Bookbinding for fun and profit

A friend mentioned that he’d like to see what I would do with a copy of “The Hobbit” by Tolkien. I wondered about that myself. Here’s what I did.

First, found a hardcover copy of the book that was sewn, not glued. This was an ex-library book with a lot of use that was still in good condition.

Next I removed the old cover, keeping it handy to protect the text block during rebinding.

Then I chucked the book in the job backer to clean the old paper and glue off the spine.

Then I made the final decisions about leather and endpapers. Made flexi-fold endpapers. A typical book has a “stiff leaf” – the colored endsheet is pasted to the first white sheet. When this page is turned, it tends to lift the next white endsheet with it. A “flexi-fold” endsheet has the colored sheet pasted to the first white endsheet just along the outside edge, which makes the page much more flexible. It shouldn’t lift the next page when turned.

After cleaning and reshaping the spine, I reglued it, decorated the book edges, attached leather endbands, then lined spine with suede and sanded that smooth.

Then added a strip of linen to aid it attaching the new cover.

On top of the linen I glued a German hollow tube.

Marked up a spine lining strip for false raised bands.

Double-check the fit of the spine strip with false leather bands attached.

I made a pattern for the leather cover.

Transferred the pattern from the paper to the leather.

Pared the edges and turn-ins.

Refreshed the pattern after paring.

Assembled all the materials for the cover: leather, spine strip, and new cover boards. I didn’t take pictures of the tedious chamfering of the boards of lining them with paper on both sides.

All ready to go with fresh paste, new scalpel blade, and assorted folders/triangles/straightedges/sponge/water/paste brush/band nippers…

After pasting the leather to the new cover boards and forming it around the raised bands on the spine strip, I let the cover dry on the (plastic-wrapped) text block so that it would have the correct shape. Once it was fully dry, I marked the inside turn-ins and filler card using dividers to make small marks. Cutting through paper and leather at the same time gives an exact fit for the liner card. The liner card is the same thickness as the leather turn-in, so it makes a smooth surface for the decorative paper.

Once everything is dried, I attached the new cover to the book, gluing the spine to the hollow and attaching the linen strips to the inside covers. I trimmed them back close to the inside edges of the covers so they wouldn’t make a big lump under the pastedowns. Once that was all dry I pasted down the inside pastedowns, trimmed the new endsheets as needed, and finished the flexi-fold endsheets.

I thought a long time about decorating the cover, but none of my efforts were satisfactory. I had printed the spine text using genuine gold foil on the Kwik-Print before attaching the cover. Finally I made an inlay to look like the door at Bag End. I used a bone folder to create boards and wood grain on green leather, then set that into a piece of fair calf, then applied very thin bits of brown leather on top of that for the brickwork/stonework that surrounds the door. Colored the leather to bring out the “woodgrain” and to give the stones some shading, then inlaid that into the cover. Ask me if it’s nerve-wracking to cut a big hole in a perfectly good leather cover. OK, since you asked … it is.

Here’s the final book.

Detail of inlay.

View of top edge showing leather endband and colors spattered over a graphite base color.

Here is the inside cover…

Small title page.

Title page.

Back endsheet.

And outside back cover.

The leather’s not actually that mottled … I had shadows on the photo. I gave the book some final primping, trimming, protective leather treatment, and sent it off in the mail.

This was a fun project and just what I needed to get back into design binding. I wonder what will be next….


I got me some books. Too many books.

i picked up way, way too many books about books and I plan to put them in other book fiend’s, I mean Bibliophile’s’ and bookbinders’, hands. Here’s a handful with more below.

The World of the Elseviers 1580-1712, by Davies, 1954. Cloth hardcover. Nice copy. A history of the famous and sometimes infamous Dutch printing house and family. Fact, aspersions, admirations – a lot packed into a very small volume.

The Fortune Of Books – Essays, Memoirs and Prophecies of a Librarian, by Bay, 1941. Cloth hardcover, weak inner joint at front, but such nice paper. Why can’t we get that paper any more? Collection of talks and papers by Christian Bay. Main headings: Bookmen and Scientists, Library Life, Books and Literary Events, Time and Chance, Americana. It’s like having a tour guide to the library of the past with well curated selections from books, from historical events, from biographical themes. Something for everyone.

The Kingdom of Books, by Orcutt, 1927. Lovely gold stamping on brown cloth hardcover. Small bookbinder’s ticket front cover, pencil notation reads “colored fronts missing” but otherwise seems in excellent shape for a book this old. This is Orcutt’s travel guide to the kingdom of books, and it does not disappoint. Subjects include printers, binders, techniques, shopping for books in Paris, photos of lovely fine bindings, drawings of work spaces, examples of type, ornament, and illustration…I could go on, and so can he.

 The Magic of the Book by Orcutt, 1930. Ex library copy, with markings and missing fly leafs, beautiful gold stamping on brown cloth and a proper companion piece to the volume above. Does have the color frontispiece. Contains further stories and reminiscences of the author who loved to talk to people who loved books. And I love reading about it.


Some more books about books. Mostly history of books and printing.

The Book, by Douglas McMurtrie, 1989. Hardcover with dust jacket, no markings, very nice. A history of bookmaking and printing. Starts way back in the dawn of literate time and works its way up into the present. THIS IS A BIG BOOK WITH NICE BIG PRINT. I mean, not huge, but you shouldn’t need the cheaters for this one. Lots of illustrations and informative digressions. Very complete, very well written, very useful.


Books and Their Makers in the Middle Ages, Putnam, 1896. Cloth hardcover, fading to cover but amazingly good for the age. Clean pages inside with a few pencil marks on the front flyleaf, but some dirt on the fore-edge deckle.  Very thorough treatment of what the title says. Not so much a how-to book as a how-it-was book and sometimes that’s what you need.

The Golden Book, Douglas McMurtrie, 1934. Pages slightly yellowed but not brittle or dirty. The origin of the alphabet! The invention of printing! A typographical messiah! Techniques and the art of bookmaking. Sorry, I’m getting punchy. It’s really quite the serious and detailed tome, full of nearly forgotten lore and a fascinating read.

Books and Printing, a Treasury for Typophiles, by Bennett, 1963. Paperback, perfect bound. A collection of essays and articles about design, about type, about printing, about the reason for the curious arrangement of type trays…the variety of authors gives a refreshing variety to the reading, with more serious and scholarly articles alongside sea stories from grizzled printers and hand binders. There’s something for every print lover in this book.

English Printed Books by Meynell, 1948. Cloth hardcover, ex library book. Not just books printed in English, this is mostly books printed in England. A slender, elegant volume packed full of color and b/w illustrations. Some history of printing, illustration, design, type…many subjects for a small book and absolutely fascinating.

The Bibliophile’s Almanack for 1927, sewn paperback, Simon & Child, 1927. A small book that doesn’t look its age.  Starts with a 1927 calendar, essays, book reviews, artwork, lots of tidbits for book lovers. Sample? OK. ” …the perils of the young bibliophile are numerous: they lurk in the bookseller’s pleasant groves as well as on the street which is called Farringdon, and as tempting drabs in the Caladonian Market. Yes, my elderly aunt would have been relieved ….that her nephew had at least fallen in love with a minor classic when he might have formed an unfavourable attachment for an early Bradshaw, become ensnared with the less desirable of the Erotica, or, more romantically, conceived a passion for some unattainable scion of the Incubabula.” Its like “as the page turns” or “all my volumes” – a bookbinding soap opera. Health life in the library. In my secret heart I, too, burn for the unattainable Incunabulus …

Some books about paper. 

Practical Paper-Making by Clapperton, 1894. Cloth hardcover in great shape for an old book. The front flyleaf seems to have become stuck down to the pastedown, and I didn’t try to lift it. Loose tipped-in frontispiece, glue seems failing on the spine so signatures aren’t tightly bound with adhesive although sewing seems good. Read about how they used to make the good paper you can’t find in books anymore, as well as the bad paper. Intended for the commercial paper maker, but the artisan maker will learn neat tricks like keeping the dandy free of bells when making laid papers at a quick speed, how to coat one’s chest with cement, and how to properly work the soft greasy stuff. I fear I am being frivolous about what is clearly a valuable reference volume for understanding the nature of the vintage paper one encounters in the course of restoring, or reading, old books and works on paper. Paper rules!


The Rittenhouse Mill and the Beginnings of Papermaking in America by Green, 1990. Single section paper covered pamphlet. The first paper mill in British North America was built in 1691 by William Rittenhouse and William Bradford and the Rittenhouse family paper makers were the only paper makers in America for decades. The site of this mill is now a park, and its history is very well documented, unlike much of the early printing history of this country. Sadly, when the Rittenhouse family donated this historic property to the local Park Commision, the Commision preserved some of the old houses in the town but tore down the mills. Today only traces remain of these historic mills, but in this book you can read about the mill and the techniques and see the last known photo. Very interesting little book.


the Story of Papermaking An Account of Paper-Making from Its Earliest Known Record Down to The Present Time,  J.W.Butler Paper Company, 1901. Cloth hardcover, paper is clean and lovely. I like the photograph of the women in long dresses and bonnets sorting and shredding barrels of fabric – it must have been cold in the room. No, it turns out that the process was considered to be “the most disagreeable and unwholesome of any in the entire process … Filth, dust and dirt … The women must wear bonnets or hoods for the protection of the hair.” Beautifully laid out with wide margins matching the center gutter.  The front pastedowns is inscribed “Please return to Strathmore Paper Company, Mittineague, Mass.” Don’t do it.

The Complete Book Of Hand Crafted Paper, Kern, 1980. Hardcover with dust jacket. Starts with an overview of past and present paper knowledge and then teaches you to make paper in the kitchen. Simple tools, instructions for making various types of moulds, sources for materials, decorating techniques…a wide ranging book and a great way to jump into the Papermaking vat, er, pool.

Some older books about books

Books In Manuscript, by Falconer Madan, 1893. Cloth hardcover. I love the “Arbor Scientia / Arbor Vitae” logo with the entwined trees on the cover. Other than a small oval Joseph McDonough Bookseller Albany NY  sticker, nice clean pages throughout. Wait, there’s also a W.H. Clarke booksellers sticker on the back flyleaf. Deckle edges all around and the edges are dirty on top. This has been on a shelf for a long, long time. And yet the paper is as strong and flexible as any new paper – better, really. Who can afford to print entire books on such high-quality paper anymore? Frontispiece is loose, guard tissue has darkened and transferred some color on to the title page. This book is about how to study handle and catalog documents in manuscript form. Here is a wonderful excerpt: “And once more, modern readers who are accustomed to skim the Times every morning and a novel every week, when set down before some important historical work, feel that their minds are is it were unstrung and incapable of close attention and sustained effort. They are tempted to glance superficially through volumes which ought to be impressed on the mind, and profit little by the process. For these and such the the study of an original document in the manuscript, a court-roll, a charter, a page of a chronicle, an old political poem, is the one corrective which suits the disease, – a bracing, invigorating, and it may be added, and attractive exercise, the contact of Antaeus with his mother earth.” Woot! Today you can’t get the young whippersnappers to stop instagramming and snapchatting long enough to skim an entire novel every week, can you? If you are of the intellectual bent and mental strength to work with old manuscripts, you will love this book. Edit

Early Printed Books, By E. Gordon Duff, 1893. Companion in the same series as the volume above, with more damage to the spine, a bookplate from the Southworth Press and a 1911 inscribed name. Same deckle edges, dirty top edge, stained guard tissue, wonderful old paper. Being a history of the  introduction of printing into various places in Europe, with some marvelous samples of early printing in color reproduction. Would this be a beautiful candidate for rebinding or rebacking? Yes. Yes, it would.

A Magnificent Farce and Other Diversions Of A Book-Collector, Newton, 1921. Gorgeous fine old paper, two deckle edges and the top gilt. Cloth  and paper hardcover. Color frontispiece, many black and white illustrations throughout. I really can’t say what this book is about. The author does indeed get around to talking about books, but there are tons of personal reminisces and stories, most of which have at least some tangential connection to books. An interesting read, it really is. Kind of a Victorian Dave Barry …

The Amenities Of Book Collecting and Kindred Affections, 1924, Newton. Paper and cloth hardcover. Paper label is a bit worn, name inscribed in front,otherwise seems clean and unmarked. Gilt top edge. The author writes about book collecting and you will be jealous when he claims his copy of “Endymion” was worth the $360 he paid for it because it was once Wordsworth’s and had his name on the title page. Sample: “I have a fondness for college professors. I must have inherited it from a rich old uncle, from whom I unluckily inherited nothing else, who had a similar weakness for preachers. ” He has a long winded way of talking which is utterly addicting once you fall into the rythym of it. It needs reading, but be warned: you will be jealous.

An Introduction to Bibliography, McKerrow, 1928. Blue cloth hardcover, cover shows wear but other than a pencil inscription on the flyleaf  very clean.  Another of these scholarly British works covering a brief history of bookbinding, techniques, explains basic terms such as catchwords, signatures, paper sizes, laid vs. wove,etc., all with a view toward teaching you to how to interpret a book by knowing what to look for. Kind of like a Gray’s Anatomy for the forensic book detective. I already have a copy of this instructive volume or I wouldn’t let it go.

Some books about printing and the printers what printed them

Pioneer Printer- Samuel Bangs in Mexico and Texas by Lota M. Spell, university of Texas Press, 1963

Former library book with dust jacket and owner/donor’s bookplate. Stamped withdrawn from Wellesley Free Library in Mass. I guess they don’t care about Texas printers in Massachusetts anymore. An “insight into the life of Samuel Bangs, the man who printed or help to print the first document known to have issued in that form in Texas”. I think he deserves to be remembered just for dragging a printing press to Texas in 1819. I have been hoping to come across the biography of a successful and wealthy early printer, but this is not that book. This is a detailed historical narrative and just as interesting to fans of Texas is it is to fans of early pioneer printers.

The Story of The McGuffeys, by Alice Ruggles, 1950. Tan cloth, red/yellow endbands, nice clean binding with bonus material in the back! Remember Emmett Horine from the last post? Glued in the back is the original invoice from the American Book Company with Emmett’s name spelled every which way wrong, along with a letter, which is a folded flyer? advert? order form mailed to him postmarked Cambridge, Mass with a two cent stamp, on which is handwritten “From Mrs. Ruggles”.

This is a memoir written by a granddaughter of the author of the great McGuffey readers. I love these old readers, with their big words and real stories – so much better than the Dick and Jane books of my old school.   As the author says, “tastes were nearly pampered nor stinted. Madness, torture, and death were considered suitable subjects for older children, if expressed with force or beauty. So they had “The Maniac,” “The Crazy Engineer,” “Conflagration of an Amphitheatre,” and the horrific scene between Hubert and Little Prince Arthur in “King John.” But they were luckier than the modern child. The reading of the horrors stimulated the imagination but left it free to work. The child who sits before a moving picture has all his imagining done for him.” Yeah, that seems about right.

Printing In The Americas, Oswald, 1937. Cloth hardcover. Inside is written “Store Copy” in pencil with a small purple sticker or bookbinder’s ticket from Bertrand Smith’s Acres Of Books in Cincinnati. A nice copy of a most exact history of printing in the Americas with illustrations. Just like in the USA Today, you can look up the first known printers in your own state! For myself, I wish there were still an Acres Of Books to visit, except that I would probably wind up buying more books and you see what kind of trouble that gets me into.

Printing in Delaware 1761 – 1800, by Eval Rink,  1969. Nice blue cloth hardcover with blue and yellow endbands and small tear to dust jacket. Not so much a narrative but a list of various printers in Delaware for the years mentioned. Let’s pick something at random. “127. Wade, Francis. Advertisement. To the inhabitants of the Delaware State [concerning horse thieves, deserters, and George Evans’ illegal sale of public flour. ..]” ah, The good men do goes with them to their graves, the illegal sale of public flour is remembered forever.

Early American Books and Printing, by Winterich, 1935. Good red cloth hardcover, damaged dust jacket. Name and date inscribed on fly leaf, otherwise clean. The author states that the work should be considered not so much as a definitive reference as a guide to sources. Would really distinguishes this work is the wonderful writing style of the author, such as this description of a group of books including five copies do the Bay Psalm book: “Prince willed his collection to Old South, and it remained in the steeple for a century, accumulating dust, prestige, and value. ”

William Caxton & His Work by Winship, Book Arts Club, University of California Berkeley 1937.  Pretty turquoise cloth hardcover with dust jacket, one of the 525 copies printed on Wayside Text paper. It contains a preface by the author, a preface to a letter from the author about his Caxton paper, the 1937 letter itself, addressed to the Book Arts Club, followed by the 1908 Caxton paper itself. Again, let’s enjoy a quotation. “La Tour Landry composed his book ‘for the enseygnement and techyng of his doughters’…’which boke is comen to my hands by the request and desire of a noble lady which hath brought forth many noble and fair doughters which ben vertuoysly nourished and lerned.’ ”

Dr. Johnson’s Printer – The Life of William Strahan by J.A. Cochrane, 1964. Nice pink cloth hardcover with dust jacket, very clean. I’ll just quote the blurb: ” William Strahan was one of the leading figures in the booktrade of the 18th century. As Kings printer, a member of Parliament and the owner of the greatest printing house in London he stood at the head of his craft: in addition to his long friendship and business connection with Johnson, he was the publisher of given Adam Smith human and Robertson. His intimacy with Benjamin Franklin Led him to extend to America his lively interest in politics as well as trade… Strahan was an admirable letter writer, and his correspondence with authors, booksellers and printers touches on many problems still relevant today – the earnings of writers, best sellers and flops, price cutting and piracy, long credit and bad debts. The book is thus a portrait of the booktrade at a particularly interesting stage of its development as well as the story of a remarkable career.” It’s true – Strahan’s letters are a window onto a fascinating era.


Some Books about Bookbinding: Printing Equipment

From Xylographs to Lead Molds AD 1440 – AD 1921, printed in … wait for it … 1921 in a limited edition by the Rapid Electrotype Co. A business card, perhaps the original owner, in front. Lovely red and black chapter headings. Some pencil writing on spine reads “Type Founding” and I believe the cover is blue paper.

I’ll allow the photos to speak for themselves …

Dr. Church’s “Hoax”, An Assessment Of Dr. William Church’s Typographical Inventions in which is enunciated Church’s Law, by Richard Huss, 1976. Blue cloth with dust jacket with striped endbands. Somehow I don’t want to spoil the mystery by revealing too much about this book about the invention of the first typesetting machine and the aforementioned Law. Let’s just say good paper bright and clean pages. It’s not so much a book about the history of the machine as about the life of Dr. Church and all the things invented by this ingenious guy born in Vermont in 1779. This is a love song to someone who might otherwise have fallen through the cracks of history’s floorboards and become lost in the dust of time.

The Iron Hand press in America by Ralph Green, 1948. This is a modern single section binding done in paper over board. On the back fly leaf is inscribed:

This is a 3M copy

Of a Xerox copy

From the U.of.K Library

Given to Emmett Horine 1969

– BL

Who is BL? He or she did a nice job hand binding this small reproduction of an old book.


Some books about printing: References for the Trade


Linotype Leadership, 1930, Mergenthaler Linotype Company of Brooklyn, New York

“Since the first Linotype cast the first slug, the Linotype organization has never ceased development work on the Linotype. Everything that has been learned in almost half a century’s experience in machine composition throughout the entire world is in the Linotype. No problem is evaded. Its makers never had to compromise. It contains no makeshifts. Nothing is omitted from the Linotype.” Beautiful font with delicate serifs joining s and t when they occur, why? Like the Linotype, I find that my own half century’s experience has become largely irrelevant. If only I had documented the details in such fine grain as this book, which explains – with pictures and diagrams – everything from “Mold Disk Locking Stud Block” to “Automatic Font Distinguisher” , the latter “relieves the operator of unnecessary attention to manual or mechanical details.” How I long for such relief! Alas, the Linotype is no more, and so the former operators are now relieved of all required attentions.

Handbook for Pressmen, 1950, Fred W. Hoch

I like the good paper this book is printed on, and the reinforcing mull visible under the pastedowns, which do show some slight discoloration from age. A random quote: “No book yet published is more comprehensive than (this one)” and maybe it’s true. Sample chapters: Two Colors On A One Color Press – Slurs, Their Cause And Remedy – Repairing Plate Batters – and most succinctly, Ink. There is a black and white illustration of a color chart and of a double trim remedy for fuzz, among 26 other beauties. Reading this book is a wonderful immersion in the mind of the mid-century printer’s daily work.

Thirteenth Annual Printing Trades Blue Book, Western-Southern Edition, 1935

Don’t you want to see what’s on the back cover? Sure you do. You would learn that SPIRAL BINDING has proven itself a worthy companion of the Printing and Allied Trades, and more. The book itself is charming, with crisp notches for easily finding a binder near you, provided you live someplace western or southern. This would actually be a good reference for information about individual binders/printer/suppliers. The Graphic Arts Publishing Company says “You cannot invest $5 better” than in their Encylopedia of Printing. Personally, if I could go back to 1935 and invest $5 in the stock of my choice, I wouldn’t be sitting here typing all this myself. I’d be lolling about on the divan dictation the text to Johann and scarfing bonbons. Maybe it’s best that I don’t have a time machine after all because I wouldn’t use it for good. This charming book has a hollow spine, striped endbands, and includes a sample page printed on Buckeye Cover, because what ever others may say, experienced printers and advertising men know that Buckeye Cover is the most beautiful, the most enduring and the most famous of cover papers. Want to buy some? In 1935, this book tells you where. You just need that time machine …

Charles Holtzapfel’s Printing Apparatus for the Use Of Amateurs, 1971, reprinted by photo-litho from the third greatly enlarged edition of 1846, Private Libraries Association in Great Britain. So the cover is only slightly worn cloth, the pages are thick bright modern paper, the introductory section on the history of printing is new, but the original text and illustrations are old-time quality. My favorite parts are the illustrations of different fonts, including No. 31 Dublin which has letters made of stone blocks, the examples of different stylish borders and lines, coats of arms, bees, and tiny engravings of a steam locomotive, a steamship with sails, and a crown with big fluffy plumes of feathers over a banner that reads “ICH DIEN” which I think means “I SERVE”. I suppose it’s another good historical reference, especially if you need to identify stone typefaces, but I’m nuts about the feathery crown.