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Man vs. Machine. Discuss...

Posted: 2016-02-26 08:39


Here is a letter submitted by one David Frean Esq., (The Society of Bookbinders Newsletter. No.2 August, 2005), which I found very interesting reading, reference the seemingly ever present discourse on the comparison of quality between hand and machine production.

Dear Ed,
David Pye, in his book, " The Nature and Art of Workmanship " (CUP 1968, Facsimile Herbert Press 1995), has some interesting things to say on why hand wrought precision is preferred to machine perfection. He makes comparison between the workmanship of risk and the workmanship of certainty. Machines are used to minimise risk. Once machines are properly set up, the workmanship is consistent, and relatively failure free. In hand bookbinding, however, the risk rises exponentially as the final stages of finishing take place, and the risk is even greater when the material being worked upon is of intrinsic value. The pleasure in seeing and handling a well-crafted, handwrought article arises not only from the merits of the item itself, but also from the knowledge it represents a skilled performance. It is the same pleasure one can get from listening to a top musician, or from watching a top athlete in action.

David Pye also says that it is often the very small irregularities in good handwrought work that add richness and pleasing diversity that is lacking in a bland machine-made object. I once watched a skilled bricklayer building a wall with blue engineering bricks, and was amazed to see how carefully he chose and placed each brick. He explained that the so called " blue " bricks incorporated random patches of other colours - reds, yellows, browns and blacks - and that it was only by careful matching that a pleasing result could be achieved where the touches of other colours added richness to the overall blue tone of the wall. Similarly, it is the minute variations in gold tooling by hand that makes it more appealing to the eye, rather than the regulated appearance of machine blocked gold work.

These days, mechanised book production seems to be so driven by cost factors, that machine perfection has largely been supplanted by mere machine uniformity. New books often do not open flat, rapidly disintegrate if subjected to much use; whereas handwrought precision creates volumes which are not just visually pleasing, but are a pleasure to handle with an innate durability.


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