Bookbinding, and the Care of Books, by Douglas Cockerell

Chapter XX

Paper — Pastes — Glue


Paper may be made by hand or machinery, and either “laid” or “wove.” “Laid” papers are distinguished by wire marks, which are absent in “wove” paper.

A sheet of hand-made paper has all round it a rough uneven edge called the “deckle,” that is a necessary result of its method of manufacture. The early printers looked upon this ragged edge as a defect, and almost invariably trimmed most of it off before putting books into permanent bindings. Book-lovers quite rightly like to find traces of the “deckle” edge, as evidence that a volume has not been unduly reduced by the binder. But it has now become the fashion to admire the “deckle” for its own sake, and to leave books on hand-made paper absolutely untrimmed, with ragged edges that collect the dirt, are unsightly, and troublesome to turn over. So far has this craze gone, that machine-made paper is often put through an extra process to give it a sham deckle edge.

Roughly speaking, paper varies in quality according to the proportion of fibrous material, such as rag, used in the manufacture. To make paper satisfactorily by hand, a large proportion of such fibrous material is necessary, so that the fact that the paper is hand-made is to some extent a guarantee of its quality. There are various qualities of hand-made paper, made from different materials, chiefly linen and cotton rags. The best paper is made from pure linen rag, and poorer hand-made paper from cotton rag, while other qualities contain a mixture of the two or other substances.

It is possible to make a thoroughly good paper by machinery if good materials are used. Some excellent papers are made by machinery; but the enormous demand for paper, together with the fact that now almost any fibrous material can be made into paper, has resulted in the production, in recent years, of, perhaps, the worst papers that have ever been seen.

This would not matter if the use of the poor papers were restricted to newspapers and other ephemeral literature, but when, as is often the case, paper of very poor quality is used for books of permanent literary interest, the matter is serious enough.

Among the worst papers made are the heavily loaded “Art” papers that are prepared for the printing of half-toned process blocks. It is to be hoped that before long the paper makers will produce a paper that, while suitable for printing half-toned blocks, will be more serviceable, and will have a less unpleasant surface.

Several makers produce coloured handmade papers suitable for end papers. Machine-made papers can be had in endless variety from any number of makers.

The paper known as “Japanese Vellum” is a very tough material, and will be found useful for repairing vellum books; the thinnest variety of it is very suitable for mending the backs of broken sections, or for strengthening weak places in paper.

The following delightful account of paper making by hand is quoted from “Evelyn’s Diary, 1641-1706.”

“I went to see my Lord of St. Alban’s house at Byflete, an old large building. Thence to the paper mills, where I found them making a coarse white paper. They cull the raggs, which are linnen, for white paper, woollen for brown, then they stamp them in troughs to a papp with pestles or hammers like the powder-mills, then put it into a vessell of water, in which they dip a frame closely wyred with a wyre as small as a haire, and as close as a weaver’s reede; on this they take up the papp, the superfluous water draining thro’ the wyre; this they dextrously turning, shake out like a pancake on a smooth board between two pieces of flannell, then press it between a greate presse, the flannell sucking out the moisture; then taking it out they ply and dry it on strings, as they dry linnen in the laundry; then dip it in alum-water, lastly polish and make it up in quires. They put some gum in the water in which they macerate the raggs. The mark we find on the sheets is formed in the wyre.”

The following are the more usual sizes of printing papers —

Foolscap 17 × 13½
Crown 20 × 15
Post 19¼ × 15½
Demy 22½ × 17½
Medium 24 × 19
Royal 25 × 20
Double Pott 25 × 15
  "  Foolscap 27 × 17
Super Royal 27 × 21
Double Crown 30 × 20
Imperial 30 × 22
Double Post 31½ × 19½

The corresponding sizes of hand-made papers may differ slightly from the above.

Although the above are the principal sizes named, almost any size can be made to order.

The following is an extract from the report of the Committee of the Society of Arts on the deterioration of paper, published in 1898: “The committee find that the paper-making fibres may be ranged into four classes:—

  1. Cotton, flax, and hemp.
  2. Wood, celluloses (a) sulphite process, and (b) soda and sulphate process.
  3. Esparto and straw celluloses.
  4. Mechanical wood pulp.

In regard, therefore, to papers for books and documents of permanent value, the selection must be taken in this order, and always with due regard to the fulfilment of the conditions of normal treatment above dealt with as common to all papers.”

“The committee have been desirous of bringing their investigations to a practical conclusion in specific terms, viz. by the suggestion of standards of quality. It is evident that in the majority of cases, there is little fault to find with the practical adjustments which rule the trade. They are, therefore, satisfied to limit their specific findings to the following, viz., Normal standard of quality for book papers required for publications of permanent value. For such papers they would specify as follows:—

Fibres. Not less than 70 per cent. of fibres of Class A.

Sizing. Not more than 2 per cent. rosin, and finished with the normal acidity of pure alum.

Loading. Not more than 10 per cent. total mineral matter (ash).

“With regard to written documents, it must be evident that the proper materials are those of Class A, and that the paper should be pure, and sized with gelatine, and not with rosin. All imitations of high-class writing papers, which are, in fact, merely disguised printing papers, should be carefully avoided.”


To make paste for covering books, &c., take 2 oz. of flour, and ¼ oz. of powdered alum, and well mix with enough water to form a thin paste, taking care to break up any lumps. Add a pint of cold water, and heat gently in an enamelled saucepan. As it becomes warm, it should be stirred from time to time, and when it begins to boil it should be continually stirred for about five minutes. It should then form a thick paste that can be thinned with warm water. Of course any quantity can be made if the proportions are the same.

Paste for use is best kept in a wooden trough, called a “paste tub.” The paste tub will need to be cleaned out from time to time, and all fragments of dry paste removed. This can easily be done if it is left, overnight, filled with water. Before using, the paste should be well beaten up with a flat stick.

For pasting paper, it should have about the consistency and smoothness of cream; for leather, it can be thicker. For very thick leather a little thin glue may be added. Paste made with alum will keep about a fortnight, but can be kept longer by the addition of corrosive sublimate in the proportion of one part of corrosive sublimate to a thousand parts of paste. Corrosive sublimate, being a deadly poison, will prevent the attack of bookworms or other insects, but for the same reason must only be used by responsible people, and paste in which it is used must be kept out of the way of domestic animals.

Several makes of excellent prepared paste can be bought in London. These pastes are as cheap as can be made, and keep good a long time.

Paste that has become sour should never be used, as there is danger that the products of its acid fermentation may injure the leather.

Paste tubs as sold often have an iron bar across them to wipe the brush on. This should be removed, and replaced by a piece of twisted cord. Paste brushes should be bound with string or zinc; copper or iron will stain the paste.

White Paste for Mending

A good paste for mending is made from a teaspoonful of ordinary flour, two teaspoonsful of cornflour, half a teaspoonful of alum, and three ounces of water. These should be carefully mixed, breaking up all lumps, and then should be heated in a clean saucepan, and stirred all the time with a wooden or bone spoon. The paste should boil for about five minutes, but not too fast, or it will burn and turn brown. Rice-flour or starch may be substituted for cornflour, and for very white paper the wheaten flour may be omitted. Ordinary paste is not nearly white enough for mending, and is apt to leave unsightly stains.

Cornflour paste may be used directly after it is made, and will keep good under ordinary circumstances for about a week. Directly it gets hard or goes watery, a new batch must be made.


It is important for bookbinders that the glue used should be of good quality, and the best hide glue will be found to answer well. To prepare it for use, the glue should be broken up into small pieces and left to soak overnight in water. In the morning it should be soft and greatly swollen, but not melted, and can then be put in the glue-pot and gently simmered until it is fluid. It is then ready for use. Glue loses in quality by being frequently heated, so that it is well not to make a great quantity at a time. The glue-pot should be thoroughly cleaned out before new glue is put into it, and the old glue sticking round the sides taken out.

Glue should be used hot and not too thick. If it is stringy and difficult to work, it can be broken up by rapidly twisting the brush in the glue-pot. For paper the glue should be very thin and well worked up with the brush before using.

The following is quoted from “Chambers’ Encyclopædia” article on Glue: —

“While England does not excel in the manufacture, it is a recognised fact that Scottish glue . . . ranks in the front of the glues of all countries. A light-coloured glue is not necessarily good, nor a dark-coloured glue necessarily bad. A bright, clear, claret colour is the natural colour of hide glue, which is the best and most economical.

“Light-coloured glues (as distinguished from gelatine) are made either from bones or sheepskins. The glue yielded by these materials cannot compare with the strength of that yielded by hides.

“A great quantity is now made in France and Germany from bones. It is got as a by-product in the manufacture of animal charcoal. Although beautiful to look at, it is found when used to be far inferior to Scottish hide glue.”

Last updated Sunday, March 27, 2016 at 11:52