Grained, starch-filled cloth is a given on a 19th Century cloth binding. I guess I’m obsessed with getting this right. If a book is bound in modern acrylic-impregnated cloths, or uncoated linen cloths, it shouts “this book has been rebound!”
So ongoing in the bindery is the development of material options for use on 19th Century bindings. To this end, a new graining plate has been added to the bindery, this one a striking diced pattern. Not one of the most common patterns, it is found on both English and American bindings of the mid-19th Century—though it is more often found on English books—and is a pattern that can be produced on new cloth successfully. By new cloth, I mean 20th Century linen cloth, which has been re-starched and dyed.
Here is a picture of the graining plate. It is magnesium, and the dyed and dampened cloth is pressed onto it to give it the pattern.
Diced pattern on magnesium graining plate.
Once the cloth is grained, the cover is constructed and left to dry. When dry, the blind and gold work can be stamped. The gold work is stamped with an old hotstamping press. The blind work, because so much more pressure is needed to achieve a deep, clean impression on the boards, is done with heated dies in a larger press.
On the design of the book.
Type. Much of 19th Century titling was engraved specifically for whatever book was being produced. Though there were “fonts” or typefaces for printing, it’s hard to identify any specific typeface from lettering on the covers of books, especially in the early part of the century. Maybe in the haste of excitement that lettering need not be done one letter at a time, publishers, binders, and designers, were not concerned that every letter and design was machined to perfection. Some titles with more uniform letters were most likely done with hand-set brass type. Here are a few book titles lined up to show what I mean.
19th Century spine titles. The two on the right are probably stamped with set type.
Later in the Century, haste was replaced by extravagance and many bindings exhibited uniform lettering and design, often with detailed grains and combinations of black and gold.
By the later part of the 19th Century the presentation is more decorated and more precise.
So what to do. There are no digital typefaces that exhibit the early frontier look. Old brass type left over from 19th Century binderies could be used, but though the letters might exhibit the desired lack of uniformity, the type itself is often worn and dinged. Foundries that today produce new brass type based on historical designs also make the letters quite uniform and perfect, appealing to our modern sensibilities, and these work on later bindings. Some typefaces with narrow serifs as was common later in the century, can be replicated with a a few digital typefaces.
For early lettering, one solution I came up with is to design my own digital typeface, happily breaking the rules of typography as I went along. Much of the early lettering was quite angular, so I designed an angular typeface, based on a Bodoni style typeface, and use it it replicate that desirable frontier look. Here is an example of the title designed with–I call it “Angular”–for The States and Territories of the Great West, by Jacob Ferris, published by Miller, Orton, and Mulligan, New York, 1856. It is based on the original, where the original was not preservable. This title is then engraved on a thin magnesium sheet. This sheet is set up on the stamping press.
The Book that is the subject of this essay is a London publication, Remy and Brenchley’s A Journey to Great-Salt Lake City, London, Jeffs, 1861. The original type is quite uniform, as most 19th Century English bindings did not exhibit the frontier feel. So for this title I was able to use an available digital typeface. Here is an example of the titling for the Remy volume, and the accompanying die and stamped version. Scroll down for pictures of the finished Remy volumes.
Also new in the die arsenal here in the bindery is the corner decoration set, reproduced in copper from 19th Century designs found on an 1864 Hartford, Connecticut binding. Since I will use these again and again, they are engraved in copper. Once heated, a thin coat of beeswax is applied to give the impression a sheen, and the dies are placed on the cover and pressed.
Four dies are used for embossing the designs on the covers, as well as copper lines.
Final pictures of the 1861 London binding.
There are design differences between original variations of this publications and my version. I don’t always try for an exact copy and do what was done, but rather aim to produce a binding design that could have been done, thus keeping the spirit of 19th Century bookbinding alive.
Corner detail of embossing.