Archives for category: Book manufacturing

Here’s another video. The first half of the almost seven minute film is given over to inking the type and the second half to pulling two impressions to print one side of a two-page spread. You can see how dreams of automation would have played in the minds of workers who’d have had plenty of time to think of relief.

See also Gutenberg Fry-up.

This style of binding is characterized by “a continuous interlaced ribbon, bounded by a double line on one side and a single on the other, [which] divides the whole surface on both covers into symmetrical compartments of varying shapes and sizes; the central compartment is most important and may be empty; the other compartments are generally filled with gilt tooling, the ornament often including naturalistic leafy branches”. Thus A. R. A. Hobson, quoted in John Carter’s ABC for book collectors.

The lavish style was developed in Paris in the 16th century. Paradoxically its name, (in French, à la fanfare) derives from a book bound long after the popularity of the style had declined. Joseph Thouvenin revived the style in 1829 for a binding of Les fanfares et corvées abbadesques des Roule-Bontemps de la Haute et Basse Coquaine et dépendances. The book, described in the preface to an 1863 reprint as “a singular book, indeed one of the most bizarre you’ll ever see” was first printed in Chambéry in 1613. It is written in the local dialect by an author identified only as I. P. A. For those who wish to follow me down the rabbit hole, the book can be found at Google Books.

This classificatory fineness seems rather excessively detailed, but what after all are bibliophiles meant to do; they are dealing with a closed corpus, and thus can’t really be blamed for making ever finer distinctions so that they have things to talk about! One might, with a modern aesthetic, regard the fanfare binding style as rather excessively detailed too.



We spec endpapers almost without thought: “80# plain, matching text” covers the vast majority of cases — maybe instances would be a better choice of word here. Thus if the book is printed on a white paper the binder will use a white endsheet  — and if the book is on cream stock you won’t, we all hope, get a clashing white end. Almost all endpapers are 80 pound basis weight, heavier than the text stock, and thus stronger because nowadays the endpaper is, when all’s said and done, just about the only thing holding the book block into the case.

Of course every now and then, when the budget permits a bit of a flutter, we get a call for fancy ends. The least fancy would be a colored endpaper — Multicolor® is the one that sticks in everyone’s mind. It’s made by FiberMark in 90 shades and various textures (finishes which are embossed into the paper). Personally, though I do quite like many of the colored endpapers, I can’t really see a justification for the expense. I doubt if anyone’s buying decision was ever tipped from “Maybe” to “Yes” by contemplating the colored endpaper. I suppose it might be said to add to the impression that “this is a good book which the publisher cares about”. (If you have to save money, you’ll be looking at self ends.)

Printing something on the endpapers is often the next level of extravagance. Printing a pretty design can look nice, but always seems an indulgence to me, cheapskate that I am. Endpapers often carry maps, genealogical tables, mathematical formulae and other sorts of information which is “needed” in the book. I always think that if it’s really needed in the book it’s better that is should be printed in the book. Covers do fall off after all. Caveat: if you put something meaningful on the endpapers, you will encounter problems when you come to do the paperback, especially if you have to do a strip and rebind.

Marbled endpapers would be reserved for the most lavish of productions: I mean here properly marbled endpapers, where each one is unique rather than a printed version of a single marbled original. Atlas Obscura has an article about decorated endpapers with some nice examples.

The colors shown above are Multicolor® 70#, used for boxes etc. The 80# endsheet colors can be seen by using your mouse to scroll through the range at the FiberMark website. Of course screen color will never match the color of the paper itself (which of course will also change depending on the light source) so the only way to match colors, if you are wanting to pick up at the dominant color in the jacket say, is to look at a Multicolor® sample book.


Originating during the Restoration Cambridge style (so called because in the early years of the 18th century the Cambridge binders loved to do it and did it enough to get the appellation) is a calf binding with paneled sides, with the center panel and the border mottled or sprinkled. The style was also, more descriptively, called Cambridge panel.

This video, with appropriate musical accompaniment shows exactly how this was/is done. The craftsman makes it all look so easy. Maybe in the 18th century a toothbrush was not the favored tool for sprinkling!

I think that you inevitably assume that the frame of lighter colored leather is a separate piece, let into the main covering. The tooling by pallet and roller encourages this illusion.

If you get this post via e-mail and cannot see the video, please click on the title of the post in order to view it in your browser.



Saucy for the 16th century I guess. Atlas Obscura has the story. If you wear floor-length dresses the temptation for the height-challenged to wear platform shoes must be irresistible. How did men get to enhance their height?

The flap books discussed appear in an exhibition at the New York Public Library’s 5th & 42nd main building, Love in Venice.

See also Book plus, where there’s link to yet more flap examples shown by Atlas Obscura.

screen-shot-2017-03-02-at-12-23-01-pmThanks to Kathy Sandler for linking to this video show from Bored Panda. You’ll have to follow the link to Bored Panda to see the show: I cannot manage to embed it here. It’s worth a visit — the way the pictures emerge from the plain gold background is rather impressive.

See also Fore-edge painting. I think I’m going to have to try painting the edges of some book.


This nanoparticle-coated paper, if it ever gets to commercial viability, will necessitate the development of new printing machines. Once a book is bound — or a magazine, newspaper, catalog, brochure etc.— you can’t take it apart and return it to its original state as a single large untrimmed sheet. So printers analogous to the non-destructive scanning machines will need to be developed so that the content can be changed by leafing through the book. As the material needs to be printed by light, new presses will in any case be a necessity.

The Digital Reader has the story about reprintable paper, written by the co-inventor, Yadong Yin. The video accompanying the story shows the paper being printed, but I’m not sure it tells you much.

Basically the system “prints” the background, converting a solid blue to white in the places where the type, carried on a mask, doesn’t shut out the light. This odd YouTube video makes big claims, but does confess that the image starts to fade after five days. They do not tell us how they plan to get back the old newspapers they seem to believe will be candidates for printing again via this technology.

(If you don’t see the video because you get this post via e-mail, click on the heading to view it in your browser.)

Whether this technology will ever prove economically viable seems highly unlikely to me. Assuming (a big assumption) they can scale up the operation so that the printing side is viable, the main problem appears to be the getting back of the first printing, so that it can be updated. This can only be low-tech and killingly expensive, plus most already-read newspapers are not exactly in an ideal state for being reprinted. Or are we all going to have to have little light presses in our homes and iron our newspapers after reading them?

What we really need is a paper coating which would permit a book’s being completely erased and reprinted at one pass while remaining closed. Thus if you’d printed way too many paperback copies of Tarzan of the Apes you could, instead of throwing them out, just put them on a conveyor belt and transform them into Star Wars Episode 196. Baby steps.

Photo: Erik Kwakkel

Photo: Erik Kwakkel

Just as we are familiar with different grades of board (cardboard) for book binding* so apparently there are different grades of wooden board. Wooden boards, usually oak, are what used to be used in bookbinding way back in the benighted Middle Ages, and are of course much superior to our modern substitute. But even then there were shortcuts as the cutting diagram below illustrates.








This illustration shows the difference in cutting pattern of quarter sawn boards and plain sawn boards. The quarter boards maximize the amount of the grain (the growth rings) at right angles to the surface of the board. The Fitzwilliam Museum’s website shows photos of the warping a plain sawn board will undergo as opposed to the almost rigid quarter sawn ones.

In medieval times manuscript books tended to be bound in what’s described as the Gothic style. In this style the wooden boards were tapered at the spine edge so that the sewn sections swelled around them forming a natural round, rather than the forced round which gets bashed into them nowadays (if indeed any attention is now given to that feature). They were secured to the book by cords, or as in this photo, leather strips which were inserted into holes drilled through the edge of the board and were attached to the book block by sewing.


Of course comparison of gothic binding and what we supply today in terms of case binding is somewhat ridiculous, but I did think the board cutting techniques might be of interest. If anyone is thinking of building oak bookshelves from that tree they just cut down, this could be invaluable information.


* Binders board is the standard used for binding (quality) hardback books nowadays. The alternative, basically bits of thin cardboard laminated together, goes by the name pasted board, though in my time I have heard it referred to as chipboard, and strawboard. Binders board is basically a really thick sheet of paper, and as the fibers cohere more tightly it will not delaminate as a pasted board will when bashed on the corner. (The Etherington & Roberts Dictionary at the Print Glossaries tab above, has a clear definition.)

Illustration: Bookmobile

Illustration: Bookmobile

This is a slightly sneaky way of saving money. The endpapers (shown in purple in this illustration) which are tipped to the first and last signatures of a hardback are the main way of holding the book block into the case. If you lay out the book so that there are blank leaves at the front and at the back, you can eliminate the endpapers and save the money by just pasting these blank leaves to the boards of the case.

The book will be a little weaker — the endpapers tend to be a heavier, stronger stock — though on the other hand the connection between the self end and the book block is more fundamental — the “endpapers” are part of the first and the last sigs, not just pasted to them.

Obviously using self ends means you can’t use any kind of fancy endpaper, colored as in this illustration, or printed with a useful map or whatever. We didn’t often do it, and when we did it was on smaller books on which last minute cost savings had become necessary.

To us production folks this expression refers to a binding (almost always a hardback binding) which doesn’t want to stay open. It snaps back shut unless you keep a firm hold of it. This is usually a consequence of printing the book cross grain, and will be worse the heavier and thicker the paper. (See also Grain direction.)



Apparently choir boys in Salisbury Cathedral used to trap mice by luring them into an open book and then smashing it shut. The photo above, shared by Peter Hoare on the SHARP listserv, shows the surviving evidence in a copy of Suetonius.