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Bookbinding - strips of leather or cords glued onto the spine of a book before covering to give the appearance of a binding sewn on exterior cords. False bands can be applied to either hollow backs or flexible bindings.

Why put false bands on a book? Well, innovation is rarely popular in the bookbinding world. When techniques such as sewing a bookbinding on tapes and sewing on buried cords were invented in the Sixteenth century, customers still wanted books that looked like they always had, back when sewing on exterior cords was the only technique around. Binders obliged them by adding false bands to otherwise smooth spines. And after the Arts and Crafts movement's revival of traditional methods, led by T.J. Cobden-Sanderson, bands on covers became the mark of a fine binding.

There's nothing wrong with false bands. They are merely another decorational technique, often used to add balance or emphaisis to a spine, or to frame the title lettering. With all of the bookbinding techniques invented over the centuries, bands have graduated from a necessary structural element to a traditional motif. Now even real exterior cords may be built up with leather strips, if the binder wants a more emphatic treatment.

How to tell if a book has false bands

So you're holding a book in your hands, and want to tell whether the bumps on the back are structural or ornamental.

  1. If it has a hollow back or French grooves, the bands are false. Neither technique is compatible with sewing on exterior cords.

  2. Unless the book is sewn on exterior cords, the bands are false.

  3. Just because the book is sewn on exterior cords doesn't mean the bands are real.

    A book may be sewn on fewer cords than the cover shows, or the cords may be in inconvenient locations for the binder's decorational scheme. You can check the cord positions in the insides of the signatures against the spine, or find the marks of the cords on the outside of the book.

    A book with a flexible binding, sewn on exterior cords, will show small V-shaped marks of those cords on the spine edges of the covers. Comparing the locations of the Vs to the locations of the bands will help you to tell whether the bands are all real, all false, or a mixture.

    • Vs match up with bands - probably not false bands
       
               spine 
        --^---^---^---^---^-- 
      |  V   V   V   V   V  | 
      |                     | 
      
      
      
    • Some Vs match up with bands, others do not - probably a mixture of cords and false bands
       
               spine 
        --^---^---^---^---^-- 
      |  V       V       V  | 
      |                     | 
      
      
      
    • Vs and bands don't match at all - definitely false bands.
       
               spine 
        --^---^---^---^---^-- 
      |   V    V   V    V   | 
      |                     | 
      
      
      

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