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Title: The Bookbinder in Eighteenth-Century Williamsburg - An Account of his Life & Times, & of his Craft
Author: Various
Language: English
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Copyright Status: Not copyrighted in the United States. If you live elsewhere check the laws of your country before downloading this ebook. See comments about copyright issues at end of book.

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                         in Eighteenth-Century

             An Account of his Life & Times, & of his Craft

                      _Williamsburg Craft Series_

                  Published by _Colonial Williamsburg_

    [Illustration: Decorative border]

          _The Bookbinder in Eighteenth-Century_ Williamsburg

    [Illustration: Illustrated capital I]

In October 1770 the inventory of the personal estate of Lord Botetourt,
His Majesty’s Governor General of Virginia, contained a catalogue of
books in the library at the Palace, made after his death by his
executors. The shelves held over three hundred volumes. Today this
library has been recreated by Colonial Williamsburg using the inventory
list and other information on books in print at that time. The actual
library of Lord Botetourt was sent back to England—and was lost at sea.

Much about the Governor can be deduced from the books he owned—plus a
few he had borrowed and neglected to return. His interests ranged over
the whole field of human knowledge, with particular emphasis on history,
literature, law, and politics. However, it is not with the substance but
with the form of these volumes in the renewed library that we are
concerned. For us the important fact is that, with a few exceptions,
they are eighteenth-century books _in eighteenth-century bindings_.

The visitor who pauses only for a moment to look at them will see that
most of them share certain outward characteristics:

    [Illustration: Bound book.]

They are bound in leather, with brown calfskin predominant;

Their spines are crossed by a number of horizontal ridges;

The title (abbreviated) usually appears in gold leaf on a small panel of
      colored leather glued to the spine, and sometimes the author’s
      name, too;

The spine may also bear a moderate amount of decorative gold tooling;

The sides of the volumes, where visible, are likely to display “blind”
      tooling, which means ornamental indentations in the surface of the
      leather, made without gold leaf.

These are the five most noticeable characteristics of books bound in the
eighteenth century in England or in England’s North American colonies.
Standards of workmanship were on the whole higher in the mother country,
but binders on both sides of the Atlantic used the same basic methods of

The techniques of bookbinding, in fact, had not changed much for a very
long time. Men like William Parks, John Stretch, and Thomas Brend bound
books in eighteenth-century Williamsburg in essentially the same way as
had their predecessors in medieval monasteries a thousand years before.

Incidentally, among bookbinding craftsmen one does not mention “machine
binding”; to the true binder there is no true binding _except_ by hand.
The machines of a modern bindery do not “bind” a book according to the
craft tradition, but “case” it. Therefore, the words “bind,”
“bookbinding,” “bound books,” and so on whenever used in this pamphlet
always refer to the traditional hand operation, never to the machine
process or product. And “bookbinder” herein is always the hand
craftsman, never the machine operator.

                     _AN ANCIENT “ART AND MYSTERY”_

Man learned to write long before he learned to make paper. Smooth
stones, clay tiles, and wax tablets, among other surfaces, were early
precursors of scratch-pads and typewriter bond. Later, but before the
modern form of a paged book developed, written records were most often
kept on long rolls of papyrus, parchment, or vellum—the latter two being
much alike.

The lines of writing sometimes ran the entire length of these rolls,
sometimes they ran crossways, and sometimes they paralleled the long
edge but were divided into columns. The third arrangement is still used
in Jewish scrolls of the law, which are kept on rollers, one at each

Such a long strip could, however, be folded accordion-like instead of
being rolled up. If the folds were made between the columns of writing,
each column became a page and the whole began to resemble the book we
are familiar with today.

At first these rudimentary books were protected by wooden boards pasted
to the first and last pages. As a next step holes were stabbed through
every page near the left-hand fold, and a cord or thong laced through
the holes held the “accordion” together along one side.

By the fifth century a method had come into general use of sewing
individually folded sheets together one by one, not to each other but to
a series of flexible “hinges.” These were usually narrow strips of
leather—four, five, or sometimes six depending on the height of the
book—laid across the folded edges of the pages. Linen thread sewed
through the folds and around each cross-strip in turn held the pages
firmly in place. Wooden boards affixed to the thongs as well as pasted
to the first and last pages protected the whole, sometimes with the help
of metal clasps and even locks.

    [Illustration: _These methods of preserving written material have
    now largely been superseded by the printed and bound or
    machine-cased book: (A) Diptych or hinged tablet of wood, ivory, or
    the like, often carved, whose inner surfaces of wax carried writing
    impressed by the stylus. (B) Scroll with columnar writing on a pair
    of rollers. (C) Japanese “orihon,” accordion-folded and bound along
    one side. (D) Codex or early form of book, an illuminated manuscript
    protected between thin boards; our word “book” comes from the German
    for beech _(Buch)_, a wood often used for this purpose._]

To guard the leather crossbands and linen thread from exposure and wear,
it then became customary to cover the spine of the book with a wide,
vertical strip of leather. Later, for better appearance and greater
protection, the leather covering was extended partway onto the boards
(the so-called “half-binding” of the medieval period) and then all the

Thus was developed and perfected the bound book: a collection of folded
sheets sewn together flexibly and protected between covers. Its physical
structure was largely the creation of monastic craftsmen of the early
Middle Ages, just as its literary content throughout that period was
most often religious scripture or comment.

                        _BOOKS CAN BE BEAUTIFUL_

Speaking only of quality of materials and workmanship, a book may be
bound just as well in a simple cover as in an ornate one. Fine binding
does not require adornment. It does require the services of a man of
high skill and matching integrity, whose handiwork will inevitably
display the quiet beauties of intrinsic quality.

But in the hands of men who possess the spark of creative artistry,
bookbinding can be more than pure craft work. Although the binder’s
decorative tools are forever prefixed, each to reproduce its own set and
simple pattern, they are infinitely flexible in the ways they can be
combined. It is not the tool that makes a binding beautiful or ugly, but
the hand that holds the tool—and even more the mind and eye that guide
the hand. The history of bookbinding is studded with the names of men
who were true artists in leather. For them the most rewarding commission
a customer could give was a simple order to dress some work of lasting
worth in a binding of appropriate beauty.

In the Middle Ages all books were rare and valuable. Each volume was
entirely lettered by hand and its pages were customarily “illuminated”
with elaborately drawn initial letters and gilded marginal decorations.
The binding of such a book was likely to be as painstakingly ornate as
were its pages, and a few bindings were quite valuable in themselves.
Before full leather covers became standard, the boards of some
manuscript volumes—especially for a church altar or a royal
library—might even be encased in beaten gold or silver and encrusted
with enamel and semiprecious stones.

The invention of printing from type, as everyone knows, had extremely
far-reaching consequences on the spread of public education and
enlightenment. It had also some effects that were not so desirable. In
the didactic phrase of the _Encyclopedia Britannica_, “Printing brought
small books, cheap books, ugly books.”

Now it cannot be denied that most books today are smaller than the great
manuscript tomes of the monastic scholars. They are cheaper, too. But it
would be wrong to say that all books bound since Johann Gutenberg’s day
have been ugly. To be sure, introduction of the printing press increased
the flow of work to the bindery. But if the binder could no longer
lavish time and care on every volume, he could still devote high
artistry to an occasional book, steady craftsmanship to all.

Innumerable examples from the hands of many binders since the fifteenth
century attest that the cover of a printed book can be as beautiful as
that of a manuscript book. The names of Nicholas Eve, Clovis Eve, “Le
Gascon” (otherwise unknown), and Geoffrey Tory of sixteenth-century
France, and Padeloup and Le Monnier in the eighteenth century, deserve
mention. In England bindings are not as easily identified with their
binders, but the names of Thomas Berthelet, royal binder to Henry VIII,
and above all Samuel Mearne, binder to Charles II, stand out. Roger
Payne was England’s most distinguished binder in the eighteenth century.

Before the fifteenth century, European binders usually had worked
ornamentation into leather “in blind,” that is, without gold leaf. The
technique of applying gold seems to have been perfected by Islamic
leatherworkers of Mediterranean Africa, and brought from Morocco to
Europe via Spain and Italy. Sixteenth-century French binders carried
this kind of adornment to a peak of intricate tooling and lavish
gilding. Their English counterparts, while they imitated the French,
tended to favor simpler designs and less gold leaf. In the late
seventeenth century and continuing through the eighteenth, straight
lines rather than curves became characteristic of English work.

For example, the broken lines of the “cottage” style credited to Samuel
Mearne resembled an outlined roof and walls. Later the “Cambridge” style
became popular in England. It consisted of a vertical panel of thin
lines (fillets) on the sides of the book, with flower or leaf ornaments
(fleurons) at the corners and perhaps in the center, and a narrow lace
border around the boards. The example illustrated indicates that
colonial binders continued to favor the Cambridge design until well into
the eighteenth century.

    [Illustration: _Left, “cottage” style decoration on a 1674 Bible,
    bound in the shop of Samuel Mearne of London. Right, “Cambridge”
    style binding on a copy of _Muscipula_ printed in 1728 by William
    Parks in Annapolis and bound by him._]

Around 1760 a Dutch binder developed a method of treating leather with
acid to give it a marbled appearance, and other binders lost no time in
prying the secret away from him. First among binders in England to learn
the technique was an émigré German, John Baumgarten, who made the most
of his advantage. As Thomas Jefferson wrote to Robert Skipwith in 1771,
books “bound by Bumgarden in fine Marbled bindings” cost 50 per cent
more than in plain bindings.

In addition to national styles and local designs that developed at
various times and places, certain binders perfected individual patterns
of their own. In some cases these were so unique as to be almost certain
evidence that a book so decorated was bound by the man in question. But
not always. As in the case of Samuel Mearne, work identified with the
master might actually have been done under his instruction by a
journeyman in his shop.

Among the very large number of eighteenth-century bindings that survive,
the great difficulty is to identify with any certainty the binder of a
particular volume. In many instances—perhaps most—it is impossible to be
absolutely sure on this point. Except in France, binders of the
eighteenth century, or any period, who signed or labeled their work were
relatively rare.

One English craftsman who did identify his products was Roger Payne of
London. An eccentric and a heavy drinker, Payne was nevertheless a
careful worker and a creative artist in the bindery. His books are
beautifully adorned with patterns built up with small tools that he
designed and cut himself. In many of the books he bound, Payne included
a detailed account of his work. The following statement, copied in part
from a Bible now owned by Princeton University, is a good example:

  Letter’d in ye most exact manner, exceeding rich small Tool Gilt Back
  of a new pattern studded in Compartments. The outside finished in the
  Richest & most elegant Taste Richer, & more exact than any Book that I
  ever Bound. The insides finished in a new design exceeding elegant.
  Bound in the very best manner sew’d with silk on strong and neat
  Bands. The Back lined with Russia Leather under the Blue morrocco.
  Cover very strong & neat Boards....

                            _TELLTALE TOOLS_

Although some colonial binders labeled their products, none of the
several Williamsburg bookbinders of colonial days followed Roger Payne’s
admirable precedent. Examples of the work of some of them, however, have
been identified beyond doubt through direct or circumstantial
evidence—the latter often derived by processes resembling police

Clues to the identity of a binder may be found in various facets of
printing and binding: shop records of orders filled, materials used, and
wages paid; place and date of publication as given on title pages;
watermarks in the paper; and recurrent decorative patterns. Even
contemporary newspaper advertisements may throw light on the matter.

    [Illustration: _The watermark of paper made in William Park’s paper
    mill near Williamsburg. It represents the coat of arms of the
    Virginia colony. This tracing is taken from Rutherford Goodwin, _The
    William Parks Paper Mill at Williamsburg_ (Lexington, Va., 1939), in
    which he tells how the watermark was once described by a New
    Englander as resembling two men in long underwear with a basket of
    fish between them. The parallel vertical lines are the “chain lines”
    characteristic of handmade “laid” paper._]

Evidence of every kind has been used in tracing out the story of the
bookbinding craft in Williamsburg. The surest clues, especially in
tracking down and identifying individual bindings, have been the
distinctive footprints left by the binders’ decorating tools.
Archaeological excavations on the site of the Printing Office have
yielded examples of these tools, some for stamping letters and others
for impressing the gilded decoration that made the eighteenth-century
bookbinder’s products as attractive as they were useful.

Under the eye of microscope and enlarging camera even mass-produced
typewriters reveal slight irregularities that are unique to each
machine. The brass stamps and rolls used by eighteenth-century binders
for working decorations into leather were all made by hand. Because of
some imperfection in workmanship or simply because ornamental dies were
not supposed to duplicate each other, each tool had its own
peculiarities. Very often the distinguishing characteristics of the
impressions they made are visible to the naked eye.

Two such telltale tools—both “rolls” or wheel-like tools used to make
continuous border patterns—proved especially useful in tracing the
history of Williamsburg bookbinders and bindings. The trail of one can
be followed through the ownership of successive binders for nearly
three-quarters of a century. Another shows up again and again throughout
a fifty-year period. Similar clues left by other tools were also helpful
in the detective process, but cannot be dealt with in this brief

For convenience we shall call the two chief telltales the “Mousetrap”
roll and the “egg” roll. They serve almost as indexes to the rest of our
story. The impressions made by the original tools, and the “smoke
imprint” made by modern recuttings of the same tools, are shown in the
accompanying illustration.

The Mousetrap roll owes its name to the publication on which it made its
first known appearance, a Latin poem entitled _Muscipula_, which means
“mousetrap.” Its pattern, alternating two rather conventional motifs, is
not particularly noteworthy in appearance. Nevertheless, the impression
it made was not duplicated by any other roll.

    [Illustration: _This representation of a book cover shows one of the
    chief clues followed in tracing the tools used and books bound by
    Williamsburg binders. It shows the design on a copy of the _Statutes
    and Charter of the College of William and Mary_ printed in
    Williamsburg in 1736 by William Parks and bound in his shop. The
    College itself is in Williamsburg, of course, but this volume is in
    the John Carter Brown Library at Providence, Rhode Island, and
    another like it in design is in the Bodleian Library, Oxford,
    England. The illustration was made (except for the magnification) as
    a smoke imprint of twentieth-century tools cut in the same pattern
    as the originals. The inner panel of the Cambridge style decoration
    was made by the “Mousetrap” roll that Parks brought with him from
    Annapolis. The intermediate rectangle, made by the “egg” roll,
    reveals the elongated oval that reappeared on other books connected
    with Parks and his successors in the Williamsburg printing offices.
    The corner fleuron also appeared on earlier Parks bindings._]

The egg roll is no more unusual as a pattern, but gains distinction from
the fact that its built-in signature is an obvious mistake. It also
alternates two conventional motifs, a Maltese cross and a pointed oval
or “egg.” Perhaps by looking at the detail of the illustration you can
see why this tool identifies itself every time it appears on a binding.
Apparently the engraver who made the original roll erred in calculating
its circumference and came out uneven with his pattern. So he simply
made the final oval longer than the others.

Once seen, the flaw jumps to the eye from every binding on which it
appears and might seem to offer clear proof that all such bindings done
within the same period were the work of one man. But even the best
circumstantial evidence falls short of perfection. Although we can say,
for instance, that such-and-such bindings came from the shop of William
Parks, we cannot always say that he himself did the work.

At one time Parks appears to have employed as many as eight or nine
helpers in his printing office and nearby paper mill. Very probably one
or more of them was specifically hired to handle the binding end of the
business, just as William Hunter later employed John Stretch to do both
bookbinding and bookkeeping.

However, like Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia, William Bradford in New
York, and James Franklin in Boston, Parks was doubtless quite capable of
binding a book as well as printing it. Eighteenth-century craftsmen of
every sort customarily doubled in related crafts: the silversmith was
likely to be a jeweler, too, and the cabinetmaker also a house-joiner.
Printing and binding have always been complementary processes, and
nearly every colonial printer could, if necessary, bind the product of
his press.

                          _EARLY IMPRESSIONS_

A great many colonial printers also published weekly newspapers, in
whose columns they advertised the job-printing services and stationery
wares they had to offer. The colophon of the _Virginia Gazette_ of
October 1, 1736, for instance, specified that it was printed in
Williamsburg “by W. PARKS. By whom Subscriptions are taken for this
Paper, at 15 _s. per Annum_: and BOOK-BINDING is done reasonably, in the
best Manner.”

The first successful printer in Virginia, Parks had been public printer
to the colony of Maryland before he moved to Williamsburg in 1730. One
of the early publications issued by his Annapolis shop, in 1728, was the
aforementioned book of Latin verse, and the three surviving copies are
all decorated in the same Cambridge pattern and all with the roll we
have named the Mousetrap roll.

_The Complete Mariner_, a manuscript volume of navigational exercises
with a title page printed in Williamsburg in 1731, was doubtless one of
the first products of Parks’s shop in Williamsburg. Its cover was
handsomely decorated in blind with the Mousetrap roll and with two other
ornaments that also were used on books issued by Parks’s Annapolis shop
and later on bindings done in Williamsburg.

    [Illustration: _Rolls and small stamps used in the Williamsburg
    bindery. The gap in the outer edge of the fillet roll permits the
    binder to start and stop his impression cleanly. Both rolls and
    stamps must be heated for use and pressed into the leather quite

In 1736 Parks published the _Charter and Statutes of the_ _College of
William and Mary, in Virginia_. Three copies survive in their original
bindings. Two of these—one in England, one in America—bear the marks of
both the Mousetrap roll and the egg roll in the simple pattern
illustrated on page 11. The third is more elaborately decorated, with
many small impressions of other tools, but around the edge is the
telltale egg roll.

Many of the same tools used on this third copy of the William and Mary
Charter, including the egg roll around the border, reappear on one copy
of a book printed nearly a decade later in New York. This was Daniel
Horsmanden’s account of a Negro conspiracy to burn New York City. The
copy in question, now in the Library of Congress, bears the brief title
_New York Conspiracy_ on its spine. The magnificent library of William
Byrd III at Westover plantation included a book listed under the same
abbreviated title. Daniel Horsmanden was a cousin of Byrd’s. Could the
Library of Congress volume have been bound for Byrd at the Williamsburg
shop of William Parks? The similarities in tooling—including use of the
unmistakeable egg roll—would seem to prove it.

Another link in the chain of clues appears on the cover of a manuscript
volume probably written and bound at about the same time. This was a
catalogue of Byrd’s library made by John Stretch, presumably bound by
him, and decorated with the egg roll and one other tool known from
earlier Williamsburg bindings.

Stretch may have worked for Parks before the latter’s death in 1750. He
was in the employ of Parks’s successor, William Hunter, for a number of
years. Presumably he bound the books that issued from Hunter’s press
during this period as well as the blank record books that were a staple
item of Hunter’s business. One of these blank books was used by George
Washington for copies of his letters and invoices from 1755 to 1765—and
it, too, was decorated with the egg roll.

One of the few printed books known to have come from Hunter’s shop was a
new edition of the William and Mary Charter, printed in 1758. One copy
that survives in original covers has another roll also used on the
Washington letter book and small ornaments used on both the earlier
edition of the Charter and on the _New York Conspiracy_, plus design
similarities to both of these and to the Stretch catalogue of Byrd’s

A daybook kept by William Hunter during the first two years of his
proprietorship of the shop carries the trail a bit farther. A daybook
was simply a running record of each day’s transactions of all kinds,
more often called a “journal” nowadays. It would certainly have been
bound right in the shop, and this daybook bears the impress of a stamp
previously identified with Parks’s Annapolis and earliest Williamsburg

Another daybook of the Williamsburg printing office also survives in
original binding. It dates from the time of Hunter’s successor, Joseph
Royle, and almost beyond question was also bound in the shop where it
was used. Its cover, not surprisingly, was tooled in blind with two of
the familiar rolls, including the egg roll. A volume of York County
records also survives from the period of Royle’s proprietorship. Its
cover shows the impressions of three old standbys: the egg, the
Mousetrap, and a third roll seen on earlier Williamsburg bindings.

                         _THE BINDING BUSINESS_

If the outside covers of two printing office daybooks can add a few bits
to our story, the inside pages should be a gold mine of information
about bookbinding in colonial Williamsburg. And so they are.

Hunter’s daybook for the period from July 1750 through June 1752 and
Royle’s covering most of 1764 and all of 1765 tell a great deal about
the quantity and variety of binding work they did, the prices they
charged, and a little about the wages they paid. Hunter, for example, at
the end of 1751 entered payment of 38 pounds 15 shillings against the
bookbinding account “To John Stretch For his Wages from the 14th of
January to this Day.” Thus, from this source, Stretch earned 15
shillings sixpence a week.

    [Illustration: _A part of a page from William Hunter’s daybook for
    the Williamsburg Printing Office, especially redrawn for this
    booklet. Notice the entry for bookbinding wages paid to John

The kinds of bookbinding done in the shops of Hunter and Royle—and
doubtless also by the other Williamsburg printers, about whose business
we lack detailed information—can be divided into three main groups:
edition binding, custom binding, and the manufacture of blank record
books. As a sideline, they also made and sold pocketbooks, letter cases,
and other kinds of pocket cases.

In volume of work done in Hunter’s shop, and probably in many other
colonial binderies, the manufacture and sale of blank books was easily
of first importance. Obviously these were not printed books—although the
pages of some of them were ruled by hand in advance of binding. They
were letter-copy books, account books, and record books of various kinds
used by everyone who was at all systematic about his business affairs.

Accounts kept “after the Italian manner,” as described in John Mair’s
_Book Keeping Methodiz’d_ (about 1750), called for ten different books.
The three chief ones were a “wastebook” in which transactions were
jotted down at the time they took place, a permanent “journal” or
“daybook” into which they were transcribed in a more stately hand when
time permitted, and a “ledger” containing in final and complete form all
accounts pertaining to the business. Subsidiary records described by
Mair were the cash book, book of charges and merchandise, book of house
expenses, factory or invoice book, sales book, bill book, and receipt

Hunter’s daybook shows entries covering sales of all the principal
varieties and many of the subsidiary forms. In fact, entries pertaining
to “blank books,” “legers,” “alphabets,” “journals,” “account books,”
“day books,” “waste-books,” and the like far outnumber all other binding
entries together. Royle’s daybook, which seems to have been kept on a
somewhat different basis—perhaps less meticulously—than Hunter’s, lists
proportionately fewer such entries compared to those for binding printed

One might expect that business record books would have been bound
sturdily, but in plain and cheap dress. Sometimes they were, but often
they were just as well finished as were printed books, usually in good
quality calfskin, sometimes in vellum or parchment. Ledgers in
particular were large and heavy books; since they got steady usage, they
needed to be made of the best materials and workmanship for the sake of
durability. And custom usually led to a certain amount of decoration on
even the most utilitarian volume. The result was that blank books were
often as fine in outward appearance as those from the press—and
sometimes more costly, because of the larger skins needed to cover them.

Not a few of the books sold by William Hunter and presumed to have been
made up by him or John Stretch brought a price of a pound or more. This
was, as we have seen, a good deal more than Stretch earned in a week.
The most imposing price charged to any of Hunter’s customers was the 3
pounds 10 shillings John Hall paid for “a large Record Book Imperial.”

All eighteenth-century paper was manufactured by hand, and sheets of
various sizes and kinds bore such designations as pot, foolscap, pro
patria, crown, demy, royal, super royal, imperial, atlas, and elephant.
These names referred to supposedly standard sizes, but actual dimensions
were neither precise nor unchanging. In seventeenth-century England a
sheet of “demy” measured about 10 by 15½ inches. The English paper of
the same name today is 17½ by 22½ inches.

This increase in dimensions of paper took place gradually, and as the
size of sheets grew the size of pages could also grow. A result was that
folio books became too large to be handy while quarto and octavo
formats, which were more economical to print, gained popularity among
both printers and book buyers.

    [Illustration: _This engraving from the French eighteenth-century
    encyclopedia of Denis Diderot shows the interior of a bookbindery of
    the time, and some of the equipment used. The operations under way
    in the shop are (a) “smashing” folded signatures flat on a stone
    anvil; (b) sewing signatures together on the stitching frame; (c)
    trimming the edges of a book before the covers are put on; and (d)
    squeezing a stack of finished books in a standing press._]

                   _BINDING TO THE CUSTOMER’S ORDER_

Some idea of the volume of binding done in Hunter’s establishment during
the two years covered by his daybook may be gathered from the partial
figures for supplies charged to binding. These included £56 17s. 6d. for
paper and £250 13s. 9½d. for other binding materials, chiefly calf and
sheepskins, gold leaf, and pasteboard. In physical quantity the totals
are again incomplete but indicative: at least 140 dozen skins and more
than a ton of pasteboard.

These materials, of course, went to the binding of printed as well as
blank books. As their daybooks show, the binding of books to order was a
steady source of income for both Hunter and Royle—and doubtless for
Royle’s successors as it had been for Hunter’s predecessor. Custom work
included the rebinding of worn books, the lettering and application of
title panels, and perhaps some binding of books the printer bought in
flat sheets, already printed, from London or from another colonial

The fact that custom binding and rebinding accounted for a prominent
share of the work done by Williamsburg binders indicates that Governor
Botetourt was not the only man in Virginia before the Revolution who
owned and cherished books. According to one estimate, there were at
least 1,000 private libraries with at least 20,000 volumes altogether
before the colony was one hundred years old. Another study of 100 such
collections, including the largest, calculated their average size at 106
titles (possibly twice that many volumes).

The average is high because the study included such very extensive
libraries as those of William Byrd II, Robert Carter, and Ralph
Wormeley. Nearly half of the libraries in the group studied had fewer
than twenty-five titles. However, most Virginia gentlemen of the planter
aristocracy owned at least an armful of books.

An occasional book in any such collection might have been written by the
owner himself. Hunter stitched a manuscript volume for Nathaniel
Walthoe, Esqr., and Royle bound a handwritten book for John Blair. What
these gentlemen had written that deserved such care can only be guessed
at. Both were officials, so the books might well have been public
records of some kind. On the other hand, perhaps the content was less
prosaic: poetry, maybe, or something like the “list of Horse Matches”
that Royle bound for the Hon. John Tayloe at two shillings.

Music books, volumes of collected pamphlets and magazines, a “cyphering
book” for Mrs. Jane Vobe, keeper of the King’s Arms Tavern, and dozens
of similar items in the Hunter and Royle daybooks account for only a
portion of custom binding, however. The book most often bound to order
was the Bible, closely followed by the Anglican prayer book. Hunter
bound a number of Bibles for 6 shillings, but charged 12 shillings for a
“large Church Bible” and 50 shillings for one “neatly bound in Turkey.”
“Turkey,” “levant,” and “morocco” leathers were all goatskin, each
taking its name from the region where it was tanned.

Here are a few entries from Royle’s daybook during mid-1765, selected
not only because they show the binder’s price list, but also because the
customer’s name or occupation, or his preferences in reading matter and
binding, or his concern for the intellectual advancement of the fair sex
may be of interest:


  June 11  William Waters, Binding Corelis Sonate,                  8/9
           lett^d ... 4to
  June 19  Hon. John Blair, Binding Amelia [County]                15/-
           rent roll. folio
  June 27  George Davenport, Binding Mrs Ballard’s                  3/9
           Prayer Book
           Col Robert Bolling, Binding Councel of                  17/6
           Trent, folio, gilt & Letter’d 15/- D^o ...
           Baconi Historia, Henrici Septimi, d^o 2/6
           Thomas Jefferson, D^o History Virginia, 4to              8/9
  July 3   Col Robert Bolling Jun^r Lettering Pope’s               5/7½
           Works, 9 Vols for Miss Sally Waters
  Aug. 28  Rev^d David Mossom, Binding a Bible 5/-
           John Gilchrist, Ditto Love Elegies 2/-                   7/-
  Aug. 31  James Anderson, Blacksmith Binding a Quarto             10/-
           Bible. in ruff Calf

An advertisement Royle placed in the _Maryland Gazette_ for May 2, 1765,
throws an interesting light on one of the characteristic
labor-management difficulties of his time:

                                            WILLIAMSBURG, April 23, 1765

  Ran away from the Printing-Office, on Saturday Night, a Servant Man
  named _George Fisher_, by Trade a Book-Binder, between 25 and 26 Years
  of Age, about 5 feet 5 Inches high, very thick, stoops much, and has a
  down Look; he is a little Peck-pitted, has a Scar on one of his
  Temples, is much addicted to Licquor, very talkative when drunk, and
  remarkably stupid.

  Whoever apprehends the said Servant, and conveys him to the
  Printing-Office, in Virginia, shall have Five Pounds Reward, and if
  taken out of the Colony, TEN POUNDS, beside what the Law allows.

                                                            JOSEPH ROYLE

This seems a generous reward indeed for the return of a man of Fisher’s
unendearing qualities. Not that Fisher, a transported convict, was
untalented in his way. “Conveyed” to Williamsburg and lodged in the
gaol, he escaped at the end of July, both from custody and from history.

                       _MASS PRODUCTION BY HAND_

The third principal variety of work done in the Williamsburg binderies
was edition binding—the stitching and uniform covering of a whole run of
books printed in the same shop. Session laws of the Virginia Assembly,
and periodical codifications of them printed in editions of 1,000 copies
or more constituted the bulk of edition binding for Parks and his

Shortly before his death Parks had agreed to print and bind 1,000 copies
of the 1748 revision of the Virginia code “with the Arms of Virginia
stampt on each book.” Along with the other assets and liabilities of the
printing office, Hunter took over this contract, which called for the
volumes to be finished by June 10, 1751. In October of that year
however, he felt obliged to defend himself with the following notice in
the _Virginia Gazette_:

☞ The Subscribers to the _Virginia_ Laws, as well as the Public
Magistrates, having loudly complain’d of their long Delay, and thrown
the Blame of it entirely on the Printer; it is judg’d necessary to
assure them, That they have been printed near four Months, and that
their Publication has been in no wise retarded through his Neglect, but
for Want of the _Table_; the Gentleman appointed to draw it up, not
having yet compleated it—— Those subscribers who are in immediate Want
of them, on paying a Pistole, may have them Stitch’d for present Use,
which they may afterwards have bound when the Table is printed, making
it up the Subscription Price.

    [Illustration: _When he worked on a number of books at the same
    time, the binder ordinarily moved them in groups through the various
    binding processes. Thus a group of books, all damp and needing to be
    pressed, could be put into such a standing press as this, with
    “press boards” between each one. While this group dried out the next
    was being glued up, and so on._]

Nearly twenty years later a subsequent collection of Virginia laws
caused a different kind of trouble for three of Hunter’s successors in
Williamsburg. The job of printing and binding 1,000 copies of the great
volume was too much for the public printer, William Rind, to handle
alone. So he undertook it jointly with the partnership of Alexander
Purdie and John Dixon. Their order for leather to cover the books was
answered by a shipment from London of “Nasty dirty little skins” that
could neither be used nor returned. Eventually the skins rotted on the
wharf at Yorktown, while the printers had to ask reimbursement from the
House of Burgesses.

Although William Parks published a number of books under his own
imprint, just as he had done in Annapolis, Hunter, Royle, and their
successors seem to have been much less active in this phase of the
printing and binding business. Those who were public printers continued
to issue the Virginia laws and other public compilations, proclamations,
and the like. Also, they annually printed small pocket almanacs, usually
only stitched and covered in paper, which sold in considerable numbers
each December and January.

                      _OTHER WILLIAMSBURG BINDERS_

The several Williamsburg printers who followed Royle left no daybooks or
other records that have yet come to light. What little we know of their
bookbinding activities comes from their advertisements in the various
_Virginia Gazettes_. (At one time three separate weekly papers were
issued in Williamsburg by rival printers, all called the _Virginia
Gazette_!) Here are some typical samples:

  GENTLEMEN may now be supplied, on short notice, at the Printing
  Office, _Williamsburg_, with BLANK BOOKS of all sizes, ruled or
  unruled, and bound either in Calf or Vellum. OLD BOOKS also new bound,
  and any thing in the BOOK BINDING business executed in the cheapest
  and best manner.

                                                      _Virginia Gazette_
                               Alexander Purdie and John Dixon, Printers
                                                          March 14, 1766

  BLANK Bills of Exchange, Bonds, Bills of Lading, and all other Blanks,
  may be had of William Rind, at the New Printing-Office, near the
  CAPITOL. Gentlemen may also be supplied with all Sorts of Blank Books;
  and old Books are neatly and expeditiously Bound, at a reasonable

                                                      _Virginia Gazette_
                                                   William Rind, Printer
                                                            May 30, 1766

                        A COMPLETE ASSORTMENT OF
                        All Kinds of STATIONARY,

                At _Dixon_ & _Hunter_’s Printing Office:

BEST Writing Paper, Imperial, Royal, Medium, Demy, Thick and Thin Post,
Propatria and Pot, by the Ream, or smaller quantity; Gilt, Plain, and
Black Edge Paper for Letters; Parchment; Inkpowder; best large _Dutch_
Quills and Pens; red and black Sealing-Wax and Wafers; Memorandum Books;
Red Ink, in small Vials; Red Inkpowder; Pounce and Pounce-Boxes; Black
Lead Pencils; all Sizes of neat Morocco Pocket Books; all Sorts and
Sizes of Pewter Inkstands; best _Edinburgh_ Inkpots, for the Pocket;
best Playing Cards. —— Legers, Journals, Day-Books, and all Sorts and
Sizes of Blank Books for Merchants Accounts or Records. Blanks of all
Kinds for Merchants, County Court Clerks, _&c. &c. &c._

☞ Old BOOKS new BOUND, and all Kinds of BOOK-BINDING done at this
Office, either in the NEATEST or CHEAPEST Manner, according to
Directions; and where any Thing in the PRINTING BUSINESS is
expeditiously performed, on moderate Terms.

                                                      _Virginia Gazette_
                             John Dixon and William Hunter Jr., Printers
                                                          March 18, 1775

                             THOMAS BREND,
                       BOOKBINDER and STATIONER,

  HAS for SALE, at his shop at the corner of Dr. Carter’s large brick
  house, Testaments Spelling Books, Primers, Ruddiman’s Rudiments of the
  Latin Tongue, Watts’s Psalms, Blank Books, Quills Sealing-Wax,
  Pocket-Books, and many other articles in the Stationery way. Old books
  rebound; and any Gentlemen who have paper by them and want it made
  into Account Books, may have it done on the shortest notice.

                                                      _Virginia Gazette_
                             John Clarkson and Augustine Davis, Printers
                                                         August 19, 1780

Alexander Purdie and John Dixon, who placed the first of these
advertisements, were the successors of Joseph Royle in the shop on Duke
of Gloucester Street in Williamsburg that had passed down from William
Parks to William Hunter to Royle to Purdie. Their _Virginia Gazette_ was
the direct continuation of the paper founded by Parks in 1736. We are
not too surprised, therefore, to find the egg roll reappearing once more
on the covers of several copies of a book printed by Purdie and Dixon in

The name of Thomas Brend brings to a conclusion the known list of
bookbinders who worked in Williamsburg before the Revolution. Brend
emigrated from England to Annapolis in 1764 and set up in trade there.
It seems probable that he moved to Williamsburg with William Rind in
1766 or arrived shortly afterward. Rind was the Annapolis printer whom
Jefferson and some other patriots had induced to come to Virginia. They
hoped Rind’s press would offset the impact of Joseph Royle’s, which they
thought was too much in the governor’s pocket.

Jefferson was among the men for whom Brend bound books, as were St.
George Tucker of Williamsburg and other persons less known to history.
This work, however, he did in Richmond, where he moved after the capital
of Virginia had been changed to that city in 1780. There he did most of
his work, including the covers of many books of public records, as an
independent binder.

On an account book of the state auditor for 1785 appears the familiar
egg roll. How it got into Brend’s possession no one can say, since he
was presumably not in the direct line of succession from Parks through
Hunter and Royle. Somehow he did acquire tools from the succession, for
the trail of detection comes full circle in 1799. In that year in
Richmond Thomas Brend rebound Jefferson’s collection of the laws of
Virginia, using to decorate the board edges the same Mousetrap roll that
William Parks had used in Annapolis in 1728.

                        _THE BINDING OF A BOOK_

Although this small pamphlet does not pretend to be a thorough manual on
how to bind your own books, anyone seeking a hobby might well consider
bookbinding. The procedures are simple, the necessary tools and
materials need not cost a great deal, and the satisfactions one can take
in the production of his own fine bindings should be obvious.

What we can do here is to describe only the basic tools, equipment, and
procedures that would have been used by a Williamsburg craftsman in
binding a book in the most usual dress of colonial times. The practicing
binder, of course, would have had a comparative wealth of tools and
materials with which to turn out—by the time-honored and still-used
procedures—bindings in greater number and variety of finish. The
following lists represent the minimum essentials for binding a book.

    [Illustration: _When the time comes for applying decoration to a
    binding, the bookbinder—here using a single-fillet roll—can exercise
    his artistic imagination or follow a traditional pattern._]


  printed or blank paper (the contents of the book)
  decorative paper for fly-leaves
  long-fibre tissue for mending torn pages
  hemp cord or leather thongs for crossbands
  linen thread for sewing
  silk thread for headbands
  pasteboard or milled board
  calfskin for outer cover
  piece of morocco for label
  leather dressing
  gold leaf
  animal glue
  wheat paste
  egg white

                          _Tools & Equipment_

  stitching frame
  paring stone
  water basins
  laying presses
  trimming press and plough
  press boards
  bone folder
  skiving knife and other knives
  stone or lead weights
  paste and glue brushes
  metal straightedge
  backing hammer
  knife and cushion for gold leaf
  brass alphabet stamps
  brass decorative stamps
  brass decorative rolls
  heater for gluepot and brass tools

The printer’s job was done when the flat sheets of paper came off his
press, each sheet containing four or more printed pages arranged so that
folding would bring the pages into proper sequence. The binder’s first
task was to fold the sheets into “signatures” of four, eight, twelve, or
sixteen pages.

Sheets folded once—into two leaves, a four-page signature—made a
large-format book called a “folio.” Two folds in each sheet made
eight-page signatures and “quarto” books. Three folds gave “octavo”
volumes of sixteen-page signatures. A different arrangement of folds
produced twelve pages in a signature and a “duodecimo” book. For any
number of folds, however, a bone or ivory folder—a thin, smooth
blade—was essential for rapid and accurate work. And it came in handy
for a number of other binding operations, too.

After he had folded all the printed sheets, the binder gathered a full
set of signatures in the proper order to make the book. On his stitching
frame—which was simply a four-piece vertical framework, the upper
crosspiece adjustable in height—he stretched four to six leather thongs
or pieces of hemp cord. With needle and strong linen thread he then
stitched the signatures, one after another, through their center folds
to each of the crossbands. The sewing frame held them parallel to each
other and at right angles to the pages.

These bands gave bound books their flexibility and created the ridges
across the spine characteristic of most of them. The stitch used in
sewing the signatures to the bands was about as simple as could be, but
it cannot be duplicated by any machine yet devised. The crossbands and
the stitching together were the keys to the all-but-everlasting
durability and the flat opening of the well-made book.

The binder next squared up the back of the book and applied glue to it.
When dry, he put the book in the trimming press and trimmed the fore
edge, head, and tail, then with his backing hammer rounded off the
spine. Having cut the boards just a bit larger than page size, he
punched holes through them close to their back edges. These holes he
spaced in pairs to match the position of the bands, which he laced
through the holes, pasted firm, and pounded smooth.

Very little the binder had done so far would be visible in the finished
product. But at this point he could begin to put his artistry on
display. Selecting silk thread in two colors to suit his taste, he bound
a narrow piece of leather across both the top and bottom of the spine,
completely covering them with something like a buttonhole stitch. These
“headbands” added little to the strength but much to the appearance of a
book. Careful binders said that a book should no more be seen in a
library without headbands than a gentleman should appear in public minus
a collar.

    [Illustration: _In the “trimming press and plough,” the bound pages
    of a book are clamped between the heavy horizontal beams of the
    press while a knife held in the plough slides back and forth,
    planing the exposed edge of the book smooth and even._]

Next came the “drawing on” of the cover. The binder cut a piece of
calfskin approximately ¾ inch larger all around than the covers of the
book opened out flat, and with his skiving knife pared the margins of
the leather very thin. After the leather had been well soaked with water
on the outer or grain side and with paste on the inner side, the binder
carefully molded it around the spine and smoothed it onto the
boards—being careful not to stretch it. The pared margins were then
turned in and the volume, except for minor touches and drying, was
finally ready to be decorated.

Having decided on the pattern of decoration he wished to apply, the
binder heated the appropriate brass tools to “blind in” the design. The
tools had to be hot enough to make a sharp impression in the leather,
but not hot enough to burn it. Each had to be pressed into the leather
with just the right weight—not too much and not too little—to produce
the desired effect.

If the pattern was also to be gilded, the binder prepared a solution of
white-of-egg, called “glair,” and painted it into the blind impressions.
Having laid gold leaf thereon, he again pressed the same heated tools
carefully in the same indentations. The excess gold was then wiped off
and the leather cleaned with diluted vinegar and dressed with a good
leather dressing.

    [Illustration: _This is the Printing Office in Williamsburg,
    restored to look as it did in the eighteenth century when it was
    occupied in succession by William Parks, William Hunter, Joseph
    Royle, Alexander Purdie, and John Dixon with his partners William
    Hunter, Jr., and Thomas Nicolson._]

Finally, the endpapers were pasted down to the insides of the boards and
the book was complete. It took perhaps eight to ten hours of actual
working time for a single volume, but spaced over as much as two weeks
to allow drying time between processes.


Just as the printing office of William Parks and his successors stood on
Duke of Gloucester Street in Williamsburg two centuries ago, so it
stands again today on its original site. Again today it includes a
bindery where gentlemen and ladies may bespeak books to be bound or
rebound in the most exact manner and the most elegant taste. The master
binder assures his patrons that he uses only the best materials and can,
if they so wish, decorate a volume with the egg, the Mousetrap, or any
other roll or ornament in his stock that pleases their fancy.

For he not only uses the same kinds of tools used in the eighteenth
century; some of them are actually recut to produce replicas of the old
patterns. And his methods of work, too, are the same that were employed
in this shop by men who put sturdy covers on the volumes of William Byrd
II, Thomas Jefferson, and Norborne Berkeley—otherwise titled Lord


Those who may be interested in pursuing further either the historical or
the handicraft aspects of bookbinding will find the following list
useful. Most of these books also include bibliographies or reading

Susan Stromei Berg, comp., _Eighteenth-Century Williamsburg Imprints._
      New York: Clearwater Publishing Co., 1986.

Vito J. Brenni, _Bookbinding: A Guide to the Literature._ Westport,
      Conn.: Greenwood Press, 1982.

Edith Diehl, _Bookbinding, Its Background and Technique._ 5th ed. rev.
      Port Washington, N. Y.: Kennikat Press, 1965.

Hannah D. French, _Bookbinding in Early America: Seven Essays on Masters
      and Methods._ Worcester: American Antiquarian Society, 1986.

David Muir, _Binding and Repairing Books by Hand._ New York: Arco
      Publishing Co., 1977.

Howard M. Nixon, _Five Centuries of English Bookbinding._ London:
      Scholar Press, 1978.

Matt T. Roberts and Don Etherington, _Bookbinding and the Conservation
      of Books: A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology._ Washington, D.
      C.: Library of Congress, 1982.

C. Clement Samford and John M. Hemphill II, _Bookbinding in Colonial
      Virginia._ Williamsburg, Va.: Colonial Williamsburg Foundation,

Walters Art Gallery, _The History of Bookbinding, 525-1950 A.D._
      Baltimore: The Trustees of the Walters Art Gallery, 1957.

Lawrence C. Wroth, _The Colonial Printer._ Portland, Me.:
      Southworth-Anthoensen Press, 1938.

Laura S. Young, _Bookbinding and Conservation by Hand: A Working Guide._
      New York: R. R. Bowker Co., 1981.

_The Bookbinder in Eighteenth-Century Williamsburg_ was first published
in 1959 and previously reprinted in 1964, 1970, 1973, 1978, and 1986.
Written by Thomas K. Ford, editor of publications at Colonial
Williamsburg until 1976, it is based largely on a monograph prepared
jointly by C. Clement Samford, then the master bookbinder, and John M.
Hemphill II, a member of the Department of Research. The monograph has
been published as _Bookbinding in Colonial Virginia_ (Williamsburg
Research Studies, 1966).

                          Transcriber’s Notes

—Retained publication information from the printed edition: this eBook
  is public-domain in the country of publication.

—Silently corrected a few palpable typos.

—In the text versions only, text in italics is delimited by

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