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Never Judge a Book by Its Cover?

June 23, 2015

Have you ever heard the saying that you shouldn’t judge a book by its cover? Well, in a library exhibit that’s exactly what we did. Instead of picking books for their literary or historical value, we searched for books that had interesting features. After all, just as there is an art to writing well, there?s a craft and an art to making books.

Here is one of the fascinating books that Kathy Lechuga, book conservator, helped me find as I worked on this exhibit. She pointed out some of its neat features. The book is called Relation de ce qui s?est Passe La Nouvelle France, 1640 and was written in 1640. However, it was rebound in the 1800s. This was a common practice and oftentimes bookbinders cropped the original book in the process.

The bookbinders who worked on this book went all out. They used Morocco or goat leather for the cover, which they burnished down to get super smooth. They also added false raised bands to the spine of the book. Historically, the gatherings of pages were sewn around cords which resulted in a natural band, but the bands on this book were created as part of the covering process in order to get a coveted raised look. Craftsmen also hand-tooled the golden designs. You can tell the difference between hand-tooled gilding and machine manufactured gold work because the light reflects less evenly from hand-tooled work and there are often slight imperfections in letter spacing.


The binders even took pains with the inside cover of the book, creating the gilded edge and using marbled pages. Marbling is an unique technique. Craftsmen splatter paint in a special water bath and use different tools to make designs. Then they place a piece of treated paper in the bath and the design is transferred to the paper. You can take a closer look at this part of the book on display at the library. Even the edge of the book got special treatment. It was gilded and marbled. This was done by plowing or trimming the pages, placing the book in a vice, and then adding the designs.

This was a very fancy book and it’s not the only interesting book on display. There are books with gilding, marbled covers, art pullouts and illustrations. There are even pop-up books. So come into the library on the second floor of the History Center and take a closer look at some of our artistic books. You don?t have much time left. The exhibit ends on July 16.


Alyssa Boge is a collections assistant in Reference Services. She likes cooking, crafting and biking, and dreams of creating a synchronized library cart dance.

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