A couple months ago I got a bug in my brain to look again for sewn journals using lovely watercolor paper. Commercially available journals, that is. I make my own journals using whatever paper I like, but I'm always looking to see what is available.
Thanks to a helpful email from Katherine Tyrrell from Making a Mark (she lives in England) I tracked down John Purcell Paper (also in England) and started going through their online catalog of sketchbooks. There were no pictures, but that didn't matter, the journals I was interested in were made with Saunders Waterford watercolor paper, which is a paper I've worked on for years and love. The journals were sewn and had "substantial grey board" covers. And they weren't expensive—under £12.
I had only one impediment—shipping. I'd long heard stories from readers in Europe about shipping costs for supplies from the US. Now I was on the paying end.
As I "thumbed" through the electronic catalog I was convinced that the best way to "beat" the shipping was to order everything I could possible want (and afford) at one time so that shipping was spread out amongst the most "pieces."
I was soon involved in an email correspondence with Julia at John Purcell Papers. She agreed to send me a shipping estimate on my order. (Actually pretty much politely insisted, because they probably get this type of request from people unaware of the shipping costs all the time.)
Well when you have more pieces your package weight also goes up. Let's just say that my "wish list" package would cost double the cost of the items to ship. That wasn't the "economy" for which I was hoping.
I culled my list down to three sketchbooks. I resubmitted my list. Julia supplied a new shipping quote email. I called her with my credit card number and an OK. About two weeks later I had my books.
I don't have my conversion measurements list in front of me any longer so I can't tell you which "size" I got from looking at the catalog. My books are 8.25 x 11-3/8 inches. I purchased a 90 lb. and a 140 lb. of the Hot Press. I also purchased a large square book (back of the photo) that is filled with blue paper that has a laid pattern to it and is a heavy weight. I don't know what type of paper it is, but I wanted to try it. It turned out to be a darker blue than I'd expected (don't know why I expected it to be lighter in color). It will be perfect for colored pencil sketches or with luck, some gouache. (I haven't tested any of these books. I got involved in IFJM and ran out of time. Now I'm playing catch up. The blue paper book might actually be my fake journal for 2012! We'll see.)
The books arrived safely, with only a little scuffing on the spine fabric of one book, and some slight impressions on the back of another (impressions from the cardboard it was wrapped in, so it was probably stacked under something heavy during shipping).
I had wondered how they could turn out books like this for under £12. When I received them I was very happy with the books, but I could see how they keep their costs down. The cover boards have bare edges, as you can see in the detail photo. The covers and pages are cut flush. There is a protective covering on the outer surfaces of the board, but with the edges bare, the corners are going to take wear. For production, however, that means no folding of fabric, no cost of fabric etc. (The spines are fabric covered.)
I'm going to cover the corners with bookcloth before I use the books, just to minimize the wear at those points. It's a small thing and maybe, if I can get the better of "fussy Roz" I'll just let it go!
With shipping I think these books ended up costing me US$60.00 each. (Maybe it was US$70.00. It's sort of like what I've heard about childbirth—afterwards you forget the pain—so I can't give you an exact cost without digging out the receipts and that would defeat the purpose of my currently-in-progress-clear-out-the-studio-gambit).
So not a bargain by any means, but I knew that going in and I learned somethings: How they can keep their costs down (for locals) and still turn out sturdy books with great paper. How expensive shipping really is. And how, ultimately, since I know how to make books with any kind of paper that I really should just stop looking at commercially made books.
Were my hands to give out tomorrow I reckon I could still gut my way through binding a book or two every month (which is my current rate of consumption). Sure I like being efficient with batches of 10 to 15, but it's doing batches like that in the first place that has made me worry about "what ifs." Also Dick has said, if I teach him, he'll make books for me. He has a lot of skills, including fine motor skills, so that just might work. He comes from a genetic line of uncles who were woodworking at 102!
Still, I love having these books from England. Everything about the experience (except the shipping costs) was wonderful. If I go to England I'm going to stop by in person. I hope to pick up more. Then I'll just have to deal with customs!
The reality is I'm not going to stop looking at and testing commercially bound books or stop binding my own, any time soon. As with all the best adventures, you learn something about yourself when it's over!