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I. Binding Cloths
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I. Binding Cloths

Before the introduction of edition binding in the 1820's, the binding of a book generally had no connection with the publisher and was not part of the book as it was issued to the public. The description of such bindings, executed individually for owners of books, is thus outside the scope of the descriptive bibliographer's task and constitutes a separate field of investigation.[1] The only exceptions are the temporary coverings in which books were sometimes issued to serve as a protection until the books could be properly bound;[2] these covers usually consisted of plain boards with printed paper labels, and they offer little difficulty for the descriptive bibliographer. From the 1820's on, however, most books have been issued in bindings or casings by their publishers, and these coverings must be described in bibliographical descriptions. The most common material for publishers' bindings has been cloth, and the history of publishers' cloth has been traced by several bibliographers — notably Michael Sadleir, John Carter, and Joseph W. Rogers.[3]


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The historical investigation of publishers' cloth, while it provides a perspective for viewing specific cloths, does not in itself furnish the framework for classifying them. Sadleir's book of 1930 took the first step by including four photographs of cloths, showing their distinctive textures or "grains"; Carter's of 1932 (which displayed twelve photographs) discussed the problem in "A Note on Terminology" (pp. xvxviii) and worked out the equivalences between Sadleir's descriptive terms and the letter designations used by the Winterbottom Book Cloth Co. Ltd., the chief manufacturer of book cloth; and Rogers's 1941 essay furnished illustrations of eleven cloths, labeled with the Sadleir-Carter terms (Plates 30-40). It was not until 1951, however, that a collection of photographs of cloth grains was published which could serve as a comprehensive standard of reference. In that year Michael Sadleir included, at the end of the first volume of his XIX Century Fiction, illustrations of twenty-four cloth grains, labeled with descriptive names such as "sand grain," "hexagon grain," and "dotted-line-ribbed." Although the photographs were based on the Sadleir collection, that collection was extensive, and the photographs could be taken to represent most of the grains in common use in the nineteenth century;[4] but the photographs were not arranged in terms of any overall system of classification, and their physical location in a large two-volume reference work, which could not always be at hand when a bibliographer needed to identify a cloth, limited their influence as a standard.[5] Four years later, in 1955, appeared a second large collection of photographs. Jacob Blanck, at the beginning of the first volume of his Bibliography of American Literature,[6] provided illustrations of


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twenty-eight grains, identified by letter designations (based on the system used in the cloth trade), such as "T" (for ribbed cloth) and "Z" (for what Sadleir calls "honeycomb"). Blanck's selection, with four more photographs than Sadleir's, covered nine grains not present in Sadleir and omitted five which Sadleir included.[7] The fact that a large and important reference work like the BAL keyed binding descriptions to photographs by means of letters was bound to be influential, and some bibliographers now refer to "T-cloth," for instance, without finding it necessary to explain the term or provide a reference; yet the system has the same disadvantages as Sadleir's — and in addition utilizes terms which convey no meaning except to the initiated.

Both systems have had a beneficial effect to the extent that they have called attention to the necessity of photographic samples as standards for verbal descriptions. At the same time, the two systems have dramatized the essential split between the two kinds of verbal descriptions: those which employ ordinary words and convey a meaning to every reader, and those which use technical symbols and convey a meaning only to those who have been introduced to the symbols. Both are based on photographs, but the selections are different, and neither suggests a systematic classification. Here the matter rested until 1967, when Martha Hartzog worked out, for the first time, an outline which shows relationships among types of cloth grains.[8] What was needed, as she recognized, was "an overall organizing principle which is consistent and logical, involving a symbol system which is concise and meaningful" (p. 115). She set up seven basic categories of grains, using terms largely derived from Sadleir — Morocco, Pebbly, Beaded, Geometric, Rippled, Striped, Woven — and designated the initial letter of each category as its symbol. Distinct patterns falling within these groups were then numbered — "Sandy," for example, as the second style in the "Pebbly" category, was "P2." Varieties of patterns could be indicated by modifying adjectives, so that "Coarse sandy" became "coarse P2." In Miss Hartzog's words, the system indicates "differences of degree by an adjective and quality by a separate variant number" (p. 118). Although she did not provide photographs, her chart indicated the correspondences between her terms and the illustrations of Sadleir, Blanck, and Carter.[9]


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The Hartzog system is important as the first attempt to provide "a coherent organizational framework within which all cloth bindings can be fitted" (p. 118), and the nature of the system is a revealing indication of the kinds of problems involved. The choice of the seven main divisions, for example, is not self-evident. Since "Geometric" is an inclusive term which subsumes many patterns of geometric regularity, perhaps "Beaded" would more properly be classified as a variety of "Geometric" than as a separate division parallel to it. On the other hand, if the main divisions are to have more specific headings like "Rippled" and "Striped," then perhaps some of the varieties of "Geometric" — like "bead & line" or "herringbone" — deserve to be elevated to the status of generic divisions. The difficulty in formulating a classification of patterns is that there is no natural spectrum on which to base it. In the study of color, one begins with the concept of a spectrum or a solid representing the range of all possible color, and each of the infinite varieties of color has its unalterable place in the scheme. But cloth patterns are artistic, not natural, products, and no natural continuum encompasses them. Is "Striped" a development of "Rippled"? Is "Woven" closer to "Striped" than it is to "Pebbly"? One could construct an argument for various kinds of relationships, but each would be subjective and none would be definitive.[10]

The symbols employed in the Hartzog system further reveal this problem, for such symbols as "P2" and "G7" combine two principles of notation. The letters are intended to be mnemonic — "P" for "Pebbly" and "G" for "Geometric" — and not to show relationships, for alphabetical order cannot be expected to coincide with structural evolution. The numbers, on the other hand, have no mnemonic value but imply a fixed order within each lettered division; yet there is no reason that the patterns must be arranged in this order. Thus the numbers are merely arbitrary index figures, while the letters are suggestive; and the modifying adjectives — as in "coarse P2" — carry the symbols farther in the direction of rational content.[11] Another comparison with the field of color terminology may be helpful. In the ISCC-NBS Centroid


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Color Charts (1965) the letter symbols — such as "d.yG" for "dark yellowish green" — are intended to serve only as easily recognizable abbreviations (to be used when it is inconvenient to spell out complete words), not as reference notations. For purposes of reference the centroid colors are numbered consecutively from 1 to 267, and any given centroid color may be referred to by its number ("d.yG" is 137). A single consecutive sequence of figures is feasible in the case of color because the spectrum of possible colors defines the scope of the classification. If the entire range of color is divided into 267 segments, those segments can be definitively numbered, because it is logically impossible for anyone to discover a new segment which should be inserted, say, between segments 137 and 138. In the classification of patterns, however, subdivisions can never be definitively established, since (in the absence of a spectrum) the possibility will always remain that another pattern may be discovered or a new pattern devised. An outline, with provision for expansion at any point, is therefore the most workable form of classification for material which, like patterns, does not fall into a continuous series. The Hartzog system recognizes this fact; while the numbered series of species under each major division (or genus) does not represent any necessary sequence, it at least provides for the indefinite expansion of that division, and the modifying adjectives allow for variations within the species.

The outline and illustrations offered below as a standard for the classification and nomenclature of binding-cloth grains are therefore derived from the Hartzog system, but with a number of modifications based on the rationale just presented. In the first place, it is imperative that the divisions in a classification in outline form be not only parallel but mutually exclusive. The seven divisions in the Hartzog system do not fulfill this condition, for such terms as "Pebbly" and "Beaded" are too precise to be parallel to inclusive terms like "Geometric" and "Woven"; neither are they mutually exclusive, for "bead & line," included under "Geometric" (G7), could have been placed under "Beaded," since "pebble & line" is listed under "Pebbly" (P5). The first mutually exclusive division which suggests itself is one which distinguishes those patterns that are regular from those that are irregular: regular patterns reproduce themselves precisely, while irregular ones repeat themselves only in general effect but not in exact detail. Regular patterns, in turn, may be divided into those which are lineal in their symmetry and those which are radial; both "Rippled" and "Striped," among the Hartzog terms, are lineal, while both "Beaded" and "Geometric" are radial. Irregular patterns divide themselves into


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those which resemble fabric threads and those which resemble leather grains; the Hartzog heading "Woven" corresponds roughly to the former, but the latter comprises both "Morocco" and "Pebbly." Beyond these four divisions, mutually exclusive categories are increasingly difficult to formulate and cumbersome to employ, and it seems most sensible simply to list the basic patterns under them. In the numbering system suggested here, the four divisions are assigned to the hundreds-digit, and the two succeeding digits signify the particular pattern.[12] Since any pattern can be made more coarse or fine, and since most patterns can be given a watered effect or a diagonal arrangement, these variations do not properly constitute separate patterns and are indicated here by letters which can be used to form subdivisions of any of the numbered patterns.


  • 100 Lineal
  • 2 Rib
  • 4 Ripple
  • 6 Wave
  • 8 Dotted-line
  • 10 Dot-and-line
  • 12 Dot-and-ribbon
  • 14 Beaded-line
  • 16 Weave
  • 18 Net
  • 20 Crisscross
  • 22 Checkerboard
  • 24 Diaper
  • 200 Radial
  • 2 Bead
  • 4 Bubble
  • 6 Hexagon
  • 8 Honeycomb
  • 10 Pansy


  • 300 Fibrous
  • 2 Calico
  • 4 Linen
  • 6 Cord
  • 400 Coriaceous
  • 2 Morocco
  • 4 Straight-grain morocco
  • 6 Pebble
  • 8 Sand
  • 10 Patterned sand
  • 12 Whorl


  • (a) (regular)
  • b fine
  • c coarse
  • d moiré
  • e diagonal
  • f moiré diagonal
Thus "rib-cloth" is 102, "fine rib-cloth" 102b, and "diagonal fine rib-cloth" 102be. Additional patterns can be accommodated by inserting


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numbers between those given (only even numbers are used here to allow for this possibility) or by extending any of the series of numbers.

It should be understood that these numbers and letters are only reference figures and not substitutes for pattern names. They have no significance in themselves, but they serve two functions: they provide index figures for referring to photographs; and they make possible a meaningful arrangement of photographs, in which related patterns are grouped together. In a bibliographical description, both the name of the cloth pattern and its reference figure should always be given (followed by a designation of the color of the cloth), as in these examples:

moiré fine rib-cloth (102bd), deep brown (Centroid 56)[13]
coarse diaper-cloth (124c), very dark red (17)
diagonal dot-and-line-cloth (110ae), strong yellowish green (131)
fine pebble-cloth (406b), grayish blue (186)
The verbal description enables the reader to visualize the cloth — exactly enough for many purposes — without reference to any illustration; but if he needs to know more precisely the details of the pattern described, he can use the reference number to locate the illustration in the accompanying set of photographs (or in any future set based on this system). When he does so, he finds related patterns close together; but if the cloth on the copy he is checking turns out to be a variety not illustrated, this system provides for interpolation. If, for example, it is bead-cloth of a coarser texture than that illustrated as 202, he can label it "coarse bead-cloth (202c)," even though no illustration for 202c is available. The importance of a standardized terminology cannot be overemphasized: a name, when defined by reference to an illustration, can be precise only if it is used exclusively for that pattern and if the pattern is always referred to by that name. Since the terms employed by Sadleir and Carter have achieved fairly wide acceptance and utilize commonly understood words, they form the natural basis for any standard terminology. The descriptive names assigned here are essentially theirs, though for parallelism all are listed in noun forms; for bibliographical descriptions, the names of the patterns should probably be attached with a hyphen to the word "cloth" (as "bead-cloth"). Modifying adjectives are reserved for indicating variations of a pattern: "fine" or "coarse" immediately precede the name of the pattern, but,


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when a pattern corresponds to the norm between the two, no adjective is required; adjectives for other qualities (like "moiré"), when needed, precede the indication of coarseness ("moiré fine rib-cloth," not "fine moiré rib-cloth"). When the letters standing for these adjectives are appended to the reference figures in alphabetical order,[14] the resulting arrangement of photographs preserves the basic grouping of variations according to coarseness.[15]

Since the illustrations in Blanck's Bibliography of American Literature and in Sadleir's XIX Century Fiction have been consulted by many bibliographers in recent years and since some bibliographical descriptions refer to one or the other, it may be convenient to have a table of equivalences. The list below records the reference figure in the present system which corresponds to each of the photographs in BAL and Sadleir (and in the three previous showings of grains):[16]


306  CM  408c  LG  404b  102 
AA  102bd  EC  122  LI  402  TB  118 
AR  306c  FL  108  406  TR  106 
304  124b  PD  112ae  TZ  106ae 
BD  202  HC  206  PR  412  302 
BF  202b  HT  110  RH  210  YR  304c 
408  404  102be  208 

Sadleir (1951)

402b  vii  102be  xiii  106ae  xix  118 
ii  402  viii  102bd  xiv  104  xx  116 
iii  124b  ix  202  xv  108c  xxi  406 
iv  124c  202b  xvi  108  xxii  208 
408  xi  106  xvii  110  xxiii  210 
vi  410  xii  204  xviii  120  xxiv  206 


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Sadleir (1930)

IVa  402  IVb  406  IVc  102  IVd  202 


302  106be 
402b  106 
102bf  202 
124  114ce 
406  408 
102  110 


30  402  36  404 
31  102af  37  202 
32  124c  38  106 
33  406  39  408 
34  102  40  110 
35  102b 
This table facilitates cross-references among the systems. If a bibliographer, checking a previously published description which utilizes Blanck's letters, finds it more convenient to look at the photograph of the cloth in the chart presented here, he can easily make the conversion to the proper reference figure. Similarly, if a bibliographer is examining a book but has only Sadleir readily available, he can match the cloth with a Sadleir photograph and later convert the description to the name and figure suggested here. What is important is not the particular photograph used but its relation to one central system with fixed terminology.

How exact the match between a cloth and a photograph should be is part of the general question of tolerances[17] and must necessarily vary with different circumstances. The dividing lines between "fine," "regular," and "coarse" — like those between "condensed" and "expanded" in regard to type faces — are not precise, and the decision to call a cloth "coarse" rather than "regular," when it falls between the illustrations of the two, will sometimes be subjective. Whether or not this imprecision takes on practical importance depends on the degree of accuracy required in a particular instance. If two states of the binding of a given book are too similar to be distinguished by means of a standard set of photographs, the bibliographer may find it necessary to include in his bibliography special illustrations of the two varieties. The standard provides a frame of reference but cannot eliminate entirely the need for individual photographs; in most cases, however, such fine distinctions in the specification of cloth grains are not necessary. Only the bibliographer who has examined a great number of copies of a book is in a position to decide the degree of precision desirable in any instance.

Since various levels of accuracy and detail are appropriate in different situations, it is helpful to think in terms of a standard series of


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graduated levels.[18] On the first and least detailed level, only the distinction among basic binding materials is made — leather, vellum, cloth, or paper. Many early bibliographies, even those which give careful attention to such details as line-endings in title-page transcriptions, represent this level; but it is now generally agreed that publishers' bindings require fuller description than the simple designation of "cloth" or "paper." The next step, if the material is cloth, is to classify the design in terms of one of the four major divisions (e.g., "a lineal-pattern cloth," "a fibrous-pattern cloth," and so on). This level, like the previous one, is not sufficiently detailed for most bibliographical work. In general, descriptive bibliographies can be expected to conform to one of the next two levels: the third, involving the designation of specific patterns ("rib-cloth," "pebble-cloth," etc.); or the fourth, adding the adjectives which distinguish varieties of each pattern (as "coarse diaper-cloth" or "diagonal rib-cloth"). If further refinement is necessary in a particular case, one can move to a fifth level and specify divergences within the standard modified terms. Instead of piling on additional adjectives, one can use the phrase "a variety of"; the reference is then either to a special photograph (if an exact representation is required) or to the standard photograph, with the index figure preceded by "cf." (if an approximate match is adequate):
a variety of fine bead-cloth (see Plate oo)
or a variety of fine bead-cloth (cf. 202b)
It should be understood that "cf." is used only to indicate variations between cloths covered by the same name — between, for example, "fine bead-cloth (202b)" and "a variety of fine bead-cloth (cf. 202b)." Generally speaking, if such distinctions are required, it is also necessary to provide individual photographs of the specific cloths involved. The absence of "cf." in a given case does not imply that the match is exact but only that the fourth level is adequate. Finally, one can attain a sixth level in some instances, if the proper documents survive and the effort is worth making, by tracing a cloth to a specimen book of a particular manufacturer; but the standard pattern names employed on the preceding levels are still required to complete the verbal description.

Once the specification of the cloth grain on one of these levels is completed, there remains the problem of describing the pattern or


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decoration stamped into the cloth for the edition casing of a particular book. Sometimes such patterns resemble those found on leather bindings and could be referred to by the names employed for them by the historians of the art of bookbinding decoration — such names as "Harleian" or "Grolier," "fanfare" or "cottage." But the historical associations of such terms, as well as their established use in connection with hand-tooled leather bindings, make unwise any attempt to apply them to the mass-produced designs of publishers' cloth casings. Instead, terms more immediately descriptive, like those adopted for cloth grains, seem more appropriate. Some of the phrases used in the description of leather bindings, of course, are of this sort — such as "center and corner piece" or "interlacing strapwork" — and they can equally well be applied to the stampings in cloth bindings; but normally terms must be devised to meet specific situations. Any such ad hoc description should be kept as simple as possible and be accompanied by a reference to a photograph of the design. The number of binding designs employed by publishers over the years is naturally so much greater than the number of cloth grains that it would not be feasible to attempt the compilation of a comprehensive and classified set of photographs; rather, those designs which need to be referred to in a given bibliography should be illustrated by plates within that bibliography.[19] Such a requirement does not necessitate showing every individual binding, for the principle of illustration can still be generic rather than specific: one design, used on several different books, need be illustrated only once. Since publishers frequently have employed the same binding design, as a kind of trade-mark, on successive volumes by the same author, the number of patterns which require reproduction in any single author-bibliography should not be excessively large. This system combines — as in the designation of cloth grains — a readily understood general description with a specific reference to an illustration and at the same time emphasizes, by the use of generic illustrations, the relationships among binding designs.

As an example of a complete binding (or casing) description, the


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following represents the paragraph on casing from a description of the 1855 Harper impression of Melville's Typee:
casing. Material: diagonal wave-cloth (106ae), brownish black (Centroid 65). Front: blind-stamped decorative-rule frame, 16 mm. wide (Harper 4, Plate 00). Spine: stamped in strong orange (50), '[quadruple rule (thin-thick-thin-decorative)] | TYPEE: | OR | FOUR MONTHS | IN THE | MARQUESAS. | NEW-YORK. | HARPER & BROTHERS. | [quadruple rule (decorative-thin-thick-thin)]'. Back: same as front. Edges: cut, undecorated. Endpapers: pale greenish yellow (104) surface paper.
Such a description is understandable without reference to any illustrations and allows any reader to visualize the casing. If a reader is in doubt about the meaning of a patricular term or if he thinks he has discovered a variant but is not sure on the basis of the verbal description, he can turn to the references indicated and find visual specimens. For the cloth grain and the colors, he is referred to a comprehensive generic standard; for the ornamentation of the cloth he is provided with a plate in this particular bibliography. But in every case a commonly understood term is reinforced by the citation of a specific standard. Only in this way can the terms become standardized and take on an exact significance.