Heritage Crafts


The assembling and fixing of the loose leaves of a book between a cover, either by gluing or stitching.
Currently viable
Craft category
Historic area of significance
Area practiced currently


Early books were made from sheets of vellum, which were folded in half. The leaves were sewn together along the central fold onto bands. It was later that wooden boards were attached to the leaves, making an early book cover. The introduction of paper and moveable type were the most significant changes to the development of book transformations. The use of paper instead of parchment reduced the price. Gutenberg and the invention of the printing press contributed enormously to the transformation of the book industry in the fifteenth century. Printing increased the number of books being produced, which led to the schism of professions of the printer and the binder. This made it possible to focus aesthetically on bookbinding as an art form in its own right. Consequently, in the early-sixteenth century there was a boom in decorative bindings. Books previously had their titles written on the fore-edges instead of the spine, because of the manner of which they were stored on the shelf; with concentration on the binding, titles were later written on the spine.


Techniques in bookbinding have altered throughout the centuries. The differentiation in materials, binding technique and style of the book may help make it possible to trace the date and origin of the book. However, this may sometimes be difficult as alterations are sometimes made to help maintain the condition of the book. Books were often bespoke and handmade, varying in size and format. In the late nineteenth century, David McConnell Smyth patented a machine to bind books through sewing. Perfect binding was introduced to bookbinding in 1931: a form of binding books with glue instead of sewing. Cold glues were first used in perfect binding until a ‘hot-melt adhesive’ was used to bind books which made the binding last longer than cold glue binding. Binding systems excelled after the Second World War. Spiral binding had been in evidence since the 1920s, but it was not until later that this technique became an important part of office stationary.


Issues affecting the viability

  • Bookbinding has been dropped from many universities – it is sometimes included within printmaking, but the standard, knowledge & skills in that setting is generally poor. Bookbinding in the UK is strongly supported by professionals and amateurs. There are two organisations in the UK, The Society of Bookbinders and Designer Bookbinders. Both offer support and training in bookbinding and endeavour to maintain high standards.
  • At present the very real concern within bookbinding is the lack of training facilities in the UK. Where there were once college courses with well-trained teachers from professional backgrounds, these have now mostly closed down. Adult education suffered similar cutbacks.
  • Both The Society of Bookbinders and Designer Bookbinders offer excellent short courses in specialized areas of bookbinding. The former offer a Biennial Conference and Biennial Education and Training Seminar. Designer Bookbinders take their exhibitions to many venues and their skills are on view for all to see. There are also other courses available and these can be found on both websites. What is clearly missing is the cohesive training that is available within Europe with good courses taking students through to professional level. Those students in the UK who wish to become professionals have to pursue their training through short courses. Apprenticeships, traineeships and internships are few and far between. Students of bookbinding are keen and talented but frustrated and deeply concerned by the lack of opportunities for in depth training within the UK.
  • The electronic book has gained many fans but there is still a market for fine bindings, repair of antiquarian books and containers for ephemera and photographs.
  • New ways of binding are appearing which work along conservation lines. Artists’ books also represent a strong field within the craft but seldom employ the full use of skills that a professional bookbinder has mastered.
  • Equipment is recycled and suppliers are good. We are fortunate in that. As a craft it has a long and distinguished history and our hopes are that this may continue.

Support organisations

  • Society of Bookbinders – a UK based educational charity dedicated to traditional and contemporary bookbinding and to the preservation and conservation of the printed and written word. The Society is organised into eight UK regional and an overseas group. There are regular meetings, masterclasses, lectures and demonstrations on various topics of bookbinding or related subjects. At national and international level they organise education and training conferences and seminars and an International Bookbinding Competition. Members receive regular newsletters along with the annual flagship journal BOOKBINDER.
  • Designer Bookbinders – one of the foremost societies devoted to the craft of fine bookbinding. Founded over fifty years ago it has, by means of exhibitions and publications, helped to establish the reputation of British bookbinding worldwide. Its membership includes some of the most highly regarded makers in the fields of fine bookbinding, book arts and artists’ books, each with a passion for presenting the bound text as a unique art object.
  • Book Arts Web
  • Guild of Bookworkers – U.S.
  • Institute of Conservation
  • Wessex Guild of Bookbinders
  • City & Guilds of London Art School – book and paper conservation
  • West Dean College – book and paper conservation

Training organisations


Craftspeople currently known

Other information



National Lottery Heritage Fund
Swire Charitable Trust
The Royal Mint
Pilgrim Trust
Maxwell/Hanrahan Foundation
William Grant Foundation

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