Our group has been studying paper case bindings. These come in a remarkable array of styles and were popular in the 18th Century. They are very close in structure to limp vellum bindings which date back to the 14th Century. They are fast to make and depending on the paper you use for the cover they can be a cheap but very durable binding.
We found a great array of samples from our collections to study. What I am realizing as we study these historic structures is that binders of all centuries seem to make it up as they go along. There are the canonical exemplars, the forms that have survived and were popular in their day, but the details show us that every binder did things a little differently. There is no one way to make a paper case, in fact there are several. You can lace the supports in or not, you can adhere the paste downs or not, you can adhere the turn ins or make yapps
. Or not.
Likely this is due to the availability of materials, the popular methods of the day and who taught you. Judging from my own work, I also suspect there are so many variants because you make mistakes and need to fix them. Along the way you discover a better or quicker way to do things then adopt those “fixes” and pass them on. I like knowing that I’m just one in a long line of binders that never do things quite the same way twice.
The interesting thing about Islamic bindings is that they haven’t changed much. According to Jane Greenfield in “ABC of Bookbinding,” the format was likely learned from binders in Ethiopia. This structure strongly influenced bookbinding in Europe, traveling through Italy and Spain.
Extant bindings are generally made of highly burnished paper text blocks with a simple chain stitch. The covers were made off the book and included a fore edge flap. The case itself was adhered in a tight-back fashion (the spine of the case is glued to the spine of the text block). The endbands are an interesting combination of sewn and woven techniques as described in “Headbands and How to Work Them
” by Jane Greenfield and Jenny Hille. The leather-covered boards and flap were decorated, but not the spine. More information can be found on the National Library of Medicine’s Islamic Medical Manuscripts
Our models strayed a little from the extant bindings we looked at from our collections. Mostly due to our desire to keep personal costs down, we used Western paper and book cloth to create our samples. They follow the original structure, and we now understand the bindings a little better than we did before. You can see Jamie’s wonderful models
on his Flickr page. Henry’s model is at the top of this post, can see more on Henry’s web site
What struck me is how influential these bindings were on the progression of binding through Europe. The chain stitching, sewn headbands, the case construction…these were lost and seemingly rediscovered sometime later in the 19th Century A.C.E. What happened? how did this structure migrate through Europe, get lost, and come back without being cited as a major influence in the histories of book binding? We need a better understanding of non-European bookbinding history. Anyone have some good resources for that? they seem to be missing from the canon.
The Triangle Research Libraries Network (TRLN) Bookbinders is a group of staff members from the conservation labs of UNC, NC State and Duke University libraries that meet monthly to study historic book bindings and recreate them by making binding models. Membership to the group is by invitation only as our space is limited.
We have been meeting for a little over a year, and I’m far behind on reporting on our projects. I’ll be uploading several posts over the next few weeks for your reading enjoyment.
Our first project was to investigate Ethiopic bindings. We have several extant bindings in our Rare Book, Manuscript and Special Collections Library so we had a lot to look at.
Dating from the 4th Century C.E. the Ethiopic Binding, also sometimes called Coptic Binding, is the first multi-section binding known to exist. It was commonly used until the Middle Ages, but similar bindings are found through the 19th Century C.E. The text blocks were made of papyrus or parchment, however our models are paper. The boards are sewn directly onto the text block. These books were commonly covered with leather and carried in a leather case called a Mahdar. Many of our models were left uncovered so you can see the sewing structures. An in-depth discussion of the history of these bindings can be found in J.A. Szirmai’s “Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding.”
The single book on left is by Jamie Bradway. Finished models by class participants.
More images from our sessions can be found on Flickr.