4406 entries. 94 themes. Last updated December 26, 2016.

Bookbinding Timeline


300 BCE – 30 CE

The Earliest Bookbindings Circa 100 BCE

The craft of bookbinding originated in India. Religious sutra, meaning "a rope or thread that holds things together," were copied onto palm leaves cut in two, lengthwise, with a metal stylus. The leaf was then dried and rubbed with ink, which formed a stain in the stylus tracings in the leaf. The finished leaves were numbered, and two long twines were threaded through each end through wooden boards. When closed, the excess twine was wrapped around the boards to protect the leaves of the book. Buddhist monks took the idea of bookbinding through what we call Persia, Afghanistan, and Iran, to China in the first century BCE.

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30 CE – 500 CE

The Form of the Manuscript Book Gradually Shifts from the Roll to the Codex Circa 150 CE – 450 CE

Several of the leather-bound codices of the Nag Hammadi Library. (View Larger)

Between about 150 and 450 CE the form of the manuscript book shifted from the roll to the codex. However, the transition was very gradual as the traditional roll format had been functional for over 2000 years. The transition may not have been "complete" until the fifth century.

"Ultimately, as its etymology indicates, the codex book evolved from wooden tablets, often with wax-filled compartments, used in ancient Rome for more or less ephemeral jottings and figurings. A group of such tablets, tied or hinged together, was known as a caudex / codex, a word originally indicating a tree trunk or block of wood (and, in Terence, a blockhead). At some stage before the Christian era folded parchments (membranae) came to be used for the same ephemeral purposes, and then were eventually adopted for permanent storage of written matter, even literary texts; and by the third century A.D. the term 'codex' had become assimilated also to these non-wooden objects" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 4).

The fourth century saw a revolution in book production which made it possible to make books large enough to hold the whole Bible in one volume. Of these, the Codex Sinaiticus and the Codex Vaticanus survived to the present. The codex also allowed the development of bindings which were protective as well as decorative. Bindings would have increased the longevity of codices versus rolls, and over time this would have been recognized as a significant advantage. T.C. Skeat also argued that there may have been cost savings in the production of information in codex form versus the traditional papyrus roll.

In his brief but highly significant monograph, Early Christian Books in Egypt (2009) Roger Bagnall took issue with the traditional view that closely associated the development of the codex with early Christianity, showing that the number of surviving Christian documents in codex form relative to the number of surviving non-Christian documents in codex form during the transitional period from the first through fourth centuries CE is proportionate to the overall percentages of Christian versus non-Christian documents surviving from the period. These statistics he correlated with the ratio of estimated Christian population versus the non-Christian population in Egypt during the same period. He also documented the high cost of producing books by hand during the first centuries of Christianity, showing that book ownership would mainly have been limited to government, the moneyed classes, or religious institutions, thus bringing into doubt the notion that Christians adopted the codex form of the book because it was associated with a form of notebook used by the "common man." One of the numerous examples he used is the so-called Theban Magical Library, a collection of non-Christian books, including many of the most famous magical papyri, which was acquired by institutions in Leiden and London in the nineteenth century, possibly from a single find in a tomb in the West Bank at Thebes, Egypt. Five of the thirteen items in this library are fourth century codices; eight are third century rolls. Bagnall observes that the dates of the rolls versus the codices correspond to the time in which the codex form is thought to have become dominant, the fourth century. His other observation was that these collections of Egyptian magical spells can in no way be called Christian documents. He concluded by retracing the origins of the codex to the Roman use of tablets strung together, suggested that no neat explanation for the transition from the roll to the codex will be found, and suggested that this transition in the form and function of the book was a "social and cultural transformation" that occurred over several centuries throughout the Roman empire, resulting from the "choice by local elites to adopt Roman ways."

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Early Christian Papyrus Codices in Coptic Bindings 300 CE – 350 CE

Codex IV found at Nag Hammadi. (View Larger)

In 1945 twelve papyrus codices, plus eight leaves from a thirteenth, were found by a local peasant near the Upper Egyptian town of Nag Hammâdi. The manuscripts had been buried in a sealed jar. Eleven of the codices were in their original leather covers. This collection of codices in Coptic bindings, called the Nag Hammadi Library, comprised fifty-two mostly Gnostic tractates or treatises, dating from about 300 to about 350, and documenting a ". . . major side-stream of early quasi-Christian thought. . . formerly attested only by the anti-heretical treatises of orthodox Christianity. . . ." (Needham).  The best-known of these works is probably the Gospel of Thomas, of which the Nag Hammadi codices contained the only complete text. They also included three works belonging to the Corpus Hermeticum, and a partial translation/alteration of Plato's Republic. The Nag Hammadi texts were all Coptic translations of works that had been originally written in Greek.

In his "Introduction" to The Nag Hammadi Library in English, 3rd ed. (1984) James M. Robinson suggested that these codices may have belonged to a nearby Pachomian monastery, and may have been buried after Bishop Athanasius condemned the uncritical use of non-canonical books in his Festal Letter of 367 CE.

This collection of codices represents one of the most extensive collections of early papyrus codices in Coptic bindings.

"The Nag Hammadi codices are written on papyrus. Their language is Coptic, the native language of Egypt as recorded in the third century A.D. and after. Coptic script is a modification of the Greek alphabet, reflecting the fact that, in its written form, Coptic was essentially the language of Egyptian Christianity, whose early literature (including the heterodox Gnostic texts) was in large part translated from the Greek. The Nag Hammadi codices were written and bound in the first half of the fourth century, presumably within a religious community. The site of the find was near Chenoboskion, where in the early fourth century a monastery was established by St. Pachomius, the founder of coventional Christian monasticism. The burial of the Gnostic writings may have followed a fourth-century purge there of heretical literature.

"The volumes consist of single-quire codices, of as many as seventy-six leaves each; in two cases, two or more distinct codices, were found together in one volume. The covers are made of prepared goatskin or sheepskin. The upper covers have flaps, similar to those later routine on Islamic bindings. . . , extending over the fore-edge and folding around to the lower cover. Leather thongs are attached to the flaps, by means of which the volumes could be wrapped up and tied. Some of the volumes also have remains of thongs on the top and bottom of the covers. The covers are more than simply wrappers, for their insides are lined with papyrus cartonnage, built up into boards over which the turn-ins of the covers were folded and glued or tied. To secure the quire in its cover, two pairs of holes were stabbed through the fold of the leaves, one pair toward the top, the other toward the bottom. A leather thong was passed through each pair, then either through the spine of the cover itself, or through a strip of leather guard, and its ends tied together. If leather guards were used, they were glued to the inside fo the covers, so that in either case the codex as attached to the cover. Several of the bindings are decorated, the most elaborate being that of Nag Hammadi Codex II. Its covers are scribed with fillets, dividing them into cross and X- (or St. Andrew's cross) patterns. Additional simple scrollwork patterns were added in ink, and what appears to be an ankh, or crux ansata, was drawn at the top of the upper cover" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings: 400-1600 [1979] 5-6).

Apart from those in the Morgan Library and Museum, most of the Nag Hammadi codices are preserved in the Coptic Museum in Cairo.

(This entry was last revised on 04-21-2014.)

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St. Jerome Criticizes Luxurious Manuscripts 384 CE

Saint Jerome. (View Larger)

"The Christian tradition of 'treasure' bindings, covered with gold and silver, ivories, enamelwork, and gems, had its origin in late Antiquity and continued unbroken for a millennium. The earliest reference to such bindings in a Christian context is found in a letter of St. Jerome, dated 384, where he writes scornfully of the wealthy Christian women whose books are written in gold on purple vellum, and clothed with gems. It is noteworthy that he specifically associates jewelled bindings with purple codices, for a dozen or more such biblical manuscripts of the fifth and sixth centuries have survived. None is any longer in its first binding, but we have a clue here to the external treatment originally given to these luxurious volumes. . . ." (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 21).

"From the time of Constantine's decree, Christian book production was in a position to develop freely, but already in Diocletian's time Latin biblical manuscripts must have been available in large numbers. A century later Jerome became impassioned about conspicuous luxury in Christian books. He wrote with biting sarcasm about biblical codices of old, badly translated texts: 'veteres libros vel in membranis purpureis auro argentoque descriptos, vel uncialibus, ut vulgo aiunt, literis onera magis exarata quam codices', i.e. manuscripts made with expensive material and with 'inch-high' letters. He compared this with his own ideal: 'pauperes scidulas et non tam pulchros codices quam emendatos', and one can refer immediately to the plain St Gall gospel manuscript (Σ) saec. V, which stands very close to the text-critic Jerome" (Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and Middle Ages [1990] 184.)

The manuscript to which Bischoff refers is Codex Sangallensis 1395, the earliest surviving copy of the Vulgate gospels.

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"The Earliest Evidence for Tooling on a Leather Bookbinding" Circa 400 CE

Page 215 of MS G.67, depicting the acts of the apostles. (View Larger)

An illuminated manuscript on vellum of the first half of the Acts of the Apostles (G. 67) written in Coptic of the Middle Egyptian dialect around the year 400, and presumably the first half of a two-voume set, is preserved in the Morgan Library and Museum.

"There is a miniature in the final quire of a crux ansata flanked by two peacocks and bearing three smaller birds. It is the earliest-known Coptic miniature. The place of discovery of this Coptic Acts has never been revealed, but it appeared in the antiquarian book trade in 1961 together with a Coptic Gospel of Matthew that must have belonged to the same find. This latter is now in the possession of William Scheide. Its script is very similar to that of the Glazier Acts, its dialect is the same, and the leaf size of both manuscripts is very nearly identical. Their small format suggests that they were made for private use. The Glazier Acts was originally dated as early as the fourth century, but recently a more generalized dating in the fifth century has been argued.

"The binding of the Scheide Matthew is now quite damaged, with loss of the entire spine or backstrip, but was identifical in type to that of the Glazier Acts. Apart from its boards, all that now remains are carbonized portions of the hinging strips. At least two other Coptic codices, also dated to the fifth century, still retain bindings of this type. One of them is in the Morgan Library, M. 910: a complete Coptic Acts, in the Sahidic dialect. Though severely damaged and partly distingetrated, from what remains the system of wooden boards, backstrip, hinge strips (four), and wrapping strips can be clearly reconstructed. The other example, a Sahidic Mark and Luke, is in the Palau-Ribes collection of the University of Barcelona.

"The fine state of preservation of the Glazier Acts binding, and especially of the goatskin backstrip is so fresh as to have cast some suspicion on its authenticity. However, considering the even more ancient Nag Hammadi find, it should not be assumed a priori that the binding is too good to be true, and that leather could not survive and remain flexible for so long. There have been various losses; the backstrip once extended at both ends, so that it could be folded over the top and bottom edges of the leaves for additional protection. The top extension is now frayed, and that at the bottom has been torn away. Two of the three wrapping strips survive, one only partially; and two of the bone securing pegs terminating the strips. Neither strip is now attached to the board. There are only remains of what were originally two plaited leather place marks, once laced into the upper board, one into the lower. In addition to fillets, the backstrip was stamped with a small tool of concentric circles, a common Coptic decorative pattern repeated on the bone pegs. This is the earliest evidence for tooling on a leather bookbinding.

"Three Egyptian bindings dated to the sixth century have survived in bindings which appear to exhibit later, fancier evolutions of this style; two are in the Chester Beatty Library, Dublin, and one in the Freer Gallery, Washington. The techniques of these bindings have not been entirely deciphered, but in all three examples, the number of hinging holes on the boards was greatly increased, to three dozen or more. In none of the three are there any signs of linkage between sewing and covers--with with the Glazier Acts and others of its group, only glue held the covers to the codex. The backstrips of the two Chester Beatty bndings were stamped with pictorial tools. The wooden covers of the Freer Gospels (a Greek text, but of Egyptian origin) are painted with portraits of the evangelists, two on each cover. It is generally thought that these painted figures were added later, perhaps in the seventh century, and were not part of the orignial conception of the binding. The evangelists are depicted holding codices, a traditional iconography, and it is curious to note that these are quite clearly represented as possessing jewelled covers. . . . "(Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbinding: 400-1600 [1979] 9-10).

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The Oldest Surviving Consular Diptych 406 CE

The mentioned diptych, portraying Emperor Honorius in both panels.

The oldest surviving diptych that can be called a consular diptych was commissioned by Anicius Petronius Probus, consul in the western empire in 406. It is the only consular diptych to bear the portrait of the emperor (Honorius in this instance, to whom the diptych is dedicated in an inscription full of humility, with Probus calling himself the emperor's "famulus" or slave) rather than a portrait of the consul. It is preserved in the cathedral treasury at Aosta.

Honorius was Emperor of the Western Roman Empire from 393 until his death in 423. Ascending to the throne at the age of only ten, Honorius was an especially weak military leader. In this diptych, however, he is portrayed in elaborate armor, holding an orb surmounted by a Victory, and a standard with the Latin words translated as "In the name of Christ, may you always be victorious." In actuality Honorius never led his troops in battle. At his death he left an empire on the verge of collapse.

A pair of linked panels, generally in ivory, wood or metal with rich sculpted decoration,  a diptych could function as a wax tablet for writing. More specifically a consular diptych was also intended as a deluxe commemorative object, commissioned by a consul ordinarius, and distributed to reward those who had supported his candidacy, and to mark his entry to that post.

"The chronology of such diptychs is clearly defined, with their beginnings marked by a decision by Theodosius I in 384 to reserve their use to consuls alone, except by an extraordinary imperial dispensation, and their end marked by the consulship's disappearance under the reign of Justinian in 541. Even so, great aristocrats and imperial civil-servants bypassed Theodosius's ban and produced diptychs to celebrate less important posts that the consulship - Quintus Aurelius Symmachus, for example, distributed some to commemorate his son's quaestorian then praetorian games in 393 and 401 respectively (Wikipedia article on consular diptych, accessed 11-19-2010).

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The Earliest Image of Codices in a Book Cabinet and Possibly the Earliest Image of a Bookbinding in Wall Art 426 CE – 450 CE

A mosaic in the so-called Lunetta di San Lorenzo in the Byzantine Mausoleo di Galla Placidia in Ravenna, Italy, represents the earliest image of codices in a book cabinet or book press or armarium— specifically codices of each of the Four Gospels lying flat on book shelves with the edges of the book blocks rather than the edges of the spines facing outward. To the right of this cabinet, on the other side of the marble lunette, the mosaic depicts the standing evangelist holding a large cross in one hand and an open codex in a chemise binding in the other hand.  This may be the earliest image of a bookbinding in wall art.

Clark, The Care of Books (1901) 41.

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The Earliest Treasure Bookcovers: Made of Ivory or Precious Metals Circa 450 CE

"The earliest treasure bookcovers can be divided into those made of ivory, and those made of precious metals. The ivory covers found their direct models in the diptychs of the late Empire. These diptychs, luxurious versions of the traditional Roman wax writing tables in hinged pairs, were distributed as gifts by various Roman high officials to commemorate their entries into office. Ivory diptychs are first mentioned in a sumptuary edict of 384, enacting that ivory might be used for the diptychs only of the two annual consules ordinarii, whose assumption of office on 1 January (though their once-powerful title was now purely honorary) inaugurated the civil year. Because of the division of the Empire, consuls were elected in pairs both in Rome and Constantinople, and so their diptychs were manufactured in both cities. Until the extinction of the consular office, in 534 in Rome and 541 in Constantinople, many thousands of consular diptychs must have been created, presumably in workshops under the direction of the Imperial scrinia, or chancery. Those surviving, less than a hundred, mostly owe their preservation to their reuse in the Middle Ages as decorations for bookcovers.

"The earliest ivory plaques made explicitly as bookcovers rather than as diptychs or casket pieces are probably a famous pair in the Cathedral Treasury of Milan. Their layout is precisely that of the most luxurious consular diptychs, those meant for presentation to the emperor himself. But in place of Imperial symbolism, the panels are covered with scenes from the lives of Christ and Mary, together with the evangelist symbols and portraits. The center panels of each cover bear respectively an Agnus Dei and a cross, worked in silver-gilt and stones and attached to the ivory. The covers must have been made for a deluxe, large-format Gospels codex, now missing. They have been dated to the second half of the fifth century, and they come from the Western Empire, but have not been more precisely localized" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbinding 400-1600 [1979] 21-22).

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500 CE – 600

Possibly the Earliest Surviving Illuminated Christian Manuscripts Circa 500 CE – 650

The manuscript before and after restoration and repagination. Image from June 2010 edition of The Arts Newspaper. (View Larger)

The Gospels of Abba Garima, an illuminated gospel book in two volumes written on vellum in the Ge'ez language and preserved in the Abba Garima Monastery east of Adwa, in the Mehakelegnaw Zone of the Tigray Region of northern Ethiopia, were, according to legend, written and partly illuminated by the Ethiopian missionary Abbu Garima, who is thought to have arrived in Ethiopia in 494 CE. Most outside scholars and scientists previously agreed that the gospels, based on Garima's teachings, were written centuries after his death, probably by priests in the tenth century. However recent radiocarbon dating carried out at Oxford University suggested a date between 330 and 650 CE for their creation, opening the possibility that the gospels were actually created by Abba Garima. If the Abba Garima Gospels date from the time of Abba Garima (circa 500)they are possibly the earliest surviving illuminated Christian manuscripts.

"The survival of the Garima Gospels is astonishing, since all other early Ethiopian manuscripts seem to have been destroyed during turbulent times. Very little is known about the history of the Abba Garima Monastery, but it may have been overrun in the 1530s by Muslim invaders. More recently, in 1896, the area was at the centre of resistance to Italian forces. The monastery's main church was destroyed by fire in around 1930.

"The survival of the Garima Gospels may have been due to the fact that they were hidden, perhaps for centuries or even for more than a millennium. The hiding spot may have been forgotten, and it could have been rediscovered by chance in relatively modern times.

"In 1520, Portugues chaplain Francisco Álvarez visited the monastery and recorded that there was a cave (now lost or destroyed), where Abba Garima was reputed to have lived. Álvarez reported that the monks would descend into it by ladder to do penance. Although speculation, it is possible that the Gospels may have been hidden in this cave" (http://ethiopianheritagefund.org/artsNewspaper.html, accessed 07-10-2010).

In 2007 the English binder and restorer Lester Capon did a partial restoration of bindings of the Abba Garima Gospels and wrote about it with great photos in the Skin Deep blog of leather manufacturers J. Hewit & Sons under the title of Extreme Bookbinding.

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The Codex Argenteus, The Primary Surviving Example of the Gothic Language Circa 520

A page from the Codex Argenteus. (View Larger)

About 520 CE the Codex Argenteus (silver codex) was written in silver and gold letters on purple vellum in probably in Ravenna, or in the Po valley, or in Brescia, probably for the Ostrogothic ruler of Italy, Theodoric

The Codex Argenteus contains fragments of the Four Gospels translated into Gothic by the fourth century Bishop Ulfilas (Wulfila), of Nicopolis ad Istrum (now Northern Bulgaria). It is the primary surviving example of the Gothic language, an extinct Germanic language that was spoken by the Goths, and set down in writing by Ulfilas who devised devised the Gothic alphabet. Of the original 336 leaves only 188 are preserved at the Carolina Rediviva library at the University of Uppsala, Sweden, plus one separate leaf, discovered, remarkably, in 1970 in the cathedral of Speyer in Germany.

During the Ostrogothic rule of Italy there was a bilateral Gothic-Latin culture, of which the Codex Brixianus, also produced in Italy at approximately the same time, survives as a Latin counterpart to the Codex Argenteus. It is believed that the Latin version of the Bible in the Codex Brixianus may be the Latin text from which Ulfilas translated the Bible into Gothic.

"With the end of Gothic rule the Gothic manuscripts in Italy were rendered valueless; what remained of them (with the exception of the Codex Argenteus) became part of that waste material which in the seventh and eighth centuries was re-used in Bobbio" (Bischoff, Latin Palaeography: Antiquity and Middle Ages [1990] 186).

After about a thousand years during which the Codex Argenteus appeared in no inventories, it was rediscovered in the middle of the 16th century in the library of the Benedictine monastery of Werden in the Ruhr, near Essen in Germany (Werden Abbey). This abbey, whose abbots were imperial princes with a seat in the imperial diets, was among the richest monasteries of the Holy Roman Empire. The Dutch physician, humanist, and linguist Johannes Goropius Becanus published the first mention of the manuscript in his 1569 book Origines Antwerpianae. In 1665 Franciscus Junius the Younger published the editio princeps of the text as Quatuor D. N. Jesu Christi euangeliorum versiones perantiquae duae, Gothica scil. et Anglo-Saxonica (Dordrecht, 1665).

In 1597 Bonaventura Vulcanius, professor of Greek at Leiden, published portions of the Gothic Bible text from the Codex Argenteus in a collection of treatises on the Goths which he edited for publication by the Plantin Press. In his preface to one of these treatises, De literis et lingua Getarum sive Gothorum, Vulcanius wrote that it represented two brief disserations by an unidentifiable scholar, the first of which he said was "concerned with the script and prounciation, and the other with the Lombardic script, which the author said he copied from a manuscript codex of great antiquity which he called 'the Silver.' This was the first publication in print of any Gothic text, and it gave the manuscript its name, Codex Argenteus. Vulcanius identified Ulfilas as the translator of Gothic text of the Bible. Vulcanius's book included images of Gothic script as compared to other ancient languages. 

"Later the manuscript became the property of the Emperor Rudolph II, and when, in July 1648, the last year of the Thirty Years' War, the Swedes occupied Prague, it fell into their hands together with the other treasures of the Imperial Castle of Hradcany. It was subsequently deposited in the library of Queen Christina in Stockholm, but on the abdication of the Queen in 1654 it was acquired by one of her librarians, the Dutch scholar Isaac Vossius. He took the manuscript with him to Holland, where, in 1662, the Swedish Count Magnus Gabriel De la Gardie bought the codex from Vossius and, in 1669, presented it to the University of Uppsala. He had previously had it bound in a chased silver binding, made in Stockholm from designs by the painter David Klöcker Ehrenstrahl" (http://www.ub.uu.se/arv/codexeng.cfm, accessed 11-22-2008).

Munkhammar, Lars. The Silver Bible: Origins and History of the Codex Argenteus. (Uppsala, 2011).

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the Codex Argenteus was available from Uppsala University Library at this link.

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How the Middle Ages Processed and Recycled Roman Culture Circa 524 – 1300

"An interest in classical antiquity never waned altogether during the centuries of the Middle Ages. In the West and particularly in Italy, the great Latin classics never ceased to be studied in the schools and cherished by individuals with a bent for letters. It is true that writers like Tacitus and Lucretius, Propertius and Catullus, just to give a few leading examples, fell quickly into oblivion after the Carolingian age, only to reappear again with the rise of humanism. But Virgil and Cicero, Ovid and Lucan, Persius and Juvenal, Horace and Terence, Seneca and Valerius Maximus, Livy and Statius, and the list is by no means complete, were always read. Virgil became also a prophet of Christianity by the fourth century and a sorcerer in the twelfth century. Some of Ovid's poems were given a Christian interpretation, while Seneca, besides being hailed as the traditional exponent of ancient morality, was also cherished as the correspondent of St. Paul, which he certain was not. Even after the fall of the Roman Empire, the idea of Rome as 'caput mundi' never faded out in the West. Neither Constantinople nor Aachen ever succeeded in achieving the universal prestige of Rome, just as neither Ravenna nor Antioch, nor Milan, nor Aquileia, nor Treves, had ever come near it during the last centuries of the Empire. The very Barbarians who invaded Italy succumbed to Latin civilization, just as some centuries before the Romans had surrended to that of conquered Greece. Towns were proud of their Roman origins. At Pavia an inscription, testifying to the existence of the town in Roman times, was preserved as a relic in a church, while the equestrian statue of a Roman Emperor, known as the 'Regisol' and removed from Ravenna, adorned one of its squares and was the visible symbol of the town and its traditions until its destruction at the hands of the French in 1796.

"That some interest in the ancient monuments remained alive is not surprising, just as it is not surprising that even smaller antiquities, such as coins, ivories, or engraved gems, were continually sought after during the Middle Ages. 'What was lost, notwithstanding the reminder contained in St. Augustine's Civitas Dei, was the Varronian idea of 'antiquitates'— the idea of a civilization recovered by systematic collection of all the relics of the past.' What led to the collection of antique objects during the Middle Ages was not their antiquity but their appeal to the eye or their rare or unusual materials, or simply because they were different; or even in some cases because they were thought to be endowed with magical powers. The antiques preserved in the treasuries of cathedrals were kept there because their materials or their craftsmanship were considered precious, not becuase they were ancient. Even those few who had a genuine interest in Antiquity were drawn to it by an attraction tempered by utilitarian considerations. The Latin classics were considered above all as repositories of unusual information or moral teachings or as collections of fine phrases suitable for quotation or insertion into one's own writings. They were certainly not seen as the expressions of a great civilization. Roman remains were employed as building materials, or as architectural models, as can be seen for instance in the interior of Autun Cathedral and on the façade of that of Saint Gilles, or they could influence sculpture, as happened in France during the early thirteenth century, when art acquired there a new vitality through the study of ancient marbles. The inscriptions left wherever Rome had ruled were sometimes considered useful models, and as such were transcribed and imitated. Statues and sarcophagi were used again, while smaller antiques were often employed for various purposes. Roman cinerary urns were frequently turned into small stoups for holy water, as may be seen in more than one church in Rome, or could even be provided with a fresh inscription, as was the inscription in honour of St. Agnes and St. Alexander, placed there during the thirteenth century by Marco, Abbot of Santa Prassede. The ivory diptychs of the consuls became covers of gospel books or were even employed to record the dead of a particular church as happened for instance to the Boethius diptych of 487, on which were entered the names of the deceased of the church of Brescia. Sometimes the figures of the consuls carved on them were turned into saints or biblical characters, as happened in a diptych now at Monza, where they became King David and St. Gregory, and in one at Prague, where the consul was transformed into none other than St. Peter himself. Engraved gems went to adorn crowns and diadems, crosses, reliquaries and book covers. Thus the cross [of Lothair] given to the Minster at Aachen by the Emperor Otho III has an ancient cameo of the young Augustus; and also at Aachen the eleventh century ambo still displays some antique ivory tablets with decidedly pagan deities.

"One thing that must be borne in mind is that the Middle Ages did not envisage classical antiquity as a different civilization or a lost Paradise. Despite the difference in religion, until Petrarch medieval men failed to notice a fracture between the classical age and their own times. To them Frederick Barbarossa was as much a Roman Emperor as Augustus or Trajan and only differed from Constantine by his having been born several centuries after him. The medieval empire and that founded by Augustus were believed to be one and the same, and classical myth was often used for decoration in a religious setting. In fact the frequent warnings that pagan art was dangerous found little response even in ecclesiastical circles. During the early Middle Ages a vigorous classical revival took place under the Carolingians. This was in many ways a real renaissance, and the widest in scope ever witnessed before that which illuminated the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. . . ." (Roberto Weiss, The Renaissance Discovery of Classical Antiquity [1969] 2-3).

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The First Surviving Metal Bookcovers Circa 550

The Antioch Chalice, with which the bookcovers were found.

"The first surviving metal bookcovers originated in the Eastern Empire. Four pairs of repoussé silver covers are known, all dated to the second half of the sixth century. Two of the pairs were apparently found in [Antioch?], Syria, together with the famous Antioch chalice, and two were found near Antalya, in southern Turkey. In all cases, the front and back covers are virtually identical. Three pairs depict standing figures of Christ or saints, two representing the figures within arched porticoes, the third showing two saints flanking a large cross. The fourth pair represents a large cross between two trees, again within an arched portico. The earliest western metal work bookcovers (though their origin has been disputed) are the pair presented by the Lombard queen, Theodelinda (d. 625) to the Basilica of St. John the Baptist in Monza. The covers again are identical, each bearing a gem-encrusted cross over a gold background surrounded by a frame of red glass cloisonné" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 22).

The pair of metal bookcovers found with the Antioch chalice are preserved, along with the chalice, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. They are described and illustrated in Minor (ed.) The History of Bookbinding 525-1950 AD (1957) nos. 3 & 4, plate II.

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The Scriptorium and Library at the Vivarium Circa 560

An image from Codex Amiantinus. (Click to view larger.)

About 560, after the execution of Boethius, Roman statesman Magnus Aurelius Cassiodorus Senator (generally known as Cassiodorus) retired and formed a school and monastery at his estate at Squillace in the far south of Italy. He named it the Vivarium, after the fishponds which were a "feature of its civilized lifestyle." The monastery included a purpose-built scriptorium intended to collect, copy, and preserve texts. Former magister officiorum to Theodoric, the Ostrogothic ruler of Rome, Cassiodorus lived in the twilight of Late Antiquity. His Vivarium was the last effort, at the very close of the Classical period, to bring Greek learning to Latin readers, a concern shared by Boethius who had been executed in 524.

Prior to founding the Vivarium, Cassiodorus, along with Pope Agapetus I had desired to found a seminary modeled after the School of Nisibis, about which Cassiodorus had learned in Constantinople from the Quaestor Junillus. However, resources were insufficient for such a large project.

"Cassiodorus was not so much concerned with preserving ancient literature as with educating Christian clerics. But he saw, as Augustine had seen, that a grounding in the traditional liberal arts was a necessary preliminary to the interpretation and understanding of the Bible. This program of study, set out in his treatise on divine and secular learning, Institutiones divinarum et saecularium literarum, necessarily involved a supply of books and the foundation of a library. His monks were enjoined to copy manuscripts as an act of piety, paying close attention the accuracy and presentation of their handiwork. Pagan works stood on the shelves as ancillary to Christian studies, The library of Cassiodorus, apparently arranged by subject in at least ten armaria (book cupboards), is the only sixth-century example of which there is definite knowledge.

"The monastery of Vivarium and its library seem not to have long survived the death of Cassiodrus circa 580, but amid growing political distintegration and cultural decay it set an example that was widely followed elsewhere (M. Davies, "Medieval Libraries" in D. Stam (ed.) International Dictionary of Library Histories I [2001] 104-5).

At the Vivarium Cassiodorus had monks produce a vast pandect of the bible called the Codex Grandior. He also had them copy out nine volumes of his own work, Institutiones divinarum et saecularium litterarum. "Along with detailed instruction for a religious routine, the author told how manuscripts should be handled, corrected, copied, and repaired, and included what amounted to an annotated bibliography of the best literature of the time " (Harris, History of Libraries in the Western World 4th ed [1999] 91).

Cassiodorus also stated "that biblical manuscripts should be bound in covers worthy of their contents, and he added that he had provided a pattern book with specimens of different kinds of bindings"  (Graham Pollard, Early Bookbinding Manuals [1984] 1). This may be the earliest detailed reference to bookbinding.

"From his [Cassiodorus's] writings we know that the library founded by him possessed 231 codices of 92 different authors, amongst which were five codices on medical subjects, including the works of Hippocrates, Galen, Dioscorides, Celsus and Coelius Aurelianus" (Capparoni, "Magistri Salernitani Nondum Cogniti". A Contribution to the History of the Medical School of Salerno. [1923] 3).

After the death of Cassiodorus the manuscripts at the Vivarium were dispersed, though some of them found their way into the library maintained at the Lateran Palace in Rome by the Popes.

The image is from the Codex Amiatinus, which is thought to be based upon Cassiodorus' Codex Grandior.

(This entry was last revised on 09-22-2015.)

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600 – 700

The Earliest Western Metalwork Bookcovers Circa 600

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"The earliest western metalwork bookcovers (though their origin has been disputed) are the pair presented by the Lombard queen Theodolinda (d. 625) to the Basilica of St. John the Baptist in Monza. The covers again are identical, each bearing a gem-encrusted cross over a gold background, surrounded by a frame of red glass cloissonné.

"As with the Syrian and Byzantine silver covers, it is not known what codex Theodelinda's covers might have contained. Not until Carolingian times can the covers of treasure bindings be connected to the original codices, and even then clear-cut examples are few" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 22).

The source of the image may be found at this link.

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The Illuminated Gospel Book as a Tool for Evangelization 627

York Minster (View Larger)

The cathedral at York, York Minster, was constructed first of wood in 627, and then in 637 in stone ."A period of instability followed with York vulnerable to attack from Penda of Mercia and the Britons of North Wales. We know that the city was overrun at least twice and probably three times between the death of Oswald in 641/2 and the Battle of the Winwaed in 654/5. In about 670 St. Wilfred took over the see of York and found the structure of Edwin's church fairly lamentable 'The ridge of the roof owing to its age let the water through, the windows were unglazed and the birds flew in and out, building their nests, while the neglected walls were disgusting to behold, owing to all the filth caused by the rain and the birds.'

"Saint Wilfred set to work renewing the roof and covering it with lead, whitewashing the interior walls and installing glass windows. Based on descriptions given of other churches built at a similar time it is possible to understand something of how Wilfred's restored church at York would have looked to the 7th century worshippers who entered it. The altar, within which relics were deposited, would have been decorated with purple silk hangings of intricate woven design. Upon the altar, raised by a book rest and in a jewelled binding, would stand the illuminated gospel book. The walls and probably also the testudo (a wooden partition screening the altar) would be adorned with icons painted on wooden panels depicting the types and anti-types of the Old and New Testaments. These church paintings were essential to the evangelization of England, being the only effective way of explaining the 'the new worship' to an illiterate population. Gregory the Great called them 'the books of the unlearned'."

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The Earliest European Book that Survived Completely Intact in its Original Binding Circa 650

The binding of the Stonyhurst Gospel. (View Larger)

The St. Cuthbert Gospel of St. John, also known as the Stonyhurst Gospel, a pocket-sized (3.5 x 5 inch) 7th-century gospel book written in Latin is one of the smallest surviving early Latin manuscripts. It belonged to Saint Cuthbert of Lindisfarne, and was discovered in 1104 when Cuthbert's tomb was opened so that his relics could be transferred to a new shrine behind the altar of Durham Cathedral. The manuscript had been placed in the tomb of Saint Cuthbert probably a few years after his death in 687. It was kept at Durham cathedral with other relics until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by Henry VIII between 1536-1541, after which it was preserved by a series of private collectors. It is the earliest English book that survived completely in its original state in its original binding, and only manuscript written entirely in Capitular Uncial, a display script found exclusively in manuscripts written in the scriptorium of Wearmouth-Jarrow Abbey, where it was written during the abbacy of Ceolfrith.

"The state of preservation of this small volume (less than 5½ inches tall) might fairly be described as miraculous. Its leather is crimson-stained goatskin, stretched over thin wooden boards. Various details of the workmanship and decoration reveal a generally Mediterranean if not specifically Coptic influence. A direct Coptic influence is not indeed impossible, the relations between Coptic and Hiberno-Saxon art at this time having been long recognized; but it should be recalled that bookbinding models would also have been available at Wearmouth and Jarrow from the codices, already mentioned, recently imported from Italy. In any case the specific decorative technique of the upper cover of the Stonyhurst Gospel is precisely paralleled in Egyptian leatherwork. This technique involves the applciation of glued cords to the board, laid out in a pattern. Leather is then stretched over the board, and worked around the cords, bring out the pattern in relief.

"Three more European leather bindings of roughly comparable antiquity are preserved in the Landesbibliothek, Fulda. All come from the monastery of Fulda, where by ancient tradition they were thought to have belonged to St. Boniface (d. 754), the Anglo-Saxon martyr and apostle to the Germans, who was buried there. The binding of one of these, the Cadmug Gospels (written by an Irish scriber of that name), has many points of similarity with the Stonyhurst Gospel binding. Both are small volumes; their leather is similar in color and character; and both have pigments in the scribed lines decorating the covers. They are sewn in what may very generally be called the Coptic manner: the quires are linked by the sewing thread(s), without the use of cords, and the threads are attached directly to the boards, by loops passing through holes drilled in the boards near their back edges. . . ." (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 57-58).

According to an inscription pasted to the inside cover of the manuscript, the manuscript was obtained by the 3rd Earl of Lichfield (d. 1743) who gave it to Reverend Thomas Phillips (d. 1774) who donated it to the English Jesuit college at Liège on 20 June 1769.  Since 1769 the manuscript was owned by the Society of Jesus (British Province), and for most of this period was in the library of Stonyhurst College, Lancashire, successor to the Liège college. In 1979 the Society of Jesus placed the manuscript on loan to the British Library.

In February 2014 a digital facsimile of the manuscript was available from the British Library at this link.

♦ In July 2011 the British Library launched a campaign to raise £9,000,000 to buy the manuscript from the Society of Jesus (British Province), and on April 16, 2012 they announced that the purchase had been completed. To launch their campaign the British Library produced the following video. Beneath that is a news video broadcast after the purchase was successful.

(This entry was last revised on 08-10-2014.)

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The Finest Surviving Coptic Bookbinding Circa 650 – 750

MS M.569 of the Pierpont Morgan Library, considered the finest surviving Coptic bookbinding. (View Larger)

A Coptic bookbinding removed from an illuminated manuscript on parchment of the Four Gospels (MS M. 569) attributed to the Monastery of Holy Mary Mother of God, Perkethoout near Hamuli, Faiyum, Egypt, and preserved in the Morgan Library and Museum, is considered "the finest surviving Coptic bookbinding." It is tooled goatskin over papyrus boards; decorated with onlaid panels of red leather tracery sewn to a gilded leather ground, with plain edges. 

"In 1910 the library of the ancient Coptic monastery of St. Michael of the Desert was discovered in southern Faym, near the village of Hamuli. Nearly sixty parchment volumes were found in a stone cistern, many still in their original bindings; they compose the largest surviving group of inact Coptic codices coming from a single source. The following year, Pierpont Morgan purchased the Hamuli manuscripts from a Paris art dealer, almost en bloc. At least five of the codices had already strayed, and are now in the Coptic and Egyptian Museums in Cairo, and a number of fragments, broken up from whole codices after the find, were more widely dispersed. That the remainder was kept together was due especially to the efforts of Professors Emile Chassinat and Henry Hyvernat.

"Before the discovery of the Hamuli codices there was no record of the monastery of Archangel Michael, but it was well known that the Fayum had been a thriving center of Coptic religious life, and that dozens of monasteries had been situated there. The Hamuli codices are all service books, intended for public reading, and their format is large. Only six are less than thirteen inches tall (33 cm.), and only one less than twelve inches (30cm.). They include various parts of the Bible, a Lectionary, an Antiphonary, and many volumes of Synaxeries, collections of readings--hagiographic, homiletic, and more generaly devotional--belonging to particular feast days. The number of distinct texts, exclusive of the Bible, numbers well over one hundred, many otherwise unknwon. Twenty of the codices have dated colophons, from 823 to 914, containing valuable information concerning the organization and personnel of St. Michael's, and its relations with neighboring monasteries. The relatively narrow chronological span of the codices suggests that the monastery disbanded or was destroyed sometime in the tenth century.

"It should be explained that through this period Egypt was part of the Islamic world, having fallen abruptly out of the Byzantine sphere in 641. This transfer of imperium had few if any immediate deleterious effects on Egyptian Christianity, which was already thoroughly aliented from Byzantium. Its submergence into a minority role in Egypt (but always and still an important one) came about gradually, as did the disappearance of the Coptic language. The general policy of medieval Islam toward Christian and Jewish subjects was tolerant, though they were required to pay a special infidels' tax. There were a number of sporadic instances of persecution in Egypt, the most extensive being that initiated by the Fatimid caliph al-Hakim (996-1020), which is known to have resulted in the destruction of many churches and monasteries. It may have been at this time that St. Michael of the Desert went under" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] no. 2, 12).

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The Codex Amiatinus: the Earliest Surviving Complete Bible in the Latin Vulgate, Containing One of the Earliest Surviving Images of Bookbindings and a Bookcase Circa 688 – 716

Folio 5r of Codex Amiatinus, showing Ezra. (View Larger)

About 688 Abbot Ceolfrid (Ceolfrith) of Wearmouth-Jarrow, teacher of Bede, commissioned three complete Bibles of the "new translation" (tres pandectes novae translationis) to be copied at the Wearmouth-Jarrow scriptorium. These pandects resulted from intensive study of the biblical texts directed by Ceolfrid based on the library of Wearmouth-Jarrow, including a pandect of the "old translation" (Jerome's Latin Vulgate) which Ceolfrid had brought back from Rome after one of his two visits there, or which had been brought to Northmbria from Rome in 678 by the founder of the two monasteries, Benedict Biscop. That manuscript is thought to have been a "lost Vivarium manuscript" (M. Davies, "Medieval Libraries" in D. Stam (ed.) International Dictionary of Library Histories, I [2001] 105). This lost manuscript was most probably one of Cassiodorus's Bibles from the Vivarium at Squillace— probably the Codex grandior littera clariore conscriptus. "For centuries it [the Codex Amiatinus] was considered an Italo-Byzantine manuscript, and it was only recognized for its English production about a century ago" (Browne, Painted Labyrinth. The World of the Lindisfarne Gospels [2004] 9).

Two of Ceolfrid's new pandects were placed in each of the twin churches of Wearmouth-Jarrow. However, apart from a fragment known as the Ceolfrid Bible, only the third copy of the huge Bible, which Ceolfrid intended as a gift to the Pope, survived. This huge codex, later known as the Codex Amiatinus, completed by seven (some say nine) different scribes, is the earliest surviving manuscript of the complete Bible in the Latin Vulgate version, and is considered the most accurate copy of St. Jerome's text. It contains "a spectrum of scripts"—formal Uncial, Capituilar Uncial and Rustic Capital. These "furnish paleographical criteria for identifying other manuscripts produced in the scriptorium in the time of Abbot Ceolfrid and his successor Abbot Hwaetberht" (Parkes, The Scriptorium of Wearmouth-Jarrow. Jarrow Lecture,1982, p. 3). (Other manuscripts produced at the scriptorium include the St. Petersburg Bede.)

The frontispiece of the Codex Amiatinus illustrated here shows a saintly figure, presumably the Old Testament prophet Ezra, or possibly Cassiodorus himself characterized as Ezra, writing a manuscript on his lap, and seated before an open book cupboard or armarium which contains a Bible in nine volumes, like the Codex grandior known to have been owned by Cassiodorus. This is one of the earliest surviving images of bookbindings, and also one of the earliest surviving images of an early form of bookcase. Clasps holding the covers of the bindings closed are clearly visible on the fore-edges of the bound manuscripts lying on the shelves—one of the earliest images of this binding feature. In Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 (1979; 57) Paul Needham suggested that the designs on the bookbindings as they are represented in the miniature bear similarities to the designs of early Coptic bookbindings.

To offer the Codex Amiatinus as a present to Pope Gregory II, Abbot Ceolfrid, made the long journey from England to Rome in old age, departing in 716. Though Ceolfrid died on the journey, his associates brought the volume to the Pope as a cultural "ambassador of the English nation." It was used in the revision of the Vulgate by Pope Sixtus V in 1585-90. 

One of the largest and heaviest of all medieval manuscripts, the single volume of the Codex Amiatinus weighs 75 pounds. The costs involved in its production were discussed by Richard Gameson in "The Cost of the Codex Amiatinus," Notes & Queries, 39, No. 1 (March 1992) 2-9. I quote from pp. 4-8 (excluding the many valuable footnotes, as usual):

"Measuring c. 505 x 340 mm. (with a written area of 360-75 x 260) and consisting of 1,030 folios, the Codex Amiatinus is a truly gigantic book. Its text, in which the hands of some seven scribes have been distinguished, is written through in stately uncial, two columns to the page, per cola et commata, and must been very time-consuming to produce, even given the efficient subdivision of labour that is apparent in it. Of the other seven extant bible or biblical codex fragments which are of early Anglo-Saxon origin one is written in half uncial, four in minuscule (generally cursive), one in hybrid minuscule, and one partly in hybrid minuscule, partly in half uncial - in each case their writing would have proceeded more quickly than that of Ceolfrith's volumes. The Codex Amiatinus is enhanced with a limited amount of decoration, including as a pictorial frontispiece to the Old Testament the much-reproduced image of the scribe Ezra at work, painstakingly copied from a mediterranean model. The inclusion of purple-stained pages futher underlines the care that was taken over the production and the opulence of its conception, an opulence that was entirely consonant with the exalted functions envisaged for all three volumes. The fact that the appearance and dimensions (480 x 355 mm; written area 360 x 255) of the leaves which remain from the companion volumes are closely comparable to those of Amiatinus suggests that they were in no way inferior to their extant sister.

"What then were the 'overheads' of this project? In the particular circumstances of the Wearmouth-Jarrow scriptorium (wherever that was and however it be construed) during the late seventh and early eighth century, time was always free - in the sense that no one was being paid per hour or per stint - and often of no great consequence: assuming there was no fixed deadline for a project, if the work were not finished this year then there was always next year, and if for some reason a stint could not be accomplished by one scribe, then there was always another. Consequently the manpower required to compile and write the three giant bibles, labour-intensive tasks though they undoubtedly were, cost nothing in real terms. It is the fabric alone that represents quantifiable expense and it is to this that attention has previously been directed and to which we must now turn. In his seminal study of the Codex Amiatinus published in 1967, Rupert Bruce-Mitford set out some basic data concerning the material that was required to make Ceolfrith's three bibles - data which has been quoted in suitably awed tones ever since - and there seems no reason to quibble with his statistics. Altogether the three volumes are likely to have consisted of some 1,545 bifolia of calf-skin. Now, since in order to obtain unblemished parchment sheets of c. 1010 x 680 mm one would require a new animal skin for each, making no allowance for wastage this represents the pelts of 1,545 calves. This is indeed a large number of animals and Bruce-Mitford rightly concluded that 'only rich and well-run communities could afford to produce books of this calibre'. Yet whether it necessarily implies the existence of great herds of cattle as he also surmised is not so clear, as we shall see; and it is worth pondering in more detail what sort of expense, and hence what sort of riches, it actually represented.

"Before addressing this question directly, however, we should consider the case of Ceolfrith's bibles in a broader historical perspective. It is worth pointing out that, although as has been emphasized, the creation of the three pandects was an exceptionally ambitious undertaking, it is unlikely that the twin foundation's need of skins for parchment dropped substantially during the following century; indeed given the obligation to meet the international demand for copies of the numerous works of their prolific house author, Bede, quite the reverse may well have been the case. In comparison with the Codex Amiatinus, the eighth-century Wearmouth-Jarrow copies of Bede's Historia Eccleiastica which are now in Leningrad and London are small and modestly conceived. Both are economically written in Anglo-Saxon minscule, decoration being confined to a minimum; the former consists of 162 folios, 270 x 190 mm. in size, the latter (in its fire-damaged shrunken state) of 200 folios, measuring 236 x 170 mm. In both these cases at least two and possibly more bifolia could be obtained from a single skin; but even so it is unlikely that fewer than thirty animals would have been needed to make each book. Not much less would have been required for the eighth-century Wearmouth-Jarrow copy of Bede, In Proverbia Salomonis, which is preserved in the Bodleian Library. Clearly to transcribe even a single copy of each of the nearly forty items on the list of works composed by Bede which he appended to the final book of his Historia Ecclesiastica would presuppose the pelt of several substantial herds; and far from confining themselves to single copies, the community seems to have been beleagured with requests for these texts from home and abroad. We may safely conclude that the Codex Amiatinus does not represent the peak of Wearmouth-Jarrow's parchment needs; rather it stands at the beginning of a period of consistently high if not higher consumption. The crucial point is that whatever the cost of the material of Ceolfrith's great project, the community continued to bear equivalent, if not greater 'publishing' expensives in the following generation.

"As our ignorance concerning the actual number of books written at a given Anglo-Saxon foundation in a particular year is equalled by our lack of knowledge about contemporary herd sizes, it is impossible to assess the economic implications of the need for skins for making books except in very general terms. It is evident that by 700 there must have been a much greater demand for this commodity in certain areas of the country than had been the case a century earlier; on the other hand, the imposition that this new use of skins represented (and hence its relative cost) should not be overestimated. In the case of Ceolfrith's bibles there are five considerations which suggest that the outlay reflected in the 1,545 calf-skins was not actually as formidable as the naked statistic of their number alone might seem to suggest.

"In the first place, the fact that Benedict Biscop had managed to equip his twin foundation with a large book collection acquired en masse from Rome, meant that at the end of the seventh century Wearmouth-Jarrow had less need than other ascendant or aspirant intellectual centres to copy texts for its library. Consequently it could more readily afford to deploy its resources in the production of monumental, and newly edited, deluxe volumes elegantly written in uncial letters. The cost of the Codex Amiatinus must be considered in relation to the singular circumstances of a house whose foundation endowment favoured the growth of a scriptorium which was specifically geared to the production of a modest number of high quality books.

"The use of a time-consuming script and the fact that the Codex Amiatinus as a whole was patently the product of painstaking workmanship alerts us to the second point, namely that progress on the project is likely to have been slow. Consequently, the slaughter of the 1,545 calves whose hides became the parchment of the three bibles was not a single act of preparation: on the contrary it represents the accumulation of an uncertain but undoubtedly considerable number of years. if as is not impossible, the project were initiated soon after Ceolfrith became sole abbot of the twin community in 688, while his decision to depart for Rome in 716 reflects the final completion of the presentation volume, then we have a potential working period of some twenty-eight years. Dividing the total of skins accordingly, we are left with an average annual requirement of fifty-five or so - hardly large herd. Now of course we do not know over how many seasons the project actually stretched and this is probably the maximum extreme; yet even if the work were accomplished from start to finish within a decade, which perhaps a not unreasonable estimate, the average annual requirement of skins is still only one hundred and sixty five.

"Thirdly, we should remember that these slaughtered calves did not just provide vellum: they also represented a very considerable number of hot dinners for someone! And once the flesh had been eaten and the hide taken for vellum, the carcasses could still make many other contributions to society -  the horns might be used as receptacles (to hold ink amongst other things) or be carved into spoons, the hooves and head could be boiled to make glue, the bones might be worked into any number of items such as combs and pins, or could be ground, mixed with dried blood and used as fertilizer, and so on. As each slaughtered animal provided very much more than just a pelt, the value of the parchment cannot simply be equated with the bare number of beasts it represents. The number of animals that were required for a book can of course be used to indicate its relative expense (showing that the Codex Amiatinus consumed at least seventeen times more resources than the Leningrad Bede for example), but it must be stressed that the absolute cost of the parchment in question was considerably less than the value of this total of animals.

"Fourthly, there is no reason to assume that Wearmouth-Jarrow itself (or any other young Christian establishment for that matter) was solely responsible for raising a sufficient number of animals to supply its parchment needs. Monastic animal husbandry, such as is alluded to in Bede's account of the Abbot Eosterwine of Wearmouth, no doubt accounted for some of the skins that were used, but equally many, if not the majority, were probably acquired as tithes from the surrounding lands. When kings and nobles granted estates to the new communities, in many cases they were simply tranferring to the religious house the ownership of, and hence the right to tithes of produce from, farmsteads that continued to be run by their existing tenants. The traditional occupants now merely owed their dues to the church rather than to a secular lord. The Laws of Ine (688 x 94) c. 70.1 enumerates a lengthy list of produce and livestock as the 'food rent' which is due from an estate of ten hides. We are ill informed about the details of such arrangements, but clearly organizing the annual supply of payments in kind from rent-owning properties was crucially important for the economic well-being of religious foundations. Equally clearly if these rights were to be used to underwrite the production of parchment, a purpose for which they were surely invaluable, measures must have been taken first to commute the dues to a relevant form and then to ensure the delivery of young beasts with suitable pelts. The latter is an issue to which we shall return. The key point to stress here is that the parchment consumption of Wearmouth-Jarrow should be considered in relation to the fact that by 716 the joint community had acquired the right to use the resources of an estate which consisted of at least 150 hides of land (the living of 150 families) - a considerable amount and undoubtedly a very useful and versatile resource.

"Finally, we should remember that is likely to have been standard farming practice at the time to reduce stock at the approach of winter rather than to try to carry all the herd or flock through (a point indirectly reflected in the Old English name for November, blothmonao, and one which receives pictorial commemoration in the scenes of slaughter that habitually illustrate this month in the calendars of later medieval manuscripts). Thus many calves were probably killed at this time, if not shortly after birth. Sucessful Anglo-Saxon animal husbandry implied, quite simply, a high annual slaughter rate. Clearly, then, the need to secure skins to make parchment could easily be integrated into the existing patterns of livestock farming and extensive usage of animal products. This is an important point; and as England's climate is and was generally well-suited to successful animal husbandry, it is unlikely that the need for parchment in the quantities in question placed any strain upon livestock and farming resources (or for that matter represented inconvenient competiton for raw materials to the tanning 'industry'). The fact that not one of the extant Anglo-Saxon manuscripts or fragments produced before c.800 is a palimpsest, although principally to be seen in relation to the circumstance that the leaves which are likely to have been available for re-cycling at this time would themselves have belonged to relevant, modern acquisitions in the Christian period, still perhaps provides some limited independent confirmation of the ready availability of skins for parchment in seventh- and eighth-century England. Parchment, we may conclude is likely to have been a valued and valuable but not essentially expensive commodity (a crucial distinction) in early Christian Anglo-Saxon England, and was certainly not one that would have been difficult to obtain. The amout of it that was actually required year by year to make Ceolfrith's three bibles was not especially great, as we have seen, particularly when considered in relation to Wearmouth-Jarrow's extensive resources. . . . "

The manuscript, long kept in the abbey of Monte AmiataAbbadia San Salvatore in Tuscany, from which its name is derived, is preserved in the Laurentian Library (Bibliotheca Medicea Laurenziana) in Florence.

Alexander, Insular Manuscripts 6th to 9th Century (1978) No. 7.

ABBOTS OF WEARMOUTH AND JARROW. Bede's Homily i. 13 on Benedict Biscop. Bede's History of the Abbots of Wearmouth and Jarrow. The Anonymous Life of Ceolfrith. Bede's Letter to Ecgbert, Bishop of York. Edited and Translated by Christopher Grocock and I. N. Wood (2013).

(This entry was last revised on 08-24-2014.)

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700 – 800

Creation of the Lindisfarne Gospels 715 – 720

Folio 27r of the Lindisfarne Gospels. (View Larger)

Between 715 and 720 Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne, undertook the production of the Lindisfarne Gospels. Among the many features of this masterpiece are the compass marks, grids and lead-point drawings visible on the backs of the carpet pages. These show how the scribe created the designs for the elaborate illuminations, and reflect clear connections with the design methods used in sculpture and metalwork from the region. The Celtic designs of the manuscript observe the rules of sacred geometry, and are thought to reflect a blend of Eastern "eremitic"  and Western monastic traditions.

"Details were added freehand with a lead-point, the forerunner of the pencil. The use of this was apparently invented by the artist-scribe some 300 years ahead of its time as an alternative to the usual hard-point of bone or metal, which would hae trapped the apint of the fine web of oranment in the furrows it produced (as it did not elave a graphic mark on the page but only dented impressions" (Brown, Painted Labyrinth, 34).

According to a colophon added in the tenth century by Aldred at Chester-le-Street, the Lindisfarne Gospels were created by

"the artist-scribe Eadfrith, Bishop of Lindisfarne (698-721); the binder Bishop Aethilwald of Lindisfarne (c. 721-750); the metalworker who adorned the binding or book-shrine (now replaced by a 19-century treaure binding), Billfirth the Anchorite, or hermit (who died sometime before 840). Aldred says that the work was undertaken for God and St. Cuthbert. An inscription added some 250 years later cannot be taken at face value, and Ireland, Echternach in Luxembourg and Jarrow have also been proposed as possible places of production of the Lindisfarne Gospels. However, historical and stylistic evidence indicate that the colophon may be right" (Michelle P. Brown, Painted Labyrinth. The World of the Lindisfarne Gospels [2004] 14). 

"The Gospels are richly illustrated in the insular style, and were originally encased in a fine leather binding covered with jewels and metals made by Billfrith the Anchorite in the 8th century. During the Viking raids on Lindisfarne, however, this cover was lost, and a replacement made in 1852. The text is written in insular script" (Wikipedia article on Lindisfarne Gospels, accessed 12-15-2008).

The Gospels were taken from Durham Cathedral during the dissolution of the monasteries ordered by Henry VIII, and were acquired in the early 17th century by Sir Robert Bruce Cotton from Thomas Walker, Clerk of the Parliaments. Cotton's library came to the British Museum in the 18th century, and from there to the British Library.

Brown, The Lindisfarne Gospels. Society, Spirituality and the Scribe (2003).

In February 2014 selected pages from the Lindisfarne Gospels were available from the British Library at this link.

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Early Chinese Bookbinding Techniques as Practiced in Dunhuang Circa 750 – 950

"In AD 755 a major rebellion in China forced the government to recall its troops from the western regions. The armies of the Tibetan empire moved in to fill the vacuum and most of the Silk Road towns, including Dunhuang, were under Tibetan control for the next century. Trade with central China was cut off and therefore previously imported items, such as high quality paper, were no longer available. Although Dunhuang was retaken by local troops loyal to China in AD 851, by this time Chinese imperial power was in decline and the contacts of the western regions with the centre were still not strong. From the quality of the paper and the colophons to some of the texts, we know that many of the booklets found at Dunhuang date from the late-Tang and Five Dynasties period (AD 907-960). Unlike many other items in the Dunhuang collection, the majority of these booklets were not produced in central China and brought in to the region, but were made locally in Dunhuang, often by the very people who used them.  

"One of the most interesting aspects of the Dunhuang booklets is the sheer variety of different formats. Not only are there examples of both butterfly binding and thread binding, but there are also many booklets which have been made by combining features of different formats to create a new type of binding" (http://idp.bl.uk/education/bookbinding/bookbinding.a4d, accessed 05-21-2013).

In May 2013 I came across a remarkable illustrated study of early Chinese bookbinding techniques on the International Dunhuang Project: The Silk Road Online website of the British Library, from which the above quotation was taken.

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One of the Great Treasures of Early Carolingian Metalwork 760

The ornate cover on the Lindau Gospels, located in the Pierpont Morgan Library. (View Larger)


The gilt silver, enamel, and jeweled lower cover on the Lindau Gospels, MS M1 in the Morgan Library & Museum, was executed in Austria, possibly in Salzburg, during the second half of the 8th century.

"In 1899, Pierpont Morgan purchased the Lindau Gospels from the heirs of the 4th Earl of Ashburnham; it was the first major mediaeval manuscript to enter his collections. He acquired, in this single volume, three outstanding examples of Carolingian book art: an important ninth-century illuminated manuscript from the scriptorium of St. Gall, and two of the finest surviving Carolingian metalwork bookcovers. The two covers, however, may be separated by as much as a century, and it is certain that the older of the covers did not originally belong to this codex, however early it was assimilated to it. The covers and codex can be traced back as an entity no further than 1594, the date stamped on the red morocco spine of the volume. It has not been determined whether the jewelled covers were added to the codex then, or whether repairs were made at that date to an existing bound volume, already with jewelled covers. Nor has it been established where the volume was in 1594; the first explicit record placing it in the Benedictine nunnery of Lindau, from which it takes its name, comes in 1691. Lindau is on a small island in Lake Constance, just offshore near the northeast corner. St. Gall, where the Gospels was written, is southwest of Lindau, across the lake and inland, at a direct distance of about twenty miles."

"It has long been recognized that the lower cover of the Lindau Gospels is considerably earlier than the date of the manuscript, and could not have been designed for it. This cover is one of the great treasures of early Carolingian metalwork. It has elicited a considerable literature, characterized by widely varying opinions concerning its localization and date. Such a diversity of opinion is understandable, for although the cover was clearly designed as a unit, a variety of techniques and motifs make up its individual components. The basic layout consists of an enamelled cross (both champlevé and cloisonné) within an enamelled flrame, over four background silver-gilt panels of complex engraved animal interlace patterns. The cross-in-frame motif is similar to that of Queen Theodelinda's bookcovers, mentioned above, though an interval of as much as 200 years separate the two peices of work; and, on both, the arms of the cross broaden where they join the frame (cross pattée). The four cloisonné representations of the bust of Christ on the Lindau cover, one on each arm about the center of the cross, may be related to the late seventh-century gold Cross of Duke Gisulf, each arm of which contains two repoussé portrait heads, presumably Christ's.

"Many scholars have been struck by the resemblance of the animal interlaces on the quadrants to Hiberno-Saxon decorative schemes, and several have noted a general resemblance in layout to several of the carpet-pages in the Lindisfarne Gospels of ca. 700, on which a cross pattern is brought out against an animal-interlace background. An even more specific stylistic connection has been established for the animal interlaces in the two gilt silver engraved medallions laid into the vertical arms of the cross: these follow precisely the 'gripping-beast' pattern of Viking animal ornament. Their earliest appearance in Viking art is on objects from the Oseberg ship-find, which have been dated to between 800 and 850. It has sometimes been asserted that the Viking gripping-beast style was derived from Carolingian prototypes, but this cannot be documented—unless indeed the Lindau Gospels lower cover is considered as a precedent Carolingian example" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 25-26).

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The Codex Aureus of Lorsch and its Dispersal 778 – 820

Folio 72v of the Codex Aureus of Lorsch, depicting Christ. (View Larger)

The Codex Aureus of Lorsch, also known as the Lorsch Gospels, is one of the masterpieces of manuscript illumination produced during the period of Charlemagne's rule over the Frankish Empire.

"It was located for the first time in Lorsch Abbey (Germany), where it was mentioned as Evangelium scriptum cum auro pictum habens tabulas eburneas in the catalogue of the Abbey's library, compiled in 830 under Abbot Adelung. Considering gold letters in the manuscript and its location at Lorsch it was named the Codex Aureus Laurensius. In the tenth and eleventh centuries, the library of Lorsch was the one of the best libraries of the world."

Just prior to Lorsch's dissolution in 1563 the manuscript was taken to Heidelberg and incorporated into the Bibliotheca Palatina in Heidelberg, from which it was stolen in 1622 during the Thirty Years' War

". . . the codex was broken in two and the covers torn off. The richly illustrated first half reached the Migazzi Library and after that was sold to Bishop Ignac Batthyani. This section is now in Alba Iulia, Romania, and belongs to Batthyaneum Library. The second half is in the Vatican Library. The front cover is held by the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, and the back cover by the Vatican Museums of Rome" (Wikipedia article on the Codex Aureus of Lorsch, accessed 11-23-2008).

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A Book of Psalms from the Late 8th Century Found in a Bog in 2006 Circa 780

In July 20, 2006 a 1,200-year-old Book of Psalms was found by a construction worker in a bog in Ireland. This was the first discovery of its kind in 200 years.

"Fragments of what appear to be an ancient Psalter or Book of Psalms were uncovered by a bulldozer in a bog in the south Midlands. It is impossible to say how the manuscript ended up in the bog. It may have been lost in transit or dumped after a raid, possibly more than a thousand to twelve hundred years ago." The Director of the National Museum of Ireland, Dr. Pat Wallace, commented that "it is not so much the fragments themselves, but what they represent, that is of such staggering importance. In my wildest hopes, I could only have dreamed of a discovery as fragile and rare as this. It testifies to the incredible richness of the Early Christian civilization of this island and to the greatness of ancient Ireland." The find has even been compared with that of the Dead Sea Scrolls. The pages recovered appear to be those of a slim, large format book with a wraparound vellum or leather cover from which the book block has slipped. Raghnall Ó. Floinn, Head of Collections at the Museum, estimates that there are about forty-five letters per line and a maximum of forty lines per page. While part of Ps 83 is legible, the extent to which other Psalms or additional texts are preserved will only be determined by painstaking work by a team of invited experts probably operating over a long time in the Museum laboratory. Dr Bernard Meehan, Head of Manuscripts at Trinity College Dublin, has seen the discovery and has been invited to advise on the context and background of the manuscript, its production, and its time. He reckons that this is the first discovery of an Irish Early Medieval manuscript in two centuries. Initial impressions place the composition date of the manuscript at about 800 AD. How soon after this date it was lost we may never know" (http://sbl-site.org/publications/article.aspx?articleId=568, accessed 01-27-2010).

The manuscript was subsequently named the Faddan More Psalter or Faddan Mor Psalter, after the town of Faddan More in North Tipperary, Ireland, where it was found.

In September 2010 the National Museum of Ireland, Dublin, issued a Press Release on its website indicating that in the process of restoration of the manuscript and its binding "fragments of papyrus were dramatically discovered in the lining of the Egyptian-style leather binding. This potentially represents the first tangible connection between early Irish Christianity and the Middle Eastern Coptic Church. It is a finding that asks many questions and has confounded some of the accepted theories about the history of early Christianity in Ireland" (http://www.museum.ie/en/news/press-releases.aspx?, article=758edb8d-f06d-4478-a404-a68cc3139048, accessed 09-09-2010)

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The First Treasure Binding Associated with its Original Codex 783 – 795

A facsimile of the Dagulf Psalter, also known as the Golden Psalter. (View Larger)

The Dagulf Psalter, sometimes also called The Golden Psalter, is a collection of the 150 Psalms made for Hildegard, the wife of Charlemagne. The main part of the writing was done by the scribe Dagulf who signed the book in a dedication poem to Charlemagne. The work covers two decisive phases of the Carolingian School of painting. The section carried out between 783 and 789 was done in Worms and Metz, and the work was completed in Aachen between 790 and 795. 

The treasure binding covers of the manuscript are preserved in the Louvre, Paris, while the manuscript is preserved in Vienna at Austrian National Library, Cod 1861.

"Not until Carolingian times can the covers of treasure bindings be connected to their original codices, and even then clear-cut examples are few. The earliest would seem to be the ivory covers of the Dagulf Psalter, presented by Charlemagne to Pope Hadrian I (772-95); although covers and text are now separate, Dagulf's dedicatory verses make explicit mention of the cover decoration. This separation of covers and codex is more the rule than the exception. Rare in any case is the book written before the fifteenth century that has not been rebound. Jewelled covers are particularly susceptible to migration from one codex to another, because they are not integral to the bookbinding. Unlike leather covers, they were tacked on the wooden boards in an operation completely separate form the binding process proper; nor would the artisans who made them be bookbinders. Jewelled covers might easily be removed and added to another codex without any necessity for disbinding or rebinding.

"The expression 'treasure bindings' has a reference broader than just to the materials used in their manufacture. In Jerome's day, when the monastic movement was young and disorganized, jewelled bindings may have been owned by private indviduals. But later they almost invariably belonged to monasteries, cathedrals, and other collegial institutions. Within these institutions they played a specific role; they were part of the liturgical equipment used in celebrating the divine service. This equipment, including crucifixes, eucharistic vessels, vestments, reliquaries, the altar itself, was often of the highest luxury and constituted the 'treasure' of a church. Thus, both finds of sixth-century silver covers referred to above were excavated together with other silverwork liturgical articles. Jewelled covers were ordinarily made for service books, particularly Gospels and Evangeliaries, and may be considered as part of the altar fittings. Because of their special function, they would not be stored in the library presses or library room of their foundations, in or near the cloister. They would be kept quite separate, with the other liturgical objects, convenient to the altar or within the altar itself, under the care of the sacristan" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 22-23).

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Used by Charlemagne at his Coronation as Holy Roman Emperor 794 – 800

The Vienna Coronation Gospels, also known as the Coronation Evangeliar, is the principle work among a small group of surviving manuscripts produced in the scriptorium of the Palace School at Aachen sometime between 794 and 800. It was used by the Emperor Charlemagne at his coronation on Christmas Day 800 when he placed three fingers of his right hand on the first page of the Gospel of Saint John and took his oath. Traditionally, it is considered the manuscript found in Charlemagne's tomb when it was opened in the year 1000 by Emperor Otto III.

"To this day we do not know exactly where Charlemagne’s grave lies. And so we do not know either where the legendary event which is so important for the manuscript actually took place in the year 1000. Otto III had the grave opened and discovered the codex on the knees of the emperor, who had been buried in a sitting position. He removed the book – and thereby laid the foundation for its ascent to become the central book and work of art in the Empire. During the coronations of the kings, which without exception took place in Aachen until 1531, according to tradition the book was opened at the first page of St. John’s Gospel, and the future king took his oath under the eyes of St. John the Evangelist on the words 'In the beginning was the Word' " (http://www.faksimile.de/werk/Coronation_Gospels_of_the__Holy_Roman_Empire.php?we_objectID=800, accessed 11-03-2013).

"The Coronation Evangeliar manuscript consists of 236 crimson-dyed parchment pages with gold and silver ink text. The pages measure 32.4 cm × 24.9 cm (12.8 in × 9.8 in), and contain text presented in one column, 26 lines per page. The incipit page of each Gospel shows the three writing styles common to valuable illustrated manuscripts from the late antique period—the capitalis rustica of the first line, followed by the monumental capitalis quadrata of the second line, which introduces the Latin text of the Gospel in gold ink, which is presented in continuous uncial script with no spaces between the words or punctuation.

"The book is decorated with 16 plates and four portraits depicting the Evangelists—one at the start of each Gospel. The portrait paintings are in a Carolingian style derived from Byzantine art. In the margin of the first page of the Gospel of Luke the Greek name Demetrius presbyter is written in gold capital letters. This may be the signature of the scribe or illuminator and may indicate that there were Byzantine artists in the court of Charlemagne.

"The Coronation Evangeliar cover was created by the goldsmith Hans von Reutlingen of Aachen c. 1500. Designed in high relief, the gold cover shows God the Father seated in front of the canopy of his throne. His left hand is closed over the Bible, and his right hand is raised in a gesture of blessing directed at Mary, who is shown grasping her heart during the Annunciation. The right side of the cover shows the Angel of the Annunciation. God the Father is dressed in imperial vestments and wearing a mitre crown, similar to the one worn by Maximilian I, who was Holy Roman Emperor at the time the cover was produced. The four corners of the front cover are decorated with four medalions bearing symbols of the four Evangelists" (Wikipedia article on Vienna Coronation Gospels, accessed 11-03-2013). 

The Coronation Evangeliar is preserved as part of the Imperial Treasury (Schatzkammer) in the Hofburg Palace, affiliated with the Kunsthistorisches Museum in Vienna. (Schatzkammer, Inv. XIII 18).

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800 – 900

Gregory the Great Writing, as Depicted in an Ivory Book Cover Circa 850

A carved ivory book cover produced circa 850 depicts Pope Gregory I (Gregory the Great) in the Lateran Palace in Rome writing in a codex, with the Holy Spirit, depicted as a dove, whispering in his ear. In a panel below three monk scribes are shown writing. The Carolingian book cover, preserved in Vienna at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, has been attributed to the "Master of the Gregory Tablet."

"Pope Gregory the Great is regarded as the author of the liturgical texts spoken by the priest during Mass in the Roman Catholic Church. Charlemagne later made them obligatory throughout his newly-founded Roman Empire. Legend tells of a scribe who spied the dove of the Holy Spirit whispering the prayers in Gregory’s ear before the saint dictated them to him in a loud voice.

"The genius ivory carver responsible for this work retains the motif of divine inspiration but depicts the pope as an author, pausing to listen to the voice of inspiration before continuing to write. The composition is extended over two storeys and set inside the Lateran Palace. We are eye-witnesses to the divine word becoming text and its subsequent dissemination in the form of books" (from the Kunsthistorische Museum online text, accessed 08-06-2014).

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The Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram 870

The Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram, a lavishly illuminated Gospel Book, was written on purple vellum by the monks Liuthard and Beringer for the Holy Roman Emperor Charles II (the Bald) at his Palace School. It was given by Charles to Arnulf of Carinthia, who later donated it to St. Emmeram Abbey in Regensburg, from which its name is taken. It is a very large volume measuring 420 x 330 mm. Because this was the age of itinerant courts, it has been difficult for scholars to identify the atelier where the manuscript was created, but the Basilica of St. Denis, where Charles was secular abbot from 867 to his death, has been frequently suggested.

The treasure binding on the codex, decorated with gems and repoussé relief figures in gold, is one of finest of the very few surviving from this period; it has been dated precisely to the year 870, and is probably also a product of Charles's Palace School. Though there are differences in style, the upper cover of the Lindau Gospels preserved in the Morgan Library and Museum was probably made in the same atelier. 

At the center of the cover of the Codex Aureus is Christ in Majesty seated on the globe of the world and holding on his knee a book with a Latin inscription which may be translated,  

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No man cometh to the Father, but by me." 

So impressive was this volume that in 1786 it became the subject of one of the very earliest monographs on an illuminated manuscript and a treasure binding: Sanftl, Dissertatio in aureum, ac pervetustum ss. evengeliorum codcem ms. Monasterii S. Emmerami Ratisbonae. The author, Presbyter of a Benedictine monastery, professor of theology, and a librarian, dedicated this 254 page quarto volume to Pope Pius VI.  Included in the volume were three folding black & white engraved plates which illustrated the upper cover of the binding, an illuminated page of the manuscript, and the incipit to the Book of Luke in their original size.  The full-size folding engraving of the treasure binding cover drawn by J.G. C. Hendschel and engraved by Brother Klauber is a spectacular work in its own right.

The Codex Aureus is preserved in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek, München (Clm 14000).  In November 2013 a digital facsimile of the manuscript, minus the treasure binding, was available at this link

Walther & Wolf, Codices illustres. The world's most famous illuminated manuscripts 400 to 1600 (2005) 98-101 contains a superb color reproduction of the upper cover of the treasure binding.

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The Magnificent Upper Cover of the Lindau Gospels Circa 875

The upper cover of the Lindau Gospels. (View Larger)

The Lindau Gospels, MS M1 in the Morgan Library & Museum, was written and illuminated in the Abbey of St. Gall, Switzerland, possibly by the scribe, Folchard, who also may have been the artist. It contains four title and four incipit pages in gold on vellum stained purple, twelve canon tables on purple backgrounds, lettered in gold and silver, 2 carpet pages.

"The magnificent upper cover of the Lindau Gospels can be fitted more closely than the lower cover into a recognized tradition of Carolingian goldsmiths' work. It is one of three major pieces ascribed to a Court School of Charles the Bald (regn. 840-77), grandson of Charlemagne. A number of works in other media--illuminated manuscripts, ivories, and carved rock crystals--have also been ascribed to the school. Much ink has been spilt in trying to locate these stylistically related ateliers, a question particularly difficult to answer for the age of itinerant courts: St. Denis, where Charles was secular abbot from 867 to his death, has frequently been suggested.

"The two other pieces with which our cover has been associated are the Arnulf Ciborium, or portable altar, and the cover of the Codex Aureus of St. Emmeram. Both are now in Munich, but were for many centuries part of the treasure of the monastery of St. Emmeram, Regensburg. . . .

"The provenance of the Lindau Gospels upper cover is, unfortunately, much less clear. We have already noted the attempt to identify this volume with the Gospels commissioned by Abbot Hartmut of St. Gall before 883, and decorated by him with gold silver and precious stones; in any case, the Lindau Gospels was written in St. Gall at much the same time its upper cover was made, the latter part of the ninth century. But it is difficult to imagine that a goldwork masterpiece from the royal workshop was created specifically for the abbot of St. Gall, and although the Lindau Gospels is a handsome manuscript, it has not a tithe of the spendor of the Codex Aureus, which is roughly the degree of luxus we should expect to find. Even within the St. Gall scriptorium, the Lindau Gospels does not represent the highest level of luxury. It seems likely that our cover was originally made to fit a much more highly decorated manuscript (though of smaller format than the Codex Aureus), and one more closely tied to the Frankish court. The question of how and when it joined its present codex is as much a mystery for the upper cover as for the lower" (Needham, Twelve Centuries of Bookbindings 400-1600 [1979] 28-28).

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900 – 1000

Possibly the Most Valuable Book in the World Circa 998 – 1001

Detail from page of the The Gospels of Otto III.  Please click to view entire image.

The Gospels of Otto III, probably produced in Reichenau Abbey, in the scriptorium headed by the monk Liuthard, for Holy Roman Emperor Otto III,

"must be a candidate for the most valuable book in the world. It was made for Otto around 998 . . . .  It is in its original golden binding set with jewels and with a Byzantine ivory panel. It is a totally imperial manuscript with full-page illuminated initals, Evangelist portraits, twenty-nine full-page miniatures from the life of Christ, and dominating all these, it has a pair of facing paintings showing the peoples of the world adoring Otto III. The worshippers resemble the Magi bringing offerings to the infant Christ. They are four women bearing gold and jewels and their names are written above in capitals: Sclavinia, the eastern European with dark read hair; Germania, a fair-skinned girl with long wispy blonde hair, Gallia, the back-haired French girl, and the curly-headed Roma, who is bowing lowest of all before the ruler of the empire. Otto himself is shown the opposite page, seated disdainfully on his majestic throne, flanked by two priests with books. . . . Otto III had built himself a palace on the Aventine Hill in Rome. His library including (amazingly) a fifth-century manuscript of Livy's history of Rome, probably given to him by the archbishop of Piacenza in about 996; the transcript of it that he had made still survives in Bamberg. His seal had the legend 'Renovatio Imperii Romanorum', the restoration of the empire of the Romans. He thought himself at least as great as Caesar Augustus" (de Hamel, A History of Illuminated Manuscripts [1986] 67-68). 

The Gospels of Otto III is preserved at Munich in the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek (Clm 4453).

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1000 – 1100

Production of Medieval Arabic Manuscripts Circa 1025

About 1025 royal patron of the arts, Tamin ibn al Mu'izz ibn Badis, the fourth ruler of the Zirids in Ifriqiya, North Africa, wrote the 'Umbdat alk-kuttab wa 'uddat dhawi al-albab (Book of the Staff of the Scribes and Implements of the Discerning with a Description of the Line, the Pens, Soot Inks, Liq, Gall Inks, Dyeing, and Details of Bookbinding).

This Arabic manuscript, partly written by Ibn Badis, and preserved in Cairo, is a the primary source for information on writing, illuminating, and binding Arabic manuscripts of this period, as well as a resource on the history of chemistry. The portion of the manuscript describing bookbinding is incomplete, lacking details on the techniques of decoration.

The text was translated by Martin Levey as "Mediaeval Arabic Bookmaking and its Relation to Early Chemistry and Pharmacology" and published in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, new series, Vol. 52 (1962) 5-79. Because of the incompleteness of the bookbinding section of ibn Badis's manuscript Levey added an appendix to this work, containing his translation of Abu'l-Abbas Ahmed ibn Muhammed al Sufyani's Sinaat tasfir alkutub wa-hill aldhahab (Art of Bookbinding and Gilding) written in 1619.

Pollard, Early Bookbinding Manuals (1984) no. 2.  See also Bosch, Carswell, Petherbridge, Islamic Bindings & Bookmaking. A Catalogue of an Exhibition, The Oriental Institute, The University of Chicago (1981). The earliest bindings illustrated and described in this exhibition dated from the 13th to 15th centuries.

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1100 – 1200

Medieval Handbook of Applied Arts Including Book Production 1100 – 1120

Folio 1 of Codex 2527, preserved at the Austrian National Library. (View Larger)

Between 1100 and 1120 Benedictine (?) monk Theophilus Presbyter (possibly same as Roger of Helmarshausen) wrote Schedula diversarum artium ("List of various arts") or De diversibus artibus ("On various arts"), containing detailed descriptions of various medieval applied arts, including drawing, painting, manuscript illumination, and bookbinding.

"The work is divided into three volumes. The first covers the production and use of painting and drawing materials (painting techniques, paints, and inks), especially for illumination of texts and painting of walls. The second deals with the production of stained glass and techniques of glass painting, while the last deals with various techniques of goldsmithing. It also includes an introduction into the building of organs. Theophilus contains perhaps the earliest reference to oil paint."

Volume 1 includes directions for making glue and gold leaf.

"Vol. III on metal work covers: openwork sheets of silver and copper for book covers inter alia (chapter 72); die-stamping, also used for book covers (chapter 75); studs for fastening leather covers to the boards (chapter 76) and repoussé work for book covers (chapter 78)" (Pollard, Early Bookbinding Manuals [1984] no. 3).

Theophilus also provides some of the earliest instructions for the use of metalpoints in drawing:

"Indications of the use of metalpoints for artistic purposes, other than those mentioned in connection with manuscripts, were rare until the late fourteenth century, a period which can be associated with the early fourishing of drawing as an important art form. Therefore, instructions for the use of metalpoints by the monk Theophilus, written sometime during the tenth to twelfth centuries, were exceptional. In Diversarum Artium Schedula Theophilus wrote that preparatory designs for windows were delineated upon large boards or 'tables' which had been rubbed with chalk. Over this surface one drew images with lead or tin. Moreover, in his directions for design figures to be incised on ivroy Theophilus recommended that the ivory tablet be covered with chalk, upon which one drew figures  with a piece of lead. These medieval 'grounds' of chalk dust were antecedents of a rudimentary method of preparing metalpoint surfaces with the dust of bones, chalk, or white lead which was described by Cennino in the late fourteen or early fifteenth century, and of a similar practice used during the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries for quickly preparing a metalpoint ground for sketching outlines for miniatures or for writing on little ivory sheets.

"It is impossible to determine when metalpoint media were first used for producing sketches and studies in the form and character we now assign to master drawings. But during the fourteenth century both Petrarch and Boccaccio mention drawing with the stylus. The former, in his sonnets to Laura, wrote of Simone (Martini) taking the likeness of his love with the metalpoint and the latter in the Decamerone expressed his admiration for the skill of the incomparable Giotto in the statement that there was nothing in nature which the master could not draw or paint with the stylus, pen, or brush. Although we may hesitate to accept these statements at face value, nevertheless they indicate that the metallic stylus was an accepted instrument for drawing by artists of the late middle ages" (Watrous, The Craft of Old Master Drawings [1957] 4).

The oldest surviving copies of Theophilus's work are Codex 2527 preserved at the Österreichische Nationalbibliothek, Vienna, and Codex Guelf 69 preserved at the Herzog-August-Bibliothek, Wolfenbüttel.

For centuries after the Middle Ages Theophilus's work was forgotten until the poet, philosopher, and critic Gotthold Ephraim Lessing rediscovered the text while he worked as librarian in Wolfenbüttel around 1770.

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The Codex Ebnerianus and Early Manuscript Scholarship Circa 1110

The Codex Ebnerianus, a Greek language illuminated manuscript of the New Testament, was probably written in Constantinople at the beginning of the 12th century during the Comnenian Period.

"Its full-page illustrations make it one of the finest of a large group of manuscripts which are the most important representatives of the Comnenian revival in pictorial art.

"The cycle of illustrations is unique among surviving Greek New Testament manuscripts in that it places author portraits and scenes connected with the authors at the beginning, not only of the Gospels, but also at the beginning of Acts and some of the Epistles" (Meredith, "The Illustration of Codex Ebnerianus", Journal of the Warburg and Courtauld Institutes XXIX (1966) 419.

The codex is named after the Nuremberg diplomat, historian, scholar and patron, Hieronymus Wilhelm Ebner von Eschenbach who founded a library, the Bibliotheca Ebneriana, using his extensive collection. While the codex belonged to Ebner von Eschenbach in 1738 the scholar Conrad Schoenleben issued a pamphlet on it entitled Egregii codicis graeci Novi Testamenti manuscripti quem Noribergae servat vir illustris Hieronymous Gvilielmus Ebner. According to Roland Folter, Schoenleben's 44-page pamphlet with two illustrations was the first publication about a specific medieval manuscript, and also probably the first publication on a specific book in a private library.

The Codex Ebnerianus is preserved in the Bodleian Library. According to Macray's Annals of the Bodleian Library, Oxford, A. D. 1598-A.D. 1867 p. 229, the Bodleian bought the Codex in 1820 from booksellers Payne and Foss. McCray also mentions that Schoenleben's pamphlet was incorporated by De Murr in his Memorabilia Bibliothecarum publicarum Norimbergensium published in 1788, part ii., p. 100. To that version De Murr added "thirteen well-engraved plates of the illuminations, binding and text. It was formerly bound in leather-covered boards, ornamented with gold, with five silver-gilt stars on the sides, and fastened with four silver clasps. This covering being much decayed, Ebner cased the volume in a most costly binding of pure silver, preserving the silver stars, and affixing on the outside a beautiful ivory figure (coaeval with the MS.) of our Saviour, throned, and in the attitude of benediction. Above the figure, Ebner engraved an inscription in Greek characters, corresponding to the style of the MS., praying for a blessing upon himself and his family" (McCray, p. 230). 

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Twelfth Century Images of the Processes in Book Production Circa 1150

(See Larger)

A twelfth century manuscript of the Opera varia of St. Ambrose in the Staatliche Bibliothek of Bamberg contains a full-page miniature containing 10 circular medallion-type images depicting the processes of making a book from preparing parchment to binding. The binder is shown using a sewing frame. Bamberg Msc. Patr. (Alt B II 5).

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Limoges Enamel Book Cover Plaque Circa 1185 – 1210

The earliest known textual reference to the enamels produced in the city of Limoges, France, from the twelfth through fourteenth centuries concerns a book cover seen in the Abbey of Saint Victor in Paris in the 1160s and intended for an English abbot.

Though this book cover seems not to have survived, it might have been similar in some ways to a cover preserved in the Metropolitan Museum which dates from circa 1185 to 1210.

"Plaques showing Christ in majesty surrounded by symbols of the evangelists, usually paired with a plaque showing the Crucifixion, were produced in large numbers by Limoges enamelers. The variety of textures and patterns created through the masterful engraving and stippling of the five appliqué figures make this a particularly noteworthy example of a product for which Limoges artists were widely recognized and admired" (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/17.190.757, accessed 10-25-2011).

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1300 – 1400

Ivory Booklet with Scenes of the Passion Circa 1300 – 1320

An ivory booklet preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art may be one of the rarest forms of medieval books. The booklet was carved in Northern France circa 1300 and painted, and gilded in the Upper Rhine circa 1310-1320. 

"Secular examples were common, but tablets with religious subjects were extremely rare and are known primarily from surviving inventories. The exterior covers of this unusual booklet show scenes of the passion and death of Christ, while the interior covers present scenes of the Virgin. Two of the interior "pages" include painted images added at a later date; these spaces originally must have been intended for some other purpose. All the other interior panels have raised edges, creating a recess for wax that the book's owner could incise with a stylus. The wax tablets within might have contained prayers of intercession or the litanies of saints" (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/1982.60.399, accessed 10-25-2011).

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The Oldest Known English Public Advertisement Circa 1340

Portions of an early poster written on parchment by a professional Gothic scribe were found as part of the stiffening inside a bookbinding made in Oxford about 1340. 

"The fragments come from a single sheet, written on one side only in a whole range of different Gothic scripts, and they are stained and weathered. The supposition is that the poster was once tacked up outside a stationer's shop (presumably in Oxford) until it became obsolete or was replaced and so was taken down and stored as a useful scrap of thick parchment. One day its pieces proved ideal for padding out a binding, and thus the oldest known English public advertisement has come down to us. It shows short specimens of twelve different scripts for different classes of liturgical manuscript, from a large choir psalter to little portable processionals with music. There are similar Continental specimens from the fifteenth century, advertising the range of hands available from the scribes Herman Stepl, of Münster in Westphalia, for example, or Robert of Tours in the diocese of Nantes. Presumably the customer came into the shop, looked over the patterns as one might a menu in a takeaway restaurant, and left an order for a particular script" (de Hamel, Medieval Craftsmen. Scribes and illuminators [1992] 39 and plate 31).

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A Painted Wood Panel that Once Covered an Account Book 1343

A painted wood panel preserved in the Metropolitan Museum of Art and dated 1343 once covered an account book compiled by the biccherna of Siena, a committee who served as administrators and treasurers of the commune. 

"The scene at the top shows three of the five committee members, all of whose names are listed in the inscription below. The carmarlingo, or secretary, wearing the white robes of a Cistercian monk, counts a bag of money before two officers with record books. The painted book cover belongs to a long tradition of Sienese civic commissions. For some 500 years beginning in 1258, the commune hired local painters to decorate the covers of the financial books at the end of each fiscal term" (http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/10.203.3, accessed 12-03-2013).

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The Relative Costs of the Components of Medieval Manuscripts 1374 – 1375

"To give us an idea of the costs of making manuscript books in the Middle Ages we have an example of the costs incurred in making a copy of Henri Bohic's voluminous Commentaires, which Etienne de Conty had made in 1374 and 1375 by the copyist Guillaume du Breuil. It is a work of two large in-folio volumes, one with 370 leaves and the other with 388. A note on the inside of each volume tells us that the work cost 62 livres and 11 sous in Parisian money. This sum was made up of the following:

- The copyist's salary: 31 livres 5 sous
- The purchase and preparation of the parchment, including the mending of holes: 18 livres 18 sous
- Six initial letters with gold: 1 livre 10 sous
- Other illuminations, in red and blue: 3 livres 6 sous
- The hiring of an exemplar for the copyist provided by Martin, Carmelite clerk: 4 livres
- Repairs to holes in the margins, and stretching: 2 livres
- Binding: 1 livre 12 sous

These manuscripts are now kept in the Bibliothèque municipale d’Amiens, shelfmark 365" (blog.Pecia: Le manuscrit medieval, 5 novembre 2007).

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Costs for a Missal Produced in 1382 1382

Costs for a missal produced in 1382 by bookseller Thevenin Langevin, preserved in La bibliothèque de l'ancien collège de Dormans-Beauvais (Collège de Beauvais) in Paris:

- copyist's salary: 24 livres
- illumination: 5 livres 4 sous (2.305 "grosses lettres" and 2.214 "verses"), and 5 livres 12 sous for "Joachim Troislivres", illuminator, who made the "histoires" and the large letters of gold and blue.
- the hiring of an exemplar : 32 sous
- binding: 32 sous
- "fermeilles" : 48 sous
- "pipe": 6 sous 4 deniers
- "chemisette" and "toille": 8 sous
- "enseignes": 3 sous (Elisabeth Pellegrin, Bibliothèques retrouvées [1990] 50).

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1450 – 1500

Sweynheym & Pannartz Issue the First Dated Book Printed in Italy, Containing the First Printing in Greek October 29, 1465

Detail of page from Lactantius' Opera containing Greek text.  Please click on link to open and resize larger image showing full page.

Detail of page from Lactantius' Opera showing a space left blank for Greek text to be added later.  (Please click on the image to see the full page.) 

Lucius Lactantius.

On October 29, 1465 printers Conrad Sweynheym and Arnold Pannartz, clerics from the archdioceses of Mainz and Cologne respectively, working at the Benedictine Abbey of St. Scholastica (Abbazia di Santa Scolastica) at Subiaco, Italy, and assisted by the monks at the monastery, issued the Opera of the third century Christian scholar Lucius Caecilius Firmianus Lactantius who became a religious advisor to Constantine I, and in his old age tutor to Constantine's son, Flavius Julius Crispus. This was the first dated book printed in Italy. It also contained the first printing in Greek by any printer, using a font that was apparently cast in the process of printing the text, as in the earliest printed quires the space for Greek passages are left blank. This is the only appearance of this Greek type; Sweyheym and Pannartz cast a second Greek font for their books printed at Rome. In January 2013 a digital facsimile of the 1465 Lactantius was available from the Bayerische Staatsbibliothek at this link. ISTC No.: il00001000.

Sweynheym had probably learned the craft of printing in the shop of Fust and Schoeffer in Mainz. Also in 1465 Peter Schoeffer at Mainz printed a few words of Greek, using a crude, partial font, in an edition of Cicero's Paradoxa (issued as an addendum to an edition of Cicero's De officiis). In July 2014 a digital facsimile of Schoeffer's 1465 De officiis with the Paradoxa was available from the Bayerisches Staatsbibliothek at this link. ISTC No. ic00575000. 

A copy of the 1465 Lactantius in an extremely rare 15th century binding thought to have been produced at Subiaco was sold at Christie's, London on November 29, 2000 (Sale 6417, Lot 26) for £751,750.

(This entry was last revised on 08-25-2014.)

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1500 – 1550

The Introduction of Pasteboard for the Covers of Bindings 1508 – 1520

Pasteboard for the covers of bindings, instead of wood, was in use in Paris by 1508, and was introduced in England about 1520.

Pollard, "Describing Medieval Bookbindings," Alexander & Gibson (eds) Medieval Learning and LIterature. Essays presented to Richard William Hunt (1976) 64.

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Some Tentative Observations on Dating Carta Rustica Bindings Circa 1520 – 1850

On December 1, 2013 Nicolas Pickwoad, Director of the Ligatus Research Centre, University of the Arts London, contributed the following observations on dating carta rustica bindings (limp bindings made of rough handmade paper typically associated with Italian books) to the Exlibris newsgroup:

"There is no rule of thumb and very little serious historical research into these very common and remarkable bindings. From my own research I have arrived at the following tentative conclusions: 

"It is apparent that they had appeared in the Italian book trade by the 1520s, possibly somewhat earlier, though in their first version, they use a stiff, often quite thick, hard-sized cartonnage without turn-ins, but with cut bookblock edges and sometimes with endbands. They will occasionally have fore-edge cover extensions (often erroneously called yapp edges).
"The earliest of all are likely to be sewn on double, white, split-strap alum-tawed sewing supports rather than the rolled or twisted supports that were used slightly later (cord supports were apparently not used until the eighteenth century, and twisted parchment supports may also occasionally be found). 
"In the sixteenth century, covers of all types will often have fore-edge ties and these may have been laced through the outermost endleaf at each end to attach it to the cover (they have often pulled out by now, but there will be holes in the fore-edges of the endleaves where they were once laced through). 
"The use of spine linings on these bindings seems to be restricted to the sixteenth century.
"At some point in the mid-sixteenth century, a thinner cartonnage was introduced which required turn-ins to stabilise the edges of the cover, and it also appears from the number of examples with deckle edges on all four turn-ins that these sheets were made for bookbindings in standard format sizes. 
"Unfortunately, once the standard pattern was established by the end of the sixteenth century - i.e. laced-case cartonnage covers, uncut edges (hence no endbands), two parallel creases on each joint about 1cm apart (the joint crease and the spine crease, made to ease the opening of the cover), no adhesive on the spine, no ties - they look much the same until the end of the eighteenth century and beyond (the latest I have seen is on an edition of 1856). 
"Also, to add to the confusion, the thicker covers without turn-ins also survived until at least the end of the eighteenth century, often with secondary covers of decorated paper. 
"Laced-case cartonnage cases attached by means of the endband slips only, copying similar versions in parchment, appeared in the last quarter of the sixteenth century and through the seventeenth, and those will have cut edges in order to work the endbands.  
"The quality of the cartonnage changes somewhat over the years, and different examples can look quite different. It seems that the higher the quality of the cover, the whiter it will be. The cartonnage was made on a wide variety of textile screens which leave an impression of the weave in the cartonnage, but we do not yet know enough about its manufacture to be able to date the covers.
"Laced-case cartonnage bindings should not be confused with longstitch bindings sewn through cartonnage, though both appear to have been referred to as legature alla rustica or carta rustica at the time of their manufacture."
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Henry VIII's Dissolution of the Monasteries Brings Destruction and Dispersal of Libraries 1536 – 1541

 In 1536, King Henry VIII formally disbands all monasteries in his realm and seizes their property, including thousands of books and manuscripts, most of which were subsequently lost or destroyed.  (View Larger)

In a formal process called Dissolution of the Monasteries, Henry VIII disbanded monastic communities in England, Wales and Ireland and confiscated their property. Henry was given the authority to do this by the Act of Supremacy, passed by Parliament in 1534, which made him Supreme Head of the Church in England, and by the First Suppression Act (1536) and the Second Suppression Act (1539).

"Along with the destruction of the monasteries, some of them many hundreds of years old, the related destruction of the monastic libraries was perhaps the greatest cultural loss caused by the English Reformation. Worcester Priory (now Worcester Cathedral) had 600 books at the time of the dissolution. Only six of them are known to have survived intact to the present day. At the abbey of the Augustinian Friars at York, a library of 646 volumes was destroyed, leaving only three known survivors. Some books were destroyed for their precious bindings, others were sold off by the cartload. The antiquarian John Leland was commissioned by the King to rescue items of particular interest (especially manuscript sources of Old English history), and other collections were made by private individuals; notably Matthew Parker. Nevertheless much was lost, especially manuscript books of English church music, none of which had then been printed.

A great nombre of them whych purchased those supertycyous mansyons, resrved of those lybrarye bokes, some to serve theyr jakes, some to scoure candelstyckes, and some to rubbe their bootes. Some they solde to the grossers and soapsellers.                   — John Bale, 1549"

(Wikipedia article on Dissolution of the Monasteries, accessed 11-25-2008)

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1550 – 1600

A Sixfold Dos-à-Dos Binding from the Sixteenth Century Circa 1550

An elaborately decorated binding preserved in the Rogge Library in Strängnäs, Sweden, probably the most complicated binding I have ever heard of, I opens in six different directions, each revealing a different book. The five books then not in use are kept closed by a system of clasps. This sixteenth century binding preserves six printed devotional texts printed in Germany from the 1550s to 1570s, including Martin Luther's Der kleine Catechismus. In March 2014 numerous images of the binding were available from the National Library of Sweden's flickr page at this link.

Located in a 15th century building in the city of Strängnäs, the Rogge library was named after Konrad Rogge, who served as bishop in the city between 1479 and 1501.

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Jost Amman's Images of Trades and Technologies, with Descriptions in Verse 1568

In 1568 Swiss artist and book illustrator Jost Amman and poet, playwright, and shoemaker Hans Sachs published Eygentliche Beschreibung aller Stände auff Erden, hoher und nidriger, geistlicher und weltlicher, aller Künsten, Handwercken und Händeln ... Durch d. weitberümpten Hans Sachsen gantz fleissig beschrieben u. in teutsche Reimen gefasset in Frankfurt am Mayn. This series of illustrated descriptions of trades, accompanied by Sach's text in verse, included one of the earliest accounts–however brief–of the printing art, and one of the earliest images of the press. It also described and illustrated the art of making woodcuts, papermaking and bookbinding. 

In March 2015 a digital facsimile was available from the University of Koeln at this link.

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1600 – 1650

Anselm Faust Writes the Earliest European Manual on Bookbinding 1612

Anselme Faust wrote Cunst der boeckbinders handwerck. Arfice des relieurs de livres in 1612. This manuscript in two parts, bound back to back, containing the text written in both Fremish and French, is the earliest European manual on bookbinding. It is preserved in the Plantin Moretus Museum, Antwerp.

Pollard, Early Bookbinding Manuals (1984) no. 38.

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Minsheu's "Ductor in Linguas," The First Book Sold by Subscription and the First Book to Include a List of Subscribers 1617

English linguist and lexicographer John Minsheu's (Minshew) Ηγημων εις τας γλωσσας. Ductor in linguas, The Guide into Tongues  (London, 1617) was the first book published by advance subscription using a printed prospectus, and the first book to include a list of subscribers. The unusually elaborate blingual Latin and English title page of this dictionary into eleven languages states that it was "By the Industrie, Studie, Labour, and at the Charges of John Minsheu Published and Printed."

Though the STC records no less than ten variant editions of the broadsheet list of subscribers found in some copies, each with increasing numbers of names, scholars have disputed whether Minsheu actually sold the first edition of his book by subscription. For example, in the authoritative Cambridge History of the Book in Britain Volume IV 1557 to 1695 (2002) the editor of the volume John Barnard states on p. 9:

"John Minsheu's multilingual dictionary, Ductor in linguas (made up of 726 folio pages using Greek, Anglo-Saxon and Hebrew characters as well as roman, black lettter and italic) on which he began work in 1599, was given a royal patent in 1611. Minsheu, however, was unable to raise the capital to publish the book until 1617; in so doing so he sought the support of the two universities, the Inns of Court, and 'divers Honorable and Right Worshipfull Personages, Bishops, and others', including merchants and London citizens; even so money ran out in the course of printing and the work was done at different times by two different printers. It was this difficulty which led to the publication of the second edition in 1625 by subscription, the first English example of this practice, one revived in the 1650s and taken up by the trade in the 1670s and 1680s."

Later in the volume, the co-editor of the same volume of The History of the Book in Britain, D. F. McKenzie, makes a similar assertion on p. 565, footnote 33. However, neither scholar seems to be aware of the unique prospectus for Minsheu's book preserved in the John Johnson Collection in the Bodleian Library. The working title given for the book on the prospectus is Glosson-Etymologicon. (Id est.) the Etymologie of Tongues. It is nevertheless clear that the prospectus is for the work later published as Ductor in linguas in 1617 as the 4-page folio-size prospectus (2 conjugate leaves) describes a dictionary in eleven languages with typography and format identical to the 1617 edition. The unique copy of the prospectus, which contains an internal date of 8 December 1610, was reproduced in facsimile by John Feather in English Book Prospectuses, An Illustrated History (Newtown: Bird & Bull Press, 1984). Feather, who believed that the prospectus was issued in 1611, stated on p. 28:

"The only earlier prospectus known to Pollard and Ehrman [The Distribution of Books by Catalogue to AD 1800 (1965)] cannot have been known to Minsheu. This was a manuscript proposal issued by Botel and Hurus in Savagona, Spain, in 1476, which solicits support for a new printed edition of the statutes of the Kingdom of Aragon. Stow's failure and the lack of any credible precedent lead me to regard Minsheu's Guide into tongues as the first subscription book, and John Minsheu himself as the pioneer, and for all practical purposes the inventor, of the book prospectus.

Minsheu's campaign was, in the end successful. The 417 subscribers in the final list represent a remarkable market for such a book in early seventeenth-century England. The figure, superficially small, has to be seen in the context of edition sizes limited by law to 1,250 and rarely reaching even that number. Indeed, in view of the trade's attitude in 1610 Minsheu had every reason to feel pleased with himself. Ironically, only five years after publication, the bookseller John Haviland issued an unauthorized reprint which infringed Minsheu's rights under his Letters Patent: Haviland was duly fined forty shillings by the Court of Assistants of the Stationers' Company on 5 April 1624."

My copy of Minsheu's book is bound in a contemporary binding of calf stamped with the Royal Arms in the center of the upper and lower covers. Several recorded copies of the first edition seem to be bound identically, but this fact remains unexplained.

Almost nothing is known about Minsheu. He was probably born in 1559 or 1560. The ODNB says he was of "unknown parentage," and provides what little information about his family. Minsheu refers to a cousin living in Oxfordshire, John Vesey, who was a self-made man of dubious probity. Minsheu may have resembled him in these two respects: he was educated by extensive travels rather than in a university, and he was described as a rogue by Ben Jonson. Minsheu apparently learned much of his Spanish while he was imprisoned in Spain. Nevertheless, the immense amount of information in Ductor in Linguas requires it to be taken seriously. In "John Minsheu: Scholar or Charlatan," Renaissance Quarterly 26, No. 1 (1973) 23-35 Jürgen Schäfer writes, on pp. 23-24:

"More than any other English work of the period the Ductor in Linguas reflects linguistic research and speculation at home and abroad and represents an important link in the beginnings of modern English lexicography. On the basis of this work Minsheu has been praised as a scholar, antiquarian, and etymologist of note. Closer inspection reveals, however, that such a blank judgment is seriously misleading and in need of revision. The following essay seeks to show in contrast to some of his contemporaries, Minsheu was an amateur of linguistic theory, an eclectic who incorporated linguistic material as he found it without subjecting it to any rigorous intellectual analysis. His etymologies, especially those which seem to qualify him as a leading student of the history of the vernacular, provide the cornerstone of his scholarly reputation, yet most of these are not original but have been drawn, often verbatim, from John Cowell's Interpreter (1607) — a dependence which has not yet been pointed out. From this new perspective Minsheu deserves praise as a teacher and disseminator of foreign languages. His scholarly credentials, however, are at best questionable.

"There is no doubt that the Ductor in Linguas is a monumental work. No less impressive than the title are the size and the contents of this volume. On more than 500 closely printed folio pages English lemmata are followed by their etymologies and their equivalents in ten other languages, 'British or Welsh, Low Dutch, High Dutch, French, Italian, Spanish, Portuguez, Latine, Greeke, Hebrew.' In addition to Roman, black letter, and italics, the favorite triad around 1600, the compositors were also required to use Greek, Hebrew, and Anglo-Saxon letters. Long and learned prefaces in Latin and in English introduce the work, and there are two commendatory certificates, one by the University of Oxford and another by some of the leading scholars of the day. Both of these certificates are dated from the end of 1610 when the work had apparently been in progress for several years. In addition, a list of purchasers contains illustrious names from the court, as well as the study. Througout his introductions Minsehu stresses the number of collaborators and the amount of time and money invested in the enterprise, and the extent of his labor seems stupendous. Learned etymologies, definitions, multilingual equivalents, illustrative quotations, and precise bibliographic references crowd the pages, and the fact that the work was published at all may be more noteworthy than the many years of preparation." 

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Probably the Earliest Records of the Charges for Trade Bindings in England 1619

A folio broadside dated 1619, of which a unique copy is preserved in the Society of Antiquaries of London, may be the earliest record of the prices of bookbinding agreed by the binders of London and Westminster. It is entitled A generall note of the prises for binding of all sorts of bookes

Pollard, Early Bookbinding Manuals (1984) no. 111.

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1650 – 1700

Samuel Pepys' Library: One of the Most Significant Private Libraries Preserved Intact from 17th Century England, in its Original Bookcases Circa 1650 – 1703

A painting of Samuel Pepys by John Hayls, 1666.

The title page of Newton's Principia.

The library of diarist Samuel Pepys is one of the most significant private libraries preserved intact from seventeenth century England. At Pepys's death in 1703 it included more than 3,000 volumes, including his diary, kept from 1600-1669, all carefully catalogued and indexed. Preserved at Magdalene College, Cambridge, the library, most of which Pepys collected during the last thirteen years of his life, is arranged by size, from No. 1 (the smallest) to No. 3,000 (the largest), and housed in the original twelve seventeenth-century oak bookcases just as Pepys arranged it.  A peculiarity of Pepys's arrangement was that he wanted each book on each shelf to be the same height, and when any book was shorter than the others he had a wooden base made for it, the visible portion of which was rounded and covered in tooled leather to resemble the spine of the book which would sit on it. Pepys's bookcases, also called presses, are among the earliest surviving examples of bookcases in the modern sense. The fine bindings on the books, mostly done for Pepys, are also significant.

Among the most famous items in the Library are the original bound manuscripts of Pepys's diary, and Pepys's copy of the first edition of Newton's Principia (1687), published under Pepys's imprimatur as President of the Royal Society. The library also includes remarkable holdings of incunabula, manuscripts, and printed ballads.

"Most of his [Pepys's] leisure he now spent on his library. He intensified his search for books and prints, setting himself a target of 3000 volumes. Pepys and his library clerk devised a great three-volume catalogue; collated Pepysian copies with those in other collections; adorned volume upon volume with exquisite title pages written calligraphically by assistants; pasted prints into their guard-books; and inserted indexes and lists of contents" (http://www.magd.cam.ac.uk/pepys/latham.html, accessed 02-28-2015).

Pepys made detailed provisions in his will for the preservation of his book collection. When his nephew and heir, John Jackson, died in 1723, it was transferred intact to the Pepys Library, kept in the Pepys Building on the grounds of Magdalene College.

Hobson, Great Libraries (1970) 212-221.

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Laws of Book Production and the Book Trade 1675

In 1675 lecturer on law in Halle and Jena, Ahasaver Fritsch published in Jena Tractatus de typographis, bibliopolis chartariis et bibliopegis (Treatise on Book Printers, Booksellers, Paper Manufacturers and Bookbinders). This treatise on the book trade focused on specifically on statutes, ordinances, liberties, disputes, censorship and inspection of printing offices and bookshops.

"Fritsch is one of the first writers on the subject to explicitly define an author's exclusive right to permit new editions of his work. The first publisher, however, has a right of priority to the publication of the new edition, provided that he offers the author terms which are as good as those promised by competing publishers (p.47). In Fritsch's view, however, the author's right is not meant to produce profit, but only honour. Quoting the Jena law professor Johannes Gryphiander (1580-1652), he states on page 37f.: 'The works of authors are sold to book printers and book sellers for a certain price, but in such a way, though, that the latter have the profit, whereas the honour goes to the former.' Fritsch' s views on authors' rights to new editions and his notion that the author may expect to gain honour but not profit, are probably based on his own experiences and hopes as an author and lecturer. However, when he presents a detailed justification of book privileges, Fritsch proves himself to be a judicious political theorist: privileges do not fall into the general category of monopolies which are to be rejected. He gives three reasons for arguing thus: (i) the demands of natural justness ('natürliche Billigkeit'), whereby the first publishers have to be protected, so that they may recoup their investment; (ii) publishers are encouraged ('angefrischet') by the award of privileges to have valuable new books printed at their expense; (iii) privileges are granted only for a limited term, so that they cannot seriously harm the public in any way. These three aspects sound quite modern: a special protection is justified on the grounds of the natural right not to suffer unjust damages and to recoup what one has invested. Furthermore, such special protection is justified as the means of providing an incentive for further publishing ventures. Nevertheless, such exemptions from the general rejection of monopolies are only to be allowed for a strictly limited term" (Primary Sources on Copyright (1450-1900), eds L. Bently & M. Kretschmer, www.copyrighthistory.org, referring to the anonymous German translation of 1750).

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1700 – 1750

Johan Gottfried Zeidler Issues the Earliest Printed Technical Manual on Bookbinding 1708

In 1708 German Protestant theologian and writer Johann Gottfried Zeidler published Johann Gottfried Zeidlers Buchbinder-Philosophie oder Einleitung in die Buchbinder Kunst, darinnen die selbe aus dem Buch der natur und eigener Erfahrung Philosophisch abgehandelt wird, mit sonderbahren Anmerckungen Zweyer Wohlerfahrner Buchbinder und jegehöigen Kopffern. This work, issued with 5 plates, and 15 woodcuts in the text, and issued from Marburg, Germany, was the earliest technical manual on bookbinding. It included the earliest picture of a type holder for lettering.

Pollard, Early Bookbinding Manuals (1984) no. 16.

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Albinus & Ladmiral Issue the First Full Color Printing by the Three-Color Process to Illustrate a Medical or Scientific Book 1736 – 1741

In 1736 physician and anatomist Bernhard Siegfried Albinus of Leiden published Dissertatio de arteries et venis intestinorum hominis. Adjecta icon coloribus distincta containing a color mezzotint printed by the painter Jan Ladmiral. This was among the earliest applications of full color printing, and the first use of the three-color printing  process in a medical or scientific book. Between 1736 and 1741 Albinus issued six pamphlets, each containing a color mezzotint by Ladmiral, forming the first series of full-color anatomical color-printed illustrations ever made.  Besides the previously mentioned pamphlet of 1736, the dissertations included De sede et causa coloris Aethiopum et caeterorum hominum (1737), a treatise on the anatomy and color of human skin; Icon durae matris in coava superficie visae (1738), on the anatomy of the brain; Icon durae matris in convexa superfice visae, ex capite (1738); Icon membranae vasculosae (1738), on the vascular membranes; and Effigies penis humani (1741), on the anatomy of the penis. These six images are  the only color prints produced by Jan Ladmiral, who had learned the process of color printing from the artist Jacob Christoph le Blon, the inventor of the process for printing color mezzotints using the three primary colors.  

♦ Probably the most unusual set of Albinus's pamphlets with color plates by Ladmiral is the collection bound in human skin in 1910 by Paul Kersten for the German collector Hans Friedenthal, and preserved at the Lane Medical Library at Stanford University.

The first medical book with illustrations printed in color by any method was Aselli's De lactibus (1627) which contained 4 folding woodcuts printed by the chiaroscuro process.

Choulant, History and Bibliography of Anatomic Illustration (1920) 265-66 for Le Blon, and 267-69 for Ladmiral.

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Christoph Ernst Prediger Issues the First Exhaustive Manual on Bookbinding 1741 – 1753

From 1741 to 1753 Christoph Ernst Prediger, a bookbinder in Anspach (Ansbach), Germany, published in 4 volumes, each extensively illustrated, Der in aller heut zu Tag üblichen Arbeit wohl anweisende accurate Buchbinder und Futteralmach welcher lehret, Wie nicht nur ein Buch auf das nettest zu verfertigen, sonder auch wie solcher sein gebührende Dauer hält . . .

"Vol. 1 is an exhaustive manual of bookbinding and box-making, with tables showing the cost of materials, the time taken over the various processes and the cost of different styles of binding. The other three volumes deal with more specialised work such as the binding of school books, and there is inevitably a good deal of repetition. Volume III has an appendix on apprenticeship regulations" (Pollard, Early Bookbinding Manuals [1984] no. 22).

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Filed under: Bookbinding

1750 – 1800

Diderot & d'Alembert's Encyclopédie, the Central Enterprise of the French Enlightenment 1751 – 1780

Between 1751 and 1780 French philosopher, art critic, and writer Denis Diderot and French mathematician, mechanician, physicist and philosopher Jean le Rond d'Alembert edited and wrote portions of the Encyclopédie ou dictionnaire des sciences, des arts et des métiers, par une société‚ de gens de lettres in 17 folio volumes of text plus 11 folio volumes (i.e., 10 volumes in 11) of plates. The first 7 volumes were published in Paris, but volumes 8 to 17 had to be published under a false Neuchâtel imprint. The main work appeared between 1751 and 1772. A supplement of 4 volumes plus one plate volume was published in Paris and Amsterdam from 1776 to 1777. The Table analytique et raisonnée for the set was published in 2 folio volumes in Paris and Amsterdam in 1780. Altogether there were 35 volumes, with 71,818 articles, and 3,129 plates.

The central enterprise of the French Enlightenment, the Encyclopédie embodied that movement's liberal, anti-clerical and scientific spirit, its preoccupation with man as a creature of nature, and its conception of culture and society as mutable products of the evolutionary processes of history. As such, the work challenged the twin authorities of the French monarchy and the Catholic Church, both of which derived their power from the traditional belief in a divinely ordained, unchanging order. Well aware of the dangers of affronting such powerful authorities, the philosophes who contributed to the Encyclopédie relied heavily on irony and subterfuge in their attacks on the established order, but the epistemological basis of these attacks was clearly stated in the Encyclopédie's "Discourse préliminaire," written by d'Alembert, who, "although he formally acknowledged the authority of the church, . . . made it clear that knowledge came from the senses and not from Rome or Revelation" (Darnton, The Business of Enlightenment: A Publishing History of the Encyclopédie 1775-1800 [1979] 7).

"The Encyclopédie was an innovative encyclopedia in several respects. Among other things, it was the first encyclopedia to include contributions from many named contributors, and it was the first general encyclopedia to lavish attention on the mechanical arts. Still, the Encyclopédie is famous above all for representing the thought of the Enlightenment. According to Denis Diderot in the article 'Encyclopédie,' the Encyclopédie's aim was 'to change the way people think.' "(Wikipedia article on Encyclopédie, accessed 01-26-2010).

The first seven volumes of the Encyclopédie were produced in relative safety, due in part to the support of powerful protectors, notably Madame de Pompadour, but official tolerance came to an end in 1759, when the Encyclopédie was condemned by the Parlement of Paris and placed on the Index librorum prohibitorum by Pope Clement XIII. Diderot was forced to complete the remaining ten volumes in secret and to publish them under a false Neuchâtel imprint.  "In truth, secular authorities did not want to disrupt the commercial enterprise, which employed hundreds of people. To appease the church and other enemies of the project, the authorities had officially banned the enterprise, but they turned a blind eye to its continued existence" (Wikipedia).

A high percentage of the Encyclopédie's 71,818 articles were written by Diderot and d'Alembert themselves, with another large portion, about 400 articles, written by the Baron d'Holbach. Other famous contributors included Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Voltaire. The most prolific contributor was the French scholar Louis de Jaucourt who wrote 17,266 articles, or about 8 per day between 1759 and 1765.   Altogether 140 people contributed articles to the project.

The Encyclopédie was a considerable commercial success, resulting in a print run of 4250 copies (Wikipedia), much larger than the typical print run of most publications at the time.

The discussion and exposition of printing in the Encyclopédie is among the most significant of the 18th century. Of this Giles Barber wrote in French Letterpress Printing (1969)9-10:

"The Encyclopédie provides one of the best general explanations of printing of the century, being both detailed and accurate. The main article is well supported by a host of minor ones including numerous definitions of terms and processes and by an excellent and evocative series of plates showing general workshop scenes as well as details of presses and other equipment. The authorship of all these articles is not, as yet ascertained. In their Preface the editors say: 'On juge bien que sur ce qui concerne l'Imprimerie et la Librairie, les memes tous les secours qui'il nos était possible de désirer'. In addition two of the publishers are credited with particular articles, David l'ainé with 'catalogue" (based on a manuscript by the abbé Girard bequeathed to Le Breton) and Le Breton himself with 'encre noire'. The technical part of the long and important article on 'imprimerie' is ascribed to the prote in Le Breton's shop, who we learn from the article 'prote', also ascribed to him, was one Brullé. J.B.M. Paillon, the famous engraver, wrote a number of minor articles on engraving ('dentelle, dorure sur parchemen, fleuron') and provided notes for others. Pierre Simon Fournier, the type founder, is similarly thanked in the Préface for providing background notes on his trade. "Papeterie' is by L. J. Goussier, one of the regular contributors, assisted by 'M. Prevost de Langlée près de Montargis'.

"Of the chief editors we know that d'Alembert wrote 'bibliomanie' and that Diderot's editorial asterisk, indicating his responsibility for either part or all of the article, occurs before 'bibliothécaire', caractère de'imprimerie (doubtless basically written by Fournier), chassis, corps, correcteur' and a few other minor subjects. But the chief editor as far as printing was concerned was undoubtedly the Protestant chevalier Louis de Jaucourt. Among his more important contributions were parts of 'imprimerie' covering 'histoire des inventions modernes' and 'imprimerie de Contantinople', the historical part of 'papier' and the articles on 'privilege d'impression' and 'relieur' as well as a large number of short ones.  It has also bee suggested the printer Claude François Simon wrote many of the printing articles but no internal confirmation of this has been found."

♦ Charles C. Gillespie reproduced 485 of the most notable plates in the Encyclopédie with informative and entertaining commentary in A Diderot Pictorial Encylopedia of Trades and Industry (2 vols. 1959). These included all or most of the plates concerning book production (papermaking, printing, copperplate engraving, bookbinding, leather production).

♦ Lough, Essays on the Encyclopédie of Diderot and d'Alembert (1968) provided an authoritative bibliographical study and identified the authors of a significant percentage of the unsigned articles. 

♦ There are numerous versions of the Encyclopédie online. The ARTFL Encyclopédie Database from the University of Chicago contains "20.8 million words, 400,000 unique forms, 18,000 pages of text, 17 volumes of articles, and 11 volumes of plate legends."

♦ For an English translation there is the Encyclopedia of Diderot and d'Alembert Collaborative Translation Project at the University of Michigan. When I checked in 2013 significant portions of the Encyclopédie had been tranlsated.

♦ In February 2014 the full text of the first edition of the Encyclopédie was available from the French Wikipedia at this link. As I searched through the text Google Chrome provided a machine translation.

Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) no. 200.  Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) no. 637.

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Jean-Vincent Capronnier Gauffecourt Issues the First Separately Printed French Treatise on Bookbinding 1763

In 1763 Jean-Vincent Capronnier Gauffecourt privately issued from La Motte, near Lyon, Traité de la relieur des livres. This was the first separately-printed treatise on bookbinding in French. The author, Gauffecourt (1692-1766) was, according to Pollard, a talented amateur and a friend of Jean-Jacques Rousseau and Mme d'Épinay. He installed a printing press in his house and printed several books in small editions.

Of this manual on bookbinding Gauffecourt is thought to have printed  either 12 or 25 copies, of which Pollard could locate only a single extant copy in a private collection; he located manuscript copies at Cambridge University Library and in the Grolier Club, New York. Chalmers also located a copy of the printed edition in the Bibliothèque publique et universitaire de Genève.The French text was reprinted with an English translation by Claude Benaiteau, and issued in an edition of 300 copies with an introduction by John P. Chalmers (Austin, Texas: W. Thomas Taylor, 1987).

Pollard, Early Bookbinding Manuals (1984) no. 43.

(This entry was last revised on 02-21-2016.)

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John Pendred Issues the Earliest Directory of the Book Trade in England 1785

In 1785 journeyman printer John Pendred issued from London the earliest directory of the book trade in England. Entitled The London and Country Printers, Booksellers and Stationers Vade Mecum, Pendred's printed directory survived in only one copy preserved in the Bodelan Library, Oxford.

In 1955 bookseller and bibliographer Graham Pollard published through The Bibliographical Society (London) an annotated edition of Pendred's work entitled The Earleist Directory of the Book Trade by John Pendred (1785). From Pollard's edition we have the text of Pendred's full and very explanatory title:

The London and Country Printers, Booksellers and Stationers Vade Mecum; Containing an Alphabetical Arrangement of the Letter-Press Printers, Copper-Plate Printers, Letter Founders, Booksellers, Bookbinders, Stationers, Print-Sellers, Music-Sellers, Paper Merchants, Paper Stainers, Paper Hangers, Card-Makers, &c. &c. &c.

In London, Westminster, and Southwark: With the Numbers affixed in their Houses. Also of those residing in the different Counties of England, Scotland and Wales, with the Number of Miles each Town is distant from London, and their Market-Days.

Likewise a correct List of Newspapers published in Great Britain, their Agents, and Days of Publication; and an useful Table of Stamps and Duties that are now in Use. Also a List of the Master Printers in Ireland.

Regarding the purpose and significance of Pendred's directory I quote from Pollard's edition p. xxii-xxiii:

"It is clear from the last line of his title-page and the note at the end that Pendred intended to issue the Vade Mecum annually to subscribers. He described it as 'very necessary for all Printers, Booksellers, Stationers, &c. Likewise for all Lottery-Office-Keppers, Shopkeepers, and others, who have Occasion to advertise in any of the News-papers in England, Scotland or Ireland. From this it appears that he sought his market among the advertising agents—not a numerous trade at that date, except for the lottery office—and among wholesale booksellers. In his concluding note Pendred says 'he hath spared no pains to render it of general utility both to Masters and Journeymen', and he goes on to mention that he has 'found it a difficult Task to obtain the Names of the real Master Letter-press Printers'. From this I infer that Pendred intended the Vade Mecum to be used by journeymen printers like himself, when in search of work.

Pendred's aims were utilitarian; his sources such as came to hand; and his treatment of them was sometimes careless. Nevertheless he has preserved for us a substantial body of information about the numbers of the book trade in 1785. In particular he tells us something about typefounders, printers, newspapers, and the wall-paper trade that we should not have known without his Vade Mecum.

If we exclude the professions, such as bankers and lists of officers in the navy and the army, Pendred published the earliest directory of any trade in this or, as far as i have been able to discover, any other country."

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Earliest Precursor to the Dust Jacket? 1791

According to Mark R. Godburn

"the earliest known detachable paper cover issued by a publisher is on a 28-page pamphlet called Time: An Apparition of Eternity, by John William Gerar de Brahm, published in Philadelphia in 1791. The wrapping is a simple rectangular paper printed with a presentation paragraph to the reader and signed by the author. It was folded around all four sides of the pamphlet and sealed with wax.

"Many of these early detachable covers and containers can be considered precursors to dust jackets—at least with a little imagination. But it took a revolution in the way books were bound before publishers began to issue dust jackets on new books."

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1800 – 1850

John Dalton Publishes the First Periodic Table of the Elements 1808 – 1827

From 1807 to 1827 John Dalton published in Manchester, England, A New System of Chemical Philosophy in Volume 1, parts 1 and 2, and Volume II, part 1. Dalton's chemical atomic theory was the first to give significance to the relative weights of the ultimate particles of all known compounds, and to provide a quantitative explanation of the phenomena of chemical reaction.  Dalton believed that all matter was composed of indestructible and indivisible atoms of various weights, each weight corresponding to one of the chemical elements, and that these atoms remained unchanged during chemical processes.  Dalton's work with relative atomic weights prompted him to construct the first periodic table of elements (in Vol. i, pt. 1), to formulate laws concerning their combination and to provide schematic representations of various possible combinations of atoms.  His equation of the concepts "atom" and "chemical element" was of fundamental importance, as it provided the chemist with a new and enormously fruitful model of reality.

Bindings for the First Edition

The copy of Volume 1, part 1 which Dalton inscribed to James Watt on July 5, 1808 was bound in marbled boards with a paper spine and printed label. Vol. 1, part 2 (1810) was also originally issued in a similar style of binding. Hook & Norman, The Haskell F. Norman Library of Science and Medicine (1991) No. 575, describes a matching set of the three volumes bound in original cloth-backed boards. This set, which was probably bound at the time Volume II, part 1 was issued in 1827, was an early use of cloth in bookbinding. Carter & Muir, Printing and the Mind of Man (1967) No. 261.

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The First English Book Entirely on Bookbinding 1811

The Whole Art of Bookbinding, Containing Valuable Recipes for Springling, Makbling (sic), Colouring, &c. was published anonymously in Oswestry, London, Glasgow, and Dublin in 1811.

"Very much a working bookbinder's notebook put in order for publication," this was first English book devoted entirely to bookbinding.

In Early Bookbinding Manuals (1984) no. 89 Pollard offers three possible authorship attributions.

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Mairet Issues a Manual of Lithography, Bookbinding, and Cleaning and Restoring Paper 1818 – 1824

In 1818 F. Mairet published from Dijon, Notice sur la lithographie. Mairet, a paper merchant and distinguished bookbinder, set up the second lithographic press in Dijon, and became the first lithographic printer, besides Senefelder himself, to write a manual on lithography. The book sold successfully and six years later Mairet issued a revised edition, adding to it an essay on bookbinding and on the cleaning (blanchiment) of books and prints.  The title of the second edition, issued from Chatillon-sur-Seine, was Notice sur lithographie. . . suivi d'un essai sur la relieure et le blanchiment des livres et gravures. The second edition, then, became one of the earliest discussions in book form of the methods of restoring books and prints.

Bigmore & Wyman II, 14. , Twyman, Lithography, 93-94.

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The Earliest Known Dust Jacket 1819 – 1829

Mark Godburn of earlydustjackets.blogspot.com posted on December 13, 2011:

"1819, 1822 & 1829. Earliest publishers' jackets.

"J. C. Osterhausen and G. C. Wilder. Nürnberg: Bei Riegel und Wießner, 1819 & 1822. Two vols. complete. First edition. Paper covered boards. Illustrated. [The Bookmark]

"Each volume has its original plain jacket and slipcase with label. These are now the earliest recorded publishers' jackets. The record was previously held by a sealed wrapping jacket issued late in 1829 on an 1830 British annual. The image at left shows the books in the center, with the slipcases at the outer left and right. The 1822 volume to the center left is wrapped in its light blue jacket; the 1819 volume to the center right has its dark blue jacket open, with a small part of the flaps visible behind. The slipcases are each covered in the same light blue paper as the jacket for the 1822 volume, with the color faded on the outside. A second edition of the first volume was issued in 1829 in a jacket of the same cut with narrow beveled flaps, and a slipcase with the same label as the 1819 slipcase." 

This discovery put the early introduction of publishers' jackets before the introduction of publisher's cloth as a permanent binding material in the 1820s.

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The Earliest Publisher's Cloth Bindings, Issued by William Pickering 1821 – 1825

The years 1821 to 1825 appear to represent the introduction of publisher's cloth bindings, a key development leading eventually to cloth edition bindings like those customarily used today. In his pioneering study of publisher's bindings, The Evolution of Publishers' Binding Styles 1770-1900, published in 1930, English publisher, novelist, collector and bibliographer Michael Sadleir stated on pp. 42-43 and plate 10, following the opinion of Geoffrey Keynes, that at the beginning of his career London bookseller and publisher William Pickering introduced the first publisher's cloth bindings with printed paper spine labels, beginning with his miniature edition of the works of Virgil in Latin (1821). This was the second book published in his miniature book-sized Diamond Classic Series, set in very small Diamond type, equal to 4.5 point. This set represented a novelty in publishing— not that it was in any way practical since the type was so small as to be barely legible without a magnifying glass. Nevertheless it must have pushed the skills of manual typesetters and punch-cutters to their limit, producing and setting tiny type that was so hard to read.

The first volume in Pickering's Diamond Classic series was Quintus Horatius Flaccus issued in 48mo in 1820. This Sadleir and other collectors had not seen in a publisher's cloth binding. Sadleir illustrated a copy of the Virgil in a cloth binding. The third volume in the series, Cicero's De Officiis, de senectute et de amicitia also issued in 1821, was offered by Pickering bound in reddish brown calico cloth. In addition to the title the paper labels indicated the price (5s, in the case of the Cicero). I have a cloth-bound copy of the Cicero in my collection.

Two years after Sadeir published his book, in 1932 London antiquarian bookseller and bibliographer John Carter issued Binding Variants in English Publishing 1820-1900. In his book Carter argued that it was possible, and even probable that the publisher's cloth bindings sometimes found on Pickering's Diamond Classics were put on a bit later than 1821. Pickering was known to have copies of his books bound up in fairly small quantities as demand warranted, so that the cloth bindings could have been put on later. Carter's argument for this, expressed on p. 20 of his book, was that after a very careful search, the earliest reference he could find to Pickering actually advertising any of his books in cloth bindings was in the "Spring List of 1826":

"The Prospectus of the Oxford English Classics (published in conjunction with Talboys & Wheeler, of Oxford) announces the series as 'neatly done up in extra cloth boards,' and describes the various volumes already published as 'in red cloth, lettered.' (This last, of course, means 'labelled.') "

Carter then suggests that the Pickering Shakespeare, issued as a set of 9 volumes in the Oxford English Classics in 1825 might be the earliest edition that Pickering actually issued from the beginning in publisher's cloth. He then also mentions on p. 22 that the earliest actual mention of publisher's cloth known to him was a Pickering announcement in the Observer of July 31st, 1825, of  another set in the Oxford English Classics, Johnson's Works, in "extra red cloth boards." Carter follows this statement with the following tentative conclusion:

"It is possible that some earlier mention in a newspaper may exist, though I have been unable to find one; but since tradition and external evidence give us Pickering as the introducer of cloth, and since his advertisements do not refer to it before 1825, I myself shall take a stand on that year for the great event. Nothing would please me better than to be convinced of an earlier date, and I am aware that my position is a conservative one; but I think that is all that is proved at present."

This was what I knew on February 14, 2015. Carter's evidence and tentative conclusion was essentially reiterated by Douglas Ball in his Victorian Publishers' Bindings (1985). However, after writing this much I learned that in 1935 Carter issued another shorter work on the subject of publisher's cloth: Publisher's cloth: an outline history of publisher's bindings in England 1820-1900, and duly ordered a copy. It turned out to be a small 8vo pamphlet of 48pp., which most recapped earlier research and presented it in a clearer manner. One point that I noticed in reading Carter's 1935 pamphlet was that the earliest definitive statement that Pickering was responsible for the introduction of cloth edition bindings was made by Charles Knight in his article on printing presses and machinery and bookbinding in issue  No.112, p. 511 of The Penny Magazine in 1833. Knight wrote, "But within the past seven years the introduction of the cheap and yet neat and substantial binding in cloth, which was first attempted by Mr. Pickering, of Chancery Lane, has created a new branch of business, of equal importance to any of the previously existing branches."

 Though Pickering's books issued in 1825 may be the first books bound in publisher's cloth, they are not the earliest books issued in cloth "edition" bindings if one defines an "edition binding" as a cloth casing uniform to an edition, or most of an edition. Pickering was, however, the leading early promoter of publisher's cloth bindings at a time when other publishers issued their books in boards or in leather bindings, and he may be called the inventor of the concept of publisher's cloth. 

In the revised edition of his William Pickering Publisher (1969) surgeon, book collector and bibliographer Sir Geoffrey Keynes repeated on pp. 13-15 the indirect evidence for the dating of Pickering's introduction of cloth bindings which he had obtained from John Carter. The story, recorded in 1855 thirty years after the fact, cannot be depended upon for reliable dating, and mainly confirms Pickering's intent to publish half of the first edition of his Diamond Classics in cloth bindings: 

"An anonymous article on 'The History of Bookbinding' published in the issue of The Bookbinders' Trade Circular for March 1855, pp. 9-120, had stated that the use of cloth for binding had been introduced by Pickering in 1823 after noticing the 'French red' lining of chintz curtains. He was said to have supplied his binder, Archibald Leighton, of Exeter Street, with the right kind of calico. At first Leighton glazed and stiffened the material with glue; later he found starch to be more suitable for the purpose. Probably the latter part of the story was true, but clearly the date 1823 for the first use of cloth was wrong. This was put right in the next issue of the Circular for May 1855, p. 22, where a correspondent, R.E. Lawson, writing from 61 Stanhope Street, contributed an amended version. He agreed that Pickering first introduced cloth into the book trade, but maintained that it was his own suggestion. Lawson was working as a binder for Charles Sully and William Greenfield ('the eminent linguist') and had known Pickering since 1809. His employers had been commissioned to bind the Diamond Classics, and he related the following incident, which presumably took place early in 1820: 'Mr Pickering came one evening—I remember, perfectly well, that the candles were slight—into the shop—I believe No. 2 Upper John Street, Golden Square—and announced to Mr. Sully that he was about to publish the works above named [the Diamond Classics], and wished a quantity done in morocco, and a portion in boards. 'Now,' said he, to Mr. Sully, 'could you suggest some neater mode in which to do the boarded portion than the present one.' I immediated handed to Mr. Pickering, from my side-board, a small oblong quarto of MS music for the guitar, which myself and Mr. Sully were studying under the same master at that time, bound in light blue glazed calico, a remnant of some my mother had been lining her window curtain with, and asked Mr. Pickering 'what he thought of THAT'. 'The VERY THING,' said he, 'and excepting the colour will do admirably.' After a little deliberation, it was decided that they should be done in couleur du puce, which was the case, while the old style of 'lettering' was retained in the now rarely-to-be-met with form of the white printed 'label' of the period! The books came in—one thousand copies; five hundred were done in morocco, five hundred in 'cloth' boards; the cloth was purchased at the corner of Wilderness-row, St. John Street, and the whole of the 'CLOTH' copies were covered by myself with glue, Richard Cross, Mr. Sully's apprentice at the time, 'squaring the boards' and 'drawing in.'

"After this beginning Pickering followed the practice throughout his publishing career. He was afterwards imitated by other publishers, but the smooth red, magenta, puce or dark blue cloth used by Pickering remained for many years the distinguishing mark of his books. Even at the present time [1924] the external appearance of his volumes in their original state has a special attraction which arrests the eye as it passes along a shelf filled with these and other volumes issued by contemporary publishers.

"The use of cloth as a publisher's binding made little difference to the cost of the books and was a considerable economy from the buyer's point of view, since the book could be used without the necessity for re-binding entailed by the flimsy boards and paper backs with which the public had hitherto contented itself. The innovation thus quietly made by Pickering in 1820 had had its effect on the whole subsequent history of the publishing trade in England, and but for him boards or paper covers for books might now be considered to be just as inevitable in this country as they still appear to be on the continent of Europe."

Bernard Warrington, "William Pickering and the Book Trade in the Early Nineteenth Century," John Rylands University Library of Manchester   (1985).

Pickering & Chatto, Catalogue 708, William Pickering and His Successors 1820-1900 (1993).

(This entry was last revised on 02-13-2015.)

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William Burn Invents The Rolling Press for Bookbinders, the First Machine Used in the Bookbinding Trade 1827

In 1827 London bookbinder William Burn received the Silver Vulcan Medal from the the Society of Arts for his invention of the Rolling Press for Bookbinders. Remarkably was the first machine that was adopted into the bookbinding trade, a hand-craft that was mechanized after printing and paper-making. Its purpose was to flatten and consolidate the folded sheets before they were sewn into a book. Up to this time this process had been done by workmen hammering the sheets with a fourteen-pound beating hammer --a monotonous, strenuous, and time-consuming job. 

"Among other books that were pressed in the presence of the Committee was a minion Bible, which was passed through the press in one minute whereas the time needed to beat the same would have been twenty minutes. It is not, however, merely a saving of time that is gained by the use of the rolling press; the paper is made smoother than it would have been by beating, and the compression is so much greater, that a rolled book, will be reduced to about five sixths of the same book if beaten....

"By 1830 every shop of any sized used the Rolling Press and as a consequence twenty-five men previously engaged on Bible Society and S.P.C.K. were thrown out of employment. Humble Memorials and Petitions were addressed to the Noblemen, Gentlemen and Clergy 'not to let its destructive effects operate any longer against us.' But the Noblemen, Gentlemen and Clergy, scenting further price cuts, held their peace and the grumbling of alarmed workers slowly subsided. The Rolling Press had come to stay and twenty-five years later, the catalogue of the Great Exhibition of 1851 gave it pride of place in the Judges' Survey of Binding Trade innovations" (Darley, Bookbinding Then and Now [1959] 31-33).

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Exploiting the New Technology of Mechanized Printing, Charles Knight Publishes "The Penny Magazine," Britain's First Low Priced Mass-Circulation Magazine 1832 – 1845

English writer, publisher, printer, and social reformer Charles Knight published The Penny Magazine of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge every Saturday from March 31, 1832 to October 31, 1845. The magazine, of which each issue consisted of 8 pages liberally illustrated with woodcuts, was marketed to the English working classes, and the developing middle class. The images allowed even the semi-literate to derive enjoyment from its pages. As its title indicated, the magazine sold for only a penny per issue, the price being the same anywhere within the United Kingdom, making the magazine affordable to virtually anyone. In the April 7, 1832 issue Knight published an essay by the American writer, educator and politician Edward Everett entitled "Advantages of the Diffusion of Knowledge" about the value of education in improving the mass of society, a view which Knight, and other members of the Society for the Diffusion of Useful Knowledge, which sponsored the magazine, undoubtedly shared. Besides literary and historical books, Knight, sometimes in cooperation with the SDUK, published many works oriented toward social and economic reform, including all four editions of Charles' Babbage's On the Economy of Machinery and Manufactureswhich coincidentally was first published the same year that Knight began publication of The Penny Magazine.

An aspect of the magazine was that Knight, as publisher and frequent writer, sometimes communicated with his readers by writing articles for the magazine himself. At the end of the first year of publication, on December 18, 1832 he wrote a preface to the first volume. In that he stated that the magazine was very successful, with circulation reaching 160,000 by the end of the first month after publication, and reaching 200,000 the first year. From this he assumed that the magazine was being read each week by a million people. Only forty years earlier, he wrote, Edmund Burke had written that there were only 80,000 readers in all of England.

To print and distribute 200,000 copies weekly required large quantities of machine-made paper, and pushed the limit of printing technology at the time, using stereotype plates on mechanized presses invented by Augustus Applegath, which were in operation at the printing house of William Clowes in London. Obviously proud of the technical aspects which made the magazine affordable and widely available, in the magazine's second year of publication Knight wrote and published a memorable series of articles in four "Monthly Supplements" to the regular issues under the general title "The Commercial History of a Penny Magazine." "No. 1--Introduction & Paper-Making"  appeared in Issue 96, August 31 to September 30, 1833, pp. 377-84. "No. 2. Wood-cutting and Type-founding" appeared in Issue 101, September 39 to October 31, 1833, pp. 417-24. "No. 3. Compositors' Work and Sterotyping" appeared in issue 107, October 31 to November 30, 1833, pp. 465-72, and "No. 4. Printing Presses and Machinery—Bookbinding" appeared in issue 112, November 30 to December 31, 1833, pp. 505-11. These articles represent the one of the best illustrated introductions to the history and technology of printing, woodcut illustration and binding as practiced during the first third of the nineteenth century. They also appear to be the earliest widely circulated general description of the new processes of machine paper manufacturing and high speed printing technology. In Issue 96, p. 381 there is a full-page woodcut of a papermaking machine--undoubtedly the first image of a device of this type seen by a wide number of people. Incidentally the paper on which my copy of the first three volumes was printed is of very good quality. In issue 112, p. 509 there is a full-page woodcut of an Applegath steam-powered press as used in Clowes' pressroom, with detailed explanatory captions. This was undoubtedly the first widely seen image of a high speed cylinder press.

Regarding the advantages of the high speed steam rotary press developed by Koenig and Applegath, Knight first explained how two men, using the fastest iron handpress, such as that invented by Earl Stanhope, could produce 250 impressions per hour. He then compared this output to that of the new printing machinery: 

"Before the invention of stereotyping it was necessary to print off considerable impressions of the few books in general demand such as bibles and prayer-books, that the cost of composition might be so far divided as to allow the book to be sold cheap: with several school-books, also, it was not uncommon to go to press with an edition of 10,000 copies. Two men, working eight hours a day each, would produce 1000 perfect impressions (impressions on each side) of a sheet per day; adn thus if a book consisted of twenty sheets, (the size of an ordinary school-book,) one press would produce the twenty sheets in 200 days. If a printer therefore, were engaged in the production of such a school-book, who could only devote one press to the operation, it wouldrequire nearly three quarters of a year to complete 10,000 copies of that work. . . . 

"But take a case which would allow no time for this long preparation. Take a daily newspaper, for instance, of which great part of the news must be collected, and written, and printed within twenty four hours. Before the application of machinery to the printing of newspapers, in 1814, there were as many daily London newspapers as at present; but their average size was much smaller than those now published. The number of each paper printed was less than at present; and the later news was much more incompletely given. The mechanical difficulties of printing a large number within a limited time required to be overcome by arrangements which involved considerable expense; and thus less capital was to be expended upon that branch of the outlay by which the excellence of a newspaper is mainly determined,--namely, the novelty, the completeness, and the accuracy of its intelligence. Let us take, for example, the 'Times' newspaper for some years prior to 1814, when it began to be printed by machinery. When that was originally established, somewhere about forty years ago, the present system of reporting speeches in parliament on the same night that they were spoken was scarcely ever attempted. A few lines mentioning the subject of the debate, and the names of principal speakers, were sometimes given, but anything like a sektch of the general debate or a report of any remarkable speech, was deferred to a future day, if it were published at all. . . . .

"The printing press, as we have mentioned, will, at the ordinary rate, enable two men to take off two hundred and fifty impressions in an hour. By the most violent exertions the pressmen of a daily newspaper were enabled, with relays, to work off about five hundred copies in an hour. One press would therefore produce ten thousand copies in about twenty hours. It is manifest that such a rate of speed, if such a quantity were demanded, would be incompatible with the production of a daily paper, the condition of whose existence is that it must be wholly printed and issued in four and twenty hours. Let us double the speed by printing in duplicate; and we find that ten thousand copies can be produced in about ten hours. But even this rate carries the publication of several thousands of the ten thousand printed into the next afternoon. We may, therefore, assume that without triplicates, which we believe were never resorted to, no daily paper previous to 1814 could aim at the sale of a greater number of copies than could be printed off even with duplicates in six hours--of which number the publication would often not be complete till after mid-day. The number printed of the most popular daily paper, would therefore be limited to five thousand; and this number could not be produced in time without the most perfect division of labour aiding the most intense exertion, provided that paper were printed by hand. The 'Times' newspaper now produces ten thousand copies in two hours and a half, from one set of types.

"If the difficulties that existed in producing any considerable number of newspapers before the invention of the printing machine were almost insurmountable, equally striking will the advantages of that invention appear when we consider its application to such a work as the 'Penny Magazine.' Let us suppose that the instruction of the people had gone on uninterruptedly in the schools of mutual instruction, and that the mechanical means for supplying the demand for knowledge thus created had sustained no improvement. In this series of papers we have endeavoured constantly to show that the price at which a book can be sold depends in great part upon the number printed of that book. But at the same time it must be borne in mind, that the number of any particular work thus produced must be limited by the mechanical means of production. If the demand for knowledge had led to the establishment of the 'Penny Magazine' before the invention of the printing machine, it is probable that the sale of twenty thousand copies would have been considered the utmost that could have been calculated upon. This invention has forced on other departments of printing, and larger presses have therefore been constructed to compete in some degree with the capacity of the machine for printing a large form of types. Twenty years ago there probably was no press in England large enough to work off a double number of the 'Penny Magazine.' One thousand perfect copies, therefore, could only have been daily produced at one press by the labour of two men. The machine produces sixteen thousand copies. If the demand for the 'Penny Magazine,' printed thus slowly by the press, had reached twenty thousand, it would have required two presses to produce that twenty thousand in the same time, namely ten days, in which we now produce one hundred and sixty thousand by the machine; and it would have required one press to be at work one hundred and sixty days, or sixteen presses for ten days, to effect the same results as the machine now effects in ten days. But, in point of fact, such a sale could never have been reached under the old system of press-work. The hand-labour, as compared with the machine, would have added at least forty per cent. to the cost of production, even if the sixteen presses could have been set in motion. Without stereotyping, no attempt would have been made to set them in motion; for the cost of re-engraving wood-cuts, and of re-composing the types, would have put a natural commercial limit to the operation. With stereotypes, the numbers printed would have been limited by the time required for the production of the stereotype-plates; in the same way as the number of a newspaper worked by hand is limited, as we have seen, by certain natural obstacles, which could not be passed with profit to those concerned in the production. At any rate the difference in the cost of printing by machinery and printing by hand would either have doubled the price of the 'Penny Magazine,' or in the same proportion diminished its size and its quality. Under those circumstances a sale at twenty thousand would have been a large sale. The saving of labour and the saving of time by the printing machine enable, in a great degree, this little work to be published at its present cost, and to be delivered, without any limitation to its supply, at regular periodical intervals throughout the United Kingdom. Without this invention a demand beyond the power of a press or two to meet would have become embarrassing. The work would have been perpetually out of print, as a failure in the supply of a book is termed. If extraordinary efforts had been made to prevent this, great expenses would have been created by the irregular exertion. The commercial difficulties of attempting a supply beyond the ordinary power of the mechanical means employed would have been insurmountable--the demand could not have been met.

"Having thus explained the general advantages of the printing machine for meeting the demand which now exists for books of large numbers, we will conduct our readers to Mr. Clowes's printing establishment, where there are more printing machines at work than at any other office in the world. It may be convenient, how ever, first to refer to the engraving of the sort of printing machine there principally employed, with the description of its several parts. The visitor to Mr. Clowes's office will be conducted into a room in which there are ten machines generally in full work. In an opposite room are six similar machines. The power which sets these in motion is supplied by two steam-engines. Upon entering the machine-room the stranger will naturally feel distracted by the din of so many wheels and cylinders in action; and if his imagination should present to him a picture of the effects which such instruments are producing and will produce, upon the condition of mankind, it may require some effort of the mind to understand the mode in which any particular machine does its work. Let us begin with one on which the 'Penny Magazine' is preparing to be printed off. One man, and sometimes two men, are engaged in what is technically called making ready; and this with stereotype plates is a tedious and delicate operation. The plates are secured upon wooden blocks by which they are raised to the height of moveable types; but then, with every care in casting, and in the subsequent turning operation, these plates, unlike moveable types, do not present a perfectly plane surface. There are hollow parts which must be brought up by careful adjustment; and this is effected by placing pieces of this paper under any point where the impression is faint. This process often occupies six or seven hours, particularly where there are casts from wood-cuts. Let us suppose it completed. Upon the solid steel table at each end of the machine lie the eight pages which print one side of the sheet. At the top of the machine, where the laying on boy stands, is a heap of wet paper. The visitor will have seen the process of wetting previously to entering the machine-room. Each quire of paper is dipped two or three times, according to its thickness, in a trough of water; and being opened is subjected, first to moderate pressure, and afterwards to the action of a powerful press, till the moisture is equally diffused through the whole heap. If the paper were not wetted, the ink, which is a composition of oil and lamp-black, would lie upon the surface and smear. To return to the machine. The signal being given by the director of the work, the 'laying-on boy turns a small handle, and the moving power of the strap connected with the engine is immediately communicated. Some ten or twenty spoiled sheets are first passed over the types to remove any dirt or moisture. If the director is satisfied, the boy begins to lay on the white paper. He places the sheet upon a flat table before him, with its edge ready to be seized by the apparatus for conveying it upon the drum. At the first movement of the great wheels the inking apparatus at each end has been set in motion. The steel cylinder attached to the reservoir of ink has begun slowly to move,--the 'doctor' has risen to touch that cylinder for an instant, and thus receive its supply of ink,--the inking-table has passed under the 'doctor' and carried off that supply--and the distributing-rollers have spread it equally over the surface of the table. This surface having passed under the inking-rollers, communicates the supply to them; and they in turn impart it to the form which is to be printed. All these beautiful operations are accomplished in the fifteenth part of a minute, by the travelling backward and forward of the carriage or table upon which the form tests. Each roller revolves upon an axis which is fixed. At the moment when the form at the back of the machine is passing under the inking-roller, the sheet, which the boy has carefully laid upon the table before him, is caught in the web-roller and conveyed to the endless bands of tapes which pass it over the first impression cylinder. It is here seized tightly by the bands, which fall between the pages and on the outer margins. The moment after the sheet is seized upon the first cylinder, the form passes under that cylinder, and the paper being brought in contact with it receives an impression on one side. To give the impression on the other side the sheet is to be turned over; and this is effected by the two drums in the centre of the machine. The endless tapes never lose their grasp of the sheet, although they allow it to be reversed. When the impression has been given by the first cylinder, the second form of tapes at the other end of the table has been inked. The drums have conveyed the sheet during this inking upon the second cylinder; it is brought into contact with the types; and the operation is complete.

"The machine which we have thus imperfectly described is a most important improvement of Koenig's original invention. That, like most first attempts, was extremely complicated. It possessed sixty wheels. Applegath and Cowper's machine has sixteen only. The inking apparatus of this machine is by far the most complete and economical that ever was invented. Nothing can be more perfect than the distribution of the ink and its application to the types. It has therefore entirely superseded Koenig's machine: and as the patent has expired, its use is rapidly extending, not only in England, but throughout Europe. Our limits will not permit us to attempt any description of the other machines which are employed in London. The most remarkable are the two now used by the 'Times' newspaper; each of which produces four thousand impressions per hour on one side of a sheet. These machines are modifications of Applegath's and Cowper's; and the additional speed is gained by having the sheets laid on at four different points instead of at one, and by employing four printing cylinders to press in succession upon one form. . . . " 

According to the title pages of volumes 1-3 in my collection, after these volumes were completed the issues of volume 1 were available for 4s. 6d. in nine monthly parts or 6s. bound in cloth, and issues of volume 2 were available for 6s in twelve monthly parts and 7s. 6d. bound in cloth, the same low price maintained for volume 3. Besides his own series on printing and book manufacturing, from 1841 to 1843 Knight commissioned from George Dodd a series of 44 illustrated articles on various manufacturing industries in England for The Penny Magazine. These he reissued in book form in 1843 as Days at the Factories; or, the Manufacturing Industry of Great Britain Described and Illustrated by Numerous Enravings of Machines and ProcessesThis included expanded versions of Knight's articles on book production.

In February 2015 I was surprised to find a copy of the American issue of Volumes 1 & 2 of Knight's Penny Magazine. This was characterized on its title page as "American Re-Issue, From the English Plates." It was printed on different, inferior paper, from the original stereotype plates, its main publisher being J. S. Redfield in New York in 1845. Copies were also distributed by various other named publishers in different cities as well as "The Cheap Publication Offices Generally Throughout the United States." This version did not include Knight's introduction to the first volume. Whether this reissue was a result of Knight's termination of the magazine in London in 1845, or just a coincidence, was unknown to me.

(This entry was last revised on 02-21-2015.)

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John Murray's "The Works of Lord Byron", the First Gilt-Stamped Cloth Edition Bindings January 1832 – 1833

The London bookbinder Archibald Leighton (1784-1841), who pioneered the use of cloth publisher's bindings for publisher William Pickering, probably originally introduced in 1825, continued to experiment with cloth as a bookbinding material, and in 1832 developed the first book cloth that could take and retain impressed gilt decoration rapidly and in sufficient quantity to allow for gilt-stamped cloth edition bindings. This historical observation was first made by novelist, publisher, book collector and bibliographer Michael Sadleir in his book entitled The Evolution of Publishers' Binding Styles 1770-1900 (1930) pp. 49-50. Sadleir wrote:

"Previously, although it had been possible to lay down gold on cloth, each book had to be done by hand and with an expenditure of time and trouble which rendered the process useless for an edition of any size. This date of 1832 is fixed in an interesting manner. In that year John Murray began the publication of a 12mo edition of the works of Byron, bound in dark green cloth with title, etc., in a shield on the spine. Vols. 1 and 2 of that edition were originally issued with dark green paper labels, printed with the title and device in gold; Vols. 3 to the end had the same title and device gold-printed actually on the cloth itself. It was between the issue of Vols. 2 and 3 that Archibald Leighton perfected his process for preparing the surface of the cloth and so introduced the gold-blocking of cloth which has been practised ever since."

As far as I could determine in February 2015, Sadleir's observation remained accurate except that the transition from paper label to the gilt label stamped directly on the cloth occurred in the second volume of Murray's set of Byron. The set, entitled The Works of Lord Byron; with his Letters and Journals and his Life by Thomas Moore, Esq., was originally intended, as stated on the titles of vols 1-12, to be complete in 14 volumes, but was extended to 17, including a "very careful and copious index to the whole collection."  The volumes were issued at the rate of one per month beginning in January 1832, with publication concluding in 1833. The books were covered in a green, water-silk embossed cloth. The first volume was issued with a green paper label on the spine with the title and a coronet printed in gold. Between the issue of this and the second volume published a month later the technique of gold blocking on cloth became a workable proposition, with the result that the lettering and coronet were stamped directly onto the cloth of the remaining 16 volumes.  

Besides the development of the appropriate book cloth, another significant factor in the development of cloth edition bindings pointed out by Douglas Ball in his Victorian Publishers' Bindings (1985) pp. 14-15 was the development, and patenting in 1832 of the Imperial Arming Press, also called an embossing or stamping press, which allowed for quality stamping onto cloth and leather with excellent control and very high pressure.

In Bookbinding Then and Now (1959) Darley pp. 35-36 offers perspective on the significance and impact of this invention:

"The press was called an Arming Press, probably because the first use envisaged for it was embossing coats of arms on the sides of books. It was an iron printing press converted to the needs of the binding trade. No one knows who made the first of these presses. Arnett, writing in 1835, three years after the event [introduction of its use in Murray's Byron] describes the Imperial Press of Cope and Sherwin: the Judges' report of the 1851 Exhibition names Hopkinson's press--and others. No patent was involved: all followed the pattern of the iron printing presses developed during the eighteen-twenties, the difference being that the platen of the Amring Press was enlarged to hold a heater box, and the block worked downward from above instead of the face-up way of type in the printing press. Into the heater box went either a gas burner, or for those binderies not yet fitted with gas, two iron bars previously made red hot in the fire. The heat thus provided heated the block screwed or glued to the platen; one impression of this heated block on a case previously washed with glaire, rubbed with a greasy rag, and having gold leaf laid in place, in the time-honoured way, could cover that case with lettering and ornament in no more time than a finisher would need for impressing one tool.

"As is the way of machines, the Arming Press imposed Conditions. Before the spine of a cover could enter the narrow gap between platen and bed of the machine, the binder had to make a case separate form the book. For the first itme in the long history of binding the sacrosanct practice of lacing-on boards had to be abandoned. In 1832 no self-respecting binder would ahve omittted this essential process in binding unless driven to it. And when driven to it he would ahve held his peace about so grave a transgression.

"The changes resulting from this Arming Press, the binding trade's second machine, were great. On the one hand the making of separate cases was a simplication in the process of covering books; on the other it made available to cloth bindings something wonderfully like the elaborations that hitherto had belonged exclusively to hand-tooled leather. it also created in the trade two new classes of workers— case-makers and blockers, as well as engravers of brass blocks for the binding trade— and it enabled publishers, for the first time, to issue their publications in a style that was pleasing and acceptable as a permanent binding."

Here is a video produced by binder Trevor Lloyd showing the design and operation of a restored Imperial arming press:

Wolf, From Gothic Windows to Peacocks: American Embossed Leather Bindings, 1825-1855 (1990) 12.

Tomlinson & Masters, Bookcloth 1823-1980 (1996) 9.

(This entry was last revised on 03-19-2016.)

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Michael Faraday on Decay in Leather Bookbindings April 7, 1843

In a paper on Light and Ventilation delivered at the Royal Institution where he worked on April 7, 1843 chemist and physicist Michael Faraday attributed decay in leather bookbindings and chairs to the heat and sulphur fumes emanating from the illuminating gas then used. Faraday began his career as a bookbinder.

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Alfred Bonnardot Issues the First Book on the Restoration of Rare Books and their Bindings 1846

In 1846 French bookbinder, restorer, and writer Alfred Bonnardot published Essai sur la restauration des anciennes estampes et des livres rares, ou Traité sur les meilleurs procédés a suivre pour réparer, détacher, décolorier et conserver les gravures, dessins et livres. Ouvrages spécialment utile aux artists, aux collectionneurs, aux marchands d'estampes, aux bibliophiles, etc. This was the first book on the restoration of rare books and their bindings. It also covered issues of restoration of works of art on paper, and was directed toward artists, collectors, print dealers and bibliophiles. The small work consisted of 80 pages, including an index.  

Bonnardot later issued a Supplément of 31 pages with 15 pages of revisions to the previous work and an additional Chapter XV (pp. 16-31) "De la restauration et de la reliure provisoire des livres rares." The Table des Chapitres was published on the first leaf of the index (p. 79).  15 pages of revisions to a text of only 80 pages, plus the addition of an additional chapter as an afterthought, suggest a work that was rapidly published, probably before the author had the opportunity to make sufficient revisions. 400 copies were printed.

In 1858 Bonnardot published a greatly revised second edition of this work. According to his preface to the later edition, the first edition was sold out by 1850, but presumably, having rushed the first edition, Bonnardot took sufficient time to put out a more definitive second edition. The revised edition, published 12 years after the first, consisted of eight preliminary pages, and 352 pages of text. In addition to the greatly expanded text, this edition is useful for its chronological listing, with comments, of rare works on the topics covered in the text. The list includes some books that Bonnardot knew about but was not able to see. The second edition also included an "Exposé des divers systèmes de reproduction des anciennes estampes et des livres rares." This covered lithographic, photographic, and other means of reproduction.  A German translation of the 1858 edition was published in 1859.

Portions of Bonnardot's 1858 edition were translated into English in Buck, Book Repair and Restoration . . . including some Translated Selections from Essai sur l'art de Restaurer les Estampes et les Livres par A. Bonnardot, Paris 1858 (1918).

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1850 – 1875

The First Dust Jackets in the Flap-Style on Books Printed in English 1857

According to Mark R. Godburn, the earliest jackets in the flap-style— as opposed to all-enclosing sealed wrapping style on English annuals that are reported on books printed in English— are on a four volume set of The Comprehensive History of England, by Charles MacFarlane and Thomas Thomson, published in London by Blackie & Sons in 1857. "The printing on the jackets (reported by the indefatigable John Carter in 1968) includes the price of the books."

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The First Dust Jacket Issued by a Publisher in the United States 1865

According to Mark R. Godburn's website for his forthcoming Nineteenth Century Dust Jackets: An Illustrated History, "In the United States, the earliest known publisher-issued dust jacket is on a copy of The Bryant Festival at 'The Century' (1865) published by D. Appleton & Co. This jacket was printed on the front and rear panels with the same design as the binding."

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Imprimerie Alfred Mame's Spectacular Portrayal of Large Scale Book Manufacturing 1867

In April 2013 I acquired a copy of a spectacular volume, Imprimerie - Librairie - Relieure. Alfred Mame et Fils à Tours. Notice et specimens. This folio work, in its original red blind-stamped and gilt cloth binding, with gilt edges, with pages measuring 395 x 270 mm., was issued at Tours in 1867 by Imprimerie Alfred Mame to advertise and promote its business. Printed on excellent paper, the work has only 18 pp. of text, interleaved with many full-page illustrations, followed by more than 100 pages of specimens of title pages, text and illustrations, sometimes printed in two colors, and including many fine examples of engraving. The folio format was used in order to include full-size folio specimens.

My interest in the volume was primarily in its spectacular engraved images of the different elements of large-scale book production in the mid-19th century. Mame clearly used machine presses on a large scale, as the image of his huge pressroom shows. Notably, however, Mame continued to employ manual typesetters, as before the development of the Linotype and the Monotype, mechanical typesetting remained troublesome and of inferior quality. The image of Mame's very large bindery suggests that virtually all of the binding work was still done by hand. A common element to all the images is that none show women employed in any of the book production tasks.

Mame's business model involved bring in house all aspects of book production including typesetting and printing, engraving, binding, and even bookselling. Mame also was part-owner of a paper mill. From the majority of the specimens shown the firm seems to have specialized in publishing religious or devotional books. Presumably, this may have been the largest topic of commercial book consumption in France during that very religious time. His firm employed about 700 people in production and 400-500 in sales in what appears to be a rather grand facility, though we may assume that the images glorify or beautify what cannot always have been ideal working conditions. Nevertheless, the environment may have been rather copasetic as, according to the Wikipedia, "Inspired by the social Catholic ideal, Alfred Mame established for his employees a pension fund for those over sixty, wholly maintained by the firm. He opened schools, which caused him to receive one of the ten thousand francs awards reserved for the 'établissements modèles où régnaient au plus haut degré l'harmonie sociale et le bien-être des ouvriers'. In 1874 Mame organized a system by which his working-men shared in the profits of the firm." (Wikipedia article on Aflred Mame, accessed 05-18-2013).

Bigmore & Wyman II, 16.

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1875 – 1900

Morgand & Fatout Issue Perhaps the Earliest Antiquarian Bookseller's Catalogue Illustrated with Plates Printed in Color 1878

In April 2013 Roland Folter, an expert bibliographer, retired antiquarian bookseller, and noted collector of the history of bibliography and the book trade, suggested to me that the earliest antiquarian bookseller's catalogue illustrated with plates printed in color might be Bulletin Mensuel No. 8, October 1878, issued in Paris by the firm of Damascène Morgand and Charles Fatout. Upon hearing of this I was able to acquire a nicely bound copy of Volume I of the Bulletin (1876-78), containing the first 8 issues describing a total of 4562 priced items continuously numbered, followed by an elaborate index of authors and anonymous works found in the first volume. According to Roland Folter, the lot numbering continued in 9 subsequent volumes of the Bulletin, comprising 59 issues in 10 volumes (1876-1904), describing 46,593 lots on well over 10,000 pages with 91 plates (19 in color) and over 600 text illustrations, making it perhaps the most voluminous antiquarian bookseller's catalogue ever published. (This set was continued as Bulletin - Nouvelle Série, published in 21 individually paginated and individually numbered issues from 1904 to 1920.) 

Issue No. 8 contains 6 finely printed color plates of bookbindings, each with a tissue guard. In the introduction to this volume the publishers stated that they had desired to include facsimiles of bookbindings earlier but found the reproduction quality unsatisfactory until the availability of a new process they call a combination of photogravure and "chromotypographie." This appears to be a combination of photogravure – the modern form of which was invented in 1878 – and chromolithography.

Bulletin Mensuel resembles twentieth century antiquarian catalogues in terms of format and occasional annotations.  Some of the line cuts of title pages are even printed in both red and black. In issue No. 8 the booksellers also included detailed black & white engraved reproductions of medieval miniatures, another feature which may have been unusual for the time.  I find it interesting that the booksellers chose to reproduce bindings in color even though the spectacular bindings reproduced were by no means as expensive as some other books in the catalogue, especially the illuminated manuscripts. Clearly the reproduction quality for attempts at illustrating elaborate images of medieval manuscripts with their wide color range might have been unsatisfactory, or perhaps prohibitively expensive at the time, with many more color impressions required for each plate.

Another unusual element in the catalogue is that the second color plate, illustrating No. 3948, reproduces a miniature bookbinding in its original size. The Grolieresque mosaic binding on a miniature 1828 edition of Horace is priced only 270 F; certainly this is the earliest color reproduction of a miniature bookbinding in an antiquarian booksellers's catalogue. Were miniature books reproduced in their original size in antiquarian booksellers' catalogues prior to this?

Searching for information on Morgand & Fatout, I found the following information on Damascène Morgand in an online issue of the American magazine, The Curio, Vol.1, No. 3, published in November 1887. The article, written by the presumably forgotten journalist Max Maury, was entitled "The Great Booksellers of the World. Damascene Morgand, of Paris." From it I quote:

"A little farther at No. 55 Caen used to present an alluring stock of illuminated manuscripts, incunables, first editions XVII. and XVIII. century bindings, engravings and etchings in their earliest and most perfect states, and of late years, in 1875, I think Damascène Morgand, having bought out the Caen business, began his career of unprecedented success, built upon that solid experience acquired under old Fontaine's careful tuition. In 1882 his partner, Mr. Fatout, died, and the forty-seven year old Norman connoisseur began his rapid strides towards his world-wide reputation. The great bibliophiles placed orders in his hands with a feeling of full security; and in all the great public sales, Damascène Morgand, dignified, cold as steel and as sharp as a Yankee of Yankeeland, came forward as the buyer of the highest-priced lots and of unique examples of books, bindings, and prints. Such collectors as the Baron James de Rothschild, the Count de Lignerolles, Ernest Quentin-Bauchart, Eugène Paillet, Louis Roederer (of Champagne fame), the Baron de La Roche-Lacarelle, etc., took from his hands the most famous jewels of their choice libraries. From such customers a dealer learns more than he teaches, and, in fact, the spirit of the collector possessed Mr. Morgand as deeply as it did his buyers. As a tangible proof of his gigantic work, his firm has published, for the last ten years, monthly bulletins, embellished with costly illustrations fac-similes of frontispieces, reproductions of bindings engraved in colors, and the collection of these bulletins is sought after as the basis of every bibliophile's library of information."

Roland Folter also pointed out to me in an email on May 3, 2013 that 1878 appears to be a watershed year for the introduction of printed color plates in commercial rare book catalogues as, in addition to the Morgand & Fatout catalogue, a few copies of the Sotheby catalogue of the J. T. Payne sale in London on April 10, 1878 were "struck off on thick paper with Eleven facsimile Illustrations in gold and colours. Price 5s.", and a Bachelin-Deflorenne auction catalogue for a sale in Paris in June 1878, listing among other things a Gutenberg Bible, was issued with 5 color plates (2 folding). I have not seen the Bachelin-Deflorenne catalogue, and cannot judge the quality of its color plates, but as it predated the Morgand & Fatout catalogue by 5 months, it is conceivable that Morgand & Fatout decided it was time to introduce color printed images in their catalogue when they saw the color plates in the Bachelin-Deflorenne catalogue.

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1900 – 1910

Problems with Leather Used in Bookbinding 1905

The final "Report of the Committee of the Society of Arts on Leather for Bookbinding" published in London in 1905 confirmed the view that bookbinding leathers being used were inferior to those used 50 years earlier. It attributed degradation to changes in methods of manufacture and tanning, and also to the "injurious effect of light and gas fumes" which were common in many libraries.

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1920 – 1930

Fortunato Depero's "Bolted Catalogue" of Futurist Graphics 1927

For the 1927 Biennale Internazionale delle Arti Decorative in Monza, Italy, Italian futurist painter, writer, sculptor and graphic designer, and industrial designer Fortunato Depero designed a Book Pavilion  for publishers Bestetti Treves Tumminelli, built entirely out of giant block letters. This was considered a significant architectural achievement. He also produced a lavish printed catalogue of his own graphic work from 1913 to 1927 entitled Depero futurista, reproduced both by letter press and photography. The book was bound in futurist style using two industrial bolts.

 "It featured for the first time a mechanical binding consisting of two bolts holding the pages together, as conceived by Fedele Azari, the publisher. Influenced by the focus on the machine that characterized Futurism in the early 1920s, this book should be considered a manifesto of the Machine Age. However, Depero's innovation was not confined to the cover; the inside text features a wealth of typographic inventions including the use of different typefaces, the text formed into various shapes, the use of different papers and colours, and several other devices.

"After seeing this book, Kurt Schwitters wanted to meet Depero and enthusiastically showed his copy to every visitor to his personal library. This book was published in an edition of 1000 copies, most of which bear a stamp of the number of the copy. The edition, showed at least three different front pages with different color prints. There are four or five copies with a metal binding -- books of great rarity but of minor visual impact. Finally, there were even four to five copies provided with a box case expressly designed by the author.... " (http://www.colophon.com/gallery/futurism/1.html, accessed 01-03-2014).

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1930 – 1940

Marinetti's Metal Book: "Parole in Liberta . . ." 1932

Five years after Fortunato Depero issued his sensational Depero futurista, a "mechanical" book full of futurist poetry and graphics that featured a binding held together with two machined bolts, in 1932 Italian poet and editor Filippo Tommaso Marinetti introduced his definitive model of the mechanical book, Parole in libertà: olfattive, tattili, termichea collection of his poetry, designed by futurist artist Tullio Mazzoti, better known by his pseudonym, Tullio d'Albisola, and produced by industrialist Vincenzo Nosenzo. Nosenzo owned a tin can factory in Zinola, a suburb of Savona, and had perfected and patented a method of lithographing on tin, called "lito-latta," the English translation of which would be "lithotin." Publication was shared by Nosenzo's firm, Lito-Latta in Savona (Nosenzo's imprint), which was responsible for the book's production, and Marinetti's Futurist publishing house "Poesia" in Rome. Thus, while Depero's book was printed on paper, Marinetti's book was printed entirely on tin sheets, reflective of the materials and textures of the Machine Age. It was also intended to be an imperishable book. The book's content was also innovative, as Marinetti introduced new references between words and physical interaction with olfactory, tactile, and thermal sensations.

Copies of Marinetti's metal book weigh 852 grams, not including the slipcase. Though dimensions apparently vary from copy to copy, its 15 sheets of tin are typically 24 x 24 centimeters, bound with a tubular aluminum spine, on which they rotate on metal wire spindles attached at head and foot—a feat of book engineering credited to Nosenzo. The tin leaves are extremely thin (no more than 1 mm each), and to prevent cuts they are very slightly folded on their edges.

"Notwithstanding its unusual components and the originality of Tullio's design, the Metal Book features all the elements we expect to find in a book. It has a front and a back cover, the front cover doubling as a title page; three preliminary 'leaves,' including copyright page, frontispiece, and dedication page (not necessarily found in this order from copy to copy); a body of text, comprising nine leaves printed on both sides; and an advertisement and table of contents at the end. None of the 28 'pages' is paginated" (Vincent Giroud, Parole in Liberta. Marinetti's Metal Book. Berkeley: Codex Foundation Code(x) +2 Monograph Series No. 1, 2012).

The edition was 101 unnumbered copies, of which 50 were for sale, and the rest for presentation. "A unique copy was printed on paper, comprising a different title page (with the imprint of the Edizioni Futuriste di 'Poesi'), the copyright page, a different frontispiece portrait of Marinett (wearing his Accademia d'Italia uniform), the deication page, the nine poems as printed in the Metal Book (but without any of the typographical plates), and the table. Measuring 34 x 31.5 cm., this unicum is bound in a full red and green leather binding held together, in the manner of Depero futurista, with five bolts— one of which is now missing. Destined for Marinetti, and inscribed to him by Tullio and Nosenzo on 5 December 1932, it is now in the Beinecke Library, where a significant part of Marinetti's library now rests" (Giroud, op.cit., 20-21).  

In January 2014 digital images of Yale's complete tin copy were available from the Beinicke Library at this link.

As a companion to Giroud's study of Marinetti's Metal Book, fine printer Peter Koch and the Codex Foundation also issued in 2012, as No. 2 in the Code(x) +2 Monograph Series, a reduced-format color reproduction of the copy at Yale. The reproduction is entirely printed on black paper to emphasize the metallic aspects. This also reproduces the very rare slipcase, missing from some copies. In my opinion Giroud's 22-page essay, and its companion reproduction, are among the most interesting studies of an individual publication.

In 2009 the British Library acquired a copy of Marinetti's metal book for £83,000.

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1950 – 1960

Ray Bradbury's Early Dystopian View of Books: "Fahrenheit 451" 1953 – November 2011

Having written the entire book on a pay typewriter in the basement of UCLA's Powell Library, in 1953 Ray Bradbury published the dystopian science fiction novel Fahrenheit 451, named after the temperature at which books are supposed to combust spontaneously. Besides the regular trade edition, the publisher, Ballantine Books, issued a limited edition of 200 copies signed by Bradbury and bound in white boards made of "Johns-Manville Quinterra," a fire-proof asbestos material.

"The novel presents a future American society in which the masses are hedonistic, and critical thought through reading is outlawed. The central character, Guy Montag, is employed is a 'fireman' (which, in this future, means 'book burner'). The number '451' refers to the temperature (in Fahrenheit) at which the books burn when the 'Firemen' burn them 'For the good of humanity'. Written in the early years of the Cold War, the novel is a critique of what Bradbury saw as an increasingly dysfunctional American society.

Bradbury's original intention in writing Fahrenheit 451 was to show his great love for books and libraries. "He has often referred to Montag as an allusion to himself" (Wikipedia article on Fahrenheit 451).

François Truffaut and Jean-Louis Richard wrote a screenplay based on the novel, and Truffault directed a film, released in 1966, entitled Fahrenheit 451, starring Julie Christie and Oskar Werner. The film was re-issued on DVD by Universal Studios in 2003.

♦ After publically opposing ebooks for several years, telling The New York Times in 2009 that "that the Internet is a big distraction," in November 2011, at the age of 91, Bradbury authorized an ebook edition of Fahrenheit 451, and several other of his best-selling books. By this date Fahrenheit 451 had sold more than 10 million copies in print, and had been translated into many languages. Also by this date, ebooks comprised 20% of the fiction book market in the U.S. 

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1960 – 1970

K. G. Pontius Hultén Curates "The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age" : An Art Exhibition November 27, 1968 – February 9, 1969

Swedish art collector and curator K. G. Pontius Hultén curated and wrote the catalogue for The Machine as Seen at the End of the Mechanical Age, an exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, from November 27, 1968 to February 9, 1969. This was a landmark exhibition on the history of the machine in its relationship to art from the Renaissance to 1968; or as the editor stated, it was "a collection of comments on technology by artists of the Western world" (p. 3). The art reproduced and described in the catalogue— including much that was radical for its time—was mainly in traditional media such as prints or paintings, sculptural or mechanical, with a few electro-mechanical items, and one example of laser art.

Only the last two items in the exhibition were examples of computer graphics, the first of which was a digitized and pixilated image of a reclining nude, entitled "The Nude," executed in 1966 Leon D. Harman and Kenneth C. Knowlton, researchers at Bell Labs. "Knowlton relates how they tossed a coin to determine who would be listed in the museum catalogue as the 'artist' (Harmon) and as the 'engineer' (Knowlton)" (Noll, First Hand: Early Digital Art at Bell Telephone Laboratories, Inc, accessed 01-19-2014).  Creation of "The Nude" as shown in a five foot by twelve enlargement was discussed in a New York Times article by Henry R. Lieberman entitled "Art and Science Proclaim Alliance in Avant-Garde Loft," October 11, 1967.

That the show took place only a month after the pioneering computer art show, Cybernetic Serendipity, closed in London, was probably a coincidence.

The design and production of the catalogue was unusually excellent, including a very striking binding of aluminum sheeting with a stamped enamel-painted design of the MOMA building on the upper cover.

In January 2014 all the press release documents, including detailed information about art exhibited, were available from the Museum of Modern Art website at this link.

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1970 – 1980

Finding Additional Leaves of the Codex Sinaiticus May 26, 1975 – 2014

During restoration work on May 26, 1975 the monks of St. Catherine's monastery at Mount Sinai discovered a sealed room in the monastery that contained art treasures and 1148 manuscripts, in various languages, of which 305 were complete. Among the the fragments were 12 complete leaves, and some fragments, of the Codex Sinaiticus.

Bentley, Secrets of Mount Sinai. The Story of the World's Oldest Bible-Codex Sinaiticus (1986) 197-202.

On March 6, 2014 TheIndependent.co.uk reported that Nikolas Sarris, a British-based academic, chanced upon another leaf or a portion of a leaf of the Codex Sinaiticus while inspecting photographs of a series of book bindings that were made by two monks at St. Catherine's monastery during the 18th century.

"Over the centuries, antique parchment was often re-used by St Catherine's monks in book bindings because of its strength and the relative difficulty of finding fresh parchment in such a remote corner of the world.

"A Greek student conservator who is studying for his PhD in Britain, Mr Sarris had been involved in the British Library's project to digitise the Codex and quickly recognised the distinct Greek lettering when he saw it poking through a section of the book binding. Speaking from the Greek island of Patmos yesterday, Mr Sarris said: 'It was a really exciting moment. Although it is not my area of expertise, I had helped with the online project so the Codex had been heavily imprinted in my memory. I began checking the height of the letters and the columns and quickly realised we were looking at an unseen part of the Codex.'

"Mr Sarris later emailed Father Justin, the monastery's librarian, to suggest he take a closer look at the book binding. 'Even if there is a one-in-a-million possibility that it could be a Sinaiticus fragment that has escaped our attention, I thought it would be best to say it rather than dismiss it.'

'Only a quarter of the fragment is visible through the book binding but after closer inspection, Father Justin was able to confirm that a previously unseen section of the Codex had indeed been found. The fragment is believed to be the beginning of Joshua, Chapter 1, Verse 10, in which Joshua admonishes the children of Israel as they enter the promised land.

"Speaking to The Art Newspaper, Father Justin said the monastery would use scanners to look more closely at how much of the fragment existed under the newer book binding. 'Modern technology should allow us to examine the binding in a non-invasive manner,' he said.

"Mr Sarris said his find was particularly significant because there were at least 18 other book bindings in the monastery's library that were compiled by the same two monks that had re-used the Codex. 'We don't know whether we will find more of the Codex in those books but it would definitely be worth looking,' he said."

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