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.