Using a Meeting Guard to Allow the Pages to Freely Open

pages printed tight to the fold

The disbound pages of Essex Harmony show the printing is tight to the gutter. If bound conventionally the inner portion of the text would be hidden in the fold.

This little colonial American book of psalm tunes, The Essex Harmony, presented a not-unusual binding problem requiring a variant sewing structure to allow it to properly open. The book measures only 6 1/8” x 5 3/8” consisting of 2 signatures. Given its small size, the printing fills the entire page right into the gutter. The client wished to have this bound in full leather suggestive of an 18th century binding, but sewing and binding in a conventional manner would have made it impossible for the book to open sufficiently to be able to view the inner portions of the text. The problem was exacerbated by the relatively heavy weight of the paper causing it to be too stiff to drape properly in such a small book.

The solution is to sew the book onto meeting guards, stubs of paper, or paper and cloth, that pushes the spine of the text away from the spine of the binding, allowing it to open freely to the fold. Meeting guards have been, and continue to be used to provide ease of opening when the leaves themselves do not allow enough flexibility to open on their own, or when it is important that a book open completely flat. Nineteenth century photo albums consisting of pages made of heavy card were often bound using a form of meeting guard. Another form of meeting guard was used in record books where it was important that the opened book could easily be written in without having to follow the curve of the paper into the fold. (A ‘springback’ binding was another binding structure that did the same thing, but that is an article for another day.) These days, meeting guards are often found in artists’ books or books of plates printed on heavy stock.

Depending upon the application, there are many ways to make a meeting guard. Since this book was so slender with only a few pages, I was able to fold a meeting guard from a single piece of paper. The signatures were sewn using a ‘figure 8’ stitch to the “hills” of the guard, then the guard and signatures were sewn to the endpapers by sewing through the valley of the guard. The binding was completed in the normal fashion. The end result is that Essex Harmony now is now attractively preserved in its leather binding and can be freely and easily opened so that the entire page is in full view.

pages sewn onto the meeting guard lay flat

The signatures have been sewn to the meeting guard. In this photo, seen before the binding is completed, you can easily see the action of the meeting guard in the center, allowing the pages to fully open and lay flat.

meeting guard at title page

The signatures have been sewn to the meeting guard, seen here on the left as the slightly paler colored paper stub.

title page bound with meeting guard

The title page opens freely to the gutter once the book has been fully bound

The inner pages open fully as well thanks to the meeting guard in the completed book.

Essex Harmony bound in full sprinkled calf leather

The completed full leather binding in sprinkled calf is suggestive of the book’s 18th century American origin.

meeting guard head view

A view from the head of the completed book shows how the meeting guard sets the folds of the signature away from the spine of the book to allow free opening.

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