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Rare Book School
Preliminary Reading List

European Bookbinding, 1500-1800

Nicholas Pickwoad


Preliminary Advices

This reading list is divided into two parts: those books which will give some essential background and those which will give a wider background to the material covered in the course. The first part, Essential Reading, is intended especially for students who have neither experience of the techniques of binding nor familiarity with the terms used. Without the latter, the course will be difficult to follow. Anyone who has not read the books listed should try to do so.

The second part, Suggested Reading, is intended to give a more detailed background to the material covered in the course, but very little has been published about either the history of the structure of Continental bindings in this period or the general history of everyday bindings, which is the subject of the course. The reading list is therefore biased towards British bookbinding, simply because more work on structure has been published in Britain than elsewhere. The more experience of handling books bound in other European countries within this period that the students can gain before the course, the better able they will be to place in context the examples illustrated during the course.

Some of these books are more in the nature of catalogues than historical accounts, and they can be dipped into selectively rather than read straight through. They concentrate inevitably on decorated bindings and therefore give limited information about the standard styles of retail binding available in any particular country. However, a close study of the illustrations does offer information about the changing shapes of books and the materials used in their construction.


Essential Reading

1. Cockerell, Douglas. Bookbinding, and the Care of Books. London, 1901 (or any subsequent edition).

This remains the clearest and most concise account of hand bookbinding in the English language.

2. Middleton, Bernard C. A History of English Craft Bookbinding Technique. London, 1978 (or any subsequent edition).

Middleton's survey of standard retail bindings techniques in England has as yet no equivalent for any other European country. It is a pioneering work of great value - though each chapter could now be expanded into a book.

3. Pollard, Graham. "Changes in the Style of Bookbinding, 1550-1830," in The Library, 5th series, 11 (June 1956), pp 71-94.

Pollard's article is in many ways the starting point for this course. In it he not only puts across a great deal of information, but also, more importantly, a framework within which this information can be used and interpreted.

4. Pickwoad, Nicholas. "Cutting Corners: Some Deceptive Practices in Seventeenth-Century English Bookbinding," in Roger Powell: the Compleat Binder, ed. John L. Sharpe, Turnhout: Brepols, 1996, pp 272-9.

A description of some of the rather doubtful practices used by English binders in the seventeenth century to make cheaper bindings and maximise their profits at the expense of their customers.

5. ______. "The Interpretation of Binding Structure: an Examination of Sixteenth-Century Bindings in the Ramey Collection in the Pierpont Morgan Library" in The Library, 6th series, 17 (September 1995), pp 209-249.

A preliminary study of the bindings in a French sixteenth-century private library which attempts to show how the analysis of structure can inform a wider understanding of books.

6. ______. "Onward and Downward: How Binders Coped with the Printing Press Before 1800" in A Millenium of the Book, ed. Robin Myers and Michael Harris. Winchester: St. Paul's Bibliographies, and Delaware: Oak Knoll Press, 1994, pp 61-106.

A study of the impact of printing on bookbinding and of how the binders altered their techniques to cope with the vast increase in the number of books to be bound.


Suggested Reading:

7. Barber, Giles. "Continental Paper Wrappers and Publishers' Bindings in the 18th Century," in The Book Collector 24 (Spring 1975), pp 37-49.

An important account of these highly ephemeral, and thus rare, bindings, which then formed a major part of the trade.

8. Barber, Giles. "Brochure, cartonnage, reliure: the provisional protection of print in the later 18th century," in Rousseau and the 18th Century: Essays in Memory of R. A. Leigh. The Voltaire Foundation, 1992.

A survey of the structures and materials found on the cheapest bindings in a collection of 18th-century French books. [Copy in Alderman]

9. de Bray, Dirk. A Short Instruction in the Binding of Books. Amsterdam, 1977.

This is the earliest European binding manual as yet available in an English translation. It gives a very detailed account of the basic Dutch bindings executed in the mid-seventeenth century, together with very informative small watercolors of the workshop in action. Slides of these will be shown during the course.

10. Dudin, M. The Art of the Bookbinder and Gilder. Paris, 1772. Reprinted in an English translation by the Elmete Press, Leeds, 1977.

This is a more 'academic' account of binding than de Bray's, but is excellently illustrated, and gives a full account of French binding of the eighteenth century.

11. Faust, Anshelmus. Prescription et enseignement de la discrete et fameuse science de la manifacture des relieurs de livres, Brussels, 1987.

Written in very bad old French and Flemish and published here for the first time, with a modern French translation, this is the earliest European bookbinding manual known to survive.

12. Febvre, Lucien and Henri-Jean Martin. L'apparition du livre. Paris, 1958. Available in an English translation as The Coming of the Book in various recent paperback editions.

A book to use with caution, as it is now showing its age, but nevertheless, a useful account of the growth of book production. It is only in the context of this growth that much of the work of the binders makes sense.

13. Foot, Mirjam M. The Henry Davis Gift: vol I, London, 1978; vol 2, London, 1983.

A very useful collection of bindings from all European countries, all illustrated, succinctly described and with information about provenance etc.

14. Foxon, David. "Stitched Books," in The Book Collector 24 (Spring 1975), pp 111-124.

A pioneering study of a much neglected area of book production.

15. Goldschmidt, E. Ph. Gothic and Renaissance Bookbindings. London, 1928 (reprinted edn Amsterdam, 1967).

Apart from its excellent illustrations, this book gives a great deal of useful information about the production of books in the century following the invention of printing.

16. Hobson, A.R.A. Humanists and Bookbindings: The Origins and Diffusion of Humanistic Bookbinding 1459-1559. Cambridge, 1989.

A detailed study of the impact of humanism on the design of books, it covers the introduction of new binding styles and techniques, including gold tooling, from the East into the European tradition.

17. Hobson, G. D. English Bindings in the Library of J. R. Abbey. London, 1940.

Whilst not easily accessible, this book illustrates and describes a wide range of English bindings.

18. Howe, Ellic. A List of London Bookbinders. London, 1950.

Read the introduction, which is full of information about the London binding trade.

19. Leighton, Douglas. Canvas and Bookcloth: An Essay on Beginnings. London, 1948.

A short article, originally published in The Library (June, 1948), which discusses the earliest use of canvas as a cheap binding material in the eighteenth century.

20. Miner, Dorothy. The History of Bookbinding 525-1050 AD. Baltimore, 1957.

One of the more comprehensive binding catalogues ever produced, with many (small) illustrations far removed from their descriptions. It remains, however, a valuable resource, containing, as it does, examples of virtually every major style of decorative binding within one cover.

21. Nixon, Howard M. Broxbourne Library: Styles and Designs of Bookbindings from the 13th to the 20th Century. London, 1956.

A classic in the art of describing bindings, though it is concerned primarily with elaborately decorated books.

22. Nixon, Howard M. "The Memorandum Book of James Coghlan: The Stock of an 18th Century Printer and Binder," in Journal of the Printing Historical Society 6 (1970), pp 33-52.

A detailed description of the activities and equipment of an eighteenth-century binder - information hard to obtain elsewhere.

23. Nixon, Howard M. and Mirjam M. Foot. The History of Decorated Bookbinding in England. Oxford 1992.

A useful and well-illustrated account of the decoration of English books from the earliest surviving examples to the present day.

24. Pearson, David. Oxford Bookbinding 1500-1640, including a supplement to Neil Ker's Fragments of Medieval manuscripts used as pastedowns in Oxford bindings. Oxford 2000.

An excellent, cautious and sceptical account of the unusually well-documented work of bookbinders in a single English city over 140 years, which places bookbinding within the wider context of the bo oktrade.

25. Pickwoad, Nicholas. "Tacketed bindings: a hundred years of European bookbinding" in For the Love of the Binding: essays in the history of bookbinding for Mirjam Foot. London 2000.

A study of one of the binding structures borrowed from the stationery binding tradition for printed books and identifies some national and regional structural characteristics.

26. ______. "The Use of Fragments of Medieval Manuscripts in the Construction and Covering of Bindings of Printed Books" in Interpreting and Collecting Fragments of Medieval Books. Los Altos Hills, 2000.

Explores the many uses made by bookbinders of what was once a readily available and inexpensive material.

27. ______. "Italian and French Sixteenth-Century Bindings," in The Gazette of the Grolier Club, new series 43 (1991), pp 55-80.

A structural look at the bindings in a Grolier Club exhibition intended to supplement the more formal descriptions of the decoration given in the exhibition catalogue.

28. Potter, Esther. "The London Bookbinding Trade: From Craft to Industry," in The Library 6th ser 15 (December 1993), pp 259-80.

An extremely valuable account of the London trade at the end of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth centuries.

29. Szirmai, J.A. The Archaeology of Medieval Bookbinding. Ashgate Gower, 1999.

Not an easy read, but the first detailed account of the technical history of binding in the medieval period. It provides an essential background to the development of bookbinding within the era of t he handpress, and the last two chapters (9 & 10) are of particular relevance to this course.

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