Bookbinding, and the Care of Books - A handbook for Amateurs, Bookbinders & Librarians
by Douglas Cockerell
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In the case of some special books that are to have elaborately decorated bindings, and are on that account sufficiently distinct from their neighbours, a certain amount of freedom is permissible with the lettering, and a little mystery is not perhaps out of place. But in most cases books have to be recognised by their titles, and it is of the utmost importance that the lettering should be as clear as possible, and should fully identify the volume.

For lettering half-bindings and other books on which much time cannot be spared, it would take too long to make out a paper, as described for extra bindings, nor is there on such work much occasion for it. For such books the lettering should be written out carefully, the whole panel prepared and glaired in, and the gold laid on. Then with a piece of fine silk or thread lines may be marked across the gold as a guide to the finisher, and the letters worked from the centre outward, as described for making out the paper pattern. Of course this method does not allow of such nice calculation and adjustment as when a paper pattern is made out; but if a general principle of clear lettering is recognised and accepted, very good results may be obtained.


At the end of the book characteristic examples of blind-tooled books are given (pages 321-25). It will be seen that most of the tools form complete designs in themselves. Although the use of detached die-sunk tools was general, there were also simple tools used, which, when combined, made up more or less organic designs, and allowed more freedom to the finisher (see figs. 96 and 97).

Some use may also be made of interlaced strap-work designs, either worked with gouges, or a small fillet. A book bound in oaken boards, with a leather back with knotted decoration, is shown at page 330. I have found that such binding and decoration is more satisfactory in scheme for old books, than most forms of modern binding.

If a design is simple, the cover is marked up with dividers, and the tools impressed direct upon the leather; or, if it is elaborate, a paper pattern is made out, and the tools blinded through the paper, as described for gold tooling. The leather is then damped with water, and the impressions retooled.

The panel lines on most of the bindings before 1500 show evidence of having been put in with a tool which has been pushed along the leather, and not with a wheel. I have found that a tool guided by a straight-edge, and "jiggered" backwards and forwards, makes by far the best lines for blind-tool work. It should be borne in mind that the line is formed by the raised portion of leather, and so the tool should be cut somewhat as at fig. 98. This should leave three ridges on the leather. Blind tooling may be gone over and over until it is deep enough, and may be combined with various other methods of working. For instance, in tooling such a spray as is shown at fig. 99, the leaf would be formed by five impressions of the second tool, shown at A, the extremity of the impressions could be joined with gouges, the stalk and veining could either be run in with a fillet or worked with gouges. The grapes would best be worked with a tool cut for the purpose. One edge of all gouge or fillet impressions can be smoothed down with some such tool as shown in section at B. This has to be worked round the gouge lines with a steady hand, and may be fairly hot if it is kept moving. At C is shown a section of a gouge impression before and after the use of this tool. The ground can be dotted in, or otherwise gone over with some small tool to throw up the pattern.

Blind tooling can sometimes be used in combination with gold tooling.

In the fifteenth century the Venetian binders used little roundels of some gesso-like substance, that were brightly coloured or gilt, in combination with blind tooling (see p. 325). This is a method that might be revived.

What is known as "leather work" is a further development of blind tooling. This method of decoration has been revived lately, but not generally with success. "Leather work" may be divided into two branches; in one the surface of the leather is cut to outline the pattern, and in the other the leather is embossed from the back, while wet, and the pattern outlined by an indented line. Sometimes the two methods are combined. As embossing from the back necessitates the work being done before the leather is on the book, it is not very suitable for decorating books. Leather first decorated and then stuck on the book, never looks as if it was an integral part of the binding. The cut leather work, which may be done after the book is bound, and leaves the surface comparatively flat, is a better method to employ for books, provided the cuts are not too deep, and are restricted to the boards, so as not to weaken the leather at the back and joints. Much of the leather used for "leather work" is of very poor quality, and will not last; for modelling it must be thick on the side of the book, and for the book to open it must be pared thin at the joint, thus making it necessary to use a thick skin very much pared down, and consequently weakened (see p. 155). Another very common fault in modelled "leather work" is, that the two sides and the back are often worked separately and stuck together on the book, necessitating a join, and consequently a weak place in the hinge, where strength is most wanted. Again, in most modern "leather work," those who do the decoration do not, as a rule, do the binding, and often do not understand enough of the craft to do suitable work.

All those engaged in leather work are advised to learn to bind their own books, and to only use such methods of decoration, as can be carried out on the bound book.


It is an old and good custom to put the arms of the owner of a library on the covers of the books he has bound. The traditional, and certainly one of the best ways to do this, is to have an arms block designed and cut. To design an arms block, knowledge of heraldry is needed, and also some clear idea of the effect to be aimed at. A very common mistake in designing blocks is to try and get the effect of hand tooling. Blocks should be and look something entirely different. In hand tooling much of the effect is got from the impressions of small tools reflecting the light at slightly different angles, giving the work life and interest. Blocked gold being all in one plane, has no such lights in it, and depends entirely on its design for its effect.

Provided the heraldry identifies the owner, it should be as simply drawn as it can be; the custom of indicating the tinctures by lines and dots on the charges, generally makes a design confused, obscuring the coat it is intended to make clear. In designing heraldic blocks it is well to get a good deal of solid flat surface of gold to make the blocked design stand out from any gold-tooled work on the cover.

Another way of putting armorial bearings on covers, is to paint them in oil paint. In the early sixteenth century the Venetians copied the Eastern custom of sinking panels in their book covers, and painted coats of arms on these sunk portions very successfully. The groundwork of the shield itself was usually raised a little, either by something under the leather, or by some gesso-like substance on its surface.

Arms blocks should be placed a little above the centre of the cover. Generally, if the centre of the block is in a line with the centre band of a book with five bands, it will look right.

Blocks are struck with the aid of an arming or blocking press. The block is attached to the movable plate of the press called the "platen." To do this some stout brown paper is first glued to the platen, and the block glued to this, and the platen fixed in its place at the bottom of the heating-box. In blocking arms on a number of books of different sizes, some nice adjustment of the movable bed is needed to get the blocks to fall in exactly the right place.

For blocking, one coat of glaire will be enough for most leathers. The gold is laid on as for hand tooling. The block should be brought down and up again fairly sharply. The heat needed is about the same as for hand tooling.


Designing for Gold-Tooled Decoration


For gold tooling, such tools as gouges, dots, pieces of straight line, and fillets are to be had ready-made at most dealers. Other tools are best designed and cut to order. At first only a few simple forms will be needed, such as one or two flowers of different sizes, and one or two sets of leaves (see fig. 100).

In designing tools, it must be borne in mind that they may appear on the book many times repeated, and so must be simple in outline and much conventionalised. A more or less naturalistic drawing of a flower, showing the natural irregularities, may look charming, but if a tool is cut from it, any marked irregularity becomes extremely annoying when repeated several times on a cover. So with leaves, unless they are perfectly symmetrical, there should be three of each shape cut, two curving in different directions, and the third quite straight (see fig. 101). To have only one leaf, and to have that curved, produces very restless patterns. The essence of gold-tool design, is that patterns are made up of repeats of impressions of tools, and that being so, the tools must be so designed that they will repeat pleasantly, and in practice it will be found that any but simple forms will become aggressive in repetition.

Designs for tools should be made out with Indian ink on white paper, and they may be larger than the size of the required tool. The tool-cutter will reduce any drawing to any desired size, and will, from one drawing, cut any number of tools of different sizes. Thus, if a set of five leaves of the same shape is wanted, it will only be necessary to draw one, and to indicate the sizes the others are to be in some such way as shown at fig. 102.

It is not suggested that special tools should be cut for each pattern, but the need of new tools will naturally arise from time to time, and so the stock be gradually increased. It is better to begin with a very few, and add a tool or two as occasion arises, than to try to design a complete set when starting.

Tools may be solid or in outline. If in outline they may be used as "inlay" tools, and in ordering them the tool-cutter should be asked to provide steel punches for cutting the inlays.


It is well for the student to begin with patterns arranged on some very simple plan, making slight changes in each succeeding pattern. In this way an individual style may be established. The usual plan of studying the perfected styles of the old binders, and trying to begin where they left off, in practice only leads to the production of exact imitations, or poor lifeless parodies, of the old designs. Whereas a pattern developed by the student by slow degrees, through a series of designs, each slightly different from the one before it, will, if eccentricities are avoided, probably have life and individual interest.

Perhaps the easiest way to decorate a binding is to cover it with some small repeating pattern. A simple form of diaper as a beginning is shown at fig. 104. To make such a pattern cut a piece of good, thin paper to the size of the board of a book, and with a pencil rule a line about an eighth of an inch inside the margin all round. Then with the point of a fine folder that will indent, but not cut the paper, mark up as shown in fig. 103. The position of the lines A A and B B are found by simply folding the paper, first side to side, and then head to tail. The other lines can be put in without any measurement by simply joining all points where lines cross. By continual re-crossing, the spaces into which the paper is divided can be reduced to any desired size. If the construction lines are accurately put in, the spaces will all be of the same size and shape. It is then evident that a repeating design to fill any one of the spaces can be made to cover the whole surface.

In fig. 104, it is the diagonal lines only that are utilised for the pattern. To avoid confusion, the cross lines that helped to determine the position of the diagonals are not shown.

The advantage of using the point of a folder to mark up the constructional lines of a pattern instead of a pencil, is that the lines so made are much finer, do not rub out, and do not cause confusion by interfering with the pattern. Any lines that will appear on the book, such as the marginal lines, may be put in with a pencil to distinguish them.

Having marked up the paper, select a flower tool and impress it at the points where the diagonal lines cross, holding it in the smoke of a candle between every two or three impressions. When the flower has been impressed all over, select a small piece of straight line, and put a stalk in below each flower; then a leaf put in on each side of the straight line will complete the pattern.

A development of the same principle is shown at fig. 105, in which some gouges are introduced. Any number of other combinations will occur to any one using the tools. Frequently questions will arise as to whether a tool is to be put this way or that way, and whether a line is to curve up or down. Whenever there is such an alternative open, there is the germ of another pattern. All-over diaper patterns may be varied in any number of ways. One way is to vary the design in alternate spaces. If this is done one of the designs should be such that it will divide down the centre both ways and so finish off the pattern comfortably at the edges. The pattern may be based on the upright and the cross-lines of the marking up, or the marking up may be on a different principle altogether. The designer, after a little practice, will be bewildered by the infinite number of combinations that occur to him.

The diaper is selected for a beginning, because it is the easiest form of pattern to make, as there is no question of getting round corners, and very little of studying proportion. It is selected also because it teaches the student the decorative value of simple forms repeated on some orderly system. When he has grasped this, he has grasped the underlying principle of nearly all successful tooled ornament. Diapers are good practice, because in a close, all-over pattern the tools must be put down in definite places, or an appalling muddle will result. In tooling; a repeat of the same few tools, is the best possible practice, giving as it does the same work over and over again under precisely the same conditions, and concentrating, on one book cover, the practice that might be spread over several backs and sides more sparingly decorated, when variety of conditions would confuse the student.

When the principles of the diaper have been mastered, and the student has become familiar with the limitations of his tools, other schemes of decoration may be attempted, such as borders, centres, or panels.

A form of border connected with cross-lines is shown at fig. 106. This is made up of a repeat of the spray built up of three tools and four gouges shown at fig. 107, with slight modification at the corners. Other schemes for borders are those in which flowers grow inwards from the edge of the boards, or outwards from a panel at the centre, or on both sides of a line about half an inch from the edge. A pattern may also be made to grow all round the centre panel. Borders will be found more difficult to manage than simple diapers, and at first, are best built up on the same principle—the repeat of some simple element.

The decoration may be concentrated on parts of the cover, such as the centre or corners. A design for a centre is shown at fig. 108, and below is shown the way to construct it. A piece of paper is folded, as shown by the dotted lines, and an eighth of the pattern drawn with a soft pencil and folded over on the line A, and transferred by being rubbed at the back with a folder. This is lined in with a pencil, and folded over on the line B and rubbed off. This is lined in and folded over on A and C, rubbed off as before, and the whole lined in. The overs and unders of the lines are then marked, and gouges selected to fit. Of course it will take several trials before the lines will interlace pleasantly, and the tools fit in. Another centre, in which a spray is repeated three times, is shown at fig. 109, and any number of others will occur to the student after a little practice. A change of tools, or the slight alteration of a line, will give an entirely new aspect to a pattern. At page 334 is shown an all-over pattern growing from the bottom centre of the board. In this design the leather was dark green, with a lighter green panel in the centre. The berries were inlaid in bright red. Although at first glance it seems an intricate design, it is made up like the others of repetitions of simple forms.

When the student has become proficient in the arrangement of tools in combination with lines, a design consisting entirely, or almost entirely, of lines may be tried. This is more difficult, because the limitations are not so obvious; but here again the principle of repetition, and even distribution, should be followed. At fig. 110 is shown a design almost entirely composed of lines, built up on the same principle as the centre at fig. 108.

The ends of the bands form a very pleasant starting-place for patterns. At pp. 330, 332-6 are shown ways of utilising this method. To look right, a pattern must be consistent throughout. The tools and their arrangement must have about the same amount of convention. Gold tooling, dealing, as it does, with flat forms in silhouette only, necessitates very considerable formality in the design of the tools and of their arrangement on the cover. Modern finishers have become so skilful, that they are able to produce in gold tooling almost any design that can be drawn in lines with a pencil, and some truly marvellous results are obtained by the use of inlays, and specially cut gouges. As a rule, such patterns simply serve to show the skill of the finisher, and to make one wonder who could have been foolish enough to select so limited and laborious a method as gold tooling for carrying them out.

Generally speaking, successful gold-tooled patterns show evidence of having been designed with the tools; of being, in fact, mere arrangements of the tools, and not of having been first designed with a pencil, and then worked with tools cut to fit the drawing. This does not of course apply to patterns composed entirely of lines, or to patterns composed of lines of dots.

If artists wish to design for gold tooling without first mastering the details, probably the safest way will be for them to design in lines of gold dots. Some successful patterns carried out in this way were shown at the Arts and Crafts Exhibition some years ago.

Designs for gold-tooled binding should always be constructed on some geometrical plan, and whatever pattern there is, symmetrically distributed over the cover.

If lettering can be introduced, it will be found to be most useful when arranging a pattern. It gives dignity and purpose to a design, and is also highly decorative. Lettering may be arranged in panels, as at page 332, or in a border round the edge of the board, and in many other ways. It may either consist of the title of the book, or some line or verse from it or connected with it, or may refer to its history, or to the owner. Anything that gives a personal interest to a book, such as the arms of the owner, the initials or name of the giver or receiver of a present, with perhaps the date of the gift, is of value.

The use of the small fillet makes it possible to employ long, slightly-curved lines. Gold-tooled lines have in themselves such great beauty, that designers are often tempted to make them meander about the cover in a weak and aimless way. As the limitations enforced by the use of gouges tend to keep the curves strong and small, and as the use of the small fillet tends to the production of long, weak curves, students are advised at first to restrict the curved lines in their patterns to such as can be readily worked with gouges.

It must be remembered that a gouge or fillet line is very thin, and will look weak if it goes far without support. For this reason interlaced lines are advocated.

Gouge lines are easier to work, and look better, if a small space is left where the gouges end. This is especially the case where lines bearing leaves or flowers branch from the main stem (see fig. 111).

Gouges and fillets need not always be of the same thickness of line, and two or three sets of different gauges may be kept. A finisher can always alter the thickness of a gouge with emery paper.

One method of arranging gold-tooled lines is to treat them in design as if they were wires in tension, and knot and twist them together. Provided the idea is consistently adhered to throughout, such a pattern is often very successful.

A simple arrangement of straight lines will be sufficient ornamentation for most books. Three schemes for such ornamentation are shown. In fig. 112 the "tie-downs" may be in "blind" and the lines in gold. The arrangement shown at fig. 113 leaves a panel at the top which may be utilised for lettering.


The decoration of the back of a book is difficult owing to the very small space usually available in the panels. The first consideration must be the lettering, and when that has been arranged, as described in Chapter XV, a second paper is got out for the pattern. The back panel should generally be treated in the same style and, if possible, with the same tools as the sides, if they are decorated. It will often be found far easier to design a full-gilt side than a satisfactory back.

A design may be made to fit one panel of the book and repeated on all those not required for lettering (see pages 332-34), or it may be made to grow up from panel to panel (see fig. 115). In the case of sets of books in which the volumes vary very much in thickness, some pattern must be made that can be contracted and expanded without altering the general look of the back (see fig. 115).


The inside margins of the board permit of a little delicate decoration. At fig. 116 are shown two ways of treating this part of the binding. The inside of the board is sometimes covered all over with leather, and tooled as elaborately, or more elaborately, than the outside. If there are vellum ends, they may be enriched with a little tooling.

The edges of the boards may have a gold line run on them, and the head-cap may be decorated with a few dots.


Pasting down End Papers—Opening Books


When the finishing is done, the end papers should be pasted down on to the board; or if there is a leather joint, the panel left should be filled in to match the end paper.

To paste down end papers, the book is placed on the block with the board open (see fig. 117, A), the waste sheets are torn off, the joints cleared of any glue or paste, and the boards flattened, as described at page 171 for pasting down leather joints. One of the paste-down papers is then stretched over the board and rubbed down in the joint, and the amount to be cut off to make it fit into the space left by the turn-in of the leather is marked on it with dividers, measuring from the edge of the board. A cutting tin is then placed on the book, the paste-down paper turned over it, and the edges trimmed off to the divider points with a knife and straight-edge, leaving small pieces to cover the ends of the joint (fig. 117, A, c).

The cutting and pasting down of these small pieces in the joint are rather difficult; they should come exactly to the edges of the board.

When both paste-down papers are trimmed to size, one of them is well pasted with thin paste in which there are no lumps, with a piece of waste paper under it to protect the book. The joints should also be pasted, and the paste rubbed in with the finger and any surplus removed.

The pasted paper is then brought over on to the board, the edges adjusted exactly to their places, and rubbed down. The joint must next be rubbed down through paper. It is difficult to get the paper to stick evenly in the joint, and great nicety is needed here. All rubbing down must be done through paper, or the "paste-down" will be soiled or made shiny.

Some papers stretch very much when pasted, and will need to be cut a little smaller than needed, and put down promptly after pasting. Thin vellum may be put down with paste in which there is a very little glue, but thicker vellum is better put down with thin glue. In pasting vellum, very great care is needed to prevent the brush-marks from showing through. If the vellum is thin, the board must be lined with white or toned paper with a smooth surface. This paper must be quite clean, as any marks will show through the vellum, and make it look dirty.

When one side is pasted down the book can be turned over without shutting the board, and the other board opened and pasted down in the same way (see fig. 117, B). In turning over a book, a piece of white paper should be put under the newly-pasted side, as, being damp, it will soil very readily. When both ends have been pasted down the joints should be examined and rubbed down again, and the book stood up on end with the boards open until the end papers are dry. The boards may be held open with a piece of cardboard cut as shown at fig. 71.

If there are cloth joints they are put down with glue, and the board paper is placed nearly to the edge of the joint, leaving very little cloth visible.

In the process of finishing, the boards of a book will nearly always be warped a little outward, but the pasted end papers should draw the boards a little as they dry, causing them to curve slightly towards the book. With vellum ends there is a danger that the boards will be warped too much.


Before sending out a newly bound book the binder should go through it, opening it here and there to ease the back. The volume is laid on a table, and the leaves opened a short distance from the front, and then at an equal distance from the back, and then in one or two places nearer the centre of the book, the leaves being pressed down with the hand at each opening. If the book is a valuable one, every leaf should then be turned over separately and each opening pressed down, beginning from the centre and working first one way and then the other. In this way the back will be bent evenly at all points. When a book has been opened, it should be lightly pressed for a short time without anything in the joints.

If a book is sent out unopened, the first person into whose hand it falls will probably open it somewhere in the centre, bending the covers back and "breaking" the back; and if any leaves chance to have been stuck together in edge-gilding, they are likely to be torn if carelessly opened. A book with a "broken" back will always have a tendency to open in the same place, and will not keep its shape. It would be worth while for librarians to have newly bound books carefully opened. An assistant could "open" a large number of books in a day, and the benefit to the bindings would amply compensate for the small trouble and cost involved.


Clasps and Ties—Metal on Bindings


Some books need to be clasped to keep the leaves flat. All books written or printed on vellum should have clasps. Vellum unless kept flat is apt to cockle, and this in a book will force the leaves apart and admit dust. If a book is tightly wedged in a shelf the leaves will be kept flat, but as the chance removal of any other book from the row will remove the pressure, it is much better to provide clasps for vellum books.

Very thick books, and those with a great many folded plates, are better for having clasps to prevent the leaves from sagging. As nearly all books are now kept in bookshelves, and as any projection on the side of a book is likely to injure the neighbouring volume, a form of clasp should be used that has no raised parts on the boards.

At fig. 118 is shown a simple clasp suitable for small books with mill-board sides, with details of the metal parts, made of thick silver wire below. Double boards must be "made," and the flattened ends of the silver catch inserted between the two thicknesses, and glued in place. About one-eighth of an inch of the end should project. In covering, the leather must be pierced and carefully worked round the catch. To make the plait, three strips of thin leather are slipped through the ring, and the ends of each strip pasted together. The three doubled strips are then plaited and the end of the plait put through a hole in the lower board of the book about half an inch from the edge, and glued down inside. A groove may be cut in the mill-board from the hole to the edge before covering, to make a depression in which the plait will lie, and a depression may be scooped out of the inner surface of the board to receive the ends.

At fig. 119 is a somewhat similar clasp with three plaits suitable for large books. The metal end and the method of inserting it into wooden boards are shown below. The turned-down end should go right through the board, and be riveted on the inside. When the three plaits are worked, a little band of silver may be riveted on just below the ring.

A very simple fastening that is sometimes useful is shown at fig. 77. A very small bead is threaded on to a piece of catgut, and the two ends of the gut brought together and put through a larger bead. The ends of the gut with the beads on them are laced into the top board of the book, with the bead projecting over the edge, and a loop of gut is laced into the bottom board. If the loop can be made exactly the right length, this is a serviceable method.

Silk or leather ties may be used to keep books shut, but they are apt to be in the way when the book is read, and as hardly anybody troubles to tie them, they are generally of very little use.


Metal corners and bosses are a great protection to bindings, but if the books are to go into shelves, the metal must be quite smooth and flat. A metal shoe on the lower edge of the boards is an excellent thing for preserving the binding of heavy books.

Bosses and other raised metal work should be restricted to books that will be used on lecterns or reading desks. The frontispiece is from a drawing of an early sixteenth-century book, bound in white pigskin, and ornamented with brass corners, centres, and clasps; and at page 323 is shown a fifteenth-century binding with plain protecting bosses. On this book there were originally five bosses on each board, but the centre ones have been lost.

Bindings may be entirely covered with metal, but the connection between the binding and the book is in that case seldom quite satisfactory. The most satisfactory metal-covered bindings that I have seen are those in which the metal is restricted to the boards. The book is bound in wooden boards, with thick leather at the back, and plaques of metal nailed to the wood. The metal may be set with jewels or decorated with enamel, and embossed or chased in various ways.

Jewels are sometimes set in invisible settings below the leather of bindings, giving them the appearance of being set in the leather. This gives them an insecure look, and it is better to frankly show the metal settings and make a decorative feature of them.




Of all the materials used by the bookbinders, leather is the most important and the most difficult to select wisely. It is extremely difficult to judge a leather by its appearance.

"We find now, that instead of leather made from sheep, calf, goat, and pigskins, each having, when finished, its own characteristic surface, that sheepskins are got up to look like calf, morocco, or pigskin; that calf is grained to resemble morocco, or so polished and flattened as to have but little character left; while goatskins are grained in any number of ways, and pigskin is often grained like levant morocco. So clever are some of these imitations, that it takes a skilled expert to identify a leather when it is on a book."

There have been complaints for a long time of the want of durability of modern bookbinding leather, but there has not been until lately any systematic investigation into the causes of its premature decay.

By permission, I shall quote largely from the report of the committee appointed by the Society of Arts to inquire into the subject. There are on this special committee leather manufacturers, bookbinders, librarians, and owners of libraries. The report issued is the result of an immense amount of work done. Many libraries were visited, and hundreds of experiments and tests were carried out by the sub-committees. There is much useful information in the report that all bookbinders and librarians should read. The work of the committee is not yet finished, but its findings may be accepted as conclusive as far as they go.

The committee first set themselves to ascertain if the complaints of the premature decay of modern bookbinding leather are justified by facts, and on this point report that:—

"As regards the common belief that modern binding leather does decay prematurely, the sub-committee satisfied themselves that books bound during the last eighty or hundred years showed far greater evidence of deterioration than those of an earlier date. Many recent bindings showed evidence of decay after so short a period as ten, or even five years. The sub-committee came to the conclusion that there is ample justification for the general complaint that modern leather is not so durable as that formerly used. To fix the date of the commencement of this deterioration was a difficult matter; but they came to the conclusion that while leather of all periods showed some signs of decay, the deterioration becomes more general on books bound after 1830, while some leathers seem to be generally good until about 1860, after which date nearly all leathers seem to get worse. The deterioration of calf bindings at the latter end of the 19th century may be attributed as much to the excessive thinness as to the poor quality of the material."

The committee endeavoured to ascertain the relative durability of the leathers used for bookbinding, and after visiting many libraries, and comparing bindings, they report as follows:—

"As to the suitability of various leathers, the sub-committee came to the conclusion that of the old leathers (15th and 16th century), white pigskin, probably alum 'tanned,' is the most durable, but its excessive hardness and want of flexibility renders this leather unsuitable for most modern work. Old brown calf has lasted fairly well, but loses its flexibility, and becomes stiff and brittle when exposed to light and air. Some of the white tawed skins of the 15th and 16th century, other than white pigskin, and probably deerskin, have lasted very well. Some 15th and 16th century sheepskin bindings have remained soft and flexible, but the surface is soft, and usually much damaged by friction. Vellum seems to have lasted fairly well, but is easily influenced by atmospheric changes, and is much affected by light. Early specimens of red morocco from the 16th to the end of the 18th century were found in good condition, and of all the leathers noticed, this seems to be the least affected by the various conditions to which it had been subjected. In the opinion of the committee, most of this leather has been tanned with sumach or some closely allied tanning material. Morocco bindings earlier than 1860 were generally found to be in fairly good condition, but morocco after that date seems to be much less reliable, and in many cases has become utterly rotten. During the latter part of the 18th century it became customary to pare down calf until it was as thin as paper. Since about 1830 hardly any really sound calf seems to have been used, as, whether thick or thin, it appears generally to have perished. Sheepskin bindings of the early part of the century are many of them still in good condition. Since about 1860 sheepskin as sheepskin is hardly to be found. Sheepskins are grained in imitation of other leathers, and these imitation-grained leathers are generally found to be in a worse condition than any of the other bindings, except, perhaps, some of the very thin calfskin. Undyed modern pigskin seems to last well, but some coloured pigskin bindings had entirely perished. Modern leathers dyed with the aid of sulphuric acid are all to be condemned. In nearly every case Russia leather was found to have become rotten, at least in bindings of the last fifty years."

On the question of the causes of the decay noticed and the best methods of preparing leather in the future, I may quote the following:—

"The work of a sub-committee, which was composed of chemists specially conversant with the treatment of leather, was directed specially to the elucidation of the following points: an investigation of the nature of the decay of leather used for bookbinding; an examination of the causes which produced this decay; a research into the best methods of preparing leather for bookbinding; and a consideration of the points required to be dealt with in the preservation of books.

"Taking these points in order, the first one dealt with is the question of the nature of the decay of leather. To arrive at their conclusions on this subject, the sub-committee made a number of tests and analyses of samples of decayed leather bookbindings, as well as of leathers used for binding. The committee found that the most prevalent decay was what they term a red decay, and this they think may be differentiated into old and new, the old red decay being noticeable up to about 1830, and the new decay since that date. In the old decay, the leather becomes hard and brittle, the surface not being easily abraded by friction. The older form is specially noticeable in calf-bound books, tanned presumably with oak bark. The new form affects nearly all leathers, and in extreme cases seems absolutely to destroy the fibres. Another form of deterioration, more noticeable in the newer books, renders the grain of the leather liable to peel off when exposed to the slightest friction. This is the most common form of decay noted in the more recent leathers. In nearly all samples of Russia leather a very violent form of red decay was noticed. In many cases the leather was found to be absolutely rotten in all parts exposed to light and air, so that on the very slightest rubbing with a blunt instrument the leather fell into fine dust....

"The second point is the cause of the decay. An extensive series of experiments was carried out with a view of determining the causes of the decay of bindings. The sub-committee find that this is caused by both mechanical and by chemical influences. Of the latter, some are due to mistakes of the leather manufacturer and the bookbinder, others to the want of ventilation, and to improper heating and lighting of libraries. In some cases inferior leathers are finished (by methods in themselves injurious) so as to imitate the better class leathers, and of course where these are used durability cannot be expected. But in the main the injury for which the manufacturer and bookbinder are responsible must be attributed rather to ignorance of the effect of the means employed to give the leather the outward qualities required for binding, than to the intentional production of an inferior article.... Leathers produced by different tanning materials, although they may be equally sound and durable mechanically, vary very much in their resistance to other influences, such as light, heat, and gas fumes.

"For bookbinding purposes, the sub-committee generally condemn the use of tanning materials belonging to the catechol group, although the leathers produced by the use of these materials are for many purposes excellent, and indeed superior. The class of tanning materials which produce the most suitable leather for this particular purpose belong to the pyrogallol group, of which a well known and important example is sumach. East Indian or 'Persian' tanned sheep and goat skins, which are suitable for many purposes, and are now used largely for cheap bookbinding purposes, are considered extremely bad. Books bound in these materials have been found to show signs of decay in less than twelve months, and the sub-committee are inclined to believe that no book bound in these leathers, exposed on a shelf to sunlight or gas fumes, can ever be expected to last more than five or six years. Embossing leather under heavy pressure to imitate a grain has a very injurious effect, while the shaving of thick skins greatly reduces the strength of the leather by cutting away the tough fibres of the inner part of the skin. The use of mineral acids in brightening the colour of leather, and in the process of dyeing, has a serious effect in lessening its resistance to decay. A good deal yet remains to be learned about the relative permanency of the different dyes."

On analysis free sulphuric acid was found to be present in nearly all bookbinding leather, and it is the opinion of the committee that even a small quantity of this acid materially lessens the durability of the leather.

"It has been shown by careful experiment, that even a minute quantity of sulphuric acid used in the dye bath to liberate the colour is at once absorbed by the leather, and that no amount of subsequent washing will remove it. In a very large proportion of cases the decay of modern sumach-tanned leather has been due to the sulphuric acid used in the dye bath, and retained in the skin. We have examined very many samples of leather manufactured and sold specially for bookbinding purposes, from different factories, bought from different dealers, or kindly supplied by bookbinders and by librarians, and have found them to contain, in a large number of cases, free sulphuric acid, from 0.5 up to 1.6 per cent."

The publication of the report should tend to fix a standard for bookbinding leather. Hitherto there has been no recognised standard. Bookbinders have selected leather almost entirely by its appearance. It has now been shown that appearance is no test of durability, and the mechanical test of tearing the leather is insufficient. Sound leather should tear with difficulty, and the torn edges should be fringed with long, silky fibres, and any leather which tears very easily, and shows short, curled-up fibres at the torn edges, should be discarded. But though good bookbinding leather will tear with difficulty, and show long fibres where torn, that is in itself not a sufficient test; because it has been shown that the leather that is mechanically the strongest, is not necessarily the most durable and the best able to resist the adverse influences to which books are subject in libraries.

The report shows that bookbinders and librarians are not, as a general rule, qualified to select leather for bookbinding. In the old days, when the manufacture of leather was comparatively simple, a bookbinder might reasonably be expected to know enough of the processes employed to be able to select his leather. But now so complicated is the manufacture, and so many are the factors to be considered, that an expert should be employed.

"The committee have satisfied themselves that it is possible to test any leather in such a way as to guarantee its suitability for bookbinding. They have not come to any decision as to the desirability of establishing any formal or official standard, though they consider that this is a point which well deserves future consideration."

It is to be hoped that some system of examining and hall-marking leather by some recognised body, may be instituted. If librarians will specify that the leather to be employed must be certified to be manufactured according to the recommendations of the Society of Arts Committee, there is no reason why leathers should not be obtained as durable as any ever produced. This would necessitate the examining and testing of batches of leather by experts. At present this can be done more or less privately at various places, such as the Yorkshire College, Leeds, or the Herolds' Institute, Bermondsey. In the near future it is to be hoped that some recognised public body, such as one of the great City Companies interested in leather, may be induced to establish a standard, and to test such leathers as are submitted to them, hall-marking those that come up to the standard. This would enable bookbinders and librarians, in ordering leather, to be sure that it had not been injured in its manufacture. The testing, if done by batches, should not add greatly to the cost of the leather.

On the question of the qualities of an ideal bookbinding leather the committee report:—

"It is the opinion of the committee, that the ideal bookbinding leather must have, and retain, great flexibility.... (It) must have a firm grain surface, not easily damaged by friction, and should not be artificially grained.... The committee is of opinion that a pure sumach tannage will answer all these conditions, and that leather can, and will, be now produced that will prove to be as durable as any made in the past."

The committee has so far only dealt with vegetable-tanned leather. I have used, with some success, chrome-tanned calfskin. Chrome leather is difficult to pare, and to work, as it does not become soft when wet, like vegetable-tanned leather. It will stand any reasonable degree of heat, and so might perhaps be useful for top-shelf bindings and for shelf edging. It is extremely strong mechanically, but without further tests I cannot positively recommend it except for trial.

While the strength and probable durability of leather can only be judged by a trained leather chemist, there remains for the binders selection, the kind of leather to use, and its colour.

Most of the leather prepared for bookbinding is too highly finished. The finishing processes add a good deal to the cost of the leather, and are apt to be injurious to it, and as much of the high finish is lost in covering, it would be better for the bookbinder to get rougher leather and finish it himself when it is on the book.

The leathers in common use for bookbinding are:—

Goatskin, known as morocco. Calf, known as calf and russia. Sheepskin, known as roan, basil, skiver, &c. Pigskin, known as pigskin. Sealskin, known as seal.

Morocco is probably the best leather for extra binding if properly prepared, but experiment has shown that the expensive Levant moroccos are nearly always ruined in their manufacture. A great many samples of the most expensive Levant morocco were tested, with the result that they were all found to contain free sulphuric acid.

Calf.—Modern vegetable-tanned calf has become a highly unsatisfactory material, and until some radical changes are made in the methods of manufacturing it, it should not be used for bookbinding.

Sheepskin.—A properly tanned sheepskin makes a very durable, though rather soft and woolly, leather. Much of the bookbinding leather now made from sheepskin is quite worthless. Bookbinders should refuse to have anything to do with any leather that has been artificially grained, as the process is apt to be highly injurious to the skin.

Pigskin.—Pigskin is a thoroughly good leather naturally, and very strong, especially the alumed skins; but many of the dyed pigskins are found to be improperly tanned and dyed, and worthless for bookbinding.

Sealskin is highly recommended by one eminent librarian, but I have not yet had any experience of its use for bookbinding.

The leather that I have found most useful is the Niger goatskin, brought from Africa by the Royal Niger Company; it is a very beautiful colour and texture, and has stood all the tests tried, without serious deterioration. The difficulty with this leather is that, being a native production, it is somewhat carelessly prepared, and is much spoiled by flaws and stains on the surface, and many skins are quite worthless. It is to be hoped that before long some of the manufacturers interested will produce skins as good in quality and colour as the best Niger morocco, and with fewer flaws.

Much leather is ruined in order to obtain an absolutely even colour. A slight unevenness of colours is very pleasing, and should rather be encouraged than objected to. That the want of interest in absolutely flat colours has been felt, is shown by the frequency with which the binders get rid of flat, even colours by sprinkling and marbling.

On this point I may quote from the committee: "The sprinkling of leather, either for the production of 'sprinkled' calf or 'tree' calf, with ferrous sulphate (green vitriol) must be most strongly condemned, as the iron combines with and destroys the tan in the leather, and free sulphuric acid is liberated, which is still more destructive. Iron acetate or lactate is somewhat less objectionable, but probably the same effects may be obtained with aniline colours without risk to the leather."




Paper may be made by hand or machinery, and either "laid" or "wove." "Laid" papers are distinguished by wire marks, which are absent in "wove" paper.

A sheet of hand-made paper has all round it a rough uneven edge called the "deckle," that is a necessary result of its method of manufacture. The early printers looked upon this ragged edge as a defect, and almost invariably trimmed most of it off before putting books into permanent bindings. Book-lovers quite rightly like to find traces of the "deckle" edge, as evidence that a volume has not been unduly reduced by the binder. But it has now become the fashion to admire the "deckle" for its own sake, and to leave books on hand-made paper absolutely untrimmed, with ragged edges that collect the dirt, are unsightly, and troublesome to turn over. So far has this craze gone, that machine-made paper is often put through an extra process to give it a sham deckle edge.

Roughly speaking, paper varies in quality according to the proportion of fibrous material, such as rag, used in the manufacture. To make paper satisfactorily by hand, a large proportion of such fibrous material is necessary, so that the fact that the paper is hand-made is to some extent a guarantee of its quality. There are various qualities of hand-made paper, made from different materials, chiefly linen and cotton rags. The best paper is made from pure linen rag, and poorer hand-made paper from cotton rag, while other qualities contain a mixture of the two or other substances.

It is possible to make a thoroughly good paper by machinery if good materials are used. Some excellent papers are made by machinery; but the enormous demand for paper, together with the fact that now almost any fibrous material can be made into paper, has resulted in the production, in recent years, of, perhaps, the worst papers that have ever been seen.

This would not matter if the use of the poor papers were restricted to newspapers and other ephemeral literature, but when, as is often the case, paper of very poor quality is used for books of permanent literary interest, the matter is serious enough.

Among the worst papers made are the heavily loaded "Art" papers that are prepared for the printing of half-toned process blocks. It is to be hoped that before long the paper makers will produce a paper that, while suitable for printing half-toned blocks, will be more serviceable, and will have a less unpleasant surface.

Several makers produce coloured handmade papers suitable for end papers. Machine-made papers can be had in endless variety from any number of makers.

The paper known as "Japanese Vellum" is a very tough material, and will be found useful for repairing vellum books; the thinnest variety of it is very suitable for mending the backs of broken sections, or for strengthening weak places in paper.

The following delightful account of paper making by hand is quoted from "Evelyn's Diary, 1641-1706."

"I went to see my Lord of St. Alban's house at Byflete, an old large building. Thence to the paper mills, where I found them making a coarse white paper. They cull the raggs, which are linnen, for white paper, woollen for brown, then they stamp them in troughs to a papp with pestles or hammers like the powder-mills, then put it into a vessell of water, in which they dip a frame closely wyred with a wyre as small as a haire, and as close as a weaver's reede; on this they take up the papp, the superfluous water draining thro' the wyre; this they dextrously turning, shake out like a pancake on a smooth board between two pieces of flannell, then press it between a greate presse, the flannell sucking out the moisture; then taking it out they ply and dry it on strings, as they dry linnen in the laundry; then dip it in alum-water, lastly polish and make it up in quires. They put some gum in the water in which they macerate the raggs. The mark we find on the sheets is formed in the wyre."

The following are the more usual sizes of printing papers—


Foolscap 17 x 13-1/2 Crown 20 x 15 Post 19-1/4 x 15-1/2 Demy 22-1/2 x 17-1/2 Medium 24 x 19 Royal 25 x 20 Double Pott 25 x 15 " Foolscap 27 x 17 Super Royal 27 x 21 Double Crown 30 x 20 Imperial 30 x 22 Double Post 31-1/2 x 19-1/2

The corresponding sizes of hand-made papers may differ slightly from the above.

Although the above are the principal sizes named, almost any size can be made to order.

The following is an extract from the report of the Committee of the Society of Arts on the deterioration of paper, published in 1898: "The committee find that the paper-making fibres may be ranged into four classes:—

A. Cotton, flax, and hemp. B. Wood, celluloses (a) sulphite process, and (b) soda and sulphate process. C. Esparto and straw celluloses. D. Mechanical wood pulp.

In regard, therefore, to papers for books and documents of permanent value, the selection must be taken in this order, and always with due regard to the fulfilment of the conditions of normal treatment above dealt with as common to all papers."

"The committee have been desirous of bringing their investigations to a practical conclusion in specific terms, viz. by the suggestion of standards of quality. It is evident that in the majority of cases, there is little fault to find with the practical adjustments which rule the trade. They are, therefore, satisfied to limit their specific findings to the following, viz., Normal standard of quality for book papers required for publications of permanent value. For such papers they would specify as follows:—

"Fibres. Not less than 70 per cent. of fibres of Class A.

"Sizing. Not more than 2 per cent. rosin, and finished with the normal acidity of pure alum.

"Loading. Not more than 10 per cent. total mineral matter (ash).

"With regard to written documents, it must be evident that the proper materials are those of Class A, and that the paper should be pure, and sized with gelatine, and not with rosin. All imitations of high-class writing papers, which are, in fact, merely disguised printing papers, should be carefully avoided."


To make paste for covering books, &c., take 2 oz. of flour, and 1/4 oz. of powdered alum, and well mix with enough water to form a thin paste, taking care to break up any lumps. Add a pint of cold water, and heat gently in an enamelled saucepan. As it becomes warm, it should be stirred from time to time, and when it begins to boil it should be continually stirred for about five minutes. It should then form a thick paste that can be thinned with warm water. Of course any quantity can be made if the proportions are the same.

Paste for use is best kept in a wooden trough, called a "paste tub." The paste tub will need to be cleaned out from time to time, and all fragments of dry paste removed. This can easily be done if it is left, overnight, filled with water. Before using, the paste should be well beaten up with a flat stick.

For pasting paper, it should have about the consistency and smoothness of cream; for leather, it can be thicker. For very thick leather a little thin glue may be added. Paste made with alum will keep about a fortnight, but can be kept longer by the addition of corrosive sublimate in the proportion of one part of corrosive sublimate to a thousand parts of paste. Corrosive sublimate, being a deadly poison, will prevent the attack of bookworms or other insects, but for the same reason must only be used by responsible people, and paste in which it is used must be kept out of the way of domestic animals.

Several makes of excellent prepared paste can be bought in London. These pastes are as cheap as can be made, and keep good a long time.

Paste that has become sour should never be used, as there is danger that the products of its acid fermentation may injure the leather.

Paste tubs as sold often have an iron bar across them to wipe the brush on. This should be removed, and replaced by a piece of twisted cord. Paste brushes should be bound with string or zinc; copper or iron will stain the paste.


A good paste for mending is made from a teaspoonful of ordinary flour, two teaspoonsful of cornflour, half a teaspoonful of alum, and three ounces of water. These should be carefully mixed, breaking up all lumps, and then should be heated in a clean saucepan, and stirred all the time with a wooden or bone spoon. The paste should boil for about five minutes, but not too fast, or it will burn and turn brown. Rice-flour or starch may be substituted for cornflour, and for very white paper the wheaten flour may be omitted. Ordinary paste is not nearly white enough for mending, and is apt to leave unsightly stains.

Cornflour paste may be used directly after it is made, and will keep good under ordinary circumstances for about a week. Directly it gets hard or goes watery, a new batch must be made.


It is important for bookbinders that the glue used should be of good quality, and the best hide glue will be found to answer well. To prepare it for use, the glue should be broken up into small pieces and left to soak overnight in water. In the morning it should be soft and greatly swollen, but not melted, and can then be put in the glue-pot and gently simmered until it is fluid. It is then ready for use. Glue loses in quality by being frequently heated, so that it is well not to make a great quantity at a time. The glue-pot should be thoroughly cleaned out before new glue is put into it, and the old glue sticking round the sides taken out.

Glue should be used hot and not too thick. If it is stringy and difficult to work, it can be broken up by rapidly twisting the brush in the glue-pot. For paper the glue should be very thin and well worked up with the brush before using.

The following is quoted from "Chambers' Encyclopaedia" article on Glue:—

"While England does not excel in the manufacture, it is a recognised fact that Scottish glue ... ranks in the front of the glues of all countries. A light-coloured glue is not necessarily good, nor a dark-coloured glue necessarily bad. A bright, clear, claret colour is the natural colour of hide glue, which is the best and most economical.

"Light-coloured glues (as distinguished from gelatine) are made either from bones or sheepskins. The glue yielded by these materials cannot compare with the strength of that yielded by hides.

"A great quantity is now made in France and Germany from bones. It is got as a by-product in the manufacture of animal charcoal. Although beautiful to look at, it is found when used to be far inferior to Scottish hide glue."




Injurious Influences to which Books are Subjected

Gas Fumes.—The investigation of the Society of Arts Committee shows that—

"Of all the influences to which books are exposed in libraries, gas fumes—no doubt because of the sulphuric and sulphurous acid which they contain—are shown to be the most injurious."

The injurious effects of gas fumes on leather have been recognised for a long time, and gas is being, very generally, given up in libraries in consequence. If books must be kept where gas is used, they should not be put high up in the room, and great attention should be paid to ventilation. It is far better, where possible, to avoid the use of gas at all in libraries.

Light.—The committee also report that "light, and especially direct sunlight and hot air, are shown to possess deleterious influences which had scarcely been suspected previously, and the importance of moderate temperature and thorough ventilation of libraries cannot be too much insisted on."

The action of light on leather has a disintegrating effect, very plainly seen when books have stood for long periods on shelves placed at right angles to windows. At Oxford and Cambridge and at the British Museum Library the same thing was noticed. The leather on that side, of the backs of books, next to the light, was absolutely rotten, crumbling to dust at the slightest friction, while at the side away from the light it was comparatively sound. Vellum bindings were even more affected than those of leather.

The committee advise that library windows exposed to the direct sunlight should be glazed with tinted glass.

"Some attempts have been made to determine the effect of light transmitted through glasses of different colours, and they point to the fact that blue and violet glass pass light of nearly as deleterious quality as white glass; while leathers under red, green, and yellow glasses were almost completely protected. There can be no doubt that the use of pale yellow or olive-green glass in library windows exposed to direct sunlight is desirable. A large number of experiments have been made on the tinted 'cathedral' glasses of Messrs. Pilkington Bros., Limited, with the result that Nos. 812 and 712 afforded almost complete protection during two months' exposure to sunlight, while Nos. 704 and 804 may be recommended where only very pale shades are permissible. The glasses employed were subjected to careful spectroscopic examination, and to colour-measurement by the tintometer, but neither were found to give precise indications as to the protective power of the glasses, which is no doubt due to the absorption of the violet, and especially of the invisible ultra-violet rays. An easy method of comparing glasses is to expose under them to sunlight the ordinary sensitised albumenised photographic paper. Those glasses under which this is least darkened are also most protective to leather."

Tobacco.—Smoking was found to be injurious, and it is certainly a mistake to allow it in libraries.

"The effect of ammonia vapour, and tobacco fumes, of which ammonia is one of the active ingredients, was also examined. The effect of ammonia fumes was very marked, darkening every description of leather, and it is known that in extreme cases it causes a rapid form of decay. Tobacco smoke had a very similar darkening and deleterious effect (least marked in the case of sumach tanned leathers), and there can be no doubt that the deterioration of bindings in a library where smoking was permitted and the rooms much used, must have been partly due to this cause."

Damp.—Books kept in damp places will develop mildew, and both leather and paper will be ruined.

Where possible, naturally dry rooms should be used for libraries, and if not naturally dry, every means possible should be taken to render them so. It will sometimes be found that the only way to keep the walls of an old house dry is to put in a proper dampcourse. There are various other methods employed, such as lining the walls with thin lead, or painting them inside and out with some waterproofing preparation: but as long as a wall remains in itself damp, it is doubtful if any of these things will permanently keep the damp from penetrating.

Bookshelves should never be put against the wall, nor the books on the floor. There should always be space for air to circulate on all sides of the bookshelves. Damp is specially injurious if books are kept behind closely-fitting doors. The doors of bookcases should be left open from time to time on warm days.

Should mildew make its appearance, the books should be taken out, dried and aired, and the bookshelves thoroughly cleaned. The cause of the damp should be sought for, and measures taken to remedy it. Library windows should not be left open at night, nor during damp weather, but in warm fine weather the more ventilation there is, the better.

Heat.—While damp is very injurious to books on account of the development of mildew, unduly hot dry air is almost as bad, causing leather to dry up and lose its flexibility. On this point the Chairman of the Society of Arts Committee says:—

"Rooms in which books are kept should not be subject to extremes, whether of heat or cold, of moisture or dryness. It may be said that the better adapted a room is for human occupation, the better for the books it contains. Damp is, of course, most mischievous, but over-dryness induced by heated air, especially when the pipes are in close proximity to the bookcases, is also very injurious."

Dust.—Books should be taken from the shelves at least once a year, dusted and aired, and the bindings rubbed with a preservative.

To dust a book, it should be removed from the shelf, and without being opened, turned upside down and flicked with a feather duster. If a book with the dust on the top is held loosely in the hand, and dusted right way up, dust may fall between the leaves. Dusting should be done in warm, dry weather; and afterwards, the books may be stood on the table slightly open, to air, with their leaves loose. Before being returned to the shelves, the bindings should be lightly rubbed with some preservative preparation (see chap. XXII). Any bindings that are broken, or any leaves that are loose should be noted, and the books put on one side to be sent to the binder. It would be best when the library is large enough to warrant it, to employ a working bookbinder to do this work; such a man would be useful in many ways. He could stick on labels, repair bindings, and do many other odd jobs to keep the books in good repair.

A bookbinder could be kept fully employed, binding and repairing the books of a comparatively small library under the direction of the librarian.


The insects known as bookworms are the larvae of several sorts of beetles, most commonly perhaps of Antobium domesticum and Niptus hololencus. They are not in any way peculiar to books and will infest the wood of bookshelves, walls, or floors. A good deal can be done to keep "worms" away by using such substances as camphor or naphthaline in the bookcase. Bookworms do not attack modern books very much; probably they dislike the alum put in the paste and the mill-boards made of old tarred rope.

In old books, especially such as come from Italy, it is often found that the ravages of the bookworms are almost entirely confined to the glue on the backs of the books, and it generally seems that the glue and paste attract them. Probably if corrosive sublimate were put in the glue and paste used it would stop their attacks. Alum is said to be a preventive, but I have known bookworms to eat their way through leather pasted on with paste containing alum, when, in recovering, the old wooden boards containing bookworms have been utilised in error.

When on shaking the boards of an old book dust flies out, or when little heaps of dust are found on the shelf on which an old book has been standing, it may be considered likely that there are bookworms present. It is easy to kill any that may be hatched, by putting the book in an air-tight box surrounded with cotton wool soaked in ether; but that will not kill the eggs, and the treatment must be repeated from time to time at intervals of a few weeks.

Any book that is found to contain bookworms should be isolated and at once treated. Tins may be put inside the boards to prevent the "worms" eating into the leaves.

Speaking of bookworms, Jules Cousin says:—

"One of the simplest means to be employed (to get rid of bookworms) is to place behind the books, especially in the place where the insects show their presence most, pieces of linen soaked with essence of turpentine, camphor, or an infusion of tobacco, and to renew them when the smell goes off. A little fine pepper might also be scattered on the shelf, the penetrating smell of which would produce the same effect."

Possibly Keating's Insect Powder would answer as well or better than pepper.


Rats and mice will gnaw the backs of books to get at the glue, so, means should be taken to get rid of these vermin if they should appear. Mice especially will nibble vellum binding or the edges of vellum books that have become greasy with much handling.


Cockroaches are very troublesome in libraries, eating the bindings. Keating's Insect Powder will keep them away from books, but only so long as it is renewed at short intervals.


The Chairman of the Society of Arts Special Committee says on this point:—

"It is important that a just medium should be observed between the close and loose disposition of books in the shelves. Tight packing causes the pulling off of the tops of book-backs, injurious friction between their sides, and undue pressure, which tends to force off their backs. But books should not stand loosely on the shelves. They require support and moderate lateral pressure, otherwise the leaves are apt to open and admit dust, damp, and mildew. The weight of the leaves also in good-sized volumes loosely placed will often be found to be resting on the shelf, making the backs concave, and spoiling the shape and cohesion of the books.

"In libraries where classification is attempted there must be a certain number of partially filled shelves. The books in these should be kept in place by some such device as that in use in the British Museum, namely, a simple flat angle piece of galvanised iron, on the lower flange of which the end books rest, keeping it down, the upright flange keeping the books close and preventing them from spreading."

He also speaks of the danger to bindings of rough or badly-painted bookshelves:—

"Great care should be exercised when bookcases are painted or varnished that the surface should be left hard, smooth, and dry. Bindings, especially those of delicate texture, may be irreparably rubbed if brought in contact with rough or coarsely-painted surfaces, while the paint itself, years after its original application, is liable to come off upon the books, leaving indelible marks. In such cases pasteboard guards against the ends of the shelves are the only remedy."


To Preserve Old Bindings—Re-backing


It is a well-known fact that the leather of bindings that are much handled lasts very much better than that on books which remain untouched on the shelves. There is little doubt that the reason for this is that the slight amount of grease the leather receives from the hands nourishes it and keeps it flexible. A coating of glair or varnish is found to some extent to protect leather from adverse outside influences, but, unfortunately, both glair and varnish tend rather to harden leather than to keep it flexible, and they fail just where failure is most serious, that is at the joints. In opening and shutting, any coat of glair or varnish that has become hard will crack, and expose the leather of the joint and back. Flexibility is an essential quality in bookbinding leather, for as soon as the leather at the joint of a binding becomes stiff it breaks away when the boards are opened.

It would add immensely to the life of old leather bindings if librarians would have them treated, say once a year, with some preservative. The consequent expense would be saved many times over by the reduction of the cost of rebinding. Such a preservative must not stain, must not evaporate, must not become hard, and must not be sticky. Vaseline has been recommended, and answers fairly well, but will evaporate, although slowly. I have found that a solution of paraffin wax in castor oil answers well. It is cheap and very simple to prepare. To prepare it, some castor oil is put into an earthenware jar, and about half its weight of paraffin wax shredded into it. On warming, the wax will melt, and the preparation is ready for use.

A little of the preparation is well worked into a piece of flannel, and the books rubbed with it, special attention being paid to the back and joints. They may be further rubbed with the hand, and finally gone over with a clean, soft cloth. Very little of the preparation need be used on each book.

If bindings have projecting metal corners or clasps that are likely to scratch the neighbouring books, pieces of mill-board, which may be lined with leather or good paper, should be placed next them, or they may have a cover made of a piece of mill-board bent round as shown at fig. 120, and strengthened at the folds with linen. This may be slipped into the shelf with the book with the open end outwards, and will then hardly be seen.

Bindings which have previously had metal clasps, &c., often have projecting fragments of the old nails. These should be sought for and carefully removed or driven in, as they may seriously damage any bindings with which they come in contact.

To protect valuable old bindings, cases may be made and lettered on the back with the title of the book.

Loose covers that necessitate the bending back of the boards for their removal are not recommended.


Bindings that have broken joints may be re-backed. Any of the leather of the back that remains should be carefully removed and preserved. It is impossible to get some leathers off tight backs without destroying them, but with care and by the use of a thin folder, many backs can be saved. The leather on the boards is cut a little back from the joint with a slanting cut, that will leave a thin edge, and is then lifted up with a folder. New leather, of the same colour is pasted on the back, and tucked in under the old leather on the board. The leather from the old back should have its edges pared and any lumps of glue or paper removed and be pasted on to the new leather and bound tightly with tape to make sure that it sticks.

When the leather at the corners of the board needs repairing, the corner is glued and tapped with a hammer to make it hard and square, and when it is dry a little piece of new leather is slipped under the old and the corner covered.

When the sewing cords or thread of a book have perished it should be rebound, but if there are any remains of the original binding they should be preserved and utilised. If the old boards have quite perished, new boards of the same nature and thickness should be got out and the old cover pasted over them. Such places as the old leather will not cover, must first be covered with new of the same colour. Generally speaking, it is desirable that the characteristics of an old book should be preserved, and that the new work should be as little in evidence as possible. It is far more pleasant to see an old book in a patched contemporary binding, than smug and tidy in the most immaculate modern cover.

Part of the interest of any old book is its individual history, which can be gathered from the binding, book-plates, marginal notes, names of former owners, &c., and anything that tends to obliterate these signs is to be deplored.



These specifications will require modification in special cases, and are only intended to be a general guide.

- - - SHEETS. END PAPERS. PRESSING. EDGES. SEWING. BACK. - - - To be To be sewn Books on To be To be with To be I. carefully on. To be of handmade trimmed ligature kept For Extra folded, good paper paper not and gilt silk, as Binding or, if made with to be before flexible, flat suitable an old zigzag, with pressed sewing. round five as it for Valuable book, all board papers unduly. To be bands of can be Books. Whole damaged of self- uncut. best without Leather. leaves to coloured sewing forcing be paper of good cord. it and carefully quality, or without mended, vellum. Or to danger the backs be made with of its where leather becom- damaged joint. ing to be concave made in use. sound. Single leaves to be guarded round the sections next them. All plates to be guarded. Guards to be sewn through. No past- ing on or over- casting to be allowed. - - - As No. To be of good Same as To be To be with Same as II. I., paper made No. I. cut and unbleached for No. For Good excepting with zigzag, gilt in thread, I. Binding for that any with board boards flexible, Books of mending papers of or round five Reference, may be self-coloured coloured bands of Catalogues, done paper of good or to be best &c., and rather quality. uncut. sewing other heavy with a Large or cord. Books that view to heavy books may have a strength to have a great deal than cloth joint. of use. extreme To be sewn Whole or neatness. on. Half Leather. - - - Same as To be of good Same as To be To be with Same as III. No. II. paper, sewn No. I. uncut, unbleached for For Binding on, made with or to be thread Nos. I. for zigzag. cut in across not and II. Libraries, guillo- less than IV. for tine and four Books in gilt or unbleached current coloured linen use. Half or to tapes. Leather. have top edge only gilt. - - - Any Same as No. May be With Back to IV. leaves III. cut unbleached be left For Library damaged smooth thread square Bindings of at the in over three after Books of back or guillo- unbleached glueing little plates tine. linen up. Interest or to be tapes. Value, overcast Cloth or into Half Linen. sections. - - -


- BOARDS. HEADBANDS. COVERS. LETTERING. DECORATION. - To be of To be Goatskin To be To be as All work I. the best worked (morocco), legible much or as to be For Extra black with silk pigskin and to little as done in Binding mill- on strips or seal- identify the nature the best suitable board. of vellum skin manu- the of the book manner. for Valuable Two or catgut factured volume. warrants. Books. Whole boards or cord, according Leather. to be with to the made frequent recommend- together tie-downs. ations of for The head- the large bands to Society books, be "set" of Arts' and all by pieces Committee five of good on Leather bands paper or for laced in leather Book- through glued at binding. two head and Whole holes. tail. The binding; back to be leather lined up to be with attached leather directly all over to the if the back. book is large. - Same as Same as Same as Same as To be Work may II. No. I., No. I. No. I., No. I. omitted, or be a For Good or may excepting only to little Binding for be of that consist of rougher, Books of good properly a few lines but not Reference, grey prepared or dots or careless Catalogues, board. sheepskin other or &c., and may be quite dirty. other heavy added. simple Books that Half- ornament. may have binding, a great deal leather of use. only at Whole or back. Half Corners Leather. to be strength- ened with tips of vellum. Sides covered with good paper or linen. - To be To be Same as Same as To be Same as III. split worked Nos. I. Nos. I. omitted. No. II. For Binding grey with and II., and II. for boards, thread but skins Libraries, or or vellum may be for Books straw- or cord, used where in current board or to be there are use. Half with omitted surface Leather. black and a flaws that board piece of do not liner, cord affect the with inserted strength. ends into the Leather to of tapes turn in be used attached of the thicker to leather at than is portion head and usual, of waste tail in there sheet, their being inserted place. French between joints. them. Leather at Boards back only; to be paper left a sides; short vellum distance tips. from the joint to form a French joint. - To be No Whole Same as To be Same as IV. split headbands. buckram Nos. I. omitted. No. II. For Library boards, or half II. and Bindings of two linen and III. Books of straw- paper little boards sides. Interest or made Value, Cloth together or Half and ends Linen. of slips insert- ed. French joint to be left. -


Arming press, a small blocking press used for striking arms-blocks on the sides of books.

Backing boards, wedge-shaped bevelled boards used in backing (see Fig. 40).

Backing machine, used for backing cheap work in large quantities; it often crushes and damages the backs of the sections.

Bands, (1) the cords on which a book is sewn. (2) The ridges on the back caused by the bands showing through the leather.

Band nippers, pincers with flat jaws, used for straightening the bands (see Fig. 61). For nipping up the leather after covering, they should be nickelled to prevent the iron staining the leather.

Beating stone, the "stone" on which books were formerly beaten; now generally superseded by the rolling machine and standing press.

Blind tooling, the impression of finishing tools without gold.

Blocking press, a press used for impressing blocks such as those used in decorating cloth cases.

Board papers, the part of the end papers pasted on to the boards.

Bodkin, an awl used for making the holes in the boards for the slips.

Bolt, folded edge of the sheets in an unopened book.

Cancels, leaves containing errors, which have to be discarded and replaced by corrected sheets. Such leaves are marked by the printer with a star.

Catch-word, a word printed at the foot of one page indicating the first word of the page following, as a guide in collating.

Cutting boards, wedge-shaped boards somewhat like backing boards, but with the top edge square; used in cutting the edge of a book and in edge-gilding.

Cutting in boards, cutting the edges of a book after the boards are laced on.

Cutting press, when the lying press is turned, so that the side with the runners is uppermost, it is called a cutting press (see Fig. 46).

Diaper, a term applied to a small repeating all-over pattern. From woven material decorated in this way.

Doublure, the inside face of the boards, especially applied to them when lined with leather and decorated.

End papers, papers added at the beginning and end of a book by the binder.

Extra binding, a trade term for the best work.

Finishing, comprises lettering, tooling, and polishing, &c.

Finishing press, a small press used for holding books when they are being tooled (see Fig. 84).

Finishing stove, used for heating finishing tools.

Folder, a flat piece of ivory or bone, like a paper knife, used in folding sheets and in various other operations.

Foredge (fore edge), the front edge of the leaves. Pronounced "forrege."

Forwarding, comprises all the operations between sewing and finishing, excepting headbanding.

Gathering, collecting one sheet from each pile in a printer's warehouse to make up a volume.

Glaire, white of eggs beaten up, and used in finishing and edge gilding.

Half binding, when the leather covers the back and only part of the sides, a book is said to be half bound.

Head band, a fillet of silk or thread, worked at the head and tail of the back.

Head cap, the fold of leather over the head band (see Fig. 67).

Head and tail, the top and bottom of a book.

Imperfections, sheets rejected by the binder and returned to the printer to be replaced.

India proofs, strictly first proofs only of an illustration pulled on "India paper," but used indiscriminately for all illustrations printed on India paper.

Inset, the portion of a sheet cut off and inserted in folding certain sizes, such as duodecimo, &c. (see Fig. 4).

Inside margins, the border made by the turn in of the leather on the inside face of the boards (see Fig. 116).

Joints, (1) the groove formed in backing to receive the ends of the mill-boards. (2) The part of the binding that bends when the boards are opened. (3) Strips of leather or cloth used to strengthen the end papers.

"Kettle stitch," catch stitch formed in sewing at the head and tail.

Lacing in, lacing the slips through holes in the boards to attach them.

Lying press, the term applied to the under side of the cutting press used for backing, usually ungrammatically called "laying press."

Marbling, colouring the edges and end papers in various patterns, obtained by floating colours on a gum solution.

Millboard machine, machine used for squaring boards; should only be used for cheap work, as an edge cut by it will not be as square as if cut by the plough.

Mitring, (1) lines meeting at a right angle without overrunning are said to be mitred. (2) A join at 45 deg. as in the leather on the inside of the boards.

Overcasting, over-sewing the back edges of single leaves or weak sections.

Peel, a thin board on a handle used for hanging up sheets for drying.

Plate, an illustration printed from a plate. Term often incorrectly applied to illustrations printed from woodcuts. Any full-page illustration printed on different paper to the book is usually called a "plate."

Pressing plates, plates of metal japanned or nickelled, used for giving finish to the leather on a book.

Press pin, an iron bar used for turning the screws of presses.

Proof, edges left uncut as "proof" that the book has not been unduly cut down.

Register, (i.) when the print on one side of a leaf falls exactly over that on the other it is said to register. (ii.) Ribbon placed in a book as a marker.

Rolling machine, a machine in which the sheets of a book are subject to heavy pressure by being passed between rollers.

Sawing in, when grooves are made in the back with a saw to receive the bands.

Section, the folded sheet.

Semee or Semis, an heraldic term signifying sprinkled.

Set off, print is said to "set off" when part of the ink from a page comes off on an opposite page. This will happen if a book is pressed too soon after printing.

Sheet, the full size of the paper as printed, forming a section when folded.

Signature, the letter or figure placed on the first page of each sheet.

Slips, the ends of the sewing cord or tape that are attached to the boards.

Squares, the portion of the boards projecting beyond the edges of the book.

Start, when, after cutting, one or more sections of the book come forward, making the fore edge irregular, they are said to have started.

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