A Matter of Honor
I think it was back in 1998~2000 when I somehow decided to make a miniature book out of scrap materials that were scattering around on my work bench. I used to spontaneously do those non-work related things just for fun or to regain focus on actual tasks I was assigned to do. I had a tiny bit of scrap leather that I dyed to antique for a job, and a small block of notepad that we made out of excess paper of blank journals that we had to bind previously. Out of those scrap materials, I bound a 2"x 3" (5cm x 7.5cm) miniature blank book with a small piece of an antique marble paper that was discarded from a book sometime ago. I still had a big enough piece of the leather left, so I also made a full leather slipcase with the same marble paper inner lining for the tiny book. I dusted the edges of the text block to make the book look older, too.. (Stupidly and meaninglessly meticulous? I know... haha..) Anyway, the bottom line is, this whole thing meant nothing other than me taking a break from work. I nonchalantly placed it on the corner of the display table the following day, behind the array of other normal-size books, and forgot about it, completely.
I was writing a reply to an email from a bookbinder friend of mine, Mihai, in the backroom yesterday when my master gingerly approached me, and asked me how much I'd want for the small book I made years ago. What small book? It took me a moment to recall what it was, and it also took me as a surprise that anyone could find it on the table, let alone wanting to purchase it.. Well, because I'd never thought of selling it, I couldn't put a price on it, needless to say. So, I asked the man who wanted to buy the tiny book how much he'd pay for it.
$25, he said. :-)
You see, I would have been more than happy to give it away because this tiny book really meant nothing to me, and it had been forgotten for over a decade in the first place. I would have given it to him because the workmanship on the tiny leather bound and slipcase isn't the greatest as it was a work of an amateur, after all, that I couldn't possibly charge him for. (I started an apprenticeship in 1997, by the way.). But, most importantly, because he liked the book. But, somehow, I got curious as to how much it would worth to him, and decided to ask him. I heard the number, 25 bucks, and he said he didn't know it was in leather, and because it was so tiny and he thought it was something like he'd find in a common gift shop or rather, he thought the price was adequate. I found myself saying no to him, then. It's totally understandable, really. In a modern world we live in, if I didn't know anything about this craft and/or the field of antiquarian books, et al, I would probably have said the same thing. It just looks like a tiny decorative object that a grandma would keep in a glass case shelf along with tiny miniature porcelain dogs and cats. But, something reflectively made me stop from giving this book to him, for free or not.
I know it's definitely NOT because I was offended by the number, or anything like that. I'm not that sort of assertive or proud S.O.B. Then, what was it? This question has been occupying my mind since he left, and I came to a conclusion that I must have instinctively felt let down by the fact this age old craft with prestigious history was actually compared to some insignificant run-of-the-mill products. I guess I just simply wanted this tiny book, whether or not it was done by the master or the amateur, to be with someone who could appreciate this craft that I love and respect.
NOTE: This man was very nice, polite and amicable. This whole thing has nothing to do with his character.
The book has since been given to a friend that I know will appreciate it.
This post was originally published on Bookbinder's Chronicle