This Folio Life: Stepping Back in Time for a Modern Binding
Raquel Leis Allion has been Art Director at the Folio Society for nearly four years. It’s her to job to commission illustrators and that means knowing each book inside out. Raquel also designs the bindings, as well as selecting the typography and materials for each edition.
“At Folio, we’re always looking for innovative design and production processes to ensure each edition is unique and exciting. This can mean employing cutting-edge technology but we’re just as likely to work with artisan craftspeople and use traditional materials and techniques. Every book binding is the result of a meticulous creative process and each has a fascinating story to tell: the distinctive binding for the recently published Empire: How Britain Made the Modern World is no exception.
“Peter Chasseaud is an artist and writer who is also the proprietor of the Tom Paine Printing Press in Lewes, Sussex. Established in 2009, this small high-street press is a non-profit educational organisation and is based around a working wooden ‘common press’; the type used to print pamphlets and books in the 18th century.
Keeping traditional methods alive
“Over the years, Peter has built up an interesting and varied collection of metal type – the moveable metal characters that were used in traditional typesetting. His collection also includes an on-site printing press which is very much in use, transforming the work of local artists and writers to printed pages.
“I have visited the press various times over the years when staying with friends in Lewes so I knew about the important work that Peter did to ensure traditional print techniques aren’t consigned to history books and museums. When the Empire project was first discussed at Folio, one of the ideas for the binding design was to base it loosely on Victorian war propaganda posters and leaflets, like the poster shown below. Naturally, Peter immediately came to mind.
Typefaces through time
“Once the book was underway, I travelled to Lewes and Peter showed me various typefaces and ornaments, as we tried different ways of laying out the design for the binding. After a lot of adding and taking away, we found the perfect layout.
“You can see the metal type that we chose for the binding label below. In order to lay out the design, type is transferred to a metal frame called a ‘chase’ and then the type is locked-in with wooden sticks called ‘furniture’ and with wedges called ‘quoins’. A chase that is complete with locked-in type and is ready for printing is known as a ‘forme’.
The finished binding
“We chose Zerkall Mould Made paper for the binding labels; a paper which takes the letterpress impression beautifully. The spine design was achieved through blocking in foil, with the red Empire title reversed out of a white panel, then over-blocked in black. We’re thrilled with the finished binding and I believe its authentic historical design was only achievable by returning to traditional methods and utilising Peter’s knowledge and skills.”