The Printed Book

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

Book Bookbinding Part 2

In this case the cords do not form bands on the back, and the back may consequently be smooth, unless. as is frequently done, false bands are put on before the volume is covered. But the binder seldom makes the false bands correspond in position to the actual cords, and, since the discrepancy is readily seen where the cords shew at the hinges, he can generally be caught out. If it is desired to avoid having bands on the back the book can be sewn on tapes instead of cords; a much better method than sawing the back.

After the sewing is completed and the back has been glued up, the binder proceeds to the rounding and backing of the volume. The first of these processes gives the back a convex form and thus provides space for the extra thickness which that part of the book has acquired owing to the presence of the sewing thread; the object of backing is to make a groove into which the back edge of the boards may fit and form a hinge on which to open. Both these operations are done with a hammer, and call for considerable skill and care. A fashion for flat backs has obtained to some extent in recent years. In this style the rounding and backing are omitted, and what is called a French joint is used in attaching the boards. These books have a certain neatness and compactness of appearance when new, but if much used the back is liable to become concave causing the fore-edge to protrude, and the volume takes on a painfully broken-backed aspect.

Boards, cut to the right size, are now attached to the book by drawing the slips (the free ends of the back cords) through holes in them, after which the cutting and decoration of the edges are taken in hand. The treatment of the edges allows considerable latitude of choice, and, like the style of binding, is governed largely by the kind of book and the use to which it will be put. In most cases it is desirable that the top should be cut smooth, as this helps to keep out dust; gilding the top gives it a more solid surface and therefore affords better protection. A fine binding will usually have all three edges cut and gilded or colored, but in many cases it is preferred to leave the fore-edge and tail untrimmed. Books which command a fancy price, particularly first editions, often hold much of their value in the width of the margins, and should on that account be left entirely uncut. The same rule applies to early printed books. Books intended for reference should have all edges cut smooth to facilitate use; the edges may be sprinkled or colored to prevent a soiled appearance, but the luxury of marbling may well be reserved for the adornment of ledgers.