The face of the book is its cover, which with its constant changes of design gives us important information as to the period the book was produced in. Characteristic examples of book covers placed among the open books in the showcases at the museum show which materials, styles and techniques were typical of the various epochs of book-making. The Middle Ages is represented by a chained book (to prevent it being stolen from the library), a cut leather binding, blind-tooled leather bindings and simpler, flexible parchment bindings. Blind-tooled leather covers with gold-tooled insignia (badges or coats of arms in the centre bearing the name and portrait of the owner) were often commissioned in the Renaissance by collectors in German-speaking parts of Europe. The dyed leather covers of the 17th and 18th centuries were decorated with intricate gold blocking, making them seem as if they were fashioned from gold lace.
Cheaper materials and machines in the 19th century encouraged publishers to have entire editions bound in a uniform cover. The museum collection also includes beautiful hand-made covers, individually produced by artists of the Art Nouveau and more recent periods. These can unfortunately not be shown on permanent display as the materials are extremely light-sensitive.
A Museum within the Museum
The German Bookbinders’ Collection (Sammlung der deutschen Buchbinder) is a separate section of the museum which deals with the history and techniques of bookbinding, including the manufacture of coloured paper, gold blocking with genuine gold leaf and the many different ways of binding and headbanding. The collection also has information on the guild system bookbinders were organised in.