Victorian Bookbinders Guild

For all interested in the Art, Craft and Practice of Bookbinding                                             

The August 2018 Guild gathering was an interactive presentation on book structure critique, facilitated by Julian Renard.  Julian has been professionally involved with books most of his life, and has particular interests in rare books and fine bindings. 


Members were asked to bring in a selection of their own or favourite books to critique, and along with some books provided by Julian, these were itemised and then passed around.  On individual marking papers we were asked to make critical 

comment about each book, in regards to obvious or subtle faults about characteristics we didn’t like; as well as positive comments regarding a book’s more favourable qualities.


With a wide variety of style, the selection included some old 19th century novels with both original and contemporary bindings; a set of auction catalogues; a verse of anthology; a bound VBG newsletter volume from the 1990s; a few hand bound travel journals; a fine binding in clam-shell case by Betine Gresford; a very small original, religious tract from 1818; a very large rebound atlas; and a contemporary book on software - just to name a few.   Prior detailed inspection, some appeared beautiful, some a tad shabby.

The evaluation process took most of the session, culminating in a group discussion about the faults and merits of each book, and 18 were examined in total.  With such a myriad of characteristics, in thinking about both style and function, Julian suggested the following could be considered when handling any book, by asking:

Is the book easy to open, with correctly sized hinges, so it sits comfortably for easy reading, when held?   

Is the casing square and even, from front and back viewing, along the head, tail and foredge

Does the text block fit snuggly in the case, without overhanging pages?

Are the endpapers in good condition, do they look like they’ll last a good long book life?

Are the boards the correct size, with the right amount of overhang, and of appropriate weight for the size and purpose of the book?

Is there a groove present on the front case/cover, and is this (presence or absence) appropriate to the book?

Is the binding style appropriate for the size, and type of book?

Is there gilding present on the cover, to identify the book?

Is the gilding neat, even and appropriate in size and location, both on the front and spine?

A considerable amount of hearty discussion was generated through the evening, and the emphasis was on both the older books present and recommendations on contemporary book repair.  Much valuable comment was made as the conversations turned from former and current preservation practices, to individual advice for specific binding issues and problems.  All of this friendly banter suggests the value in attending these gatherings, in alluding to the collective bookbinding wisdoms that may be gleaned from one another.  Many thanks to Julian for this valuable and much appreciated session.

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Victorian Bookbinders Guild Inc.  Incorporated 1981     Registration No A2896  ABN: 97 853 169 281     PO Box 355, Seddon West, Victoria 3011