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Tucson, Arizona, United States
I work as Panther Peak Bindery and am a bookbinder, conservator and instructor working outside Tucson, Arizona for individual and institutional clients across the country. I am a two term President of the Guild of Book Workers, was a Fulbright Scholar, taught at North Bennet Street School for over nine years and was the fastest in my middle school class at running up and down a flight of stairs (really!).



Monday, October 10, 2016

Throwing up

A client brought a book by which had some paper damage.  It was a quarter leather with a nideggen tipped on end sheet.

The problem was that several of the pages towards the front of the book had broken a few millimeters out from the spine.  If you look closely you can see the place where the page had broken.  The paper was very brittle. 

But, even with the brittle paper and real issue was the binding.  And here's why.

Spines on books generally need to flex.  The amount that a spine flexes is called "throwing up," as in "how much does the spine throw up?" Maybe this came from drunken bookbinders, I don't really know.

This movement is regulated by how many paper linings are glued onto the spine before the covers are put in place. But it can be more clearly demonstrated by these two bindings.

This is a Coptic binding, which has no paper linings on the spine.


Without any linings the spine can flex completely back onto itself, as seen in this photograph.  This is actually a great thing for the paper, but not so good for the sewing.  All the stress of the opening is on the thread, but there is no stress on the paper at all.

Now take a look at this binding. Clearly with a wooden spine there is no possibility of the spine flexing at all.

As a result when the book is opened it is only the paper that moves in order to open the book.  This is good for the sewing, but is not good for the paper.  To look at the pages the paper needs to be pulled open, especially when the paper doesn't drape very well.  Paper drape has a lot to do with the grain direction of the paper and how thin it is. Bible paper drapes really well because it is so thin.  Heavier papers can still drape well if the grain direction is parallel to the spine of the textblock.

One likes a balance of the two, as in this picture.  But the key to this is that one needs to consider both the qualities of the paper and the type of binding when deciding how many linings to put on a spine when putting a book together.  With brittle paper you want the binding that flexes almost as much as the Coptic binding shown above to reduce stress on the paper.  Without enough "throwing up" the pages will just snap off like the pages in the book I was working on.  With good, flexible paper, where the grain is going in the proper direction, one can make a binding that's a bit tighter which can be good for the sewing and the binding.

It can be seen as a graph showing the relationship between spine throwing up and stress on paper. The challenge is to know where to end up with the finished book to best serve both elements.  When deciding where to end up on this graph the whole consideration needs to be on the paper, its strength, its flexibility, its grain direction, and how well it drapes.

Finally, here is a picture of the spine of the book that I was working on.  See how the spine doesn't flex at all?  Did you get that the paper was extremely brittle?  What they have done with this book is to pretty much insure that the book is going to break one page at a time along the stress point of the paper, which is a few millimeters up from the spine edge of the textblock. 

I would argue that the binder destroyed the book in slow motion by over lining the spine.  They also repaired tears along the first four or five pages, which means they were aware of the condition of the paper. But the material they used to repair the paper was too heavy which just exacerbated the problem. The pages were tearing along the repair, where they should have used a thinner material and extended the repair paper further out from the spine to support the paper beyond its stress point.

I told the client to get rid of the book if they can, it's only going to get worse.  It could be conserved and saved, of course, but the first step would be to get rid of the binding, properly repair the pages and do a better job of putting it together.  As always, it would have been cheaper and better just to do it right the first time.

Sometimes it's better to hire a conservator instead of a binder. Or sometimes a binder needs to make better decisions. 

1 comment:

  1. Mark,

    Since reading this post, I have started looking more closely at all my book bindings [I have a LOT of books]. Your post has made me realize how few book publishers bind books really well these days, compared to 30-40 years ago. Since I used to work in shipping and receiving in a bookstore, I know how to pack books in boxes to protect the bindings. Many people don't understand this, and the poor quality of book bindings makes them particularly vulnerable to damage in transit. Hopefully this means more work for you!!