4.1.6: 1830 - 1910 - Bookbinding (including bookbinderies)

Around 1830, the publisher's binding appeared in the Netherlands. Bindings commissioned by the publisher and made in quantity had existed in our country from about 1770, but were made by hand until about 1830 and were restricted to topical or cheap editions and not intended to be final. This handwork changed fundamentally with the rise of mechanisation and the invention of so-called binder's cloth which was used here from the beginning of the 1830s. The publisher's binding quickly developed from provisional to permanent and from sober to an opportunity to show off every imaginable splendour. It is a binding where the text block and the binding are made separately and the one is 'hung' in the other. Mechanisation which has, in our time, led to whole binding production lines progressed step by step although up until the end of the nineteenth century the binding itself continued to be handwork. Some developments were important for the Netherlands and need to be mentioned. From the end of the 1820s the text block could be mechanically flattened. The gilding press appeared during the 1830s whereby the binding decoration as a whole could be tooled in one go, although the bindings had to be placed in the press one at a time. Circular saws for cutting the edges had been around from about 1850 and sewing and gluing machines since the end of the nineteenth century.

Until 1850, binders designed the decorations and used the blocks in varying combinations. From about 1860, more and more decorations were imprinted with one block, and designed specifically for the individual editions. They also contained illustrative elements. At the end of the century, the 'Nieuwe Kunst' (Dutch Art Nouveau) brought new changes with individually designed binding decorations. More abstract, flowing forms derived from nature (the typical 'whiplash') were combined with the desire to relate the design of the binding to the construction of, amazingly, not the industrial binding but the hand-made binding. This important period did not last long. Another type of design soon appeared, dominated, for the better bindings, more and more by typography or calligraphy.

More than in the surrounding countries, the growth in popularity of the industrial binding meant a decline of the handmade bookbinding, which began around 1840. From about 1850 onwards, luxury bindings were with some regularity even half machine-made and the text block was hung in a leather binding which had been produced and blocked with a press beforehand. However, bindings with a loose, rounded spine and text blocks sewn onto recessed bands were still made. Around 1890, people such as Johannes A. Loebèr, Jan Mensing and Johan B. Smits, who were of importance for the 'Nieuwe Kunst', brought about changes which were also relevant for the industrial binding and brought the handmade bookbinding up to scratch again. They advocated 'honest' techniques visible on the outside.

While the publisher's binding was primarily covered in binder's cloth, the luxury binding was, from about 1830, made in calf, but particularly in saffian, which was replaced around 1845 by shagreen. Both types of leather have an artificial grain, the former with narrow, parallel lines, and the latter puckered. From around 1880, goatskin in many colours was used for the most luxurious bindings while good, honest vellum was in favour for a short time in the period c.1890-c.1910 for the handmade bookbinding and for the, partly industrial, publisher's binding produced in small editions; for some series of bibliophile editions limp vellum remained popular for a long time. In the first two decades of the twentieth century, batiking on vellum became popular for special items in addition to gold tooling.

In the area of decoration the industrial binding offered more variety from about 1850 onwards than the handmade bookbinding. This decoration was, until 1890, completely under the influence of the neo-styles, especially neo-baroque, initially applied with freedom and easily distinguishable from the original. Growing bibliophily and knowledge of old bindings ensured that the initial borrowings became ever more accurate imitations of earlier decorations, although seldom in combination with old binding techniques. Imitation was driven back by the 'Nieuwe Kunst', but remained in favour for a long time as a sign of craftsmanship.

author: Jan Storm van Leeuwen

Bookbinding (including bookbinderies)


Definition: someone who practises the craft of bookbinding.


Definition: person who stiches the gatherings of a document together.