Bookbinding probably originated in India where the religious rules or sutras were copied onto palm leaves, these were then threaded through with long twines, this was in turn threaded through wooden boards to protect the leaves.
This is where we get the term leaves for the pages of a book.
Buddhist monks took this idea through Persia, Afghanistan and China in around 100 B.C.
The Mayan codex operated in a similar way, but unfortunately thanks to Spanish invaders on four copies are known to exist.
Writers in the Greek and Roman cultures wrote long texts on scrolls, these were then stored in small cubby holes. The word volume comes from the Latin word volvere (to roll) from these scrolls.
Court records and notes were written on wax tablets which were re-usable, while important documents were written on parchment. The modern word ‘book’ comes from the Proto-Germanic word ‘bokiz’ which refers to the beech wood on which these early written works were recorded.
Western books from the 5th century onwards were bound between hard covers with the pages made from parchment folded and sewn onto strong cords that were then attached to the wooden boards that were then covered with leather. As early books were entirely handwritten and hand made, the materials, sizes and styles varied considerably.
Early and medieval codices were bound with flat spines, it was not until the 15th century that books began to have the rounded spines that we recognise today.
Because the vellum of early books would react to humidity by swelling, he wooden covers of medieval books were often secured with leather straps or metal clasps, these along with the metal bosses kept the book raised of the shelf or surface upon which it was placed.
The earliest surviving European bookbinding is the St Cuthbert Gospels of
c 700 A.D. and is covered in red goatskin.
Very grand manuscripts for liturgical rather than library use had covers in metal work called treasure bindings, these were often studded with gem stones
and incorporated ivory or enamel relief panels.
With the arrival of rag paper (made from cotton) manufacture in Europe in the late middle ages and the use of the printing press from the mid 15th century bookbinding became a little more standardized.
As late as the end of the 18th century in was not unusual for the book buyer to purchase the block of text from the printer and then take it to the bookbinder to have it bound to his own specifications.
Until the mid 20th century covers of mass produced books were laid with cloth, but from then on most publishers adopted ‘clothette’ a kind of textured paper which vaguely resembles cloth. Most cloth bound books today are now half-and-half with only cloth covering the spine.