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How Books are Made ~ a Summary

Posted By TSRT Communication and Web Coordinator, Thursday, November 6, 2008
Updated: Tuesday, June 16, 2015

[Guest writer: Sheryl Williams]

How Books are Made
Presented by Dr. Sheila Siegler, Paper Conservator and Conservation Scientist, and Sarah Ogren, Houchen Bindery, Ltd.
-Sheryl Williams

Sheila described the use of scrolls (first printed on papyrus which had been woven and then beaten flat), and how exciting it was when a “book” with folded papers (“leaves”) was developed, because then writing could occur on both sides of the paper. The printing press came into existence; scrolls were rolled, but books were sewn. This early hand-sewing was very strong, and the paper, until the Industrial Revolution, was also very strong. When cheaper methods of producing paper were sought, developers turned to pulverizing wood and adding acid to breaking down the wood fibers. This acid remains in the paper, and is still breaking down the fibers. That’s why old paper becomes brittle and falls apart.

Binding became quite developed with the invention of the sewing machine. Volumes remained strong, although if a page was ripped out, it was necessary to re-sew the whole volume, more binding edge would be needed. Glue was applied to the outside of the spine to allow the application of a reinforcing strip under the cover. Glue continued to be developed, and the heat-set glue of a “perfect” binding came into existence. It was hardly perfect. You’ll find it in paperbacks that crack apart when opened, and the pages fall out.

Leather bindings look nice, but don’t last as long as you would think. Today’s buckram products are longer-lasting, glue has developed through chemistry, and the double-fan adhesive method of binding, now the practice endorsed by the Library Binding Institute, holds as well as sewing.

Why do the fronts of Victorian family Bibles always come off? Because they were bound without the hinging support necessary to allow frequent opening. And only the front cover fell off, because they weren’t opened from the back.

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