Form Follows Function:

Bookbinding Models

To learn more about representative bookbinding structures in the Rubinstein Collection, I created some exemplars to better understand how the books were made. Sometimes the best way to understand how a book is sewn or overband laced is to try it for yourself. Conservation Services in KU Libraries has an extensive collection of bookbinding models to use in teaching, outreach, and conservation treatments.

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Tooled Leather Libro Maestro Account Book Model
Based on MS J16:1a in the Rubinstein Collection

This model is constructed from eleven groups, or sections, of eight folded sheets of paper, or folios. Single pieces of natural rag paper are hooked around the outer sections of the book to create flyleaves. The book is sewn with linen thread in a B-shape pattern around four supports of tanned skin adhered to layers of thick paper to add rigidity to the spine. Following the stationery book style, the sewing supports are laced through slots in the front cover and anchored by the decorative lacing, but left long at the back. Endbands are sewn over thick linen cords, first with a layer of wrapped linen thread, then a second layer of blue and yellow waxed linen thread.

The outer case features layers of paper adhered together to create the covers, covered with two joined pieces of brown goatskin. The inside of the case is lined with Italian marbled paper.

Single Xs (saltires) of white leather on the spine connect the leather case to the paper block. The leather overbands have a 6X lacing pattern on the front and a “2X with three lines” pattern on the back.

Model created by Whitney Baker, May 2022.


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Brass tools used to create patterns on cover of the Libro Maestro model.


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Lacing pattern cards
There are 30 different overband lacing patterns found on account books in the Rubinstein Collection. These lacing cards represent some of the research conducted in spring 2022 on the different styles. Most are variations on groups of Xs, sometimes connected by lines. Because the stationers did not cover the inside of the account books, we can also see the back side of these patterns, which are almost always vertical on the inside of the covers no matter the pattern on the outside.

Double X, double row: two variations
Four X with lines: two variations
Nine X with lines: two variations

Lacing cards created by Whitney Baker, spring 2022.


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Parchment Account Book Model
(Contracts of Goods from the Altopascio Estate)
Based on MS E145 in the Rubinstein Collection

Paper is folded into ten sections of eight folios each, with paper flyleaves hooked around the first and last section. The book is sewn with linen thread on split thongs made of layers of paper adhered to leather. (See the sewing model on the Taking Account page.) Endbands are sewn with natural-colored thread looped around linen cord. The covers are made of layers of thick paper covered with sheep parchment with the flesh side out, for a whiter surface. Leather/paper laminated overbands feature a “4X with lines” lacing pattern on the front and a 4X pattern on the back. The parchment case is secured along the fore-edge and outer corners with white leather tackets that are twisted on the inside.

The cover is attached to the paper block with loops of twisted parchment that are secured inside the book between sections of the paper block. The parchment case is secured at head and tail (top and bottom) with thread tackets that vertically loop around the endbands and are knotted on the outside of the parchment spine. The handwriting copies the text on the original book in the Rubinstein collection.

Model created by Whitney Baker, April 2022.


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Parchment Account Book Model
Based on MS E133 v. 6 of 6

This model represents an unusual method of keeping legal documents together. Hemp cords are looped individually through thick groups of paper and each section is tied separately in an intricate pattern on the spine. Paper covered with sheep parchment composes the cover. Tackets along the fore-edge of the volume are made from hemp cord. The hand-drawn Orsetti family crest on the cover appears above an entwined tau symbol for the Altopascio estate and the letter of the volume (G).

Model created by Whitney Baker, April 2022.