The idea of using cotton cloth as a covering for books probably originated with the London publisher William Pickering, whilst the binder Archibald Leighton solved the earliest technical problems of colouring and dressing the cloth. Leighton was also primarily involved, in 1830-32, with solving the remaining technical problems – namely, graining and blocking the cloth. This week we’re looking at the different cloth grains, which give the cloth a patterned effect.
Graining was probably invented due to a desire to disguise the too-obvious thread marks of cloth bindings, an unpopular characteristic of the earliest book cloth. We are not getting into the nomenclature of grains (about which experts disagree), and we apologise for any accidental misidentification!. What we want to show is the great variety of grains, and the different effects these can produce on bindings.
One of the first grains to be developed, in 1830, was the morocco grain, a pattern designed to imitate morocco leather bindings. It remained a popular grain, being found in the 1890s, but was most intensely used in the mid-1850s.
The morocco cloth, and other grains imitating leather, were followed by graining carried out by ribbon-embossers. They produced designs usual to their natural vocation, such as ephemeral flowered and moiré (i.e. like watered silk) designs. These designs were only popular for a few years in the 1830s.
One reason for the short-lived patterns created by ribbon-embossers may have been that such cloths proved to be too expensive a luxury, because the ribbon-embossers charged for their services at ribbon rates.
Book publishers were therefore forced to create their own embossing service, and in the early 1830s several machines for the graining of book cloth were put on the market. New designs of a specifically book-binding order began to appear, including the ‘sand-grain’, the ‘diaper’, and various diagonal grains.
Some grains were short-lived, those such as hexagon, honeycomb, and pansy, for example, only being found in the 1860s.
Other grains, however, long remained popular. Rib grains, first introduced in the 1830s, are usually found in a vertical direction, but they can also be horizontal or diagonal. Indeed, if a small book was bound diagonally, it may be that the direction was adopted to economise in the usage of the cloth supplied vertically ribbed.
Other common grains include wave, ripple, bead, and bubble, which can come in a fine or coarse variety. We could continue showing many more grains, but it’s time to bring this week’s blog to a close. However, here are a few more images – enjoy!