Books 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. How­ev­er it was at least the mid­dle of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry as the num­bers of books pub­lished, and their read­er­ship grew before mass pro­duc­tion bind­ings became dom­i­nant.

Machines were intro­duced to parts of the process, such as machines for fold­ing the print­ed sheets, guil­lotines for trim­ming the edges of the pages and sewing machines, dur­ing the sec­ond half of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry, but over­all bind­ing was one of the last ele­ments of the book pro­duc­tion process to be mech­a­nised. 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.

Archives have sur­vived for a few Scot­tish book­bind­ing firms:

Dunn & Wil­son Ltd, book­binders, Falkirk, 1900–2000, Falkirk. Falkirk Coun­cil Archives: ref A480/F4

Hunter & Foulis Ltd, pub­lish­ers’ book­binders, Edin­burgh, 1785–1957. City of Edin­burgh Archives: ref Nation­al Reg­is­ter of Archives for Scot­land: ref 2228 [ECA Acc676]

J Shep­herd & Son Ltd, book­binders, Edin­burgh, 1953–1994. Minute books held pri­vate­ly Nation­al Reg­is­ter of Archives for Scot­land: ref 3637

James Meu­ros, book­binder and book­seller, Kil­marnock 1809–1820. Nation­al Records of Scot­land, Edin­burgh: ref CS96/628