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The ornamented book

Curious Objects

Books can also be curious objects and this is perhaps most apparent in the many ways in which they have been bound. Bookbindings have long served as carriers of messages about a book’s contents, the status and tastes of its owners and the period in which it was made. As early as the fourth century religious texts were given jewelled covers, symbolic of the significance of the texts but also of their wealthy owners, and in the sixteenth century—when purchasers could exercise a great deal of influence over binding styles—even the plainest leather bindings began to be decorated with gold.

The materials used for binding are as varied as styles of decoration, and include wood, leather, paper, silver and textiles. Bindings speak directly to us across the centuries and as such are valuable time-capsules. By the nineteenth century, many book-collectors were seeking out fine bindings, and many of the examples in the Library’s collections are gifts from this period.