Art binding is and always has been a craft carried on by expert workmen, who have acquired skill by years of study and practice in delicate and careful manipulation, which machinery cannot emulate or equal, and which is, after all, not so readily acquired as many would think. To produce a good and delicately finished art binding by unskilled hands or by machinery is as impossible as to produce the Medicean Venus in that way. The deft hands of the skilled craftsman cannot be dispensed with, yet there are but few connoisseurs who understand the principle of art binding. Many men and women who would be ashamed to admire a bad picture will readily admire a cheaply or inferiorly bound book.
Although it is a well recognized truism that a beautiful book, like a beautiful woman, is all the better for having a good dressmaker; yet the dress is by no means the principal consideration.
The very building of the book proper is the mainstay of its existence.
Is it a first edition of value? Then not merely the book in its entire form should be preserved without any cutting-except at the top, which should always be smoothed and gilded in order to prevent the dust, the greatest enemy of all books, from entering between the leaves-but also the advertisements and the original covers, no matter how worn or stained they may be, they are a part of the proof of the genuineness of the edition, and should be stripped from the boards, trimmed to the size of the book, mounted on paper and sewn with the end sheets to the back of the book.Ã‚
Is it an old book, stained, torn and worm-eaten, but withal costly? Then there is nothing in the entire art articleic requiring such patient skill, such nice discernment and exquisite manipulation as the proper cleaning and mending of it. The various stains must each be studied to enable the cleaner to determine the character of the remedial measures to be taken and the ever varying textures of the paper must also be taken into consideration; the different chemical baths must be given the leaves with a full understanding of their effect. The paper must be resized, torn places must be mended, worm holes filled out, new corners given the leaves; in short, new books must be made from old, unsightly things that often reach the binder half eaten away and rotted with mildew.
Is it an original manuscript, written on paper or vellum of countless sizes and shapes, that is to be bound? Then it must be dry-cleaned, cut square, pared thin around the edges and laid on and into a broad margin of paper, which is also pared off, so that the joints cause no bulky ridge in the bound book.Ã‚
In all consequent manipulation, the labors of the binder are usually divided into two branches-that of forwarding and that of finishing. Good forwarding, without which finishing is labor and skill misapplied, is more rarely met with than good finishing and is much more indispensable. A good book should not be disfigured by saw marks, but sewn on cords around the bands. It should not be cropped down or subjected to an operation that has been well termed “bleeding,” but have the edges, if left untrimmed, merely sandpapered. The cords on which the book is sewn must be laced through the boards and properly smoothed down; the headbands must be sewn on by hand; the back should be lined with a piece of good morocco, instead of with a lot of layers of tough paper, for the book is intended to be opened and read at intervals. Were it not so then the leaves might as well be glued together to preserve the shape of the book.
The paring of the leather requires a very delicate manipulation. It must be done evenly and without cutting through or lifting a piece of the grain here and there, thus leaving unsightly blotches. The leather must be left thick enough in the joint to permit hard usage of the book without breaking or cracking and yet thin enough to permit the boards a free movement on their hinges. Leather joints are also indispensable, for few papers have strength enough to last long when pasted directly over the joints. To cover a book nicely, so the leather where it is turned in will look and feel to the touch as if it were grown around the board, and to have the boards open and close with perfect freedom on their hinges, are accomplishments not always met with even in the best bindings.
But what shall we say of the finishing? Simply this: All good books must be fully planned out by one mind as to every detail of color, leather, and style of decoration, before they are taken in hand. One master mind must determine and shape all questions liable to arise as to forwarding and finishing, as to the selection of a suitable ornament and an appropriate color of leather, of paper or silk ends, and leather doublures.