There are many different interpretations on what can be classed as the very first period when written “material” was first bound into book form. Some historians claim that the first “bound books” appeared in India around 100 BC, and were religious scripts, copied onto palm leaves, and then bound together using twine. Some claim it was the Romans around the second century, using papyrus or parchment sheets that were bound together using twine or thin parchment strips. Then let’s also not forget the Chinese who, in and around 200 BC, used flattened bamboo strips to write on, that were then bound together using strips of leather and rolled-up for ease of carry. But can this really be classed as a “bound book”?

Bookbinding has undoubtedly progressed over the centuries, to what we see today. My personal feeling is that the hand bound books of the late 17th century, were absolute master pieces. There was obviously no “mass production”, and books were bound with the love and detail that they deserved.

Bookbinding Cover
Bookbinding Open Book

Bookbinding became more mechanised in the early 19th century, with the increase and demand for books. Books were mass produced according to demand. Then, as is still today, publishers would have a certain amount of copies hand-craft bound as limited editions and / or coffee table books.

Early version Guillotine

An early version of a section sewing machine and guillotine

An early version of a section sewing machine and guillotine. Today, Ledger Systems still prides itself on our hand-crafted bookbinding techniques. Fortunately, we don’t need to “hand craft” our specialised end-papers anymore, as there are some beautiful and delicate papers on the market, that we use for this purpose.

Hand-crafted Book Binding Technique
Book Binding Patterns

Depending on the quantity and size of the books to bind, we sometimes hand-sew our books in the “old fashioned” way, but most of our books are section sewn on our Muller Martini section sewing machine. We are by no means a “mass production bindery”, and we don’t have the machinery to do so either. We specialise in small to medium binding runs. Our hand binding method and process hasn’t changed much over the last century. Yes, Ledger Systems was “born” from a company called A. Zylstra & Son that was founded around 1927. It was in November of 1985 that myself and my late father, William Botma, took over the Zylstra bindery and changed the name to Ledger Systems.

Hand Section Sewn
Section Sewing Machine

Hand section sewn and a section sewing machine

The Process

Depending on what type of book you want bound / re-bound, your budget, and also the end result you want to achieve, we can sit down and discuss the various options with you. From the beauty of genuine leather, to a quality imitation leather, to a durable bookbinding vinyl. The options of a soft printed drawn-on cover, or a hard-printed laminated cover are also available. The sky is the limit! If necessary, we are also able to assist with the printing process. If you already have the printed body of the book, we would either look at folding the pages into sections and section sew the body. Alternatively, if it is individual pages that you have, we will bind the body of the book by means of our “drill & stitch” method, or “perfect” bind the spine.

Section Sewing
Drill and Stitch
A Perfect Bound Spine

Section sewing versus drill & stitch and a “perfect bound” spine

The advantage of section sewing is that your book opens “flat” when paging, against a tighter spine with the drill and stitch method. However, both methods are great in that they create an extremely durable bound spine. The alternative of the “perfect” bound spine is more commonly used for soft paperback novels and books.

Once we have completed the sewing / stitching of the spine, we then back-glue the spine and tip-on the endpapers. Just before the spine has completely dried, we press the spine, (called nipping), to ensure that the spine is the same thickness as the body of the book. From here, we trim the three edges of the book using a guilotine.

A Bookpress used for Nipping
A Guillotine for the Edge Trimming

A bookpress used for nipping and a guilotine for the edge trimming

If you require a square back book, the body of the book is ready for the next process. If a rounded finish on the spine is required, we will then round the spine. This is done by means of placing the book in an upright press, and then using a flat hammer, the spine is knocked into a rounded shape.

Rounded Spine
Square Spine
Binding Mull

Rounded spine and square spine, and binding mull

From here, we then apply another layer of glue to the spine and position a piece of bookbinding mull over the spine and partially onto the end-papers. This ensures that the spine is strong and robust, and that the end-papers are also strengthened for the casing in process and basically become “part” of the book block. The mull, once dried, also ensures that the rounded spine keeps its shape. We can then use the dried book block to start measuring the cover boards to start making the case. (You can decide if you are wanting a smooth spine, or if you prefer, we can add raised bands on the spine). We now add the head and tail bands to the spine, and if required, can also attach a ribbon marker.

Rounded Spine with Raised Bands
Square Spine with Head Bands

Rounded spine with raised bands and a square spine with head bands.

Once we have the correct measurements for the book case, we cut the binding boards to size, slit / trim the cover material to suit, and proceed to make the book cover. If the spine requires raised bands, we glue strips of leather to the spine board that becomes part of the cover. (Some bookbinders prefer to attach the raised bands to the spine of the book block). As soon as we have completed glueing the covering material to the cover boards, we press the covers in a bookpress to remove any bubbles. This also ensures that the cover doesn’t warp. If foiling is required, we would then foil the cover before casing in the book block. We still use the old Ludlow slugs for foiling purposes.

Foil Machine

A foiling machine

Gold Foil

Gold foil

Ludlow lead slugs

If a crest, logo or coat of arms is required, we use what is termed as a foiling or embossing block. The choice is yours if you want a gold or any other colour foil, or even a blind embossing on the cover.

An Embossing:Foiling Block

An embossing / foiling block

A Blind Embossed Cover

A blind embossed cover

Silver foiling

When we have completed the foiling / embossing, we can then proceed to case the book block into the book cover. As soon as the book block has been cased into the cover, we put the bound books into a press for a short while, to remove any creases or air bubbles. Once we are totally satisfied that the glue has dried, the books are cleaned and wiped down. The last process is the quality control to ensure that every book that leaves our factory is of the same high standard and also shows the true love that went into our binding process.

Directors Collection Books
Directors Collection Book
Directors Collection Open Book

We bound the Directors Collection books, slip cases and portfolio

Half Leather Bound Books with Foiled Labels

Half leather bound books with foiled labels

Full Bound Book in Book Binding Vinyl

Full bound book in bookbinding vinyl

Printed Laminated Cover

Printed laminated cover

Leather Bound Binders with Gold Foiling

Leather bound binders with gold foiling

Should you wish to do a basic bookbinding course, please feel free to contact us.