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Bookbindings in the British Library - Introduction

A wide range of fine and historic bindings can be found in the British Library, both in discrete specialist collections and dispersed individually throughout the Library.

Many interesting bindings are housed in the Old Royal Library (owned by monarchs from Edward IV to George II), the King's Library (established by George III), and in the collections of collectors, notably C M Cracherode and Thomas Grenville. New bindings acquisitions are stored at shelfmark: C.188.

British Library shelfmarks of books (PDF format 3.26MB) bound by certain identified bookbinders and owned by certain collectors (indicated by coats of arms etc). Please use as a guide only as some data is conjectural or needs updating. Initials should be searched under the first initial of the last name, eg for J. B., look under B., J.

Gold tooled binding © The British Library Board

Gold tooled binding © The British Library Board

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The Library has fine examples of bindings from throughout the world, but not all of them have been systematically recorded. The bindings of British and Western European printed material have been well documented, and there is a rudimentary catalogue which lists bindings of some western manuscripts.

Other special collections areas of the Library also hold books notable for their bindings. The Asia, Pacific and Africa Collections department, for example, has a wide range of both European and Asian fine bindings.

This guide suggests how fine and historic bindings within the collections of the British Library can be identified and located. It is aimed primarily at those who are able to visit the Library's Reading Rooms in London.

A separate Guide to English Embroidered Bindings is available.

18th century German decorated paper © The British Library Board

18th century German decorated paper © The British Library Board

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