The binding of a book describes the material that is used to make the upper (front) and lower (back) covers. Books are bound in all manner of materials including various papers, cloths, hides and even metals to increase aesthetic appeal or durability.
Contemporary custom dictates that a book in its original binding is superior to most re-bindings that were accomplished after the fact. The major exception to this rule is when the book has been re-bound by a noted bookbinder with historical significance in which case it is sometimes the binding rather than the book that has collectible status.
However this was not always the case. In the Victorian age most book owners felt that any book worth keeping deserved to be rebound, usually in some form of leather to become part of your personal library. This means books from this era (when book owners were wealthy and privileged), and earlier, have often been re-bound making the original publisher’s bindings that much rarer.
Beginning around the 1830s, publishers began binding their books in cloth as an alternative to plain boards. What began as a novelty and a way of advertising and differentiating their books eventually became the norm. Book-buyers began to see cloth boards as a cheap alternative to re-binding all their own books, and the number of people re-binding books for their library began to decline. The terms ‘original cloth’, ‘publishers cloth’, and ‘edition cloth’ all refer to publications where the original binding of the book was, and continues to be, cloth.
Dust jackets or dust wrappers are the paper coverings wrapped around the boards of a book. Dust jackets began to be used regularly in the late 1800s where they were originally designed to be a disposable packaging to help protect the book until it reached its owner’s library. The practice of disposing of dust jackets was almost universal until the 1920s when the collection of modern first editions became popular and the inclusion of the dust jacket began to be an important part of a book’s desirability.
The original boards or covers that the publisher first bound the book in. This usually concerns books published from around the 1700s to the 1830s when it was considered fashionable to have any book you purchased custom bound for your library. Boards from this era are often very plain as they were meant to be disposable. Because of this rarity, some collectors find original boards quite desirable.
A wrapper is a board but made of paper rather than a thicker material - think of these as the precursor to modern paperbacks. This kind of binding was most often used in the 18th century for serials, pamphlets, periodicals and other slim volumes.
Calf or calf hide is the most common form of leather binding. These bindings have a smooth surface with no identifiable grain. The natural color of calf hide is a light brown but can often be treated in the following ways:
When the inner side of the calf skin is facing outward.
Uses red and green acid dye to stain flecks of color into the binding.
Stained by an interaction of copperas and pearl-ash to produce a dark pattern along theboards.
Morocco bindings first appeared in Europe in the early 16th century. Usually dyed in strong colours, Morocco bindings are made from goatskin and appeal for their durability as well as their appearance. This type of binding was Islamic in origin but the name today holds no geographic meaning, merely referring to the fact that the binding was sourced from goatskin. The following terms are often associated with Morocco bindings: