The covering material on this book has split along the front joint, revealing the spine of the textblock.

Bookbinders of the nineteenth century and earlier commonly used scraps of printed paper and handwritten manuscripts to line the spines of books they were binding.  Particularly before the advent of mass-produced, machine-made paper in the mid to late nineteenth century, paper was a precious commodity.  “Re-use and recycle” wasn’t about eco-consciousness; it was a practical necessity.  Although we tend to use new, blank paper now, paper linings are still adhered to the spines of textblocks as a form of consolidation, to help the books hold together, and also to control the way the books open.

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These spine linings were found in bound volumes of the serial The Annals and Magazine of Natural History, published in 1846 (vol. 17-18), and 1847 (vol. 19-20).  What is most interesting to me, from a material culture perspective, is the fact that these scraps of paper — each lining the spine of a different volume of the same serial — display identical printed matter.  What are the implications of this discovery?  These volumes must have been bound, or rebound, at the same time and place.  Imagine the printer’s workshop: stacks of printed pages wait to be collated into a particular volume, which will then be bought by a customer, and then taken to a bookbinder for binding.  In some cases, the bookbinder and printer may be located at the same venue.  However, sometimes a volume’s full run fails to sell out, and those uncollated stacks of printed paper start to take up valuable space.  So, they are repurposed as scrap material for the bookbinder.  I can imagine an entire stack of “page 36” resting at the elbow of a bookbinder, ready to be repurposed.

These two volumes were published in consecutive years, so they could have been originally bound simultaneously.  Indeed, since this is a serial publication, several years of issues may have been saved up and then bound into a series of volumes all at once.  Or, it’s possible that the whole series was rebound at some later point in time.  I must confess to a terrible curiosity about the other volumes in the series.  However, since I can’t go splitting open the spines to see what their spine linings look like, this bit of mystery will have to remain unsolved.

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