Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Binding Matters

Image of unbound book from spineIt is just so tacky when the books on your shelf don't have the same aesthetic. That Penguin paperback looks so odd next to the Harlequin romance, and they both clash with the hardbound Harry Potter book you stayed up until midnight to buy when you were 12 years old. Such a fate never worried discerning 18th and early 19th century book buyers--they just made sure to get the proper binding right from the start.

Until a few decades into the 19th century, most books could be purchased sporting a simple, temporary paper wrapper or just in printing sheets, folded and side stitched. The buyer would then have a binding put on to match his or her taste and to express the value he or she placed on the book. If the book did not get bound, it usually fell apart or was badly damaged.

Image of side stiched binding knot
That's why we were so excited to receive a gift of a remarkable survival: The Beauties of Religion, by Elijah Fitch and printed by John Brown in Providence in 1789. The book is still in its original signatures, stacked up and casually held together with a simple side stitch. Oddly, it seems like it has been read--the pages have all been opened, and there are signs that the pages have been turned. Why wouldn't someone get it bound, or at least put on a study wrapper? We don't know, but we are happy to have such a  great example.

Title page of Beauties of Religion
To see it, ask for Rare PS744.F4 1789. For another good example see our Acts and Laws of the State of New-Hampshire from 1788.

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