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Blissful Books and Bindings

Glossary of Binding Terms

With a few exceptions, the following definitions are taken, as quoted, from the first edition of ABC for Book-Collectors by John Carter (New York : Knopf, 1951). Those words in UPPERCASE are also defined by Carter, but not necessarily included herein.

"When decoration or lettering on a binding is said to be blind or in blind, this means that a plain impression has been made in the leather or cloth by the tool, die-stamp or roll, without any addition of gold or colour."
"In the widest sense, the wood, paste-board, straw-board or other base for the sides of any bound or CASED book, i.e. any book in hard covers..."
"When used in descriptions of binding, whether of leather or cloth, this properly means decoration that closely borders the edges of the cover. (cf. FRAME)"
"A binder's term (from the French=lace) meaning a border with a lacy pattern on the inner edge, usually gilt. Dentelle decoration may be used on the outside of the covers; but in bindings of the past hundred years or so it has been more often used, in a somewhat emasculated form, on the inside—usually described as inside dentelles."
"A binder's term, meaning that the PASTE-DOWN (or inside lining of the covers) is not of paper but of leather, usually decorated. Since doublures have always been much commoner in French bindings than in English, there is no English word for them."
"With rare exceptions, endpapers are not part of the books as printed. They are the double leaves added at front and back by the binder, the outer leaf of each being pasted to the inner surface of the cover (known as the paste-down), the inner leaves (or free endpapers) forming the first and last of the volume when bound …"
"… Grangerised, or extra-illustrated books as they are now more commonly called, are copies which have had added to them, either by a private owner or professionally, engraved portraits, prints, etc., usually cut out of other books, and sometimes also autograph letters, documents, [photographs], or drawings. … In many cases the result will be two or three volumes 'extended' to as many as eight or ten."
Fillet, filleted, filleting:
"The fillet is a binder's tool: a revolving wheel with one or more raised bands on its circumference for impressing a line or parallel lines on the leather or other binding materials. In the description of books the term is commonly used to mean the line or lines produced by the tool. It is seldom if ever used except of leather binding. Since about 1700 filleting has generally been gilded. A French fillet is a triple fillet, always in gold, the lines unevenly spaced."
"When used in descriptions of binding, whether of leather or (more often) cloth, this properly means a hollow rectangular design, usually simple, running parallel to the four edges of the cover, but with a space between it and them. If they were ever all used on the same book, the frame would be inside the BORDER but outside the PANEL."
Gilt edges:
"Unless specially qualified (e.g. GILT TOPS), this means that all three edges of the book have been cut smooth and gilded."
Gilt tops or top edges gilt:
"Interchangeable terms meaning that the top edges only have been gilded, and implying that the other edges have been cut smooth or at least trimmed. If they have not, the book is described as gilt tops, other edges uncut, or simply t.e.g., uncut."
Half bound:
"This normally means that the spine and outer corners are of leather, while the rest of the sides are covered with cloth or paper …"
"(1) Of bindings: the use of coloured leather or leathers stuck, like mosaic, into the main skin. (2) Of paper: (a) the insertion of a leaf or a PLATE or a CUT, in a larger and usually stouter leaf, to enlarge its margins, and thus its whole size (often in order to range with other, larger leaves in a composite volume, when it is usually described as inlaid to size); (b) the laying down, or re-margining on all four edges, of a badly damaged leaf."
"When this is used without the kind of leather (e.g. CALF, MOROCCO) being specified, it is usually something so undistinguished as to be not worth (commercially) identifying, such as SHEEP or ROAN. Or its nature may even have baffled the cataloguer."
  • Calf: "Leather made from the hide of a calf: the commonest leather used in bookbinding. It is smooth, with no perceptible grain, and its natural colour is brown. … In catalogues, calf (unqualified) will usually denote a binding not so new as to be shiny and not more than about a hundred years old; old calf, a binding clearly not modern, but one which the cataloguer does not consider contemporary with the book and hesitates to date with any precision; early calf (which would not be used of a book printed later than about 1750), one seemingly bound (or rebound) fairly soon after publication, but not close enough to justify the adjective contemporary."
  • Levant: "A kind of loose-grained MOROCCO leather, considered during the past hundred years the most elegant of the family. It is usually highly polished. As its name implies, it came originally from the Near East. More recently, the best has been produced in French North Africa and usually dressed in France. Today most of the levant skins made up in English binderies come from South Africa, and are known in the trade as 'Cape levant'."
  • Morocco: "Originally leather made from the skin of North African or Moroccan goats; a handsome, hard-wearing substance used for better-class binding in Spain and the East in the Middle Ages, in France and Italy since the 16th century, but rarely in England before 1600 …"
"A synonym for the binder's endleaves when these are of some special material, such as vellum or watered silk. When they are of paper, they are called ENDPAPERS; when of leather, the PASTE-DOWN (as opposed to the free half) is called a DOUBLURE."
"'Coloured or stained with variegated patterns like those of marble, 1671', says SOED. Marbled paper, used since the later part of the 17th century for the sides of binding and for endpapers, is made by lowering a sheet of paper on to a bath of thin SIZE, on the surface of which colours have been stirred with a stick or comb into a pattern …"
"Moiré is a wavy or "watered" effect imparted by engraved rollers that press the design into the fabric. The process, applied to cotton, acetate, rayon, and some ribbed synthetic fabrics, is only permanent for acetates and resin-treated rayons." (defined in Britanica Online) Silk moiré, sometimes referred to as watered silk, is often used as a lining fabric for finely bound books.
Panel, paneled:
"A term used in the description of bindings, meaning a rectangle, formed of single, double or triple FILLETS (ruled lines), whether gilt or blind (plain)."
"The paste-down is that half of the ENDPAPER which lines the inside of the cover (its other half is often called the free endpaper). Binders generally refer to the paste-down as the board-paper."
Publisher's cloth:
"The use of cloth for EDITION-BINDING by the publisher dates from about 1823. It had become general in English and American publishing by 1835, except for poetry and other slender volumes, and (for special reasons) fiction. It has become almost universal for new books of any bulk since about 1850. Originally introduced as a novelty alternative to the prevailing paper-covered BOARDS …"
Signed bindings:
The binder's name on the binding; "Bindings can be positively attributed on several kinds of evidence: (1) By the printed or engraved label, known as a BINDER'S TICKET, such as have been in use since the 18th century. (2) By the binder's name, letter-stamped in gilt or blind on the lower inside edge of the front or back cover; or by the French binders of the late 18th and early 19th centuries, at the foot of the spine; or sometimes in ink at the edge of one of the ENDPAPERS. These are known as name- PALLETS. (3) By a manuscript note of the owner for whom it was bound. (4) Very occasionally, by some external documentary evidence, such as the binder's bill or a reference in correspondence."
Uncut, cut:
"Collectors have always, and rightly, cherished copies with ample margins; for it has been the habit of binders from earliest times to trim off more rather than less of the rough edges of the leaves than was intended by those who designed the printed page; and every time a book is rebound, it is liable to loose more … Yet the edges of all these books were intended to be cut smooth, even if they were not thereafter gilt, MARBLED, SPRINKLED, GAUFFRED or stained with colour."
"This means that the leaves of a book issued entirely untrimmed (and therefore having the folding of its component sections still intact at the top and fore-edges) have not been severed from their neighbours with the paper-knife. It must not be confused, as it often is by philistines, with UNCUT."
"The skin of a calf [or sheep], not tanned by de-greased and specially treated, used either for writing or printing on, or in binding. Most medieval manuscripts, whether ILLUMINATED of not, were on vellum. … For binding, limp vellum or limp PARCHMENT was commonly used in the 16th and 17th centuries, sometimes decorated in gilt, but often quite plain. In later centuries vellum has more commonly been used like leather; that is, as covering for board sides. It is remarkably durable, but tends to warp or cockle in dry air."
Wrappers, wrappered:
"Paper covers, plain, MARBLED or printed. A wrappered book, in antiquarian parlance, is what would ordinarily be called a paper-back, and it has nothing to do with dust-wrappers or DUST-JACKETS. … Like paper BOARDS, wrappers were used as a temporary covering for books and pamphlets during the century preceding the introduction of PUBLISHER'S CLOTH (c. 1825)."