Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books
A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology

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Edwards of Halifax

A distinguished English (Yorkshire) family of bookbinders and booksellers, of whom William Halifax (1723-1808) and his son James (1756-1816) were the most famous. William Halifax was known for his revival of the FORE-EDGE PAINTING andETRUSCAN CALF bindings, the latter, which, if not evolved by William, were successfully adopted by him. He also used vellum for covering books, and decorated them with painting of portraits or scenes. In order to protect the paintings Halifax developed his own process of rendering the vellum transparent (although he was by no means the first to make TRANSPARENT VELLUM or parchment) by first soaking it in a solution of pearl ash (potassium carbonate (K 2 CO 3 )) and then subjecting it to high pressure. The paintings were executed on the underside of the vellum, which was then lined with white paper before being placed on the book. The patent which James Halifax was issued for this process (1785) refers to both the painting of the material, as well as the method of making the vellum transparent: however, it is not entirely clear whether the patent was granted for rendering the vellum transparent, for the paintings themselves, or both. Although it was probably for the vellum process, other techniques for rendering vellum (parchment) transparent were known more than 200 years before his time. His technique was obviously successful, as the colors remain fresh to this day. Having the painting on the underside of the vellum also allows the covers to be cleaned when soiled.

It is known that these bindings were being produced at least as early as 1781 even though the patent was not issued until 1785. There is considerable evidence to indicate that James Halifax was a businessman rather than a craftsman, and, since the books were produced in Halifax at a time when James was elsewhere, it is presumed that William invented the process.

All three specialities seem to have been carried on both in the Edwards' home town of Halifax, where Thomas (1762-1834), another son, was in business until 1826, and in London, where James and John (1785-c 1791) opened a book store in 1784, and Richard (1768-1827) another in 1792. Regardless of its place of origin, however, any binding of the period which approximates any of the three specialities in style, as well as the vellum bindings with blue lettering pieces and key-pattern gold tooling in the prevailing neo-classical style, is apt to be attributed to Edwards of Halifax. (69 , 113 , 140 , 236 )

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