The Book and Its Cover
THE BOOK AND IT'S COVER: An exhibit of fine bindings.
It is the intent of this exhibit on bookbinding to present the viewer with but a few of the many traditional aspects of the subject. The topics selected here include a visual introduction to the artistry of a few famous binders, as well as fine bindings by unknown craftsmen. Books representing a wide variety of binding materials of the past and present are displayed, and the viewer is offered a brief introduction to some of the notable binding fashions of the past. The curious history of the migration of the book's title on it's cover is also traced through several centuries. It is planned to complement this exhibit on the book's outer beauty with one on the inner beauty of the book.
Case 1. SIGNED BINDINGS. These bindings are examples where the name of the person or bindery responsible for the work is known. This may or may not be indicated in the book itself. Included are several examples by Sangorski and Sutcliffe, a leading firm of British craftsman binders. From France is an example by George Trautz, a German who settled in Paris and who with his father-in-law became the leading French bookbinder of the 19th century. Books bound before 1851 were signed Bauzonnet-Trautz, those after signed Trautz-Bauzonnet. A London bookbinder of French descent is Robert Rivière who was commissioned by the queen and leading bibliophiles. The Zaehnsdorf bindery in London was founded in 1842 by Joseph Zaehnsdorf. A specialty of the firm is the restoration of valuable old books. Other binders are also represented in this case.
Case 2. MISCELLANEOUS MATERIALS. The coverings of books can be fashioned of any material imaginable. Fads and fancies run in cycles and what is beautiful to one generation may be very bad taste to another. On exhibit are examples of embroidery, velvet, ivory, mother-of-pearl, cloth and a fragment of early music. The Rare Book Collection also has such bindings as wooden boards, grass cloth, plush, silk, suede, lacquered boards, fur and shark skin.
Case 3. TITLE AND EDGES. The title of the book has migrated literally to every side and edge of the volume; front cover, lower edge, foredge, top edge, lower cover, and spine have all been used at various times. The edges of the pages were also used as a field for decoration. Goffered edges were produced by indenting a pattern in the gold edges using heated tools. This style was popular in the 16th and 17th centuries.
Case 4. VELLUM AND PIGSKIN. Vellum, which is the skin of the newly born calf, kid, or lamb, is prepared by stretching and polishing it with alum. It has for centuries been used as writing material in scroll form and as the pages of the codex. The vellum can be dyed and colored but is usually found in its creamy natural state. Because of the tendency to warp, ties or other closures are often used to hold the covers tightly together. The flaps on the foredge are sometimes extended until they meet when the book is closed, offering more protection to the page edges.
Pigskin has a very distinctive grain; a series of three dots (∴ ∴ where the bristles have been removed) is found throughout. It is most often used for covering heavy books. The decoration is most satisfactory when it is blind stamped. The volumes on display show this process. Designs are impressed into the leather with an engraved metal stamp containing the complete design. Characteristic designs were animals in circles and loops of foliage.
Case 5. CALFSKIN AND ARMORIAL BINDINGS. Calfskin was used for book covers at least as early as 1450. It is characterized by a very smooth finish. Variations on the plain calfskin cover include Spanish calf, where the skin is stained with colors, and tree calf, where a sponge dipped in acid is used to stain the branching effect of a tree. Similar to this is mottled calf, which carries an irregular pattern made with acid or colors, and sprinkled calf, which is spattered with acid to achieve a speckled surface.
Case 6. MOROCCO. Tanned goatskin, finished by glazing and polishing is known as morocco. It was used from the 16th century in France and Italy and became popular in England in the 17th century. A variation is straight-grain morocco in which the skins are moistened and rolled to make the grain run in straight lines. Morocco is found in an endless variety of colors and is often tooled, simply or elaborately, with gold. Inlaid morocco pieces of other colors also are used.
University of Minnesota
October - November 1972