The Washington Post ran an interesting article the other day about hand binding at GPO – specifically, the finishing our Bindery does for the White House on presentation copies of the Public Papers of the President – including hand-tooled goatskin leather, marbled edges, and silk moiré endpapers. Happily, this kind of artistry is still valued by the Government, even in this digital age.
For many years, apprentice printers at GPO have studied bookbinding as one of the graphic arts. Since binding is a material rather than a digital process, reading the 1950 edition of GPO’s Theory and Practice of Bookbinding (left) still provides a pretty good introduction to the work we do today for such publications as the Public Papers and Jefferson’s Manual of parliamentary procedure, developed by Thomas Jefferson and still used by the House of Representatives (here’s a nice video on the handwork involved in binding the Manual).
Take marbling, for instance. According to Theory and Practice of Bookbinding, “marbling and gilding are complicated processes and a bookbinder who can do both well is a rarity. In fact, the majority of modern bookbinders can do neither” – and that was in 1950! As is evident in the post article and the video, we still know how to do it today.
This 60-year old guide to binding also covers even more esoteric book arts. In fore-edge painting, the top edge of a book is scraped and tied, and a watercolor picture is painted on the fanned edges (how cool is that?). Do you need some goffering? That’s a decoration produced by denting the edge after it’s gilded. I don’t know if GPO has ever done fore-edge painting, but the apprentices here had to know ALL of the terms and techniques of their craft.
When you’re in an arts and crafts mood, or if you’re like me and enjoy all kinds of obscure information about books and their making, the Theory and Practice of Bookbinding is well worth a browse. You can find copies of various editions on used book Web sites at very reasonable prices, or in a library.
Have a Happy New Year, everyone!