Classic Rounded Back Binding

Classic rounded back binding is the epitome of a sturdy binding that holds up well against the ravages of time/use and will be the featured binding of this post. This post also marks the last installment of my series about examples of bindings found in Gleeson Library’s Rare Book Room. Thanks to John Hawk, Head of Special Collections, and Brianna Cockett-Mamiya, Reference Department Student Assistant, for helping make these photographs possible.

When discussing classic rounded back binding, there are three primary aspects of anatomy to be considered: its characteristic rounded spine, the way the boards (or covers) are laced in, and its dutiful and often ornate headbands and tailbands.

The spines of sewed books often swell due to the extra mass of thread and folded edge of the signatures, as well as the pressure from the boards being fitted into the joints and laced in. In these cases, it’s preferable for the swell to create a rounded spine with a concave fore edge because it takes pressure off the hinges and provides the joints in which to fit in the boards. This all leads to longevity. Around the year 1500, bookbinders realized this, and started to deliberately round spines, which is done by placing the sewn textblock in a metal press or vise and gradually pushing the spine into a rounded shape with a hammer. Once the rounding is completed, the spine is backed (often done to even out the valleys between the cords and produce a flat spine), which includes adhering a tube-like device that will allow a hollow of space between the spine and the spine cover, once it is covered.

As I mentioned, when the spine is rounded, it folds over on either edge just enough to create joints in which to insert the boards that make the covers. In this scenario, the hard case is not made separately and then glued in like in flat back hard case binding; each board has holes and grooves bored through it, and the cords around which the textblock are sewn are left long enough to be threaded through the holes/grooves, fanned out, and glued down on the inside of the board. The rounding, backing, and lacing in the boards is called forwarding—basically getting the book ready for its final covering and decoration.

After the book is forwarded, the headband and tailband are sewn in, which strengthens the sewing of the textblock, provides protection to the edges, and serves the aesthetic appeal of the book. Then the entire book—boards and spine—is covered with cloth or leather and the endsheets are pasted down, completing the binding. I invite you to read more about the process and its history on my blog.

Shakespeare’s sonnets. Introduced and edited by Helen Vendler; published by Arion Press (San Francisco)

IMG_1423

Clear view of the title embossed in gold foil on the spine of this beautiful edition of Shakespeare’s Sonnets by Arion Press

IMG_1424

In this image, the rounded spine, joints, and beautifully sewn headband are apparent. It is possible to observe how the rounding of the spine has left joints for the book boards, so that the covers lay flat. It is also possible to observe the three-quarters binding, in where the spine and part of the cover, as well as the corners (not pictured) are covered in leather, while the rest of the boards are covered in cloth.

IMG_1426

Sonnet 130 (“My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun…”). Beautiful letter pressed black text with one red initial signaling the beginning of a new sonnet. Also notice the texture of the hand-cut edges of each quarto and the glimmer of the gold in the covering cloth on the fore edge of the front cover.

Through the looking-glass, and what Alice found there. By Lewis Carroll, with fifty illustrations by John Tenniel. First edition, 1872.

Cover, demonstrating one-half binding as the proportion of the red leather on the spine and corner is 1:1 to the cover material.

Cover, demonstrating one-half binding as the proportion of the red leather on the spine and corners is 1:1 to the cover material.

Detail of spine, in where the rounded spine is apparent, as well as the raised cords around which the textblock is sewn and through which the boards are laced. This is a great example of the raised cord binding style.

Detail of spine, in where the rounded spine is apparent, as well as the raised cords around which the textblock is sewn and through which the boards are laced. This is a great example of the raised cord binding style.

Detail of interior hinge and marbled end papers. If you look closely at the hinge, you can see where the cords run from the textblock into the boards.

Detail of interior hinge and marbled end papers. Click to enlarge. If you look closely at the hinge, you can see where the cords run from the textblock into the boards.

Detail of content, including one of Tenniel's illustrations (of a kitty cat).

Detail of content, including one of Tenniel’s illustrations (of Alice holding up her kitty cat).

In case you missed my previous posts on styles of bindings found in the Rare Book Room, you can view them here. Are there styles of bindings about which you’re curious? If so, leave a comment and I’ll investigate for you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s