BPG Book Boards

From Wiki

Book and Paper Group Wiki > Book Conservation Wiki > Book Boards
Wiki Compiler: Tessa Gadomski
Wiki Contributors: Katherine Kelly, Chela Metzger, Abigail Quandt, Jon Sweitzer-Lamme, please add your name here

Copyright 2020. The Book and Paper Group Wiki is a publication of the Book and Paper Group of the American Institute for Conservation. It is published as a convenience for the members of the Book and Paper Group. Publication does not endorse nor recommend any treatments, methods, or techniques described herein. There is an ongoing project to update the BPG Wiki. We welcome contributions and feedback. If you would like to get involved in this effort, please contact the wiki team at [email protected].

Boards in Western Books

(This chapter is thus far limited to English sources)

1) Types of Board, years, identifying, examples and issues:

Leather (pre-17th C)

Leather is rarely used as a board material, but Middleton does note two examples, one from the 12th C and another from the early 16th C.

Wood (Before 1520s)

Wood was the standard book board material until the 16th C. The wood was usually quarter cut to prevent warping. Oak was common in medieval English books. Birch, poplar, and pine were common in Scotland. Wooden boards began to be replaced by pasteboards in England in about 1500 and were uncommon by 1550. Some places, like Oxford and Scotland, used wooden boards until about 1700.

  • Early boards - There are very few early bindings extant, but the boards from one, the 7th C Stonyhurst Gospel, are of very thin birch.
  • 12th-13th C — boards are generally very thick (< ½” thick) and have square cut edges.
  • 13th-15th C — boards still quite thick, but outside edges steeply beveled on undecorated bindings, or gently beveled on decorated bindings.
  • 15th-16th C — inside and outside edges often beveled, particularly on vellum-leaved books
  • After 1600
  • German tawed pigskin bindings in wooden boards from the 16th-18th C always have beveled inside and outside edges.
  • Large bibles for communal use frequently had wooden boards.
  • Thin wooden boards, scabboards, are still occasionally used (see below)
  • Decorated wooden boards occasionally used in mid-19th C

Pasteboard (1500 — 1900)

Pasteboard began to be used in the early 1500s and was common by 1550. It was a standard book board material from 1600 through 1900. Made by pasting leaves of paper together, this board can be distinguished by its laminate structure. The paper layers were generally made up from discarded printed sheets or poor quality, unsized blank paper.

Waterleaf (1530s — 1900)

Middleton describes waterleaf as a variety of pasteboard. It is formed while the paper is still wet; the pressing together of the wet pages forms a tight bond between the layers which is more difficult to delaminate than traditional pasteboard. The resulting boards are sometimes then pasted to each other to form a thicker board. This thicker board frequently delaminates along the paste layers.

Pulpboard (1610s — 1960s)

Formed on a mold from pulped paper and board scraps. The finished pulpboard frequently contains visible traces of is origins: printed text, fabric scraps, vellum shavings, wood chips, straw. Middleton introduced the term “pulpboard”, but it appears to be in common usage now.

Scaleboard (17th -19th C)

Variously known as scabboard, sca'board, scaberd, scabbard, scabard, scaleboard, and scale-board. Very thin wood, like a shingle. Small retail bindings. Frequently used in 17th to early 19th C America (esp. New England), where paper was scarce and expensive. Scaleboard was a mass-produced material made by craftsmen known as "scale board cutters," who split the thin board using an engine plane. Scaleboard was produced primarily for the box-making industry, but was also used in making scabbards, baking trays, typesetting reglets, etc. See Miller 2013, Townsend 2013, Wolcott 2013, and Williams 2017.

Millboard (late 1600s until early 1900s)

  • Originally “Rope-fiber millboard”
  • Uncommon before 1710. Replaced pasteboard and pulpboard for fine binding. Made in a mill from rope fiber, generally from ropes discarded by the shipping industry. not laminated or pasted, but sometime referred to in early publications as “pasteboard”.
  • From the 1850s or earlier available in many varieties, from best black to cheap grey board
  • Cheaper varieties began to be produced by machine in the 19th C, containing mostly paper scraps. This is also called “machine made millboard” and was replaced in the 1860s — 1880s by strawboard
  • Can be distinguished from pulpboard by the milled (pressed and smooth) surface?
  • Real rope fiber millboard used in England for fine binding until WWII.

Strawboard (1860s - ???)

Began to be used for lower grades of binding (like yellow-backs) in the 1860s before becoming a standard board material by the 1880s.

Inventories of binderies make it quite apparent that binders made their own pasteboards, and they seem to have done so until late in the seventeenth century, and possibly later, when they seem to have been marketed by manufacturers (Middleton, 65).

Boards in Non-Western Books

For the sake of consistency, these categories were chosen based on the Non-Western Bookbinding Structures and Their Conservation page. Additional suggestions and sources are welcome.



Chinese, Korean, Japanese


  • In existing examples, boards are predominantly paper pasteboards and are relatively thin. According to Scheper, the average board thickness is 2.4 millimeters (2019, 119).
  • Boards were generally created from laminated paper sheets or paper pulp. Waste paper was sometimes used.
  • Earlier manuscripts with parchment leaves likely had wooden boards, but few known examples of these exist (Scheper 2019, 161)(Bosch 1981, 57).
  • Other board materials encountered less frequently include leather boards and sheets of rattan or bamboo woven into a sheet. These boards are more likely to be found in Central and Southeast Asia (Scheper 2019, 119-120).
  • Some covers may not include boards at all.
  • In books with a fore-edge flap, a board core may be included in the flap, which is typically similar in thickness to the boards used for the covers.

Palm Leaf



Conservation of Boards

Descriptive Terminology

What is a board?

Sources commonly describe boards as rigid, flat sheets, which may be composed of a variety of materials, and are the central component of book covers. Both Etherington and Roberts and Ligatus emphasize that boards serve to support and protect the text block. Etherington and Roberts uses the term "board" to describe thick paper and the term “boards” as pieces of flat sheet material used to assist in gripping books during various stages of binding. They use "binder’s board" as a general term for the component of the book which encompasses pasteboard, millboard, strawboard, chipboard, and rag board. For the purposes of this Wiki page, the terms "board" and "boards" will refer to the component of book covers.


In the Ligature Language of Bindings Thesaurus, terminology regarding boards can be found under two different concepts. The majority of the terms are listed under boards as a subset of components and under boards as a subset of sheet materials. The varieties are further broken down as follows:

Boards as a subset of components

  • constructed boards Boards for exceptionally large books which are made up from multiple components such as planks and rails, or battens sitting in dovetail grooves.
  • cut-flush boards Boards that have been cut flush together with the bookblock.
  • double boards Two independently covered boards adhered together, of which the inner, or primary board is usually attached to the bookblock and edged with leather, and the outer, or secondary board covered fully in tanned skin is then adhered to it.
  • folded boards Boards made from papyrus and folded along their spine edges and sewn through [...] pieces of thin card were folded along their spine edges and sewn through the fold at the beginning and end of the bookblock, creating sewn boards. Expanding gussets of paper, textile or tanned or alum-tawed skin were then inserted at the head and tail to create pockets for keeping notes in. [...]
  • primary boards The boards which are attached directly to a sewn bookblock by means of sewing supports slips, bridling, etc.
  • secondary boards The boards which are attached to the outside of primary boards by adhesive and are independently covered.
  • wrapped laminated boards Boards made from one piece of sheet material enclosed within another which has been wrapped around one edge of the inner lamination and covers both sides of it.

Boards as a subset of sheet materials Board as it is manufactured in large sheets before being cut to size as the boards for use on individual books.

  • Board material by manufacture
    • cartonnage A thick cover paper made by hand in a single sheet from pulp with very long fibres, and heavily sized with gelatin. [...]
    • laminated board Boards composed of two or more layers of sheet material, which may or may not be adhered together.
      • adhesive-laminated board Boards in which pieces of a previously-manufactured sheet material are held together with an adhesive. Such boards were from an early date also known as pasteboards, but this term has traditionally been used almost exclusively of boards made from paper, and within that category, has been used rather indiscriminately of different types of paper board and cannot be relied on to denote exclusively this type of board manufacture. Adhesive laminates have also been made from parchment, leather, tawed skin, textile, papyrus and hemp fibre as well as paper (or combinations of these) [...]
      • paste-laminate board Board material made by pasting together pieces of sheet material most often but not always paper and, frequently, re-used paper. [...]
      • couched-laminate board Couched laminates were made by couching sheets of paper one on top of the other straight from the papermaker's vat, relying on the hydrogen bonds formed between the sheets to hold them together, reinforced by heavy pressing after couching. Because such boards were made in paper mills, they are also known as millboard [...]
    • pulp board ): A board material made in single thick sheets from coarsely pulped paper, typically acquired from the trimmings from the cut edges of bookblocks, waste printed or manuscript paper, etc. [...]
  • Board material by material
    • paper board Board made entirely of paper by whatever means (laminated, pulp, etc.). The term can be used where the boards of a book are completely covered and the means of their manufacture cannot be identified, but where it is clear that they are made of paper.
      • rope fibre board A particular type of couched-laminate board widely used in England in the 18th century and later, made from rope fibre.
    • wooden board Plank-like wooden boards ranging in thickness from approximately 4 to 20 mm (and occasionally thicker), as opposed to sca'boards which will be found in the range 1 to 3 mm. Thick wooden boards will often be shaped around the edges or across the outer surface and will usually have holes or tunnels drilled in them for the slips of sewing supports and/or endband cores. In the absence of a pre-existing term for these boards, we are describing them simply as wooden boards, and using the term sca'boards to identify the much thinner split boards.
      • quartered boards Wooden planks obtained from the trunk of a tree inline with the medullary rays radiating from the centre of the trunk, with the growth rings at right angles to the sides of the planks. Such planks were procured either by splitting or sewing the wood along the medullary rays.
        • quarter-cleft boards Boards obtained on the quarter from the trunk by splitting the wood along the medullary rays with axes or wedges.
        • quarter-sawn boards Boards obtained on the quarter from the trunk by splitting the wood along the medullary rays with axes or wedges.
      • scaleboards Scaleboard (or sca'board) is a thin board most often split from blocks of wood with a metal froe. In European bookbinding, sca'boards were most often obtained from beech, whose fine, straight grain made it most suitable for this purpose. It differs from the thicker, cleft planks also obtained by splitting timber in that it is much thinner, ranging from approximately 3mm down to less than 1mm. At such thicknesses, the wood is easily broken and it was therefore sometimes laminated to or between pieces of paper board.[...]

List of Terms


Aubry, Thierry. 2009. “La restauration des ais de bois.” Paris: Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Département de la Conservation.

Binders Guild Newsletter. 1998. “Wooden Boards.” Binders Guild Newsletter 21(4): 38-61.

Bosch, Gulnar, John Carswell, and Guy Petherbridge. 1981. Islamic Binding and Bookmaking: a Catalogue of an Exhibition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 56-58.

Bower, Peter. 2002. “Strong Stuff: an Historical Survey of Boards and Boardmaking” New Bookbinder 22. 17-22.

Croft, Jim. 2013. "Finding Suitable Wood for Book Boards and Related Considerations". In Miller, Julia, ed. Suave Mechanicals : Essays on the History of Bookbinding v.2. Ann Arbor, Mich. : Legacy Press.

Details the selection and shaping of wooden book boards with many illustrations. Bibliography includes resources on historical wooden boards and their conservation. Croft advocated for boards that are what he calls "God’s Plywood", distinguished by the following characteristics (shortened to VGSGTQ):
  • Vertical growth rings (seen at end grain)
  • Straight grain (face)
  • True quarter (on the radius)

Etherington, Don and Matt Roberts. 1982. Bookbinding and the Conservation of Books: A Dictionary of Descriptive Terminology. Washington DC: Library of Congress. Available online through CoOL.

Hagadorn, Alexis and Jeffrey S. Peachey. 2010. “The Use of Parchment to Reinforce Split Wooden Bookboards, with Preliminary Observations into the Effects of RH Cycling on these Repairs.” Journal of the Institute of Conservation. 33 (1): 41-63.

Hepworth, Paul and Karin Scheper. “Terminology for the Conservation and Description of Islamic Manuscripts.” Accessed November 11, 2019.

Hioki, Kazuko. 2009. "Japanese Printed Books of the Edo Period (1603–1867): History and Characteristics of Block‐Printed Books." Journal of the Institute of Conservation 32 (1): 79-101.

Honey, Andrew, and Athanasios Velios. 2009. “The Historic Repair and Reuse of Byzantine Wooden Bookboards in the Manuscript Collection of the Monastery of St Catherine, Sinai.” In Holding It All Together: Ancient and Modern Approaches to Joining, Repair and Consolidation. Ed. J. Ambers. London: Archetype and British Museum. 68–77.

Ikegami, Kōsanjin, and Barbara B. Stephan. 1986. Japanese Bookbinding: Instructions from a Master Craftsman. First edition. New York: Weatherhill. 18.

Jaques, Shulla. 1999. “A Brief Survey of Paper Board and Some of the Literature Describing it with Some Definitions of Marketing Terms for Mount Boards Used in Conservation.” The Paper Conservator 23. 1-1

Kropf, Evyn. 2013. “Historical Repair, Recycling, and Recovering Phenomena in the Islamic Bindings of the University of Michigan Library: Exploring the Codicological Evidence.” in Suave Mechanicals. Essays on the History of Bookbinding ,vol. 1, ed. Julia Miller (Ann Arbor, MI, The Legacy Press). 1-41.

Lavier, Catherine. 2005. “Wood in the history of medieval book techniques: aims and know-how. First restorations.” Proceedings of Care and Conservation of Manuscripts 8, the eighth international seminar held at the University of Copenhagen. Copenhagen, DK. 19-33.

Ligatus Language of Bindings Thesaurus. Accessed September 4, 2019.

Middleton, Bernard. 1996. A History of English Craft Bookbinding Techniques, Fourth Revised Edition. New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press and The British Library.

Middleton, Bernard. 2004. "The Restoration of Leather Bindings." New Castle, DE: Oak Knoll Press and The British Library

Miller, Julia. 2010 (1st ed.) 2014 (2nd ed.). Books Will Speak Plain: a Handbook for Identifying and Describing Historical Bindings. Ann Arbor, Mich. : Legacy Press.

This book provides an excellent introduction to Western book binding styles, and is particularly notable for the wealth of bibliographic references to explore topics in greater depth, the attention paid to the more prosaic bindings of various time periods, and the great color images on the accompanying CD. Many references to wooden boards and paper boards. The author has also written about scaleboard.

Miller, Julia. 2013. “Not Just Another Beautiful Book: A Typology of American Scaleboard Bindings.” In Suave Mechanicals v. 1.

Describes the results of a survey of 858 scaleboard bindings. Many images illustrating commonalities and variants of the type. Miller speculates about Boston as center of this type of binding. Some interesting aspects of scaleboard bindings discussed are: horizontal grain direction of board, long and shallow backcornering, notched spines, tawed thong sewing supports stabbed through the gutter, and an asymmetrical blind tooling pattern.

Quandt, Abigail B. 1991. “The Documentation and Treatment of a late 13th Century Copy of Isidore of Seville’s Etymologies.” The Book and Paper Group Annual. 10.

Scheper, Karin. 2019. The Technique of Islamic Bookbinding: Methods, Materials and Regional Varieties. Second Revised Edition. Boston: Brill.

Song, M. 2009. "The History and Characteristics of Traditional Korean Books and Bookbinding." Journal of the Institute of Conservation 32 (1). 53-78.

Townsend, John. 2013. “The 1715 Mohawk Prayer Book: A Study of Six Copies in Colonial American Scaleboard Bindings.” In Suave Mechanicals v. 1.

The author examines six copies of this imprint bound in scaleboard. The author notes many of the same features as Miller's chapter in the same book, and he is able to draw conclusions about the production of this volume and early American printing and binding.

Williams, Roger. 2017. “Scaleboard Wood and Potential Loss Replacement.” In Suave Mechanicals v. 4.

Wolcott, Renée. 2013. "Splintered: The History, Structure, and Conservation of American Scaleboard Bindings" The Book and Paper Group Annual 32.

Reviewed in the Conservators Converse Blog

Book and Paper Group Wiki
Using the Wiki

·Contributors Toolbox ·Reference and Bibliography Protocols ·Accessing Conservation Literature (AIC) ·Help Wanted ·Template for New Page

Materials and Tips

·Annual Meeting Tips Sessions ·Materials, Equipment, and Tools ·Adhesive Recipes and Tips
·Gels, Thickeners, and Viscosity Modifiers (ECPN) ·Oddy Tests (R&A) ·Instrumental Analysis (Paintings) ·Technical Examination (Paintings) ·Microchemical Testing (R&A)


·Selection for Preservation ·Exhibition, Supports, and Transport ·Imaging and Digitization ·Housings ·Encapsulation ·Integrated Pest Management (AIC) ·Environmental Guidelines (AIC) ·Environmental Monitoring (AIC) ·Agents of Deterioration (AIC) ·Light Levels (AIC) ·Pollutants and Contaminants (AIC) ·Emergency Preparedness & Response (AIC)

Conservation History and Ethics

·History of BPG Wiki ·AIC Code of Ethics and Guidelines for Practice ·Culturally Sensitive Treatment ·Conservation Ethics (AIC) ·History of Conservation and Conservators (AIC)