Ever wondered who the big names in book binding’s history are? Johannes Gutenberg is widely known as the inventor of the first movable type printing press which revolutionized the written word as we know it. But who else contributed to the craft of book binding in its post-Gutenberg history. The International League of Antiquarian Booksellers recently did a roundup of a few of book binding’s historical figures which shines the spotlight on these lesser known craftsman.
Famous Book Binders
Englishman William Caxton brought the printing press to England in 1476 and is credit as the first person to publish a book in English. It is disputed whether this book was Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales or Le Recueil des histoires de Troye. Because distinct printing professions hadn’t been created yet, Caxton essentially did it all, from printing and binding to marketing and selling.
Frenchman Jean Grolier was well-known among the French noble community, and in 1534 he moved to Rome to negotiate with the Vatican. It was in Rome that he put together a library full of elaborately bound volumes, which he also often lent out to friends. Grolier was a lover of both literature and the book as an artistic medium, and it was at his library that the practice of shelving books with the binding facing out began (so as to better see the craftsmanship). Previously, bindings faced inwards, and the title was written on the foreedges of the book.
Englishman Samuel Mearne is known as the inventor of the cottage style of binding in the 17th century, a style that remained almost unchanged until the 19th century. Mearne apprenticed twice as a bookbinder before working as a publisher, binder, and seller. He later became the official Stationer and Bookseller to King Charles II.
Another Englishman, Roger Payne became widely-known during the 18th century as a master bookbinder. His binding style took cues from Samuel Mearne, and was exceptionally artistic and well-executed. Though he never signed his work, he often included a written explanation with the book of why he decided to design a binding in a certain way.
Englishman William Morris is best known as an instrumental figure in the private press movement. By Morris’ time, the Industrial Revolution was in full-swing, but Morris and some contemporaries felt that it was reducing creativity in book binding. Together they founded the Arts and Crafts Exhibition Society, after which Morris founded Kelmscott Press. He extensively studied 15th century book-binding methods, which informed his binding style and approach to the craft. The first book published by Kelmscott Press was soon republished in America as photographic facsimile, and demand for his binding style led Morris to print American versions of Kelmscott Press, driving the popularity of private press in America.