Book Binding | Methods | Origins of Book Binding | Modern hand binding

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Methods of Book Binding

Book binding is the process of physically assembling a book of codex format from an ordered stack of paper sheets that are folded together into sections or sometimes left as a stack of individual sheets. The stack is then bound together along one edge by either sewing with thread through the folds or by a layer of flexible adhesive. Alternative methods of book binding that are cheaper but less permanent include loose-leaf rings, individual screw posts or binding posts, twin loop spine coils, plastic spiral coils, and plastic spine combs. For protection, the bound stack is either wrapped in a flexible cover or attached to stiff boards. Finally, an attractive cover is adhered to the boards, including identifying information and decoration. Book artists or specialists in book decoration can also greatly enhance a book’s content by creating book-like objects with the artistic merit of exceptional quality.

Book binding

Before the computer age, the book binding trade involved two divisions. First, there was Stationery binding (known as vellum binding in the trade) that deals with books intended for handwritten entries such as accounting ledgers, business journals, blank books, and guest log books, along with other general office stationery such as notebook/notebooks, manifold books, day books, diaries, portfolios, etc.  Computers have now replaced the pen and paper based accounting that constituted most of the stationery binding industry. Second was letterpress printing/Letterpress binding which deals with making books intended for reading, including library binding, fine binding, edition binding, and publisher’s bindings. A third division deals with the repair, restoration, and conservation of old used bindings.

Today, modern book binding is divided between hand binding by individual craftsmen working in a shop and commercial bindings mass-produced by high-speed machines in a factory. There is a broad grey area between the two divisions. The size and complexity of a bindery shop vary with job types, for example, from one-of-a-kind custom jobs, to repair/restoration work, to library rebinding, to preservation binding, to small edition binding, to extra binding, and finally to large-run publisher’s binding. There are cases where printing and binding jobs are combined in one shop. For the largest numbers of copies, commercial binding is effected by production runs of ten thousand copies or more in a factory.

OVERVIEW

Book binding is a specialized trade that relies on basic operations of measuring, cutting, and gluing. A finished book might need dozens of operations to complete, according to the specific style and materials. Book binding combines skills from other trades such as paper and fabric crafts, leatherwork, model making, and graphic arts. It requires knowledge about numerous varieties of book structures along with all the internal and external details of assembly. A working knowledge of the materials involved is required. A book craftsman needs a minimum set of hand tools but with experience will find an extensive collection of secondary hand tools and even items of heavy equipment that are valuable for greater speed, accuracy, and efficiency.

Book binding is an artistic craft of great antiquity, and at the same time, a highly mechanized industry. The division between craft and industry is not so wide as might at first be imagined. It is interesting to observe that the main problems faced by the mass-production bookbinder are the same as those that confronted the medieval craftsman or the modern hand binder. The first problem is still how to hold together the pages of a book; secondly is how to cover and protect the gathering of pages once they are held together; and thirdly, how to label and decorate the protective cover.

ORIGINS OF THE BOOK BINDING

The craft of book binding probably originated in India, where religious sutras were copied on to palm leaves (cut into two, lengthwise) with a metal stylus. The leaf was then dried and rubbed with ink, which would form a stain in the wound. The finished leaves were given numbers, and two long twines were threaded through each end through wooden boards, making a Palm-leaf manuscript/palm-leaf book. When the book was closed, the excess twine would be wrapped around the boards to protect the manuscript leaves. Buddhist monks took the idea through Afghanistan to China in the first century BC.

Similar techniques can also be found in ancient Egypt where priestly texts were compiled on scrolls and books of papyrus. Another version of bookmaking can be seen through the ancient Mayan codex; only four are known to have survived the Spanish invasion of Latin America.

Writers in the Hellenistic-Roman culture wrote longer texts as scrolls; these were stored in boxes or shelving with small cubbyholes, similar to a modern winerack. Court records and notes were written on wax tablets, while important documents were written on papyrus or parchment. The modern English word ”book” comes from the Proto-Germanic ”*bokiz”, referring to the beechwood on which early written works were recorded.

The book was not needed in ancient times, as many early Greek texts—scrolls were 30 pages long, which were customarily folded accordion-fashion to fit into the hand. Roman works were often longer, running to hundreds of pages. The Greeks used to call their books ”tome”, meaning “to cut”. The Egyptian Book of the Dead was a massive 200 pages long and was used in funerary services for the deceased. Torah scrolls, editions of the Jewish holy book, were—and still are—also held in special holders when read.

Scrolls can be rolled in one of two ways. The first method is to wrap the scroll around a single core, similar to a modern roll of paper towels. While simple to construct, a single core scroll has a major disadvantage: in order to read text at the end of the scroll, the entire scroll must be unwound. This is partially overcome in the second method, which is to wrap the scroll around two cores, as in a Torah. With a double scroll, the text can be accessed from both beginning and end, and the portions of the scroll not being read can remain wound. This still leaves the scroll a sequential-access medium: to reach a given page, one generally has to unroll and re-roll many other pages.

EARLY BOOK FORMATS

In addition to the scroll, wax tablets were commonly used in Antiquity as a writing surface.  Diptychs and later polyptych formats were often hinged together along one edge, analogous to the spine of modern books, as well as a folding ”concertina” format.  Such a set of simple wooden boards sewn together was called by the Romans a codex (pl. codices)—from the Latin word ”caudex”, meaning “the trunk” of a tree, around the first century AD. Two ancient polyptychs, a ”pentaptych” and ”octoptych”, excavated at Herculaneum employed a unique connecting system that presages later sewing on thongs or cords.

At the turn of the first century, a kind of folded parchment notebook called ”pugillares membranei” in Latin, became commonly used for writing throughout the Roman Empire. This term was used by both the pagan Roman literature/Roman poet Martial and Christianity/Christian Apostle (Christian)/apostle Paul of Tarsus/Paul the Apostle. Martial used the term with reference to gifts of literature exchanged by Romans during the festival of Saturnalia. According to T. C. Skeat, “in at least three cases and probably in all, in the form of codices” and he theorized that this form of notebook was invented in Rome and then “must have spread rapidly to the Near East”. In his discussion of one of the earliest pagan parchment codices to survive from Oxyrhynchus in Egypt, Eric Turner seems to challenge Skeat’s notion when stating “its mere existence is evidence that this book form had a prehistory” and that “early experiments with this book form may well have taken place outside of Egypt”.

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Early intact codices were discovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt.  Consisting of primarily Gnostic texts in Coptic, the books were mostly written on papyrus, and while many are single-quire, a few are multi-quire.  Codices were a significant improvement over papyrus or vellum scrolls in that they were easier to handle. However, despite allowing writing on both sides of the leaves, they were still foliated—numbered on the leaves, like the Indian books. The idea spread quickly through the early churches, and the word ”Bible” comes from the town where the Byzantine monks established their first scriptorium, Byblos, in modern Lebanon. The idea of numbering each side of the page—Latin ”pagina”, “to fasten”—appeared when the text of the individual testaments of the Bible were combined and text had to be searched through more quickly. This book format became the preferred way of preserving manuscript or printed material.

HISTORICAL FORMS OF BINDING

Historical forms of binding include the following:

  • Coptic binding: a method of sewing leaves/pages together
  • Ethiopian binding
  • Long-stitch book binding
  • Islamic bookcover with a distinctive flap on the back cover that wraps around to the front when the book is closed.
  • Wooden-board binding
  • Limp vellum binding
  • Calf binding (“leather-bound”)
  • Paper case binding
  • In-board cloth binding
  • Cased cloth binding
  • Bradel binding
  • Traditional Chinese book binding/Traditional Chinese and Korean book binding and Japanese stab binding
  • Girdle book/Girdle binding
  • Anthropodermic bibliopegy (rare or fictional) book binding in human skin.
  • Secret Belgian binding (or “criss-cross binding”), invented in 1986, was erroneously identified as a historical method.

Some older presses could not separate the pages of a book, so readers used a paper-knife to separate the outer edges of pages as a book was read.

MODERN COMMERCIAL BINDING

There are various commercial techniques in use today. Today, most commercially produced books belong to one of four categories:

Hardcover Binding

A hardcover, hardbound or hardback book has rigid covers and is stitched in the spine. Looking from the top of the spine, the book can be seen to consist of a number of terms and techniques/signatures bound together. When the book is opened in the middle of a signature, the binding threads are visible. Signatures of hardcover books are typically Octavo (text)/octavo (a single sheet folded three times), though they may also be folio, quarto, or 16mo (see Book size). Unusually large and heavy books are sometimes bound with wire.

Until the mid-20th century, covers of mass-produced books were laid with cloth, but from that period onward, most publishers adopted clothette, a kind of textured paper which vaguely resembles cloth but is easily differentiated on close inspection. Most cloth-bound books are now half-and-half covers with cloth covering only the spine. In that case, the cover has a paper overlap. The covers of modern hardback books are made of thick cardboard.

Some books that appeared in the mid-20th century signature-bound appear in reprinted editions in glued-together editions. Copies of such books stitched together in their original format are often difficult to find, and are much sought after for both aesthetic and practical reasons.

A variation of the hardcover which is more durable is the calf-binding, where the cover is either half or fully clad in leather, usually from a calf. This is also called full-bound or, simply, leather bound.

Library binding refers to the hardcover binding of books intended for the rigors of library use and are largely Serial (literature)/serials and paperback publications. Though many publishers have started to provide “library binding” editions, many libraries elect to purchase paperbacks and have them rebound as hardcover books, resulting in longer life for the material.

Methods of Hardcover Binding

There are a number of methods used to bind hardcover books, from them:

  • Case binding is the most common type of hardcover binding for books. The pages are arranged in signatures and glued together into a “textblock.” The textblock is then attached to the cover or “case” which is made of cardboard covered with paper, cloth, vinyl or leather. This is also known as cloth binding, or edition binding.
  • Oversewn binding/Oversewing, where the signatures of the book start off as loose pages which are then clamped together. Small vertical holes are punched through the far left-hand edge of each signature, and then the signatures are sewn together with lock-stitches to form the text block. Oversewing is a very strong method of binding and can be done on books up to five inches thick. However, the margins of oversewn books are reduced and the pages will not lie flat when opened.
  • Sewing through the fold (also called Smyth Sewing), where the signatures of the book are folded and stitched through the fold. The signatures are then sewn and Adhesive/glued together at the spine to form a text block. In contrast to oversewing, through-the-fold books have wide margins and can open completely flat. Many varieties of sewing stitches exist, from basic links to the often used Kettle Stitch. While Western books are generally sewn through punched holes or sawed notches along the fold, some Asian bindings, such as the Retchoso or Butterfly Stitch of Japan, use small slits instead of punched holes.
  • Double-fan adhesive binding starts off with two signatures of loose pages, which are run over a roller—”fanning” the pages—to apply a thin layer of glue to each page edge. Then the two signatures are perfectly aligned to form a text block, and glue edges of the text block are attached to a piece of cloth lining to form the spine. Double-fan adhesive bound books can open completely flat and have a wide margin. However, certain types of paper do not hold adhesive well, and, with wear and tear, the pages can come loose.

PUNCH AND BIND

Different types of the ”punch and bind” binding include:

  • Wire binding/Double wire, twin loop, or Wire-O binding is a type of binding that is used for books that will be viewed or read in an office or home type environment. The binding involves the use of a “C” shaped wire spine that is squeezed into a round shape using a wire closing device. Double wire binding allows books to have smooth crossover and is affordable in many colors. This binding is great for annual reports, owners manuals and software manuals. Wire bound books are made of individual sheets, each punched with a line of round or square holes on the binding edge. This type of binding uses either a 3:1 pitch hole pattern with three holes per inch or a 2:1 pitch hole pattern with two holes per inch. The three to one hole pattern is used for smaller books that are up to 9/16″ in diameter while the 2:1 pattern is normally used for thicker books as the holes are slightly bigger to accommodate slightly thicker, stronger wire. Once punched, the back cover is then placed on to the front cover ready for the wire binding elements (double loop wire) to be inserted. The wire is then placed through the holes. The next step involves the binder holding the book by its pages and inserting the wire into a “closer” which is basically a vise that crimps the wire closed and into its round shape. The back page can then be turned back to its correct position, thus hiding the spine of the book.
  • Comb binding uses a 9/16″ pitch rectangular hole pattern punched near the bound edge. A curled plastic “comb” is fed through the slits to hold the sheets together. Comb binding allows a book to be disassembled and reassembled by hand without damage. Comb supplies are typically available in a wide range of colors and diameters. The supplies themselves can be re-used or recycled. In the United States, comb binding is often referred to as 19-ring binding because it uses a total of 19 holes along the 11-inch side of a sheet of paper.
  • VeloBind is used to permanently rivet pages together using a plastic strip on the front and back of the document. Sheets for the document are punched with a line of holes near the bound edge. A series of pins attached to a plastic strip called a Comb feeds through the holes to the other side and then goes through another plastic strip called the receiving strip. The excess portion of the pins is cut off and the plastic heat-sealed to create a relatively flat bind method. VeloBind provides a more permanent bind than comb-binding, but is primarily used for business and legal presentations and small publications.
  • Coil binding/Spiral binding is the most economical form of mechanical binding when using plastic or metal. It is commonly used for atlases and other publications where it is necessary or desirable to be able to open the publication back on itself without breaking the spine. There are several types but basically it is made by punching holes along the entire length of the spine of the page and winding a wire helix (like a spring) through the holes to provide a fully flexible hinge at the spine. Spiral coil binding uses a number of different hole patterns for binding documents. The most common hole pattern used with this style is 4:1 pitch (4 holes per inch). However, spiral coil spines are also available for use with 3:1 pitch, 5:1 pitch and 0.400-hole patterns.
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Thermally Activated Binding

Some of the different types of thermally activated binding include:

# Perfect binding is often used for paperback books. It is also used for magazines; ”National Geographic (magazine)/National Geographic” is one example of this type. Perfect-bound books usually consist of various sections with a cover made from heavier paper, glued together at the spine with a strong glue. The sections are milled in the back and notches are applied into the spine to allow hot glue to penetrate into the spine of the book. The other three sides are then face-trimmed. This is what allows the magazine or paperback book to be opened. Mass-market paperbacks (pulp paperbacks) are small (”Duodecimo/16mo” size), cheaply made with each sheet fully cut and glued at the spine; these are likely to fall apart or lose sheets after much handling or several years. Paperback#Trade paperback/Trade paperbacks are more sturdily made, with traditional gatherings or sections of bifolios, usually larger, and more expensive. The difference between the two can usually easily be seen by looking for the sections in the top or bottom sides of the book.

# Thermal binding uses a one-piece cover with glue down the spine to quickly and easily bind documents without the need for punching. Individuals usually purchase “thermal covers” or “therm-a-bind covers”, which are usually made to fit a standard-size sheet of paper and come with a glue channel down the spine. The paper is placed in the cover, heated in a machine (basically a griddle), and when the glue cools, it adheres the paper to the spine. Thermal glue strips can also be purchased separately for individuals that wish to use customized/original covers. However, creating documents using thermal binding glue strips can be a tedious process, which requires a scoring device and a large-format printer.

# A cardboard article looks like a hardbound book at first sight, but it is really a paperback with hard covers. Many books that are sold as hardcover are actually of this type. The Modern Library series is an example. This type of document is usually bound with thermal adhesive glue using a perfect-binding machine.

# Tape binding refers to a system that wraps and glues a piece of tape around the base of the document. A tape-binding machine such as the PLANAX COPY Binder or Powis Parker Fastback system will usually be used to complete the binding process and to activate the thermal adhesive on the glue strip. However, some users also refer to tape binding as the process of adding a colored tape to the edge of a mechanically fastened (stapled or stitched) document.

STITCHED OR SEWN BINDING

Types of stitched or sewn bindings:

  • A ”sewn book” is constructed in the same way as a hardbound book, except that it lacks the hard covers. The binding is as durable as that of a hardbound book.
  • Stapling through the centerfold, also called ”saddle-stitching”, joins a set of nested folios into a single magazine issue; most comic books are well-known examples of this type.
  • Magazines are considered more ephemeral than books, and less durable means of binding them are usual. In general, the cover papers of magazines will be the same as the inner pages (self-cover). Most magazines are stapled or saddle-stitched; however, some are bound with perfect binding and use thermally activated adhesive.

MODERN HAND BINDING

Modern book binding by hand can be seen as two closely allied fields: the creation of new bindings, and the repair of existing bindings. Bookbinders are often active in both fields. Bookbinders can learn the craft through apprenticeship; by attending specialized trade schools; by taking classes in the course of university studies, or by a combination of those methods. Some European countries offer a ”Master Bookbinder” certification, though no such certification exists in the United States. MFA programs that specialize in the ‘Book Arts’ (hand paper-making, printmaking and book binding) are available through certain colleges and universities.

Hand bookbinders create new bindings that run the gamut from historical book structures made with traditional materials to modern structures made with 21st-century materials, and from basic cloth-case bindings to valuable full-leather fine bindings. Repairs to existing books also encompass a broad range of techniques, from minimally invasive conservation of a historic book to the full restoration and rebinding of a text.

Though almost any existing book can be repaired to some extent, only books that were originally sewn can be rebound by resewing. Repairs or restorations are often done to emulate the style of the original binding. For new works, some publishers print unbound manuscripts which a binder can collate and bind, but often an existing commercially bound book is ”pulled”, or taken apart, in order to be given a new binding. Once the textblock of the book has been pulled, it can be rebound in almost any structure; a modern suspense novel, for instance, could be rebound to look like a 16th-century manuscript. Bookbinders may bind several copies of the same text, giving each copy a unique appearance.

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Hand bookbinders use a variety of specialized hand tools, the most emblematic of which is the bonefolder, a flat, tapered, polished piece of bone used to crease paper and apply pressure.  Additional tools common to hand book binding include a variety of knives and hammers, as well as brass tools used during Finishing (book binding)/finishing.

When creating new work, modern hand binders often work on commission, creating bindings for specific books or collections. Books can be bound in many different materials. Some of the more common materials for covers are leather, decorative paper, and cloth (see also: buckram). Those bindings that are made with exceptionally high craftsmanship, and that are made of particularly high-quality materials (especially full leather bindings), are known as ”fine” or ”extra” bindings. Also, when creating a new work, modern binders may wish to select a book that has already been printed and create what is known as a ‘design binding’. “In a typical design binding, the binder selects an already printed book, disassembles it, and rebinds it in a style of fine binding—rounded and backed spine, laced-in boards, sewn headbands, decorative end sheets, leather cover etc.”

CONSERVATION AND RESTORATION

Conservation and restoration are practices intended to repair damage to an existing book. While they share methods, their goals differ. The goal of conservation is to slow the book’s decay and restore it to a usable state while altering its physical properties as little as possible. Conservation methods have been developed in the course of taking care of large collections of books. The term archival comes from taking care of the institutions archive of books. The goal of restoration is to return the book to a previous state as envisioned by the restorer, often imagined as the original state of the book. The methods of restoration have been developed by bookbinders with private clients mostly interested in improving their collections.

In either case, one of the modern standard for conservation and restoration is “reversibility”. That is, any repair should be done in such a way that it can be undone if and when a better technique is developed in the future. Bookbinders echo the physician’s creed, “Primum non nocere/First, do no harm”. While reversibility is one standard, longevity of the functioning of the book is also very important and sometimes takes precedence over reversibility especially in areas that are invisible to the reader such as the spine lining.

Books requiring restoration or conservation treatment run the gamut from the very earliest of texts to books with modern bindings that have undergone heavy usage. For each book, a course of treatment must be chosen that takes into account the book’s value, whether it comes from the binding, the text, the provenance, or some combination of the three. Many people choose to rebind books, from amateurs who restore old paperbacks on internet instructions to many professional book and paper conservators and restorationists, who often in the United States are members of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC).

Many times, books that need to be restored are hundreds of years old, and the handling of the pages and binding has to be undertaken with great care and a delicate hand. The archival process of restoration and conservation can extend a book’s life for many decades and is necessary to preserve books that sometimes are limited to a small handful of remaining copies worldwide.

Typically, the first step in saving and preserving a book is its deconstruction. The text pages need to be separated from the covers and, only if necessary, the stitching removed. This is done as delicately as possible. All page restoration is done at this point, be it the removal of foxing, ink stains, page tears, etc. Various techniques are employed to repair the various types of page damage that might have occurred during the life of the book.

The preparation of the “foundations” of the book could mean the difference between a beautiful work of art and a useless stack of paper and leather.

The sections are then hand-sewn in the style of its period, back into book form, or the original sewing is strengthened with new lining on the text-spine. New hinges must be accounted for in either case both with text-spine lining and some sort of end-sheet restoration.

The next step is the restoration of the book cover; This can be as complicated as completely re-creating a period binding to match the original using whatever is appropriate for that time it was originally created. Sometimes this means a new full leather binding with vegetable tanned leather, dyed with natural dyes, and Paper marbling/hand-marbled papers may be used for the sides or end-sheets. Finally the cover is hand-tooled in gold leaf. The design of the book cover involves such hand-tooling, where an extremely thin layer of gold is applied to the cover. Such designs can be lettering, symbols, or floral designs, depending on the nature of any particular project.

Sometimes the restoration of the cover is a matter of surgically strengthening the original cover by lifting the original materials and applying new materials for strength. This is perhaps a more common method for covers made with book-cloth although leather books can be approached this way as well. Materials such as Japanese tissues of various weights may be used. Colors may be matched using acrylic paints or simple colored pencils.

It is harder to restore leather books typically because of the fragility of the materials.

CONCLUSION

In conclusion, Book binding is an artistic craft of great antiquity, and at the same time, a highly mechanized industry. The division between craft and industry is not so wide as might at first be imagined. It is interesting to observe that the main problems faced by the mass-production bookbinder are the same as those that confronted the medieval craftsman or the modern hand binder. The first problem is still how to hold together the pages of a book; secondly is how to cover and protect the gathering of pages once they are held together; and thirdly, how to label and decorate the protective cover.

A book craftsman needs a minimum set of hand tools but with experience will find an extensive collection of secondary hand tools and even items of heavy equipment that are valuable for greater speed, accuracy, and efficiency.

REFERENCES

Burdett Eric, The Craft of Book binding: A Practical Handbook (1975) David & Charles Limited Vancouver, BC /isbn=978-071536656-1

Roberts Colin H. & Skeat T. C., The Birth of the Codex/url=https://books.google.com/books?id=U8hVSQAACAAJ/year=1987/publisher=OUP/British Academy/isbn=978-0-19-726061-6

Skeat Theodore Cressy & J. K. Elliot; The Collected Biblical Writings of T. C. Skeat/url=https://books.google.com/books?id=td_OLXo4RvkC/year=2004/publisher=Brill/isbn=90-04-13920-6

Vaughan Alex J. Modern Book binding: A Treatise Covering Both Letterpress and Stationery Branches of the Trade, with a Section on Finishing anddesign/url=https://books.google.com/books?id=YMEVAQAAIAAJ/year=1950/publisher=Hale/isbn=978-0-7090-5820-5

 

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