I was approached by friends of mine, Jason and Sheli, to see if I might be available to assist them in a project they wished to embark upon. As I listened to Jason on our initial phone call, I was more than intrigued. What he proposed was contacting friends and family of a couple which had their wedding date set for mid April. These friends and family members were scattered all over the country. The idea was for them to send the bride and groom advice and / or suggestions, along with some personal testimony, which would encourage them in their new lives together. These letters would then be bound . . . somehow . . . into a volume which would be presented to them at the time of their marriage ceremony or rehearsal dinner.
What an awesome idea!
Up to this point my bookbinding experience was limited to smaller case bound journals and the restoration of one 17th century text book, coupled with repairs and a presentation binder for an original Harry Potter volume, aside from my current restoration of an Otterbein Hymnal which is locked 'in irons' because other revenue projects have eclipsed progress on that project for over a year. Needless to say, while I had materials and some experience, I was a bit nervous in taking this project on. But in the end, the idea so appealed to me, I swallowed hard and replied
"Ok. Let's do this! "
Phase One: The Letters.
The first challenge would be getting the letters collected to begin with. Since my nipping press is of limited size, doing a "coffee table folio" was out of the question. I was limited to a finished size of approximately nine inches by eight inches. A standard to slightly larger than standard size book would be possible. Thus, our size was determined by my nipping press.
Now the correspondences themselves needed to have some metrics. We needed the letters to be submitted to us on 8.5" x 11" pages, with a minimum of a one inch margin all around. We did want more than a few responses in order to make an actual "book", so we did not want to place too many strictures on the writers who would be kind enough to participate with us. Since we wanted to retain the look of hand-written letters in this book, it was determined that we would laser copy the letters, sizing them appropriately for the book. Having the letters originally written basically following the above metrics would help in resizing the pages. And indeed, it did.
Phase Two: Determining the Ingredients.
We decided to use Neenah Classic Laid for the pages. This is the same paper that I use for my 18th century letterpress restoration work. It is off-white, and contains what are called "lay lines", which was a pattern left on the paper by the deckles of two hundred years ago and earlier. Lay lines are very thin ribs which hold the paper fibres in place when pulled from the vats at the mills. You can see their "water marks" when you hold the paper to the light. This is part of how I date a book, btw. Ever date a book? A great meal at a fine restaurant and late-nite coffee afterwards usually does the trick.
Jason wanted a large capital "F", the first letter of the groom's last name, to be the prominent theme for the cover design. We wanted to have an Artisan look. Jason also wanted a specific title to grace the cover. Since the Paper Wren is a letterpress shop, I suggested we create a "pasteboard" cover, not unlike the printed paper covers of the early to mid 19th century. This would facilitate the letterpress printing of the cover. I would do the design itself from carved linoleum, a "linocut". The title would be typeset using a century old titling font that I happened to have on hand, which was commonly used in the 15th - 18th century. This book would definitely have an 18th - early 19th century look and feel.
I happened to have two inventory items which would come in handy: a roll of vintage butternut book cloth which might be as old as seventy-five years, and a vintage package of imitation vellum paper. I do not know how old this paper is, it might be thirty years old or more. It is the best imitation of flesh-side vellum I have ever seen, or handled. It actually has the touch and feel of pounced vellum. Now, how handy is that? These sheets were about nine by twelve inches square, just a bit larger than standard office copy paper.
I decided that to serve as a sort of divider between the individual letter pages, which I knew would vary from one to perhaps several pages per response, I would insert a high quality onion skin paper.
The text block itself would need to be "Perfect Bound", because there was no way to execute a hand sown block which would require paper that was twice the size, folded to create signatures.
Since this book would be case bound, I chose a 2.5mm board for the covers, and decided to attach the book cloth spining to the spine of the text block itself. While this would be unconventional, it would serve to further re-enforce the spine. To explain: a sewn and hammered spine arches outward, in a convex manner. as the text block is flexed, or opened. A perfect bound edge is concave, and flexes inward, like a pad of paper. Thus normally the spine covering is not glued to the actual text block spine with perfect bound volumes, but float free (sometimes far enough to drop a pencil through!). Sewn volumes have the spine casing or cloth or leather, whatever material is used, actually glued to the spine of the text block, because here, very little flexing is occurring.
The binding on this book would be what is called "Quarter Bound" using the butternut cloth, and further, would be packaged with a matching clam-shell presentation case.
Phase Three: the letters arrive.
Jason met me at a coffee shop in Orlando (where I always love to meet clients: Panera Bread!) and delivered the letters. We touched base on a few points, and soon I was gathering materials. It took about three weeks for the responses to trickle in, so while we were not behind schedule, neither were we ahead. We had to get things going!
The respondents were amazingly compliant with what we asked for (thanks, guys!!). This really made sizing the text area for the book pages proper quite easy. We decided also at this point, to include a special cache for the original letters that would match the clam-shell presentation case. It would needs be a bit larger owing to the letter sizes.
Jason did a lot of foot work for me by doing the scans of the letters, and delivering to me, along with the actual letters, a flash drive with the .pdf files. All further sizing would be at the printer itself.
Phase Four: the creation of the text block.
The letters themselves were arranged according to the look of the actual letters themselves. For instance, on letter was a single page using large hand-drawn capital letters. This became the "title page". It was perfect! Reading the letters were very touching, I really felt like I was getting to know the family. Wow. I tried as best as I could to keep immediate family members close to the front, especially parents. As mentioned, the letters had onion skin serving as separator-dividers. This all had to be cut together. I did cut the onion skin separately.
I decided to make one trim only. Normally, an assembled block is trimmed, glued, mulled, liner covered, and then final trimmed. I don't like to expose text blocks to a lot of trimming. As a perfect bind, one trim would be adequate, I thought. So I trimmed the pages directly to the finish size, ensuring a good margin around the text on each page. Then, modifying my sewing frame, I began the text gluing process.
I used the steel cutting jacket to jog the pages against, with two wooden hornbook paddles to jog the text block sides. The pages were then held into place by the top and bottom braces. After clamping, the steel jacket was removed, and the evenness of the spine edge was checked. The block was then turned spine-side up and glued with pva glue, dried, then covered with muslin mull, then glued again.
Phase Five: printing the book cover.
I chose a Goudy inspired capital "F" to dominate the cover design. The cover text was typeset in a 36 point blackletter font that dates back to the early 20th century ATF days.
Phase Six: tipping in the end-sheets
I chose a charcoal Canson hand-made semi calendered paper for the end sheets. This colour is a darker neutral that provides excellent contrast with the text block. I just plain looks classy! The text block is beginning to look very "healthy"!
Elmer's Glue is not the most commonly used of bookbinding adhesive. I use Elmer's Glue for several aspects of case and block gluing. It is an excellent PVA glue, a little denser than glue applied by brush, but for glueing-in end-sheets, it's hard to beat the squeeze-top cap. I still use a separate sheet of paper to serve as a boundary to keep the glue confined to one-eighth inch from the spine, facilitating a fine glue edge. The photo above shows the block at this point in the process, with the mull and end-sheets glued in. Next will be applied a re-enforcement sheet which will be glued over the mull, extending about an inch over the mull edges.
Phase Seven: Casing In!
The 2.5mm boards are cut, leaving room for the board ends to "hinge". The hinge is that part of the book between the spine and the spine-end of the board. The boards are laid out with the book cloth carefully measured and placed between the boards to cover the spine and about an inch and a half (or a bit more) overlap on the face of the front and back boards.
The cover, with text block inserted but not yet attached, are then placed in the nipping press to dry. The "nipping press" is the familiar Book Press, sometimes called a "Copy Press", and is used to keep everything flat while things are drying so warps do not show up.
Another view of the spine drying. The paste paper cover has yet to be applied to the boards. That will be the next step, after which the block and boards are once again placed into the press to dry evenly and flat, then removed. At that time the rear of each board is painted with glue, along with the inside of the book cloth spine lining, and the whole is enclosed over the block and end-sheets and again, placed into the press to dry. This is where the end-sheets cover over the rear of the boards and the cover wrap-over. The spine is dried with pressure applied to it against the text block spine. This is not normally done with perfect bound blocks because of the direction of flex as described earlier: it is left unglued and allowed to fold, or protrude outwardly away from the spine as the book flexes open. Since I wanted the extra support afforded by the linen book cloth spine lining, I broke with convention in the name of re-enforcement.
There is also nervousness going through the pages. Is on upside down? Heh, you might laugh. Trust me, it's been done by the best of binders. As it is, everything turned out great. Nothing beats riffling the pages of a book you just built. Like running your fingers through your sweetheart's hair.
You can't tell I love books, can you?
Stay tuned for the next installment: the Clam Shell Cover!
(P.S.: the font is called "Cloister")
(P.S.: the font is called "Cloister")