In my daily line of work I don’t get to be creative and neither do I get to see many books of great rarity. However, over the last year and a half I’ve had the privilege of doing some dusting in the Rare Book stack at the National Library. You would be amazed at the amount of dust that can accumulate on the edges of books!
Just recently I bought Jane Greenfield‘s ABC of Bookbinding. It contains drawings of historical structures; it has made a complicated chain of technical events relatively simple to understand. And it has helped me understand the interesting discoveries I’ve made in the stack. I can now also use some of the knowledge I gained at Prof Pickwoad’s course at the London Rare Book Summer school, entitled European bookbinding 1450-1830. Here is an example of comb lining:
I never thought I’d see one. I was only able to discover the full extent of this lining because its cover was in a state of disrepair. The lining was made from old hand written parchment, probably recycled from another book or a workshop reject.
It’s one thing to read about recycling of historical materials, it’s another to find it.
I am particularly interested in endbands, those decorative bits that sit on the head and tail of the book.
Sewing endbands gives me particular satisfaction; it’s a bit of a Zen thing. The silk or cotton that you try to sew around a cord core hides the edge of the spine while you try to make a pretty pattern at the same time. This is what I made:
After viewing some 60 photos of old books someone just asked me this morning if I had any shots of how modern books were made. I had to think for a while. What is striking is that bookbinding as a craft has not changed much in over 400 years. Sure people have become innovative, and fine binders today work with care and precision.
This is not to say that the binders of old didn’t, but i do believe that as printing made it easy for books to be mass produced, binders were under pressure to keep up with demand, and may be care was not such a premiun need or product for most people.
Last year I presented 2 papers on the books in the rare stack. At the New Zealand Book Symposium I focused on how I applied learned knowledge to identify bindings of the books in the stack, and at the Bibliographic society of Australia and New Zealand conference I shared my excitement at the discoveries I had made.
To be frank, I don’t have an affinity with laced in covers. I quite like case binding and simplified binding. However I do like the look of seeing the cords laced into the covers, something modern binders try to hide.
I have hundreds of photos that I could share; but I have neither the time nor the space to do so. What I would really like to do is spend time in the stack cataloguing a sample set of books, describing their bindings in details. But alas, that is not my job!
I’ll leave you with this beauty I found:
If I make any more discoveries I’ll let you know.