The history of bookbinding is not simply the history of a decorative art, but 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 themselves 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, even workshops without reference to finishing tools. The identification and significance of the different materials used in bookbinding will be examined, as well as the classification of bookbindings by structural type, and how these types developed through the three centuries covered by the course. The development of binding decoration will be touched on, but will not form a major part of the discussion. 

Additional Information

Key Texts
  • Cockerell, Douglas, Bookbinding and the Care of Books (London, 1901) (or any subsequent edition)
  • Middleton, Bernard C., A History of English Craft Bookbinding Technique (London, 1978) (or any subsequent edition)
  • Pollard, Graham, "Changes in the Style of Bookbinding, 1550-1830", in The Library, 5th Series, 11 (1965), pp.71-94
  • Pickwoad, Nicholas, 'The interpretation of bookbinding structure: an examination of the sixteenth-century bindings in the Ramey Collection in the Pierpont Morgan Library', The Library, 6th series, XVII.3, (1995).
  • Pickwoad, Nicholas, 'Onwards and Downwards: How bookbinders coped with the printing press 1500-1800', A Millennium of the Book: book design and production 900-1900, ed. Myers and Harris (Winchester, 1994).
Recommended Reading
  • Barber, Giles, "Continental Paper Wrappers and Publishers' Bindings in the 18th Century", in The Book Collector 24 (Spring 1975) pp.37-49.
  • Barber, Giles, "Brochure, cartonnage, reliure: the provisional protection of print in the later 18th century", in Rousseau and the 18th Century: Essays in Memory of R. A. Leigh (The Voltaire Foundation, 1992)
  • Bennett, Stuart, Trade Bookbinding in the British Isles 1660-1800 (Newcastle, Delaware and London: Oak Knoll Press and the British Library, 2004)
  • de Bray, Dirk, A Short Instruction in the Binding of Books (Amsterdam, 1977)
  • Dudin, M., The Art of the Bookbinder and Gilder (Paris, 1772). Reprinted in an English translation by the Elmete Press, Leeds, 1977.
  • Faust, Anshelmus, Prescription et enseignement de la discrète et fameuse science de la manifacture des relieurs des livres (Brussels, 1987)
  • Febvre, Lucien and Henri Jean Martin, L'apparition du livre (Paris, 1958). Available in an English translation as The Coming of the Book in various recent paperback editions
  • Foot, Mirjam, The Henry Davis Gift, vol. 1, London, 1978; vol. 2, (London, 1983)
  • Foxon, David, "Stitched books", in The Book Collector 24, (Spring 1975), pp.111-24
  • Goldschmidt, E, Ph., Gothic and Renaissance Bookbindings (London: 1928. Reprinted edition Amsterdam: 1967)
  • Pearson, David, English Bookbinding Styles 1450-1800: A Handbook (London and New Castle Delaware: 2005)


This course will take place at Senate House with visits to the Wellcome and Dr Williams' Library.

Course convenor