BPG Paper Bookbinding

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Chancery Papermaking video

Paper as Binding Material

Italian, German and French books bound in handmade paper have been found dating from as early as the sixteenth century and range from simple folded wrappers to laced-in cases. Although sometimes used by the printer as a protective wrapper for unbound texts and later replaced, a wrapper of handmade paper could also be sewn through the text, creating a small pamphlet or single section book.

Another use of paper as a binding material resembles the limp vellum binding structure, where the text is sewn onto supports (likely alum tawed skin thongs)laced through the joint and back into the paper cover. The cover was cut to a pattern with mitered corners and foredge flaps, scored and folded to form a non-adhesive limp binding.

Heavy handmade paper was sometimes layered with adhesive and made stiff like a thin board. The spine area of the cover was left thinner and pasted and molded into a tight back. The sewing supports were then laced through or between the layers and also stuck down with adhesive. Sometimes this style of binding had an outer wrapper made from decorated paper. Later paper was used to cover the sides of books and adhered to the boards.



Paper has many desirable qualities for use as a conservation binding material. Paper is flexible, lightweight and strong. Paper is a relatively inexpensive covering material when compared to leather or vellum. It is easy and quick to work with and requires minimal equipment. Paper is an archival material and there is historic precedent for using paper as a binding material.

Factors to Consider

Size and thickness of text block:

  • Text should be quarto or smaller unless very thin, up to 4cm thick

Condition of text block paper:

  • Texts made from paper which can withstand flexing are good candidates for limp or cased paper bindings
  • Brittle texts need support from boards

Type of sewing support:

  • Thongs, cords, tapes
  • Non-adhesive through linen support
  • Style of binding:
  • Limp paper case
  • paper case with adhesive
  • combination non-adhesive/adhesive

Handmade vs. Machine made paper:

  • case weight sheets
  • laminated sheets
  • handmade lined with machine made

Dyes, Paints and Pigments:

  • Acrylic paints
  • dyes
  • colored paper

Materials and Equipment


  • Heavyweight handmade paper
  • airplane linen
  • wheat paste, PVA adhesive
  • linen sewing thread (thickness of choice; for thinner books 16/3 or 18/3)
  • blotters
  • waste paper for pasting out


  • Ruler or straightedge
  • bonefolder, dividers
  • board shears or cutting mat
  • scalpel and blades, triangle
  • bookpress, pressing boards, weights, paste brushes
  • hole punch or awl

Treatment Variations


  • limp vellum style
  • long stitch paper case
  • single section or pamphlet


  • paper case

Special Considerations


  • manuscript
  • labels

Storage environment

  • temperature and rH

Housing or supports

  • individual
  • grouped


Cloonan, Michele Valerie, “Early Bindings in Paper, a brief history of European hand-made paper-covered books with a multilingual glossary”. G.K. Hall & Co. Boston, Mass, (1991).

Frost, Gary, “The Limp Paper Cased Binding for Small Printed Books”, Newberry Library Conservation Laboratory, Chicago, unpublished article, 1978. Or ANL Je79 5 http://futureofthebook.com

Kromp, Daniela. [2018]. Buntpapier: Decorated and Decorative Papers from the 17th to the 21st century. [Catalogue #3] Part 1: The 17th and 18th century.

Sales catalog from Rare & Unique Books in Munich, Germany showing historical decorated papers including printed decorative paper, paste paper, marbled paper, brocade paper, and embossed paper. Contains many color illustrations. In German, with short English descriptions at the bottom of each text. Great visual resource for paper decoration.

Lock, Margaret. 2003. Bookbinding Materials and Techniques, 1700-1920. Toronto: The Canadian Bookbinders and Book Artists Guild.

Julia Miller's book below references Lock's observations of case bindings of made of paper over thin wooden boards.

Miller, Julia. 2014. Books Will Speak Plain: a Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings. 2nd ed. Ann Arbor, Mich. : Legacy Press.

The first edition was published in 2010. The second edition, published in 2014, contains a new section about early canvas bindings, and additional images have been added to the book and DVD. Discusses the history of paper case bindings. Many illustrations.

Roberts, M. T. and Etherington, D., “Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology”, online version. Printed version Library of Congress; First edition (June 1981) http://cool.conservation-us.org/don/don.html

Rhodes, Barbara. 1995. "18th and 19th Century European and American Paper Binding Structures: A Case Study of Paper Bindings in the American Museum of Natural History Library". Book and Paper Group Annual 14.

Referenced in Julia Miller's book above.

Smith, Keith A., “Non-Adhesive Binding: Books without Paste or Glue”, pp. 106-112. Sigma Foundation; 3 Rev Exp edition (January 1, 1999). http://www.keithsmithbooks.com/

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