Some recent work

Today I finished rebinding a large early 18th century folio in full calf with the covers decorated in the Cambridge Panel style.

I rather like the fact that the book is entitled ‘Athenae Oxonienses’ (a compendium of authors who were members of Oxford University) and yet its original binding was in the so-called Cambridge Panel design.

Setting out the design is easy if you follow these steps:

  1. measure the width of the cover from hinge to foredge,
  2. divide that measure by 11
  3. make the outer frame two-elevenths wide all round
  4. make the inner frame also two-elevenths wide all round
  5. the middle panel will then be three-elevenths wide.

These proportions will work for any size book. It is traditional for the middle panel panel to be quite heavily sprinkled with a dark dye, for the middle frame to be left clear and the outer frame to be lightly sprinkled.

The outer frame is exactly the size of the cover board and the inner frame and middle panel are cut out of it, according to the measurements set out above.

The sprinkling starts with all three pieces of card placed on the cover. The two middle ones are held in place with a weight and the outer frame removed. The spine is masked off with masking tape and the outer exposed frame is lightly sprinkled. The best sprinkling is with a good old-fashioned bristle nail brush: the brush is dipped in a shallow dish of spirit stain (not watercolour ink which I have found to fade quite quickly) and then most of the stain is tapped off on to waste paper. The brush is repeatedly struck gently across the edge of an old knife, towards the area to be covered and both brush and knife moved around steadily so as to give even coverage. Next replace the outer frame and remove the middle panel . This area should be sprinkled more heavily.

The blind tooling should be done with quite hot tools on dry calf, but if done on goat leather it should be lightly damped first.

The fillet lines and decorative roll look best on the un-sprinkled middle panel, except the lines around the outer edge

It doesn’t matter that the double blind lines cross at the corner – they always did ‘back in the day’

Finally, a light treatment with wax polish.

A second binding, finished a few days ago has plain covers but a decorative spine. This was at the request of the owner so as to replicate what was there originally, now very much faded and decayed.

The corner and centre tools are not identical to the originals, but correctly echo the date of publication. Gold tooling on an old book always looks too bright, but I don’t like the idea of dulling it down with weak stain or ‘dirty’ paste.

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