The Printed Book

by Harry G. Aldis, M.A. Cambridge at the University Press 1916

Book Bookbinding Part 1

When books changed their form from the roll to the codex (that is, were folded into leaves) some kind of binding became a necessity. This for two reasons: to keep the leaves in their right order, and to preserve the outer leaves from damage. By the time the printed book made its appearance binding had been practiced for a thousand years or so. Since the construction of a printed book was similar to that of a manuscript, the binding naturally followed the same model, and in essential details the subsequent four centuries have witnessed but little change. The operations of bookbinding fall into two main divisions: forwarding and finishing. Each of these is considered a separate craft. The forwarder carries the work up to the point at which the book is covered with the selected material, be it leather, cloth, or other fabric; the finisher adds the lettering and ornamentation.

The methods employed in forwarding a book have hardly differed in principle since the first days of printing, and it is mainly in the materials used for covering and in the decoration that the successive styles and fashions in bindings consist. This applies to what are properly known as 'bound' books, the work of which is a handicraft, and not to the cloth binding of everyday modern books, which is mainly a product of machinery and is known as 'cased' work.

The process of binding a book comprises a long series of operations, all requiring a nicety of handling and judgment to produce the perfect result. Of the principal stages the first consists in folding the sheets, or, if the binder receives them already folded, in seeing that this has been correctly done. The sheets must be so folded that the leaves come in their proper order and the pages of type all have the same relative margin. Next, the sheets are collated, that is, examined to see that they follow each other in light succession; and in this the binder is guided by the signatures, the small letter or number at the foot of the first page of each sheet. After being beaten, rolled, or pressed, to give it solidity, the book is ready for sewing. This work is done in a kind of frame, called a sewing press, the sheets being laid with their backs to a series of four or five upright cords round which the thread is passed on its way out and in along the back of each sheet. When the sewing is finished these cords stand out as horizontal bands across the back of the book forming panels as seen in most books bound in leather. A book sewn in this manner is said to be 'sewn flexible.' In an inferior style of binding grooves are sawn into the back of the sheets and the cords lie in them, so that the thread merely passes behind the cords instead of going out at the back and right round them.