The Art of Bookbinding

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The Art of Bookbinding  (1890) 
by Joseph William Zaehnsdorf
The Art of Bookbinding - Illustration - Florentine.jpg
Small folio








With Plates and Diagrams.













THE first edition of this book was written for the use of amateurs, but I found that amongst the members of the trade my little volume had a large sale, and in a short time the edition became exhausted. Repeated applications for the book have induced me to issue this second edition. I have adhered to the arrangement of the first, but a great deal of fresh matter has been added, which I trust will be found useful. Should any of my fellow-workmen find anything new to them I shall be satisfied, knowing that I have done my duty in spreading such knowledge as may contribute towards the advancement of the beautiful art of bookbinding.

I have to record my obligations to those gentlemen who have assisted me by courteously describing the various machines of their invention with which the book is illustrated. The object, however, of illustrating this work with engravings of machines is simply to recognize the fact that books are bound by machinery. To a mechanical worker must be left the task of describing the processes used in this method.

Florentine Frontispiece
Grolier xiv
Gascon xvi
Renaissance 110
Antique with gold line 112
Derome 114
Grolier 132
Maioli 134

Chapter I. Folding: Refolding—Machines—Gathering. 3-8
Chapter II. Beating and Rolling: Machines 9-12
Chapter III. Collating: Interleaving 13-19
Chapter IV. Marking up and Sawing in 20-23
Chapter V. Sewing: Flexible—Ordinary 23-32
Chapter VI. Forwarding: End Papers—Cobb Paper—Surface Paper—Marbled Paper—Printed and other Fancy Paper—Coloured Paste Paper 33-36
Chapter VII. Pasting up 36-37
Chapter VIII. Putting on the End Papers 38-41
Chapter IX. Trimming 41-44
Chapter X. Gluing up 45-46
Chapter XI. Rounding 46-48
Chapter XII. Backing 48-51
Chapter XIII. Mill-boards 51-57
Chapter XIV. Drawing-in and Pressing 57-59
Chapter XV. Cutting 59-66
Chapter XVI. Colouring the Edges: Sprinkled Edges—Colours for Sprinkling—Plain Colouring—Marbled Edges—Spot Marble—Comb or Nonpareil Marble—Spanish Marble—Edges—Sizing 67-77
Chapter XVII. Gilt Edges: The Gold Cushion—Gold Knife—Burnishers—Glaire Water or Size—Scrapers—The Gold Leaf—Gilt on Red—Tooled Edges—Painted Edges 78-83
Chapter XVIII. Head-Banding 83-86
Chapter XIX. Preparing for Covering: lining up 87-90
Chapter XX, Covering: Russia—Calf—Vellum or Parchment—Roan—Cloth—Velvet—Silk and Satin—Half-bound Work 90-97
Chapter XXI. Pasting Down: Joints—Calf, Russia, etc. 97-100
Chapter XXII. Calf Colouring: Black—Brown—Yellow—Sprinkles—Marbles—Tree-marbles—Dabs 100-108
Chapter XXIII. Finishing : Tools and Materials required for Finishing—Polishing Irons—Gold-rag—India-rubber—Gold-cushion—Gold Leaf—Sponges—Glaire—Cotton Wool—Varnish—Finishing—Morocco—Gold Work—Inlaid Work—Porous—Full Gilt Back—Run-up—Mitred Back—Pressing—Graining—Finishing with Dry Preparation—Velvet—Silk—Vellum—Blocking 111-153
Chapter XXIV. Washing and Cleaning : Requisites—Manipulation—Dust—Water Stains—Damp Stains—Mud—Fox-marks—Finger-marks, commonly called "Thumb-marks"—Blood Stains—Ink Stains (writing)—Ink Stains (Marking Ink, Silver)—Fat Stains—Ink—Reviving Old Writings—To Restore Writing effaced by Chlorine—To Restore MSS. faded by time—To Preserve Drawings or Manuscripts—To fix Drawings or Pencil Marks—To render Paper Waterproof—To render Paper Incombustible—Deciphering Burnt Documents—Insects—Glue—Rice Glue or Paste—Paste—Photographs—Albumen—To Prevent Tools, Machines, etc., from Rusting—To Clean Silver Mountings—To Clean Sponges 157-172
Glossary 173
Index 181


BOOKBINDING carries us back to the time when leaden tablets with inscribed hieroglyphics were fastened together with rings, which formed what to us would be the binding of the volumes. We might go even still further back, when tiles of baked clay with cuneiform characters were incased one within the other, so that if the cover of one were broken or otherwise damaged there still remained another, and yet another covering; by which care history has been handed down from generation to generation. The binding in the former would consist of the rings which bound the leaden tablets together, and in the latter, the simple covering formed the binding which preserved the contents.

We must pass on from these, and make another pause, when vellum strips were attached together in one continuous length with a roller at each end. The reader unrolled the one, and rolled the other as he perused the work. Books, prized either for their rarity, sacred character, or costliness, would be kept in a round box or case, so that the appearance of a library in Ancient Jerusalem would seem to us as if it were a collection of canisters. The next step was the fastening of separate leaves together, thus making a back, and covering the whole as a protection in a most simple form; the only object being to keep the several leaves in connected sequence. I believe the most ancient form of books formed of separate leaves, will be found in the sacred books of Ceylon which were formed of palm leaves, written on with a metal style, and the binding was merely a silken string tied through one end so loosely as to admit of each leaf being laid down flat when turned over. When the mode of preserving MS. on animal membrane or vellum in separate leaves came into use, the binding was at first only a simple piece of leather wrapped round the book and tied with a thong. These books were not kept on their edges, but were laid down flat on the shelves, and had small cedar tablets hanging from them upon which their titles were inscribed.

The ordinary books for general use were only fastened strongly at the back, with wooden boards for the sides, and simply a piece of leather up the back.

In the sixth century, bookbinding had already taken its place as an "Art," for we have the "Byzantine coatings," as they are called. They are of metal, gold, silver or copper gilt, and sometimes they are enriched with precious stones. The monks, during this century, took advantage of the immense thickness of the wooden boards and frequently hollowed them out to secrete their relics in the cavities. Bookbinding was then confined entirely to the monks who were the literati of the period. Then the art was neglected for some centuries, owing to the plunder and pillage that overran Europe, and books were destroyed to get at the jewels that were supposed to be hidden in the different parts of the covering, so that few now remain to show how bookbinding was then accomplished and to what extent.

We must now pass on to the middle ages, when samples of binding were brought from the East by the crusaders, and these may well be prized by their owners for their delicacy of finish. The monks, who still held the Art of Bookbinding in their hands, improved upon these Eastern specimens. Each one devoted himself to a different branch: one planed the oaken boards to a proper size, another stretched and coloured the leather; and the work was thus divided into branches, as it is now. The task was one of great difficulty, seeing how rude were the implements then in use.

The art of printing gave new life to our trade, and, during the fifteenth century bookbinding made great

The Art of Bookbinding - Illustration - Monastic.jpg


progress on account of the greater facility and cheapness with which books were produced. The printer was then his own binder; but as books increased in number, bookbinding became a separate art-trade of itself. This was a step decidedly in the right direction. The art improved so much, that in the sixteenth century some of the finest samples of bookbinding were executed. Morocco having been introduced, and fine delicate tools cut, the art was encouraged by great families, who, liking the Venetian patterns, had their books bound in that style. The annexed woodcut will give a fair idea of a Venetian tool. During this period the French had bookbinding almost entirely in their hands, and Mons. Grolier, who loved the art, had his books bound under his own supervision in the most costly manner. His designs consisted of bold gold lines arranged geometrically with great accuracy, crossing one another and intermixed with small leaves or sprays. These were in outlines shaded or filled up with closely worked cross lines.

The Art of Bookbinding - Illustration - Venetian.jpg


Not, however, satisfied with these simple traceries, he embellished them still more by staining or painting them black, green, red, and even with silver, so that they formed bands interlacing each other in a most graceful manner. Opposite is a centre block of Grolier. It will be seen how these lines entwine, and how the small tools are shaded with lines. If the reader has had the good fortune to see one of these specimens, has he not wondered at the taste displayed? To the French must certainly be given the honour of bringing the art to such a perfection. Francis I. and the succeeding monarchs, with the French nobility,
The Art of Bookbinding - Illustration - Grolier.jpg


Royal Folio

placed the art on such a high eminence, that even now we are compelled to look to these great masterpieces as models of style. Not only was the exterior elaborate in ornament, but the edges were gilded and tooled; and even painted. We must wonder at the excellence of the materials and the careful workmanship which has preserved the bindings, even to the colour of the leather, in perfect condition to the present day.
The Art of Bookbinding - Illustration - Grolier 2.jpg


There is little doubt that the first examples of the style now known as "Grolier" were produced in Venice, under the eye of Grolier himself, and according to his own designs; and that workmen in France, soon rivalled and excelled the early attempts. The work of Maioli may be distinctly traced by the bold simplicity and purity of his designs; and more especially by the broader gold lines which margin the coloured bands of geometric and arabesque ornamentation.

All books, it must be understood, were not bound in so costly a manner, for we find pigskin, vellum and calf in use. The latter was especially preferred on account of its peculiar softness, smooth surface, and great aptitude for receiving impressions of dumb or blind tooling. It was only towards the latter part of the sixteenth centuiy that the English binders began to employ delicate or fine tooling.

During the seventeenth century the names of Du Sueil and Le Grascon were known for the delicacy and extreme minuteness of their finishing. Not disdaining the bindings of the Italian school, they took from them new ideas; for whilst the Grolier bindings were bold, the Du Sueil and Le Gascon more resembled fine lace work of intricate design, with harmonizing flowers and other objects, from which we may obtain a great variety of artistic character. During this period embroidered velvet was much in use. Then a change took place and a style was adopted which by some people would be preferred to the gorgeous bindings of the sixteenth century. The sides were finished quite plainly with only a line round the edge of the boards (and in some instances not even that) with a coat of arms or some badge in the centre.

Towards the end of the seventeenth century bookbinding began to improve, particularly with regard to forwarding. The joints were true and square, and the back was made to open more freely. In the eighteenth century the names of Derome, Roger Payne, and others are prominent as masters of the craft, and the Harleian style was introduced

The plate facing may be fairly estimated as a good specimen of Derome. Notice the extreme simplicity and yet the symmetry of the design; its characteristic feature being the boldness of the corners and the gradual diminishing of the scroll work as it nears the centre of the panel. Morocco and calf were the leathers used for this binding.

Hand coloured calf was at this period at its height, and
The Art of Bookbinding - Illustration - Gascon.jpg



T.Way, Photo-lith

the Cambridge calf may be named as a pattern of one of the various styles, and one that is approved of by many at the present day—the calf was sprinkled all over, save a square panel left uncoloured in the centre of the boards.

The Harleian style took its name from Harley, Earl of Oxford. It was red morocco with a broad tooled border and centre panels. We have the names of various masters who pushed the art forward to very great excellence during this century. Baumgarten and Benedict, two Germans of

The Art of Bookbinding - Illustration - Harleian.jpg


considerable note in London; Mackinly, from whose house also fine work was sent out, and by whom good workmen were educated whose specimens almost equal the work of their master. There were two other Germans, Kalthoeber and Staggemeier, each having his own peculiar style. Kalthoeber is credited with having first introduced painting on the edges. This I must dispute, as it was done in the sixteenth century. To him, however, must certainly be given the credit of having discovered the secret, if ever lost, and renewing it on his best work. We must now pass on to Roger Payne, that unfortunate and erring man but clever workman, who lived during the latter part of the eighteenth century. His taste may be seen from the woodcut. He generally used small tools, and by combining them formed a variety of beautiful designs. He cut most of these tools himself, either because he could not find a tool cutter of sufficient skill, or that he found it difficult to

The Art of Bookbinding - Illustration - Roger Payne.jpg

Roger Payne.

pay the cost. We are told by anecdote, that he drank much and lived recklessly; but notwithstanding all his irregular habits, his name ought to be respected for the work he executed. His backs were firm, and his forwarding excellent; and he introduced a class of finishing that was always in accordance with the character or subject of the book. His only fault was the peculiar coloured paper with which he made his end papers.

Coloured or fancy calf has now taken the place of the hand-coloured. Coloured cloth has come so much into use, that this branch of the trade alone monopolizes nearly three-fourths of the workmen and females employed in bookbinding. Many other substitutes for leather have been introduced, and a number of imitations of morocco and calf are in the market; this, with the use of machinery, has made so great a revolution in the trade, that it is now divided into two distinct branches—cloth work and extra work.

I have endeavoured in the foregoing remarks to raise the emulation of my fellow craftsmen by naming the most famous artists of past days; men whose works are most worthy of study and imitation. I have refrained from any notice or criticism of the work of my contemporaries; but I may venture to assure the lover of good bookbinding that as good and sound work, and as careful finish, may be obtained in a first-rate house in London as in any city in the world.

In the succeeding chapters, I will endeavour in as plain and simple a way as I can to give instructions to the unskilled workman how to bind a book.