People collect books for so many different reasons; some focus on a particular subject, others collect an entire literary genre; others covet only the earliest of works or modern first editions.

A common thread that runs through every category of antiquarian books is that of the fine binding.

Many collectors choose to focus exclusively on finely bound volumes or sets of antique books with the sole purpose of having an attractive library that has a real “wow” factor when viewed as a whole.

A Beautiful Library = Prominence and Wealth

Years ago especially, a well-stocked library reflected not only on one’s scholarly or intellectual background but also presented a very visual representation of one’s wealth. It was common practice for wealthy families to go to their local bindery and ask for a custom binding for a particular book.

Custom Binding Antique Book

c1770 Custom Royal binding for a book bound for King Gustav of Austria

The very best work was typically produced as a custom job by a professional bindery. This was (and is) a very expensive job and historically, would have only been something that wealthy families could afford.

Finely bound books have always been considered highly prized items – even in today’s digital world, antiquarian book collectors thankfully still appreciate such precious volumes.

Crash Course in Bookbinding History

Some of the earliest known bound books date to the fourth century, originating in ancient Egypt. Fast forward a century or two, and the art of bookbinding evolved with the hand-written manuscripts carefully produced by monks, then bound with wooden boards and often encrusted with metal and jewels.

Antiquarian Book Binding

c1580 Ornately Bound Gregorian Chant Manuscript

Modern-era bookbinding exploded with the arrival of the printing press, and since then, a huge variety of beautifully bound books have been created by master craftsmen. Fine bindings come in a vast array of elaborate and decorative styles. Perform a quick search online and you can find some amazing examples of beautifully jeweled and embroidered books.

Meet the Artisans: A Few Notable Binders

Grolier Bindings – Named for Jean Grolier de Servières, viscount d’Aguisy was Treasurer-General of France and a famous bibliophile, noted for his passion in collecting beautifully bound books. Grolier bindings were mostly produced in Paris in the mid-16th century, with many lovely examples featuring interlaced and patterned designs, often in arabesque or geometric shapes.

Riverie and Son – A binding firm in Bath and London that was active throughout the 19th century; they famously advertised themselves as “Bookbinders By Special Appointment to Her Majesty The Queen”.

Sangorski & Sutcliffe – Considered one of the most important bookbinding companies of the 20th century, Sangorski & Sutcliffe is well known for its ornately jeweled bindings that used real gold and precious stones in their book covers. They are still active in book binding today.

Cosway Binding – Known for their extraordinary work involving miniature pictures which are bound into beautifully crafted bindings of full leather.

Easton Press Books – Some of the most commonly accessible finely bound books in the mainstream market today are those produced by The Easton Press. Easton Press books are each beautifully bound in genuine leather and accented with 22 karat gold, presented as deluxe limited editions. Individual Easton Press books and full sets are a great entry into the realm of beautiful books and offer collectors an instant library sure to please the eye.

Other notable mentions include London’s Samuel Mearne (1624-1683), Dawson & Lewis, Stikeman & Co. and Bayntun-Rivière Bindery, all of whom produced some stunning examples of expert binding. The above is just a short list of famous book binders and is by no means comprehensive.

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