Very sad to hear today that Bernard Middleton has died, aged 94. There will be many obituaries over the next few days, longer and more informative that this, because he was a major figure in British bookbinding for the past 60 years, and had a wide influence on the whole world of the book through his writing and research.
My contact with him was brief but profound. First, I attended his ‘master class’ on leather book repairs at Bolt Court in London in the mid 1980s. At one point he completed a two-colour headband (about an inch long) in less than 5 minutes, explaining all the while how it had been done ‘in the trade’ in the 18th century, though then always by women. His theme was always ‘economy of effort’.
Years later I found myself bidding against him at auctions of old bookbinding tools at Dominic Winter’s saleroom near Cirencester. He usually prevailed, holding his hand up throughout the bidding until he either won the lot or decided some idiot was clearly prepared to pay too much. He once told me ‘you can never have too many tools’ – he meant finishing tools, and of course he was right as regards his specialism of restoring antiquarian books where having the right tool to match the style of any book from 1500 to 2000 was pretty important.
To say he will be sorely missed is a cliche that in this case happens to be absolutely apt.