Historical Bindings Project: Limp Vellum Bindings

This is the third installment of my project on making models of historical book structures! The first was Nag Hammadi and the second was a late coptic codice. Working with Christopher Clarkson’s Limp Vellum Binding article we created a model of a limp vellum binding in medium and miniature!

Limp vellum bindings were common in the 16th century, as Clarkson says they were “a major feature in medieval Europe” and this is in part due to their durability and flexibility. The demand for books had grown by the 13th and 14th centuries and with that demand came the need to increase production. The limp vellum binding is an “unpretentious style”. It has a strong sewing construction, and a flexible durable limp vellum cover. The binding itself uses little to no adhesive.

Overtime the simplistic binding began to transform into refined and luxurious bindings, the cover being created sperate from the text block and “decorated with gold-tooled and hand painted designs”.

Their construction, according to Clarkson, is: “gatherings sewn onto alum-tawed thongs and a parchment liner was placed across the spine. The head and tail bands were sewn through the text-block spine folds (center of gatherings) and the spine liner. Then all the thongs were laced through a vellum cover formed with wide turn-ins and the parchment liner entwining the whole together so that the text-block was locked firmly, created a ‘bound’ rather than ‘case’ binding.”

We followed the diagrams and instructions in Clarkson’s article. To begin we sewed our textblocks on alum-tawed thongs, using a packed sewing.

After that we added an endband, also sewn on a alum-tawed thong. The endband is what I know to be called the foundation endband. A single color with the bead at the back.

Once the textblocks were sewn, we began to work on the cover. We made a paper model first, so we could figure out the measurements. This was my first time making a yapp edge, so the paper template was really helpful!

After making the paper template we made the cover in thicker paper, just to practice and create a teaching model. Finally we made the cover in vellum and laced the books into the covers.

And once the book was laced in and the endpapers put down, this simple structure was complete! I think it turned out really nice. I enjoyed working with the vellum, though a little less so on the miniature books, but even those turned out great. It’s such a nice structure, I’m sure I’ll continue to play around with it.

And with that, the third book in my historical models is complete! Next up is an alla rustica binding, very, very similar to the limp vellum binding, but it will still get it’s own post.

Until next time,

Article citation:

Clarkson, C. 1982. Limp Vellum Binding and Its Potential as a Conservation Type Structure for the Rebinding of Early
Printed Book. A Break with 19th and 20th Century Rebinding Attitudes and Practices.
Hitchin: Michael Gullick at the
Red Gull Press

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