Thursday, October 30, 2014

Hornbook Publication Part 2: The "Latten Frame".

This is a continuation from my last entry.  In this installment, we deal with the brass batten, or what was called the "Latten" frame.  It is essentially four strips of brass which are nailed over the horn covering which was intended to protect the "slip sheet", or printed paper sheet upon which was printed the Alphabet, Vowel Phonetic listings, the "Exorcism" ("in the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost..."), and the Lord's Prayer.  This was what was used to teach kids how to read, and to an extent, to write.

The Latten Frame held the horn covering in place over the slip sheet.  For better or for worse, it provided at least some immediate protection for the paper slip sheet, enough to see it's owner through the first couple years of school.  However, nice as horn is, and yes, these days a bit costy,  they have not seemed to endure the test of time well.  In all fairness, the horn used was a boiled and delaminated piece, probably not from the best horn stock.  They were very thin, which I believe was relatively weak and prone, as the organic substances of animal horn changes with age, to both warp and discolour.  I have seen 250 year old specimens with remnant horn still attached, which looked like it had cigarette burns and large areas of amber discolouration.  The sheet beneath was unidentifiable. In all cases, the wood was untreated, and suffered accordingly.  But then, these were never intended to last more than a couple seasons, certainly not centuries!!

I wanted mine to last several generations, intact. I have been impressed with the longevity and general survival of 18th century lacquer decoupage techniques with furniture, and opted to use this technique on my Hornbooks, seeing as this method of sealing is at least about as old as the latter era Hornbooks themselves.  I would not expect that the time and attention needed for decoupaging would ever have been invested in a Hornbook . . . but it should have.  I don't believe that the kids, parents, and makers of Hornbooks in the 1690s would have ever had a clue that we would be reproducing them, examining them, commenting or critiquing them.  If they would have, you best be sure, we would have excellent examples today!  The craftsmen of the 18th century were brilliant, and very precise.  And they would be amused at us, with our obsession with antiques and early Americana.

Ahh, but enough with the waxing historic: on this day we cut, size, and install our frame.  We also apply and cure what will serve as our "horn": layers of finely sanded lacquer.  

In this process, I use several layers of masking tape to build up a "pour area" over the slip sheet once it's glued and dried to the finished Battledore Paddle.  Now, the paddle itself has several layers of finely sanded Shellac.  After it's final sanding, the slip sheet is glued in place.  Then tape is applied around the slip sheet, and one layer of lacquer is applied.  It dries, bounded by the tape surrounding it.  It dries, is sanded, then another coating is applied.  This process occurs over again, each layer wet-sanded.  Soon, sufficient layers are built up, and the sheet begins to look like Isinglass, which was an alternative to Horn in the 18th century.

The tape is removed, with a remarkably authentic covering over the slip-sheet, as seen in the photo below:

The layer of my "horn" cover is about 0.25 mm.  Layering lacquer within a custom confinement area, waiting for each layer to be dry enough to wet sand, takes better part of a day.

Another close-up, this time at the top of the board.

This part is done, or is at least in the latter phases of being done as we prepare to cut the brass lattens.

This is the device used to cut the 3/8 inch strips of brass to size.  Letterpress Printers will immediately recognise this as a table-top slug cutter.  Mine is from the 1870s or 1880s, manufactured by Golding, who made the Pearl presses.

There is an adjustable back stop on the slug cutter.  Set once for each side of the frame, and run the brass through.  When the lattens are sized, it may be found that they need to be filed for a precision corner fitting.

Here is the guillotine-like cutting blade.

The frame lattens are being sized and Cut.

The lattens are laid out atop the "horn" cover and checked for size and balance.  Inevitably a small portion of edge margin of the slip sheet comes near, or touches the brass frame.  Looks like a pretty good fit.  Let's run with it.'

A top-left and bottom right view.  Not a bad fitting, but the cut side edges need a bit of treatment to make them smoother.  

These are the tools of the trade for hammering brass lattens.  

Once sized, each latten is marked for position and drilled using a hand drill.  These will be the brass nail holes.  After drilling, the burs are removed.  Notice that each latten has a marking.  "B" means "Bottom".

Now the right and left side lattens are nailed into place.  The top and bottom lattens must be trimmed a bit on the ceramic stone.

The top and bottom lattens are finely trimmed to a precision fit.

The top and bottom lattens are installed, and there you have it: the completed Hornbook!

A close-up of the finished Latten Frame Hornbook.

The wood used for this particular Hornbook is Poplar.  I opted not to stain this one, so it would retain the natural "honey" look.  I also have two walnut and one cherry wood stained.  These will be featured in future blog installments.  

That's it for now, folks!  Prices for these Latten Frame hornbooks TBA.  Look for both the Latten Framed and Non Framed Hornbooks appearing on our Etsy Shop.

And as always, Good Providence in all your Endeavors!


*** Addendum ***

Wow, here we are, October of 2015, just about a year after this blog entry was first written!  I thought it was high time to post the price these "Latten" brass framed Hornbooks are being sold for: $75.00 plus $6.00 shipping, or $81.00.  So far these colonial relics are being used by re-enactors and educators, the latest being used in a lecture environment.  I have been making these per order, one at a time, taking about three weeks to make each order. Up to this point I have been using clear pine and poplar, all in their natural honey finish.

I have not as yet placed Hornbooks on the Paper Wren Press Etsy Shop, but orders can be placed via e-mail.  Post to:  Orders via PayPal, please add $3.00.



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