“Books are AWFULLY decorative, don’t you think?”

Yes, books ARE awfully decorative. (Points to you if you can place that quote without using a search engine. Don’t worry, I’ll give you the answer later in the article.)

I don’t pretend to be a serious collector of, nor an expert about collecting books. There are plenty of wonderful and informative sites online about this subject. And books don’t need to be an ancient work to be valuable as we will see shortly.

Sure, your device can hold hundreds of books that you won’t need to dust and are easy to transport (especially on vacation). Nothing, however, beats the heft of a classic or the feel of crisp paper as you turn the page. They are equally important as paperweights, door stops, uneven table leg levelers (ok, that may be a stretch), many things your device can’t do. (Except, maybe be used as a paperweight.) And books, displayed correctly, can give the impression of being really smart.

 Let’s face it, if you were Belle in Beauty and the Beast, which would be the more impressive gift?


And now,  a brief history.

The first books were of Asian origin. Made from strips of palm leaves or strips of bark, writing was scratched into the surface. Lamp black rubbed onto the leaves or bark filled the impressions left to make them stand out. To keep the leaves flat, pieces of wood were placed on either side of the “pages”.

The wood and palm leaves would be held together by cord or leather thongs woven through holes bored through the back. These covers would be decorated with complex design with elaborate carvings and intricate inlay work of gold and silver.

Papyrus scrolls were the next iteration but are fragile by nature. Modern bookbinding began with the change from papyrus scrolls, to books made up from separate sheets of vellum (and later paper), folded and collected into sections called leaves. The leaves were placed in correct order and held together by sewing through the center fold.

To keep the leaves flat and undamaged, they were placed between wooden boards, joined together with leather wrapped round to form the type of book that today we are all familiar with.

 Source: http://rarebookbuyer.com/

However, 2 major inventions allowed books to be produced in large quantities: Paper  invented by the Chinese around 200 years BC and movable type by German printer Johann Gutenburg in 1456.

As the number of books and demand increased in the 15th Century, the occupation of printer and binder became separate. Gold-leaf was introduced from the East into Venice. Fine delicate tools for impressing the gold designs and different color leathers for onlays and inlays on the covers became the foundation for decorating bindings.

The early 16th Century became one of the finest periods in the history of decorative bookbinding. However, the high cost of producing books made them so valuable that they were often chained to the bookshelves to prevent them being stolen.

Source: http://www.waytebinding.co.uk/pr02.htm

So yes, they ARE awfully decorative!

In 1868, David McConnell Smyth patented a sewing machine designed specifically for bookbinding. Over the next 30 years, he went on to develop machines for gluing, trimming, case-making (hard covers), and casing-in. Many of his machines are still in use.

The invention uses a double-loop stitch and “a pair of curved needles acting in opposite directions, with a looper that takes the loop from one needle and delivers it over the other needle.

Source: http://americanhistory.si.edu/blog/book-boom-early-bookbinding-inventions


Though the perfect binding was invented in 1895, it did not become popular until 1931 when the German publisher, Albatross Books, introduced the first paperback book. Penguin Books in England adopted the format in 1935 with their popular books. In America, Pocket Books started producing popular titles in 1939 paperback versions. Soon everyone was reading paperback books.

Source: http://www.powis.com/resources/learn/binding_history.php

Dust jackets first came into use in the 1800’s and were simple, unadorned paper wrappers (see below). Their original intent was to protect books bound in leather or silk from the printing house.  They were not regarded as part of the book. Essentially, they were meant to be discarded when it reached its destination. All of that changed, once publishers realized the marketing potential afforded by dust jackets.

Decorative dust jackets caught on slowly. At first design elements of the dust jacket was a small window cut in an area on the binding where the publisher had a small picture or design sewed in. Eventually, publishers abandoned the cut-out window and simply duplicated the design on the jacket.

By the turn of the century, publishers realized that these relatively plain wrappers offered plenty of space for advertising. Synopses of the book and biographies of the author started to show up around 1910, and by 1920 illustrated dust jackets were common. Source: http://www.advantagebookbinding.com/blog/ .

Each era has a style reflective of the times. The period we refer to as Art Deco was no exception.

The 1933 Savory Cocktail book has a classic deco cover and is highly collectable.

A first edition in good condition can be hundreds of dollars without a dust jacket. With a dust jacket in serviceable condition, it is worth several thousands of dollars.

A 1983’s reprint reproduced the cover exactly as the original. It is something of a collectible in its own right and valued at $25.00 – $70.00. Not bad for a book that could be found in a bargain bin for $1.00 in the mid 1980’s.

Luckily for me, my favorite author, Agatha Christie, wrote some of her books at this time. Wonderful reproductions of her (and many other’s) dust-jackets can be purchased online. The following  pictures are a sampling of reproduction dust jackets produced and available at  https://www.dustjackets.com.


So, as Gloria Upson said in “Auntie Mame”, “books ARE awfully decorative…”. But please, don’t be a Gloria Upson, do read them!



Hope you enjoyed,

Chris and Anthony (The Freaking’ ‘Tiquen Guys)

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