This week’s view of The Hobbit will be from a binding perspective. As one might expect, there is not much specific information on the process by which this wonderful piece of art was bound, but we do know that it was bound by the Allen & Unwin trade binding company. We know that it was published in 1937, and can assume based on the number of copies (1,488) that it was done commercially.
By the 1930s, the commercial book binding process was very much the same as it is now. The machines of the 21st century may be faster, or more lucrative, but the general idea behind it all remains. But what is that idea?
Well, to put it quite simply, the pages must be folded and sown together into what we call signatures. Then, the signatures must be sown together. After preparing the pages, one has to cut stiff cardboard pieces called boards to the proper size to cover the pages. The boards must be glued to the book cloth, then the signatures attached to the cover. Do all of that with exact precision, and voila! You have a beautifully bound book! But if the process has been commercialized, how exactly does that work? Well I, and the creator of this video, are so glad that you asked!
The signatures and the actual cover, or case, would be made in completely separate steps of the process, and combining the two pieces would be the final step. Of course, Tolkien designed embellishments for the case of his book, which would have been embossed on the case before attaching the pages. It was actually quite unusual that Tolkien had a designed book cover because the art of it had more or less died down 20 years previous due to the cost efficiency of dust jackets, and Tolkien’s book had a dust jacket to go along with it as well as the cover’s design.
If there’s something I’ve learned over my time as an avid reader, it is to appreciate a good binding when you’ve got one. This method of binding is much more durable than some of the more cost and time efficient used in this day and age. (I’ve got the broken Harry Potter book to prove it.) But regardless of what method you use, binding is an intricate and careful process that brings to life the imagination of any who make use of it.