Binding Decoration

Because each book is bound individually, no two books from this period share the same binding. Customers were able to choose materials and decorations that would both suit their tastes and budgets. Bindings ranged from simple limp vellum to extravagantly decorated leather. To save money, scholars often commissioned limp vellum bindings of inexpensive quality that lacked decoration. Customers with larger budgets could opt for leather, wrapped around wood boards with designs impressed in the covers.

Parts of the book

Parts of the Book

Once the text block is sewn together, the boards would be attached to the sewing bands. Leather or vellum could be placed over top of the boards and decorated, depending on the taste of the customer. Endpapers, sometimes decorated and sometimes plain, would be pasted to the board as an extra layer of support.


Leather samples


Vellum samples



Leathers and Vellum

The two main coverings for bindings are both made from animal skins. Sheep, cow, goat, and pig were often used for book binding in Shakespeare’s time, with calfskin being the most luxurious. Leather and vellum are prepared differently, creating either a smooth writing surface, or a supple, flexible material. These examples of vellum and leather show the differences in texture produced by the ways in which the skins were prepared. The leathers have been dyed, showing the potential colors that customers could choose for their books.


Tooling tools


Small decorative tools, such as the ones seen here, would be heated and pressed into the leather, creating what is known as blind tooling. Gold leaf could also be added to the design for more decoration, known as gold tooling.

A golden chaine, taken out of the rich treasurehouse the Psalmes of King David.

Rogers, Thomas. A golden chaine, taken out of the rich treasurehouse the Psalmes of King David, 1579.



Decorated Binding 

This binding shows several of the techniques used by binders to decorate the binding. It is a gold tooled calfskin binding with metal clasps. Tools have been heated and pressed into the leather and gold was applied to make the design on the cover. Metal clasps were added to help keep the book closed and the edges of the pages were decorated and painted gold.

Binding Decoration