A History of English Craft Bookbinding Technique

by Bernard C Middleton

The Holland Press, 1978

readability rating
5 star readability rating A comprehensive and readable survey of its subject.
content rating
5 star content rating This book is relevant, factual, and well-researched.

Sir Bernard Middleton is one of Britain's most gifted bookbinders, but this book shows that he is also an excellent binding instructor and researcher. Although this is not an instructional manual, it is full of details and information that will come in handy for anyone working in the trade.

In addition to the historical survey, broken up by binding stage rather than chronological age (a nice touch for binders), there are appendices on the history of the trade, book-edge gilding, the influence of the Arts and Crafts movement, and the definitive "Investigation into the Causes and Prevention of Leather Decay".

The Good Stuff
As with The Restoration of Leather Bookbindings, the other Middleton book that I own, the text explains not only what was done in a given period, but why and whether or not it worked. This means that even a binder who is not trying to create a historical reproduction binding can learn from the text.
Could Do Better
Although there are illustrations, there aren't quite enough of them. Some techniques only make sense if you already know what Middleton is talking about. Since it is not an instructional manual, I didn't expect a proper "how-to", but sometimes I couldn't fathom what he was referring to at all.
Also, although the 1978 edition is updated from the first edition in 1963, most of the changes are in an appendix at the back rather than incorporated in the text.
Best Bit
One area most binding books touch on very lightly, if at all, is how to sew "two on" and "three on" (adding multiple signatures in one horizontal pass of the thread). This book has a thorough survey of different methods that have been used throughout the centuries, fully diagrammed, with their strengths and weaknesses explained.
OK, I'm a bookbinding geek, but I think that's wonderful.