General Knowledge/FAQ About Books

Varieties of Book Binding

Books appear in a wide variety of different bindings. The variety of book binding presentations has a rich heritage, from the first scrolls of the ancient world through contemporary mass-market paperbacks and unbound ebooks.

Bookbinding History

The earliest scribes engraved their records into wax tablets, palm-leaves and a variety of scrolls. The antiquity of scrolls as a method of preserving information now lends a sense of tradition and formality for many ceremonial documents and religious texts. Parchment pages sewn to wooden boards encased in leather comprised the first actual bound books. Clasps often held these books shut, because they tended to spread open over time as the pages swelled from moisture in the air.

Ornate decoration and embossing typified books during the middle ages. Animals, angels, and stories covered both the covers and interiors of books. Paper, introduced in Asia between the ninth and twelfth centuries dominated books by the end of the medieval period. Printed books standardized bookbinding in a way that was not possible for individually crafted volumes.

Contemporary Book Binding

Case Binding

Case binding is the most common kind of modern hardcover binding. With this method, signatures (or sets of pages) are bound together by gluing or sewing within a hard cover. Covers themselves are made of heavy cardboard covered with cloth or sometimes leather or vinyl. Different styles and techniques involved in case bindings include edition binding, cloth binding oversewing, Smyth sewing, and a variety of adhesive bindings.

Perfect Binding

Mass-market paperbacks and trade paperbacks provide examples of “perfect binding,’ the most common example of thermally activated binding. The spine of the book is glued and the pages are cut so that the edges are perfectly aligned. The spine of a newly “perfect” bound book is completely flat, which is typical of both these kinds of books and some high-quality magazine printings. In addition, some hardback books, even those case bound, are just perfect bindings within a hard cover.

Library Binding

Libraries will sometimes rebind a book. This kind of binding is often a book rebound for the harder handling experienced by library books, but some publishers now issue books with this kind of more durable cover.

Non-typical Bindings

Other contemporary commercial bindings are sometimes seen, but generally are for books that are under review, or in other words are not yet published, like galley proofs, or copies made available for review prior to publishing.

Other bindings, such as spiral bindings, wire-bound, or comb bindings exist. In most cases publishers intend this kind of binding for an office or school environment and not for a standard book. Atlases are sometimes spiral bound, as are other publications that may need to be folded back.

Some contemporary books are still hand bound; both antiques that are being restored or repaired, as well as new books bound for special collections.

More information can be found online, on our blog, or in a wealth of reference books on the subject such as these titles:

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