The Printed Book

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

Book Bookbinding Part 10

In addition to this, the thread used for sewing is so thin that it readily cuts through the spongy or brittle substance which passes for paper. This is often aggravated by the use of a barbarous machine for sewing, which slits every section right through at top and bottom of the back in order to pass the thread into the slot so formed, and the destruction of the book is already begun at the weakest spot: everyone knows how a much-used book goes at the bottom of the back, just where it is (but ought not to be) held by the reader's thumb.

The illustrations, generally printed on shiny 'art' paper, are nearly always inserted as separate plates by being pasted on to an adjoining leaf. The consequence is that the book will not open properly between the plate and the leaf to which it is attached, and the plate soon comes away, dragging the leaf with it; the other leaf of the pair having nothing to hold it, soon detaches itself also, and so the disintegrating process goes on. Instances of this may easily be found among important and expensive books of travel containing numerous plates and published within the last few years. Colour- books have notoriously weak constitutions. Such books cannot be rebound satisfactorily. It is impossible to separate the plates from the leaves without damaging the latter, and this necessitates the guarding of both leaves and plates, as well as the mending of the back of the sections; the guards cause an awkward thickness in the back and make a most uncomfortable volume, while the binder's bill may well raise a question as to whether the book is worth the cost. A simple method, too seldom followed, of avoiding this defect, is to print the illustrations in pairs so that they may be sewn in with the sheets.

With the advent of the three-colour process it has become common to print the title of a plate on a leaf of flimsy paper facing it, instead of printing it on the plate itself. It is not easy to see a reason for this pretentious and inconvenient custom: the flimsies easily get torn and lost, and the illustration becomes nameless. Another vicious practice is the use of wire staples in place of sewing thread. In this method the sheets are fastened to the muslin by wire staples driven through them and clinched at the back. The wire soon rusts and eats through the paper, allowing the leaves to fall out of the book. Books are still occasionally 'bound' by the caoutchouc process: that is, the back of the volume is cut smooth, coated with a solution of rubber, and stuck into the case. If those who adopt this process would examine books treated in this way twenty or thirty years ago, they would find that the rubber has entirely perished, leaving the book a bundle of detached leaves-but, apparently, some publishers never see books after they have left the warehouse.