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Subject: Library binding styles

Library binding styles

From: Pete Jermann <pjermann>
Date: Monday, May 4, 1992
>From: "Sara Williams" <WILLIAMS_S [at] CUBLDR__Colorado__EDU>
>I have just taken over responsibility for commercial binding here, and
>would like some input concerning binding with the so-called "flex hinge"
>endpapers, wide joint, and flat back.  I attended a presentation at the
>last ALA Midwinter meeting, where the reps from ICI described this as a
>great innovation.  As far as I could tell, the problems this kind of
>binding was designed to correct only occur with oversewn volumes -- and
>one of the things I intend to do here is reduce oversewing to a minimum.

Since I have not actually seen one of these bindings what I have to say
is mere speculation with all its attendant pitfalls (including the fact
that I may be way out in left field).  I looked up the "Flex Hinge"
endsheet in my handy Library Binding Service Catalog.  This particular
endsheet is for oversewn books and is designed more to solve a
production problem for the binder rather than offer any particular
advantage to the final product.  In earlier versions of oversewn books
after the endsheets are sewn on, the outer part of the endsheet is
folded back over the sewing (which extends approximately 1/4" into the
gutter margin) and glued down to hide the sewing. The endsheet is then
folded forward again such that its hinge aligns with the spine of the
book.  Such a design allows the book's cover to open all the way to the
edge of the spine as is the case with standard sewn-through-the-fold
case bound books.  Furthermore, this arrangement allows the cover's
joint to be sized independent of the oversewing within.  The advantage
of this labor intensive method is primarily aesthetic - it produces a
cover that looks (small joints) and works in a manner that people
expect.  Other than this it offers little advantage.  The remainder of
the book is still oversewn and still requires brute force to use.

The "flex hinge" endsheet eliminates this process of twice folding the
endsheet to hide the sewing.  If I have figured this out correctly, the
cover of a flex hinge book opens to the edge of the sewing
(approximately 1/4" from the spine) rather than clear to the spine.
This requires that the cover's joints be wider as the cover's boards
must stop slightly short of the sewing.  Should the boards cover the
sewing in order to create the traditional narrow joint, the book will
not open at all.  Such a binding requires less labor to produce.  The
advantage to the user is that the book is probably slightly less likely
to loosen at the hinges.  Functionally, the book within should be no
different to use (still a pain in the neck) than earlier oversewn books.
Aesthetically, we have a book that looks a little odd because we're used
to seeing different proportions in a bound book.

The square back as opposed to the rounded back is another case where I
believe tradition has outlived function.  In a traditional
sewn-through-the- fold book the rounding of the spine accommodates the
extra thickness the sewing thread adds to the spine.  Rounding of the
spine was particularly necessary in earlier years when sewing threads
tended to be thicker than those used in machine production today.  I
don't believe early binders concerned themselves with the issue of
square vs. round spines as when they were finished sewing a book the
spine had a tendency to round whether they liked it or not.  Any attempt
to eliminate this rounded spine to create a square back would have been
the equivalent of forcing a square peg into a round hole.  Further
rounding of the spine merely conformed the book to its natural
tendencies.  In addition to rounding, the traditional book is also
"backed" a process which turns the edges of the spine and creates the
grooved joint between the spine and the boards on the book's cover.

Certainly, with a traditionally sewn book the question of whether the
spine should be round or square is similar to asking if two plus two
should equal three.  With newer techniques (oversewing and adhesive
bindings) the round back is less a natural structural occurrence and
more a forced style. When a book is traditionally encased with a
"square" on the bottom edge which leaves the book hanging in its cover,
the structural advantage of a rounded and backed spine with these newer
leaf attachment techniques is dubious. Any possible advantage disappears
completely when the book is bound without a square on the bottom edge
such that the textblock rests securely on the shelf without hanging from
its cover.  Much of the argument for whether rounding and backing a
modern book makes a better book relates to how the textblock nestles
into the cover at the joint area.  Once the joint area exceeds a certain
width (which it probably does in the flex hinge bindings) the potential
positive effects of this nestling are negated.  In other words rounding
and backing a oversewn, flex hinge binding (as I envision it) would be a
waste of time.

In summary, the "great innovation" in the flex hinge oversewn binding
(once again as I see it in my mind's eye) would be labor savings and an
increased profit margin to the binder who has eliminated several steps
in preparation of the endsheets as well as the rounding and backing
process. The resultant book will probably function just as well (or just
as poorly) as its oversewn predecessors and may be slightly less
inclined to pull from its covers.  The major problem still remains that
it is an oversewn book, a technique which I believe should be and can be
severely limited or eliminated as a binding option.

>Now my own commercial binder is trying to sell me this binding as a
>great innovation and improvement for all bound volumes, regardless of
>the kind of leaf attachment used.

"Flex Hinge" is a registered trade mark for a type of endsheet designed
for oversewn books and would have little utility on books with other
types of leaf attachment. I am curious whether your binder specifies the
"flex hinge" for non-oversewn books or if the great innovation is just
the square backed, wide hinged style.

Pete Jermann                    |          St. Bonaventure University
Preservation Officer            |          St. Bonaventure, NY 14778
Friedsam Memorial Library       |          (716) 375-2324

                  Conservation DistList Instance 5:55
                    Distributed: Friday, May 8, 1992
                        Message Id: cdl-5-55-003
Received on Monday, 4 May, 1992

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