Stainless Steel Trindles for Sale; and, Where did the Word “Trindle” Come From?

A pair of stainless steel trindles.

Trindles are used for flattening the spine of in-boards bindings after the boards are laced on, and prior to cutting the foreedge in a plough. This gives a smooth foreedge, without “stepping” of the signatures, which can result when rounding and backing after cutting. I recently designed some modern trindles in stainless steel. Essential for historical models and modern fine binding. 7 x 1.5 inches.

Available to purchase here.

End of sales pitch.

What’s up With the Word “Trindle”?

Usually, when a lecture or article begins with a dictionary definition of a particular term, I eye the closest exit or quickly switch tabs. After reading Arthur Green’s historical, technique based article on in-boards edge cutting and trindles in the new Suave Mechanicals 7 I found myself wondering about the origins of this unusual word.

My first stop: Mr. OED! The two volume quarter-scale print version with magnifying glass in a slipcase was one of the few books I brought with me in an overstuffed VW bug when I moved to NYC in 1989. Anyway — according to the dictionary — the word “trindle” has been around for centuries, most of time referring to proper names, or an object that is round or cylindrical.

From a google ngrams search, there is a reference dating from 1695 mentioning “trindle-pins” which may be some sort of fastening device for ships or buildings. This may lend credence to Green’s argument that Dirk DeBray’s use of long needles to flatten the spine are earliest trindles. For me, these two tools, while performing more-or-less the same function, are morphologically too different to be called the same name. Not every tool used to hit a nail is a hammer.

An early reference to trindles in Google Books. Source

Within English bookbinding literature, the earliest reference is found in Parry’s 1818 The Art of Bookbinding. They are simply described as “… two flat pieces of iron made the size and form of a folding -stick, to place between the back and boards of the book, before cutting the fore-edge (pp. 1-2). Folding sticks of this time are usually described as about 6-7 x 1 inches, and made from wood, ivory or horn. Trindles are one of the few tools Parry not only names, but describes how they is used. An implication they were uncommon at this point in time?

A few years earlier, the 1813 Circle of Mechanical Arts describes trindles without using the word, instead simply mentioning the technique as “… introducing 2 pieces of thin iron 4 or 5 inches long near the head and tail of the book, between the paste-board and the back…” (p. 77) Sounds like a trindle to me!

Two button sticks from my collection. The one on the top is roughly 7 x 1.5 x .039″

The top of the image is the quintessential trindle shape, roughly 6.75 x 1.5, and made by the English firm Bodil Parker brass foundry. They are quite thin and deflect when used to flatten the spine of a book, resulting in a foreedge that is less round than the spine when removed. The one on the bottom is more sophisticated, and has an English patent number that I can’t find information on. (Can anyone help?): “Patent No 116972/17” The various curves around the edges fitting around brass buttons of various diameters. The legs of this one would make it very difficult to use in bookbinding.

An American(?) hinged button stick in my collection. Super flexible.

In the 20th century, museums and manufacturers generally refer trindles as button sticks (or less commonly, button guards). They tend to be associated with military use, dating to around WWI, and made from brass. Brass — as opposed to the thin iron usually mentioned in bookbinding literature — makes sense in that it would not scratch the buttons, since they are made from the same material.

Google ngram for Trindle, which may or may not refer to bookbinding, declines right around the time the guillotine, out-or-boards schoolbook binding styles, and publisher’s cloth case binding becomes predominant, and trindles would have no longer been necessary. Hum. Source

Questions remain. Did bookbinders coin this term in the second quarter of the 19th century? Was it used in the trade commonly earlier? Why would binders create a new term for the more common term “button stick”? Is it workshop slang? Bookbinding does have its own idiosyncratic colloquial terminology. For example, most trades use the term “tommy bar” for a long tightening rod, which bookbinders call a “press-pin”. The search continues. Happy trindeling.

5 Replies to “Stainless Steel Trindles for Sale; and, Where did the Word “Trindle” Come From?”

  1. I believe that many years ago I came across the term “trindle” in a nineteenth-century list of printers’ furniture (i.e. stuff for spacing and locking up a page of type) for slips of wood about an inch across and an eighth of an inch thick, up to six inches long or more. This chimed with my own experience of trindles, which is that the conventional modern form is far too long and far too thin, and that the slot up the center is just one more distraction to juggle. For upwards of thirty five years I trimmed my own books (not customer work) in-boards using wooden or binders’ board trindle-equivalents the size of dominoes, of varying thicknesses depending on the book’s joints. The thickness agrees with W.J.E Crane’s description of one of his two styles of trindle, in Bookbinding For Amateurs (n.d., 1880s), though Crane’s trindles do taper a bit in thickness.
    Long ago I came to the conclusion that the forked style trindles not only are **reminiscent** of button-polishing shields; I believe that they almost always **are** button polishing shields, picked up cheaply as war surplus, certainly before the Boer War (since Cockerel showed the conventional modern style in 1901) but possibly after the Crimean War or even further back.

  2. Hi Tom,
    Thats interesting about the trindles, I’ve only run across the term “reglet” in printing for similar sounding furniture: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reglet_(typesetting)

    Crane describes two types of trindles, the forked style which are even in thickness, and the straight iron ones which are are tapered. To me it seems a tapered one would result in a crooked foreedge, but I haven’t tried it.

    I find the forked iterations stay out better on the book, and may be a bit more gentle with the sewing, since pressure is applied on both sides of the support.

    I didn’t mean to suggest that trindles and button guards were actually different, I was just wondering why bookbinders called them trindles, and where it might have started.

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