Books are bound, originally by hand, but now usually by machine, as a means of fastening the sheets of printed matter together and providing them with a protective cover. Until the beginning of the nineteenth century books were often sold as loose sheets in paper wrappers so that individual purchasers could decide for themselves the type of binding they required. As the cost of printing the books reduced, ways were also sought to reduce the cost of finishing the product and board bindings, and later cloth ones gradually began to take the place of leather bindings for many books. However it was at least the middle of the nineteenth century as the numbers of books published, and their readership grew before mass production bindings became dominant.

Machines were introduced to parts of the process, such as machines for folding the printed sheets, guillotines for trimming the edges of the pages and sewing machines, during the second half of the nineteenth century, but overall binding was one of the last elements of the book production process to be mechanised. Online articles include ‘Bookbinding’ from the Encyclopaedia Britannica’s 1911 edition and T J Cobden-Sanderson’s address on ‘Bookbinding: its processes and ideal‘ which was delivered at the Royal Institution of Great Britain in 1894.

The National Library of Scotland has an online exhibition of Scottish bookbindings, as well as general information about decorative bindings. There are other online exhibitions of bookbindings held by the University of St Andrews Library and at Glasgow University Library.

Archives have survived for a few Scottish bookbinding firms:

Dunn & Wilson Ltd, bookbinders, Falkirk, 1900-2000, Falkirk. Falkirk Council Archives: ref A480/F4

Hunter & Foulis Ltd, publishers’ bookbinders, Edinburgh, 1785-1957. City of Edinburgh Archives: ref National Register of Archives for Scotland: ref 2228 [ECA Acc676]

J Shepherd & Son Ltd, bookbinders, Edinburgh, 1953-1994. Minute books held privately National Register of Archives for Scotland: ref 3637

James Meuros, bookbinder and bookseller, Kilmarnock 1809-1820. National Records of Scotland, Edinburgh: ref CS96/628