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Peter Doyle, Bookbinder

by Helen Johnson

Published: March 2009

In Britain we have a fine Heritage of Traditional skills; some form the basis of new contemporary work, other age-old skills continue to be practised by working craftsmen. At craft&design we think it’s important to promote these traditional skills, helping to ensure a future for them that everyone can appreciate and enjoy.

Peter Doyle practises the ancient craft of binding books – and it’s still going strong. He says, “The computer hasn’t killed the book yet. In fact, I’d say that computers are making me more work.” This, he says, is because people have personal memoirs and family histories bound. Previously, he says, such a project would have cost thousands of pounds for a minimum print run – a price prohibitive to many. Now, says Peter, “People can print off, say, ten copies on their own computer, and bring them to me. I’m affordable – I just charge for the binding.” The work, he says, is similar to binding University dissertations – something Peter has done for over 20 years. He says, “I sort of fell into book binding. In 1976, a printer in Preston had a vacancy for an apprentice. He asked a teacher from my school to send someone round. He sent me.”

After a four-year apprenticeship, Peter went to work at Lancaster University, where he bound theses and journals, and restored antique works. He says this resulted in all-round grounding, “I did commercial work at the printer’s, and academic and restoration work at the University.” Peter went to the University because there wasn’t enough work at the printers. But, he says, “The printer asked me to continue doing what I’d always done for him, and that was the start of my own business.” He enjoys his work because he likes having “Something to show for my labours – a finished article. I also like binding stuff in my own way – what you might call ‘designer binding’.” He adds that this is nothing new. “There are fantastic examples from 100 to 150 years ago. The book is just a canvas for a work of art.”

When creating designer bindings, Peter says, “l like to have something that reflects the contents.” Examples are Treasure Island with a relief map of the island on the front cover, and Cranford with an inlay of a woman’s head in a Victorian bonnet. “Someone can give me a book about anything and I’d do a design. I keep a scrapbook, and if I see a good shape, I’ll cut it out and keep it. I don’t copy direct, but I can interpret it into a design.” Commissioned work is hugely varied. A brief selection includes Bibles for Christenings, binding for printers, dealers and collectors of all sorts, restoring Victorian family bibles, binding academic theses and journals, and restoring antiques. Peter also binds craft&design into volumes for Angie and Paul.

Peter makes books for special occasions such as weddings. He says, “I’ve worked with a number of photographers to present their work. In fact, one photographer did a wedding fair, and got a good response to our image.” Peter selects his materials and style to suit the book he is binding. He says, “I mainly use goat leather. It’s a grained leather that I can get in whatever thickness I want. When it’s wet with paste, it’s malleable. For the boards, I use grey board – again, I can get it in any thickness I like. Usually the printed book comes to me, so the only paper I need is the end papers. I often use marbled paper, or hand made papers.”

A lot of his work is hidden in the finished piece. Work from a printers, he says, “Might come in a big sheet printed sixteen pages to view. So first it has to be folded, folded and folded again until I get a section.” Further operations include sewing the folded sections to linen tape, pressing them, glueing the spine, trimming the pages, and ‘rounding’ the stacked pages to give the curve to the spine. Then the spine is hammered to produce ‘shoulders’ to accommodate the thickness of the end boards. The spine is further strengthened with headbands at top and tail, and lining paper. End boards are cut, and are then covered with the parts we see: the cover and end papers. Peter comments, “It’s easier shown than described.”

Then there is decoration. The spine can be decorated with raised bands, and details, as well as lettering, usually in gilt, for the title. Peter says, “You can add all sorts. Maybe if it’s a cricket book, you’d put a little bat and ball on the spine. They’re like little logos.”

Peter repairs old books, and creates new ones. He says, “If a book comes to me, I’ll strip it completely, and re-bind. Or I can make a blank book up, or have a book printed, and sew it up and bind it.” When restoring books, Peter tries to maintain the original appearance by re-using the original bindings. He says, “Usually, the spine is detached. So I strip it down, put a new spine on, reline and reglue it, and re-use the original boards and spine. So it looks the same, but it’s kept together by new material.”

Sometimes the book has been similarly repaired before. He says, “I can tell from the materials that the binding might be a hundred years later than the original book.”

He adds, “Even if I have to put a new binding on, I do a style that suits the age of the book. But I’m not passing it off as original. A bookbinder will know that it’s been rebound.” Peter also works in education. As well as binding works for Universities, he works with graphic design students. He says, “Sometimes they have fantastic ideas, but they see what I can do, and it takes them further. For instance, a girl did a project on scars – scars on trees, scars on faces, and so on. She wanted it bound, but she wasn’t sure how. After seeing my work, we bound it in leather, and cut the front board and stitched it. It was her idea, and she got a first for that. It was a modern application of bookbinding.”

“Every year, I do presentation work for about a dozen graphic design students. I love it when a student has good ideas, but doesn’t know the application. I can say ‘how about this’ and it puts another strand of thought in their head.” When the students get jobs, Peter finds himself invited to tender to their companies. A recent job was for an advertising agency. He says, “They had a book – like a brochure – bound, to send to major customers.”

When Peter wants to reach customers, he says, “Word of mouth is my best advert. I have a little sticker to put in the back of a book, saying ‘bound by Peter Doyle’, but I don’t put any other mark on the book to say it’s mine.” “I’ve never found an advert in a newspaper or magazine to work. But I am in Yellow pages. When people need me, they find me.”

He adds, “I do the book fair at Haydock Park twice a year – that keeps me in touch with all the collectors and dealers. I don’t have time for any more fairs – and I don’t do shows. Haydock’s a higher event, and I always come away with work.”

He says, “In fact, if anyone’s got a book, they’re a customer.”

Peter Doyle
Unit 5, Worden Craft Centre
Worden Park, Leyland PR25 1DJ
T: 01772 623827
www.book-restoration.co.uk

 
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