tenure, he developed what became to be known as the Hamburg style and among his students were Ignatz Wiemeler (who taught for those in US Fritz Eberhardt, Gerhard Gerlach, and Kurt Londenberg, the latter teacher of Frank Mowery among others) and Heinrich Lüers were his students among other, and many went on to lead the bookbinding programs, with Wiemeler Weiße's successor in Hamburg and Lüers in Magdeburg. The latter went on to write one of the most comprehensive binding manuals in the German tradition.
In addition to teaching, Weiße was a founding member of the Meister der Einbandkunst (along with his friend and mentor Dannhorn among others) and was co-editor of Der Buchbinderlehrling, THE journal for bookbinding apprentices where he wrote under his own name and the pseudonym Schlaghammer ([paper]-beating hammer, something he had to learn to do as an apprentice). In 1942 he became co-editor of Das Deutsche Buchbinderhandwerk, successor to the Allgemeiner Anzeiger für Buchbindereien. He was also the author of several manuals on marbling, including Die Kunst des Marmorierens oder Die Herstellung von Buchbinder-Buntpapieren mit Wasserfarben auf schleimhaltigen Grund (1940), translated as The Art of Marbling by Richard J.Wolfe (Bird & Bull, 1980),& Mein Kampf mit der Ochsengalle (My Struggle with Oxgall, 1938), and Der Handvergolder im Tageswerken und Kunstschaffen (The Finisher in Daily Work and While Creating Art, 1951).
Like all binders and teachers of his era, Weiße, Lüers, Wagner, Dorfner ... worked in a system where the schools and organizations of all kind were ideologically controlled by the Nazi party to include the indoctrination of students, including expressing that ideology through their work. In his introduction to The Art of Marbling Wolfe speaks to that aspect as well. Der Buchbinderlehrling was certainly full of this indoctrination as the trade-schools were charged with developing well rounded individuals including subjects like "social studies" beyond the specific trade. Published in 1942, I expected "Das kluge Falzbein" (The Wise Bone Folder) to include such references, but was pleasantly pleased that it did not. Biographies of binders such as Dorfner and Weiße who were active during this time, most written in the 1950s, do not address this period except in the most general terms and often with references to bombed-out workshops, and certainly do include images of works expressing Nazi ideology. How strongly individuals identified with this ideology is not always discernible. It could have been accommodation in order to feed a family, or pure opportunism and careerism. Otto Dorfner is interesting in this regard as he was one of the favorites (see also Hitler's Bookbinder about Frieda Thiersch), stayed in Weimar in the Soviet Occupations Zone / DDR after the war, and continued to serve his masters with his work. Lüers' Das Fachwissen des Buchbinders appeared in multiple editions both during and after, and Vom Buchbinderlehrling zum Buchbindemeister (1941) published by the Reichsinnungsverband des Buchbinderhandwerks gives a sense of this. It is interesting to see how those references were expunged in post-war editions. Another example was Zechlin's Soldaten Werkbuch für Freizeit und Genesung (1943), in which the title was changed on the binding only to Jungens... More towards bottom here.
A thank you to Karen Hanmer for her contributions to making my translation of the tale better.