Book cover

Book cover: Carthusian monastery Cologne
Late Gothic leather book cover from the Carthusian monastery in Cologne, circa 1508; photo: Klaus D. Sonntag
Deutsches Buch- und Schriftmuseum der Deutschen Nationalbibliothek Leipzig

Book cover

Craftsmanship and art

A cover shall please the eye, so it shall satisfy in form, material, colour and decoration. The bookbinder should consider, how important the exterior design of a cover is.

Fritz Wiese, Der Bucheinband: Eine Arbeitskunde mit Werkzeichnungen, 1983

With the emergence of the codex, it became necessary to protect and support the text block with a cover. The earliest binding of handwritten texts took place in monasteries. Starting in the Middle Ages, the craft of book binding developed into an urban commercial industry. The invention of the printing press meant that the demand for bindings was huge. A printer generally delivered his product in quires and it was the purchaser who then hired a book binder to create the cover of the volume in question.

The text block was sewn and then bound in a wooden or cardboard cover. The volume then received a jacket made of leather, parchment or, in more recent times, paper. In the final stage the cover was decorated in accordance with the fashion of the era or in line with the customer’s specific taste. Binding with blind-embossed stamping, rolls and decorative lines dominated the book creations of the incunable period. Gilding later became a fashionable form of ornamentation as the general aesthetic of the book underwent significant stylistic changes. Book binding was carried out exclusively by hand until the beginning of the industrial age in the 19th century.