Experimenting with Cambridge Panels

I was recently commissioned to bind an early eighteenth century book in a contemporary style and took the opportunity to explore Cambridge panels in a little more detail. I was inspired by conversations with Trevor Lloyd, and decided to follow his method of getting new rolls made from rubbings of books of the period.[1] I used some historic examples from my own collection for reference (see below), and followed the methodology outlined in Nick Colishaw’s 2010 article.[2] Overall, I was pleased with the results of my blind-tooling and am now convinced that new tools are the way forward.[3]

Cambridge panel leather binding
Underneath, is an early 18th century example from my collection; on top is my binding sprinkled with iron-gall ink, and finished with new tools.

One part of the process which proved more of a challenge was the sprinkling. The tooth brush method worked well giving a fine mist; however, initial efforts still didn’t look quite right. I found that the leather dye used was smudging – a big problem if moisture is later applied to the book – something that would be necessary with traditional gold tooling. I experimented with Selladerm leather dye diluted in IMS, but got best results with iron-gall ink.[4] Iron-gall ink sprinkling has a similar look/feel to examples from the period and has parallels with the traditional copperas (ferrous sulphate) method, as they are both ferrous based dyes. Iron-gall ink has an advantage over the copperas method in that it is simple and it also avoids having to wipe the leather over with a solution of salts of tartare; and once dry it doesn’t move if dampened. The ink darkens as it oxidizes so is initially quite pale when applied; therefore, some judgment is needed to anticipate the final colour.

Sprinkling iron-gall ink
Sprinkling Cambridge panels with Cornelissen Iron-gall ink.

[1] My tools were made by http://www.bookbindesigns.co.uk

[2] Nick Cowlishaw (2010). The Cambridge Panel A Step-by-step Tutorial. Bookbinder: The Journal of The Society of Bookbinders, Vol. 24. www.societyofbookbinders.com/publications/bookbinder/

[3] For a video on gold tooling by Trevor Lloyd see:  www.allaboutbookbinding.com

[4] L. Cornelissen & Son, iron-gall ink (Iron Oak Gall: A mediaeval recipe) www.cornelissen.com


Arthur Green, July 2020