Gothic Bindings

In the 15th century, there was an increase in book production. This led to improved binding techniques and increased demand for embellishment, however, the high demand led to compromise in quality

Paper was used as the main text block material, and variations include a mix of paper and parchment in the book block. Centerfolds were reinforced with strips of parchment, often cut from other used manuscripts, slightly shorter than the length of the pages. Most endleaves have been removed, damaged, or renewed, and it is very rare to find an original. The majority of endleaves were made of parchment, and variations in structure show acknowledgement of the fragility of the endleaves – mostly in the pastedown. Different binding workshops had different preferences for the style of attaching the endleaves. An excellent example of Gothic style gathering can be seen in the PROCESSIONAL from Les Enluminures.





This book was made in the Cistercian abbey of Graefenthal, in Germany. The pages are a thick parchment and are gathered into signatures. There is evidence of both cut and pierced sewing stations, as is common in Gothic style manuscripts. The spacing at the head and the tail is not consistent, however the spacing of the remaining stations appears equal. There is some remaining sewing visible on the outside of the gatherings as well as through the center fold, and it does not appear to have been sewn around cords or leather thongs. From close observation, it looks like a running stitch rather than a link stitch. At the end of the book, there is possible evidence of quire tacketing, a process usually done with twisted strips of parchment to keep the gatherings together before they are bound.



There is more variation in Gothic style sewing than in prior bindings. Four support stations were most common across Europe, made of vegetable cords or leather thongs. Larger books were generally sewn with more supports; a trend that did not occur in most Carolingian or Romanesque bindings. There is an even distance between sewing stations compared to Carolingian and Romanesque bindings, where there is often more variation in spacing, especially in the head and the tail. Sewing stations were either cut or pierced, as can be seen in PROCESSIONAL. Completed sewing is visible on the 15 c. Lower Cover and Fore-Edge of A Binding from the British Library.

15c binding.jpg

15 c. Lower Cover And Fore-Edge Of A Binding (spine)

The cover is comprised of wooden boards, and there is a partial cover remaining. The fore-edge of the boards has been trimmed to be flush with the leaves. A leather strap on the cover is accompanied by a metal catch which hooks into a pin on the backboard to close the book. There are five double bands supporting the sewing, and the endbands remain intact.

The spine of the book was sometimes covered in animal glue to compensate for the decrease in strength in the sewing and apply spine lining, but this degraded overtime by biological agents

Endbands are added to support and protect the head and the spine of the book. They are sometimes completed with the sewing, and sometimes added after trimming the pages.


Statuta antiqua et nova ordinis Cartusiensis (endbands)

The covers of Gothic manuscripts were generally wooden and have beveled edges. The sewing enters the boards over a beveled spine edge. The boards are then covered in leather. There is more of a variation in the type of leather used to cover Gothic books than Romanesque books. To attach a leather cover of calf or pigskin, it must first be moistened and cleaned on the flesh side. Paste is used as adhesive for leather coverings, and traces of flour from paste (mixture of rye flour and animal glue) is often discovered in medieval books. The underside of the turn-in area is scored to help the leather cover adhere, giving it better grip.

Cuir-ciselé style decoration was popular in Germany, Austria, and Bohemia. During this process, the design is sketched into the dampened surface with a blunt point. Next, outlines of the designs are cut into the leather with a beveled knife. The bevel must be at a wide angle to prevent cutting too deep into the leather. After adding outlines, texture can be added to the background with repeated impressions. Blind tooling was also still a popular technique

Gothic Bindings