Bookbinding for Bibliophiles

by Fletcher Battershall

The Literary Collector Press, 1905
Copy 62 of 300 on Enfield Plate Paper

readability rating
5 star readability rating Marvellous. The only bookbinding book I have ever read aloud to friends.
content rating
2 star content rating This is not really a book aimed at binders. As the title indicates, it's really for bibliophiles and collectors.

My father brought this book over from California, having found it in a used bookshop in Monterey. It's from an almost magical time in bookbinding history, during the height of the Arts and Crafts movement.

The book is well titled. It is aimed at book collectors who want to intelligently evaluate book bindings. Its main intent is to inform the taste, and it explains the processes and materials of bookbinding to further that end. It's not an instruction book.

The writing style is almost unbelievably florid and allusive. It reminds me of nothing more than Thomas de Quincey's Confessions of an English Opium-Eater, though it is much more readable.

The Good Stuff
Battershall, for all of his elaborate style, really does know his stuff. He has a coherent aesthetic sense, well-rooted in the history of bookbinding. The book includes chapters on gold tooling styles in Italy and France, which were originally published as individual magazine articles. However, unlike many experts on binding history, Battershall is not hung up on the past. The final chapter in the book (and indeed many passages within it) emphasises the importance of binding in the current style of the age, rather than recreating the styles of previous centuries.
Could Do Better
Like many binding writers, Battershall has strong views on the binding styles he does and does not like. The irony is that the publishers and binders of the edition violate most of the precepts laid down in the text. Battershall doesn't like sewing on buried cords or hollow backs. He rails against thick paper and scorns wide margins. The book itself incorporates all those features.
Best Bit
This passage from the chapter entitled Of the Choice of Leathers must be the funniest paragraph ever written about bookbinding.
The goat himself has few virtues; all ages have condemned him. In Attic groves he was ever a terror to the tender nymph, a follower of wine-bibbers, and of general ill repute. Yearly he wandered in the desert, bearing the sins of a whole people on his horny pate. At some future day we know he is to be divided from the sheep. Always he is typical of evil. But this merit, if no other, he has above other beasts; his hide is tough. Properly tanned in sumach he is transmuted to a thing of beauty, suffers a "sea-change" into something fair, and is honored above the very clay of Caesar.
And then to thy once shaggy breast,
Now purified, shalt thou enfold
Frail Manon and fair Juliet
So sings some forgotten bibliomaniac. We despised him living, but we prize him dead. Such injustice is common to us.