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Bookbinding: A Complete History

There is a striking parallel between the way books have developed over the past 2,000 years and the way in which furniture, decorative art and textiles have evolved over time.

“Books are companion items to art and furniture when viewed as part of the larger history of material culture,” said Monika Schiavo, Director of Waverly Rare Books in Falls Church, Virginia.

The codex book form – or a book containing multiple, stitched-together pages with handwritten content – dates back 2,000 years. However, it was not until European culture emerged from the Dark Ages and Gutenberg invented his printing press, in 1440, that bookbinding came into being.

Within a few decades of its invention, the printing press had spread to more than 200 cities in a dozen countries. By 1500, printing presses in Western Europe had already produced more than 20 million volumes.

In Renaissance Europe, with its flourishing art movement, the arrival of mechanical, movable-type printing had a profound effect on society. It introduced the era of mass communications to a blossoming culture that held aesthetics in high regard. Different styles of bookbinding began to emerge, reflecting regional preferences and implementing locally available materials.

The timeline for bookbinding looks like this:

16th Century: Birth of the Modern Book

Books became smaller and were easier to bind. Covers made of wood were replaced by pasteboards composed of layers of glued-together paper. Gold tooling became more prevalent, and titles were slowly making their way onto the spines of books.

17th Century: Refinement in Style

The structure of 17th-century books is very similar to that of the previous century, but the decoration and styling was more refined. Decorated endpapers became more common, endbands become more colorful, and the use of gold tooling increased.

18th Century: Elaboration and Simplicity

Overall, the binder became fancier, while the structure became simpler. With the availability of better technology, shortcuts could be taken during the binding process that saved money and increased production. Half and quarter bindings (combining leather with decorated paper sides) began to be used to save on the cost of leather.

Early 19th Century: The Era of Industrialization + Publishers in Control

The early 19th century was an era of transformation for bookbinding. With the increase in the demand for books, binders turned to mechanization to meet the challenge. Publishers also began to take control of the whole book-making process, from editing to printing to binding. Thus, books began to be sold with the covers already bound onto them. From a historical perspective, this makes it easier to date bindings from that period.

Late 19th Century: Publishers’ Cloth Bindings

As publishers took control over the entire book-making process, they began to view the cover as being integral to the whole. Cover designs could reflect the content, set the tone for the reader or attract the consumer. Cloth bindings were not readily accepted at first, but by the end of the 19th century, they were the norm.

19th and 20th Century: Fine Bindings – A Return to Craft Bindings or the Backlash Against the Machine

Not everyone was happy with the Industrial Revolution, including bookbinders, who regarded books as art rather than utilitarian objects. Although many bookbinders over the centuries practiced excellent craftsmanship, they thought of themselves as more than just craftsmen. Art books, private-press books, e.g., books from the Kelmscott Press, founded by William Morris, were a direct reaction to the industrialization of bookbinding. Morris looked back to an earlier age when crafts were done by hand.

Elbert Hubbard’s Roycrofters Press could be described as a more mass-market, American version of the Kelmscott Press, associated with the Arts and Crafts movement.

20th Century and Beyond: Bindings for the Masses

After the Industrial Revolution, books were being produced by the thousands. The 20th century brought refinements – both good and bad – to the machine-made book. Machine sewing became stronger, but adhesive binding slowly took over.

Machine-made paper has definitely improved over the last 50 years, but there are many brittle books from the late-19th and early 20th centuries that are slowly disintegrating, hence the need for vigilance in conservation and storage.

Our thanks for Michigan State University Libraries for providing some of the historical information contained in this article. 


Monika_Schiavo_ImageMonika Schiavo, Director of Waverly Rare Books, a division of Quinn’s Auction Galleries, received her Bachelor of Arts degree from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., a Certificate in Appraisal Studies from New York University, and a Master of Arts degree from the Smithsonian’s History of Decorative Arts program. Schiavo provides free onsite evaluations and auction estimates for both buyers and consignors.

Top 5 Instagram Accounts All About Rare Books

You know that feeling when you’re just taking a quick peek at your Discover Tab on Instagram, and then suddenly 30 minutes have gone by as you’ve been sucked in to the amazing pictures? Yeah, that happens to us all the time. And this week, it happened when we went down a #RareBook rabbit-hole like Alice in Wonderland. Below you’ll find 5 Instagram accounts that feature beautiful book images and treat us to interesting and unique stories on a regular basis. We hope you enjoy the journey.

wonderlandantiquarian

Photo: worldantiquarian on Instagram

Photo: worldantiquarian on Instagram

Worldantiquarian is a self-described lover of children’s books and takes followers on a journey as she finds beautiful bookstores, colorful children’s books and many unique editions of Alice in Wonderland.

i_bibliotaph

Photo: i_bibliotaph on Instagram

Photo: i_bibliotaph on Instagram

Lots of #shelfies and dark-lit eerie snaps of some beautifully bound rare books comprise @i_bibliotaph’s account.

exlibris.lioness

Photo: exlibris.lioness on Instagram

Photo: exlibris.lioness on Instagram

Through this Instagram account we get to visit book stores and libraries across the world, and of course, get up close and personal with some delicious rare books.

Stikeman & Co Bookbindings

Photo: jeffstikeman on Instagram

Photo: jeffstikeman on Instagram

Jeff Stikeman collects rare books and bindings, but our favorite ‘grams from him are those showing the craft of bookbinding. Stikeman & Co operated in midtown Manhattan for decades and the stories are artfully demonstrated in his pictures.

The Library Company

Photo: librarycompany on Instagram

Photo: librarycompany on Instagram

The Library Company of Philadelphia is a research library that focuses on American society and culture from the 17th-19th centuries. With incredibly fascinating prints and writings, the books that are on display in their feed are not to be missed.

Got more Instagram favorites? Share them with us on Instagram @byjasper52.

Historical & Antiquarian Book Auction on September 25 Highlights Value and Variety

With few reserves and low starting bids across the board, Jasper52’s upcoming sale of Historical & Antiquarian Books offers value and variety to eagle-eyed collectors and dealers alike.

First Editition "Where the Wild Things Are" by Maurice Sendak, Harper & Row Publishers, 1963. Estimate: $2,000-$3,000

First Edition “Where the Wild Things Are” by Maurice Sendak, Harper & Row Publishers, 1963. Estimate: $2,000-$3,000

Beloved children’s book author and illustrator Maurice Sendak starts things off with a first edition of his 1963 classic, Where the Wild Things Are. The scarce first issue dust jacket is present, with only moderate wear (featured above). Sendak is also represented later in the sale with a first edition of Randell Jarrell’s The Bat-Poet featuring Sendak’s illustrations (est. $20-40), and again with a signed early printing of The Juniper Tree and Other Tales from Grimm (est. $50-150).

Several literary lots are on offer, including: a first edition of Henry James’s early story collection Embarrassments, featuring the first book appearance of “The Figure In the Carpet.” This copy bears the bookplate of Arthur Desjardins, radiology professor for the Mayo Foundation and an authority on Hodgkins disease (lot 16, est. $50-150). A handsome two-volume limited edition of the poems of Keats is also up (est. $20-40), as are signed limited editions by contemporary novelists E.L. Doctorow (est. $30-90) and Alison Lurie (below; lot 19, est. $50-150).

"The Truth About Lorin Jones" by Allison Lurie, 1988, Signed limited first edition. Estimate: $50-$150

“The Truth About Lorin Jones” by Allison Lurie, 1988, Signed limited first edition. Estimate: $50-$150

A range of vernacular and instructional books keeps things interesting. Lot 32 is a copy of The Singer’s Companion. Published in 1860, it showcases music and lyrics for dozens of popular songs, as well as a charming frontispiece illustration, and is in lovely condition in its original publisher’s cloth binding (est. $80-120). A copy of The Good Shepherd Home Cook Book, published in Allentown, PA, in 1911, to raise funds for “crippled orphans, infant orphans, destitute children, old people, and aged or disabled ministers,” appears in its original staple-bound paper wrappers, and features many photos and line drawings (est. $40-70).

Those seeking something more glamorous will be drawn to a first edition of renowned fashion photographer Irving Penn’s beautiful 1980 monograph on Flowers (est. $100-200); as well as to an inscribed copy of A Table at Le Cirque: Stories and Recipes from New York’s Most Legendary Restaurant (est. $20-40).

"Flowers" by Irving Penn, First Edition. Estimate: $100-$200; "A Table at Le Cirque" by Sirio Maccioni and Pamela Fiori, signed Cookbook. Estimate $20-$20

“Flowers” by Irving Penn, First Edition. Estimate: $100-$200; “A Table at Le Cirque” by Sirio Maccioni and Pamela Fiori, signed Cookbook. Estimate $20-$40

An excellent presentation/association copy of Robert Capa’s dramatic book of photos of the Spanish Civil War is also on the block: it bears a gift inscription from Capa’s brother Cornell, a major force in photography in his own right, and a founder of the International Center of Photography (lot 41, est. $50-150).

"Fotografías de Robert Capa sobre la Guerra Civil española," by Carlos Serrano. Estimate: $50-$100

“Fotografías de Robert Capa sobre la Guerra Civil española,” by Carlos Serrano. Estimate: $50-$100

Finally, a number of compelling historical imprints and documents is offered, including: an unusual American war-related pamphlet, this one entitled “Why Me?” pertaining to the Vietnam War (est. $50-80); a Colonial extract regarding the punishment of “rogues and vagabonds” (est $50-100); and a large, beautifully accomplished English manuscript land indenture on vellum, and affixed with numerous wax seals (est. $100-200).


erik_cutout_blue-copyErik DuRon has nearly 20 years of experience buying and selling rare books in all fields, first at Bauman Rare Books in New York City, and then independently. He has built collections for diverse clients, and collaborates with and consults for collectors, booksellers and auction houses. He lives in Brooklyn and can be reached at erikduron@msn.com.

What Makes a Book Rare?

As a commodity books are abundant. They’ve been written on countless subjects, in every field of endeavor. Even as bookshops disappear, the Internet seems to make virtually any title readily available, and most can be had for a few dollars. In this day and age one might reasonably wonder, what makes a book rare?

The historian and bibliophile Paul Angle, quoted in John Carter’s indispensable reference ABC for Book Collectors, cites three sensible criteria for rarity: “important, desirable and hard to get.” Like Angle, I tend to think of rarity as a compound phenomenon, a series of discrete but related attributes that, when all present in one book, bestows a special quality, greater than the sum of its parts.

RELEVANCE

The first question one might ask about a book pertains to its relevance. Is it recognized? Has it stood out in some way, in its own field if not the wider culture?

There exist many books on arcane or abstruse subjects. Some of them may exist only in small numbers, but because they never rise to a level of general interest they are not sought after. Though scarce, they are not given the opportunity to be considered “rare.” More importantly, one should ask, is this book specifically of interest to me? It seems obvious, but collectors have been known to spend time and money in pursuit of books they think they ought to have rather than those they want to have.

IMPORTANCE & DESIRABILITY

This speaks to Angle’s first two conditions: importance and desirability. Next, one should consider a book’s bibliographic profile. Is it a first edition, i.e., from the earliest batch of copies to come off the printing press? And is it a first printing of the first edition?

Book collecting rests pretty solidly on the notion that the earlier the edition, the closer we come to the writer’s own world — to the standards of material production of the time, and the way in which first readers experienced the work. Failing a book’s being a first edition, one might ask if it’s an otherwise significant edition. Changes made within a text can be historically interesting in their own right. Charles Darwin kept making modifications to On the Origin of Species (1859), with each of the six editions published in his lifetime bearing his changes. A completist would want all six.

Book collecting rests pretty solidly on the notion that the earlier the edition, the closer we come to the writer’s own world

CONDITION

Another consideration is condition. Is the book complete, and without significant flaws? If it’s an older book, is it in the original binding? If not, is the replacement binding early and/or skillfully done?

Contemporary taste gives preference to authenticity, to a book being as close to its original state as possible. Interestingly, this wasn’t always so. In the 18th and 19th centuries many earlier books were rebound in sumptuous but period-inappropriate styles. This can make original or very early bindings harder to find. With regards to a modern book, is the original dust jacket present, and what is its condition? Dust jackets are crucial in the collecting of modern first editions, because they are the most fragile and ephemeral part of a book’s production. As such they can account for upwards of ninety percent of a book’s value.

Contemporary taste gives preference to authenticity, to a book being as close to its original state as possible.

SCARCITY

Scarcity is the final factor, what we think of as rarity in the most limited sense. How many copies of a given book were printed in the first place, and how many of those have survived? Further, how many are likely to be available at any given time?

Over the years universities and libraries have acquired many of the most desirable books. The folio and quarto editions of Shakespeare (that is, the earliest examples of the Bard’s works to have been printed), or Edgar Allan Poe’s notoriously rare first collection of poems Tamerlane (1827), or the first book printed in colonial America, the Bay Psalm Book (1640), of which only 11 known copies survive — such books seldom come to market.

Of course, scarcity is also a function of the first three factors: the most important and desirable books, in their earliest editions and in the best possible condition, are naturally sought after by the greatest number of collectors, and so they become ever harder to find. This may be discouraging to some, but I find that it presents beginning or adventurous collectors an opportunity.

The most important and desirable books, in their earliest editions and in the best possible condition, are naturally sought after by the greatest number of collectors, and so they become ever harder to find.

With so much generally available, there’s plenty of room outside of collecting orthodoxy for a fresh take. Collectors ultimately get to decide what’s of interest to them and, adhering to some sensible guidelines, which will be the rare books of the future.


Erik Duron copyErik DuRon has nearly 20 years of experience buying and selling rare books in all fields, first at Bauman Rare Books in New York City, and then independently. He has built collections for diverse clients, and collaborates with and consults for collectors, booksellers and auction houses. He lives in Brooklyn and can be reached at erikduron@msn.com.

5 Tips for the Beginner Book Collector

So many books, so little time. Getting into book collecting can be a very deep dive if you don’t establish a few basic guidelines, says Monika Schiavo, Director of Waverly Rare Books in Falls Church, Virginia.

“The beginning collector can become overwhelmed and frustrated if they cast too wide a net,” Schiavo said. “It’s best to have a focus in mind before you start building a collection.”

Schiavo offers these tips to the beginning bibliophile:

Waverly-Rare-Books

14 Easton Press Titles, Gilt decorated full leather. Est $100-$150. Image courtesy of Waverly Rare Books/Quinn’s Auctions

1. Pick a specific area that interests you, then try to learn all about it.

Maybe your interest lies in English romantic literature, mysteries, author-signed children’s books, or just illustrated versions of books. Whatever it is, establish a thematic narrative before you start collecting.

2. Think outside the box.

Quirky is good – maybe try to collect what others haven’t embraced yet. You probably can’t afford a beautiful first edition of one of the best American books, but what about collecting the first Star Wars novels, autographed books, misprints, or books by women authors who use pseudonyms? By the same token, don’t be so esoteric in your collecting that you’re the only person who understands it.

Bonus Tip: A collecting category that is still in its infancy is LGBT literature.

3. Buy the best edition you can, then trade up.

It’s difficult to winnow as you go along. Release the less-desirable ones back into the book river and hold on to or acquire the more valuable, rare and unusual books.

4. Work with experts.

Consult with reputable dealers, librarians and auction houses. Join rare book societies and visit book exhibitions. Don’t pass up the vast storehouse of knowledge available to you in archived online-auction catalogs.

5. Keep your books safe and clean.

Books are prone to many types of damage, from moisture to insects to do-it-yourself repairs that do more damage than they do good. Try to keep your books stored in a cool, dry, climate-controlled room without direct exposure to sunlight. Be vigilant about how you open them, and never place newspaper clippings or pressed flowers inside them. When in doubt about how to store and protect your books, ask a professional. Most will gladly share their knowledge.


Monika_Schiavo_ImageMonika Schiavo, Director of Waverly Rare Books, a division of Quinn’s Auction Galleries, received her Bachelor of Arts degree from St. John’s College in Annapolis, Md., a Certificate in Appraisal Studies from New York University, and a Master of Arts degree from the Smithsonian’s History of Decorative Arts program. Schiavo provides free onsite evaluations and auction estimates for both buyers and consignors.

Best Rare Bookshops in the US

Like paper-and-ink books in general, bookshops can seem like an endangered species in the digital age. Yet an undercurrent of profound commitment to this 560 year-old technology, the printed book, sustains book lovers in their belief that a better vessel for preserving and conveying testimony to what it means to be alive has yet to be devised, e-readers be damned. Booksellers, equally partisans of the printed book, continue to recognize this, and as long as they do, we can hope for the longevity of the bookshop as a place of discovery and community. Below are the top hits when it comes to rare book shops in the United States:

Image courtesy of Bauman Rare Books

Image courtesy of Bauman Rare Books

Bauman Rare Books

If you want an immersive experience in the history of the book as a cultural object, I can think of no better place than Bauman Rare Books. With shops on Madison Avenue in New York City and in the Palazzo Hotel in Las Vegas, the Baumans offer what they call “landmark books” in all fields, from the 15th century to today. This amounts to a one-stop tour of some of the boldest ideas and most cherished writers the Western tradition has produced, from Shakespeare and Adam Smith to Jane Austen and Mary Wollstonecraft, from Charles Darwin and Thomas Jefferson to Madame Curie and Martin Luther King, Jr. No other rare bookshop in the country has brought together a selection in as wide a range of subjects. Visitors shouldn’t be put off by the museum-like atmosphere, though. The booksellers here are extremely friendly and knowledgeable. They’re eager to share stories about the publication history of each book on display, and to educate newcomers in the terminology and tradecraft of rare and antiquarian books. You can even handle many of the great rarities on offer.

Honey & Wax Booksellers

So much of book collecting and bookselling is about personal taste, and no bookseller I know has better taste than Honey & Wax Booksellers. Their motto – “Use books as bees use flowers” – gestures perfectly at both the aesthetic and utilitarian functions that books have historically served. Honey & Wax offers a distinctive selection in literature, the arts and children’s books, among other areas. What really characterizes each of their books, though, is a strong visual or tactile component that’s emblematic of that book’s place in time and culture, something Honey & Wax describes as having “no downloadable equivalent,” whether it be hand-colored illustrations, an exquisitely crafted binding, or a unique ownership history. Honey & Wax’s books are primarily available online and through its beautiful catalogues, but their Brooklyn office is open by appointment only.

Brian Cassidy

Another dealer I greatly admire is Brian Cassidy, Bookseller. Cassidy is among a handful of emerging rare booksellers looking beyond traditional book collecting for the type of ephemeral material that shapes and defines cultural trends and movements before we’ve even realized it. Outsider literary magazines, punk rock posters and handbills, pulp paperbacks, handmade artists books, personal scrapbooks and photo albums documenting little-known subcultures – these are the kinds of “cultural detritus” Cassidy discovers and meticulously catalogues, providing a context for them in the larger world. Based in the Washington, D.C. area, Cassidy sells primarily online and through catalogues, as well as regularly at book fairs around the country.

The pleasures of ordinary used bookshops shouldn’t be overlooked or understated. Books produced at different moments in recent history jostle together on their shelves, reflecting both the changes and the constants of our communal tastes and values. Moreover, used bookshops are important incubators for collectors and dealers of rare books, as they demonstrate the richness and variety that are possible, and train the eye and fingertips in detection.

Unnameable Books

More than any other player, alas, it’s the used bookseller that’s most threatened in the digital age. One of my favorites still in operation is Unnameable Books in Brooklyn, NY. They have first-rate selections in fiction and poetry, philosophy and critical theory, art, film, music, history and politics, as well as books in foreign languages, and a small selection of rare books in back. They’re affordable, and they buy books and take them on trade. Basically they’re everything a good used bookshop – the kind you could once find several of in every neighborhood in New York City – should be.

Any of your favorites left off this list? Tweet @ByJasper52 and share your suggestions.

Erik Duron copyErik DuRon has nearly 20 years of experience buying and selling rare books in all fields, first at Bauman Rare Books in New York City, and then independently. He has built collections for diverse clients, and collaborates with and consults for collectors, booksellers and auction houses. He lives in Brooklyn and can be reached at erikduron@msn.com.

Aug. 28 Antiquarian & Historical Books Auction by Jasper52 boasts eclectic selection

Jasper52’s August 28th online-only rare books auction boasts an eclectic selection of fascinating books, autographs, and documents, from the 16th to the 20th centuries. Among the many subject areas to entice collectors at all levels are: American history, nautical history, World War II, literature, popular science, transportation, animal husbandry, art, and early printed books and autographs from England and the Continent.

James Fenimore Cooper’s two-volume History of the Navy of the United States of America (1839) kicks off the sale (featured below). Cooper is best known today for The Deerslayer and The Last of the Mohicans, novels of rugged individualism on the early American frontier, but in his time he was also a noted historian. Inspired by his own experiences as a sailor and midshipman, he wrote the first full-scale history of the U.S. Navy, from the Colonial period through the War of 1812. This first edition in the publisher’s original cloth binding has an estimate of $300-$400. Lots 5 (The War-Ships and Navies of the World) and 6 (Steel’s Elements of Mastmaking, Sailmaking and Rigging) will also be of interest to nautical enthusiasts.

History of the Navy of the United States of America (1839)

History of the Navy of the United States of America (1839), James Fenimore Cooper. Est. $300-$400.

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Colorful ‘Washington’ leads rare books auction Aug. 14

‘Washington’ by Lucy Foster Madison, illustrated by Francis E. Schoonover, first edition, 1925. Estimate: 150-$200. Jasper52 image

‘Washington’ by Lucy Foster Madison, illustrated by Francis E. Schoonover, first edition, 1925. Estimate: $150-$200. Jasper52 image

A first-edition of Washington by American novelist Lucy Foster Madison leads a collection of rare books in an online-only Jasper52 auction to be held Sunday, Aug. 14. The offering will range from the earliest printed material to modern children’s classics.

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