Crossing the Bench: Historical Rebind with a Concealed Fore-Edge Painting & Graphite Edge Treatment.

When my client asked for a fore-edge painting on a historical rebind, I was pretty excited! I had the freedom to choose the image and the treatment, which is always nice, but can be nerve racking too. 


This book is an 1876 Doctrine and Convenients that once had a ratty old cloth binding; now it's bound in the way it always should have been, in our opinion, because the cover of a book really should always be beautiful, and probably always leather. 


We rebound the book in calf leather that we hand dyed, then tooled the spine and boards with a classic 19th Century Design. The center tooling on the spine is a build up of a smaller tool, which is one of my favorite ways to tool on leather.  


We marbled these lovely French Curl end sheets, and Joseph painted a landscape image of the LDS Nauvoo Temple. He then concealed the painting with a graphite edge treatment. 

We gave this book the VIP treatment, and we loved every minute of the restoration project.   We thought it would be fun to film a short video of the graphite edge treatment process, and the reveal of the fore-edge painting. Enjoy, fellow book lovers! 

Historical Book Binding: Details Matter.

Which decorative stamp is Medieval (400 - 1400) and which is Victorian (1840 - 1900)?  

As historical binders and conservators of very rare and old books it's important to understand every detail of a particular time period's binding style.  When we're designing decorative tooling for a cover of, say, a Medieval book, we're careful to use only Medieval decorative tooling.  Just because a decorative die is fancy and looks old fashioned doesn't mean it belongs to the correct time period for any given old book.  Just like different binding styles mark a time period in history, so does decorative tooling.

We often see binders advertise their tooling style as Medieval or 16th - 17th Century, when all the decorative tooling used on their covers is really 19th - early 20th Century.  As historical binders we sift through a lot of misinformation and have to ignore a lot. That doesn't mean the misinformation isn't annoying.    

As a word of caution to other book binders out there who copy decorative dies from old books found on the internet:  Be aware that the 1800s was a heyday of rebindings.  Books published in the 1600s and 1700s were often rebound in the 1800s, and their bindings and decorative tooling reflect 1800s binding styles.  A huge part of our current business is taking these previously rebound bindings back to the proper period of the book's publication.  So, If a book is published in the 1600s, you'll still need to carefully examine the binding to ensure it wasn't previously rebound in the 1800s before copying the tooling.  The same goes for binding styles. (We'll talk about French grooves another day, but please stop putting a French grooves on bindings being advertised as Medieval or early 1700s!)  

We know in reality the common person off the street shopping for an "old looking" book or journal isn't going to know the difference, but as craftspeople we should take pride in our craft and do the job right; the details matter. 

By the way, the decorative die on the left is from the 1400s, and the decorative die on the right is from the 1800s.  

A 16th Century Blocked Binding

Martin Luther Engraving, 1554.

Martin Luther Engraving, 1554.

We recently picked up a 12 volume set of a collection of Martin Luther's Works for a rare book dealer friend of ours.  These books are beautiful and unique.  This image of Martin Luther on the alum tawed cover is a spectacular example of block tooling in the 16th Century.  On most of these volumes the recto has an image of Martin Luther, and the verso has an image of Philip Melanchthon, Luther's collaborator.  

Martin Luther Engraving, 1554.

Martin Luther Engraving, 1554.

There is evidence that originally these block pressed images had gold in them, but over the years the gold has fallen out.  Before the invention of the block press in the 1830s, binders would press engraved images into leather by heating the block, then laying it on the cover, and then pressing it in their screw presses.

There is a misconception that blocking is an invention of the 19th Century, which is obviously not the case.  We often hear people say that prior to the 19th Century all book decoration was done with small hand tools, and the invention of the blocking press has given a bad name to blocking altogether.  But while aesthetic tastes change over the centuries, as historical binders or as lovers of historical books we should be careful to not let taste dictate historical accuracy.   

Philip Melanchthon Engraving, 1854.

Philip Melanchthon Engraving, 1854.

There is a time and a place for all tooling styles, and it is okay to appreciate them all even if they're not your personal favorites. 

We love the fine detail and negative space of the background contrast an engraved block offers, that can't be achieved in the same manner using small hand tools.  The artistry of these blocks creates an impression well fitting the era in which these books were made.