The processes of binding a book by hand are much the same as
they were 500 years ago. Bookbinding began when the codex started
to replace the roll. The earliest elaborately decorated book
bindings were those produced for use on church altars. Those
that survive are often magnificent examples of the jeweler's,
goldsmith's, ivory carver's, or embroiderer's arts.
The necessary equipment includes a sewing frame to hold the
folded sheets while the sections are being sewed to the cords
or tapes that run across the back. Also needed are two presses.
The first holds the book while the back is rounded by gentle
hammer taps. The second holds it while the covers are put on.
In hand binding, unlike machine or case binding, the sewing
cords are fastened directly to the stiff board sides before
the cloth or leather covering is put on.
For decorating and lettering the cover of a book, small brass
stamps set in wooden handles are used. A wheel called a fillet
makes plain lines. Wider wheels, called rolls, with various
patterns on the edges, are used for producing and imprinting
detailed ornamental bands or borders. In gilding the edges of
a book the first step is usually to spread a thick red stain.
After this is dry and carefully brushed, the binder applies
a glair, made of whites of eggs beaten up with water or vinegar.
Then very thin gold leaf is laid on. When the glair is quite
dry and the gold has set, the edge is burnished by rubbing with
a smooth piece of stone or leather. Sometimes landscapes are
painted on the fore edge in such a way that they are only visible
when the edges are slightly fanned.
Although the processes of hand binding have remained the same
for centuries, there have been great changes in the materials
used and in the style of decoration. The earliest bindings,
even for small books, were usually made of oak boards. Sometimes
the boards were covered with leather or vellum; these are called
Sometimes the boards were left exposed, only enough of the
leather or vellum back being fastened to the edges to hold the
sides; these are called half bound. The ornamentation of the
back and sides became a special art, called finishing.
Use of Paper and Cloth
As the production of books increased and the size of the volumes
decreased, bookbinders began to substitute paperboard for oak.
About the beginning of the 19th century glazed calico was first
tried as a cover for the paperboards, and about 1830 cotton
cloth was introduced in England.
The use of cloth created new possibilities in decorative binding.
Cloth is more easily handled than leather or vellum and is easily
marked by stamps or dies. It permits binding large editions
in identical designs at low cost. In the United States and Great
Britain, the boards of most new books are covered with cloth,
paper, or a combination of the two. In continental Europe many
books are issued in flexible paper covers. Permanent bindings
are put on later.
As early as the 4th century many manuscript volumes were elaborately
bound. Most of these, however, were later destroyed for the
gold, silver, gems, or carved ivory with which they were ornamented.
At first the printing and binding of books centered in monasteries
and church schools. Then it was transferred to universities
and later to commercial establishments. By the end of the 15th
century a few bindings were stamped with the names or devices
of printers or binders. Some early printers, notably Anton Koberger
at Nuremberg, Germany, developed styles of binding still associated
with their names. Most binding styles are named either after
a binder or after a famous collector or patron.
A great variety of decoration was made possible by the introduction
of gilding, about the last quarter of the 15th century. In Germany
blind stamping (that is, without gilding) remained the fashion
even into the 1700s. In Italy, in France, and in some English
binderies, leather stamped in gilt became the material for fine
bindings. In France, through nearly three centuries, the art
of binding received magnificent support from kings, queens,
nobles, and clergy. Their favorite books have since become
the pride of museums, libraries, and private collectors. Jean
Grolier was one of the greatest book collectors of the 1500s.
Most of his books were bound in leather covered with geometric
patterns inlaid with contrasting bits of leather or coloured
enamels. Maioli bindings, made for Thomas Mahieu, secretary
to Catherine de' Medici, and the English bindings made for Sir
Thomas Wotton are similar to the Grolier books. The royal binders
Nicolas and Clovis Eve, the unknown binder known as Le Gascon,
and later Antoine Michel Padeloup and Nicolas-Denis Derome each
developed definite styles of decoration. In mechanical finish
the work of these early binders is often inferior to that of
the best workmanship of today. In design it has not been surpassed.
In England in the 1600s, Samuel and Charles Mearne developed
the "cottage" style of decoration. This took its name
from a roof like pattern used in almost every binding. After
the Mearnes there was no important English binder until Roger
Payne, one of the truly great binders. Payne combined small
patterns with pleasing blank spaces. Payne's designs were more
or less followed in the 1800s by Charles Lewis, Charles Kalthoeber,
Francis Bedford, and later on a greater commercial scale by
the firms of Robert Riviere and Joseph Zaehnsdorf. John Edwards
of Halifax developed an original style, usually called Etruscan
from the patterns he used. Edwards made a specialty of a transparent
vellum. The underside of the vellum was decorated with landscapes
or allegorical painting. He excelled in fore-edge painting.
His work is now highly prized.
Design in bookbinding received a new inspiration toward the
end of the 1800s. This came at the same time as the artistic
revival in printing for which William Morris was responsible.
Morris' friend Thomas J. Cobden-Sanderson designed bindings
which combined geometric figures with conventional patterns.
Cobden-Sanderson was one of the few hand binders who himself
did the finishing and all the sewing and forwarding. Cobden-Sanderson's
influence was great, through his own work and through his pupils.
Among them were Douglas Cockerell and Sarah T. Prideaux. In
the United States most of the outstanding binders, such as William
Matthews and Alfred de Sauty, were men who were born and trained
abroad. They brought to this country the best European traditions
and standards of workmanship.
With the turn of the 20th century the note of modernism appeared
in binding design as in other forms of decorative art. Design
in binding follows the general trend of other arts. Modernism
in binding is comparable to the same trend in furniture or in
architecture. Bookbinding is one of the fine arts. Like all
arts it reflects the spirit of its time.
Book Manufacturing Today
The process begins with the decision of a publisher to issue
a book. After the manuscript of the book has been prepared,
a book designer, in consultation with editors and printers,
develops specifications for the book--its size and shape, the
typefaces in which it is to be set, and the treatment of tables
and illustrations. The printer and the binder then prepare a
dummy, or mock-up, of the book, showing the paper to be used,
the thickness and binding of the volume, and--ordinarily--some
specimen printed pages.
Typesetting and Printing
After a book manuscript is edited, the next step is to set
it in type. Most books are typeset using phototypesetting machines.
The earliest models of these machines worked by taking a separate
picture of each letter in its proper place. Newer models use
computer devices to store the proper shape of each character
as digital information. This information is used to operate
a cathode-ray tube (CRT), or a laser, which forms the characters
as needed. These more advanced phototypesetters are also known
as digital typesetters.
Phototypesetting machines use computer technology to make typesetting
much faster and simpler than the older hot metal techniques
of Linotype and Monotype machines. Before actually setting the
type, the phototypesetter rearranges the lines electronically
in order to produce justified copy (copy that is even at both
margins). When a word must be split, the machine indicates this
to the operator, who must tell the machine where to split the
word. Larger, more modern typesetting machines are capable of
storing entire dictionaries in their memories. This permits
the machine to automatically split words at the proper places
and to check for spelling errors.
There are four kinds of phototypesetters: photo/optic, photo/scan,
digital/CRT/scan, and laser/scan. The first two employ film
grids that contain pictures of all the characters of a type
font. In the photo/optic typesetters, the film grid is positioned
so that a light beam passes through the correct character and
is reflected onto photosensitive paper or film. Lenses and mirrors
can enlarge or reduce the size of the letter.
In the faster photo/scan typesetters, the film grid is scanned
electronically to form an image on a small CRT, which produces
the image that is reflected onto the paper or film. Since the
characters are generated electronically, they can be modified
easily to make them slanted, condensed, or heavier, as well
as larger or smaller.
Digital/CRT/scan typesetters and laser/scan typesetters do
not use film grids. Instead, the typefaces are stored digitally
in a computer memory. In the digital/CRT/scan typesetters, the
digital information is used to generate a picture on a CRT of
each character as it is needed. This picture is then used much
as in the photo/scan typesetters. The laser/scan typesetter
uses the digital information to control a laser, which scans
the photosensitive paper or film directly, exposing only those
parts of the paper necessary to form the words on the page.
Grid-type phototypesetting machines can set up to 50 lines per
minute, while digital typesetting machines can set up to 3,000
Although copy is usually typed into a phototypesetter much
as it would be typed on a typewriter, modern computers and word
processors also can be used to transfer already recorded information
directly for typesetting. This permits greater efficiency because
the text need be typed only once. Optical character readers
(OCR's) have been developed that can read text typewritten on
ordinary paper. They store this information in memory or transmit
it to word processors or to phototypesetters.
Once the book's text has been typeset, it must be proofread
for errors. Most of the modern typesetting machines permit easy
editing and corrections of the text on video-display screens.
Some machines can display the text in precisely the form in
which it will appear on the final printed page.
After the text has been corrected, the type and any illustrations
are arranged in page format. These pages are photographed to
make the printing plates. Some phototypesetters can arrange
the text into pages automatically, allowing editors to review
them on a screen before the type is actually set. Other phototypesetters
can also make the printing plates directly from the information
stored in memory.
Electronic engravers are often used in making the printing
plates for illustrations. Color illustrations pose an added
problem. Since they are usually printed as four separate
one atop the other, four separate printing plates must be made.
This process has been much simplified by the development of
electronic color scanners that can separate the colors and
make the plates in one operation.
Most books are now printed by a process known as photolithography,
more commonly called offset printing. Many books are still printed
by the older letterpress process or the gravure process. Sheet
fed presses, which print one sheet of paper at a time, have
been largely replaced by web presses, which use rolls of paper.
The web-press operation permits faster production by combining
printing and folding into a single, continuous operation.
Although the pages follow one another in numerical order in
a completed book, they are not printed that way. Each printing
plate contains a number of pages, so positioned that they will
fall in proper order when the unit of pages, or signature, is
folded. Signatures may contain any multiple of four pages; common
signature sizes are 16, 32, or 64 pages. Most presses print
both sides of the paper at once and deliver folded signatures,
ready for the bindery.
Elements of Modern Bookbinding
Essentially, the steps in edition binding--or case binding,
as the mechanized process is called--are the same as those in
hand binding. The signatures of the book are put in proper order,
fastened together, and enclosed in a protective cover. In assembling
the book, those operations which take place before the signatures,
or body of the book, are joined into a unit are called sheet
those which take place afterward are called forwarding.
Steps in sheet work include folding the signatures if they
were not folded on the press, arranging them in order, and fastening
them together. Signatures are put in order on a gathering machine,
or gathering line. Piles of successive signatures are arranged
in order in bins beside a conveyor belt. A mechanical arm takes
a first signature from its pile and places it on the belt. The
belt carries the signature to the next position, where another
arm places a second signature on top of it. The process continues
until, at the end of the line, a complete set of all the signatures
in the book has been assembled in the correct order.
Next the signatures are fastened together. Three processes
are in common use. Probably a majority of all books, and certainly
most general, or trade, books, are flexible sewn. The process
is also called Smyth sewing, after David McConnell Smyth, inventor
of the first flexible-sewing machine.
In flexible sewing, each signature is sewn through its binding
fold (the fold at the back, or spine, of the book) and to the
adjacent signatures. Flexible-sewn books open easily and the
pages lie flat. After the signatures are sewn together, the
endpapers, which help hold the book in its cover, are tipped
to the first and last signatures with thin lines of glue applied
near the binding fold.
The book then passes to the nipper-gluer, in which the backbone
is compressed to reduce the bulk created by the sewing thread
and a coat of glue is applied to the spine to further bind the
signatures together. Some books require overall smashing, instead
of just backbone nipping, to reduce excess bulk.
Now a unit, the signatures are trimmed to final size by heavy
knives. Then, in the rounder-backer, the backbone of the book
is rounded to help the book hold its shape, and the joint, or
shoulder, in which the cover boards will hinge is formed. If
desired, gilding--usually of artificial gold--or stain is applied
to the top of the book.
Then the super, or crash, is applied to the spine of the book.
This strip of open-mesh fabric, easily penetrated by glue, extends
beyond the edges of the backbone. Later it is glued to the cover
boards beneath the endpapers, helping to hold the book within
its covers. A paper liner is applied over the super, and decorative
headbands are glued to the spine. The book is ready for its
Book covers, or cases, are prepared on case making machines
in which the boards and case liner are glued to the covering
cloth (case cloth, or case side). Decoration--the book's title,
author, and publisher, together with any desired illustration--may
be applied to the case side either by printing, before the case
is assembled, or by stamping--usually in artificial gold foil--after
The book and its cover are brought together at the casing-in
machine. Here glue is applied to the endpapers, and the super
and endpapers are glued to the boards and sealed under heat
and pressure. Other machines wrap the book's dust jacket around
it and, if desired, put the book into an individual carton and
address it for mailing.
The development of fast-drying inks and fast-setting glues,
largely since the 1950s, has brought to edition binding a speed
and efficiency undreamed of in earlier years. Formerly, long
waiting periods between binding steps were necessary to permit
adhesives to cure. Today, a book may proceed from a stack of
loose signatures to a fully bound volume, wrapped and addressed
to its buyer, in a matter of minutes. For long-run books--volumes
of which many thousands are printed--highly automated production
lines may be built. In these, books are mechanically bound with
little or no human attention.
Side-Sewing and Adhesive Binding
Although there are several means of reinforcing a flexible-sewn
book so that it can withstand harder than ordinary usage, most
books intended for heavy use--such as textbooks and
fastened by the process of side-sewing or side stitching or
both. (In bindery terms, "sew" indicates the use of
thread; "stitch," the use of wire.) In side-sewing
and side stitching the gathered signatures are simply sewn straight
through, from one side of the book to the other, near the binding
fold. When a book is side-sewn, the endpapers are tipped to
narrow strips of drill cloth. These strips are sewn together
with the signatures. A side sewn book ordinarily has no super,
since the function of the super is performed by the drill strips.
Adhesive binding, which is becoming more and more common, was
made possible by the development of fast-setting glues which
retain flexibility even when dry. In this process the gathered
signatures are pressed together between jaws and the binding
folds are cut off, exposing an edge of each leaf. The edge is
roughened, and a coating of glue is applied to hold the leaves
together. If an adhesive-bound book is to be cased in, endpapers
are tipped to its spine and a super is applied. If it is to
be soft bound, or paperback, the same glue that holds the leaves
together attaches the paper cover to the spine, and the book
is completed by trimming pages and cover at once. After sewing
or gluing the remaining steps in casing-in side-sewn or adhesive-bound
books parallel those required in casing-in flexible-sewn books.