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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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Lying press mounted to the workbench.

A discussion about lying presses and woodworking bench presses got me all excited about equipment and tools and I had another look at what I was using, and realized my lying press/bench press needed to be rebuilt. So I rebuilt it. The bench is a cast-off  table top from the Grand Rapids Public Library, circa 1900, and it had been hacked into at some point to fit into a tight space, I guess, so I used the inset as a space into which to mount the lying press.

Bench with lying press attached. The old table top is made of quarter sawn oak.

Since I use the press for a variety of work, including bookbinding, woodworking, and odd jobs (fixing the kids' gadgets), I wanted to beef it up the end so it could be used as a clamp. Two metal plates installed flush with the wood protect the wood from damage.

The wood is 2" hard maple, laminated to make the main block, and the mounted portion is screwed into the side of the bench top with five 5" construction screws. The hardware is Record, made in England, probably 70s or 80s vintage.

The end of the press with the maker's mark. My old Hickock press has a stamp on the end, so I though it wouldn't be inappropriate to do so here.

Another view.

Here is a picture from 1916 of the interior of the Grand Rapids Public Library with table tops like the one the lying press is attached to.

Categories: Equipment, Furniture, The Bindery, Uncategorized.

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Moroccan Bookbinders circa 1925.

Pictured is a postcard from about 1925 with a picture of hand-bookbinders sitting on low benches working with what looks like leather bindings. Photo by Flandrin, Casablanca.

Les Relieurs Marocains - Moorish Bookbindings

"Les Relieurs Marocains - Moorish Bookbinders."

Categories: Uncategorized.


A new graining plate, and a word about 19th Century book design.

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.

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.

Board decorations.

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.

Categories: 19th Century, Dies, Grained cloth, Uncategorized.

Before tape repairs…

Found this in an book from the late 18th Century. The tear in this page had been sewn with linen thread.

Sewn paper mend with linen thread.

Categories: Curiosities.

Emory’s Report on the U. States and Mexico.

Here’s an interesting two volume set from 1857 that suffered wear and was missing one spine. Both volumes needed new cloth spines inserted, but the boards were good and could be refurbished. The challenge was that the cloth used on these mid-19th Century volumes was grained and starched, and modern cloth isn’t. Happily, I have some grained antique cloth in my stock that is similar, and though it wasn’t black, it could be colored to more closely match the original than any modern cloth. The typefaces on the mid-century work is also unique; often the serifs are very angular. So when replicating this style, a typeface that I altered to match this style was used.

Here’s the original spine:

Original spine and a laser printed spine.

Detail of the 19th Century grained cloth.

Detail of the new cloth, colored.

Emory, Report. 1857. New spines.

Emory, Report. New spine with original board.

Categories: 19th Century, Grained cloth.