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Boards in Western Books


(This chapter is thus far limited to English sources)

1) Types of Board, years, identifying, examples and issues:

Leather (pre-17th C)

Leather is rarely used as a board material, but Middleton does note two examples, one from the 12th C and another from the early 16th C.

Wood (Before 1520s)

Wood was the standard book board material until the 16th C. The wood was usually quarter cut to prevent warping. Oak was common in medieval English books. Birch, poplar, and pine were common in Scotland. Wooden boards began to be replaced by pasteboards in England in about 1500 and were uncommon by 1550. Some places, like Oxford and Scotland, used wooden boards until about 1700.

  • Early boards - There are very few early bindings extant, but the boards from one, the 7th C Stonyhurst Gospel, are of very thin birch.
  • 12th-13th C — boards are generally very thick (< ½” thick) and have square cut edges.
  • 13th-15th C — boards still quite thick, but outside edges steeply beveled on undecorated bindings, or gently beveled on decorated bindings.
  • 15th-16th C — inside and outside edges often beveled, particularly on vellum-leaved books
  • After 1600
  • German tawed pigskin bindings in wooden boards from the 16th-18th C always have beveled inside and outside edges.
  • Large bibles for communal use frequently had wooden boards.
  • Thin wooden boards, scabboards, are still occasionally used (see below)
  • Decorated wooden boards occasionally used in mid-19th C

Pasteboard (1500 — 1900)

Pasteboard began to be used in the early 1500s and was common by 1550. It was a standard book board material from 1600 through 1900. Made by pasting leaves of paper together, this board can be distinguished by its laminate structure. The paper layers were generally made up from discarded printed sheets or poor quality, unsized blank paper.

Waterleaf (1530s — 1900)

Middleton describes waterleaf as a variety of pasteboard. It is formed while the paper is still wet; the pressing together of the wet pages forms a tight bond between the layers which is more difficult to delaminate than traditional pasteboard. The resulting boards are sometimes then pasted to each other to form a thicker board. This thicker board frequently delaminates along the paste layers.

Pulpboard (1610s — 1960s)

Formed on a mold from pulped paper and board scraps. The finished pulpboard frequently contains visible traces of is origins: printed text, fabric scraps, vellum shavings, wood chips, straw. Middleton introduced the term “pulpboard”, but it appears to be in common usage now.

Scaleboard (17th -19th C)

Variously known as scabboard, sca'board, scaberd, scabbard, scabard, scaleboard, and scale-board. Very thin wood, like a shingle. Small retail bindings. Frequently used in 17th-18th C America, where paper was scarce and expensive. Marylin French found in a 18th-19th C Boston binding. See Miller 2013, Townsend 2013, and Wolcott 2013.

Millboard (late 1600s until early 1900s)

  • Originally “Rope-fiber millboard”
  • Uncommon before 1710. Replaced pasteboard and pulpboard for fine binding. Made in a mill from rope fiber, generally from ropes discarded by the shipping industry. not laminated or pasted, but sometime referred to in early publications as “pasteboard”.
  • From the 1850s or earlier available in many varieties, from best black to cheap grey board
  • Cheaper varieties began to be produced by machine in the 19th C, containing mostly paper scraps. This is also called “machine made millboard” and was replaced in the 1860s — 1880s by strawboard
  • Can be distinguished from pulpboard by the milled (pressed and smooth) surface?
  • Real rope fiber millboard used in England for fine binding until WWII.

Strawboard (1860s - ???)

Began to be used for lower grades of binding (like yellow-backs) in the 1860s before becoming a standard board material by the 1880s.

Inventories of binderies make it quite apparent that binders made their own pasteboards, and they seem to have done so until late in the seventeenth century, and possibly later, when they seem to have been marketed by manufacturers (Middleton, 65).

References


Croft, Jim. 2013. "Finding Suitable Wood for Book Boards and Related Considerations". In Miller, Julia, ed. Suave Mechanicals : Essays on the History of Bookbinding v.2. Ann Arbor, Mich. : Legacy Press.

Details the selection and shaping of wooden book boards with many illustrations. Bibliography includes resources on historical wooden boards and their conservation. Croft advocated for boards that are what he calls "God’s Plywood", distinguished by the following characteristics (shortened to VGSGTQ):
  • Vertical growth rings (seen at end grain)
  • Straight grain (face)
  • True quarter (on the radius)

Middleton, Bernard. A History of English Craft Bookbinding Techniques. Fourth Revised Edition. New Castle. DE: Oak Knoll Press and The British Library, 1996.

Miller, Julia. 2010 (1st ed.) 2014 (2nd ed.). Books Will Speak Plain: a Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings. Ann Arbor, Mich. : Legacy Press.

This book provides an excellent introduction to Western book binding styles, and is particularly notable for the wealth of bibliographic references to explore topics in greater depth, the attention paid to the more prosaic bindings of various time periods, and the great color images on the accompanying CD. Many references to wooden boards and paper boards. The author has also written about scaleboard.

Miller, Julia. 2013. “Not Just Another Beautiful Book: A Typology of American Scaleboard Bindings.” In Suave Mechanicals v. 1.

Describes the results of a survey of 858 scaleboard bindings. Many images illustrating commonalities and variants of the type. Miller speculates about Boston as center of this type of binding. Some interesting aspects of scaleboard bindings discussed are: horizontal grain direction of board, long and shallow backcornering, notched spines, tawed thong sewing supports stabbed through the gutter, and an asymmetrical blind tooling pattern.

Townsend, John. 2013. “The 1715 Mohawk Prayer Book: A Study of Six Copies in Colonial American Scaleboard Bindings.” In Suave Mechanicals v. 1.

The author examines six copies of this imprint bound in scaleboard. The author notes many of the same features as Miller's chapter in the same book, and he is able to draw conclusions about the production of this volume and early American printing and binding.

Wolcott, Renée. 2013. "Splintered: The History, Structure, and Conservation of American Scaleboard Bindings" (PDF) Book and Paper Group Annual 32.

reviewed in the Conservators Converse Blog

To be consulted:

Bower, Peter. “Strong stuff: an historical survey of boards and boardmaking” New Bookbinder

Etherington Dictionary


Shulla, Jaques. 1999. "A brief survey of paper board and some literature describing it with some definitions of marketing terms for mount boards used in conservation." Paper Conservator 23.




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