A fresh slant on Grolier

Some years ago a client wanted a very plain cloth-bound set of Shakespeare’s plays ‘enhanced’ by re-covering them in faux parchment ‘in a sixteenth century style’. I suggested having a block made from an image of a classic Grolier-style binding, and then blocking it in gold on the front and with a plain spine with a title label. He agreed the design and was pleased that it provided a space in the centre for his initials.

He liked the result, though I thought that the gold on the off-white background did not have much visual contrast. But I kept the block – made from a scan of a page in a book on historic bindings by the excellent Metallic Elephant company in Chelmsford – and realised I could use it on my own copy of More’s ‘Utopia’ as its proportions exactly fitted the front cover.

But in the meantime I had been experimenting with tooling designs using carbon paper to transfer ink to a tool and stamp it on to a pale background. [Try it – warm/hot tool on the face of the carbon to pick up the ink, apply straight away to pale leather, parchment or vellum – produces a crisp sharp and permanent impression]. So I attached the block to the chase of my blocking press, inked it from a sheet of carbon paper placed on top of the book which was fixed with tape in place on the platen, removed the carbon paper and stamped the block straight on to the book cover.

Careful positioning and firm fixing was necessary, but the result was pretty good. Then I added colour to the strapwork design, in exactly the same way as it was done in the 16th century for Grolier, Maioli, Wotton and others.

Then a simple computer-printed paper label on the spine. The cover material is the wonderfully-named ‘elephant-hide’ paper made by Zanders in Germany, of which I have a small and cherished stock.

The result is bright and cheerful, and entirely appropriate for a book which was first printed in English in 1556 at exactly the time Grolier was having his books bound in this style. A happy marriage!

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