Calf, as before described, requires more and different preparation than morocco, on account of its soft and absorbing nature. As a foundation or ground-work, paste of different degrees of strength is used, according to the work required.
Calf books have generally a morocco lettering piece of a different colour from the calf on the back for the title. This is, however, optional. Leather lettering pieces have a great tendency to peel off, especially if the book be exposed to a hot atmosphere, or if the paste has been badly made, so that it is perhaps better if the calf itself be lettered. There is no doubt that a better effect is produced in a bookcase when a good assortment of coloured lettering pieces is placed on the variously coloured backs, and the titles can be more easily read than if they were upon light or sprinkled calf; but where wear and tear have to be studied, as in public libraries, a volume should not have any lettering pieces. All such books should be lettered on their natural ground.
For lettering pieces, take morocco of any colour, according to fancy, and having wetted it to facilitate the work, pare it down thin and evenly. Cut it to size of the space it is intended to fit, pare the edges all round, paste it, put it on the place, and rub well down. Should the book require two pieces - or one for the title, and one for the volume or contents - it is better to vary the colours. Do not allow the leather to come over on to the joint, or by the frequent opening of the boards the edge will become loose. A very good plan as a substitute for lettering pieces is to colour the calf dark brown or black, thus saving the leather at the expense of a little more time. When the lettering pieces are dry, mark the back, head and tail for the pallets or other tools with a folding-stick. Brush paste all over the back. With the handle of an old toothbrush, rub the paste into the back. Before it has time to dry, take the overplus off with a rather hard sponge, dipped in thin paste-water. The reason why paste of full strength must be used for the back, and only paste-water for the sides, is, that through the stretching of the leather over the back in covering, the pores are more open, and consequently require more filling up to make a firm ground.
Much depends upon the ground-work being properly applied.
Finishing, above all other departments, demands perfect cleanliness. A book may have the most graceful designs, the tools be worked perfectly and clearly, but be spoiled by having a dirty appearance. See that everything is clean - paste-water, size, glaire, sponges, and brushes. Do not lay any gold on until the preparation is perfectly dry, or the gold will adhere and cause a dirty yellow stain where wiped off.
Should the calf book be intended to have only a pallet alongside the bands, it is only necessary where the paste-wash is quite dry to glaire that portion which is to be gilt: this is usually done with a camel-hair brush, by laying on 2 coats. When dry, cut the gold into strips and take one up on the pallet and work it on the calf. This is what is termed " half calf neat." The band on each side is gilt, leaving the rest of the leather in its natural state. Some binders polish their backs instead of leaving them dead or dull.