Introduction

The National Library of Scotland has the pre-eminent collection of decorative bookbindings produced in Scotland during the last five centuries. Some were transferred to the new National Library in 1925 as part of the collections of the Advocates Library, but many have been purchased since in an attempt to document the development of binding styles in Scotland. Below are displayed a representative sample of bindings from the 18th century, together with a number of decorative endpapers from these books. It is intended to add further images in due course, showing other Scottish binding styles, in particular the work of the Edinburgh binder James Scott, and his son William, and also the creations of contemporary binders who feature in the National Library's annual Elizabeth A Soutar Bookbinding Competition.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, Scottish binders developed their own national styles, largely centred around two distinctive designs: the wheel and the herringbone. Both were established by 1725 and had entered their decline by the late 1770s, though the designs were occasionally used as late as the early 19th century. The herringbone was the earlier of the two styles to appear and it is likely it owes its existence to a desire to fill the rectangular centre-panels that had by this time become a feature of so many designs. The herringbone usually consists of a vertical stem placed in the centre of the cover with 'ribs' of paired tools placed symmetrically on either side. A variety of tools including fleurons, stars and 'fishscales' were used to adorn the space between the centre and the borders.

Wheel bindings are derived from 'fan' bindings which had been common in Europe during the 17th century. The wheel is principally made with a sceptre tool, the rim is scalloped and the rectangular area above and below the wheel is usually filled with small tools. Both the wheel and the herringbone were made the subject of much imaginative variation, particularly the herringbone which was more versatile than the wheel. Both styles of binding were employed to decorate Bibles and presentation copies of legal or medical theses. As the latter have received little use they are usually were well preserved. It was customary to bind Bibles in two volumes, with the metrical psalms being added to the second volume. As the psalms were used in the church services, this volume is normally found in a poorer condition than the first volume.

It was usual for the endleaves of these books to be of 'Dutch gilt' paper. These highly patterned and coloured papers came principally from France, Germany and Italy and were so-called because they were imported through the Low Countries.

Further reading