Martha Little: After five years of somehow not getting around to it (I had it in sheets and meant to bind it first, etc. etc.), I just read Cathleen Baker’s From the Hand to the Machine. In case any of you have similar excuses, just forget about them and read the book. It’s fascinating, readable and just an amazing work of scholarship. Almost every page held either information I hadn't read about before at all, or new aspects of things I'd thought I knew all about. There were innumerable revelations about the causes of familiar details I’ve observed in 19th c. book leaves that made reading the book continually surprising and exciting to me. And even with the density of sometimes quite complicated information, Baker somehow manages to explain things simply and clearly. I now want everyone I know to read this book. Posted to GBW listserv on May 1, 2016. Martha Little
Library Conservator, UC Berkeley
Alice McClintock: "Cathleen Baker's book From the Hand to the Machine is a comprehensive study of nineteenth-century papermaking, describing both historical techniques and the care and conservation of nineteenth-century papers. From the Hand to the Machine draws on Baker's forty years of experience as both a paper conservator and educator. Baker hopes that her book might prove accessible and useful to paper conservators, those involved in the preservation of cultural heritage more broadly, and those wishing to obtain a foundational understanding of papermaking technologies, processes, and history. Baker writes, "it is often easy to dismiss paper as merely the support material for a variety of mediums that comprise the image or words" (94). Baker's work is predicated upon the belief that paper should not be judged as just support material in the study of book history, but as a medium worthy of its own study.
Baker begins her book with a broad survey of American papermaking history; the opening chapter, "Development of the Paper Industry in the United States, 1690–1900," is a short introduction to the papermaking history of America. She moves through the book systematically, writing on the various stages in the papermaking process, linking these stages to the more expansive topics of printmaking history and conservation challenges and decision-making.
Baker's documentation of the papermaking process is written in an absorbing and accessible tone. Each step in the nineteenth-century papermaking process—from rag collection to the use of papers in the print shop—is delineated clearly, with helpful illustrations accompanying these descriptions. These chapters give one a foundational understanding of papermaking technologies, and Baker offers the reader a thorough description of these technologies. Building upon these sections, Baker then links these technologies to the history and workings of nineteenth-century print shops: she describes the hand and machine presses of the era, with a focus on printing techniques—relief printing, intaglio, etching, engraving, and so forth—that were popular at the time. The wealth of material in these particular sections is welcome, but it suffers somewhat from Baker's organizational strategy. The material in question would perhaps be easier to digest if the one chapter devoted to presses and printing techniques was broken up into separate sections.
Her final chapter, "Conservation of Nineteenth-Century Paper and Mediums," ties Baker's investigation of nineteenth-century papermaking to contemporary conservation practice; this chapter in particular is invaluable to any professional in the book and paper conservation field, whether working in an archive, library, or museum. Baker provides the reader with a necessarily complex description of paper and its deterioration/aging process (including chemical formulas for each major process), as well as a detailed account of addressing problems and particular conservation challenges as they arise, according to the type of material that must be used.
The content and organization of the appendices are worth remarking upon. Baker groups some of the more technical and specific aspects of paper conservation into several sections, and these work as a way to supplement material provided in the main body of the book. She also devotes an appendix to a more detailed description of other print and manuscript materials, specifically papyrus and vellum. Baker's appendices would prove helpful to those working with multimedia books or manuscripts, and she also provides a glossary that is a helpful resource in understanding the specifics of this technical material.
The one area where I found that there was some material lacking was in Baker's use of American paper as examples. There is little elaboration on the use of these examples and the way in which they connect to broader topics in American social history. To those interested in papermaking history, such a link would be welcome, especially to those just developing an interest in such history. The brief overview of the American papermaking industry at the beginning of the book is general at best, and one does not necessarily acquire a complete understanding of the industry during its development in the nineteenth century. It seems that in describing the American papermaking industry, Baker dwells too much on the generalities of the industry and processes and situations that apply to the Western world in total, rather than sharpening her focus to look at the American situation specifically. Although she does provide some supplemental material in the appendix, "Contemporary Accounts of Papermaking by Hand and Machine," this material might serve to contextualize the papermaking processes and be better suited to the main body of the book. More information on the social and political situation in nineteenth-century America would be welcome, as it would give more historical context to the otherwise well-documented papermaking processes and production methods.
Baker's book is a thorough investigation and documentation of the nineteenth-century papermaking industry and printing techniques. Her focus on conservation is invaluable, and should prove useful for anyone interested in the conservation process, although at times the complexity of the description can be daunting. Lacking, perhaps, is a more detailed discussion of the papermaking industry as it applied to the American situation. Regardless, From the Hand to the Machine is an accessible and engaging reference work, which anyone interested in papermaking should consult." Papers of the Bibliographical Society of Canada 51, no. 1 (Spring 2013): 145–147.
Elizabeth Adams: “The slightly wordy title of this book seemed more apposite having read each one of its 400–odd pages. Knowledge has been squeezed into this book as if with the aid of one of the hand-presses discussed in the latter chapters. This is by no means a criticism, as the text contains a harvest of meticulous research, historical accounts, and practical advice, all of which are imparted by the author with enthusiasm and an obvious dedication to the subject.
Cathleen A. Baker demonstrates an extensive knowledge of nineteenth century paper-making materials and processes, as well as the various different printing technologies of the time, and the conservation of works on paper in modern times.…
Using extensive examples and meticulous research Baker helps to deflate a recurrent myth: that paper made by hand out of rag pulp is necessarily of a higher quality than paper made by machine using wood pulp.…Whether read from cover to cover or dipped into as a work of reference, there is much in Baker’s latest tome to capture the interest of anyone involved with paper, whether as producer, historian, conservator, curator, enthusiast or simply as humble reader.” Rare Books Newsletter 92 (July 2012): 16.
Laurel Davis: “Baker’s book revolves around the innovations occurring in the paper and printing industries in nineteenth-century America, but the scope of the work is actually broader. Because her chosen time frame is one that involved much change and development, and because her knowledge is so deep and broad, Baker looks backward in time and discusses the tried and true techniques that were still being used in early nineteenth-century America and then moves smoothly into the developing technologies. It is a hefty task, and she pulls it off in a seemingly effortless way, imparting a surprisingly comprehensive history of papermaking and printing.
In terms of audience, Baker straddles the fine line between being accessible to a beginner and interesting and informative to a veteran. As a novice in the field of special collections, I found the book to be a well-written and entertaining introduction to the world of paper and papermaking as well as to the world of printing. Some of the discussions of chemical processes and reactions were beyond my ken and interest (and these are exactly what would make the book worthwhile for someone beyond beginner status), but I found it simple enough to pick up the basics. My purpose in reading the book was to gain a basic understanding of the papermaking process and to have a better sense of the types of paper in our collection [Special Collections, Boston College Law School], which includes many nineteenth-century legal books and documents. It filled that need perfectly.…
I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of papermaking and printing and particularly to curators and conservators who are working with paper materials created in the United States during this time frame. It is tremendously well-written, well-organized, and well-cited work that will be a standard reference for me for years to come.” RBM: A Journal of Rare Books, Manuscripts, and Cultural Heritage 13, no. 1 (Spring 2012): 64–66.
Gary Frost: “This is a classic exposition of a technology and practice of cultural transmission. It is also an adventure across an expanse of change and intended and unintended consequence. Through it all, Baker’s distinctive voice guides the reader.
The focus is on the nineteenth century when American papermakers found themselves in a vortex of market expansion and industrial enterprise. Along with other trades of printing and binding they responded with surprising innovations. Automation and industrialization of papermaking resulted in quantities and qualities of paper previously unachievable. Mass media as well as whole sectors of material and artistic culture flourished with new papers. It was a fabulous period of achievement and as Baker states in her introduction, ‘There is nothing inherently inferior about paper made on machines….’ This book is liberated from narrow admiration for handmade paper.
Another focus of this book is on ‘common papers and mediums.’ Baker’s premise that the ‘average or typical’ should be distinguished proves itself as the book progresses and we start to recognize familiar paper and medium types and their typical composites….In addition, the author presents the historical and technical information in clear and pragmatic terms. One of Baker’s intentions is to enable practitioners and curators to distinguish the stable from vulnerable materials in collections so that they may allocate efficiently their conservation resources….
[Baker] clearly states, ‘This [conservation] information is not intended to be used as recipes for treatment, nor should any, and certainly not all of these steps, be viewed as essential.’ Instead of a methods manual, Baker offers a manual of intentions positioned in terms of chemical and physical influences on paper graphics and parsed in the language of options to stabilize and protect objects, rather than change them: ‘…no invasive treatment should ever be considered mandatory.’ Baker explains that paper is a thin and porous material that reacts quickly. Strong capillary and evaporation forces can suddenly take over. The various mediums ride out these dramas with un-reversible visual, chemical, and physical changes. Surprises are everywhere. They lurk in familiar routine; pre-testing can be deceptive. This is such an honest and refreshing understanding….
Wow! What a treat and what an education; this work is an unforgettable and continuing experience. The reader is guided not only by Baker’s voice but also by her invitation to directly assimilate a lifetime career of exploration of graphic works on paper.” Excerpted with permission from Hand Papermaking 26, no. 2 (Winter 2011): 43–45. © 2011 by Hand Papermaking, Inc. (www.handpapermaking.org) All rights reserved.
Randy Silverman: “From the Hand to the Machine represents a tour de force in the connoisseurship of paper as a physical object during its least understood period of production: the transition from handcraft to the modern machine age. The work’s groundbreaking complexity helps illustrate why machine-made paper, despite its ubiquitous presence in museums, archives and research libraries, has traditionally been underappreciated when compared with handmade paper. Through an exhaustive analysis of American production methods, Dr. Cathleen Baker reveals the simple truth that paper produced during the industrialization is abundantly rich in handwork, experimentation, and variety, and deserves closer scrutiny.
Baker’s text sheds light on numerous machine-milled mysteries such as the reason some sections of a printed and bound nineteenth century book appear reasonably bright and robust while others immediately following are much softer and darker brown. The solution to this riddle lies in nineteenth century paper mill practices necessitated by the use of gelatin sizing, which putrefies rapidly at room temperature, especially in the summer. Gelatin produced for vat sizing on a Monday or a Tuesday included a little alum sizing on a Monday or a Tuesday included a little alum and worked well as evidenced by the book’s bright paper following 100–200 years of natural aging. However, as increasing amounts of alum and white vitriol (zinc sulfate) were added to preserve the gelatin as the work week progressed, me sizing became far less effective and considerably more acidic. Paper sized on a Friday or a Saturday produced sheets that could discolor disastrously over time, yet when printed in the day proved indistinguishable from Monday’s paper.
The author brings an extraordinary depth of knowledge to this demanding topic. Currently the senior paper conservator at the University of Michigan Library, Baker has previously taught paper conservation at the Art Conservation Department of Buffalo State College and earned her doctorate practicing papermaking, letterpress printing, punch cutting, and bookbinding. Her definitive biography on paper historian Dard Hunter, By His Own Labor (2000), was completed while living for several years in Hunter’s Chillicothe, Ohio home and having unprecedented access to his archive of 10,000 letters, books, and photographs provided by his grandson, Dard Hunter Ill. Baker brings to the present study a rarefied expertise gleaned through critical examination of tens of thousands of paper artifacts over the past forty years combined with extensive hands-on experience. The result is a discerning blend of numerous threads of paper history and conservation practice melded into a cohesive work that is a modern American classic.
While this edition could use more refined editing in places, the text is carefully linked with over 500 illustrations that visually underscore nuances of the technical points discussed. Baker moves beyond the subtleties of nineteenth-century paper manufacture to address paper as a printing, printmaking, writing, drawing, and painting medium. She concludes that greater restraint is called for in the conservation of machine-made paper artifacts, a thesis of grave importance to current practitioners and future generations of aficionados. This work should facilitate the reevaluation of this nation’s paper legacy and establish Baker as our leading light on the topic.” SHARP News 20, no. 4 (Autumn 2011): 8.
Timothy Barrett: “With the possible exception of the century when papermaking was invented, nothing comes close to what happened to the paper trade in the 1800s, especially in America. After eighteen continuous centuries of making paper by hand, suddenly, a tumult of inventions changed the technology forever as new mediums and new uses for old ones prompted the development of different papers. Documenting all of this innovation in one comprehensive volume seems a monumental task, but Cathleen Baker has accomplished just that in a thorough, enlightening, and orchestrated manner. From the Hand to the Machine is certain to become a standard reference for conservators, curators and librarians, collectors, and anyone else with an interest in nineteenth-century works on paper.”
Jeffrey S. Peachey: “Baker has ventured into the enormously difficult and confusing world of 19th century papermaking history, and returned to give us a book that is important, readable, scholarly and highly illustrated – over 500 photographs according to the dust jacket blurb. As the subtitle indicates, this is a book not just about 19th century paper, although roughly a third of the book deals with this topic, but it also documents 19th century printing technologies and mediums, contains chapter on the conservation, and has six appendices. This is an investigation of paper from the viewpoint of a conservator, using chemical analysis, the history of technology, art history, material culture, the history of craft, and perhaps most importantly, Baker’s personal experience, encompassing a deep, holistic understanding.…Cathleen A. Baker has written an important and accessible book. It is not only for specialists in the history of paper and books, although they will be well served to read it, but it should interest anyone who has ever touched a piece of paper and paused to consider how it was made.” “Bonefolder extras”
John Townsend: “Cathy’s book is extraordinary. As it happens, I was rereading R. Reed’s Ancient Skins when it arrived and have been struck by how much alike they are in some ways, for all their obvious differences. Both are authoritative and comprehensive but also eminently readable and endlessly fascinating. Both are on my short shelf of technical books that can be picked up and read at any time and at any length with great benefit. There is a real beauty to well done technical descriptions; rarely encountered and all the more notable for that. I think Cathy has set a very high standard for future work in scope, clarity, writing and – not least – book production.”