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THE ART OF BOOK BINDING.
In these suggestions upon the important question of the binding of books, I shall have nothing to say of the history of the art, and very little of its aesthetics. The plainest and most practical hints will be aimed at, and if my experience shall prove of value to any, I shall be well rewarded for giving it here. For other matters readers will naturally consult some of the numerous manuals of book-binding in English, French and German. The sumptuous bindings executed in the sixteenth century, under the patronage and the eyes of Grolier, the famous tooled masterpieces of Derome, Le Gascon, Padeloup, Trautz and other French artists, and the beautiful gems of the binder's art from the hands of Roger Payne, Lewis, Mackenzie, Hayday and Bedford, are they not celebrated in the pages of Dibdin, Lacroix, Fournier, Wheatley, and Robert Hoe?
There are some professed lovers of books who affect either indifference or contempt for the style in which their favorites are dressed. A well known epigram of Burns is sometimes quoted against the fondness for fine bindings which widely prevails in the present day, as it did in that of the Scottish Poet. A certain Scottish nobleman, endowed with more wealth than brains, was vain of his splendidly bound Shakespeare, which, however, he never read. Burns, on opening the folio, found the leaves sadly worm-eaten, and wrote these lines on the fly-leaf:
"Through and through th' inspired leaves,
Ye maggots make your windings;
Yet no real book-lover fails to appreciate the neatness and beauty of a tasteful binding, any more than he is indifferent to the same qualities in literary style. Slovenly binding is almost as offensive to a cultivated eye as slovenly composition. No doubt both are "mere externals," as we are told, and so are the splendors of scenery, the beauty of flowers, and the comeliness of the human form, or features, or costume. Talk as men will of the insignificance of dress, it constitutes a large share of the attractiveness of the world in which we live.
The two prime requisites of good binding for libraries are neatness and solidity. It is pleasant to note the steady improvement in American bindings of late years. As the old style of "Half cloth boards," of half a century ago, with paper titles pasted on the backs, has given way to the neat, embossed, full muslin gilt, so the clumsy and homely sheepskin binding has been supplanted by the half-roan or morocco, with marbled or muslin sides. Few books are issued, however, either here or abroad, in what may be called permanent bindings. The cheapness demanded by buyers of popular books forbids this, while it leaves to the taste and fancy of every one the selection of the "library style” in which he will have his collection permanently dressed.
What is the best style of binding for a select or a public library? is a question often discussed, with wide discrepancies of opinion. The so universally prevalent cloth binding is too flimsy for books subjected to much use—as most volumes in public collections and many in private libraries are likely to be. The choice of the more substantial bindings lies between calf and morocco, and between half or full bindings of either. For nearly all books, half binding, if well executed, and with cloth sides, is quite as elegant, and very nearly as solid and lasting as full leather; for if a book is so worn as to need rebinding, it is generally in a part where the full binding wears out quite as fast as the other. That is, it gets worn at the hinges and on the back, whether full or half-bound. The exceptions are the heavy dictionaries, encyclopaedias, and other works of reference, which are subjected to much wear and tear at the sides, as well as at the back and corners. Full leather is much more expensive than half binding, though not doubly so.
Every librarian or book collector should understand something of book-binding and its terms, so that he may be able to give clear directions as to every item involved in binding, repairing, or re-lettering, and to detect imperfect or slighted work.
The qualities that we always expect to find in a wellbound book are solidity, flexibility, and elegance. Special examination should be directed toward each of these points in revising any lot of books returned from a binder Look at each book with regard to:
1. Flexibility in opening.
2. Evenness of the cover, which should lie flat and smooth-each edge being just parallel with the others throughout.
3. Compactness—see that the volumes are thoroughly pressed-solid, and not loose or spongy.
4. Correct and even lettering of titles, and other tooling. 5. Good wide margins.
A well-bound book always opens out flat, and stays open. It also shuts up completely, and when closed stays shut. But how many books do we see always bulging open at the sides, or stiffly resisting being opened by too great tightness in the back? If the books you have had bound do not meet all these requirements, it is time to look for another binder.
The different styles of dressing books may all be summed up in the following materials: Boards, cloth, vellum, sheep, bock, pig-skin, calf, Russia, and morocco—to which may be added of recent years, buckram, duck, linoleum, and the imitations of leather, such as leatherette and morocco paper, and of parchment. I take no account here of obsolete styles—as ivory, wood, brass, silver and other metals, nor of velvet, satin, and other occasional luxuries of the binder's art. These belong to the domain of the amateur, the antiquary, or the book-fancier-not to that of the librarian or the ordinary book-collector.
Roan leather is nothing but sheep-skin, stained or colored; basil or basan is sheepskin tanned in bark, while roan is tanned in sumac, and most of the so called moroccos are also sheep, ingeniously grained by a mechanical process. As all the manufactures in the world are full of "shoddy," or sham materials, the bookbinder's art affords no exception. But if the librarian or collector patronises shams, he should at least do it with his eyes open, and with due counting of the cost.
Now as to the relative merits and demerits of materials for binding. No one will choose boards covered with paper for any book which is to be subjected to perusal, and cloth is too flimsy and shaky in its attachment to the book, however cheap, for any library volumes which are to be constantly in use. It is true that since the bulk of the new books coming into any library are bound in cloth, they may be safely left in it until well worn; and by this rule, all the books which nobody ever reads may be expected to last many years, if not for generations. Cloth is a very durable material, and will outlast some of the leathers, but any wetting destroys its beauty, and all colors but the darkest soon become soiled and repulsive, if in constant use. In most libraries, I hold that every cloth-bound book which is read, must sooner or later come to have a stout leather jacket. It may go for years, especially if the book is well sewed, but to rebinding it must come at last; and the larger the volume, the sooner it becomes shaky, or broken at some weak spot.
The many beautiful new forms of cloth binding should have a word of praise, but the many more which we see of gaudy, fantastic, and meretricious bindings, and frightful combinations of colors must be viewed with a shudder.
Vellum, formerly much used for book-bindings, is the modern name for parchment. Parchment was the only known writing material up to the 12th century, when paper was first invented. There are two kinds—animal and vegetable. The vegetable is made from cotton fibre or paper, by dipping it in a solution of sulphuric acid and [sometimes] gelatine, then removing the acid by a weak solution of ammonia, and smooth finishing by rolling the sheets over a heated cylinder. Vegetable parchment is used to bind many booklets which it is desired to dress in an elegant or dainty style, but is highly unsuitable for library books. Vellum proper is a much thicker material, made from the skins of calves, sheep, or lambs, soaked in limewater, and smoothed and hardened by burnishing with a hard instrument, or pumice-stone. The common vellum is made from sheep-skin splits, or skivers, but the best from whole calf-skins. The hard, strong texture of vellum is in its favor, but its white color and tendency to warp are fatal objections to it as a binding material.
Vellum is wholly unfit for the shelves of a library; the elegant white binding soils with dust, or the use of the hands, more quickly than any other; and the vellum warps in a dry climate, or curls up in a heated room, so as to be unmanageable upon the shelves, and a nuisance in the eyes of librarian and reader alike. The thin vegetable parch