Book binding

Book binding as an Art form

I’ve recently started reading Creative Bookbinding by Pauline Johnson. I’m only on the first chapter so far, but it’s already made me wonder about the state of bookbinding today, and it’s original beginnings.

If you think about bookbinding today, people don’t think about it as an expressive art form. Few binders practice the craft as an expressive art. But that’s how it started! Quoting from the book – “The production of manuscripts and the binding of books became major art forms with the support of the church, wealthy patrons, and royal personages. Professional scribes were hired to make copies of books for private libraries, and educated slaves copied books for their masters. It often took six months to a year to copy one book.” Remember, this is before the days of printing and everything was written by hand.

Over time, during the period of the Renaissance, bindings became more and more decorative and sumptuous. Treasure binding evolved as an art form, where the bindings were embellished in various ways such as with silver, jewels and ivory. Again quoting from book, “Under the Byzantine emperors, massive books were sometimes suspended from gold rods and paraded through the streets for all to see. Bookbinding attained its state of highest perfection in the fifteenth century.” That’s pretty insane!

Gem encrusted book

The character of the book changed with the development of printing, and the ability to produce books at scale. Printing was great for making books and knowledge accessible to the masses. However, over time, as books have become more of a “commodity”, book binding has become mainly functional, a craft that’s devoted to creating a container for the book, as opposed to being a creative art in its own right. A lot of supremely beautiful books have been made during the printing era too, the Gutenberg Bible being one example, but by and large, the focus today is on scale rather than beauty (and rightly so).

Page from Gutenberg Bible

As someone who’s gotten into book binding for the love of books and for the love of this art form, I “miss” having beautiful, handcrafted books to read from. I put “miss” in quotes because I guess I’ve never read from and held a book from that era. But I can only imagine what it must feel like to read from such beautifully made books!

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