Wherein Books Are Judged By Their Cover

Yes, Kindles are wonderful, a computer full of PDFs are awesome, and [Tim Berners-Lee] will probably go down in history as more important than [Gutenberg]. That doesn’t mean there’s not something intangible about books that brings out the affections of so many bibliophiles. Even a book filled with blank pages can be a work of art unto itself, and most of the time these volumes are handmade.

 This video of a hardbound volume made by Smith Settle bookbinders covers the entire process from words on a page to a finished book. No, they’re not using movable type; the folios are created using lithography, but sorting, gluing, sewing and binding the folios is done in much the same way as it was done in the middle ages.

Next up is a wonderful film from 1968 by Iowa state university on creating the gold tooling on fine leather-bound volumes. You’ll be hard pressed to find a book with gold tooling nowadays, but it’s still a technique accessible to the industrious amateur bookbinder.

First, gold leaf is applied to the leather spine of a book. Then, custom-made tools are heated to a few hundred degrees  and pressed into the leaf. The heat bonds the gold with the leather, and with custom-designed tools designs are burnt into the leather. After that, the excess leaf is simply wiped off, and a fine tooled leather book is born.

What’s really cool about bookbinding is the fact that just about anyone can do it. Go to a craft store, pick up some hardboard and paper, and bind yourself a book. You could make a blank journal, or for the nerds out there (myself included), make a hard bound volume of the NASA wiring standards.


4 thoughts on “Wherein Books Are Judged By Their Cover

  1. The great thing about real books is that they will still be readable in 100 years, well if you use the right paper and literacy rates don’t keep falling, try that with ebooks.

    1. in theory.. ebooks can outlast a paper-equivalent, though the archival method differs drastically, it still requires work to keep them readable.. reliable backups, purging of old copies/versions and checking of the content is all still needed regardless which method or medium of archive you use.

  2. I have done this. I made a customized book for my bother-in-law. He wanted to create a full novel with illustrations. He asked us if we knew anyplace to get a book that was lined on the left and blank on the right. My wife and I did not know of any place so we made the book for him. I think it ended up being about 300 pgs, hard cove and leather bound. Took hours to stitch the pages together, and got alot of odd looks at work when I was working on it at my desk. I have to admit to having a great deal of satisfaction in the final piece. I don’t think there is anything more beautiful than something you have made your self.

    1. That’s awesome!

      You didn’t happen to do a write up on it, did you? I am interested in trying this myself, but don’t know where to start really. Any good resources? Did you make any costly mistakes?

      So far I have most of the text and illustrations completed and looking nice in a LaTex document, but the jump to printing and hand-binding is intimidating.


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