Tag Archives: 18th century french bookbinding

Upcoming Workshop: 18th Century French Binding at The Georgia Archives, November 6-10, 2017

Eighteenth century French binding models made in Historic Book Structures for Conservators 2017 workshop.


Late 18th Century French Binding Structure
Date: November 6-10, 2017
Location: The Georgia Archives in Morrow, Georgia

This workshop will focus on reconstructing a typical 18th century full leather French binding by comparing and contrasting three 18th century technical descriptions, examining extant bindings and using historic tools.

In some respects, this structure is the end of 1,200 years of utilitarian leather binding; fifty years later, the cloth case becomes the dominant inexpensive rigid board structure. The making of the book is very organic and does not rely on numeric measuring. This class is a hands-on explication of historic written texts. We will try to understand how and why these books were made the way they were made — then model as many aspects as possible — all the while acknowledging our inaccuracies and incomplete understanding.

Techniques to be learned:
-Using a beating hammer to beat the textblock before sewing
-Sewing on thin raised single cords
-Lacing in slips into handmade pasteboards in a typical three hole pattern
-Beating the boards
-Trimming all three edges with a plough in-boards while using trindles for the foreedge
-Coloring the edges with vermillion
-Applying vellum transverse spine liners
-Sewing endbands on rolled paper cores
-Paring and covering in full calfskin
-Marbling, pastewashing, and burnishing the leather
-Applying simple blind tooled decoration

Reproductions of 18th century French tools, constructed from plates in Diderot’s Encylopedie (1751-1780) will be available for use. Participants will learn to use and maintain a plough and investigate the problems in translating written descriptions of bookbinding into the construction of a model. Extensive notations (in English) on Gauffecourt’s Traite de la Relieure des Livres (1763) and Dudin’s L’Art du Relieur-doreur de Livres (1772) will be provided.

Basic bookbinding skills are a prerequisite, but this class can serve as an introduction to leather paring. Discussions will include treatment decision making for this particular structure in relation to institutions and private clients. This class is open to all levels of experience: pre-program students, technicians, and mid-career conservators who desire a full week at the bench. Ideally, a variety of participant experience levels will result in an invigorating exchange of information on binding techniques, institutional protocols, and treatment approaches. Students should bring basic bookbinding tools.

A review of this workshop from 2016 by Constant Lem, Book Conservator at the National Library of the Netherlands: <https://jeffpeachey.com/2017/02/07/review-of-18th-century-french-bookbinding-workshop/&gt;

To apply, applicants must submit a resume and brief, one-paragraph statement of intent. Prospective students should outline educational hopes for this class, and review their background in book conservation, bookbinding, or other crafts.

Fee: $700 and a $100 materials fee

Application deadline: September 15, 2017

Send applications to: Kim Norman:  Kim <dot> Norman <at> usg <dot> edu
Include any questions about the facilities, hotels, or transportation (Morrow is close to Atlanta). For questions about the class: Jeff Peachey: jeffrey <dot> peachey <at> gmail <dot> com

Montefiascone Conservation Project 2012

Very raw sienna, which I picked up in a parking lot outside of Sienna, Italy in 2009.

I’m teaching my 18th century French class in Montefiascone, Italy, August 20-24, 2012.  Needless to say I’m thrilled. All the classes look really great. In the first week, Cheryl Porter is teaching her Re-creating the Medieval Palette.  I attended the lecture portion of this class when she taught it here in NYC, and it really opened my eyes.  But it seems taking the class in Italy would be exceptional by soaking in the local pigments and colors — the blue of Lake Bolsena, the red of montepulciano d’abruzzo — bellissimo!  The second week is Julia Miller’s The Glazier Codex.  I was fortunate enough to sit in on a small portion of this class when Julia visited the Morgan Library & Museum while teaching in NYC. The class had the opportunity to spend a morning with the actual Glazier, arguably one of the most important books in the world.  Julia’s scholarly knowledge of this book was impressive.  Ana Beny’s The Mudehar Book looked interesting enough to me to register for it as a student.  I don’t know much about Spanish binding from this pivotal time, and look forward to learning more.  And in week four, I will be teaching my Eighteenth Century French Class, for the first time incorporating a lot of new research — and many powerpoint presentations —  from when I was a fellow at the Morgan last fall.

I think every book conservator should attend Monte at least once in their career. It generally proves to be an unforgettable experience: concentrated learning, the opportunity to forge friendships with international colleagues, and enjoying the hedonistic pleasures that Italy offers.

For further information or to register for one week or more, please contact Cheryl Porter: chezzaporter (at) yahoo.com.

The Monte website.

Check out the Monte Facebook page.

In case you are a little short of funds, consider applying here for Conservation by Design’s Nicholas Hadgraft Scholarship worth 1,500.00 Euros.



July 30 – August 3

Re-creating the Medieval Palette

Course Tutor: Cheryl Porter

This class will study the colours (made from rocks, minerals, metals, insects and plants) that were processed to produce the colours used by artists throughout the medieval era. The focus will mostly (though not exclusively) be on manuscript art (Islamic and European) and participants will re-create the colours using original recipes. Illustrated lectures, will address the history, geography, chemistry, iconography and conservation issues. Practical making and painting sessions will follow these lectures.

August 6 – 10

The Glazier Codex

Course Tutur: Julia Miller

The Glazier Codex contains a parchment manuscript of the first half of the Acts of the Apostles, written in Coptic and illuminated.  The manuscript and its binding are thought to date from the late 5th  /early 6th century.

The workshop goal is to make a full size model of the original binding.  The original text consists of 15 gatherings of vellum sheets, 4 sheets (a quaternion) of vellum per gathering; we will be substituting paper.  The sewing is a link style variation, and we will be adding simple link style endbands. The Glazier Codex has a decorated leather spine piece that extends beyond the head edge of the spine, nearly covering (and thus protecting) the head edge of the text block.  One theory is that the tail edge of the spine piece extended in a similar fashion to protect the tail edge of the text block.  The Codex has bare wooden boards with two wrapping bands, one extending from the top edge of the upper cover, and one from the fore edge of the upper cover.  Each wrapping band is finished with a decorated bone slip used to anchor the wrapped bands.  There is evidence that the codex had a bookmark attached to the outer corner of the lower board.

Workshop lecture and discussion will compare early codex book formats found in Egypt using images and models of early structures to illustrate structural changes in the codex. Study of the binding of the Glazier Codex will be supported through extensive images of the original. Handouts, including a reading list, will be included in the workshop materials. Basic bookbinding skills are required; we will be doing very minimal paring the leather we use for the binding but we will be sanding wood and bone so please bring a face mask if you prefer.  You may also wish to bring your own supplies of materials (wood, leather, paper) to make additional models and samplers in your free time (!) from the teaching model collection, which ranges from wooden tablets and papyrus notebooks to a late-Coptic full-size model of a Hamuli cover.

August 13 – 17

The Mudejar Binding

Course Tutor: Ana Beny

From Christian Spain, in the 14-16th centuries, as part of the heritage of al-Andalus, came the so-called “Mudejar” binding style – many with Gothic wooden boards and strong Islamic influences in the decoration.

Through the use of Powerpoint and other resources, the course will give an over-view of Gothic binding structures and examine previous influences on its evolution and how it, in turn, influenced later bindings. Special attention will be focused on the characteristics of Spanish bindings throughout this period.

Participants will construct a full-scale model in order to understand the unique features – especially those constructions that control the functioning of the spine and its movement. Students will sew the text-block, prepare the wooden boards and parchment spine lining, make end-bands, board attachment, leather covering, anchor clasps and decorate the cover. There will also be opportunity to practice the blind-tooled decoration with damp and/or heat techniques.

All materials needed to construct the book can be provided, though participants will need to bring basic bookbinding tools. Some knowledge of binding is essential as is the motivation to work longer hours than is usual for the programme.

August 20 – 24

Eighteenth Century French Binding

Course Tutor: Jeff Peachey

Participants will construct a typical full calf late eighteenth century French binding. In some respects, this structure is the end of 1,200 years of hand leather binding; by the mid nineteenth century the mechanized publisher’s cloth case begins to predominate.  Particular attention will be given to the techniques originally used to make these books, informed by close readings of multiple contemporaneous technical descriptions—Gauffecourt’s 1763 Traité de la Relieure des Livres, Diderot’s 1765 Encyclopedié and Dudin’s 1772 L’Art du Relieur-doreur de Livres—the examination of extant bindings, and the use of antique and reproduction tools.  Typical features of this binding style include a hand beaten textblock, edges ploughed in-boards and colored; single or double core endbands, vellum spine liners, and several methods of leather decoration. Several presentations will contextualize the bindings and historic equipment. The numerous problems these structures pose for conservators will also be discussed. This workshop is constantly updated, incorporating ongoing research. Basic bookbinding skills are a prerequisite.

More information: https://jeffpeachey.wordpress.com/workshops-with-peachey/


Cheryl Porter has been Director of the Montefiascone Project since its inception in 1988. After graduating from Camberwell College (University of the Arts, London) she worked at University College London Paintings Analysis Unit, analysing the use of pigments in paintings and manuscripts. From 1992-2006 she worked as a freelance conservator, mostly for universities and learned institutions. She was Manager of Conservation and Preservation at the Dar al-Kutub (National Library and Archives

of Egypt) and Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation 2007-2010 and is currently employed as a Consultant for a number of institutions with book, papyrus and manuscript collections in Egypt. She has published many articles concerning colour in manuscripts and has lectured in the USA, UK, Canada, Australia and throughout


Julia Miller is a bench-trained conservator who in recent years has turned her focus to the study and teaching of historical binding structure and style, with a special emphasis on early Coptic book structures.  Julia has taught a variety of early structures around the U.S. and beyond, and has traveled to Cairo twice, in part to study the bindings that originally sparked her interest in early bindings, the fourth century single-quire bindings known as the Nag Hammadi codices.  In 2008 Julia received a Kress Foundation/FAIC conservation publication fellowship to write a book on historical structure and style titled Books Will Speak Plain: A handbook for identifying and describing historical bindings, published by The Legacy Press and released in December 2010 (thelegacypress.com).  The book is directed toward curators, collectors, and conservators, and will be of interest to book artists who draw on historical structure as a platform for their own work.  Julia is currently editing a collection of essays on the history of binding and will be a contributor on the subject of American scaleboard bindings growing out of a research fellowship at the Library Company of Philadelphia in the fall of 2010; the collected essays will be published in fall of 2012. She will be lecturing or teaching in 2012 for Rare Book School in Virginia, the North Bennet Street School in Boston, the Rare Books and Manuscript program at the University of Illinois, the Oregon College of Arts and Crafts in Portland, and the Montefiascone program in Italy.

Ana Beny is a freelance conservator and consultant, with her own workshop in Madrid. Since 1984, when she graduated from the “Conservatori de les Arts del Llibre” of Barcelona, she has worked on the conservation of artifacts on paper, papyrus and parchment, with special dedication to historical bookbinding. She has conducted workshops and lectured in the Montefiascone Project, Italy, Spain, Greece, Brazil, Philippines and Egypt. Currently she collaborates with various institutions, including the Polytechnic University of Madrid and with Thesaurus Islamicus Foundation & Dar Al-Kutub Manuscript Conservation Project in Cairo.

Jeffrey Peachey

Jeffrey S. Peachey is the owner of a New York City-based studio for the conservation of books and the inventor of conservation tools and machines. He is a Professional Associate in the American Institute for Conservation and for more than 20 years has specialized in the conservation of books for institutions and individuals.  He was the 2011 Sherman Fairchild Conservation Research Fellow at the Morgan Library & Museum, studying the structures, tools and techniques of 18th century French bookbinding. More information: https://jeffpeachey.wordpress.com/about/

The cost of the classes is: 445 British pounds  ($700 US, 550 Euro) per week and includes all tuition (which is in English) and (most) materials. The Montefiascone Project is a not-for-profit organization, and all extra monies are used to finance the cataloguing and the conservation and preservation of the collection.

For further information or to register for one week or more, please contact Cheryl Porter: chezzaporter (at) yahoo.com.

Late 18th Century French Binding Structures: Tools, Techniques and Materials. A Presentation For The Guild of Book Workers Standards of Excellence Seminar

Last weekend  I gave a 2.5 hour presentation of my 18th century French binding workshop for the Guild of Book Workers (GBW) Standards of Excellence conference in Tucson, Arizona.   And I agreed to do it four times, over a two day period. It was quite difficult to condense essentially a week long class into a 2.5 hour presentation, and tiring to repeat it four times. Fortunately, a number of  guild members offered provocative and challenging questions/ opinions which helped me to stay engaged.

The GBW Standards, which started in 1982, have had this format in an attempt to keep the presentations intimate.  However,  according to Don Etherington, in his autobiography, Bookbinding and Conservation: A Sixty-Year Odyssey of Art and Craftwhich is an important history not only of Etherington, but of book conservation generally  in America–originally the attendance was capped at 100 attendees and presenters repeated presentations only three times. It is perhaps the single instance in which the old timers had it a bit easier than we do.  Hopefully, due to cost effective video, future seminars might be able to reduce the strain and repetition for the presenters, while maintaining the essential nature of the Standards experience, and perhaps even improving the transmission of information?  The GBW seems to be moving forward with new technologies- they have even started a blog, currently with an overview of Martha Little’s presentation. At some point in the future, an edited  video will be available for purchase from the GBW of all four presentations.





In this presentation, I will discuss and demonstrate a number of aspects of late 18th century French bookbinding structures, mainly focusing on the ubiquitous stained, full calf binding style. This time period is important because it represents the end of in-boards full leather as a vernacular binding style; soon afterward, cloth case binding begins to predominate. This transitional time is also unique because it is the first time that the techniques, workshops, materials and tools of bookbinders were extremely well documented by multiple contemporaneous sources: Diderot, Dudin and Gauffencourt. Because of this documentation, it is possible to reconstruct rare or nonexistent tools, learn about fabrication techniques not visible when examining the books themselves, and understand more about the materials that constitute these bindings. By studying these aspects, we can appreciate how these somewhat minor points begin to relate to larger questions concerning the history of material culture, conservation and preservation issues, the history of craft, the transmission of textual information, and, of course, the history of bookbinding.



  • These books have been beaten by hand, according to Dudin, eight(!) times: the sheets are beaten before folding, then after folding, the boards are beat on the inside, the cords are beat after lacing, the spine is backed, the turn ins are beaten before covering, the outside of the boards and joint is beaten after covering and the corners are beaten on the inside before delivering the book.
  • Endleaves are commonly a white folio wrapped around a marbled or plain one.
  • Sewing is often on 5-7 raised cords.
  • Boards are cut less than 90 degrees at the joint. Typically large backcornering.
  • The book is backed after the boards are laced on.
  • Lacing is almost always through 3 holes, then cross-mounted, at least at the head and tail.
  • Edges are most often colored or sprinkled, usually red.
  • Spines have parchment, goldbeaters skin, or paper transverse linings extending onto boards. First class work uses a comb type liner.
  • Endbands have a rolled paper core, often blue and white.
  • The leather is usually decorated (sprinkled, stained or marbled) by the binder. Cheaper work was made with pre-decorated leather purchased by the binder.



  • Endband cores are usually stiff, detached, cracked, broken or lost. Often only two or three tiedowns.
  • Leather surface is often brittle, fragile and deteriorated. Grain surface often peels off like sheep. Multiple applications of Aqua Fortis (aka. Nitric Acid), mixed with wax and oil can cause complex interactions. Sometimes the leather detaches from the boards. Makes tissue repairs on the surface inadvisable without lifting.
  • Covering leather is often stiff and does not move very much. Opening the book can crack the joint.
  • Spine often immobile- book will not stay open without excessive force for consultation or exhibition. Often very heavy applications of glue and paste on the spine. Rapid and crude backing sometimes forces endsheets onto the outer face of the boards, causing the board to hinge from this point. Using a grattoir damages the signatures.
  • Caps usually badly damaged or missing.
  • Leather on the spine is often very thin, fragile and difficult to lift.
  • Title or volume labels are often missing, fragmentary or detaching.
  • Parchment transverse spine linings sometimes pull away, along with pastedown, from inner face of the board.
  • Sewing cords are often weak and brittle.
  • Tooling is often so lightly and quickly impressed, that gold flakes off.
  • Pulp boards are extremely difficult to split, and can loose chunks unpredictably. Due to the beating, they rarely are planar, easily distort and change dramatically in thickness.



Cundall, Joseph. On Bookbindings: Ancient and Modern. London: George Bell and Sons, 1881.

Darnton, Robert. The Great Cat Massacre and other Episodes in French Cultural History. Basic Books: New York, 1984.

Diderot’s Bookbinding plates with English Translation of the terms by Denis Gouey. bookbinding.net

Dudin, M. The Art of the Bookbinder and Gilder. The Elmente Press: Leeds, England. 1977.

Eagan, Jane. ‘Board Making in Lalande’s Art du cartonnier‘ in Looking at Paper: Evidence & Interpretation, Canadian Conservation Institute, Toronto, 1999.

Encyclopedie Methodique. Encyclopedie Methodique, ou par ordre de matieres, par une Societe de Gens de letters, de Savans, et d’Artistes. Paris, Panckoucke et Agasse, 1790.

Foot, Mirjam M. Bookbinders at Work: Their Roles and Methods. The British Library and Oak Knoll Press, London and New Castle, DE, 2006.

Gauffecourt, Jean-Vincent Capronnier de. Traite de la Relieure des Livres: A Bilingual Treatise on Bookbinding. W. Thomas Taylor, Austin, 1987.

Hobsbawm, Eric. The Age of Revolution, 1789-1848. Vintage Books, New York, 1996.

Pollard, Graham and Esther Potter. Early Bookbinding Manuals: An Annotated list of Technical Accounts of Bookbinding to 1840. Oxford: Oxford Bibliographical Society, 1984.

Salaman, R.A.. Dictionary of leather-working tools c. 1700-1950. London: George Allen & Utwin, 1986.

Smith, Godfrey. The Laboratory of School of Arts. In The History of Bookbinding Technique and Design. Garland Publishing, Inc. New York and London, 1990.

Uzanne, Octave. The French Bookbinders of the Eighteenth Century. Chicago: Caxton Club, 1904.

Wolf, Richard. Marbled Paper: Its History, Techniques and Patterns. Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990.



Barber, G. ‘Le vocabulaire francais de la reliure au dix-huitieme siecle’, in De Liris compactis miscellanea, Bibliotheca Wittockiana: Brussels, 1984. (pp. 391-413)

CABBAG: cbbag.ca/ResourceListsWeb/TranslationOfTerms.html

Cloonan, Michele V. Early Bindings in Paper. G.K. Hall and Co., Boston, 1991. (pp. 108-116)

Dudin, M. The Art of the Bookbinder and Gilder. The Elmente Press: Leeds, England. 1977. (pp. 89-94)

Foot, Mirjam M. Bookbinders at Work: Their Roles and Methods. The British Library and Oak Knoll Press, London and New Castle, DE, 2006. (Appendix II, pp. 151-4)

Worterbuch, Max Hettler Verlag: Stuttgart, 1969. (German, English, French, Italian)



BOARDS – So far the closest board I’ve come up with is laminating with PVA (yes, I know… but paste tends to delaminate when beating) 4 ply matboard with a sheet of blotter on each side. It gives a lightweight feel, but compresses to half the original thickness when beating.

EDGE COLORING – I use AYTEX-P, they used flour paste.  Two heaping tablespoons per 200 ml. Water, heat in double boiler until thick and turns translucent. Mix with vermillion, a little water and a few drops of vinegar and a little alum. According to Gauffencourt, “…until all is well mixed & neither too thick nor too thin.” Given the large number of variables when preparing and applying the coloring, this is surprisingly accurate advice!

SPRINKLING – Quick method2 parts Fe(II), 2 parts Tannin, 30 parts cheap red (lots of tannins) wine. Heat about 15 min, then seems to be ready in an hour or so.

GLAIRING – Just egg white, a little clean water if it is too sticky.



B = BURR. You need to feel the burr before moving to the next finer grit, not matter what sharpening system you are using. If you do not feel the burr, the back and the bevel are not meeting and the knife will never be sharp

I = I WOULDN’T ROUND THE BEVEL, IF I WERE YOU. It will create an obtuse bevel that will not cut.

T = THIRTEEN DEGREES. This seems to be the close to ideal for paring vegetable tanned and tawed binding leathers.

S = SCRATCHES IN THE METAL. Examine the scratch pattern by slightly changing the angle you are holding the knife when sharpening. Make sure the new scratches extend to the cutting edge.



Bradawl, Froittoir, Knives – Jeff Peachey, 212.387.7860, jeffpeachey.wordpress.com

Facsimile Sheet from Diderot’s Encyclopedie, 434.924.8851, rarebookschool.org

French Reproduction Finishing Tools– P&S Engraving, pandsengraving.co.uk

Iron (II) Sulfate and Vermillion– Kremer Pigments, 212.219.2394, kremerpigments.com

Leather (French Brown)– Pergamena, 845.649.5806, pergamena.net

Nitric Acid (aka. Aqua Fortis, Strong Water)- Don’t even think about it

Perfume, In The Library, 718.384.6890, cbihateperfume.com

Quebracho Bark Tan– Van Dyke Supply Co., 800.843.3320, vandyketaxidermy.com

Text Paper- Zerkhall Ingres Ivory #606, NY Central, 212.473.7705, nycentralart.com

Yew Wood Folders– Jim Croft, 208.245.3043

This font is Didot, a French typeface circa. 1784-1811


dudin scraper

Fig. 1: Two grattoirs from Dudin, Plate 10.

In 18th century French bookbinding, according to both Diderot and Dudin, these grattoirs (usually translated as scrapers) were used to aid in backing and smooth the spine linings. There were also frottoirs (versions with dents– pointed teeth) [*check comments for some discussion of these terms*] to scratch up the spine to get better adhesion, since book structures of this time period often had transverse vellum spine linings.  I made a wood copy of the tool above on the left, but the light weight and friction from the wood made it awkward and ineffective; the friction would tend to tear the spinefolds and dislodge spine linings. There is a contemporary version, available commercially, which is even more useless due to the extreme round on the ends.  I’m a little uncertain about these terms– so far the only reference I’ve found in English is in Diehl, where she refers to a wood frottoir ( burnisher?), that looks a lot like the one still available.


Fig. 2: Two 19th century  frottoir/grattoirs, courtesy Ernst Rietzschel.

This summer,  I had a chance to test drive the combination frottoir/ grattoir tools pictured above. Ernst Rietzschel, from Holland, borrowed them from his bookbinding teacher in Belgium,  so it is likely they come from the French binding tradition.  Their weight, as well as the very slight curve,  made it easy to concentrate pressure on just a signature of two for accurate manipulation of the spine. As an unexpected benefit, it was wildly cathartic to punch and  scratch the spinefolds with the teeth, of course, only in the interests of historical research!

I used the smooth, slightly rounded ends of the original tool to back the book and to align the cords as well as to burnish the spine linings. Even with the damaged edges and paint, I was surprised how easy it was to gently control the backing process and tweak the cords into alignment.   I had much more control compared to using a hammer, and it was quicker (and potentially less damaging) than loading the spine with so much moisture that I could manipulate it with my fingers or a folder.

Originally, I was planning to reproduce the original, but I didn’t want to make it out of iron because it is prone to rust.  I wanted two smooth ends since I only scrape spines on specific historical models.  I considered stainless steel, but didn’t have any on hand, and it is very gummy and difficult to work by stock reduction.  Bronze was a good candidate, but brass is slightly harder.

So I made a modern interpretation out of  free machining, type 360 brass with a lignum vitae handles.  The quarter inch thick brass and heavy wood handles give it a weight similar to the original, although the aesthetics are quite different. My version is 1.5 inches wide, 8 inches long and weighs 9.4 oz. ( 4 cm wide, 20 long, and 266 grams) In practice it works just as well, in not better, than the original.  It can be grasped with a fist for extra pressure, or delicately held like a pencil for detailed manipulation.

I wonder why a tool this useful would become virtually extinct?


Fig. 3: A contemporary grattoir I designed and made.