J. Mark Bertrand
April 16, 2009
Originally uploaded by J. Mark Bertrand.
I’ve been an admire of Mark’s photostream on flickr for a while now. Not only does he have an eye for leather, but the presentation of his collection is sumptuous, the photographs are a delight to view. So I’ve invited Mark Bertrand, the author of ‘Rethinking World View’ for a talk about leathers, books, bags, and the Bible.
Thank you Mark for coming by.
D: So how did you start the idea for Bible design?
M: I’m a writer and bibliophile with a special interest in typography, and also an avid reader of the Bible. So it was inevitable that all these interests would come together at some point. Here’s how it happened: I posted a small group of essays about Bible design and binding to my site jmarkbertrand.com. Over the course of several years, they drew more traffic than anything else I’d written — and along with the attention came a flood of e-mail correspondence, people asking an unimaginable variety of questions, most of which I couldn’t answer. Knowing there were readers out there who shared my interest, I decided in 2007 to move those essays to a blog of their own, thinking I might add one or two from time to time. I expected some interest, but nothing like what ended up happening. Turns out there are a lot more people fascinated by Bible design and binding than I ever realized, and quite a few of them visit the site regularly, contributing to the “community” feel. I can’t speak for anyone else, but I’ve certainly learned a lot!
Have you thought about writing on the subject of other leather goods? How did you discover the Tusting bag? Who makes better leathers, the Brits or the Yanks?
M: I try to keep the focus on Bible Design Blog fairly narrow, although I’ve written a little about notebooks. Some day I might start a new blog devoted to leather goods in general — it’s a thought I keep coming back to. The subject fascinates me, needless to say.
In grad school, I bought my first Tusting bag, though I had no idea that’s what it was, since they made it for Levenger. Nice leather and a good twill lining. That replaced a soft, grainy messenger style bag I’d been using, which I still love in spite of its impractically narrow shoulder strap and nubby, unlined interior, which had a habit of shedding on my books.
The Tusting bag I photographed recently is a new acquisition, not as nice as the old one, but a slim and practical design. I happened to by in Cheyenne, Wyoming, the home of Sierra Trading Post, so I stopped by their warehouse, where the clerk kindly had all the bags I requested brought out for inspection. It was a lot of fun, but I’m afraid that bag only sees infrequent use — along with all the others — now that I’ve got the Glaser Designs Transaction Bag.
Vintage leather goods have always interested me, especially the differences in skins and construction methods compared to today. As an example, I’ve posted some photos of vintage wallets compared to contemporary ones. It’s remarkable how thin the old ones were. Most of today’s breast pocket wallets create a lump under the jacket — they’re big and heavy — but the old ones are skinny and light. Of course the leather tends to be more interesting, too, and the type of skin is usually stamped on. In a blind test, I don’t think many people would choose the new “luxury” $100 wallet to the $10 old stock equivalent. Which is not to say I don’t like today’s leather goods, just that I think there’s much inspiration to be had from the past.
As far as rivalries between Brits and Yanks go, I’d better not comment. If a Smythson or Swaine Adeney Brigg delivery van broke down in my neighborhood, it’s a sure thing some looting would result. At the same time, there are craftsmen like Myron Glaser in the States making things of unparalleled beauty.