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6646 Hollywood Boulevard
Hollywood, CA, 90028
United States

(213) 223-6921

Stephanie Gibbs, a bookbinder in Los Angeles, CA, offers edition and fine binding, book conservation, custom boxes, and paper repair for contemporary and historic books, manuscripts, and documents to clients throughout California.

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written in the heavens

Stephanie Gibbs

There are projects that happen quickly, and there are projects that gestate for years.

In 2009, I started the rebinding process of the 1929 Nonesuch Press edition of A Plurality of Worlds, written Bernard de Fontenelle / trans John Glanvill. 

I've always had an interest in cosmology and early science, and Wikipedia nicely summarizes the text: Conversations on the Plurality of Worlds (French: Entretiens sur la pluralité des mondes) is a popular science book by French author Bernard le Bovier de Fontenelle, published in 1686. It offered an explanation of the heliocentric model of the Universe, suggested by Nicolaus Copernicus in his 1543 work De revolutionibus orbium coelestium. The book is Fontenelle's most famous work and is considered to be one of the first major works of the Age of Enlightenment.

The Nonesuch Press edition, from 1929, was limited edition letterpress printed, and housed in a limp vellum binding, in a green paper slipcase with gold stars. The edition was large enough that I purchased a copy sometime in 2002, for not very much money, and felt little hesitation in changing out the binding.

My earliest efforts with a new binding were in 2009, when I disbound the original book, washed the slipcase paper, dyed the white vellum wrapper to indigo blue using Sennelier Tinfix Design Silk Dye, and made a shibori-style crumpled dyed endpaper. After basic preparations, I decided that the effects weren't what I wanted, and left everything in a state of stasis.

Move forward to 2016. With Gibbs Goes West / 2015, the blue vellum wrapper (which was, of course, still stapled to the drying board) was discarded, but the textblock (still unsewn) was transported across the country, and the California Chapter of the Guild of Bookworkers had an open call for entries for an autumn exhibition. It was (a) a deadline and (b) an excuse to finally finish this project.

I knew what the endpapers would be: the exquisite map of the heavens, Planisphærium cœleste, by the Dutch cartographer Frederik de Wit, in the 17th century. It was printed onto a Twinrocker handmade paper; the proportions of the map were slightly longer than the book, so there's a fold-out element to the flyleaf at both the front and the back of the book.

The bookbinding is influenced by star charts and by the binding which I did several years ago for The Confidence Man: goatskin leather in green, gray, navy, and white, pared thin, pastewashed with mica, and punched into eighth-inch circles using a Japanese punch. The dots were laid out on a piece of paper for basic structure, and the design modified slightly as they were transferred to the full royal-blue calfskin binding. I was less concerned with an accurate rendering of the night sky, than with using the colors to create both abstract and actual shapes that the eye sees as it gazes upward in the dark.