European Bookbinding

Course Organiser: Professor Nicholas Pickwoad
10-14 July

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.

Course Outline


1 - Introduction, dating bindings

2 - Bookbinding workshops, books in sheets & endleaves


3 - Stitched and sewn structures, Greek-style bindings

4 - Recessed supports, deceptive practices, spine & edge treatments

5 - Visit to Dr Williams's Library


6 - Cheap bindings, tacheted, unsupported and longstitch bindings

7 - External supports, laced and adhesive case bindings

8 - Visit to Senate House Library


9 Boards & board attachment

10 - Stabilisers and endleaf/board attachment, endbands

11 - Visit to Wellcome Library


12 - Uncovered books, covering materials

13 - Half and quarter bindings, account books, economies, titling


Outcomes for Students

  • Students will be able to understand the historical progression in binding from the fifteenth to the nineteenth centuries.
  • Students will be able to identify various binding structures which characerised different periods and different regions.
  • Students will be able to identify the wide range of materials employed in European bookbindings.
  • Students will understand the economic and cultural importance of plain commercial bindings at various points over the period studied. 

Required Reading

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 (June 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, September 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 Introductory 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)


Nicholas Pickwoad has a doctorate from Oxford University in English Literature. He trained in bookbinding and book conservation with Roger Powell, and ran his own workshop from 1977 to 1989. He has been Adviser on book conservation to the National Trust of Great Britain since 1978, and was editor of the Paper Conservator.
He taught book conservation at Columbia University Library School in New York from 1989 to 1992 and was Chief Conservator in the Harvard University Library from 1992 to 1995. He is now project leader of the St Catherine’s Monastery Library Project based at the University of the Arts, London and is director of the Ligatus Research Centre, which is dedicated to the history of bookbinding. He gave the 2008 Panizzi Lectures at the British Library, was awarded the 2009 Plowden medal for Conservation and is a Fellow of the IIC and of the Society of Antiquaries. He also teaches courses in the UK, Europe and America on the history of European bookbinding in the era of the hand printing press, and has published widely on the subject.