Endbands structural classification, and stuck-on endbands conservation
I have always thought that the endband to a book is like the tie to a suit. They both give their owner the chance to stand out, bearing a stylistic freedom that only a complement can have. The same as with ties, the aesthetical function of headbands has transcended the eminently practical.
Headbands had in origin the goal to keep the bookblock compactness along the head and tail of the spine; they were actually meant to bear the main joining to the boards. Nowadays headbands are generally “useless”, non functional[1. And I speak about the standard book, since artistic or craft bookbinding is very much into recovering ancient techniques, and that’s why it is not surprising to find this sort of “functional-headbands” also in notebooks and other handmade products, in the shape of coptic, islamic and gothic sewings, among others]. This part of the book rarely foregrounds the untrained eye, but it depicts a true hallmark to the expert book-lover. It is like the icing on the cake, and gathers the bookbinder’s proficiency and taste. We might find discrete headbands, sophisticated, sloppy, with tabs, elegant, sporty…Types of endbands: sewn and stuck-on
As for their structure, we can divide headbands in two main groups: sewn and stuck-on.
Originally, sewn headbands were structurally functional, lacing the bookblock (the sheets) into the boards through a sewing (1st, 3rd and 5th examples in the previous image). This sewing involved the core of the headband (3rd and 5th), or it could also consist on a single thread (1st).
When bindings become more compact and sophisticated, headbands leave the goal to join boards and sheets, and limit their function to tighten the tail and head of the spine, providing a certain compactness through a sewing that ties down into the gatherings on the spine (see the ones below).
But, why deny it, more than being a subjection for the bookblock, headbands are meant… to be nice! The same as stuck-on headbands (2nd, 4th and 6th examples), a german invention which appeared during the mid-fifteenth century, when other elements took over the functional role of the sewn ones; and they intended to be an ersatz, a fake, or a sort of a reminder with less functional weight.
Stuck-on headbands cohere the head and tail of the spine by simple adhesion. The oldest were still gathered into the boards, but today they are not linked to them anymore. The fact of the core being attached into the boards or not, is not evident at a glance, since they all intend to emulate sewn ones, and yet it represents a major formal difference. And, watch out! because we can even find endbands with a sewing which is not properly sewn into the boards or the gatherings, but merely into the core. Since this secondary sewing[3. And this doesn’t mean that all endbands having a secondary sewing are stuck-on endbands.] doesn’t contribute at all to the lacing of the endband into the book, because it is merely pasted onto the spine, we should not classify them -structurally- as sewn endbands, but rather as stuck-on. And, to make it even more confusing, these last ones (with a sewing but stuck-on), can also be sewn with a sewing which is not the visible one![4. I mean those stuck-on headbands which have a sewing/braid in their support. Many bookbinders choose to stitch them with thread into the spine, instead of pasting it.] I guess it’s clear now how necessary it is to establish a classification of endbands according to their structure, their function, since the conservation treatment basically lies on that. And describing them is horribly convoluted, as you have seen.
I’d like to focus now on the stuck-on headbands, which because of their lower category and meager joining, end up faring much worse (and I’ll come back to the classification in short).
No conservator hesitates when it comes to reproduce a sewn headband that’s been lost, or to consolidate a broken one, or to report it thoroughly: because it is worth it. And this is so because by taking care of them we not only preserve this historical and artistic component of the book, but we also recover a most relevant part of its skeleton.
But aren’t then the stuck-on headbands worth of it?!
Just because of their gewgaw nature doesn’t mean that they lack historical and stylistic value: we should regret not being able to preserve, reproduce or keep proper record of them, as much as for sewn endbands. Just like them they provide information about the bookbinding, and there are equally diverse styles and materials. They can be made of leather, paper, fabric, thong, thread… any material able to be adhered (a metal zipper!). Replacing them systematically by the ones we can buy today by yards, impoverishes this rich spectrum and distorts the original artefact. Wouldn’t it be awkward to see a Louis XV with a spot patterned bow tie, instead of the embroidered white scarf?
The “double” stuck-on endband
A stuck-on headband is not necessarily implying that it is a good-for-nothing complement, especially when it has a part which binds to the boards, providing a more solid joining than the mere adhesion into the spine head and tail. It is adhered twice: onto the boards and onto the bookblock. The one in the following image belongs to the Municipal Archive of Alella (Barcelona, Spain), and it consists in a thong wrapped on green tawed leather, whose ends are stuck onto the boards. The thong was not prolonged into the boards, since its purpose was just to protrude beyond the head and tails of the edges.
Despite the poor book was quite run-down, there’s nothing to blame on the endbands: there they stood, perfectly attached. In fact it is likely that they prevented the spine from breaking off completely. This happens sooner or later, after several unscrupulous attempts to take the book from the shelf by pulling the headband.
In my opinion, this double stuck-on endband would be even more efficient than those sewn only into the gatherings. Sewn joinings tend to be much more effective than stuck ones[5. ¿La unión hace la fuerza? Estudio de la consistencia de las estructuras de los libros y propuestas de intervención, published in Unicum (#14), ed. ESCRBCC, pages 63-86 and 199-210 (2015). D.L.: B-16094-2002, ISSN:1579-3613.], however, in this case there’s a leather thong joining the boards and the spine, and that conferes it a significant structural weight (and now the promised classification):
Endbands classification according to their structure
It is clear that each cell has loads of examples with a great variety of materials and particular features, and therefore its durability and structural value has to be considered in its context. The valuation in the fourth column is generic.
I must admit I am jumping in the deep end, because I have never seen the hybrid headband myself! It would be such as stuck onto the boards and sewn into the textblock (and vice versa). I put it in the table anyway because it is structurally possible, and even reasonable in the first case: pasted onto the boards. Nevertheless, the solution of sticking onto the spine but lacing into the boards, seems pretty awkward, I recognize that. Ligatus mentions a “sort of hybrid headband” in reference to Szirmai (fig. 9.30c, pages 214-215)[6. That’s the literal definition by Szirmai: “The endband support consists of a single thong, or of one or two strips or a roll of parchment; the support is either independent of the spine lining (b), or it is wrapped into the lining and glued as a unit into the spine (c). Initially the supports were anchored into the board corners, but later this firm attachment between the bookblock and the cover was dropped and the endband supports were used as mere cores”. The Archaeology of Medieval bookbinding, J.A. Szirmai, ed. Ashgate, 1999.]. And, indeed, that example of gothic endband is both glued and tied down. Laced through the boards, and pasted down plus sewn into the spine. However, in my opinion the glued piece behaves more as a reinforcing of the sewing anchored into the gatherings, rather than as the main union of the endband onto the spine (I’ll say it again: where the two links coexist, in mobile areas, for me the leading one is the sewing, much more efficient and perdurable than the stuck).
The table intends to describe all the options, and there are so many types of endbands that I find it pretty possible that they existed without me knowing. If there is no such hybrid endband, we have the table as a conservation option guide, a way to evaluate which joinings are more perdurable than others, in case we need to reinforce endbands (doing this sort of hybridization).
I shall invite whoever provides me an example of the freaking hybrid headband, for a coffee at my studio. Just a coffee? A whole meal, at least! But I don’t mean that the same joining is both stuck-on and sewn (like Szirmai’s example), I mean that the attachment to the boards is one way, and into the bookblock the other way around.
Usual damages in stuck-on headbands
The most common stuck-on headband is only attached to the spine, like the one with nautical squares and Mr. Cervantes, and opposite to the previous example. It is not rare then that they end up quite dirty and broken, if they do remain attached at all. Endbands are in a most exposed position and they are expected to undergo great mobility; and stuck-on endbands are more vulnerable than sewn because of the lesser flexibility of adhesion compared to sewing[6. Sewn elements, especially in mobile areas, tend to be more efficient and durable than adhered ones (being other factors equal).].
Conservation of stuck-on headbands
Since they are relatively recent and not much valued, in case of damage they are very often replaced by new ones. But finding the same ones might be quite difficult, as we are dealing with a medium-rate product. They were made of oddments or remnants from other crafts, it wasn’t something that you could buy for this particular purpose (like today). We can reproduce them, or restore them, depending on how much damaged they are, and how easy it is to replicate them.
- Conservation of stuck-on headbands
If conservation is feasible, far much better! That’s clear.
It is as simple as pulling it off, cleaning it and rolling it again with that bit of displacement that will show a part in a better condition. If necessary an inner reinforcing can be added, and/or the core replaced by a new one. After all, the visible part is teeny, and there’s a major hidden part in perfect condition at our disposal, which we can re-use as if it was the spare wheel of a car. This is sustainability and historical criteria!
The outcome is quite spectacular, because it is the very same endband but looks 100 years younger. I guess plastic surgeons would wish to achieve the dramatic improvements achieved at this conservation studio! (and please excuse my boasting).
Hereunder two examples of woven stuck-on endbands conservation, both of them accomplished in a time lapse much shorter than the impossible mission required to find, or produce, the same piece of fabric.
An other example of conservation of woven stuck-on endbands, with the same structural issues:
- Stuck-on endbands reproduction
Magic is not always possible, especially when it comes to paper, much more fragile than fabric; but reproducing them doesn’t demand much time, if the pattern is simple. The issue is to keep it as close to what had been as possible, rather than replacing it systematically. When I can’t use the original endbands because of their poor condition, I deliver them -or the remnants- with the book, so that they are still there as a reference for researchers.
The first study-case, a half bound book in leather and marbled paper, flat spine:
I must say that the book had formerly suffered a very invasive treatment (about 40 years ago), with duct tape and other synthetic adhesives, which made it quite difficult to identify the real original structure. There was only a trace of the original endband, stuck into the inner spine:
Another study case of paper stuck-on headband reproduction: An 1837 local census, also owned by the Municipal Archive of Alella (see the heading image at the very top of this post, another one of the same endband).
I just realized that this post also illustrates the delicate issue of criteria. On how we choose to preserve, or rather reproduce (either the whole thing or just some parts), depending on the artefact, its conservation condition… there is no mathematical formula, it depends on the value of things.
Sewing, sticking, stitching, sewing… I would never get tired of observing books. How do they function, what’s their structure, that thing that allows them to be consulted, to keep their pages compact and in order; and headbands are just such a tiny part… Isn’t the book the great invention of humanity?
To the owners of these (and other) books, who have given me the chance to learn with them, and share this knowledge in this blog (in the order in which their books are shown):
Private collection of the Encyclopédie, Alella Council (Barcelona, Spain), Museum of History of Barcelona (MUHBA) and the Royal Academy of Pharmacy of Catalunya (RAFC, Barcelona).
Also to the bookbinders who opened their binderies (Josep Cambras, Begoña Cabero) and to Arsenio Sánchez, conservator, that, only because he is such good person, wise and generous doesn’t make me feel awfully jealous about his collection of sample bindings from all styles and times.
Ligatus, for providing such an excellent online and free resource (spanish translation is needed!).
This post is dedicated to my favourite writer, author of delirious texts and bearer of the most blue-red heart, like the last endband. Thanks for writing me, and thanks for reading me.