Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books
A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology

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gold tooling

The art or process of lettering and/ or decorating the spine and covers of a book with GOLD LEAF (or, at times, other metals, e.g., platinum) impressed into the covering material, usually leather, by means of a heated letter, lettering pallet, or finishing tool.

In the traditional method of gold tooling, the lettering or design is first blinded in, generally first through paper, and then again directly on the leather. The second working of the tool polishes the base of the impression and assists in creating a particular brilliance in the tooling. An adhesive (glair) is applied to the leather (either all over or directly into the blind impressions); strips of gold leaf are laid over the impressions and held in place temporarily with a thin film of vaseline or grease; and the gold is then pressed permanently into place with the heated tool When done properly, the affinity of the gold for leather is such that it will practically never come off; nor will it tarnish.

Gold tooling must be ranked as one of the most important innovations in the history of bookbinding. Its origin are somewhat obscure, but it was probably introduced into Europe by way of Italy, and spread throughout the rest of Europe and England, eventually ar riving in America. There is some evidence that the technique may have been practiced in Morocco in the 13th century, but this is not conclusive. It has also been proposed that gold tooling was introduced into Italy by way of Persia (now Iran), where bookbinding and gilding flourished in the early decades of the 15th century.

Very early gold tooling is difficult to evaluate because it is uncertain whether the gold was actually impressed into the leather with a (hot) tool, or was painted into blind impressions. The evidence offered by some bindings, i.e., the absence of impressions deep enough to indicate tooling, as well as what appear to be brush marks in the gold, would seem to indicate painting. Because of the elapsed time, however, which has led to the inevitable deterioration of the materials, it is difficult to differentiate between the two techniques. In any event, books were actually being tooled in gold in Venice no later than 1470, and possibly several years earlier. Gold-tooled leather bindings were not common in England before about 1530, and not in the United States until about 1669.

The universal adoption of gold tooling was by no means immediate, and, in fact, blind tooling was still the predominant form of decoration until about 1580, or even 1600. See also: FINISHING (1) . (141 , 158 , 225 , 236 , 347 )

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