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Dear Book Arts List Members:
A great writer and friend of mine, Jackson Mac Low, posted the following on
a "poetics" discussion list. His questions have much more to do with
commercial bindings than with fine bindings, but I thought list members here
still might be able to give him information. I already responded with a bit
about contemporary perfect binding, notch binding, and smyth sewing -- but
I'm sure he would appreciate any comments. His e-mail address is given in
Here is his message:
to bind books, esp. small ones in wch ,amu poems &
small graphics are published these days. The most frequently used methods are
"saddle-stitching" or more properly "saddle-wiring" [staples down the center
of the book's middle gutter crease] & "perfect" binding [that most IMperfect
of bindings]. Stapels are unsightly, liable to rust, & apt to seize up & cut
unwary readers. They also come loose at times, leaving the leaves to their
own devices. Also when put in by "unprofessionals"--even gifted ones-- they
made end up on one side or the toehr of the gutter crease. [Books in an
otherwise excellent current series of chapbooks, beautifully designed & with
a fine group of texts, occasionally have this as their only defect.] Also
stapled books have no spines. So theyre no good to put on shelves unless you
have a very exact memory for such things.
Perfect" bindings *do* have spines & no ugly & dangerous staples, but they
fall apart sooner or later--usually sooner. I've been recently reading some
paperbacks in my library, most of which were produced less than 2 decades
ago--some longer ago, but not much. Some have their leaves patherically lying
together within their heavier-paper covers, which are now mere folders.
Others have all or most leaves still fastened to the spine, but as I read
them, mnay or all loosen & separate, no matter how carefully I handle the
Some "quality paperbacks"--but by no means all--have signatures that are
side-sewn or side-wired before being glued to the backs. [I doubt that many
are "Smyth-sewn"--sewn down the middle of each signature--a method that
aloows the pages to lie flat.] Such bindings are more nearly permanent than
stapled or perfect bindings. However I know that such types of binding are
costly & raise books' prices unduly.
Aren't there *any* better ways to bind books?
A publisher of one of my smaller books, of which the other copies are
stapled, had a red thread or string sewn in the center gutter rather than
placing staples there. This *seems* better. However, I'm told that even this
is expensive abd that, unless the string or thread is acid-free or otherwise
made to last, the books fall apart more quickly tahn stapled ones do.
As for larger books, are there any inexpensive ways to make their bindings
more nearly permanent--I mean ways other than side-sewn or side-wired or
simple "perfect" [ugh!] bindings? I'd appreciate any information listees may
have on these matters.
Jackson Mac Low [for the time being, still "email@example.com" but I'll be
sending a new e-address soon].