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Collectible Book Terminology Part I – Bindings

by Liz Holderman (01/29/09).

Dealer catalogs often contain confusing words or phrases used to describe the books that are offered for sale. The terms may be understandable to professionals and bibliophiles, but new collectors and casual owners can sometimes find the jargon puzzling. In a series of articles, we’ll explore different categories of these terms.

The first thing that a buyer notices about a book is its binding, which consists of the front and back boards (covers) as well as the spine. The binding is sometimes called a casing, and while there are technical differences between the two words, they are often used interchangeably. There are literally hundreds of terms that can describe binding materials and decorations. A few of the most common are explained here:

Cloth Bound – Since the middle 1800s, this has been the most common material used for covering a hard-back binding. This term should not be confused with soft, all-linen children’s books that are often referred to as cloth.

Quarter Bound – A book in which the spine is covered in leather while the rest of the book is covered in cloth or paper.

Half Bound – A book in which the spine and outer corners are covered in leather, while the rest of the sides are covered in cloth or paper.

Beautiful illustrated endpapers for Kernel Cob and Little Miss Sweetclover by Tony Sarg, 1918. The paper on the left is pasted to the inside front cover. The paper on the right is free and acts as the first page of the book’s text, with a blank page on the reverse side.

Beautiful illustrated endpapers for Kernel Cob and Little Miss Sweetclover by Tony Sarg, 1918. The paper on the left is pasted to the inside front cover. The paper on the right is free and acts as the first page of the book’s text, with a blank page on the reverse side.

Endpapers (sometimes called endleaves) – These are the papers that are glued to the insides of the covers. They are actually double pages (leaves), with one page (the pastedown or board paper) glued to the inside cover and the other page (the free endpaper) appearing as either the very first or the very last page in the book. Most endpapers are blank, but some are illustrated.

Vellum – Specially treated and softened calfskin, lambskin or goatskin.

Morocco – Hard leather made from goatskin and usually dyed in bold colors

Levant – A superior grade of Morocco leather, usually highly polished.

Wrappers – The binding of a paperback book. This term has nothing to do with dust jackets (which are sometimes confusingly called dust wrappers).

Tooled or Blocked – There are subtle differences in these two techniques, but each essentially means a book cover with impressed designs or lettering, often stamped in gold. The imprinted decoration is referred to as “blind” if no color has been added.

Gold-tooled decorated cover with three illustrated paste-ons.

Gold-tooled decorated cover with three illustrated paste-ons.

Paste-on – A paper illustration or photograph that is glued to the front of a book as part of its cover decoraton.

Re-backed – A book which has been repaired with a new spine.

Re-cased – A book which has been removed from its loose covers and then re-sewn or re-glued in more firmly. Often, new endpapers have also been added.

A half bound book with marbled covers.

A half bound book with marbled covers.

Marbled – An intricate design created by dipping paper in a glutinous wash and then swirling colors across the surface. Used for front covers, endpapers or even page edges.

Library Bindings – Inferior plain casings, usually holding cut-down pages, commissioned by public libraries to create smaller reading copies. These copies are never considered collectible.

Boxed (sometimes called Cased or Slip Cased) Bindings – This term refers to specially-made boxes created to enclose fragile books. A slip case box is open on one side and shows the spine of the book.

Liz Holderman is a Worthologist who specializes in antique and collectible books.

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3 Responses to “Collectible Book Terminology Part I – Bindings”

  1. Ron Ford says:

    I have kind of collected books during my life and found this very interesting. It cleared up some confusion on my part. I now know the precise differences.

    Looking forward to part 2.

    This is the kind of material that will help Worth Point attract others. It would do well to have these kind of articles on all kinds of stuff. Many watch Antique Road Show and see appraisers use all kinds of terminology. This is a website catering to Collectors, Buyers and Sellers and more of this will attract many.

  2. Bess Franklin says:

    This info is most helpful as I have acquired a collection of books. Will one of your articles cover First Editions, etc.? Thank you.

  3. Liz Holderman Liz Holderman says:

    Hello Bess – Collectible Book Terminology Part 2 – Edition and Copy – has information on first editions. You can get to that article from this page – just click on it in the upper right side bar underneath the “Related Content” title. Hope it helps!

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