Publishers’ Bindings

Publishers’ bindings are bindings that are designed, produced, and paid for by the publisher of a text and which are issued uniformly, in quantity, and intended to be permanent. Largely used in the context of 19th century materials, the rise in publishers’ bindings runs parallel to the growth of the book industry. As literacy rates improved and leisure time increased, demand for reading material grew and necessitated technical advances across all areas of book production. Innovations like bookcloth and the case binding structure drastically increased production rates while simultaneously cutting costs, while advances such as stereotyping, chromolithography, and steam printing drastically altered how books were printed and illustrated.

The Library Company has one of the largest collections of American publishers’ bindings in the country, and continues to actively acquire in this area. The books in our collections are bound in a variety of materials and styles, ranging from unadorned cloth to lavishly gold blocked leather to designer bindings, tracing the history and evolution of binding techniques and decoration through the 19th and into the early 20th century.

Bookcloth, which is often closely associated with publishers’ bindings, was first used in the early-to-mid 1820s in the United States and was quickly adopted as an inexpensive, readily available, and relatively easy to use material for binding. Soon after, technologies such as gold stamping, ribbon embossing, cloth graining, and calico printing were applied to book cloth to make it more decorative and therefore more appealing to consumers. Despite the prevalence of bookcloth, not all publishers’ bindings need use it. That is to say, a book does not need to be bound in cloth in order to be considered a publisher’s binding. Publishers’ bindings may use leather; embossed leather; printed, decorated, or plain paper; silk; even papier mâché and other novel materials.

The case binding, which was introduced in the United States around 1830, provided a structure which allowed binders to keep up with the increased demand for books. In case binding, the text blocks and covers can be created entirely separate from one another, which enabled binderies to capitalize on the increased production rates that come with the division of labor and mechanization.

Decorative trends evolved over the course of the 19th century, with somewhat modest beginnings. The 1830s and 1840s were defined by ribbon embossed cloth, printed patterned cloth, and relatively minimal gold stamping. In the 1850s, gold stamping took off, and bindings were covered in elaborate, rich designs. The 1860s saw restraint in both color and style, while the 1870s emerged with an embrace of asymmetrical, Eastlake influenced designs. Soon black and silver stamping were introduced, followed quickly by designer bindings, or bindings with cover designs created by artists, such as Margaret Armstrong and Sarah Wyman Whitman. Examples of all these trends can be found within the Library Company’s collections, which can be searched by keyword and using binding genre terms provided below.

Sophia Dahab, Assistant Curator of Printed Books
March 2024


  • Sue Allen. “Machine-stamped bookbindings, 1834-1860.” The Magazine Antiques. (March 1979).
  • Sue Allen and Charles Gullans. Decorated Cloth in America: Publishers’ Bindings, 1840-1910. (Los Angeles: UCLA, Center for 17th- and 18th-Century Studies, William Andrews Clark Memorial Library, 1994).
  • Douglas Ball. Victorian Publishers’ Binding. (Williamsburg, VA: Bookpress, 1985).
  • Bryn Mawr College Library. Bookbinding in America, 1680-1810, From the Collection of Frederick E. Maser. (Charlottesville, VA: University Press of Virginia, 1983).
  • Scott E. Casper, Jeffrey D. Groves, Stephen W. Nissenbaum, & Michael Winship. A History of the Book in America, Volume 3: The Industrial Book, 1840–1880. (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007).
  • Frank E. Comparato. Books for the Millions: A History of the Men Whose Methods and Machines Packaged the Printed Word. (Harrisburg, Pa.: Stackpole Co., 1971).
  • Phillip Gaskell. “Book Production: The Machine –Press Period, 1800-1950.” A New Introduction to Bibliography. (Winchester: St. Paul’s Bibliographies; New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press, 1995).
  • Charles B. Gullans and John J. Espey. “American Trade Bindings and Their Designers 1880–1915.” In Collectible Books, edited by Jean Peters. (New York: Bowker, 1979).
  • Andrea Krupp. Bookcloth in England and America, 1823-50. (New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press; London: British Library; New York, NY: Bibliographical Society of America, 2008).
  • Andrea Krupp and Jennifer W. Rosner. “Pre‑Ornamented Bookcloth on Nineteenth Century Cloth Case Bindings.” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society 94:2 (June 2000).
  • Douglas Leighton. “Canvas and Bookcloth: An Essay on Beginnings.” The Library, 5th ser., 3. (June 1948).
  • Ruari McLean. Victorian Publishers’ Book-bindings in Cloth and Leather. (London: Gordon Fraser, 1974)
  • Arielle Middleman & Todd Pattison. “Benjamin Bradley and the ‘Profitable Stroke’: Binding Six Months in a Convent and the Need for Copy-Specific Cataloging of Nineteenth-Century Publishers’ Bindings.” Suave Mechanicals, Volume 3, edited by Julia Miller. (Ann Arbor: Legacy Press, 2016).
  • Julia Miller. “The Book from 1800 to 1900.” Books Will Speak Plain. (Ann Arbor: Legacy Press, 2010).
  • Richard Minsky. The Art of American Book Covers, 1875-1930. (New York: George Braziller, 2010).
  • Ellen Morris. The Art of Publishers’ Bookbindings, 1815–1915. (Los Angeles: William Daley Rare Books, Ltd., [2000]).
  • Todd Pattison and Elizabeth DeWolfe. “Female Labor and Industrial Growth in Nineteenth-Century American Bookbinding.” Suave Mechanicals, Vol. 7, edited by Julia Miller. (Ann Arbor: Legacy Press, 2022).
  • Todd Pattison and Graham Patten. “Confusing the Case: Books Bound with Adhered Boards, 1760-1860.”  Suave Mechanicals, Vol. 5, edited by Julia Miller. (Ann Arbor: Legacy Press, 2017).
  • Joseph W. Rogers. “The Rise of American Edition Binding.” Bookbinding in America: Three Essays, edited by Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt. (New York and London: R.R. Bowker Company, 1967).
  • Jennifer W. Rosner. “’Goods and Chattels, Rights and Credits’: 1854 Inventory of the Joseph T. Altemus Bindery.” Suave Mechanicals, Vol. 7, edited by Julia Miller. (Ann Arbor: Legacy Press, 2022).
  • Michael Sadlier. The Evolution of Publishers’ Binding Styles, 1770-1900. (New York & London: Garland Publishing, 1990).
  • Binding errors
  • Blind tooled bindings
  • Blocked bindings
  • Bookbinding
  • Decorated papers
  • Embossed bindings
  • Embossed cloth bindings
  • Gold blocked bindings
  • Leather bindings
  • Marbled cloth bindings
  • Onlays
  • Printed cloth bindings
  • Publishers’ bindings
  • Publishers’ cloth bindings
  • Publishers’ paper bindings
  • Raised panel bindings
  • Raised panel bindings
  • Ribbon-embossed cloth bindings
  • Signed bindings
  • Silk bindings
  • Silver blocked bindings
  • Sunken panel bindings
  • Todd and Sharon Pattison
  • Todd & Sharon Pattison Collection of Signed Benjamin Bradley Bindings
  • Todd & Sharon Pattison Patterned Cloth Binding Collection (PCBC)
  • Todd & Sharon Pattison Collection of Bookbinding Mistakes
  • Edwin Wolf 2nd
  • Michael Zinman
  • Michael Zinman Binding Collection