Bindings Collections


The Special Collections department has been collecting fine or important historic bindings since the early 1980s. The goals in collecting these materials have been to allow students, researchers, and visitors to see how bindings have changed throughout history by showing historic examples, and to demonstrate the artistic possibilities of bindings – both in terms of methods and decoration. To this end, Special Collections has acquired the best examples of bindings possible.

Highlights in Historic Bindings

Grammaticus, 1500 Wooden Board Binding with Clasp

One of the oldest complete original bindings in the Collection, the Grammatica is typical of early “hardback” bindings – a sewn text laced into wooden boards with enough leather to hold it together. This text is bound in contemporary blind rolled quarter calf over wooden boards, with remnants of applied hand-written paper spine label. Sewn on three sets of double cords. Decorated metal and leather clasp extending from lower cover to catch at upper cover. Some blind tooling is visible in third spine compartment, and the volume has intact plain white endbands. Cords laced into channels in wooden covers are exposed in some areas.

Two German titles printed by Johan Beyer, 1591 Tooled Pigskin Binding

These two titles are bound in a single ornate volume typical of German bindings of their era. Bound in contemporary elaborately blind stamped paneled full pigskin over wooden boards, the innermost of the 3 panels on front cover is stained brown, and it retains its original clasps and catches. The decorative tooling creates a type of “low-relief” sculptural feel.

Nemesis Karulina, 1599 Vellum Leaf Binding

This example of a “practical binding” made use of a hard-wearing piece of vellum salvaged from an unwanted illuminated manuscript from the 1400s. The illuminated manuscript used for the cover has text from Luke 7:43. The sewing is visible and remains of a paper label with inked inscription are at the top of the spine.

Epicurus’s morals, 1670 Restoration Binding

This volume is bound in period dark "somber" black morocco leather with ornate blind-tooling of four-petalled conventional flowers springing from a pair of leaves, framed by drawer handle motifs, acorns, grapes, and pointelle decoration. The spine is blind-tooled with raised bands and the title gilt on a red leather applied label. The book features marbled end-papers and all text edges are stained black. The style is characteristic of, and attributed to, the Queens' Binder B. This binding typifies the English Restoration. When Charles II assumed the crown, the somber world of Cromwell’s Protectorate was quickly replaced with sumptuous decoration and excess. The group of 3 or 4 binders known to have worked for several Queens of England produced lavish bindings covered with gilt tooling. In this example the “serious” binding is as impressive – just without the gold.

The Holy Bible, 1849 Papier Mache Binding

This volume is bound in publisher's black papier-mâché binding simulating carved wood, consisting of three panels (upper and lower covers and spine). Parts of the original clasp are intact and all edges of the pages are gilt and goffered with a pattern of crossed lines and flowerheads. Thought of today as a Victorian binding, when new this volume would have been intended to conjure images of what the romantic might have thought of as an Elizabethan binding.

Quintus Horatius Flaccus, 1820 Victorian Cloth Binding

In 1820, William Pickering published his miniature edition of Horace, with copies available in cloth – considered the first instance of an edition binding in cloth. These early bindings were a plain cloth, which was quickly replaced by a textured cloth, which developed into cloth embossed with basic decoration, which quickly became full-blown ornate stamping with gold. As time and art styles moved along, cloth bindings became more stylish and accommodated changing tastes, eventually featuring printed illustrations. Examples of Victorian cloth bindings are numerous in our collection.

Chaudron’s spelling book, 1865 “Necessity Binding”

Due to a lack of paper at the end of the Civil War, this volume’s wrappers are made from pieces of wallpaper, glued "pattern to pattern," leaving blank surfaces on which to print title information. This rare survival shows practicality during times of scarcity. Children still needed to learn, even during wartime, and schoolbooks needed to be bound in something.

Examples of Artistic Bindings

The poetical works of Sir Walter Scott, 1882 Vellucent Binding

This volume is possibly an early example of vellucent decoration, with simple painted decorations in the art nouveau style. It is bound in full custom vellucent binding with six art nouveau style lilies hand-painted under the vellum. All page edges are gilt, and it has a fore-edge painting of a lily matching the ones on the binding.

Coaching days and coaching ways, 1901 Vellucent Binding

This splendid example of a vellucent binding showcases the possibilities of the style. The hand-painted decoration and delicate mother-of-pearl inlays are protected by the vellum, which has been made transparent by a process developed by Cedric Cheevers.

Vanity fair: a novel without a hero, 1848 Cosway Binding

Bound by Bayntun (Riviére), Bath, England, as a commission for a dealer, this first edition of the classic Vanity fair was enhanced with a custom binding featuring a hand-painted portrait of the author. The Cosway name for this binding is from miniature painter Richard Cosway (1742-1821). He did not paint for bindings, but the style of miniatures used in bindings resemble his works. The volume is bound in full blue leather with gilt decorations, wide leather turn-ins, and marbled paper paste-downs.

The curate of Clyro, 1983 Books Bound by Fine Artists

Bound in a unique binding by Angela James, this volume shows how a “decorative” binding can become fine art. The volume is bound in white sheepskin with colored leather inlays and onlays of different grained moroccos and suede. Doublures hinged at fore-edges fold out to reveal four panels depicting a mountainous Welsh landscape passing through the four seasons.