The development of book binding
Bookbinding is the process of physically assembling a book of codex format from an ordered stack of paper sheets that are folded together into sections called signatures or sometimes left as a stack of individual sheets. Several signatures are then bound together along one edge with a thick needle and sturdy thread. Alternative methods of binding that are cheaper but less permanent include loose-leaf rings, individual screw posts or binding posts, twin loop spine coils, plastic spiral coils, and plastic spine combs. For protection, the bound stack is either wrapped in a flexible cover or attached to stiff boards. Finally, an attractive cover is adhered to the boards, including identifying information and decoration. Book artists or specialists in book decoration can also greatly enhance a book’s content by creating book-like objects with artistic merit of exceptional quality.
Before the computer age, the bookbinding trade involved two divisions. First, there was stationery binding (known as vellum binding in the trade) that deals with books intended for handwritten entries such as accounting ledgers, business journals, blank books, and guest log books, along with other general office stationery such as notebooks, manifold books, day books, diaries and portfolios. Computers have now replaced the pen and paper based accounting that constituted most of the stationery binding industry. Second was letterpress binding which deals with making books intended for reading, including library binding, fine binding, edition binding, and publisher’s bindings. A third division deals with the repair, restoration, and conservation of old used bindings.
Frost Books & Artifacts prides itself with the wide range and well-ordered selection of leather bound antique and rare books. Conservation and restoration are practices intended to repair damage to an existing book. While they share methods, their goals differ. The goal of conservation is to slow the book’s decay and restore it to a usable state while altering its physical properties as little as possible. Conservation methods have been developed in the course of taking care of large collections of books. The term archival comes from taking care of the institution’s archive of books. The goal of restoration is to return the book to a previous state as envisioned by the restorer, often imagined as the original state of the book. The methods of restoration have been developed by bookbinders with private clients mostly interested in improving their collections.
In either case, one of Frost Books & Artifacts standards for conservation and restoration is “reversibility”. That is, any repair should be done in such a way that it can be undone if and when a better technique is developed in the future. Bookbinders echo the physician’s creed, “First, do no harm”. While reversibility is one standard, longevity of the functioning of the book is also very important and sometimes takes precedence over reversibility especially in areas that are invisible to the reader such as the spine lining.