Independent Study in the Lab – Tacketed Binding

In the coming weeks, we will feature blog posts written by a current MSLIS student in the iSchool at the University of Illinois, Annabel Pinkney. Annabel is interested in the material culture of the book, the history of bookbinding, and the preservation and conservation of library materials. Due to her interests in the physical wellbeing of library items, she enrolled in an independent study this semester to practice book and paper conservation treatment and to explore historic bookmaking. This week she is creating a tacketed stationer’s binding!

Independent Study: A Tacketed Binding Model

This semester, I have been working hard to master basic conservation treatments and learn as much as I can about the historic craft of bookbinding. During the first half of the semester, I completed conservation treatments for 12 books, ranging from a book which was in nearly flawless condition, to a book that appeared to be run over by a car several times.

Before treatment documentation of a book repaired earlier this semester.

With the onset of the global pandemic, I have shifted to working remotely. I have sorely missed the amenities of working in a conservation lab, but so far, I have been able to work from home fairly efficiently. To aid in the adjustment to working from home, I am taking the rest of the semester to focus on building historic book models and reading, reading, reading! This week, I am making a tacketed stationer’s binding. Join me in taking a look at what this involves.

Tacketed Stationer’s Bindings

Tacketed stationery bindings are considered a type of temporary binding. These are non-adhesive structures most commonly made in 16th century Germany, Italy, and the low countries (what is modern-day Belgium, The Netherlands, and Luxemburg).  According to Nicholas Pickwoad,  “it can be said that tacketed bindings of printed books were intended to perform a variety of functions within and outside the book trade. The ease with which they allow a cover to be attached to and separated from a sewn text-block and their lightweight made them attractive to the book trade, which found them useful for giving immediate cheap protection to their wares. The private or institutional owner who did not wish to spend more on their libraries than they had to, clearly found them a convenient way to protect their books and allow them to be used.”

Folger binding, unwrapped. Folger Shakespeare Library, V.b.296 (c. 1568–1644), binding unwrapped. Used by permission of the Folger Shakespeare Library.

What is a tacket?

Think of a tacket as a hefty medieval staple. Tackets are made of parchment that has been twisted upon itself while wet. When it dries, the parchment shrinks and hardens, forming a very secure bond where it has been twisted.

Types of tacketed bindings. Drawing by Nicholas Pickwoad, from “Tacketed Bindings: A Hundred Years of European Book-binding.”

There are two types of tacket bindings, primary and secondary.  Primary tackets individually secure each section of pages to the cover one by one, whereas secondary tackets are used to attach the entire text block (which is already held together by the conventional manner of sewing) to the cover.

A Word on Temporary Bindings

In the 1500’s, books were not necessarily produced as they are today. Books were sometimes sold as sewn blocks of printed pages without a case. After purchasing a text-block, one could hire a binder to design and build a case for their book with hard covers (usually made of wood). Depending on the wealth of the owner and the importance of the book, the case could be very fancy (e.g. a full leather covering with gold tooling and bosses). But until the owner of the text-block had the means and intention to have it cased in boards, the text-block could be temporarily secured in a limp case of vellum or leather – like a tacket binding! This provided simple and quick protection for their new purchase.

Some books, however, were never intended to have a sturdy wooden case. The ease of construction, low cost, ergonomic, and lightweight handling of a limp vellum cover were ideal qualities for account keeping books, typically known as ledger bindings. For these reasons, tacketed bindings may not have always been intended to be temporary.  Pickwoad tells us that “some of the surviving [tacketed bindings] were clearly intended as no more than temporary protection for the texts found inside them and have survived by accident, while others were clearly more permanent in intention, but it is not often possible to know where to draw the line between the two.”

Making the Model

There are many variations of the tacketed binding (in Pickwoad’s article he identifies 240+ variations of the tacket attachments alone), so it was imperative that I first develop a clear plan for my model using the materials I had at hand. My end goal was to make a secondary tacketed binding with transverse twisted tackets.

I began by making my text-block. I folded large, hefty sections of paper and secured them with a sewing structure I imitated from an online recording of the Guild of Book Workers 2007 Standards meeting (Creating Medieval Stationer’s Binding Structures: Lacing Patterns, Tacketing Methods, and Leather by Chela Metzger) However, instead of using split leather thong, I used Bristol board. You can see that the supports are longer on only one side. This was traditionally done to allow for the possibility to add more sections to the book at a later time.

Left: Chela Metzger’s Sewing block from the GBW Standards meeting recording 2007. Right: My sewn text block inspired by Chela.

Next, I constructed a paper case with large turn-ins and three leather overbands. These cases would normally have been made out of vellum, parchment, or leather, but I only had access to a thick, textured paper (I used Canson Mi Tienes paper). I decided to add cardstock weight paper insets laced onto my supports to strengthen the covers. I’m intending to add an Italian decorative lacing pattern into the overbands once I have the right cord. Simultaneously, I consolidated my spine with a layer of wheat starch paste and added Japanese paper linings to the spine between my sewing stations.

Prepping the limp cover with leather overbands.

My next step was to start making my tackets. I cut up very thin pieces of parchment and I soaked them in water for about 10 minutes to make sure they had been sufficiently hydrated and were pliable. Once moisturized, I twisted the tackets firmly and let them dry in their new formation. While my tackets dried, I sewed endbands onto my text-block.

Left: Twisted parchment drying
Right: Endbands on a leather core in progress.










Finally, I attempted the tacketing process. I pierced the parchment tackets into the sections of my text-block and out my case’s pre-punched leather overbands. I found securing the tacket ends to be more challenging than I expected.  After an hour or so of adjustments, my tackets ultimately turned out to be a little looser than I would like. Parchment is a beast of a material, and I am relatively inexperienced in coaxing it to do what I want.  However, after I tighten my tackets a bit and add decorative lacing to the overbands, I will consider this model a win.

Tackets in progress.
Me and my (almost) finished book!


Pickwoad, Nicholas. “Tacketed Bindings: A Hundred Years of European Book-binding.” “For the Love of the Binding”: Studies in Bookbinding History Presented to Mirjam Foot. Ed. David Pearson. London: British Library and Oak Knoll, 2000. 119–67. Print.

Chela Metzger. “Creating Medieval Stationer’s Binding Structures: Lacing Patterns, Tacketing Methods, and Leather.” Guild of Book Workers Standards Meeting. 2007. Video.



Pamphlet Bindings: A History & DIY Activity

The global pandemic has affected us all in different ways. For most of us, we’re facing a lot more down-time and time spent indoors. In response to the growing need for boredom mediation, we’re supplying you with this short tutorial on how to make a pamphlet binding along with some brief historical tidbits. Enjoy!

A Very Brief and Noncomprehensive History of the Pamphlet Binding.

The pamphlet binding is a simple structure with a long history in the Western world. In fact, the term pamphlet is derived from the main character of a love poem, Pamphilus seu de Amore, written in the 12th century. The poem rose to popularity, and the term pamphlet came to be associated with small pieces of writing after the character, Pamphilus. (Partridge, 1966) The definition of a pamphlet binding, according to Randy Silverman (1987), is “a thin book composed of between one and three folded sections, linked together by a sewing structure and bound as a permanent enclosure.” Today, pamphlet structures are still used as conservation structures and are commonly found in zines, brochures, music, and other ephemera.

Most ubiquitously throughout history, pamphlet bindings have been used for ephemera because of their economic use of material and ease of assembly. Pamphlet production was likely at a highpoint during the late 18th century in Europe and America. (Silverman, 1987) In early America, pamphlets were a dominant form of information dispensation, and could even be considered as “America’s first social media” (check out the RBML’s awesome blog on the topic here). With just a little digging, you can find evidence of pamphlet structures throughout history.

Here’s an example! As early as 1860, the U.S. Government Publishing Office binders produced every kind of folded, stitched, sewn, or glued pamphlet and book.

Image of workers at the government publishing office pamphlet making room.
“Single section pamphlets, being carried along the rail, receive a wire stitch to secure them. This photo from the 1930’s is one of many showing employees of different races working side by side. In this period area in GPO outside the production floor were, like most Federal Agencies, segregated.” (Borrowed from the Government Printing Office Picturing the Big Shop: Photos of the U.S. Government Publishing Office 1900-1980)

Pamphlets were also the common structure for binding serialized novels as they were published. For example, this serialized collection of David Copperfield by Charles Dickens (below) exists as pamphlets!

This image is from the Nate D. Sanders Auctions September 2016 Lot #80 Charles Dickens First Printing of ”David Copperfield” in Serialized Form — Rare in Original Green Wrappers.

There are infinite historical variations on the pamphlet binding. One will find that historical example materials run the gamut in sewing supports, endpaper styles, and covering materials. There really is no right or wrong way to make one – so experiment with what you have, and let’s get to it!

Did you know? The University of Illinois had its own “Pamphlet Binding and Book Repair” section of the library, started by William Henderson (Preservation Librarian, 1986-1996) in 1989. This was a critical step towards establishing a conservation department. In its beginnings, 8-10,000 pamphlets were bound per year.

Making a Pamphlet Stitch

You will need:

  • 2-6 pieces of paper
  • A needle
  • Ruler
  • Pencil
  • Thread




  • 1 piece of cover weight paper
  • Bone or Teflon Folder
  • An awl




STEP 1: Begin by folding your pieces of paper in half. Fold all your sheets at once, with your cover weight paper on the outside of the fold. Use your fingernail to crease the edge or use a bone folder if you have one.

STEP 2: Use your ruler to measure the height of your pamphlet. Make three marks on the inside of the pamphlet, one at the center, and two equidistant from either side of the center mark.

STEP 3: Use your awl to pierce through the marks you made. Aim to go directly through the fold from the interior to the exterior of the pamphlet.

STEP 4: Cut a piece of thread 2 ½ times the height of your pamphlet and thread your needle.

STEP 5: Take your needle and thread through the center hole of the pamphlet leaving a small tail behind.

STEP 6: Take the thread from the outside through one of the other holes. It doesn’t matter which one. In this case, I went through the top hole.

STEP 7: Bring the thread all the way across the interior of the fold, and out the final hole. In this case, I am going from the top hole to the bottom hole. The key is to take the thread through the hole you have not used yet.

STEP 8: Finally, take the needle back into the center from the outside. This will leave the two ends of your string coming out the center hole on the inside of your pamphlet.

STEP 9: Tie off the strings and trim the ends.

STEP 10: Decorate, and you’re finished!

Works Cited:

Eric Partridge, Origins; A Short Etymological Dictionary of Modern English (New York: Macmillan, 1966), 466.

Randy Silverman. “Small, Not Insignificant: a Specification for a Conservation Pamphlet Binding Structure.” The Book and Paper Group Annual Vol. 6 (1987)

United States Government Publishing Office. Picturing the Big Shop: Photos of the U.S. Government Publishing Office, 1900-1980  2017.

Nate D. Sanders Inc. Lot Detail; Charles Dickens First Printing of David Copperfield in Serialized Form. Copyright 2020.

University of Illinois Preservation and Conservation Services.

A Special Song Book from the Illinois History & Lincoln Collections

On Tuesday, February 12, the Illinois History and Lincoln Collections and the History, Philosophy, and Newspaper Library will celebrate Abraham Lincoln’s 210th birthday. The event will take place from 4-6 pm in room 246 of the Main Library and will include several fun activities, as well as a pop-up exhibit of rare and unique Lincoln-themed items.

One special item will not be on display at the birthday celebrations, as it is currently receiving some TLC at the Conservation Lab: The wide-awake vocalist: or, Rail splitters’ song book. : Words and music for the Republican campaign of 1860. Embracing a great variety of songs, solos, duets and choruses, arranged for piano or melodeon. 

Illinois History and Lincoln Collections’ curator Krista Gray shared that during the 1860 campaign, the “Wide Awakes” – political groups of young Republican men marked by a paramilitary style, distinctive garb, and torch-lit rallies – organized on a grassroots basis throughout the north and west in support of Republican candidates, including Abraham Lincoln (Grinspan). This particular song book contains lyrics and musical scores for more than 60 songs from the 1860 Presidential campaign for Lincoln. It has certainly seen better days; the paper is in poor condition, with significant mold staining and damage. The damage is most significant on the front and back covers, but mold spots and tears in the paper occur throughout.

Conservator Quinn Ferris is working to repair the song book; so far, she has frozen the object to deactivate mold, vacuumed the covers to brush away soiling and mold, surface-cleaned the object to reduce remaining grime, washed the pages in several chemical baths to remove yellow degradation products and strengthen the paper, and used gelatin to consolidate flaking materials and create a fungal-resistant coating.

Currently, Ferris is working to repair tears in the pages by using a thin Japanese tissue paper – Yukiyushi – and a diluted wheat starch paste.  This process is called mending, and once it is complete, Ferris will resew the loose pages and text blocks together, reattach the cover using more tissue paper, and create a custom enclosure for the item.

While the finished product might not look significantly different than the initial item (though hopefully it will look less beaten-up), the treatment process involves many precise steps to stop chemical degradation in the paper, stabilize the item, and make it usable to those wishing to see it in the IHLC reference collection. The goal of library conservation is not to return an item to a pristine or ‘original’ condition, but to show its long and interesting life and to make it accessible for patrons to use. Hopefully this special song book can have a long life still to come!


Jon Grinspan, “‘Young Men for War’: The Wide Awakes and Lincoln’s 1860 Presidential Campaign,” Journal of American History 96 (Sept. 2009): 357-378,

Sir Isaac Newton comes to the Conservation Lab

It is amazing to work at an institution that acquires so many interesting objects for its collection. A recent acquisition to our Rare Book and Manuscript Library is Sir Isaac Newton’s Latin translation of “Opus Galli Anonymi” in April 2018. While a fascinating piece for researchers, this antique manuscript needed some conservation help.  Continue reading “Sir Isaac Newton comes to the Conservation Lab”

The Spanish Play Collection at Illinois: An Interview with Conservator Jody Waitzman

One of our previous blog posts introduced our ongoing project to disbind and rehouse nearly 12,000 19th and early 20th-century Spanish plays.  The Conservation Lab has just finished this massive disbinding process, and future steps will include cataloging and digitization.

We talked to Jody Waitzman, the General Collections Conservator at the Conservation Lab, who has overseen the unbinding process of the 669 volumes of Spanish plays. Jody shared some of her reflections about this project:

Continue reading “The Spanish Play Collection at Illinois: An Interview with Conservator Jody Waitzman”

When Good Intentions Create Chaos: The Spanish Play Collection at the University of Illinois

Last year, the Conservation Lab took on a sizeable project: disbind and rehouse almost 12,000 19th and Early 20th Century Spanish plays. Sounds fun, right?

This project garners several questions: why so many? why are you disbinding them? Who wanted 12,000 plays in the first place?

All great questions and only a few good answers.  Continue reading “When Good Intentions Create Chaos: The Spanish Play Collection at the University of Illinois”

Building a Library: The Cavagna Sangiuliani Collection at Illinois

We are looking forward to seeing our hard work on display at this upcoming exhibit!

Exhibit Description

In 1921, the University of Illinois purchased the Cavagna Sangiuliani Collection of Italian imprints and manuscripts from the descendants of Count Antonio Cavagna Sangiuliani di Gualdana (1843-1913) as part of a wider effort to establish the University as a leading center for advanced study.  Continue reading “Building a Library: The Cavagna Sangiuliani Collection at Illinois”