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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?

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Copperplate text

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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.

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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.

Bookplate complete with Biblical pressure.

There are plenty of collectors of bookplates and usually there is some theme that guides the collection. I wonder if anyone had put together a collection of bookplates based on the intention of shaming the borrower or pressuring the borrower with moral statements in order to insure the return of the book. Here is one that I ran across.

The wicked borroweth and payeth not again.

Categories: Uncategorized.

Gilding on cloth for a 19th Century look.

Many 19th Century bindings exhibit elaborate designs and fine detail in gold. This was done with gold leaf. To try to replicate bindings that carry the same feel and historical accuracy, I have found that one needs three things: A detailed die; grained and starch-filled cloth; and gold leaf. This not unlike a good conversation. For a conversation to result in a healthy interplay of words, there must be three elements: intelligence; candor, and goodwill. Without all three, success is compromised.

Below are two examples of 19th Century detailed gold work on cloth. The grained cloth and the detailed die are clearly visible. What kind of gold was used is harder to discern from a casual observation.

1860s George Herbert gold leaf binding.

Published in Edinburgh by Gall and Inglis, this binding has a variety of gold and blind work. Here is a detail from the front cover.

This medallion featuring Sir Walter Scott is from a set of Waverly Novels published in Boston around 1870 by De Wolf, Fiske, and Company. Each volume has this elaborate cover. Notice the fine detail of the dies, where gold is fully laid down, yet showing texture.

When making new books to fit the 19th Century model, I start with grained, starch-filled cloth. Most cloth produced today has either a linen, unsized finish, or has a synthetic coating for protection. Once the case made up, stamping can begin. Here it is important to use dies that are finely detailed, like an old printed engraving. Most modern designs are more bulky to accommodate the less precise nature of stamping with foils.

The third element is gold. I’ve done a quick test of various types of gold and leaf on a substrate of antique grained cloth. Unsized, there is little success except with imitation gold. The best results for me are with gold leaf and foil on egg glaire. With some practice I think the leaf can produce the best results, but it is difficult to work with. Also, with some practice the foil can work quite well, though if done well the leaf has a depth the foil doesn’t. It also looks a bit less glitzy, more subdued. For stamping foil, I have found what works best is to stamp quickly with a high-temperature die to release the gold from the foil, then remove the foil and stamp again for 5-10 seconds to adhere the gold to the cloth. The least amount of bleed occurs with this method.

Below is a link to samples I worked up. Click on the link and you can zoom in to see the details. It is not very scientific, but was done mainly so I could get a feel for the different options and where the best success might lie with gilding on cloth. Feedback welcome.


Categories: 19th Century, Gold leaf, Grained cloth.


1830s grained binding with title frame.

The Thirties. 1830s that is.

A period binding, or historical binding, is not limited to the classic leather binding with raised bands and overworked gold. Sure, these exist, but were mostly produced for royalty and individuals or institutions with means. Many bindings were done more simply, and in that simple treatment much nuance and period specific detail can be found.

The original binding below exhibits this simple treatment. Sacred Offerings, A Poetical Gift, published in Boston by Joseph Dowe in 1838, is a quaint little book, bound in grained cloth with blind work on the boards, and on the spine there is a delicate floral frame enclosing the title. No extravagance. When making a new binding in the spirit of the original, there are some practical constraints. Is the book worth extravagant effort to “get it exactly right”; what materials are available; and how much die work needs to be done. The new bindings in the second picture aren’t exact copies of the original, because of these constraints. Instead, in making these historical bindings, I do what might have been done, but probably wasn’t. I try to catch the spirit of the original, tweaking the work with my own interpretation to make it at once appealing to modern sensibilities and fitting the historical model.

The original binding with its floral text frame.

The new bindings on a series of popular titles from the 1830s with the floral text frame stamped in gold on quarter grained leather bindings. There is no grained leather on the market suitable for this kind of binding so these leathers are grained in-house using a graining plate.

Categories: 19th Century, Grained leather.

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The Adventures of Tom Sawyer gets a new spine with black and gold leaf.

Here’s a first edition of  Mark Twain’s Adventures of Tom Sawyer, with worn boards. The original spine was worn beyond usability, so a new spine was fashioned using dies copied from the original.

New spine on Tom Sawyer. The spine is grained cloth, to match the cloth on the original boards. The black is done with black foil, and the gold with 23k gold leaf.

The die set used for working up the spine. Dies are 1/4" copper.

Categories: 19th Century, Grained cloth, Uncategorized.

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