Bookbinding by handBooks are bound, orig­i­nal­ly by hand, but now usu­al­ly by machine, as a means of fas­ten­ing the sheets of print­ed mat­ter togeth­er and pro­vid­ing them with a pro­tec­tive cover.

Until the begin­ning of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry books were often sold as loose sheets in paper wrap­pers so that indi­vid­ual pur­chasers could decide for them­selves the type of bind­ing they required. As the cost of print­ing the books reduced, ways were also sought to reduce the cost of fin­ish­ing the prod­uct and board bind­ings, and lat­er cloth ones grad­u­al­ly began to take the place of leather bind­ings for many books.

Once print­ed on both sides, the sheets of paper are stacked. The lay­out of the pages on the sheets has been organ­ised (‘imposed’) to ensure that when fold­ed, the pages of the pam­phlet, mag­a­zine or sec­tion of a book, will be in the cor­rect order. The sheets are cut into sec­tions using a guil­lo­tine, then fold­ed, orig­i­nal­ly by hand, pressed to remove the air, and the sec­tions gath­ered into the right order (’col­lat­ed’). For a sewn bind­ing the sec­tions are sewn togeth­er, cov­ered by a strip and trimmed to the final size. For a book with hard cov­ers, the cov­er (the case) are made sep­a­rate­ly then glued to the end­pa­pers of the book.

Before machines were capa­ble of under­tak­ing these process­es, the stitch­ing was under­tak­en by hand. Mod­ern paper­backs are not stitched but the sheets are glued at the back edge and card cov­ers are then glued to form the spine.

The var­i­ous process­es were mech­a­nised in stages dur­ing the 19th cen­tu­ry. Some book print­ers had in-house binderies, but oth­ers sub­con­tract­ed bind­ing to inde­pen­dent firms.

Online arti­cles include Book­bind­ing’ from the Ency­clopae­dia Bri­tan­ni­ca’s 1911 edi­tion and T J Cob­den-Sander­son­’s address on ‘Book­bind­ing: its process­es and ide­al’ which was deliv­ered at the Roy­al Insti­tu­tion of Great Britain in 1894.

The Nation­al Library of Scot­land has an online exhi­bi­tion of Scot­tish book­bind­ings, as well as gen­er­al infor­ma­tion about dec­o­ra­tive bind­ings. There are oth­er online exhi­bi­tions of book­bind­ings held by the Uni­ver­si­ty of St Andrews Library and at Glas­gow Uni­ver­si­ty Library.