Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books
A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology

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A functional and/or ornamental band at the head and tail of a book between the sections and the spine covering, which projects slightly beyond the head and tail. Originally, the headband consisted of a thong core, similar to the bands on which the book was sewn, around which the ends of the threads were twisted and then laced into the boards of the book. Today, however, the headband is much simpler and is usually made of colored silk sewn to the book or simply attached after the volume has been forwarded. In edition binding they are almost always manufactured separately and then attached, while in library binding they have been replaced for the most part by a length of cord around which the covering material is rolled at both head and tail.

Headbands at one time were distinguished as the "headband" and "tailband," but both are now called "headbands" or simply "heads," although the term "endband," to indicate both, single headband with core of vellum seems to be preferred by some bookbinders.

The original headbands were intrinsically a part of the sewing of the book, and were used in lieu of kettle stitches in linking the sections together. They were a part of the construction of the book, which possibly explains why they were (and are) at both the head and tail, rather than just at the head. This type of headband was eventually discarded, however, because it did not permit cutting the edges subsequent to sewing, despite the fact that it had the great advantage of also banding the top and bottom of the sections together tightly.

Techniques of headbanding continued to change, and by the 12th century, or even earlier, it became the common practice to sew the bands independently of the sections. Furthermore, until the end of the 15th century, they were always tied down in the fold of each section, when the increased production of books subsequent to Gutenberg made it necessary to reduce the cost of binding a single book. Thereafter, they were tied down at greater intervals.

Because the boards of early bindings were cut flush, it was the usual practice to cut away the corners of the leaves at head and tail so as to make room for the bands and also to keep them from protruding too far and possibly being damaged.

Headbands of the 12th and early 13th centuries were combined with a leather tab which extended beyond the spine, whereas from the middle of the 13th century to the end of the 15th century, the leather cover at the end of the spine was frequently cut so that it just covered the headbands. The cover was then sewn through from front to back, or vice versa, underneath and along the length of the hidden headband, resulting in a series of stitches on the spine of the book, as well as a series where normally one expected to see the beading. The binder usually used uncolored thread for both this and the headband, which was usually single and sewn independently of the sewing of the book. The plaited headband, which was made with strips of leather (usually tawed and stained pink), was still another variation. This type was rare in England but often used in Germany in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. This type of headband, which is the strongest ever devised, consisted of two thongs plaited around a core of rolled vellum, which had already been sewn to the book. The thongs also passed through holes made in the leather at the top of the spine where it was cut off instead of being turned in. When using this type of headband, the leather cover was sewn by means of plaited thongs to the primary headband which had already been sewn to the book, thereby making a solid connection at an important point.

The conventional headband, which was sewn with colored silk or other type of thread, and which had the beading showing at the bottom complete with HEADCAP , was introduced very early in the 16th century and quickly became popular. The prevalent colors were blue and white, but pink and blue, pink and brown, as well as other combinations were also used.

Double headbands are not often seen in 16th century English bookbinding, but they were used to some extent on the Continent. They acquired popularity in England in the 17th century, utilizing more interesting colors and superior materials than on the Continent. Until the beginning of the 20th century the double headband usually consisted of two rolls, one smaller than the other, with the smaller placed above the larger; however, early in the 20th century binders began placing the smaller band both in front of and below the larger. It also became the common practice to use a flat strip of material rather than a larger roll.

Only a relatively few bookbinders since the 15th century have taken the trouble to tie down headbands at every section, or even tried to put the needle through the fold of the section where the tie-down was being made; instead it went between the leaves at intervals of 1/ to 1/2 inch.

When the headband is an integral part of the book, it serves the practical purpose of taking up much of the strain from the spine covering when the book is pulled from the shelf in the usual manner. The worked headband reinforces that part of the spine covering extending beyond the text block because of the squares. The headband that is only glued on, on the other hand, is merely decorative and often falls short even in that respect, as it usually looks cheap and also as though it were an afterthought. Although it is generally believed that glued-on headbands were unknown before the early 19th century, i.e., the beginning of the rise of edition binding as we know it today, they were being used, at least in Germany, as early as the last decade of the 16th century. They were probably not used in English bookbinding until sometime in the first half of the 17th century. Although it must be assumed that glued on bands were used in that time as an economy measure, they probably required as much time to make as worked headbands. They were made by sewing two threads of the same or different colors in the usual manner with a cross-over beading onto a strip of vellum, which sometimes had its upper edge bent over to provide greater bulk. In many cases about 3/4 inch on each side of the core was not sewn but was attached to the boards, usually on the outside. In other cases the bulk of the headband was cut to the thickness of the book and only the part under the sewing extended across the joints or was laced through the joints on some vellum bindings. (141 , 172 , 236 , 241 , 335 )

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