How Do You Mint a Book?
by Len Augsburger, e-Gobrecht 2013 Volume 9, Issue 12 December 2013 (Whole # 107) …………
At the recent Baltimore show, Alan Weinberg stopped me in the aisle. Alan collects colo- nials, early coppers, and American historical medals - I haven’t converted him to Liberty Seated material, but anyone who has seen his large cents will appreciate why he is quite happy with his current interests! Anyway, Alan asked me if I had ever seen a book binding signed by Christian Gobrecht. I hadn’t seen one, but I knew they existed. A short biography written by Gobrecht’s grand- son, appearing in The Numismatist in 1911, men- tioned that Gobrecht had engraved “bookbinders dies for embossing morocco.”Needless to say, at this point, Alan had 110% of my attention.
It turns out that decorative book bindings are not so different from coins. You need a die, a press, and some leather – that’s it!
However, while coin dies are almost always incuse (a reverse image on the die brings up a positive image on the coin), book- binders dies can come either way – either stamped or embossed.
In stamping, the die or punch is pressed into the leather so as to create an image in blind, as the die creates an impression in the leather. Embossing is more like striking a coin – the image is cut intaglio into a block die, then the whole piece is pressed into the leather so as to bring the im- age up in relief.
Bookbinders started with screw presses, just like the coiners, and then moved to a lever press in 1832, a few years before the U.S. Mint also evolved from the screw press.
Alan directed me towards Neil Musante’s ta- ble, where not one but two such books were for sale. Neither Alan or I had any idea what they were worth.
I snapped up the nicer of the two for $75 and left one for someone else to find. These two books sported embossed leather bindings, and pleasantly a book about these bindings was published in 1990 by Edwin Wolf, long associated with the Library Com- pany in Philadelphia. Even more pleasantly, the Wolf book was already in my library.
This particular binding is #170 in the Wolf catalog and was first used in New York for an 1831 edition of Shake- speare, and employed as late as 1852 in New Orleans. 1831 predates Gobrecht’s official association with the Mint which commenced in 1836. I suspect the die may have deteriorated over time.
The book I purchased was an 1848 edition of Sparks’ biography, and the cover (illustrated here) seems lightly impressed com- pared to the il- lustration in the Wolf catalog.
To me it is like the difference between a Liberty Seated quarter struck in the 1840s and one in the 1870s. The ear- lier coins, espe- cially when well hammered, show greater depth than the mass produced work of the later coins.
If there are any mechanical en- gineers out there with access to 3 – dimensional imaging equipment, measuring the depth of relief of these coins would make an interesting research project. In the meantime, I’ll be on the lookout for additional and “well struck” specimens – the Wolf catalog lists four or five dies created by Gobrecht to emboss leather covers. If I get really lucky one of these books will include numismatic content!