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Bookbinding - A Brief Historical & Artistic Development

Posted: 2012-05-21 20:48

A study of history will show the immense influence the craft of bookbinding and the status of the book has had throughtout the centuries. It can be stated, that without the claims of the bookbinder and printer, we would not have at our command the accurate and legendary records of human evolution and the development of the world's civilizations as we know them today.

We discover the art of binding began simply with the need to collect and store the various Papyrus leaves, sheep and goatskin manuscripts which were used as writing materials by the Greek and Roman scholars and philosophers. Sheets appeared as scrolls wound onto two wooden rollers known as ' Volumen ', and they were attended to by ' Bibliopegi ' before being placed into specially made round boxes, and then stored in an ordered manner upon shelves to form a library.

Archeaologists have found early flat bindings at Herculaneum where it was fashionable for classical writers of the time to speak of , '' the wonderous bookshops of Italy and Rome...''. Cicero was said to be very particular about his bindings; as was his friend Lucillus. Cicero, Pliny and Senecca often made reference to the pleasures they acquired in the posession and handling of books. In a letter to his friend Atticus, Cicero requests him to send fine parchments to two ' very clever ' men slaves to bind his volumen - the ' Bibliopegii ' or ' Bookbinders '.


Vincenzo Foppa's 1464 fresco, '' The young Cicero Reading ''.

Early Bookbinding Techniques:

After a manuscript had been completed the next action was to pass it onto an artisan ' Librarii ' whose sole task was make duplicate copies of the original text. The addition of ornamentation would then be be added to the pages by the ' Librarioli 'in the form of stylized Capital letters and the Title text to the sheets which would eventually form the covers. When this procedure had been finished the scroll was placed in the possession of the Bibliopegi. His tasks included the trimming of an even margin above and beneath the inscriptions and to ' square off ' the ends, render a polish to the covers with an application of pumice stone, and to fasten the Involucrum (cover) to a cylinder of either wood, bone or gold, and wrap the Volumen around.
For handling purposes the ends of the cylinders were decoratively finished with balls of the same material as that used for forming the Volumen, and these were called ' Cornua ', or, ' Umbulici ' .

The title was inscribed upon a cut of vellum and stuck to the manuscript usually at the head of the first page. Depending on the importance of the work, sometimes a portrait of the Author or an illustration from an instance in the text would also be depicted here.


The Greek Scroll - Musa reading volumen scroll. Vase 435-425 BC.

The Development of Ornamentation:

As a protective measure leather was manipulated and stretched over the edges and the backs of book covers. Another invention was the attachment of metal foredge clasps and leather ties to secure the volume.

In the East, bookbindings were regarded as ' Objects d'art ', where we discover the magnificent books being used in the processions of the Byzantine Emperors during the 5th century. Striking new coloured leathers of red, green, blue and yellow inlaid with strips of gold in a lozenge shape are evident at this time.

By the 6th Century, this expression of ornamentation had included the work of the Silver and Goldsmith who not only beat the covers into shape but also inset precious stones and enamels. The pages of the text would be decorated with the art of the minaturist, while the binder prepared and sewed the leaves of the book.


Above: Byzantine Champleve (enamelling technique). Cover of the Staurothek. Enamelled and jewelled. (ca. 948-95). Cathedral Treasury, Limburg an der Lahn, Germany. A work of art which can beyond any doubt be called a treasure !.


Princes and Prelates often exchaged valued gifts of skillfully onamented books. It is documented that Leo III on his consecration as Pope in 795 AD gave books of the Gospels as treasures for the keepsake of various churches. The Emperor Michael in 855 AD sent a book adorned with gold and precious stones to the Church of St. Peter in Rome. It is said that in 370 AD., Ulphilas, Bishop of Mysia, translated a treatise of the Holy Gospels and commissioned it to be bound with a sumptous silver cover, however, this extravagance quickly received a caustic retort from the Holy Desert Father, St. Jerome.....'' Your books are covered with many precious gems, and yet Christ died naked before the gate of his Temple ! ''.....

It was soon a necessity to protect these highly valued possessions from theft, and books began to be chained to shelves or revolving tables. Such lavish works often had a place of honour in the Main Hall of a wealthy patron's mansion or castle to be read, or more often than not, simply admired as an object. A print in the old University of Leiden, Holland depicts this custom continued well into the 17th Century,and has been produced by Paul Lecroix in his famous work, ' Le Moyen Age at la Renaissance '


5th Century Medieval Byzantine Gospel book cover with carved ivories.

Aesthetics & Utility:

There is no doubt the Church had a great influence on the craft of bookbinding. The monks and their understudies bestowed great time and effort upon their manuscripts. In the main they were the only people capable of reading and writing, and it is perhaps for this reason, they did not give much attention to the binding and presentation of what could be considered to be the more utilitarian type of books of the time. These were mostly bound in either oak or beech wooden boards and crudely covered in a variety of coarse, roughly cured animal skins. Deer, pig and hog was commonly used because of their accessibilty from the spoils of local hunts nearby to the monastry; and on rare occasions even seal and shark hides were used.



Shark skin and silver metalware bosses and clasps.

Their more valued productions such as Gospels, Missals, Antiphonies and Rituals used in ceremonial worship as we know were fine examples of illumination and decoration. Many books of this period are available for for public inspection today in the museums of the United Kingdom and other countries. In Munich there is a copy of the Holy Bible which Charles the Bald presented to the monastry of Saint Denis, Paris. The binding is coarse, but the ornamentation is most noteworthy. The covers are plates of thick gold plates embossed with designs which incorporate inset precious stones and pearls. There are also examples of metal and enamel covers at the British Library in London and the Cathedral Treasury Museum, York.


Emperor Charles II the Bald here depicted being presented with a manuscript.


The Bishop Theodulf often supervised the production of Bibles with some pages partially decorated with crimson.


A rare and unusual example of a pigment stained, vellum manuscript,.
The Black Hours, '' Descent of the Holy Spirit ''. Bruges, Belgium. c.1475. Silver and gilt text with gold initials. Gold and yellow filigree. The minatures in a restricted pallette of blue, old rose, and light grey fleshtones.

The Middle Ages and Royalty:

During this period the use of enamels and raised work on metal was becoming increasingly prevalent with the bindings produced in the Limoges region in France some of the finest examples, as depicted in this Gospel cover below:


Some of these precious bindings had a thin cover of leather (skiver) or silk, especially Missals and Prayer Books for general use by a Priest, and many were produced with fine, decorative embroidery using gold and silver threads, and multi-coloured silks for Kings and Queens. Velvet was often the material upon which these delicate and elaborate patterns were traced.


'' Orationes Dominicae Explicatio '' (The Lords Prayer Explained). Geneva 1583. This binding was the property of Queen Elizabeth. The outlines are all in gold, and detail in silver purl.

Another remarkable binding of the time is the Latin Psalter which was duplicated for Melissenda, Queen of Jerusalem. Bound in red morocco leather with an inlaid ivory cover reputedly carved by the Greek Herodias. The carvings portray scenes from David's life with the names of other contemporary subjects scribed in cadmium red script; it is also studded with turquoises and other precious gem stones.

http://webworksguestbook.co.uk/client/jamesflavell/upload/Ivory Cover.jpg

The Melissenda Bible commissioned circa. 1135

Stamp (Intaglio) Bindings:

From the Middle Ages leather was the preeminent choice of binding material for monastic work. The majority of them were of a simple, rather crude presentation formed of either oak or beech wooden boards with a strip of hide on the spine; but with skins plentiful there was gradually a move to adopt a full leather covering. These plain covers provided a perfect surface for allegorical decoration by stamping with carved woocut blocks and metal tools. These early methods would have a lasting legacy in book production techniques over the following centuries and become known as ' Stamp Bindings '. Here are two fine examples:


Incunable German binding of blind stamped alum tawed pigskin, '' Commentaria in omnes Espistolas Saneli Pauli ''. Published in Basel by Wolfgang Lachner and printed by Michael Furter. c. 1495. The spine height is 32cm.


An Aldine influenced design of simple gold lines, small gold tooled corner devices and centrepiece element, '' The works of Julius Caesar ''. 1531. Published in Venice by Aldo Manuzio and Andreas Torresamus.
The spine height is 17cm

During the mid 15th Century following Gutenburg's invention of printing by movable type many hand inscribed manuscripts were replaced with printed copies. The traditional wooden covers had always been vulnerable to destructive worm attack. Ingeniously the monks discovered a remedy to this by utilizing the waste cuttings of vellum and paper; laminating them together to form ' Paste Boards ' . Depending on where these remnants were used in a book's structure, be it either hidden or visible, Book Coservators can discover parts of a rare hand written document as they were often used as spine linings. Pictured in the example below the application of parchment pasteboards from waste cuttings is very evident:


Above a fragment of manuscript here used as a flange in a method of board attachment.

Indeed, some bindings from this period were, perhaps, needlessly mutilated as there is witness to many bindings showing on their covers inscribed lettering taken from the text pages from another manuscript:

'' Konigliche Apothek, oder Dispensatorium ''. Johann Zwelfer. Nurnberg. 1692.
The cover, pasted over boards is late a Medieval vellum leaf from a legal text with a commentary surrounding in smaller script. The two conjoined leaves are positioned so a space is provided on the spine.

It is noteworthy also to state that during this period we see more frequently the practice of positioning the wording of the book title either boldly printed onto the front cover, or the edges of the text block.


Two Florentine manuscripts stacked one upon the other. Clearly visible are the printed year and time span of publication, the volume number, and what one can assume to be a shelf reference mark ?.

As the appreciation of the Arts expanded throughout the 15th and 16th centuries; particularly by the patronage of the wealthy classes, the craft of bookbinding began to obtain a new prominence. The ideas of the masters Leonardo da Vinci, Raphael and Michelangelo proved to be a strong influence upon the craftsmen of the day. We see a gradual move away from the use of heavy wooden boards covered with undyed animal skins toward the application of coloured morocco goatskin leather. In 1488 Aldus Manutius had established his printing press and he is credited with the introduction of small ornaments, and illustration to add to the charm of his printed works. The Colophon, (or Printers Mark), become a means of distinction with the well known Dolphin and Anchor emblem attributed to Aldine books.

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Aldine, Maioli and Grolier Bookbindings.

The Venetian bindings of the late 15th and early 16th centuries are distinct in design and tooling. They are generally geometrical in arrangement to serve the confined space of the rectangular cover, and at times juxtaposed with interlacing strap work. Conventional tooling in flower and leaf form is commonplace. The strapwork would sometimes be coloured in with pigment dyes or thinly pared coloured leather.

Aldus Manutius was heavily influenced by Middle Eastern design with the use of his Arabesques inspired patterns with solid faced tools. His contemporary the Bibliophile Maioli used similar tools, but his preference was to emboss the image as an outline. Grolier is attributed to using brass stamps engraved with lines azured across the surface image. Tooling onto a range of coloured skins would also produce various finishing effects.

Thomas Maioli was a Frenchman and secretary to Catherine de Medici. He developed a lively and lasting friendship with a another great bibliobphile, the statesman and scholar of the time Jean Grolier.
Maioli was not a bookbinder by profession, though he was a man with reputation for discernment and good taste. In his role as an Ambassodor he spent a reat deal of time in Italy making acquaintences with the Aldine Press and Geoffrey Tory the celebrated artist, engraver and typographer. He would bring many books back to France to inspire himself and the other indigenous craftsmen to create similar designs.

Whereas Maioli mostly dispensed with using raised bands on the spines of his bindings, Grolier would incorporate this feature, usually five or seven in number. Both had a liking for little or no tooling on the spine, though Grolier, occassionally tooled title lettering in gilt. Maioli's strapwork is said to be more free flowing than Grolier's, which is characteristically formal in appearance with a third, blind, (i.e. tooled without the use of gold), running in between the gilt strapping. A large number of Grolier's books were bound in brown, mottled calfskin, or green morocco goatskin which were so highly polished on some volumes it is not easy to indentify the skin of the animal used.

The most lauded example of Maioli's work is probably the '' Hortus Sanitus ". Strasbourg. 1536. It is bound in green morocco and superbly

Geoffrey Tory would eventually be appointed as the Royal Binder to King Francois I; however, there are doubts among historians if he actually bound a book. It is more probable he was solely employed to produce designs for book covers; which appeared with a subtle Italian influence in style. Although his individual designs are recognisable because of the tooled decorative device he signatured his bindings with - a ' pot casse ' or a pierced vase with toret subtlety hidden somewhere in the design....no doubt the symbol a pun on his surname.

Other examples are noteworthy, with the use of Citron morocco combined with delicately gilt tooled borders with images of myrtle twigs and butterflies. Another binding is finished in black morocco with inlays of a red and white scroll combined with gauffering detail on the gilt edges of the pages.

A Geoffrey Tory designed cover. On a closer inspection you may well find his signature device....believe me, it is there.

Tory's ' pot casse ' symbol.

Demetrius Canevari 1559 - 1625

In Italy the craft of bookbinding was accredited with high regard during the 14th and 15th centuries with patronage by the Popes and Prelates of the Vatican Court. One name particularly associated with this era is that of Demetrius Canevari, Physician to Pope Urban VIII. In the discipline of design it is the development of the ' Cameo ' binding for which he is most famous.

The term' Cameo ' is descriptive of the way in which the centre piece is produced ' off the board '. A metal stamp having been cut in intaglio, usually of a classical subject. A dampened cut of vellum is pressed into a metal dye and the indented hollow would then be filled with a mixture of gesso and white lead. A matching profile shape would then be cut out from the board to receive the image and the cameo inlaid sufficiently deep enough to avoid abrasion. The relief is then hand painted. The most notable example is in the collection of the British Library, ' De Historica Anglica '. The cameo depicts Apollo riding a chariot on the waves with gold, silver and colour superimposed upon a green morocco leather backgound.

Below is an earlier 1529 goatskin binding from Venice decorated with a cameo of the ' Pieta ' painted in brown:


Italian Renaissance binding of red calfskin with gold tooling and black painted cameo inlaid:


16th Century French Bookbinding - Royal Patronage

The craft of bookbinding gained prominence by the patronage of Kings Francois I, Henri II and Henri III. They all followed the trends previously established by Grolier and Tory, emulating their aesthete, if not a direct love of the book as an object. There was a vanity in ownership with use of emblems and monograms. Francois adopted the symbols of the Salamander and a crowned ' F ' often appearing either side of the French Coat of Arms or the arms of St. Michael.


'' Heures a' l'usage de d '& Eacuvreux ''. Simon Vostre. Paris. 1513.
The crowned Salamander is the centre motif on this volume.

It was Henri II who further developed the importance of bookbinding by introducing emblems in his designs. He would entwine two ' D's ', (see picture below) traversed by an ' H ' on the majority of the bindings bearing Diana's Arms. The Queen, Catherine de Medici, would eventually go on to inherit her parent's taste for gold and elaborate colour schemes, favouring any artist who reminded her of the Florentine School in their work. Her special monogram was a double, overlapping ' C ' . Books that bore the Medici Coat of Arms would also be liberally scattered with the letter ' K ' representing her name. The travelling expeditions of Charles VII and Louis XIV to Italy no doubt also characterized French design at this time. Original ornamentation made an impact toward the middle of the 16th c., and toward the end of this period, perhaps, it was justified in stating that bookbinding was reaching near perfection in all aspects of construction and decorative techniques. Covering boards were much thinner in appearance and the leather tanning processes;including the variety of colours available, and quality of the skins for the craft was vastly improving. The decoration of the boards became a conveyance for ownership and artistic expression.


Charles IX adopted the crowned double ' C ' as his monogram. Henri the III's liking was for sumptuous decoration on his books embedded with minature paintings. He was also a lover of the macabre, with skeletons and tears of penitence embellishing his works.

Nicholas and Clovis Eve

These men are the two distinguished practitioners whose finishing acquired prominence during the reign of Henri III. Their designs were mostly executed with a single tool and composed of floriated scrolls gold tooled with lined border elements. These designs were latterly more commonly known as ' Fanfare ' bindings. The use of the epithet ' fanfare ' dates from a later century when in 1829 the French Binder Thouvenin revived the style on the binding of a book entitled, '' Fanfare et corvees abbadesques des Roules - Bontemps ''.


'' Horae beatissimae Virginus Mariae ''. (1570). A fanfare style binding in the manner of the Eve brothers. The tail edge of the text block showing a tooled gauffered pattern. This edition was printed by Christopher Plantin and was published in Antwerp.

Commissioned works by the respected book collector Jacques August de Thou (1553 - 1617) included cover designs representing three lined striped borders with lozenge and circular mosaic patterns, enclosing both emblems and flowers. The Bee and Crown, and the fleur-de-lys symbol become very popular choices. A limited number of books, the personal possession of Henri III, featured a Crufixion Scene centred on the upper board surrounded by spirals of grapes and floral sprays; interesting to note, this was in direct contrast with his ' normal ' (sic) love of the macabre referred to earlier. Both the Bibliotheque Nationale, Paris and the British Library hold in their collections fine examples of Fanfare bindings.

'' Imitation is the highest form of flattery '', it is said, and several provincial French binders quickly copied this elaborate style. Le Gascon, for instance, was quite subtle in the way he adopted this finishing method. Firstly, he directly copied the Eve's patterns, perhaps, occasionally with a few very minor changes. Gradually a ' pointelle ' effect starts to appear in centre and cornerspieces, before eventually he embarked upon the arrangement of tooling patterns that would cover the entire board. He would then turn his attention to treating to the inside of the covering boards by laying down panels of
elaborate tooled leather in either blind or gilt work. Binders know these as, ' Doublures ' , a kind of unique endpaper pastesheet, which is often finished with a decorative ' Dentelle' roll border.

Transition Tooling

Louis XIV's passion for very elaborate tooling has been well documented elsewhere. We see the sides of his books were nearly always covered in emblems and coats of arms,often interspersed with floral garlands, personal monograms,dazzling suns, pointille fluerons, birds and dentelle borders. This is known to scholars of Bookbinding as ' transitional ', or, ' transistion ', tooling - basically, a combination of many varied styles to effect an overall finished pattern. It was also during this reign the mosaic design made its appearance on covers, with an artist by the name of Antoine - Michel Padeloup (1685-1758) attributed to this style of decoration. Interestingly, Padeloup's dentelle work is often confused with that of Nicolas Denis Derome (1731 - 1790) and there is a definite similarity, but the common feature of Derome's tooling is an amalgam of a number of varied patterned small tools in combination, whereas Padeloup would use the same tool repetitively to form a border. A strong influence on Padeloup's designs was the wrought iron features found on the buildings of the day. Like many bookbinders he also developed a signature device tool for his bindings, which was an image of a bird with outstretched wings. Derome was matched with Padeloup as a brilliant finisher; however, he could be rather careless at times, as there is evidence he would often needlessly crop the edges of the textblock pages....oh, dear indeed.

Here, Padeloup's exquisite and captivating mosaic work.


The Greco-Roman & Romantic Style

After the Revolution bookbinding design was seen to follow the Greco-Roman style with a predominance of palm leaves and loops in the antique style. Under Napoleon 1st we see this influence upon other aspects of culture such as furniture and costume design; so the book was to copy the ancient designs to good effect. The Romantic expression which also flourished saw bookbinders going to the extent of reviving the use of old blind tooled methods with the use of concave surface tools which werelast used on Monastic and Stamp bindings some 400 years earlier.

During the French Revolution the art of bookbinding did not escape from the general sense of decadence in society; and a strange and a rather gruesome practice began.....the covering of books in human skin, or ' Peau Humaine ' bindings as they were more commonly known. The skin was mostly taken from deceased murderers and prisoners and examples still exist today.

Early in the 19th Century attempts were made to return the art of binding to its former excellence. The credit for laying the foundations of the modern school must be attributed to German born binder Georges Trautz (1808-1879) who inspired many to follow his example such as Leon Gruel (1841-1923) and the famous Art Nouveau exponent of the craft Charles Meunier (1865-1940). These men established a progressive movement which intended to free artistic bookbinding from all associations with the past to which I will refer to latterly.


A cover design by Leon Gruel

Fine Binding in England

The Royal Printer and Bookbinder to Henry VIII was Thomas Berthelet,(often pronounced, '' Bartlett ''), and it is he who is,perhaps, in many ways responsible for developing the practice of fine binding in England.
The gold tooling he executed on the King's copy of Sir Thomas Elyot's, '' Image of Governance '' bound in 1541 epitomises fine binding of the era. There is a strong Aldine influence in the tooled forms with interlacing strap work, and the ubiquitious interwoven lozenge and rectangle pattern. Many consider he may well have been taught by an Italian binder resident in England. Although, critics have looked upon his tooling work as not up to the standard of the Venetians, he did, however, inspire many English binders. One signature aspect of his work was to stain the raised band on the spines of his bindings, he commonly used brown calf, doe and deer skin for his leather work; silk and satin on his decorated embroidered covers.

During the reign of Elizabeth embroidered work became very popular being her favour, although, she did have a collection of good calf bindings attributed to her appointed Printer and Bookbinder John Day.
Embroidered binding for Henry VIII attributed to Thomas Berthelet.


Gold tooling pattern for a calfskin binding in the collection of Elizabeth I
by the Royal Printer John Day.


Portrait of John Day

Thomas Wotton 1521 - 1587
Sometimes referred to as the English Grolier,albeit, as with his contemporary Thomas Berthelet,his work was often adjudged to be of inferior quality to the French master. He favoured the use of Brown
calfskin as a covering for his books, executing designs with ornate strapping and interlacings outlined in gold, black painted infills supported with arabesques shapes and occasionally a coats-of-arms. He even went to the lengths of copying the Grolier legend by tooling,' Thomas Wottoniet Amoricum ', on the front cover. The majority of English books during this period were forwarded with double width boards being elaborately finished with gold tooling, and a minature portrait vignette affixed or painted into a sunken central panel.


A Parisien Grolier syle binding which greatly influenced the work of Thomas Wotton.

Nicholas Ferrar (1592 - 1637) produced some very pleasing work within the Anglican community of Little Gidding; which he established in Cambridgeshire, England during the reign of Charles Ist. http://webworksguestbook.co.uk/client/jamesflavell/upload/ferrar-sm.jpg His influences were obviously in the style of the French leather work commonplace with English binders of the period. We can determine this by his predominance of using small delicately cut tools to copy the trends in French gold tooling patterns. He is ,perhaps, best known for the gold tooled decorated,velvet bindings he undertook for the Sovereign.

http://webworksguestbook.co.uk/client/jamesflavell/upload/Nicholas Ferrar, window in Clare College.jpg
Above the Bookbinder Nicholas Ferrar solemnized in a stained glass window in the Chapel Clare, Clare College, Cambridge.

Samuel Mearne (1624 - 1683)

Samuel Mearne an accomplished and innovative craftsman was appointed as Royal Binder to Charles II, an office which he also held during the reign of James II. Several bindings are accredited to Mearne from the library of Charles which are bound in red morocco incorporating rectangular panels tooled in gold with the Royal Monogram of two '' C's '' interlaced between two small palm sprays surmounted by a crown positioned at each corner angle. What he is most noteworthy for is the development of the English '' Cottage '' design. This is where both the top and bottom of the panel are formed into a gable end or cottage roof with projecting leaves. These spaces are usually richly decorated with foliated sprays with dense small tooling, reminiscent of a cottage garden. This design was very influential upon his contemporaries, and with only a few modifications it endured until the reign of George II, longer than any other English or foreign style. Mearne is also accredited with the, '' all over '',
design on the boards which included a tulip shaped tool, either open or in bud, and the famous, '' drawer handle '', a series of two-horned curves interspersed with pointelle and often juxtaposed with an acorn tool. At this time Scottish binders were also producing some very ornate bindings adorned with foliated images combined with multiple dots. The '' Wheel '', and the '' Herring Bone '' pattern also became very prominent during this era. Below is a Mearne cover design for the treatise, '' Excudit Rogerus Nortonus '', bound in 1670.



A leather bound Grolier Club Catalogue of Decorated Early English Bookbindings bound in 1899. A cover design inspired by Mearne's characteristic, '' Cottage Roof '', style. Green goatskin full covering set with red and black olays.

A red pigmented calfskin binding from the library of Charles II executed by Samuel Mearne. The Royal Monogram device is visible at each corner of the centre panel.

The Harleian Style

The Harleian style of binding and decorative finishing is not attributed to a particular binder bearing that name, but to a collector of fine bookbindings.
Robert Harley (1621 - 1724) the Earl of Oxford owned a considerable library which in later years was further augmented by his son the Earl Edward.

The majority of the collection was bound in either red or brown morocco leather, and overtime it would be discovered the quality of the forwarding technique of the books would far outweigh the durability of this choice of skin.
The work was undertaken by two respected craftsmen of the era, Eliot and Chapman. Finishing commonly comprised of French three line fillet work, forming a frame border around the profile of the boards in combination with a broader gilt tooled border in a contemporary form. Naturalistic sprig symbols consisting of fir coned flower buds and three headed flower sprays were a common feature. The design pattern was usually completed with the inclusion of a central oval, with repeated use of the aforementioned sprig tools within. On the inside pasteboard leather ' turn-ins ' a fully gilt roll, decorative border was to be found with regular use of the ' cat tooth ' pattern, utilised in such a way that often the line of the patern would run onto the endpaper.

Nowadays, Harleian bindings are regularly sought by collectors at auction, attracting good prices.


Above a Chapman executed Harleian design on red turkey leather.

Roger Payne

The name of Roger Payne is by many highly respected in the annals of English Bookbinders; in spite of his dissolute reputation. His very detailed full description of the work he undertook for customers indicates he was very meticulous in his craft. A ' sound ' forwarder and inventive finisher; cutting his own tools, (often using Iron as a consequence of his penury), and arranging them in tasteful decoration upon his cover designs. He would break from tradition by choosing to sew his books using silk thread, and deliberately select endpaper colours such as purple or buff to clash with the tone of the covering leather. The type of skins used were often ' Russia Calf ' or ' Morocco ', coloured Red, Blue, Deep Olive, Orange or a Pale Sea Green hues. He is attributed for inventing the practice of dampening, and then rolling morocco grain skins into a straight grain pattern which he subsequently gave the name, ' Venetian Leather '.

His collection of tool patterns included acorns, circles, crescents, stars and running vines; which he would combine in his corner designs a dotted Gouge or powdered pointille form of presentation. Doublures would be of Black commonly supporting tooling of gilded sprig forms.

Roger Payne, is historically,referred to as the first English Bookbinder who adopted a subjective approach to book cover design by attempting to convey a distinct empathy with a book's subject content. There was a time during his working life he formed a partnership with the acclaimed London binder Richard Weir; whose wife was a skilled book restorer.
Probably the most well known picture of Roger Payne at work in his meagre, candlelit bindery in London during the mid 18c. One may consider it even more remarkable that it was in these type of conditions he produced some of his most acclaimed works.

A Payne design on Blue morocco leather.

John Whittaker - The Etruscan Style

Around the same time as Roger Payne was practising his craft a method of
ornamentation was being developed by John Whittaker; whereby, with the use of dilute acids, he imitated the colourful decorations found on the surface of Etruscan vases. Elemental gilded shapes such as castles, churches and tented fields can also be found on the covers of these bindings.http://webworksguestbook.co.uk/client/jamesflavell/upload/GetImage (1).jpg
An example of Etruscan design executed upon brown calfskin.

In 1785, the English binder, James Edwards of Halifax ,Yorkshire took out a patent for embellishing the covers of books bound with transparent vellum. The method was to either print or paint directly onto the reverse (integument) side of the skin, which would then be affixed to a book cover;typically with paste by a technique of ' Drumming On ', ( i.e applying the adhesive to the board edges only, thereby, the vellum would contract onto the board). The boards would have been previously lined with white cartridge paper, as this served the dual purpose of refining any visible linear work in addition to intensifying the effect of any pigments used. Whittaker's Etruscan style proved to be quite influential upon James Edwards as depicted here:

The Arts & Crafts legacy and Modernism

The Arts and Crafts movement of the late 19th century was largely responsible for the increased general interest in the creativity of craft bookbinders throughout the early years of the following century Post WW2 A number of practitioners and teachers adopted a self expressive approach to design. The foremost, agruably, was Edgar Mansfield who was a student of Chinese philosophy and abstraction. The covers of his books were fashioned to appeal to the intellect, combined with a subtle references to the text subject. Other binders such as Ivor Robinson, Philip Smith and Jeff Clements , who along with other established members of organisations such as Designer Bookbinders also made reference to the ideals of the Atomic Age.

The Society of Bookbinders; with its aims of quality craftsmanship, had numbered among their membership women bookbinders who were following the objectives of their predecessors the 18th.C Guild of Women Binders.

The 20th century saw a gradual return to the popularity of the craft; however, with a neglect of organised training courses being available finding skilled craftsmen was at a premium. The development of the Publishers Edition Binding automated process,in harness with Adhesive and Paper back binding all contributed in their own way to the revival of aesthetic Fine leather Binding in the letterpress style. The craft overall returned to the Classical style of forwarding and finishing presentation.

Skilled craftsmen and women numbered few nationwide during the early decades of the 20th century. They mainly worked independently or were seen as ' specialists ' contracted to city and provincial binderies.


Edgar Mansfield's abstract cover designs portrayed a mastery of technical ability.


The cover design for Mansfield's '' Devil and All '' commission. (1950's)


The late Ivor Robinson a minimalist yet striking cover design.


Comments: Will be edited....

Posted: 2012-05-12 11:44

I am happy to accept comments on this site, but anything not related to books, bookbinding or conservation matters will be deleted at my discretion. I can of course also be contacted by e-mail: flavell929@btinternet.com ;)

FDNY 9/11 Tribute Book 2003

Posted: 2012-05-07 15:43

I readily acknowledge the subject of this post is not related to any contemporary events and rather back dated, but I thought the content may be of universal interest to the reader. Following the completion of the 9/11 Tribute Book I travelled to LFCDA (London Fire & Civil Defence Authority) Lambeth Headquarters for a personal presentation to a contingent of New York Firefighters. Some of whom had attended the World Trade Centre on that awful day in 2001. It was an honour to represent the Isle of Wight Fire Service on what was a day of understandably mixed emotions. The book was presented to Division 7 Battalion Chief William C. Hines and Division 1 Divisional Commander John A. Coloe. My thanks are extended to the LFCDA for their hospitality on the day.





The binding was of an A3 sized landscape format consisting of twenty-one pages of Elephanthide (Chamois) parchment-effect calligraphy paper. The sections of the slim text block were interlink sewn without tapes and forwarded with split board attachment, hollow back spine and French Groove. Traditional style 'common-made' endpapers were constructed with Canson 'Mi-Tientes' Petrol Blue coloured flyleaves. The full leather covering being of Harmatan Navy ' Maska ' Nigerian goatskin over bevel edged boards. The upper board design detail was fashioned by means of thinly pared onlays of Vermillion and Royal Blue skiver, white pigskin and the Navy ' Maska ' .

The official crests of both fire services were manufactured in linear detail by foil plate blocking onto leather onlays, and then superimposed onto panels of Sky Blue coated cover paper. A heated gold foil stylus was the medium used to delineate the outline of both islands in the centre panel.

The book was compiled and bound in 2002, and has the signature of every employee of the Island's Fire Service, numbering 228 personnel in total. As part of the book's make up a reflective forward was contributed by the Island's Chief Fire Officer.

Calligraphy in the foundational hand was by the late Kitty Kingdon-Butcher of Shanklin, Isle of Wight.

Some years on now, I understand the book is permanently displayed at the FDNY Training Bureau, Randalls Island in Manhattan. An expanded image of the finished project can viewed on this website's Gallery Page.



Standing Down - After 32 years continued Service with the Isle of Wight Fire & Rescue Service I have now decided to ' hang up ' my Helmet and retired on the 31st March, 2017.
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