The other day I needed to buy a present for a young bookbinder’s birthday. I searched on line for one of my favorite books: Books, Boxes, & Wraps, by Marilyn Webberley and JoAn Forsyth. This book was published in 1995 and it is already no longer available, unless you go the used book route and spend over $60. I did find unbound signatures for sale at Talas. Giving signatures to a new binder to work with seemed a little punitive for a birthday present. This book, would have been the perfect gift for a new binder because the authors introduce a lot of concepts and creative ideas on handling covers structures in general that would be useful to anyone practicing book arts. Other books since then have presented similar material in a more glossy format (BB&W is a single color book with line drawings), but the bulk and scope of the information hasn’t been matched in one volume.
The disappointment I felt at not being able to find this book made me stop and think about what books I considered useful or essential in my own life as a bookbinder. These are books that I don’t lend to people because I can’t afford emotionally (or financially now it seems) to lose them; they aren’t replaceable.
I thought I would compile a list of helpful books so that people looking to build a bookbinding reference bookshelf would have some titles to seek out and examine. These books may not appeal to everyone. These books are not in general about making projects. I don’t like project books. There are plenty of those how-to books out there and many are excellent. But the books on my list for the most part talk about the making of structures and the adapting of them to your own needs. I find these books more useful and more interesting.
I will be making this post a page so that it will be easier for people coming later to my blog to locate it. If you return and can’t find the list, I suggest you look under "pages" in the left column of the blog.
So, without further fanfare, books I think everyone should read, and if possible, have on hand.
Roz's Bookbinding Essentials List
Marilyn Webberley and JoAn Forsyth, Book, Boxes, & Wraps. As mentioned above, I think this book is a wonderful handbook of many options available for binding. Other books may handle details on an individual structure in a more exhaustive way, but the instructions here are clear and encouraging. The approach in the book will help you think about binding in time saving ways as well—in other words it will help you form good habits.
Kojiro Ikegami, Japanese Bookbinding: Instruction from a Master Craftsman. This book walks you through the classic Japanese book binding structures with detailed photos and instructions. People have adapted Japanese structures in many popular books, cutting corners with methods and approaches which work for the Western binding studio or the crafter. Those books are often wonderful in their adaptations. This book, however, is the real deal and deserves to be looked at closely.
Franz Zeier, Books, Boxes, and Portfolios. The title says it all. Great instructions on making these structures.
A. W. Lewis, Basic Bookbinding. A useful book, especially as an introduction. One of three Dover Publications books that I found useful when I was learning to bind.
Pauline Johnson, Creative Bookbinding. Another of the Dover books I like. This book is such a standard that the cover decorations shown in the examples are now retro chic! This book helps people understand the steps of bookbinding.
Aldrin A. Watson, Hand Bookbinding: A Manual of Instruction. The third Dover book I love so much. Watson breaks down the casebinding process in an easy to understand way.
Rob Shepherd, Hand-Made Books: An Introduction to Bookbinding. A straightforward book which walks you through a variety of casebindings, introducing you to the basics of good technique in the process.
Volume 1—Non-Adhesive Binding: Books Without Past or Glue
1-, 2-, and 3-section Sewings: Non-Adhesive Bindings, Volume II
Non-Adhesive Bindings, Volume III: Exposed Spine Sewings
People seem either to hate Smith or love him. I love him. I think his books are fantastic. I love his instructions and adore his detailed illustrations. These three books from Keith Smith provide a wonderful array of binding choices for people who want to bind without glue. The sewings presented in these books can easily be adapted to hardcover versions of the same book structures.
Keith Smith, Bookbinding for Book Artists. I think this is one of the best books on making hardcovered books available. Smith walks you through a method which is clear, precise, and which renders beautiful books.
Sue Doggett, Bookworks. This is sort of a project book, but I like this book because she presents various traditional structures in simple and approachable ways, with lovely illustrations. I think this is a good book for people who want to learn a few easy structures and have their skills build, all the while being inspired by the possibilities for those books.
Shereen LaPlantz, Cover to Cover. This is a sentimental inclusion. It is such a well-known and loved book. It too borders on being a project book. LaPlantz (who recently; she was a popular instructor across the country) introduced a whole generation of artists and crafters to book arts. I think this book is a wonderful source of easy to follow instructions for a number of different structures and a source of great inspiration because of the inclusion of book art created by gifted artists. (LaPlantz published a second bookbinding book before her death but it seems more project oriented to me and goes into some structures I don’t have any patience for, so that book doesn’t make my essentials list.)
Alyssa Golden, Creating Handmade Books. Golden has three books (at my last counting) which build on the same principle: introduction of structures and lots of color photos showing her own book arts work and that of others. For this reason, like with LaPlantz, I think that this book is an important one for book artists to look at.
Diane Maurer-Matheson, The Ultimate Marbling Handbook, and The Art of Making Paste Papers. If you are going to make books chances are you’re going to want some decorative paper with which to cover them. Maurer-Matheson does an excellent job in these two books. Sadly the marbling book is one I lent to a friend and never received back (replacements seem to start at $60). The same is true of the paste paper book (which I actually reordered while making this list; I don’t want to not have this book and it was still available for about $20). I don’t marble paper, but at one time (2000-2001) I thought I might start. Instead I decided that what I really liked about marbling was watching someone really good at it “perform” it. It is mesmerizing. Still Maurer-Matheson’s book on the subject is thorough and complete, including step by step images of pattern making, or at least that’s what I recall about it. My approach to paste paper is decidedly non-traditional, and that is perhaps because my copy of her book was never returned to me. However, I remember that book as fun to read for understanding the process, regardless of the direction you then wanted to go.
There are literally hundreds of other books available on bookbinding. Many present interesting projects that take traditional structures or improvised structures to the completion of an artist’s book or journal. All those books have a value. You can look at them and if they appeal to you, or you want to make one of those projects, you can purchase or borrow the book and make it happen. Others of this type might be gloriously useful for inspiration.
The books I have included on my essentials list are more basic and more deeply satisfying at the same time. These books teach you essential skills and then leave you to apply them to the conditions and constraints of your art and imagination. That makes them timeless in the information they provide. I urge you, if you are interested in binding your own books, to seek out these books and familiarize yourself with the techniques they present. You’ll find additional great books on your journey, but I’m betting you’ll come back to these for reassurance, encouragement, and inspiration.