LITTLE prefatory remark is required in introducing this small book to the public. The present day is especially noticeable for the number of amateur workers who are found in every department of art and technics. That being so, there is certainly no branch of work better fitted to claim their time and attention than that of Bookbinding. It is of great antiquity, of the utmost utility, and capable of almost any degree of artistic development. Looking back to the birth and early history of literature, we find all the oldest manuscripts, both classical and oriental, were written on sheets of parchment or papyrus, and rolled up when not in use. The bookbinder of those days was simply a maker of circular cabinets or repositories, suitable for containing these rolls; and these cases, when for bibliophiles, were often beautifully ornamented. When and by whom the plan of folding the sheet of parchment or paper into pages, and stitching sheets together at the back, was first introduced, is not exactly known; but at that time, and not till then, the book sprang into existence.
This new back required the bookbinder as we know him now; and at the very outset of the trade, his work, though entirely different to the articleic productions of the present day, was elaborate and beautiful. The whole subsequent history of bookbinding has done credit to its brilliant beginning. There are many good reasons for commending this craft to the attention of amateurs, amongst which we will enumerate a few. First, it does not require any great strength or mechanical aptitude. Secondly, the plant is not expensive. Thirdly, it can be pursued anywhere. Fourthly, it is of unquestionable utility: how far preferable it is to have your cherished books, in handy accessible volumes, instead of in heaps of disorderly parts or numbers, almost mere litters, in which one can never find what one wants! Fifthly, and by no means the least important, well-bound books form an ornament to any room, and are satisfactory to show one’s friends. All amateurs are fond of, and proud of, exhibiting specimens of their handiwork to admiring friends and visitors; and what better than books? Fret-cutting, turning, illuminating, &c., are so very common now, that they are almost “played out.” Bookbinding is not so, and if the amateur becomes a good finisher, the amount of varied and interesting ornamentation that he can produce is infinite. In this little volume, full particulars of every process and detail are given, especially adapted to the wants of the amateur. That it may train many skilful articles, is the earnest aspiration of the Author.
IN the small book, of which this is the preliminary chapter, we purpose to treat, succinctly but completely, of the various practical operations gone through in the binding of books, and in so doing we shall keep the wants of the amateur especially in mind. Unquestionably, the articleic art is one which any intelligent and fairly handy man can practise at home; and as the objects upon which his ingenuity would be exercised come necessarily much into his own hands and those of his friends afterwards, he will often experience the lively satisfaction of being praised for his taste and skill. Bookbinding is a clean and not too laborious occupation, which can be easily practised in any spare room, or even airtight shed where light is plentiful and the temperature can be raised to that of an ordinary sitting-room. “We may premise that, after next chapter, we shall go on to describe, consecutively, the various processes as practised by a professional bookbinder, following each by any expedients which may seem more within the power of the amateur. We shall adopt this course for several reasons. In the first place, it is best that the amateur should understand the correct process as practised by the tradesman, and, where possible, conform to it as nearly as practicable. In the second place, it will render the book a complete manual of the art, useful alike to the amateur or youthful professional workman. We must, at the outset, beg those of our readers who purpose carrying out our instructions to lend their best attention to the subject.
Bookbinding is, undoubtedly, a delicate and a difficult art, and it is almost impossible to describe some of even its simplest processes. In many cases, the slightest deviation from the teaching will risk inevitable failure in the process described; but to make up, as far as may be, for the lack of personal showing “how to do it,” we shall sprinkle our text thickly with sketches of the various operations at different stages, of which we bespeak careful observation. Bookbinding is comparatively a modern art. The books of the ancient and classic nations were, as most people are aware, long rolls of skins or of Egyptian papyrus, which, when not in use, were rolled up and kept each in a species of circular box. When wanted, the roll had simply to be drawn out of its case and unrolled. The Jews use to this day, in their synagogue services, similar rolls of vellum, whereon is written the Pentateuch in Hebrew characters. Doubtless, the earliest specimens of bookbinding were those produced in the eastern branch of the Roman dominions, usually called the Byzantine Empire. These were generally of metal gold, silver, or gilt copper. Of course, this kind of binding was produced by the goldsmith, silversmith, and jeweller, the part of the bookbinder proper being confined to fastening the leaves together and securing them in the metal cover. Of these ancient bindings, some few specimens are still extant. It is difficult to trace the transition of the parchment from the roll form to that of leaves. It is known that the Romans used small tablets of wood, and even leaves of lead, connected by rings at the back, so as to form a small book. Perhaps this gave the hint. It is clear that the book form is more ancient than was at one time believed.
Dr. Hogg says : “Amongst the various objects of antiquity which were purchased from the Arabs, at Thebes, were two papyri, the one in Celtic, the other in Greek, in the form of books. . . . The leaves were about 10in. in length by 7in. in width, and had been sewn together like those of an ordinary book.” Once this step was attained, the covering would quickly follow. In the reign of Charlemagne the art of bookbinding made rapid strides. Italian designers and artificers were employed, and we read of the caskets in which books were preserved as being of solid gold, and covered with precious stones. The clasps of the covers were often closely studded with jewels, and small gold nails were frequently scattered over the leather of which the cover was made. Ivory was also a favourite material for book sides. This was probably derived from the Roman diptychs. The next great step in the history of bookbinding was the general adoption of leather as a covering. Hitherto nearly all the binding had been done in monasteries, and, although they might use velvet, and call in the aid of the silversmith to ornament books bound for princes, yet those of the monastic library were generally supplied with a binding of plain vellum, or enclosed with heavy carved oaken boards of immense thickness. It is not known precisely who introduced leather binding, nor the date of its introduction. It would seem to us to follow naturally on the use of vellum. To Matthias Corvinus, the celebrated literary and chivalrous King of Hungary, the first use of morocco is credited. This may be true of the dressed skin of the goat (morocco), but deerskin had been employed long previous in the monastic binderies. Richard Chandos, Bishop of Chichester, mentions, in his will, as early as the year 1253, a “Bible with a rough cover of skins;” and the ” Accounts of the Households of Edwards I. and II.,” contained in four MS. volumes, presented to the Society of Antiquaries by Sir Ashton Lever, were in the original binding of calfskin, dressed like parchment, but with the hair on, except where it had been removed to give space for the written inscription. It is thus evident that the practice of bookbinding was far advanced at the time of the discovery of printing.
Of course, the introduction of that “art preservative” largely increased books, and hence bookbinding. As far back as the Wardrobe Account of Edward IV. (1480), kept by Piers Courtneys, we find entries for ” binding, gilding, and dressing ” a certain book, and mentions of silk and velvet ” purchased therefor.” Among monarchs, Elizabeth and the first James seem especially well affected towards velvet. Henry VII. appeared to have been the first English king who formed a library, and he had a magnificent one–the books being covered with splendid bindings. Soon after the introduction of vellum, it came into general use (circa 1430), almost ousting velvet, except for livres de luxe. Very soon we find the sides of such vellum books covered with an elaborate stamping of various designs–sometimes crowded and without merit; at others, so sharp, clear and well defined, that they have never been excelled, and scarcely rivalled, by any modern workmen. When we consider that these early binders could not have the aid of the powerful arming presses of to-day, we may well wonder how they managed to impress the large and elaborate blocks with the success to which they attained. James I. appears to have been an ardent bibliophile both before and after assuming the crown of Great Britain, and many of his bookbinders’ bills are extant, showing entries for books bound in leather, vellum, and parchment. Although plain stamping (“blind tooling”) is found very early in the history of leather binding, as is evinced by the vellum and “basil” book covers so ornamented, there seems little doubt that gilding the leather had its origin in Italy, probably Venice, and had been derived by the Italian bookbinders from Eastern sources.
To these same binders we probably owe the initiative of the burst of the articleic glory in the fifteenth century. It was in 1479 that Jean Grolier de Servia, Vicomte d’Aguisy, the founder of French bookbinding, was born. He was himself of Italian extraction, and was sent by Louis XII. to Milan in a diplomatic capacity. Probably he here imbibed his love for fine bindings, for, on his return, his famous library of finely bound books soon became celebrated. Grolier gave an immense impulse to French bookbinding, and appears to have brought Henry II. and his chere amie, Diana of Poitiers, to the same enthusiasm as himself, for they were both lavish in the bindings of their books. Grolier is supposed to have been the first man whose books were lettered on. the back. By the sixteenth century leather binding had assumed its perfected form as seen at the present day, and its subsequent history showed few changes. Amongst those which have taken place, may be mentioned the substitution of ” marbled ” edges for gilded and self-coloured ones, and the introduction of stamped calico (cloth) in the present century by English binders (by Archibald Leighton, in 1825).
The latter, as a cheap medium of binding, is an immense boon, and it is now being slowly adopted in other countries. It is, however, only a temporary vehicle for new books, and can never take any place as a library binding. Let us now, before proceeding to practical details, say a few words on taste in bookbinding. Most book lovers, in all ages, have desired to see their treasured volumes fitly, and even splendidly, clad. Chaucer’s ” Clerke of Oxenford ” preferred to see At his bede’s hede, Twenty bokes clothed in blake and rede, to any other spectacle which the world could afford; and a magnificent binding so enraptured Skelton, the laureate of our eighth Henry, that he asseverates It would have made a man whole that had been right sekely, To beholde how it was garnisshyd and bound, Encoverede over with golde of tissew fine ; The claspes and bullyons were worth a thousand pounde. It is a disputed question, among book lovers of taste, whether the whole of a small collection should be bound in the same material, and of the same colour, or whether a diversity should prevail.
There are valid reasons for either plan. A library where both morocco and calf bindings are adopted, in the various hues which are given to each leather, has a pleasant and lively appearance, and if glaring contrasts in hues be avoided in neighbouring volumes as they stand upon the shelves, an air of lightness and vivacity will characterise the apartment. But the contrast must by no means be too pronounced. Dr. Dibdin, a great authority on all such matters, warns us specially against the employment of either white vellum or scarlet morocco as a material for the jackets of our volumes. Both are too decided in appearance, and impart a “spotty” look to the shelves. Of course, this objection applies only to single volumes or small sets in libraries of limited extent. If, for instance, a whole press, or set of shelves, could be appropriated to vellum-clad volumes of the Fathers and patristic theology, the effect would be good. The decision on the general question of uniformity versus variety must be left, in great measure, to individual taste. Where the collection is small, say, sufficient to fill two ordinary bookcases (about 500 volumes), an excellent plan is to reserve one case for standard
English authors, and bestow in the other works on science, art, travels, foreign books, &c. Let all the bindings be of morocco, either ” whole” binding (the term used when the book is wholly covered with leather), or half binding (where the back and corners only are leather covered, ” cloth,” of a similar colour to that of the leather, being used for the sides), according to the value and importance of the book. If maroon morocco be chosen for the books in the first press, and an olive green for those in the second, the effect will be chaste and massive. Both these leathers ” throw up ” the gilding of the back splendidly. Where expense is not a primary consideration, the backs should not be scrimped in this matter of gilding, or, as it is technically termed, “finishing.” A morocco bound book should bear a good amount of gold on the back; but the patterns of the tools should be carefully selected. For all volumes of tolerable size, a bold, clear style of ornamentation should be adopted, and raised ” bands,” crossing the back of the book, should be a sine qua non with every tasteful bibliophile. Not only should all the books in one case be in the same kind of leather (if the uniform plan be adopted), but the style of “finishing” should be the same. If lines have been chosen as the means of ornamentation, let all the books be decorated therewith. On the contrary, if a more florid style has found favour, let it be adhered to throughout. One of the most effective sets of books that ever came under our notice had all the volumes bound in blood-coloured morocco, richly gilt in the cinque cento style of ornament. The Empress Eugenie is stated to have had her books uniformly bound in sky-blue morocco, thickly sprinkled with the golden bees which form one of the emblems of the house of Bonaparte. It is, however, not unlikely that the amateur bookbinder will introduce greater variety amongst his bindings, for the simple reason that he will be desirous of trying his hand on morocco, calf, roan, vellum, and cloth–all of which we shall, in due course, describe.