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Watch 'The bindery at Thomas Nelsons printing house in Edinburgh' (42 sec- Silent Film).


Bookbinders finish off the printed book. The printed sheets are folded and cut into sections or ‘signatures’. These are then sewn together and a protective cover added. Bookbinding began as a craft: sections were sown together, attached to wooden covers and a piece of leather pasted around the sides of the boards.   

Bindings were originally needed to protect the book but were soon being decorated to reflect its cost, the value of the contents and the wealth of the owner, making the craft of the bookbinder a specialist branch of book production untouched initially by the coming of print.

While book production increased due to market demand and technological change, bookbinding remained unchanged until mechanisation and industrialisation in the mid-19th century. Rolling Presses took the air out of folded sheets before they went to a guillotine for cutting. Sewing machines replaced hand-stitching, cloth bindings were substituted for leather and Presses blocked decorations onto the spine and cover. All of this took place on a large-scale within factories.

Paperbacks were an even less labour-intensive form of bookbinding. Production lines could be set up which brought together at the end of the process the covers and the text blocks. The single most important change in the industry began in the 1950s with the research and development of hot melt adhesives for cased books.  This led to the perfect binding technique that does not require stitching.  Today bookbinding is mainly done by machine. 

Learn more about the lying press, which was the main tool of a bookbinder.

The decline of industrial binding in Scotland has seen a revival in craft binding. Today, the National Library of Scotland encourages the craft by sponsoring an annual competition and purchases fine examples of previous binders’ skills for its collections.

Learn more about working as a bookbinder in Edinburgh.

Visit About Bookbinding to read more about online books featuring detailed descriptions of the process of bookbinding.