Bindery Talks: End Bands and all the Right Answers About Books.


If anyone has worked in the world of bookbinding and book collecting for longer than say, six months, they could probably tell you it's kind of a hard world to break into. So often, when speaking to book collectors and other book binders, the subject comes up of how unhelpful the people in this world can be. I've had three of those conversations in as many weeks with perfect strangers.  It's like there is an unspoken initiation one has to go through to be accepted in to the belly of of the beast known as rare books.  (I still don't know what this initiation is; if anyone does, please let me know!)

It also seems like every bookbinder you talk to has all of the right answers, and through the years I've stayed quiet because many of the authors of "all the right answers" aren't willing to discuss another possible method of binding or restoration.  If I'm being completely honest, In my experience I've often found those right answers to be both wrong and right, and here's why: There isn't one set rule or answer that can solve all the possible issues one old tattered book may have. And unless you're a fortunate enough conservator to have worked on many books from every single time period, binding style, and country of origin of The Book, you're not going to have all the answers either. Wouldn't it be better if we all brushed the chips off our shoulders and worked together to build a network of tried and true knowledge and experience?

As a case in point; about end bands: I've seen it written and discussed that one should never ever never resew end bands on a rare book, as it will cause more damage to the already stressed text block.  While the idea is something to consider, that notion is completely untrue. In fact the minimally invasive nature of the sewing can be far outweighed by the additional strength to the structure some styles of end bands can provide.  The sewn end band strengthens the structure of the text block by holding together the unsewn ends of the signatures that lie beyond the kettle stitches. Even more strength is provided when the core of the end band is laced into the boards.  An end band that is sturdier than one merely pasted on also provides support for the end caps; one of the weakest parts of the binding.  

Many binders are comfortable with stuck on end bands (even in the old days), and often times those stuck on end bands are hand embroidered and quite beautiful.  However, they cannot add strength, merely being pasted on.  In fact, in my examination of old bindings I have found that they often create a weak spot which is usually the first area to break down in a binding. In my opinion stuck on end bands should be used when the original valuable binding had them and the restoration calls for complete period accuracy, but they should not be a fall back in an effort to simplify or speed up the binding process.

Tips on how to minimize and ameliorate the damage to the paper caused by sewing end bands: First, sew through the already extant kettle stitch holes if at all possible.  This is the best way to proceed, because absolutely no further damage is caused. If the condition of the page is less than can be desired for sewing end bands, a medium weight guard on the folds of the signatures will provide not only support for the pages, but also sufficient support for sewing the end bands.  if you have a book that is so tattered that there isn't enough paper to support an end band, go the extra mile to build up the pages by guarding and filling in the lacunae.

As a book binder, conservator, and craftsman who is constantly refining my craft, it's easy to fall into the trap of thinking I have all the right answers.  It seems strange, but book binding can be very competitive.  I've found it's better to keep an open mind, constantly gather knowledge from those who bound before us, and those who are working in the field now, and focus on the specific needs of the specific book in front of me.      

How I Became a Conservator: The Books Found Me.


 "How did you get into restoring old books?" This is probably one of the most common questions I receive when meeting people, and one of the hardest questions to answer. To be honest books have always found me; I didn't set out to be a conservator or bookbinder; I answered a call.

As a child I was the kid who stayed in my room reading rather than playing outside with the neighborhood kids. I took a book with me everywhere I went, even up through college, so I could read in any spare moment I had. I took my first bookbinding class 16 years ago while earning my undergraduate at BYU in Provo Utah, I learned how to restore books 12 years ago while working a part-time job at Utah State University Special Collections Library Conservation Lab:  I was earning my MFA in printmaking, a young husband and father, and I needed some cash. After graduating I taught  bookbinding as an art professor. Then I taught bookbinding workshops while running a printmaking studio. Then I restored books while working for an old friend in his garage-turned-studio. Finally, one day I stopped resisting and and answered the call; I realized I am a conservator and book binder. All those years of searching for a career, I'd already been building one. Four years ago, my wife and I started Eidolon House, a rare book restoration business; the search was finally over.

I do this work for my love of being an artist and making beautiful things, for my love of preserving history through books and old documents, for my life long relationship with books. But mostly I got into restoring books because they wouldn't let me do anything else.

Rebinding of The Last Martyr's Bible: Coverdale Bible, 1538.

1538 Coverdale Bible (New Testament),

1538 Coverdale Bible (New Testament),

We recently had the pleasure of restoring and rebinding this copy of a 1538 New Testament Coverdale Bible (Herbert #40). To date there are only about 4 or 5 known copies of an original Coverdale Bible:  Cambridge University has two copies, Yale has a copy, and we know of one more copy in private hands; there possibly could be one other copy in private hands but that is unknown.  

The history of the Bible is fascinating to us.  Several men risked and lost their lives trying to translate the Bible into English and other languages.  The main goal in translating the Bible into other languages was to bring the "word of God" to everyone.  The authorization to translate the Bible from Latin to English and other languages varied throughout the years.  Prior to 1539 a person caught with a bible in any other language than Latin would be imprisoned and/or killed.  This is why the Coverdale Bible published prior to 1539 is considered a Martyr's Bible.  In 1539 King Henry VIII gave permission to publish the Coverdale Bible. 

This version of the Bible is referred to as Coverdale because Myles Coverdale, a Lawyer and Bishop of Exeter, translated and published this version.  Coverdale based the text in part on Tyndale's translation of the the New Testament, and a few other books in the Old Testament were based on Martin Luther's German translation.  Coverdale finished the translation of the Old Testament, and so the first edition, published in 1535, was the first complete modern English Bible.  

 This copy had been rebound several years ago, but technically it wasn't bound in a period accurate style, and so the binding just didn't feel right to it's owner.   This is where we come in. 

I'm so happy we were commissioned to rebind this special book; when we disbound the book we found a lot of issues that the previous binder actually caused.  Unfortunately the previous binder trimmed the text block which resulted in trimming too close to the text.  The text block wasn't sewn back together, it was glued just like you find paper backs today, so pages were literally falling out.  Instead of using archival and period appropriate adhesives, the binder had used R-PVA.  The R stands for reversible, but it isn't, and this kind of adhesive causes a lot of damage, especially to paper that is nearly 475 years old.  The facsimile title page was basically a bad photocopy.  Our client was able to get a scanned copy of a title page from one of Cambridge University's copies.  We were able to clean up the scan marks, and then age the facsimile so it looked more authentic to the text block.

Here are the general restoration and rebind stats:

  • Disbound and then repaired broken signatures.
  • Guarded all signatures.
  • Resewed the text block with linen thread on alum tawed goat split thongs.
  • Added new facsimile title page.
  • Laced on wooden boards.
  • Bound in hand-dyed (by us) calf leather.
  • Applied deluxe gold and blind tooling on covers and spine.
  • All tools used to create the pattern on the spine were made by Joseph.
  • The dies used on the cover Joseph designed, so this book is truly one of a kind. 
  • Hand cut silver clasps made from 1921 "Liberty Head" dollars.
  • Hand embroidered "Renaissance Chevron" end bands.
  • Lightly aged the binding and finished with a polish.
  • Reworked the clamshell (previously made by us) for the new binding, and added a Coverdale medallion from 1835.
  • Total restoration and binding time:  54 hours.

See more of the binding process below.


Want your own Coverdale Bible title page to frame and hang in your home or office?  Check out our facsimile title page HERE to get your own copy and become part of the history!

Profile of a Rare Book: Ahiman Rezon, Abridged and Digested, William Smith D.D., 1783

                   Before:  How the book arrived at Eidolon House. 

                   Before:  How the book arrived at Eidolon House. 

The Book:  Ahiman Rezon, Abridged and Digested:  As a help to all that are, or would be Free and Accepted Masons.  To which is added, a sermon preached in Christ-Church, Philadelphia, at a general communication, celebrated, agreeable to The constitutions, on Monday, December 28, 1778, as the anniversary of St. John the Evangelist.

Published by the order of The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania, by William Smith D.D.

Philadelphia:  Printed by Hall and Sellers, M,DCC,LXXXIII [1783].

Its Story:  "Ahiman Rezon" or "The Book of Constitutions of this Grand Lodge"  was originally written by Laurence Dermott for the Antient Grand Lodge of England, which was formed in 1751.  The phrase Ahiman Rezon has been said to be of Hebrew origin, and has several different interpreted meanings, such as:  "To Help A Brother", "Will of Selected Brethren", "The Secrets of Prepared Brethren", "Royal Builders", and "Brother Secretary".  Ultimately the reason why Laurence Dermott used it as the title, and what it meant to him, is still a mystery.(1)    

Rev. Brother William Smith D.D. was the Grand Secretary of The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and prepared the 1783 Pennsylvania publication of the "Ahiman Rezon".  It's said that it was almost entirely a reprint of Dermott's work, with the addition of a sermon that was given to the Grand Lodge in Philadelphia in 1778.  Smith's prepared copy was approved by Grand Lodge 22 in Novemeber 1781 and finally published in 1783, and dedicated to Brother George Washington.  The Grand Lodge of Pennsylvania and South Carolina are the only two jurisdictions in the United States that still call their constitutions by the name "Ahiman Rezon".(1)  

Dedication to George Washington found on page 3.

Dedication to George Washington found on page 3.

Dedication to George Washington found on page 148.

Dedication to George Washington found on page 148.

The frontispiece was engraved by Robert Scot, a Mason and very talented engraver who eventually became the Chief Engraver of the United States.  Robert Scot was born in Canongate, Scotland in 1745.  He grew up to learn watchmaking, and trained as a line engraver under Richard Cooper Sr. at the Trustees Academy, with classes at the University of Edinburgh.(2)  

Frontispiece engraved by Robert Scot - The Arms of the Most Ancient & Honorable Fraternity, of Free and Accepted Masons.

Frontispiece engraved by Robert Scot - The Arms of the Most Ancient & Honorable Fraternity, of Free and Accepted Masons.

Scot moved to Fredricksburg Virginia in 1775 where he began engraving plates for Virginia currency, first using the arms of Britain.  In 1780 Scot moved to Richmond Virginia as engraver to the state of Virginia.  Sadly on January 4, 1781 Richmond was burned and destroyed by British troops under the command of General Benedict Arnold at which point Scot moved to Philadelphia.(2)

As mentioned earlier Scot was a Freemason and engraved the frontispiece for the Philadelphia publication of Ahiman Rezon.  In 1793 Scot was commissioned as the Chief Engraver of The United States Mint where he worked until he died in 1823.(3)

Frontispiece engraved by Robert Scot - The Arms of the Operative or Stone Masons. 

Frontispiece engraved by Robert Scot - The Arms of the Operative or Stone Masons. 

Restoration:  We had the pleasure of restoring this copy of Ahiman Rezon.  We dis-bound the book, washed the text block, sewed it back together and gave it a period appropriate binding in calf leather we hand dyed, speckled, tooled, and lightly aged.

The anchor tooled on the front cover is a common Freemason symbol, representing faith.  The lyre we tooled on the spine to represent the Masonic songs found within the text.  

Before & After Period Rebind, by Eidolon House.

Before & After Period Rebind, by Eidolon House.

This is a great book for anyone interested in the history of Freemasonry or the early United States.  It also provides a link to Robert Scot, an engraver of early U.S. currency, which would be great for a collector of legal tender.

Collect. Conserve. Restore.  Become Part of the History.


Get your own copy of an original publication:

Get your own reprinted copy: 

Reference links:  (1)  (2)  (3) 



Custom Enclosure: The Architecture of A. Palladio, 1721.

We had the pleasure of making this beautiful enclosure for an amazing book:  The Architecture of A. Palladio, in Four Books, 1721.  

Andrea Palladio (11/30/1508 - 08/19/1580), was an Italian architect who to this day is widely considered to be the most influential individual in the history of architecture. 

Because the book is about architecture we wanted the tooling design to reflect that, so we designed a cottage style tooling design, mixing in Palladian architectural features.  All of our more complicated tooling designs begin with a sketch laying out the design.  We hand dyed the leather to a color to match the upholstery in the room this enclosure and book will be displayed in.  The box measures 20" x 13", one of the largest enclosures we've made; it practically used a whole calf skin.  

The project took 51 hours to complete, with 1,941 individual tool impressions. 

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