On Collecting

Types Of Bindings

Beginning around 1830, publishers began to issue their books in more permanent bindings covered in cloth. These bindings ranged from plain cloth covers with gilt lettering on the spine only to elaborate gift bindings pictorially decorated in gilt or blind or both.
Dust jackets or dust wrappers were originally designed to protect a book in transit until it reached the safety of an owner’s library. The first recorded use of a dust jacket dates to the midnineteenth century, but because of their utilitarian beginnings, they were generally discarded; very early jackets, with few exceptions, have not survived. In the early twentieth century dust jackets evolved from simple coverings to evocative works of art integral to the book.
As an increasing number of books began to be published and sold in the 1700s and through to the early 1830s, printers and publishers (often the same individual or bookseller) began selling their books in “boards,” what are today called “original boards.” Here the text block was printed and sewn together, then covered by blue, gray, or marbled paper-covered pasteboards, with a paper
(or sometimes calf) spine and perhaps a handwritten or printed-paper label. Like the plain dust jackets issued with books in the late nineteenth century, these simple bindings were intended to be disposable. A book’s eighteenth century owner would take his purchase to a binder who would usually replace the original boards with a permanent binding. Books still in original boards are considered to be quite desirable by collectors.
In the eighteenth century slim volumes like pamphlets, periodicals or serials would be sewn together and covered in paper, often of the same stock or possibly of heavier marbled paper. Paper wrappers were designed to give the text block some protection before the purchaser would have it bound; these are the most fragile of bindings and are infrequently found intact. Later in the nineteenth century publishers began issuing periodicals and fiction—such as Dickens’ and
Thackeray’s novels—in wrappers of bright colors, with illustrations calling attention to the contents and advertisements on the rear wrapper for the publisher’s other titles or for other companies’ products; these were the forerunners of today’s paperbacks.
Bindings made from calf hide are the most frequently seen leather coverings. Such bindings have a smooth surface with no identifiable grain. The natural tone of a calf binding is light brown, but can be dyed almost any color. The following terms are often associated with calf bindings:
DICED: a decorative design of diamonds or squares that has been scored onto the leather.
MARBLED: stained with a diluted acid to produce the effect of swirling hues.
MOTTLED: a random design on calfskin produced by sponging it with acid or dyes.
PANELED: a rectangular space on a cover or spine, often framed by gilt or plain ruled lines tooled into the leather.
POLISHED: calfskin polished to a smooth, reflective finish.
REVERSED: binding with the inner side of the skin facing outward.
SPANISH: a process, originating in Spain, of using red and green acid dye to stain brilliant flecks of color in the binding.
SPECKLED: leather treated with acid to form patterns of small dark spots or specks.
TREE CALF: a highly polished calf binding that originated in the late 18th century in which the leather has been stained to produce a dark tree-like pattern along the front and rear boards.
Made of goatskin and often dyed in strong, bold colors, morocco bindings are known for both their beauty and durability. Morocco bindings appeared in Europe in the sixteenth century and in England in the late seventeenth century. The following terms are often associated with morocco bindings.
CRUSHED: the surface of the leather is flattened by ironing, pressing or rolling, producing a surface with no discernible grain.
LEVANT: a large-grain morocco binding, usually highly polished, considered the most elegant of morocco bindings.
NIGER: a flexible, rugged binding originating in West Africa that has a soft finish, with a subtle grain achieved through hand-rubbing.
STRAIGHT-GRAIN: very popular in the early nineteenth century, this type of morocco binding is produced by moistening the goatskin, then giving the leather an artificial graining of roughly parallel lines.
Richly tooled bindings with miniature paintings embedded in their covers, Cosway bindings were first created in 1902 by the famous
Rivière bindery. Rivière employed Miss C.B. Currie with instructions to imitate the delicate watercolor style of the renowned nineteenth-century miniaturist Richard Cosway. These miniatures, mostly portraits and often on ivory, were set into the covers or doublures of fine bindings and protected by thin panes of glass.
From medieval times onward, this specially treated calfskin has been used for writing and printing on as well as for binding. Many medieval manuscripts, for instance, were written on vellum. In later centuries, vellum has been used to bind books. In the early twentieth century, publishers issued deluxe illustrated gift editions bound in elaborately gilt-decorated vellum.
Occasionally a binder will decorate the covers of a book with inlaid jewels and fine stones, such as mother-of-pearl, rubies, moonstones, amethysts and turquoise. These elaborate bindings were often designed for exhibitions and frequently incorporate designs in inlaid morocco as well as full morocco doublures, watered silk endpapers and gilt edges.