All the way back to cuneiform and pictographs on clay tablets, scrolls and wax tablets, the need to share the written word spans centuries. Even once stories began to take a more recognisable shape as books, the materials used and methods of binding them were widely varied. Palm leaves and papyrus, various cloths and skins, and books as we know them today began to emerge in rudimentary form, all done by hand.
In the 15th century, with Johannes Gutenberg's invention of the movable-type printing press, the first seeds of automation came into play, but books were still largely bound by hand. As a result, bookbinding developed as an art and craft to be respected and perfected. Master bookbinders closely guarded techniques and materials, and prided themselves on the beauty, durability and uniqueness of their finished products. Binders had signature methods, and experimented with materials such as gems and jewels, various metals, different animal leathers, and more.
That pride and craftsmanship in bookbinding has survived into modern times, and in the last century or two, various bookbinders and bookbinding firms have continued to produce unique, exquisite volumes, delighting bibliophiles to no end. These are just a few of the greats, and a small sample of their work.
Joseph Zaehnsdorf was an Austria-Hungarian bookbinder in the 19th century. He was a native of Budapest and began his bookbinding career at the age of just 15 years old, as an apprentice. He founded his own binding firm in London when he was in his mid-twenties. His work won awards and critical acclaim at many exhibitions throughout Europe. A version of the Zaehnsdorf company is still in operation today, having merged with another prestigious London bookbinding company, Sangorski & Sutcliffe. The combined company was bought by Shepherds, another bookbinding company, in 1998 and still operates today.
H.R.H.The Prince Philip,Duke of Edinburgh and James Fisher.
The Chelsea Bindery has been in business since 2000 and operates out of London. They specialise in fine leather bindings, many with morocco inlays and onlays. They are also well-known for their production of solander boxes - beautiful, clamshell-style preservation boxes to house and protect important books and manuscripts. The Chelsea Bindery also specialises in book restoration, conservation and repair.
The Bayntun-Riviere bindery dates back to 1829 and was founded by Robert Riviere (1808-1882) and joined by Englishman George Bayntun (1873-1940) in 1894. The firm was deliberately old-fashioned and believed in maintaining traditional hand binding for all their books. They are still in operation today, still family-owned, and still binding all of their books by hand and they boast the world's most extensive collection of hand tools and blocks. As well as binding books to sell in the firm's shop, Bayntun-Riviere also take pleasure in doing custom binding and restoration for clients.
Sangorski & Sutcliffe, so named for its founders Francis Sangorski and George Sutcliffe, was established in 1901. The two men were in their twenties when they met while participating in an evening bookbinding workshop taught by Douglas Cockerell
, whose bindery they then both joined as apprentices. After an economic downturn resulted in both men being laid off, they took a leap of faith and started their own company in 1901, originally in an attic room and building up from there. As well as creating works of art from leather, Sangorski & Sutcliffe soon came to be synonymous with sumptuous - the duo were known for incorporating semi-precious and precious gems into their work.
Cedric Chivers (1853-1929) was the mayor of Bath - six times. He set up his bookbinding firm in the 1870s, and by the very early 20th century had opened a second in New York City. The company swelled to over 300 employees at its height. Chivers' firm was most famous for experiments with vellum and eventual discovery of the vellucent process, by which designs and decorations were first applied to a surface to the artist's specifications and preference, then overlaid with a sheet of transparently-thin vellum, thereby allowing the artist's original work to be included, unreproduced, with the vellum sheath providing a both beautiful and protective barrier and the appearance, almost, of a glaze.