I get fantastic writing ideas when I am driving between Canberra and Braidwood. Unfortunately I don’t have a voice recorder.
I’ve been thinking about large, heavy books, about my students learning how to round and back their 17 section A4 size textblocks. They are making a case binding, because that is one of the methods I am most comfortable teaching, and they are adding a hollow to the spine.
There has been much debate in the literature about the usefulness of the hollow. This has confused me because when I was learning book repair I used the hollow quite a lot to re-attach cover. However what I call a hollow (for Oxford hollow), I also call a tube (which it is). My mentor calls this something else entirely.
In my mind, the hollow is a tube that is made after the spine linings are on, traditionally from kraft paper, but now form more archival material. It is stuck to the spine and the spine cover is then attached to it. It can be made on or off the book. My personal preference is to make it on the book.
Left: how to make a hollow Right: the result of a hollow (BTW this is not what the original image was for)
Left: courtesy Cornell University Library – Right: courtesy Cool Conservation
Here is what I have read:(paraphrasing )
According to Jane Greenfield, hollows started in mid to late 18th century. Boards were attached to textblock and a hollow added to spine to provide smoothness for spine upon which tooling can more easily be applied.
Douglas Cockerell bemoaned the fact that hollows were used too often, and made the spine stiffer.
During five years of repairing large books, many of these had broken at the spine. All that had been holding the book together were the spine linings and the endpapers. A hollow would have helped these heavy tomes, but I can imagine that the vagaries of bookbinding production line do not encourage time out for details.
Hollows are neither necessary nor suitable to small thin books, and perhaps there is an argument for the case of unnecessary usage in such cases. However I do believe that certainly for large case bound books a hollow would be useful, and even for laced in books, the hollow would take strain away from the supports. If we want large, commercial hardback volumes to remain strong, then adding a hollow would make the book and the end user much happier.
NB: To my shame I only realised this year that hollows only work with rounded books. They do not work with flat backs. So don’t try it on a large university test book unless it has a rounded spine!