Better late than never

Thirty years ago I bought a copy of ‘The Doves Bindery’, by Marianne Tidcombe, newly published by Oak Knoll Press and the British Library. A few copies were offered unbound, in sheets, at the same price (£90) and I bought one in that form. This book followed on from her earlier study of the work of T J Cobden-Sanderson (1984) a copy of which I also bought when it was published and, much later, bound in Cobden-Sanderson style.

The design is a version of a Cobden-Sanderson binding using a ‘Lily’ tool that I acquired on the net about ten years ago. It is stamped ‘Knights and Cotterell’ who made all of Cobden-Sanderson’s tools and is possibly from the Doves Bindery itself.

About 20 years ago I bound the Doves Bindery sheets using a skin of russet niger morocco with a very attractive grain. I sewed double headbands in dark green silk and sprinkled all edges. I made a box for it and there is has remained ever since.

So, thirty years after buying it and twenty years after binding it to the ‘forwarded’ stage, I think it’s time to finish it.

I initially based a design on the gilt decoration of the front cover on a nice example of Doves Bindery work that was offered for sale about a year ago.

By chance I have a ‘carnation’ tool that is identical with the tool used here. But I can’t match the other tools, so this is my version – as I have said before, you can only use the tools you have to hand, but I think the design below will work:

The title will be lettered by hand in the upper panel. The corner design will be filled in with dots and very small circles
These are the tools required, along with a single line fillet wheel for the frame border

First, tool the frame border. My method is slow to set up but produces perfect results every time. I use real gold foil, not gold leaf and I run the fillet wheel against a straight-edge, with old razor blades at each end of each line. This ensures a sharp end point, with no risk of ‘run-over’.

The fillet must be run along the edge of the ruler in one movement – slow and with firm pressure because of the grain in the leather.

This is the result:

Next, start the corner decoration:

The position of each end of the ‘S’ tools is marked with dividers, taken from the design sheet. The piece of foil is held in place with a scrap of low-tack masking tape and one end of the hot tool is guided to the exact place with the thumbnail of the left hand – in my case the right hand as I am left-handed. Again the impression must be very firm because of the grain in the leather.

Next, fill in the corner spaces with the other tools.

Oh dear! the grain in the leather is too heavy for the detail in some of the selected tools, especially the carnation. A trial stamp produced a clumsy blurred impression.

Back to the drawing board! Two alternative treatments of the corners were devised using other suitable tools in my collection – suitable in terms of authenticity to the subject matter of the book.

The Doves Bindery often used an ‘open’ leaf tool like the one here, and the flower head is right for the period – early 20th century.
But this, I think, is better. The ‘handed’ open leaf tools are exactly the same as ones used by Doves, as is the solid corner tool. The narrow open space is also found in several Doves bindings.

So that is the design I am using. The ‘open’ leaf tools make a clean impression in the heavy grain of the leather, as does the solid corner tool. The ‘dotted’ background is authentic, and helps mask the faint impressions of previous trial impressions.

Not perfect, I know, but an acceptable solution to a problem I created for myself by using the heavy grained leather in the first place! I will put in some more dots in the background so the open tools show up better.

Now for the three other corners and the title lettering……..

If you are wondering about the plain spine (the Cobden-Sanderson binding also has a plain spine), both books will be kept in drop-back boxes, so no spine treatment is actually needed. The boxes will of course have spine labels. Matching a design on a spine – tall and very narrow – to the cover design is a problem that Cobden-Sanderson, and his Doves staff did not often solve successfully, at least to my eyes.

2 thoughts on “Better late than never

  1. Thank you for some wonderful tips for gold tooling. I really appreciate the detailed photos you supply and your clear descriptions and commentary of some of the pitfalls that we face as finishers. Your photos of the design process are so helpful even when it doesn’t always go so well when transferred to the real thing! Beautiful work. Sue


  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and ideas, especially how you have overcome the problems of choice and adaptions of your choices. It is a thinking persons working that is so helpful


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