Monday, April 5, 2010

Both Books & Men were Made to be Strong and Good-Looking

They used to know how to bind books. In the good ol' days, books were bound for strength and for good looks (just as real men were). It was all-around a great thing. Paper was made well in those days, too. And the printing was often glorious! These days the drive is not for quality but for quick $ (though really, this trend started somewhere around the 19th century or even earlier, but it's markedly worse now). This is not to say that some book producers would not like to do better, but they are generally forced for economical reasons to go the cheap route. And so we see now cheap bindings which deteriorate and fall apart within a few years, cheap paper which yellows and becomes brittle at the same time, and the printing is typically (pun intended) unappealing. Contrariwise, the more ancient books, made by real men to stand the test of real time, far outlast our modern cheapos. Some of the best books I have ever seen (in terms of paper, print, binding, and overall beauty) were some of the oldest, i.e. 15th-16th century. The medievals knew how to make books! [And the new digital reading devices? They certainly lack the beauty of well-made books, but that is all I will say at present.]

Furthermore, an oft-overlooked fact: Good books usually smell good!

The book pictured here is not even the finest example of what I have in mind and the binding is a bit worn, but it still illustrates the point. It's a neat little 18th century printing of a work by the Jesuit preacher, Paolo Segneri (1624-1694), who has been regarded as the finest orator of the Italian Seicento. The binding is in a lovely arabesque sort of style with an episcopal coat of arms stamped centrally. The printing is good and the paper is generally white and free of nasty acidic discoloration. It is a well-made book.

Mind you, there are some few out there still who produce excellently printed books on good paper. And there are those still who bind or rebind or repair books, or who decorate bindings in a manner of excellence. More on this some other time...

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