If the idea of spending a month at the Cary Graphic Arts Collection of Rochester Institute of Technology — home to the incomparable Bernard C. Middleton Collection of Books on Bookbinding — quickens your pulse and makes your hands sweat, first you should wash your hands before even thinking about handling these rare materials.
Then, you should find out more about a fellowship opportunity during this upcoming roundtable discussion. I’ll briefly discuss Edward Walker’s The Art of Book-Binding…, 1850.
Each summer, the Cary Graphic Arts Collection hosts a scholar for a one-month summer research fellowship. Join us to learn more about this unique research opportunity as applications are due on January 15th. Curator Steven Galbraith will provide information and join former Cary Fellows Dori Griffin, Jeff Peachey, Shani Avni, and Robert Gordon-Fogelson for a casual discussion, who will share some of their experiences and exciting discoveries.
A recent piece from the NY Times Magazine, “As Everything Else Changes, My Dover Paperbacks Hold Up”, reminded me how much I love my Dover books. From the perspective of a book conservator, Dover made the best paperbacks I know of, combining physical durability, pleasant tactility and legibility.
The Dover sales pitch, on the back cover of every book, is no lie. “A Dover Edition Designed for Years of Use! We have made every effort to make this the best book possible. Our paper is opaque, with minimal show-through; it will not discolor or become brittle with age. Pages are sewn in signatures, in the method traditionally used for the best books, and will not drop out, as often happens with paperbacks held together with glue. Books open flat for easy reference. The binding will not crack or split. This is a permanent book.” In addition to being very well made, Dover books were always very reasonably priced. What’s not to like?
The textblock of my “Bookbinding” is in good physical condition, though the surface pH of the leaves is around 4.5. The spine is becoming concave, due to 32 years of very hard use, but the sewing is completely intact. The covering material, consisting of three layers, is also in good condition. There are only a few detached areas on the spine, some delamination, and tension/compression creasing. The spine glue is still surprisingly flexible. Dover books were always well printed, with nicely chosen paper for reproducing illustrations. The book has a pleasing solidity, reminiscent of a phone book. It is not a book that needs careful handling.
At the beginning of my career, this book was read, reread, abused, annotated, and weighted the book open with a bar of steel while I bound my own books following Diehl’s instructions. While the book repair section is quite dated, the binding information is still solid. My students always get a copy of her calm and detailed checklist of what to do in the flurry of covering a full leather book (pp. 208-209). I like the Dover reprint so much, I’ve never been tempted to buy the original two volume first edition, or the Hacker Art Books reprint.
It is great the Times published a piece about book structure for the general public. As the author notes, the current worldwide instability may drive us to look for more permanent things in our lives, and re-appreciate them. A bit of hope found in a Dover paperback?
Edith Diehl. Bookbinding: Its Background and Technique. New York: Dover Publications, Inc., 1980. Reprint, orig. 1946.
UPDATED 6 OCT 2020: Corrected title from “… Mass Market Paperback” to “… Trade Paperback” in the title. Thanks to Ann’s comment below!
Bookbinders likely know that linen thread is classified by a two number system, such as 35/3. And most know that the second number represents the number of threads plied together, and the first number how thick or thin the thread is. But what does the first number actually refer to?
It turns out that two different systems, an English system and a Metric system that use a similar two part description of size separated by a forward slash. However, these two systems are not the same. Most thread sold by bookbinding supply companies uses the English System.
I’m still not sure what system the Londonderry Linen Lacing Thread in the image above uses. It is labeled only a mysterious “#4”. I love sewing with this thread, though, since it is thick, soft, easy to untwist, tangle free without waxing, and remarkably compressible. It is possible to sew a book naturally packed with it. It consists of five plies, and is roughly equivalent to a 20/5.
If you are wondering what size thread you should use to sew a book, check out my Guide to Swell.
Finally, Colophon Book Arts is a reasonably priced, one stop shop to purchase a wide variety of sewing threads.
Cor Knops, of Knops Boekrestauratie in the Netherlands, kindly sent me these images of some antique thread he owns.
These packages contain hanks of thread, and all weight about a pound. I think the package on the left is 25/3, and on the right 12/3. So if my calculations are correct, the 12/3 should contain 1200 yards of thread, assuming a 12/1 would contain 12 – 300 yard skeins = 3600 yards. Enough thread for a lot of books in any case!