The British Library has a dynamite collection of fine and historical bookbindings numbering, evidently, in the thousands, and their online database will happily serve them up, in random groups of 25, for your ogling pleasure. On the whole they are ludicrously beautiful, making those spiffy, redesigned, Penguin Classic’s we’re all so fond of look about as precious as supermarket circulars. To see them for yourself go here and simply click “reselect” to see more.

The site does not offer much, however, by way of supporting historical information, and knowing, as I do, that beautiful pictures just aren’t enough for you “internauts,” and indeed how ravenously hungry you all are for lengthy texts to read in your browser window, I’ve taken the liberty of gathering together a list of related materials which could shed some light on the art and craft of bookbinding. See below. 

01.03. filed under: art. books. design. history.


That link is <strike>almost</strike> as good as the “Library Smut” thing you put up a while back. AWESOME!!!!


posted on 01.03 at 01:26 PMJoe Moran

Oh Joe, God, don’t encourage them! As Tom Buckner recently mentioned that Library Smut thing is truly “The Post That Will Not Die.” It seems like every couple of months a new crevice of the net notices it and it catches fire again. I just want it to go away.

But I’m glad you liked the bindings.

posted on 01.03 at 03:23 PMjmorrison

This is the coolest thing ever. Much time wasting lies ahead.

posted on 01.04 at 11:26 AM.

Do you think, were someone to publish a series of books today with similarly ornate covers, that they would sell or not? Is this a dead aesthetic, for the masses? Historical interest only?

I appreciate this post.

posted on 01.04 at 12:42 PMPierce

Pierce: fine bookbindings are still being made. Like a lot of handmade objects in the industrial age, the risk of kitsch runs high, but there are lots of fine examples. By the way, several avant-garde movements had their dedicated bookbinders for well-off patrons, surrealism in particular. Here you can see some examples by Mary Reynolds (including some collaborations with Duchamp). There are also a lot of outstanding Art Deco bindings.

posted on 01.04 at 03:01 PM.

@Pierce: I actually think, if not a dead aesthetic, it is certainly a narrow one. Beautiful though they are I can’t imagine books, designed as these are, would appeal to the bulk of modern day buyers. Perhaps as editions of “the classics” but in what other context can you view a book that looks like these? You’re brain travels there involuntarily. So much so that I think sales for nearly every sub-genre would suffer if it were packaged this way.

Plus, obviously, even if a publisher wished to, doing it it right would result in a very expensive book. As Michelangelo says, fine bindings are still being made,  just not mass produced. They are more often than not “artist” books.

posted on 01.05 at 02:53 PMjmorrison

Thanks for the link michelangelo. The books, while beautiful, are more an example of the perseverance of craft than aesthetic? Definitely a splash of modernism as you say.

I think I agree with you Jaime. I guess one just yearns for this kind of thing when everything in the bookshop is a movie tie-in or gaudy photoshop cover. (And that’s not even fair, ‘cos they’re not.) These books are a great example of disassociation between content and appearance (not a good thing for marketing). Beautiful covers, but you cannot judge the book by them.

posted on 01.07 at 06:01 AMPierce

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