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Decker Library Exhibitions

Books on Books:
Bookmaking and Bookbinding as Art

June 1 - June 26, 2015
Curated by Allison Fischbach

As a library, we at the Decker are intimately familiar with books. They come through our doors in various sizes - and sometimes shapes - with a myriad of bindings, covers, and ephemera.

The modern form of the book, with written leaves bound between covers, is called a "codex" and dates from the first century C.E. Prior to this, tablets and scrolls were the primary repositories for writing. Codices, however, proved to hold more information, were more durable, and were easier to search than their predecessors, leading to their surge in popularity.

Throughout the Middle Ages in Europe monastic communities were lauded for their scriptoriums and libraries, which produced and stored handwritten and hand-bound religious texts with illuminated illustrations. Instead of paper, these volumes were produced on parchment and vellum, types of dried calfskin, and bound with a variety of sewing techniques.

However in China as early as 220 C.E., woodblock books were popular. Using this technique, whole pages of text and illustration were carved in relief on a wooden block, which was inked and printed. The process was painstaking, but it allowed multiple copies of the same text to be manufactured with relative speed and ease.

However, the Western invention of the printing press by Johannes Gutenberg in 1450 is widely regarded as the next great leap in book manufacture. Moveable type significantly increased the speed and production of books, broadsides, leaflets, and newspapers. The written word became more widespread and easier to produce en masse.

Today books are printed in many different constructions, including mass-market paperbacks and highly prized special edition runs. Books are now produced quickly and cheaply using monolithic commercial presses, which are electronically controlled and increase accuracy and output.

Yet the codex itself has still proved surprisingly durable as a form, only to be supplanted in modern times by electronic systems. However, as the codex is joined by e-books and e-readers, bookbinding as a technique has become more rarified. Master bookbinders create works of art out of the modern codex, including hand printing pages, special binding patterns, and ornamental covers.

Artist Books have also come to the forefront, and often take loose interpretations of the "book" form. Bindings and constructions differ wildly among artist books, and often these items contain images and abstractions rather than text.

In this exhibit take a look at the history of the book across cultures and centuries, from early scrollwork to contemporary artists' work. Enjoy our selection of books on books.

More information about bookbinding and bookmaking can be found in Z 116-659 of our Stack and Quarto sections. For information about the library's extensive collection of Artist Books, take a look at our Book Arts Catalogue or ask a reference librarian.

Circulation Policy for Books on Exhibit

Circulating books on display in the museum cases are available for check out at any time. Please see a staff member at the circulation desk to request a book from the cases. Titles, when available, may be checked out at any time from the MRC. For books on display from the Special Collections (Cage), please see a reference librarian.

Image Information

From The thing the book: a monument to the book as object by John Herchend: Z 116 .A2 H47 2014 Stacks