This section is from the book "Arts & Crafts Magazine Vol1-2", by Hutchinson & Company.
AT the very creditable Spring Exhibition of the Royal Society of Amateur Artists, no branch of the applied arts was, on the whole, better represented than bookbinding, but there were many lamentable instances of good decoration wasted on bad construction. The truth is that the majority of our so-called "de luxe" bindings are without artistic interest. Though, for the most part, elaborately tooled or inlaid, they are but works of plodding industry, showing no evidence of line taste or intelligent judgment. In other cases, although the ornamentation is intelligently designed, the preparative work, on which everything depends, is unskilful and often slovenly. Covers gape open, which they should not do, the books being laid flat. The morocco is mechanically crushed to a hard, flat surface, instead of being beautifully polished and neatly shaped. The nerves, as the cords that hold the boards to the back are called, are not humoured by the polisher; they are brutally crushed, so that the grain of the leather tends to scale up and become rough about them. A binding so made cannot preserve the book nor last long. Furthermore, however good the ornamentation, the book looks mean and cheap. For the true booklover, the finisher's or gilder's work can never take the place of the work of the actual binder and "forwarder."
How different the work of a really artistic binder. Though it may not have a line or a dot of gold beyond the lettering, it is a pleasure to look at it because of its exquisite curves, the polish which brings out the grain of the morocco, the rounding of the corners, the delicate moulding of the nerves. A sculptor would recognise its beautifully modelled surface, a colourist would enjoy the tone of the leather, which is wholly due to the binder's work upon it. And when ornament is added, whether rich or simple, coloured or merely gilt, proportion and balance are kept in view throughout. The question is not so many hours' manual work impressing stamps and laying gold leaf, nor of troubling to find some mode of decoration that never occurred to anyone before, but of suiting the ornament to the given form of the book, making the gilded relieve the plain portions, and so conveying a sense of fitness and measure. The power to work in this way may be shown in almost any trade; anything will be artistic in which it is shown; but it must be acknowledged that it is a rare gilt - the faculty of appreciating it, even, is far from common.
It is one of the most important principles in mechanics and engineering, and one that the amateur will do well to keep in mind, that a triangle, even though the joints be not rigid, cannot get out of shape without breaking, but a figure of four or a greater number of sides can. Hence the necessity of dovetailing or otherwise making rigid the rectangular frames of ordinary furniture. When the shape of the interior space is not a matter of consequence, as in a cupboard or cabinet, it will greatly conduce to strength to insert triangular blocks at the corners. Panels may be made very strong, and at the same time ornamental, by carrying out this principle, using struts and braces at the angles instead of tilling the frame with a plain piece of wood. The most beautiful Arabic designs in woodwork are only elaborate arrangements of this sort, and are wonderfully strong. Different woods may be used to obtain an effect of colour, but all should be thoroughly shrunken.
In frame-making, the mitre joint is too difficult for a beginner, and the square joint is too unsightly. There are, however, several ways of improving the appearance of the latter, and at the same time, strengthening it. If the uprights are made the full height of the frame, the joints can be covered by two pieces of moulding nailed on at the top and bottom to form a cornice and base to the structure. These mouldings add materially to the strength of the frame, and if they are well chosen and properly finished at the ends they have an excellent effect. If the frame is to be a fixture, a small shelf may be substituted for the top moulding, but should not project so far as to cast a shadow over the picture. Another plan is to decorate the corners with stamped leather or brass. If the mouldings be used, the uprights may be treated as small pilaters, and a very pleasing architectural-looking frame will be the result.