Skip to content

19th Century velvet photo albums.

When I started bookbinding, I didn’t go into it thinking, “I want to work with velvet and padded bindings.” Even today I don’t seek out velvet and padded bindings. But an interesting development in the history of bookbinding is represented by exactly those two things. The 19th Century saw much innovation and stretching of the parameters of traditional binding, and with the proliferation of photographs there was an increase in the demand for albums to house them, and producers of albums seemed bent on outdoing each other in extravagance.

The book arts trend in the past few decades in many ways changed how we look at the book. The book as codex, developed centuries ago has remained essentially unchanged. The trend to see the book as an art object really formed and developed throughout the 20th Century when artists and binders began to see the book as more than a codex, and to view it as an art object. Essentially, a codex is a group of leaves joined in some way on one side and bound with a cover material. Material and decoration are peripheral elements, and don’t change the essential nature of the codex. What makes the book not simply a codex is the alteration of the essential structure, beyond the alteration of material and decoration.

Experimentation with book structures, though, began before the wave of book artists in the 20th Century. It was the 19th Century photo album that received this burst of attention, and though many albums were still some variation of the codex, there were also albums which exhibit experimentation where other structures were incorporated into the object, bringing the album outside the confines of the codex to the book as object.

Below are two examples of newly recovered velvet photo albums which incorporate elements beyond the scope of the codex. The first is a swiveling album on a stand where the album swivels up before it can be opened. It’s awkward, because one has to steady the album to view it, as it wants to flop to whichever side is heavier, but it is a wonderful example of innovation, and of designers thinking beyond the codex to to the book as object. The next is an album/music box.

Scroll down the page to see more pictures of these albums as well as picture featuring the swiveling album before during, and after restoration.

19th Century photo album on a swivel stand with decorative bosses.

Freshly restored photo album. Scroll down for before, after, and process pictures.

music box photo album.

Here is a music box photo album with a clasp that has a spring inside of it to keep it tight on the hook. Newly covered in velveteen and antique decorated printed paper.

music box interior

The musical element is mounted inside the box, and the album pages lift up as if away from the back cover.

damaged velvet photo album with disintegrated velvet

The wear and tear of the years is evident in this photo of the album as it came into the bindery. The velvet had virtually all disintegrated, and the covers were falling apart.

clips on swivel bracket

A view of the swivel bracket onto which the rear board of the album is mounted with clips. Happily all this was present.

victorian album parts

The album is completely disassembled and all the individual parts are repaired.

victorian album parts

The base is cleaned and recovering begins with fresh velvet.

19th century photo album stand

The completed base.

book clasp being attached to velvet album

The lower clasp (pictured) was missing from the original. I happened to have on in my “brass parts” drawer that fit. How did that happen!? It was a little rough but it worked.

19th Century victorian velvet photo album with brass decorations

With the clasp attached, the bosses and fake hinge wings are laid in place and ready to be nailed in. The nails are pushed through the cover and bent over before the endpapers are attached.

swivel clip to hold 19th century victorian photo album to swivel rod

The brass swivel clips are set onto the rod. This one stamped with the patent date of July 15, 1890.

19th Century Victorian swivelling album restoration completed

The Album is attached to the clips, and rests on the angled base.

19th Century Victorian velvet photo album on swivel stand

The album as it would sit if one were looking at the photographs.

Categories: 19th Century, Albums, clasps.

Melville’s Clarel matched binding.

Herman Melville's poem Clarel in two volumes. Titling and cover design were digitally copied from the original mismatched bindings. Bound in antique grained cloth with beveled boards.

The original soiled bindings. The two books were married from other sets, so the cloth didn't match.

Categories: Grained cloth.

Tags: , , , , , ,

Ledger binding. Court records.

Back when binderies were prolifically producing bindings in leather, the springback ledger binding was a common result. With cost cutting and streamlining came less attractive bindings, but sometimes it is necessary to reproduce a good looking ledger binding. Below is an example of original ledger bindings as well as newly produced bindings.

Late 19th Century springback bindings of Police Records. Note the heavy raised bands. These bands are decorative, and serve no function except decoration.

Three bindings to match the style of the period in three-quarter calf and heavy raised bands.

Categories: Uncategorized.

BoxBook for Knox’s Historical Journal, 1769

Here are a few pictures of another historical style BoxBook for John Knox’s An Historical Journal of the Campaigns in North-America, for The Years 1757, 1758, 1759, and 1760: Containing The Most Remarkable Occurrences of that Period; particularly The Two Sieges of Quebec, &c. &c., London, W. Johnston, 1769.

General view of the BoxBook. Cherry box, with calf spine and hand marbled paper boards.

Box joints or finger joints add strength and beauty and a classic solid feel to the box. Each box is made to fit so there is little room for "jiggle" inside the box.

When opened, the spine falls away from the box and exposes the books for easy removal. The spine is of a matching cherry wood, lined with felt to protect the books from any offgassing of the wood.

Another view of the books in the box. Hinges are lined with cloth, which add strength and flexibility.

Another view of the books in the box. Magnetic closures can be seen which keep the lid or front cover snug when closed.

The spine is worked up in a simple style of the period in genuine gold, ensuring that the gold will be bright for many years. The hand marbled paper is made by Iris Nevins, and is marlbed in classic 18th Century style.

Categories: 18th Century, BoxBooks, Boxes.

BoxBook; or, a box that acts and looks like a book.

After a two years of designing, developing, and fine tuning a design for a compelling and functional box for books and pamphlets, I’d like to introduce what I call the BoxBook. My goal was to develop a box that I enjoyed making, and which incorporated the best elements of history, craft, and beauty. The box I imagined also needed to be easily opened, and be able to stay closed when moved around.

After making many clamshell boxes, which are perfect where super protection is needed, I realized that the type of protection the clamshell box offers is overkill for the needs of many books. An uncomplicated enclosure, beyond the slipcase (which abrades the book each time it is inserted or taken out) was what I was after.

And to be honest, the multitude of cuts and folds in a cloth clamshell box was driving me mad.

Enter wood. Since wood is acidic and off-gasses harmful chemicals indefinitely, it is generally not recommended for archival storage. Thus measures need to be taken to protect the wood from adversely affecting the enclosed material. All boxes have a polyester sheet lining as well as polyester felt to protect the book from abrasion.

Each box is constructed as a cased-in book might be bound, with boards, a spine and grooved hinge. The box stays shut with strong neodymium magnets, and the wood frame is joined at the corners with strong and attractive box (or finger)  joints. Each frame is hand finished in a ten-step process.

Every box is be designed to fit the historical style of the enclosed item, from early leather bindings to cloth bindings with decorate gold work. Below are a few pictures of an 18th Century style quarter leather box, enclosing The Annual Register, London, Dodsley, 1777.

A quarter calf binding with labels, gold and blind decorations in the style of the period. Tool designs are based on original designs from the 18th Century.

View of Annual Register volume in open box.

Detail of box joint and magnet closure. This frame is made of cherry.

Categories: BoxBooks, Boxes, Uncategorized.

Binding style question.

Is there a standard or accepted name for this type of binding?

Categories: Uncategorized.

Copperplate text

Categories: Uncategorized.

An 18th Century style binding.

Stedman’s History of the American War:

The spine is of hand dyed leather to match the original, and the original designs of the spine were digitally reproduced and dies made. New labels are stamped in genuine gold.

Categories: Uncategorized.

A matched grained cloth binding on Horatio Alger’s Telegraph Boy.

Here is a before and after of Horatio Alger’s The Telegraph Boy from the Tattered Tom series.

A tattered Tattered Tom.

The new binding done in antique grained cloth, and genuine gold stamping.

Categories: 19th Century, Grained cloth.

Early 19th Century grained leather bindings receive new spines.

Graining of leather was commonly done to hide the imperfections of second or third grade leather. And then it became style. These bindings on Gordon’s American Revolution, published in London by Charles Dilly in 1788 are examples of graining for style, since the original leather appear to come from clean skins. The boards are decorated with gold lines and a blind decorative roll, as well as some gilt on the edges of the boards. The boards have some damage but are worth keeping, and the spines were pretty once, but need to be replaced. To use sheep on new bindings today isn’t desirable because sheep is an inferior and weak leather. But Steven Siegel has developed a sheep leather suitable for binding. He says it is “100% vegetable tanned, fair, (natural) hair sheep. The type of hair sheep that I used is very difficult to obtain.  It has incredible strength at 0.4 mm.  “My idea”  was to provide a leather which could be used for sheepskin re-binds, but without the problems inherent with wool sheep”.

Original Late 18th Century straight grained leather binding, with tape removed. This is one of the better volumes, as some tape had darkened the edges of the boards extensively.

Once the leather is chosen,  in this case the hair sheep skin from Steven Siegel, it is dyed. I dye with a mixture of aniline dies, lightly at first and tweaking it until it is the color of the board edges, where the new leather is worked in. The leather took dye quite nicely, with slight variation in tone, which might be attributed to the leather or to my brushing technique. Either way, this is desirable because a completely uniformly dyed skin can look plastic and without life next to the aged boards into which the leather is worked in and with which it needs to be in harmony. While the leather is still damp it it pressed into the graining plate.

The upper leather is the un-dyed hair sheep, and the lower piece is a dyed portion.

Dyed and grained leather ready for paring and inserting into the boards. The leather took a grain well, in this case a straight grain.

Once dry, the leather is pared at the edges. A nice feature of this leather is that even after multiple dye applications, the leather is still soft enough to pare easily. This is a treat, since it is unusual, and since it makes paring quick. Another good thing about this leather is that it is thin enough for restoration work, and doesn’t require a lot of paring to get it to a thickness suitable to be worked using it as restoration material. After paring, the boards are prepared to receive the leather. Here I lift the leather and reinforce it, laying down the very edge of the leather where the tape damage occurs. The leather is inserted, pressed, headcaps turned and bound to the book. The spine is tied up so the leather stays put nicely along the bands. This particular leather was malleable and worked very nicely over the boards and at the same time retained the grain that was added. Very nice.

Detail of boards with extensive tape damage both to the leather and on the marbled endpapers.

The endpapers are marbled, and had been damaged by tape, so new inner hinges are inserted. But since the damage extended significantly onto the boards, it was necessary to fit matching paper into the hinges. A representative sheet from the endpapers is scanned and the color is tweaked and the paper is printed on hinge paper. This is torn into strips and worked into the binding at a point where the design is complimentary and fits visually with the marbled pattern.

New hinges to match the original endpapers.

The new spines with gold lettering and raised bands similar to original.

Gordon's American Revolution complete with lettering and gold lines, all hand tooled.

Categories: 18th Century, Grained leather, Rebacking, Respining, Restoration, Uncategorized.