NOTES FROM PRESERVATION
S&M: Oversewing is Overkill!
This is the last in the series on binding styles. I've saved S&M sewing
and mangling for last. The S&M School of Binding teaches side-sewing,
side-wire-stitching, side-lacing, side-saw-kerf-sewing, and oversewing:
the cruel but common torture of books. S&M bindings are commonly known
by their generally small gutter margins and reluctance to open or stay open.
The S&M bound book has been declared "bound-to-snap-shut, bound-to-
stay-bound" and most do just that.
Not every S&M binding is "bad." This Newsletter has been side-wire-
stitched, that is, stapled through the side; and the binding meets its pur-
pose nicely (...unless you keep it long enough for the staples to rust). S&M
binding is pretty much an ancient art, still widely practiced. Its influence
came West via oriental bookbinding. Japanese books (with spacious gut-
ter margins; supple, long-fibered, non-acidic papers; and silk threads -)
were well suited to being sewn up one side. (Cf, figure 1.)
S&M binding was imported to the West primarily in this and the 19th
centuries. Library binders rightly noted that S&M binding held up to even
the most frequent and vigorous use. (...a good thing they never saw the
Samsonite luggage commercial with the gorilla, eh?) Binders of the S&M
School showed librarians pictures of books worn to the bone by library pa-
trons; the bindings were still intact. Of course, this was like pointing to a
skeleton and saying that the person was still alive! Libraries and readers
bought it. The joke was on the books at the libraries' expense.
True, the book's spine was never broken, but was good did it do the book? I
think of Snow White, Mary Poppins, and countless Edwardian women, re-
moving their lower ribs and tightening their lace-up corsets to get that
hourglass figure. Men thought they were dieting when, in fact, they sim-
ply had no.way of getting food down. No wonder Alice-in-Wonderland
only enjoyed tea and crumpets as well as the occasional magic mushroom.
S&M binding was similarly considered. Everyone thought a well used book
had to be S&M bound.
So what's wrong if you do it in the privacy of your own library? S&M
binding uses a good portion of the gutter margin (cf, figure 2) and unless you
can spare it, think twice. S&M binds so tightly, it almost makes photocop-
ying impossible. (I'd rather someone photocopied a page than ripped it
out.) The only way to get a good photocopy from a S&M bound book is to
press the spine down atop the photocopier but this causes the binding
threads to cut through the paper. Worse still, when a book is heavily used
or its paper is acidic and becoming embrittled, the binding stronger than
the paper eventually causes pages to tear or fall out.
Oversewing is the worse form of S&M binding. It pokes holes up and
down the entire spine (cf, figure 3). An oversewn book is a lot like a book of
postage stamps or a checkbook. Once a check has been removed from its
book, intentionally or accidentally, how do you put it back? Glue it in?
Nope. You don't really have enough margin left for this. Disbind and re-
bind? Maybe, but only if there is some margin left and you adhesive bind.
Oversewing uses about one-fourth inch of the gutter margin. How many
times can you afford to rebind?
The problems caused by S&M binding are worse than the problems S&M
tries to resolve. The best way to avoid these problem is not to S&M bind.
Remember, "oversewing is overkill!" You should only S&M bind if your
book has flexible acid-free paper and a one inch gutter margin (- the extra
margin facilitates photocopying).
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