The Beginning

BOOKBINDING in early times was carried on, the most part (as were so many for other useful industries), in connection with the religious orders. The monasteries were the chief centers for fine work in the way of illumination, hand-printed books and bindings of various kinds. The first good bindings of which I can find record came to Europe from the Levant?that is, from Arabia or Persia, gradually filtering through to Constantinople, to Italy, and so on, to France and Europe in general.

Before the art of printing was invented, however, bookbinding could scarcely be spoken of as having been widely known, because the only books then in use were printed with the pen, and copies were very scarce; they were to be found only in the possession of the monasteries and the very wealthy people of the time.

With the introduction of printing, however, binding became quite common, and early in the Middle Ages it developed into a fine art. The binders of those days, while they had more talent in the way of making designs appropriate to the text, did the technical work very crudely, the tools being made by the binders themselves, in many cases. This resulted in the finishing being done in what to-day would be considered a very haphazard and careless manner. At the same time these bindings still exist, and in many well preserved examples the condition of the finishing shows that it was not only solidly done, but that exceedingly good materials were used. It was Grolier, of Lyons, who first developed a special style of designs individual to himself. Many examples of his work are still extant, and his name is perpetuated by many societies of the present day. Since his day, binders of great repute have been more or less numerous, and various styles of bindings have been originated and are known by the names of such men as Le Gascon, Derome, the Brothers Eve, Jansen, Padeloup in France and Roger Payne in England.

During this formative period, leather was not as universally used as it is to-day, many bindings being made of wood, silver, velvet, cloth of gold and embroideries on various materials.

Of the modern French school, we need only mention a few names such as Trautz, Chambolle Duru, Gruel, Lortic, Marius-Michel, Ruban, and in England, Bedford, Zaehnsdorf, Riviere and Cobden-Sanderson. Aside from those mentioned, there are of course hosts of others, some of equal repute, as well as many who hope to achieve fame.

As the term “bookbinding” covers a variety of work, it is impossible in an article of this nature to treat it in all its varieties; so that it should be understood that the only kind of binding that will be here referred to is that known as ?extra first-class work,? and no attempt will be made to explain in detail the methods used in cheaper grades of work. Many of the processes described, however, may be used to advantage in simpler work; the extra expense involved, both as regards quality of material as well as extra cost of labor (owing to the time devoted to the work itself), is, however, prohibitive for ordinary commercial work.

Much of the work of the present day is well executed, as far as the technique is concerned, but many of the designs are imitations of the older and well known styles or inferior innovations. In many cases the books are over-decorated, owing to a desire to have a showy piece of work, this causing a loss of richness and dignity, due in many cases to over- decoration alone. Studying the work of the best binders of the 5th, 6th and 7th centuries, one gets much information, and by constant endeavor may finally acquire a style of one’s own.

During the last few years we have seen in our country, in connection with bookbinding, the development of a new class of art workers, who may he classified under the general term of amateurs. This term, however, does not accurately cover all the persons who are thus classified. Of course the real amateur is supposed to be a binder who is working for pleasure and not for profit.