by Snow Fain

One of our projects this year was to copy a historical binding of our choice. For this exercise, I decided to complete a binding from the Newberry Library collection in Chicago, Illinois. The book was published in 1756 in Livorno, Italy.

To start, let's look at the binding of interest. The title of the book is Memorie per servire alla vita del Senator P. Vettori (see below) written by Angelo Maria Bandini (1726-1803).

Memoire per servire alla vita del Senator P. Vettori

The binding is a simple binding of nine sections of two folios each with the exception of the first and last section (see below). The pastedown and endpaper are one piece that is folded around the section, which created a stub that wraps around the first section. The sewing goes through the middle of the section through the fold of the pastedown/endpaper sheet. The stub was either cut along the fold or left alone. This structure for the first and last sections was a common characteristic for Italian bindings in the 17th and 18th century.

A detail of the pastedown and endpaper fold around first section. An illustration of the construction of how the first and last sections are put together.

The sections were sewn on three cords with three sewing stations and two kettle stations. The cords were laced into the pasteboards before the spine and corners were covered in vellum. Decorated paper to cover the boards is a woodblock print most likely made of flour paste mixed with pigment. The most common type of wood used for woodblock prints at that time was pear wood, which was carved into with the desired design. Sometimes pins were inserted into the woodblock to add more texture to the design. Each color was usually printed from a separate woodblock that was layered on top to create the full design.

Detail of the cords underneath pastedown.

A detail of the woodblock print with an overlap of the floral pattern on the lower board.

Shortcuts in binding became more common in the 18th century to save money and to speed up the binding process. This parchment/paper combination utilized cheaper materials and faster techniques compared to the full leather bindings of the time. This binding was intended to be a temporary binding made by the publisher; the idea was that the owner would eventually have the book rebound in a full leather when owner could afford it, although as this book shows, the temporary bindings often became permanent.

To start this binding, the sections needed to be folded and cut to size. The finished binding was 229mm x 178mm x 25mm with a 4mm square around the textblock. The first and last sections had the pastedown/endpaper prepared as described above. The textblock was sewn on three cords, rounded slightly and ready for attaching the pasteboards.

The sections before sewing on the sewing frame, the completed sewing, and the textblock lightly rounded.

The pasteboards were made by adhering two layers of blotter together with 20% w/v wheat starch paste. The boards were cut to size and holes were punched through to line up with the cords on the textblock. The cords were laced through the boards from the outside to the inside of the board, which were then pasted down with wheat starch and left under pressure to dry.

The cord trimmed to be laced into the pasteboard, and two detail images of the boards attached to the textblock.

The corners and spine were covered with vellum, and the book was placed between felts in the press to dry. The vellum on the original binding was left rather thick so the turn-in, at the head and tail, was a bit difficult.

The vellum attached to the boards and placed in the press to dry.

The next step was to make the block-printed paste paper to cover the rest of the book. Due to time, I decided to buy a linoleum block to carve the design, rather than carving into a woodblock. The linocut print produced the same effect as the woodblock print. I had two blocks, one with the stripes and one with the floral pattern; I had to print the stripes first and let that dry before applying the floral pattern. The paste used was wheat starch paste mixed with acrylic paints.

Once the paper was dry, it was cut to size and adhered to the upper and lower boards. This was also left under weight to dry. The pastedowns were the last step to completing the binding.

The completed model

This binding was a great exercise, and I can see how this binding was a quick alternative to a full leather binding. By sewing the textblock on a sewing frame, it would have been easy to sew five or six textblocks in a row, which would be a quick process for a binder. This binding also allowed for more of a variety in decorations with the use of decorative paper. I did find making the decorative paper extremely fun and would definitely make this type of binding again.

A comparison of the original binding (left) to the model (right)

The original block-printed paste paper (left) and the new paper (right)

Original binding (left), model (right)