Book Biz: Decorative Bindings, Book Zones, Amazon to be Investigated?

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A couple of the newsletters I got last month reminded me that book ornamentation need not be confined to ornate covers or a profusion of graphics sprinkled through the text. While such design elements are generally ignored in the minimalist design of ebooks, traditionally the book bindery could decorate a book far in excess of the capabilities of the press. The newsletters each specifically referenced gilt edging, a feature that can still be found on books manufactured in the 21st century. Stamping gold leaf on the trimmed edges of a book is not only ornamental, the gilt edging also resists dirt and dust and somewhat seals the paper edges from moist air which can begin the phenomenon of foxing, or discoloring of the pages.

Most of us are probably most familiar with gilt edging on Bibles or other religious books but the good people at Abe Books point out that gilt edged books were common in literary tomes which frequently also sported foil stamped covers with ellaborate design elements.

Edge gilding is not a complicated process. The unbound book is clamped to align the page edges to form a flat, solid surface, then a sheet of gold leaf is laid over the edge of the book and pressure is applied to the leaf. While many hand binderies gilt edge books manually, this video uses a machine to apply even pressure to the leaf.

I think edge gilding is about the only bindery option for the trimmed book edge today, but there were numerous options in the past both ornamental and practical.

Years ago many books, even cheap pulps, had the trim edges stained or perhaps speckled. Staining was presumably an inexpensive way to protect the trim edges from dirt and dust while speckling was purely ornamental.

Fore edge painting is a forgotten art today, a unique decoration so time intensive it can hardly be found in anything but special edition volumes. Fore edge painting is accomplished by fanning the edge of the book and clamping it to again provide a smooth, hard surface. A watercolor artist then paints the trimmed book edge with a painting that may or may not be relevant to the book’s subject matter. After drying, the book is released from the clamp. While the painting appears as nothing more than bits of color on the edge of the closed book, the reader who fans the pages will reveal the artist’s work. It’s even possible for a book to have double fore edge painting when fanning the pages one way with another painting revealed when the pages are fanned the other way.

Another time intensive effect, but one that is more practical than decorative, is indexing the edge of books. Bibles and cookbooks were most frequently notched or step indexed. The process is hand work done in the bindery. The operator physically opens the book to the proper page (identified by a press mark denoting the page and position) and rolls the pages back. The book is positioned, a switch or lever is activated to put the familiar half moon cut into the beveled pages and the operator moves on to the next notch. Often a protective tab was positioned on the correct page beneath the notch before the operator opened to the next page.

Some years ago I purchased a 1940 edition of The American Woman’s Cook Book, a rather run-of-the-mill cookbook that has green stained (to match the cover cloth) thumb notch indexing in three banks of nine thumb notches each along with printed identifying tabs for every notch (Breads, Salads, etc.). The book reminds me that production costs occasionally must give way to function (and occasionally to art), perhaps even more so in the age of the ebook, when the very form of the book itself should be celebrated.
The September newsletter follows.

RR Donnelly Re-Invents Itself…Again

RR Donnelly,, has announced that it is splitting into three companies: Financial Co. (to offer one stop shopping for corporate financial services), Publishing and Retail-Centric Print Services (printing and business supplies), and Customized Multichannel Communications Management Company (offering everything from direct mail to web site hosting). The latter, aka CMCo, will inherit RRD’s $3 billion debt and $677 million of underfunded pensions.

These presumably will replace their “six vertically integrated service platforms”: Creative Communications, Financial Management, Legal Support Services, Research and Analytics, Office of the Future, and Call Center and Customer Care functions

Saving Lives One Book at a Timedrinkable-book-filters-water-designboom01

The beauty of books and the book form is amazing. These inexpensive books help provide safe drinking water to populations that don’t have access to clean water.

Eco Paper Mill

Domtar, a leading supplier of book printing papers, has announced that it now produces 74% of the power used in its manufacturing process.

Book Zones

Over 300 years ago, Grub Street was a London district devoted to books. Korea expanded the idea to Paju Bookcity where the focus includes large doses of the technology that produces books. And Tokyo has Jimbocho, shoe-horning a book-centric district into one of the densest cities in the world.

Adult Coloring Books? There’s an App for That

Based on some reviews, transitioning coloring books from ink and paper to digital screen hasn’t found as wide an audience as good old crayons on toothy paper.

Can You Design a Cover in 2 Weeks?

To mark the twentieth anniversary of the publication of David Foster Wallace title Infinite Jest, its publisher, Little Brown and Company, has offered $1,000 for the cover design chosen for this edition. Hurry, deadline is September 15th.

Authors United Requests DOJ Probe of Amazon

Authors United (AU) has doubled down in its brawl with Amazon requesting a Department of Justice investigation of Amazon’s monopoly of the book industry, specifically ebooks.

Amazon Employees Got Them Workplace Blues

A New York Times article describing a cut-throat white collar culture at Amazon created enough furor for CEO Jeff Bezos to ask unfairly treated employees to contact him directly.

Politician Accepts Kickbacks From Printer

George Gallo, former GOP chairman in Connecticut, has been ordered to pay $117,000 restitution for accepting $117,000 in kickbacks from a Florida printer, as well as being sentenced to 13 months in prison.

Japanese Bookstore Out-monopolizes Amazon

Kinokuniya, Japan’s largest book selling chain, has purchased 90% of the first printing of popular author Haruki Murakami’s new title to stall Amazon’s order fulfillment of the title.

Are Digital Classrooms Better?digital classroom

Converting traditional classrooms to digital is costing $10 billion per year but it may be time to analyze the educational benefits for the students.

Final Thought

If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking.”
Haruki Murakami



About Wayne Johnson 69 Articles
I've worked in book manufacturing for over 30 years, closing my company Baker Johnson, Inc. in 2005. Currently I work freelance with a large group of publishers, advising them on the printing options available to them as the book industry endures major restructuring. My wife Cathy is a retired psychologist and spent most of her career working with the youth at Maxey Boys Training School. She is a small mammal rehabilitator with Friends of Wildlife. Our daughter Whitney is a PharmD working in the Denver area evaluating the pharmaceutical requirements of nursing homes. Our son Eliot lives in Waterloo and is an editor at Mathematical Reviews in Ann Arbor.