Millimeter and Rubow Bindings


Caution: I have had one of the craziest weeks of my life – so I apologize if this post is disjointed or rambling.

The next binding that I am going to share is actually the first binding project that was assigned in the second year. Students at NBSS are not given a binding to do for the first couple of months of their second year, so that there is no distraction from practicing gold tooling. It’s probably a wise choice – as I was looking for anything else to work on after the first couple of days of tooling.

The millimeter binding is a very modern and elegant adaptation of the paper case binding, well suited to thin volumes. It is also a logical next step in the curriculum because it is so similar to the leather bindings done in the first year (here). I’m going to discuss two variations: the millimeter binding and the Rubow binding.

According to John Hyltoft, former Head of Conservation for the Smithsonian Institute Libraries, the millimeter binding style was developed by the Danish binder Henrik Park during WWII. At a time when luxury items like leather were at a premium, there was a place for finely bound volumes that used leather as sparingly as possible. These bindings are characterized by leather (or parchment or even cloth) that covers the spine and extends about a millimeter onto the boards. Small “hidden” or “semi-hidden” corners are also quite popular.

Park’s book from 1949, titled Moderne Danske Bindtyper, is a short volume with nice photographs of several millimeter binding styles, including detailed photos of a variety of corner and headcap styles.

Other variations on the millimeter include one by August Sandgren, in which small strips of leather appear at only the head and tail of the spine and extend a millimeter onto the boards (Park, Bindtype I). Two variations that are not pictured in Park, that are probably more modern adaptations include a kind of T shape in leather at the head of the spine, with small arms going onto the boards, and doing a full strip of leather along the fore-edges of the boards instead of corners. The “Bind-O-Rama” from  2005 (found here) has images of a range of  bindings that encompass the variations on the style. Don Rash’s book is definitely my favorite of them.

The “Rubow” binding, supposedly suggested by Jorn Rubow (maybe this Jorn Rubow?) features leather all along the head and tail edges of the boards. Park’s description of this binding, “papirbind med slidskinner”, fittingly translates to paper binding with wear rails.

Some common features of the books include a single-folio endsheet reinforced with a Japanese paper or textile hinge, sewing on flattened cords, 90 degree shoulders with open joints, rolled leather or cloth endbands, and edge decoration (Riley, 2006; Verheyen, 2005). In reality, these are an economical form of fine binding.

The literature presents two methods for doing this binding: either as an “on-set boards” binding in which the boards are attached to a waste sheet built into the endpapers before covering (Riley’s method), or as a simple case structure that is covered before attaching it to the bookblock (Verheyen’s method).

The endsheet construction will depend upon the method of assembly. For the on-set boards version, the endsheet is composed of a single folio of decorative paper with a 2cm strip of mull tipped to the outer edge. A folio of  plain paper is then wrapped around, forming a plain flyleaf and wastesheet. This whole assembly is then folded 5mm away from the edge to make a hook, which is wrapped around the first or last section of the text (Riley, 2006, p. 10).

The endsheet for the case version is either a single folio of decorative paper tipped to the first or last section of the text or a double folio that is sewn on (Verheyen, 2005, p. 25). Regardless of the number of folios, Verheyen advocates adding a guard of Japanese paper or thin cloth around the first section and endsheet.


The forwarding of the book is basically a more refined version of what I have described in the past concerning case bindings or on-set boards bindings. I will note, however that according to Riley, it is only the head edges of these books that are typically trimmed and decorated (p. 12). Solid color, sprinkling, graphite or gilding are options for edge treatment. I did a solid graphite edge for one and a graphite and gauffered edge for another.

If endbands are present in millimeter bindings, they are almost always rolled leather endbands. The spine lining is done much the same way that I have described before – patch lining and sanding to get a very smooth, but rigid, spine.

The leather covering is done first, and, for this style of binding to look right, the edges of the leather cannot be visible under the paper covering. Once the leather is covered over, any sudden changes in transition from leather to board surface will be very apparent and look sloppy.

There are two methods for dealing with the thickness of the leather. The first is to flat pare the leather, cover, then in-fill the remaining space on the boards before covering with decorative paper (Verheyen, p. 28). The second method is to edge pare the leather, cover, then further pare and sand the leather to achieve a long, gradual bevel onto the board surface (Riley, p. 15).

Regardless of how you deal with the leather, it is pared quite thin (0.5mm). Covering is done in the usual way with paste. I found the Rubow covering to be quite challenging, however, because so little leather is holding it onto the boards while you are doing the turn-ins and headcaps.

If following Riley’s method of beveling the leather, the  millimeter of skin that will be exposed is marked out with dividers and the edges further pared at a shallow angle with the knife. The edge is also sanded to get a very smooth surface. The leather patches at the corners are done at this point and sanded smooth in the same way.

To finish, the boards are covered in decorative paper and the endsheets pasted down. Paste papers are quite common in the examples that I’ve seen.

This binding style is actually quite fun to do and the results look very refined. I highly recommend Riley and Verheyen’s articles for step by step instructions. John Hyltoft also demonstrated this binding at the GBW Standards conference in 1995. You can purchase a video of that demonstration here.


Application deadlines are starting to loom and I have to sort out what I’m doing after I graduate in June – but I will try to keep posting the vast array of projects that I have to share on a regular basis. Here is a short list of what is in the queue: Carolingian binding, atlas and album structures, book action/sewing support models, limp leather, and springbacks.


Park, H. (1950). Modern Danish Bookbindings. Copenhagen, Anker Kysters.

Riley, D. (2006). The Millimetre Binding: Danish economic structure. Bookbinder, 20, 9-17.

Verheyen, P. D. (2005). “Millimeter Binding / Edelpappband” The Bonefolder: an e-journal for the bookbinder and book artist, 1(2), 25-29.


Limp Paper and Vellum


In the last post, we saw a paper binding that was basically a glorified wrapper, attached to the textblock by adhesive. This time I am going to look at a structure with earlier roots, that relies mostly on mechanical attachment of the cover to the book block. This binding structure is also interesting in that the textblock and cover are prepared separately, establishing it as a precursor to case binding.

Right after our class covered lapped component bindings and stiffened paper cases, we made some laced paper case models. I feel like I should start this one off with a few disclaimers. I have very little experience with historical examples of laced paper bindings – either limp or in-boards. I have not yet read all that much about their historical context, evolution, or typical features. Therefore, this discussion will focus on only one particular structure that, while based on the binding techniques of antiquity, is heavily influenced by modern conservation practice. While I was making these paper-covered models, I went ahead and made a limp vellum binding using the same structure. There is significantly more literature available on limp parchment structures, so most of this post is actually derived from those sources. Therefore, I ask you (the gentle reader) to forgive the limitations of this discussion and its deviation from my paper-centric series.

Now on to the topic at hand!

Most bookbinders and conservators will naturally recall the structure pictured above when the term ‘limp vellum’ arises in conversation; however, Lindsay (1991) reminds us that it is a very general term that covers a wide variety of structures (p. 4). Szirmai (2000) mentions limp parchment bindings from as early as the Carolingian era (p. 286), but both he and Clarkson (2005) conclude that their popularity in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries grew as a result of growing demand for book supply. These sturdy bindings played an important role as an economical and utilitarian alternative to stiff-board bindings in early universities, as well as library and archive collections.
Szirmai (2000) describes a variety of structures that rely on different book block to cover attachment methods. In previous blog entries, I’ve covered a few limp structures in which the cover attachment is through primary sewing (here). There are also a number of styles that make use of primary and secondary tackets for this attachment. Many of these early limp structures feature a  flat spine that, as we saw in the last post, has a tendency to develop a distorted concave shape.  Binders in antiquity resorted to a number of methods to try to get the book to stay square.  In some cases, the binder would sew through a rigid spine plate (discussed here). Binders were also known, on occasion, to lash wooden sticks or metal rods onto hidden interior sewing supports and then attach the covers with indirect tacketing (see Szirmai, 2000, p. 305 for diagrams). Because the opening of the volume – especially if large – puts a significant strain on the spine, these efforts were largely unsuccessful. Wooden supports would often snap and metal support rods would actually bend to further reinforce the concave round in the spine (Szirmai, p. 314).
These flat-back limp structures gradually give way to bindings with “moderately rounded spines, laced-in endband supports and parchment covers with neat turn-ins and pastedowns (Szirmai, 2000, p. 317). The exact origin of limp cover attachment to the book block with laced-in sewing supports is unknown, but the better known examples date from late fifteenth and sixteenth centuries (Clarkson, 2005; Szirmai, 2000).  Whether the rounding of the spine developed intentionally or as a natural result of the lacing process, is unclear. Regardless, a rounded spine does tend to keep its shape over the life of the book and is a far better solution to textblock bulge than stiff plates or rods.
Several features of the laced models of limp bindings seem common from the literature; most notably hooked endsheet construction, sewing on cords or thongs, and thick parchment covers with two or three slits at the joint for lacing. Rhein (1942) describes incunabula from Amplonian Collection at Erfurt as having single, reused parchment leaves hooked around the outer sections. Clarkson (2005) includes descriptions of several interesting endsheet structures for conservation rebinding; including of a hooked endsheet with “expanding gusset” to relieve unwanted tension in pasted down endsheets, as well as a parchment leaf with alum-tawed hinge for non-adhesive case attachment (p. 12-14). My models all used non-adhesive endsheet attachment (discussed below). I used either single leaves of heavy handmade paper from the University of Iowa or a single folio section (like in the previous posts) for my paper case models.
Szirmai (2000) reports that sewing  was done all along, and occasionally packed around the supports (p. 312). The literature describes two methods of cover attachment: either single supports, laced through in a straight line across the cover or double (or split) supports that are each laced through at an angle, forming a ‘V’ pattern (see Clarkson, 2005). All of my models are sewn on single alum-tawed goatskin thongs as you would tapes.

While modern sewn endbands are merely a decorative feature, late medieval and Renaissance endbands had a structural component. Primary sewing firmly attached the core to the book block through tie-downs in the center of each section. The endband sewing was often done through the spine lining (as above). In the Italian volumes that were commonly used in libraries and archives, endbands are plain, with a back bead. The endband cores were laced into the covers, while the remaining sewing supports were “stubbed to the width of the textblock” (Clarkson, 2005, p. 16). The German variety from the same period went in the opposite direction, however, often have no endbands at all, but laced sewing supports (Szirmai, p. 315). Both Lindsay (1991) and Greenfield & Hill (1990) have excellent instructions for making this endband.

The next step in making this structure is to prepare the cover. Lindsay’s (1991) article does an excellent job of describing the formation of a modern cover that uses cuts and tabs for the mechanical attachment of the turn-ins at the corners. Clarkson (2005) includes diagrams of two other versions with  interlocking tabs. Historically, I think the turn-ins were sometimes just pasted down. As the cuts are somewhat complex and vellum is an expensive material to waste, Lindsay recommends making a paper template first (above). I used 10 pt folder stock for mine. All the measurements are taken directly from the textblock, resulting in a cover that is an exact fit. The vellum is cut out according to the paper template; Lindsay recommends cutting windows out of the paper template, so that the best part of the skin may be chosen.

The sewing supports are first laced out through the holes at the point of the shoulder. These holes are much smaller than the width of the supports, so that the thongs are held very securely after lacing.

When the sewing supports are laced back through to the inside of the cover, they also pass through the extended spine lining and endsheet material.

After trimming them back a bit, they are hidden underneath the outermost leaf, which is tucked under the turn-ins. The lacing of the endband cores and the fasteners keeps the whole assembly firmly in place.

The yapp edge and fore-edge fasteners are a distinctive and charming feature of this binding style. They serve to keep the book in a nice, self-contained package and protect the textblock from drops or bumps. Szirmai (2000) indicates that most fastenings were historically chamois leather, but that metal fasteners are sometimes encountered. Clarkson (2005) states that many types of fore-edge tie anchorage designs were in use by the sixteenth century and double as tackets for non-adhesive endsheet structures (p. 10). Szirmai includes several helpful diagrams of these systems and their attachment to the covers (p. 315).

I made a different types of fastener for each of my models to see how they worked. The simplest design is the bow (above), which is merely alum-tawed strips anchored to each cover and tied. While simple to construct, the main disadvantage of this system is that “many people do not have the patience to tie the bow” (Clarkson, 2005, p. 10).

A second fastener consists of a toggle attached to the lower board that hooks around the fore-edge and catches on loops anchored into the upper board. The forming of the toggle is depicted in Szirmai (2000). It is relatively simple to make – two holes are punched a few inches from the end of a strip of tawed skin and the end is rolled up to the first hole. The remainder is laced through the two holes and pulled until the roll is tight. Overall, I am not satisfied with this fastening system. I’ll admit that my execution could be better, but it seems that the toggles can be quite difficult to get in and out of the loops. I suppose they might function better when made out of different skin; it seems the tawed skin is too puffy and the toggle sticks inside the loop when attempting to pull it through. I will need to find and examine a set that function well to really know, however.

Finally, there is the ‘peg and frog’ fastening system. While this one is, by far, the easiest to loosen and secure, Clarkson (2005) reminds us that it originates in Asia and may clash with the cultural or historical consistency of the binding. Regardless, the peg is made of bone and the loop of the strap is secured with small laces of alum-tawed skin. I used a lok-eye needle to get the tiny laces into the strap (below). The image below also illustrates an alternative form of mechanical endsheet attachment – this time, outside of the turn-ins.

Limp parchment bindings with laced-on covers are incredibly durable, as witnessed by the number of bindings that survived the 1966 flood of the Florence Biblioteca Nazionale (Clarkson, 2005). This has led to the widespread adoption of this structure for conservation rebinding (Clarkson 1975; 1982). Further efforts to adapt the structure for conservation work have also been made, the most popular of which being the design by Robert Espinoza (1993). This binding operates very differently than the lapped component, in that it does not really lie flat . Both Clarkson (2005, p. 11) and Barrios (2006, p. 24) note that this structures functions best on thinner books, since the binding functions best in the hands rather than on a lectern.
While this structure is relatively easy to complete with paper, it is deceptively hard to do well in vellum. I am not yet able to really describe why it works out well sometimes and not others – but I think that variation can be attributed to the selection of the skin for the book. The thickness, flexibility, and overall combination of forces within the skin itself have to be examined and chosen specifically for the book block. If the selection is haphazard, the binding will feel off. Clarkson (2005) concludes that this a master binding, not a student one.
The 16th century form of this binding is considered by Clarkson to be the high point of the structure; as decoration takes precedence over structure in the following years, the quality of these bindings suffers a gradual decline. For some interesting historical examples of limp vellum bindings from the thirteenth century to the present, I would suggest browsing through the online exhibit created by Doug Rice.


Barrios, P. (2006). Notes on the limp vellum bindingThe Bonefolder 2(2), 24-27.

Clarkson, C. (2005). Limp Vellum Binding. Oxford: Christopher Clarkson.

Espinosa, R. (1993). The limp vellum binding: A modification. The New Bookbinder, 13, 27-38.

Greenfield, J. & Hille, J. (1990). Headbands: How to work them. New Castle, Delaware: Oak Knoll Books,

Lindsay, J. (1991). A limp vellum binding sewn on alumn-tawed thongs. The New Bookbinder, 11, 3-19.

Pickwoad, N. (1995). The interpretation of bookbinding structure: An examination of sixteenth-century bindings in the Ramney collection in the Pierpont Morgan Library. The Library, Sixth Series, 17, 209-249.

Rhein, A. (1942). Alte heftungen in pergamentumschlange. Zu einem katalog “Die Wiegendruckeinbande der Stadtbucherie Erfurt”. Archiv fur Buchbinderei, 42, 11-13.

Szirmai, J. A. (2000). The archaeology of medieval bookbinding. Aldershot : Ashgate.

German Paper Bindings: Stiffened Paper Bindings


The next paper binding that I’m going to share is by far the simplest structure that we’ve done. Rhodes (1995) describes these stiffened paper bindings as “beefed-up wrappers with thin board or thick paper supports” (p. 58). While they appear very similar to the typical modern, adhesive-bound trade paperback, these books are much more durable. Cloonan (1991) states that this structure was typically used to bind up issues of periodicals (p. 8), and in fact the example in the school’s collection is a gathering of German pharmaceutical journals from 1804.

Textblocks of this variety are often sewn unto supports, such as cord or vellum slips  (Frost, 1982, p. 64) – the latter variety contributing greatly to the overall strength of the structure. I made my models based on the example in our collection – sewing the textblock on two thick vellum slips in the same somewhat erratic abbreviated pattern.

While the thread used in these bindings is rather course, the softness of the paper absorbs a lot of the swell and allows the textblock to remain square.

The endsheets in the historical example are a variation on the hooked endsheet used in my lapped component models. In this case, a whole bifolio is not used. Instead a leaf  is cut to the size of the textblock, but with approximately half an inch added to the width. One fold is made so that the leaf is now the width of the textblock + 0.25″. Another parallel fold is made  0.25″ from the first, creating a hook in which the first or last section will sit. This endsheet, therefore, has a small stub instead of a flyleaf.

After sewing, the textblock is set square and the spine glued up with hide glue. Thin pasteboards are adhered to the vellum supports and the fore-edge is plowed.

While the examples that I have seen are very square, I don’t see why a round couldn’t be put into the spine at this point – assuming this is considered a permanent binding structure. If these bindings were just meant to be temporary wrappers as Cloonan suggests (p. 45), however, shaping and trimming would not be necessary and could make rebinding more difficult.

The outside of the boards are then covered in decorative paper and the pastedowns are adhered to the inside. I used marbled paper as the covering material for my models. The green is a Atelier Flavio Aquilina paper, while the tan is a paper that I made during the workshop with the Chena River Marblers. To finish, the head and tail are trimmed, leaving turn-ins (and sometimes squares) at just the fore-edge.

Back to the subject of spine shaping, I made two different models to see how they would act. After fully opening and handling the version with the completely squared spine, it began to go concave rather quickly (left). On the second version, I rounded the spine just a bit before covering and it has retained its shape better (right).

All in all, I really like this structure for its speed, durability, and adaptability; repairing or rebinding this structure is relatively easy.  I just wish that I could buy modern editions in this form, rather than the glued up stacks of single sheets that you find in the bookstore today.


Next up, I will be writing about the laced paper case and limp vellum structure. In an effort to be a little more productive with this blog, I’m going to try and make the posts a bit shorter, but commit to publishing one every Sunday.


Cloonan, M. V. (1991). Early Bindings in Paper : A Brief History of European Hand-made Paper-covered Books with a Multilingual Glossary. Boston, MA: G.K. Hall.

Frost, G. (1982). Historical paper case binding and conservation rebinding. The New Bookbinder, 2, 64-67.

Rhodes, B. (1995). 18th and 19th century European and American paper binding structures: a case study of paper bindings in the American Museum of Natural History LibraryBook and Paper Group Annual, 14, 51–62.

German Paper Bindings: The Lapped Component


In the spring of last year, we started to work with a couple of different paper binding structures that came out of the trade binding traditions in Germany and Italy. I really enjoyed the way that some of these look and function. Keep in mind that this is a very cursory look at a small variety of historic paper structures –  but I will share some models and explore some of the literature that deals with the topic.

Ubiquitous today, the paper binding has a long history as a quicker and more affordable book covering material than animal skin. Cloonan (1991) states that despite the availability of paper in Europe from the twelfth century, the earliest known paper binding, a woodcut-printed wrapper produced in Augsburg, dates from 1482 (p. 5). There is some disagreement in the literature on whether early paper bindings were considered permanent coverings for the text or as temporary protective enclosures between bookseller and binder (Cloonan, p. 45); however, from the 16th to 19th century, paper bindings evolved into a variety of forms. For the purposes of my discussion, three distinct types emerge: limp paper wrappers, case bindings, and “boards” or “in-boards” bindings. This will be the first in a multi-part series on particular paper structures, more specifically the “lapped component” or stiff-board case binding, the stiffened paper binding, the laced paper case, and the more modern millimeter binding.

The Lapped Component

Many examples of paper case bindings structures, dating from the 17th -19th centuries, have been found in Italy and Germany (Frost, 1982, p. 64). The case binding is generally defined as composed of a textblock and cover that are prepared separately and then joined.  Rigid paper case bindings were popular in Germany from the 18th century and could be considered the handmade forebears to modern machine-made case bindings. Like the modern paperback, these could be fabricated relatively rapidly en masse, driving down the cost of production. German binders made a variety of rigid paper case structures, but, beginning in the late 18th century, a distinct style of paper case emerged that was composed of paste boards “spanned and bonded together by a heavy paper spine wrapper (Frost, p. 66). Frost dubs this structure the “lapped component”.

Having only examined a handful of these bindings held in the collections of two research libraries, I cannot speak to the complete range of characteristics that one might encounter with this binding structure. I will, however, discuss the binding characteristics that are identified as most common to this structure by Rhodes (1995) in her survey of paper bindings from the collection of the American Museum of Natural History Library. The models pictured here follow the descriptions of endsheet construction, sewing style and supports, and case construction from that survey. Certain aspects of style are copied from the two or three historical examples held in the collection at NBSS.

Rhodes (1995) indicates that the most popular endsheet structure among lapped component bindings in her survey was a “wrapped stub” endsheet (p. 52). This endsheet as formed by folding ¾” of a folio toward the inside of the text and “sewing through the fold thus created” (Rhodes, p. 52). Rhodes also reports that the vast majority of paper bindings surveyed were sewn in an abbreviated pattern (2 or more sections at once) on cords. The sewing stations of the bindings in our collection were d sawn-in, rather than pierced. Sawing the sewing stations into the backs of the sections is much quicker than piercing them individually, but is more destructive to the text and produces different book action.

I decided to treat my models in the same way. After folding and pressing the sections, the endsheets are folded and their stubs wrapped around the outermost sections. The textblock is squared up and put in the lying press. Sewing stations are marked out with a pencil (including four support stations and kettle stations at the head and tail). The sections are then sawn-in using a backsaw.

The saw kerfs are made to complement the size of the cord, so that it sits into the fold, rather than against it. As a result, the sewing support does not contribute so much stiffness to the opening of the book as if the stations were pierced and the same cords were sewn on.

Rhodes indicates that most (84%) of the lapped component bindings in the survey were plowed and that, of those, the majority (88%) received some sort of edge coloring (p. 53). Trimming and coloring the edges takes a couple of steps. The fore-edge is first plowed with the book squared up. The textblock is given a gradual round and severely backed so that it has small shoulders for thin pasteboards. Finally the head and tail are plowed.

To get that authentic, hastily done production look, I colored all three edges of these models using a mixture of gauche and paste in one pass with a wide brush. The literature does not state which colors are more prevalent, but I suspect that bright yellow edges were more popular than red.

In my reading, I did not see much discussion of endbands for this style of binding. Cloonan states that headbands were commonly absent from the paper bindings  described in her dissertation (p. 41). This makes sense as a time and cost saving measure for the binder. The lapped component bindings in the school’s collection have stuck on endbands, however, and I copied them for my models.

These are made by folding over a piece of linen and whip stitching along the top with colored silk. The endband is cut longer than the width of the spine and is pushed just under the edge of the textblock at the seat of the shoulder. The process goes very quickly and looks quite attractive on the book.

According to Frost, early German trade paper case bindings typically have no spine linings (p. 66), although Rhodes states that over half (63%) of the lapped component bindings surveyed at the AMNH library had spine linings (p. 53). I can see stiff linings of paper would interfere dramatically with the opening (especially on a small chunky book), so I opted for a lining of kozo paper applied with wheat starch paste and pounded-in. To finish off the textblock, the cords are trimmed to size and frayed out with the back of a knife.

Next, we turn our attention to the case and it’s lapped component:

The case is composed of two pasteboards that are connected by a heavy paper spine wrapper that extends about ¼th of the way onto the inside of the boards. The spine piece is molded to the contours of the textblock, while the soft pasteboards also conform to the lapped component, assuring a good bond. This moulded covering, according to Frost, “charges up” the gutter margin of the text, “assuring a tight adhesive bond at that crucial position” (p. 66).

The molded spine piece is made by first wrapping the spine of the textblock in plastic wrap. After being thoroughly wet out, thick handmade paper, cut slightly longer than the height of the boards, is gloved it onto the spine.  Press boards are placed into the joint and the sandwich is allowed to dry under weight. When finished, as Frost says, “a light embossing from underlying sewing appears which exemplifies the moulded fit familiar to binders” (p. 67).

Although I could have created pasteboard with cotton linters (Puglia, 1996), for the sake of time economy, I made up boards from museum board with thin blotter laminated to each side. This imitates the soft and light qualities of pasteboard without all the pressing and drying time.

The boards are adhered to the spine piece and the case trimmed to size. Frost indicates that the components of the binding are often trimmed out to the height of the text, “producing a bare, turn-in-less cover” (p. 66). In the historic examples from our collection, the cases did have  small squares. Therefore, my models have squares.

 The case is then covered in decorative paper. I made pulled paste papers that appear similar in color and texture to the historic examples available for study. After covering, the inside of the boards are trimmed out to give even turn ins.

Rhodes states that, of the books in her survey, over half had labels supplied by the binder that were tooled or stamped on glazed paper (p. 53). I stamped mine on the Kwikprint with gold foil.

The text to board attachment for this structure is adhesive alone. Frost’s article has a very clear illustration of the hinging position of various styles of paper binding. As the lapped component falls under the “case constructon binding” style, the hinging point is a the seat of the shoulder – an “identifying characteristic of case binding structure” (p. 64). This contrasts with the text to cover attachment of laced-in structures (upcoming post), in that the laced or in-boards binding has the attachment at the point of the shoulder. Frost indicates that this characteristic alone is responsible for the “openability” of the case (p. 64) – although I would say that the case structure is far less durable than the laced-in variety.

Note: The bibliographies that I post at the bottom of my posts are always incomplete. If you know of further reading on this topic, I welcome your suggestions in the comments!


Cloonan, M. V. (1991). Early Bindings in Paper : A Brief History of European Hand-made Paper-covered Books with a Multilingual Glossary. Boston, MA: G.K. Hall.

Frost, G. (1982). Historical paper case binding and conservation rebinding. The New Bookbinder, 2, 64-67.

Puglia, A. (1996). Pasteboards. The Book and Paper Group Annual, 15.

Rhodes, B. (1995). 18th and 19th century European and American paper binding structures: a case study of paper bindings in the American Museum of Natural History Library. Book and Paper Group Annual, 14, 51–62.

Standards 2011

Bookbinding, Conferences

The Guild of Book Worker’s annual Standards of Excellence in Hand Bookbinding conference was held at the Park Plaza Hotel here in Boston this past weekend. Overall, an excellent time was had by all. I volunteered to assist throughout the conference and was able to see two demonstrations and meet a host of bookbinders and conservators whom I greatly admire. It was a good opportunity to stock up on supplies for the school year and got me fired up to experiment with some new materials and structures.

Each year the guild gives out several awards and the second-year students were asked to make some portfolios for the certificates.

This is a simple structure that is done in two parts and offers a quick, but elegant enclosure for important documents. As first years, we had made this style of case before for the graduating second year students. My photos show both the portfolios fabricated for graduation and for the conference.

The outer case is made from Davey board, cut 1/2″ larger in the height and width than the document it will house. Any material may be used in covering, but we did these in either a quarter or half style with goat skin.

The spine strip and corners were flat pared to the thickness of the in-fill material, then the turn-ins further pared until they could hold a fold. The joint area of the spine is a also scooped out a bit at the headcaps so that the turn-ins will not show through the outside of the spine. They were pasted up and attached in the usual way.

The outside of the boards are then filled with thin board or paper so that the whole surface was flat and the siding up material (in this case marbled paper) is put on.

In each case,  I cut the siding up material for each board from the same sheet, so that the marbling pattern was continued across the spine of the case.

The case was finished off by tooling a single blind line at the edge of the paper to give a nice, crisp edge.

After trimming out the inside, the pastedown can be done with either paper or cloth and is cut wide enough to cover the inside of the joint. Depending upon the lining of the outside of the boards, the inside can also be in-filled to counteract excessive pull.

The second component of the portfolio is the back pad that holds the document. This is constructed of thin board (such as museum board) and is covered with the same material as the pastedown. Short sections of ribbon are glued to the back corners, and the whole thing is adhered to the inside of the back board.

At this stage, the case can be decorated or titled as desired. We used magnesium dies to stamp the guild logo in gold on the outside of the front board (see top) and the school logo  in carbon on the inside.

These portfolios are a good example of the ways that traditional binding materials and style can be adapted for uses other than the covers of printed books. With a little adjustment, this structure could probably be used for e-reader or ipad cases.


Back to work…

Bibliography, Bookbinding

The second year of the bookbinding program starts off with gold tooling, and this is probably the first part of the curriculum that I had absolutely no prior experience with before beginning coming to Boston. To be honest – it’s going pretty slowly. I have burned a lot of leather over the past few days trying to get my head wrapped around just the process of blind tooling, but then you add gilding into the mix and it all goes south. After seeing Jeff demo the process a number of times and watching the GBW video from 1997 with Don Glaister, it is starting to make a little more sense. I have quite a ways to go.

We start off by laying waste to a handful of simple plaquettes. These are just a scrap of leather, flat pared in the scharf-fix, and pasted to a board.

The goal of the exercise is to completely cover the surface with repeated lines and decorations in order to get at a consistent depth and color of impression. After 4 or 5 of these, the results are becoming a little more uniform.

This is something we will be working on for a while and I will share more when I’m able to produce something decent.

Over the summer I had put together a rather extensive list of books to read. Of course I only managed to get to a tiny portion of them, but one thing that I did cross off the list was a review of some chemistry. Like all aspiring conservators, I’ve gone through several general and organic chemistry lectures and labs. The college level courses I took gave me a pretty good understanding of general principles and at least made me familiar with the periodic table, but did little to address the specific questions I had regarding the materials and reactions commonly found in a book conservation lab. Now that I’m not forced to do stoichiometry problems everyday, I was concerned that I would start to forget things. Use it or lose it!

I wasn’t too excited about going through the material in my old chemistry textbooks again, so I began looking for new curriculum material online. I started with MIT’s Open Courseware. This is an open and free web publication of MIT undergraduate and graduate course materials. While it might be good for other subjects, their chemistry material is a bit spotty. Most courses have posted old homework assignments and exams with answers, but few have class notes or videos of the lecture.

After reading this article in Wired Magazine, I also checked out Khan Academy and found it a more comprehensive online resource. Also free and open to the public (thanks in part to funding by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation), this site offers a catalog of approximately 10 minute instructional videos on a topic or principle. I was surprised at the sheer quantity of material offered under their general and organic chemistry sections.

In the end, however, I spent most of my time with printed books – most notably with the 3-part Science for Conservators series from the Conservation Unit of the Museums & Galleries Commission.

These books offered exactly what I was looking for. Volume one goes through a complete review of basic chemical concepts, while the second and third volumes take on the subjects of cleaning and adhesives/coatings, respectively. Throughout the discussion, example reactions are pulled from cases of material degradation or conservation treatments. While not all of the examples were applicable to book and  paper conservation, the writing was clear and well presented. This series would probably not be as helpful to someone with no previous chemistry experience. I think it is an excellent resource, however, for individuals with a few chemistry classes under their belt. The perspective these books take really had an impact on my thinking. The volume on cleaning, particularly, completely changed the way that I think about certain types of reactions and cleaning in general.


I keep promising posts on German paper bindings, laced paper cases, and limp vellum bindings – they are still on the schedule! I’ve just finished re-assembling a new and improved photo documentation setup and reshot photos of them for your viewing pleasure. Stay tuned!

Portfolio Production


In February and March, the Boston University College of Fine Arts showed works by South African artists in two exhibitions celebrating the Caversham Press. Founded in 1985, the Caversham Press was created to give South African artists access to a professional and collaborative printmaking studio. Featuring over 120 works by 70 artists, the exhibition titled South Africa: Artists, Prints, Community, Twenty Five Years at The Caversham Press celebrated Caversham’s history and the diversity of South African printmaking. You can find a short article with a digital slide show here and the original press release here.

A central figure in the early years of the press, William Kentridge was also featured as the seventh annual Tim Hamill Visiting Artist Lecturer and in a concurrent exhibition, titled Three Artists at The Caversham Press: Deborah Bell, Robert Hodgins and William Kentridge.  As a side note, Kentridge also directed War Horse, an adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s World War I novel, currently playing at the Lincoln Center Theater in New York. While I haven’t yet seen the play, I recently watched the TED talk featuring Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler of Handspring Puppet Company and thought it was absolutely amazing.

But what does all of this have to do with bookbinding? As part of the exhibition, our program was approached by BU to create a number of large, custom portfolios for selections of prints from the show. This project gave us an excellent opportunity to experience the particular challenges of designing and completing a larger production project. The initial design called for a cloth-covered portfolio with three flaps to hold the prints, all enclosed in a case secured with ribbon ties.

While there are a number of ways to fabricate an item like this, the design of this particular portfolio had to play to our strengths, but not be slowed by our equipment and space limitations. On the one hand, we had 15 individuals capable of churning out a huge amount of work rather quickly; however, our department has only a single standing press that would accommodate the portfolio’s final dimensions. In our case, we made use of a modular structure composed of individual parts that could be fabricated by small teams and nipped in smaller presses, then assembled en-mass at the end. Before beginning work, we planned the entire project on paper, built prototypes, and received approval from the client. Templates of the individual parts of the portfolios were created during the design phase and, using these, all of the materials were first cut to size.

From these piles of individual parts, assembly began in stages.  Three flaps of 20 pt board covered in red Canapetta book cloth were created to fit the head, tail, and fore-edge of each portfolio.

A separate team went to work constructing the back out of matte board and Nideggen, a mouldmade paper.

The flaps were attached to the back board, leaving enough joint space to accommodate the thickness of the set of prints.

After placing a board of equal thickness to the prints inside the assembly…

…the whole thing was put into the standing press.As the stack of “print trays” pressed and dried, we prepared the cases of the portfolios. A chisel was used to cut slots into the cover boards for lacing through the tying ribbons.

We then set up an assembly line for the case construction. Two students used foam rollers to give the boards a quick, even coat of PVA. Another student placed each board onto pre-cut cloth, using a jig to line them up and give consistent hinge space at the spine.  After working the cloth down with a case folder and cutting the corners from the cloth, the cases were quickly nipped in the press.

In the next stage, the ribbons were laced through  the boards and the turn-ins were done.

The inside hinge of the case was then finished off with a strip of cloth.

A custom die was made for carbon stamping the titling using the Kensol.

At this point, the two parts of the portfolios were ready to be assembled. The back of each print tray was glued out and carefully aligned in the case.

The portfolios were then nipped again between press boards to ensure a good bond between the tray and case. In the final step, the inside front board of the portfolio was trimmed out and finished with a Nideggen paste-down to match the tray back. Here I am, working quickly to glue out the paste-down. It’s somewhat comforting to know that, at NBSS, Tini Miura and Bill Anthony are always looking down upon you as you work.

The portfolios were given a final press and allowed to completely dry under weight.

As a group, we had a lot of fun doing this project. Most of our curriculum is focused on individual work, and we don’t often get the chance to work together on a single project or develop our production methodology and technique. While we did not get to see the items that eventually went inside these portfolios, and we do not know where they will go or who will eventually own them, I like think that through this project and our intra-departmental collaboration, we were able to contribute to an international collaboration of craft.

Leather Case Bindings


Having just returned from a bookbinding pilgrimage to London, I’ve got loads to share about the many wonders we witnessed across the seas. But in the meantime as I sift through the trip photos, I’m going to try to get through a few quick posts about recent projects.

I thought an appropriate sequel to and co-mingling of the posts on case bindings and paper marbling would be to share the two leather case bindings that I finished using the textblocks with marbled edge treatment. In both cases, I used siding-up paper pulled from the same tray as the edges to get a marbled-all-over look. The results are a little over the top in that 19th century account book sort of way, but exude a certain degree of, shall we say, opulence.

I started out with the same basic form of textblock that I’ve used in other case bindings. The sections are sewn on flattened cord with a thick enough thread to get some swell. For these books I used an endpaper structure that included a waste sheet. As the leather is worked damp, I wanted to avoid any dye transfer to the endpapers during covering.

After sewing, the textblock was glued up and rounded and backed. The textblock forwarding did distort the edge marbling a bit: I ended up with a bit of stair-stepping on the fore-edge that produced some white lines through the pattern. I imagine this effect would be reduced if my rounding and backing were better. Practice, practice!

The case is constructed in much the same way as the “built-in” groove or Bradel-style case: a stiff spine strip adhered to strong paper that is attached to the boards before covering, with enough space between the spine and boards for an open joint. The leather-covered case structure has two adaptations: increased joint spacing to accommodate the thicker leather and a bit of a headcap “cheat” known as the Bart. To achieve this feature, the spine strip material is trimmed slightly longer than the height of the boards and given a rounded shape with many, small darts. The final shape looks like Bart Simpson’s head – thus the nickname. I failed to get a picture, but here is the diagram from my notes to illustrate.

A horizontal score line at the tips of the darts allow the shape to fold over after covering – but more on that later.

Arthur Johnson’s Manual of Bookbinding (1978) has a nice description of covering a quarter or half binding with an open joint (pp. 108-114). The method I used for covering and finishing these case bindings was similar, except for the formation of the headcaps and, of course, being done off the book. As a first year, I’m still grappling with the very basics of leather paring and covering. Quarter or half-style covering are excellent starting points for me because most of the paring can be done on the Scharf-Fix, and the pieces of leather are not very large – so any mistakes aren’t all that expensive. After flat paring the leather for the spine and the corners to the same thickness as my in-filling material (~0.5mm), I further pared the turn-ins German-style to a thickness that would easily hold a fold. Linda Blaser and Frank Mowery’s handout from the 1998 GBW Standards seminar has a good description of German paring with the Scharf-Fix (found here). As a final step, the head and tail turn-ins of the spine strip are further shaped and “feathered” out with the knife.

The leather is evenly dampened from the hair side with a sponge, thickly pasted up (with flour paste), and set aside for a moment. The paste is then carefully scraped off with a bit of board and a new thin layer of paste is applied. The corners and spine of the case are then covered and the headcaps set with the textblock in the case.

Of covering with leather, Johnson (1978) says, ” Leather is an amenable material: it can be modeled while wet and will retain its shape on drying. However, it is marked easily in its wet state and excessive use of the folder will cause scoring” (p. 108). I learned this lesson all too well while covering these books, and lo, it was a painful one to learn.

The headcaps made with “the Bart” are satisfying because they hug the endbands well, although I’ve got some improvements to make on mine.  Like many aspects of bookbinding, unrefined work early on compounds as you go along; Uneven and asymmetrical paring with the knife results in headcaps that are puffier on one side than the other.

The same headcap from the back.

When the leather has had ample time to dry, the case is then ready for siding up.  I did not edge pare the leather that goes down onto the board, and because it is quite thick. The face of each board must be in-filled to the same height so as to avoid unsightly lumps in the transition from leather to siding up material.  As a finishing touch to these case bindings, also I tooled thin, blind lines where the leather meets the siding up paper at both the corners and the spine edges. The image below shows some detail.


In the queue, I’ve got split board bindings, German paper bindings, a portfolio production, limp leather bindings, and our trip to England. Your patience, Gentle Reader, soon will be rewarded!


Blaser, L. & Mowery, J. F. (1998). “English and German Style Leather Paring. Guild of Book Worker Standards of Excellence Seminar, Greensboro, NC.

Johnson, A. W. (1978). Manual of Bookbinding. New York: Scribner.

On-set Boards


As a segue between case binding and split-board binding, the first years spent some time making a style of book known, at least around our department, as On-set Boards.

Laura Young (1995) calls this a Bradel binding, a Bonnet, or a Bristol Board Binding. Technically, there is no real difference in sewing or board attachment from a Bradel-style case – the covers are just built up on the book rather than being constructed separately and attached to the textblock later. The on-set boards structure mostly just functions as an academic exercise in covering  in-boards, but it does allow you to get very small and even squares. In describing the method for putting one together and comparing the final product to a case structure, this should become more clear. I have images of a couple of different books in this post to illustrate the process.

First off, the textblock is prepared in the usual way, but with two slight modifications to the endpaper structure and sewing supports. The endpapers for this binding must include a waste sheet. This is either a single folio that is wrapped around the flyleaf/pastedown or a stub that is tipped between the first and second sections with a conjugate leaf that wraps around the outside of the textblock. Either way, you end up with a protective sheet, sewn through the fold, on the outside of the front and back of the textblock. The sewing supports should be of a variety that can be fanned out and pasted down flat, such as German-style linen tapes or flattened cords. The tapes are a bit easier to work with, since they start out woven and can be frayed out when the sewing is done.

Flattened cords are a bit trickier to handle. Beginning with a medium weight cord, the individual parts are unwound and “combed through” to separate out the fibers. The frayed cord is then worked with the back side of the bookbinders knife to remove all of the short fibers. When finished, only the long individual fibers are left and these can be wrapped in paper to keep them together during sewing. Now they are known as moustaches.

As the sections are sewn, the paper wrapper can be shifted out of the way.

When finished, it looks like this:

Next the book is glued up, rounded and backed, endbands put on, and spine lined with textile and/or paper, etc. At this stage, the frayed out tapes or cords are pasted to the waste sheet and fanned out. The waste sheet is also torn down from the head and tail at the tip of the shoulder enough to accommodate the cloth turn-in. This will make sense later on.

In the next step, the bonnet is constructed. This is composed of the spine stiffening strip, cut to spine width and oversized in length, and a piece of thin, strong paper that is about 4″ wider than the book spine and about 2″ longer. The bonnet is glued out (leaving a half-inch or so on the sides unglued) and the spine stiffener is placed at its center. The bonnet is then gloved onto the textblock and worked into the shoulder and flat onto the waste sheet. When dry, the edges of the bonnet can be scarf-torn off – like in the image below.

At this point, it is best to re-open the torn waste sheet at the head and tail with the bonefolder, just in case any adhesive got in. Next, boards can be cut to height – but left long at the fore-edge. A few inches of the spine edge of the board is glued up and the board is placed in position on the textblock. When both boards are evenly on, the book is nipped. After drying, the part of the waste sheet that is not adhered to the inside of the board can be scarfed off and lightly sanded smooth. The extra length of the bonnet is trimmed flush with the boards using scissors, and the fore-edges of the boards are trimmed to give even shoulders all the way around. The book is now ready to be covered. For full cloth covering, the whole piece of cloth is glued out, placed onto the front board, worked into the front joint and around the spine. The next joint is then worked and finally, the cloth is adhered to the back board. At this point the head and tail edges of cloth are turned in, going between the spine of the textblock and the bonnet and taking advantage of those tears in the waste sheet at the head and tail. The image below shows both the board attachment and one complete turn-in. The turn-in in the foreground is about to be done.

After that, the fore-edge turn-ins are done, trimmed out, the endpapers pasted down, and the book is nipped again. The resulting binding is structurally like a case, but maybe a bit more refined on the inside since the squares are usually smaller and the board attachment is sanded smooth.

The finished inside looks like this:

This particular book – a copy of The Ghost Hunter and His Family that I was given in sheets – has a single core endband with a bead on the front. So far, I have better luck getting a nice a headcap shape when covering in-boards, rather than covering off the book. I guess I have a bad habit of crushing the endcaps of my case spines after turning-in.

This particular volume is kind of small and printed on thick paper, so there isn’t really any drape in the opening.

I also used this structure to bind a copy of Don Etherington’s Bookbinding & Conservation : A Sixty-year Odyssey of Art and Craft. This one is covered in black Canapetta with a black goatskin label stamped in gold.

Trying to keep it simple, I used black Ingres for endsheets. I also learned that completely black books are very hard to photograph clearly on a light background.

This book is much larger than the other, so the opening looks a little better.

I haven’t had a chance to read this one yet. It’s next on my list after I finish Julia Miller’s Books Will Speak Plain.


Next time on Work of the Hand: a workshop with the Chena River Marblers, a portfolio production project, and split-board bindings. Not sure which order, but they are all in the works!



Young, L. S. (1995). Bookbinding & conservation by hand : A working guide. New Castle, Del.: Oak Knoll Press.

Etherington, D. (1999). Bookbinding & conservation : A sixty-year odyssey of art and craft. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press.

Clamshell Boxes


A custom-fit enclosure can protect a book from abrasion, environmental damage, and – if the volume is in particularly rough shape – keep all the parts together. In the first year curriculum we practice a few different styles of book enclosures and some time ago we spent a few days making drop-spine or clamshell boxes. These enclosures are constructed in three parts: a three-walled tray of binder’s board is made to fit the object and covered with book cloth, a second tray is made to fit the first, and the two trays are then put in a cloth-covered case. The trays are often lined with pH neutral paper.

This enclosure was made to hold my Medieval link stitch model.

On this particular box, I included a label well in the spine piece with a leather label with blind stamping. Unfortunately the text of the label did not come out in any of my pictures.


In bookbinding (as is probably true of craftsmanship in general), one can always learn a new way of doing things. Before coming to NBSS, I had learned at least two different methods for constructing and covering a standard clamshell box, and this time around I learned a third. We went by Linda Lembke’s instructions for construction and covering, and I found this method to create less bulk at the corners of the trays. Lembke is the proprietor of the Green River Bindery in Vermont and has taught workshops at NBSS in the past. One must contact her directly for a copy of her instructions, but the Preservation Department at Cornell’s library has made their instructions for creating a clamshell available in PDF form here.

In addition to the regular clamshell, we also made a form known in our program as the French Tray. Jeff says that he learned this one from Adam Larsson – so it might be known in other circles by a different name. This box is particularly useful for stacks of loose items (like cards or pictures) because the open sides allow the user to easily grasp and lift them out.

Note: we unpacked a new digital camera at school, so I’ve started putting a ColorChecker in my photos to ensure that I’m getting a representational digital image. Please bear with me as a work out the kinks.

This enclosure was made to hold my aluminum sharpening plates and strop.

The construction of this style of box is a bit different from the standard clamshell. The walls for each end of the open-sided tray are adhered in a line (with joint space between) to a strip of book cloth. The cloth is then turned in at the sides and rolled around the walls to completely cover them. A flange of cloth remains. The walls are then folded around the base and the cloth flange is adhered to the bottom of the tray. The top tray and case are constructed in the usual way.

I used this box as an opportunity to try making securing straps with snaps. On a recent field trip to the Boston Athenaeum, I noticed that a number of their vellum over boards bindings are kept in clamshells secured with snaps instead of a box with a pressure lid.

I used a snap-setter (kind of like this one) to put snaps in long strips of folded and glued bookcloth. At the stage in which the trays are being cased in, the straps are adhered between each tray and case. The snaps are much more secure than I anticipated – but in the future I will leave a bit more of a pull tab on the strap so that they are more easily opened.



Next episode: Onset Boards