The idea of using cotton cloth as a covering for books probably originated with the London publisher William Pickering, whilst the binder Archibald Leighton solved the earliest technical problems of colouring and dressing the cloth. Leighton was also primarily involved, in 1830-32, with solving the remaining technical problems – namely, graining and blocking the cloth. This week we’re looking at the different cloth grains, which give the cloth a patterned effect.
An example of scallop-tile grain. It has the appearance of a row of curved tiles, each tile marked by horizontal ribs. Esaias Tegnér, Frithiof’s saga (London: J. Wacey; W. Staker, 1833), s PT9831.E5S8.
Graining was probably invented due to a desire to disguise the too-obvious thread marks of cloth bindings, an unpopular characteristic of the earliest book cloth. We are not getting into the nomenclature of grains (about which experts disagree), and we apologise for any accidental misidentification!. What we want to show is the great variety of grains, and the different effects these can produce on bindings.
Caption: A binding in green weave grain cloth. Memoirs of Madame Malibran, 2 vols. (London: Henry Colburn, 1840), s ML420.M2.
One of the first grains to be developed, in 1830, was the morocco grain, a pattern designed to imitate morocco leather bindings. It remained a popular grain, being found in the 1890s, but was most intensely used in the mid-1850s.
Examples of morocco grain, the first a dark green morocco, the second a dark blue ribbed-morocco blocked in blind with a central gold motif. James Baillie Fraser, Tales of the caravanserai (London: Smith, Elder and Co., 1833), s PR1312.R7R5 ; Alexander Laing, Wayside flowers (Glasgow, Edinburgh, and London: Blackie and Son, 1857), r PR4859.L32W2.
The morocco cloth, and other grains imitating leather, were followed by graining carried out by ribbon-embossers. They produced designs usual to their natural vocation, such as ephemeral flowered and moiré (i.e. like watered silk) designs. These designs were only popular for a few years in the 1830s.
Some examples of bindings with a moiré rib, in a variety of coloured cloths. Henry Ellis, A general introduction to Domesday book, 2 vol. (London: printed by command of His Majesty King William IV under the direction of the Commissioners of the Public records of the Kingdom, 1833) s DA190.E5E33 ; Thomas Wemyss, A key to the symbolical language of Scripture (Edinburgh, T. Clark, 1835), s BS477.W3 ; George Montagu, Horae Hebraicae (London: James Nisbet & Co, 1835), s BS2775.M2 ; Francis Hutton, A series of discourses on Christ’s temptation in the wilderness (London: Bowdery and Kerby, 1833), s BT355.H9.
Flowered ribbon-embossed designs, the first in a green cloth, the second in a blue. George Godfrey Cunningham, Lives of eminent and illustrious Englishmen, 8 vol. (Glasgow: A. Fullerton and Co., 1838), s CT104.C8 ; Joseph Mendham, Index librorum prohibitorum Titlea sixto v, papa, confectus et publicatus (London: Jacob Duncan, 1835), Hay f Z1020.E35.
One reason for the short-lived patterns created by ribbon-embossers may have been that such cloths proved to be too expensive a luxury, because the ribbon-embossers charged for their services at ribbon rates.
Further ribbon-embossed designs: a crackle-grain pattern, a frond grain pattern, a regular pattern incorporating stars, and an irregular mottled pattern. John Charles Bristow, Ullsmere, a poem (London: Samuel Hodgeson, 1835), s PR4161.B7 ; Alexander Maxwell Adams, Sketches from life (Glasgow: W. R. McPhun; Simpkin, Marshall & Co, 1835), s PR4001.A16S5 ; John Gould, Biographical dictionary of painters, sculptors, engravers, and architects, 2 vol. (London: G. and A. Greenland, 1838), r N40.G7; Grant Thorburn, Men and manners in Britain (Glasgow: John Reid and Co., 1835), s DA625.T5.
Book publishers were therefore forced to create their own embossing service, and in the early 1830s several machines for the graining of book cloth were put on the market. New designs of a specifically book-binding order began to appear, including the ‘sand-grain’, the ‘diaper’, and various diagonal grains.
Two examples of diaper grain, the first being a fine variety. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, and Thomas Wyatt, The poetical works of Surrey and Wyatt, 2 vols. (London: William Pickering, 1831), s PR2370.A1E31 ; Edward Johnstone, The life of Christ (London: Longman, Rees, Orme, Brown, Green, and Longmen, 1834?), s BT302.J8.
A diagonal beaded-line grain binding. A bundle of ballads (London, Tinsley Brothers, 1863), r PR4878.L7B8.
The dot and line grain can be found in both a horizontal and vertical direction, as well as a diagonal variation known as ‘dot-and-ribbon’ grain. Henry Inglis, Ballads from the German (Edinburgh and London: William Blackwood and Sons, 1864), r PT1160.E6I5 ; Peter Davidson, The Pentateuch vindicated from the objections and misrepresentations of Bishop Colenso (Edinburgh: Andrews Eilliot, 1863), For BS1227.C7D1 ; Jan Amos Komenský, Church constitution of the Bohemian and Moravian Brethren (London: W. Mallalieu and Co., 1866), r BX8576.S4.
Some grains were short-lived, those such as hexagon, honeycomb, and pansy, for example, only being found in the 1860s.
Purple hexagon grain cloth binding, with the name of the binder (Archer & Sons, Belfast) blind-stamped at the bottom of both boards. James Hamilton, Viscount Claneboye, The Hamilton manuscripts (Belfast: Archer & Sons, 1867), r CS439.H2.
Examples of honeycomb grain; that on the left has the remains of an Edmonston & Douglas reading club sticker on the front, whilst that on the right is also blocked in blind. Both works were bound by Westleys & Co., publishers often outsourcing the binding of works to binders. Henry Alford, Sermons on Christian doctrine (London: Rivingtons, 1862), For BV4253.A8 ; T. R. Birks, The Bible and modern thought (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1862), For BS480.B5.
We failed to find an example of pansy grain in our collections (although there must be one somewhere), but this binding, from 1896, is reminiscent of the pansy grain. Arthur Thomas Quiller-Couch, Ia (London: Cassell and Co. Ltd, 1896), r PR5194.I2.
Other grains, however, long remained popular. Rib grains, first introduced in the 1830s, are usually found in a vertical direction, but they can also be horizontal or diagonal. Indeed, if a small book was bound diagonally, it may be that the direction was adopted to economise in the usage of the cloth supplied vertically ribbed.
Rib grains in vertical, horizontal, and diagonal directions. Mary Somerville, On the connexion of the physical sciences (London: John Murray, 1837), s Q162.S6E37 ; William Wallace Fyfe. Lizars’ Guide to the North British Railway and its branches (Edinburgh: Printed by W.H. Lizars, 1840), s HE3039.N7L5 ; William Thom, Rhymes and recollections of a hand-loom weaver (London: Smith, Elder, & Co., and Samuel Clarke, 1844), s PR5649.T4A17.
Other common grains include wave, ripple, bead, and bubble, which can come in a fine or coarse variety. We could continue showing many more grains, but it’s time to bring this week’s blog to a close. However, here are a few more images – enjoy!
Some examples of bead grain cloth bindings, all blocked in blind; the first has a very Art Nouveau feel to the blocked design. Alfred W. Drayson. The earth we inhabit: is past, present, and probable future (London: A.W. Bennett, 1859), s GA8.D7 ; Enoch Mellor, The atonement, its relation to pardon (London: Hamilton, Adams, & Co., 1860), s BT265.M3 ; A.J. Campbell, The power of Jesus Christ to save unto the uttermost (London: James Nisbet and Co., 1859), s BT205.C2.
Another example of bead grain, but this binding has been blocked in blind to give the impression of a horizontal rib. James Russell Lowell, The Biglow papers (London: John Camden Hotten, 1861), r PS2316.L7B5.
A vertical wave grain on purple cloth (a bit faded at the top)with an interesting geometric blind border. Henry Christmas. Sin: its causes and consequences (London: Wm. H. Allen & Co., 1861), r BT715.C5.
Dark green criss-cross cloth blocked in blind on both boards with border design. M.F. Conolly, Biographical dictionary of eminent men of Fife (Cupar-Fife, John. C. Orr; Edinburgh: Inglis & Jack, 1866), McG DA880.F4C62.
Briony says: “This grain (trefoil leaf) is a favourite of mine, and was popular in the mid 1850s.” Edward Forbes, Literary papers by the late Professor Edward Forbes (London: Lovell Reeve, 1855), s Q171.F8 ; James Dennistoun, Memoirs of Sir Robert Strange, Knt. (London: Longman, Brown, Green, and Longmans, 1855 ; bound by Westleys & Co.), s ND466.S9 ; C. R. Leslie, A hand-book for young painters (London: John Murray, 1855 ; bound by Edmonds & Remnants), s ND1146.L3.
Assistant Rare Books Librarian