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Subject: Rounding and backing

Rounding and backing

From: Per Cullhed <per.cullhed>
Date: Wednesday, March 6, 1996
Caroline Gilderson-Duwe <c5d [at] gml__lib__uwm__edu>

>There are conflicting points of view regarding rounding and backing
>of commercially bound library materials....
>anyone had success with having their commercial bindery round and
>back only under certain conditions?  And has the general consensus
>regarding rounding and backing changed since these standards were

Rounding and backing has always been a subject of controversy, and I
think it is impossible to give a conclusive answer to this subject
from a technical point of view, but one should be aware of the
cultural aspects in book binding.

Rounding and backing came into extensive use during the 16th century
with the binding of large books with relatively light paper, wooden
boards, tight backs and wide squares. This construction is
functional and many of these bindings are still quite sound. The
rounding took up the swell from the sewing thread and the backing
gave place for the wooden boards which could be laced on tightly.
The combination of tight back, rounding and backing ensured that the
book block would go back into its original form.

I think that our idea of how a binding is supposed to look like
still is influenced by these early books but we have changed many of
the original "ingredients" with sometimes poor results from a
technical point of view. One must keep in mind that these
"ingredients" constitute a system and this system is changed if we
change one or more of the parts of it.

As for rounding and backing it can be considered as a sort of
pre-set form that stiffens the spine area and makes it more
difficult for the fore edge to protrude, but also a means of dealing
with the swell of the spine from the thread of a handsewn book.
These book blocks will inevitably go either forward or backwards
when put under pressure in the process of making, or in a bookshelf.
Rounding and backing solves this problem. This was an absolute truth
until the sewing machines came into use during the late 19th
century. This new technique changed the original system because it
was possible to produce books with less swell in the spine. The
change became even more evident with the double-fan gluing technique
when the swell was nearly eliminated. So we have a completely new
system that in certain cases can allow us to eliminate both rounding
and backing.

The Uppsala University Library began using a flat back technique in
the 1960's and this gives an opportunity to study both the rounding
and backing system and the flat back system in for example serials.
My general impression is that both techniques work well if they are
performed with a good craftsmanship. There is one more difference
between these binding systems, and that is that the flat back
volumes have always been cut flush, i.e. they have no squares. I
think this is a major factor for the relative success of our flat
back bindings, and I am also certain that the rounded and backed
volumes would have survived even better without the squares although
they would look uglier and therefore not conform to our idea of what
a book should look like.

The binding system has changed so much from the 16th century that
the squares have outlived their function as a means of protecting
the book block. Many old bindings still stand on parade with the
bottom edge perfectly straight 1 cm above the shelf, whereas modern
bindings and especially heavy bindings almost always have sunk in
their cases with the bottom edge resting on the shelf. I think this
is one of the most drastic examples where we have kept a feature
which is not longer functional because of other changes in the
binding system.

To summarize this subject I think it is important to be able to
judge which binding "ingredients" are the most suitable to one's
needs and also be aware of both the cultural and the technical
aspects of the chosen binding system.

Per Cullhed

                  Conservation DistList Instance 9:61
                  Distributed: Thursday, March 7, 1996
                        Message Id: cdl-9-61-010
Received on Wednesday, 6 March, 1996

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