Thursday, November 19, 2009

Autumn Colors: Wooden Book Bindings

I had intended to write a post about autumn-themed book bindings. Time is short, the leaves are falling, but these pretty wood-bound books have a special place in any collection or library. They can also inspire us today, as we look to our own neighborhood for the things we want in our lives.

Most popular during WWII and the post-war period of the 1940s into the 1950s, this kind of binding gave heft to small editions of poetry and recipes. The wood was usually thin plywood, sanded smooth and given a coat of varnish or orange shellac (I love orange shellac) in the home workshop. As you can tell from the pictured examples, the hinges ranged from carefully worked copper to leather cord to metal rings. Covers would be decorated in a variety of methods, including wood burning, paint, stencil, and silk-screen.

The pages were often printed on a mimeograph or duplicating machine. In other cases, the printing was genuine letterpress - again frequently from a home print shop: either a hobby press, a home business, or perhaps a local printer whose main work would have been printing everything the town needed, including business cards and forms, stationery, books by local authors, and personalized Christmas cards.

"Geese Flying South" is a volume of poems by a local author from May, Texas. "Here's How" is a souvenier book of bartender's recipes from Asheville NC, and "Welcome Stranger" is a recipe book that was given out to newcomers who had just moved to Pompano Beach Florida.

The open book is a bound notebook that Mama made for my birthday. She and I had learned to sew these books together during one of my visits to her home. After she made the book, she pasted pressed flowers onto each page. The flowers were wild flowers she had gathered on a walk we took together when she was here visiting. Leafing through the book takes me through a full year of memories with her.

Whether it was a self-published book of poems, a small printer who printed and bound in his printshop on weekends, or the church cookbook that local craftsmen put together, this is just one more way in which people used to - and still can - rely on themselves and their neighbors to produce the things they needed, or wanted.

Imagine the possibilities if we stop wanting uniformity and recover our delight in our own handiwork and that of our neighbors!


  1. hi!
    do you know where I can buy those wooden book rings? putting together flash cards and need a non-toxic ring binder? thanks so much - shannon (

  2. Hi Shannon! How nice to hear from you. :-) The rings you see on one book are plastic, but I have seen these simple ring-bound books use small hinged metal binder rings or key rings in the same way. Most craft or book-binding suppliers should have or be able to get them and you can buy them in bulk. You can also find them on Etsy in the "Supplies" category - search "binder rings".

    Shoe laces would be a great, sturdy, vegetable alternative. The simplest way to use them would be to lace through one set of holes, tie off in a hard knot & snip, as if you were making a tied quilt.

    I hope the project turns out great. I'd love to hear how it goes and what you decide to do :-)




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