Displaying Both Content and Container

Many book bindings are displayed in exhibition with the covers closed, or at best with only the endpapers held open. This hides the relationship between the container designed by the binder and the book’s content that it is responding to. In an exhibition viewers are Not Allowed to touch a book, often in a closed case, so they can’t open it and see the text, illustration or layout that the binding may relate to. Book interior designs and the accompanying illustrations vary so much that for the viewer to only know the book title and author and perhaps its printing date isn’t enough, even if the book’s content is familiar (think of all those editions you have seen of some play by Shakespeare, Dante’s Divine Comedy, or Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland – or even Agatha Christie. The title/author/date are really only an identifying provenance for a catalogue, not a stepping off point for an artistic reading of the related designed binding.
Designer Bookbinders (UK) have a solution: display the insides alongside the bindings. When the binding is from a set of sheets this is easy – keep one set unbound for display. When it’s from a normal printed (cheap) edition perhaps a spare copy of the publisher’s bound version could be kept open for display, or if it’s cheap, a copy physically exploded (unbound) into a display.
The Designer Bookbinders Facebook page says (30 April 2014)


Inside OUT celebrates the art and craft of contemporary bookbinding and printing. It is an exhibition of sixty-five contemporary bookbindings from thirty-four UK-based and twenty-five North American binders. Four British and five North American private presses have supplied a total of twenty-eight different texts. Selected sheets from these texts will be on display so the viewer can sample and enjoy the words and illustrations hidden between the covers. Imagination and beauty abounds, confirming that the art of bookbinding and hand press printing is thriving on both sides of the Atlantic.


One thought on “Displaying Both Content and Container

  1. When books are digitised it’s easy to leave out the margins, and the gutters. The first may lose additional comments from previous readers, but not including the edges of the pages in the image also hides the signs of wear and tear, and some information about how the book is constructed. A good digitisation will include the gutters between pages, and shew the sewing. An example of this is William Dawes’s notebooks on the Aboriginal language around Sydney, NSW at the time of the First Fleet (1788-92. (The digitisation is at , with the sewing visible at page 23 in notebooks A and B.)
    David Pearson’s book of Books as History discusses the phenomenon of the “large paper edition” that is the same typesetting, with the two pages of a spread moved further apart and printed on larger paper, giving a larger gutter and more generous margins. making a simple-minded digitisation of the text block alone would lose this distinction. (It also shows printed books that have been rebound to add extra, larger leaves for handwritten comments by the owner.)

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