The Printed Book

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

Book Bookbinding Part 5

In proceeding to work, the design is usually first schemed out with the tools in black on paper. This copy having been fixed in position on the book, the binder goes over it with the tools, stamping the design upon the leather through the paper. The impression thus left on the book is then painted in with glaire, after which gold leaf is laid on with a pad of cotton-wool, and the tools are again impressed exactly in the same positions to fix the gold. This being done, the superfluous gold is rubbed off and the book is polished and varnished as a finishing touch. Other and less used methods of decorating leather bindings are blind tooling in which the design is impressed into the leather without gilding, inlaying with leather of different colors, painting, and staining.

Embossing, in which the design is raised on the surface, is also occasionally used, but this style seems more suited to a blotter than to a printed book. The bindings of printed books have little connexion with those sumptuous covers of precious metal, enriched with ivories, enamels, and gems, which, in olden days, were wrought by the goldsmith for the preservation of valuable manuscripts. Wooden boards and leather-either calf, deerskin, or pigskin-formed the humbler but serviceable binding in general use for early printed books. In large folios the leather usually covered the whole of the board, which was often further protected against wear and tear by brass bosses and corner-pieces. Smaller books were sometimes half- bound; in this case the leather covered only the back and about two inches of the sides, leaving the rest of the boards bare wood. Many of these early books were sewn on double bands of thick leather, the thread going round both in figure-of-eight fashion. The leather covering was decorated by stamping it with various devices and patterns. The tools for this work were usually cut in intaglio, so that the device shewed in low relief on the binding; but on some German books the design was impressed into the leather.

A common English panel binding at the beginning of the sixteenth century contained on one side the royal arms, France and England quarterly, with dragon and greyhound as supporters, and on the other a Tudor rose supported by angels, with the arms of London and other accessory symbols. Panel stamps frequently formed the complete decoration of a small book, while the roll, sometimes in conjunction with a panel, served for larger volumes.

The decoration of Italian bindings consisted chiefly of interlaced patterns, when in France and the Netherlands panel stamps were largely in use. English binders of the fifteenth century were in the habit of decorating their books with a number of small dies arranged in bands and circles. But the bindings that came from Caxton's workshop usually had a border of triangular stamps, and the centre was divided by diagonal lines into diamond-shaped compartments, with a flower, griffin, or other small ornament in the centre of each. Small dies were superseded by the panel stamp and by the roll, a wheel tool which produced a continuous pattern in the form of a ribbon.