Blinding In

With most leather covers tooling is done directly on the leather cover. But some leathers, such as morocco, require blinding-in, where the design is applied to the leather by first creating the design on a thin sheet of paper, using hand tools and stamping ink. The paper is applied to the surface of the book, and the tools used to deboss through the paper, creating the design on the leather. A thin coat of glaire is applied with a fine brush to the debossed areas, and gold leaf can then be applied with a heated tool.

Blind Tooling

One of the foundational processes for decorating a bookcover. Impressions are made in the covering material--usually leather--using heated tools, pallets, rolls, fillets, alone or in combination. No coloring coloring material, including gold leaf, foil, or other colors, is used. Blind tooling has been used since the 7th or 8th century.

Back Lettering

Lettering the spine with author, title, or other information, and, in a loose sense. The lettering of hand-bound books is usually done either with individual letters, or with type set in a pallet. It is also done at times with straight lines or gouges, but this is more common with lettering on covers.


Pressing the surface of leather--usually morocco (goatskin) -- to diminish or remove all visible trace of grain. To crush, the faces of the covers are dampened, covered with a varnished or nickel plate, and put in a standing press for an hour or so.


The process of cutting and inserting a piece of leather, usually of a different color or texture, into the leather surface of a book from which a piece of leather of the same size and shape has been cut. If the inlay is intended to be tooled, the leather for the inlay is cut on a bevel (so that the grain surface is slightly larger than the flesh side) and the leather covering the book is cut in the opposite way. If the inlay is not meant to be tooled, the leather is cut vertically. Inlaid bindings were particularly popular in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Laying on

The process of attaching very thin, usually colored strips of leather onto the surface of a book's cover. Often tooled with title or other information, the onlay is glued in place.


An older practice: When they are finished, leather books are pressed for several hours between polished metal plates.


Smoothing and adding shine to leather book covers is done using heated brass polishing irons. Generally the binder starts with a slightly warm tool, then progresses to warmer tools, used in a small circular motion to avoid darkening the leather.


Using a heated brass tool to make an impression on leather. With small tools, the tool is held in the right hand, thumb on top of the handle, and the left thumbnail is used to guide the tool into place. Whether blind-tooling or gold-tooling, the process is the same. With rolls, fillets, and palettes the tool is held in the right hand, at the bottom of the handle; the top of the handle is supported on the binder's shoulder, and the thumbnail of the left hand is used as a guide to impress the rule or design.

Side Lettering

Lettering the cover with author, title, or other information. The lettering of hand-bound books is usually done either with individual letters, or with type set in a pallet, and some times with straight lines or gouges (called built-up lettering).


Coloring the leather after the book has been bound to create a decorative pattern or design.


A small rectangular block of metal cut on its top with a raised letter, number, or other character, for use in letterpress printing, or in a lettering pallet for lettering the spine of a book. There are many sizes and typefaces used.

Trade Finishing Styles for the Spine

Half-morocco Plain Only the title is lettered on the spine, with a single line at the top and bottom of the spine, about 1/8 inch from the ends. Center Tooled The ornamental stamps on the spine of a leather book between raised bands. Of the customary six spaces, the title is normally in space two (from the top), the author in space four, the year of publication in space six, with ornamental stamps in spaces one, three, five and six . Panelled Back Single, double, or triple lines in the shape of a rectangle, made with a fillet or pallet, between the bands on the spine of a book. Type with the name, author, or other identification may also appear. Run Up and Gilt Double gold lines run along sides of the spine of a book, intersected at intervals by double gold lines on either side of each raised band. The horizontal lines cross the vertical lines, extending to the edges of the spine. There may be decorative stamps and type as well.

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