Introduction

A book binding is, first and foremost, a protective covering that shields fragile pages containing the text from damage, dirt, and dust. Styles and techniques in bookbinding change throughout time based on the availability of materials, larger trends in decorative fashions, and how books were produced and used. Until the industrial revolution, owners would purchase their books before they were bound, allowing owners to choose bindings that best fit their budget and needs. 

Specialty binders in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries catered to wealthy clients with a penchant for putting their books in the most beautiful of bindings, because collectors believed that the binding should be as beautiful as the book is important. 

Because of their size, miniature books provide both opportunities and challenges for book binders. Their small nature requires additional dexterity, so currently, as well as historically, miniature books are sometimes bound as a test of skill. If the binder could bind a tiny book, an average size book would be easy in comparison. However, the smaller size can make it easier to create something that requires a lot of handwork, such as embroidery, or it can make it less expensive to use valuable materials, like silver, ivory or tortoiseshell, because there is less surface to cover. Just like their average size counterparts, miniature book bindings come in all forms and use the same decorative techniques. 

The history of book binding and the plethora of beautiful bindings cannot be showcased in a single exhibition, so only a small portion of bindings from the Rare Book Collections are highlighted here. The primary focus of this exhibition is on books with traditional western binding and decoration, excluding forms outside the traditional codex. The books chosen represent a broad range of decorative styles, periods, and materials.