Book Anatomy (Parts of a Book) & Definitions

In this tutorial we will look at the different parts of a book (the anatomy of the book); understanding the individual parts of a book will make it easier for you when following the rest of our tutorials and will prove to be invaluable in your bookbinding journey.

If you have ever been confused by the jargon used to describe the physical parts of a book, then this video will help. We explain and demystify a series of terms including spine, boards, hinge and joint, leaf, endpapers, book block and plates. Discover the meanings of more book terms at the AbeBooks’ glossary of book terminology:

Don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to get access to HD videos of hundreds of Book Binding tutorials and reviews!

My Bible: ABC for Book Collectors by John Carter & Nicholas Barker

ABC for Book Collectors

Probably the most well known of all reference materials on the subject of book anatomy and book collecting terminology, known by many as THE table of contents or the ‘how-to bible’. It contains a complete A-Z of in-depth descriptions on every aspect of antique and modern book collecting including many descriptive texts on book manufacture and the jargon that goes along with it. A must for any book collector, book enthusiast or anyone interested in bookbinding or book related arts, a fantastic read and one that I always keep next to me when teaching — a timeless classic.

Check out reviews, prices and further information here on

UPDATE: Now in it’s 9th edition, it’s been updated with the latest web-based terminology which I’ve found very useful in this modern world.

  • Hardcover: 264 pages
  • Publisher: Oak Knoll Pr; 9 edition (July 31, 2016)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1584563524
  • ISBN-13: 978-1584563525
  • Product Dimensions: 1 x 5.2 x 8.2 inches

A short, random selection of topics discussed within this book that might be of use to budding bookbinders:

Modern Book CollectingOther notable books you might want to check out:

Photos by Binding Obsession —

Follow us on Pinterest!

 A few more diagrams outlining the parts of a book

Follow us on Pinterest!

External Parts of a Book

Dust Jacket
Dust Jacket Example

Dust Jacket or Dust Wrapper – First used during the 19th century, the original purpose of the dust jacket was to protect the cover of books from scratches and dust which could have been made from fine leather, linen cloth, silk or other expensive materials.

It wasn’t until after World War I when booksellers and publishers realised the correlation between well designed book cover jackets and book sales, during this time an explosion of book cover designs hit the market; it was around the same time that The British Library Started its Dust Jacket Collection (early 1920’s) which now contains over 11,000 items.

In today’s modern world, dust jackets serve the same purpose but are generally used to host eye-catching artwork designed to lure the reader in and increase sales.

Found only on hardcover books, the dust jacket will normally be made from paper or plastic (or plastic covered paper) with the ends of which wrapped inside the book cover.

Book Binding Raised Bands
Book Binding Raised Bands

Book Cover or Book Board – The front and back covers of books are often referred to as book covers or book boards as they are often made of bookbinding board and cover the book.

Joint – The Joint of a book is the small groove which runs vertically down the book itself between the book boards (book cover) and the spine. It bends when the book is opened and is only seen on hardcover books. Also called a French joint or French groove, groove, gully, channel, and outer joint.

Raised Bands – Raised Bands were originally the result of cords (or thongs) used during the sewing process which were affixed to the signatures and used to hold the book covers on. Later on in the binding process the spine or backbone would be covered and the bands would be raised above the rest of the spine. This method of binding is less common today, as a result faux bands are used purely for decorative purposes (see video below).

Don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to get access to HD videos of hundreds of Book Binding tutorials and reviews!

Tail – The Tail is the bottom part of the book.

Hinge – The Hinge of a book is the section between the cover boards and the spine. It’s the part that bends when the book is opened.

French Headband example
French Headband example

Headband & Tailbands– Headbands are coloured threads (normally mercerized cotton or silk) which are wrapped around a core of some sort (normally vellum backed with leather) and are then sewn through the signatures, filling space left between the spine and the book block. Their original purpose is to help lessen damage to the book when it is removed from a shelf by it’s headcap. It also helps to some degree in keeping the sections upright. Headbands (and tailbands) are often referred to as endbands.

Modern headbands are used for decorative purposes only and are normally glued to the top of the book block.

In the 12th and early 13th centuries, headbands were combined with a leather tab. Conventional cloth or silk headbands came later in the 16th century

Book Block or Text block – The block of internal pages that make up the book.

Leather Bookbinding Spine
Leather Bookbinding Spine

Spine (textblock spine) – The spine is where the signatures and textblock are bound. Usually the spine will contain important book information so it can be easily found when up on the shelf in book stores or libraries, information might include the book’s title, name of author and publishers name or logo. Also known as the back, and backbone.

A traditional sewn spine will usually be backed, glued and lined with cloth or paper.

Figure 183 - Marking Back of Folded Signatures to Maintain Correct Order
Figure 183 – Marking Back of Folded Signatures to Maintain Correct Order

Signatures – Signatures are stacks of two or more pieces of paper which are folded and grouped together ready for sewing. Each of the signatures are bound together individually and later bound together as a whole forming the textblock.

You will only find signatures in hard cover books. Also sometimes referred to as gatherings.

Marbled End Papers Bookbinding
Marbled End Papers Bookbinding

End Paper (End Sheets) – Endpapers are the first and last pages of the book which which glued to the cover boards (front and back). Often these end papers will be of heavier weight and decoratively patterned often marbled with a cloth hinge for reinforcement. Often referred to as a pastedown or end sheets; paste-down is the page which has been glued to the board and the other side is known as a free endpaper

Other than providing improved aesthetics to the internals of the book, end papers or pastedowns also help to counteract the warp of the bookbinding board which happens during the drying stage of apply the cover material.

You will often only find end papers in hard-backed books.


Leaves – Two pages of a book (1 sheet) is referred to as a leaf, front (‘recto’) and back (‘verso’).

Painted Book Fore Edge
Painted Book Fore Edge

Edges / Fore Edge – The edges of the leaves and the textblock as a whole. On more expensive books you will likely find the fore edge has been painted with a hidden painting (known as foredge painting or art) or has gilt edges (smoothed and painted, normally with gold leaf or gold paint).

Don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to get access to HD videos of hundreds of Book Binding tutorials and reviews!

Laid Paper Example from 1758 Book
Laid Paper Example from 1758 Book

Wire Lines and Chain Lines – In the early days of paper making wet pulp was laid in a kind of wire mesh frame and the water was shaken out of it, the paper made using this process was called Laid Paper. The wide-spaced lines on the frame were known as chain lines and were typically spaced about 1 inch apart; the closer spaced lines perpendicular to the chainlines were called the wirelines and were typically about 1mm apart.

Laid paper mold
Laid paper mold

On older books which used paper made via this technique you can visibly see the marks left by the wire and chain lines (see image to the right).

Today it is only very expensive paper which is made in this way, usually by hand.

Manuscript – A manuscript is generally referred to as a book that was written by hand.

To better understand the anatomy of a book you can have a look at the following book cutaways which help to further depict the internals of different types of bound books.

Photos Courtesy of Book Arts Web –

Follow us on Pinterest!

Photos Courtesy of Book Arts Web –

How to Understand Book Sizes (video)

Books come in different shapes and sizes. They can be tiny….. or massive. To make a book, the printer takes a sheet of paper and folds and cuts it a number of times to produce different sized leaves. A folio is folded once creating two leaves, while a Quarto is folded twice making four leaves. Each leaf size, and hence book size, is given a different name based on the number of folds required.

Today publishers can create a book in any size they wish but terms like Folio and Quarto are still widely used. There are dozens of formal names for book sizes but here are a few of the most commonly used ones.

  • Miniature — the smallest books measuring less than 2″ in height. Often bibles were printed as miniatures so they could be easily carried, children’s books too so they could fit into small hands.
  • Sexagesimo-quarto (64mo) — a book size approximately 2″ x 3″.
  • Quadragesimo-octavo (48mo) — a book size approximately 2 ½” x 4″.
  • Tricesimo-secondo (32mo) — a book size approximately 3 ½” x 5 ½”.
  • Octodecimo (18mo) — a book size approximately 4″ x 6 ½”.
  • Duodecimo (12mo) — these books measure approximately 5 ½” x 7 ½” and require four folds of a paper sheet. You will recognize this size as your typical paperback.
  • Crown Octavo (8vo) — a book that is approximately 6” x 9”
  • Octavo (8vo) — at roughly 6″ x 9″ tall and requiring three folds, the Octavo is a fairly standard size for small hardcover books.
  • Medium Octavo (8vo) — a book that is approximately 6″ x 9 ¼”.
  • Royal Octavo (8vo) — a book that is approximately 6 1/2″ x 10″.
  • Imperial Octavo (8vo) — a book that is approximately 8 ¼” x 11 ½”.
  • Quarto — folded twice and having a maximum size of about 9 ½” x 12″, you can tell a Quarto by its mostly squarish shape.
  • Folio (Fo) — at an upward height of 12″ x 19″ the folio is a large upright-shaped book. This format often contain photos, or illustrations
  • Elephant Folio (Fo) — an oversized folio book 23″ to 25″ high. Often these will be art books, or atlases, or like this one designed for teachers to read to a large group of children.
  • Atlas Folio (Fo) — a book that is approximately 25” to 50” tall.
  • Double Elephant Folio (Fo) – a book that is approximately 50” tall or more.

Learn more about book sizes at AbeBooks:
Source: //

Don't forget to subscribe to our YouTube channel to get access to HD videos of hundreds of Book Binding tutorials and reviews!

Please Support us on Patreon!

The minimum level of contribution is only $1 per month. Pledges received from our patrons cover the editing services for our bookish podcast!

Moreover, starting with the pledge level of $3, you will get a digitized vintage book about bookbinding, book history, or book arts each month from us!

These pledges help iBookBinding to continue its work and bring more information about bookbinding and book arts to you!