Judge These Books By Their Covers

Until the early 19th century, most books were purchased in paper covers for the owner to have bound according to his own taste and budget. These books would have been bound by hand in small workshops. During the nineteenth century, this practice was increasingly superseded by the mass production of publishers’ bindings. In hand-bound books, the sewn text-block was laced into boards and then covered with leather or cloth. In publishers’ bindings, the covers were made separately and in quantity, and were not an integral part of the structure.

Publishers’ bindings became more sophisticated as the century progressed, reflecting both technological developments and artistic trends. Initially cloth was the favored medium because it was cheaper and easier to work than leather, but a wide range of covering materials was used, including paper, papier-mâché and  wood .

Gradually book binding design became recognized as art in itself. If you admire the stunning Rococo Revival, Neoclassical, Orientalism, Gothic Revival, Arts & Crafts, Art Nouveau and Egyptian Revival bindings from the 19th and early 20th centuries as much as I do, you will happily spend hours on the fascinating Publishers’ Bindings Online 1815-1930 website








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25 Responses to Judge These Books By Their Covers

  1. CrystalSpins says:

    BEAUTIFUL! Thanks for the great photos — and for a bit of history about book binding. I had no idea.


  2. Nice quality. I love going through old books and looking at the way it was designed. Great post!

  3. Nor says:

    Lovely site. There is almost an alive, tactile sense in viewing these covers. They are beside me here, and my hands are lifting them toward my eyes and mind. Thanks for paying such close attention to this beauty. I’m looking forward to more of your thoughtful blog postings.

  4. SO interesting. When I yard sale old books I often judge them by their cover, and have gotten some lovely reads that are out of print for my efforts…not too shabby! Great post.

  5. Wow, I totally didn’t know about this. Absolutely fascinating. I still remember some of the books I read when I was very young that were old then (probably from the 20s and 30s). They had amazing covers and graphics.

  6. Circe says:

    these are beautiful, thanks for the post

  7. It is said that a book should not be judged by its cover; however some covers are specially attractive and just make me want to read the book! I find British editions far more appealing than those you can find here in Mexico; not that the latter are ugly or unappealing they just have a different design. Every time I travel to Europe (which fortunately is quite often) I stop at almost every bookstore I stumble upon and fill my suitcase with books much to my gf’s discomfort and annoyance.
    Congratulations on getting freshly pressed!

  8. Kate Cook says:

    These books are so beautiful. I love making these kinds of finds in libraries (even better when I can buy them!) and I’d love to have a shelf full of my favorite titles in their more beautiful covers from previous prints. Thanks for the link!

  9. jrrbookworks says:

    I love this posting because I am a fan of publishers bindings. The Art Nouveau and other “movement” inspired artwork is fantastic. I often buy clearance books from the 1890’s-1930’s for less than $5.00 a book just for the covers but am lucky to have found most books a worthy read. These covers lend a fantastically rich level of artistry to one’s library, making art out of a bookshelf. Thank you for this post and the link to the Publishers Bindings Online Web Page.

  10. What an awesome post! Consideration of design and production are what set the bibliophile apart from the mere reader 🙂 Not sure why, but I get giddy when I discover someone else who cares as much about books as I do. Thank you for taking the time to share! My favorite, by the way, is The Boy Anglers. Looking forward to more form your blog!

  11. These are beautiful. Another lost art…

  12. barb7802 says:

    The book covers are beautiful. I always admire old books when I find them. Whether you read them or not, they are works of art. Thank you for sharing.

  13. Hmm…more interesting topic…book binding, or foot binding? Discuss…


  14. Pingback: The Intersection of Travel, Books, and Art « Read Heavily

  15. Sunflowerdiva says:

    Lovely covers. I’m sure these are also great books! I think the oldest book I own is at least 50 years old–it’s “Five Little Peppers and How They Grew.” The cover is so old and the pages so faded. But I love it.

  16. Evie Garone says:

    I always thought old books were lovely! I own some just for that very reason. Thanks for sharing. Congrats on being Freshly Pressed!


  17. Jamie says:

    Very fascinating history! Thank you for sharing!

  18. sayitinasong says:

    These are like small works of art. Thanks for posting the link to the publisher’s website- facinating!

  19. I kind of wish it still worked that way… I would love to design covers for my favorite books!

  20. bovanity says:

    Book bindings are a major attraction to me when buying a book. Unfortunately, most books now don’t have the beautiful ones of long ago. It’s always exciting to find a classic book with an exquisite cover. Thanks for the post!

  21. 4myskin says:

    Wow! So pretty! Going to have to check out that website. 🙂

  22. Nice post about book-binding, like another art. There is something quite striking and poetic about seeing an array of binded books. Something not replaceable, when e-books come into play. Thanks for the link.

  23. chrisrc says:

    Thank you for posting this. It was really interesting, and the images are gorgeous. 🙂 I love going to used bookstores and looking through the older editions.

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