Before books there were scrolls, before scrolls there were tablets. Circa 100 BCE, Early books were bound in India by threading leather cord or twine through holes in multiple layers of palm leaves or bark. But how did we make the leap from scratching scriptures onto palm leaves to the ornate books and bindery techniques we see today?
Book covers evolved from goat leather to pigskin, vellum and calf leather. Pasteboard covers did not catch on until the 1500s. Cloth book covers came about in the 1800s when British publishers began wrapping pasteboard in fabric to be stamped. This is the first instance of automation in book bindery.
Although the perfect binding technique was developed in the late 1800s, it did not rise to popularity until the 1930s when the first paperback books were developed. This cold-glue method quickly caught on and spread from Germany to England to the United States. The hot glue method was developed by the Dupont company in the 1940s, resulting in a more durable and long lasting book.
The 1950s gave rise to plastic comb binding in offices across the United States. Companies began binding their own documents and reports using spiral binding. In the late 1960s, David McConnell Smyth invented a sewing machine specifically for book bindery. The “Smyth sewing” technique involved sewing through the fold of smaller booklets, then binding them together to form a thicker spine. This method is still widely used today.
Perfect bind technology continued to evolve through the 1980s and beyond. Polyurethane Reactive glue was developed in the 1989 and quickly proved superiority over EVA, which tended to crumble over time.
Many would tell you that book bindery is falling away as e-books rise to popularity. Recent data would suggest otherwise. According to CNN, e-book sales dropped 17% in the UK while physical book sales climbed by 7% this same period.
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