RBS 2005 Binding Course Offerings
Jan Storm van Leeuwen's Introduction to the History of Bookbinding (B-10) is an excellent place to begin the serious study of bookbinding history; a cursory overview of the subject is offered in The History of the Book, 200-2000 (H-10) and covered in somewhat greater detail in the three-course history of the book sequence (H-20, H-30, and H-40). Some Rare Book School students view the three courses taught by Christopher Clarkson (B-40), Nicholas Pickwoad (B-60), and Sue Allen (B-90) as a chronological sequence; but the three courses may be taken in any order. Either B-10 or B-60 is a prerequisite for Mirjam Foot's European Decorated Bookbinding (B-70).
B-10. Introduction to the History of Bookbinding
Jan Storm van Leeuwen
A bookbinding has two main functions. It protects its text block against wear and tear, and, by its structure, it makes a book out of a heap of otherwise separate leaves or quires. Through the ages, the covers, spine, fore-edge and other parts of the book have been decorated in almost every conceivable manner, technique, and material, thereby turning the binding into a work of decorative art. This introductory course, which will discuss the principal techniques and materials used in the West over binding's long history, is intended for those who wish to develop a better understanding of the history of the field; it is not a practical binding course. It is aimed at historians, special collections personnel, collectors, dealers, conservators and bookbinders, and others with an interest in the binding and its history.
While discussing more luxurious examples, the course will also introduce the means for dating and localizing simpler bindings. Topics include: basic terminology; the relation between binding and contents; commissioned and signed bindings; decorated papers used in binding; the history of publishers' bindings (primarily) in the United States and England; sources that can be used for research; the study and description of bindings.
B-40. Medieval & Early Renaissance Bookbinding Structures
An explanation of the diversities of European bookbinding structures, up to and including the early period of more generalized practice and division of labor. Topics: identification (where possible) of the main types of binding structures; their dating and provenance; the recognition and recording of materials and techniques.
This course is aimed at librarians, archivists, and art historians specializing in early books and manuscripts, and others who handle such material. The course will emphasize studies of the physical book and binding craft techniques of the period. It will proceed by means of lecture and discussion, and employ a considerable number of slides, diagrams, and samples. The structurally diverse products of the period will be explored by general descriptions and the use of certain carefully chosen case studies. The instructor will present for discussion his own methods concerning the interpretation and recording of such binding structures. In the face of the extensive losses now occurring to primary source material, problems of preservation and record photography will be mentioned. There will be a full-day field trip to a collection with major holdings in medieval and Renaissance manuscripts and bindings.
In their personal statement, applicants should indicate their background, special interests and expectations from the course. The course presupposes a general knowledge of European history, but not of binding history. Please note that this course is not designed for practicing bookbinders (as such).
B-60. European Bookbinding, 1500-1800
How bookbinding in the post-medieval period developed to meet the demands placed on it by the growth of printing; techniques and materials employed to meet these demands; the development of temporary bindings (for example, pamphlets and publishers' bindings); the emergence of structures usually associated with volume production in the c19; the dating of undecorated bindings; the identification of national and local binding styles.
The history of bookbinding is not simply the history of a decorative art, but also that of a craft answering a commercial need. This course will follow European bookbinding from the end of the Middle Ages to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, using the bindings to illustrate the aims and intentions of the binding trade. A large part of the course will be devoted to the identification of both broad and detailed distinctions within the larger groups of plain commercial bindings and the possibilities of identifying the work of different countries, cities, and even workshops without reference to finishing tools. The development of binding decoration will be touched on, but will not form a major part of the discussion.
There will be slide lectures each day. Actual examples from the Rare Book School collections will be used to supplement the slides in three afternoon sessions, and another afternoon will be spent examining finely bound books in the University of Virginia's Special Collections. Note that students will not in general be able to touch or handle personally the books shown to them in class, because of the fragility and/or value of the material being used -- an understandably irritating but nevertheless very necessary policy instituted in order to protect the collections of Rare Book School and the University of Virginia from collective overuse.
Students are expected to have a sound knowledge of bookbinding terms and a basic knowledge of the history of book production in the period under consideration. The purpose of the course is to encourage an awareness of the possibilities latent in the detailed study of bookbindings and is thus aimed at all those handling books bound in this period, but it has particular relevance for those involved in the repair and conservation of such materials. In their personal statement, applicants should describe the nature and extent of their bench training (if any) in bookbinding and/or related disciplines, and they should also describe any previous formal or informal historical study in the field.
B-70. European Decorative Bookbinding
An historical approach to bookbinding, tracing influences from the Near- and Middle-East through Europe, with examples from the c8 to the late c20. Topics include: the emergence and development of various decorative techniques and styles; readership and collecting; the history of bookbinding in a wider historical context; the pitfalls and possibilities of binding research. Enrollment in this course is limited to those who have already taken either Jan Storm van Leeuwen's Introduction to the History of Bookbinding (B-10) or Nicholas Pickwoad's European Bookbinding, 1500-1800 (B-60).
There are two ways in which to approach the history of European decorative bindings: chronologically and thematically. This course combines both, in that it will treat decorative bookbinding in a series of themes and episodes. The themes (the relation between form and use; the influence of the spread of learning and the increase in readership on binding structure and design; styles and designs; patronage and collecting; the economics of the binding trade) may cover considerable chronological periods. They will be illustrated by episodes: in-depth treatment of specific manifestations or specific periods (e.g. c12 Paris; monastic reform; turbulence in the c19). The course will be extensively illustrated with slides, and there will be a field trip to inspect actual examples.
The course is aimed at librarians, antiquarian book dealers, collectors, and conservators with an interest in history. Students should have a basic knowledge of European history and of the history of book production, as well as an understanding of book structures and a familiarity with bibliographical description and bookbinding terms. Please indicate any relevant previous training and/or experience you have had in this field, and state your own area of special interest. NB: students will in general not be able to touch or handle personally the books shown to them in class, because of the fragility and/or value of the material being used. Students who suspect that they will find this restriction overly frustrating are discouraged from applying for admission to the course.
B-90. Publishers' Bookbindings, 1830-1910
The perception of the importance of c19 books in library stack and other collections has risen dramatically in recent years, and a variety of steps is being taken to preserve them. The cover provided by the publisher is the prime compelling physical aspect of these books. This course is aimed at those working with or interested in c19 book covers. Emphasis is on American book covers with comparisons to English and continental styles. Topics include: the materials (often beautiful), technology, evolving styles of ornamentation, the network of practitioners, the description of bindings, preservation, ongoing research, and developing opportunities in the field.
The c19 book cover as we look at it is a complex product of manufacture. It is often difficult to tell what has been done (was the cloth grained or stamped? how exactly was the gold put on?). In today's climate of heightened appreciation of these covers, it is important to understand how they were put together, to distinguish those that are more rare or more unusual, and to recognize which are typical of their time.
In laboratory sessions, this course examines the processes of graining, stamping, and embossing so that they are clearly understood. The sequence of bookcloths provided by the manufacturer, their variety of colors and textures, the endpapers, the striped endbands, all the materials the binder brought to the book, are studied in detail, as are -- decade by decade -- the technologies and styles that changed the appearance of the covers. Special emphasis is given to the identification of "signed" bindings: when they occur and how to look for them. Background case histories are given of practitioners in the field: binder, engraver, publisher, and (at the turn of the century) the artist-designer. The course will make extensive use of Rare Book School's collection of c19 and early c20 binding examples.