The first ever books in the world were the Egyptian papyrus rolls, which were composed of several columns of ancient writing scripts. The first of these manuscripts goes back as far as the 25th BC, and until the Christian era, they remained quite popular.
However, during this period, the paper or the book industry underwent a transformation, and parchment started replacing the Egyptian papyrus rolls. Writing on parchments was arranged in parallel columns, and vertical lines were used to separate one column from another.
This particular pattern gave rise to the idea of cutting the parchments into flat panels, which comprised of either three or four columns. Later on, this form evolved into the books we see today.
Books have been part of the world since the early ages, and so the need to bind them together has also been present since then. In the olden days, a much different binding concept was used than what exists today.
The Egyptian papyrus rolls were stored in a tubular binding. The parchments were also often wrapped up in a roll, and secured with a ribbon.
However, when parchments started being cut into paneled forms, the binding also evolved. The new binding was more convenient to use and remained durable for longer than the tubular form. As such, it became the preferred choice.
In the beginning, the paneled parchments were hinged along any one of the edges, and were bounded with stitches or a lacing.
The columnar arrangement of writing was prevalent even at that time, particularly so for the Latin books.
Generally, the Romans used three to four columns to separate content on a single parchment. This style has been transferred down the generations, and exists even today.
Several published papers, journals, textbooks and reference books have pages that have been divided into two or three columns. Adopting this style makes the text easier and quicker to read.
There are also many books which differ from this, and consist of only a single column. As such, their sizes are also reduced so that the text becomes more legible.
Autumn by Robert Mudie / Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa
by Christopher Jobson.
Colleen Theisen who helps with outreach and instruction at the Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa shared an amazing gif she made that demonstrates something called fore-edge painting on the edge of a 1837 book called Autumn by Robert Mudie.
Fore-edge painting, which is believed to date back as early as the 1650s, is a way of hiding a painting on the edge of a book so that it can only be seen when the pages are fanned out.
There are even books that have double fore-edge paintings, where a different image can be seen by flipping the book over and fanning the pages in the opposite direction.
Spring by Robert Mudie / Special Collections & University Archives at the University of Iowa
When I realized the book Theisen shared was only one of a series about the seasons, I got in touch and she agreed to photograph the other three so we could share them with you here.
Above are photos of Spring, Summer, Autumn and Winter which were donated to the University of Iowa by Charlotte Smith.
(AP Photo/Francisco Seco) Francisco Seco AP
Portuguese bookbinder, Ilidio Antonio, applies egg whites to the cover of new books as he works in his workshop in Lisbon, Portugal.
Antonio, who has been running his own business as a bookbinder for the past 36 years, said that applying egg whites to the covers helps the leather cover of the books to last longer.
Everyone’s familiar with the smell of old books, the weirdly intoxicating scent that haunts libraries and second-hand book stores.
Similarly, who doesn’t enjoy riffling through the pages of a newly purchased book and breathing in the crisp aroma of new paper and freshly printed ink? As with all aromas, the origins can be traced back to a number of chemical constituents, so we can examine the processes and compounds that can contribute to both.
As far as the smell of new books goes, it’s actually quite difficult to pinpoint specific compounds, for a number of reasons. Firstly, there seems to be a scarcity of scientific research that’s been carried out on the subject – to be fair, it’s understandable why it might not exactly be high up on the priority list.
Secondly, the variation in the chemicals used to manufacture books also means that it’s an aroma that will vary from book to book. Add to this the fact that there are literally hundreds of compounds involved, and it becomes clearer why it evades attribution to a small selection of chemicals.
It’s likely that the bulk of ‘new book smell’ can be put down to three main sources: the paper itself (and the chemicals used in its manufacture), the inks used to print the book, and the adhesives used in the book-binding process.
The manufacture of paper requires the use of chemicals at several stages. Large amounts of paper are made from wood pulp (though it can also be made from cotton and textiles) – chemicals such as sodium hydroxide, often referred to in this context as ‘caustic soda’, can be added to increase pH and cause fibres in the pulp to swell.
The fibres are then bleached with a number of other chemicals, including hydrogen peroxide; then, they are mixed with large amounts of water. This water will contain additives to modify the properties of the the paper – for example, AKD (alkyl ketene dimer) is commonly used as a ‘sizing agent’ to improve the water-resistance of the paper.
Many other chemicals are also used – this is just a very rough overview. The upshot of this is that some of these chemicals can contribute, through their reactions or otherwise, to the release of volatile organic compounds (VOCs) into the air, the odours of which we can detect.
The same is true of chemicals used in the inks, and the adhesives used in the books. A number of different adhesives are used for book-binding, many of which are based on organic ‘co-polymers’ – large numbers of smaller molecules chemically chained together.
As stated, differences in paper, adhesives, and inks used will influence the ‘new book smell’, so not all new books will smell the same – perhaps the reason why no research has yet attempted to definitively define the aroma.
Muller Martini, based in Switzerland, manufactures web offset printing presses, bookbinding equipment, newspaper inserting systems, mail room delivery systems and other printing related equipment.
Manufacturing facilities are located in Switzerland, Germany and the United States. Muller Martini employs approximately 4,000 people in manufacturing and sales/service support positions in several countries.
Hans Müller in Zofingen, Switzerland started manufacturing bookbinding equipment in 1946 under the name Grapha Maschinenfabrik. The first machine produced was a hand-fed saddle stitcher, later modernized by the “Swiss Girl” automatic feeder, which could be disengaged and tilted back when not in use. Grapha exhibited its first fully automatic saddle stitcher with in-line trimmer at Drupa in 1954.
During the same time, the company was working on the development of an adhesive binder.
In 1955, the company incorporated and changed its name to Grapha Maschinenfabrik Hans Müller A. G. That same year Muller sold its first machine in the United States. Other equipment was added, and in 1961 large-scale production of newspaper and magazine inserting machines was started.
As Muller expanded, new manufacturing, sales and service facilities were set up abroad. A United States subsidiary, the Hans Muller Corp. was established in 1967.
Martini joined the Muller organization in 1969. Founded by Friedrich von Martini, inventor of a precision rifle, Martini began manufacturing folding and stitching machines in 1850. Martini introduced its Book Sewing Machine in 1897, and more than 10,000 have been produced to date.
The Martini automobile, powered by a Martini-designed internal combustion engine, was also introduced in 1897. Automobile production stopped in 1934, when the company decided to concentrate on book binding equipment. Adhesive binding machines were developed by Martini in 1941.
Muller Martini developed its first offset web press for business forms in 1972 and is now a manufacturer of web presses for direct mail promotional graphics and commercial work.
In 1973, Muller Martini USA offices relocated to Hauppauge, Long Island.
At the same time, the company name was changed to Muller Martini Corp. A network of sales, product management and service personnel were also established throughout the United States with Regional Offices in the Atlanta, Chicago, and San Francisco areas.