While it is a very simple matter to enumerate the different steps through which a book passes, each step must be carried out very carefully and accurately, else the result will be other than first class. From the time a book is given to a binder to be put in full leather until it is completed, two months or more may elapse; depending entirely upon how much tooling is done. It is necessary that plenty of time be given the binder, in order that one process may not be too quickly followed by another. Good forwarding is absolutely necessary for good finishing. Each process should be carefully carried out, as one depends upon the other, and a serious defect in one step throws the volume out of the first class, even though the other steps be well done. In continental countries the apprenticeship system which is in vogue in all arts and crafts results in producing forwarders and finishers who have grown up in the business, so to speak. They usually begin as errand boys, in a shop, at ages from twelve years up, so that by the time they become full-fledged workmen they have spent from ten to fifteen years in becoming thoroughly familiar with every process and method in vogue at the time. They also go through a period of three or four years careful instruction, both in the shop and in technical schools, acquiring not only a technical knowledge of their own particular craft, but being instructed also in knowledge most essential to any accomplished artisan, such as the elements of design of all kinds, instruction in the historical characteristics of each particular period, and other points of a similar nature.
One sees, therefore, that the making of an accomplished workman under this system is not a matter of picking up a new occupation in the course of a few months; on the contrary, he chooses bookbinding as his life work and really grows up in its atmosphere. With us it is somewhat different; we have not yet reached the point where a young man selects an occupation or where it is selected for him in early youth, and he serves in it as an apprentice; on the other hand, change seems to be inherent in the American atmosphere. This applies to occupations of all kinds. In foreign countries a man almost never changes his occupation, and in many instances follows his fathers occupation as a matter of course. Here we see about us constant change of occupation, even after a man has spent years of his life in fitting himself for a certain line. This naturally results in less careful work in all branches of art and trade, and to a generally unsettled industrial condition. No apprenticeship system is in vogue here except to a very limited extent, so that we constantly see men and women following an occupation which they have picked up on the spur of the moment with more or less success. We have, however, a number of professional binders in this country, and these should be divided into two well-defined classes: those who earn their living by forwarding and finishing in establishments where they are employed year after year, and those who may be called semiprofessional who work more or less steadily at binding, earning part or perhaps the whole of their living thus, but who cannot be properly classified in the same category as regards skill with the professional workmen. In both classes, however, we have some exceedingly good workers, but I notice that the best of them are those who are foreign born and have therefore gone through a thorough course of training, or are, perhaps, men and women who have been able to spend years working by themselves or abroad, and have thus acquired great skill.
There is another large class, however, who have taken up binding more as a matter of interest and pleasure. In this class, also, there are some who have done exceedingly good work, but the great majority are less competent. Let us hope that the day will arrive when we will be able to include many of them in one of the other classes. Up to about fifty years ago good binding was hardly known in the United States, but with the spread of wealth and especially of the traveling habitwhich Americans have developed to such a great extentknowledge on this subject has been acquired and spread about. This has resulted in the formation of many societies whose members are interested in fine books and, as a corollary, good binding.
The greatest cause, however, of the widespread interest which exists today has been the formation of various arts and crafts societies in all parts of this country. The older ones have, in many instances, become a great power for the spread of art knowledge of all kinds, including that of bookbinding. Many of them have special schools where binding is taught. There are a number of leading publishing houses also which have departments devoted to the production of fine editions, both as regards printing and binding. Several of them have even established special departments in their commercial binderies for the purpose of producing extra-fine work. One house in particular which I have in mind, has gone to the expense of sending a student abroad for a number of years in order that he might qualify himself by instruction under the best foreign binders for the position of Director of Fine Bindings in that establishment. The Grolier Club of New York, noted for its production of finely printed books, also extended its usefulness, by establishing a special bindery under the name of the Club Bindery. This bindery, however, being solely under the control of the club, is not open to the public, as all work done there must be done for, or through one of the members. This bindery is noted for the production of uniformly beautiful work, which I believe is due, to a great extent, to the fact that the personnel comes almost entirely from France and England, where they had years of training in the best binderies.
General considerations: I have known of a number of instances where attempts have been made to begin bookbinding with incomplete or very unsatisfactory appliances. It is not possible to do first-class work with poor materials or with an incomplete outfit, though expert workers can get along and do good work with fewer appliances than the beginner. It should therefore never be attempted. It is not only unsatisfactory from the point of view of practice, but it is very discouraging to the beginner to find the best attempts result in poor worksometimes not due to any lack of ability or effort, but simply to lack of conveniences. It is better to become familiar gradually with what is and what is not needed, to accumulate tools slowly, but not to begin definite work until a somewhat complete outfit is at hand, and one has acquired by study of works on bookbinding, and by conversation with practical workers, some idea as to ways and methods. It would seem unnecessary to give advice of this kind, but, as a matter of fact, I have known of a number of instances where intelligent people have begun to work under these conditions and have as a result become discouraged unnecessarily.