Monday, February 02, 2015

Bembo and Smythe: Looking At A Book Closely

I'd just finished the book of poems and read the note at the end about the book making itself.

Smythe-sewn.  That's what got me to look closely at the binding.  

Books that are smythe sewn are library quality and are constructed to last. Smythe sewn books are durable and made to be handled a lot and open flat. Smythe sewn refers to the centuries old book binding technique. First sheets are folded into signatures, that depending on size and thickness of the sheet can be anywhere from 4 to 32 pages.  A stack of signatures will result  in a book block. Top and bottom as well as right side of the book block will be cut to create pages. Each signature is then sewn through holes on the center line and to the other signatures of the book block with a single thread. The result is a stitched book block which is then stitched or glued into the hard or soft cover binding via end papers.
This process was done by hand until American inventor David McConnel Smythe invented a machine to sew the signatures together in 1879. Nowadays the stitched together text block is often glued on the spine to keep the thread in place and sometimes further reinforced by gluing a piece of fabric over thread on the spine. Head bands and foot bands made of decorative ribbon are sometimes glued to the top and bottom of the pages to further beautify the binding and hide stitching and glue. Paperblanks are a good example of a smythe sewn journal with decorative head and foot bands. Smythe sewn is the standard if you are looking for durability; Hymn books, coffee table books and text books are often smythe sewn for that very reason.

This is the book in question - for my next book club meeting.  The title poem is also my favorite.  

Now, on to font.

12 point Bembo type

While I must admit to not paying much attention to the font (other than occasionally noting the font mention in the book), there is a world of typographers who take all this very seriously.  They know their types like some people know their football teams.   Bembo is an old font.   RightReading  traces the history of Bembo:
Based on type cut by Francesco Griffo (sometimes styled "da Bologna"), Venice 1495, for use in De Aetna, an account of a visit to Mount Etna by Pietro Bembo; the italic is based on Giovanni Tagliente, Venice, 1520s. A first (1928) effort at an italic produced what is now called Fairbank Italic (sometimes Bembo Condensed Italic, a chancery italic cut by Alfred Fairbank; Monotype considered it inadequately related to the roman. (Morison: "It had the great virtue of all the chancery cursives: it was legible in mass and can easily be read by the page. So much so that, in fact, it looked happier alone than in association with the Bembo roman.")"Pietro Bembo (1470-1547), prominent humanist, poet, and churchman, was closely involved with the Aldine Press from its very inception. The first book issued by Aldus, Lascaris's Greek grammar (see no. 2), was printed from a copy provided to Aldus by Bembo, who had studied with Lascaris. Bembo's own first work, De Aetna (1496), and his editions of Petrarch's Rime sparse and Dante's Commedia were printed by Aldus."Gli Asolani describes a wedding feast at Asola, during which a discussion ensues concerning love. Its subject, whether love is a good or a bad thing, may well have established Bembo as the preeminent philosopher of his generation."The first edition of Gli Asolani has attracted attention in no small part because certain copies of it contain a dedication to the famous and notorious Lucrezia Borgia, daughter of Pope Alexander VI, sister of Cesare Borgia, and duchess of Ferrara."--
He also notes that type connoisseurs don't much like the digitizing of Bembo.  And the first I landed on - I Love Typography - had a long discussion on the problems with the digitized version.  This book was published in 1978, so I'm guessing it was printed with metal type on a printing press.  Gary Holthaus, the author, was the first director of the Alaska Humanities Forum, among many other interesting endeavors.  He's scheduled to be at our meeting.

There's so much we don't notice everyday.  We tend to look at things based on our habitual use of them, not for what else they are.  Books are to read, not to consider as physical objects.  And few of us would know how to even make a book.  Fortunately between google and youtube, anyone can learn how to make their own book fairly easily.

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