The Art of Bookbinding/Chapter 20

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The Art of Bookbinding by Joseph William Zaehnsdorf
Chapter XX.



Books are covered according to the fancy of the binder or customer. The materials used at the present day, are—leather of all sorts, parchment or vellum, bookbinder's cloth, velvet, needle-work, and imitation leather, of which various kinds are manufactured, such as leatherette and feltine.

Each kind requires a different manner of working or manipulation. For instance, a calf book must not be covered in the same manner as a velvet one: I will take each in the above order and explain how they are managed. Under the class of leather, we have moroccos of all kinds; russia; calf, coloured, smooth, and imitation; roan, sheep, and imitation morocco.

The morocco cover, indeed any leather cover, is to be cut out by laying the skin out on a flat board, and having
French Paring Knife.
chosen the part or piece of the skin to be used, the book is laid on it and the skin is cut with a sharp knife round the book, leaving a space of about ¾ of an inch for an 8vo, and more or less according to the size of the book and thickness of board for turning in. The morocco cover should now have marked upon it with a pencil the exact size of the book itself, by laying the book on the cover, and running the point of a black lead pencil all round it. The leather must then
Method of Holding French Knife.
be "pared," or shaved round the edges, using the pencil marks as a guide. This paring process is not so difficult, especially if a French knife is used, such as may now be purchased at most material dealers. The chief point being that a very sharp edge is to be kept on the knife, and that the burr is on the cutting edge. The knife is to be held in the right hand, placing two fingers on the top with the thumb underneath. The leather must be placed on a piece of marble, lithographic stone, or thick glass, and held tightly strained between finger and thumb of the left hand. Then by a series of pushes from the right hand, the knife takes off more or less according to the angle given. The burr causes the knife to enter
German Paring Knife.
the leather; if the burr is turned up the knife will not cut but run off. If the knife is held too much at an angle it will go right through the leather, a rather unpleasant experience, and one to be carefully avoided. The leather should from time to time be examined, by turning it over, to see if any unevenness appears, for every cut will show. Especial attention should be given to where the edges of the board go. The turning in at the head and tail should be pared off as thin as possible, as there will be twice as much thickness of leather on the back where turned in, the object of this care being, that it must not be seen. The morocco cover should now be wetted well, and grained up by using either the hand or a flat piece of cork. This is to be done by gently curling it up in all directions; and when the grain has been brought up properly and sufficiently, the leather should be pasted on the flesh side with thin paste, and hung up to dry. Should the leather be "straight grain," it must only be creased in the one direction of the grain, or if it is required to imitate any old book that has no grain, the leather should be wetted as much as possible, and the whole of the grain rubbed out by using a rolling pin with even pressure.

The Morocco leather first brought from that country, had Diagram of a pair of hands holding and using a knife.
Method of Holding Ordinary Knife.
a peculiar grain, and was dyed with very bright colours. It is now largely manufactured in London and Paris; the French manufacture is the finest. Russia and calf require no setting up of the grain, but russia should be well rolled out with the rolling pin.

When the cover (morocco) is dry, it is to be well pasted, the squares of the book set, so that each side has its proper portion of board projecting. The book is then laid down evenly on the cover, which must be gently drawn on; the back is drawn tight by placing the book on its foredge and drawing the skin well down over it. The sides are next drawn tight, and the bands pinched well up with a pair of band nippers. The four corners of the leather are cut off with a sharp knife in a slanting direction, a little paste put on the cut edge, and the operation of turning in may be commenced. The book must be held on its edge, either head or tail, with a small Cross-hatched illustration of a small pair of pliers called "band nippers."
Band Nippers.
piece of paper put close to the head-band to prevent any paste soiling the edge or head-band, and with the boards extended, the hollow is pulled a little away from the back and the leather neatly tucked in. The leather is next to be tightly brought over the boards and well rubbed down, both on the edge and inside, with a folding stick, but on no account must the outside be rubbed, or the grain will be taken away. The foredge is to be treated in like manner, by tucking the corners in for strength. The head-band is now to be set, by tying a piece of thread round the book between the back and the boards in the slots cut out from the corners of the boards; this thread must be tied in a knot. The book being held in the left hand, resting on its end, the leather is drawn with a pointed folding-stick, as it were, towards the foredge, and flattened on the top of the head-band. When this is done properly it should be exactly even with the boards, and yet cover the head-band, leaving that part of the head-band at right angles with the edge exposed. With a little practice the novice may be able to ascertain what amount of leather is to be left out from the turning-in, so that the head-band can be neatly covered. The perfection in covering a book depends upon the leather being worked sharp round the boards, but with the grain almost untouched.

Paste should be always used for morocco, calf, russia and vellum, in fact for all kinds of leather; but in my humble opinion, all leather with an artificial grain should be glued; the turning-in may be with paste. The glue gives more body to the leather, and thus preserves the grain. White morocco should be covered with paste made without any alum, which causes it to turn yellow, and if the leather is washed with lemon juice instead of vinegar when finishing, the colour will be much improved.

Russia is to be pared in the same way as morocco. It should be damped, and rolled with a rolling-pin before covering, or stretched out with a thick folding-stick.

Calf, either coloured or white, need be pared only round the head-band. Calf should be covered with paste and the book washed when covered with a clean damp sponge. In putting two books together, when bound in calf of two different colours, a piece of paper should be placed between, as most colours stain each other, especially green. Care should be taken to handle calf as little as possible whilst wet, and touching it with iron tools, such as knives and band nippers, will cause a black stain. Morocco will bear as much handling as you like, but the more tenderly calf is treated the better.

Vellum or Parchment.—The boards should be covered with white paper, to avoid any darkness of the board showing through. The vellum or parchment should be pared head and tail, and the whole well pasted and allowed to stand for a short time so that it be well soaked and soft. The book should then be covered, but the vellum must not on any account be stretched much, or it will, when dry, draw the boards up to a most remarkable extent. It will perhaps be better if the book be pressed, to make the vellum adhere better. The old binders took great pains in covering their white vellum books. The vellum was lined carefully with white paper and dried before covering: this in some degree prevented the vellum from shrinking so much in drying, and enabled the workman to give the boards a thin and even coat of glue, which was allowed to dry before putting on the covering.

Roan should be covered with glue and turned in with paste. Head and tail only need be pared round the headband.

Cloth is covered by gluing the cover all over and turning in at once: gluing one cover at a time, and finishing the covering of each book before touching the next.

Smooth cloth, cloth with no grain, may be covered with paste: great care must be taken that no paste be on the fingers, or the cloth will be marked very badly when dry.

Velvet should be covered with clean glue not too thick; first glue the back of the book and let that set before the sides are put down. The sides of the book should next be glued, and the velvet laid down, and turned in with glue. The corners should be very carefully cut or they will not meet, or cover properly when dry. When the whole is dry the pile may be raised, should it be finger marked, by holding the book over steam, and if necessary by carefully using a brush.

Silk and Satin should be lined first with a piece of thin paper cut to the size of the book. The paper must be glued with thin clean glue, rubbed down well on to the silk, and allowed to get dry, before covering the book. When dry, cover it as with velvet.

Dr. Dibdin, whose knowledge of libraries and great book collectors must stamp him as an authority, says that:—

"The general appearance of one's library is by no means a matter of mere foppery or indifference: it is a sort of cardinal point, to which the tasteful collector does well to attend. You have a right to consider books, as to their outsides, with the eye of a painter; because this does not militate against the proper use of the contents. . . . . Be sparing of red morocco or vellum, they have each so distinct, or what painters call spotty, an appearance, that they should be introduced but circumspectly."

I cannot agree entirely with the Doctor with regard to being sparing with the red morocco. A library without colour is dark, dreary, and repulsive. The library should be one of the most inviting and cheery rooms in a house, and even if one cannot aspire to a room entirely devoted to literature and study, let the bookcase, whatever its position or however humble, be made as cheerful and inviting as possible. What colour will do this so well as red? But it should be judiciously dispersed with other colours.

If some standard colour were chosen for each subject, one might recognize from some little distance the nature of the book by its colour. For instance, all books relating to Military matters might be in bright red; Naval affairs in blue; Botany in green; History in dark red; Poetry in some fancy colour, such as orange, light blue, light green, or olive, according to its subject; Divinity in dark brown; Archæology in dull red, and Law in white as at present. This would give a pleasing variety, and a light and cheerful appearance to a library.

An imitation russia leather is imported from America, of far greater strength than the real. It is made from buffalo skins, and tanned in the same way as the russia hides. This fact, combined with the price, has doubtless caused this material to be received with favour in the English market. It is to be had from nearly all leather sellers.

Half-bound Work.—The title speaks for itself, the book has its back, a part of the sides, and the corners covered with leather. The sides are, after the leather is perfectly dry, covered either with cloth or paper according to fancy, turned over the boards as with leather. The book is then to be pasted down. Before the paper is put on the sides, all unevenness of the leather is to be pared away. This style has gained its reputation very much on account of its economy; the amount of leather required is less, and the work is as strong and serviceable as in a whole-bound book. It will be better if the back be finished before the corners are put on, as there is great likelihood that the corners may get damaged to some extent during the process of finishing. The outside paper may either match the colour of the leather, or be the same as the edge or end papers. This, like many other rules in bookbinding, is quite a matter of taste.