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A Quick History of Book Binding

By Kristin Masters. Jun 4, 2019. 9:00 AM.

Topics: Book Collecting, Book Making, Book Care

If you collect rare and antiquarian books, you're well aware that a book's binding can significantly impact its value. The craft of book binding has evolved over time, and modern book conservators often use both contemporary and ancient methods to restore and preserve antiquarian books. Those methods date back much further than you may have thought!

  • Circa 100 BCE: The first books are bound in India. Religious sutras were copied onto palm leaves, which were split down the middle,  dried, and rubbed with ink. These finished leaves were numbered and bound with twine.
  • Love_Paris_CodexCirca 150: The shift from roll to codex begins. This process was extremely gradual and took until about 450 CE to be "complete." The codex was less expensive than the traditional scroll, and it also meant that book bindings could be both protective and decorative.
  • Circa 400: Leather tooling shows up on book binding. The earliest example is on an edition of Acts of the Apostles written in Coptic. The book's cover is adorned with a crux ansata flanked by two peacocks. The material and technique have endured; Karli Frigge offers a lovely introduction to the modern craft of leather-bound books.
  • Circa 550: Metal makes its way onto the book binding scene. The earliest surviving metal book covers originated around Syria. The first Western ones are thought to be a pair presented to the Basilica of St. John by Queen Theodelinda around 625 BCE.
  • Circa 1250: The process of book binding is documented. A royal patron of the arts documented the processes of binding and decorating Arabic manuscripts; it's one of the earliest works of this kind. The book also gave incredible insight into the history of chemistry.
  • Paris, 1508: Pasteboard first replaces wood for a book cover. The material didn't catch on in England until 1520.
  • 1741-1753: Christoph Ernst Prediger writes the first exhaustive manual on book binding. The work was published in four separate volumes, covering everything from cost of materials and technique to apprenticeship regulations.
  • Philadelphia, 1791: A publisher protects a book with a dust jacket-like wrapper. Time: An Apparition of Eternity came with a simple paper wrapping that included a presentation paragraph and the author's signature. It was folded around all four sides of the book and sealed with wax.
  • 1810-1820: British publishers begin using cloth as a binding material. At first they covered paper boards in fabric. In 1821, William Pickering produced the first cloth edition with a paper spine.
  • Circa 1830: Case bindings that allowed mechanized stamping were designed. This was the first significant step to automating the process of book binding. Both the covers and the spines of these books could be stamped.
  • 1857: The first flap-style dust jackets are used in England. This style is still used today. The United States followed suit in 1865 and issued the first book with its own dust jacket. Over the centuries, other materials from ivory to glass, have been used to bind books. Gilding has also long been a popular decorative treatment for book bindings. Since the 1800s, rare book conservationists have worked to perfect the methods used by their predecessors, and modern book binders are true craftsman.

If your rare books need repair or protection, talk to an expert about your options. We're happy to offer recommendations and references. Contact us with any questions you may have. And if you're interested in learning more about book binding, read on!

Browse Modern First Editions

The Tie That Binds: The Importance of Binding in Rare Book Collecting

It’s the first thing you see. It’s the first thing you feel when you pick it up. It often goes a long way toward determining how you feel about it or how you’re going to feel about it once you crack the pages. While we’re talking about book covers in this example, what we’re really talking about is binding: the method in which the front and back cover are fastened over the actual book pages. Because a book’s binding can be decorative as well as pragmatichelping to protect the book from the elementsit’s often a critical factor in determining a book’s value and worth in the rare book landscape.

As a result, novice and seasoned collectors alike should not only place importance on type and condition of a book’s binding, but they should also be somewhat knowledgeable about the different methods of binding and their significance in determining a book’s value.

Bindings and binding methods have altered quite drastically throughout the course book making history. This means collectors must possess a wide range of insight when it comes to whether a certain binding is historically accurate, structurally sound, and adds to or detracts from the overall value of the volume. And while the world of bookbinding can be mind-boggling, there are a few tried-and-true elements to look for on the rare book collecting path.

With that in mind, here are a handful of important factors to consider when evaluating bindings in rare books. Read more >>

Kristin Masters
Master Content Brain. You think it, she writes it, no good thought remains unposted. Sprinkles pixie dust on Google+, newsletters, blog, facebook, twitter and just about everything else.


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How can I identify a first edition? Where do I learn about caring for books? How should I start collecting? Hear from librarians about amazing collections, learn about historic bindings or printing techniques, get to know other collectors. Whether you are just starting or looking for expert advice, chances are, you'll find something of interest on blogis librorum.

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