is the process of physically assembling a book
from a number of folded or unfolded sheets of paper
or other material. It also usually involves attaching covers to the resulting text-block.
The craft of bookbinding originated in India, where religious sutra were copied onto palm leaves (cut into two, lengthwise) with a metal stylus. The leaf was then dried and rubbed with ink, which would form a stain in the wound. The finished leaves were given numbers, and two long twines were threaded through each end through wooden boards. When closed, the excess twine would be wrapped around the boards to protect the leaves of the book. Buddhist monks took the idea through modern Persia, Afghanistan, and Iran, to China in the first century BC.
Western writers at this time wrote longer texts as scrolls, and these were stored in shelving with small cubbyholes, similar to a modern winerack. The word volume, from the Latin word volvere ("to roll"), comes from these scrolls. Court records and notes were written on tree bark and leaves, while important documents were written on papyrus. The modern English word book comes from the Proto-Germanic *bokiz, referring to the beechwood on which early written works were recorded.
The book was not needed in ancient times, as many early Greek texts—scrolls—were thirty pages long, which fits into the hand. Roman works were often longer, running to hundreds of pages. The Greeks used to comically call their books tome, meaning "to cut". The Egyptian Book of the Dead was a massive 200 pages long but was never meant to be read by the living. Torahs, editions of the Jewish holy book, were also held in special holders when read.
Scrolls can be rolled in one of two ways. The first method is to wrap the scroll around a single core, similar to a modern roll of paper towels. While simple to construct, a single core scroll has a major disadvantage: in order to read text at the end of the scroll, the entire scroll must be unwound. This is partially overcome in the second method, which is to wrap the scroll around two cores, as in a Torah. With a double scroll, the text can be accessed from both beginning and end, and the portions of the scroll not being read can remain wound. This still leaves the scroll a sequential-access medium: to reach a given page, one generally has to unroll and re-roll many other pages.
The first solution invented to overcome this problem was a set of simple wooden boards sewn together, around the 1st century A.D. Romans called this simple book a codex—the Latin for the trunk of a tree. However, it was the early Coptic Christians of Egypt who made the first breakthrough. They discovered that by folding sheets of vellum or parchment in half and sewing them through the fold, they could produce a book that could be written on both sides. Wooden boards held it together, and the whole book was slipped into a goatskin leather bag to be carried.
Codices were a significant improvement over papyrus or vellum scrolls in that they were easier to handle. But despite allowing writing on both sides of the leaves, they were still foliated—numbered on the leaves, like the Indian books. The idea spread quickly through the early churches, and we get the word Bible from the town where the Byzantium monks established their first scriptorium, Byblos, in modern Lebanon. The idea of numbering each side of the page—Latin pagina, "to fasten"—appeared when the text of the individual testaments of the bible were combined and text had to be searched through more quickly. This book format became the preferred way of preserving manuscript or printed material.
Early and medieval codices were bound with flat spines, and it was not until the 15th century that books began to have the rounded spines associated with hardcovers today. Because the vellum of early books would react to humidity by swelling, causing the book to take on a characteristic wedge shape, the wooden covers of medieval books were often secured with straps or clasps. These straps, along with metal bosses on the book's covers to keep it raised off the surface that it rests on, are collectively known as furniture.
Thus, Western books from the 5th century onwards were bound between hard covers, with pages made from parchment folded and sewn onto strong cords or ligaments that were attached to wooden boards and covered with leather. Since early books were exclusively handwritten on handmade materials, sizes and styles varied considerably, and each book was a unique creation or a copy of it.
The Arabs revolutionised the book's production and its binding. They were the first to produce paper books after they learnt paper industry from the Chinese in 8th century. Particular skills were developed for script writing (calligraphy), miniature and bookbinding. The people who worked in making books were called "Warraqin" or paper professionals. The Arabs made books lighter—sewn with silk and bound with leather covered paste boards, they had a flap that wrapped the book up when not in use. As paper was less reactive to humidity, the heavy boards were not needed. The production of books became a real industry and cities like Marrakech in Morocco, had a street named "Kutubiyyin" or book sellers which contained more than 100 bookshops in the 12th century. In the words of Don Baker: "The world of Islam has produced some of the most beautiful books ever created. The need to write down the Revelations which the Prophet Muhammad, may peace be upon him, received, fostered the desire to beautify the object which conveyed these words and initiated this ancient craft. Nowhere else, except perhaps in China, has calligraphy been held in such high esteem. Splendid illumination was added with gold and vibrant colours, and the whole book contained and protected by beautiful bookbindings
With the arrival (from the East) of rag paper manufacturing in Europe in the late Middle Ages and the use of the printing press beginning in the mid-15th century, bookbinding began to standardize somewhat, but page sizes still varied considerably.
With printing, the books became more accessible and were stored on their side on long shelves for the first time. Clasps were removed, and titles were added to the spine. The reduced cost of books facilitated cheap lightweight Bibles, made from tissue-thin oxford paper, with floppy covers, that resembled the early Arabic Korans, enabling missionaries to take portable books with them around the world, and modern wood glues enabled paperback covers to be added to simple glue bindings.
Forms of binding include the following:
Some books have even been bound in human skin. This practice is called anthropodermic bibliopegy. Allegedly, grimoires are often bound this way.
Modern commercial binding
There are various commercial techniques in use today. Commercially-produced books today tend to be of one of four categories:
- A hardcover or hardbound book has rigid covers and is stitched in the spine. Looking from the top of the spine, the book can be seen to consist of a number of signatures bound together. When the book is opened in the middle of a signature, the binding threads are visible. The signatures in modern hardcover books are typically octavo (a single sheet folded three times), though they may also be folio, quarto, or 16mo. See the discussion below and book size. Unusually large and heavy books are sometimes bound with wire or cable.
The covers of modern hardback books are of thick cardboard. Until the mid- 20th century, those of mass-produced books were covered in cloth, but from that period onwards, most publishers adopted clothette, a kind of textured paper which vaguely resembles cloth but is easily differentiated on close inspection. Most cloth-bound books are now half-and-half covers with cloth covering only the spine. In that case, the cover has a paper overlap.
Some signature-bound books that appeared in the mid-20th century appear in reprinted editions but only in glued-together editions, and it is often difficult to find a copy of such books that is stitched together. They are sought for aesthetic and practical reasons.
A variation of the hardcover which is more durable is the calf-binding, half-calf or full-calf (also called full-bound or simply leather bound), where the cover is either half or fully clad in leather, usually from a calf.
- Library binding refers to the hardcover binding of serials and paperback books intended for the rigors of library use. Though many publishers have started to provide "library binding" editions, many libraries elect to purchase paperbacks and have them rebound as hardcover books, resulting in longer life for the material.
There are a number of methods used to bind hardcover books:
- Oversewing, where the signatures of the book start off as loose pages which then get clamped together. Small vertical holes are punched through the far left-hand edge of each signature, and then the signatures are sewn together with lock-stitches to form the text block. Oversewing is a very strong method of binding and can be done on books up to five inches thick. However, in punching holes and stitching the signatures together, the margins of oversewn books are reduced. Also, the pages will not lie flat when they are opened.
- Sewing through the fold, where the signatures of the book are folded and stitched through the fold. Then the signatures are sewn and/or glued together at the spine to form a text block. Sewn through the fold books have wide margins and can open completely flat. However, the text block of a sewn through the fold book is not very secure, which can cause some signatures to come loose over time. Many varieties of sewing stitches exist, from basic links to complex decorative stitches. While Western books are generally sewn through holes punched along the fold, some Asian bindings, such as the Retchoso or Butterfly Stitch of Japan, use small slits instead of punched holes.
- Double-fan adhesive binding starts off with two signatures of loose pages, which are run over a roller ("fanning" the pages) to apply a thin layer of glue to each page edge. Then the two signatures are perfectly aligned to form a text block, and glue edges of the text block are attached to a piece of cloth lining to form the spine. Double-fan adhesive bound books can open completely flat and have a wide margin. However, certain types of paper do not hold adhesive well, and with wear and tear, the pages can come loose.
Punch and Bind
- Wire Binding is also known as Twin Loop or Double Loop binding and involves the use of a "C" shaped wire spine that is squeezed into a round shape using a wire closing device. Wire bound books are made of individual sheets, each punched with a line of round or square holes on the binding edge. This type of binding uses either a 3:1 pitch hole pattern with three holes per inch or a 2:1 pitch hole pattern with two holes per inch. The three to one hole pattern is used for smaller books that are up to 9/16" in diameter while the 2:1 pattern is normally used for larger books as the holes are slightly bigger to accommodate slightly thicker, stronger wire. Once punched, the back cover is then placed onto the front cover ready for the wire binding elements (double loop wire) to be inserted. The wire is then placed through the holes. The next step involves the binder holding the book by its pages and inserting the wire into a "closer" which is basically a vise that crimps the wire closed and into its round shape. The back page can then be turned back to its correct position, thus hiding the spine of the book.
- Comb Binding uses a 9/16" pitch rectangular hole pattern punched near the bound edge. A curled plastic "comb" is fed through the slits to hold the sheets together. Comb binding allows a book to be disassembled and reassembled by hand without damage.
- VeloBind is used to permanently rivet pages together using a plastic strip on the front and back of the document. Sheets for the document are punched with a line of holes near the bound edge. A series of pins attached to a plastic strip called a Comb feeds through the holes to the other side and then goes through another plastic strip called the receiving strip. The excess portion of the pins is cut off and the plastic heat-sealed to create a relatively flat bind method. VeloBind provides a more permanent bind than comb-binding, but is primarily used for business and legal presentations and small publications.
- Spiral binding or coil binding is commonly used for atlases and other publications where it is necessary or desirable to be able to open the publication back on itself without breaking the spine. There are several types but basically it is made by punching holes along the entire length of the spine of the page and winding a wire helix (like a spring) through the holes to provide a fully flexible hinge at the spine. Spiral coil binding uses a number of different hole patterns for binding documents. The most common hole pattern used with this style is 4:1 pitch (4 holes per inch). However, spiral coil spines are also avaialble for use with 3:1 pitch, 5:1 pitch and 0.400 hole patterns .
- GBC Proclick is a relatively new binding style that was originally designed for use with a 3:1 pitch wire binding hole pattern. This type of binding uses an element that snaps shut and can be easily opened for editing purposes. The editing abilities of this style make it popular with direct sales organizations and mobile offices. Proclick is manufactured exclusively by the General Binding Corporation.
- ZipBind is also manufactured by the General Binding Corporation and offers easy editing. However, the binding spines for this style are designed to work with the 9/16" plastic comb binding hole pattern. Like Proclick, Zipbind spines can easily be opened and closed without the need for a binding machine. Thus the addition and deletion of pages is a simple process provided that the pages have already been punched.
Thermally Activated Binding
- Perfect binding is often used, and gives a result similar to paperback books. National Geographic is perhaps the best known of this type. paperback or soft cover books are also normally bound using perfect binding. They usually consist of various sections with a cover made from heavier paper, glued together at the spine with a strong flexible glue. The sections are rough-cut in the back to make them absorb the hot glue. The other three sides are then face trimmed. This is what allows the magazine or paperback book to be opened. Mass market paperbacks (pulp paperbacks) are small (16mo size), cheaply made and often fall apart after much handling or several years. Trade paperbacks are more sturdily made, usually larger, and more expensive.
- Thermal Binding uses a one piece cover with glue down the spine to quickly and easily bind documents without the need for punching. Individuals usually purchase "thermal covers" or "therm-a-bind covers" which are usually made to fit a standard letter size sheet of paper and come with a glue channel down the spine. The paper is placed in the cover, heated in a machine (basically a griddle), and when the glue cools, it adheres the paper to the spine. Thermal glue strips can also be purchased separately for individuals that wish to use customized/original covers. However creating documents using thermal binding glue strips can be a tedious process which requires a scoring device and a large format printer.
- A cardboard article looks like a hardbound book at first sight, but it is really a paperback with hard covers. It is not as durable as a real hardbound; often the binding will fall apart after a little use. Many books that are sold as hardcover are actually of this type. The Modern Library series is an example. This type of document is usually bound with thermal adhesive glue using a perfect binding machine.
- Tape Binding refers to a system that wraps and glues a piece of tape around the base of the document. A tape binding machine such as the Powis Parker Fastback or Standard Accubind system will usually be used to complete the binding process and to activate the thermal adhesive on the glue strip. However, some users also refer to Tape Binding as the process of adding a colored tape to the edge of a mechanically fastened (stapled or stitched) document.
- Unibind is a variety of thermal binding that uses a special steel channel with glue inside of it to hold the pages in place. Unibind can be used to bind soft covered documents with a look that is similar to perfect binding. It can also be used for binding hardcover books and photo books. Like Thermal Binding, unibind usually requires you to purchase a one piece coverset to bind your documents. However, Unibind also offers SteelBack spines that allow you to use your own covers in the binding process.
Stitched or Sewn Binding
- A sewn book is constructed in the same way as a hardbound book, except that it lacks the hard covers. The binding is as durable as that of a hardbound book.
- Stapling through the center fold, also called saddle-stitching, joins a set of nested folios into a single magazine issue; most American comic books are well-known examples of this type.
- Magazines are considered more ephemeral than books, and less durable means of binding them are usual. In general, the cover papers of magazines will be the same as the inner pages (self-cover) or only slightly heavier (soft cover). Most magazines are stapled or saddles stiched however some are bound with perfect binding and use thermally activated adhesive.
Modern hand binding
Modern bookbinding by hand can be seen as two closely allied fields: the creation of new bindings, and the repair of existing bindings. Bookbinders are often active in both fields. Bookbinders can learn the craft through apprenticeship; by attending specialized trade schools such as the Centro del bel Libro, the Camberwell College of Arts, and the North Bennet Street School; by taking classes in the course of university studies, or by a combination of those methods. Some European countries offer a Master Bookbinder certification, though no such certification exists in the United States. MFA programs that specialize in the 'Book Arts,' (hand paper-making, printmaking and bookbinding) are available through colleges and universities such as, Columbia College Chicago, the University of Alabama and the University of the Arts in Philadelphia
Hand bookbinders create new bindings that run the gamut from historical book structures made with traditional materials to modern structures made with 21st century materials, and from basic cloth-case bindings to valuable full-leather fine bindings. Repairs to existing books also encompass a broad range of techniques, from minimally invasive conservation of a historic book to the full restoration and rebinding of a text.
Though almost any existing book can be repaired to some extent, only books that were originally sewn can be rebound by resewing. Repairs or restorations are often done to emulate the style of the original binding. For new works, some publishers print unbound manuscripts which a binder can collate and bind, but often an existing commercially-bound book is pulled, or taken apart, in order to be given a new binding. Once the textblock of the book has been pulled, it can be rebound in almost any structure; a modern suspense novel, for instance, could be rebound to look like a 16th century manuscript. Bookbinders may bind several copies of the same text, giving each copy a unique appearance.
Hand bookbinders use a variety of specialized hand tools, the most emblematic of which is the bonefolder, a flat, tapered, polished piece of bone used to crease paper and apply pressure. Additional tools common to hand bookbinding include a variety of knives and hammers, as well as brass tools used during finishing.
When creating new work, modern hand binders often work on commission, creating bindings for specific books or collections. Books can be bound in many different materials. Some of the more common materials for covers are leather, decorative paper, and cloth (see also: buckram). Those bindings that are made with exceptionally high craftsmanship, and that are made of particularly high-quality materials (especially full leather bindings), are known as fine or extra bindings.
Conservation and restoration
Conservation and restoration are practices intended to repair damage to an existing book. While they share methods, their goals vary. The goal of conservation is to slow the book's decay and restore it to a usable
state while altering its physical properties as little as possible; the goal of restoration, however, is to return the book to a previous
state as envisioned by the restorer, often imagined as the original state of the book.
Books requiring conservation treatment run the gamut from the very earliest of texts to modern bindings that have undergone heavy usage. For each book, the conservator must choose a course of treatment that takes into account the book's value, whether it comes from the binding, the text, the provenance, or some combination of the three. Many professional book and paper conservators in the United States are members of the American Institute for Conservation of Historic and Artistic Works (AIC), whose guidelines set forth in the AIC's Code of Ethics are generally considered to outline an appropriate approach to the treatment of rare or valuable materials.
In restoration hand binding, the pages and book covers are often hundreds of years old and the handling of these pages has to be undertaken with great care, and a delicate hand. The binding archival process can extend a book’s life for many decades, and is necessary in order to preserve books that sometimes are limited to a small handful of remaining copies worldwide.
The first step in saving and preserving a book is found in its deconstruction. The text need to be separated from the covers and only if necessary the stitching removed. This is done as delicately as possible, all restoration is done at this point, be it the removal of foxing, ink stains, page tears etc. Various techniques are employed to repair the various types of page damage that might have occurred during the life of the book.
Master Bookbinders are qualified to undertake restoration and traditional hand binding, and use great care to make sure this process does not further damage the pages, then they are added to the various groups of page signatures, which when collated are beaten flat and pressed.
The preparation of the "foundations" of the book could mean the difference between a beautiful work of art and a useless stack of paper and leather.
The sections are then hand sewn in the style of its period into book form.
The next step is the creation of the book cover; vegetable tanned leather, which is dyed using natural dyes, and hand-marbled papers can be used. Finally the cover is hand-tooled in gold leaf. The design of the book cover involves the hand-tooling, where an extremely thin layer of gold is applied to the cover. Such designs can be lettering, symbols, or floral designs, depending on the nature of any particular project.
Terms and techniques
- A leaf or folio is a single complete page, front and back, in a finished book.
- The recto side of a leaf faces left when the leaf is held straight up from the spine (that is, an odd-numbered page).
- The verso side of a leaf faces right when the leaf is held straight up from the spine (or an even-numbered page).
- A bifolio is a single sheet folded in half to make two leaves. Each half of the bifolio is a folio, though the terms are often used interchangeably.
- A section, sometimes called a gathering, is a group of bifolios nested together as a single unit. In a completed book, each section is sewn through its fold.
- A codex is a series of one or more sections sewn through their folds, and linked together by the sewing thread.
- A signature is a section that contains text. Though the term signature technically refers to the signature mark, traditionally a letter or number printed on the first leaf of a section in order to facilitate collation, the distinction is rarely made today.
- Folio, quarto, and so on may also refer to the size of the finished book, based on the size of sheet that an early paper maker could conveniently turn out with a manual press. Paper sizes could vary considerably, and the finished size was also affected by how the pages were trimmed, so the sizes given are rough values only.
- A folio volume is typically 15" (38 cm) or more in height, the largest sort of regular book.
- A quarto volume is typically about 9" (23 cm) by 12" (30 cm), roughly the size of most modern magazines. A sheet folded in quarto (also 4to or 4º) is folded in half twice at right angles to make four leaves. Also called: eight-page signature.
- A quinternion is the name of five gathered sheets folded in two for binding together.
- An octavo volume is typically about 5 to 6" (13-15 cm) by 8-to-9" (20-23 cm), the size of most modern digest magazines or trade paperbacks. A sheet folded in octavo (also 8vo or 8º) is folded in half 3 times to make 8 leaves. Also called: sixteen-page signature.
- A sextodecimo volume is about 4 1/2" (11.5 cm) by 6 3/4" (17 cm), the size of most mass market paperbacks. A sheet folded in sextodecimo (also 16mo or 16º) is folded in half 4 times to make 16 leaves. Also called: 32-page signature.
- Duodecimo or 12mo, 24mo, 32mo, and even 64mo are other possible sizes. Modern paper mills can produce very large sheets, so a modern printer will often print 64 or 128 pages on a single sheet.
- A quire is a set of leaves which are stitched together. This is most often a single signature, but may be several nested signatures. The quires for a single book are arranged in order and then stitched together as a set.
- Trimming allows the leaves of the bound book to be turned. A sheet folded in quarto will have folds at the spine and also across the top, so the top folds must be trimmed away before the leaves can be turned. A signature folded in octavo or greater may also require that the other two sides be trimmed. Deckle Edge, or Uncut books are untrimmed or incompletely trimmed, and may be of special interest to book collectors.
Spine orientation and titling conventions
In left-to-right read languages (like English), books are bound on the left side of the cover; looking from on top, the pages increase counter-clockwise. In right-to-left languages, books are bound on the right. In both cases, this is so the end of a page coincides with where you flip.
(Some English-language books are bound on the right side of the cover. By far the most common examples are English-language translations of Japanese comic books. Since the art is laid out to be read right-to-left, this allows the art to be published "unflipped".)
In Japanese, literary books are written top-to-bottom, right-to-left, and thus are bound on the right, while text books are written left-to-right, top-to-bottom, and thus are bound on the left.
Early books did not have titles on their spines; rather, they were shelved flat with their spines inward, and titles written with ink along their fore edges. Modern books, however, have their titles on their spines. In languages with Chinese-influenced writing systems, this is naturally written top-to-bottom (as the characters don't change orientation, and the language is generally written top-to-bottom), but in left-to-right (and right-to-left) languages, the spine is usually too narrow for the title to fit in its natural orientation, and conventions differ. In the United States and the United Kingdom, titles are usually written top-to-bottom, and this practice is reflected in an industry standard; when placed on a table with the front cover upwards, the title is correctly oriented left-to-right on the spine. In continental Europe, the general convention is to print titles bottom-to-top on the spine.
- Conservation Book Repair, a book about restoring books
- Bookbinding and the Conservation of books, A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology, 1982 by Matt T. Roberts and Don Etherington
- English Embroidered Bookbindings, by Cyril James Humphries Davenport, from Project Gutenberg
- The Pierre Ouvrard Collection and Archive
- About Bookbinding, 8 public-domain books online
- Learn Bookbinding, Several free books on Bookbinding, Gilding, Box construction.
- Leather bookbindings: how to preserve them hosted by the UNT Government Documents Department
- Paper and cardboard construction, 1916 text for teachers on bookbinding and other papercrafts (envelope and box construction) by George Frederick Buxton and Fred Llewellyn Curran. Link at The Internet Archive has text, PDF, and other formats.
Institutions that offer MFA programs in bookbinding:
Online images of bookbindings: