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The surprising practice of binding old books with scraps of even older books

(From Atlas Obscura. Link to the complete article given below)

From the earliest days of bookmaking, binders made use of scraps. Sometimes, it was just mundane material: leases or contracts that had expired or been rendered moot by a scribe’s mistake. In other cases, the bindings illustrate some seismic cultural shift. In these instances, the materials indicate to modern scholars what was important to the people assembling books—or, conversely, what had little or no value to them.

After the Reformation, for example, when Catholicism gave way to Protestantism in Britain, monastic libraries were dissolved and centuries’ worth of manuscripts were suddenly homeless and largely unwanted. This made them “available to a burgeoning print trade,” Heffernan says, “and they could be torn up into strips, or wrapped whole around books.” The change of faith sapped the Catholic materials’ “value as documents to be read,” she says. But their value as raw material—such as vellum, made from animal skin—remained.

Stumbling across one of these hybrid items now feels kind of magical—as if geography and time have collapsed into your hands. But repurposing scraps in this way wasn’t at all unusual at the time, and Heffernan suspects that it wouldn’t have made much of a difference to readers. “To us, the manuscripts that have been wrapped around books are signs of destruction,” Heffernan says. But to early modern readers, slicing and dicing a text was just a strategy for taking care of other, more coveted objects—like wrapping a textbook in brown paper today. Oversized choir books, which could be twice as tall as a folio, went a long way: “Not quite half a cow,” Schmidt says, “but still a substantial piece of leather.” It was simple practicality. “It’s a moment of typical practice for 16th- and 17th-century bookbinders that seems utterly, delightfully weird to us,” Heffernan says.

Read more at this link from Atlas Obscura

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What happens when a book designer is totally stumped

I find designing book covers to be tremendously difficult, and every time I start a new cover, my first thought is usually: Why on earth did I commit to this? Rarely do I find joy in this pursuit. I love the feeling of a perfect, beautifully finished cover in my hands, but getting there generally entails a long, hard journey.

When I’m lucky, a cover essentially designs itself—I read up on it, generate a few images, execute them, and one gets published! Designing Up Up, Down Down was not one of those times. I still consider it somewhat of a miracle that the final cover came out so nicely; looking at it brings back tortured memories of a painful process—a long, difficult exercise in “designy” design: a true exploration of concept, layout, color, and type. When I say exploration, picture not so much an expert explorer, but a hapless amateur, lost in the jungle, frantically trying every trick and tool they know, hoping and praying that one will be the way out. I am pretty sure lots of designers feel this way—or maybe it’s just me.

I tend to think I can have an intelligent opinion about most books I pick up. One of the things that drew me to book design is how much I like to pore over a book, pick it apart, pull out themes, discuss it, and dive deeply into it. It’s like a visual book report. But Up Up, Down Downstumped me. I read the entire manuscript, took tons of notes, made lots of sketches, and still closed the book wondering what the damn thing was about.

The text itself is a collection of short essays from one author. There was a lot of interesting subject matter. Normally I would relish rich visual material about amateur wrestling, UFO hunters, and skateboarding. But I couldn’t figure out what the author was trying to say with these pieces, especially when viewed as a whole. Essays would often start with what could almost be considered reporting, go straight into personal anecdote, and wind up circling the author’s anxieties about writing. I was stumped.

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