New Oriental binding – project 4

I first read about the New Oriental binding in the Bonefolder. (as an aside I really do admire that magazine). Sometimes I do believe I am set in my ways: why invent something that is nearly oriental? I suppose the answer is: because we can. Anyhoo. I didn’t give it much thought until I was searching for a new way of putting together single section pamphlets.  I also wanted something relatively quick. Monique Lallier’s instructions were easy to understand and I had a project that required pamphlet sewing. This is the result:

Tango manual

Tango manual

At a recent Canberra Craft bookbinders’ Guild meeting we were discussing how to pull down a book. We had also been asked to bring some previous work so that members had the opportunity to view different work. I brought my little tango manual in its orange New Oriental binding. Being inspired to try something new, a few weeks after that meeting Beverly sent me these pictures of her own book:

This year however I had a project for which I was lacking in ideas. My friend Andrea obtained an eBook version of my favourite children’s book. I reprinted it to my own specifications. It now has many sections. I have a penchant for making dos a dos bindings. After 3 projects runs, I settled on New Oriental binding.

Each section required a guard to be sewn with it.


The guard is then filled with compensation card to the thickness of the pamphlet; using calipers is good for this. What you are making are stubs that you will then glue together to form a block.  The next stage is to cover them before glueing on the cover. Add an endpaper. This is glued onto the stub. You could add the end paper to the stub before covering. I think that is neater.(and more secure)

The covers are the oriental part; spine part and cover held together with a thin strip, about 5 mm apart to allow for joint movement; you would then cover and infill at leisure before glueing onto spine stub I made these paste papers for the covers and the end papers;


At this stage I would recommend piling the whole thing together and trimming in an electric guillotine if available. If not, trim by hand now so that you know that everything is square and the correct size. I found out the hard way that my covers were not quite square or the right size. If your stubs are slightly uneven they will show under the covering and won’t look so neat. I like the idea that there is no square.


This is called project 4 because it has taken me this many times to get it right before I undertake the final version.

To finish this post, here are some details of project 4:

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Scrolls and concertinas

In a previous post we examined  lontars,  collections of dried palm leaves which have texts or illustrations inscribed on them, and held together by either a central thread or threads on either ends.

Papyrus and dried leaves do not have a very long life, and this was known to contemporary writers. As a medium they are not very flexible. It seems only logical that the invention of paper would produce an evolutionary change in how the written word was stored.

The fragility and handling difficulties of the lontar, or the Chinese  pothi made from bamboo slats, was overcome by writing on long sheets of paper.

The continuous form of the scroll was first developed in China during the Tang dynasty.  While much of the writing was previously done on silk, it wasn’t until the Tang period  that artists began to use paper as their medium. Scrolls can be read horizontally, from right to left, or vertically. Scrolls were not necessarily for every day use. While some scrolls contained religious texts, scrolls depicting landscapes and scenes were used as decoration.


The scroll allows for the slow development of a story. Presumably, presenting bite size chunks of information allows the reader to concentrate and be fully aware of what he is seeing or reading. This form was prevalent until the Song dynasty.

In Asia there are two varieties of scroll:

The horizontal scroll, when used  for texts, is called  makimono in japanese (with few illustrations). The picture scroll is called juan zhou in chinese or emakimono in japanese, meaning in the chinese manner.

The vertical scroll can also be used for text, however as a picture scroll it is called biao-fa or guafu in chinese or  kakemono in Japanese.

In its construction, the Asian scroll differs to the European scroll in that it is made up of several sheets of paper, attached around and behind the main scroll piece.


vertical scroll



In Europe,  the parchment scroll had been used from the earliest times and even after  the advent of printing. In fact, scrolls are still in use today as away of archaizing information; that is, increasing the importance of the information contained within it, hence the bestowing of university degrees in scroll form.

Parchment scrolls were easy to carry in one’s pocket, vest or satchel, making information easily transportable. If you needed to add information but weren’t too sure how much needed to be added, scrolls were quite adaptable. A piece of parchment could easily be sewn onto the end. Scrolls were also particularly handy for maps or for writing out genealogies. They were used extensively in mass, where the priest read out parts of the mass, and while reading the scroll an image could be seen by the congregation.


However, unrolling scrolls must have been tedious and inconvenient. It is no wonder that in Asia at least, the concertina provided a first step towards the codex. While the pages of a concertina are folded, it is usually read in a two page spread, not necessarily as a drawn out concertina shape. It is my experience that more often than not Asian concertinas horizontally.

Concertinas sizes depend on lengths of paper.  One sheet may have been long enough to contain all the necessary information; however it is likely that several sheets would be pasted together end to end to form a continuous length. A search on the internet will reveal a myriad easy ways to make a concertina: folding a single sheet of paper, attaching two boards on the end, and there is a book.

concertina drawing

Different ways of folding a concertina and attaching separate leaves


Book artists have embraced the idea of the concertina because it is a quick and effective means of producing a book. if you want to learn more about making concertina bindings in the Asian manner,  Kojiro Ikegami’s seminal book on Japanese binding techniques[1]is a terrific place in which to start.



[1] Ikegami, Kōsanjin. & Stephan, Barbara B.  (1986).  Japanese bookbinding : instructions from a master craftsman.  New York :  Weatherhill

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Das Kapitalbund: at last!

Four years ago I took a course at the London Rare Book Summer School, and viewed slides of many books bound between 1430 and 1820. Amongst them were German books with kapitalbunds.

A book with kapitalbunds is very distinctive by the dip that occurs at the spine; the squares seem inordinately tall. There are no endbands that sit on top of the bookblock, and there are no headcaps.

After three years of searching, I found one at last:

RBRS2 Malleus Malleficarum

RBRS2 Malleus Malleficarum with Rationes Breves and De Summe Bono

Title written on foredge

Title written on foredge

Vellum pastedown

Vellum pastedown

This is a full leather binding over paste boards with the kapitalbund. The kapitalbund is a change over station, not an endband, but as it is situated so close to the head and tail, can easily be mistaken for one. In the first photo you can see that unlike normal books, the spine is set much lower that the cover boards. It is blind tooled with fleur de lis and 6 petal flower motifs in circles, with hatchet lines along the raised bands.

There is a vellum paste down on the front and back covers; I am sure I have seen renmants in other books. This one was quite intact. there were also parchment guards on the first and last sections. Unfortunately the text is printed on paper that is running cross grain.

The watermarks in the book are fleur de lis, found in the gutter and a gothic P.

The Rare Book Stack at the National Library of Australia contains numerous books printed in Germany, and when I came back from London, I was so sure of finding at least one. Apparently they are not so common. They are a southern German speciality.

I am quite chuffed.

If you want to find out more, visit the Ligatus site for a description.

I am putting all my research into books from the Rare Book Stack into two volumes, due in 2017. So watch this space!

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The lontar – an early form of book


Roughly two years ago I posted about bark books. Well, in continuing with an asian theme, let me tell you a little about lontars.


What is a lontar?

Made from flattened and dried palm leaves, lontars usually contained religious texts. They are contained between two wooden covers, and held together with a string, either threaded through the center of the leaves or at either end, finished off with a chinese coin or perhaps a wooden peg.


MS6240-7 Lontar with wooden cover and threaded in the center. Finished with old chinese coin

Where are lontars found:

Mainly in Indonesia, Japan, Thailand, Burma, China. Incidentally in Malaysia, Philippines and Nepal. In India and sometimes in China they are called pothi

A pothi is made from bamboo slivers, and usually fully threaded.


How lontars are processed:

Process 1:

  • Picked and dried by hanging;
  • Apply oil (gingili – sesame oil) or smoked;
  • Clean before writing;
  • In India application of tumeric paste after cleaning.

Process 2:

In Orissa (now called Odisha) province, rough and mature leaves were boiled to thin them out. In Sri Lanka young leaves were boiled in water or lime water, and then dried in the shade.

Process 3:

In Thailand, the process is very different (bai-larn). Leaves are picked and then dried in the shade. The stiff ribs are removed and then they are cut to a uniform size. This is done by collecting them in bundles of 50 or so, placed between wooden boards and then trimmed.

The bundles are placed in a kiln for about 24 hours. The kiln has 2 levels: the lower one for the fire, the upper for the bundles. The fire, built in the lower half, is regulated by the fact that all the doors are closed. After 24 hours a black oil exudes from the leaves and is left on the sides of the bundles. After cleaning this excess, the bundles are opened and each leaf is cleaned.

Each leaf is then held over an open fire for a little while and then polished with a cloth. This process makes the leaf absolutely dry and ready for writing.

Before writing or painting, the leaves are coloured or lacquered, either on the edges with vermillion or on the face of the leaf black lacquer is applied upon which the writing was gold.

Several colours were used for writing: white, gold, black or red.

Writing methods for lontars:

Method 1: Pointillist

Incisions were made with pointed stylus. This is the most common method.


There are two incision methods:

  1. Move the leaf under the still stylus
  2. Moving the stylus

Writing goes from Left to Right. This method of writing is made visible by rubbing in lamp-black or charcoal black pigment mixed with oil.

In India, mustard oil or gingili (sesame oil) was mixed with the black.

Crushed tree leaf juice may also be applied to get green lettering.

A paste of bean plant (dolicho lablab), eclipta alba, juices of datura stramonium or fastuosa, black ash, coconut shell and gingili oil was rubbed over the leaf. This was said to be a preservative against insects.

Method 2: Pen or brush

Writing with pen or brush applies the ink on the surface of the leaf.Sometimes both incision and pen work techniques are used on the one lontar.

Length of leaf:

This is usually dictated by the size of the plant and initial leaf


Covers are usually decorated wooden boards. These may be painted or with inlays. To keep it together holes are punched and cord threaded through.

In small lontars a single hole in the centre is all that is needed. In larger lontars, a hole at both ends with or without a centre hole may be used.


The title was written on a strip of either palm leaf, wood or ivory and was placed over the cover and included in the bundle.


Insects that eat lontars:

Gastrallus indicus.

A native method of keeping this bug at bay was to store the lontar with bunches of herbs such as Sweet Flag (ghorabach) or margosa leaves


Due to their very nature and the climactic conditions of south east Asia, lontars do not generally have a long life. The National Library of Australia holds 8 lontars in its collection, mainly from Indonesia but also from Thailand. I think that lontars and pothi are valuable to look at if one wishes to understand the nature of the book. As a means of information transmission, they were but one phase in the development of the codex. In class I get my students to make facsimiles from paper; the next stage is, of course,the scroll. After all it stands to reason that once the concept of  sheets (parchment or paper) was discovered, scribes could write down their stories and texts in much more efficient and convenient ways.

Next up then,  the scroll!


Further reading:

  1. Agrawal, O.P. (1984) Conservation of Manuscripts and Paintings of South East Asia, Butterworth Series






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Booksleuthing: A visit to an australian colonial library

Braidwood, middle of nowhere? Somewhere between London Sydney and NewYork. Ok, 3 hours south of Sydney.

My friend Sonia’s family home of Bedervale is a mansion in the early australian colonial style. There have been parties around the folly, mystery murders in the cellar and of course, girly nights in the new part of the house.

I first visited Bedervale in the late 1980s when I joined the Spinners and Weavers. I had longed to use our spinning wheel and now here were women to teach me how. We would meet in the old kitchen and chat while we carded wool, spun or wove.

2016-04-01 20.00.36

Sonia and Margaret, daughter and mother both gogeters in their own right, with the Lesleys, in the old kitchen

It is a house full of relics;  it contains furniture and bric a brac of various importance relevant  to three families, the Coghills, the Maddrells and the Royds. My parents being antique dealers I really didn’t pay much attention to any of it; it was just more furniture and stuff. However now that I am a book sleuth, it occurred to me on Friday night while we were sipping champagne, that perhaps there was a library here.

2016-04-02 08.23.05

Interesting side of the library

As a National Trust home, this library has been catalogued. The books were brought over by the first owners of the house the Coghills. Many of the books carried bookplates from Brompton Library. We looked at a few books and many dated to 1830s or more, right when machine made paper was taking over the printing and bookbinding world.

I was anxious to see if I could find watermarks. Randomly Lesley and I pick out

2016-04-02 08.23.47

Lesley is now fascinated about watermarks. Not only does she want to read this travel guide to Syria and Egypt, dated 1788, but she wants to find watermarks as well

Unlike many of the other small books in the library it is bound in-grain, however due to its size very few marks are visible, a few circles at  the head, a cut off  fleur de lis? Unfortunately no photos because my phone ran out of juice. But as I proceeded to peer into random books, I would show Lesley the difference between chainlines and laid lines and machine made paper. She started to get excited, and now understood my fascination with watermarks.

2016-04-02 08.24.03

the effect of cheap sheep leather…

We were here for dinner, so we decided to go back to the old kitchen in order to quiz Margaret. The books, it seems, were probably first bought as a job lot – after all, members of the squattocracy had to seem reasonably well read. And then as various members developed interests, the library became populated with books that followed a purpose such as Maddrell’s medical training in Germany: so lots of medical books and german literature.

What a good excuse for returning more often to Braidwood. If you are in this part of the world Bedervale runs a bed and breakfast and week end tours of the homestead, so you could take a peek at it yourself.

Watch this space for more on the library…..




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Title pages, vignettes and other decor – not watermarks

You may or may not know that I have been conducting some photo research into the bindings in the rare book stack of the National Library of Australia. For the last two years, I’ve managed to examine over 220 books ranging from 1470 to 1900. At first I was only looking at their bindings, mostly because some of the books were in such a state that I could see the spine linings of recycled parchment and other material.

And one thing led to another and hey presto, I’m also searching for watermarks. And all this research leads me to write a book; ok, maybe two books.

However, since enrolling in modules from the course The Book: Histories across space and time offered by Harvard University through the EdEx platform, I have realised that there are equally important parts of the book I had previously ignored.

For example, who really cares about a title page? Well I didn’t. To me it was just some bland page or pages at the front of the book; let me get to the meat of the subject! why bother me with all this other info? While enrolled in the History of the book in the 17th and 18th centuries as well as in Print and manuscript in Western Europe, Asia an the Middle East (1450 -1650), I discovered that there is more to the title page than I had appreciated.

The title page of today has evolved to become what it now is. To put it briefly (I do recommend auditing those two courses above), early books did not have title pages. Or at best they had very little to indicate what the reader what letting himself in for. The two images below give you the basics, plus some place to scribble:

The image below is just images, no text.


The back matter of the book would contain a list of the first few lines from the sections; presumably this would help the binder bind the book, and would allow the reader to make sure that he had all the pages in the correct order. The image below also has the printer’s device.


If we leave the 15th century, the sixteenth century now sees more elaborate text


More of the relevant information is at the front; saves us searching all the way to the back of the book. And as time passes and readers become more educated, or in fact, that there are now more readers in the general population, the first few pages contain the what will now be called the front matter: it will have the title, author’s name, place of printing, printer’s name, people who contributed financially to the making of the book, and possibly endorsements, royal or otherwise.

Now we enter the 17th century. As printing was firstly done in black, any other added colour made the book more expensive. The red lines in the image below I suppose would have served to remind the reader of old parchment books, now long disused.

The front matter turns into messages to the reader from the translators, or the authors, and we get royal approbations, or recommendations by other authoritative figures. Modern branding techniques owe it all to publishers in the 17th century! Sometimes, if you wanted to be secretive you printed ambiguous address and false names so that you were not persecuted for your ideas.


The problem with developing interests is that two years ago I didn’t take the correct photos. Now that I am interested in the other matter of books, I find that my data is now lacking in evidence. I wasn’t paying attention to the little vignettes produced by the printers:

And I could go on ad nauseum with photos. I wish I could talk to you, show you in the books all these vignettes, title pages, and yes watermarks. As Australians we are lucky that we have access, for no reason whatsoever, to all this material. All you need is a national library card; go online now and get one. There is so much wonder to see in these books, and nothing we do today, in terms of marketing, was not thought up by our ancestors.

and to end this post, I couldn’t help myself, look at this:

RB JES 4979 Historia theologico-critica de vita, scriptis, atque doctrina sanctorum patrum Augsburg 1783

RB JES 4979 Historia theologico-critica de vita, scriptis, atque doctrina sanctorum patrum Augsburg 1783

How beautiful is this plate?

My books will describe about 220 books, with over 400 watermarks. Available by March 2017, in time for the Bookbinders Symposium 2017 to be held next March in Canberra.


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Watermark of the week: When does a bow look like a wombat?

Over the last two years I’ve examined about 220 books and have collected over 400 watermarks. Sometimes there are tow versions of one book and I get them both out to see if the paper is the same; if there is a little difference in the printing or the pagination. Sometimes it’s as though I see the same things over  and over again.

In the search  for watermarks I look through databases and books, sometimes getting a glimpse of a mark that might resemble one that I have.

What do you think this is?

IMG_5307 IMG_5341 IMG_5125

Could you believe these are all bows? as in bows and arrows, made in Paris between1636 and 1642.

I thought it looked like a potato or a fat bear or a wombat. However , how does one describe this and how do you find it in a database if you don’t know it’s a bow?

I’ve just been browsing books, and that trains your eye. In books of later periods I have not seen any more marks like this. I wonder who’se marks they represent. They were in the following books:

  1. Sancti patris nostri Gregorii Episcopi Nysseni opera : nvnc denvo correctivs et accvrativs edita … & in tres tomos distributa Parisiis : sumptibus Aegidii Morelli … , 1638
  2. Sancti Patris nostri Justini philosophi et martyris Opera. Item Athenagorae Atheniensis, Theophili Antiocheni, Tatiani Assyrii, & Hermiae Philosophi tractatus aliquot, quos sequens pagina indicabit. Quae omnia Graecè & Latinè emendatiora prodeunt. Parisiis : apud Clavdivm Sonnivm, 1636
  3. Qvorvm plvrima Graece, qvaedam etiam Latine nunc primum prodeunt : Graeca cum manuscriptis exemplaribus diligenter collata, Latinae versiones ad Graecorum normam exactae & recognitae / Cura & studio Iacobi Sirmondi. Lvtetiae Parisiorvm : sumptibus Sebastiani Cramoisy et Gabrielis Cramoisy, 1642

If anyone out there knows, please tell me!



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A handy collection

Pardon the puns

I have to

Five fingers

it to you : five fingers are handier than


Four fingers

Four fingers.   Well actually there is a thumb in that photo, it is just hard to make out.

A friend of mine gave me a


RBf208 B699

in the garden the other day.

However he got a flower stuck on his finger

Hand with stick

Hand with stick and flower. In the next photo you can see the hand a bit better



While in the early periods of watermarking the hand was used in Italy, 1450-1600 see the hand and its many forms, with star or flower on stick ,in France.



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Lessons learned in the bindery 2015

I think  need to go back to class:

There is only so much one can learn in isolation. I love looking through old issues of the Bonefolder or trawling Google images for pictures of bookbindings I get inspired; I get ideas and try new things, or reaffirm techniques.  I suppose I thrive on repetitive tasks; I learn by doing, and by doing often. Sew, sew, sew; pare,pare, pare; rounding and backing, rounding and backing. That is one technique I don’t often do. What with a full time job, teaching dance and bookcraft in the evenings there is not much mental space for my own work. I think I have only ever executed 3 or 4 laced in bindings. Therefore practise, practise, practise.

However, whenever the opportunity arises to attend workshops, off I go. In 2015 I officially learned how to do coptic binding, sewn board binding and laminated board binding. Practise, practise, practise.

Lesson 1: Follow the recipe several times before improvising. If you know how to do it the proper way, you can control any changes you make.

Lesson 2: Don’t be cheap. Don’t try to save paper. Use what you need, without being wasteful.

Lesson 3: Have a clean and tidy work space. Nothing is worse than using a dirty bit of mylar and having paste get stuck on your book.

Lesson 4: Practise until you can do it in your sleep.

Lesson 5: and I think the most valuable one, don’t rush. It’ll only be harder to get rid of the mistakes later.

I like my bindery space; I like to sit in it and doodle in my binding journal. I usually have several ideas on the go at once. I don’t know if that is a good idea. I wish I had more time to follow through on things, because even if I write ideas down, if I don’t come back to the job the next day, the flow is gone.

I am looking forward to going back to a regular class this year. I think I need not only the discipline, but the direction of a teacher.

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The find of the week – January

It is saturday and I am writing this quickly before I start making the custard for the ice cream…

When I first started the search for watermarks every little grape and heart and crown was exciting. Now I have the “oh that’s only a heart” attitude. When there are no watermark, there is a little sense of outrage. Anyhoo…this week, this is what I found:

A unicorn, well at least two parts of him. His op half was in the flyleaf of volume 1 and the bottom part was in the back fly of volume 3 of

Historia theologico-critica de vita, scriptis, atque doctrina sanctorum patrum : aliorumque scriptorum ecclesiasticorum trium primorum saeculorum ex virorum doctissimorum literariis monumentis collecta (RB JES 4979) at the National Library, printed in Augsburg in 1783
Unicorn on edge of cross grain paper, with belt and ornament

Unicorn on edge of cross grain paper, with belt and ornament

bottom quarter of the unicorn in vol3

bottom quarter of the unicorn in vol3


Just as with the Virgin Mary in a previous post, I have searched online databases and all the books I can get my hands on, to no avail. So if anyone can tell me if they have seen this same unicorn, I would be most grateful.

Dos a dos binding

Dos a dos binding

This is my project book of the research I am currently undertaking. It is easy to carry around: 150 bindings and 260 watermarks! I’ll be giving this to my friend Fabienne when she visits from Montevideo….

Next…I found two jokers in the same book. This has happened to me before in The History of the Plot. These two came from :

The primitive origination of mankind, considered and examined according to the light of nature / written by the honourable Sir Matthew Hale (RBfCLI 4016) printed in London 1677.

I am getting my son Max to photoshop all my watermarks so that they are clearer. This is hard to see. But once your eye is trained you can see any number of details.

And lastly, please find below a man on a horse. They are also sometimes called picadors. I found him in:

Mellificium theologicum ad dispatandum et concionandum proficuum… : Colligente & producente m. Johanne Binchio (RB De vesci 920)

man on horseThis was printed in Amsterdam in 1658.

I  am currently just collecting data and putting them in a book. This really has made my week!




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