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.
Today, modern bookbinding is divided between hand binding by individual craftsmen working in a shop and commercial bindings mass-produced by high-speed machines in a factory. There is a broad grey area between the two divisions. The size and complexity of a bindery shop varies with job types, for example, from one-of-a-kind custom jobs, to repair/restoration work, to library rebinding, to preservation binding, to small edition binding, to extra binding, and finally to large-run publisher's binding. There are cases where the printing and binding jobs are combined in one shop. For the largest numbers of copies, commercial binding is effected by production runs of ten thousand copies or more in a factory.
Bookbinding is a specialized trade that relies on basic operations of measuring, cutting, and gluing. A finished book might need dozens of operations to complete, according to the specific style and materials. Bookbinding combines skills from other trades such as paper and fabric crafts, leather work, model making, and graphic arts. It requires knowledge about numerous varieties of book structures along with all the internal and external details of assembly. A working knowledge of the materials involved is required. A book craftsman needs a minimum set of hand tools but with experience will find an extensive collection of secondary hand tools and even items of heavy equipment that are valuable for greater speed, accuracy, and efficiency.
Bookbinding straddles the line between an artistic craft of considerable antiquity and a highly mechanized industry, with the two sharing considerable similarities in the main problems faced. The first problem is still how to hold together the pages of a book; secondly is how to cover and protect the gathering of pages once they are held together; and thirdly, how to label and decorate the protective cover.
Writers in the Hellenistic-Roman culture wrote longer texts as scrolls; these were stored in boxes or shelving with small cubbyholes, similar to a modern winerack. Court records and notes were written on wax tablets, while important documents were written on papyrus or parchment. The modern English word "book" comes from the Proto-Germanic *bokiz, referring to the beechwood on which early written works were recorded.
The book was not needed in ancient times, as many early Greek texts—scrolls—were 30 pages long, which were customarily folded accordion-fashion to fit into the hand. Roman works were often longer, running to hundreds of pages. The Ancient Greek word for book was tome, meaning "to cut". The Egyptian Book of the Dead was a massive 200 pages long and was used in funerary services for the deceased. Torah scrolls, editions of the Jewish holy book, were—and still are—also held in special holders when read.
Scrolls can be rolled in one of two ways. The first method is to wrap the scroll around a single core, similar to a modern roll of paper towels. While simple to construct, a single core scroll has a major disadvantage: in order to read text at the end of the scroll, the entire scroll must be unwound. This is partially overcome in the second method, which is to wrap the scroll around two cores, as in a Torah. With a double scroll, the text can be accessed from both beginning and end, and the portions of the scroll not being read can remain wound. This still leaves the scroll a sequential-access medium: to reach a given page, one generally has to unroll and re-roll many other pages.
In addition to the scroll, wax tablets were commonly used in Antiquity as a writing surface. Diptychs and later polyptych formats were often hinged together along one edge, analogous to the spine of modern books, as well as a folding concertina format. Such a set of simple wooden boards sewn together was called by the Romans a codex (pl. codices)—from the Latin word caudex, meaning "the trunk" of a tree, around the first century AD. Two ancient polyptychs, a pentaptych and octoptych, excavated at Herculaneum employed a unique connecting system that presages later sewing on thongs or cords.
At the turn of the first century, a kind of folded parchment notebook called pugillares membranei in Latin, became commonly used for writing throughout the Roman Empire. This term was used by both the pagan Roman poet Martial and Christian apostle Saint Paul. Martial used the term with reference to gifts of literature exchanged by Romans during the festival of Saturnalia. According to T. C. Skeat, "in at least three cases and probably in all, in the form of codices" and he theorized that this form of notebook was invented in Rome and then "must have spread rapidly to the Near East". In his discussion of one of the earliest pagan parchment codices to survive from Oxyrhynchus in Egypt, Eric Turner seems to challenge Skeat's notion when stating "its mere existence is evidence that this book form had a prehistory" and that "early experiments with this book form may well have taken place outside of Egypt".
Early intact codices were discovered at Nag Hammadi in Egypt. Consisting of primarily Gnostic texts in Coptic, the books were mostly written on papyrus, and while many are single-quire, a few are multi-quire. Codices were a significant improvement over papyrus or vellum scrolls in that they were easier to handle. However, despite allowing writing on both sides of the leaves, they were still foliated—numbered on the leaves, like the Indian books. The idea spread quickly through the early churches, and the word "Bible" comes from the town where the Byzantine monks established their first scriptorium, Byblos, in modern Lebanon. The idea of numbering each side of the page—Latin pagina, "to fasten"—appeared when the text of the individual testaments of the Bible were combined and text had to be searched through more quickly. This book format became the preferred way of preserving manuscript or printed material.
The codex-style book, using sheets of either papyrus or vellum (before the spread of Chinese papermaking outside of Imperial China), was invented in the Roman Empire during the 1st century AD. First described by the poet Martial from Roman Spain, it largely replaced earlier writing mediums such as wax tablets and scrolls by the year 300 AD. By the 6th century AD, the scroll and wax tablet had been completely replaced by the codex in the Western world.
Western books from the fifth century onwards were bound between hard covers, with pages made from parchment folded and sewn onto strong cords or ligaments that were attached to wooden boards and covered with leather. Since early books were exclusively handwritten on handmade materials, sizes and styles varied considerably, and there was no standard of uniformity. Early and medieval codices were bound with flat spines, and it was not until the fifteenth century that books began to have the rounded spines associated with hardcovers today. Because the vellum of early books would react to humidity by swelling, causing the book to take on a characteristic wedge shape, the wooden covers of medieval books were often secured with straps or clasps. These straps, along with metal bosses on the book's covers to keep it raised off the surface that it rests on, are collectively known as furniture.
The earliest surviving European bookbinding is the St Cuthbert Gospel of about 700, in red goatskin, now in the British Library, whose decoration includes raised patterns and coloured tooled designs. Very grand manuscripts for liturgical rather than library use had covers in metalwork called treasure bindings, often studded with gems and incorporating ivory relief panels or enamel elements. Very few of these have survived intact, as they have been broken up for their precious materials, but a fair number of the ivory panels have survived, as they were hard to recycle; the divided panels from the Codex Aureus of Lorsch are among the most notable. The 8th century Vienna Coronation Gospels were given a new gold relief cover in about 1500, and the Lindau Gospels (now Morgan Library, New York) have their original cover from around 800.
Luxury medieval books for the library had leather covers decorated, often all over, with tooling (incised lines or patterns), blind stamps, and often small metal pieces of furniture. Medieval stamps showed animals and figures as well as the vegetal and geometric designs that would later dominate book cover decoration. Until the end of the period books were not usually stood up on shelves in the modern way. The most functional books were bound in plain white vellum over boards, and had a brief title hand-written on the spine. Techniques for fixing gold leaf under the tooling and stamps were imported from the Islamic world in the 15th century, and thereafter the gold-tooled leather binding has remained the conventional choice for high quality bindings for collectors, though cheaper bindings that only used gold for the title on the spine, or not at all, were always more common. Although the arrival of the printed book vastly increased the number of books produced in Europe, it did not in itself change the various styles of binding used, except that vellum became much less used.
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Although early, coarse hempen paper had existed in China during the Western Han period (202 BC – 9 AD), the Eastern-Han Chinese court eunuch Cai Lun (ca. 50 – 121 AD) introduced the first significant improvement and standardization of papermaking by adding essential new materials into its composition.
Bookbinding in medieval China replaced traditional Chinese writing supports such as bamboo and wooden slips, as well as silk and paper scrolls. The evolution of the codex in China began with folded-leaf pamphlets in the 9th century AD, during the late Tang Dynasty (618–907), improved by the 'butterfly' bindings of the Song dynasty (960–1279), the wrapped back binding of the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368), the stitched binding of the Ming (1368–1644) and Qing dynasties (1644–1912), and finally the adoption of Western-style bookbinding in the 20th century (coupled with the European printing press that replaced traditional Chinese printing methods). The initial phase of this evolution, the accordion-folded palm-leaf-style book, most likely came from India and was introduced to China via Buddhist missionaries and scriptures.
With the arrival (from the East) of rag paper manufacturing in Europe in the late Middle Ages and the use of the printing press beginning in the mid-15th century, bookbinding began to standardize somewhat, but page sizes still varied considerably.. Paper leaves also meant that heavy wooden boards and metal furniture were no longer necessary to keep books closed, allowing for much lighter pasteboard covers. The practice of rounding and backing the spines of books to create a solid, smooth surface and "shoulders" supporting the textblock against its covers facilitated the upright storage of books and titling on spine. This became common practice by the close of the 16th century but was consistently practiced in Rome as early as the 1520s.
In the early sixteenth century, the Italian printer Aldus Manutius realized that personal books would need to fit in saddle bags and thus produced books in the smaller formats of quartos (one-quarter-size pages) and octavos (one-eighth-size pages).
In the German book-distribution system of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the end-user buyers of books "generally made separate arrangements with either the publisher or a bookbinder to have printed sheets bound according to their wishes and their budget".
The reduced cost of books facilitated cheap lightweight Bibles, made from tissue-thin oxford paper, with floppy covers, that resembled the early Arabic Qurans, enabling missionaries to take portable books with them around the world, and modern wood glues enabled the addition of paperback covers to simple glue bindings.
Historical forms of binding include the following:
Some older presses could not separate the pages of a book, so readers used a paper knife to separate the outer edges of pages as a book was read.
There are various commercial techniques in use today. Today, most commercially produced books belong to one of four categories:
A hardcover, hardbound or hardback book has rigid covers and is stitched in the spine. Looking from the top of the spine, the book can be seen to consist of a number of signatures bound together. When the book is opened in the middle of a signature, the binding threads are visible. Signatures of hardcover books are typically octavo (a single sheet folded three times), though they may also be folio, quarto, or 16mo (see Book size). Unusually large and heavy books are sometimes bound with wire.
Until the mid-20th century, covers of mass-produced books were laid with cloth, but from that period onward, most publishers adopted clothette, a kind of textured paper which vaguely resembles cloth but is easily differentiated on close inspection. Most cloth-bound books are now half-and-half covers with cloth covering only the spine. In that case, the cover has a paper overlap. The covers of modern hardback books are made of thick cardboard.
Some books that appeared in the mid-20th century signature-bound appear in reprinted editions in glued-together editions. Copies of such books stitched together in their original format are often difficult to find, and are much sought after for both aesthetic and practical reasons.
A variation of the hardcover which is more durable is the calf-binding, where the cover is either half or fully clad in leather, usually from a calf. This is also called full-bound or, simply, leather bound.
Library binding refers to the hardcover binding of books intended for the rigors of library use and are largely serials and paperback publications. Though many publishers have started to provide "library binding" editions, many libraries elect to purchase paperbacks and have them rebound in hard covers for longer life.
There are a number of methods used to bind hardcover books. Those still in use include:
Different types of the punch and bind binding include:
Some of the different types of thermally activated binding include:
Modern bookbinding by hand can be seen as two closely allied fields: the creation of new bindings, and the repair of existing bindings. Bookbinders are often active in both fields. Bookbinders can learn the craft through apprenticeship; by attending specialized trade schools; by taking classes in the course of university studies, or by a combination of those methods. Some European countries offer a Master Bookbinder certification, though no such certification exists in the United States. MFA programs that specialize in the 'Book Arts' (hand paper-making, printmaking and bookbinding) are available through certain colleges and universities.
Hand bookbinders create new bindings that run the gamut from historical book structures made with traditional materials to modern structures made with 21st-century materials, and from basic cloth-case bindings to valuable full-leather fine bindings. Repairs to existing books also encompass a broad range of techniques, from minimally invasive conservation of a historic book to the full restoration and rebinding of a text.
Though almost any existing book can be repaired to some extent, only books that were originally sewn can be rebound by resewing. Repairs or restorations are often done to emulate the style of the original binding. For new works, some publishers print unbound manuscripts which a binder can collate and bind, but often an existing commercially bound book is pulled, or taken apart, in order to be given a new binding. Once the textblock of the book has been pulled, it can be rebound in almost any structure; a modern suspense novel, for instance, could be rebound to look like a 16th-century manuscript. Bookbinders may bind several copies of the same text, giving each copy a unique appearance.
Hand bookbinders use a variety of specialized hand tools, the most emblematic of which is the bonefolder, a flat, tapered, polished piece of bone used to crease paper and apply pressure. Additional tools common to hand bookbinding include a variety of knives and hammers, as well as brass tools used during finishing.
When creating new work, modern hand binders often work on commission, creating bindings for specific books or collections. Books can be bound in many different materials. Some of the more common materials for covers are leather, decorative paper, and cloth (see also: buckram). Those bindings that are made with exceptionally high craftsmanship, and that are made of particularly high-quality materials (especially full leather bindings), are known as fine or extra bindings. Also, when creating a new work, modern binders may wish to select a book that has already been printed and create what is known as a 'design binding'. "In a typical design binding, the binder selects an already printed book, disassembles it, and rebinds it in a style of fine binding—rounded and backed spine, laced-in boards, sewn headbands, decorative end sheets, leather cover etc."
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 the modern 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.
Books requiring restoration or conservation treatment run the gamut from the very earliest of texts to books with modern bindings that have undergone heavy usage. For each book, a course of treatment must be chosen that takes into account the book's value, whether it comes from the binding, the text, the provenance, or some combination of the three. Many people choose to rebind books, from amateurs who restore old paperbacks on internet instructions to many professional book and paper conservators and restorationists, who often in the United States are members of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC).
Many times, books that need to be restored are hundreds of years old, and the handling of the pages and binding has to be undertaken with great care and a delicate hand. The archival process of restoration and conservation can extend a book's life for many decades and is necessary to preserve books that sometimes are limited to a small handful of remaining copies worldwide.
Typically, the first step in saving and preserving a book is its deconstruction. The text pages need to be separated from the covers and, only if necessary, the stitching removed. This is done as delicately as possible. All page restoration is done at this point, be it the removal of foxing, ink stains, page tears, etc. Various techniques are employed to repair the various types of page damage that might have occurred during the life of the book.
The preparation of the "foundations" of the book could mean the difference between a beautiful work of art and a useless stack of paper and leather.
The sections are then hand-sewn in the style of its period, back into book form, or the original sewing is strengthened with new lining on the text-spine. New hinges must be accounted for in either case both with text-spine lining and some sort of end-sheet restoration.
The next step is the restoration of the book cover. This can be as complicated as completely re-creating a period binding to match the original using whatever is appropriate for that time it was originally created. Sometimes this means a new full leather binding with vegetable tanned leather, dyed with natural dyes, and hand-marbled papers may be used for the sides or end-sheets. Finally the cover is hand-tooled in gold leaf. The design of the book cover involves such hand-tooling, where an extremely thin layer of gold is applied to the cover. Such designs can be lettering, symbols, or floral designs, depending on the nature of any particular project.
Sometimes the restoration of the cover is a matter of surgically strengthening the original cover by lifting the original materials and applying new materials for strength. This is perhaps a more common method for covers made with book-cloth although leather books can be approached this way as well. Materials such as Japanese tissues of various weights may be used. Colors may be matched using acrylic paints or simple colored pencils.
It is usually harder to restore leather books because of the fragility of the materials.
Most of the following terms apply only with respect to American practices:
Though books are sold as hardcover or paperback, the actual binding of the pages is important to durability. Most paperbacks and some hard cover books have a "perfect binding". The pages are aligned or cut together and glued. A strong and flexible layer, which may or may not be the glue itself, holds the book together. In the case of a paperback, the visible portion of the spine is part of this flexible layer.
In China (only areas using Traditional Chinese), Japan, and Taiwan, literary books are written top-to-bottom, right-to-left, and thus are bound on the right, while text books are written left-to-right, top-to-bottom, and thus are bound on the left. In mainland China the direction of writing and binding for all books was changed to be like left to right languages in the mid-20th century.
Early books did not have titles on their spines; rather they were shelved flat with their spines inward and titles written with ink along their fore edges. Modern books display their titles on their spines.
In languages with Chinese-influenced writing systems, the title is written top-to-bottom, as is the language in general. In languages written from left to right, the spine text can be pillar (one letter per line), transverse (text line perpendicular to long edge of spine) and along spine. Conventions differ about the direction in which the title along the spine is rotated:
In texts published or printed in the United States, the United Kingdom, the Commonwealth, Scandinavia and the Netherlands, the spine text, when the book is standing upright, runs from the top to the bottom. This means that when the book is lying flat with the front cover upwards, the title is oriented left-to-right on the spine. This practice is reflected in the industry standards ANSI/NISO Z39.41 and ISO 6357, but "lack of agreement in the matter persisted among English-speaking countries as late as the middle of the twentieth century, when books bound in Britain still tended to have their titles read up the spine".
In most of continental Europe, Latin America, and French Canada the spine text, when the book is standing upright, runs from the bottom up, so the title can be read by tilting the head to the left. This allows the reader to read spines of books shelved in alphabetical order in accordance to the usual way: left-to-right and top-to-bottom.
In most cases, questions related to book-binding did not figure into the discussions between authors and publishers about the formal aspects of editions of their works, because individual purchasers generally made separate arrangements with either the publisher or a bookbinder to have printed sheets bound according to their wishes and their budget.
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