History of Bookbinding
- Writing originates in mesopotamia, modern Iraq and Syria, in 4000 BCE
with the use of pictorial symbols on clay tokens representing individuals
and goods, possible used in the distribution and trade of agricultural surpluses
and other commodities. By 3000 BCE these forms evolved into cuneiform, markings
engraved into soft clay tablets with a stylus, which used both the phonetic
and concrete meanings of each symbol to any idea that could be expressed
- The first writing appears in China around 2000 BCE with the appearance
of tortoise oracles--turtle shells inscribed with symbols using heated rod,
which would then be used to make predictions about the future.
- While early writing systems were inscribed on clay tablets or carved into
rock, the invention of papyrus and other types of paper allowed for the
making of scrolls, which remained the main medium for written text until
the invention of the first codices between 100 and 200 CE
The First Codices
- Codices differ from a scroll in that they have pages, rather than being
one long text, allowing them to be made any length and permitting greater
ease finding specific passages within the text. The first codices were made
of a single section of folded pages, stab-sewn, often with no cover.
- By 800CE codices evolved into multi-section books with several sections
of folded pages, called signatures, and began using more complex methods
of sewing and cover boards made of wood. These codices evolved in christian
monasteries, which after the fall of rome in the fifth century, housed the
only literate individuals, and the only places of learning, in Europe.
- Later books began using cover materials such as leather to cover the spine
and boards, and began sewing the signatures onto bands of leather, enhancing
the strength and structure of the book. Using leather as a cover material
was not as universal at this time as it has been more recently, and early
book often used other materials such as velvet, silver metal, and gold cloth
for the covers.
Invention of the modern book
- The modern book was developed in monasteries by monks who copied and recopies
ancient and religious texts by hand onto vellum, a paper made from flattened
- Gutenberg press allowed printed text to become more available to people
rather than just monks. Printed texts could be made cheaply, but binding
and paper was still done by hand and remained rare except among the wealthy.
The only book most families were likely to own was the bible, which would
be passed down through the generations.
- Industrialization brought about a number of new ways to produce paper
that were far cheaper than sheepskin vellum.
- In the eighteenth century it became common to produce paper from
used clothing, which made for very strong and extremely long lasting
- Nineteenth century-invented paper made from wood pulp, which reduced
the cost of paper to a fraction of what it was before, although wood
pulp paper, the standard today, is actually far less durable than other
- While the cost of paper and printing decreased dramatically by the eighteenth
century—and increasing numbers outside the church became literate,
especially in the American colonies—bookbinding had changed little,
and remained extremely expensive. This lead to the proliferation of non-bound
printed media, such as pamphlets, which were popular in the colonies, or
weekly magazines, which were the main media for British writers such as
charles dickens. In fact, aside from printed copies of the bible, most books
produced by binderies were blank, intended as legers and record books for
business men and government bureaucrats.
Industrialization and Paperback
- Industrialization of bookbinding began in the later half of the 19th century
with the invention of the first book sewing machine in 1865 by David McConnell
Smyth, from whom the term applied to the method of sewing pages in a book,
smyth sewing, was borrowed. However, binding books by hand remained a common
practice until the mid 1900s.
- Perfect binding, the method of binding for paper back books was invented
in 1895, and was adopted first by a german publisher Albatross books, then
popularized by the then British publishing giant, penguin books, introducing
their Penguin Classics.
- While Penguin books launched the paper back revolution in the 1930s,
these paperbacks were very low quality, degraded over time, and reserved
only for backlist best sellers. New books were always produced in hard cover.
By the 1950s the quality paperback revolution was underway, aided by the
introduction of hot melt glues that made the bindings more durable, as well
as superior paper coating and laminations, and declining cost of paper.
- The quality paperback revolution also marked the rise of non-fiction in
the book market. Whereas in the nineteenth century the majority of all books
sold were novels, by the 1950s non-fiction surpassed fiction in overall
sales, due both to the advent of the information age, requiring people to
stay up to date, as well increased interest in fields such as history, possibly
due to the experiences in the two world wars.
Publishing & Bindery
Bookbinding • Specialty Publishing
1751 Oregonia Road, Lebanon,
OH 45036 513.850.3186 firstname.lastname@example.org