Fontainebleau Aldine at the Montefiascone Conservation Project, Part II

Now pictures of books instead of gelato: the model we made in Monte was of an early 16th c. book in wooden boards, bound à la grecque by the royal bindery for Henri II, now held at the John Rylands Library in Manchester. It is a pocket-sized book from the Aldine press, bound in full dark maroon goat leather with gauffered edges. By the time of the Diderot encyclopedia, these edges were old-fashioned and no longer made, but it's hard to imagine not liking them! The endbands are Greek-style in pink and white over two cores, but then with a simple front-bead sewn over the top one in blue and white. The leather was blocked and tooled in blind and gilt, with lead white painted in some of the shapes created by the tools. And then braided straps were attached at fore-edge, head, and tail, that attach to brass pins on the back board: all in all kind of aesthetic overkill for my taste given the beautifully simplistic printing inside, but fun to make.

We brought sections cut to size on a board chopper, and sewed them with an unsupported link stitch on the first day. The boards were mostly shaped for us—beveled slightly on the outside shoulder, with grooves in the board edge along head, fore-edge, and tail, and beveled at head and tail near the spine edge to accommodate the endband). We just had to plane off a bit in the joint to fit the boards to the textblock. We cut little grooves between the drilled stations to accommodate the thread, and laced them in with the ends of the sewing thread. The shape of the boards helps create a very slight round in the textblock, and then we covered the spine and onto the boards a few centimeters with a nice Irish linen cloth.

I can't get enough of this endband; I'd never sewn such an epic one before. Like normal Greek endbands, it attaches both to the textblock and boards. I can't quite imagine the Fontainebleau binders sewing it, then thinking, "It needs a little something more," and adding the front bead to the top core—but they did.

Then we covered in quite thin leather; mine was from Steven Siegal in the US. Slanted slits are cut at the head and tail to accommodate the endband, since the joint isn't accessible as in a normal binding. The corners were just cut at a bevel and folded over. No worrying about trimming turn-ins even at this time period! I'm afraid I forgot to photograph it before the tooling started, so I just have this one of the cap now covering the crazy endband.

The blocking was something I had to see to believe. Stephania took a rubbing from the original and had a block made, but without a blocking press, we had to improvise. We made a blind impression in the leather while it was still damp from covering by more or less centering the block on top of the board and pressing it as tight as possible in a Dryad press. One side is blind and one is gilt, so we then had to block hot by putting the block on a stove, lifting it off and placing it on the book with pliers, hoping it was in the right place, then running off to the press to give it another squeeze. The first time I did this I miraculously got it in exactly the right place, but the pressure on the press was a little crooked so part of it didn't take the gold. I went back and forth about whether to risk a second shot, eventually did, and got the registration completely off (although the gold looks good!).

I have to say, working with gold leaf in a big room with a lot of people, a lot of heat, and an uncontrollable stove was not the most satisfying thing, but I'm glad we did it so that the book could look more like the original. The original isn't perfect in the tooling either, really, but that never makes anyone feel better about gold that won't stick! The leather I chose was nice to work with for covering but turned out to refuse to go dark for blind tooling (it didn't absorb water very well, I think because of some coating on the surface), so even the blind tooling wasn't as even as it could have been. I had thoughts at the time of watercolor? on a tiny brush to help darken the areas that wouldn't go, but that really does sound like one of those things you're still talking about doing in 30 years. Maureen Duke always quips about the shoemaker's children going barefoot.

Then we drilled holes in the boards and made tiny plaits for the clasps, which drove most people mad but wasn't so bad for me—I brought along leather from the edge of the skin, because I'm cheap, and actually the stretchiness really helped to get the strips through the holes in the board. We trimmed their ends, whacked them flat with a hammer, attached pins in the back board, and then the binding was almost finished—just needed the endpapers to be put down (I did that at home) and the lead white painted onto the boards (I did that in kind of a rush).  

So here's the finished book:

Finally, a grateful thank-you to the Clothworkers' Foundation and the Anna Plowden Trust, both of whom gave me funding towards this course and without whom I would not have been able to attend.