The Essentials of Book Collecting

An Essay in Parts

by Robert F. Lucas

Part   1 - Introduction
Part   2 - Importance of priority relative to book collecting
Part   3 - Jargon - Reading a catalog description
Part   4 - Jargon - Condition and its importance
Part   5 - Bibliographies and other useful references
Part   6 - Rarity & scarcity and supply & demand
Part   7 - Ephemera - what is it and is it part of book collecting
Part   8 - Understanding book values & pricing
Part   9 - Some physical aspects of the book - bindings & paper
Part 10 - Book illustrations - variety of & illustrators
Part 11 - Investing in Antiquarian Books

Part 9 - Some physical aspects of the book - bindings & paper

Much has been written on the subjects of book bindings and paper and we will provide you with a few of the many references on the two subjects. We also intend to provide you with a few facts relating to these two physical aspects of the book, especially as they relate to establishing approximate dates of paper manufacturing and changes in binding materials and styles. Having a very basic knowledge of the chronology of types of paper and of bindings will potentially aid you in dating undated material and also possibly help in the detection of fraudulent material (sometimes one encounters broadsides, trade catalogs and even books which are either improperly dated or are examples of later reprints retaining the original date). This section is not intended as an in-depth study of these areas — only an introduction.

The earliest paper used in books in America was handmade and imported from Europe, primarily from England. The first paper mill in what is now the United States was in operation in 1690 in Germantown, Pennsylvania. There continued to be extensive importation of European paper until the period of the American Revolution; the impetus for making paper in this country came from the Stamp Act of 1765 and really got its start when the wire papermaking molds were first made in this country in 1776.

The early handmade paper used in the 17th and 18th centuries can be distinguished from later paper by holding the paper up to a light and looking for "chain-lines" which are left from the wires in the paper mold. Apparently fewer fibers accumulate directly on the wire, thus the paper is slightly thinner and more transparent to light and thus shows the chain pattern when held up to light. This pattern is usually very discernable and appears as parallel lines, roughly an inch apart with many horizontal short lines connecting the long wire lines. Some modern stationary paper has artificially applied chain lines and is usually referred to as "laid" paper which is the proper name for the handmade chain-line paper.

This early handmade paper was made of 100% macerated rags, usually cotton and/or linen, by hand dipping the large "square" paper mold into the fiber suspension and lifting and shaking excess water & then partially drying the paper sheet before removal from the mold. Modern handmade paper, often used in fine printing of small editions by private presses, is made by essentially the same process and also usually shows chain-lines. Wood pulp paper (made with a sulfite process causing high acid residue in the paper) was not extensively used in this country until after the American Civil War. Thus early books made of 100% rag paper are long lasting due to low acid content in the paper and also the strength of handmade paper is superior due to the long length of fabric fibers as opposed to wood fibers and the fact that machine made paper processes cause more fibers to orient in the same direction, making the machine made paper easier to tear.

Watermarks are basically a "signature" or design or logo in the paper due to the same process that leaves the chain lines. Early papermakers began "weaving" additional wires into the wire mold in the form of a crest or initials or the year. The watermarks thus made can be seen by holding the paper up to a light. The earliest American paper made in Germantown, PA by William Rittenhouse in 1690 had a simple watermark which reads "company". Other watermarks were soon used by this paper mill. Most 18th century paper has watermarks which is one way of attaching an approximate date of manufacture to the paper. Even paper which has no year in the watermark can be dated from the design in the watermark. The following references are very helpful catalogues of watermarks for paper used in America:

Gravell, Thomas L. and George Miller. A Catalogue of Foreign Watermarks Found on Paper Used in America 1700 - 1835. New York and London, Garland Publishing, 1983.

Gravell, Thomas L. and George Miller. A Catalogue of American Watermarks 1690 - 1835. New York and London, Garland Publishing, 1979.

A major advance in papermaking occurred when "wove" paper was invented. Wove paper was first used in a book printed in America in 1795 in a book by Charlotte Smith entitled "Elegiac Sonnets and Other Poems" printed by Isaiah Thomas in Worcerster, Massachusetts. Wove paper, which shows no chain-lines, is made on a wire mold often made of brass and/or bronze wires which have been woven like a textile — thus there is no chain-like pattern, but rather a smooth appearing paper; the first wove papers were often referred to as vellum papers because of their smoothness. If you find a pamphlet or broadside or a manuscript letter dated 1750, printed on wove paper, you have strong reason to suspect the item comes from after 1795 rather than 1750. Wove paper became the standard paper for books and other uses after 1800, though one continues to see some laid or chain-link paper in use through approximately 1820 and even later.

The first machine made paper in America was made in 1817 in Brandywine, Delaware and the first newspaper printed on this paper was "Poulson's Daily Advertiser" published in Philadelphia in 1817. The major start in machine manufacturing of paper began when the Fourdrinier paper machine came to be used in this country in 1827 in Saugerties, New York, followed by the manufacture of these machines in South Windham, Connecticut in 1829. Machine made paper is more uniform in thickness, lacks the "deckle edges" (uneven edges) of handmade paper and is weaker and more prone to tearing. Machine made paper is made on a continuous wire mold which usually has watermarks. It is difficult to tell machine made wove paper from handmade wove paper (often thickness and uniformity of thickness are the discernable criteria).

Another major development in paper manufacture, already alluded to, was the development of wood pulp paper — much less expensive to manufacture than rag paper. The first wood pulp paper made in a successful manner was manufactured in 1854 in Buffalo, New York. By 1860, 88% of the total paper production in this country was still rag paper — most of the newspapers printed in the U.S. during the Civil War period survive in a good state because they are essentially acid-free 100% rag paper, but the newspapers of the 1880's and later turn brown and brittle due to high acid content of the wood pulp paper. In 1882 the sulfite wood pulp process was developed on a scale and much of the high acid content paper was used thereafter in newspapers, magazines and books.

In 1852 another development occurred which is useful in dating some types of ephemera, especially trade or business cards and the wrappers of some pamphlets, was the coating of paper stock with China clay to produce a very smooth, glossy surface. Thus trade cards with the coated stock paper must date from that time or later.

In summary we offer a brief chronology of our very brief history of American papermaking and we will provide an excellent reference and a few useful links.

A very useful reference on history of papermaking and one we used to verify the dates and information we have presented was written by Dard Hunter, who brought modern handmade paper to the forefront and has done much to contribute to the history of papermaking through both his practical work and authorship:

Hunter, Dard. Papermaking. The History and Technique of an Ancient Craft. New York, Alfred A. Knopf, 1947.

A few useful links to papermaking and the craft of bookmaking and the book arts:

Bindings

This section will deal with a brief history of book binding and does not relate to books bound in wrappers (pamphlets/magazines) or modern paperback books, but rather relates to hardbound books.

The ability to assign an approximate date to a book based on the binding takes considerable experience, but there are some "rules of thumb" which will aid you in this endeavor. One must remember that occasionally a binding is newer than the book it encases for one of several reasons: the volume was rebound to replace either a worn or broken or less attractive original binding; or the volume was originally issued in simple, plain "boards" (paper-covered boards) giving the purchaser an option to have a better binding made; or the book existed in "sheets" (unbound, sometimes also unsewn signatures or gatherings of leaves) for a time before being encased in a binding.

Early bindings of manuscripts prior to the use of moveable type often consisted of oak or other wood, sometimes covered with leather or vellum, used as protective covers attached to the body of text with leather thongs. To this day the front and rear covers of books are referred to as boards. The leather thongs were eventually replaced with cords made of hemp which attached the "boards" or covers to the body of text. Many times one sees raised bands on the spine of 17th and 18th century books — these bands are caused by the cords which were sewn to the text. Eventually the back of the unbound book was cut with a binders saw to allow the binding cords to be inset, so they would not protrude causing the raised bands on the spine.

Modern bindings, other than some handbound volumes, no longer make use of cords to attach the book to its binding. The modern book has the binding or "case" constructed separately and later attached primarily by the endpapers or in the case of so-called "perfect bindings" the book is attached by gluing the spine portion of the binding to the back of the book.

Most 18th century bindings consist of vellum or leather covered boards with raised bands on the spine. These volumes often have leather labels, with the title and/or author gilt stamped, glued into the panels or spaces between the raised bands. In the latter part of the 18th century one finds some books with the cords inset and the spine lacks the raised bands. It is also in the latter part of the 18th century when publishers began issuing their books in inexpensive, plain paper-covered boards (referred to simply as "boards") so that the book owner could decide whether or not to have a better binding made for the volume. One also finds the first use of cloth for bindings in the U.S. shortly after the American Revolution, the cloth used was very coarsely woven linen and the only books bound in cloth seemed to be a few textbooks. The real advent of the use of cloth by publishers in America occurs in approximately 1827. Prior to the common use of cloth, a great many books were issued in plain boards and sometimes the boards were printed with the title and a fancy ornamental border — often printed boards (paper covered) had the title page on the front board and publishers advertising on the rear board.

The common use of cloth following 1827 almost coincides with the development of the "case binding", the binding was constructed separately and made ready to attach to the book, attached primarily by the endpapers. Case bindings were developed between 1825 and 1830 and allowed for easier binding of large editions — also assisted in the development of commercial binderies which specialized in binding for various publishers.

Prior to 1835 the gilt or other color titles on front boards and spines was stamped by hand and one also sees printed paper labels used on many books between 1800 and 1835, which was a less expensive way of adding the title to the binding. Embossing presses came into use in approximately 1835, which automated the addition of title and any decorative stamping on the binding. In about 1840 machine casing developed, which meant the case no longer had to be attached to the book by hand. This latest development in binding meant that thereafter virtually every publisher was binding their books in cloth. One could still order special publisher's bindings in leather or special cloth, but standard cloth bindings became the norm.

Very pictorial cloth bindings became common in the final quarter of the 19th century — these bindings often appear to have a scene from the book "painted" directly on the cloth of the front cover. Paper dust jackets saw common use beginning in the 20th century, although there are examples of publishers dust jackets prior to 1890, they are uncommon in the 19th century.

In summary we will provide two references, a few links and a brief chronology of major changes in book binding in America:

The following chronology has approximate dates and is meant only as a rough guide:

There are many references available on the subject of bindings and we will list two we believe are very helpful, one is a very good history of binding, the other is useful as a pictorial guide to early American bindings.

Lehmann-Haupt, Hellmut et al. Bookbinding in America. Three Essays. Portland, Maine. Southworth-Anthoensen Press, 1941.

(American Antiquarian Society). Early American Bookbindings from the Collection of Michael Papantonio. Worcester, MA, American Antiquarian Society, 1985.

A Few interesting links relating to book bindings:

Center for the Book Arts offers exhibitions, courses, workshops, and seminars on the traditional crafts of bookbinding

Bookbinding and The Conservation of Books. A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology an on-line dictionary or glossary of many book terms including those associated with binding


Part   1 - Introduction
Part   2 - Importance of priority relative to book collecting
Part   3 - Jargon - Reading a catalog description
Part   4 - Jargon - Condition and its importance
Part   5 - Bibliographies and other useful references
Part   6 - Rarity & scarcity and supply & demand
Part   7 - Ephemera - what is it and is it part of book collecting
Part   8 - Understanding book values & pricing
Part   9 - Some physical aspects of the book - bindings & paper
Part 10 - Book illustrations - variety of & illustrators
Part 11 - Investing in Antiquarian Books

Books and Book Collecting