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Rare Book School at the University of Virginia

B-10. Introduction to the History of Bookbinding

Jan Storm van Leeuwen

A bookbinding has two main functions. It protects its text block against wear and tear, and, by its structure, it makes a book out of a heap of otherwise separate leaves or quires. Through the ages, the covers, spine, fore-edge and other parts of the book have been decorated in almost every conceivable manner, technique, and material, thereby turning the binding into a work of decorative art. This introductory course, which will discuss the principal techniques and materials used in the West over binding's long history, is intended for those who wish to develop a better understanding of the history of the field; it is not a practical binding course. It is aimed at historians, special collections personnel, collectors, dealers, conservators and bookbinders, and others with an interest in the binding and its history.

While discussing more luxurious examples, the course will also introduce the means for dating and localizing simpler bindings. Topics include: basic terminology; the relation between binding and contents; commissioned and signed bindings; decorated papers used in binding; the history of publishers' bindings (primarily) in the United States and England; sources that can be used for research; the study and description of bindings. The course will be given by slide presentation and original objects.

Course Resources

Course History


Jan Storm van Leeuwen teaches this course for the first time.