|The Story of Books
by Gertrude Burford Rawlings
New York D.Appleton and Company 1901
|Next Page >
|< Previous Page
||< Chapter Index >
A book as we know it is usually contained in a case or cover intended primarily for its protection. The
fastening together of the different sections of the book, and the providing it with a cover, and,
incidentally, the decoration of that cover, come under the head of bookbinding, or bibliopegy, as the
learned call it. The process of binding consists of two parts: first, the arrangement of the leaves and
sections in proper order, their preparation for sewing by beating or pressing, the stitching of them
together, and the fastening of them into the cover. This is called "forwarding." The other half of the work
is the lettering and decoration of the cover, and is called" finishing." With the decoration of the cover onlv
can we concern ourselves here.
The art of binding books is far older than the art of printing. The first known attempt to provide a cover
by way of protection for a document was made by the workman who devised a clay case for the clay
tablet-books of Babylonia, but this is as far from our notion of bookbinding as the tablets themselves are
from our notion of books. Nor do the Roman bindings, which consisted of coloured parchment wrappers,
come much nearer the modern conception. The ivory cases of the double-folding wax tablets or diptychs,
too, of the second and third centuries, A.D., are also outside the pale, strictly speaking, but they deserve
mention on account of the beautiful carving with which they are decorated, and on which some of the
finest Byzantine art was expended.
One of the earliest bookbinders or book-cover decorators whose name has come down to us was
Dagreus, an Irish monk, and a clever worker in metals. Among the many beautiful objects in metal
wrought in the old Irish monasteries were skillfully designed covers and clasps for the books which were
so highly prized in the "Isle of Saints." Nor were covers alone deemed sufficient protection from wear and
tear. Satchels, or polaires, such as that mentioned in Adamnan's story of the miraculous preservation of
St. Columba's Hymn-book, were in common use for conveying books from place to place. Very few
specimens now remain, but there is one at Corpus Christi College, Cambridge, containing an Irish missal,
and another, which is preserved at Trinity College, Dublin, together with the Book of Armagh, to which it
belongs, is thus described by the Rev. T. K. Abbott, in the Book of Trinity College :
"An interesting object connected with the Book of Armagh is its leather satchel, finely embossed with
figures of animals and interlaced work. It is formed of a single piece of leather, 36 in. long and 12 ½
broad, folded so as to make a flat-sided pouch, 12 in. high, 12 ¾ broad, and 2 ¼ deep. Part of it is
doubled over to make a flap, in which are eight brass-bound slits, corresponding to as many brass loops
projecting from the case, in which ran two rods, meeting in the middle, where they were secured by a
lock in early times. In Irish monastic libraries, books were kept in such satchels, which were suspended by
straps from hooks in the wall. Thus it is related in an old legend that" on the night of Longaradh's death
all the book-satchels in Ireland fell down."
In Ireland, too, specially valuable volumes were enclosed in a book-shrine, or cumhdach; and although,
like the satchels, these cumhdachs are not bindings in the proper sense of the word, yet since they were
intended for the same purpose as bindings, that is, the protection of the book, it will not be out of place
to speak of them here.
The use of bookshrines in Ireland was very possibly the survival of an early custom of the primitive
Church. It seems to have been applied chiefly, if not always, to books too precious or sacred to be read.
We are told that a Psalter belonging to the O'Donels was fastened up in a case that was not to be
opened; and were it ever unclosed, deaths and disasters would ensue to the clan. If borne by a priest of
unblemished character thrice round their troops before a battle, it was believed to have the power of
granting them victory, provided their cause were a righteous one.
Cumhdachs were also used in Scotland, but no Scottish examples have survived. The oldest cumhdach
now existing is one in the Museum of the Royal Irish Academy, which was made for the MS. known as
Molaise's Gospels, at the beginning of the eleventh century. It is of bronze, and ornamented with silver
plates bearing gilt patterns. Another book-shrine, made for the Stowe Missal a little later, is of oak,
covered with silver plates, and decorated with a large oval crystal in the middle of one side. The Book of
Kells once had a golden cumhdach, we are told, or, more correctly, perhaps, a cumhdach covered with
gold plates; but when the book was stolen from the church of Kells in 1006 it was despoiled of its costly
case, with which the robbers made off, leaving the most precious part of their booty, the book itself,
lying on the ground hidden by a sod.
One of the earliest bookbinders in this country was a bishop, Ethilwold of Lindisfarne, who bound the
great Book of the Gospels that his predecessor Eadfrid had written. For the same book Billfrio the
anchorite made a beautiful metal cover, gilded and bejeweled. The Lindisfame Gospels still exists, but the
cover which now contains it, though costly, is quite new. Like most ancient book covers the original one
has been lost, or destroyed for the sake of its valuable material.
Among the earlier mediaeval bindings those of the Byzantine school of art rank very high. They were
exceedingly splendid, for gold was their prevailing feature, and jewels and enamel were also lavished upon
|Next Page >
|< Previous Page
||< Chapter Index >
|Copyright © 2006 lostcrafts.com All Rights Reserved.