Course Convenor: Dr David Pearson
Maximum: 15 Students
Venue: Senate House

The main aim of this course is to give participants a toolkit to identify and date English bindings on historic books of the handpress period, distinguishing the contemporary from the later and the repaired, covering the progression of decorative styles which enable simple as well as upmarket bindings to be recognised.  It will focus on external, visible features, rather than internal structures, but will cover the materials used to make bindings, and their distinguishing features.  English bindings form the backbone of the course, but continental European ones will be brought in to compare, contrast, and set the wider context.  Consideration will also be given to the book historical landscape in which bindings should be seen, understood and interpreted.  “What are the questions I should ask, when looking at a historic binding?” is a theme that will run through this course, and it is hoped that students will come to the end of the week better equipped to both pose and answer those questions.

The course is aimed at anyone who works regularly with historic books in which English bindings are likely to feature: librarians and curators, humanities researchers, collectors and dealers.  It is not a practical course to learn how to bind, and its philosophy is book historical, not art historical – it will cover bindings of all kinds, the cheap, temporary and simple as well as the extravagant and luxurious.  Illustrated teaching sessions will be supplemented by the opportunity to see and handle examples from the Senate House collections.

The course will be taught by David Pearson, whose English Bookbinding Styles 1450-1800 (2005, reprinted 2014) is widely respected as a standard reference book in the field.  It is closely modelled on a similar course which has been successfully run at the Rare Book School in Charlottesville.

Recommended Introductory Reading


M. M. Foot: The history of bookbinding as a mirror of society. London (British Library), 1998

M. M. Foot, Bookbinders at work: their roles and methods (British Library, 2006), chapter 1 – ‘Bibliography and bookbinding history’, pp.3-32 

J. Miller: Books will speak plain (The Legacy Press, 2010), Introduction – pp.1-12

H. M. Nixon & M. M. Foot, The history of decorated bookbinding in England, (Clarendon Press, 1992).

D. Pearson: English bookbinding styles 1450-1800 (Oak Knoll Press, 2014)

N. Pickwoad, 'Coming to terms', Historical book binding techniques in conservation, ed. G. Boudalis et al (Verlag Berger, 2016), pp.11-28

N. Pickwoad, 'Onward and downward: how binders coped with the printing press before 1800', in A millennium of the book, R. Myers (St Paul’s Bibliographies, 1994), pp. 61-106.




David Pearson retired from a long professional career in libraries and archives in 2017 and is now concentrating on work as a book historian. He has published extensively on aspects of provenance, private libraries and bookbinding, including the books Provenance Research in Book History (1994, new edition 2019) and English Bookbinding Styles 1450-1800 (2005, reprinted 2014) – widely respected as standard reference works in the fields. He regularly teaches at the Rare Book School in Charlottesville, Virginia and was Lyell Reader in Bibliography at Oxford for 2017-18.