B-60. European Bookbinding, 1500–1800

How bookbinding in the post-medieval period developed to meet the demands placed on it by the growth of printing; techniques and materials employed to meet these demands; the development of temporary bindings (for example, pamphlets and publishers’ bindings); the emergence of structures usually associated with volume production in the c19; the dating of undecorated bindings; the identification of national and local binding styles.

The history of bookbinding is not simply the history of a decorative art, but also that of a craft answering a commercial need. This course will follow European bookbinding from the end of the Middle Ages to the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, using the bindings to illustrate the aims and intentions of the binding trade. A large part of the course will be devoted to the identification of both broad and detailed distinctions within the larger groups of plain commercial bindings and the possibilities of identifying the work of different countries, cities, and even workshops without reference to finishing tools. The development of binding decoration will be touched on, but will not form a major part of the discussion.

There will be slide lectures each day. Actual examples from the Rare Book School collections will be used to supplement the slides in three afternoon sessions, and another afternoon will be spent examining finely bound books in the University of Virginia’s Special Collections. Note that students will not in general be able to touch or handle personally the books shown to them in class, because of the fragility and/or value of the material being used – an understandably irritating but nevertheless very necessary policy instituted in order to protect the collections of Rare Book School and the University of Virginia from collective overuse.

Students are expected to have a sound knowledge of bookbinding terms and a basic knowledge of the history of book production in the period under consideration. The purpose of the course is to encourage an awareness of the possibilities latent in the detailed study of bookbindings and is thus aimed at all those handling books bound in this period, but it has particular relevance for those involved in the repair and conservation of such materials. In their personal statement, applicants should describe the nature and extent of their bench training (if any) in bookbinding and/or related disciplines, and they should also describe any previous formal or informal historical study in the field.

Course History

Nicholas Pickwoad taught this course many times during this period.
This course is not currently being offered. Please do not list on any RBS fellowship or scholarship applications.

Course Resources

  • Advance Reading List
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