When I was 11-12 years old an uncle and aunt came to visit. Not knowing what to bring as a gift they went to a bookshop and asked the bookseller to recommend something for a child of said age. “You know… I have just the thing, he’ll love it!” said he – and gave them the Hobbit…
Twenty years later I still feel grateful to that person.
Upon reading the Hobbit something “clicked” in me. What was a vague fondness for a number of things began to acquire form, to move in a certain direction. It acted as a spark for my imagination and creativity.
I honestly don’t know if I’d be the same person if I hadn’t read Tolkien’s books, or if I did so many years later. That’s how great of an impact his work had on me.
So, I was delighted when S.B. asked me to bind a copy of Silmarillion; strangely enough it was the first time anyone had commissioned a Tolkien binding.
S.B. had a very clear idea of how the binding was going to look like: classic, with grey and silver being the prevalent colors. The client also requested a very particular marbled paper which had to be custom made – many thanks to Jemma Lewis who managed to do a spectacular job: the photos don’t do it justice really!
After some time the binding was almost finished, the spine decoration was all that was left. But then disaster stroke…
I noticed a tiny tear, in the one spot that could spell doom for the entire binding: the inner part of the leather hinge, just next to the headband (there’s a word for that, isn’t there? help me out English colleagues!).
I was not very happy with the particular calf, it felt “dry” from the beginning. It was the only grey leather (per the client’s request) I could source that was suitable for bookbinding though and I was able to get to this point without any real problems. For what is more I was also impressed with how well it set on the spine bands during covering.
Yet here I was looking at the tear and trying to decide what to do with it. It was only on the interior and minute in size, half a rice grain in length. With a good leather patch over it the book could perhaps endure a lifetime of use without any problem or …it could start expanding and tear through the entire hinge ruining the binding…
There were 3 options:
a) Cancel the commission and refund.
b) Proceed with finishing the binding at the client’s responsibility.
c) Or bind a new book using a different leather.
All affected the client in one way or the other so I thought it best not to take a decision without first discussing it with S.B.
I explained the issue in detail. S.B. was willing to wait so we went for the third option, this time with a new edition.
After a lot of work forwarding was once more complete and was time for tooling.
The client wanted Tolkien’s monogram on the spine so I carved a new handtool for the occasion.
The client also wanted a leather-bound case to house the book and I proposed that we use a part of the Beleriand Map for its decoration.
This way it would compliment the classic-looking binding while being an nice item on its own. Its spine would also stand out on the shelf and be instantly recognizable among the rest of the books.
Silmarillion comes with a map that is 5 times the book’s page size when unfolded. Keeping it in the book was not an option as it would prevent the binding from closing well and put stress on the back hinge.
However I also didn’t want to just place it on top or under the binding inside the case as that could potentially mark the leather and would simply not look nice. It had to be at a separate compartment, yet readily available.
This is the solution I came up with: a “ drawer” with a silk ribbon that allows for quick and easy removal of the map – pretty neat!
Choosing which part of the map to use for the decoration was tricky: there are many empty areas and others that are full of mountains and forests. I wanted a bit of everything and so I went for Doriath and the northern mountain ranges.
I printed a template and used a pyrographer to trace the design on the leather. I then deepened the impression with a 2nd and occasionally a 3rd pass. After that I used an acrylic pen to color every single detail.
The entire process, from outlining to tooling to coloring, took much more than I expected – J.R.R. sure loves his trees…!
Kaethi K. of the Prancing Pony (Greek Tolkien Society) had kindly helped me in sourcing a suitable edition and had expressed interest in seeing the finished binding. When my work was complete I sent an invitation to her, open to rest of the members as well.
Some defied the summer heat and visited my bindery to see the binding up close. To make things more interesting and illustrate the amount of work that goes into a bound book I did a small presentation of the bookbinding process and many were keen to try their hand at sewing and tooling – with great results!
After that, binding and case began a long voyage to Alaska, which I’ll admit was rather exciting to add to the list of destinations for my work – Achievement Unlocked!
A few days ago I received notice that the binding has arrived and the owner is quite happy!
May they keep each other good company for all the years to come.