An Art Book is an item that is made using fine materials for both the interior, the book block, and the exterior, the binding and the cover.
HOW AN ART BOOK IS BORN
Choice of paper
The more cotton fibre paper contains, more valuable it is. Paper made from 100% cotton fibre
is the most highly prized, because it can only be damaged mechanically; in other words, it can be torn but it does not deteriorate with age. This is why this type of paper is usually used in making an Art Book
, which is not an ephemeral object but is designed to last.
The most important paper mills for the manufacture of fine paper in Italy are those of Fabriano and Amalfi.
Printing on parchment
Arte del Libro is the only artisanal company today that is able to print on soft parchment
. This is thanks to the realization of a type of parchment that is of extremely high quality and, especially, as soft as those on which the medieval codes were painted in miniature. On this parchment Arte del Libro has press-printed three exceptionally important documents on St. Francis: the papal letter of Honorius III dated 1223 and the only two existing signed letters of the saint.
This highly-prized parchment can also be used for other printing techniques, including digital or darkroom printing, to create items that are not Art Books but are, nevertheless, equally valuable. The printing of a photograph on soft parchment
, for example, produces an exquisite result with a quality that may be defined as pictorial.
Treatment of printed sheet
The first operation that the printed sheet undergoes is Folding. It is folded to form an octavo or quarto, and the folded sheet, i.e. the basic element that can be sewn (at least one quarto since a single sheet cannot be sewn) is joined together with other folded sheets to form the Text Block. The folding of the sheets is done by hand, therefore, as is the subsequent Gathering, spreading out the sheets on a table, before moving on to the next step, Sewing.
Once the folded sheets are sewn together it is time to make the book block: first of all the stitch holes are closed to prevent the glue from seeping through and ruining the pages, then the spine is glued and the block is trimmed.
The next stage is Rounding, in which the block is hammered with a large mallet to create the rounded spine that is characteristic of antique books but non-existent in industrially printed books.
Finally, the Italian technique of inserting an Accordion Spacer, a sheet of paper folded into a tube shape, when attached on one side to the book block and on the other to the back of the cover, allows the pages to be opened up to 180° without damaging the spine of the book. At this point the internal book block is completed.
Without exception, Art Books are bound in leather which, by its very nature, can only be treated by hand.
Various types of leather can be used, such as goatskin, sheepskin, buffalo hide, etc., but the best, softest and most expensive leather is calf. Arte del Libro uses only pelts not tanned with chromium
but exclusively vegetable tanned
, carefully greased with tallow and dyed with aniline
. A high quality cover must also be as 'natural' as possible.
The leather arrives at Arte del Libro whole and is exclusively hand-worked - no industrial book can ever have a genuine leather cover. Once cut to the desired size, the hide is mounted on wooden plates. The pre-assembly phase includes all the processes of embellishing and decorating the book cover, such as gilding the spine, hot engraving in gold or silver, adding screen-printed metal sheets, photographs, reproductions of paintings and so on.
Embedding and Cover Work
When all the finishes of the cover are completed we come to the Embedding stage, an operation during which the book block is inserted into the cover, and then glued and centred. Protrusion involves leaving a space ranging from 5 mm to 1 cm, known as the protruding edge, between the end of the paper and the rim of the cover, which serves to protect the edge of the pages from damage.
Another important detail is the Endband, a leather cord that serves to protect and decorate the two ends of the spine. Lastly, the Raised Bands in leather, also on the spine of the book, correspond to the thread of stitching and are used primarily to strengthen the spine and recall antique bookbinding techniques.
The last stage is the adding of the Cover Work, which may be a screen-printed metal plate, silver or bronze studs, and so on. The book is now finished, and like all the products of Arte del Libro it is subjected to a thorough final inspection; for example, the evenness of the protruding edge shows whether the book has been correctly embedded or not. Only the flawless copies are numbered and signed in the Colophon and then sent on to be packed and stored, ready for shipment.