'As we move into the twenty first century, Newbold & Collins are committed to the use of sound materials and practices in our bindings, and believe that whichever of history’s styles we use, we will be assessed favourably by future historians.'


The history of bookbinding proudly predates printing by many centuries, and although we can now use highly advanced machinery to bind books, we still follow the same basic form and construction.

The varying forms of recording events and ideas changed from age to age with the development of civilization. Long before an alphabet was conceived, and writing developed, man had been recording his thoughts and events on cave walls or rock outcrops with great effect. Later, using hieroglyphics and varying alphabets, man started to use other bases for his writings including stone, wood, animal skins and papyrus.

Papyrus was rolled into scrolls which eventually gave way to the flat sheet of the codex, or the flat book of the Christian era. As vellum superseded papyrus, the written sheets were folded, gathered into sections and sewn together. From this point, the codex, or book as we know it today, with its structure and form, emerged.

History and its recording usually only shows the visual changes to the outside of the book, the style of decoration and its changes through time, the shape, the materials used, the use of gold and metal. Construction methods including natural round, sewing styles, sewing supports, attachment of boards and the many styles of corners and headbands are not generally recorded but are just as important to the modern book restorer.

The codex as we know it today emerged as early as the 2nd century AD, at first using papyrus then the stronger but more serviceable parchment/vellum. The bindings from the first to the fifth century were by todays standards, rough in their execution but definitely an important stage of the evolution. Early vellum pages were illuminated and bound into books in monasteries by the monks. The use of paper in books generally coincides with the introduction of printing in the late fifteenth century.

Thick leather thongs were used as sewing supports, and were attached into the wooden boards by means of holes and small wooden wedges. Leather thongs later gave way to fibre cords and even later to woven tapes. The early sewing supports, being raised from the spine surface became part of the spine design and are refered to as raised bands. The introduction of recessed sewing in the sixteenth century resulted in a smooth spine devoid of bands and panels. This also allowed for the introduction of the hollow back which allowed books with heavy paper to open more easily, and gave the binder the whole spine on which to apply an overall design. The French used this style of tooling with great successs, but most binders kept to the orthodox style of paneling by tooling the bands in gold. Tradition has kept the raised bands, either by them being sewn on, or by applying them as false bands. Today, we can apply leather strips as false raised bands over the most modern sewing methods to retain that look of a “real book”.

In early bindings, wood was the usual material employed as cover boards as the emergence of pulped boards later coincided with papermaking. Wood and its weight was found to be a good way of containing the “yawning” of the vellum leaves, caused by atmospheric changes. Heavy metal decorations and clasps were popular for this very same reason. Boards have changed over time, pasteboard, rope filled board, tar board,strawboard, mill board and boxboard, although modern mill board is the one recommended for use by todays binders.

Early books were generaly large and cumbersome compared to those bound after the introduction of printing. As more books could be printed, more books needed to be bound. Books became smaller in size, so binding methods were refined.

Leather has been in constant use as a covering material since the earliest times. The use of Vellum, Alum tawed pig and goat skins, Calf, Deer, Sheep and Russia leather have all been part of the books history. Covering styles have also changed over time to include full, half and quarter styles, the latter two progresivly introduced to save costs.

1821 heralded the emergence of bookcloth as a major competitor to leather.To use this new material economically, a new binding style was introduced, where the cover is made seperately from the book. The introduction some ten years later of the arming press, allowed beautiful designs to be blocked on these covers, in many colours including gold. A major proportion of bound books from this point were of this style until the paperback was introduced, which has since become the prominent style.

Prior to the 1840’s, paper was made from rag and is usually still in good condition. This period heralded the use of wood as the base for paper with sometimes disasterous results. Paper manufacturers today are trying to find a favorable balance between the two.

The tooling on the covers of books followed fashion and technology. Early books had the design hammered or pressed into the leather using punch like tools, most effective, but plain. The fifteenth century is generally accepted as the period where gold was first used for the decoration of books, Engraved brass tools and rolls were used to work the many styles including Aldine. Dentelle, Harlian, Le Gascon and Derome. These styles were influenced by the printers, publishers or collectors of the period. The Aldine style was named after Aldus Manutius the famous Venitian printer who’s influence also reduced the size of books to a more managable “pocket size”. The Harlian style is named after Lord Harley, an English collector who insisted on the newly discovered pineapple being included in the design tooled on his books.

The twentieth century has seen many changes in book construction, due mainly to machinery , new adhesives, new materials and the never ending need to produce more and cheaper books. During the last half of the 20th century we accepted the need to use permanent materials in our books, but sadly at this point, they are not in general use.

As we move into the twenty first century, Newbold & Collins are committed to the use of sound materials and practices in our bindings, and believe that whichever of history’s styles we use, we will be assessed favourably by future historians.