HAT book-binding is an ancient, honorable, and esthetic employment, will not be gainsaid by any intelligent student of industrial art, and yet it is only within the last quarter of a century, that it has begun to receive the attention to which it is deemed entitled by that small, but constantly recruited band of enthusiasts, who delight in fine books fitly bound, and who for this and other idiosyncrasies in regard to books, have been mercilessly satirized ever since the days of that ironical old scribe Sebastian Brant. Prior to this comparatively recent period, writers, both here and abroad, taking their cue, it may be, from the crusty author of ” The Ship of Fooles ” and his equally caustic translator, aiderr and abettor, Alexander Barclay, Priest, appear to have regarded the topic as a trivial one, and of too little general interest to justify the expenditure upon it, of even a modicum of their energies and talents ; but of late the times have vastly changed in this respect, and the art which is to so great an extent preservative of the Art of Printing – for without a binding the leaves of a book would speedily part company – has now a surfeit of notoriety. Those past masters in Bibliopegy – the Eves, Le Gascon, Padeloup Le Jeune and the various members of the numerous and talented family of Deromes, would, I fancy, start in amazement from their long, dreamless sleep, could they hear the paeans now chanted in praise of the handicraft they carried to such perfection, in their quiet eyries aloft amid the cooing and circling doves, under the eaves of the steep-pitched roofs, of the old city of Paris.
Few authors, little or great, since the days of that archetype of bibliophiles of loved and revered memory, Richard de Bury, have shown themselves possessed of a love of well-made books, or manifested any concern in regard to the manner in which their lucubrations were printed, bound, and presented to the public gaze. Apparently they regarded the matter with indifference, if not with a feeling akin to contempt – an altogether unnecessary painting of the fair lily of literature, which had budded and blossomed under their fostering care. This attitude on their part must strike even the casual observer, as being a rather short-sighted one, to say the least. Most writers, I have been led by observation to conclude, are not free from a touch of egotism and believe sincerely that ” the thoughts that breathe and words that burn” which flow from the tips of their fluent pens, deserve, and will achieve lasting fame. But how, pray, can they be transmitted to posterity, if printed upon paper that has latent within it the seeds of decay, and encased in machine-made bindings too unsubstantial, to withstand the gentlest usage for any protracted length of time, much less the rough-and-ready treatment that is quite certain to be their future lot; for few people know, or are solicitous to know, how to care properly for books and bestow upon them the zealous guardianship they require, in order to ensure them a ripe and serene old age. If the books of the ancients had been of as perishable a nature, as are the majority of those the modern press puts forth, the perennial fountains, from which we now draw the wisdom and learning of past ages, would have ceased to flow at their very sources, and we should have in lieu thereof, only the scanty and turbid rills of oral tradition and legendary lore. It is only too true that, never since printing was invented has there been a time, when books, as a rule, were in all respects, and not alone in the matter of binding, to so great an extent as they are to-day, the “larcenies from future ages” that Lesne, the poet bookbinder of the eighteenth century, declared poorly bound books to be.
For this state of things, the typographers are responsible. A decline in the art of printing, is inevitably followed by a decadence in the arts related thereto. A fine exterior presupposes a well made book; for as has been well said: ” The binding is the robe of honour in which we insert a noble book, and upon the binding, we impress its external insignia of rank and merit.” The conclusion which forces itself upon the mind of every one interested in the matter is this: that bookmaking in most of its branches, as practised with varying degrees of skill and taste for three centuries after the great invention of movable type, is to-day as completely a lost art as is that of Oiron pottery or the enamel of Limoges.
” Then a book was still a book,
Where a wistful man might look,
Finding something througth the whole
Beating – like a human soul
In that growth of day by day
When to labor was to pray,
Surely something passed
To the patient page at last.
Something that one perseves,
Vaguely present in the leaves,
Something from the workers lent,
Something mute – but eloquent.”
Truth and poetry are equally blended in these graceful lines of Austin Dobson, and now let us read the words penned by that scholar and bibliophile Richard GrantWhite, a quarter of a century ago, concerning the state of the arts of printing and book-binding in this great, free and enlightened Republic. “When I say that the art of printing and of book-making in general has not advanced in New-York, or even in the United States, within the last fifty years, I may expect a chorus of protest, in which I fear the voice of Henry Houghton, of the Riverside Press, may be heard. But I do say distinctly, and without reserve or qualification, that New-York could and did produce a handsomer book fifty years ago than she does (whatever her ability) now, and I hold myself ready to prove this by an example before a jury of experts in the art of book-making. This example is a copy of the Book of Common Prayer, published in New-York in the year 1819. The printing of it, both for accuracy and beauty, is admirable, and would compare advantageously with the best work of its period in England. The letter, the justification, the register, the ink, and the press-work are of the best kind, and have a solidity and dignity of expression which command respect. The binding, which is in straight-grained crimson morocco, is such as William Matthews need not be ashamed of, and such, indeed, as he himself puts only on the finest, specially ordered ‘ extra’ work. The taste of the ornament would not have satisfied Count Grolier, but it is far better than that of the usual English work of its period, and the delicacy of the tooling, both the gilt and the dead work, and the exactness of the mitring are quite equal to that of the most celebrated English binders of the time, superior, indeed, to Roger Payne’s. It might not unreasonably be supposed that such a book as this was printed and bound in England. Not so. It was stereotyped by ” D. & G. Bruce” New York, a well-known firm of that period, and it was printed by “J. & J. Harper” a New York printing firm tolerably well known at the present time, but then only of nascent fame. . . . Who was the binder I do not know, and I am sorry that I cannot give him credit for such a specimen of New York skill and taste at that period. It might be supposed that this copy was specially bound to order, which, however, if it were the case, would not affect the question of the skill and the taste of the period; but it is not so. This copy is not only one of two exactly alike which were in my father’s pew in St. George’s Church in Beekman Street, but I have seen other copies of it exactly like these in design and execution, although the work is not done with a stamp, but what is known as hand-tooling. This shows that the book was bound up for general sale in this style, and although it, of course, must have been very costly at that time, particularly as it is illustrated with line engravings, none the less it is like St. Paul’s Church, the Old City Hall and the statue of Hamilton, a witness to the taste and culture of New York, and the skill of her artisans fifty years and more ago.”
This is warm praise and sharp criticism, and will no doubt be met with a smile of incredulity by our modern book-makers, but the bibliophile will endorse every word of it, save, I trust, the statement that the binding on this Book of Common Prayer is superior to any produced by Roger Payne. I would not name them in quite the same breath, for one is the work of a master, whose style of decoration, as William Matthews has truthfully said, was strikingly his own, the other that of a pupil and imitator. Furthermore the paper used in the book so highly extolled by Mr. White must have contained that deleterious ingredient, which proved the bane of so much of the paper manufactured at that period, both here and in England, and caused it in process of time to ” fox ” and turn a dirty brown in spots, but Mr. White probably was not aware of this imperfection when he wrote his spicy comment and threw down his gauntlet to the book-makers of New York.
We are more fortunate than the Shakesperian commentator in that we have before us two copies of this Book of Common Prayer bound in the style that he describes, one of which, an heirloom in the family of Mr. Beverly Chew, contains the binder’s ticket, H. I. Megary, a New York stationer, printer and publisher in the early part of the last century whose name is well and favorably known to collectors of engraved pictures of the City of New York. The other copy, belonging to Mr. Bowen W. Pierson, is in the same style, and the same tools were employed in the decoration, but were worked after a different design. The lettering on the back is in Gothic type, a character we would not be surprised to find employed upon the back of a black-letter ” fifteener,” but its use on a modern book is quite exceptional.
The artistic binding and exterior decoration of books, so long a neglected study, may be said without exaggeration to have latterly become a rage. Annual exhibitions of richly-decorated bindings, are conspicuous features of our Metropolitan bookshops, and treatises more or less erudite upon the Art of Book-binding, follow one another in rapid succession from a press whose watchful pilots are ever closely scanning the literary horizon, and stand prepared to trim their sails hourly, if need be, in order to catch the shifting winds of capricious popular fancy. Thus the pendulum swings to and fro, and we vibrate from one extreme to the other in our tastes and temporarily ruling passions. The Bibliography of books upon Bookbinding, published in 1893 by Miss S. T. Prideaux, herself a successful practical exponent of the Art, embraces four hundred and seventy-five titles. In the years that have since elapsed additional works by the score have made their appearance, many of which are little more than compilations from the writings of previous authors. A small proportion, such as essays by those whose own trained and skillful hands have produced fine examples of book-binding, have made us, no doubt, more conversant with the technical methods and the mysteries of the craft, but from an historical point of view the subject was exhausted long ago. We have been told with tiresome repetition of the books “so fairly bound ” which graced the famous libraries of those munificent patrons of the arts, Maoli, Grolier, Canevari, De Thou and those ” light and airy ladies ” of fastidious taste in books and bindings, Margaret of Valois and Diana of Poictiers; of the books elaborately tooled and richly painted for the kings, queens, princes, prelates and statesmen of Italy, France and England, which long since were allotted their rightful place among the priceless art treasures of the world; of the Eves, Gascons, Padeloups, Monniers, Deromes, Capes, Trautz-Bauzonnets, Chambolle-Durus and Cuzins: the Mearnes, Roger Paynes, Lewises and Bedfords: the French tinselled and silk – embroidered bindings, and those deftly fashioned and patiently wrought by the pious hands of the nuns of Little Gidding, but few and faint are the whisperings that fall upon our listening ears, concerning Bibliopegy on this side of the broad and boisterous Atlantic.
In the report of a French delegation of artisans to the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition* sixteen pages are allotted to a description of the American bindings there displayed, which were, however, largely composed of the commercial bindings of the time and the heavily stamped and floridly gilded outward covers of the Pictorial Histories, and huge illustrated Family
* ” Exposition Universelle de Philadelphie, 1876. DELEGATION OUVRIERE Libre RELIEURS.” Paris, 1879.
Bibles, which were the pride of our forbears and lent an air of distinction to the parlor centre table, in all well-to-do and well-regulated households. Mr. Brander Matthews in his ” Book-Bindings Old and New” descants at some length upon Modern bookbinding in the United States, and we find here and there in other publications * curt paragraphs of a disparaging tenor similar to the following, which we quote from Octave Uzanne’s “La Reliure Moderne” but in respect to the practice of the Art in this country prior to the days of William Matthews the silence is, we repeat, well nigh profound. ” L’Amerique [writes M. Uzanne] se rejouit de posseder Matthews, que les New-Yorkais considerent comme un demi-Dieu et qu’ils inondent de centaines de dollars,
* ” L’ Art dans la Decoration Exterieure des Livres en France et a l’Etranger,” Paris, 1898, devotes a page and a half in a book of 275 pages to American bindings and mentions the names of Matthews, Bradstreet, The Club Bindery, Smith and Stickerman (Stikeman).
lorsque celui-ci daigne, des ses propres mains, revetir une belle edition de brown or red maroco. Matthews a cree une genre d’ornamentation; c’est un original, et ses reliures peuvent hardiment se comparer a celles de MM. Marius-Michel, sauf peut-etre ce (je ne sais quoi) qui tient la grace francaise et qui ne saurait passer les mers sans y perdre son caractere.” Have a care, Monsieur Uzanne. Evidently some one has been imposing upon your credulity, for I can and do here testify of my own knowledge that Mr. Matthews’s charges for his finest bindings were moderate in the extreme. They were done, be it understood, for friendship’s sake and not for gain, and Mr. Matthews would not, I am quite certain, have undertaken the elaborate binding of a book for any and every one, no matter how many ” centaines de dollars ” might be cast at his feet. The Frank in matters of Art is sufficient unto himself. As for book-binders, he believes in his heart of hearts that there never were nor will be any outside of his own beautiful and adored city of Paris, worthy of the name. That the Parisian book-binders stand, and always have stood, in the front rank of their profession, no bibliophile the world over will deny. But is not variety the spice of life? The gastronome, if restricted to a single article of diet for a length of time, finds that it palls upon his palate, even though the dish be concocted with all the culinary skill of a Careme or a Vatel. We of the Anglo-Saxon race – more catholic, if less refined, in our tastes than the perhaps hyper-esthetic descendants of the ancient Gauls, enjoy the lesser art achievements of other nations, in which the French dilettante manifests little or no concern, simply because they are not the products of the skill and genius of his own countrymen.
Apologetical of this indifference and neglect on the part of our own, as well as European writers upon Bibliopegy, the undeniable fact may be adduced that our book-binders had not, until the last thirty or forty years (except for a brief period immediately after the close of the Revolutionary War which ended as unaccountably and precipitately as it began), shown themselves able to produce work that could be pronounced artistic. A survey of the Art as it flourished in Europe during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries leads us through the winding paths of a well-ordered garden bright with the variegated colors, and redolent with the fragrance of lovingly and patiently nurtured flowers; whereas a study of Bibliopegy, as it was haltingly and laboriously developed in this country during the corresponding period, conducts us for most of the tiresome way over a field of brown and withered winter stubble. For many years the Bindery in the United States remained a subsidiary but necessary adjunct to the Printing House, and nothing more. It required a generation of book-lovers and collectors, and the imperative demand thereby created, to establish Artistic Bibliopegy in our midst as a separate and distinct occupation. But books have been bound by our native workmen after one fashion or another, and better, on the whole, than might have been expected, for the past two centuries and a half, and the story of the craft from its humble beginnings in New England, in the seventeenth century, to modern times, should not be devoid of interest to the American bibliophile, if to no other, and he assuredly is the one to be reckoned with in the immediate future of book-collecting, for he happens, just now, to be the possessor of the best lined purse, and by virtue thereof, master of the situation.
In a work by one Edward Hazen, entitled ” The Panorama of Professions and Trades, or Every Man’s Book” published in Philadelphia in 1837, a definition is given of the word book-binding which is a model of conciseness, and would not discredit the pages of a Webster, a Worcester, or a Century Dictionary. Book-binding is defined by Mr. Hazen as the ” Art of arranging the pages of a book in proper order, and confining them there by means of thread, glue, paste, pasteboard and leather.” Here we have, in a nutshell, the essential significance of this compound word.
This little book by Hazen is quite in the spirit and manner of one published at Frankfort-On-Main in 1568, in which the various professions and trades (paper-making, printing, and book-binding amongst them) followed in Germany, in the sixteenth century, are described in metrical Latin and represented pictorially with engravings by Hartman Schopfer. It is not probable that Hazen was acquainted with this work of Schopfer, and guilty of an act of plagiarism, and we may, therefore, regard this coincidence simply as a proof that in the kingdom of letters, lapse of years and accident of locality, play little part.
The description of the various processes involved in the binding of a book contained in Mr. Hazen’s “Every Mans Book” which with its woodcut head-band we here present to the reader, is, so far as I am aware, the first treatise upon the subject printed in the United States, and considering the backward state of the Art in America at the time it was written, it is noteworthy for the general knowledge of the subject it evinces.
The first process of binding books consists in folding the sheets according to the paging. This is done by the aid of an ivory knife, called a folder, and the operator is guided in the correct performance of the work by certain letters called signatures, placed at the bottom of the page, at regular intervals through the book.
Piles of the folded sheets are then placed on a long table in the order of their signatures, and gathered one from each pile, for every book. They are next beaten on a stone, or passed between steel rollers to render them smooth and solid. The latter method has been introduced within a few years. This operation certainly increases the intrinsic value of the book ; but it is not employed in every case, since it is attended with some additional expense, and since it diminishes the thickness of the book, and consequently its value in the estimation of the public at large.
The sheets, having been properly pressed, are next sewed together upon little cords, which in this application, are called bands. During the operation these are stretched in a perpendicular direction at suitable distances from each other, as exhibited in the foregoing cut. The folded sheets are usually notched on the back by means of a saw, and at these points they are brought in juxta-position with the bands. After the pages of several volumes have been accumulated, the bands are severed between each book. The folding, gathering, and sewing are usually performed by females.
At this stage of the process, the books are received by the men or boys, who generally take on one hundred at a time. The workman first spreads some glue on the back of each book with a brush. He then places them, one after the other, between boards of solid wood, and beats them on the back with a hammer. By this means the back is rounded, and a groove formed on each side for the admission of one edge of the pasteboards.
These having been applied, and partially fastened by means of the bands, which had been left long for the purpose, the books are pressed and the leaves of which they are composed are trimmed with an instrument called a plough. The pasteboards are also cut to the proper size by the same means, or with a huge pair of shears. In the preceding picture a workman is represented at work with the plough. The edges are next sprinkled with some kind of coloring matter, or covered with gold leaf, A strip of paper is then glued on the back, and a headband put upon each end.
The book is now ready to be covered. This is either done with calf, sheep, or goat skin, or some kind of paper or cloth; but whatever the material may be, it is cut into pieces to suit the size of the book, and having been smeared on one side with paste, it is drawn over the outsides of the paste-boards, and doubled in upon the inside.
The covers, if calf or sheep skin, are next sprinkled or marbled. The first operation is performed by dipping the brush in a kind of dye, made for the purpose, and beating it with one hand over a stick held in the other; the second is performed in the same manner, with the difference that they are sprinkled first with water, and then with the coloring matter.
After a small piece of morocco has been pasted on the back, on which the title is to be printed in gold leaf, and one of the waste leaves has been pasted down on the inside of each of the covers, the books are pressed for the last time. They are then glazed by applying the white of an egg with a sponge.
The books are now ready for the reception of the ornaments, which consist chief- ly of letters and other figures in gold leaf. In executing this part of the process, the workman cuts the gold into suitable strips or squares on a cushion.
These are laid upon the books by means of a piece of raw cotton, and afterwards impressed with types moderately heated over a charcoal fire; or the strips of gold are taken up and laid upon the proper place with instruments called stamps and rolls, which have on them figures in relief. The portion of the leaf, not impressed with the figures on the tools, is easily removed with a silk rag. The books are finished by applying to the covers the white of an egg and rubbing them with a heated steel polisher.
The process of binding books, as just described, is varied, of course, in some particulars to suit the different kinds of binding and finish. A book, stitched together like a common almanac, is called a pamphlet. Those which are covered on 30 And Kindred Subjects the back and sides with leather are said to be full bound, and those which have their backs covered with leather, and the sides with paper, half bound.
The different sizes of books are expressed by terms, indicative of the number of pages printed on one side of a sheet of paper; thus, when two pages are printed on one side, the book is termed a folio; four pages, a quarto ; eight pages, an octavo; twelve pages, a duodecimo; eighteen pages, an octodecimo. All of these terms, except the first, are abridged by prefixing a figure or figures to the last syllable. Thus, 4to for quarto, 8vo for octavo, I2mo for duodecimo, etc.