In the beginning….

I began to learn bookbinding in 1976. About the same time I bought a very well-used copy of a bible printed in 1608, one of the long series of ‘Breeches Bibles’ that began in 1589, I believe. Its leather covers were missing, the boards were broken at the corners, some of the sewing was very loose and a dozen or so pages at the end needed repair. But the text was complete, including all the psalms. I paid £28 for it in an antique shop in Warwick.

It was an obvious candidate for practising both repairs and re-binding. The repairs to the damaged pages were pretty straightforward – heat-set repair tissue did the job, to my satisfaction at least.

Re-sewing the whole text was tedious, but good practice. It also revealed that the edges actually look nicer for being just marginally uneven, rather than perfectly smooth from the plough.

Then there was the question of headbands. I had just learnt how to do a double headband, so that’s what it got.

That was before the leather covers were added, of course. I bought a half skin of light brown calf (I forget from whom) and used part of that, but I had no finishing tools at all. But I had read that several highly-regarded binders made their own tools – William Matthews, Ivor Robinson and Edgar Mansfield, for example – in order to achieve a particular style or effect. I had an idea for a decorative design based on the date of the book – 1608 – and on some ‘strapwork’ bindings I had seen in reference books. Last week I found some tools I made to achieve the effect I had in mind.

I suppose I worked out the design on graph paper first, but if I did I have lost it, but it ended up like this:

Basically, a Jacobean knot-garden concept, worked in blind using small tools that I made from brass screws filed to simple shapes. There were three tools, but I have mislaid one – the surviving two are these:

The ‘lost’ one was a larger square. In close-up, you can see the pattern was worked with repeated blind impressions, creating the effect of brick or stone paving, like the paths around an actual knot garden of 1608.

The title and date were added using type and a typeholder in my evening class at Leicester School of Printing.

I made a few more simple tools from brass screws or brass tube at that time, around 1980, and now I’ve found them again will find a way to use them.

But I still go to Fine Cut for ‘proper’ finishing tools.

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