Royal Bookbinding: Creating A Heirloom Masterwork
By Kent Daniel Bentkowski
Figure 1 - Guardian Angel Grimoire by Paul Tronson, Royal Bookbinder
As a commercial printer and collector of rare books, my curiosity was piqued when I received an e-mail comment on one of my written pieces for the Maybe Quarterly. The specific piece commented upon, was the two-part pregnancy protection ritual I excerpted from my own magick diary, which appeared in the first two issues of the Maybe Quarterly. The sender of that comment was master bookbinder Paul Tronson, of Period Fine Bindings, which is located in Warwickshire, United Kingdom. His comments concerning my magickal writings in the Maybe Quarterly began a dialog, which has culminated in the writing and publication of this feature --- we were both interested to learn that we share many things in common.
I have found what Mr. Tronson does to be highly fascinating, and it is my hope that the readers of the MQ will find this topic to be truly enlightening.
While I have not been lucky enough to possess such beautiful examples of fine bookmaking in my own personal library, I do know and can appreciate the amount of time, knowledge, and love that goes into creating these works of fine art. Hand-tooled and die-stamped leather covers, gold-leafed pages, handmade paper, and custom designed hand-marbled endpapers are just a few elements that go into the creation and presentation of such beautiful books.
The books that I personally collect are rare first-editions and limited-editions of the horror writer Stephen King, whom I have been collecting for twenty-five years now. Within the context of modern-day publishing, and small-press run limited-editions, I can fully appreciate the elements of a cherished and lasting presentation, such as King’s seven-volume magnum opus, The Dark Tower. But, for as beautiful as these modern-day books are; they fall desperately short of the magnificence and beauty of the work done by the Royal Bookbinders of Europe, and the current work that is done by Paul Tronson, both in their memory and in their honor. Paul’s work is almost beyond words, it is so beautiful.
What style of books am I talking about here? You’ve doubtlessly seen various horror films, whereupon the antagonist is shown sitting in his library, with shelf upon shelf of leather-bound books on full display. Some of these books, especially the pre 18th century works, can run in the tens of thousands of dollars for a single book, and are, for all intents and purposes, priceless and virtually irreplaceable. I have included a screenshot from the 1999 Johnny Depp film entitled The Ninth Gate, as one example of what I am talking about:
Figure 2 - Classic leather-bound books as shown in The Ninth Gate DVD
These type of books have been shown in numerous horror films throughout the past few decades of Hollywood filmmaking. Because this type of work, as Paul explains, is all done by hand, and as a result, these books are extremely expensive to obtain. Because the amount of handiwork that goes into this type of books, it is not unusual for a single volume to be valued at $10,000 or more. Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Paul, to discuss his craft, and some of the things that he needs to know and do, to create such beautiful books. Those interview questions, along with Paul’s answers, will immediately follow this essay.
How Paul Tronson Preserves A Book:
Bookbinding is the art of sewing loose pages into a cover to construct a finished book. Because the pages and book covers are often times hundreds of years old, the handling of these pages has to be undertaken with great care, and a delicate hand. The binding archival process can extend a book’s life for many decades, and is necessary in order to preserve books that sometimes are limited to a small handful of remaining copies worldwide. It is vitally urgent that such books are cared for in the most loving manner befitting the books’ rarity and subject matter.
The first step in saving and preserving a book, is found in its’ deconstruction. The pages need to be separated from the covers and the stitching removed. This is done as delicately as possible, all restoration is done at this point, be it the removal of “foxing”, ink stains, page tears etc. Various secretive techniques are employed to repair the various types of page damage that might have occurred during the life of the book. On Paul’s website, there are many examples of how the repair of these pages is carried out. Great care is taken to make sure this process does not further damage the pages, before they are added to the various groups of page signatures, which when collated are beaten flat and pressed.
This final preparation of the “foundations” of the book could mean the difference between a beautiful work of art, and a useless stack of paper and leather. As a collector myself, I understand perfectly how the smallest speck of dust or a stained page or a creased or torn dust jacket can dramatically reduce the value of the book.
The sections are then hand sewn in the style of its period into book form. Again, Paul is careful to use the proper stitching of the period in which the book was made, which shows a level of love and commitment to his craft that is often not seen in today’s modern world, where the old ways have been forgotten long ago.
The next step for Paul is the creation of the book cover, he uses hand-tanned, leather, which is dyed using vegetable dyes, hand marbled papers all of which he manufactures himself, and finally hand-tooled in gold leaf. The design of the book cover involves the hand-tooling, where an extremely thin layer of gold is implemented to give the book a striking appearance. Such designs can be lettering, symbols, or magickal sigils, depending on the nature of any particular project. In the case of Paul’s Archangel grimoire, this loving artesian craftwork creates a stunning piece of visual art.
Paul Tronson is careful to do things in the traditional and time-lost ways of his bindery ancestors. As he pointed out in the interview he gave, whenever and wherever possible, he has even gone to the extent of using tools from the same time period as the book he might be working on at any given moment. This effort raises the bar on authenticity, and is but one reason why he has developed a worldwide client base.
Paul Tronson’s Archangel Grimoire:
This is by far, the single most stunningly beautiful book I have ever seen, that was related to magic.
Figure 3 - The Archangel Grimoire, representing the Enochian End of Days
The book that Paul Tronson calls the Archangel Grimoire is 14.5 inches in height, by 10 inches in width. Inside are 320 pages with hand-marbled endpapers, and it is bound in vegetable tanned virgin calf leather that has been colored by the use of two separate vegetable dyes. As the reader can plainly see, the cover features some intricate design elements, which are incredibly time consuming, as they are handmade and hand-tooled. However, the end-product is striking and beautiful, and would be a welcome addition to any serious magician’s library.
As Paul himself points out:
“The Grimoire itself represents the Enochian End of Days, or the Seven Angels of the Apocalypse who stand in the presence of the Lord. The first four archangels are represented by their Seals on the front cover, and are empowered by the Latin verse that accompanies them. They are; Michael, the Archangel of the North; Gabriel, the Archangel of the South; Raphael, the Archangel of the West; and Uriel, the Archangel of the East.
The centerpiece is a highly complex pentacle: the Sigillum Dei Aemeth, concealing or revealing the Greatest Name of God. The seven capital letters indicating the first letters of certain concealed angelic names. Of these 7 names, every letter containing an Angel of brightness; comprehending the 7 inward powers of God, known to none but himself, and sealed within by the ancient words of invocation that are gilt around its edge.
Figure 4 - The Sigillum Dei Aemeth
The centrepiece also has the seals of the four Enochian elements in each corner each one represented by it's corresponding Archangel.
Figure 5 - Grimoire, with Archangel and Enochian Elemental Seals
The spine of the grimoire consists of six compartments each with its own appropriate seal, the first being the christianised key of life based on the Egyptian Ankh.
Figure 6 - Spine Compartment # 1
The second is Thavael, the prophet of the greatest one, this represents the circumcision of Jesus at Nazareth to which this spirit had a particular care over Christ.
Figure 7 - Spine Compartment # 2
The third being the seal of Samael protector of Saint John during the time he dwelled in the desert.
Figure 8 - Spine Compartment # 3
The fourth compartment shows the seal of Zadkiel also called "Righteousness of God" belonging to the ranks of the dominations, and considered by some to be chief, Zadkiel is considered to be an angel of mercy.
Figure 9 - Spine Compartment # 4
The fifth compartment shows the Heptagon, the letters are derived from the Seven Archangels who stand before the presence of the Lord, the names of these Archangels are written vertically in a seven-by-seven grid, the cross in the final square representing the Earth.
Figure 10 - Spine Compartment # 5
The sixth and final compartment consists of the Art Almadel of Solomon, from which Solomon attained great wisdom from the chief angels that govern the four Altitudes of the World, namely the West, East, North and South of which these are divided into 12 parts, making every part 3, to which the Angels of these parts had shown him their particular virtues and powers.
Figure 11 - Spine Compartment # 6
The Names to the right across the raised bands and to the head and tail of the spine are those of the Seven Angels, the names to the left are their true configuration derived from the Heptagon. The symbols between each name are their planetary virtues and the symbols in the corners of the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th compartments represent the virtues of the Zodiac.
The gilding on the whole book is exactly to ancient designs but are made entirely from straight lined and curved tools, these symmetrical designs are then hand lettered in the appropriate areas.
Only the front cover and spine of this book has been completed so far as the creation and blessing of each sigil is performed in the day and hour of its planet thus ensuring its empowerment, the back cover will comprise of the seals and sigils of the sixty or so Archangels of the highest dominations.”
Figure 12 - Completed front cover and spine
If the reader will recall from my own writings in the Maybe Quarterly, I mentioned that the maximum success is guaranteed only upon the careful embedding of layer upon layer of correspondence after correspondence. This is what I had personally done during the pregnancy protection rituals, and this layering was one of the aspects of the operation that guaranteed my success. This is the same thing that Paul Tronson has done here, especially in his performance of the blessings of the seals on the days and exact times of the various Archangels’ prominence. It is this level of detail that assures success in the practice of magic.
I have tried my best to give the reader a taste of what an art bookbinding can be, and give a couple of examples of the stunningly gorgeous work that Paul Tronson of Period Fine Bindings puts out. When I was first contacted by Mr. Tronson, I thought that what he does is so unique --- especially in this day and age of modernization --- that I wanted to share his talent and skills with the readership of the Maybe Quarterly. This was the genesis of this feature story, and interview, which follows immediately below.
Because the nature of these examples are rooted in magic, I wanted to show an example of how self-consecration can empower an inanimate object such as a book. What I have shown here is just the tip of the iceberg, as far as Mr. Tronson is concerned. All interested parties are invited by Paul Tronson to visit his website, and find out more of what he does, and how he can be commissioned to do work for anyone who is looking for something that could actually be used as a family heirloom, to be passed down from generation to generation.
How to Contact Paul Tronson and Period Fine Bindings:
Paul Tronson and his company Period Fine Bindings can be contacted through their website, which is at the following address:
Figure 13 - Paul Tronson at work
Maybe Quarterly Interview with Paul Tronson
February 2, 2006
Interviewer: Kent Daniel Bentkowski
Maybe Quarterly – Please explain who you are and what you do.
Paul Tronson – My name is Paul Tronson, I am a Master Bookbinder who restores antiquarian and incunabula books to their original time period using traditional materials hand made to ancient formulae.
MQ – Because I owned my own printing business, and also collect rare and limited edition books, I have a pretty good idea of what goes into the binding of a book. However, what is the difference between normal bookbinding and royal bookbinding?
PT – That depends on what you consider “normal” bookbinding, you would be familiar with the 3 styles that are practiced today, namely Letterpress binding, Library binding and casework. I would consider “normal” book binding, the 70+ styles that existed before the Industrial Revolution, where everything was produced by hand, these are styles that I practice today including Royal bindings which are highly elaborate and were usually reserved for royalty or nobility who employed the finest Master binders of their era.
MQ – When I first saw your work, I immediately thought of those old horror films, where the antagonist is extremely intelligent, and keeps a library stocked with books that have the look as if they were handmade, with the gold gilded edges and hand-tooled leather covers. How were you able to interest yourself in bookbinding as a skill?
PT – This doesn’t seem reserved just for old horror movies, even modern day tv programmes such as ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘Charmed’ show a remarkable insight of the occult world with the books that they ‘consult.’
At an early age during my apprenticeship, I considered modern binding totally unsuitable for rare books, and decided to research the different styles, materials and techniques used over the past 1000 years, not an easy task as there is very little literature on the subject, but I found that I could breakdown, analyse and re-construct using the same principles and techniques and skills of the original.
At a later date I realised that the modern materials I was working with were unsuitable and decided to make my own, which meant vegetable tanning my own leather, hand marbling the papers to specific designs, making the vegetable dyes for the leather, the glues, pastes, waxes etc. Exactly to period formulae, it was then that I began to understand the Alchemical principles behind ancient bookbinding techniques i.e., mineral and vegetable properties, herb roots, earth boles and pigments.
MQ – How long have you been at your craft? How long before you started getting paid to do this?
PT – 30 years … man and boy … I started my business 20 years ago.
MQ – What are your credentials? Do you have a degree or certification in bookbinding?
PT – I served a six-year apprenticeship and a two-year Master’s degree and am qualified in 10th century upwards in incunabula/antiquarian bookbinding, restoration and conservation.
MQ – Could you describe some of the equipment that you use that allows you to create such beautiful books?
PT – I have a large collection of hand tools dating between the 16th and 19th centuries including small patterned hand tools, patterned fillet and farthing wheels for gilding patterns around the edges of the book, a large selection of pallets (straight lines), gauges (curved tools), hand letters, several nipping presses (for pressing the book), gold blocking presses (for hand set type) a 19th century lever guillotine, and much more.
MQ – Does your workshop need to be climate controlled?
PT – The relative humidity remains fairly constant, that is all that is necessary.
MQ – Could you please describe your research process, especially for the design phase of a project like the magic grimoires you have created? They are stunningly beautiful, by the way.
PT – Thank you, Kent. Like most things they were created for a purpose, my life partner Margaret had been experiencing major problems over the years with her business, her offices located at the junction of ley lines, we found out. I made the Guardian Angel Grimoire out of love for her.
The Guardian Angel Grimoire came about as the result of the problems my life partner Margaret was facing. I made the Grimoire as a Xmas present for her, I drew upon the knowledge I had put away 20 years ago and it all seemed to come back as if it never went away. The interior of the book starts with the Enochian Tree of Life, followed by the Major Arcana of the Tarot, followed by the Pre-Raphalite paintings (Morgan LeFay, the seduction of Merlin etc) ending with 14th-19th century magical symbols, with an 8pp section inserted within each illustration to write whatever.
The strange thing is, everything Margaret has written in the Grimoire has happened in one form or another. She has been offered many, many thousands of pounds for it, but now she will never part with it.
Anyway that is the story behind the Grimoire, Margaret is even publishing a book on her experiences with the book.
I am doing a much larger version, which I have just started. This will be the Archangel Grimoire.
I only managed to finish half the Archangel Grimoire for Margaret, I completed the front cover and the spine, and blessed and empowered each small tool with the appropriate words, this also led me to think maybe you would like to contribute to it yourself as there is a lot of work to do on the back cover, I was thinking of seals of the angelic orders on the outside border with the sigils of the dominions on the inside, maybe:
Rainael, Vau-ael, Hetael, Zaphkiel, Och, Zadkiel, Sachiel, Ophiel, Phul, Haniel, Anael, Camael, Samael, Gimela, Betel, Alepta, Hethatia, Zainael, Caphael etc, you get the picture.
The Grimoire is apocalyptic the front cover represents the Archangels of the North, South, West and East, four of the seven who stand before the Lord with the appropriate Latin text of invocation, they are also four of the seven who carry the seven seals.
The centre is the Sigillum Dei Aemeth which is the key to the greatest name of God and the seven Archangels who stand before him surrounded by the four Enochian elements.
The spine, I'm sure you will recognise the seal of Solomon and the Almadel, the 3 seals are Thavael, Samael and Zadkiel, and the letters are that of the Heptagon, these are derived from the names of the Seven Angels who stand before the presence of God, the names of these angels are written in a seven-by-seven grid, the final square is placed a cross, representing the Earth.
The names of the Seven Angels are lettered head and tail and on the raised bands of the spine with their planetary symbol and the symbols of the zodiac.
As you know, the Universe comprises of straight lines and curves which means any seal or design can be achieved by this method alone.
I had studied philosophy, religion, the hidden mysteries of nature and science along with all the major occultists over the centuries from a boy for around 15 years so there was very little research involved. Also having access to, and restoring priceless major occult works in my studies was an advantage.
Although I put all this knowledge behind me 20 years ago, what was happening to Margaret brought it all back as if it never left. A major requirement for the work I do is having a retentive memory, as this proved. The designs of the talismans, seals and sigils, their meanings, the Enochian orders, I wondered how it could be done without having book cover plates made, Then I came across the Metatronic Cube, the first piece of geometry from which all geometry is formed, and realised that everything consists of nothing more than straight lines and curves. With this in mind I began work on the grimoire using nothing but different sized straight line and curved tools and small hand letters.
The main problem was that in order for it to become active and remain a very powerful tool I would need to be completely faithful in consecrating each seal and sigil which would need to be produced within the day and hour of it’s planet. Also a different Latin verse corresponding to each seal was chanted so the book was blessed and empowered during every part of it’s creation, as you can imagine it was very time consuming. If you look closely you will see 3 hierarchy demonic seals, every thing needs balance and studying the dark side is necessary in order to deal with it. You will also see the Enochian alphabet, angelic writing and my name signed in the language of the Magi.
MQ – Here, I would like to ask about the books such as your grimoires that you have done, which appear on your website. What type of a reference library do you maintain that allows you such an in-depth knowledge of magic and protective magic?
PT – I sold most of my collection after my divorce 15 years ago as I never thought I would ever need it again after a few hair raising moments, but most of the real knowledge came from the rare books I was restoring at the time of studying, the impact left me feeling privileged to have studied and restored each leaf of unexpurgated text and left me with a sense of “knowing.”
MQ – Your website says that you can be commissioned for individual projects. What sorts of projects have people been hiring you to produce for them?
PT – I have a worldwide clientele who send me real treasures, I have recently finished a very rare book in English Mitre (that is two languages, one page English, one page Hebrew), which has been received back in New Jersey, every page demanded attention for various stains such as ink, damp, mildew or “foxing” not to mention torn pages and missing corners. I am currently working on a rare religious book for a collector in New York and one for Trinity College, Dublin. There are also the large family bibles and general literature people either send me or bring in personally, customers work needs to be booked in early as I generally have quite a long waiting list. I have around 500 hits a week on my website and lots of email enquiries.
MQ – How many hours go into your producing a book, such as the examples shown on your website?
PT – That is one of those “how long is a piece of string” questions; it all depends on how much restoration is involved and what style of binding is called for. The book may have missing pages which means I have to research the book and find the pages, print them on matching paper and age them to match. Each project is different and time consuming, even for short run limited editions I still have to make the materials.
MQ – What are your preferences, as far as paper is concerned, for the inner pages?
PT – For the grimoires I preferred a heavy 120gsm watermarked cream or vellum wove for the sections, the printed leaves around the sections were a virgin goatskin parchment.
MQ – And, HOW are you printing the inner pages; are you doing them by hand, typesetting, or by computer printer?
PT – All three depending on cost, the Guardian Angel Grimoire is 8 1/2inches x 6 inches and contains 320 pages, black hand marbled endpapers a title page printed on vellum and illustrated with the whole of the Major Arcana, being the first part, the esoteric works of the Pre-Raphalites being the second part and the illustrated symbols and workings of John Dee, Agrippa, Aptolcater, The Almadel, The Clavicle, et al being the third part. With all that printing, and with your printing background I’m sure you will agree economics are called for in certain cases.
MQ – What is the longest and shortest amount of time you have spent on various bookbinding projects?
PT – I have made a 4to clamshell box in a few hours and spent 12 months on one single project.
MQ – Could you describe the various leather-working skills required to produce such beautiful results?
PT – Preparation is very important, knowledge of the different types of leather, grain direction, surface types etc … all contribute to the finished look. As all my skins are hand tanned, they are a natural colour, so the book is bound in say a plain white calf/goat and the vegetable dyes are added after. This is an example of a 16th century formula I use before paste washes were developed. First I choose a skin and look for any imperfections such as briar marks, scars, scratches, holes etc..
The piece required is cut over size to allow for shrinkage when hot ironing, this done the skin is cut to the size of the book allowing for turn-in all round. The skin is then “pared” on all edges and “bordered”, this is a rolling action between the hands which moves the fat around the skin and makes it supple.
After the book is covered the colours are applied. If gilding is required to the covers, the book is “glaired” (egg albumen) as a whole, if blind tooling is required, a mix of bulls fat and candle wax (tallow) is applied to stop the hot tools burning into the leather and to give a dark burnished look to the tooling, this is removed before polishing with a hot iron and carnauba wax.
MQ – How do you get the gold on the book cover? How long does this take, and where do you get your gold?
PT – Gilding is a specific art in itself and demands a keen eye, a steady hand and total concentration as there is only one chance with no room for errors, a mistake can be fatal causing the book to be stripped down and bound again, the principle rules of temperature, depth and dwell should be applied at all times. In short there is a preparation time, the white of an egg with a few additions is beaten to a froth and left to stand for an hour, the gold leaf is one 250,000th of an inch thick so with the slightest draught it will be lost. The tools you are using are heated and cooled to the correct temperature, the design you are creating is first “blind” tooled direct to the book and the egg white or “glair” is carefully painted into the relief, this in turn is left to dry for an hour. The gold leaf is cut with a gold knife, a hand made piece of paper is electrified by rubbing under my unshaven chin causing static, this will lift the gold allowing it to be laid into position. The tools are then heated and cooled to the correct temperature, too hot and it will burn through the gold leaf, too cool and the gold won’t apply. Working blind you need to find the exact position of the previous impression, slightly off you will get 2 impressions one blind one gold, some old binders liked to wipe a little Vaseline over the tool to pick up the gold and work it in but if the tool is too hot the oils will tarnish the gold. Gilding the edges of a book is just as complicated as you need to use earth pigments such as Armenian Bole, black lead, etc.
Well you did ask!
MQ – Of the various steps that go into creating a book such as you do, which is the most difficult? Most easy? What is your favorite part of creating books?
PT – I’m afraid I never seem to get any easy jobs, to give two extremes in paradox I’ve restored 12th century illuminated Psalters that were found submerged under water for 50 years in a crypt, and a rare 14th century book charred to a block of wood in a blazing inferno.
This is pretty difficult and the Sigillum Dei Aemeth was certainly challenging I don’t know any other binder who would take on a task like this using only straight lined and curved tools. The Grimoire is 14 x 10 inches, full bound in a virgin white goat or magical skin, with 2 colours, fermented black plums and red cherries with cochineal and hand marbled endpapers. This is the Grimoire of the Apocalypse, or End of Days.
The four seals on the front cover are the angels of the North, South, West and East, they are also four of the seven Archangels who stand in the presence of the Lord and holders of the seven seals, they shall also be represented on the reverse with the other three Archangels among many others, the book is unfinished as yet awaiting the right time. The Latin text that surrounds them is used in invocation, they are also represented in their order by the Enochian four elements.
The Sigilum Dei Aemeth conceals the greatest name of God and is activated by the Latin text hand lettered around the red centre, you can read more about it on my website and see the detail on of the seals on the spine including the Almadel. I have had an enquiry to create a “Grand Grimoire” comprising of the text of the sixth and seventh book of Moses, the Sword of Moses and all the Solomonic books including Clavicula Salomonis and the Grimoirium Verum etc… with all the angelic and demonic seals tooled in gold leaf.
MQ – Do you collect any rare books? If so, what is your prized volume?
PT – I have an antiquarian bookshop above my workshop full of wonderful rare books, the prize must be a first edition Don Quixote, another is a John Minshew variant copy of Annals of Princess Elizabeth I 1635 by William Camden who was given access to all the secret papers of her secretary Cecil Burghley, this is one of only two known existing copies. I also possess a 1614 first edition, first issue of Sir Walter Raleigh’s ‘History of the World’ that was written by him in prison. This edition was suppressed and seized by James I of England (James VI of Scotland) who wrote to all the Bishops in Europe and told them exactly what he would do to them if they did not burn every copy, only a handful are thought to exist.
There is a list of rare books for sale on my website at:
MQ – For my last question, what is your opinion on digital publishing? For example, the website Internet Sacred Text Archive has a CD-ROM that contains the complete contents of 940 full books, including the complete text AND graphics. How does digital publishing affect what you do?
PT – It doesn’t, I think it is a great idea. Libraries have been putting rare books on Micro fiche for decades for reference, most collections around the world are now looking to digitise their works and some American, French and British institutions have already started since the invention of a revolutionary scanning machine last year, it scans the entire book without opening it. The Gutenberg Project now offers free online electronic books of much of the world's great literature.
MQ – Paul, thank you for answering my questions, today.
PT – Thank you Kent, it’s been a pleasure.
The following sources were consulted in the writing of this Maybe Quarterly feature article:
Brodart Library Supplies – Book Dust Jacket Covers
National Archives – Archival Copies of Thermofax, Verifax, and Other Unstable Records (technical information paper # 5), 1990.
Tronson, Paul – Period Fine Bindings