Reverse detail from Kakelbont MS 1, a fifteenth-century French Psalter. This image is in the public domain. Daniel Paul O'Donnell

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Changing in binding methods... technological improvement or technique?

Posted: Nov 13, 2022 20:11;
Last Modified: Nov 13, 2022 20:11


Today just a quick blog. Really notes to myself to look something up.

At the workshop this past week on early bindings, we finished with an afternoon left over, and so made a third book very quickly, this time using 18th/19th century techniques. What took us four-and-a-half days to do in the earlier binding styles, we did in four hours with the more modern method.

This is in and of itself not surprising. We expect things to go faster over time as technology improves. Manuscripts lead to printing and a massive increase in speed. And type leads to offset and computer typesetting and a massive increase in speed. So obviously binding methods that had been used for a thousand or more years would go much faster as the technology improved.

Except in this case it isn’t clear that it is the technology that improved but the method. Our “19th century” bindings used the same technologies as our medieval (with the exception of cardboard, though medieval notebooks would paste pages together to made a board-like covering): thread, paper, a cover, a backing/hing material, glue. But it used this differently: the stitching was much simpler, and glued covers and flyleaves to the place of stitching and knots. The resulting bindings we apparently much less robust — though strong enough to last the expected time a printed book might be considered useful. But they were also much faster and easier to make.

The question I need to research (i.e. look up) is whether there was some hidden technology behind this: were there improvements in glue for example that made the new techniques viable where they had not been before? Or improvements in thread? One technological improvement, of course, was simply the use of print: books don’t have to last as long if they are faster and cheaper to reproduce. But that’s not really a binding technology.

A question to look into this week…





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