As I was examining my Baby this week, I noticed that it looked as if it wasn’t in it’s original binding. So of course this thought resulted in me researching all about who owned it, if they rebound it and how it was done. My Baby, housed in the Z.S.R. Library, has beautiful blue hardcovers and the papers are touched with gold. I had to know who added these details.
Evidenced by a decorative bookplate inside this particular copy of the Divine Comedy, the book was owned by John Ruskin, a Victoria artist and critic. Mr. Ruskin was one of the most influential writers on art and society in 19th century England and was a great admirer of Dante. It is presumed that he was the one who had the book rebound. The Z.S.R. copy of Dante is bound in blue velvet with yellow silk endpapers and gauffered edges. Wait…”gauffa-what?”
When I came across this word, I had no clue what it meant. I had to find out! Gauffered edges (also spelled gauffred, gaufre, goffered) were used by a lot of European bookbinders, and also a lot of German binders in the 16th century. Gauffering means that the edges of a book, usually gilded, have been decorated further by heated finishing tools which indent small repeating patterns. This process is most successful when performed on a book printed on hard paper and gilt solid. It can be done directly on the gold or by layering different colored gold over the first and tooling over the top gold, leaving the pattern in the new gold imprinted on the original metal. The gorgeous effect is often enhanced by scraping parts of the gold away and then staining the white part of the paper that shows through. The result is an aesthetically pleasing book with an overwhelming feel of pride craftsmanship.
It’s truly amazing how much history and technique can be found out about a book. Never underestimate the power of research.