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Leather and Parchment Bindings

In the years following the introduction of printing, books were rarely bound at the same time as they were printed. Printed pages left the printer’s shop to travel to a foreign market, a local university town, or an annual trade fair. Books would then be bound for a bookseller or, more often, by a binder commissioned by the book-buyer. A book collector often chose specific styles or emblems for the bindings of his or her books. (See, for example, the bindings executed for Pope Clement XIV.)

A simple leather binding can be a utilitarian preservation measure. Fine leather bindings cross into the territory of luxury item. They can be decorated by means of tools (pallets, rolls, fillets) or stamps (a design engraved on a block). Leather can be tooled or stamped in blind (an impressed pattern) or in gold (gold leaf adhered into the impressed pattern). Sometimes multiple types of leather are used in one binding. Fine bindings often contain clues about their making and ownership. Specific tools can be traced from workshop to workshop, for example, or heraldic imagery can be parsed to identify past owners.


Exhibit Items